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Title: Among My Books. First Series
Author: Lowell, James Russell
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Among My Books. First Series" ***


First Series


       *       *       *       *       *

To  F.D.L.

  Love comes and goes with music in his feet,
    And tunes young pulses to his roundelays;
  Love brings thee this: will it persuade thee, Sweet,
    That he turns proser when he comes and stays?

       *       *       *       *       *








       *       *       *       *       *


Benvenuto Cellini tells us that when, in his boyhood, he saw a salamander
come out of the fire, his grandfather forthwith gave him a sound beating,
that he might the better remember so unique a prodigy. Though perhaps in
this case the rod had another application than the autobiographer chooses
to disclose, and was intended to fix in the pupil's mind a lesson of
veracity rather than of science, the testimony to its mnemonic virtue
remains. Nay, so universally was it once believed that the senses, and
through them the faculties of observation and retention, were quickened
by an irritation of the cuticle, that in France it was customary to whip
the children annually at the boundaries of the parish, lest the true
place of them might ever be lost through neglect of so inexpensive a
mordant for the memory. From this practice the older school of critics
would seem to have taken a hint for keeping fixed the limits of good
taste, and what was somewhat vaguely called _classical_ English. To mark
these limits in poetry, they set up as Hermae the images they had made to
them of Dryden, of Pope, and later of Goldsmith. Here they solemnly
castigated every new aspirant in verse, who in turn performed the same
function for the next generation, thus helping to keep always sacred and
immovable the _ne plus ultra_ alike of inspiration and of the vocabulary.
Though no two natures were ever much more unlike than those of Dryden and
Pope, and again of Pope and Goldsmith, and no two styles, except in such
externals as could be easily caught and copied, yet it was the fashion,
down even to the last generation, to advise young writers to form
themselves, as it was called, on these excellent models. Wordsworth
himself began in this school; and though there were glimpses, here and
there, of a direct study of nature, yet most of the epithets in his
earlier pieces were of the traditional kind so fatal to poetry during
great part of the last century; and he indulged in that alphabetic
personification which enlivens all such words as Hunger, Solitude,
Freedom, by the easy magic of an initial capital.

  "Where the green apple shrivels on the spray,
  And pines the unripened pear in summer's kindliest ray,
  Even here Content has fixed her smiling reign
  With Independence, child of high Disdain.
  Exulting 'mid the winter of the skies,
  Shy as the jealous chamois, Freedom flies,
  And often grasps her sword, and often eyes."

Here we have every characteristic of the artificial method, even to the
triplet, which Swift hated so heartily as "a vicious way of rhyming
wherewith Mr. Dryden abounded, imitated by all the bad versifiers of
Charles the Second's reign." Wordsworth became, indeed, very early the
leader of reform; but, like Wesley, he endeavored a reform within the
Establishment. Purifying the substance, he retained the outward forms
with a feeling rather than conviction that, in poetry, substance and form
are but manifestations of the same inward life, the one fused into the
other in the vivid heat of their common expression. Wordsworth could
never wholly shake off the influence of the century into which he was
born. He began by proposing a reform of the ritual, but it went no
further than an attempt to get rid of the words of Latin original where
the meaning was as well or better given in derivatives of the Saxon. He
would have stricken out the "assemble" and left the "meet together." Like
Wesley, he might be compelled by necessity to a breach of the canon; but,
like him, he was never a willing schismatic, and his singing robes were
the full and flowing canonicals of the church by law established.
Inspiration makes short work with the usage of the best authors and
ready-made elegances of diction; but where Wordsworth is not possessed by
his demon, as Molière said of Corneille, he equals Thomson in verbiage,
out-Miltons Milton in artifice of style, and Latinizes his diction beyond
Dryden. The fact was, that he took up his early opinions on instinct, and
insensibly modified them as he studied the masters of what may be called
the Middle Period of English verse.[2] As a young man, he disparaged
Virgil ("We talked a great deal of nonsense in those days," he said when
taken to task for it later in life); at fifty-nine he translated three
books of the Aeneid, in emulation of Dryden, though falling far short of
him in everything but closeness, as he seems, after a few years, to have
been convinced. Keats was the first resolute and wilful heretic, the true
founder of the modern school, which admits no cis-Elizabethan authority
save Milton, whose own English was formed upon those earlier models.
Keats denounced the authors of that style which came in toward the close
of the seventeenth century, and reigned absolute through the whole of the
eighteenth, as

                          "A schism,
  Nurtured by foppery and barbarism,
  ... who went about
  Holding a poor decrepit standard out,
  Marked with most flimsy mottoes, and in large
  The name of one Boileau!"

But Keats had never then[3] studied the writers of whom he speaks so
contemptuously, though he might have profited by so doing. Boileau would
at least have taught him that _flimsy_ would have been an apter epithet
for the _standard_ than for the mottoes upon it. Dryden was the author of
that schism against which Keats so vehemently asserts the claim of the
orthodox teaching it had displaced. He was far more just to Boileau, of
whom Keats had probably never read a word. "If I would only cross the
seas," he says, "I might find in France a living Horace and a Juvenal in
the person of the admirable Boileau, whose numbers are excellent, whose
expressions are noble, whose thoughts are just, whose language is pure,
whose satire is pointed, and whose sense is just. What he borrows from
the ancients he repays with usury of his own, in coin as good and almost
as universally valuable."[4]

Dryden has now been in his grave nearly a hundred and seventy years; in
the second class of English poets perhaps no one stands, on the whole, so
high as he; during his lifetime, in spite of jealousy, detraction,
unpopular politics, and a suspicious change of faith, his pre-eminence
was conceded; he was the earliest complete type of the purely literary
man, in the modern sense; there is a singular unanimity in allowing him a
certain claim to _greatness_ which would be denied to men as famous and
more read,--to Pope or Swift, for example; he is supposed, in some way or
other, to have reformed English poetry. It is now about half a century
since the only uniform edition of his works was edited by Scott. No
library is complete without him, no name is more familiar than his, and
yet it may be suspected that few writers are more thoroughly buried in
that great cemetery of the "British Poets." If contemporary reputation be
often deceitful, posthumous fame may be generally trusted, for it is a
verdict made up of the suffrages of the select men in succeeding
generations. This verdict has been as good as unanimous in favor of
Dryden. It is, perhaps, worth while to take a fresh observation of him,
to consider him neither as warning nor example, but to endeavor to make
out what it is that has given so lofty and firm a position to one of the
most unequal, inconsistent, and faulty writers that ever lived. He is a
curious example of what we often remark of the living, but rarely of the
dead,--that they get credit for what they might be quite as much as for
what they are,--and posterity has applied to him one of his own rules of
criticism, judging him by the best rather than the average of his
achievement, a thing posterity is seldom wont to do. On the losing side
in politics, it is true of his polemical writings as of Burke's,--whom in
many respects he resembles, and especially in that supreme quality of a
reasoner, that his mind gathers not only heat, but clearness and
expansion, by its own motion,--that they have won his battle for him in
the judgment of after times.

To us, looking back at him, he gradually becomes a singularly interesting
and even picturesque figure. He is, in more senses than one, in language,
in turn of thought, in style of mind, in the direction of his activity,
the first of the moderns. He is the first literary man who was also a man
of the world, as we understand the term. He succeeded Ben Jonson as the
acknowledged dictator of wit and criticism, as Dr. Johnson, after nearly
the same interval, succeeded him. All ages are, in some sense, ages of
transition; but there are times when the transition is more marked, more
rapid; and it is, perhaps, an ill fortune for a man of letters to arrive
at maturity during such a period, still more to represent in himself the
change that is going on, and to be an efficient cause in bringing it
about. Unless, like Goethe, he is of a singularly uncontemporaneous
nature, capable of being _tutta in se romita_, and of running parallel
with his time rather than being sucked into its current, he will be
thwarted in that harmonious development of native force which has so much
to do with its steady and successful application. Dryden suffered, no
doubt, in this way. Though in creed he seems to have drifted backward in
an eddy of the general current; yet of the intellectual movement of the
time, so far certainly as literature shared in it, he could say, with
Aeneas, not only that he saw, but that himself was a great part of it.
That movement was, on the whole, a downward one, from faith to
scepticism, from enthusiasm to cynicism, from the imagination to the
understanding. It was in a direction altogether away from those springs
of imagination and faith at which they of the last age had slaked the
thirst or renewed the vigor of their souls. Dryden himself recognized
that indefinable and gregarious influence which we call nowadays the
Spirit of the Age, when he said that "every Age has a kind of universal
Genius."[5] He had also a just notion of that in which he lived; for he
remarks, incidentally, that "all knowing ages are naturally sceptic and
not at all bigoted, which, if I am not much deceived, is the proper
character of our own."[6] It may be conceived that he was even painfully
half-aware of having fallen upon a time incapable, not merely of a great
poet, but perhaps of any poet at all; for nothing is so sensitive to the
chill of a sceptical atmosphere as that enthusiasm which, if it be not
genius, is at least the beautiful illusion that saves it from the
baffling quibbles of self-consciousness. Thrice unhappy he who, horn to
see things as they might be, is schooled by circumstances to see them as
people say they are,--to read God in a prose translation. Such was
Dryden's lot, and such, for a good part of his days, it was by his own
choice. He who was of a stature to snatch the torch of life that flashes
from lifted hand to hand along the generations, over the heads of
inferior men, chose rather to be a link-boy to the stews.

As a writer for the stage, he deliberately adopted and repeatedly
reaffirmed the maxim that

  "He who lives to please, must please to live."

Without earnest convictions, no great or sound literature is conceivable.
But if Dryden mostly wanted that inspiration which comes of belief in and
devotion to something nobler and more abiding than the present moment and
its petulant need, he had, at least, the next best thing to that,--a
thorough faith in himself. He was, moreover, a man of singularly open
soul, and of a temper self-confident enough to be candid even with
himself. His mind was growing to the last, his judgment widening and
deepening, his artistic sense refining itself more and more. He confessed
his errors, and was not ashamed to retrace his steps in search of that
better knowledge which the omniscience of superficial study had
disparaged. Surely an intellect that is still pliable at seventy is a
phenomenon as interesting as it is rare. But at whatever period of his
life we look at Dryden, and whatever, for the moment, may have been his
poetic creed, there was something in the nature of the man that would not
be wholly subdued to what it worked in. There are continual glimpses of
something in him greater than he, hints of possibilities finer than
anything he has done. You feel that the whole of him was better than any
random specimens, though of his best, seem to prove. _Incessu patet_, he
has by times the large stride of the elder race, though it sinks too
often into the slouch of a man who has seen better days. His grand air
may, in part, spring from a habit of easy superiority to his competitors;
but must also, in part, be ascribed to an innate dignity of character.
That this pre-eminence should have been so generally admitted, during his
life, can only be explained by a bottom of good sense, kindliness, and
sound judgment, whose solid worth could afford that many a flurry of
vanity, petulance, and even error should flit across the surface and be
forgotten. Whatever else Dryden may have been, the last and abiding
impression of him is, that he was thoroughly manly; and while it may be
disputed whether he was a great poet, it may be said of him, as
Wordsworth said of Burke, that "he was by far the greatest man of his
age, not only abounding in knowledge himself, but feeding, in various
directions, his most able contemporaries."[7]

Dryden was born in 1631. He was accordingly six years old when Jonson
died, was nearly a quarter of a century younger than Milton, and may have
personally known Bishop Hall, the first English satirist, who was living
till 1656. On the other side, he was older than Swift by thirty-six, than
Addison by forty-one, and than Pope by fifty-seven years. Dennis says
that "Dryden, for the last ten years of his life, was much acquainted
with Addison, and drank with him more than he ever used to do, probably
so far as to hasten his end," being commonly "an extreme sober man." Pope
tell us that, in his twelfth year, he "saw Dryden," perhaps at Will's,
perhaps in the street, as Scott did Burns. Dryden himself visited Milton
now and then, and was intimate with Davenant, who could tell him of
Fletcher and Jonson from personal recollection. Thus he stands between
the age before and that which followed him, giving a hand to each. His
father was a country clergyman, of Puritan leanings, a younger son of an
ancient county family. The Puritanism is thought to have come in with the
poet's great-grandfather, who made in his will the somewhat singular
statement that he was "assured by the Holy Ghost that he was elect of
God." It would appear from this that Dryden's self-confidence was an
inheritance. The solid quality of his mind showed itself early. He
himself tells us that he had read Polybius "in English, with the pleasure
of a boy, before he was ten years of age, and yet even then _had some
dark notions of the prudence with which he conducted his design_."[8] The
concluding words are very characteristic, even if Dryden, as men commonly
do, interpreted his boyish turn of mind by later self-knowledge. We thus
get a glimpse of him browsing--for, like Johnson, Burke, and the full as
distinguished from the learned men, he was always a random reader[9]--in
his father's library, and painfully culling here and there a spray of his
own proper nutriment from among the stubs and thorns of Puritan divinity.
After such schooling as could be had in the country, he was sent up to
Westminster School, then under the headship of the celebrated Dr. Busby.
Here he made his first essays in verse, translating, among other school
exercises of the same kind, the third satire of Persius. In 1650 he was
entered at Trinity College, Cambridge, and remained there for seven
years. The only record of his college life is a discipline imposed, in
1652, for "disobedience to the Vice-Master, and contumacy in taking his
punishment, inflicted by him." Whether this punishment was corporeal, as
Johnson insinuates in the similar case of Milton, we are ignorant. He
certainly retained no very fond recollection of his Alma Mater, for in
his "Prologue to the University of Oxford," he says:--

  "Oxford to him a dearer name shall be
  Than his own mother university;
  Thebes did his green, unknowing youth engage,
  He chooses Athens in his riper age."

By the death of his father, in 1654, he came into possession of a small
estate of sixty pounds a year, from which, however, a third must be
deducted, for his mother's dower, till 1676. After leaving Cambridge, he
became secretary to his near relative, Sir Gilbert Pickering, at that
time Cromwell's chamberlain, and a member of his Upper House. In 1670 he
succeeded Davenant as Poet Laureate,[10] and Howell as Historiographer,
with a yearly salary of two hundred pounds. This place he lost at the
Revolution, and had the mortification to see his old enemy and butt,
Shadwell, promoted to it, as the best poet the Whig party could muster.
If William was obliged to read the verses of his official minstrel,
Dryden was more than avenged. From 1688 to his death, twelve years later,
he earned his bread manfully by his pen, without any mean complaining,
and with no allusion to his fallen fortunes that is not dignified and
touching. These latter years, during which he was his own man again, were
probably the happiest of his life. In 1664 or 1665 he married Lady
Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Earl of Berkshire. About a hundred
pounds a year were thus added to his income. The marriage is said not to
have been a happy one, and perhaps it was not, for his wife was
apparently a weak-minded woman; but the inference from the internal
evidence of Dryden's plays, as of Shakespeare's, is very untrustworthy,
ridicule of marriage having always been a common stock in trade of the
comic writers.

The earliest of his verses that have come down to us were written upon
the death of Lord Hastings, and are as bad as they can be,--a kind of
parody on the worst of Donne. They have every fault of his manner,
without a hint of the subtile and often profound thought that more than
redeems it. As the Doctor himself would have said, here is Donne outdone.
The young nobleman died of the small-pox, and Dryden exclaims

  "Was there no milder way than the small-pox,
  The very filthiness of Pandora's box?"

He compares the pustules to "rosebuds stuck i' the lily skin about," and
says that

  "Each little pimple had a tear in it
  To wail the fault its rising did commit."

But he has not done his worst yet, by a great deal. What follows is even

  "No comet need foretell his change drew on,
  Whose corpse might seem a constellation.
  O, had he died of old, how great a strife
  Had been who from his death should draw their life!
  Who should, by one rich draught, become whate'er
  Seneca, Cato, Numa, Caesar, were,
  Learned, virtuous, pious, great, and have by this
  An universal metempsychosis!
  Must all these aged sires in one funeral
  Expire? all die in one so young, so small?"

It is said that one of Allston's early pictures was brought to him, after
he had long forgotten it, and his opinion asked as to the wisdom of the
young artist's persevering in the career he had chosen. Allston advised
his quitting it forthwith as hopeless. Could the same experiment have
been tried with these verses upon Dryden, can any one doubt that his
counsel would have been the same? It should be remembered, however, that
he was barely turned eighteen when they were written, and the tendency of
his style is noticeable in so early an abandonment of the participial
_ed_ in _learned_ and _aged_. In the next year he appears again in some
commendatory verses prefixed to the sacred epigrams of his friend, John
Hoddesdon. In these he speaks of the author as a

  "Young eaglet, who, thy nest thus soon forsook,
  So lofty and divine a course hast took
  As all admire, before the down begin
  To peep, as yet, upon thy smoother chin."

Here is almost every fault which Dryden's later nicety would have
condemned. But perhaps there is no schooling so good for an author as his
own youthful indiscretions. After this effort Dryden seems to have lain
fallow for ten years, and then he at length reappears in thirty-seven
"heroic stanzas" on the death of Cromwell. The versification is smoother,
but the conceits are there again, though in a milder form. The verse is
modelled after "Gondibert." A single image from nature (he was almost
always happy in these) gives some hint of the maturer Dryden:--

  "And wars, like mists that rise against the sun,
  Made him but greater seem, not greater grow."

Two other verses,

  "And the isle, when her protecting genius went,
  Upon his obsequies loud sighs conferred,"

are interesting, because they show that he had been studying the early
poems of Milton. He has contrived to bury under a rubbish of verbiage one
of the most purely imaginative passages ever written by the great Puritan

         "From haunted spring and dale,
          Edged with poplar pale,
  The parting genius is with sighing sent."

This is the more curious because, twenty-four years afterwards, he says,
in defending rhyme: "Whatever causes he [Milton] alleges for the
abolishment of rhyme, his own particular reason is plainly this, that
rhyme was not his talent; he had neither the ease of doing it nor the
graces of it: which is manifest in his _Juvenilia_, ... where his rhyme
is always constrained and forced, and comes hardly from him, at an age
when the soul is most pliant, and the passion of love makes almost every
man a rhymer, though not a poet."[11] It was this, no doubt, that
heartened Dr. Johnson to say of "Lycidas" that "the diction was harsh,
the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing." It is Dryden's excuse
that his characteristic excellence is to argue persuasively and
powerfully, whether in verse or prose, and that he was amply endowed with
the most needful quality of an advocate,--to be always strongly and
wholly of his present way of thinking, whatever it might be. Next we
have, in 1660, "Astraea Redux" on the "happy restoration" of Charles II.
In this also we can forebode little of the full-grown Dryden but his
defects. We see his tendency to exaggeration, and to confound physical
with metaphysical, as where he says of the ships that brought home the
royal brothers, that

                           "The joyful London meets
  The princely York, himself alone a freight,
  The Swiftsure groans beneath great Gloster's weight"

and speaks of the

                                "Repeated prayer
  Which stormed the skies and ravished Charles from thence."

There is also a certain everydayness, not to say vulgarity, of phrase,
which Dryden never wholly refined away, and which continually tempts us
to sum up at once against him as the greatest poet that ever was or could
be made wholly out of prose.

  "Heaven would no bargain for its blessings drive"

is an example. On the other hand, there are a few verses almost worthy of
his best days, as these:--

  "Some lazy ages lost in sleep and ease,
  No action leave to busy chronicles;
  Such whose _supine felicity_ but makes
  In story chasms, in epochas mistakes,
  O'er whom Time gently shakes his wings of down,
  Till with his silent sickle they are mown,"

These are all the more noteworthy, that Dryden, unless in argument, is
seldom equal for six lines together. In the poem to Lord Clarendon (1662)
there are four verses that have something of the "energy divine" for
which Pope praised his master.

  "Let envy, then, those crimes within you see
  From which the happy never must be free;
  Envy that does with misery reside,
  The joy and the revenge of ruined pride."

In his "Aurengzebe" (1675) there is a passage, of which, as it is a good
example of Dryden, I shall quote the whole, though my purpose aims mainly
at the latter verses:--

  "When I consider life, 't is all a cheat;
  Yet, fooled with Hope, men favor the deceit,
  Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay;
  To-morrow's falser than the former day,
  Lies worse, and, while it says we shall be blest
  With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.
  Strange cozenage! none would live past years again,
  Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain,
  And from the dregs of life think to receive
  What the first sprightly running could not give.
  I'm tired of waiting for this chymic gold
  Which fools us young and beggars us when old."

The "first sprightly running" of Dryden's vintage was, it must be
confessed, a little muddy, if not beery; but if his own soil did not
produce grapes of the choicest flavor, he knew where they were to be had;
and his product, like sound wine, grew better the longer it stood upon
the lees. He tells us, evidently thinking of himself, that in a poet,
"from fifty to threescore, the balance generally holds even in our colder
climates, for he loses not much in fancy, and judgment, which is the
effect of observation, still increases. His succeeding years afford him
little more than the stubble of his own harvest, yet, if his constitution
be healthful, his mind may still retain a decent vigor, and the gleanings
of that of Ephraim, in comparison with others, will surpass the vintage
of Abiezer."[12] Since Chaucer, none of our poets has had a constitution
more healthful, and it was his old age that yielded the best of him. In
him the understanding was, perhaps, in overplus for his entire good
fortune as a poet, and that is a faculty among the earliest to mature. We
have seen him, at only ten years, divining the power of reason in
Polybius.[13] The same turn of mind led him later to imitate the French
school of tragedy, and to admire in Ben Jonson the most correct of
English poets. It was his imagination that needed quickening, and it is
very curious to trace through his different prefaces the gradual opening
of his eyes to the causes of the solitary pre-eminence of Shakespeare. At
first he is sensible of an attraction towards him which he cannot
explain, and for which he apologizes, as if it were wrong. But he feels
himself drawn more and more strongly, till at last he ceases to resist
altogether, and is forced to acknowledge that there is something in this
one man that is not and never was anywhere else, something not to be
reasoned about, ineffable, divine; if contrary to the rules, so much the
worse for _them_. It may be conjectured that Dryden's Puritan
associations may have stood in the way of his more properly poetic
culture, and that his early knowledge of Shakespeare was slight. He tells
us that Davenant, whom he could not have known before he himself was
twenty-seven, first taught him to admire the great poet. But even after
his imagination had become conscious of its prerogative, and his
expression had been ennobled by frequenting this higher society, we find
him continually dropping back into that _sermo pedestris_ which seems, on
the whole, to have been his more natural element. We always feel his
epoch in him, that he was the lock which let our language down from its
point of highest poetry to its level of easiest and most gently flowing
prose. His enthusiasm needs the contagion of other minds to arouse it;
but his strong sense, his command of the happy word, his wit, which is
distinguished by a certain breadth and, as it were, power of
generalization, as Pope's by keenness of edge and point, were his,
whether he would or no. Accordingly, his poetry is often best and his
verse more flowing where (as in parts of his version of the twenty-ninth
ode of the third book of Horace) he is amplifying the suggestions of
another mind.[14] Viewed from one side, he justifies Milton's remark of
him, that "he was a good rhymist, but no poet." To look at all sides, and
to distrust the verdict of a single mood, is, no doubt, the duty of a
critic. But how if a certain side be so often presented as to thrust
forward in the memory and disturb it in the effort to recall that total
impression (for the office of a critic is not, though often so
misunderstood, to say _guilty_ or _not guilty_ of some particular fact)
which is the only safe ground of judgment? It is the weight of the whole
man, not of one or the other limb of him, that we want. _Expende
Hannibalem_. Very good, but not in a scale capacious only of a single
quality at a time, for it is their union, and not their addition, that
assures the value of each separately. It was not this or that which gave
him his weight in council, his swiftness of decision in battle that
outran the forethought of other men,--it was Hannibal. But this prosaic
element in Dryden will force itself upon me. As I read him, I cannot help
thinking of an ostrich, to be classed with flying things, and capable,
what with leap and flap together, of leaving the earth for a longer or
shorter space, but loving the open plain, where wing and foot help each
other to something that is both flight and run at once. What with his
haste and a certain dash, which, according to our mood, we may call
florid or splendid, he seems to stand among poets where Rubens does among
painters,--greater, perhaps, as a colorist than an artist, yet great here
also, if we compare him with any but the first.

