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Title: Essays and Lectures
Author: Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900
Language: English
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Transcribed from the 1913 Methuen and Co edition by David Price, email

                           ESSAYS AND LECTURES

                               OSCAR WILDE

                                * * * * *

                            METHUEN & CO. LTD.
                           36 ESSEX STREET W.C.

                             _Fourth Edition_

                                * * * * *

_First Published in Book Form_ (_Limited Edition on             _1908_
Handmade Paper and Japanese Vellum_)
_Second Edition_ (_F’cap._ 8_vo_)                               _1909_
_Third Edition_ ( ,, ,, )                                       _1911_
_Fourth Edition_ ( ,, ,, )                                      _1913_

                              WALTER LEDGER
                      THE AUTHOR’S LITERARY EXECUTOR


HOUSE DECORATION                           157
ART AND THE HANDICRAFTMAN                  173
LECTURE TO ART STUDENTS                    197
LONDON MODELS                              213
POEMS IN PROSE                             227


WITH the exception of the _Poems in Prose_ this volume does not contain
anything which the author ever contemplated reprinting.  _The Rise of
Historical Criticism_ is interesting to admirers of his work, however,
because it shows the development of his style and the wide intellectual
range distinguishing the least _borné_ of all the late Victorian writers,
with the possible exception of Ruskin.  It belongs to Wilde’s Oxford days
when he was the unsuccessful competitor for the Chancellor’s English
Essay Prize.  Perhaps Magdalen, which has never forgiven herself for
nurturing the author of _Ravenna_, may be felicitated on having escaped
the further intolerable honour that she might have suffered by seeing
crowned again with paltry academic parsley the most highly gifted of all
her children in the last century.

Of the lectures, I have only included those which exist, so far as I
know, in manuscript; the reports of others in contemporary newspapers
being untrustworthy.  They were usually delivered from notes and were
repeated at various towns in England and America.  Here will be found the
origin of Whistler’s charges of plagiarism against the author.  How far
they are justified the reader can decide for himself, Wilde always
admitted that, relying on an old and intimate friendship, he asked the
artist’s assistance on one occasion for a lecture he had failed to
prepare in time.  This I presume to be the Address delivered to the Art
Students of the Royal Academy in 1883, as Whistler certainly reproduced
some of it as his own in the ‘Ten o’clock’ lecture delivered
subsequently, in 1885.  To what extent an idea may be regarded as a
perpetual gift, or whether it is ethically possible to retrieve an idea
like an engagement ring, it is not for me to discuss.  I would only point
out once more that all the works by which Wilde is known throughout
Europe were written after the two friends had quarrelled.  That Wilde
derived a great deal from the older man goes without saying, just as he
derived so much in a greater degree from Pater, Ruskin, Arnold and
Burne-Jones.  Yet the tedious attempt to recognise in every jest of his
some original by Whistler induces the criticism that it seems a pity the
great painter did not get them off on the public before he was
forestalled.  Reluctance from an appeal to publicity was never a weakness
in either of the men.  Some of Wilde’s more frequently quoted sayings
were made at the Old Bailey (though their provenance is often forgotten)
or on his death-bed.

As a matter of fact the genius of the two men was entirely different.
Wilde was a humourist and a humanist before everything; and his wittiest
jests have neither the relentlessness nor the keenness characterising
those of the clever American artist.  Again, Whistler could no more have
obtained the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek, nor have written _The
Importance of Being Earnest_, and _The Soul of Man_, than Wilde, even if
equipped as a painter, could have evinced that superb restraint
characterising the portraits of ‘Miss Alexander,’ ‘Carlyle,’ and other
masterpieces.  Wilde, though it is not generally known, was something of
a draughtsman in his youth.

_Poems in Prose_ were to have been continued.  They are the kind of
stories which Wilde would tell at a dinner-table, being invented on the
spur of the moment, or inspired by the chance observation of some one who
managed to get the traditional word in edgeways; or they were developed
from some phrase in a book Wilde might have read during the day.  To
those who remember hearing them from his lips there must always be a
feeling of disappointment on reading them.  He overloaded their ornament
when he came to transcribe them, and some of his friends did not hesitate
to make that criticism to him personally.  Though he affected annoyance,
I do not think it prevented him from writing the others, which
unfortunately exist only in the memories of friends.  Miss Aimée Lowther,
however, has cleverly noted down some of them in a privately printed

                                                               ROBERT ROSS


This Essay was written for the Chancellor’s English Essay Prize at Oxford
in 1879, the subject being ‘Historical Criticism among the Ancients.’
The prize was not awarded.  To Professor J. W. Mackail thanks are due for
revising the proofs.


HISTORICAL criticism nowhere occurs as an isolated fact in the
civilisation or literature of any people.  It is part of that complex
working towards freedom which may be described as the revolt against
authority.  It is merely one facet of that speculative spirit of an
innovation, which in the sphere of action produces democracy and
revolution, and in that of thought is the parent of philosophy and
physical science; and its importance as a factor of progress is based not
so much on the results it attains, as on the tone of thought which it
represents, and the method by which it works.

Being thus the resultant of forces essentially revolutionary, it is not
to be found in the ancient world among the material despotisms of Asia or
the stationary civilisation of Egypt.  The clay cylinders of Assyria and
Babylon, the hieroglyphics of the pyramids, form not history but the
material for history.

The Chinese annals, ascending as they do to the barbarous forest life of
the nation, are marked with a soberness of judgment, a freedom from
invention, which is almost unparalleled in the writings of any people;
but the protective spirit which is the characteristic of that people
proved as fatal to their literature as to their commerce.  Free criticism
is as unknown as free trade.  While as regards the Hindus, their acute,
analytical and logical mind is directed rather to grammar, criticism and
philosophy than to history or chronology.  Indeed, in history their
imagination seems to have run wild, legend and fact are so indissolubly
mingled together that any attempt to separate them seems vain.  If we
except the identification of the Greek Sandracottus with the Indian
Chandragupta, we have really no clue by which we can test the truth of
their writings or examine their method of investigation.

It is among the Hellenic branch of the Indo-Germanic race that history
proper is to be found, as well as the spirit of historical criticism;
among that wonderful offshoot of the primitive Aryans, whom we call by
the name of Greeks and to whom, as has been well said, we owe all that
moves in the world except the blind forces of nature.

For, from the day when they left the chill table-lands of Tibet and
journeyed, a nomad people, to Ægean shores, the characteristic of their
nature has been the search for light, and the spirit of historical
criticism is part of that wonderful Aufklärung or illumination of the
intellect which seems to have burst on the Greek race like a great flood
of light about the sixth century B.C.

_L’esprit d’un siècle ne naît pas et ne meurt pas à jour fixe_, and the
first critic is perhaps as difficult to discover as the first man.  It is
from democracy that the spirit of criticism borrows its intolerance of
dogmatic authority, from physical science the alluring analogies of law
and order, from philosophy the conception of an essential unity
underlying the complex manifestations of phenomena.  It appears first
rather as a changed attitude of mind than as a principle of research, and
its earliest influences are to be found in the sacred writings.

For men begin to doubt in questions of religion first, and then in
matters of more secular interest; and as regards the nature of the spirit
of historical criticism itself in its ultimate development, it is not
confined merely to the empirical method of ascertaining whether an event
happened or not, but is concerned also with the investigation into the
causes of events, the general relations which phenomena of life hold to
one another, and in its ultimate development passes into the wider
question of the philosophy of history.

Now, while the workings of historical criticism in these two spheres of
sacred and uninspired history are essentially manifestations of the same
spirit, yet their methods are so different, the canons of evidence so
entirely separate, and the motives in each case so unconnected, that it
will be necessary for a clear estimation of the progress of Greek
thought, that we should consider these two questions entirely apart from
one another.  I shall then in both cases take the succession of writers
in their chronological order as representing the rational order—not that
the succession of time is always the succession of ideas, or that
dialectics moves ever in the straight line in which Hegel conceives its
advance.  In Greek thought, as elsewhere, there are periods of stagnation
and apparent retrogression, yet their intellectual development, not
merely in the question of historical criticism, but in their art, their
poetry and their philosophy, seems so essentially normal, so free from
all disturbing external influences, so peculiarly rational, that in
following in the footsteps of time we shall really be progressing in the
order sanctioned by reason.


AT an early period in their intellectual development the Greeks reached
that critical point in the history of every civilised nation, when
speculative invades the domain of revealed truth, when the spiritual
ideas of the people can no longer be satisfied by the lower, material
conceptions of their inspired writers, and when men find it impossible to
pour the new wine of free thought into the old bottles of a narrow and a
trammelling creed.

From their Aryan ancestors they had received the fatal legacy of a
mythology stained with immoral and monstrous stories which strove to hide
the rational order of nature in a chaos of miracles, and to mar by
imputed wickedness the perfection of God’s nature—a very shirt of Nessos
in which the Heracles of rationalism barely escaped annihilation.  Now
while undoubtedly the speculations of Thales, and the alluring analogies
of law and order afforded by physical science, were most important forces
in encouraging the rise of the spirit of scepticism, yet it was on its
ethical side that the Greek mythology was chiefly open to attack.

It is difficult to shake the popular belief in miracles, but no man will
admit sin and immorality as attributes of the Ideal he worships; so the
first symptoms of a new order of thought are shown in the passionate
outcries of Xenophanes and Heraclitos against the evil things said by
Homer of the sons of God; and in the story told of Pythagoras, how that
he saw tortured in Hell the ‘two founders of Greek theology,’ we can
recognise the rise of the Aufklärung as clearly as we see the Reformation
foreshadowed in the _Inferno_ of Dante.

Any honest belief, then, in the plain truth of these stories soon
succumbed before the destructive effects of the _a priori_ ethical
criticism of this school; but the orthodox party, as is its custom, found
immediately a convenient shelter under the ægis of the doctrine of
metaphors and concealed meanings.

To this allegorical school the tale of the fight around the walls of Troy
was a mystery, behind which, as behind a veil, were hidden certain moral
and physical truths.  The contest between Athena and Ares was that
eternal contest between rational thought and the brute force of
ignorance; the arrows which rattled in the quiver of the ‘Far Darter’
were no longer the instruments of vengeance shot from the golden bow of
the child of God, but the common rays of the sun, which was itself
nothing but a mere inert mass of burning metal.

Modern investigation, with the ruthlessness of Philistine analysis, has
ultimately brought Helen of Troy down to a symbol of the dawn.  There
were Philistines among the Greeks also who saw in the _ἄναξ ἀδρῶν_ a mere
metaphor for atmospheric power.

Now while this tendency to look for metaphors and hidden meanings must be
ranked as one of the germs of historical criticism, yet it was
essentially unscientific.  Its inherent weakness is clearly pointed out
by Plato, who showed that while this theory will no doubt explain many of
the current legends, yet, if it is to be appealed to at all, it must be
as a universal principle; a position he is by no means prepared to admit.

Like many other great principles it suffered from its disciples, and
furnished its own refutation when the web of Penelope was analysed into a
metaphor of the rules of formal logic, the warp representing the
premises, and the woof the conclusion.

Rejecting, then, the allegorical interpretation of the sacred writings as
an essentially dangerous method, proving either too much or too little,
Plato himself returns to the earlier mode of attack, and re-writes
history with a didactic purpose, laying down certain ethical canons of
historical criticism.  God is good; God is just; God is true; God is
without the common passions of men.  These are the tests to which we are
to bring the stories of the Greek religion.

‘God predestines no men to ruin, nor sends destruction on innocent
cities; He never walks the earth in strange disguise, nor has to mourn
for the death of any well-beloved son.  Away with the tears for Sarpedon,
the lying dream sent to Agamemnon, and the story of the broken covenant!’
(Plato, _Republic_, Book ii. 380; iii. 388, 391.)

Similar ethical canons are applied to the accounts of the heroes of the
days of old, and by the same _a priori_ principles Achilles is rescued
from the charges of avarice and insolence in a passage which may be
recited as the earliest instance of that ‘whitewashing of great men,’ as
it has been called, which is so popular in our own day, when Catiline and
Clodius are represented as honest and far-seeing politicians, when _eine
edle und gute Natur_ is claimed for Tiberius, and Nero is rescued from
his heritage of infamy as an accomplished _dilettante_ whose moral
aberrations are more than excused by his exquisite artistic sense and
charming tenor voice.

But besides the allegorising principle of interpretation, and the ethical
reconstruction of history, there was a third theory, which may be called
the semi-historical, and which goes by the name of Euhemeros, though he
was by no means the first to propound it.

Appealing to a fictitious monument which he declared that he had
discovered in the island of Panchaia, and which purported to be a column
erected by Zeus, and detailing the incidents of his reign on earth, this
shallow thinker attempted to show that the gods and heroes of ancient
Greece were ‘mere ordinary mortals, whose achievements had been a good
deal exaggerated and misrepresented,’ and that the proper canon of
historical criticism as regards the treatment of myths was to rationalise
the incredible, and to present the plausible residuum as actual truth.

To him and his school, the centaurs, for instance, those mythical sons of
the storm, strange links between the lives of men and animals, were
merely some youths from the village of Nephele in Thessaly, distinguished
for their sporting tastes; the ‘living harvest of panoplied knights,’
which sprang so mystically from the dragon’s teeth, a body of mercenary
troops supported by the profits on a successful speculation in ivory; and
Actæon, an ordinary master of hounds, who, living before the days of
subscription, was eaten out of house and home by the expenses of his

Now, that under the glamour of myth and legend some substratum of
historical fact may lie, is a proposition rendered extremely probable by
the modern investigations into the workings of the mythopœic spirit in
post-Christian times.  Charlemagne and Roland, St. Francis and William
Tell, are none the less real personages because their histories are
filled with much that is fictitious and incredible, but in all cases what
is essentially necessary is some external corroboration, such as is
afforded by the mention of Roland and Roncesvalles in the chronicles of
England, or (in the sphere of Greek legend) by the excavations of
Hissarlik.  But to rob a mythical narrative of its kernel of supernatural
elements, and to present the dry husk thus obtained as historical fact,
is, as has been well said, to mistake entirely the true method of
investigation and to identify plausibility with truth.

And as regards the critical point urged by Palaiphatos, Strabo, and
Polybius, that pure invention on Homer’s part is inconceivable, we may
without scruple allow it, for myths, like constitutions, grow gradually,
and are not formed in a day.  But between a poet’s deliberate creation
and historical accuracy there is a wide field of the mythopœic faculty.

This Euhemeristic theory was welcomed as an essentially philosophical and
critical method by the unscientific Romans, to whom it was introduced by
the poet Ennius, that pioneer of cosmopolitan Hellenicism, and it
continued to characterise the tone of ancient thought on the question of
the treatment of mythology till the rise of Christianity, when it was
turned by such writers as Augustine and Minucius Felix into a formidable
weapon of attack on Paganism.  It was then abandoned by all those who
still bent the knee to Athena or to Zeus, and a general return, aided by
the philosophic mystics of Alexandria, to the allegorising principle of
interpretation took place, as the only means of saving the deities of
Olympus from the Titan assaults of the new Galilean God.  In what vain
defence, the statue of Mary set in the heart of the Pantheon can best
tell us.

Religions, however, may be absorbed, but they never are disproved, and
the stories of the Greek mythology, spiritualised by the purifying
influence of Christianity, reappear in many of the southern parts of
Europe in our own day.  The old fable that the Greek gods took service
with the new religion under assumed names has more truth in it than the
many care to discover.

Having now traced the progress of historical criticism in the special
treatment of myth and legend, I shall proceed to investigate the form in
which the same spirit manifested itself as regards what one may term
secular history and secular historians.  The field traversed will be
found to be in some respects the same, but the mental attitude, the
spirit, the motive of investigation are all changed.

There were heroes before the son of Atreus and historians before
Herodotus, yet the latter is rightly hailed as the father of history, for
in him we discover not merely the empirical connection of cause and
effect, but that constant reference to Laws, which is the characteristic
of the historian proper.

For all history must be essentially universal; not in the sense of
comprising all the synchronous events of the past time, but through the
universality of the principles employed.  And the great conceptions which
unify the work of Herodotus are such as even modern thought has not yet
rejected.  The immediate government of the world by God, the nemesis and
punishment which sin and pride invariably bring with them, the revealing
of God’s purpose to His people by signs and omens, by miracles and by
prophecy; these are to Herodotus the laws which govern the phenomena of
history.  He is essentially the type of supernatural historian; his eyes
are ever strained to discern the Spirit of God moving over the face of
the waters of life; he is more concerned with final than with efficient

Yet we can discern in him the rise of that _historic sense_ which is the
rational antecedent of the science of historical criticism, the _φυσικὸν
κριτήριον_, to use the words of a Greek writer, as opposed to that which
comes either _τέχνη_ or _διδαχῇ_.

He has passed through the valley of faith and has caught a glimpse of the
sunlit heights of Reason; but like all those who, while accepting the
supernatural, yet attempt to apply the canons of rationalism, he is
essentially inconsistent.  For the better apprehension of the character
of this historic sense in Herodotus it will be necessary to examine at
some length the various forms of criticism in which it manifests itself.

Such fabulous stories as that of the Phoenix, of the goat-footed men, of
the headless beings with eyes in their breasts, of the men who slept six
months in the year (_τοῦτο οὐκ ἐνδέχομαι ηὴν ἀρχήν_), of the wer-wolf of
the Neuri, and the like, are entirely rejected by him as being opposed to
the ordinary experience of life, and to those natural laws whose
universal influence the early Greek physical philosophers had already
made known to the world of thought.  Other legends, such as the suckling
of Cyrus by a bitch, or the feather-rain of northern Europe, are
rationalised and explained into a woman’s name and a fall of snow.  The
supernatural origin of the Scythian nation, from the union of Hercules
and the monstrous Echidna, is set aside by him for the more probable
account that they were a nomad tribe driven by the Massagetæ from Asia;
and he appeals to the local names of their country as proof of the fact
that the Kimmerians were the original possessors.

But in the case of Herodotus it will be more instructive to pass on from
points like these to those questions of general probability, the true
apprehension of which depends rather on a certain quality of mind than on
any possibility of formulated rules, questions which form no unimportant
part of scientific history; for it must be remembered always that the
canons of historical criticism are essentially different from those of
judicial evidence, for they cannot, like the latter, be made plain to
every ordinary mind, but appeal to a certain historical faculty founded
on the experience of life.  Besides, the rules for the reception of
evidence in courts of law are purely stationary, while the science of
historical probability is essentially progressive, and changes with the
advancing spirit of each age.

Now, of all the speculative canons of historical criticism, none is more
important than that which rests on psychological probability.

Arguing from his knowledge of human nature, Herodotus rejects the
presence of Helen within the walls of Troy.  Had she been there, he says,
Priam and his kinsmen would never have been so mad (_φρενοβλαβεῖς_) as
not to give her up, when they and their children and their city were in
such peril (ii. 118); and as regards the authority of Homer, some
incidental passages in his poem show that he knew of Helen’s sojourn in
Egypt during the siege, but selected the other story as being a more
suitable motive for an epic.  Similarly he does not believe that the
Alcmæonidæ family, a family who had always been the haters of tyranny
(_μισοτύραννοι_), and to whom, even more than to Harmodios and
Aristogeiton, Athens owed its liberty, would ever have been so
treacherous as to hold up a shield after the battle of Marathon as a
signal for the Persian host to fall on the city.  A shield, he
acknowledges, was held up, but it could not possibly have been done by
such friends of liberty as the house of Alcmæon; nor will he believe that
a great king like Rhampsinitus would have sent his daughter _κατίσαι ἐπ’

Elsewhere he argues from more general considerations of probability; a
Greek courtesan like Rhodopis would hardly have been rich enough to build
a pyramid, and, besides, on chronological grounds the story is impossible
(ii. 134).

In another passage (ii. 63), after giving an account of the forcible
entry of the priests of Ares into the chapel of the god’s mother, which
seems to have been a sort of religious faction fight where sticks were
freely used (_μάχη ξύλοισι καρτερή_), ‘I feel sure,’ he says, ‘that many
of them died from getting their heads broken, notwithstanding the
assertions of the Egyptian priests to the contrary.’  There is also
something charmingly naïve in the account he gives of the celebrated
Greek swimmer who dived a distance of eighty stadia to give his
countrymen warning of the Persian advance.  ‘If, however,’ he says, ‘I
may offer an opinion on the subject, I would say that he came in a boat.’

There is, of course, something a little trivial in some of the instances
I have quoted; but in a writer like Herodotus, who stands on the
borderland between faith and rationalism, one likes to note even the most
minute instances of the rise of the critical and sceptical spirit of

How really strange, at base, it was with him may, I think, be shown by a
reference to those passages where he applies rationalistic tests to
matters connected with religion.  He nowhere, indeed, grapples with the
moral and scientific difficulties of the Greek Bible; and where he
rejects as incredible the marvellous achievements of Hercules in Egypt,
he does so on the express grounds that he had not yet been received among
the gods, and so was still subject to the ordinary conditions of mortal
life (_ἔτι ἄνθρωπον ἐόντα_).

Even within these limits, however, his religious conscience seems to have
been troubled at such daring rationalism, and the passage (ii. 45)
concludes with a pious hope that God will pardon him for having gone so
far, the great rationalistic passage being, of course, that in which he
rejects the mythical account of the foundation of Dodona.  ‘How can a
dove speak with a human voice?’ he asks, and rationalises the bird into a
foreign princess.

Similarly he seems more inclined to believe that the great storm at the
beginning of the Persian War ceased from ordinary atmospheric causes, and
not in consequence of the incantations of the _Magians_.  He calls
Melampos, whom the majority of the Greeks looked on as an inspired
prophet, ‘a clever man who had acquired for himself the art of prophecy’;
and as regards the miracle told of the Æginetan statues of the primeval
deities of Damia and Auxesia, that they fell on their knees when the
sacrilegious Athenians strove to carry them off, ‘any one may believe
it,’ he says, ‘who likes, but as for myself, I place no credence in the

So much then for the rationalistic spirit of historical criticism, as far
as it appears explicitly in the works of this great and philosophic
writer; but for an adequate appreciation of his position we must also
note how conscious he was of the value of documentary evidence, of the
use of inscriptions, of the importance of the poets as throwing light on
manners and customs as well as on historical incidents.  No writer of any
age has more vividly recognised the fact that history is a matter of
evidence, and that it is as necessary for the historian to state his
authority as it is to produce one’s witnesses in a court of law.

While, however, we can discern in Herodotus the rise of an historic
sense, we must not blind ourselves to the large amount of instances where
he receives supernatural influences as part of the ordinary forces of
life.  Compared to Thucydides, who succeeded him in the development of
history, he appears almost like a mediæval writer matched with a modern
rationalist.  For, contemporary though they were, between these two
authors there is an infinite chasm of thought.

The essential difference of their methods may be best illustrated from
those passages where they treat of the same subject.  The execution of
the Spartan heralds, Nicolaos and Aneristos, during the Peloponnesian War
is regarded by Herodotus as one of the most supernatural instances of the
workings of nemesis and the wrath of an outraged hero; while the
lengthened siege and ultimate fall of Troy was brought about by the
avenging hand of God desiring to manifest unto men the mighty penalties
which always follow upon mighty sins.  But Thucydides either sees not, or
desires not to see, in either of these events the finger of Providence,
or the punishment of wicked doers.  The death of the heralds is merely an
Athenian retaliation for similar outrages committed by the opposite side;
the long agony of the ten years’ siege is due merely to the want of a
good commissariat in the Greek army; while the fall of the city is the
result of a united military attack consequent on a good supply of

Now, it is to be observed that in this latter passage, as well as
elsewhere, Thucydides is in no sense of the word a sceptic as regards his
attitude towards the truth of these ancient legends.

Agamemnon and Atreus, Theseus and Eurystheus, even Minos, about whom
Herodotus has some doubts, are to him as real personages as Alcibiades or
Gylippus.  The points in his historical criticism of the past are, first,
his rejection of all extra-natural interference, and, secondly, the
attributing to these ancient heroes the motives and modes of thought of
his own day.  The present was to him the key to the explanation of the
past, as it was to the prediction of the future.

Now, as regards his attitude towards the supernatural he is at one with
modern science.  We too know that, just as the primeval coal-beds reveal
to us the traces of rain-drops and other atmospheric phenomena similar to
those of our own day, so, in estimating the history of the past, the
introduction of no force must be allowed whose workings we cannot observe
among the phenomena around us.  To lay down canons of ultra-historical
credibility for the explanation of events which happen to have preceded
us by a few thousand years, is as thoroughly unscientific as it is to
intermingle preternatural in geological theories.

Whatever the canons of art may be, no difficulty in history is so great
as to warrant the introduction of a spirit of spirit _θεὸς ἀπὸ μηχανῆς_,
in the sense of a violation of the laws of nature.

Upon the other point, however, Thucydides falls into an anachronism.  To
refuse to allow the workings of chivalrous and self-denying motives among
the knights of the Trojan crusade, because he saw none in the
faction-loving Athenian of his own day, is to show an entire ignorance of
the various characteristics of human nature developing under different
circumstances, and to deny to a primitive chieftain like Agamemnon that
authority founded on opinion, to which we give the name of divine right,
is to fall into an historical error quite as gross as attributing to
Atreus the courting of the populace (_τεθεραπευκότα τὸν δῆμον_) with a
view to the Mycenean throne.

The general method of historical criticism pursued by Thucydides having
been thus indicated, it remains to proceed more into detail as regards
those particular points where he claims for himself a more rational
method of estimating evidence than either the public or his predecessors

‘So little pains,’ he remarks, ‘do the vulgar take in the investigation
of truth, satisfied with their preconceived opinions,’ that the majority
of the Greeks believe in a Pitanate cohort of the Spartan army and in a
double vote being the prerogative of the Spartan kings, neither of which
opinions has any foundation in fact.  But the chief point on which he
lays stress as evincing the ‘uncritical way with which men receive
legends, even the legends of their own country,’ is the entire
baselessness of the common Athenian tradition in which Harmodios and
Aristogeiton were represented as the patriotic liberators of Athens from
the Peisistratid tyranny.  So far, he points out, from the love of
freedom being their motive, both of them were influenced by merely
personal considerations, Aristogeiton being jealous of Hipparchos’
attention to Harmodios, then a beautiful boy in the flower of Greek
loveliness, while the latter’s indignation was aroused by an insult
offered to his sister by the prince.

Their motives, then, were personal revenge, while the result of their
conspiracy served only to rivet more tightly the chains of servitude
which bound Athens to the Peisistratid house, for Hipparchos, whom they
killed, was only the tyrant’s younger brother, and not the tyrant

To prove his theory that Hippias was the elder, he appeals to the
evidence afforded by a public inscription in which his name occurs
immediately after that of his father, a point which he thinks shows that
he was the eldest, and so the heir.  This view he further corroborates by
another inscription, on the altar of Apollo, which mentions the children
of Hippias and not those of his brothers; ‘for it was natural for the
eldest to be married first’; and besides this, on the score of general
probability he points out that, had Hippias been the younger, he would
not have so easily obtained the tyranny on the death of Hipparchos.

Now, what is important in Thucydides, as evinced in the treatment of
legend generally, is not the results he arrived at, but the method by
which he works.  The first great rationalistic historian, he may be said
to have paved the way for all those who followed after him, though it
must always be remembered that, while the total absence in his pages of
all the mystical paraphernalia of the supernatural theory of life is an
advance in the progress of rationalism, and an era in scientific history,
whose importance could never be over-estimated, yet we find along with it
a total absence of any mention of those various social and economical
forces which form such important factors in the evolution of the world,
and to which Herodotus rightly gave great prominence in his immortal
work.  The history of Thucydides is essentially one-sided and incomplete.
The intricate details of sieges and battles, subjects with which the
historian proper has really nothing to do except so far as they may throw
light on the spirit of the age, we would readily exchange for some notice
of the condition of private society in Athens, or the influence and
position of women.

There is an advance in the method of historical criticism; there is an
advance in the conception and motive of history itself; for in Thucydides
we may discern that natural reaction against the intrusion of didactic
and theological considerations into the sphere of the pure intellect, the
spirit of which may be found in the Euripidean treatment of tragedy and
the later schools of art, as well as in the Platonic conception of

History, no doubt, has splendid lessons for our instruction, just as all
good art comes to us as the herald of the noblest truth.  But, to set
before either the painter or the historian the inculcation of moral
lessons as an aim to be consciously pursued, is to miss entirely the true
motive and characteristic both of art and history, which is in the one
case the creation of beauty, in the other the discovery of the laws of
the evolution of progress: _Il ne faut demander de l’Art que l’Art_, _du
passé que le passé_.

Herodotus wrote to illustrate the wonderful ways of Providence and the
nemesis that falls on sin, and his work is a good example of the truth
that nothing can dispense with criticism so much as a moral aim.
Thucydides has no creed to preach, no doctrine to prove.  He analyses the
results which follow inevitably from certain antecedents, in order that
on a recurrence of the same crisis men may know how to act.

His object was to discover the laws of the past so as to serve as a light
to illumine the future.  We must not confuse the recognition of the
utility of history with any ideas of a didactic aim.  Two points more in
Thucydides remain for our consideration: his treatment of the rise of
Greek civilisation, and of the primitive condition of Hellas, as well as
the question how far can he be said really to have recognised the
existence of laws regulating the complex phenomena of life.