We have arrived at Dryden's thirty-second year, and thus far have found
little in him to warrant an augury that he was ever to be one of the
_great_ names in English literature, the most perfect type, that is, of
his class, and that class a high one, though not the highest. If Joseph
de Maistre's axiom, _Qui n'a pas vaincu à trente ans, ne vaincra jamais_,
were true, there would be little hope of him, for he has won no battle
yet. But there is something solid and doughty in the man, that can rise
from defeat, the stuff of which victories are made in due time, when we
are able to choose our position better, and the sun is at our back.
Hitherto his performances have been mainly of the _obbligato_ sort, at
which few men of original force are good, least of all Dryden, who had
always something of stiffness in his strength. Waller had praised the
living Cromwell in perhaps the manliest verses he ever wrote,--not _very_
manly, to be sure, but really elegant, and, on the whole, better than
those in which Dryden squeezed out melodious tears. Waller, who had also
made himself conspicuous as a volunteer Antony to the country squire
turned Caesar,

  ("With ermine clad and purple, let him hold
  A royal sceptre made of Spanish gold,")

was more servile than Dryden in hailing the return of _ex officio_
Majesty. He bewails to Charles, in snuffling heroics,

           "Our sorrow and our crime
  To have accepted life so long a time,
  Without you here."

A weak man, put to the test by rough and angry times, as Waller was, may
be pitied, but meanness is nothing but contemptible under any
circumstances. If it be true that "every conqueror creates a Muse,"
Cromwell was unfortunate. Even Milton's sonnet, though dignified, is
reserved if not distrustful. Marvell's "Horatian Ode," the most truly
classic in our language, is worthy of its theme. The same poet's Elegy,
in parts noble, and everywhere humanly tender, is worth more than all
Carlyle's biography as a witness to the gentler qualities of the hero,
and of the deep affection that stalwart nature could inspire in hearts of
truly masculine temper. As it is little known, a few verses of it may be
quoted to show the difference between grief that thinks of its object and
grief that thinks of its rhymes:--

  "Valor, religion, friendship, prudence died
  At once with him, and all that's good beside,
  And we, death's refuse, nature's dregs, confined
  To loathsome life, alas! are left behind.
  Where we (so once we used) shall now no more,
  To fetch day, press about his chamber-door,
  No more shall hear that powerful language charm,
  Whose force oft spared the labor of his arm,
  No more shall follow where he spent the days
  In war or counsel, or in prayer and praise.
         *       *       *       *       *
  I saw him dead; a leaden slumber lies,
  And mortal sleep, over those wakeful eyes;
  Those gentle rays under the lids were fled,
  Which through his looks that piercing sweetness shed;
  That port, which so majestic was and strong,
  Loose and deprived of vigor stretched along,
  All withered, all discolored, pale, and wan,
  How much another thing! no more That Man!
  O human glory! vain! O death! O wings!
  O worthless world! O transitory things!
  Yet dwelt that greatness in his shape decayed
  That still, though dead, greater than Death he laid,
  And, in his altered face, you something feign
  That threatens Death he yet will live again."

Such verses might not satisfy Lindley Murray, but they are of that higher
mood which satisfies the heart. These couplets, too, have an energy
worthy of Milton's friend:--

  "When up the armëd mountains of Dunbar
  He marched, and through deep Severn, ending war."

  "Thee, many ages hence, in martial verse
  Shall the English soldier, ere he charge, rehearse."

On the whole, one is glad that Dryden's panegyric on the Protector was so
poor. It was purely official verse-making. Had there been any feeling in
it, there had been baseness in his address to Charles. As it is, we may
fairly assume that he was so far sincere in both cases as to be thankful
for a chance to exercise himself in rhyme, without much caring whether
upon a funeral or a restoration. He might naturally enough expect that
poetry would have a better chance under Charles than under Cromwell, or
any successor with Commonwealth principles. Cromwell had more serious
matters to think about than verses, while Charles might at least care as
much about them as it was in his base good-nature to care about anything
but loose women and spaniels. Dryden's sound sense, afterwards so
conspicuous, shows itself even in these pieces, when we can get at it
through the tangled thicket of tropical phrase. But the authentic and
unmistakable Dryden first manifests himself in some verses addressed to
his friend Dr. Charlton in 1663. We have first his common sense which has
almost the point of wit, yet with a tang of prose:--

  "The longest tyranny that ever swayed
  Was that wherein our ancestors betrayed
  Their freeborn reason to the Stagyrite,
  And made his torch their universal light.
  _So truth, while only one supplied the state,
  Grew scarce and dear and yet sophisticate.
  Still it was bought, like emp'ric wares or charms,
  Hard words sealed up with Aristotle's arms_."

Then we have his graceful sweetness of fancy, where he speaks of the
inhabitants of the New World:--

  "Guiltless men who danced away their time,
  Fresh as their groves and happy as their clime."

And, finally, there is a hint of imagination where "mighty visions of the
Danish race" watch round Charles sheltered in Stonehenge after the battle
of Worcester. These passages might have been written by the Dryden whom
we learn to know fifteen years later. They have the advantage that he
wrote them to please himself. His contemporary, Dr. Heylin, said of
French cooks, that "their trade was not to feed the belly, but the
palate." Dryden was a great while in learning this secret, as available
in good writing as in cookery. He strove after it, but his thoroughly
English nature, to the last, would too easily content itself with serving
up the honest beef of his thought, without regard to daintiness of flavor
in the dressing of it.[15] Of the best English poetry, it might be said
that it is understanding aërated by imagination. In Dryden the solid part
too often refused to mix kindly with the leaven, either remaining lumpish
or rising to a hasty puffiness. Grace and lightness were with him much
more a laborious achievement than a natural gift, and it is all the more
remarkable that he should so often have attained to what seems such an
easy perfection in both. Always a hasty writer,[16] he was long in
forming his style, and to the last was apt to snatch the readiest word
rather than wait for the fittest. He was not wholly and unconsciously
poet, but a thinker who sometimes lost himself on enchanted ground and
was transfigured by its touch. This preponderance in him of the reasoning
over the intuitive faculties, the one always there, the other flashing in
when you least expect it, accounts for that inequality and even
incongruousness in his writing which makes one revise his judgment at
every tenth page. In his prose you come upon passages that persuade you
he is a poet, in spite of his verses so often turning state's evidence
against him as to convince you he is none. He is a prose-writer, with a
kind of Aeolian attachment. For example, take this bit of prose from the
dedication of his version of Virgil's Pastorals, 1694: "He found the
strength of his genius betimes, and was even in his youth preluding to
his Georgicks and his Aeneis. He could not forbear to try his wings,
though his pinions were not hardened to maintain a long, laborious
flight; yet sometimes they bore him to a pitch as lofty as ever he was
able to reach afterwards. But when he was admonished by his subject to
descend, he came down gently circling in the air and singing to the
ground, like a lark melodious in her mounting and continuing her song
till she alights, still preparing for a higher flight at her next sally,
and tuning her voice to better music." This is charming, and yet even
this wants the ethereal tincture that pervades the style of Jeremy
Taylor, making it, as Burke said of Sheridan's eloquence, "neither prose
nor poetry, but something better than either." Let us compare Taylor's
treatment of the same image: "For so have I seen a lark rising from his
bed of grass and soaring upwards, singing as he rises, and hopes to get
to heaven and climb above the clouds; but the poor bird was beaten back
by the loud sighings of an eastern wind, and his motion made irregular
and inconstant, descending more at every breath of the tempest than it
could recover by the libration and frequent weighing of his wings, till
the little creature was forced to sit down and pant, and stay till the
storm was over, and then it made a prosperous flight, and did rise and
sing as if it had learned music and motion of an angel as he passed
sometimes through the air about his ministries here below." Taylor's
fault is that his sentences too often smell of the library, but what an
open air is here! How unpremeditated it all seems! How carelessly he
knots each new thought, as it comes, to the one before it with an _and_,
like a girl making lace! And what a slidingly musical use he makes of the
sibilants with which our language is unjustly taxed by those who can only
make them hiss, not sing! There are twelve of them in the first twenty
words, fifteen of which are monsyllables. We notice the structure of
Dryden's periods, but this grows up as we read. It gushes, like the song
of the bird itself,--

  "In profuse strains of unpremeditated art."

Let us now take a specimen of Dryden's bad prose from one of his poems. I
open the "Annus Mirabilis" at random, and hit upon this:--

  'Our little fleet was now engaged so far,
  That, like the swordfish in the whale, they fought.
  The combat only seemed a civil war,
  Till through their bowels we our passage wrought.'

Is this Dryden, or Sternhold, or Shadwell, those Toms who made him say
that "dulness was fatal to the name of Tom"? The natural history of
Goldsmith in the verse of Pye! His thoughts did not "voluntary move
harmonious numbers." He had his choice between prose and verse, and seems
to be poetical on second thought. I do not speak without book. He was
more than half conscious of it himself. In the same letter to Mrs.
Steward, just cited, he says, "I am still drudging on, always a poet and
never a good one"; and this from no mock-modesty, for he is always
handsomely frank in telling us whatever of his own doing pleased him.
This was written in the last year of his life, and at about the same time
he says elsewhere: "What judgment I had increases rather than diminishes,
and thoughts, such as they are, come crowding in so fast upon me that my
only difficulty is to choose or to reject, to run them into verse or to
give them the other harmony of prose; I have so long studied and
practised both, that they are grown into a habit and become familiar to
me."[17] I think that a man who was primarily a poet would hardly have
felt this equanimity of choice.

I find a confirmation of this feeling about Dryden in his early literary
loves. His taste was not an instinct, but the slow result of reflection
and of the manfulness with which he always acknowledged to himself his
own mistakes. In this latter respect few men deal so magnanimously with
themselves as he, and accordingly few have been so happily inconsistent.
_Ancora imparo_ might have served him for a motto as well as Michael
Angelo. His prefaces are a complete log of his life, and the habit of
writing them was a useful one to him, for it forced him to think with a
pen in his hand, which, according to Goethe, "if it do no other good,
keeps the mind from staggering about." In these prefaces we see his taste
gradually rising from Du Bartas to Spenser, from Cowley to Milton, from
Corneille to Shakespeare. "I remember when I was a boy," he says in his
dedication of the "Spanish Friar," 1681, "I thought inimitable Spenser a
mean poet in comparison of Sylvester's _Du Bartas_, and was rapt into an
ecstasy when I read these lines:--

  'Now when the winter's keener breath began
  To crystallize the Baltic ocean,
  To glaze the lakes, to bridle up the floods,
  And periwig with snow[18] the baldpate woods.'

I am much deceived if this be not abominable fustian." Swift, in his
"Tale of a Tub," has a ludicrous passage in this style: "Look on this
globe of earth, you will find it to be a very complete and fashionable
dress. What is that which some call _land_, but a fine coat faced with
green? or the _sea_, but a waistcoat of water-tabby? Proceed to the
particular works of creation, you will find how curious journeyman Nature
has been to trim up the vegetable _beaux_; observe how _sparkish a
periwig adorns the head of a beech_, and what a fine doublet of white
satin is worn by the birch." The fault is not in any inaptness of the
images, nor in the mere vulgarity of the things themselves, but in that
of the associations they awaken. The "prithee, undo this button" of Lear,
coming where it does and expressing what it does, is one of those touches
of the pathetically sublime, of which only Shakespeare ever knew the
secret. Herrick, too, has a charming poem on  "Julia's petticoat," the
charm being that he lifts the familiar and the low to the region of
sentiment. In the passage from Sylvester, it is precisely the reverse,
and the wig takes as much from the sentiment as it adds to a Lord
Chancellor. So Pope's proverbial verse,

  "True wit is Nature to advantage drest,"

unpleasantly suggests Nature under the hands of a lady's-maid.[19] We
have no word in English that will exactly define this want of propriety
in diction. _Vulgar_ is too strong, and _commonplace_ too weak. Perhaps
_bourgeois_ comes as near as any. It is to be noticed that Dryden does
not unequivocally condemn the passage he quotes, but qualifies it with an
"if I am not much mistaken." Indeed, though his judgment in substantials,
like that of Johnson, is always worth having, his taste, the negative
half of genius, never altogether refined itself from a colloquial
familiarity, which is one of the charms of his prose, and gives that air
of easy strength in which his satire is unmatched. In his "Royal Martyr"
(1669), the tyrant Maximin says to the gods:--

  "Keep you your rain and sunshine in the skies,
  And I'll keep back my flame and sacrifice;
  _Your trade of Heaven shall soon be at a stand,
  And all your goods lie dead upon your hand,_"--

a passage which has as many faults as only Dryden was capable of
committing, even to a false idiom forced by the last rhyme. The same
tyrant in dying exclaims:--

                      "And after thee I'll go,
  Revenging still, and following e'en to th' other world my blow,
  And, _shoving back this earth on which I sit,
  I'll mount and scatter all the gods I hit._"

In the "Conquest of Grenada" (1670), we have:--

  "This little loss in our vast body shews
  So small, that half _have never heard the news;
  Fame's out of breath e'er she can fly so far
  To tell 'em all that you have e'er made war_."[20]

And in the same play,

  "That busy thing,
  _The soul, is packing up_, and just on wing
  Like parting swallows when they seek the spring,"

where the last sweet verse curiously illustrates that inequality (poetry
on a prose background) which so often puzzles us in Dryden. Infinitely
worse is the speech of Almanzor to his mother's ghost:--

  "I'll rush into the covert of the night
  And pull thee backward by the shroud to light,
  Or else I'll squeeze thee like a bladder there,
  And make thee groan thyself away to air."

What wonder that Dryden should have been substituted for Davenant as the
butt of the "Rehearsal," and that the parody should have had such a run?
And yet it was Dryden who, in speaking of Persius, hit upon the happy
phrase of "boisterous metaphors";[21] it was Dryden who said of Cowley,
whom he elsewhere calls "the darling of my youth,"[22] that he was "sunk
in reputation because he could never forgive any conceit which came in
his way, but swept, like a drag-net, great and small."[23] But the
passages I have thus far cited as specimens of our poet's coarseness (for
poet he surely was _intus_, though not always _in cute_) were written
before he was forty, and he had an odd notion, suitable to his healthy
complexion, that poets on the whole improve after that date. Man at
forty, he says, "seems to be fully in his summer tropic, ... and I
believe that it will hold in all great poets that, though they wrote
before with a certain heat of genius which inspired them, yet that heat
was not perfectly digested."[24] But artificial heat is never to be
digested at all, as is plain in Dryden's case. He was a man who warmed
slowly, and, in his hurry to supply the market, forced his mind. The
result was the same after forty as before. In "Oedipus" (1679) we find,

                                              "Not one bolt
  Shall err from Thebes, but more be called for, more,
  _New-moulded thunder of a larger size!_"

This play was written in conjunction with Lee, of whom Dryden relates[25]
that, when some one said to him, "It is easy enough to write like a
madman," he replied, "No, it is hard to write like a madman, but easy
enough to write like a fool,"--perhaps the most compendious lecture on
poetry ever delivered. The splendid bit of eloquence, which has so much
the sheet-iron clang of impeachment thunder (I hope that Dryden is not in
the Library of Congress!) is perhaps Lee's. The following passage almost
certainly is his:--

  "Sure 'tis the end of all things! Fate has torn
  The lock of Time off, and his head is now
  The ghastly ball of round Eternity!"

But the next, in which the soul is likened to the pocket of an indignant
housemaid charged with theft, is wholly in Dryden's manner:--

  "No; I dare challenge heaven to turn me outward,
      And shake my soul quite empty in your sight."

In the same style, he makes his Don Sebastian (1690) say that he is as
much astonished as "drowsy mortals" at the last trump,

  "When, called in haste, _they fumble for their limbs_,"

and propose to take upon himself the whole of a crime shared with another
by asking Heaven _to charge the bill_ on him. And in "King Arthur,"
written ten years after the Preface from which I have quoted his
confession about Dubartas, we have a passage precisely of the kind he

                 "Ah for the many souls as but this morn
  Were clothed with flesh and warmed with vital blood,
  But naked now, or _shirted_ but with air."

Dryden too often violated his own admirable rule, that "an author is not
to write all he can, but only all he ought."[26] In his worst images,
however, there is often a vividness that half excuses them. But it is a
grotesque vividness, as from the flare of a bonfire. They do not flash
into sudden lustre, as in the great poets, where the imaginations of poet
and reader leap toward each other and meet half-way.

English prose is indebted to Dryden for having freed it from the cloister
of pedantry. He, more than any other single writer, contributed, as well
by precept as example, to give it suppleness of movement and the easier
air of the modern world. His own style, juicy with proverbial phrases,
has that familiar dignity, so hard to attain, perhaps unattainable except
by one who, like Dryden, feels that his position is assured. Charles
Cotton is as easy, but not so elegant; Walton as familiar, but not so
flowing; Swift as idiomatic, but not so elevated; Burke more splendid,
but not so equally luminous. That his style was no easy acquisition
(though, of course, the aptitude was innate) he himself tells us. In his
dedication of "Troilus and Cressida" (1679), where he seems to hint at
the erection of an Academy, he says that "the perfect knowledge of a
tongue was never attained by any single person. The Court, the College,
and the Town must all be joined in it. And as our English is a
composition of the dead and living tongues, there is required a perfect
knowledge, not only of the Greek and Latin, but of the Old German,
French, and Italian, and to help all these, a conversation with those
authors of our own who have written with the fewest faults in prose and
verse. But how barbarously we yet write and speak your Lordship knows,
and I am sufficiently sensible in my own English.[27] For I am often put
to a stand in considering whether what I write be the idiom of the
tongue, or false grammar and nonsense couched beneath that specious name
of _Anglicism_, and have no other way to clear my doubts but by
translating my English into Latin, and thereby trying what sense the
words will bear in a more stable language." _Tantae molis erat_. Five
years later: "The proprieties and delicacies of the English are known to
few; it is impossible even for a good wit to understand and practise them
without the help of a liberal education, long reading and digesting of
those few good authors we have amongst us, the knowledge of men and
manners, _the freedom of habitudes and conversation with the best company
of both sexes_, and, in short, without wearing off the rust which he
contracted while he was laying in a stock of learning." In the passage I
have italicized, it will be seen that Dryden lays some stress upon the
influence of women in refining language. Swift, also, in his plan for an
Academy, says: "Now, though I would by no means give the ladies the
trouble of advising us in the reformation of our language, yet I cannot
help thinking that, since they have been left out of all meetings except
parties at play, or where worse designs are carried on, our conversation
has very much degenerated."[28] Swift affirms that the language had grown
corrupt since the Restoration, and that "the Court, which used to be the
standard of propriety and correctness of speech, was then, and, I think,
has ever since continued, the worst school in England."[29] He lays the
blame partly on the general licentiousness, partly upon the French
education of many of Charles's courtiers, and partly on the poets. Dryden
undoubtedly formed his diction by the usage of the Court. The age was a
very free-and-easy, not to say a very coarse one. Its coarseness was not
external, like that of Elizabeth's day, but the outward mark of an inward
depravity. What Swift's notion of the refinement of women was may be
judged by his anecdotes of Stella. I will not say that Dryden's prose did
not gain by the conversational elasticity which his frequenting men and
women of the world enabled him to give it. It is the best specimen of
every-day style that we have. But the habitual dwelling of his mind in a
commonplace atmosphere, and among those easy levels of sentiment which
befitted Will's Coffee-house and the Bird-cage Walk, was a damage to his
poetry. Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome
for the character. He cannot always distinguish between enthusiasm and
extravagance when he sees them. But apart from these influences which I
have adduced in exculpation, there was certainly a vein of coarseness in
him, a want of that exquisite sensitiveness which is the conscience of
the artist. An old gentleman, writing to the Gentleman's Magazine in
1745, professes to remember "plain John Dryden (before he paid his court
with success to the great) in one uniform clothing of Norwich drugget. I
have eat tarts at the Mulberry Garden with him and Madam Reeve, when our
author advanced to a sword and Chadreux wig."[30] I always fancy Dryden
in the drugget, with wig, lace ruffles, and sword superimposed. It is the
type of this curiously incongruous man.