THE investigation into the two great problems of the origin of society
and the philosophy of history occupies such an important position in the
evolution of Greek thought that, to obtain any clear view of the workings
of the critical spirit, it will be necessary to trace at some length
their rise and scientific development as evinced not merely in the works
of historians proper, but also in the philosophical treatises of Plato
and Aristotle.  The important position which these two great thinkers
occupy in the progress of historical criticism can hardly be
over-estimated.  I do not mean merely as regards their treatment of the
Greek Bible, and Plato’s endeavours to purge sacred history of its
immorality by the application of ethical canons at the time when
Aristotle was beginning to undermine the basis of miracles by his
scientific conception of law, but with reference to these two wider
questions of the rise of civil institutions and the philosophy of

And first, as regards the current theories of the primitive condition of
society, there was a wide divergence of opinion in Hellenic society, just
as there is now.  For while the majority of the orthodox public, of whom
Hesiod may be taken as the representative, looked back, as a great many
of our own day still do, to a fabulous age of innocent happiness, a
_bell’ età dell’ auro_, where sin and death were unknown and men and
women were like Gods, the foremost men of intellect such as Aristotle and
Plato, Æschylus and many of the other poets {29} saw in primitive man ‘a
few small sparks of humanity preserved on the tops of mountains after
some deluge,’ ‘without an idea of cities, governments or legislation,’
‘living the lives of wild beasts in sunless caves,’ ‘their only law being
the survival of the fittest.’

And this, too, was the opinion of Thucydides, whose _Archæologia_ as it
is contains a most valuable disquisition on the early condition of
Hellas, which it will be necessary to examine at some length.

Now, as regards the means employed generally by Thucydides for the
elucidation of ancient history, I have already pointed out how that,
while acknowledging that ‘it is the tendency of every poet to exaggerate,
as it is of every chronicler to seek to be attractive at the expense of
truth,’ he yet assumes in the thoroughly euhemeristic way, that under the
veil of myth and legend there does yet exist a rational basis of fact
discoverable by the method of rejecting all supernatural interference as
well as any extraordinary motives influencing the actors.  It is in
complete accordance with this spirit that he appeals, for instance, to
the Homeric epithet of _ἀφνειός_, as applied to Corinth, as a proof of
the early commercial prosperity of that city; to the fact of the generic
name _Hellenes_ not occurring in the _Iliad_ as a corroboration of his
theory of the essentially disunited character of the primitive Greek
tribes; and he argues from the line ‘O’er many islands and all Argos
ruled,’ as applied to Agamemnon, that his forces must have been partially
naval, ‘for Agamemnon’s was a continental power, and he could not have
been master of any but the adjacent islands, and these would not be many
but through the possession of a fleet.’

Anticipating in some measure the comparative method of research, he
argues from the fact of the more barbarous Greek tribes, such as the
Ætolians and Acarnanians, still carrying arms in his own day, that this
custom was the case originally over the whole country.  ‘The fact,’ he
says, ‘that the people in these parts of Hellas are still living in the
old way points to a time when the same mode of life was equally common to
all.’  Similarly, in another passage, he shows how a corroboration of his
theory of the respectable character of piracy in ancient days is afforded
by ‘the honour with which some of the inhabitants of the continent still
regard a successful marauder,’ as well as by the fact that the question,
‘Are you a pirate?’ is a common feature of primitive society as shown in
the poets; and finally, after observing how the old Greek custom of
wearing belts in gymnastic contests still survived among the more
uncivilised Asiatic tribes, he observes that there are many other points
in which a likeness may be shown between the life of the primitive
Hellenes and that of the barbarians to-day.’

As regards the evidence afforded by ancient remains, while adducing as a
proof of the insecure character of early Greek society the fact of their
cities {31} being always built at some distance from the sea, yet he is
careful to warn us, and the caution ought to be borne in mind by all
archæologists, that we have no right to conclude from the scanty remains
of any city that its legendary greatness in primitive times was a mere
exaggeration.  ‘We are not justified,’ he says, ‘in rejecting the
tradition of the magnitude of the Trojan armament, because Mycenæ and the
other towns of that age seem to us small and insignificant.  For, if
Lacedæmon was to become desolate, any antiquarian judging merely from its
ruins would be inclined to regard the tale of the Spartan hegemony as an
idle myth; for the city is a mere collection of villages after the old
fashion of Hellas, and has none of those splendid public buildings and
temples which characterise Athens, and whose remains, in the case of the
latter city, would be so marvellous as to lead the superficial observer
into an exaggerated estimate of the Athenian power.’  Nothing can be more
scientific than the archæological canons laid down, whose truth is
strikingly illustrated to any one who has compared the waste fields of
the Eurotas plain with the lordly monuments of the Athenian acropolis.

On the other hand, Thucydides is quite conscious of the value of the
positive evidence afforded by archæological remains.  He appeals, for
instance, to the character of the armour found in the Delian tombs and
the peculiar mode of sepulture, as corroboration of his theory of the
predominance of the Carian element among the primitive islanders, and to
the concentration of all the temples either in the Acropolis, or in its
immediate vicinity, to the name of _ἄστυ_ by which it was still known,
and to the extraordinary sanctity of the spring of water there, as proof
that the primitive city was originally confined to the citadel, and the
district immediately beneath it (ii. 16).  And lastly, in the very
opening of his history, anticipating one of the most scientific of modern
methods, he points out how in early states of civilisation immense
fertility of the soil tends to favour the personal aggrandisement of
individuals, and so to stop the normal progress of the country through
‘the rise of factions, that endless source of ruin’; and also by the
allurements it offers to a foreign invader, to necessitate a continual
change of population, one immigration following on another.  He
exemplifies his theory by pointing to the endless political revolutions
that characterised Arcadia, Thessaly and Boeotia, the three richest spots
in Greece, as well as by the negative instance of the undisturbed state
in primitive time of Attica, which was always remarkable for the dryness
and poverty of its soil.

Now, while undoubtedly in these passages we may recognise the first
anticipation of many of the most modern principles of research, we must
remember how essentially limited is the range of the _archæologia_, and
how no theory at all is offered on the wider questions of the general
conditions of the rise and progress of humanity, a problem which is first
scientifically discussed in the _Republic_ of Plato.

And at the outset it must be premised that, while the study of primitive
man is an essentially inductive science, resting rather on the
accumulation of evidence than on speculation, among the Greeks it was
prosecuted rather on deductive principles.  Thucydides did, indeed, avail
himself of the opportunities afforded by the unequal development of
civilisation in his own day in Greece, and in the places I have pointed
out seems to have anticipated the comparative method.  But we do not find
later writers availing themselves of the wonderfully accurate and
picturesque accounts given by Herodotus of the customs of savage tribes.
To take one instance, which bears a good deal on modern questions, we
find in the works of this great traveller the gradual and progressive
steps in the development of the family life clearly manifested in the
mere gregarious herding together of the Agathyrsi, their primitive
kinsmanship through women in common, and the rise of a feeling of
paternity from a state of polyandry.  This tribe stood at that time on
that borderland between umbilical relationship and the family which has
been such a difficult point for modern anthropologists to find.

The ancient authors, however, are unanimous in insisting that the family
is the ultimate unit of society, though, as I have said, an inductive
study of primitive races, or even the accounts given of them by
Herodotus, would have shown them that the _νεοττιὰ ἴδια_ of a personal
household, to use Plato’s expression, is really a most complex notion
appearing always in a late stage of civilisation, along with recognition
of private property and the rights of individualism.

Philology also, which in the hands of modern investigators has proved
such a splendid instrument of research, was in ancient days studied on
principles too unscientific to be of much use.  Herodotus points out that
the word _Eridanos_ is essentially Greek in character, that consequently
the river supposed to run round the world is probably a mere Greek
invention.  His remarks, however, on language generally, as in the case
of _Piromis_ and the ending of the Persian names, show on what unsound
basis his knowledge of language rested.

In the _Bacchæ_ of Euripides there is an extremely interesting passage in
which the immoral stories of the Greek mythology are accounted for on the
principle of that misunderstanding of words and metaphors to which modern
science has given the name of a disease of language.  In answer to the
impious rationalism of Pentheus—a sort of modern Philistine—Teiresias,
who may be termed the Max Müller of the Theban cycle, points out that the
story of Dionysus being inclosed in Zeus’ thigh really arose from the
linguistic confusion between _μηρός_ and _ὅμηρος_.

On the whole, however—for I have quoted these two instances only to show
the unscientific character of early philology—we may say that this
important instrument in recreating the history of the past was not really
used by the ancients as a means of historical criticism.  Nor did the
ancients employ that other method, used to such advantage in our own day,
by which in the symbolism and formulas of an advanced civilisation we can
detect the unconscious survival of ancient customs: for, whereas in the
sham capture of the bride at a marriage feast, which was common in Wales
till a recent time, we can discern the lingering reminiscence of the
barbarous habit of exogamy, the ancient writers saw only the deliberate
commemoration of an historical event.

Aristotle does not tell us by what method he discovered that the Greeks
used to buy their wives in primitive times, but, judging by his general
principles, it was probably through some legend or myth on the subject
which lasted to his own day, and not, as we would do, by arguing back
from the marriage presents given to the bride and her relatives. {37}

The origin of the common proverb ‘worth so many beeves,’ in which we
discern the unconscious survival of a purely pastoral state of society
before the use of metals was known, is ascribed by Plutarch to the fact
of Theseus having coined money bearing a bull’s head.  Similarly, the
Amathusian festival, in which a young man imitated the labours of a woman
in travail, is regarded by him as a rite instituted in Ariadne’s honour,
and the Carian adoration of asparagus as a simple commemoration of the
adventure of the nymph Perigune.  In the first of these _we_ discern the
beginning of agnation and kinsmanship through the father, which still
lingers in the ‘couvee’ of New Zealand tribes: while the second is a
relic of the totem and fetish worship of plants.

Now, in entire opposition to this modern inductive principle of research
stands the philosophic Plato, whose account of primitive man is entirely
speculative and deductive.

The origin of society he ascribes to necessity, the mother of all
inventions, and imagines that individual man began deliberately to herd
together on account of the advantages of the principle of division of
labour and the rendering of mutual need.

It must, however, be borne in mind that Plato’s object in this whole
passage in the _Republic_ was, perhaps, not so much to analyse the
conditions of early society as to illustrate the importance of the
division of labour, the shibboleth of his political economy, by showing
what a powerful factor it must have been in the most primitive as well as
in the most complex states of society; just as in the _Laws_ he almost
rewrites entirely the history of the Peloponnesus in order to prove the
necessity of a balance of power.  He surely, I mean, must have recognised
himself how essentially incomplete his theory was in taking no account of
the origin of family life, the position and influence of women, and other
social questions, as well as in disregarding those deeper motives of
religion, which are such important factors in early civilisation, and
whose influence Aristotle seems to have clearly apprehended, when he says
that the aim of primitive society was not merely life but the higher
life, and that in the origin of society utility is not the sole motive,
but that there is something spiritual in it if, at least, ‘spiritual’
will bring out the meaning of that complex expression _τὸ καλόν_.
Otherwise, the whole account in the _Republic_ of primitive man will
always remain as a warning against the intrusion of _a priori_
speculations in the domain appropriate to induction.

Now, Aristotle’s theory of the origin of society, like his philosophy of
ethics, rests ultimately on the principle of final causes, not in the
theological meaning of an aim or tendency imposed from without, but in
the scientific sense of function corresponding to organ.  ‘Nature maketh
no thing in vain’ is the text of Aristotle in this as in other inquiries.
Man being the only animal possessed of the power of rational speech is,
he asserts, by nature intended to be social, more so than the bee or any
other gregarious animal.

He is _φύσει πολιτικός_, and the national tendency towards higher forms
of perfection brings the ‘armed savage who used to sell his wife’ to the
free independence of a free state, and to the _ἰσότης τοῦ ἄρχειν καὶ τοῦ
ἄρχεσθαι_, which was the test of true citizenship.  The stages passed
through by humanity start with the family first as the ultimate unit.

The conglomeration of families forms a village ruled by that patriarchal
sway which is the oldest form of government in the world, as is shown by
the fact that all men count it to be the constitution of heaven, and the
villages are merged into the state, and here the progression stops.

For Aristotle, like all Greek thinkers, found his ideal within the walls
of the _πόλις_, yet perhaps in his remark that a united Greece would rule
the world we may discern some anticipation of that ‘federal union of free
states into one consolidated empire’ which, more than the _πόλις_, is to
our eyes the ultimately perfect polity.

How far Aristotle was justified in regarding the family as the ultimate
unit, with the materials afforded to him by Greek literature, I have
already noticed.  Besides, Aristotle, I may remark, had he reflected on
the meaning of that Athenian law which, while prohibiting marriage with a
uterine sister, permitted it with a sister-german, or on the common
tradition in Athens that before the time of Cecrops children bore their
mothers’ names, or on some of the Spartan regulations, could hardly have
failed to see the universality of kinsmanship through women in early
days, and the late appearance of monandry.  Yet, while he missed this
point, in common, it must be acknowledged, with many modern writers, such
as Sir Henry Maine, it is essentially as an explorer of inductive
instances that we recognise his improvement on Plato.  The treatise _περὶ
πολιτείων_, did it remain to us in its entirety, would have been one of
the most valuable landmarks in the progress of historical criticism, and
the first scientific treatise on the science of comparative politics.

A few fragments still remain to us, in one of which we find Aristotle
appealing to the authority of an ancient inscription on the ‘Disk of
Iphitus,’ one of the most celebrated Greek antiquities, to corroborate
his theory of the Lycurgean revival of the Olympian festival; while his
enormous research is evinced in the elaborate explanation he gives of the
historical origin of proverbs such as _οὐδεῖς μέγας κακὸς ἰχθῦς_, of
religious songs like the _ἰῶμεν ἐς Ἀθήνας_ of the Botticean virgins, or
the praises of love and war.

And, finally, it is to be observed how much wider than Plato’s his theory
of the origin of society is.  They both rest on a psychological basis,
but Aristotle’s recognition of the capacity for progress and the tendency
towards a higher life shows how much deeper his knowledge of human nature

In imitation of these two philosophers, Polybius gives an account of the
origin of society in the opening to his philosophy of history.  Somewhat
in the spirit of Plato, he imagines that after one of the cyclic deluges
which sweep off mankind at stated periods and annihilate all pre-existing
civilisation, the few surviving members of humanity coalesce for mutual
protection, and, as in the case with ordinary animals, the one most
remarkable for physical strength is elected king.  In a short time, owing
to the workings of sympathy and the desire of approbation, the moral
qualities begin to make their appearance, and intellectual instead of
bodily excellence becomes the qualification for sovereignty.

Other points, as the rise of law and the like, are dwelt on in a somewhat
modern spirit, and although Polybius seems not to have employed the
inductive method of research in this question, or rather, I should say,
of the hierarchical order of the rational progress of ideas in life, he
is not far removed from what the laborious investigations of modern
travellers have given us.

And, indeed, as regards the working of the speculative faculty in the
creation of history, it is in all respects marvellous how that the most
truthful accounts of the passage from barbarism to civilisation in
ancient literature come from the works of poets.  The elaborate
researches of Mr. Tylor and Sir John Lubbock have done little more than
verify the theories put forward in the _Prometheus Bound_ and the _De
Natura Rerum_; yet neither Æschylus nor Lucretias followed in the modern
path, but rather attained to truth by a certain almost mystic power of
creative imagination, such as we now seek to banish from science as a
dangerous power, though to it science seems to owe many of its most
splendid generalities. {43}

Leaving then the question of the origin of society as treated by the
ancients, I shall now turn to the other and the more important question
of how far they may he said to have attained to what we call the
philosophy of history.

Now at the outset we must note that, while the conceptions of law and
order have been universally received as the governing principles of the
phenomena of nature in the sphere of physical science, yet their
intrusion into the domain of history and the life of man has always been
met with a strong opposition, on the ground of the incalculable nature of
two great forces acting on human action, a certain causeless spontaneity
which men call free will, and the extra-natural interference which they
attribute as a constant attribute to God.

Now, that there is a science of the apparently variable phenomena of
history is a conception which _we_ have perhaps only recently begun to
appreciate; yet, like all other great thoughts, it seems to have come to
the Greek mind spontaneously, through a certain splendour of imagination,
in the morning tide of their civilisation, before inductive research had
armed them with the instruments of verification.  For I think it is
possible to discern in some of the mystic speculations of the early Greek
thinkers that desire to discover what is that ‘invariable existence of
which there are variable states,’ and to incorporate it in some one
formula of law which may serve to explain the different manifestations of
all organic bodies, _man included_, which is the germ of the philosophy
of history; the germ indeed of an idea of which it is not too much to say
that on it any kind of historical criticism, worthy of the name, must
ultimately rest.

For the very first requisite for any scientific conception of history is
the doctrine of uniform sequence: in other words, that certain events
having happened, certain other events corresponding to them will happen
also; that the past is the key of the future.

Now at the birth of this great conception science, it is true, presided,
yet religion it was which at the outset clothed it in its own garb, and
familiarised men with it by appealing to their hearts first and then to
their intellects; knowing that at the beginning of things it is through
the moral nature, and not through the intellectual, that great truths are

So in Herodotus, who may be taken as a representative of the orthodox
tone of thought, the idea of the uniform sequence of cause and effect
appears under the theological aspect of Nemesis and Providence, which is
really the scientific conception of law, only it is viewed from an
_ethical_ standpoint.

Now in Thucydides the philosophy of history rests on the probability,
which the uniformity of human nature affords us, that the future will in
the course of human things resemble the past, if not reproduce it.  He
appears to contemplate a recurrence of the phenomena of history as
equally certain with a return of the epidemic of the Great Plague.

Notwithstanding what German critics have written on the subject, we must
beware of regarding this conception as a mere reproduction of that cyclic
theory of events which sees in the world nothing but the regular rotation
of Strophe and Antistrophe, in the eternal choir of life and death.

For, in his remarks on the excesses of the Corcyrean Revolution,
Thucydides distinctly rests his idea of the recurrence of history on the
psychological grounds of the general sameness of mankind.

‘The sufferings,’ he says, ‘which revolution entailed upon the cities
were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occurs as
long as human nature remains the same, though in a severer or milder
form, and varying in their symptoms according to the variety of the
particular cases.

‘In peace and prosperity states and individuals have better sentiments,
because they are not confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes
away the easy supply of men’s wants, and so proves a hard taskmaster,
which brings most men’s characters to a level with their fortunes.’


IT is evident that here Thucydides is ready to admit the variety of
manifestations which external causes bring about in their workings on the
uniform character of the nature of man.  Yet, after all is said, these
are perhaps but very general statements: the ordinary effects of peace
and war are dwelt on, but there is no real analysis of the immediate
causes and general laws of the phenomena of life, nor does Thucydides
seem to recognise the truth that if humanity proceeds in circles, the
circles are always widening.

Perhaps we may say that with him the philosophy of history is partly in
the metaphysical stage, and see, in the progress of this idea from
Herodotus to Polybius, the exemplification of the Comtian Law of the
three stages of thought, the theological, the metaphysical, and the
scientific: for truly out of the vagueness of theological mysticism this
conception which we call the Philosophy of History was raised to a
scientific principle, according to which the past was explained and the
future predicted by reference to general laws.

Now, just as the earliest account of the nature of the progress of
humanity is to be found in Plato, so in him we find the first explicit
attempt to found a universal philosophy of history upon wide rational
grounds.  Having created an ideally perfect state, the philosopher
proceeds to give an elaborate theory of the complex causes which produce
revolutions, of the moral effects of various forms of government and
education, of the rise of the criminal classes and their connection with
pauperism, and, in a word, to create history by the deductive method and
to proceed from _a priori_ psychological principles to discover the
governing laws of the apparent chaos of political life.

There have been many attempts since Plato to deduce from a single
philosophical principle all the phenomena which experience subsequently
verifies for us.  Fichte thought he could predict the world-plan from the
idea of universal time.  Hegel dreamed he had found the key to the
mysteries of life in the development of freedom, and Krause in the
categories of being.  But the one scientific basis on which the true
philosophy of history must rest is the complete knowledge of the laws of
human nature in all its wants, its aspirations, its powers and its
tendencies: and this great truth, which Thucydides may be said in some
measure to have apprehended, was given to us first by Plato.

Now, it cannot be accurately said of this philosopher that either his
philosophy or his history is entirely and simply _a priori_.  _On est de
son siècle même quand on y proteste_, and so we find in him continual
references to the Spartan mode of life, the Pythagorean system, the
general characteristics of Greek tyrannies and Greek democracies.  For
while, in his account of the method of forming an ideal state, he says
that the political artist is indeed to fix his gaze on the sun of
abstract truth in the heavens of the pure reason, but is sometimes to
turn to the realisation of the ideals on earth: yet, after all, the
general character of the Platonic method, which is what we are specially
concerned with, is essentially deductive and _a priori_.  And he himself,
in the building up of his Nephelococcygia, certainly starts with a
_καθαρὸς πίναξ_, making a clean sweep of all history and all experience;
and it was essentially as an _a priori_ theorist that he is criticised by
Aristotle, as we shall see later.

To proceed to closer details regarding the actual scheme of the laws of
political revolutions as drawn out by Plato, we must first note that the
primary cause of the decay of the ideal state is the general principle,
common to the vegetable and animal worlds as well as to the world of
history, that all created things are fated to decay—a principle which,
though expressed in the terms of a mere metaphysical abstraction, is yet
perhaps in its essence scientific.  For we too must hold that a
continuous redistribution of matter and motion is the inevitable result
of the nominal persistence of Force, and that perfect equilibrium is as
impossible in politics as it certainly is in physics.

The secondary causes which mar the perfection of the Platonic ‘city of
the sun’ are to be found in the intellectual decay of the race consequent
on injudicious marriages and in the Philistine elevation of physical
achievements over mental culture; while the hierarchical succession of
Timocracy and Oligarchy, Democracy and Tyranny, is dwelt on at great
length and its causes analysed in a very dramatic and psychological
manner, if not in that sanctioned by the actual order of history.

And indeed it is apparent at first sight that the Platonic succession of
states represents rather the succession of ideas in the philosophic mind
than any historical succession of time.

Aristotle meets the whole simply by an appeal to facts.  If the theory of
the periodic decay of all created things, he urges, be scientific, it
must be universal, and so true of all the other states as well as of the
ideal.  Besides, a state usually changes into its contrary and not to the
form next to it; so the ideal state would not change into Timocracy;
while Oligarchy, more often than Tyranny, succeeds Democracy.  Plato,
besides, says nothing of what a Tyranny would change to.  According to
the cycle theory it ought to pass into the ideal state again, but as a
fact one Tyranny is changed into another as at Sicyon, or into a
Democracy as at Syracuse, or into an Aristocracy as at Carthage.  The
example of Sicily, too, shows that an Oligarchy is often followed by a
Tyranny, as at Leontini and Gela.  Besides, it is absurd to represent
greed as the chief motive of decay, or to talk of avarice as the root of
Oligarchy, when in nearly all true oligarchies money-making is forbidden
by law.  And finally the Platonic theory neglects the different kinds of
democracies and of tyrannies.

Now nothing can be more important than this passage in Aristotle’s
_Politics_ (_v._ 12.), which may he said to mark an era in the evolution
of historical criticism.  For there is nothing on which Aristotle insists
so strongly as that the generalisations from facts ought to be added to
the data of the _a priori_ method—a principle which we know to be true
not merely of deductive speculative politics but of physics also: for are
not the residual phenomena of chemists a valuable source of improvement
in theory?

His own method is essentially historical though by no means empirical.
On the contrary, this far-seeing thinker, rightly styled _il maestro di
color che sanno_, may be said to have apprehended clearly that the true
method is neither exclusively empirical nor exclusively speculative, but
rather a union of both in the process called Analysis or the
Interpretation of Facts, which has been defined as the application to
facts of such general conceptions as may fix the important
characteristics of the phenomena, and present them permanently in their
true relations.  He too was the first to point out, what even in our own
day is incompletely appreciated, that nature, including the development
of man, is not full of incoherent episodes like a bad tragedy, that
inconsistency and anomaly are as impossible in the moral as they are in
the physical world, and that where the superficial observer thinks he
sees a revolution the philosophical critic discerns merely the gradual
and rational evolution of the inevitable results of certain antecedents.

And while admitting the necessity of a psychological basis for the
philosophy of history, he added to it the important truth that man, to be
apprehended in his proper position in the universe as well as in his
natural powers, must be studied from below in the hierarchical
progression of higher function from the lower forms of life.  The
important maxim, that to obtain a clear conception of anything we must
‘study it in its growth from the very beginning,’ is formally set down in
the opening of the _Politics_, where, indeed, we shall find the other
characteristic features of the modern Evolutionary theory, such as the
‘Differentiation of Function’ and the ‘Survival of the Fittest’
explicitly set forth.

What a valuable step this was in the improvement of the method of
historical criticism it is needless to point out.  By it, one may say,
the true thread was given to guide one’s steps through the bewildering
labyrinth of facts.  For history (to use terms with which Aristotle has
made us familiar) may be looked at from two essentially different
standpoints; either as a work of art whose _τέλος_ or final cause is
external to it and imposed on it from without; or as an organism
containing the law of its own development in itself, and working out its
perfection merely by the fact of being what it is.  Now, if we adopt the
former, which we may style the theological view, we shall be in continual
danger of tripping into the pitfall of some _a priori_ conclusion—that
bourne from which, it has been truly said, no traveller ever returns.

The latter is the only scientific theory and was apprehended in its
fulness by Aristotle, whose application of the inductive method to
history, and whose employment of the evolutionary theory of humanity,
show that he was conscious that the philosophy of history is nothing
separate from the facts of history but is contained in them, and that the
rational law of the complex phenomena of life, like the ideal in the
world of thought, is to be reached through the facts, not superimposed on
them—_κατὰ πολλῶν_ not _παρὰ πολλά_.

And finally, in estimating the enormous debt which the science of
historical criticism owes to Aristotle, we must not pass over his
attitude towards those two great difficulties in the formation of a
philosophy of history on which I have touched above.  I mean the
assertion of extra-natural interference with the normal development of
the world and of the incalculable influence exercised by the power of
free will.

Now, as regards the former, he may be said to have neglected it entirely.
The special acts of providence proceeding from God’s immediate government
of the world, which Herodotus saw as mighty landmarks in history, would
have been to him essentially disturbing elements in that universal reign
of law, the extent of whose limitless empire he of all the great thinkers
of antiquity was the first explicitly to recognise.

Standing aloof from the popular religion as well as from the deeper
conceptions of Herodotus and the Tragic School, he no longer thought of
God as of one with fair limbs and treacherous face haunting wood and
glade, nor would he see in him a jealous judge continually interfering in
the world’s history to bring the wicked to punishment and the proud to a
fall.  God to him was the incarnation of the pure Intellect, a being
whose activity was the contemplation of his own perfection, one whom
Philosophy might imitate but whom prayers could never move, to the
sublime indifference of whose passionless wisdom what were the sons of
men, their desires or their sins?  While, as regards the other difficulty
and the formation of a philosophy of history, the conflict of free will
with general laws appears first in Greek thought in the usual theological
form in which all great ideas seem to be cradled at their birth.

It was such legends as those of Œdipus and Adrastus, exemplifying the
struggles of individual humanity against the overpowering force of
circumstances and necessity, which gave to the early Greeks those same
lessons which we of modern days draw, in somewhat less artistic fashion,
from the study of statistics and the laws of physiology.

In Aristotle, of course, there is no trace of supernatural influence.
The Furies, which drive their victim into sin first and then punishment,
are no longer ‘viper-tressed goddesses with eyes and mouth aflame,’ but
those evil thoughts which harbour within the impure soul.  In this, as in
all other points, to arrive at Aristotle is to reach the pure atmosphere
of scientific and modern thought.

But while he rejected pure necessitarianism in its crude form as
essentially a _reductio ad absurdum_ of life, he was fully conscious of
the fact that the will is not a mysterious and ultimate unit of force
beyond which we cannot go and whose special characteristic is
inconsistency, but a certain creative attitude of the mind which is, from
the first, continually influenced by habits, education and circumstance;
so absolutely modifiable, in a word, that the good and the bad man alike
seem to lose the power of free will; for the one is morally unable to
sin, the other physically incapacitated for reformation.

And of the influence of climate and temperature in forming the nature of
man (a conception perhaps pressed too far in modern days when the ‘race
theory’ is supposed to be a sufficient explanation of the Hindoo, and the
latitude and longitude of a country the best guide to its morals {57})
Aristotle is completely unaware.  I do not allude to such smaller points
as the oligarchical tendencies of a horse-breeding country and the
democratic influence of the proximity of the sea (important though they
are for the consideration of Greek history), but rather to those wider
views in the seventh book of his _Politics_, where he attributes the
happy union in the Greek character of intellectual attainments with the
spirit of progress to the temperate climate they enjoyed, and points out
how the extreme cold of the north dulls the mental faculties of its
inhabitants and renders them incapable of social organisation or extended
empire; while to the enervating heat of eastern countries was due that
want of spirit and bravery which then, as now, was the characteristic of
the population in that quarter of the globe.

Thucydides has shown the causal connection between political revolutions
and the fertility of the soil, but goes a step farther and points out the
psychological influences on a people’s character exercised by the various
extremes of climate—in both cases the first appearance of a most valuable
form of historical criticism.

To the development of Dialectic, as to God, intervals of time are of no
account.  From Plato and Aristotle we pass direct to Polybius.

The progress of thought from the philosopher of the Academe to the
Arcadian historian may be best illustrated by a comparison of the method
by which each of the three writers, whom I have selected as the highest
expression of the rationalism of his respective age, attained to his
ideal state: for the latter conception may be in a measure regarded as
representing the most spiritual principle which they could discern in

Now, Plato created his on _a priori_ principles; Aristotle formed his by
an analysis of existing constitutions; Polybius found his realised for
him in the actual world of fact.  Aristotle criticised the deductive
speculations of Plato by means of inductive negative instances, but
Polybius will not take the ‘Cloud City’ of the _Republic_ into account at
all.  He compares it to an athlete who has never run on ‘Constitution
Hill,’ to a statue so beautiful that it is entirely removed from the
ordinary conditions of humanity, and consequently from the canons of

The Roman state had attained in his eyes, by means of the mutual
counteraction of three opposing forces, {59} that stable equilibrium in
politics which was the ideal of all the theoretical writers of antiquity.
And in connection with this point it will be convenient to notice here
how much truth there is contained in the accusation often brought against
the ancients that they knew nothing of the idea of Progress, for the
meaning of many of their speculations will be hidden from us if we do not
try and comprehend first what their aim was, and secondly why it was so.

Now, like all wide generalities, this statement is at least inaccurate.
The prayer of Plato’s ideal City—_ἐξ ἀγαθῶν ἀμείνους_, _καὶ ἐξ ὠφελιμῶν
ὠφελιμωτέρους ἀεὶ τοὺς ἐκγόνους γίγνεσθαι_, might be written as a text
over the door of the last Temple to Humanity raised by the disciples of
Fourier and Saint-Simon, but it is certainly true that their ideal
principle was order and permanence, not indefinite progress.  For,
setting aside the artistic prejudices which would have led the Greeks to
reject this idea of unlimited improvement, we may note that the modern
conception of progress rests partly on the new enthusiasm and worship of
humanity, partly on the splendid hopes of material improvements in
civilisation which applied science has held out to us, two influences
from which ancient Greek thought seems to have been strangely free.  For
the Greeks marred the perfect humanism of the great men whom they
worshipped, by imputing to them divinity and its supernatural powers;
while their science was eminently speculative and often almost mystic in
its character, aiming at culture and not utility, at higher spirituality
and more intense reverence for law, rather than at the increased
facilities of locomotion and the cheap production of common things about
which our modern scientific school ceases not to boast.  And lastly, and
perhaps chiefly, we must remember that the ‘plague spot of all Greek
states,’ as one of their own writers has called it, was the terrible
insecurity to life and property which resulted from the factions and
revolutions which ceased not to trouble Greece at all times, raising a
spirit of fanaticism such as religion raised in the middle ages of

These considerations, then, will enable us to understand first how it was
that, radical and unscrupulous reformers as the Greek political theorists
were, yet, their end once attained, no modern conservatives raised such
outcry against the slightest innovation.  Even acknowledged improvements
in such things as the games of children or the modes of music were
regarded by them with feelings of extreme apprehension as the herald of
the _drapeau rouge_ of reform.  And secondly, it will show us how it was
that Polybius found his ideal in the commonwealth of Rome, and Aristotle,
like Mr. Bright, in the middle classes.  Polybius, however, is not
content merely with pointing out his ideal state, but enters at
considerable length into the question of those general laws whose
consideration forms the chief essential of the philosophy of history.

He starts by accepting the general principle that all things are fated to
decay (which I noticed in the case of Plato), and that ‘as iron produces
rust and as wood breeds the animals that destroy it, so every state has
in it the seeds of its own corruption.’  He is not, however, content to
rest there, but proceeds to deal with the more immediate causes of
revolutions, which he says are twofold in nature, either external or
internal.  Now, the former, depending as they do on the synchronous
conjunction of other events outside the sphere of scientific estimation,
are from their very character incalculable; but the latter, though
assuming many forms, always result from the over-great preponderance of
any single element to the detriment of the others, the rational law lying
at the base of all varieties of political changes being that stability
can result only from the statical equilibrium produced by the
counteraction of opposing parts, since the more simple a constitution is
the more it is insecure.  Plato had pointed out before how the extreme
liberty of a democracy always resulted in despotism, but Polybius
analyses the law and shows the scientific principles on which it rests.

The doctrine of the instability of pure constitutions forms an important
era in the philosophy of history.  Its special applicability to the
politics of our own day has been illustrated in the rise of the great
Napoleon, when the French state had lost those divisions of caste and
prejudice, of landed aristocracy and moneyed interest, institutions in
which the vulgar see only barriers to Liberty but which are indeed the
only possible defences against the coming of that periodic Sirius of
politics, the _τύραννος ἐκ προστατικῆς ῥίζης_.

There is a principle which Tocqueville never wearies of explaining, and
which has been subsumed by Mr. Herbert Spencer under that general law
common to all organic bodies which we call the Instability of the
Homogeneous.  The various manifestations of this law, as shown in the
normal, regular revolutions and evolutions of the different forms of
government, {63a} are expounded with great clearness by Polybius, who
claimed for his theory, in the Thucydidean spirit, that it is a _κτῆμα ἐς
ἀεί_, not a mere _ἀγώνισμα ἐς τὸ παραχρῆμα_, and that a knowledge of it
will enable the impartial observer {63b} to discover at any time what
period of its constitutional evolution any particular state has already
reached and into what form it will be next differentiated, though
possibly the exact time of the changes may be more or less uncertain.

Now in this necessarily incomplete account of the laws of political
revolutions as expounded by Polybius enough perhaps has been said to show
what is his true position in the rational development of the ‘Idea’ which
I have called the Philosophy of History, because it is the unifying of
history.  Seen darkly as it is through the glass of religion in the pages
of Herodotus, more metaphysical than scientific with Thucydides, Plato
strove to seize it by the eagle-flight of speculation, to reach it with
the eager grasp of a soul impatient of those slower and surer inductive
methods which Aristotle, in his trenchant criticism of his greater
master, showed were more brilliant than any vague theory, if the test of
brilliancy is truth.

What then is the position of Polybius?  Does any new method remain for
him?  Polybius was one of those many men who are born too late to be
original.  To Thucydides belongs the honour of being the first in the
history of Greek thought to discern the supreme calm of law and order
underlying the fitful storms of life, and Plato and Aristotle each
represents a great new principle.  To Polybius belongs the office—how
noble an office he made it his writings show—of making more explicit the
ideas which were implicit in his predecessors, of showing that they were
of wider applicability and perhaps of deeper meaning than they had seemed
before, of examining with more minuteness the laws which they had
discovered, and finally of pointing out more clearly than any one had
done the range of science and the means it offered for analysing the
present and predicting what was to come.  His office thus was to gather
up what they had left, to give their principles new life by a wider

Polybius ends this great diapason of Greek thought.  When the Philosophy
of history appears next, as in Plutarch’s tract on ‘Why God’s anger is
delayed,’ the pendulum of thought had swung back to where it began.  His
theory was introduced to the Romans under the cultured style of Cicero,
and was welcomed by them as the philosophical panegyric of their state.
The last notice of it in Latin literature is in the pages of Tacitus, who
alludes to the stable polity formed out of these elements as a
constitution easier to commend than to produce and in no case lasting.
Yet Polybius had seen the future with no uncertain eye, and had
prophesied the rise of the Empire from the unbalanced power of the
ochlocracy fifty years and more before there was joy in the Julian
household over the birth of that boy who, born to power as the champion
of the people, died wearing the purple of a king.

No attitude of historical criticism is more important than the means by
which the ancients attained to the philosophy of history.  The principle
of heredity can be exemplified in literature as well as in organic life:
Aristotle, Plato and Polybius are the lineal ancestors of Fichte and
Hegel, of Vico and Cousin, of Montesquieu and Tocqueville.

As my aim is not to give an account of historians but to point out those
great thinkers whose methods have furthered the advance of this spirit of
historical criticism, I shall pass over those annalists and chroniclers
who intervened between Thucydides and Polybius.  Yet perhaps it may serve
to throw new light on the real nature of this spirit and its intimate
connection with all other forms of advanced thought if I give some
estimate of the character and rise of those many influences prejudicial
to the scientific study of history which cause such a wide gap between
these two historians.

Foremost among these is the growing influence of rhetoric and the
Isocratean school, which seems to have regarded history as an arena for
the display either of pathos or paradoxes, not a scientific investigation
into laws.

The new age is the age of style.  The same spirit of exclusive attention
to form which made Euripides often, like Swinburne, prefer music to
meaning and melody to morality, which gave to the later Greek statues
that refined effeminacy, that overstrained gracefulness of attitude, was
felt in the sphere of history.  The rules laid down for historical
composition are those relating to the æsthetic value of digressions, the
legality of employing more than one metaphor in the same sentence, and
the like; and historians are ranked not by their power of estimating
evidence but by the goodness of the Greek they write.

I must note also the important influence on literature exercised by
Alexander the Great; for while his travels encouraged the more accurate
research of geography, the very splendour of his achievements seems to
have brought history again into the sphere of romance.  The appearance of
all great men in the world is followed invariably by the rise of that
mythopœic spirit and that tendency to look for the marvellous, which is
so fatal to true historical criticism.  An Alexander, a Napoleon, a
Francis of Assisi and a Mahomet are thought to be outside the limiting
conditions of rational law, just as comets were supposed to be not very
long ago.  While the founding of that city of Alexandria, in which
Western and Eastern thought met with such strange result to both,
diverted the critical tendencies of the Greek spirit into questions of
grammar, philology and the like, the narrow, artificial atmosphere of
that University town (as we may call it) was fatal to the development of
that independent and speculative spirit of research which strikes out new
methods of inquiry, of which historical criticism is one.

The Alexandrines combined a great love of learning with an ignorance of
the true principles of research, an enthusiastic spirit for accumulating
materials with a wonderful incapacity to use them.  Not among the hot
sands of Egypt, or the Sophists of Athens, but from the very heart of
Greece rises the man of genius on whose influence in the evolution of the
philosophy of history I have a short time ago dwelt.  Born in the serene
and pure air of the clear uplands of Arcadia, Polybius may be said to
reproduce in his work the character of the place which gave him birth.
For, of all the historians—I do not say of antiquity but of all time—none
is more rationalistic than he, none more free from any belief in the
‘visions and omens, the monstrous legends, the grovelling superstitions
and unmanly craving for the supernatural’ (_δεισιδαιμονίας ἀγεννοῦς καὶ
τερατείας γυναικώδους_ {68}) which he himself is compelled to notice as
the characteristics of some of the historians who preceded him.
Fortunate in the land which bore him, he was no less blessed in the
wondrous time of his birth.  For, representing in himself the spiritual
supremacy of the Greek intellect and allied in bonds of chivalrous
friendship to the world-conqueror of his day, he seems led as it were by
the hand of Fate ‘to comprehend,’ as has been said, ‘more clearly than
the Romans themselves the historical position of Rome,’ and to discern
with greater insight than all other men could those two great resultants
of ancient civilisation, the material empire of the city of the seven
hills, and the intellectual sovereignty of Hellas.

Before his own day, he says, {69a} the events of the world were
unconnected and separate and the histories confined to particular
countries.  Now, for the first time the universal empire of the Romans
rendered a universal history possible. {69b}  This, then, is the august
motive of his work: to trace the gradual rise of this Italian city from
the day when the first legion crossed the narrow strait of Messina and
landed on the fertile fields of Sicily to the time when Corinth in the
East and Carthage in the West fell before the resistless wave of empire
and the eagles of Rome passed on the wings of universal victory from
Calpe and the Pillars of Hercules to Syria and the Nile.  At the same
time he recognised that the scheme of Rome’s empire was worked out under
the ægis of God’s will. {69c}  For, as one of the Middle Age scribes most
truly says, the _τύχη_ of Polybius is that power which we Christians call
God; the second aim, as one may call it, of his history is to point out
the rational and human and natural causes which brought this result,
distinguishing, as we should say, between God’s mediate and immediate
government of the world.

With any direct intervention of God in the normal development of Man, he
will have nothing to do: still less with any idea of chance as a factor
in the phenomena of life.  Chance and miracles, he says, are mere
expressions for our ignorance of rational causes.  The spirit of
rationalism which we recognised in Herodotus as a vague uncertain
attitude and which appears in Thucydides as a consistent attitude of mind
never argued about or even explained, is by Polybius analysed and
formulated as the great instrument of historical research.

Herodotus, while believing on principle in the supernatural, yet was
sceptical at times.  Thucydides simply ignored the supernatural.  He did
not discuss it, but he annihilated it by explaining history without it.
Polybius enters at length into the whole question and explains its origin
and the method of treating it.  Herodotus would have believed in Scipio’s
dream.  Thucydides would have ignored it entirely.  Polybius explains it.
He is the culmination of the rational progression of Dialectic.
‘Nothing,’ he says, ‘shows a foolish mind more than the attempt to
account for any phenomena on the principle of chance or supernatural
intervention.  History is a search for rational causes, and there is
nothing in the world—even those phenomena which seem to us the most
remote from law and improbable—which is not the logical and inevitable
result of certain rational antecedents.’

Some things, of course, are to be rejected _a priori_ without entering
into the subject: ‘As regards such miracles,’ he says, {71} ‘as that on a
certain statue of Artemis rain or snow never falls though the statue
stands in the open air, or that those who enter God’s shrine in Arcadia
lose their natural shadows, I cannot really be expected to argue upon the
subject.  For these things are not only utterly improbable but absolutely

‘For us to argue reasonably on an acknowledged absurdity is as vain a
task as trying to catch water in a sieve; it is really to admit the
possibility of the supernatural, which is the very point at issue.’

What Polybius felt was that to admit the possibility of a miracle is to
annihilate the possibility of history: for just as scientific and
chemical experiments would be either impossible or useless if exposed to
the chance of continued interference on the part of some foreign body, so
the laws and principles which govern history, the causes of phenomena,
the evolution of progress, the whole science, in a word, of man’s
dealings with his own race and with nature, will remain a sealed book to
him who admits the possibility of extra-natural interference.

The stories of miracles, then, are to be rejected on _a priori_ rational
grounds, but in the case of events which we know to have happened the
scientific historian will not rest till he has discovered their natural
causes which, for instance, in the case of the wonderful rise of the
Roman Empire—the most marvellous thing, Polybius says, which God ever
brought about {72a}—are to be found in the excellence of their
constitution (_τῇ ἰδιότητι τῆς πολιτείας_), the wisdom of their advisers,
their splendid military arrangements, and their superstition (_τῇ
δεισιδαιμονίᾳ_).  For while Polybius regarded the revealed religion as,
of course, objective reality of truth, {72b} he laid great stress on its
moral subjective influence, going, in one passage on the subject, even so
far as almost to excuse the introduction of the supernatural in very
small quantities into history on account of the extremely good effect it
would have on pious people.

But perhaps there is no passage in the whole of ancient and modern
history which breathes such a manly and splendid spirit of rationalism as
one preserved to us in the Vatican—strange resting-place for it!—in which
he treats of the terrible decay of population which had fallen on his
native land in his own day, and which by the general orthodox public was
regarded as a special judgment of God sending childlessness on women as a
punishment for the sins of the people.  For it was a disaster quite
without parallel in the history of the land, and entirely unforeseen by
any of its political-economy writers who, on the contrary, were always
anticipating that danger would arise from an excess of population
overrunning its means of subsistence, and becoming unmanageable through
its size.  Polybius, however, will have nothing to do with either priest
or worker of miracles in this matter.  He will not even seek that ‘sacred
Heart of Greece,’ Delphi, Apollo’s shrine, whose inspiration even
Thucydides admitted and before whose wisdom Socrates bowed.  How foolish,
he says, were the man who on this matter would pray to God.  We must
search for the rational causes, and the causes are seen to be clear, and
the method of prevention also.  He then proceeds to notice how all this
arose from the general reluctance to marriage and to bearing the expense
of educating a large family which resulted from the carelessness and
avarice of the men of his day, and he explains on entirely rational
principles the whole of this apparently supernatural judgment.

Now, it is to be borne in mind that while his rejection of miracles as
violation of inviolable laws is entirely _a priori_—for discussion of
such a matter is, of course, impossible for a rational thinker—yet his
rejection of supernatural intervention rests entirely on the scientific
grounds of the necessity of looking for natural causes.  And he is quite
logical in maintaining his position on these principles.  For, where it
is either difficult or impossible to assign any rational cause for
phenomena, or to discover their laws, he acquiesces reluctantly in the
alternative of admitting some extra-natural interference which his
essentially scientific method of treating the matter has logically forced
on him, approving, for instance, of prayers for rain, on the express
ground that the laws of meteorology had not yet been ascertained.  He
would, of course, have been the first to welcome our modern discoveries
in the matter.  The passage in question is in every way one of the most
interesting in his whole work, not, of course, as signifying any
inclination on his part to acquiesce in the supernatural, but because it
shows how essentially logical and rational his method of argument was,
and how candid and fair his mind.

Having now examined Polybius’s attitude towards the supernatural and the
general ideas which guided his research, I will proceed to examine the
method he pursued in his scientific investigation of the complex
phenomena of life.  For, as I have said before in the course of this
essay, what is important in all great writers is not so much the results
they arrive at as the methods they pursue.  The increased knowledge of
facts may alter any conclusion in history as in physical science, and the
canons of speculative historical credibility must be acknowledged to
appeal rather to that subjective attitude of mind which we call the
historic sense than to any formulated objective rules.  But a scientific
method is a gain for all time, and the true if not the only progress of
historical criticism consists in the improvement of the instruments of

Now first, as regards his conception of history, I have already pointed
out that it was to him essentially a search for causes, a problem to be
solved, not a picture to be painted, a scientific investigation into laws
and tendencies, not a mere romantic account of startling incident and
wondrous adventure.  Thucydides, in the opening of his great work, had
sounded the first note of the scientific conception of history.  ‘The
absence of romance in my pages,’ he says, ‘will, I fear, detract somewhat
from its value, but I have written my work not to be the exploit of a
passing hour but as the possession of all time.’ {76}  Polybius follows
with words almost entirely similar.  If, he says, we banish from history
the consideration of causes, methods and motives (_τὸ διὰ τί_, _καὶ πως_,
_καὶ τίνος χάριν_), and refuse to consider how far the result of anything
is its rational consequent, what is left is a mere _ἀγώνισμα_, not a
_μάθημα_, an oratorical essay which may give pleasure for the moment, but
which is entirely without any scientific value for the explanation of the
future.  Elsewhere he says that ‘history robbed of the exposition of its
causes and laws is a profitless thing, though it may allure a fool.’  And
all through his history the same point is put forward and exemplified in
every fashion.

So far for the conception of history.  Now for the groundwork.  As
regards the character of the phenomena to be selected by the scientific
investigator, Aristotle had laid down the general formula that nature
should be studied in her normal manifestations.  Polybius, true to his
character of applying explicitly the principles implicit in the work of
others, follows out the doctrine of Aristotle, and lays particular stress
on the rational and undisturbed character of the development of the Roman
constitution as affording special facilities for the discovery of the
laws of its progress.  Political revolutions result from causes either
external or internal.  The former are mere disturbing forces which lie
outside the sphere of scientific calculation.  It is the latter which are
important for the establishing of principles and the elucidation of the
sequences of rational evolution.

He thus may be said to have anticipated one of the most important truths
of the modern methods of investigation: I mean that principle which lays
down that just as the study of physiology should precede the study of
pathology, just as the laws of disease are best discovered by the
phenomena presented in health, so the method of arriving at all great
social and political truths is by the investigation of those cases where
development has been normal, rational and undisturbed.

The critical canon that the more a people has been interfered with, the
more difficult it becomes to generalise the laws of its progress and to
analyse the separate forces of its civilisation, is one the validity of
which is now generally recognised by those who pretend to a scientific
treatment of all history: and while we have seen that Aristotle
anticipated it in a general formula, to Polybius belongs the honour of
being the first to apply it explicitly in the sphere of history.

I have shown how to this great scientific historian the motive of his
work was essentially the search for causes; and true to his analytical
spirit he is careful to examine what a cause really is and in what part
of the antecedents of any consequent it is to be looked for.  To give an
illustration: As regards the origin of the war with Perseus, some
assigned as causes the expulsion of Abrupolis by Perseus, the expedition
of the latter to Delphi, the plot against Eumenes and the seizure of the
ambassadors in Bœotia; of these incidents the two former, Polybius points
out, were merely the pretexts, the two latter merely the occasions of the
war.  The war was really a legacy left to Perseus by his father, who was
determined to fight it out with Rome. {78}

Here as elsewhere he is not originating any new idea.  Thucydides had
pointed out the difference between the real and the alleged cause, and
the Aristotelian dictum about revolutions, _οὐ περὶ μικρῶν ἀλλ’ ἐκ
μικρῶν_, draws the distinction between cause and occasion with the
brilliancy of an epigram.  But the explicit and rational investigation of
the difference between _αἰτία_, _ἀρχὴ_, and _πρόφασις_ was reserved for
Polybius.  No canon of historical criticism can be said to be of more
real value than that involved in this distinction, and the overlooking of
it has filled our histories with the contemptible accounts of the
intrigues of courtiers and of kings and the petty plottings of backstairs
influence—particulars interesting, no doubt, to those who would ascribe
the Reformation to Anne Boleyn’s pretty face, the Persian war to the
influence of a doctor or a curtain-lecture from Atossa, or the French
Revolution to Madame de Maintenon, but without any value for those who
aim at any scientific treatment of history.

But the question of method, to which I am compelled always to return, is
not yet exhausted.  There is another aspect in which it may be regarded,
and I shall now proceed to treat of it.

One of the greatest difficulties with which the modern historian has to
contend is the enormous complexity of the facts which come under his
notice: D’Alembert’s suggestion that at the end of every century a
selection of facts should be made and the rest burned (if it was really
intended seriously) could not, of course, be entertained for a moment.  A
problem loses all its value when it becomes simplified, and the world
would be all the poorer if the Sibyl of History burned her volumes.
Besides, as Gibbon pointed out, ‘a Montesquieu will detect in the most
insignificant fact relations which the vulgar overlook.’

Nor can the scientific investigator of history isolate the particular
elements, which he desires to examine, from disturbing and extraneous
causes, as the experimental chemist can do (though sometimes, as in the
case of lunatic asylums and prisons, he is enabled to observe phenomena
in a certain degree of isolation).  So he is compelled either to use the
deductive mode of arguing from general laws or to employ the method of
abstraction, which gives a fictitious isolation to phenomena never so
isolated in actual existence.  And this is exactly what Polybius has done
as well as Thucydides.  For, as has been well remarked, there is in the
works of these two writers a certain plastic unity of type and motive;
whatever they write is penetrated through and through with a specific
quality, a singleness and concentration of purpose, which we may contrast
with the more comprehensive width as manifested not merely in the modern
mind, but also in Herodotus.  Thucydides, regarding society as influenced
entirely by political motives, took no account of forces of a different
nature, and consequently his results, like those of most modern political
economists, have to be modified largely {81} before they come to
correspond with what we know was the actual state of fact.  Similarly,
Polybius will deal only with those forces which tended to bring the
civilised world under the dominion of Rome (ix. 1), and in the
Thucydidean spirit points out the want of picturesqueness and romance in
his pages which is the result of the abstract method (_τὸ μονοειδὲς τῆς
συντάξεως_) being careful also to tell us that his rejection of all other
forces is essentially deliberate and the result of a preconceived theory
and by no means due to carelessness of any kind.

Now, of the general value of the abstract method and the legality of its
employment in the sphere of history, this is perhaps not the suitable
occasion for any discussion.  It is, however, in all ways worthy of note
that Polybius is not merely conscious of, but dwells with particular
weight on, the fact which is usually urged as the strongest objection to
the employment of the abstract method—I mean the conception of a society
as a sort of human organism whose parts are indissolubly connected with
one another and all affected when one member is in any way agitated.
This conception of the organic nature of society appears first in Plato
and Aristotle, who apply it to cities.  Polybius, as his wont is, expands
it to be a general characteristic of all history.  It is an idea of the
very highest importance, especially to a man like Polybius whose thoughts
are continually turned towards the essential unity of history and the
impossibility of isolation.

Farther, as regards the particular method of investigating that group of
phenomena obtained for him by the abstract method, he will adopt, he
tells us, neither the purely deductive nor the purely inductive mode but
the union of both.  In other words, he formally adopts that method of
analysis upon the importance of which I have dwelt before.

And lastly, while, without doubt, enormous simplicity in the elements
under consideration is the result of the employment of the abstract
method, even within the limit thus obtained a certain selection must be
made, and a selection involves a theory.  For the facts of life cannot be
tabulated with as great an ease as the colours of birds and insects can
be tabulated.  Now, Polybius points out that those phenomena particularly
are to be dwelt on which may serve as a _παράδειγμα_ or sample, and show
the character of the tendencies of the age as clearly as ‘a single drop
from a full cask will be enough to disclose the nature of the whole
contents.’  This recognition of the importance of single facts, not in
themselves but because of the spirit they represent, is extremely
scientific; for we know that from the single bone, or tooth even, the
anatomist can recreate entirely the skeleton of the primeval horse, and
the botanist tell the character of the flora and fauna of a district from
a single specimen.

Regarding truth as ‘the most divine thing in Nature,’ the very ‘eye and
light of history without which it moves a blind thing,’ Polybius spared
no pains in the acquisition of historical materials or in the study of
the sciences of politics and war, which he considered were so essential
to the training of the scientific historian, and the labour he took is
mirrored in the many ways in which he criticises other authorities.

There is something, as a rule, slightly contemptible about ancient
criticism.  The modern idea of the critic as the interpreter, the
expounder of the beauty and excellence of the work he selects, seems
quite unknown.  Nothing can be more captious or unfair, for instance,
than the method by which Aristotle criticised the ideal state of Plato in
his ethical works, and the passages quoted by Polybius from Timæus show
that the latter historian fully deserved the punning name given to him.
But in Polybius there is, I think, little of that bitterness and
pettiness of spirit which characterises most other writers, and an
incidental story he tells of his relations with one of the historians
whom he criticised shows that he was a man of great courtesy and
refinement of taste—as, indeed, befitted one who had lived always in the
society of those who were of great and noble birth.

Now, as regards the character of the canons by which he criticises the
works of other authors, in the majority of cases he employs simply his
own geographical and military knowledge, showing, for instance, the
impossibility in the accounts given of Nabis’s march from Sparta simply
by his acquaintance with the spots in question; or the inconsistency of
those of the battle of Issus; or of the accounts given by Ephorus of the
battles of Leuctra and Mantinea.  In the latter case he says, if any one
will take the trouble to measure out the ground of the site of the battle
and then test the manœuvres given, he will find how inaccurate the
accounts are.

In other cases he appeals to public documents, the importance of which he
was always foremost in recognising; showing, for instance, by a document
in the public archives of Rhodes how inaccurate were the accounts given
of the battle of Lade by Zeno and Antisthenes.  Or he appeals to
psychological probability, rejecting, for instance, the scandalous
stories told of Philip of Macedon, simply from the king’s general
greatness of character, and arguing that a boy so well educated and so
respectably connected as Demochares (xii. 14) could never have been
guilty of that of which evil rumour accused him.

But the chief object of his literary censure is Timæus, who had been
unsparing of his strictures on others.  The general point which he makes
against him, impugning his accuracy as a historian, is that he derived
his knowledge of history not from the dangerous perils of a life of
action but in the secure indolence of a narrow scholastic life.  There
is, indeed, no point on which he is so vehement as this.  ‘A history,’ he
says, ‘written in a library gives as lifeless and as inaccurate a picture
of history as a painting which is copied not from a living animal but
from a stuffed one.’

There is more difference, he says in another place, between the history
of an eye-witness and that of one whose knowledge comes from books, than
there is between the scenes of real life and the fictitious landscapes of
theatrical scenery.  Besides this, he enters into somewhat elaborate
detailed criticism of passages where he thought Timæus was following a
wrong method and perverting truth, passages which it will be worth while
to examine in detail.

Timæus, from the fact of there being a Roman custom to shoot a war-horse
on a stated day, argued back to the Trojan origin of that people.
Polybius, on the other hand, points out that the inference is quite
unwarrantable, because horse-sacrifices are ordinary institutions common
to all barbarous tribes.  Timæus here, as was common with Greek writers,
is arguing back from some custom of the present to an historical event in
the past.  Polybius really is employing the comparative method, showing
how the custom was an ordinary step in the civilisation of every early

In another place, {86} he shows how illogical is the scepticism of Timæus
as regards the existence of the Bull of Phalaris simply by appealing to
the statue of the Bull, which was still to be seen in Carthage; pointing
out how impossible it was, on any other theory except that it belonged to
Phalaris, to account for the presence in Carthage of a bull of this
peculiar character with a door between his shoulders.  But one of the
great points which he uses against this Sicilian historian is in
reference to the question of the origin of the Locrian colony.  In
accordance with the received tradition on the subject, Aristotle had
represented the Locrian colony as founded by some Parthenidæ or slaves’
children, as they were called, a statement which seems to have roused the
indignation of Timæus, who went to a good deal of trouble to confute this
theory.  He does so on the following grounds:—

First of all, he points out that in the ancient days the Greeks had no
slaves at all, so the mention of them in the matter is an anachronism;
and next he declares that he was shown in the Greek city of Locris
certain ancient inscriptions in which their relation to the Italian city
was expressed in terms of the position between parent and child, which
showed also that mutual rights of citizenship were accorded to each city.
Besides this, he appeals to various questions of improbability as regards
their international relationship, on which Polybius takes diametrically
opposite grounds which hardly call for discussion.  And in favour of his
own view he urges two points more: first, that the Lacedæmonians being
allowed furlough for the purpose of seeing their wives at home, it was
unlikely that the Locrians should not have had the same privilege; and
next, that the Italian Locrians knew nothing of the Aristotelian version
and had, on the contrary, very severe laws against adulterers, runaway
slaves and the like.  Now, most of these questions rest on mere
probability, which is always such a subjective canon that an appeal to it
is rarely conclusive.  I would note, however, as regards the inscriptions
which, if genuine, would of course have settled the matter, that Polybius
looks on them as a mere invention on the part of Timæus, who, he remarks,
gives no details about them, though, as a rule, he is over-anxious to
give chapter and verse for everything.  A somewhat more interesting point
is that where he attacks Timæus for the introduction of fictitious
speeches into his narrative; for on this point Polybius seems to be far
in advance of the opinions held by literary men on the subject not merely
in his own day, but for centuries after.