The first poem by which Dryden won a general acknowledgment of his power
was the "Annus Mirabilis," written in his thirty-seventh year.  Pepys,
himself not altogether a bad judge, doubtless expresses the common
opinion when he says: "I am very well pleased this night with reading a
poem I brought home with me last night from Westminster Hall, of
Dryden's, upon the present war; a very good poem."[31] And a very good
poem, in some sort, it continues to be, in spite of its amazing
blemishes. We must always bear in mind that Dryden lived in an age that
supplied him with no ready-made inspiration, and that big phrases and
images are apt to be pressed into the service when great ones do not
volunteer. With this poem begins the long series of Dryden's prefaces, of
which Swift made such excellent, though malicious, fun that I cannot
forbear to quote it. "I do utterly disapprove and declare against that
pernicious custom of making the _preface_ a bill of fare to the book. For
I have always looked upon it as a high point of indiscretion in
monster-mongers and other retailers of strange sights to hang out a fair
picture over the door, drawn after the life, with a most eloquent
description underneath; this has saved me many a threepence.... Such is
exactly the fate at this time of _prefaces_.... This expedient was
admirable at first; our great Dryden has long carried it as far as it
would go, and with incredible success. He has often said to me in
confidence, 'that the world would never have suspected him to be so great
a poet, if he had not assured them so frequently, in his prefaces, that
it was impossible they could either doubt or forget it.' Perhaps it may
be so; however, I much fear his instructions have edified out of their
place, and taught men to grow wiser in certain points where he never
intended they should."[32] The _monster-mongers_ is a terrible thrust,
when we remember some of the comedies and heroic plays which Dryden
ushered in this fashion. In the dedication of the "Annus" to the city of
London is one of those pithy sentences of which Dryden is ever afterwards
so full, and which he lets fall with a carelessness that seems always to
deepen the meaning: "I have heard, indeed, of some virtuous persons who
have ended unfortunately, but never of any virtuous nation; Providence is
engaged too deeply when the cause becomes so general." In his "account"
of the poem in a letter to Sir Robert Howard he says: "I have chosen to
write my poem in quatrains or stanzas of four in alternate rhyme, because
I have ever judged them more noble and of greater dignity, both for the
sound and number, than any other verse in use amongst us.... The learned
languages have certainly a great advantage of us in not being tied to the
slavery of any rhyme.... But in this  necessity of our rhymes, I  have
always found the couplet verse most easy, though not so proper for this
occasion; for there the work is sooner at an end, every two lines
concluding the labor of the poet." A little further on: "They [the
French] write in alexandrines, or verses of six feet, such as amongst us
is the old translation of Homer by Chapman: all which, by lengthening
their chain,[33] makes the sphere of their activity the greater." I have
quoted these passages because, in a small compass, they include several
things characteristic of Dryden. "I have ever judged," and "I have always
found," are particularly so. If he took up an opinion in the morning, he
would have found so many arguments for it before night that it would seem
already old and familiar. So with his reproach of rhyme; a year or two
before he was eagerly defending it;[34] again a few years, and he will
utterly condemn and drop it in his plays, while retaining it in his
translations; afterwards his study of Milton leads him to think that
blank verse would suit the epic style better, and he proposes to try it
with Homer, but at last translates one book as a specimen, and behold, it
is in rhyme! But the charm of this great advocate is, that, whatever side
he was on, he could always find excellent reasons for it, and state them
with great force, and abundance of happy illustration. He is an exception
to the proverb, and is none the worse pleader than he is always pleading
his own cause. The blunder about Chapman is of a kind into which his
hasty temperament often betrayed him. He remembered that Chapman's
"Iliad" was in a long measure, concluded without looking that it was
alexandrine, and then attributes it generally to his "Homer." Chapman's
"Iliad" is done in fourteen-syllable verse, and his "Odyssee" in the very
metre that Dryden himself used in his own version,[35] I remark also what
he says of the couplet, that it was easy because the second verse
concludes the labor of the poet. And yet it was Dryden who found it hard
for that very reason. His vehement abundance refused those narrow banks,
first running over into a triplet, and, even then uncontainable, rising
to an alexandrine in the concluding verse. And I have little doubt that
it was the roominess, rather than the dignity, of the quatrain which led
him to choose it. As apposite to this, I may quote what he elsewhere says
of octosyllabic verse: "The thought can turn itself with greater ease in
a larger compass. When the rhyme comes too thick upon us, it straightens
the expression: we are thinking of the close, when we should be employed
in adorning the thought. It makes a poet giddy with turning in a space
too narrow for his imagination."[36]

Dryden himself, as was not always the case with him, was well satisfied
with his work. He calls it his best hitherto, and attributes his success
to the excellence of his subject, "incomparably the best he had ever had,
_excepting only the Royal Family_." The first part is devoted to the
Dutch war; the last to the fire of London. The martial half is infinitely
the better of the two. He altogether surpasses his model, Davenant. If
his poem lack the gravity of thought attained by a few stanzas of
"Gondibert," it is vastly superior in life, in picturesqueness, in the
energy of single lines, and, above all, in imagination. Few men have read
"Gondibert," and almost every one speaks of it, as commonly of the dead,
with a certain subdued respect. And it deserves respect as an honest
effort to bring poetry back to its highest office in the ideal treatment
of life. Davenant emulated Spenser, and if his poem had been as good as
his preface, it could still be read in another spirit than that of
investigation. As it is, it always reminds me of Goldsmith's famous
verse. It is remote, unfriendly, solitary, and, above all, slow. Its
shining passages, for there are such, remind one of distress-rockets sent
up at intervals from a ship just about to founder, and sadden rather than

The first part of the "Annus Mirabilis" is by no means clear of the false
taste of the time,[38] though it has some of Dryden's manliest verses and
happiest comparisons, always his two distinguishing merits. Here, as
almost everywhere else in Dryden, measuring him merely as poet, we recall
what he, with pathetic pride, says of himself in the prologue to

  "Let him retire, betwixt two ages cast,
  The first of this, the hindmost of the last."

What can be worse than what he says of comets?--

  "Whether they unctuous exhalations are
  Fired by the sun, or seeming so alone,
  Or each some more remote and slippery star
  Which loses footing when to mortals shown."

Or than this, of the destruction of the Dutch India ships?--

  "Amidst whole heaps of spices lights a ball,
  And now their odors armed against them fly;
  Some preciously by shattered porcelain fall,
  And some by aromatic splinters die."

Dear Dr. Johnson had his doubts about Shakespeare, but here at least was
poetry! This is one of the quatrains which he pronounces "worthy of our

But Dryden himself has said that "a man who is resolved to praise an
author with any appearance of justice must be sure to take him on the
strongest side, and where he is least liable to exceptions." This is true
also of one who wishes to measure an author fairly, for the higher wisdom
of criticism lies in the capacity to admire.

  Leser, wie gefall ich dir?
  Leser, wie gefällst du mir?

are both fair questions, the answer to the first being more often
involved in that to the second than is sometimes thought. The poet in
Dryden was never more fully revealed than in such verses as these:--

  "And threatening France, placed like a painted Jove,[40]
  Kept idle thunder in his lifted hand";

  "Silent in smoke of cannon they come on";

  "And his loud guns speak thick, like angry men";

  "The vigorous seaman every port-hole plies,
  And adds his heart to every gun he fires";

  "And, though to me unknown, they sure fought well,
  Whom Rupert led, and who were British born."

This is masculine writing, and yet it must be said that there is scarcely
a quatrain in which the rhyme does not trip him into a platitude, and
there are too many swaggering with that _expression forte d'un sentiment
faible_ which Voltaire condemns in Corneille,--a temptation to which
Dryden always lay too invitingly open. But there are passages higher in
kind than any I have cited, because they show imagination. Such are the
verses in which he describes the dreams of the disheartened enemy:--

  "In dreams they fearful precipices tread,
  Or, shipwrecked, labor to some distant shore,
  Or in dark churches walk among the dead";

and those in which he recalls glorious memories, and sees where

  "The mighty ghosts of our great Harries rose,
  And armëd Edwards looked with anxious eyes."

A few verses, like the pleasantly alliterative one in which he makes the
spider, "from the silent ambush of his den," "feel far off the trembling
of his thread," show that he was beginning to study the niceties of
verse, instead of trusting wholly to what he would have called his
natural _fougue_. On the whole, this part of the poem is very good war
poetry, as war poetry goes (for there is but one first-rate poem of the
kind in English,--short, national, eager as if the writer were personally
engaged, with the rapid metre of a drum beating the charge,--and that is
Drayton's "Battle of Agincourt"),[41] but it shows more study of Lucan
than of Virgil, and for a long time yet we shall find Dryden bewildered
by bad models. He is always imitating--no, that is not the word, always
emulating--somebody in his more strictly poetical attempts, for in that
direction he always needed some external impulse to set his mind in
motion. This is more or less true of all authors; nor does it detract
from their originality, which depends wholly on their being able so far
to forget themselves as to let something of themselves slip into what
they write.[42] Of absolute originality we will not speak till authors
are raised by some Deucalion-and-Pyrrha process; and even then our faith
would be small, for writers who have no past are pretty sure of having no
future. Dryden, at any rate, always had to have his copy set him at the
top of the page, and wrote ill or well accordingly. His mind (somewhat
solid for a poet) warmed slowly, but, once fairly heated through, he had
more of that good-luck of self-oblivion than most men. He certainly gave
even a liberal interpretation to Molière's rule of taking his own
property wherever he found it, though he sometimes blundered awkwardly
about what was properly _his_; but in literature, it should be
remembered, a thing always becomes his at last who says it best, and thus
makes it his own.[43]

Mr. Savage Landor once told me that he said to Wordsworth: "Mr.
Wordsworth, a man may mix poetry with prose as much as he pleases, and it
will only elevate and enliven; but the moment he mixes a particle of
prose with his poetry, it precipitates the whole." Wordsworth, he added,
never forgave him. The always hasty Dryden, as I think I have already
said, was liable, like a careless apothecary's 'prentice, to make the
same confusion of ingredients, especially in the more mischievous way. I
cannot leave the "Annus Mirabilis" without giving an example of this.
Describing the Dutch prizes, rather like an auctioneer than a poet, he
says that

  "Some English wool, vexed in a Belgian loom,
  And into cloth of spongy softness made,
  Did into France or colder Denmark doom,
  To ruin with worse ware our staple trade."

One might fancy this written by the secretary of a board of trade in an
unguarded moment; but we should remember that the poem is dedicated to
the city of London. The depreciation of the rival fabrics is exquisite;
and Dryden, the most English of our poets, would not be so thoroughly
English if he had not in him some fibre of _la nation boutiquière_. Let
us now see how he succeeds in attempting to infuse science (the most
obstinately prosy material) with poetry. Speaking of "a more exact
knowledge of the longitudes," as he explains in a note, he tells us that,

  "Then we upon our globe's last verge shall go,
  And view the ocean leaning on the sky;
  From thence our rolling neighbors we shall know,
  And on the lunar world securely pry."

Dr. Johnson confesses that he does not understand this. Why should he,
when it is plain that Dryden was wholly in the dark himself! To
understand it is none of my business, but I confess that it interests me
as an Americanism. We have hitherto been credited as the inventors of the
"jumping-off place" at the extreme western verge of the world. But Dryden
was beforehand with us. Though he doubtless knew that the earth was a
sphere (and perhaps that it was flattened at the poles), it was always a
flat surface in his fancy. In his "Amphitryon," he makes Alcmena say:--

  "No, I would fly thee to the ridge of earth,
  And leap the precipice to 'scape thy sight."

And in his "Spanish Friar," Lorenzo says to Elvira that they "will travel
together to the ridge of the world, and then drop together into the
next." It is idle for us poor Yankees to hope that we can invent
anything. To say sooth, if Dryden had left nothing behind him but the
"Annus Mirabilis," he might have served as a type of the kind of poet
America would have produced by the biggest-river-and-tallest-mountain
recipe,--longitude and latitude in plenty, with marks of culture
scattered here and there like the _carets_ on a proof-sheet.

It is now time to say something of Dryden as a dramatist. In the
thirty-two years between 1662 and 1694 he produced twenty-five plays, and
assisted Lee in two. I have hinted that it took Dryden longer than most
men to find the true bent of his genius. On a superficial view, he might
almost seem to confirm that theory, maintained by Johnson, among others,
that genius was nothing more than great intellectual power exercised
persistently in some particular direction which chance decided, so that
it lay in circumstance merely whether a man should turn out a Shakespeare
or a Newton. But when we come to compare what he wrote, regardless of
Minerva's averted face, with the spontaneous production of his happier
muse, we shall be inclined to think his example one of the strongest
cases against the theory in question. He began his dramatic career, as
usual, by rowing against the strong current of his nature, and pulled
only the more doggedly the more he felt himself swept down the stream.
His first attempt was at comedy, and, though his earliest piece of that
kind (the "Wild Gallant," 1663) utterly failed, he wrote eight others
afterwards. On the 23d February, 1663, Pepys writes in his diary: "To
Court, and there saw the 'Wild Gallant' performed by the king's house;
but it was ill acted, and the play so poor a thing as I never saw in my
life almost, and so little answering the name, that, from the beginning
to the end, I could not, nor can at this time, tell certainly which was
the Wild Gallant. The king did not seem pleased at all the whole play,
nor anybody else." After some alteration, it was revived with more
success. On its publication in 1669 Dryden honestly admitted its former
failure, though with a kind of salvo for his self-love. "I made the town
my judges, and the greater part condemned it. After which I do not think
it my concernment to defend it with the ordinary zeal of a poet for his
decried poem, though Corneille is more resolute in his preface before
'Pertharite,'[44] which was condemned more universally than this.... Yet
it was received at Court, and was more than once the divertisement of his
Majesty, by his own command." Pepys lets us amusingly behind the scenes
in the matter of his Majesty's divertisement. Dryden does not seem to see
that in the condemnation of something meant to amuse the public there can
be no question of degree. To fail at all is to fail utterly.

  "_Tous les genres sont permis, hors le genre ennuyeux._"

In the reading, at least, all Dryden's comic writing for the stage must
be ranked with the latter class. He himself would fain make an exception
of the "Spanish Friar," but I confess that I rather wonder at than envy
those who can be amused by it. His comedies lack everything that a comedy
should have,--lightness, quickness of transition, unexpectedness of
incident, easy cleverness of dialogue, and humorous contrast of character
brought out by identity of situation. The comic parts of the "Maiden
Queen" seem to me Dryden's best, but the merit even of these is
Shakespeare's, and there is little choice where even the best is only
tolerable. The common quality, however, of all Dryden's comedies is their
nastiness, the more remarkable because we have ample evidence that he was
a man of modest conversation. Pepys, who was by no means squeamish (for
he found "Sir Martin Marall" "the most entire piece of mirth ... that
certainly ever was writ ... very good wit therein, not fooling"), writes
in his diary of the 19th June, 1668: "My wife and Deb to the king's
play-house to-day, thinking to spy me there, and saw the new play
'Evening Love,' of Dryden's, which, though the world commends, she likes
not." The next day he saw it himself, "and do not like it, it being very
smutty, and nothing so good as the 'Maiden Queen' or the 'Indian Emperor'
of Dryden's making. _I was troubled at it_." On the 22d he adds: "Calling
this day at Herringman's,[45] he tells me Dryden do himself call it but a
fifth-rate play." This was no doubt true, and yet, though Dryden in his
preface to the play says, "I confess I have given [yielded] too much to
the people in it, and am ashamed for them as well as for myself, that I
have pleased them at so cheap a rate," he takes care to add, "not that
there is anything here that I would not defend to an ill-natured judge."
The plot was from Calderon, and the author, rebutting the charge of
plagiarism, tells us that the king ("without whose command they should no
longer be troubled with anything of mine") had already answered for him
by saying, "that he only desired that they who accused me of theft would
always steal him plays like mine." Of the morals of the play he has not a
word, nor do I believe that he was conscious of any harm in them till he
was attacked by Collier, and then, (with some protest against what he
considers the undue severity of his censor) he had the manliness to
confess that he had done wrong. "It becomes me not to draw my pen in the
defence of a bad cause, when I have so often drawn it for a good
one."[46] And in a letter to his correspondent, Mrs. Thomas, written only
a few weeks before his death, warning her against the example of Mrs.
Behn, he says, with remorseful sincerity: "I confess I am the last man in
the world who ought in justice to arraign her, who have been myself too
much a libertine in most of my poems, which I should be well contented I
had time either to purge or to see them fairly burned." Congreve was less
patient, and even Dryden, in the last epilogue he ever wrote, attempts an

  "Perhaps the Parson stretched a point too far,
  When with our Theatres he waged a war;
  He tells you that this very moral age
  Received the first infection from the Stage,
  But sure a banished Court, with lewdness fraught,
  The seeds of open vice returning brought.
         *       *       *       *       *
  Whitehall the naked Venus first revealed,
  Who, standing, as at Cyprus, in her shrine,
  The strumpet was adored with rites divine.
         *       *       *       *       *
  The poets, who must live by courts or starve,
  Were proud so good a Government to serve,
  And, mixing with buffoons and pimps profane,
  Tainted the Stage for some small snip of gain."

Dryden least of all men should have stooped to this palliation, for he
had, not without justice, said of himself "The same parts and application
which have made me a poet might have raised me to any honors of the
gown." Milton and Marvell neither lived by the Court, nor starved.
Charles Lamb most ingeniously defends the Comedy of the Restoration as
"the sanctuary and quiet Alsatia of hunted casuistry," where there was no
pretence of representing a real world.[47] But this was certainly not so.
Dryden again and again boasts of the superior advantage which his age had
over that of the elder dramatists, in painting polite life, and
attributes it to a greater freedom of intercourse between the poets and
the frequenters of the Court.[48] We shall be less surprised at the
_kind_ of refinement upon which Dryden congratulated himself, when we
learn (from the dedication of "Marriage à la Mode") that the Earl of
Rochester was its exemplar: "The best comic writers of our age will join
with me to acknowledge that they have copied the gallantries of courts,
the delicacy of expression, and the decencies of behavior from your
Lordship." In judging Dryden, it should be borne in mind that for some
years he was under contract to deliver three plays a year, a kind of bond
to which no man should subject his brain who has a decent respect for the
quality of its products. We should remember, too, that in his day
_manners_ meant what we call _morals_, that custom always makes a larger
part of virtue among average men than they are quite aware, and that the
reaction from an outward conformity which had no root in inward faith may
for a time have given to the frank expression of laxity an air of honesty
that made it seem almost refreshing. There is no such hotbed for excess
of license as excess of restraint, and the arrogant fanaticism of a
single virtue is apt to make men suspicious of tyranny in all the rest.
But the riot of emancipation could not last long, for the more tolerant
society is of private vice, the more exacting will it be of public
decorum, that excellent thing, so often the plausible substitute for
things more excellent. By 1678 the public mind had so far recovered its
tone that Dryden's comedy of "Limberham" was barely tolerated for three
nights. I will let the man who looked at human nature from more sides,
and therefore judged it more gently than any other, give the only excuse
possible for Dryden:--

                    "Men's judgments are
  A parcel of their fortunes, and things outward
  Do draw the inward quality after them
  To suffer all alike."

Dryden's own apology only makes matters worse for him by showing that he
committed his offences with his eyes wide open, and that he wrote
comedies so wholly in despite of nature as never to deviate into the
comic. Failing as clown, he did not scruple to take on himself the office
of Chiffinch to the palled appetite of the public. "For I confess my
chief endeavours are to delight the age in which I live.    If the humour
of this be for low comedy, small accidents, and raillery, I will force my
genius to obey it, though with more reputation I could write in verse.  I
know I am not so fitted by nature to write comedy; I want that gayety of
humour which is requisite to it.  My conversation is slow and dull, my
humour saturnine and reserved: In short, I am none of those who endeavour
to break jests in company or make repartees.    So that those who decry
my comedies do me no injury, except it be in point of profit: Reputation
in them is the last thing to which I shall pretend."[49] For my own part,
though I have been forced to hold my nose in picking my way through these
ordures of Dryden, I am free to say that I think them far less  morally
mischievous than that _corps-de-ballet_ literature in which the most
animal of the passions is made more temptingly naked by a veil of French
gauze.  Nor does Dryden's lewdness leave such a reek in the mind as the
filthy cynicism of Swift, who delighted to uncover the nakedness of our
common mother.

It is pleasant to follow Dryden into the more congenial region of heroic
plays, though here also we find him making a false start. Anxious to
please the king,[50] and so able a reasoner as to convince even himself
of the justice of whatever cause he argued, he not only wrote tragedies
in the French style, but defended his practice in an essay which is by
far the most delightful reproduction of the classic dialogue ever written
in English. Eugenius (Lord Buckhurst), Lisideius (Sir Charles Sidley),
Crites (Sir E. Howard), and Neander (Dryden) are the four partakers in
the debate. The comparative merits of ancients and moderns, of the
Shakespearian and contemporary drama, of rhyme and blank verse, the value
of the three (supposed) Aristotelian unities, are the main topics
discussed. The tone of the discussion is admirable, midway between
bookishness and talk, and the fairness with which each side of the
argument is treated shows the breadth of Dryden's mind perhaps better
than any other one piece of his writing. There are no men of straw set up
to be knocked down again, as there commonly are in debates conducted upon
this plan. The "Defence" of the Essay is to be taken as a supplement to
Neander's share in it, as well as many scattered passages in subsequent
prefaces and dedications. All the interlocutors agree that "the sweetness
of English verse was never understood or practised by our fathers," and
that "our poesy is much improved by the happiness of some writers yet
living, who first taught us to mould our thoughts into easy and
significant words, to retrench the superfluities of expression, and to
make our rhyme so properly a part of the verse that it should never
mislead the sense, but itself be led and governed by it." In another
place he shows that by "living writers" he meant Waller and Denham.
"Rhyme has all the advantages of prose besides its own. But the
excellence and dignity of it were never fully known till Mr. Waller
taught it: he first made writing easily an art; first showed us to
conclude the sense, most commonly in distiches, which in the verse before
him runs on for so many lines together that the reader is out of breath
to overtake it."[51] Dryden afterwards changed his mind, and one of the
excellences of his own rhymed verse is, that his sense is too ample to be
concluded by the distich. Rhyme had been censured as unnatural in
dialogue; but Dryden replies that it is no more so than blank verse,
since no man talks any kind of verse in real life. But the argument for
rhyme is of another kind. "I am satisfied if it cause delight, for
delight is the chief if not the only end of poesy [he should have said
_means_]; instruction can be admitted but in the second place, for poesy
only instructs as it delights.... The converse, therefore, which a poet
is to imitate must be heightened with all the arts and ornaments of
poesy, and must be such as, strictly considered, could never be supposed
spoken by any without premeditation.... Thus prose, though the rightful
prince, yet is by common consent deposed as too weak for the government
of serious plays, and, he failing, there now start up two competitors;
one the nearer in blood, which is blank verse; the other more fit for the
ends of government, which is rhyme. Blank verse is, indeed, the nearer
prose, but he is blemished with the weakness of his predecessor. Rhyme
(for I will deal clearly) has somewhat of the usurper in him; but he is
brave and generous, and his dominion pleasing."[52] To the objection that
the difficulties of rhyme will lead to circumlocution, he answers in
substance, that a good poet will know how to avoid them.

It is curious how long the superstition that Waller was the refiner of
English verse has prevailed since Dryden first gave it vogue. He was a
very poor poet and a purely mechanical versifier. He has lived mainly on
the credit of a single couplet,

  "The soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed.
  Lets in new light through chinks that Time hath made,"

in which the melody alone belongs to him, and the conceit, such as it is,
to Samuel Daniel, who said, long before, that the body's

                   "Walls, grown thin, permit the mind
  To look out thorough and his frailty find."

Waller has made worse nonsense of it in the transfusion. It might seem
that Ben Jonson had a prophetic foreboding of him when he wrote: "Others
there are that have no composition at all, but a kind of tuning and
rhyming fall, in what they write. It runs and slides and only makes a
sound. Women's poets they are called, as you have women's tailors.