Herodotus had introduced speeches avowedly dramatic and fictitious.
Thucydides states clearly that, where he was unable to find out what
people really said, he put down what they ought to have said.  Sallust
alludes, it is true, to the fact of the speech he puts into the mouth of
the tribune Memmius being essentially genuine, but the speeches given in
the senate on the occasion of the Catilinarian conspiracy are very
different from the same orations as they appear in Cicero.  Livy makes
his ancient Romans wrangle and chop logic with all the subtlety of a
Hortensius or a Scævola.  And even in later days, when shorthand
reporters attended the debates of the senate and a _Daily News_ was
published in Rome, we find that one of the most celebrated speeches in
Tacitus (that in which the Emperor Claudius gives the Gauls their
freedom) is shown, by an inscription discovered recently at Lugdunum, to
be entirely fabulous.

Upon the other hand, it must be borne in mind that these speeches were
not intended to deceive; they were regarded merely as a certain dramatic
element which it was allowable to introduce into history for the purpose
of giving more life and reality to the narration, and were to be
criticised, not as we should, by arguing how in an age before shorthand
was known such a report was possible or how, in the failure of written
documents, tradition could bring down such an accurate verbal account,
but by the higher test of their psychological probability as regards the
persons in whose mouths they are placed.  An ancient historian in answer
to modern criticism would say, probably, that these fictitious speeches
were in reality more truthful than the actual ones, just as Aristotle
claimed for poetry a higher degree of truth in comparison to history.
The whole point is interesting as showing how far in advance of his age
Polybius may be said to have been.

The last scientific historian, it is possible to gather from his writings
what he considered were the characteristics of the ideal writer of
history; and no small light will be thrown on the progress of historical
criticism if we strive to collect and analyse what in Polybius are more
or less scattered expressions.  The ideal historian must be contemporary
with the events he describes, or removed from them by one generation
only.  Where it is possible, he is to be an eye-witness of what he writes
of; where that is out of his power he is to test all traditions and
stories carefully and not to be ready to accept what is plausible in
place of what is true.  He is to be no bookworm living aloof from the
experiences of the world in the artificial isolation of a university
town, but a politician, a soldier, and a traveller, a man not merely of
thought but of action, one who can do great things as well as write of
them, who in the sphere of history could be what Byron and Æschylus were
in the sphere of poetry, at once _le chantre et le héros_.

He is to keep before his eyes the fact that chance is merely a synonym
for our ignorance; that the reign of law pervades the domain of history
as much as it does that of political science.  He is to accustom himself
to look on all occasions for rational and natural causes.  And while he
is to recognise the practical utility of the supernatural, in an
educational point of view, he is not himself to indulge in such
intellectual beating of the air as to admit the possibility of the
violation of inviolable laws, or to argue in a sphere wherein argument is
_a priori_ annihilated.  He is to be free from all bias towards friend
and country; he is to be courteous and gentle in criticism; he is not to
regard history as a mere opportunity for splendid and tragic writing; nor
is he to falsify truth for the sake of a paradox or an epigram.

While acknowledging the importance of particular facts as samples of
higher truths, he is to take a broad and general view of humanity.  He is
to deal with the whole race and with the world, not with particular
tribes or separate countries.  He is to bear in mind that the world is
really an organism wherein no one part can be moved without the others
being affected also.  He is to distinguish between cause and occasion,
between the influence of general laws and particular fancies, and he is
to remember that the greatest lessons of the world are contained in
history and that it is the historian’s duty to manifest them so as to
save nations from following those unwise policies which always lead to
dishonour and ruin, and to teach individuals to apprehend by the
intellectual culture of history those truths which else they would have
to learn in the bitter school of experience.

Now, as regards his theory of the necessity of the historian’s being
contemporary with the events he describes, so far as the historian is a
mere narrator the remark is undoubtedly true.  But to appreciate the
harmony and rational position of the facts of a great epoch, to discover
its laws, the causes which produced it and the effects which it
generates, the scene must be viewed from a certain height and distance to
be completely apprehended.  A thoroughly contemporary historian such as
Lord Clarendon or Thucydides is in reality part of the history he
criticises; and, in the case of such contemporary historians as Fabius
and Philistus, Polybius in compelled to acknowledge that they are misled
by patriotic and other considerations.  Against Polybius himself no such
accusation can be made.  He indeed of all men is able, as from some lofty
tower, to discern the whole tendency of the ancient world, the triumph of
Roman institutions and of Greek thought which is the last message of the
old world and, in a more spiritual sense, has become the Gospel of the

One thing indeed he did not see, or if he saw it, he thought but little
of it—how from the East there was spreading over the world, as a wave
spreads, a spiritual inroad of new religions from the time when the
Pessinuntine mother of the gods, a shapeless mass of stone, was brought
to the eternal city by her holiest citizen, to the day when the ship
_Castor and Pollux_ stood in at Puteoli, and St. Paul turned his face
towards martyrdom and victory at Rome.  Polybius was able to predict,
from his knowledge of the causes of revolutions and the tendencies of the
various forms of governments, the uprising of that democratic tone of
thought which, as soon as a seed is sown in the murder of the Gracchi and
the exile of Marius, culminated as all democratic movements do culminate,
in the supreme authority of one man, the lordship of the world under the
world’s rightful lord, Caius Julius Cæsar.  This, indeed, he saw in no
uncertain way.  But the turning of all men’s hearts to the East, the
first glimmering of that splendid dawn which broke over the hills of
Galilee and flooded the earth like wine, was hidden from his eyes.

There are many points in the description of the ideal historian which one
may compare to the picture which Plato has given us of the ideal
philosopher.  They are both ‘spectators of all time and all existence.’
Nothing is contemptible in their eyes, for all things have a meaning, and
they both walk in august reasonableness before all men, conscious of the
workings of God yet free from all terror of mendicant priest or vagrant
miracle-worker.  But the parallel ends here.  For the one stands aloof
from the world-storm of sleet and hail, his eyes fixed on distant and
sunlit heights, loving knowledge for the sake of knowledge and wisdom for
the joy of wisdom, while the other is an eager actor in the world ever
seeking to apply his knowledge to useful things.  Both equally desire
truth, but the one because of its utility, the other for its beauty.  The
historian regards it as the rational principle of all true history, and
no more.  To the other it comes as an all-pervading and mystic
enthusiasm, ‘like the desire of strong wine, the craving of ambition, the
passionate love of what is beautiful.’

Still, though we miss in the historian those higher and more spiritual
qualities which the philosopher of the Academe alone of all men
possessed, we must not blind ourselves to the merits of that great
rationalist who seems to have anticipated the very latest words of modern
science.  Nor yet is he to be regarded merely in the narrow light in
which he is estimated by most modern critics, as the explicit champion of
rationalism and nothing more.  For he is connected with another idea, the
course of which is as the course of that great river of his native
Arcadia which, springing from some arid and sun-bleached rock, gathers
strength and beauty as it flows till it reaches the asphodel meadows of
Olympia and the light and laughter of Ionian waters.

For in him we can discern the first notes of that great cult of the
seven-hilled city which made Virgil write his epic and Livy his history,
which found in Dante its highest exponent, which dreamed of an Empire
where the Emperor would care for the bodies and the Pope for the souls of
men, and so has passed into the conception of God’s spiritual empire and
the universal brotherhood of man and widened into the huge ocean of
universal thought as the Peneus loses itself in the sea.

Polybius is the last scientific historian of Greece.  The writer who
seems fittingly to complete the progress of thought is a writer of
biographies only.  I will not here touch on Plutarch’s employment of the
inductive method as shown in his constant use of inscription and statue,
of public document and building and the like, because it involves no new
method.  It is his attitude towards miracles of which I desire to treat.

Plutarch is philosophic enough to see that in the sense of a violation of
the laws of nature a miracle is impossible.  It is absurd, he says, to
imagine that the statue of a saint can speak, and that an inanimate
object not possessing the vocal organs should be able to utter an
articulate sound.  Upon the other hand, he protests against science
imagining that, by explaining the natural causes of things, it has
explained away their transcendental meaning.  ‘When the tears on the
cheek of some holy statue have been analysed into the moisture which
certain temperatures produce on wood and marble, it yet by no means
follows that they were not a sign of grief and mourning set there by God
Himself.’  When Lampon saw in the prodigy of the one-horned ram the omen
of the supreme rule of Pericles, and when Anaxagoras showed that the
abnormal development was the rational resultant of the peculiar formation
of the skull, the dreamer and the man of science were both right; it was
the business of the latter to consider how the prodigy came about, of the
former to show why it was so formed and what it so portended.  The
progression of thought is exemplified in all particulars.  Herodotus had
a glimmering sense of the impossibility of a violation of nature.
Thucydides ignored the supernatural.  Polybius rationalised it.  Plutarch
raises it to its mystical heights again, though he bases it on law.  In a
word, Plutarch felt that while science brings the supernatural down to
the natural, yet ultimately all that is natural is really supernatural.
To him, as to many of our own day, religion was that transcendental
attitude of the mind which, contemplating a world resting on inviolable
law, is yet comforted and seeks to worship God not in the violation but
in the fulfilment of nature.

It may seem paradoxical to quote in connection with the priest of
Chæronea such a pure rationalist as Mr. Herbert Spencer; yet when we read
as the last message of modern science that ‘when the equation of life has
been reduced to its lowest terms the symbols are symbols still,’ mere
signs, that is, of that unknown reality which underlies all matter and
all spirit, we may feel how over the wide strait of centuries thought
calls to thought and how Plutarch has a higher position than is usually
claimed for him in the progress of the Greek intellect.

And, indeed, it seems that not merely the importance of Plutarch himself
but also that of the land of his birth in the evolution of Greek
civilisation has been passed over by modern critics.  To us, indeed, the
bare rock to which the Parthenon serves as a crown, and which lies
between Colonus and Attica’s violet hills, will always be the holiest
spot in the land of Greece: and Delphi will come next, and then the
meadows of Eurotas where that noble people lived who represented in
Hellenic thought the reaction of the law of duty against the law of
beauty, the opposition of conduct to culture.  Yet, as one stands on the
_σχιστὴ ὁδός_ of Cithæron and looks out on the great double plain of
Boeotia, the enormous importance of the division of Hellas comes to one’s
mind with great force.  To the north are Orchomenus and the Minyan
treasure-house, seat of those merchant princes of Phoenicia who brought
to Greece the knowledge of letters and the art of working in gold.
Thebes is at our feet with the gloom of the terrible legends of Greek
tragedy still lingering about it, the birthplace of Pindar, the nurse of
Epaminondas and the Sacred Band.

And from out of the plain where ‘Mars loved to dance,’ rises the Muses’
haunt, Helicon, by whose silver streams Corinna and Hesiod sang; while
far away under the white ægis of those snow-capped mountains lies
Chæronea and the Lion plain where with vain chivalry the Greeks strove to
check Macedon first and afterwards Rome; Chæronea, where in the Martinmas
summer of Greek civilisation Plutarch rose from the drear waste of a
dying religion as the aftermath rises when the mowers think they have
left the field bare.

Greek philosophy began and ended in scepticism: the first and the last
word of Greek history was Faith.

Splendid thus in its death, like winter sunsets, the Greek religion
passed away into the horror of night.  For the Cimmerian darkness was at
hand, and when the schools of Athens were closed and the statue of Athena
broken, the Greek spirit passed from the gods and the history of its own
land to the subtleties of defining the doctrine of the Trinity and the
mystical attempts to bring Plato into harmony with Christ and to
reconcile Gethsemane and the Sermon on the Mount with the Athenian prison
and the discussion in the woods of Colonus.  The Greek spirit slept for
wellnigh a thousand years.  When it woke again, like Antæus it had
gathered strength from the earth where it lay; like Apollo it had lost
none of its divinity through its long servitude.

In the history of Roman thought we nowhere find any of those
characteristics of the Greek Illumination which I have pointed out are
the necessary concomitants of the rise of historical criticism.  The
conservative respect for tradition which made the Roman people delight in
the ritual and formulas of law, and is as apparent in their politics as
in their religion, was fatal to any rise of that spirit of revolt against
authority the importance of which, as a factor in intellectual progress,
we have already seen.

The whitened tables of the Pontifices preserved carefully the records of
the eclipses and other atmospherical phenomena, and what we call the art
of verifying dates was known to them at an early time; but there was no
spontaneous rise of physical science to suggest by its analogies of law
and order a new method of research, nor any natural springing up of the
questioning spirit of philosophy with its unification of all phenomena
and all knowledge.  At the very time when the whole tide of Eastern
superstition was sweeping into the heart of the Capital the Senate
banished the Greek philosophers from Rome.  And of the three systems
which did at length take some root in the city, those of Zeno and
Epicurus were used merely as the rule for the ordering of life, while the
dogmatic scepticism of Carneades, by its very principles, annihilated the
possibility of argument and encouraged a perfect indifference to

Nor were the Romans ever fortunate enough like the Greeks to have to face
the incubus of any dogmatic system of legends and myths, the immoralities
and absurdities of which might excite a revolutionary outbreak of
sceptical criticism.  For the Roman religion became as it were
crystallised and isolated from progress at an early period of its
evolution.  Their gods remained mere abstractions of commonplace virtues
or uninteresting personifications of the useful things of life.  The old
primitive creed was indeed always upheld as a state institution on
account of the enormous facilities it offered for cheating in politics,
but as a spiritual system of belief it was unanimously rejected at a very
early period both by the common people and the educated classes, for the
sensible reason that it was so extremely dull.  The former took refuge in
the mystic sensualities of the worship of Isis, the latter in the Stoical
rules of life.  The Romans classified their gods carefully in their order
of precedence, analysed their genealogies in the laborious spirit of
modern heraldry, fenced them round with a ritual as intricate as their
law, but never quite cared enough about them to believe in them.  So it
was of no account with them when the philosophers announced that Minerva
was merely memory.  She had never been much else.  Nor did they protest
when Lucretius dared to say of Ceres and of Liber that they were only the
corn of the field and the fruit of the vine.  For they had never mourned
for the daughter of Demeter in the asphodel meadows of Sicily, nor
traversed the glades of Cithæron with fawn-skin and with spear.

This brief sketch of the condition of Roman thought will serve to prepare
us for the almost total want of scientific historical criticism which we
shall discern in their literature, and has, besides, afforded fresh
corroboration of the conditions essential to the rise of this spirit, and
of the modes of thought which it reflects and in which it is always to be
found.  Roman historical composition had its origin in the pontifical
college of ecclesiastical lawyers, and preserved to its close the
uncritical spirit which characterised its fountain-head.  It possessed
from the outset a most voluminous collection of the materials of history,
which, however, produced merely antiquarians, not historians.  It is so
hard to use facts, so easy to accumulate them.

Wearied of the dull monotony of the pontifical annals, which dwelt on
little else but the rise and fall in provisions and the eclipses of the
sun, Cato wrote out a history with his own hand for the instruction of
his child, to which he gave the name of Origines, and before his time
some aristocratic families had written histories in Greek much in the
same spirit in which the Germans of the eighteenth century used French as
the literary language.  But the first regular Roman historian is Sallust.
Between the extravagant eulogies passed on this author by the French
(such as De Closset), and Dr. Mommsen’s view of him as merely a political
pamphleteer, it is perhaps difficult to reach the _via media_ of
unbiassed appreciation.  He has, at any rate, the credit of being a
purely rationalistic historian, perhaps the only one in Roman literature.
Cicero had a good many qualifications for a scientific historian, and (as
he usually did) thought very highly of his own powers.  On passages of
ancient legend, however, he is rather unsatisfactory, for while he is too
sensible to believe them he is too patriotic to reject them.  And this is
really the attitude of Livy, who claims for early Roman legend a certain
uncritical homage from the rest of the subject world.  His view in his
history is that it is not worth while to examine the truth of these

In his hands the history of Rome unrolls before our eyes like some
gorgeous tapestry, where victory succeeds victory, where triumph treads
on the heels of triumph, and the line of heroes seems never to end.  It
is not till we pass behind the canvas and see the slight means by which
the effect is produced that we apprehend the fact that like most
picturesque writers Livy is an indifferent critic.  As regards his
attitude towards the credibility of early Roman history he is quite as
conscious as we are of its mythical and unsound nature.  He will not, for
instance, decide whether the Horatii were Albans or Romans; who was the
first dictator; how many tribunes there were, and the like.  His method,
as a rule, is merely to mention all the accounts and sometimes to decide
in favour of the most probable, but usually not to decide at all.  No
canons of historical criticism will ever discover whether the Roman women
interviewed the mother of Coriolanus of their own accord or at the
suggestion of the senate; whether Remus was killed for jumping over his
brother’s wall or because they quarrelled about birds; whether the
ambassadors found Cincinnatus ploughing or only mending a hedge.  Livy
suspends his judgment over these important facts and history when
questioned on their truth is dumb.  If he does select between two
historians he chooses the one who is nearer to the facts he describes.
But he is no critic, only a conscientious writer.  It is mere vain waste
to dwell on his critical powers, for they do not exist.

                                * * * * *

In the case of Tacitus imagination has taken the place of history.  The
past lives again in his pages, but through no laborious criticism; rather
through a dramatic and psychological faculty which he specially

In the philosophy of history he has no belief.  He can never make up his
mind what to believe as regards God’s government of the world.  There is
no method in him and none elsewhere in Roman literature.

Nations may not have missions but they certainly have functions.  And the
function of ancient Italy was not merely to give us what is statical in
our institutions and rational in our law, but to blend into one elemental
creed the spiritual aspirations of Aryan and of Semite.  Italy was not a
pioneer in intellectual progress, nor a motive power in the evolution of
thought.  The owl of the goddess of Wisdom traversed over the whole land
and found nowhere a resting-place.  The dove, which is the bird of
Christ, flew straight to the city of Rome and the new reign began.  It
was the fashion of early Italian painters to represent in mediæval
costume the soldiers who watched over the tomb of Christ, and this, which
was the result of the frank anachronism of all true art, may serve to us
as an allegory.  For it was in vain that the Middle Ages strove to guard
the buried spirit of progress.  When the dawn of the Greek spirit arose,
the sepulchre was empty, the grave-clothes laid aside.  Humanity had
risen from the dead.

The study of Greek, it has been well said, implies the birth of
criticism, comparison and research.  At the opening of that education of
modern by ancient thought which we call the Renaissance, it was the words
of Aristotle which sent Columbus sailing to the New World, while a
fragment of Pythagorean astronomy set Copernicus thinking on that train
of reasoning which has revolutionised the whole position of our planet in
the universe.  Then it was seen that the only meaning of progress is a
return to Greek modes of thought.  The monkish hymns which obscured the
pages of Greek manuscripts were blotted out, the splendours of a new
method were unfolded to the world, and out of the melancholy sea of
mediævalism rose the free spirit of man in all that splendour of glad
adolescence, when the bodily powers seem quickened by a new vitality,
when the eye sees more clearly than its wont and the mind apprehends what
was beforetime hidden from it.  To herald the opening of the sixteenth
century, from the little Venetian printing press came forth all the great
authors of antiquity, each bearing on the title-page the words _Ἅλδος ὁ
Μανούτιος Ῥωμαῖος καὶ Φιλέλλην_; words which may serve to remind us with
what wondrous prescience Polybius saw the world’s fate when he foretold
the material sovereignty of Roman institutions and exemplified in himself
the intellectual empire of Greece.

The course of the study of the spirit of historical criticism has not
been a profitless investigation into modes and forms of thought now
antiquated and of no account.  The only spirit which is entirely removed
from us is the mediæval; the Greek spirit is essentially modern.  The
introduction of the comparative method of research which has forced
history to disclose its secrets belongs in a measure to us.  Ours, too,
is a more scientific knowledge of philology and the method of survival.
Nor did the ancients know anything of the doctrine of averages or of
crucial instances, both of which methods have proved of such importance
in modern criticism, the one adding a most important proof of the
statical elements of history, and exemplifying the influences of all
physical surroundings on the life of man; the other, as in the single
instance of the Moulin Quignon skull, serving to create a whole new
science of prehistoric archæology and to bring us back to a time when man
was coeval with the stone age, the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros.
But, except these, we have added no new canon or method to the science of
historical criticism.  Across the drear waste of a thousand years the
Greek and the modern spirit join hands.

In the torch race which the Greek boys ran from the Cerameician field of
death to the home of the goddess of Wisdom, not merely he who first
reached the goal but he also who first started with the torch aflame
received a prize.  In the Lampadephoria of civilisation and free thought
let us not forget to render due meed of honour to those who first lit
that sacred flame, the increasing splendour of which lights our footsteps
to the far-off divine event of the attainment of perfect truth.


‘The English Renaissance of Art’ was delivered as a lecture for the first
time in the Chickering Hall, New York, on January 9, 1882.  A portion of
it was reported in the _New York Tribune_ on the following day and in
other American papers subsequently.  Since then this portion has been
reprinted, more or less accurately, from time to time, in unauthorised

There are in existence no less than four copies of the lecture, the
earliest of which is entirely in the author’s handwriting.  The others
are type-written and contain many corrections and additions made by the
author in manuscript.  These have all been collated and the text here
given contains, as nearly as possible, the lecture in the original form
as delivered by the author during his tour in the United States.

AMONG the many debts which we owe to the supreme æsthetic faculty of
Goethe is that he was the first to teach us to define beauty in terms the
most concrete possible, to realise it, I mean, always in its special
manifestations.  So, in the lecture which I have the honour to deliver
before you, I will not try to give you any abstract definition of
beauty—any such universal formula for it as was sought for by the
philosophy of the eighteenth century—still less to communicate to you
that which in its essence is incommunicable, the virtue by which a
particular picture or poem affects us with a unique and special joy; but
rather to point out to you the general ideas which characterise the great
English Renaissance of Art in this century, to discover their source, as
far as that is possible, and to estimate their future as far as that is

I call it our English Renaissance because it is indeed a sort of new
birth of the spirit of man, like the great Italian Renaissance of the
fifteenth century, in its desire for a more gracious and comely way of
life, its passion for physical beauty, its exclusive attention to form,
its seeking for new subjects for poetry, new forms of art, new
intellectual and imaginative enjoyments: and I call it our romantic
movement because it is our most recent expression of beauty.

It has been described as a mere revival of Greek modes of thought, and
again as a mere revival of mediæval feeling.  Rather I would say that to
these forms of the human spirit it has added whatever of artistic value
the intricacy and complexity and experience of modern life can give:
taking from the one its clearness of vision and its sustained calm, from
the other its variety of expression and the mystery of its vision.  For
what, as Goethe said, is the study of the ancients but a return to the
real world (for that is what they did); and what, said Mazzini, is
mediævalism but individuality?

It is really from the union of Hellenism, in its breadth, its sanity of
purpose, its calm possession of beauty, with the adventive, the
intensified individualism, the passionate colour of the romantic spirit,
that springs the art of the nineteenth century in England, as from the
marriage of Faust and Helen of Troy sprang the beautiful boy Euphorion.

Such expressions as ‘classical’ and ‘romantic’ are, it is true, often apt
to become the mere catchwords of schools.  We must always remember that
art has only one sentence to utter: there is for her only one high law,
the law of form or harmony—yet between the classical and romantic spirit
we may say that there lies this difference at least, that the one deals
with the type and the other with the exception.  In the work produced
under the modern romantic spirit it is no longer the permanent, the
essential truths of life that are treated of; it is the momentary
situation of the one, the momentary aspect of the other that art seeks to
render.  In sculpture, which is the type of one spirit, the subject
predominates over the situation; in painting, which is the type of the
other, the situation predominates over the subject.

There are two spirits, then: the Hellenic spirit and the spirit of
romance may be taken as forming the essential elements of our conscious
intellectual tradition, of our permanent standard of taste.  As regards
their origin, in art as in politics there is but one origin for all
revolutions, a desire on the part of man for a nobler form of life, for a
freer method and opportunity of expression.  Yet, I think that in
estimating the sensuous and intellectual spirit which presides over our
English Renaissance, any attempt to isolate it in any way from in the
progress and movement and social life of the age that has produced it
would be to rob it of its true vitality, possibly to mistake its true
meaning.  And in disengaging from the pursuits and passions of this
crowded modern world those passions and pursuits which have to do with
art and the love of art, we must take into account many great events of
history which seem to be the most opposed to any such artistic feeling.

Alien then from any wild, political passion, or from the harsh voice of a
rude people in revolt, as our English Renaissance must seem, in its
passionate cult of pure beauty, its flawless devotion to form, its
exclusive and sensitive nature, it is to the French Revolution that we
must look for the most primary factor of its production, the first
condition of its birth: that great Revolution of which we are all the
children though the voices of some of us be often loud against it; that
Revolution to which at a time when even such spirits as Coleridge and
Wordsworth lost heart in England, noble messages of love blown across
seas came from your young Republic.

It is true that our modern sense of the continuity of history has shown
us that neither in politics nor in nature are there revolutions ever but
evolutions only, and that the prelude to that wild storm which swept over
France in 1789 and made every king in Europe tremble for his throne, was
first sounded in literature years before the Bastille fell and the Palace
was taken.  The way for those red scenes by Seine and Loire was paved by
that critical spirit of Germany and England which accustomed men to bring
all things to the test of reason or utility or both, while the discontent
of the people in the streets of Paris was the echo that followed the life
of Emile and of Werther.  For Rousseau, by silent lake and mountain, had
called humanity back to the golden age that still lies before us and
preached a return to nature, in passionate eloquence whose music still
lingers about our keen northern air.  And Goethe and Scott had brought
romance back again from the prison she had lain in for so many
centuries—and what is romance but humanity?

Yet in the womb of the Revolution itself, and in the storm and terror of
that wild time, tendencies were hidden away that the artistic Renaissance
bent to her own service when the time came—a scientific tendency first,
which has borne in our own day a brood of somewhat noisy Titans, yet in
the sphere of poetry has not been unproductive of good.  I do not mean
merely in its adding to enthusiasm that intellectual basis which in its
strength, or that more obvious influence about which Wordsworth was
thinking when he said very nobly that poetry was merely the impassioned
expression in the face of science, and that when science would put on a
form of flesh and blood the poet would lend his divine spirit to aid the
transfiguration.  Nor do I dwell much on the great cosmical emotion and
deep pantheism of science to which Shelley has given its first and
Swinburne its latest glory of song, but rather on its influence on the
artistic spirit in preserving that close observation and the sense of
limitation as well as of clearness of vision which are the
characteristics of the real artist.

The great and golden rule of art as well as of life, wrote William Blake,
is that the more distinct, sharp and defined the boundary line, the more
perfect is the work of art; and the less keen and sharp the greater is
the evidence of weak imitation, plagiarism and bungling.  ‘Great
inventors in all ages knew this—Michael Angelo and Albert Durer are known
by this and by this alone’; and another time he wrote, with all the
simple directness of nineteenth-century prose, ‘to generalise is to be an

And this love of definite conception, this clearness of vision, this
artistic sense of limit, is the characteristic of all great work and
poetry; of the vision of Homer as of the vision of Dante, of Keats and
William Morris as of Chaucer and Theocritus.  It lies at the base of all
noble, realistic and romantic work as opposed to the colourless and empty
abstractions of our own eighteenth-century poets and of the classical
dramatists of France, or of the vague spiritualities of the German
sentimental school: opposed, too, to that spirit of transcendentalism
which also was root and flower itself of the great Revolution, underlying
the impassioned contemplation of Wordsworth and giving wings and fire to
the eagle-like flight of Shelley, and which in the sphere of philosophy,
though displaced by the materialism and positiveness of our day,
bequeathed two great schools of thought, the school of Newman to Oxford,
the school of Emerson to America.  Yet is this spirit of
transcendentalism alien to the spirit of art.  For the artist can accept
no sphere of life in exchange for life itself.  For him there is no
escape from the bondage of the earth: there is not even the desire of

He is indeed the only true realist: symbolism, which is the essence of
the transcendental spirit, is alien to him.  The metaphysical mind of
Asia will create for itself the monstrous, many-breasted idol of Ephesus,
but to the Greek, pure artist, that work is most instinct with spiritual
life which conforms most clearly to the perfect facts of physical life.

‘The storm of revolution,’ as Andre Chenier said, ‘blows out the torch of
poetry.’  It is not for some little time that the real influence of such
a wild cataclysm of things is felt: at first the desire for equality
seems to have produced personalities of more giant and Titan stature than
the world had ever known before.  Men heard the lyre of Byron and the
legions of Napoleon; it was a period of measureless passions and of
measureless despair; ambition, discontent, were the chords of life and
art; the age was an age of revolt: a phase through which the human spirit
must pass, but one in which it cannot rest.  For the aim of culture is
not rebellion but peace, the valley perilous where ignorant armies clash
by night being no dwelling-place meet for her to whom the gods have
assigned the fresh uplands and sunny heights and clear, untroubled air.

And soon that desire for perfection, which lay at the base of the
Revolution, found in a young English poet its most complete and flawless

Phidias and the achievements of Greek art are foreshadowed in Homer:
Dante prefigures for us the passion and colour and intensity of Italian
painting: the modern love of landscape dates from Rousseau, and it is in
Keats that one discerns the beginning of the artistic renaissance of

Byron was a rebel and Shelley a dreamer; but in the calmness and
clearness of his vision, his perfect self-control, his unerring sense of
beauty and his recognition of a separate realm for the imagination, Keats
was the pure and serene artist, the forerunner of the pre-Raphaelite
school, and so of the great romantic movement of which I am to speak.

Blake had indeed, before him, claimed for art a lofty, spiritual mission,
and had striven to raise design to the ideal level of poetry and music,
but the remoteness of his vision both in painting and poetry and the
incompleteness of his technical powers had been adverse to any real
influence.  It is in Keats that the artistic spirit of this century first
found its absolute incarnation.

And these pre-Raphaelites, what were they?  If you ask nine-tenths of the
British public what is the meaning of the word æsthetics, they will tell
you it is the French for affectation or the German for a dado; and if you
inquire about the pre-Raphaelites you will hear something about an
eccentric lot of young men to whom a sort of divine crookedness and holy
awkwardness in drawing were the chief objects of art.  To know nothing
about their great men is one of the necessary elements of English

As regards the pre-Raphaelites the story is simple enough.  In the year
1847 a number of young men in London, poets and painters, passionate
admirers of Keats all of them, formed the habit of meeting together for
discussions on art, the result of such discussions being that the English
Philistine public was roused suddenly from its ordinary apathy by hearing
that there was in its midst a body of young men who had determined to
revolutionise English painting and poetry.  They called themselves the
pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

In England, then as now, it was enough for a man to try and produce any
serious beautiful work to lose all his rights as a citizen; and besides
this, the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood—among whom the names of Dante
Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Millais will be familiar to you—had on their
side three things that the English public never forgives: youth, power
and enthusiasm.

Satire, always as sterile as it in shameful and as impotent as it is
insolent, paid them that usual homage which mediocrity pays to
genius—doing, here as always, infinite harm to the public, blinding them
to what is beautiful, teaching them that irreverence which is the source
of all vileness and narrowness of life, but harming the artist not at
all, rather confirming him in the perfect rightness of his work and
ambition.  For to disagree with three-fourths of the British public on
all points is one of the first elements of sanity, one of the deepest
consolations in all moments of spiritual doubt.

As regards the ideas these young men brought to the regeneration of
English art, we may see at the base of their artistic creations a desire
for a deeper spiritual value to be given to art as well as a more
decorative value.

Pre-Raphaelites they called themselves; not that they imitated the early
Italian masters at all, but that in their work, as opposed to the facile
abstractions of Raphael, they found a stronger realism of imagination, a
more careful realism of technique, a vision at once more fervent and more
vivid, an individuality more intimate and more intense.

For it is not enough that a work of art should conform to the æsthetic
demands of its age: there must be also about it, if it is to affect us
with any permanent delight, the impress of a distinct individuality, an
individuality remote from that of ordinary men, and coming near to us
only by virtue of a certain newness and wonder in the work, and through
channels whose very strangeness makes us more ready to give them welcome.

_La personnalité_, said one of the greatest of modern French critics,
_voilà ce qui nous sauvera_.

But above all things was it a return to Nature—that formula which seems
to suit so many and such diverse movements: they would draw and paint
nothing but what they saw, they would try and imagine things as they
really happened.  Later there came to the old house by Blackfriars
Bridge, where this young brotherhood used to meet and work, two young men
from Oxford, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris—the latter
substituting for the simpler realism of the early days a more exquisite
spirit of choice, a more faultless devotion to beauty, a more intense
seeking for perfection: a master of all exquisite design and of all
spiritual vision.  It is of the school of Florence rather than of that of
Venice that he is kinsman, feeling that the close imitation of Nature is
a disturbing element in imaginative art.  The visible aspect of modern
life disturbs him not; rather is it for him to render eternal all that is
beautiful in Greek, Italian, and Celtic legend.  To Morris we owe poetry
whose perfect precision and clearness of word and vision has not been
excelled in the literature of our country, and by the revival of the
decorative arts he has given to our individualised romantic movement the
social idea and the social factor also.

But the revolution accomplished by this clique of young men, with
Ruskin’s faultless and fervent eloquence to help them, was not one of
ideas merely but of execution, not one of conceptions but of creations.

For the great eras in the history of the development of all the arts have
been eras not of increased feeling or enthusiasm in feeling for art, but
of new technical improvements primarily and specially.  The discovery of
marble quarries in the purple ravines of Pentelicus and on the little
low-lying hills of the island of Paros gave to the Greeks the opportunity
for that intensified vitality of action, that more sensuous and simple
humanism, to which the Egyptian sculptor working laboriously in the hard
porphyry and rose-coloured granite of the desert could not attain.  The
splendour of the Venetian school began with the introduction of the new
oil medium for painting.  The progress in modern music has been due to
the invention of new instruments entirely, and in no way to an increased
consciousness on the part of the musician of any wider social aim.  The
critic may try and trace the deferred resolutions of Beethoven {124} to
some sense of the incompleteness of the modern intellectual spirit, but
the artist would have answered, as one of them did afterwards, ‘Let them
pick out the fifths and leave us at peace.’

And so it is in poetry also: all this love of curious French metres like
the Ballade, the Villanelle, the Rondel; all this increased value laid on
elaborate alliterations, and on curious words and refrains, such as you
will find in Dante Rossetti and Swinburne, is merely the attempt to
perfect flute and viol and trumpet through which the spirit of the age
and the lips of the poet may blow the music of their many messages.

And so it has been with this romantic movement of ours: it is a reaction
against the empty conventional workmanship, the lax execution of previous
poetry and painting, showing itself in the work of such men as Rossetti
and Burne-Jones by a far greater splendour of colour, a far more
intricate wonder of design than English imaginative art has shown before.
In Rossetti’s poetry and the poetry of Morris, Swinburne and Tennyson a
perfect precision and choice of language, a style flawless and fearless,
a seeking for all sweet and precious melodies and a sustaining
consciousness of the musical value of each word are opposed to that value
which is merely intellectual.  In this respect they are one with the
romantic movement of France of which not the least characteristic note
was struck by Théophile Gautier’s advice to the young poet to read his
dictionary every day, as being the only book worth a poet’s reading.

While, then, the material of workmanship is being thus elaborated and
discovered to have in itself incommunicable and eternal qualities of its
own, qualities entirely satisfying to the poetic sense and not needing
for their æsthetic effect any lofty intellectual vision, any deep
criticism of life or even any passionate human emotion at all, the spirit
and the method of the poet’s working—what people call his
inspiration—have not escaped the controlling influence of the artistic
spirit.  Not that the imagination has lost its wings, but we have
accustomed ourselves to count their innumerable pulsations, to estimate
their limitless strength, to govern their ungovernable freedom.

To the Greeks this problem of the conditions of poetic production, and
the places occupied by either spontaneity or self-consciousness in any
artistic work, had a peculiar fascination.  We find it in the mysticism
of Plato and in the rationalism of Aristotle.  We find it later in the
Italian Renaissance agitating the minds of such men as Leonardo da Vinci.
Schiller tried to adjust the balance between form and feeling, and Goethe
to estimate the position of self-consciousness in art.  Wordsworth’s
definition of poetry as ‘emotion remembered in tranquillity’ may be taken
as an analysis of one of the stages through which all imaginative work
has to pass; and in Keats’s longing to be ‘able to compose without this
fever’ (I quote from one of his letters), his desire to substitute for
poetic ardour ‘a more thoughtful and quiet power,’ we may discern the
most important moment in the evolution of that artistic life.  The
question made an early and strange appearance in your literature too; and
I need not remind you how deeply the young poets of the French romantic
movement were excited and stirred by Edgar Allan Poe’s analysis of the
workings of his own imagination in the creating of that supreme
imaginative work which we know by the name of _The Raven_.

In the last century, when the intellectual and didactic element had
intruded to such an extent into the kingdom which belongs to poetry, it
was against the claims of the understanding that an artist like Goethe
had to protest.  ‘The more incomprehensible to the understanding a poem
is the better for it,’ he said once, asserting the complete supremacy of
the imagination in poetry as of reason in prose.  But in this century it
is rather against the claims of the emotional faculties, the claims of
mere sentiment and feeling, that the artist must react.  The simple
utterance of joy is not poetry any more than a mere personal cry of pain,
and the real experiences of the artist are always those which do not find
their direct expression but are gathered up and absorbed into some
artistic form which seems, from such real experiences, to be the farthest
removed and the most alien.

‘The heart contains passion but the imagination alone contains poetry,’
says Charles Baudelaire.  This too was the lesson that Théophile Gautier,
most subtle of all modern critics, most fascinating of all modern poets,
was never tired of teaching—‘Everybody is affected by a sunrise or a
sunset.’  The absolute distinction of the artist is not his capacity to
feel nature so much as his power of rendering it.  The entire
subordination of all intellectual and emotional faculties to the vital
and informing poetic principle is the surest sign of the strength of our

We have seen the artistic spirit working, first in the delightful and
technical sphere of language, the sphere of expression as opposed to
subject, then controlling the imagination of the poet in dealing with his
subject.  And now I would point out to you its operation in the choice of
subject.  The recognition of a separate realm for the artist, a
consciousness of the absolute difference between the world of art and the
world of real fact, between classic grace and absolute reality, forms not
merely the essential element of any æsthetic charm but is the
characteristic of all great imaginative work and of all great eras of
artistic creation—of the age of Phidias as of the age of Michael Angelo,
of the age of Sophocles as of the age of Goethe.

Art never harms itself by keeping aloof from the social problems of the
day: rather, by so doing, it more completely realises for us that which
we desire.  For to most of us the real life is the life we do not lead,
and thus, remaining more true to the essence of its own perfection, more
jealous of its own unattainable beauty, is less likely to forget form in
feeling or to accept the passion of creation as any substitute for the
beauty of the created thing.

The artist is indeed the child of his own age, but the present will not
be to him a whit more real than the past; for, like the philosopher of
the Platonic vision, the poet is the spectator of all time and of all
existence.  For him no form is obsolete, no subject out of date; rather,
whatever of life and passion the world has known, in desert of Judæa or
in Arcadian valley, by the rivers of Troy or the rivers of Damascus, in
the crowded and hideous streets of a modern city or by the pleasant ways
of Camelot—all lies before him like an open scroll, all is still instinct
with beautiful life.  He will take of it what is salutary for his own
spirit, no more; choosing some facts and rejecting others with the calm
artistic control of one who is in possession of the secret of beauty.

There is indeed a poetical attitude to be adopted towards all things, but
all things are not fit subjects for poetry.  Into the secure and sacred
house of Beauty the true artist will admit nothing that is harsh or
disturbing, nothing that gives pain, nothing that is debatable, nothing
about which men argue.  He can steep himself, if he wishes, in the
discussion of all the social problems of his day, poor-laws and local
taxation, free trade and bimetallic currency, and the like; but when he
writes on these subjects it will be, as Milton nobly expressed it, with
his left hand, in prose and not in verse, in a pamphlet and not in a
lyric.  This exquisite spirit of artistic choice was not in Byron:
Wordsworth had it not.  In the work of both these men there is much that
we have to reject, much that does not give us that sense of calm and
perfect repose which should be the effect of all fine, imaginative work.
But in Keats it seemed to have been incarnate, and in his lovely _Ode on
a Grecian Urn_ it found its most secure and faultless expression; in the
pageant of the _Earthly Paradise_ and the knights and ladies of
Burne-Jones it is the one dominant note.

It is to no avail that the Muse of Poetry be called, even by such a
clarion note as Whitman’s, to migrate from Greece and Ionia and to
placard REMOVED and TO LET on the rocks of the snowy Parnassus.
Calliope’s call is not yet closed, nor are the epics of Asia ended; the
Sphinx is not yet silent, nor the fountain of Castaly dry.  For art is
very life itself and knows nothing of death; she is absolute truth and
takes no care of fact; she sees (as I remember Mr. Swinburne insisting on
at dinner) that Achilles is even now more actual and real than
Wellington, not merely more noble and interesting as a type and figure
but more positive and real.

Literature must rest always on a principle, and temporal considerations
are no principle at all.  For to the poet all times and places are one;
the stuff he deals with is eternal and eternally the same: no theme is
inept, no past or present preferable.  The steam whistle will not
affright him nor the flutes of Arcadia weary him: for him there is but
one time, the artistic moment; but one law, the law of form; but one
land, the land of Beauty—a land removed indeed from the real world and
yet more sensuous because more enduring; calm, yet with that calm which
dwells in the faces of the Greek statues, the calm which comes not from
the rejection but from the absorption of passion, the calm which despair
and sorrow cannot disturb but intensify only.  And so it comes that he
who seems to stand most remote from his age is he who mirrors it best,
because he has stripped life of what is accidental and transitory,
stripped it of that ‘mist of familiarity which makes life obscure to us.’

Those strange, wild-eyed sibyls fixed eternally in the whirlwind of
ecstasy, those mighty-limbed and Titan prophets, labouring with the
secret of the earth and the burden of mystery, that guard and glorify the
chapel of Pope Sixtus at Rome—do they not tell us more of the real spirit
of the Italian Renaissance, of the dream of Savonarola and of the sin of
Borgia, than all the brawling boors and cooking women of Dutch art can
teach us of the real spirit of the history of Holland?

And so in our own day, also, the two most vital tendencies of the
nineteenth century—the democratic and pantheistic tendency and the
tendency to value life for the sake of art—found their most complete and
perfect utterance in the poetry of Shelley and Keats who, to the blind
eyes of their own time, seemed to be as wanderers in the wilderness,
preachers of vague or unreal things.  And I remember once, in talking to
Mr. Burne-Jones about modern science, his saying to me, ‘the more
materialistic science becomes, the more angels shall I paint: their wings
are my protest in favour of the immortality of the soul.’

But these are the intellectual speculations that underlie art.  Where in
the arts themselves are we to find that breadth of human sympathy which
is the condition of all noble work; where in the arts are we to look for
what Mazzini would call the social ideas as opposed to the merely
personal ideas?  By virtue of what claim do I demand for the artist the
love and loyalty of the men and women of the world?  I think I can answer

Whatever spiritual message an artist brings to his aid is a matter for
his own soul.  He may bring judgment like Michael Angelo or peace like
Angelico; he may come with mourning like the great Athenian or with mirth
like the singer of Sicily; nor is it for us to do aught but accept his
teaching, knowing that we cannot smite the bitter lips of Leopardi into
laughter or burden with our discontent Goethe’s serene calm.  But for
warrant of its truth such message must have the flame of eloquence in the
lips that speak it, splendour and glory in the vision that is its
witness, being justified by one thing only—the flawless beauty and
perfect form of its expression: this indeed being the social idea, being
the meaning of joy in art.

Not laughter where none should laugh, nor the calling of peace where
there is no peace; not in painting the subject ever, but the pictorial
charm only, the wonder of its colour, the satisfying beauty of its

You have most of you seen, probably, that great masterpiece of Rubens
which hangs in the gallery of Brussels, that swift and wonderful pageant
of horse and rider arrested in its most exquisite and fiery moment when
the winds are caught in crimson banner and the air lit by the gleam of
armour and the flash of plume.  Well, that is joy in art, though that
golden hillside be trodden by the wounded feet of Christ and it is for
the death of the Son of Man that that gorgeous cavalcade is passing.

But this restless modern intellectual spirit of ours is not receptive
enough of the sensuous element of art; and so the real influence of the
arts is hidden from many of us: only a few, escaping from the tyranny of
the soul, have learned the secret of those high hours when thought is

And this indeed is the reason of the influence which Eastern art is
having on us in Europe, and of the fascination of all Japanese work.
While the Western world has been laying on art the intolerable burden of
its own intellectual doubts and the spiritual tragedy of its own sorrows,
the East has always kept true to art’s primary and pictorial conditions.

In judging of a beautiful statue the æsthetic faculty is absolutely and
completely gratified by the splendid curves of those marble lips that are
dumb to our complaint, the noble modelling of those limbs that are
powerless to help us.  In its primary aspect a painting has no more
spiritual message or meaning than an exquisite fragment of Venetian glass
or a blue tile from the wall of Damascus: it is a beautifully coloured
surface, nothing more.  The channels by which all noble imaginative work
in painting should touch, and do touch the soul, are not those of the
truths of life, nor metaphysical truths.  But that pictorial charm which
does not depend on any literary reminiscence for its effect on the one
hand, nor is yet a mere result of communicable technical skill on the
other, comes of a certain inventive and creative handling of colour.
Nearly always in Dutch painting and often in the works of Giorgione or
Titian, it is entirely independent of anything definitely poetical in the
subject, a kind of form and choice in workmanship which is itself
entirely satisfying, and is (as the Greeks would say) an end in itself.

And so in poetry too, the real poetical quality, the joy of poetry, comes
never from the subject but from an inventive handling of rhythmical
language, from what Keats called the ‘sensuous life of verse.’  The
element of song in the singing accompanied by the profound joy of motion,
is so sweet that, while the incomplete lives of ordinary men bring no
healing power with them, the thorn-crown of the poet will blossom into
roses for our pleasure; for our delight his despair will gild its own
thorns, and his pain, like Adonis, be beautiful in its agony; and when
the poet’s heart breaks it will break in music.

And health in art—what is that?  It has nothing to do with a sane
criticism of life.  There is more health in Baudelaire than there is in
[Kingsley].  Health is the artist’s recognition of the limitations of the
form in which he works.  It is the honour and the homage which he gives
to the material he uses—whether it be language with its glories, or
marble or pigment with their glories—knowing that the true brotherhood of
the arts consists not in their borrowing one another’s method, but in
their producing, each of them by its own individual means, each of them
by keeping its objective limits, the same unique artistic delight.  The
delight is like that given to us by music—for music is the art in which
form and matter are always one, the art whose subject cannot be separated
from the method of its expression, the art which most completely realises
the artistic ideal, and is the condition to which all the other arts are
constantly aspiring.

And criticism—what place is that to have in our culture?  Well, I think
that the first duty of an art critic is to hold his tongue at all times,
and upon all subjects: _C’est un grand avantage de n’avoir rien fait_,
_mais il ne faut pas en abuser_.

It is only through the mystery of creation that one can gain any
knowledge of the quality of created things.  You have listened to
_Patience_ for a hundred nights and you have heard me for one only.  It
will make, no doubt, that satire more piquant by knowing something about
the subject of it, but you must not judge of æstheticism by the satire of
Mr. Gilbert.  As little should you judge of the strength and splendour of
sun or sea by the dust that dances in the beam, or the bubble that breaks
on the wave, as take your critic for any sane test of art.  For the
artists, like the Greek gods, are revealed only to one another, as
Emerson says somewhere; their real value and place time only can show.
In this respect also omnipotence is with the ages.  The true critic
addresses not the artist ever but the public only.  His work lies with
them.  Art can never have any other claim but her own perfection: it is
for the critic to create for art the social aim, too, by teaching the
people the spirit in which they are to approach all artistic work, the
love they are to give it, the lesson they are to draw from it.

All these appeals to art to set herself more in harmony with modern
progress and civilisation, and to make herself the mouthpiece for the
voice of humanity, these appeals to art ‘to have a mission,’ are appeals
which should be made to the public.  The art which has fulfilled the
conditions of beauty has fulfilled all conditions: it is for the critic
to teach the people how to find in the calm of such art the highest
expression of their own most stormy passions.  ‘I have no reverence,’
said Keats, ‘for the public, nor for anything in existence but the
Eternal Being, the memory of great men and the principle of Beauty.’

Such then is the principle which I believe to be guiding and underlying
our English Renaissance, a Renaissance many-sided and wonderful,
productive of strong ambitions and lofty personalities, yet for all its
splendid achievements in poetry and in the decorative arts and in
painting, for all the increased comeliness and grace of dress, and the
furniture of houses and the like, not complete.  For there can be no
great sculpture without a beautiful national life, and the commercial
spirit of England has killed that; no great drama without a noble
national life, and the commercial spirit of England has killed that too.

It is not that the flawless serenity of marble cannot bear the burden of
the modern intellectual spirit, or become instinct with the fire of
romantic passion—the tomb of Duke Lorenzo and the chapel of the Medici
show us that—but it is that, as Théophile Gautier used to say, the
visible world is dead, _le monde visible a disparu_.

Nor is it again that the novel has killed the play, as some critics would
persuade us—the romantic movement of France shows us that.  The work of
Balzac and of Hugo grew up side by side together; nay, more, were
complementary to each other, though neither of them saw it.  While all
other forms of poetry may flourish in an ignoble age, the splendid
individualism of the lyrist, fed by its own passion, and lit by its own
power, may pass as a pillar of fire as well across the desert as across
places that are pleasant.  It is none the less glorious though no man
follow it—nay, by the greater sublimity of its loneliness it may be
quickened into loftier utterance and intensified into clearer song.  From
the mean squalor of the sordid life that limits him, the dreamer or the
idyllist may soar on poesy’s viewless wings, may traverse with fawn-skin
and spear the moonlit heights of Cithæron though Faun and Bassarid dance
there no more.  Like Keats he may wander through the old-world forests of
Latmos, or stand like Morris on the galley’s deck with the Viking when
king and galley have long since passed away.  But the drama is the
meeting-place of art and life; it deals, as Mazzini said, not merely with
man, but with social man, with man in his relation to God and to
Humanity.  It is the product of a period of great national united energy;
it is impossible without a noble public, and belongs to such ages as the
age of Elizabeth in London and of Pericles at Athens; it is part of such
lofty moral and spiritual ardour as came to Greek after the defeat of the
Persian fleet, and to Englishman after the wreck of the Armada of Spain.

Shelley felt how incomplete our movement was in this respect, and has
shown in one great tragedy by what terror and pity he would have purified
our age; but in spite of _The Cenci_ the drama is one of the artistic
forms through which the genius of the England of this century seeks in
vain to find outlet and expression.  He has had no worthy imitators.

It is rather, perhaps, to you that we should turn to complete and perfect
this great movement of ours, for there is something Hellenic in your air
and world, something that has a quicker breath of the joy and power of
Elizabeth’s England about it than our ancient civilisation can give us.
For you, at least, are young; ‘no hungry generations tread you down,’ and
the past does not weary you with the intolerable burden of its memories
nor mock you with the ruins of a beauty, the secret of whose creation you
have lost.  That very absence of tradition, which Mr. Ruskin thought
would rob your rivers of their laughter and your flowers of their light,
may be rather the source of your freedom and your strength.

To speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of the
movements of animals, and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees
in the woods and grass by the roadside, has been defined by one of your
poets as a flawless triumph of art.  It is a triumph which you above all
nations may be destined to achieve.  For the voices that have their
dwelling in sea and mountain are not the chosen music of Liberty only;
other messages are there in the wonder of wind-swept height and the
majesty of silent deep—messages that, if you will but listen to them, may
yield you the splendour of some new imagination, the marvel of some new

‘I foresee,’ said Goethe, ‘the dawn of a new literature which all people
may claim as their own, for all have contributed to its foundation.’  If,
then, this is so, and if the materials for a civilisation as great as
that of Europe lie all around you, what profit, you will ask me, will all
this study of our poets and painters be to you?  I might answer that the
intellect can be engaged without direct didactic object on an artistic
and historical problem; that the demand of the intellect is merely to
feel itself alive; that nothing which has ever interested men or women
can cease to be a fit subject for culture.

I might remind you of what all Europe owes to the sorrow of a single
Florentine in exile at Verona, or to the love of Petrarch by that little
well in Southern France; nay, more, how even in this dull, materialistic
age the simple expression of an old man’s simple life, passed away from
the clamour of great cities amid the lakes and misty hills of Cumberland,
has opened out for England treasures of new joy compared with which the
treasures of her luxury are as barren as the sea which she has made her
highway, and as bitter as the fire which she would make her slave.

But I think it will bring you something besides this, something that is
the knowledge of real strength in art: not that you should imitate the
works of these men; but their artistic spirit, their artistic attitude, I
think you should absorb that.

For in nations, as in individuals, if the passion for creation be not
accompanied by the critical, the æsthetic faculty also, it will be sure
to waste its strength aimlessly, failing perhaps in the artistic spirit
of choice, or in the mistaking of feeling for form, or in the following
of false ideals.

For the various spiritual forms of the imagination have a natural
affinity with certain sensuous forms of art—and to discern the qualities
of each art, to intensify as well its limitations as its powers of
expression, is one of the aims that culture sets before us.  It is not an
increased moral sense, an increased moral supervision that your
literature needs.  Indeed, one should never talk of a moral or an immoral
poem—poems are either well written or badly written, that is all.  And,
indeed, any element of morals or implied reference to a standard of good
or evil in art is often a sign of a certain incompleteness of vision,
often a note of discord in the harmony of an imaginative creation; for
all good work aims at a purely artistic effect.  ‘We must be careful,’
said Goethe, ‘not to be always looking for culture merely in what is
obviously moral.  Everything that is great promotes civilisation as soon
as we are aware of it.’

But, as in your cities so in your literature, it is a permanent canon and
standard of taste, an increased sensibility to beauty (if I may say so)
that is lacking.  All noble work is not national merely, but universal.
The political independence of a nation must not be confused with any
intellectual isolation.  The spiritual freedom, indeed, your own generous
lives and liberal air will give you.  From us you will learn the
classical restraint of form.

For all great art is delicate art, roughness having very little to do
with strength, and harshness very little to do with power.  ‘The artist,’
as Mr. Swinburne says, ‘must be perfectly articulate.’

This limitation is for the artist perfect freedom: it is at once the
origin and the sign of his strength.  So that all the supreme masters of
style—Dante, Sophocles, Shakespeare—are the supreme masters of spiritual
and intellectual vision also.

Love art for its own sake, and then all things that you need will be
added to you.

This devotion to beauty and to the creation of beautiful things is the
test of all great civilised nations.  Philosophy may teach us to bear
with equanimity the misfortunes of our neighbours, and science resolve
the moral sense into a secretion of sugar, but art is what makes the life
of each citizen a sacrament and not a speculation, art is what makes the
life of the whole race immortal.

For beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm.  Philosophies fall
away like sand, and creeds follow one another like the withered leaves of
autumn; but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons and a possession
for all eternity.

Wars and the clash of armies and the meeting of men in battle by trampled
field or leaguered city, and the rising of nations there must always be.
But I think that art, by creating a common intellectual atmosphere
between all countries, might—if it could not overshadow the world with
the silver wings of peace—at least make men such brothers that they would
not go out to slay one another for the whim or folly of some king or
minister, as they do in Europe.  Fraternity would come no more with the
hands of Cain, nor Liberty betray freedom with the kiss of Anarchy; for
national hatreds are always strongest where culture is lowest.

‘How could I?’ said Goethe, when reproached for not writing like Korner
against the French.  ‘How could I, to whom barbarism and culture alone
are of importance, hate a nation which is among the most cultivated of
the earth, a nation to which I owe a great part of my own cultivation?’

Mighty empires, too, there must always be as long as personal ambition
and the spirit of the age are one, but art at least is the only empire
which a nation’s enemies cannot take from her by conquest, but which is
taken by submission only.  The sovereignty of Greece and Rome is not yet
passed away, though the gods of the one be dead and the eagles of the
other tired.

And we in our Renaissance are seeking to create a sovereignty that will
still be England’s when her yellow leopards have grown weary of wars and
the rose of her shield is crimsoned no more with the blood of battle; and
you, too, absorbing into the generous heart of a great people this
pervading artistic spirit, will create for yourselves such riches as you
have never yet created, though your land be a network of railways and
your cities the harbours for the galleys of the world.

I know, indeed, that the divine natural prescience of beauty which is the
inalienable inheritance of Greek and Italian is not our inheritance.  For
such an informing and presiding spirit of art to shield us from all harsh
and alien influences, we of the Northern races must turn rather to that
strained self-consciousness of our age which, as it is the key-note of
all our romantic art, must be the source of all or nearly all our
culture.  I mean that intellectual curiosity of the nineteenth century
which is always looking for the secret of the life that still lingers
round old and bygone forms of culture.  It takes from each what is
serviceable for the modern spirit—from Athens its wonder without its
worship, from Venice its splendour without its sin.  The same spirit is
always analysing its own strength and its own weakness, counting what it
owes to East and to West, to the olive-trees of Colonus and to the
palm-trees of Lebanon, to Gethsemane and to the garden of Proserpine.