  They write a verse as smooth, as soft, as cream
  In which there is no torrent, nor scarce stream.

You may sound these wits and find the depth of them with your
middle-finger."[53] It seems to have been taken for granted by Waller, as
afterwards by Dryden, that our elder poets bestowed no thought upon their
verse. "Waller was smooth," but unhappily he was also flat, and his
importation of the French theory of the couplet as a kind of thought-coop
did nothing but mischief.[54] He never compassed even a smoothness
approaching this description of a nightingale's song by a third-rate poet
of the earlier school,--

  "Trails her plain ditty in one long-spun note
  Through the sleek passage of her open throat,
  A clear, unwrinkled song,"--

one of whose beauties is its running over into the third verse. Those
poets indeed

  "Felt music's pulse in all her arteries ";

and Dryden himself found out, when he came to try it, that blank verse
was not so easy a thing as he at first conceived it, nay, that it is the
most difficult of all verse, and that it must make up in harmony, by
variety of pause and modulation, for what it loses in the melody of
rhyme. In what makes the chief merit of his later versification, he but
rediscovered the secret of his predecessors in giving to rhymed
pentameters something of the freedom of blank verse, and not mistaking
metre for rhythm.

Voltaire, in his Commentary on Corneille, has sufficiently lamented the
awkwardness of movement imposed upon the French dramatists by the gyves
of rhyme. But he considers the necessity of overcoming this obstacle, on
the whole, an advantage. Difficulty is his tenth and superior muse. How
did Dryden, who says nearly the same thing, succeed in his attempt at the
French manner? He fell into every one of its vices, without attaining
much of what constitutes its excellence. From the nature of the language,
all French poetry is purely artificial, and its high polish is all that
keeps out decay. The length of their dramatic verse forces the French
into much tautology, into bombast in its original meaning, the stuffing
out a thought with words till it fills the line. The rigid system of
their rhyme, which makes it much harder to manage than in English, has
accustomed them to inaccuracies of thought which would shock them in
prose. For example, in the "Cinna" of Corneille, as originally written,
Emilie says to Augustus,--

  "Ces flammes dans nos coeurs dès longtemps étoient nées,
  Et ce sont des secrets de plus de quatre années."

I say nothing of the second verse, which is purely prosaic surplusage
exacted by the rhyme, nor of the jingling together of _ces, dès, étoient,
nées, des,_ and _secrets_, but I confess that _nées_ does not seem to be
the epithet that Corneille would have chosen for _flammes_, if he could
have had his own way, and that flames would seem of all things the
hardest to keep secret. But in revising, Corneille changed the first
verse thus,--

  "Ces flammes dans nos coeurs _sans votre ordre_ étoient nées."

Can anything be more absurd than flames born to order? Yet Voltaire, on
his guard against these rhyming pitfalls for the sense, does not notice
this in his minute comments on this play. Of extravagant metaphor, the
result of this same making sound the file-leader of sense, a single
example from "Heraclius" shall suffice:--

  "La vapeur de mon sang ira grossir la foudre
  Que Dieu tient déja prête à le reduire en poudre."

One cannot think of a Louis Quatorze Apollo except in a full-bottomed
periwig, and the tragic style of their poets is always showing the
disastrous influence of that portentous comet. It is the _style perruque_
in another than the French meaning of the phrase, and the skill lay in
dressing it majestically, so that, as Cibber says, "upon the head of a
man of sense, _if it became him_, it could never fail of drawing to him a
more partial regard and benevolence than could possibly be hoped for in
an ill-made one." It did not become Dryden, and he left it off.[55]

Like his own Zimri, Dryden was "all for" this or that fancy, till he took
up with another. But even while he was writing on French models, his
judgment could not be blinded to their defects. "Look upon the 'Cinna'
and the 'Pompey,' they are not so properly to be called plays as long
discourses of reason of State, and 'Polieucte' in matters of religion is
as solemn as the long stops upon our organs; ... their actors speak by
the hour-glass like our parsons.... I deny not but this may suit well
enough with the French, for as we, who are a more sullen people, come to
be diverted at our plays, so they, who are of an airy and gay temper,
come thither to make themselves more serious."[56] With what an air of
innocent unconsciousness the sarcasm is driven home!  Again, while he was
still slaving at these bricks without straw, he says: "The present French
poets are generally accused that, wheresoever they lay the scene, or in
whatever age, the manners of their heroes are wholly French. Racine's
Bajazet is bred at Constantinople, but his civilities are conveyed to him
by some secret passage from Versailles into the Seraglio." It is curious
that Voltaire, speaking of the _Bérénice_ of Racine, praises a passage in
it for precisely what Dryden condemns: "Il semble qu'on entende
_Henriette_ d'Angleterre elle-même parlant au marquis de _Vardes_. La
politesse de la cour de _Louis XIV_., l'agrément de la langue Française,
la douceur de la versification la plus naturelle, le sentiment le plus
tendre, tout se trouve dans ce peu de vers."  After Dryden had broken
away from the heroic style, he speaks out more plainly.  In the Preface
to his "All for Love," in reply to some cavils upon "little, and not
essential decencies," the decision about which he refers to a master of
ceremonies, he goes on to say: "The French poets, I confess, are strict
observers of these punctilios; ... in this nicety of manners does the
excellency of French poetry consist. Their heroes are the most civil
people breathing, but their good breeding seldom extends to a word of
sense. All their wit is in their ceremony; they want the genius which
animates our stage, and therefore 't is but necessary, when they cannot
please, that they should take care not to offend.... They are so careful
not to exasperate a critic that they never leave him any work, ... for no
part of a poem is worth our discommending where the whole is insipid, as
when we have once tasted palled wine we stay not to examine it glass by
glass. But while they affect to shine in trifles, they are often careless
in essentials.... For my part, I desire to be tried by the laws of my own
country." This is said in heat, but it is plain enough that his mind was
wholly changed. In his discourse on epic poetry he is as decided, but
more temperate. He says that the French heroic verse "runs with more
activity than strength.[57] Their language is not strung with sinews like
our English; it has the nimbleness of a greyhound, but not the bulk and
body of a mastiff. Our men and our verses overbear them by their weight,
and _pondere, non numero_, is the British motto. The French have set up
purity for the standard of their language, and a masculine vigor is that
of ours. Like their tongue is the genius of their poets,--light and
trifling in comparison of the English."[58]

Dryden might have profited by an admirable saying of his own, that "they
who would combat general authority with particular opinion must first
establish themselves a reputation of understanding better than other
men." He understood the defects much better than the beauties of the
French theatre. Lessing was even more one-sided in his judgment upon
it.[59] Goethe, with his usual wisdom, studied it carefully without
losing his temper, and tried to profit by its structural merits. Dryden,
with his eyes wide open, copied its worst faults, especially its
declamatory sentiment. He should have known that certain things can never
be transplanted, and that among these is a style of poetry whose great
excellence was that it was in perfect sympathy with the genius of the
people among whom it came into being. But the truth is, that Dryden had
no aptitude whatever for the stage, and in writing for it he was
attempting to make a trade of his genius,--an arrangement from which the
genius always withdraws in disgust. It was easier to make loose thinking
and the bad writing which betrays it pass unobserved while the ear was
occupied with the sonorous music of the rhyme to which they marched.
Except in "All for Love," "the only play," he tells us, "which he wrote
to please himself,"[60] there is no trace of real passion in any of his
tragedies. This, indeed, is inevitable, for there are no characters, but
only personages, in any except that. That is, in many respects, a noble
play, and there are few finer scenes, whether in the conception or the
carrying out, than that between Antony and Ventidius in the first

As usual, Dryden's good sense was not blind to the extravagances of his
dramatic style. In "Mac Flecknoe" he makes his own Maximin the type of
childish rant,

  "And little Maximins the gods defy";

but, as usual also, he could give a plausible reason for his own mistakes
by means of that most fallacious of all fallacies which is true so far as
it goes. In his Prologue to the "Royal Martyr" he says:--

  "And he who servilely creeps after sense
  Is safe, but ne'er will reach an excellence.
         *       *       *       *       *
  But, when a tyrant for his theme he had,
  He loosed the reins and let his muse run mad,
  And, though he stumbles in a full career,
  Yet rashness is a better fault than fear;
         *       *       *       *       *
  They then, who of each trip advantage take,
  Find out those faults which they want wit to make."

And in the Preface to the same play he tells us: "I have not everywhere
observed the equality of numbers in my verse, partly by reason of my
haste, but more especially because I _would not have my sense a slave to
syllables_." Dryden, when he had not a bad case to argue, would have had
small respect for the wit whose skill lay in the making of faults, and
has himself, where his self-love was not engaged, admirably defined the
boundary which divides boldness from rashness. What Quintilian says of
Seneca applies very aptly to Dryden: "Velles eum suo ingenio dixisse,
alieno judicio."[62] He was thinking of himself, I fancy, when he makes
Ventidius say of Antony,--

                          "He starts out wide
  And bounds into a vice that bears him far
  From his first course, and plunges him in ills;
  But, when his danger makes him find his fault,
  Quick to observe, and full of sharp remorse,
  He censures eagerly his own misdeeds,
  Judging himself with malice to himself,
  And not forgiving what as man he did
  Because his other parts are more than man."

But bad though they nearly all are as wholes, his plays contain passages
which only the great masters have surpassed, and to the level of which no
subsequent writer for the stage has ever risen. The necessity of rhyme
often forced him to a platitude, as where he says,--

  "My love was blind to your deluding art,
  But blind men feel when stabbed so near the heart."[63]

But even in rhyme he not seldom justifies his claim to the title of
"glorious John." In the very play from which I have just quoted are these
verses in his best manner:--

  "No, like his better Fortune I'll appear,
  With open arms, loose veil, and flowing hair,
  Just flying forward from her rolling sphere."

His comparisons, as I have said, are almost always happy. This, from the
"Indian Emperor," is tenderly pathetic:--

  "As callow birds,
  Whose mother's killed in seeking of the prey,
  Cry in their nest and think her long away,
  And, at each leaf that stirs, each blast of wind,
  Gape for the food which they must never find."

And this, of the anger with which the Maiden Queen, striving to hide her
jealousy, betrays her love, is vigorous:--

  "Her rage was love, and its tempestuous flame,
  Like lightning, showed the heaven from whence it came."

The following simile from the "Conquest of Grenada" is as well expressed
as it is apt in conception:--

  "I scarcely understand my own intent;
  But, silk-worm like, so long within have wrought,
  That I am lost in my own web of thought."

In the "Rival Ladies," Angelina, walking in the dark, describes her
sensations naturally and strikingly:--

  "No noise but what my footsteps make, and they
  Sound dreadfully and louder than by day:
  They double too, and every step I take
  Sounds thick, methinks, and more than one could make."

In all the rhymed plays[64] there are many passages which one is rather
inclined to like than sure he would be right in liking them. The
following verses from "Aurengzebe" are of this sort:--

  "My love was such it needed no return,
  Rich in itself, like elemental fire,
  Whose pureness does no aliment require."

This is Cowleyish, and _pureness_ is surely the wrong word; and yet it is
better than mere commonplace. Perhaps what oftenest turns the balance in
Dryden's favor, when we are weighing his claims as a poet, is his
persistent capability of enthusiasm. To the last he kindles, and
sometimes _almost_ flashes out that supernatural light which is the
supreme test of poetic genius. As he himself so finely and
characteristically says in "Aurengzebe," there was no period in his life
when it was not true of him that

  "He felt the inspiring heat, the absent god return."

The verses which follow are full of him, and, with the exception of the
single word _underwent_, are in his luckiest manner:--

  "One loose, one sally of a hero's soul,
  Does all the military art control.
  While timorous wit goes round, or fords the shore,
  He shoots the gulf, and is already o'er,
  And, when the enthusiastic fit is spent,
  Looks back amazed at what he underwent."[65]

Pithy sentences and phrases always drop from Dryden's pen as if unawares,
whether in prose or verse. I string together a few at random:--

  "The greatest argument for love is love."

  "Few know the use of life before 't is past."

  "Time gives himself and is not valued."

  "Death in itself is nothing; but we fear
  To be we know not what, we know not where."

  "Love either finds equality or makes it;
  Like death, he knows no difference in degrees."

  "That's empire, that which I can give away."

  "Yours is a soul irregularly great,
  Which, wanting temper, yet abounds in heat."

  "Forgiveness to the injured does belong,
  But they ne'er pardon who have done the wrong."

  "Poor women's thoughts are all extempore."

  "The cause of love can never be assigned,
  'T is in no face, but in the lover's mind."[66]

  "Heaven can forgive a crime to penitence,
  For Heaven can judge if penitence be true;
  But man, who knows not hearts, should make examples."

  "Kings' titles commonly begin by force,
  Which time wears off and mellows into right."

  "Fear's a large promiser; who subject live
  To that base passion, know not what they give."

  "The secret pleasure of the generous act
  Is the great mind's great bribe."

  "That bad thing, gold, buys all good things."

  "Why, love does all that's noble here below."

                      "To prove religion true,
  If either wit or sufferings could suffice,
  All faiths afford the constant and the wise."

But Dryden, as he tells us himself,

  "Grew weary of his long-loved mistress, Rhyme;
  Passion's too fierce to be in fetters bound,
  And Nature flies him like enchanted ground."

The finest things in his plays were written in blank verse, as vernacular
to him as the alexandrine to the French. In this he vindicates his claim
as a poet. His diction gets wings, and both his verse and his thought
become capable of a reach which was denied them when set in the stocks of
the couplet. The solid man becomes even airy in this new-found freedom:
Anthony says,

                           "How I loved,
  Witness ye days and nights, and all ye hours
  That _danced away with down upon your feet_."

And what image was ever more delicately exquisite, what movement more
fadingly accordant with the sense, than in the last two verses of the
following passage?

  "I feel death rising higher still and higher,
  Within my bosom; every breath I fetch
  Shuts up my life within a shorter compass,
  _And, like the vanishing sound of bells, grows less
  And less each pulse, till it be lost in air_."[67]

Nor was he altogether without pathos, though it is rare with him. The
following passage seems to me tenderly full of it:--

                           "Something like
  That voice, methinks, I should have somewhere heard;
  But floods of woe have hurried it far off
  Beyond my ken of soul."[68]

And this single verse from "Aurengzebe":--

  "Live still! oh live! live even to be unkind!"

with its passionate eagerness and sobbing repetition, is worth a
ship-load of the long-drawn treacle of modern self-compassion.

Now and then, to be sure, we come upon something that makes us hesitate
again whether, after all, Dryden was not grandiose rather than great, as
in the two passages that next follow:--

  "He looks secure of death, superior greatness,
  Like Jove when he made Fate and said, Thou art
  The slave of my creation."[69]

  "I'm pleased with my own work; Jove was not more
  With infant nature, when his spacious hand
  Had rounded this huge ball of earth and seas,
  To give it the first push and see it roll
  Along the vast abyss."[70]

I should say that Dryden is more apt to dilate our fancy than our
thought, as great poets have the gift of doing. But if he have not the
potent alchemy that transmutes the lead of our commonplace associations
into gold, as Shakespeare knows how to do so easily, yet his sense is
always up to the sterling standard; and though he has not added so much
as some have done to the stock of bullion which others afterwards coin
and put in circulation, there are few who have minted so many phrases
that are still a part of our daily currency. The first line of the
following passage has been worn pretty smooth, but the succeeding ones
are less familiar:--

  "Men are but children of a larger growth,
  Our appetites as apt to change as theirs,
  And full as craving too and full as vain;
  And yet the soul, shut up in her dark room,
  Viewing so clear abroad, at home sees nothing;
  But, like a mole in earth, busy and blind,
  Works all her folly up and casts it outward
  In the world's open view."[71]

The image is mixed and even contradictory, but the thought obtains grace
for it. I feel as if Shakespeare would have written _seeing_ for
_viewing_, thus gaining the strength of repetition in one verse and
avoiding the sameness of it in the other. Dryden, I suspect, was not much
given to correction, and indeed one of the great charms of his best
writing is that everything seems struck off at a heat, as by a superior
man in the best mood of his talk. Where he rises, he generally becomes
fervent rather than imaginative; his thought does not incorporate itself
in metaphor, as in purely poetic minds, but repeats and reinforces itself
in simile. Where he _is_ imaginative, it is in that lower sense which the
poverty of our language, for want of a better word, compels us to call
_picturesque_, and even then he shows little of that finer instinct which
suggests so much more than it tells, and works the more powerfully as it
taxes more the imagination of the reader. In Donne's "Relic" there is an
example of what I mean. He fancies some one breaking up his grave and

  "A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,"--

a verse that still shines there in the darkness of the tomb, after two
centuries, like one of those inextinguishable lamps whose secret is
lost.[72] Yet Dryden sometimes showed a sense of this magic of a
mysterious hint, as in the "Spanish Friar":--

  "No, I confess, you bade me not in words;
  The dial spoke not, but it made shrewd signs,
  And pointed full upon the stroke of murder."

This is perhaps a solitary example. Nor is he always so possessed by the
image in his mind as unconsciously to choose even the picturesquely
imaginative word. He has done so, however, in this passage from "Marriage
à la Mode":--

  "You ne'er mast hope again to see your princess,
  Except as prisoners view fair walks and streets,
  And careless passengers going by their grates."

But after all, he is best upon a level, table-land, it is true, and a
very high level, but still somewhere between the loftier peaks of
inspiration and the plain of every-day life. In those passages where he
moralizes he is always good, setting some obvious truth in a new light by
vigorous phrase and happy illustration. Take this (from "Oedipus") as a
proof of it:--

                  "The gods are just,
  But how can finite measure infinite?
  Reason! alas, it does not know itself!
  Yet man, vain man, would with his short-lined plummet
  Fathom the vast abyss of heavenly justice.
  Whatever is, is in its causes just,
  Since all things are by fate. But purblind man
  Sees but a part o' th' chain, the nearest links,
  His eyes not carrying to that equal beam
  That poises all above."

From the same play I pick an illustration of that ripened sweetness of
thought and language which marks the natural vein of Dryden. One cannot
help applying the passage to the late Mr. Quincy:--

  "Of no distemper, of no blast he died,
  But fell like autumn fruit that mellowed long,
  E'en wondered at because he dropt no sooner;
  Fate seemed to wind him up for fourscore years;
  Yet freshly ran he on ten winters more,
  Till, like a clock worn out with eating Time,
  The wheels of weary life at last stood still."[73]

Here is another of the same kind from "All for Love":--

                    "Gone so soon!
  Is Death no more? He used him carelessly,
  With a familiar kindness; ere he knocked,
  Ran to the door and took him in his arms,
  As who should say, You're welcome at all hours,
  A friend need give no warning."

With one more extract from the same play, which is in every way his best,
for he had, when he wrote it, been feeding on the bee-bread of
Shakespeare, I shall conclude. Antony says,

  "For I am now so sunk from what I was,
  Thou find'st me at my lowest water-mark.
  The rivers that ran in and raised my fortunes
  Are all dried up, or take another course:
  What I have left is from my native spring;
  I've a heart still that swells in scorn of Fate,
  And lifts me to my banks."

This is certainly, from beginning to end, in what used to be called the
_grand_ style, at once noble and natural. I have not undertaken to
analyze any one of the plays, for (except in "All for Love") it would
have been only to expose their weakness. Dryden had _no_ constructive
faculty; and in every one of his longer poems that required a plot, the
plot is bad, always more or less inconsistent with itself, and rather
hitched-on to the subject than combining with it. It is fair to say,
however, before leaving this part of Dryden's literary work, that Horne
Tooke thought "Don Sebastian" "the best play extant."[74]

Gray admired the plays of Dryden, "not as dramatic compositions, but as
poetry."[75] "There are as many things finely said in his plays as almost
by anybody," said Pope to Spence. Of their rant, their fustian, their
bombast, their bad English, of their innumerable sins against Dryden's
own better conscience both as poet and critic, I shall excuse myself from
giving any instances.[76] I like what is good in Dryden so much, and it
_is_ so good, that I think Gray was justified in always losing his temper
when he heard "his faults criticised."[77]

It is as a satirist and pleader in verse that Dryden is best known, and
as both he is in some respects unrivalled. His satire is not so sly as
Chaucer's, but it is distinguished by the same good-nature. There is no
malice in it. I shall not enter into his literary quarrels further than
to say that he seems to me, on the whole, to have been forbearing, which
is the more striking as he tells us repeatedly that he was naturally
vindictive. It was he who called revenge "the darling attribute of
heaven." "I complain not of their lampoons and libels, though I have been
the public mark for many years. I am vindictive enough to have repelled
force by force, if I could imagine that any of them had ever reached me."
It was this feeling of easy superiority, I suspect, that made him the
mark for so much jealous vituperation. Scott is wrong in attributing his
onslaught upon Settle to jealousy because one of the latter's plays had
been performed at Court,--an honor never paid to any of Dryden's.[78] I
have found nothing like a trace of jealousy in that large and benignant
nature. In his vindication of the "Duke of Guise," he says, with honest
confidence in himself: "Nay, I durst almost refer myself to some of the
angry poets on the other side, whether I have not rather countenanced and
assisted their beginnings than hindered them from rising." He seems to
have been really as indifferent to the attacks on himself as Pope
pretended to be. In the same vindication he says of the "Rehearsal," the
only one of them that had any wit in it, and it has a great deal: "Much
less am I concerned at the noble name of Bayes; that's a brat so like his
own father that he cannot be mistaken for any other body. They might as
reasonably have called Tom Sternhold Virgil, and the resemblance would
have held as well." In his Essay on Satire he says: "And yet we know that
in Christian charity all offences are to be forgiven as we expect the
like pardon for those we daily commit against Almighty God. And this
consideration has often made me tremble when I was saying our Lord's
Prayer; for the plain condition of the forgiveness which we beg is the
pardoning of others the offences which they have done to us; for which
reason I have many times avoided the commission of that fault, even when
I have been notoriously provoked."[79] And in another passage he says,
with his usual wisdom: "Good sense and good-nature are never separated,
though the ignorant world has thought otherwise. Good-nature, by which I
mean beneficence and candor, is the product of right reason, which of
necessity will give allowance to the failings of others, by considering
that there is nothing perfect in mankind." In the same Essay he gives his
own receipt for satire: "How easy it is to call rogue and villain, and
that wittily! but how hard to make a man appear a fool, a blockhead, or a
knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms!... This is the
mystery of that noble trade.... Neither is it true that this fineness of
raillery is offensive: a witty man is tickled while he is hurt in this
manner, and a fool feels it not.... There is a vast difference between
the slovenly butchering of a man and the fineness of a stroke that
separates the head from the body, and leaves it standing in its place. A
man may be capable, as Jack Ketch's wife said of his servant, of a plain
piece of work, of a bare hanging; but to make a malefactor die sweetly
was only belonging to her husband. I wish I could apply it to myself, if
the reader would be kind enough to think it belongs to me. The character
of Zimri in my 'Absalom' is, in my opinion, worth the whole poem. It is
not bloody, but it is ridiculous enough, and he for whom it was intended
was too witty to resent it as an injury.... I avoided the mention of
great crimes, and applied myself to the representing of blind sides and
little extravagances, to which, the wittier a man is, he is genrally the
more obnoxious."

Dryden thought his genius led him that way. In his elegy on the satirist
Oldham, whom Hallam, without reading him, I suspect, ranks next to
Dryden,[80] he says:--

  "For sure our souls were near allied, and thine
  Cast in the same poetic mould with mine;
  One common note in either lyre did strike,
  And knaves and fools we both abhorred alike."

His practice is not always so delicate as his theory; but if he was
sometimes rough, he never took a base advantage. He knocks his antagonist
down, and there an end. Pope seems to have nursed his grudge, and then,
watching his chance, to have squirted vitriol from behind a corner,
rather glad than otherwise if it fell on the women of those he hated or
envied. And if Dryden is never dastardly, as Pope often was, so also he
never wrote anything so maliciously depreciatory as Pope's unprovoked
attack on Addison. Dryden's satire is often coarse, but where it is
coarsest, it is commonly in defence of himself against attacks that were
themselves brutal. Then, to be sure, he snatches the first ready cudgel,
as in Shadwell's case, though even then there is something of the
good-humor of conscious strength. Pope's provocation was too often the
mere opportunity to say a biting thing, where he could do it safely. If
his victim showed fight, he tried to smooth things over, as with Dennis.
Dryden could forget that he had ever had a quarrel, but he never slunk
away from any, least of all from one provoked by himself.[81] Pope's
satire is too much occupied with the externals of manners, habits,
personal defects, and peculiarities. Dryden goes right to the rooted
character of the man, to the weaknesses of his nature, as where he says
of Burnet:--

  "Prompt to assail, and careless of defence,
  Invulnerable in his impudence,
  He dares the world, and, eager of a name,
  He thrusts about and _justles into fame_.
  So fond of loud report that, not to miss
  Of being known (his last and utmost bliss),
  _He rather would be known for what he is_."

It would be hard to find in Pope such compression of meaning as in the
first, or such penetrative sarcasm as in the second of the passages I
have underscored. Dryden's satire is still quoted for its
comprehensiveness of application, Pope's rather for the elegance of its
finish and the point of its phrase than for any deeper qualities.[82] I
do not remember that Dryden ever makes poverty a reproach.[83] He was
above it, alike by generosity of birth and mind. Pope is always the
_parvenu_, always giving himself the airs of a fine gentleman, and, like
Horace Walpole and Byron, affecting superiority to professional
literature. Dryden, like Lessing, was a hack-writer, and was proud, as an
honest man has a right to be, of being able to get his bread by his
brains. He lived in Grub Street all his life, and never dreamed that
where a man of genius lived was not the best quarter of the town. "Tell
his Majesty," said sturdy old Jonson, "that his soul lives in an alley."

Dryden's prefaces are a mine of good writing and judicious criticism. His
_obiter dicta_ have often the penetration, and always more than the
equity, of Voltaire's, for Dryden never loses temper, and never
altogether qualifies his judgment by his self-love. "He was a more
universal writer than Voltaire," said Horne Tooke, and perhaps it is true
that he had a broader view, though his learning was neither so extensive
nor so accurate. My space will not afford many extracts, but I cannot
forbear one or two. He says of Chaucer, that "he is a perpetual fountain
of good sense,"[84] and likes him better than Ovid,--a bold confession in
that day. He prefers the pastorals of Theocritus to those of Virgil.
"Virgil's shepherds are too well read in the philosophy of Epicurus and
of Plato"; "there is a kind of rusticity in all those pompous verses,
somewhat of a holiday shepherd strutting in his country buskins";[85]
"Theocritus is softer than Ovid, he touches the passions more delicately,
and performs all this out of his own fund, without diving into the arts
and sciences for a supply. Even his Doric dialect has an incomparable
sweetness in his clownishness, like a fair shepherdess, in her country
russet, talking in a Yorkshire tone."[86] Comparing Virgil's verse with
that of some other poets, he says, that his "numbers are perpetually
varied to increase the delight of the reader, so that the same sounds are
never repeated twice together. On the contrary, Ovid and Claudian, though
they write in styles different from each other, yet have each of them but
one sort of music in their verses. All the versification and little
variety of Claudian is included within the compass of four or five lines,
and then he begins again in the same tenor, perpetually closing his sense
at the end of a verse, and that verse commonly which they call golden, or
two substantives and two adjectives with a verb betwixt them to keep the
peace. Ovid, with all his sweetness, has as little variety of numbers and
sound as he; he is always, as it were, upon the hand-gallop, and his
verse runs upon carpet-ground."[87] What a dreary half-century would have
been saved to English poetry, could Pope have laid these sentences to
heart! Upon translation, no one has written so much and so well as Dryden
in his various prefaces. Whatever has been said since is either expansion
or variation of what he had said before. His general theory may be stated
as an aim at something between the literalness of metaphrase and the
looseness of paraphase. "Where I have enlarged," he says, "I desire the
false critics would not always think that those thoughts are wholly mine,
but either _they are secretly in the poet_, or may be fairly deduced from
him." Coleridge, with his usual cleverness of _assimilation_, has
condensed him in a letter to Wordsworth: "There is no medium between a
prose version and one on the avowed principle of _compensation_ in the
widest sense, i.e. manner, genius, total effect."[88]

I have selected these passages, not because they are the best, but
because they have a near application to Dryden himself. His own
characterization of Chaucer (though too narrow for the greatest but one
of English poets) is the best that could be given of himself: "He is a
perpetual fountain of good sense." And the other passages show him a
close and open-minded student of the art he professed. Has his influence
on our literature, but especially on our poetry, been on the whole for
good or evil? If he could have been read with the liberal understanding
which he brought to the works of others, I should answer at once that it
had been beneficial. But his translations and paraphrases, in some ways
the best things he did, were done, like his plays, under contract to
deliver a certain number of verses for a specified sum. The
versification, of which he had learned the art by long practice, is
excellent, but his haste has led him to fill out the measure of lines
with phrases that add only to dilute, and thus the clearest, the most
direct, the most manly versifier of his time became, without meaning it,
the source (_fons et origo malorum_) of that poetic diction from which
our poetry has not even yet recovered. I do not like to say it, but he
has sometimes smothered the childlike simplicity of Chaucer under
feather-beds of verbiage. What this kind of thing came to in the next
century, when everybody ceremoniously took a bushel-basket to bring a
wren's egg to market in, is only too sadly familiar. It is clear that his
natural taste led Dryden to prefer directness and simplicity of style. If
he was too often tempted astray by Artifice, his love of Nature betrays
itself in many an almost passionate outbreak of angry remorse. Addison
tells us that he took particular delight in the reading of our old
English ballads. What he valued above all things was Force, though in his
haste he is willing to make a shift with its counterfeit, Effect. As
usual, he had a good reason to urge for what he did: "I will not excuse,
but justify myself for one pretended crime for which I am liable to be
charged by false critics, not only in this translation, but in many of my
original poems,--that I Latinize too much. It is true that when I find an
English word significant and sounding, I neither borrow from the Latin or
any other language; but when I want at home I must seek abroad. If
sounding words are not of our growth and manufacture, who shall hinder me
to import them from a foreign country? I carry not out the treasure of
the nation which is never to return; but what I bring from Italy I spend
in England: here it remains, and here it circulates; for if the coin be
good, it will pass from one hand to another. I trade both with the living
and the dead for the enrichment of our native language. We have enough in
England to supply our necessity; but if we will have things of
magnificence and splendor, we must get them by commerce.... Therefore, if
I find a word in a classic author, I propose it to be naturalized by
using it myself, and if the public approve of it the bill passes. But
every man cannot distinguish betwixt pedantry and poetry; every man,
therefore, is not fit to innovate."[89] This is admirably said, and with
Dryden's accustomed penetration to the root of the matter. The Latin has
given us most of our canorous words, only they must not be confounded
with merely sonorous ones, still less with phrases that, instead of
supplementing the sense, encumber it. It was of Latinizing in this sense
that Dryden was guilty. Instead of stabbing, he "with steel invades the
life." The consequence was that by and by we have Dr. Johnson's poet,
Savage, telling us,--

  "In front, a parlor meets my entering view,
  Opposed a room to sweet refection due";

Dr. Blacklock making a forlorn maiden say of her "dear," who is out

  "Or by some apoplectic fit deprest
  Perhaps, alas! he seeks eternal rest";

and Mr. Bruce, in a Danish war-song, calling on the vikings to "assume
their oars." But it must be admitted of Dryden that he seldom makes the
second verse of a couplet the mere trainbearer to the first, as Pope was
continually doing. In Dryden the rhyme waits upon the thought; in Pope
and his school the thought courtesies to the tune for which it is

Dryden has also been blamed for his gallicisms.[90] He tried some, it is
true, but they have not been accepted.

I do not think he added a single word to the language; unless, as I
suspect, he first used _magnetism_ in its present sense of moral
attraction. What he did in his best writing was to use the English as if
it were a spoken, and not merely an inkhorn language; as if it were his
own to do what he pleased with it, as if it need not be ashamed of

In this respect, his service to our prose was greater than any other man
has ever rendered. He says he formed his style upon Tillotson's (Bossuet,
on the other hand, formed _his_ upon Corneille's); but I rather think he
got it at Will's, for its great charm is that it has the various freedom
of talk.[92] In verse, he had a pomp which, excellent in itself, became
pompousness in his imitators. But he had nothing of Milton's ear for
various rhythm and interwoven harmony. He knew how to give new
modulation, sweetness, and force to the pentameter; but in what used to
be called pindarics, I am heretic enough to think he generally failed.
His so much praised "Alexander's Feast" (in parts of it, at least) has no
excuse for its slovenly metre and awkward expression, but that it was
written for music. He himself tells us, in the epistle dedicatory to
"King Arthur," "that the numbers of poetry and vocal music are sometimes
so contrary, that in many places I have been obliged to cramp my verses
and make them ragged to the reader that they may be harmonious to the
hearer." His renowned ode suffered from this constraint, but this is no
apology for the vulgarity of conception in too many passages.[93]

Dryden's conversion to Romanism has been commonly taken for granted as
insincere, and has therefore left an abiding stain on his character,
though the other mud thrown at him by angry opponents or rivals brushed
off so soon as it was dry. But I think his change of faith susceptible of
several explanations, none of them in any way discreditable to him. Where
Church and State are habitually associated, it is natural that minds even
of a high order should unconsciously come to regard religion as only a
subtler mode of police.[94] Dryden, conservative by nature, had
discovered before Joseph de Maistre, that Protestantism, so long as it
justified its name by continuing to be an active principle, was the
abettor of Republicanism. I think this is hinted in more than one passage
in his preface to "The Hind and Panther." He may very well have preferred
Romanism because of its elder claim to authority in all matters of
doctrine, but I think he had a deeper reason in the constitution of his
own mind. That he was "naturally inclined to scepticism in philosophy,"
he tells us of himself in the preface to the "Religio Laici"; but he was
a sceptic with an imaginative side, and in such characters scepticism and
superstition play into each other's hands. This finds a curious
illustration in a letter to his sons, written four years before his
death: "Towards the latter end of this month, September, Charles will
begin to recover his perfect health, according to his Nativity, which,
casting it myself, I am sure is true, and all things hitherto have
happened accordingly to the very time that I predicted them." Have we
forgotten Montaigne's votive offerings at the shrine of Loreto?

Dryden was short of body, inclined to stoutness, and florid of
complexion. He is said to have had "a sleepy eye," but was handsome and
of a manly carriage. He "was not a very genteel man, he was intimate with
none but poetical men.[95] He was said to be a very good man by all that
knew him: he was as plump as Mr. Pitt, of a fresh color and a down look,
and not very conversible." So Pope described him to Spence. He still
reigns in literary tradition, as when at Will's his elbow-chair had the
best place by the fire in winter, or on the balcony in summer, and when a
pinch from his snuff-box made a young author blush with pleasure as would
now-a-days a favorable notice in the "Saturday Review." What gave and
secures for him this singular eminence? To put it in a single word, I
think that his qualities and faculties were in that rare combination
which makes character. This gave _flavor_ to whatever he wrote,--a very
rare quality.

Was he, then, a great poet? Hardly, in the narrowest definition. But he
was a strong thinker who sometimes carried common sense to a height where
it catches the light of a diviner air, and warmed reason till it had
wellnigh the illuminating property of intuition. Certainly he is not,
like Spenser, the poets' poet, but other men have also their rights. Even
the Philistine is a man and a brother, and is entirely right so far as he
sees. To demand more of him is to be unreasonable. And he sees, among
other things, that a man who undertakes to write should first have a
meaning perfectly defined to himself, and then should be able to set it
forth clearly in the best words. This is precisely Dryden's praise,[96]
and amid the rickety sentiment looming big through misty phrase which
marks so much of modern literature, to read him is as bracing as a
northwest wind. He blows the mind clear. In ripeness of mind and bluff
heartiness of expression, he takes rank with the best. His phrase is
always a short-cut to his sense, for his estate was too spacious for him
to need that trick of winding the path of his thought about, and planting
it out with clumps of epithet, by which the landscape-gardeners of
literature give to a paltry half-acre the air of a park. In poetry, to be
next-best is, in one sense, to be nothing; and yet to be among the first
in any kind of writing, as Dryden certainly was, is to be one of a very
small company. He had, beyond most, the gift of the right word. And if he
does not, like one or two of the greater masters of song, stir our
sympathies by that indefinable aroma so magical in arousing the subtile
associations of the soul, he has this in common with the few great
writers, that the winged seeds of his thought embed themselves in the
memory and germinate there. If I could be guilty of the absurdity of
recommending to a young man any author on whom to form his style, I
should tell him that, next to having something that will not stay unsaid,
he could find no safer guide than Dryden.

Cowper, in a letter to Mr. Unwin (5th January, 1782), expresses what I
think is the common feeling about Dryden, that, with all his defects, he
had that indefinable something we call Genius. "But I admire Dryden most
[he had been speaking of Pope], who has succeeded by mere dint of genius,
and in spite of a laziness and a carelessness almost peculiar to himself.
His faults are numberless, and so are his beauties. His faults are those
of a great man, and his beauties are such (at least sometimes) as Pope
with all his touching and retouching could never equal." But, after all,
perhaps no man has summed him up so well as John Dennis, one of Pope's
typical dunces, a dull man outside of his own sphere, as men are apt to
be, but who had some sound notions as a critic, and thus became the
object of Pope's fear and therefore of his resentment. Dennis speaks of
him as his "departed friend, whom I infinitely esteemed when living for
the solidity of his thought, for the spring and the warmth and the
beautiful turn of it; for the power and variety and fulness of his
harmony; for the purity, the perspicuity, the energy of his expression;
and, whenever these great qualities are required, for the pomp and
solemnity and majesty of his style."[97]


    [1] The Dramatick Works of John Dryden, Esq. In six volumes. London:
    Printed for Jacob Tonson, in the Strand. MDCCXXXV. 18mo.

    The Critical and Miscellaneous Prose-Works of John Dryden, now first
    collected. With Notes and Illustrations. An Account of the Life and
    Writings of the Author, grounded on Original and Authentick
    Documents; and a Collection of his Letters, the greatest Part of
    which has never before been published. By Edmund Malone, Esq. London:
    T. Cadell and W. Davies, in the Strand. 4 vols. 8vo.

    The Poetical Works of John Dryden. (Edited by Mitford.) London: W.
    Pickering. 1832. 6 vols. 18mo.

    [2] His "Character of a Happy Warrior" (1806), one of his noblest
    poems, has a dash of Dryden in it,--still more his "Epistle to Sir
    George Beaumont (1811)."

    [3] He studied Dryden's versification before writing his "Lamia."

    [4] On the Origin and Progress of Satire. See Johnson's
    counter-opinion in his life of Dryden.

    [5] Essay on Dramatick Posey.

    [6] Life of Lucian.

    [7] "The great man must have that intellect which puts in motion the
    intellect of others."--Landor, _Im. Con._, Diogenes and Plato.

    [8] Character of Polybius (1692).

    [9] "For my own part, who must confess it to my shame that I never
    read anything but for pleasure." Life of Plutarch (1683).

    [10] Gray says petulantly enough that "Dryden was as disgraceful to
    the office, from his character, as the poorest scribbler could have
    been from his verses."--Gray to Mason, 19th December, 1757.

    [11] Essay on the Origin and Progress of Satire.

    [12] Dedication of the Georgics.

    [13] Dryden's penetration is always remarkable. His general judgment
    of Polybius coincides remarkably with that of Mommsen. (Röm. Gesch.
    II. 448, _seq_.)

    [14] "I have taken some pains to make it my masterpiece in English."
    Preface to Second Miscellany. Fox said that it "was better than the
    original." J.C. Scaliger said of Erasmus: "Ex alieno ingenio poeta,
    ex suo versificator."

    [15] In one of the last letters he ever wrote, thanking his cousin
    Mrs. Steward for a gift of marrow-puddings, he says: "A chine of
    honest bacon would please my appetite more than all the
    marrow-puddings; for I like them better plain, having a very vulgar
    stomach." So of Cowley he says: "There was plenty enough, but ill
    sorted, whole pyramids of sweetmeats for boys and women, but little
    of solid meat for men." The physical is a truer antitype of the
    spiritual man than we are willing to admit, and the brain is often
    forced to acknowledge the inconvenient country-cousinship of the

    [16] In his preface to "All for Love," he says, evidently alluding to
    himself: "If he have a friend whose hastiness in writing is his
    greatest fault, Horace would have taught him to have minced the
    matter, and to have called it readiness of thought and a flowing
    fancy." And in the Preface to the Fables he says of Homer: "This
    vehemence of his, I confess, is more suitable to my temper." He makes
    other allusions to it.

    [17] Preface to the Fables.

    [18] _Wool_ is Sylvester's word. Dryden reminds us of Burke in this
    also, that he always quotes from memory and seldom exactly. His
    memory was better for things than for words. This helps to explain
    the length of time it took him to master that vocabulary at last so
    various, full, and seemingly extemporaneous. He is a large quoter,
    though, with his usual inconsistency, he says, "I am no admirer of
    quotations." (Essay on Heroic Plays.)

    [19] In the _Epimetheus_ of a poet usually as elegant as Gray
    himself, one's finer sense is a little jarred by the

      "Spectral gleam their snow-white _dresses_."

    [20] This probably suggested to Young the grandiose image in his
    "Last Day" (B. ii.):--

      "Those overwhelming armies....
      Whose rear lay wrapt in night, while breaking dawn
      Roused the broad front and called the battle on."

    This, to be sure, is no plagiarism; but it should be carried to
    Dryden's credit that we catch the poets of the next half-century
    oftener with their hands in his pockets than in those of any one

    [21] Essay on Satire.

    [22] Ibid.

    [23] Preface to Fables. Men are always inclined to revenge themselves
    on their old idols in the first enthusiasm of conversion to a purer
    faith. Cowley had all the faults that Dryden loads him with, and yet
    his popularity was to some extent deserved. He at least had a theory
    that poetry should soar, not creep, and longed for some expedient, in
    the failure of natural wings, by which he could lift himself away
    from the conventional and commonplace. By beating out the substance
    of Pindar very thin, he contrived a kind of balloon which, tumid with
    gas, did certainly mount a little, _into_ the clouds, if not above
    them, though sure to come suddenly down with a bump. His odes,
    indeed, are an alternation of upward jerks and concussions, and smack
    more of Chapelain than of the Theban, but his prose is very
    agreeable,--Montaigne and water, perhaps, but with some flavor of the
    Gascon wine left. The strophe of his ode to Dr. Scarborough, in which
    he compares his surgical friend, operating for the stone, to Moses
    striking the rock, more than justifies all the ill that Dryden could
    lay at his door. It was into precisely such mud-holes that Cowley's
    Will-o'-the-Wisp had misguided him. Men may never wholly shake off a
    vice but they are always conscious of it, and hate the tempter.

    [24] Dedication of Georgics.

    [25] In a letter to Dennis, 1693.

    [26] Preface to Fables.

    [27] More than half a century later, Orrery, in his "Remarks" on
    Swift, says: "We speak and we write at random; and if a man's common
    conversation were committed to paper, he would be startled _for_ _to_
    find himself guilty in _so few_ sentences of so many solecisms and
    such false English." I do not remember _for to_ anywhere in Dryden's
    prose. _So few_ has long been denizened; no wonder, since it is
    nothing more than _si peu_ Anglicized.

    [28] Letter to the Lord High Treasurer.

    [29] Ibid. He complains of "manglings and abbreviations." "What does
    your Lordship think of the words drudg'd, disturb'd, rebuk'd,
    fledg'd, and a thousand others?" In a contribution to the "Tatler"
    (No. 230) he ridicules the use of _'um_ for _them_, and a number of
    slang Footnote: phrases, among which is _mob_. "The war," he says,
    "has introduced abundance of polysyllables, which will never be able
    to live many more campaigns." _Speculations, operations,
    preliminaries, ambassadors, pallisadoes, communication,
    circumvallation, battalions_, are the instances he gives, and all are
    now familiar. No man, or body of men, can dam the stream of language.
    Dryden is rather fond of _'em_ for _them_, but uses it rarely in his
    prose. Swift himself prefers _'tis_ to _it is_, as does Emerson
    still. In what Swift says of the poets, he may be fairly suspected of
    glancing at Dryden, who was his kinsman, and whose prefaces and
    translation of Virgil he ridicules in the "Tale of a Tub." Dryden is
    reported to have said of him, "Cousin Swift is no poet." The Dean
    began his literary career by Pindaric odes to Athenian Societies and
    the like,--perhaps the greatest mistake as to his own powers of which
    an author was ever guilty. It was very likely that he would send
    these to his relative, already distinguished, for his opinion upon
    them. If this was so, the justice of Dryden's judgment must have
    added to the smart. Swift never forgot or forgave: Dryden was
    careless enough to do the one, and large enough to do the other.

    [30] Both Malone and Scott accept this gentleman's evidence without
    question, but I confess suspicion of a memory that runs back more
    than eighty-one years, and recollects a man before he had any claim
    to remembrance. Dryden was never poor, and there is at Oxford a
    portrait of him painted in 1664, which represents him in a superb
    periwig and laced band. This was "before he had paid his court with
    success to the great." But the story is at least _ben trovato_, and
    morally true enough to serve as an illustration. Who the "old
    gentleman" was has never been discovered. Of Crowne (who has some
    interest for us as a sometime student at Harvard) he says: "Many a
    cup of metheglm have I drank with little starch'd Johnny Crown; we
    called him so, from the stiff, unalterable primness of his long
    cravat." Crowne reflects no more credit on his Alma Mater than
    Downing. Both were sneaks, and of such a kind as, I think, can only
    be produced by a debauched Puritanism. Crowne, as a rival of Dryden,
    is contemptuously alluded to by Cibber in his "Apology."