And yet the truths of art cannot be taught: they are revealed only,
revealed to natures which have made themselves receptive of all beautiful
impressions by the study and worship of all beautiful things.  And hence
the enormous importance given to the decorative arts in our English
Renaissance; hence all that marvel of design that comes from the hand of
Edward Burne-Jones, all that weaving of tapestry and staining of glass,
that beautiful working in clay and metal and wood which we owe to William
Morris, the greatest handicraftsman we have had in England since the
fourteenth century.

So, in years to come there will be nothing in any man’s house which has
not given delight to its maker and does not give delight to its user.
The children, like the children of Plato’s perfect city, will grow up ‘in
a simple atmosphere of all fair things’—I quote from the passage in the
_Republic_—‘a simple atmosphere of all fair things, where beauty, which
is the spirit of art, will come on eye and ear like a fresh breath of
wind that brings health from a clear upland, and insensibly and gradually
draw the child’s soul into harmony with all knowledge and all wisdom, so
that he will love what is beautiful and good, and hate what is evil and
ugly (for they always go together) long before he knows the reason why;
and then when reason comes will kiss her on the cheek as a friend.’

That is what Plato thought decorative art could do for a nation, feeling
that the secret not of philosophy merely but of all gracious existence
might be externally hidden from any one whose youth had been passed in
uncomely and vulgar surroundings, and that the beauty of form and colour
even, as he says, in the meanest vessels of the house, will find its way
into the inmost places of the soul and lead the boy naturally to look for
that divine harmony of spiritual life of which art was to him the
material symbol and warrant.

Prelude indeed to all knowledge and all wisdom will this love of
beautiful things be for us; yet there are times when wisdom becomes a
burden and knowledge is one with sorrow: for as every body has its shadow
so every soul has its scepticism.  In such dread moments of discord and
despair where should we, of this torn and troubled age, turn our steps if
not to that secure house of beauty where there is always a little
forgetfulness, always a great joy; to that _città divina_, as the old
Italian heresy called it, the divine city where one can stand, though
only for a brief moment, apart from the division and terror of the world
and the choice of the world too?

This is that _consolation des arts_ which is the key-note of Gautier’s
poetry, the secret of modern life foreshadowed—as indeed what in our
century is not?—by Goethe.  You remember what he said to the German
people: ‘Only have the courage,’ he said, ‘to give yourselves up to your
impressions, allow yourselves to be delighted, moved, elevated, nay
instructed, inspired for something great.’  The courage to give
yourselves up to your impressions: yes, that is the secret of the
artistic life—for while art has been defined as an escape from the
tyranny of the senses, it is an escape rather from the tyranny of the
soul.  But only to those who worship her above all things does she ever
reveal her true treasure: else will she be as powerless to aid you as the
mutilated Venus of the Louvre was before the romantic but sceptical
nature of Heine.

And indeed I think it would be impossible to overrate the gain that might
follow if we had about us only what gave pleasure to the maker of it and
gives pleasure to its user, that being the simplest of all rules about
decoration.  One thing, at least, I think it would do for us: there is no
surer test of a great country than how near it stands to its own poets;
but between the singers of our day and the workers to whom they would
sing there seems to be an ever-widening and dividing chasm, a chasm which
slander and mockery cannot traverse, but which is spanned by the luminous
wings of love.

And of such love I think that the abiding presence in our houses of noble
imaginative work would be the surest seed and preparation.  I do not mean
merely as regards that direct literary expression of art by which, from
the little red-and-black cruse of oil or wine, a Greek boy could learn of
the lionlike splendour of Achilles, of the strength of Hector and the
beauty of Paris and the wonder of Helen, long before he stood and
listened in crowded market-place or in theatre of marble; or by which an
Italian child of the fifteenth century could know of the chastity of
Lucrece and the death of Camilla from carven doorway and from painted
chest.  For the good we get from art is not what we learn from it; it is
what we become through it.  Its real influence will be in giving the mind
that enthusiasm which is the secret of Hellenism, accustoming it to
demand from art all that art can do in rearranging the facts of common
life for us—whether it be by giving the most spiritual interpretation of
one’s own moments of highest passion or the most sensuous expression of
those thoughts that are the farthest removed from sense; in accustoming
it to love the things of the imagination for their own sake, and to
desire beauty and grace in all things.  For he who does not love art in
all things does not love it at all, and he who does not need art in all
things does not need it at all.

I will not dwell here on what I am sure has delighted you all in our
great Gothic cathedrals.  I mean how the artist of that time,
handicraftsman himself in stone or glass, found the best motives for his
art, always ready for his hand and always beautiful, in the daily work of
the artificers he saw around him—as in those lovely windows of
Chartres—where the dyer dips in the vat and the potter sits at the wheel,
and the weaver stands at the loom: real manufacturers these, workers with
the hand, and entirely delightful to look at, not like the smug and vapid
shopman of our time, who knows nothing of the web or vase he sells,
except that he is charging you double its value and thinking you a fool
for buying it.  Nor can I but just note, in passing, the immense
influence the decorative work of Greece and Italy had on its artists, the
one teaching the sculptor that restraining influence of design which is
the glory of the Parthenon, the other keeping painting always true to its
primary, pictorial condition of noble colour which is the secret of the
school of Venice; for I wish rather, in this lecture at least, to dwell
on the effect that decorative art has on human life—on its social not its
purely artistic effect.

There are two kinds of men in the world, two great creeds, two different
forms of natures: men to whom the end of life is action, and men to whom
the end of life is thought.  As regards the latter, who seek for
experience itself and not for the fruits of experience, who must burn
always with one of the passions of this fiery-coloured world, who find
life interesting not for its secret but for its situations, for its
pulsations and not for its purpose; the passion for beauty engendered by
the decorative arts will be to them more satisfying than any political or
religious enthusiasm, any enthusiasm for humanity, any ecstasy or sorrow
for love.  For art comes to one professing primarily to give nothing but
the highest quality to one’s moments, and for those moments’ sake.  So
far for those to whom the end of life is thought.  As regards the others,
who hold that life is inseparable from labour, to them should this
movement be specially dear: for, if our days are barren without industry,
industry without art is barbarism.

Hewers of wood and drawers of water there must be always indeed among us.
Our modern machinery has not much lightened the labour of man after all:
but at least let the pitcher that stands by the well be beautiful and
surely the labour of the day will be lightened: let the wood be made
receptive of some lovely form, some gracious design, and there will come
no longer discontent but joy to the toiler.  For what is decoration but
the worker’s expression of joy in his work?  And not joy merely—that is a
great thing yet not enough—but that opportunity of expressing his own
individuality which, as it is the essence of all life, is the source of
all art.  ‘I have tried,’ I remember William Morris saying to me once, ‘I
have tried to make each of my workers an artist, and when I say an artist
I mean a man.’  For the worker then, handicraftsman of whatever kind he
is, art is no longer to be a purple robe woven by a slave and thrown over
the whitened body of a leprous king to hide and to adorn the sin of his
luxury, but rather the beautiful and noble expression of a life that has
in it something beautiful and noble.

And so you must seek out your workman and give him, as far as possible,
the right surroundings, for remember that the real test and virtue of a
workman is not his earnestness nor his industry even, but his power of
design merely; and that ‘design is not the offspring of idle fancy: it is
the studied result of accumulative observation and delightful habit.’
All the teaching in the world is of no avail if you do not surround your
workman with happy influences and with beautiful things.  It is
impossible for him to have right ideas about colour unless he sees the
lovely colours of Nature unspoiled; impossible for him to supply
beautiful incident and action unless he sees beautiful incident and
action in the world about him.

For to cultivate sympathy you must be among living things and thinking
about them, and to cultivate admiration you must be among beautiful
things and looking at them.  ‘The steel of Toledo and the silk of Genoa
did but give strength to oppression and lustre to pride,’ as Mr. Ruskin
says; let it be for you to create an art that is made by the hands of the
people for the joy of the people, to please the hearts of the people,
too; an art that will be your expression of your delight in life.  There
is nothing ‘in common life too mean, in common things too trivial to be
ennobled by your touch’; nothing in life that art cannot sanctify.

You have heard, I think, a few of you, of two flowers connected with the
æsthetic movement in England, and said (I assure you, erroneously) to be
the food of some æsthetic young men.  Well, let me tell you that the
reason we love the lily and the sunflower, in spite of what Mr. Gilbert
may tell you, is not for any vegetable fashion at all.  It is because
these two lovely flowers are in England the two most perfect models of
design, the most naturally adapted for decorative art—the gaudy leonine
beauty of the one and the precious loveliness of the other giving to the
artist the most entire and perfect joy.  And so with you: let there be no
flower in your meadows that does not wreathe its tendrils around your
pillows, no little leaf in your Titan forests that does not lend its form
to design, no curving spray of wild rose or brier that does not live for
ever in carven arch or window or marble, no bird in your air that is not
giving the iridescent wonder of its colour, the exquisite curves of its
wings in flight, to make more precious the preciousness of simple

We spend our days, each one of us, in looking for the secret of life.
Well, the secret of life is in art.


A lecture delivered in America during Wilde’s tour in 1882.  It was
announced as a lecture on ‘The Practical Application of the Principles of
Æsthetic Theory to Exterior and Interior House Decoration, With
Observations upon Dress and Personal Ornaments.’  The earliest date on
which it is known to have been given is May 11, 1882.

IN my last lecture I gave you something of the history of Art in England.
I sought to trace the influence of the French Revolution upon its
development.  I said something of the song of Keats and the school of the
pre-Raphaelites.  But I do not want to shelter the movement, which I have
called the English Renaissance, under any palladium however noble, or any
name however revered.  The roots of it have, indeed, to be sought for in
things that have long passed away, and not, as some suppose, in the fancy
of a few young men—although I am not altogether sure that there is
anything much better than the fancy of a few young men.

When I appeared before you on a previous occasion, I had seen nothing of
American art save the Doric columns and Corinthian chimney-pots visible
on your Broadway and Fifth Avenue.  Since then, I have been through your
country to some fifty or sixty different cities, I think.  I find that
what your people need is not so much high imaginative art but that which
hallows the vessels of everyday use.  I suppose that the poet will sing
and the artist will paint regardless whether the world praises or blames.
He has his own world and is independent of his fellow-men.  But the
handicraftsman is dependent on your pleasure and opinion.  He needs your
encouragement and he must have beautiful surroundings.  Your people love
art but do not sufficiently honour the handicraftsman.  Of course, those
millionaires who can pillage Europe for their pleasure need have no care
to encourage such; but I speak for those whose desire for beautiful
things is larger than their means.  I find that one great trouble all
over is that your workmen are not given to noble designs.  You cannot be
indifferent to this, because Art is not something which you can take or
leave.  It is a necessity of human life.

And what is the meaning of this beautiful decoration which we call art?
In the first place, it means value to the workman and it means the
pleasure which he must necessarily take in making a beautiful thing.  The
mark of all good art is not that the thing done is done exactly or
finely, for machinery may do as much, but that it is worked out with the
head and the workman’s heart.  I cannot impress the point too frequently
that beautiful and rational designs are necessary in all work.  I did not
imagine, until I went into some of your simpler cities, that there was so
much bad work done.  I found, where I went, bad wall-papers horribly
designed, and coloured carpets, and that old offender the horse-hair
sofa, whose stolid look of indifference is always so depressing.  I found
meaningless chandeliers and machine-made furniture, generally of
rosewood, which creaked dismally under the weight of the ubiquitous
interviewer.  I came across the small iron stove which they always
persist in decorating with machine-made ornaments, and which is as great
a bore as a wet day or any other particularly dreadful institution.  When
unusual extravagance was indulged in, it was garnished with two funeral

It must always be remembered that what is well and carefully made by an
honest workman, after a rational design, increases in beauty and value as
the years go on.  The old furniture brought over by the Pilgrims, two
hundred years ago, which I saw in New England, is just as good and as
beautiful to-day as it was when it first came here.  Now, what you must
do is to bring artists and handicraftsmen together.  Handicraftsmen
cannot live, certainly cannot thrive, without such companionship.
Separate these two and you rob art of all spiritual motive.

Having done this, you must place your workman in the midst of beautiful
surroundings.  The artist is not dependent on the visible and the
tangible.  He has his visions and his dreams to feed on.  But the workman
must see lovely forms as he goes to his work in the morning and returns
at eventide.  And, in connection with this, I want to assure you that
noble and beautiful designs are never the result of idle fancy or
purposeless day-dreaming.  They come only as the accumulation of habits
of long and delightful observation.  And yet such things may not be
taught.  Right ideas concerning them can certainly be obtained only by
those who have been accustomed to rooms that are beautiful and colours
that are satisfying.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do is to choose a
notable and joyous dress for men.  There would be more joy in life if we
were to accustom ourselves to use all the beautiful colours we can in
fashioning our own clothes.  The dress of the future, I think, will use
drapery to a great extent and will abound with joyous colour.  At present
we have lost all nobility of dress and, in doing so, have almost
annihilated the modern sculptor.  And, in looking around at the figures
which adorn our parks, one could almost wish that we had completely
killed the noble art.  To see the frock-coat of the drawing-room done in
bronze, or the double waistcoat perpetuated in marble, adds a new horror
to death.  But indeed, in looking through the history of costume, seeking
an answer to the questions we have propounded, there is little that is
either beautiful or appropriate.  One of the earliest forms is the Greek
drapery which is exquisite for young girls.  And then, I think we may be
pardoned a little enthusiasm over the dress of the time of Charles I., so
beautiful indeed, that in spite of its invention being with the Cavaliers
it was copied by the Puritans.  And the dress for the children of that
time must not be passed over.  It was a very golden age of the little
ones.  I do not think that they have ever looked so lovely as they do in
the pictures of that time.  The dress of the last century in England is
also peculiarly gracious and graceful.  There is nothing bizarre or
strange about it, but it is full of harmony and beauty.  In these days,
when we have suffered dreadfully from the incursions of the modern
milliner, we hear ladies boast that they do not wear a dress more than
once.  In the old days, when the dresses were decorated with beautiful
designs and worked with exquisite embroidery, ladies rather took a pride
in bringing out the garment and wearing it many times and handing it down
to their daughters—a process that would, I think, be quite appreciated by
a modern husband when called upon to settle his wife’s bills.

And how shall men dress?  Men say that they do not particularly care how
they dress, and that it is little matter.  I am bound to reply that I do
not think that you do.  In all my journeys through the country, the only
well-dressed men that I saw—and in saying this I earnestly deprecate the
polished indignation of your Fifth Avenue dandies—were the Western
miners.  Their wide-brimmed hats, which shaded their faces from the sun
and protected them from the rain, and the cloak, which is by far the most
beautiful piece of drapery ever invented, may well be dwelt on with
admiration.  Their high boots, too, were sensible and practical.  They
wore only what was comfortable, and therefore beautiful.  As I looked at
them I could not help thinking with regret of the time when these
picturesque miners would have made their fortunes and would go East to
assume again all the abominations of modern fashionable attire.  Indeed,
so concerned was I that I made some of them promise that when they again
appeared in the more crowded scenes of Eastern civilisation they would
still continue to wear their lovely costume.  But I do not believe they

Now, what America wants to-day is a school of rational art.  Bad art is a
great deal worse than no art at all.  You must show your workmen
specimens of good work so that they come to know what is simple and true
and beautiful.  To that end I would have you have a museum attached to
these schools—not one of those dreadful modern institutions where there
is a stuffed and very dusty giraffe, and a case or two of fossils, but a
place where there are gathered examples of art decoration from various
periods and countries.  Such a place is the South Kensington Museum in
London, whereon we build greater hopes for the future than on any other
one thing.  There I go every Saturday night, when the museum is open
later than usual, to see the handicraftsman, the wood-worker, the
glass-blower and the worker in metals.  And it is here that the man of
refinement and culture comes face to face with the workman who ministers
to his joy.  He comes to know more of the nobility of the workman, and
the workman, feeling the appreciation, comes to know more of the nobility
of his work.

You have too many white walls.  More colour is wanted.  You should have
such men as Whistler among you to teach you the beauty and joy of colour.
Take Mr. Whistler’s ‘Symphony in White,’ which you no doubt have imagined
to be something quite bizarre.  It is nothing of the sort.  Think of a
cool grey sky flecked here and there with white clouds, a grey ocean and
three wonderfully beautiful figures robed in white, leaning over the
water and dropping white flowers from their fingers.  Here is no
extensive intellectual scheme to trouble you, and no metaphysics of which
we have had quite enough in art.  But if the simple and unaided colour
strike the right key-note, the whole conception is made clear.  I regard
Mr. Whistler’s famous Peacock Room as the finest thing in colour and art
decoration which the world has known since Correggio painted that
wonderful room in Italy where the little children are dancing on the
walls.  Mr. Whistler finished another room just before I came away—a
breakfast room in blue and yellow.  The ceiling was a light blue, the
cabinet-work and the furniture were of a yellow wood, the curtains at the
windows were white and worked in yellow, and when the table was set for
breakfast with dainty blue china nothing can be conceived at once so
simple and so joyous.

The fault which I have observed in most of your rooms is that there is
apparent no definite scheme of colour.  Everything is not attuned to a
key-note as it should be.  The apartments are crowded with pretty things
which have no relation to one another.  Again, your artists must decorate
what is more simply useful.  In your art schools I found no attempt to
decorate such things as the vessels for water.  I know of nothing uglier
than the ordinary jug or pitcher.  A museum could be filled with the
different kinds of water vessels which are used in hot countries.  Yet we
continue to submit to the depressing jug with the handle all on one side.
I do not see the wisdom of decorating dinner-plates with sunsets and
soup-plates with moonlight scenes.  I do not think it adds anything to
the pleasure of the canvas-back duck to take it out of such glories.
Besides, we do not want a soup-plate whose bottom seems to vanish in the
distance.  One feels neither safe nor comfortable under such conditions.
In fact, I did not find in the art schools of the country that the
difference was explained between decorative and imaginative art.

The conditions of art should be simple.  A great deal more depends upon
the heart than upon the head.  Appreciation of art is not secured by any
elaborate scheme of learning.  Art requires a good healthy atmosphere.
The motives for art are still around about us as they were round about
the ancients.  And the subjects are also easily found by the earnest
sculptor and the painter.  Nothing is more picturesque and graceful than
a man at work.  The artist who goes to the children’s playground, watches
them at their sport and sees the boy stoop to tie his shoe, will find the
same themes that engaged the attention of the ancient Greeks, and such
observation and the illustrations which follow will do much to correct
that foolish impression that mental and physical beauty are always

To you, more than perhaps to any other country, has Nature been generous
in furnishing material for art workers to work in.  You have marble
quarries where the stone is more beautiful in colour than any the Greeks
ever had for their beautiful work, and yet day after day I am confronted
with the great building of some stupid man who has used the beautiful
material as if it were not precious almost beyond speech.  Marble should
not be used save by noble workmen.  There is nothing which gave me a
greater sense of barrenness in travelling through the country than the
entire absence of wood carving on your houses.  Wood carving is the
simplest of the decorative arts.  In Switzerland the little barefooted
boy beautifies the porch of his father’s house with examples of skill in
this direction.  Why should not American boys do a great deal more and
better than Swiss boys?

There is nothing to my mind more coarse in conception and more vulgar in
execution than modern jewellery.  This is something that can easily be
corrected.  Something better should be made out of the beautiful gold
which is stored up in your mountain hollows and strewn along your river
beds.  When I was at Leadville and reflected that all the shining silver
that I saw coming from the mines would be made into ugly dollars, it made
me sad.  It should be made into something more permanent.  The golden
gates at Florence are as beautiful to-day as when Michael Angelo saw

We should see more of the workman than we do.  We should not be content
to have the salesman stand between us—the salesman who knows nothing of
what he is selling save that he is charging a great deal too much for it.
And watching the workman will teach that most important lesson—the
nobility of all rational workmanship.

I said in my last lecture that art would create a new brotherhood among
men by furnishing a universal language.  I said that under its beneficent
influences war might pass away.  Thinking this, what place can I ascribe
to art in our education?  If children grow up among all fair and lovely
things, they will grow to love beauty and detest ugliness before they
know the reason why.  If you go into a house where everything is coarse,
you find things chipped and broken and unsightly.  Nobody exercises any
care.  If everything is dainty and delicate, gentleness and refinement of
manner are unconsciously acquired.  When I was in San Francisco I used to
visit the Chinese Quarter frequently.  There I used to watch a great
hulking Chinese workman at his task of digging, and used to see him every
day drink his tea from a little cup as delicate in texture as the petal
of a flower, whereas in all the grand hotels of the land, where thousands
of dollars have been lavished on great gilt mirrors and gaudy columns, I
have been given my coffee or my chocolate in cups an inch and a quarter
thick.  I think I have deserved something nicer.

The art systems of the past have been devised by philosophers who looked
upon human beings as obstructions.  They have tried to educate boys’
minds before they had any.  How much better it would be in these early
years to teach children to use their hands in the rational service of
mankind.  I would have a workshop attached to every school, and one hour
a day given up to the teaching of simple decorative arts.  It would be a
golden hour to the children.  And you would soon raise up a race of
handicraftsmen who would transform the face of your country.  I have seen
only one such school in the United States, and this was in Philadelphia
and was founded by my friend Mr. Leyland.  I stopped there yesterday and
have brought some of the work here this afternoon to show you.  Here are
two disks of beaten brass: the designs on them are beautiful, the
workmanship is simple, and the entire result is satisfactory.  The work
was done by a little boy twelve years old.  This is a wooden bowl
decorated by a little girl of thirteen.  The design is lovely and the
colouring delicate and pretty.  Here you see a piece of beautiful wood
carving accomplished by a little boy of nine.  In such work as this,
children learn sincerity in art.  They learn to abhor the liar in art—the
man who paints wood to look like iron, or iron to look like stone.  It is
a practical school of morals.  No better way is there to learn to love
Nature than to understand Art.  It dignifies every flower of the field.
And, the boy who sees the thing of beauty which a bird on the wing
becomes when transferred to wood or canvas will probably not throw the
customary stone.  What we want is something spiritual added to life.
Nothing is so ignoble that Art cannot sanctify it.


The fragments of which this lecture is composed are taken entirely from
the original manuscripts which have but recently been discovered.  It is
not certain that they all belong to the same lecture, nor that all were
written at the same period.  Some portions were written in Philadelphia
in 1882.

PEOPLE often talk as if there was an opposition between what is beautiful
and what is useful.  There is no opposition to beauty except ugliness:
all things are either beautiful or ugly, and utility will be always on
the side of the beautiful thing, because beautiful decoration is always
on the side of the beautiful thing, because beautiful decoration is
always an expression of the use you put a thing to and the value placed
on it.  No workman will beautifully decorate bad work, nor can you
possibly get good handicraftsmen or workmen without having beautiful
designs.  You should be quite sure of that.  If you have poor and
worthless designs in any craft or trade you will get poor and worthless
workmen only, but the minute you have noble and beautiful designs, then
you get men of power and intellect and feeling to work for you.  By
having good designs you have workmen who work not merely with their hands
but with their hearts and heads too; otherwise you will get merely the
fool or the loafer to work for you.

That the beauty of life is a thing of no moment, I suppose few people
would venture to assert.  And yet most civilised people act as if it were
of none, and in so doing are wronging both themselves and those that are
to come after them.  For that beauty which is meant by art is no mere
accident of human life which people can take or leave, but a positive
necessity of life if we are to live as nature meant us to, that is to say
unless we are content to be less than men.

Do not think that the commercial spirit which is the basis of your life
and cities here is opposed to art.  Who built the beautiful cities of the
world but commercial men and commercial men only?  Genoa built by its
traders, Florence by its bankers, and Venice, most lovely of all, by its
noble and honest merchants.

I do not wish you, remember, ‘to build a new Pisa,’ nor to bring ‘the
life or the decorations of the thirteenth century back again.’  ‘The
circumstances with which you must surround your workmen are those’ of
modern American life, ‘because the designs you have now to ask for from
your workmen are such as will make modern’ American ‘life beautiful.’
The art we want is the art based on all the inventions of modern
civilisation, and to suit all the needs of nineteenth-century life.

Do you think, for instance, that we object to machinery?  I tell you we
reverence it; we reverence it when it does its proper work, when it
relieves man from ignoble and soulless labour, not when it seeks to do
that which is valuable only when wrought by the hands and hearts of men.
Let us have no machine-made ornament at all; it is all bad and worthless
and ugly.  And let us not mistake the means of civilisation for the end
of civilisation; steam-engine, telephone and the like, are all wonderful,
but remember that their value depends entirely on the noble uses we make
of them, on the noble spirit in which we employ them, not on the things

It is, no doubt, a great advantage to talk to a man at the Antipodes
through a telephone; its advantage depends entirely on the value of what
the two men have to say to one another.  If one merely shrieks slander
through a tube and the other whispers folly into a wire, do not think
that anybody is very much benefited by the invention.

The train that whirls an ordinary Englishman through Italy at the rate of
forty miles an hour and finally sends him home without any memory of that
lovely country but that he was cheated by a courier at Rome, or that he
got a bad dinner at Verona, does not do him or civilisation much good.
But that swift legion of fiery-footed engines that bore to the burning
ruins of Chicago the loving help and generous treasure of the world was
as noble and as beautiful as any golden troop of angels that ever fed the
hungry and clothed the naked in the antique times.  As beautiful, yes;
all machinery may be beautiful when it is undecorated even.  Do not seek
to decorate it.  We cannot but think all good machinery is graceful,
also, the line of strength and the line of beauty being one.

Give then, as I said, to your workmen of to-day the bright and noble
surroundings that you can yourself create.  Stately and simple
architecture for your cities, bright and simple dress for your men and
women; those are the conditions of a real artistic movement.  For the
artist is not concerned primarily with any theory of life but with life
itself, with the joy and loveliness that should come daily on eye and ear
for a beautiful external world.

But the simplicity must not be barrenness nor the bright colour gaudy.
For all beautiful colours are graduated colours, the colours that seem
about to pass into one another’s realm—colour without tone being like
music without harmony, mere discord.  Barren architecture, the vulgar and
glaring advertisements that desecrate not merely your cities but every
rock and river that I have seen yet in America—all this is not enough.  A
school of design we must have too in each city.  It should be a stately
and noble building, full of the best examples of the best art of the
world.  Furthermore, do not put your designers in a barren whitewashed
room and bid them work in that depressing and colourless atmosphere as I
have seen many of the American schools of design, but give them beautiful
surroundings.  Because you want to produce a permanent canon and standard
of taste in your workman, he must have always by him and before him
specimens of the best decorative art of the world, so that you can say to
him: ‘This is good work.  Greek or Italian or Japanese wrought it so many
years ago, but it is eternally young because eternally beautiful.’  Work
in this spirit and you will be sure to be right.  Do not copy it, but
work with the same love, the same reverence, the same freedom of
imagination.  You must teach him colour and design, how all beautiful
colours are graduated colours and glaring colours the essence of
vulgarity.  Show him the quality of any beautiful work of nature like the
rose, or any beautiful work of art like an Eastern carpet—being merely
the exquisite gradation of colour, one tone answering another like the
answering chords of a symphony.  Teach him how the true designer is not
he who makes the design and then colours it, but he who designs in
colour, creates in colour, thinks in colour too.  Show him how the most
gorgeous stained-glass windows of Europe are filled with white glass, and
the most gorgeous Eastern tapestry with toned colours—the primary colours
in both places being set in the white glass, and the tone colours like
brilliant jewels set in dusky gold.  And then as regards design, show him
how the real designer will take first any given limited space, little
disk of silver, it may be, like a Greek coin, or wide expanse of fretted
ceiling or lordly wall as Tintoret chose at Venice (it does not matter
which), and to this limited space—the first condition of decoration being
the limitation of the size of the material used—he will give the effect
of its being filled with beautiful decoration, filled with it as a golden
cup will be filled with wine, so complete that you should not be able to
take away anything from it or add anything to it.  For from a good piece
of design you can take away nothing, nor can you add anything to it, each
little bit of design being as absolutely necessary and as vitally
important to the whole effect as a note or chord of music is for a sonata
of Beethoven.

But I said the effect of its being so filled, because this, again, is of
the essence of good design.  With a simple spray of leaves and a bird in
flight a Japanese artist will give you the impression that he has
completely covered with lovely design the reed fan or lacquer cabinet at
which he is working, merely because he knows the exact spot in which to
place them.  All good design depends on the texture of the utensil used
and the use you wish to put it to.  One of the first things I saw in an
American school of design was a young lady painting a romantic moonlight
landscape on a large round dish, and another young lady covering a set of
dinner plates with a series of sunsets of the most remarkable colours.
Let your ladies paint moonlight landscapes and sunsets, but do not let
them paint them on dinner plates or dishes.  Let them take canvas or
paper for such work, but not clay or china.  They are merely painting the
wrong subjects on the wrong material, that is all.  They have not been
taught that every material and texture has certain qualities of its own.
The design suitable for one is quite wrong for the other, just as the
design which you should work on a flat table-cover ought to be quite
different from the design you would work on a curtain, for the one will
always be straight, the other broken into folds; and the use too one puts
the object to should guide one in the choice of design.  One does not
want to eat one’s terrapins off a romantic moonlight nor one’s clams off
a harrowing sunset.  Glory of sun and moon, let them be wrought for us by
our landscape artist and be on the walls of the rooms we sit in to remind
us of the undying beauty of the sunsets that fade and die, but do not let
us eat our soup off them and send them down to the kitchen twice a day to
be washed and scrubbed by the handmaid.