    [31] Diary, III. 390. Almost the only notices of Dryden that make him
    alive to me I have found in the delicious book of this
    Polonius-Montaigne, the only man who ever had the courage to keep a
    sincere journal, even under the shelter of cipher.

    [32] Tale of a Tub, Sect. V. Pepys also speaks of buying the "Maiden
    Queen" of Mr. Dryden's, which he himself, in his preface, seems to
    brag of, and indeed is a good play.--18th January, 1668.

    [33] He is fond of this image. In the "Maiden Queen" Celadon tells
    Sabina that, when he is with her rival Florimel, his heart is still
    her prisoner, "it only draws a longer chain after it." Goldsmith's
    fancy was taken by it; and everybody admires in the "Traveller" the
    extraordinary conceit of a heart dragging a lengthening chain. The
    smoothness of too many rhymed pentameters is that of thin ice over
    shallow water; so long as we glide along rapidly, all is well; but if
    we dwell a moment on any one spot, we may find ourselves knee-deep in
    mud. A later poet, in trying to improve on Goldsmith, shows the
    ludicrousness of the image:--

      "And round my heart's leg ties its galling chain."

    To write imaginatively a man should have--imagination!

    [34] See his epistle dedicatory to the "Rival Ladies" (1664). For the
    other side, see particularly a passage in his "Discourse on Epic
    Poetry" (1697).

    [35] In the same way he had two years before assumed that Shakespeare
    "was the first who, to shun the pains of continued rhyming, invented
    that kind of writing which we call blank verse!" Dryden was never, I
    suspect, a very careful student of English literature. He seems never
    to have known that Surrey translated a part of the "Aeneid" (and with
    great spirit) into blank verse. Indeed, he was not a scholar, in the
    proper sense of the word, but he had that faculty of rapid
    assimilation without study, so remarkable in Coleridge and other rich
    minds, whose office is rather to impregnate than to invent. These
    brokers of thought perform a great office in literature, second only
    to that of originators.

    [36] Essay on Satire. What he has said just before this about Butler
    is worth noting. Butler had had a chief hand in the "Rehearsal," but
    Dryden had no grudges where the question was of giving its just
    praise to merit.

    [37] The conclusion of the second canto of Book Third is the best
    continuously fine passage. Dryden's poem has nowhere so much meaning
    in so small space as Davenant, when he says of the sense of honor

      "Like Power, it grows to nothing, growing less."

    Davenant took the hint of the stanza from Sir John Davies. Wyatt
    first used it, so far as I know, in English.

    [38] Perhaps there is no better lecture on the prevailing vices of
    style and thought (if thought this frothy ferment of the mind may be
    called) than in Cotton Mather's "Magnalia." For Mather, like a true
    provincial, appropriates only the mannerism, and, as is usual in such
    cases, betrays all its weakness by the unconscious parody of

    [39] The Doctor was a capital judge of the substantial value of the
    goods he handled, but his judgment always seems that of the thumb and
    forefinger. For the shades, the disposition of colors, the beauty of
    the figures, he has as good as no sense whatever. The critical parts
    of his Life of Dryden seem to me the best of his writing in this
    kind. There is little to be gleaned after him. He had studied his
    author, which he seldom did, and his criticism is sympathetic, a
    thing still rarer with him. As illustrative of his own habits, his
    remarks on Dryden's reading are curious.

    [40] Perhaps the hint was given by a phrase of Corneille, _monarque
    en peinture_. Dryden seldom borrows, unless from Shakespeare, without
    improving, and he borrowed a great deal. Thus in "Don Sebastian" of

      "Brutus and Cato might discharge their souls,
      And give them furloughs for the other world;
      But we, like sentries, are obliged to stand
      In starless nights and wait the appointed hour."

    The thought is Cicero's, but how it is intensified by the "starless
    nights"! Dryden, I suspect, got it from his favorite, Montaigne, who
    says, "Que nous ne pouvons abandonner cette garnison du monde, sans
    le commandement exprez de celuy qui nous y a mis." (L. ii. chap. 3.)
    In the same play, by a very Drydenish verse, he gives new force to an
    old comparison:--

      "And I should break through laws divine and human.
      And think 'em cobwebs spread for little man,
      _Which all the bulky herd of Nature breaks_."

    [41] Not his solemn historical droning under that title, but
    addressed "To the Cambrio-Britons on their harp."

    [42] "Les poëtes euxmêmes s'animent et s'échauffent par la lecture
    des autres poëtes. Messieurs de Malherbe, Corneille, &c., se
    disposoient au travail par la lecture des poëtes qui étoient de leur
    gout."--Vigneul, Marvilliana, I. 64, 65.

    [43] For example, Waller had said,

      "Others may use the ocean as their road,
      Only the English _make it their abode_;
             *       *       *       *       *
      We _tread on billows with a steady foot_"--

    long before Campbell. Campbell helps himself to both thoughts,
    enlivens them into

      "Her march is o'er the mountain wave,
      Her home is on the deep,"

    and they are his forevermore. His "leviathans afloat" he _lifted_
    from the "Annus Mirabilis"; but in what court could Dryden sue?
    Again, Waller in another poem calls the Duke of York's flag

      "His dreadful streamer, like a comet's hair";

    and this, I believe, is the first application of the celestial
    portent to this particular comparison. Yet Milton's "imperial ensign"
    waves defiant behind his impregnable lines, and even Campbell flaunts
    his "meteor flag" in Waller's face. Gray's bard might be sent to the
    lock-up, but even he would find bail.

      "C'est imiter quelqu'un que de planter des choux."

    [44] Corneille's tragedy of "Pertharite" was acted unsuccessfully in
    1659. Racine made free use of it in his more fortunate "Andromaque."

    [45] Dryden's publisher.

    [46] Preface to the Fables.

    [47] I interpret some otherwise ambiguous passages in this charming
    and acute essay by its title: "On the _artificial_ comedy of the last

    [48] See especially his defence of the epilogue to the Second Part of
    the "Conquest of Granada" (1672).

    [49] Defence of an Essay on Dramatick Poesy.

    [50] "The favor which heroick plays have lately found upon our
    theatres has been wholly derived to them from the countenance and
    approbation they have received at Court." (Dedication of "Indian
    Emperor" to Duchess of Monmouth.)

    [51] Dedication of "Rival Ladies."

    [52] Defence of the Essay. Dryden, in the happiness of his
    illustrative comparisons, is almost unmatched. Like himself, they
    occupy a middle ground between poetry and prose,--they are a cross
    between metaphor and simile.

    [53] Discoveries.

    [54] What a wretched rhymer he could be we may see in his
    _alteration_ of the "Maid's Tragedy" of Beaumont and Fletcher:--

      "Not long since walking in the field,
      My nurse and I, we there beheld
      A goodly fruit; which, tempting me,
      I would have plucked: but, trembling, she,
      Whoever eat those berries, cried,
      In less than half an hour died!"

    What intolerable seesaw! Not much of Byron's "fatal facility" in
    _these_ octosyllabics!

    [55] In more senses than one.  His last and best portrait shows him
    in his own gray hair.

    [56] Essay on Dramatick Poesy.

    [57]  A French hendecasyllable verse runs exactly like our ballad

      A cobbler there was and he lived in a stall, ...
      _La raison, pour marcher, n'a souvent qu'une voye._

    (Dryden's note.)

    The verse is not a hendecasyllable. "Attended watchfully to her
    recitative (Mile. Duchesnois), and find that, in nine lines out of
    ten, 'A cobbler there was,' &c, is the tune of the French
    heroics."--_Moore's Diary_, 24th April, 1821.

    [58] "The language of the age is never the language of poetry, except
    among the French, whose verse, where the thought or image does not
    support it, differs in nothing from prose."--Gray to West.

    [59] Diderot and Rousseau, however, thought their language unfit for
    poetry, and Voltaire seems to have half agreed with them. No one has
    expressed this feeling more neatly than Fauriel: "Nul doute que l'on
    ne puisse dire en prose des choses éminemment poétiques, tout comme
    il n'est que trop certain que l'on peut en dire de fort prosaiques en
    vers, et même en excellents vers, en vers élégamment tournés, et en
    beau langage. C'est un fait dont je n'ai pas besoin d'indiquer
    d'exemples: aucune littérature n'en fournirait autant que le
    nôtre."--Hist. de la Poésie Provençale, II. 237.

    [60] Parallel of Poetry and Painting.

    [61] "Il y a seulement la scène de _Ventidius_ et d'_Antoine_ qui est
    digne de Corneille.  C'est là le sentiment de milord Bolingbroke et
    de tous les bons auteurs; c'est ainsi que pensait
    Addisson."--Voltaire to M. De Fromont, 15th November, 1735.

    [62] Inst. X., i. 129.

    [63] Conquest of Grenada, Second Part.

    [64] In most he mingles blank verse.

    [65] Conquest of Grenada.

    [66] This recalls a striking verse of Alfred de Musset:--

                                 "La muse est toujours belle.
      Même pour l'insensé, même pour l'impuissant,
      _Car sa beaute pour nous, c'est notre amour pour elle._"

    [67] Rival Ladies.

    [68] Don Sebastian.

    [69] Don Sebastian.

    [70] Cleomenes.

    [71] All for Love.

    [72] Dryden, with his wonted perspicacity, follows Ben Jonson in
    calling Donne "the greatest wit, though not the best poet, of our
    nation." (Dedication of Eleonora.) Even as a poet Donne

      "Had in him those brave translunary things
      That our first poets had."

    To open vistas for the imagination through the blind wall of the
    senses as he could sometimes do, is the supreme function of poetry.

    [73] My own judgment is my sole warrant for attributing these
    extracts from Oedipus to Dryden rather than Lee.

    [74] Recollections of Rogers, p. 165.

    [75] Nicholls's Reminiscences of Gray. Pickering's edition of Gray's
    Works, Vol. V. p. 35.

    [76] Let one suffice for all. In the "Royal Martyr," Porphyrius.
    awaiting his execution, says to Maximin, who had wished him for a

      "Where'er thou stand'st, I'll level at that place
      My gushing blood, and spout it at thy face;
      Thus not by marriage we our blood will join;
      Nay, more, my arms shall throw my head at thine."

    "It is no shame," says Dryden himself, "to be a poet, though it is to
    be a bad one."

    [77] Gray, _ubi supra_, p. 38.

    [78] Scott had never seen Pepys's Diary when he wrote this, or he
    would have left it unwritten: "Fell to discourse of the last night's
    work at Court, where the ladies and Duke of Monmouth acted the
    'Indian Emperor,' wherein they told me these things most remarkable
    that not any woman but the Duchess of Monmouth and Mrs. Cornwallis
    did anything but like fools and stocks, but that these two did do
    most extraordinary well: that not any man did anything well but
    Captain O'Bryan, who spoke and did well, but above all things did
    dance most incomparably."--14th January, 1668.

    [79] See also that noble passage in the "Hind and Panther"
    (1572-1591), where this is put into verse. Dryden always thought in

    [80] Probably on the authority of this very epitaph, as if epitaphs
    were to be believed even under oath! A great many authors live
    because we read nothing but their tombstones. Oldham was, to borrow
    one of Dryden's phrases, "a bad or, which is worse, an indifferent

    [81] "He was of a nature exceedingly humane and compassionate easily
    forgiving injuries, and capable of a prompt and  sincere
    reconciliation with them that had offended him."--Congress.

    [82] Coleridge says excellently: "You will find this a good gauge or
    criterion of genius,--whether it progresses and evolves, or only
    spins upon itself. Take Dryden's Achitophel and Zimri; every line
    adds to or modifies the character, which is, as it were, a-building
    up to the very last verse; whereas in Pope's Timon, &c. the first two
    or three couplets contain all the pith of the character, and the
    twenty or thirty lines that follow are so much evidence or proof of
    overt acts of jealousy, or pride, or whatever it may be that is
    satirized." (Table-Talk, 192.) Some of Dryden's best satirical hits
    are let fall by seeming accident in his prose, as where he says of
    his Protestant assailants, "Most of them love all whores but her of
    Babylon." They had first attacked him on the score of his private

    [83] That he taxes Shadwell with it is only a seeming exception, as
    any careful reader will see.

    [84] Preface to Fables.

    [85] Dedication of the Georgics.

    [86] Preface to Second Miscellany.

    [87] Ibid.

    [88] Memoirs of Wordsworth, Vol. II. p. 74 (American edition).

    [89] A Discourse of Epick Poetry "If the _public_ approve." "On ne
    peut pas admettre dans le developpement des langues aucune révolution
    artificielle et sciemment executée; il n'y a pour elles ni conciles,
    ni assemblées délibérantes; on ne les réforme pas comme une
    constitution vicieuse."--Renan, De l'Origine du Langage, p 95.

    [90] This is an old complaint. Puttenham sighs over such innovation
    in Elizabeth's time, and Carew in James's. A language grows, and is
    not made. Almost all the new-fangled words with which Jonson taxes
    Marston in his "Poetaster" are now current.

    [91] Like most idiomatic, as distinguished from correct writers, he
    knew very little about the language historically or critically. His
    prose and poetry swarm with locutions that would have made Lindley
    Murray's hair stand on end. _How_ little he knew is plain from his
    criticising in Ben Jonson the use of _ones_ in the plural, of "Though
    Heaven should speak with all _his_ wrath," and be "as false English
    for _are_, though the rhyme hides it." Yet all are good English, and
    I have found them all in Dryden's own writing! Of his sins against
    idiom I have a longer list than I have room for. And yet he is one of
    our highest authorities for _real_ English.

    [92] To see what he rescued us from in pedantry on the one hand, and
    vulgarism on the other, read Feltham and Tom Brown--if you can.

    [93] "Cette ode mise en musique par Purcell (si je ne me trompe),
    passe en Angleterre pour le chef-d'oeuvre de la poésie la plus
    sublime et la plus variée; et je vous avoue que, comme je sais mieux
    l'anglais que le grec, j'aime cent fois mieux cette ode que tout
    Pindare."--Voltaire to M. De Chabanon, 9 mars, 1772.

    Dryden would have agreed with Voltaire. When Chief-Justice Marlay,
    then a young Templar, "congratulated him on having produced the
    finest and noblest Ode that had ever been written in any language,
    You are right, young gentleman' (replied Dryden), 'a nobler Ode never
    _was_ produced, nor ever _will_.'"--Malone.

    [94] This was true of Coleridge, Wordsworth, and still more of
    Southey who in some respects was not unlike Dryden.

    [95] Pope's notion of gentility was perhaps expressed in a letter
    from Lord Cobham to him: "I congratulate you upon the fine weather.
    'T is a strange thing that people of condition and men of parts must
    enjoy it in common with the rest of the world." (Ruffhead's Pope, p
    276, _note_.) His Lordship's naive distinction between people of
    condition and men of parts is as good as Pope's between genteel and
    poetical men. I fancy the poet grinning savagely as he read it.

    [96] "Nothing is truly sublime," he himself said, "that is not just
    and proper."

    [97] Dennis in a letter to Tonson, 1715.


Credulity, as a mental and moral phenomenon, manifests itself in widely
different ways, according as it chances to be the daughter of fancy or
terror. The one lies warm about the heart as Folk-lore, fills moonlit
dells with dancing fairies, sets out a meal for the Brownie, hears the
tinkle of airy bridle-bells as Tamlane rides away with the Queen of
Dreams, changes Pluto and Proserpine into Oberon and Titania, and makes
friends with unseen powers as Good Folk; the other is a bird of night,
whose shadow sends a chill among the roots of the hair: it sucks with the
vampire, gorges with the ghoule, is choked by the night-hag, pines away
under the witch's charm, and commits uncleanness with the embodied
Principle of Evil, giving up the fair realm of innocent belief to a murky
throng from the slums and stews of the debauched brain. Both have
vanished from among educated men, and such superstition as comes to the
surface now-a-days is the harmless Jacobitism of sentiment, pleasing
itself with the fiction all the more because there is no exacting reality
behind it to impose a duty or demand a sacrifice. And as Jacobitism
survived the Stuarts, so this has outlived the dynasty to which it
professes an after-dinner allegiance. It nails a horseshoe over the door,
but keeps a rattle by its bedside to summon a more substantial watchman;
it hangs a crape on the beehives to get a taste of ideal sweetness, but
obeys the teaching of the latest bee-book for material and marketable
honey. This is the aesthetic variety of the malady, or rather, perhaps,
it is only the old complaint robbed of all its pain, and lapped in waking
dreams by the narcotism of an age of science. To the world at large it is
not undelightful to see the poetical instincts of friends and neighbors
finding some other vent than that of verse. But there has been a
superstition of very different fibre, of more intense and practical
validity, the deformed child of faith, peopling the midnight of the mind
with fearful shapes and phrenetic suggestions, a monstrous brood of its
own begetting, and making even good men ferocious in imagined

Imagination, has always been, and still is, in a narrower sense, the
great mythologizer; but both its mode of manifestation and the force with
which it reacts on the mind are one thing in its crude form of childlike
wonder, and another thing after it has been more or less consciously
manipulated by the poetic faculty. A mythology that broods over us in our
cradles, that mingles with the lullaby of the nurse and the
winter-evening legends of the chimney-corner, that brightens day with the
possibility of divine encounters, and darkens night with intimations of
demonic ambushes, is of other substance than one which we take down from
our bookcase, sapless as the shelf it stood on, and remote from all
present sympathy with man or nature as a town history. It is something
like the difference between live metaphor and dead personification.
Primarily, the action of the imagination is the same in the mythologizer
and the poet, that is, it forces its own consciousness on the objects of
the senses, and compels them to sympathize with its own momentary
impressions. When Shakespeare in his "Lucrece" makes

  "The threshold grate the door to have him heard,"

his mind is acting under the same impulse that first endowed with human
feeling and then with human shape all the invisible forces of nature, and
called into being those

  "Fair humanities of old religion,"

whose loss the poets mourn. So also Shakespeare no doubt projected
himself in his own creations; but those creations never became so
perfectly disengaged from him, so objective, or, as they used to say,
extrinsical, to him, as to react upon him like real and even alien
existences. I mean permanently, for momentarily they may and must have
done so. But before man's consciousness had wholly disentangled itself
from outward objects, all nature was but a many-sided mirror which gave
back to him a thousand images more or less beautified or distorted,
magnified or diminished, of himself, till his imagination grew to look
upon its own incorporations as having an independent being. Thus, by
degrees, it became at last passive to its own creations. You may see
imaginative children every day anthropomorphizing in this way, and the
dupes of that super-abundant vitality in themselves, which bestows
qualities proper to itself on everything about them. There is a period of
development in which grown men are childlike. In such a period the fables
which endow beasts with human attributes first grew up; and we luckily
read them so early as never to become suspicious of any absurdity in
them. The Finnic epos of "Kalewala" is a curious illustration of the same
fact. In that every thing has the affections, passions, and consciousness
of men. When the mother of Lemminkäinen is seeking her lost son,--

  "Sought she many days the lost one,
  Sought him ever without finding;
  Then the roadways come to meet her,
  And she asks them with beseeching:
  'Roadways, ye whom God hath shapen,
  Have ye not my son beholden,
  Nowhere seen the golden apple,
  Him, my darling staff of silver?'
  Prudently they gave her answer,
  Thus to her replied the roadways:
  'For thy son we cannot plague us,
  We have sorrows too, a many,
  Since our own lot is a hard one
  And our fortune is but evil,
  By dog's feet to be run over,
  By the wheel-tire to be wounded,
  And by heavy heels down-trampled.'"

It is in this tendency of the mind under certain conditions to confound
the objective with subjective, or rather to mistake the one for the
other, that Mr. Tylor, in his "Early History of Mankind," is fain to seek
the origin of the supernatural, as we somewhat vaguely call whatever
transcends our ordinary experience. And this, no doubt, will in many
cases account for the particular shapes assumed by certain phantasmal
appearances, though I am inclined to doubt whether it be a sufficient
explanation of the abstract phenomenon. It is easy for the arithmetician
to make a key to the problems that he has devised to suit himself. An
immediate and habitual confusion of the kind spoken of is insanity; and
the hypochondriac is tracked by the black dog of his own mind. Disease
itself is, of course, in one sense natural, as being the result of
natural causes; but if we assume health as the mean representing the
normal poise of all the mental facilities, we must be content to call
hypochondria subternatural, because the tone of the instrument is
lowered, and to designate as supernatural only those ecstasies in which
the mind, under intense but not unhealthy excitement, is snatched
sometimes above itself, as in poets and other persons of imaginative
temperament. In poets this liability to be possessed by the creations of
their own brains is limited and proportioned by the artistic sense, and
the imagination thus truly becomes the shaping faculty, while in less
regulated or coarser organizations it dwells forever in the _Nifelheim_
of phantasmagoria and dream, a thaumaturge half cheat, half dupe. What
Mr. Tylor has to say on this matter is ingenious and full of valuable
suggestion, and to a certain extent solves our difficulties. Nightmare,
for example, will explain the testimony of witnesses in trials for
witchcraft, that they had been hag-ridden by the accused. But to prove
the possibility, nay, the probability, of this confusion of objective
with subjective is not enough. It accounts very well for such apparitions
as those which appeared to Dion, to Brutus, and to Curtius Rufus. In such
cases the imagination is undoubtedly its own _doppel-gänger_, and sees
nothing more than the projection of its own deceit. But I am puzzled, I
confess, to explain the appearance of the _first_ ghost, especially among
men who thought death to be the end-all here below. The thing once
conceived of, it is easy, on Mr. Tylor's theory, to account for all after
the first. If it was originally believed that only the spirits of those
who had died violent deaths were permitted to wander,[99] the conscience
of a remorseful murderer may have been haunted by the memory of his
victim, till the imagination, infected in its turn, gave outward reality
to the image on the inward eye. After putting to death Boëtius and
Symmachus, it is said that Theodoric saw in the head of a fish served at
his dinner the face of Symmachus, grinning horribly and with flaming
eyes, whereupon he took to his bed and died soon after in great agony of
mind. It is not safe, perhaps, to believe all that is reported of an
Arian; but supposing the story to be true, there is only a short step
from such a delusion of the senses to the complete ghost of popular
legend. But, in some of the most trustworthy stories of apparitions, they
have shown themselves not only to persons who had done them no wrong in
the flesh, but also to such as had never even known them. The _eidolon_
of James Haddock appeared to a man named Taverner, that he might interest
himself in recovering a piece of land unjustly kept from the dead man's
infant son. If we may trust Defoe, Bishop Jeremy Taylor twice examined
Taverner, and was convinced of the truth of his story. In this case,
Taverner had formerly known Haddock. But the apparition of an old
gentleman which entered the learned Dr. Scott's study, and directed him
where to find a missing deed needful in settling what had lately been its
estate in the West of England, chose for its attorney in the business an
entire stranger, who had never even seen its original in the flesh.

Whatever its origin, a belief in spirits seems to have been common to all
the nations of the ancient world who have left us any record of
themselves. Ghosts began to walk early, and are walking still, in spite
of the shrill cock-crow of _wir haben ja aufgeklärt._ Even the ghost in
chains, which one would naturally take to be a fashion peculiar to
convicts escaped from purgatory, is older than the belief in that
reforming penitentiary. The younger Pliny tells a very good story to this
effect: "There was at Athens a large and spacious house which lay under
the disrepute of being haunted. In the dead of the night a noise
resembling the clashing of iron was frequently heared, which, if you
listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains; at first
it seemed at a distance, but approached nearer by degrees; immediately
afterward a spectre appeared, in the form of an old man, extremely meagre
and ghastly, with a long beard and dishevelled hair, rattling the chains
on his feet and hands.... By this means the house was at last deserted,
being judged by everybody to be absolutely uninhabitable; so that it was
now entirely abandoned to the ghost. However, in hopes that some tenant
might be found who was ignorant of this great calamity which attended it,
a bill was put up giving notice that it was either to be let or sold. It
happened that the philosopher Athenodorus came to Athens at this time,
and, reading the bill, inquired the price. The extraordinary cheapness
raised his suspicion; nevertheless, when he heared the whole story, he
was so far from being discouraged that he was more strongly inclined to
hire it, and, in short, actually did so. When it grew towards evening, he
ordered a couch to be prepared for him in the fore part of the house,
and, after calling for a light, together with his pen and tablets, he
directed all his people to retire. But that his mind might not, for want
of employment, be open to the vain terrors of imaginary noises and
spirits, he applied himself to writing with the utmost attention. The
first part of the night passed with usual silence, when at length the
chains began to rattle; however, he neither lifted up his eyes nor laid
down his pen, but diverted his observation by pursuing his studies with
greater earnestness. The noise increased, and advanced nearer, till it
seemed at the door, and at last in the chamber. He looked up and saw the
ghost exactly in the manner it had been described to him; it stood before
him, beckoning with the finger. Athenodorus made a sign with his hand
that it should wait a little, and threw his eyes again upon his papers;
but the ghost still rattling his chains in his ears, he looked up and saw
him beckoning as before. Upon this he immediately arose, and with the
light in his hand followed it. The ghost slowly stalked along, as if
encumbered with his chains, and, turning into the area of the house,
suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with
some grass and leaves where the spirit left him. The next day he gave
information of this to the magistrates, and advised them to order that
spot to be dug up. This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man
in chains was there found; for the body, having lain a considerable time
in the ground, was putrefied and mouldered away from the fetters. The
bones, being collected together, were publicly buried, and thus, after
the ghost was appeased by the proper ceremonies, the house was haunted no
more."[100] This story has such a modern air as to be absolutely
disheartening. Are ghosts, then, as incapable of invention as dramatic
authors? But the demeanor of Athenodorus has the grand air of the
classical period, of one _qui connaît son monde_, and feels the
superiority of a living philosopher to a dead Philistine. How far above
all modern armament is his prophylactic against his insubstantial
fellow-lodger! Now-a-days men take pistols into haunted houses. Sterne,
and after him Novalis, discovered that gunpowder made all men equally
tall, but Athenodorus had found out that pen and ink establish a
superiority in spiritual stature. As men of this world, we feel our
dignity exalted by his keeping an ambassador from the other waiting till
he had finished his paragraph. Never surely did authorship appear to
greater advantage. Athenodorus seems to have been of Hamlet's mind:

  "I do not set my life at a pin's fee,
  And, for my soul, what can it do to that,
  Being a thing immortal, as itself?"[101]

A superstition, as its name imports, is something that has been left to
stand over, like unfinished business, from one session of the world's
_witenagemot_ to the next. The vulgar receive it implicitly on the
principle of _omne ignotum pro possibili_, a theory acted on by a much
larger number than is commonly supposed, and even the enlightened are too
apt to consider it, if not proved, at least rendered probable by the
hearsay evidence of popular experience. Particular superstitions are
sometimes the embodiment by popular imagination of ideas that were at
first mere poetic figments, but more commonly the degraded and distorted
relics of religious beliefs. Dethroned gods, outlawed by the new dynasty,
haunted the borders of their old dominions, lurking in forests and
mountains, and venturing to show themselves only after nightfall. Grimm
and others have detected old divinities skulking about in strange
disguises, and living from hand to mouth on the charity of Gammer Grethel
and Mère l'Oie. Cast out from Olympus and Asgard, they were thankful for
the hospitality of the chimney-corner, and kept soul and body together by
an illicit traffic between this world and the other. While Schiller was
lamenting the Gods of Greece, some of them were nearer neighbors to him
than he dreamed; and Heine had the wit to turn them to delightful
account, showing himself, perhaps, the wiser of the two in saving what he
could from the shipwreck of the past for present use on this prosaic Juan
Fernandez of a scientific age, instead of sitting down to bewail it. To
make the pagan divinities hateful, they were stigmatized as cacodaemons;
and as the human mind finds a pleasure in analogy and system, an infernal
hierarchy gradually shaped itself as the convenient antipodes and
counterpoise of the celestial one. Perhaps at the bottom of it all there
was a kind of unconscious manicheism, and Satan, as Prince of Darkness,
or of the Powers of the Air, became at last a sovereign, with his great
feudatories and countless vassals, capable of maintaining a not unequal
contest with the King of Heaven. He was supposed to have a certain power
of bestowing earthly prosperity, but he was really, after all, nothing
better than a James II. at St. Germains, who could make Dukes of Perth
and confer titular fiefs and garters as much as he liked, without the
unpleasant necessity of providing any substance behind the shadow. That
there should have been so much loyalty to him, under these disheartening
circumstances, seems to me, on the whole, creditable to poor human
nature. In this case it is due, at least in part, to that instinct of the
poor among the races of the North, where there was a long winter, and too
often a scanty harvest,--and the poor have been always and everywhere a
majority,--which made a deity of Wish. The _Acheronta-movebo_ impulse
must have been pardonably strong in old women starving with cold and
hunger, and fathers with large families and a small winter stock of
provision. Especially in the transition period from the old religion to
the new, the temptation must have been great to try one's luck with the
discrowned dynasty, when the intruder was deaf and blind to claims that
seemed just enough, so long as it was still believed that God personally
interfered in the affairs of men. On his death-bed, says Piers Plowman,

  "The poore dare plede and prove by reson
  To have allowance of his lord; by the law he it claimeth;
         *       *       *       *       *
  Thanne may beggaris as beestes after boote waiten
  That al hir lif han lyved in langour and in defaute
  But God sente hem som tyme som manere joye,
  Outher here or ellis where, kynde wolde it nevere."

He utters the common feeling when he says that it were against nature.
But when a man has his choice between here and elsewhere, it may be
feared that the other world will seem too desperately far away to be
waited for when hungry ruin has him in the wind, and the chance on earth
is so temptingly near. Hence the notion of a transfer of allegiance from
God to Satan, sometimes by a written compact, sometimes with the ceremony
by which homage is done to a feudal superior.

Most of the practices of witchcraft--such as the power to raise storms,
to destroy cattle, to assume the shape of beasts by the use of certain
ointments, to induce deadly maladies in men by waxen images, or love by
means of charms and philtres--were inheritances from ancient paganism.
But the theory of a compact was the product of later times, the result,
no doubt, of the efforts of the clergy to inspire a horror of any lapse
into heathenish rites by making devils of all the old gods. Christianity
may be said to have invented the soul as an individual entity to be saved
or lost; and thus grosser wits were led to conceive of it as a piece of
property that could be transferred by deed of gift or sale, duly signed,
sealed, and witnessed. The earliest legend of the kind is that of
Theophilus, chancellor of the church of Adana in Cilicia some time during
the sixth century. It is said to have been first written by Eutychianus,
who had been a pupil of Theophilus, and who tells the story partly as an
eyewitness, partly from the narration of his master. The nun Hroswitha
first treated it dramatically in the latter half of the tenth century.
Some four hundred years later Rutebeuf made it the theme of a French
miracle-play. His treatment of it is not without a certain poetic merit.
Theophilus has been deprived by his bishop of a lucrative office. In his
despair he meets with Saladin, _qui parloit au deable quant il voloit_.
Saladin tempts him to deny God and devote himself to the Devil, who, in
return, will give him back all his old prosperity and more. He at last
consents, signs and seals the contract required, and is restored to his
old place by the bishop. But now remorse and terror come upon him; he
calls on the Virgin, who, after some demur, compels Satan to bring back
his deed from the infernal muniment-chest (which must have been
fire-proof beyond any skill of our modern safe-makers), and the bishop
having read it aloud to the awe-stricken congregation, Theophilus becomes
his own man again. In this play, the theory of devilish compact is
already complete in all its particulars. The paper must be signed with
the blood of the grantor, who does feudal homage (_or joing tes mains, et
si devien mes hom_), and engages to eschew good and do evil all the days
of his life. The Devil, however, does not imprint any stigma upon his new
vassal, as in the later stories of witch-compacts. The following passage
from the opening speech of Theophilus will illustrate the conception to
which I have alluded of God as a liege lord against whom one might seek
revenge on sufficient provocation,--and the only revenge possible was to
rob him of a subject by going over to the great Suzerain, his deadly

  "N'est riens que por avoir ne face;
  Ne pris riens Dieu et sa manace.
  Irai me je noier ou pendre?
  Ie ne m'en puis pas à Dieu prendre,
  C'on ne puet à lui avenir.
         *       *       *       *       *
  Mès il s'est en si haut lieu mis,
  Por eschiver ses anemis
  C'on n'i puet trere ni lancier.
  Se or pooie à lui tancier,
  Et combattre et escrimir,
  La char li feroie fremir.
  Or est là sus en son solaz,
  Laz! chetis! et je sui ès laz
  De Povreté et de Soufrete."[102]

During the Middle Ages the story became a favorite topic with preachers,
while carvings and painted windows tended still further to popularize it,
and to render men's minds familiar with the idea which makes the nexus of
its plot. The plastic hands of Calderon shaped it into a dramatic poem
not surpassed, perhaps hardly equalled, in subtile imaginative quality by
any other of modern times.

In proportion as a belief in the possibility of this damnable
merchandising with hell became general, accusations of it grew more
numerous. Among others, the memory of Pope Sylvester II, was blackened
with the charge of having thus bargained away his soul. All learning fell
under suspicion, till at length the very grammar itself (the last volume
in the world, one would say, to conjure with) gave to English the word
_gramary_ (enchantment), and in French became a book of magic, under the
alias of _Grimoire_. It is not at all unlikely that, in an age when the
boundary between actual and possible was not very well defined, there
were scholars who made experiments in this direction, and signed
contracts, though they never had a chance to complete their bargain by an
actual delivery. I do not recall any case of witchcraft in which such a
document was produced in court as evidence against the accused. Such a
one, it is true, was ascribed to Grandier, but was not brought forward at
his trial. It should seem that Grandier had been shrewd enough to take a
bond to secure the fulfilment of the contract on the other side; for we
have the document in fac-simile, signed and sealed by Lucifer, Beelzebub,
Satan, Elimi, Leviathan, and Astaroth, duly witnessed by Baalberith,
Secretary of the Grand Council of Demons. Fancy the competition such a
state paper as this would arouse at a sale of autographs! Commonly no
security appears to have been given by the other party to these
arrangements but the bare word of the Devil, which was considered, no
doubt, every whit as good as his bond. In most cases, indeed, he was the
loser, and showed a want of capacity for affairs equal to that of an
average giant of romance. Never was comedy acted over and over with such
sameness of repetition as "The Devil is an Ass." How often must he have
exclaimed (laughing in his sleeve):--

  "_I_ to such blockheads set my wit,
  _I_ damn such fools!--go, go, you're bit!"

In popular legend he is made the victim of some equivocation so gross
that any court of equity would have ruled in his favor. On the other
hand, if the story had been dressed up by some mediaeval Tract Society,
the Virgin appears in person at the right moment _ex machina_, and
compels him to give up the property he had honestly paid for. One is
tempted to ask, Were there no attorneys, then, in the place he came from,
of whom he might have taken advice beforehand? On the whole, he had
rather hard measure, and it is a wonder he did not throw up the business
in disgust. Sometimes, however, he was more lucky, as with the unhappy
Dr. Faust; and even so lately as 1695, he came in the shape of a "tall
fellow with black beard and periwig, respectable looking and well
dressed," about two o'clock in the afternoon, to fly away with the
Maréchal de Luxembourg, which, on the stroke of five, he punctually did
as per contract, taking with him the window and its stone framing into
the bargain. The clothes and wig of the involuntary aeronaut were, in the
handsomest manner, left upon the bed, as not included in the bill of
sale. In this case also we have a copy of the articles of agreement,
twenty-eight in number, by the last of which the Maréchal renounces God
and devotes himself to the enemy. This clause, sometimes the only one,
always the most important in such compacts, seems to show that they first
took shape in the imagination, while the struggle between Paganism and
Christianity was still going on. As the converted heathen was made to
renounce his false gods, none the less real for being false, so the
renegade Christian must forswear the true Deity. It is very likely,
however, that the whole thing may be more modern than the assumed date of
Theophilus would imply, and if so, the idea of feudal allegiance gave the
first hint, as it certainly modified the particulars, of the ceremonial.

This notion of a personal and private treaty with the Evil One has
something of dignity about it that has made it perennially attractive to
the most imaginative minds. It rather flatters than mocks our feeling of
the dignity of man. As we come down to the vulgar parody of it in the
confessions of wretched old women on the rack, our pity and indignation
are mingled with disgust. One of the most particular of these confessions
is that of Abel de la Rue, convicted in 1584. The accused was a novice in
the Franciscan Convent at Meaux. Having been punished by the master of
the novices for stealing some apples and nuts in the convent garden, the
Devil appeared to him in the shape of a black dog, promising him his
protection, and advising him to leave the convent. Not long after going
into the sacristy, he saw a large volume fastened by a chain, and further
secured by bars of iron. The name of this book was _Grimoire_. Thrusting
his hands through the bars, he contrived to open it, and having read a
sentence (which Bodin carefully suppresses), there suddenly appeared to
him a man of middle stature, with a pale and very frightful countenance,
clad in a long black robe of the Italian fashion, and with faces of men
like his own on his breast and knees. As for his feet they were like
those of cows. He could not have been the most agreeable of companions,
_ayant le corps et haleine puante_. This man told him not to be afraid,
to take off his habit, to put faith in him, and he would give him
whatever he asked. Then laying hold of him below the arms, the unknown
transported him under the gallows of Meaux, and then said to him with a
trembling and broken voice, and having a visage as pale as that of a man
who has been hanged, and a very stinking breath, that he should fear
nothing, but have entire confidence in him, that he should never want for
anything, that his own name was Maître Rigoux, and that he would like to
be his master; to which De la Rue made answer that he would do whatever
he commanded, and that he wished to be gone from the Franciscans.
Thereupon Rigoux disappeared, but returning between seven and eight in
the evening, took him round the waist and carried him back to the
sacristy, promising to come again for him the next day. This he
accordingly did, and told De la Rue to take off his habit, get him gone
from the convent, and meet him near a great tree on the high-road from
Meaux to Vaulx-Courtois. Rigoux met him there and took him to a certain
Maître Pierre, who, after a few words exchanged in an undertone with
Rigoux, sent De la Rue to the stable, after his return whence he saw no
more of Rigoux. Thereupon Pierre and his wife made him good cheer,
telling him that for the love of Maître Rigoux they would treat him well,
and that he must obey the said Rigoux, which he promised to do. About two
months after, Maître Pierre, who commonly took him to the fields to watch
cattle, said to him there that they must go to the Assembly, because he
(Pierre) was out of powders, to which he made answer that he was willing.
Three days later, about Christmas eve, 1575, Pierre having sent his wife
to sleep out of the house, set a long branch of broom in the
chimney-corner, and bade De la Rue go to bed, but not to sleep. About
eleven they heard a great noise as of an impetuous wind and thunder in
the chimney: which hearing, Maître Pierre told him to dress himself, for
it was time to be gone. Then Pierre took some grease from a little box
and anointed himself under the arm-pits, and De la Rue on the palms of
his hands, which incontinently felt as if on fire, and the said grease
stank like a cat three weeks or a month dead. Then, Pierre and he
bestriding the branch, Maître Rigoux took it by the butt and drew it up
chimney as if the wind had lifted them. And, the night being dark, he saw
suddenly a torch before them lighting them, and Maître Rigoux was gone
unless he had changed himself into the said torch. Arrived at a grassy
place some five leagues from Vaulx-Courtois, they found a company of some
sixty people of all ages, none of whom he knew, except a certain Pierre
of Dampmartin and an old woman who was executed, as he had heard, about
five years ago for sorcery at Lagny. Then suddenly he noticed that all
(except Rigoux, who was clad as before) were dressed in linen, though
they had not changed their clothes. Then, at command of the eldest among
them, who seemed about eighty years old, with a white beard and almost
wholly bald, each swept the place in front of himself with his broom.
Thereupon Rigoux changed into a great he-goat, black and stinking, around
whom they all danced backward with their faces outward and their backs
towards the goat. They danced about half an hour, and then his master
told him they must adore the goat who was the Devil _et ce fait et dict,
veit que ledict Bouc courba ses deux pieds de deuant et leua son cul en
haut, et lors que certaines menues graines grosses comme testes
d'espingles, qui se conuertissoient en poudres fort puantes, sentant le
soulphre et poudre à canon et chair puant mesleés ensemble seroient
tombeés sur plusieurs drappeaux en sept doubles._ Then the oldest, and so
the rest in order, went forward on their knees and gathered up their
cloths with the powders, but first each _se seroit incliné vers le Diable
et iceluy baisé en la partie honteuse de son corps._ They went home on
their broom, lighted as before. De la Rue confessed also that he was at
another assembly on the eve of St. John Baptist. With the powders they
could cause the death of men against whom they had a spite, or their
cattle. Rigoux before long began to tempt him to drown himself, and,
though he lay down, yet rolled him some distance towards the river. It is
plain that the poor fellow was mad or half-witted or both. And yet Bodin,
the author of the _De Republica,_ reckoned one of the ablest books of
that age, believed all this filthy nonsense, and prefixes it to his
_Démonomanie,_ as proof conclusive of the existence of sorcerers.