All these things are simple enough, yet nearly always forgotten.  Your
school of design here will teach your girls and your boys, your
handicraftsmen of the future (for all your schools of art should be local
schools, the schools of particular cities).  We talk of the Italian
school of painting, but there is no Italian school; there were the
schools of each city.  Every town in Italy, from Venice itself, queen of
the sea, to the little hill fortress of Perugia, each had its own school
of art, each different and all beautiful.

So do not mind what art Philadelphia or New York is having, but make by
the hands of your own citizens beautiful art for the joy of your own
citizens, for you have here the primary elements of a great artistic

For, believe me, the conditions of art are much simpler than people
imagine.  For the noblest art one requires a clear healthy atmosphere,
not polluted as the air of our English cities is by the smoke and grime
and horridness which comes from open furnace and from factory chimney.
You must have strong, sane, healthy physique among your men and women.
Sickly or idle or melancholy people do not do much in art.  And lastly,
you require a sense of individualism about each man and woman, for this
is the essence of art—a desire on the part of man to express himself in
the noblest way possible.  And this is the reason that the grandest art
of the world always came from a republic: Athens, Venice, and
Florence—there were no kings there and so their art was as noble and
simple as sincere.  But if you want to know what kind of art the folly of
kings will impose on a country look at the decorative art of France under
the _grand monarque_, under Louis the Fourteenth; the gaudy gilt
furniture writhing under a sense of its own horror and ugliness, with a
nymph smirking at every angle and a dragon mouthing on every claw.
Unreal and monstrous art this, and fit only for such periwigged
pomposities as the nobility of France at that time, but not at all fit
for you or me.  We do not want the rich to possess more beautiful things
but the poor to create more beautiful things; for ever man is poor who
cannot create.  Nor shall the art which you and I need be merely a purple
robe woven by a slave and thrown over the whitened body of some leprous
king to adorn or to conceal the sin of his luxury, but rather shall it be
the noble and beautiful expression of a people’s noble and beautiful
life.  Art shall be again the most glorious of all the chords through
which the spirit of a great nation finds its noblest utterance.

All around you, I said, lie the conditions for a great artistic movement
for every great art.  Let us think of one of them; a sculptor, for

If a modern sculptor were to come and say, ‘Very well, but where can one
find subjects for sculpture out of men who wear frock-coats and
chimney-pot hats?’ I would tell him to go to the docks of a great city
and watch the men loading or unloading the stately ships, working at
wheel or windlass, hauling at rope or gangway.  I have never watched a
man do anything useful who has not been graceful at some moment of his
labour: it is only the loafer and the idle saunterer who is as useless
and uninteresting to the artist as he is to himself.  I would ask the
sculptor to go with me to any of your schools or universities, to the
running ground and gymnasium, to watch the young men start for a race,
hurling quoit or club, kneeling to tie their shoes before leaping,
stepping from the boat or bending to the oar, and to carve them; and when
he was weary of cities I would ask him to come to your fields and meadows
to watch the reaper with his sickle and the cattle-driver with lifted
lasso.  For if a man cannot find the noblest motives for his art in such
simple daily things as a woman drawing water from the well or a man
leaning with his scythe, he will not find them anywhere at all.  Gods and
goddesses the Greek carved because he loved them; saint and king the Goth
because he believed in them.  But you, you do not care much for Greek
gods and goddesses, and you are perfectly and entirely right; and you do
not think much of kings either, and you are quite right.  But what you do
love are your own men and women, your own flowers and fields, your own
hills and mountains, and these are what your art should represent to you.

Ours has been the first movement which has brought the handicraftsman and
the artist together, for remember that by separating the one from the
other you do ruin to both; you rob the one of all spiritual motive and
all imaginative joy, you isolate the other from all real technical
perfection.  The two greatest schools of art in the world, the sculptor
at Athens and the school of painting at Venice, had their origin entirely
in a long succession of simple and earnest handicraftsmen.  It was the
Greek potter who taught the sculptor that restraining influence of design
which was the glory of the Parthenon; it was the Italian decorator of
chests and household goods who kept Venetian painting always true to its
primary pictorial condition of noble colour.  For we should remember that
all the arts are fine arts and all the arts decorative arts.  The
greatest triumph of Italian painting was the decoration of a pope’s
chapel in Rome and the wall of a room in Venice.  Michael Angelo wrought
the one, and Tintoret, the dyer’s son, the other.  And the little ‘Dutch
landscape, which you put over your sideboard to-day, and between the
windows to-morrow, is’ no less a glorious ‘piece of work than the extents
of field and forest with which Benozzo has made green and beautiful the
once melancholy arcade of the Campo Santo at Pisa,’ as Ruskin says.

Do not imitate the works of a nation, Greek or Japanese, Italian or
English; but their artistic spirit of design and their artistic attitude
to-day, their own world, you should absorb but imitate never, copy never.
Unless you can make as beautiful a design in painted china or embroidered
screen or beaten brass out of your American turkey as the Japanese does
out of his grey silver-winged stork, you will never do anything.  Let the
Greek carve his lions and the Goth his dragons: buffalo and wild deer are
the animals for you.

Golden rod and aster and rose and all the flowers that cover your valleys
in the spring and your hills in the autumn: let them be the flowers for
your art.  Not merely has Nature given you the noblest motives for a new
school of decoration, but to you above all other countries has she given
the utensils to work in.

You have quarries of marble richer than Pentelicus, more varied than
Paros, but do not build a great white square house of marble and think
that it is beautiful, or that you are using marble nobly.  If you build
in marble you must either carve it into joyous decoration, like the lives
of dancing children that adorn the marble castles of the Loire, or fill
it with beautiful sculpture, frieze and pediment, as the Greeks did, or
inlay it with other coloured marbles as they did in Venice.  Otherwise
you had better build in simple red brick as your Puritan fathers, with no
pretence and with some beauty.  Do not treat your marble as if it was
ordinary stone and build a house of mere blocks of it.  For it is indeed
a precious stone, this marble of yours, and only workmen of nobility of
invention and delicacy of hand should be allowed to touch it at all,
carving it into noble statues or into beautiful decoration, or inlaying
it with other coloured marbles: for ‘the true colours of architecture are
those of natural stone, and I would fain see them taken advantage of to
the full.  Every variety is here, from pale yellow to purple passing
through orange, red, and brown, entirely at your command; nearly every
kind of green and grey also is attainable, and with these and with pure
white what harmony might you not achieve.  Of stained and variegated
stone the quantity is unlimited, the kinds innumerable.  Were brighter
colours required, let glass, and gold protected by glass, be used in
mosaic, a kind of work as durable as the solid stone and incapable of
losing its lustre by time.  And let the painter’s work be reserved for
the shadowed loggia and inner chamber.

‘This is the true and faithful way of building.  Where this cannot be,
the device of external colouring may indeed be employed without
dishonour—but it must be with the warning reflection that a time will
come when such aids will pass away and when the building will be judged
in its lifelessness, dying the death of the dolphin.  Better the less
bright, more enduring fabric.  The transparent alabasters of San Miniato
and the mosaics of Saint Mark’s are more warmly filled and more brightly
touched by every return of morning and evening, while the hues of the
Gothic cathedrals have died like the iris out of the cloud, and the
temples, whose azure and purple once flamed above the Grecian promontory,
stand in their faded whiteness like snows which the sunset has left
cold.’—Ruskin, _Seven Lamps of Architecture_, II.

I do not know anything so perfectly commonplace in design as most modern
jewellery.  How easy for you to change that and to produce goldsmiths’
work that would be a joy to all of us.  The gold is ready for you in
unexhausted treasure, stored up in the mountain hollow or strewn on the
river sand, and was not given to you merely for barren speculation.
There should be some better record of it left in your history than the
merchant’s panic and the ruined home.  We do not remember often enough
how constantly the history of a great nation will live in and by its art.
Only a few thin wreaths of beaten gold remain to tell us of the stately
empire of Etruria; and, while from the streets of Florence the noble
knight and haughty duke have long since passed away, the gates which the
simple goldsmith Ghiberti made for their pleasure still guard their
lovely house of baptism, worthy still of the praise of Michael Angelo who
called them worthy to be the Gates of Paradise.

Have then your school of design, search out your workmen and, when you
find one who has delicacy of hand and that wonder of invention necessary
for goldsmiths’ work, do not leave him to toil in obscurity and dishonour
and have a great glaring shop and two great glaring shop-boys in it (not
to take your orders: they never do that; but to force you to buy
something you do not want at all).  When you want a thing wrought in
gold, goblet or shield for the feast, necklace or wreath for the women,
tell him what you like most in decoration, flower or wreath, bird in
flight or hound in the chase, image of the woman you love or the friend
you honour.  Watch him as he beats out the gold into those thin plates
delicate as the petals of a yellow rose, or draws it into the long wires
like tangled sunbeams at dawn.  Whoever that workman be, help him,
cherish him, and you will have such lovely work from his hand as will be
a joy to you for all time.

This is the spirit of our movement in England, and this is the spirit in
which we would wish you to work, making eternal by your art all that is
noble in your men and women, stately in your lakes and mountains,
beautiful in your own flowers and natural life.  We want to see that you
have nothing in your houses that has not been a joy to the man who made
it, and is not a joy to those that use it.  We want to see you create an
art made by the hands of the people to please the hearts of the people
too.  Do you like this spirit or not?  Do you think it simple and strong,
noble in its aim, and beautiful in its result?  I know you do.

Folly and slander have their own way for a little time, but for a little
time only.  You now know what we mean: you will be able to estimate what
is said of us—its value and its motive.

There should be a law that no ordinary newspaper should be allowed to
write about art.  The harm they do by their foolish and random writing it
would be impossible to overestimate—not to the artist but to the public,
blinding them to all, but harming the artist not at all.  Without them we
would judge a man simply by his work; but at present the newspapers are
trying hard to induce the public to judge a sculptor, for instance, never
by his statues but by the way he treats his wife; a painter by the amount
of his income and a poet by the colour of his neck-tie.  I said there
should be a law, but there is really no necessity for a new law: nothing
could be easier than to bring the ordinary critic under the head of the
criminal classes.  But let us leave such an inartistic subject and return
to beautiful and comely things, remembering that the art which would
represent the spirit of modern newspapers would be exactly the art which
you and I want to avoid—grotesque art, malice mocking you from every
gateway, slander sneering at you from every corner.

Perhaps you may be surprised at my talking of labour and the workman.
You have heard of me, I fear, through the medium of your somewhat
imaginative newspapers as, if not a ‘Japanese young man,’ at least a
young man to whom the rush and clamour and reality of the modern world
were distasteful, and whose greatest difficulty in life was the
difficulty of living up to the level of his blue china—a paradox from
which England has not yet recovered.

Well, let me tell you how it first came to me at all to create an
artistic movement in England, a movement to show the rich what beautiful
things they might enjoy and the poor what beautiful things they might

One summer afternoon in Oxford—‘that sweet city with her dreaming
spires,’ lovely as Venice in its splendour, noble in its learning as
Rome, down the long High Street that winds from tower to tower, past
silent cloister and stately gateway, till it reaches that long, grey
seven-arched bridge which Saint Mary used to guard (used to, I say,
because they are now pulling it down to build a tramway and a light
cast-iron bridge in its place, desecrating the loveliest city in
England)—well, we were coming down the street—a troop of young men, some
of them like myself only nineteen, going to river or tennis-court or
cricket-field—when Ruskin going up to lecture in cap and gown met us.  He
seemed troubled and prayed us to go back with him to his lecture, which a
few of us did, and there he spoke to us not on art this time but on life,
saying that it seemed to him to be wrong that all the best physique and
strength of the young men in England should be spent aimlessly on cricket
ground or river, without any result at all except that if one rowed well
one got a pewter-pot, and if one made a good score, a cane-handled bat.
He thought, he said, that we should be working at something that would do
good to other people, at something by which we might show that in all
labour there was something noble.  Well, we were a good deal moved, and
said we would do anything he wished.  So he went out round Oxford and
found two villages, Upper and Lower Hinksey, and between them there lay a
great swamp, so that the villagers could not pass from one to the other
without many miles of a round.  And when we came back in winter he asked
us to help him to make a road across this morass for these village people
to use.  So out we went, day after day, and learned how to lay levels and
to break stones, and to wheel barrows along a plank—a very difficult
thing to do.  And Ruskin worked with us in the mist and rain and mud of
an Oxford winter, and our friends and our enemies came out and mocked us
from the bank.  We did not mind it much then, and we did not mind it
afterwards at all, but worked away for two months at our road.  And what
became of the road?  Well, like a bad lecture it ended abruptly—in the
middle of the swamp.  Ruskin going away to Venice, when we came back for
the next term there was no leader, and the ‘diggers,’ as they called us,
fell asunder.  And I felt that if there was enough spirit amongst the
young men to go out to such work as road-making for the sake of a noble
ideal of life, I could from them create an artistic movement that might
change, as it has changed, the face of England.  So I sought them
out—leader they would call me—but there was no leader: we were all
searchers only and we were bound to each other by noble friendship and by
noble art.  There was none of us idle: poets most of us, so ambitious
were we: painters some of us, or workers in metal or modellers,
determined that we would try and create for ourselves beautiful work: for
the handicraftsman beautiful work, for those who love us poems and
pictures, for those who love us not epigrams and paradoxes and scorn.

Well, we have done something in England and we will do something more.
Now, I do not want you, believe me, to ask your brilliant young men, your
beautiful young girls, to go out and make a road on a swamp for any
village in America, but I think you might each of you have some art to

                                * * * * *

We must have, as Emerson said, a mechanical craft for our culture, a
basis for our higher accomplishments in the work of our hands—the
uselessness of most people’s hands seems to me one of the most
unpractical things.  ‘No separation from labour can be without some loss
of power or truth to the seer,’ says Emerson again.  The heroism which
would make on us the impression of Epaminondas must be that of a domestic
conqueror.  The hero of the future is he who shall bravely and gracefully
subdue this Gorgon of fashion and of convention.

When you have chosen your own part, abide by it, and do not weakly try
and reconcile yourself with the world.  The heroic cannot be the common
nor the common the heroic.  Congratulate yourself if you have done
something strange and extravagant and broken the monotony of a decorous

And lastly, let us remember that art is the one thing which Death cannot
harm.  The little house at Concord may be desolate, but the wisdom of New
England’s Plato is not silenced nor the brilliancy of that Attic genius
dimmed: the lips of Longfellow are still musical for us though his dust
be turning into the flowers which he loved: and as it is with the greater
artists, poet and philosopher and song-bird, so let it be with you.


Delivered to the Art students of the Royal Academy at their Club in
Golden Square, Westminster, on June 30, 1883.  The text is taken from the
original manuscript.

IN the lecture which it is my privilege to deliver before you to-night I
do not desire to give you any abstract definition of beauty at all.  For
we who are working in art cannot accept any theory of beauty in exchange
for beauty itself, and, so far from desiring to isolate it in a formula
appealing to the intellect, we, on the contrary, seek to materialise it
in a form that gives joy to the soul through the senses.  We want to
create it, not to define it.  The definition should follow the work: the
work should not adapt itself to the definition.

Nothing, indeed, is more dangerous to the young artist than any
conception of ideal beauty: he is constantly led by it either into weak
prettiness or lifeless abstraction: whereas to touch the ideal at all you
must not strip it of vitality.  You must find it in life and re-create it
in art.

While, then, on the one hand I do not desire to give you any philosophy
of beauty—for, what I want to-night is to investigate how we can create
art, not how we can talk of it—on the other hand, I do not wish to deal
with anything like a history of English art.

To begin with, such an expression as English art is a meaningless
expression.  One might just as well talk of English mathematics.  Art is
the science of beauty, and Mathematics the science of truth: there is no
national school of either.  Indeed, a national school is a provincial
school, merely.  Nor is there any such thing as a school of art even.
There are merely artists, that is all.

And as regards histories of art, they are quite valueless to you unless
you are seeking the ostentatious oblivion of an art professorship.  It is
of no use to you to know the date of Perugino or the birthplace of
Salvator Rosa: all that you should learn about art is to know a good
picture when you see it, and a bad picture when you see it.  As regards
the date of the artist, all good work looks perfectly modern: a piece of
Greek sculpture, a portrait of Velasquez—they are always modern, always
of our time.  And as regards the nationality of the artist, art is not
national but universal.  As regards archæology, then, avoid it
altogether: archæology is merely the science of making excuses for bad
art; it is the rock on which many a young artist founders and shipwrecks;
it is the abyss from which no artist, old or young, ever returns.  Or, if
he does return, he is so covered with the dust of ages and the mildew of
time, that he is quite unrecognisable as an artist, and has to conceal
himself for the rest of his days under the cap of a professor, or as a
mere illustrator of ancient history.  How worthless archæology is in art
you can estimate by the fact of its being so popular.  Popularity is the
crown of laurel which the world puts on bad art.  Whatever is popular is

As I am not going to talk to you, then, about the philosophy of the
beautiful, or the history of art, you will ask me what I am going to talk
about.  The subject of my lecture to-night is what makes an artist and
what does the artist make; what are the relations of the artist to his
surroundings, what is the education the artist should get, and what is
the quality of a good work of art.

Now, as regards the relations of the artist to his surroundings, by which
I mean the age and country in which he is born.  All good art, as I said
before, has nothing to do with any particular century; but this
universality is the quality of the work of art; the conditions that
produce that quality are different.  And what, I think, you should do is
to realise completely your age in order completely to abstract yourself
from it; remembering that if you are an artist at all, you will be not
the mouthpiece of a century, but the master of eternity, that all art
rests on a principle, and that mere temporal considerations are no
principle at all; and that those who advise you to make your art
representative of the nineteenth century are advising you to produce an
art which your children, when you have them, will think old-fashioned.
But you will tell me this is an inartistic age, and we are an inartistic
people, and the artist suffers much in this nineteenth century of ours.

Of course he does.  I, of all men, am not going to deny that.  But
remember that there never has been an artistic age, or an artistic
people, since the beginning of the world.  The artist has always been,
and will always be, an exquisite exception.  There is no golden age of
art; only artists who have produced what is more golden than gold.

_What_, you will say to me, the Greeks? were not they an artistic people?

Well, the Greeks certainly not, but, perhaps, you mean the Athenians, the
citizens of one out of a thousand cities.

Do you think that they were an artistic people?  Take them even at the
time of their highest artistic development, the latter part of the fifth
century before Christ, when they had the greatest poets and the greatest
artists of the antique world, when the Parthenon rose in loveliness at
the bidding of a Phidias, and the philosopher spake of wisdom in the
shadow of the painted portico, and tragedy swept in the perfection of
pageant and pathos across the marble of the stage.  Were they an artistic
people then?  Not a bit of it.  What is an artistic people but a people
who love their artists and understand their art?  The Athenians could do

How did they treat Phidias?  To Phidias we owe the great era, not merely
in Greek, but in all art—I mean of the introduction of the use of the
living model.

And what would you say if all the English bishops, backed by the English
people, came down from Exeter Hall to the Royal Academy one day and took
off Sir Frederick Leighton in a prison van to Newgate on the charge of
having allowed you to make use of the living model in your designs for
sacred pictures?

Would you not cry out against the barbarism and the Puritanism of such an
idea?  Would you not explain to them that the worst way to honour God is
to dishonour man who is made in His image, and is the work of His hands;
and, that if one wants to paint Christ one must take the most Christlike
person one can find, and if one wants to paint the Madonna, the purest
girl one knows?

Would you not rush off and burn down Newgate, if necessary, and say that
such a thing was without parallel in history?

Without parallel?  Well, that is exactly what the Athenians did.

In the room of the Parthenon marbles, in the British Museum, you will see
a marble shield on the wall.  On it there are two figures; one of a man
whose face is half hidden, the other of a man with the godlike lineaments
of Pericles.  For having done this, for having introduced into a bas
relief, taken from Greek sacred history, the image of the great statesman
who was ruling Athens at the time, Phidias was flung into prison and
there, in the common gaol of Athens, died, the supreme artist of the old

And do you think that this was an exceptional case?  The sign of a
Philistine age is the cry of immorality against art, and this cry was
raised by the Athenian people against every great poet and thinker of
their day—Æschylus, Euripides, Socrates.  It was the same with Florence
in the thirteenth century.  Good handicrafts are due to guilds, not to
the people.  The moment the guilds lost their power and the people rushed
in, beauty and honesty of work died.

And so, never talk of an artistic people; there never has been such a

But, perhaps, you will tell me that the external beauty of the world has
almost entirely passed away from us, that the artist dwells no longer in
the midst of the lovely surroundings which, in ages past, were the
natural inheritance of every one, and that art is very difficult in this
unlovely town of ours, where, as you go to your work in the morning, or
return from it at eventide, you have to pass through street after street
of the most foolish and stupid architecture that the world has ever seen;
architecture, where every lovely Greek form is desecrated and defiled,
and every lovely Gothic form defiled and desecrated, reducing
three-fourths of the London houses to being, merely, like square boxes of
the vilest proportions, as gaunt as they are grimy, and as poor as they
are pretentious—the hall door always of the wrong colour, and the windows
of the wrong size, and where, even when wearied of the houses you turn to
contemplate the street itself, you have nothing to look at but
chimney-pot hats, men with sandwich boards, vermilion letter-boxes, and
do that even at the risk of being run over by an emerald-green omnibus.

Is not art difficult, you will say to me, in such surroundings as these?
Of course it is difficult, but then art was never easy; you yourselves
would not wish it to be easy; and, besides, nothing is worth doing except
what the world says is impossible.

Still, you do not care to be answered merely by a paradox.  What are the
relations of the artist to the external world, and what is the result of
the loss of beautiful surroundings to you, is one of the most important
questions of modern art; and there is no point on which Mr. Ruskin so
insists as that the decadence of art has come from the decadence of
beautiful things; and that when the artist cannot feed his eye on beauty,
beauty goes from his work.

I remember in one of his lectures, after describing the sordid aspect of
a great English city, he draws for us a picture of what were the artistic
surroundings long ago.

Think, he says, in words of perfect and picturesque imagery, whose beauty
I can but feebly echo, think of what was the scene which presented
itself, in his afternoon walk, to a designer of the Gothic school of
Pisa—Nino Pisano or any of his men: {206}

    On each side of a bright river he saw rise a line of brighter
    palaces, arched and pillared, and inlaid with deep red porphyry, and
    with serpentine; along the quays before their gates were riding
    troops of knights, noble in face and form, dazzling in crest and
    shield; horse and man one labyrinth of quaint colour and gleaming
    light—the purple, and silver, and scarlet fringes flowing over the
    strong limbs and clashing mall, like sea-waves over rocks at sunset.
    Opening on each side from the river were gardens, courts, and
    cloisters; long successions of white pillars among wreaths of vine;
    leaping of fountains through buds of pomegranate and orange: and
    still along the garden-paths, and under and through the crimson of
    the pomegranate shadows, moving slowly, groups of the fairest women
    that Italy ever saw—fairest, because purest and thoughtfullest;
    trained in all high knowledge, as in all courteous art—in dance, in
    song, in sweet wit, in lofty learning, in loftier courage, in
    loftiest love—able alike to cheer, to enchant, or save, the souls of
    men.  Above all this scenery of perfect human life, rose dome and
    bell-tower, burning with white alabaster and gold: beyond dome and
    bell-tower the slopes of mighty hills hoary with olive; far in the
    north, above a purple sea of peaks of solemn Apennine, the clear,
    sharp-cloven Carrara mountains sent up their steadfast flames of
    marble summit into amber sky; the great sea itself, scorching with
    expanse of light, stretching from their feet to the Gorgonian isles;
    and over all these, ever present, near or far—seen through the leaves
    of vine, or imaged with all its march of clouds in the Arno’s stream,
    or set with its depth of blue close against the golden hair and
    burning cheek of lady and knight,—that untroubled and sacred sky,
    which was to all men, in those days of innocent faith, indeed the
    unquestioned abode of spirits, as the earth was of men; and which
    opened straight through its gates of cloud and veils of dew into the
    awfulness of the eternal world;—a heaven in which every cloud that
    passed was literally the chariot of an angel, and every ray of its
    Evening and Morning streamed from the throne of God.

    What think you of that for a school of design?

And then look at the depressing, monotonous appearance of any modern
city, the sombre dress of men and women, the meaningless and barren
architecture, the colourless and dreadful surroundings.  Without a
beautiful national life, not sculpture merely, but all the arts will die.

Well, as regards the religious feeling of the close of the passage, I do
not think I need speak about that.  Religion springs from religious
feeling, art from artistic feeling: you never get one from the other;
unless you have the right root you will not get the right flower; and, if
a man sees in a cloud the chariot of an angel, he will probably paint it
very unlike a cloud.

But, as regards the general idea of the early part of that lovely bit of
prose, is it really true that beautiful surroundings are necessary for
the artist?  I think not; I am sure not.  Indeed, to me the most
inartistic thing in this age of ours is not the indifference of the
public to beautiful things, but the indifference of the artist to the
things that are called ugly.  For, to the real artist, nothing is
beautiful or ugly in itself at all.  With the facts of the object he has
nothing to do, but with its appearance only, and appearance is a matter
of light and shade, of masses, of position, and of value.

Appearance is, in fact, a matter of effect merely, and it is with the
effects of nature that you have to deal, not with the real condition of
the object.  What you, as painters, have to paint is not things as they
are but things as they seem to be, not things as they are but things as
they are not.

No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions of light and shade,
or proximity to other things, it will not look beautiful; no object is so
beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.  I
believe that in every twenty-four hours what is beautiful looks ugly, and
what is ugly looks beautiful, once.

And, the commonplace character of so much of our English painting seems
to me due to the fact that so many of our young artists look merely at
what we may call ‘ready-made beauty,’ whereas you exist as artists not to
copy beauty but to create it in your art, to wait and watch for it in

What would you say of a dramatist who would take nobody but virtuous
people as characters in his play?  Would you not say he was missing half
of life?  Well, of the young artist who paints nothing but beautiful
things, I say he misses one half of the world.

Do not wait for life to be picturesque, but try and see life under
picturesque conditions.  These conditions you can create for yourself in
your studio, for they are merely conditions of light.  In nature, you
must wait for them, watch for them, choose them; and, if you wait and
watch, come they will.

In Gower Street at night you may see a letter-box that is picturesque: on
the Thames Embankment you may see picturesque policemen.  Even Venice is
not always beautiful, nor France.

To paint what you see is a good rule in art, but to see what is worth
painting is better.  See life under pictorial conditions.  It is better
to live in a city of changeable weather than in a city of lovely

Now, having seen what makes the artist, and what the artist makes, who is
the artist?  There is a man living amongst us who unites in himself all
the qualities of the noblest art, whose work is a joy for all time, who
is, himself, a master of all time.  That man is Mr. Whistler.

                                * * * * *

But, you will say, modern dress, that is bad.  If you cannot paint black
cloth you could not have painted silken doublet.  Ugly dress is better
for art—facts of vision, not of the object.

What is a picture?  Primarily, a picture is a beautifully coloured
surface, merely, with no more spiritual message or meaning for you than
an exquisite fragment of Venetian glass or a blue tile from the wall of
Damascus.  It is, primarily, a purely decorative thing, a delight to look

All archæological pictures that make you say ‘How curious!’ all
sentimental pictures that make you say, ‘How sad!’ all historical
pictures that make you say ‘How interesting!’ all pictures that do not
immediately give you such artistic joy as to make you say ‘How
beautiful!’ are bad pictures.

                                * * * * *

We never know what an artist is going to do.  Of course not.  The artist
is not a specialist.  All such divisions as animal painters, landscape
painters, painters of Scotch cattle in an English mist, painters of
English cattle in a Scotch mist, racehorse painters, bull-terrier
painters, all are shallow.  If a man is an artist he can paint

The object of art is to stir the most divine and remote of the chords
which make music in our soul; and colour is indeed, of itself a mystical
presence on things, and tone a kind of sentinel.

Am I pleading, then, for mere technique?  No.  As long as there are any
signs of technique at all, the picture is unfinished.  What is finish?  A
picture is finished when all traces of work, and of the means employed to
bring about the result, have disappeared.

In the case of handicraftsmen—the weaver, the potter, the smith—on their
work are the traces of their hand.  But it is not so with the painter; it
is not so with the artist.

Art should have no sentiment about it but its beauty, no technique except
what you cannot observe.  One should be able to say of a picture not that
it is ‘well painted,’ but that it is ‘not painted.’

What is the difference between absolutely decorative art and a painting?
Decorative art emphasises its material: imaginative art annihilates it.
Tapestry shows its threads as part of its beauty: a picture annihilates
its canvas: it shows nothing of it.  Porcelain emphasises its glaze:
water-colours reject the paper.

A picture has no meaning but its beauty, no message but its joy.  That is
the first truth about art that you must never lose sight of.  A picture
is a purely decorative thing.


_English Illustrated Magazine_, January 1889.

PROFESSIONAL models are a purely modern invention.  To the Greeks, for
instance, they were quite unknown.  Mr. Mahaffy, it is true, tells us
that Pericles used to present peacocks to the great ladies of Athenian
society in order to induce them to sit to his friend Phidias, and we know
that Polygnotus introduced into his picture of the Trojan women the face
of Elpinice, the celebrated sister of the great Conservative leader of
the day, but these _grandes dames_ clearly do not come under our
category.  As for the old masters, they undoubtedly made constant studies
from their pupils and apprentices, and even their religious pictures are
full of the portraits of their friends and relations, but they do not
seem to have had the inestimable advantage of the existence of a class of
people whose sole profession is to pose.  In fact the model, in our sense
of the word, is the direct creation of Academic Schools.

Every country now has its own models, except America.  In New York, and
even in Boston, a good model is so great a rarity that most of the
artists are reduced to painting Niagara and millionaires.  In Europe,
however, it is different.  Here we have plenty of models, and of every
nationality.  The Italian models are the best.  The natural grace of
their attitudes, as well as the wonderful picturesqueness of their
colouring, makes them facile—often too facile—subjects for the painter’s
brush.  The French models, though not so beautiful as the Italian,
possess a quickness of intellectual sympathy, a capacity, in fact, of
understanding the artist, which is quite remarkable.  They have also a
great command over the varieties of facial expression, are peculiarly
dramatic, and can chatter the _argot_ of the _atelier_ as cleverly as the
critic of the _Gil Blas_.  The English models form a class entirely by
themselves.  They are not so picturesque as the Italian, nor so clever as
the French, and they have absolutely no tradition, so to speak, of their
order.  Now and then some old veteran knocks at the studio door, and
proposes to sit as Ajax defying the lightning, or as King Lear upon the
blasted heath.  One of them some time ago called on a popular painter
who, happening at the moment to require his services, engaged him, and
told him to begin by kneeling down in the attitude of prayer.  ‘Shall I
be Biblical or Shakespearean, sir?’ asked the veteran.
‘Well—Shakespearean,’ answered the artist, wondering by what subtle
_nuance_ of expression the model would convey the difference.  ‘All
right, sir,’ said the professor of posing, and he solemnly knelt down and
began to wink with his left eye!  This class, however, is dying out.  As
a rule the model, nowadays, is a pretty girl, from about twelve to
twenty-five years of age, who knows nothing about art, cares less, and is
merely anxious to earn seven or eight shillings a day without much
trouble.  English models rarely look at a picture, and never venture on
any æsthetic theories.  In fact, they realise very completely Mr.
Whistler’s idea of the function of an art critic, for they pass no
criticisms at all.  They accept all schools of art with the grand
catholicity of the auctioneer, and sit to a fantastic young impressionist
as readily as to a learned and laborious academician.  They are neither
for the Whistlerites nor against them; the quarrel between the school of
facts and the school of effects touches them not; idealistic and
naturalistic are words that convey no meaning to their ears; they merely
desire that the studio shall be warm, and the lunch hot, for all charming
artists give their models lunch.

As to what they are asked to do they are equally indifferent.  On Monday
they will don the rags of a beggar-girl for Mr. Pumper, whose pathetic
pictures of modern life draw such tears from the public, and on Tuesday
they will pose in a peplum for Mr. Phoebus, who thinks that all really
artistic subjects are necessarily B.C.  They career gaily through all
centuries and through all costumes, and, like actors, are interesting
only when they are not themselves.  They are extremely good-natured, and
very accommodating.  ‘What do you sit for?’ said a young artist to a
model who had sent him in her card (all models, by the way, have cards
and a small black bag).  ‘Oh, for anything you like, sir,’ said the girl,
‘landscape if necessary!’

Intellectually, it must be acknowledged, they are Philistines, but
physically they are perfect—at least some are.  Though none of them can
talk Greek, many can look Greek, which to a nineteenth-century painter is
naturally of great importance.  If they are allowed, they chatter a great
deal, but they never say anything.  Their observations are the only
_banalités_ heard in Bohemia.  However, though they cannot appreciate the
artist as artist, they are quite ready to appreciate the artist as a man.
They are very sensitive to kindness, respect and generosity.  A beautiful
model who had sat for two years to one of our most distinguished English
painters, got engaged to a street vendor of penny ices.

On her marriage the painter sent her a pretty wedding present, and
received in return a nice letter of thanks with the following remarkable
postscript: ‘Never eat the green ices!’

When they are tired a wise artist gives them a rest.  Then they sit in a
chair and read penny dreadfuls, till they are roused from the tragedy of
literature to take their place again in the tragedy of art.  A few of
them smoke cigarettes.  This, however, is regarded by the other models as
showing a want of seriousness, and is not generally approved of.  They
are engaged by the day and by the half-day.  The tariff is a shilling an
hour, to which great artists usually add an omnibus fare.  The two best
things about them are their extraordinary prettiness, and their extreme
respectability.  As a class they are very well behaved, particularly
those who sit for the figure, a fact which is curious or natural
according to the view one takes of human nature.  They usually marry
well, and sometimes they marry the artist.  For an artist to marry his
model is as fatal as for a _gourmet_ to marry his cook: the one gets no
sittings, and the other gets no dinners.

On the whole the English female models are very naïve, very natural, and
very good-humoured.  The virtues which the artist values most in them are
prettiness and punctuality.  Every sensible model consequently keeps a
diary of her engagements, and dresses neatly.  The bad season is, of
course, the summer, when the artists are out of town.  However, of late
years some artists have engaged their models to follow them, and the wife
of one of our most charming painters has often had three or four models
under her charge in the country, so that the work of her husband and his
friends should not be interrupted.  In France the models migrate _en
masse_ to the little seaport villages or forest hamlets where the
painters congregate.  The English models, however, wait patiently in
London, as a rule, till the artists come back.  Nearly all of them live
with their parents, and help to support the house.  They have every
qualification for being immortalised in art except that of beautiful
hands.  The hands of the English model are nearly always coarse and red.

As for the male models, there is the veteran whom we have mentioned
above.  He has all the traditions of the grand style, and is rapidly
disappearing with the school he represents.  An old man who talks about
Fuseli is, of course, unendurable, and, besides, patriarchs have ceased
to be fashionable subjects.  Then there is the true Academy model.  He is
usually a man of thirty, rarely good-looking, but a perfect miracle of
muscles.  In fact he is the apotheosis of anatomy, and is so conscious of
his own splendour that he tells you of his tibia and his thorax, as if no
one else had anything of the kind.  Then come the Oriental models.  The
supply of these is limited, but there are always about a dozen in London.
They are very much sought after as they can remain immobile for hours,
and generally possess lovely costumes.  However, they have a very poor
opinion of English art, which they regard as something between a vulgar
personality and a commonplace photograph.  Next we have the Italian youth
who has come over specially to be a model, or takes to it when his organ
is out of repair.  He is often quite charming with his large melancholy
eyes, his crisp hair, and his slim brown figure.  It is true he eats
garlic, but then he can stand like a faun and couch like a leopard, so he
is forgiven.  He is always full of pretty compliments, and has been known
to have kind words of encouragement for even our greatest artists.  As
for the English lad of the same age, he never sits at all.  Apparently he
does not regard the career of a model as a serious profession.  In any
case he is rarely, if ever, to be got hold of.  English boys, too, are
difficult to find.  Sometimes an ex-model who has a son will curl his
hair, and wash his face, and bring him the round of the studios, all soap
and shininess.  The young school don’t like him, but the older school do,
and when he appears on the walls of the Royal Academy he is called _The
Infant Samuel_.  Occasionally also an artist catches a couple of _gamins_
in the gutter and asks them to come to his studio.  The first time they
always appear, but after that they don’t keep their appointments.  They
dislike sitting still, and have a strong and perhaps natural objection to
looking pathetic.  Besides, they are always under the impression that the
artist is laughing at them.  It is a sad fact, but there is no doubt that
the poor are completely unconscious of their own picturesqueness.  Those
of them who can be induced to sit do so with the idea that the artist is
merely a benevolent philanthropist who has chosen an eccentric method of
distributing alms to the undeserving.  Perhaps the School Board will
teach the London _gamin_ his own artistic value, and then they will be
better models than they are now.  One remarkable privilege belongs to the
Academy model, that of extorting a sovereign from any newly elected
Associate or R.A.  They wait at Burlington House till the announcement is
made, and then race to the hapless artist’s house.  The one who arrives
first receives the money.  They have of late been much troubled at the
long distances they have had to run, and they look with disfavour on the
election of artists who live at Hampstead or at Bedford Park, for it is
considered a point of honour not to employ the underground railway,
omnibuses, or any artificial means of locomotion.  The race is to the

Besides the professional posers of the studio there are posers of the
Row, the posers at afternoon teas, the posers in politics and the circus
posers.  All four classes are delightful, but only the last class is ever
really decorative.  Acrobats and gymnasts can give the young painter
infinite suggestions, for they bring into their art an element of
swiftness of motion and of constant change that the studio model
necessarily lacks.  What is interesting in these ‘slaves of the ring’ is
that with them Beauty is an unconscious result not a conscious aim, the
result in fact of the mathematical calculation of curves and distances,
of absolute precision of eye, of the scientific knowledge of the
equilibrium of forces, and of perfect physical training.  A good acrobat
is always graceful, though grace is never his object; he is graceful
because he does what he has to do in the best way in which it can be
done—graceful because he is natural.  If an ancient Greek were to come to
life now, which considering the probable severity of his criticisms would
be rather trying to our conceit, he would be found far oftener at the
circus than at the theatre.  A good circus is an oasis of Hellenism in a
world that reads too much to be wise, and thinks too much to be
beautiful.  If it were not for the running-ground at Eton, the
towing-path at Oxford, the Thames swimming-baths, and the yearly
circuses, humanity would forget the plastic perfection of its own form,
and degenerate into a race of short-sighted professors and spectacled
_précieuses_.  Not that the circus proprietors are, as a rule, conscious
of their high mission.  Do they not bore us with the _haute école_, and
weary us with Shakespearean clowns?  Still, at least, they give us
acrobats, and the acrobat is an artist.  The mere fact that he never
speaks to the audience shows how well he appreciates the great truth that
the aim of art is not to reveal personality but to please.  The clown may
be blatant, but the acrobat is always beautiful.  He is an interesting
combination of the spirit of Greek sculpture with the spangles of the
modern costumier.  He has even had his niche in the novels of our age,
and if _Manette Salomon_ be the unmasking of the model, _Les Frères
Zemganno_ is the apotheosis of the acrobat.

As regards the influence of the ordinary model on our English school of
painting, it cannot be said that it is altogether good.  It is, of
course, an advantage for the young artist sitting in his studio to be
able to isolate ‘a little corner of life,’ as the French say, from
disturbing surroundings, and to study it under certain effects of light
and shade.  But this very isolation leads often to mere mannerism in the
painter, and robs him of that broad acceptance of the general facts of
life which is the very essence of art.  Model-painting, in a word, while
it may be the condition of art, is not by any means its aim.

It is simply practice, not perfection.  Its use trains the eye and the
hand of the painter, its abuse produces in his work an effect of mere
posing and prettiness.  It is the secret of much of the artificiality of
modern art, this constant posing of pretty people, and when art becomes
artificial it becomes monotonous.  Outside the little world of the
studio, with its draperies and its _bric-à-brac_, lies the world of life
with its infinite, its Shakespearean variety.  We must, however,
distinguish between the two kinds of models, those who sit for the figure
and those who sit for the costume.  The study of the first is always
excellent, but the costume-model is becoming rather wearisome in modern
pictures.  It is really of very little use to dress up a London girl in
Greek draperies and to paint her as a goddess.  The robe may be the robe
of Athens, but the face is usually the face of Brompton.  Now and then,
it is true, one comes across a model whose face is an exquisite
anachronism, and who looks lovely and natural in the dress of any century
but her own.  This, however, is rather rare.  As a rule models are
absolutely _de notre siècle_, and should be painted as such.
Unfortunately they are not, and, as a consequence, we are shown every
year a series of scenes from fancy dress balls which are called
historical pictures, but are little more than mediocre representations of
modern people masquerading.  In France they are wiser.  The French
painter uses the model simply for study; for the finished picture he goes
direct to life.

However, we must not blame the sitters for the shortcomings of the
artists.  The English models are a well-behaved and hard-working class,
and if they are more interested in artists than in art, a large section
of the public is in the same condition, and most of our modern
exhibitions seem to justify its choice.


_Fortnight Review_, July 1894.


ONE evening there came into his soul the desire to fashion an image of
_The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment_.  And he went forth into the
world to look for bronze.  For he could think only in bronze.

But all the bronze of the whole world had disappeared, nor anywhere in
the whole world was there any bronze to be found, save only the bronze of
the image of _The Sorrow that endureth for Ever_.

Now this image he had himself, and with his own hands, fashioned, and had
set it on the tomb of the one thing he had loved in life.  On the tomb of
the dead thing he had most loved had he set this image of his own
fashioning, that it might serve as a sign of the love of man that dieth
not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that endureth for ever.  And in
the whole world there was no other bronze save the bronze of this image.

And he took the image he had fashioned, and set it in a great furnace,
and gave it to the fire.

And out of the bronze of the image of _The Sorrow that endureth for Ever_
he fashioned an image of _The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment_.


It was night-time and He was alone.

And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the city.

And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the feet of
joy, and the laughter of the mouth of gladness and the loud noise of many
lutes.  And He knocked at the gate and certain of the gate-keepers opened
to Him.

And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of marble
before it.  The pillars were hung with garlands, and within and without
there were torches of cedar.  And He entered the house.

And when He had passed through the hall of chalcedony and the hall of
jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on a couch of
sea-purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and whose lips were
red with wine.

And He went behind him and touched him on the shoulder and said to him,
‘Why do you live like this?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him, and made answer and
said, ‘But I was a leper once, and you healed me.  How else should I

And He passed out of the house and went again into the street.

And after a little while He saw one whose face and raiment were painted
and whose feet were shod with pearls.  And behind her came, slowly as a
hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colours.  Now the face of the
woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the eyes of the young man were
bright with lust.

And He followed swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and said to
him, ‘Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him and said, ‘But I was
blind once, and you gave me sight.  At what else should I look?’

And He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and said
to her, ‘Is there no other way in which to walk save the way of sin?’

And the woman turned round and recognised Him, and laughed and said, ‘But
you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.’

And He passed out of the city.

And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the roadside a
young man who was weeping.

And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and said
to him, ‘Why are you weeping?’

And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer, ‘But I
was dead once, and you raised me from the dead.  What else should I do
but weep?’


When Narcissus died the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of sweet
waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping through the
woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it comfort.

And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet waters
into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of their hair
and cried to the pool and said, ‘We do not wonder that you should mourn
in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was he.’

‘But was Narcissus beautiful?’ said the pool.

‘Who should know that better than you?’ answered the Oreads.  ‘Us did he
ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your banks and look
down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he would mirror his own

And the pool answered, ‘But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my
banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own
beauty mirrored.’


Now when the darkness came over the earth Joseph of Arimathea, having
lighted a torch of pinewood, passed down from the hill into the valley.
For he had business in his own home.

And kneeling on the flint stones of the Valley of Desolation he saw a
young man who was naked and weeping.  His hair was the colour of honey,
and his body was as a white flower, but he had wounded his body with
thorns and on his hair had he set ashes as a crown.

And he who had great possessions said to the young man who was naked and
weeping, ‘I do not wonder that your sorrow is so great, for surely He was
a just man.’

And the young man answered, ‘It is not for Him that I am weeping, but for
myself.  I too have changed water into wine, and I have healed the leper
and given sight to the blind.  I have walked upon the waters, and from
the dwellers in the tombs I have cast out devils.  I have fed the hungry
in the desert where there was no food, and I have raised the dead from
their narrow houses, and at my bidding, and before a great multitude, of
people, a barren fig-tree withered away.  All things that this man has
done I have done also.  And yet they have not crucified me.’


And there was silence in the House of Judgment, and the Man came naked
before God.

And God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, ‘Thy life hath been evil, and thou hast shown
cruelty to those who were in need of succour, and to those who lacked
help thou hast been bitter and hard of heart.  The poor called to thee
and thou didst not hearken, and thine ears were closed to the cry of My
afflicted.  The inheritance of the fatherless thou didst take unto
thyself, and thou didst send the foxes into the vineyard of thy
neighbour’s field.  Thou didst take the bread of the children and give it
to the dogs to eat, and My lepers who lived in the marshes, and were at
peace and praised Me, thou didst drive forth on to the highways, and on
Mine earth out of which I made thee thou didst spill innocent blood.’

And the Man made answer and said, ‘Even so did I.’

And again God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, ‘Thy life hath been evil, and the Beauty I have
shown thou hast sought for, and the Good I have hidden thou didst pass
by.  The walls of thy chamber were painted with images, and from the bed
of thine abominations thou didst rise up to the sound of flutes.  Thou
didst build seven altars to the sins I have suffered, and didst eat of
the thing that may not be eaten, and the purple of thy raiment was
broidered with the three signs of shame.  Thine idols were neither of
gold nor of silver that endure, but of flesh that dieth.  Thou didst
stain their hair with perfumes and put pomegranates in their hands.  Thou
didst stain their feet with saffron and spread carpets before them.  With
antimony thou didst stain their eyelids and their bodies thou didst smear
with myrrh.  Thou didst bow thyself to the ground before them, and the
thrones of thine idols were set in the sun.  Thou didst show to the sun
thy shame and to the moon thy madness.’

And the Man made answer and said, ‘Even so did I.’

And a third time God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

And God said to the Man, ‘Evil hath been thy life, and with evil didst
thou requite good, and with wrongdoing kindness.  The hands that fed thee
thou didst wound, and the breasts that gave thee suck thou didst despise.
He who came to thee with water went away thirsting, and the outlawed men
who hid thee in their tents at night thou didst betray before dawn.
Thine enemy who spared thee thou didst snare in an ambush, and the friend
who walked with thee thou didst sell for a price, and to those who
brought thee Love thou didst ever give Lust in thy turn.’

And the Man made answer and said, ‘Even so did I.’

And God closed the Book of the Life of the Man, and said, ‘Surely I will
send thee into Hell.  Even into Hell will I send thee.’

And the Man cried out, ‘Thou canst not.’

And God said to the Man, ‘Wherefore can I not send thee to Hell, and for
what reason?’

‘Because in Hell have I always lived,’ answered the Man.

And there was silence in the House of Judgment.

And after a space God spake, and said to the Man, ‘Seeing that I may not
send thee into Hell, surely I will send thee unto Heaven.  Even unto
Heaven will I send thee.’

And the Man cried out, ‘Thou canst not.’

And God said to the Man, ‘Wherefore can I not send thee unto Heaven, and
for what reason?’

‘Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it,’
answered the Man.

And there was silence in the House of Judgment.


From his childhood he had been as one filled with the perfect knowledge
of God, and even while he was yet but a lad many of the saints, as well
as certain holy women who dwelt in the free city of his birth, had been
stirred to much wonder by the grave wisdom of his answers.

And when his parents had given him the robe and the ring of manhood he
kissed them, and left them and went out into the world, that he might
speak to the world about God.  For there were at that time many in the
world who either knew not God at all, or had but an incomplete knowledge
of Him, or worshipped the false gods who dwell in groves and have no care
of their worshippers.

And he set his face to the sun and journeyed, walking without sandals, as
he had seen the saints walk, and carrying at his girdle a leathern wallet
and a little water-bottle of burnt clay.

And as he walked along the highway he was full of the joy that comes from
the perfect knowledge of God, and he sang praises unto God without
ceasing; and after a time he reached a strange land in which there were
many cities.

And he passed through eleven cities.  And some of these cities were in
valleys, and others were by the banks of great rivers, and others were
set on hills.  And in each city he found a disciple who loved him and
followed him, and a great multitude also of people followed him from each
city, and the knowledge of God spread in the whole land, and many of the
rulers were converted, and the priests of the temples in which there were
idols found that half of their gain was gone, and when they beat upon
their drums at noon none, or but a few, came with peacocks and with
offerings of flesh as had been the custom of the land before his coming.

Yet the more the people followed him, and the greater the number of his
disciples, the greater became his sorrow.  And he knew not why his sorrow
was so great.  For he spake ever about God, and out of the fulness of
that perfect knowledge of God which God had Himself given to him.

And one evening he passed out of the eleventh city, which was a city of
Armenia, and his disciples and a great crowd of people followed after
him; and he went up on to a mountain and sat down on a rock that was on
the mountain, and his disciples stood round him, and the multitude knelt
in the valley.

And he bowed his head on his hands and wept, and said to his Soul, ‘Why
is it that I am full of sorrow and fear, and that each of my disciples is
an enemy that walks in the noonday?’  And his Soul answered him and said,
‘God filled thee with the perfect knowledge of Himself, and thou hast
given this knowledge away to others.  The pearl of great price thou hast
divided, and the vesture without seam thou hast parted asunder.  He who
giveth away wisdom robbeth himself.  He is as one who giveth his treasure
to a robber.  Is not God wiser than thou art?  Who art thou to give away
the secret that God hath told thee?  I was rich once, and thou hast made
me poor.  Once I saw God, and now thou hast hidden Him from me.’

And he wept again, for he knew that his Soul spake truth to him, and that
he had given to others the perfect knowledge of God, and that he was as
one clinging to the skirts of God, and that his faith was leaving him by
reason of the number of those who believed in him.

And he said to himself, ‘I will talk no more about God.  He who giveth
away wisdom robbeth himself.’

And after the space of some hours his disciples came near him and bowed
themselves to the ground and said, ‘Master, talk to us about God, for
thou hast the perfect knowledge of God, and no man save thee hath this

And he answered them and said, ‘I will talk to you about all other things
that are in heaven and on earth, but about God I will not talk to you.
Neither now, nor at any time, will I talk to you about God.’

And they were wroth with him and said to him, ‘Thou hast led us into the
desert that we might hearken to thee.  Wilt thou send us away hungry, and
the great multitude that thou hast made to follow thee?’

And he answered them and said, ‘I will not talk to you about God.’

And the multitude murmured against him and said to him, ‘Thou hast led us
into the desert, and hast given us no food to eat.  Talk to us about God
and it will suffice us.’

But he answered them not a word.  For he knew that if he spake to them
about God he would give away his treasure.

And his disciples went away sadly, and the multitude of people returned
to their own homes.  And many died on the way.

And when he was alone he rose up and set his face to the moon, and
journeyed for seven moons, speaking to no man nor making any answer.  And
when the seventh moon had waned he reached that desert which is the
desert of the Great River.  And having found a cavern in which a Centaur
had once dwelt, he took it for his place of dwelling, and made himself a
mat of reeds on which to lie, and became a hermit.  And every hour the
Hermit praised God that He had suffered him to keep some knowledge of Him
and of His wonderful greatness.

Now, one evening, as the Hermit was seated before the cavern in which he
had made his place of dwelling, he beheld a young man of evil and
beautiful face who passed by in mean apparel and with empty hands.  Every
evening with empty hands the young man passed by, and every morning he
returned with his hands full of purple and pearls.  For he was a Robber
and robbed the caravans of the merchants.

And the Hermit looked at him and pitied him.  But he spake not a word.
For he knew that he who speaks a word loses his faith.

And one morning, as the young man returned with his hands full of purple
and pearls, he stopped and frowned and stamped his foot upon the sand,
and said to the Hermit: ‘Why do you look at me ever in this manner as I
pass by?  What is it that I see in your eyes?  For no man has looked at
me before in this manner.  And the thing is a thorn and a trouble to me.’

And the Hermit answered him and said, ‘What you see in my eyes is pity.
Pity is what looks out at you from my eyes.’

And the young man laughed with scorn, and cried to the Hermit in a bitter
voice, and said to him, ‘I have purple and pearls in my hands, and you
have but a mat of reeds on which to lie.  What pity should you have for
me?  And for what reason have you this pity?’

‘I have pity for you,’ said the Hermit, ‘because you have no knowledge of

‘Is this knowledge of God a precious thing?’ asked the young man, and he
came close to the mouth of the cavern.

‘It is more precious than all the purple and the pearls of the world,’
answered the Hermit.

‘And have you got it?’ said the young Robber, and he came closer still.

‘Once, indeed,’ answered the Hermit, ‘I possessed the perfect knowledge
of God.  But in my foolishness I parted with it, and divided it amongst
others.  Yet even now is such knowledge as remains to me more precious
than purple or pearls.’

And when the young Robber heard this he threw away the purple and the
pearls that he was bearing in his hands, and drawing a sharp sword of
curved steel he said to the Hermit, ‘Give me, forthwith this knowledge of
God that you possess, or I will surely slay you.  Wherefore should I not
slay him who has a treasure greater than my treasure?’

And the Hermit spread out his arms and said, ‘Were it not better for me
to go unto the uttermost courts of God and praise Him, than to live in
the world and have no knowledge of Him?  Slay me if that be your desire.
But I will not give away my knowledge of God.’

And the young Robber knelt down and besought him, but the Hermit would
not talk to him about God, nor give him his Treasure, and the young
Robber rose up and said to the Hermit, ‘Be it as you will.  As for
myself, I will go to the City of the Seven Sins, that is but three days’
journey from this place, and for my purple they will give me pleasure,
and for my pearls they will sell me joy.’  And he took up the purple and
the pearls and went swiftly away.

And the Hermit cried out and followed him and besought him.  For the
space of three days he followed the young Robber on the road and
entreated him to return, nor to enter into the City of the Seven Sins.

And ever and anon the young Robber looked back at the Hermit and called
to him, and said, ‘Will you give me this knowledge of God which is more
precious than purple and pearls?  If you will give me that, I will not
enter the city.’

And ever did the Hermit answer, ‘All things that I have I will give thee,
save that one thing only.  For that thing it is not lawful for me to give

And in the twilight of the third day they came nigh to the great scarlet
gates of the City of the Seven Sins.  And from the city there came the
sound of much laughter.

And the young Robber laughed in answer, and sought to knock at the gate.
And as he did so the Hermit ran forward and caught him by the skirts of
his raiment, and said to him: ‘Stretch forth your hands, and set your
arms around my neck, and put your ear close to my lips, and I will give
you what remains to me of the knowledge of God.’  And the young Robber

And when the Hermit had given away his knowledge of God, he fell upon the
ground and wept, and a great darkness hid from him the city and the young
Robber, so that he saw them no more.

And as he lay there weeping he was ware of One who was standing beside
him; and He who was standing beside him had feet of brass and hair like
fine wool.  And He raised the Hermit up, and said to him: ‘Before this
time thou hadst the perfect knowledge of God.  Now thou shalt have the
perfect love of God.  Wherefore art thou weeping?’  And he kissed him.


{29}  Plato’s _Laws_; Æschylus’ _Prometheus Bound_.

{31}  Somewhat in the same spirit Plato, in his _Laws_, appeals to the
local position of Ilion among the rivers of the plain, as a proof that it
was not built till long after the Deluge.

{32}  Plutarch remarks that the _only_ evidence Greece possesses of the
truth that the legendary power of Athens is no ‘romance or idle story,’
is the public and sacred buildings.  This is an instance of the
exaggerated importance given to ruins against which Thucydides is warning

{37}  The fictitious sale in the Roman marriage _per coemptionem_ was
originally, of course, a real sale.

{43}  Notably, of course, in the case of heat and its laws.

{57}  Cousin errs a good deal in this respect.  To say, as he did, ‘Give
me the latitude and the longitude of a country, its rivers and its
mountains, and I will deduce the race,’ is surely a glaring exaggeration.

{59}  The monarchical, aristocratical, and democratic elements of the
Roman constitution are referred to.

{63a}  Polybius, vi. 9.  _αὔτη πολιτειῶν ἀνακύκλωσις_, _αὔτς φύσεως

{63b}  _χωρὶς ὀργῆς ἢ φθόνου ποιούμεηος τὴν ἀπόφασιν_.

{63c}  The various stages are _σύστασις_, _αὔξησις_, _ἀκμή_, _μεταβολὴ
ἐις τοὔμπαλιν_.

{68}  Polybius, xii. 24.

{69a}  Polybius, i. 4, viii. 4, specially; and really _passim_.

{69b}  He makes one exception.

{69c}  Polybius, viii. 4.

{71}  Polybius, xvi. 12.

{72a}  Polybius, viii. 4: _τὸ παραδοξάτον καθ’ ἡμᾶς ἔργον ἡ τύχη
συνετέλεσε_; _τοῦτο δ’ ἔστι τὸ πάντα τὰ γνωριζόμενα μέρη τῆς οἰκουμένης
ὑπὸ μίαν ἀρχὴν καὶ δυναστείαν ἀγαγεῖν_, _ὂ πρότερον οὐχ εὑρίσκεται

{72b}  Polybius resembled Gibbon in many respects.  Like him he held that
all religions were to the philosopher equally false, to the vulgar
equally true, to the statesman equally useful.

{76}  Cf. Polybius, xii. 25, _ἐπεὶ ψιλῶς λεγόμενον αὐτὄ γεγονὸς ψυχαγωγεῖ
μέν_, _ὠφελεῖ δ’ οὐδέν_·  _προστεθείσης δὲ τῆς αἰτίας ἔγκαρπος ἡ τῆς
ἱστορίας γίγνεται χρῆσις_.

{78}  Polybius, xxii. 8.

{81}  I mean particularly as regards his sweeping denunciation of the
complete moral decadence of Greek society during the Peloponnesain War,
which, from what remains to us of Athenian literature, we know must have
been completely exaggerated.  Or, rather, he is looking at men merely in
their political dealings: and in politics the man who is personally
honourable and refined will not scruple to do anything for his party.

{86}  Polybius, xii. 25.

{124}  As an instance of the inaccuracy of published reports of this
lecture, it may be mentioned that all unauthorised versions give this
passage as _The artist may trace the depressed revolution of Bunthorne
simply to the lack of technical means_!

{206}  _The Two Paths_, Lect. iii. p. 123 (1859 ed.).

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