This was in 1587. Just a century later, Glanvil, one of the most eminent
men of his day, and Henry More, the Platonist, whose memory is still dear
to the lovers of an imaginative mysticism, were perfectly satisfied with
evidence like that which follows. Elizabeth Styles confessed, in 1664,
"that the Devil about ten years since appeared to her in the shape of a
handsome Man, and after of a black Dog. That he promised her Money, and
that she should live gallantly, and have the pleasure of the World for
twelve years, if she would with her Blood sign his Paper, which was to
give her soul to him and observe his Laws and that he might suck her
Blood. This after Four Solicitations, the Examinant promised him to do.
Upon which he pricked the fourth Finger of her right hand, between the
middle and upper Joynt (where the Sign at the Examination remained) and
with a Drop or two of her Blood, she signed the Paper with an O. Upon
this the Devil gave her sixpence and vanished with the Paper. That since
he hath appeared to her in the Shape of a _Man_, and did so on
_Wednesday_ seven-night past, but more usually he appears in the Likeness
of a _Dog_, and _Cat_, and a _Fly_ like a Millar, in which last he
usually sucks in the Poll about four of the Clock in the Morning, and did
so _Jan_. 27, and that it is pain to her to be so suckt. That when she
hath a desire to do harm she calls the Spirit by the name of _Robin_, to
whom, when he appeareth, she useth these words, _O Sathan, give me my
purpose_. She then tells him what she would have done. And that he should
so appear to her was part of her Contract with him." The Devil in this
case appeared as a black (dark-complexioned) man "in black clothes, with
a little band,"--a very clerical-looking personage. "Before they are
carried to their meetings they anoint their Foreheads and Hand-Wrists
with an Oyl the Spirit brings them (which smells raw) and then they are
carried in a very short time, using these words as they pass, _Thout,
tout a tout, throughout and about_. And when they go off from their
Meetings they say, _Rentum, Tormentum_. That at every meeting before the
Spirit vanisheth away, he appoints the next meeting place and time, and
at his departure there is a foul smell. At their meeting they have
usually Wine or good Beer, Cakes, Meat or the like. They eat and drink
really when they meet, in their Bodies, dance also and have some Musick.
The Man in black sits at the higher end, and _Anne Bishop_ usually next
him. He useth some words before meat, and none after; his Voice is
audible but very low. The Man in black sometimes plays on a Pipe or
Cittern, and the Company dance. At last the Devil vanisheth, and all are
carried to their several homes in a short space. At their parting they
say, _A Boy! merry meet, merry part!_" Alice Duke confessed "that Anne
Bishop persuaded her to go with her into the Churchyard in the
Night-time, and being come thither, to go backward round the Church,
which they did three times. In their first round they met a Man in black
Cloths who went round the second time with them; and then they met a
thing in the Shape of a great black Toad which leapt up against the
Examinant's Apron. In their third round they met somewhat in the shape of
a Rat, which vanished away." She also received sixpence from the Devil,
and "her Familiar did commonly suck her right Breast about seven at night
in the shape of a little Cat of a dunnish Colour, which is as smooth as a
Want [mole], and when she is suckt, she is in a kind of Trance." Poor
Christian Green got only fourpence half-penny for her soul, but her
bargain was made some years later than that of the others, and
quotations, as the stock-brokers would say, ranged lower. Her familiar
took the shape of a hedgehog. Julian Cox confessed that "she had been
often tempted by the Devil to be a Witch, but never consented. That one
Evening she walkt about a Mile from her own House and there came riding
towards her three Persons upon three Broomstaves, born up about a yard
and a half from the ground. Two of them she formerly knew, which was a
Witch and a Wizzard that were hanged for Witchcraft several years before.
The third person she knew not. He came in the shape of a black Man, and
tempted her to give him her Soul, or to that effect, and to express it by
pricking her Finger and giving her name in her Blood in token of it." On
her trial Judge Archer told the jury, "he had heard that a Witch could
not repeat that Petition in the Lord's Prayer, viz. _And lead us not into
temptation_, and having this occasion, he would try the Experiment." The
jury "were not in the least measure to guide their Verdict according to
it, because it was not legal Evidence." Accordingly it was found that the
poor old trot could say only, _Lead us into temptation, or Lead us not
into no temptation_. Probably she used the latter form first, and,
finding she had blundered, corrected herself by leaving out both the
negatives. The old English double negation seems never to have been heard
of by the court. Janet Douglass, a pretended dumb girl, by whose
contrivance five persons had been burned at Paisley, in 1677, for having
caused the sickness of Sir George Maxwell by means of waxen and other
images, having recovered her speech shortly after, declared that she "had
some smattering knowledge of the Lord's prayer, which she had heard the
witches repeat, it seems, by her vision, in the presence of the Devil;
and at his desire, which they observed, they added to the word _art_ the
letter _w_, which made it run, 'Our Father which wart in heaven,' by
which means the Devil made the application of the prayer to himself." She
also showed on the arm of a woman named Campbell "an _invisible_ mark
which she had gotten from the Devil." The wife of one Barton confessed
that she had engaged "in the Devil's service. She renounced her baptism,
and did prostrate her body to the foul spirit, and received his mark, and
got a new name from him, and was called _Margaratus_. She was asked if
she ever had any pleasure in his company? 'Never much,' says she, 'but
one night going to a dancing upon Pentland Hills, in the likeness of a
rough tanny [tawny] dog, playing on a pair of pipes; the spring he
played,' says she, 'was _The silly bit chicken, gar cast it a pickle, and
it will grow meikle._'"[103] In 1670, near seventy of both sexes, among
them fifteen children, were executed for witchcraft at the village of
Mohra in Sweden. Thirty-six children, between the ages of nine and
sixteen, were sentenced to be scourged with rods on the palms of their
hands, once a week for a year. The evidence in this case against the
accused seems to have been mostly that of children. "Being asked whether
they were sure that they were at any time carried away by the Devil, they
all declared they were, begging of the Commissioners that they might be
freed from that intolerable slavery." They "used to go to a Gravel pit
which lay hardby a Cross-way and there they put on a vest over their
heads, and then danced round, and after ran to the Cross-way and called
the Devil thrice, first with a still Voice, the second time somewhat
louder, and the third time very loud, with these words, _Antecessour,
come and carry us to Blockula_. Whereupon immediately he used to appear,
but in different Habits; but for the most part they saw him in a gray
Coat and red and blue Stockings. He had a red Beard, a highcrowned Hat,
with linnen of divers Colours wrapt about it, and long Garters upon his
Stockings." "They must procure some Scrapings of Altars and Filings of
Church-Clocks [bells], and he gives them a Horn with some Salve in it
wherewith they do anoint themselves." "Being asked whether they were sure
of a real personal Transportation, and whether they were awake when it
was done, they all answered in the Affirmative, and that the Devil
sometimes laid something down in the Place that was very like them. But
one of them confessed that he did only take away her Strength, and her
Body lay still upon the Ground. Yet sometimes he took even her Body with
him." "Till of late they never had that power to carry away Children, but
only this year and the last, and the Devil did at this time force them to
it. That heretofore it was sufficient to carry but one of their Children
or a Stranger's Child, which yet happened seldom, but now he did plague
them and whip them if they did not procure him Children, insomuch that
they had no peace or quiet for him; and whereas formerly one Journey a
Week would serve their turn from their own town to the place aforesaid,
now they were forced to run to other Towns and Places for Children, and
that they brought with them some fifteen, some sixteen Children every
night. For their journey they made use of all sorts of Instruments, of
Beasts, of Men, of Spits, and Posts, according as they had opportunity.
If they do ride upon Goats and have many Children with them," they have a
way of lengthening the goat with a spit, "and then are anointed with the
aforesaid Ointment. A little Girl of Elfdale confessed, That, naming the
name of JESUS, as she was carried away, she fell suddenly upon the Ground
and got a great hole in her Side, which the Devil presently healed up
again. The first thing they must do at Blockula was that they must deny
all and devote themselves Body and Soul to the Devil, and promise to
serve him faithfully, and confirm all this with an Oath. Hereupon they
cut their Fingers, and with their Bloud writ their Name in his Book. He
caused them to be baptized by such Priests as he had there and made them
confirm their Baptism with dreadful Oaths and Imprecations. Here-upon the
Devil gave them a Purse, wherein their filings of Clocks [bells], with a
Stone tied to it, which they threw into the Water, and then they were
forced to speak these words: _As these filings of the Clock do never
return to the Clock from which they are taken, so may my soul never
return to Heaven_. The diet they did use to have there was Broth with
Colworts and Bacon in it, Oatmeal-Bread spread with Butter, Milk, and
Cheese. Sometimes it tasted very well, sometimes very ill. After Meals,
they went to Dancing, and in the mean while Swore and Cursed most
dreadfully, and afterward went to fighting one with another. The Devil
had Sons and Daughters by them, which he did marry together, and they did
couple and brought forth Toads and Serpents. If he hath a mind to be
merry with them, he lets them all ride upon Spits before him, takes
afterwards the Spits and beats them black and blue, and then laughs at
them. They had seen sometimes a very great Devil like a Dragon, with fire
about him and bound with an Iron Chain, and the Devil that converses with
them tells them that, if they confess anything, he will let that great
Devil loose upon them, whereby all _Sweedland_ shall come into great
danger. The Devil taught them to milk, which was in this wise: they used
to stick a knife in the Wall and hang a kind of Label on it, which they
drew and stroaked, and as long as this lasted the Persons that they had
Power over were miserably plagued, and the Beasts were milked that way
till sometimes they died of it. The minister of Elfdale declared that one
Night these Witches were to his thinking upon the crown of his Head and
that from thence he had had a long-continued Pain of the Head. One of the
Witches confessed, too, that the Devil had sent her to torment the
Minister, and that she was ordered to use a Nail and strike it into his
Head, but it would not enter very deep. They confessed also that the
Devil gives them a Beast about the bigness and shape of a young Cat,
which they call a _Carrier_, and that he gives them a Bird too as big as
a Raven, but white. And these two Creatures they can send anywhere, and
wherever they come they take away all sorts of Victuals they can get.
What the Bird brings they may keep for themselves; but what the Carrier
brings they must reserve for the Devil. The Lords Commissioners were
indeed very earnest and took great Pains to persuade them to show some of
their Tricks, but to no Purpose; for they did all unanimously confess,
that, since they had confessed all, they found that all their Witchcraft
was gone, and that the Devil at this time appeared to them very terrible
with Claws on his Hands and Feet, and with Horns on his Head and a long
Tail behind." At Blockula "the Devil had a Church, such another as in the
town of Mohra. When the Commissioners were coming, he told the Witches
they should not fear them, for he would certainly kill them all. And they
confessed that some of them had attempted to murther the Commissioners,
but had not been able to effect it."

In these confessions we find included nearly all the particulars of the
popular belief concerning witchcraft, and see the gradual degradation of
the once superb Lucifer to the vulgar scarecrow with horns and tail. "The
Prince of Darkness _was_ a gentleman." From him who had not lost all his
original brightness, to this dirty fellow who leaves a stench, sometimes
of brimstone, behind him, the descent is a long one. For the dispersion
of this foul odor Dr. Henry More gives an odd reason. "The Devil also, as
in other stories, leaving an ill smell behind him, seems to imply the
reality of the business, those adscititious particles he held together in
his visible vehicle being loosened at his vanishing and so offending the
nostrils by their floating and diffusing themselves in the open Air." In
all the stories vestiges of Paganism are not indistinct. The three
principal witch gatherings of the year were held on the days of great
pagan festivals, which were afterwards adopted by the Church. Maury
supposes the witches' Sabbath to be derived from the rites of Bacchus
Sabazius, and accounts in this way for the Devil's taking the shape of a
he-goat. But the name was more likely to be given from hatred of the
Jews, and the goat may have a much less remote origin. Bodin assumes the
identity of the Devil with Pan, and in the popular mythology both of
Kelts and Teutons there were certain hairy wood-demons called by the
former _Dus_ and by the latter _Scrat_. Our common names of _Deuse_ and
_Old Scratch_ are plainly derived from these, and possibly _Old Harry_ is
a corruption of _Old Hairy_. By Latinization they became Satyrs. Here, at
any rate, is the source of the cloven hoof. The belief in the Devil's
appearing to his worshippers as a goat is very old. Possibly the fact
that this animal was sacred to Thor, the god of thunder, may explain it.
Certain it is that the traditions of Vulcan, Thor, and Wayland[104]
converged at last in Satan. Like Vulcan, he was hurled from heaven, and
like him he still limps across the stage in Mephistopheles, though
without knowing why. In Germany, he has a horse's and not a cloven
foot,[105] because the horse was a frequent pagan sacrifice, and
therefore associated with devil-worship under the new dispensation. Hence
the horror of hippophagism which some French gastronomes are striving to
overcome. Everybody who has read "Tom Brown," or Wordsworth's Sonnet on a
German stove, remembers the Saxon horse sacred to Woden. The raven was
also his peculiar bird, and Grimm is inclined to think this the reason
why the witch's familiar appears so often in that shape. It is true that
our _Old Nick_ is derived from _Nikkar_, one of the titles of that
divinity, but the association of the Evil One with the raven is older,
and most probably owing to the ill-omened character of the bird itself.
Already in the apocryphal gospel of the "Infancy," the demoniac Son of
the Chief Priest puts on his head one of the swaddling-clothes of Christ
which Mary has hung out to dry, and forthwith "the devils began to come
out of his mouth and to fly away as _crows_ and serpents."

It will be noticed that the witches underwent a form of baptism. As the
system gradually perfected itself among the least imaginative of men, as
the superstitious are apt to be, they could do nothing better than
describe Satan's world as in all respects the reverse of that which had
been conceived by the orthodox intellect as Divine. Have you an
illustrated Bible of the last century? Very good. Turn it upside down,
and you find the prints on the whole about as near nature as ever, and
yet pretending to be something new by a simple device that saves the
fancy a good deal of trouble. For, while it is true that the poetic fancy
plays, yet the faculty which goes by that pseudonyme in prosaic minds
(and it was by such that the details of this Satanic commerce were pieced
together) is hard put to it for invention, and only too thankful for any
labor-saving contrivance whatsoever. Accordingly, all it need take the
trouble to do was to reverse the ideas of sacred things already engraved
on its surface, and behold, a kingdom of hell with all the merit and none
of the difficulty of originality! "Uti olim Deus populo suo Hierosolymis
Synagogas erexit ut in iis ignarus legis divinae populus erudiretur,
voluntatemque Dei placitam ex verbo in iis praedicato hauriret; ita et
Diabolus in omnibus omnino suis actionibus simiam Dei agens, gregi suo
acherontico conventus et synagogas, quas satanica sabbata vocant,
indicit.... Atque de hisce Conventibus et Synagogis Lamiarum nullus
Antorum quos quidem evolvi, imo nec ipse Lamiarum Patronus [here he
glances at Wierus] scilicet ne dubiolum quidem movit. Adeo ut tuto
affirmari liceat conventus a diabolo certo institui. Quos vel ipse,
tanquam praeses collegii, vel per daemonem, qui ad cujuslibet sagae
custodiam constitutus est, ... vel per alios Magos aut sagas per unum aut
duos dies antequam fiat congregatio denunciat.... Loci in quibus solent a
daemone coetus et conventicula malefica institui plerumque sunt
sylvestres, occulti, subterranei, et ab hominum conversatione remoti....
Evocatae hoc modo et tempore Lamiae, ... daemon illis persuadet eas non
posse conventiculis interesse nisi nudum corpus unguento ex corpusculis
infantum ante baptismum necatorum praeparato illinant, idque propterea
solum illis persuadet ut ad quam plurimas infantum insontium caedes eas
alliciat.... Unctionis ritu peracto, abiturientes, ne forte a maritis in
lectis desiderantur, vel per incantationem somnum, aurem nimirum
vellicando dextra manu prius praedicto unguine illita, conciliant maritis
ex quo non facile possunt excitari; vel daemones personas quasdam
dormientibus adumbrant, quas, si contigeret expergisci, suas uxores esse
putarent; vel interea alius daemon in forma succubi ad latus maritorum
adjungitur qui loco uxoris est.... Et ita sine omni remora insidentes
baculo, furcae, scopis, aut arundini vel tauro, equo, sui, hirco, aut
cani, _quorum omnium exempla prodidit Remig_. L.I.c. 14, devehuntur a
daemone ad loca destinata.... Ibi daemon praeses conventus in solio sedet
magnifico, forma terrifica, ut plurimum hirci vel canis. Ad quem
advenientes viri juxta ac mulieres accedunt reverentiae exhibendae et
adorandi gratia, non tamen uno eodemque modo. Interdum complicatis
genubus supplices; interdum obverso incedentes tergo et modo retrogrado,
in oppositum directo illi reverentiae quam nos praestare solemus. In
signum homagii (sit honor castis auribus) Principem suum hircum in
[obscaenissimo quodam corporis loco] summa cum reverentia sacrilego ore
osculantur. Quo facto, sacrificia daemoni faciunt multis modis. Saepe
liberos suos ipsi offerunt. Saepe communione sumpta benedictam hostiam in
ore asservatam et extractam (horreo dicere) daemoni oblatam coram eo pede
conculcant. His et similibus flagitiis et abominationibus execrandis
commissis, incipiunt mensis assidere et convivari de cibis insipidis,
insulsis,[106] furtivis, quos daemon suppeditat, vel quos singulae
attulere, inderdum tripudiant ante convivium, interdum post illud.... Nec
mensae sua deest benedictio coetu hoc digna, verbis constans plane
blasphemis quibus ipsum Beelzebub et creatorem et datorem et
conservatorem omnium profitentur. Eadem sententia est gratiarum actionis.
Post convivium, dorsis invicem obversis ... choreas ducere et cantare
fescenninos in honorem daemonis obscaenissimos, vel ad tympanum
fistulamve sedentis alicujus in bifida arbore saltare ... tum suis
amasiis daemonibus foedissime commisceri. Ultimo pulveribus (quos aliqui
scribunt esse cineres hirci illis quem daemon assumpserat et quem adorant
subito coram illius flamma absumpti) vel venenis aliis acceptis, saepe
etiam cuique indicto nocendi penso, et pronunciato Pseudothei daemonis
decreto, ULCISCAMINI VOS, ALIOQUI MORIEMINI. Duabus aut tribus horis in
hisce ludis exactis circa Gallicinium daemon convivas suas
dimittit."[107] Sometimes they were baptized anew. Sometimes they
renounced the Virgin, whom they called in their rites _extensam
mulierem_. If the Ave Mary bell should ring while the demon is conveying
home his witch, he lets her drop. In the confession of Agnes Simpson the
meeting place was North Berwick Kirk. "The Devil started up himself in
the pulpit, like a meikle black man, and calling the row [roll] every one
answered, _Here_. At his command they opened up three graves and cutted
off from the dead corpses the joints of their fingers, toes, and nose,
and parted them amongst them, and the said Agnes Simpson got for her part
a winding-sheet and two joints. The Devil commanded them to keep the
joints upon them while [till] they were dry, and then to make a powder of
them to do evil withal." This confession is sadly memorable, for it was
made before James I., then king of Scots, and is said to have convinced
him of the reality of witchcraft. Hence the act passed in the first year
of his reign in England, and not repealed till 1736, under which, perhaps
in consequence of which, so many suffered.

The notion of these witch-gatherings was first suggested, there can be
little doubt, by secret conventicles of persisting or relapsed pagans, or
of heretics. Both, perhaps, contributed their share. Sometimes a
mountain, as in Germany the Blocksberg,[108] sometimes a conspicuous oak
or linden, and there were many such among both Gauls and Germans sacred
of old to pagan rites, and later a lonely heath, a place where two roads
crossed each other, a cavern, gravel-pit, or quarry, the gallows, or the
churchyard, was the place appointed for their diabolic orgies. That the
witch could be conveyed bodily to these meetings was at first admitted
without any question. But as the husbands of accused persons sometimes
testified that their wives had not left their beds on the alleged night
of meeting, the witchmongers were put to strange shifts by way of
accounting for it. Sometimes the Devil imposed on the husband by a
_deceptio visus_; sometimes a demon took the place of the wife; sometimes
the body was left and the spirit only transported. But the more orthodox
opinion was in favor of corporeal deportation. Bodin appeals triumphantly
to the cases of Habbakuk (now in the Apocrypha, but once making a part of
the Book of Daniel), and of Philip in the Acts of the Apostles. "I find,"
he says, "this ecstatic ravishment they talk of much more wonderful than
bodily transport. And if the Devil has this power, as they confess, of
ravishing the spirit out of the body, is it not more easy to carry body
and soul without separation or division of the reasonable part, than to
withdraw and divide the one from the other without death?" The author of
_De Lamiis_ argues for the corporeal theory. "The evil Angels have the
same superiority of natural power as the good, since by the Fall they
lost none of the gifts of nature, but only those of grace." Now, as we
know that good angels can thus transport men in the twinkling of an eye,
it follows that evil ones may do the same. He fortifies his position by a
recent example from secular history. "No one doubts about John Faust, who
dwelt at Wittenberg, in the time of the sainted Luther, and who, seating
himself on his cloak with his companions, was conveyed away and borne by
the Devil through the air to distant kingdoms."[109] Glanvin inclines
rather to the spiritual than the material hypothesis, and suggests "that
the Witch's anointing herself before she takes her flight may perhaps
serve to keep the body tenantable and in fit disposition to receive the
spirit at its return." Aubrey, whose "Miscellanies" were published in
1696, had no doubts whatever as to the physical asportation of the witch.
He says that a gentleman of his acquaintance "was in Portugal _anno_
1655, when one was burnt by the inquisition for being brought thither
from Goa, in East India, in the air, in an incredible short time." As to
the conveyance of witches through crevices, keyholes, chimneys, and the
like, Herr Walburger discusses the question with such comical gravity
that we must give his argument in the undiminished splendor of its
jurisconsult latinity. The first sentence is worthy of Magister
Bartholomaeus Kuckuk. "Haec realis delatio trahit me quoque ad illam
vulgo agitatam quaestionem: _An diabolus Lamias corpore per angusta
foramina parietum, fenestrarum, portarum aut per cavernas ignifluas ferre
queant?_" (Surely if _tace_ be good Latin for a candle, _caverna
igniflua_ should be flattering to a chimney.) "Resp. Lamiae praedicto
modo saepius fatentur sese a diabolo per caminum aut alia loca angustiora
scopis insidentes per aerem ad montem Bructerorum deferri. Verum
deluduntur a Satana istaec mulieres hoc casu egregie nec revera rimulas
istas penetrant, sed solummodo daemon praecedens latenter aperit et
claudit januas vel fenestras corporis earum capaces, per quas eas
intromittit quae putant se formam animalculi parvi, mustelae, catti,
locustae, et aliorum induisse. At si forte contingat ut per parietem se
delatam confiteatur Saga, tunc, si non totum hoc praestigiosum est,
daemonem tamen maxima celeritate tot quot sufficiunt lapides eximere et
sustinere aliosne ruant, et postea eadem celeritate iterum eos in suum
locum reponere, existimo: cum hominum adspectus hanc tartarei latomi
fraudem nequeat deprendere. Idem quoque judicium esse potest de
translatione per caminum. Siquidem si caverna igniflua justae
amplitudinis est ut nullo impedimento et haesitatione corpus humanum eam
perrepere possit, diabolo impossibile non esse per eam eas educere. Si
vero per inproportionatum (ut ita loquar) corporibus spatium eas educit
tunc meras illusiones praestigiosas esse censeo, nec a diabolo hoc unquam
effici posse. Ratio est, quoniam diabolus essentiam creaturae seu lamiae
immutare non potest, multo minus efficere ut majus corpus penetret per
spatium inproportionatum, alioquin corporum penetratio esset admittenda
quod contra naturam et omne Physicorum principium est." This is fine
reasoning, and the _ut ita loquar_ thrown in so carelessly, as if with a
deprecatory wave of the hand for using a less classical locution than
usual, strikes me as a very delicate touch indeed.

Grimm tells us that he does not know when broomsticks, spits, and similar
utensils were first assumed to be the canonical instruments of this
nocturnal equitation. He thinks it comparatively modern, but I suspect it
is as old as the first child that ever bestrode his father's staff, and
fancied it into a courser shod with wind, like those of Pindar. Alas for
the poverty of human invention! It cannot afford a hippogriff for an
everyday occasion. The poor old crones, badgered by inquisitors into
confessing they had been where they never were, were involved in the
further necessity of explaining how the devil they got there. The only
steed their parents had ever been rich enough to keep had been of this
domestic sort, and they no doubt had ridden in this inexpensive fashion,
imagining themselves the grand dames they saw sometimes flash by, in the
happy days of childhood, now so far away. Forced to give a _how_, and
unable to conceive of mounting in the air without something to sustain
them, their bewildered wits naturally took refuge in some such simple
subterfuge, and the broomstave, which might make part of the poorest
house's furniture, was the nearest at hand. If youth and good spirits
could put such life into a dead stick once, why not age and evil spirits
now? Moreover, what so likely as an _emeritus_ implement of this sort to
become the staff of a withered beldame, and thus to be naturally
associated with her image? I remember very well a poor half-crazed
creature, who always wore a scarlet cloak and leaned on such a stay,
cursing and banning after a fashion that would infallibly have burned her
two hundred years ago. But apart from any adventitious associations of
later growth, it is certain that a very ancient belief gave to magic the
power of imparting life, or the semblance of it, to inanimate things, and
thus sometimes making servants of them. The wands of the Egyptian
magicians were turned to serpents. Still nearer to the purpose is the
capital story of Lucian, out of which Goethe made his _Zauberlehrling_,
of the stick turned water-carrier. The classical theory of the witch's
flight was driven to no such vulgar expedients, the ointment turning her
into a bird for the nonce, as in Lucian and Apuleius. In those days, too,
there was nothing known of any camp-meeting of witches and wizards, but
each sorceress transformed herself that she might fly to her paramour.
According to some of the Scotch stories, the witch, after bestriding her
broomsticks must repeat the magic formula, _Horse and Hattork!_ The
flitting of these ill-omened night-birds, like nearly all the general
superstitions relating to witchcraft, mingles itself and is lost in a
throng of figures more august.[110] Diana, Bertha, Holda, Abundia,
Befana, once beautiful and divine, the bringers of blessing while men
slept, became demons haunting the drear of darkness with terror and
ominous suggestion. The process of disenchantment must have been a long
one, and none can say how soon it became complete. Perhaps we may take
Heine's word for it, that

                "Genau bei Weibern
  Weiss man niemals wo der Engel
  Aufhört und der Teufel anfängt."

Once goblinized, Herodias joins them, doomed still to bear about the
Baptist's head; and Woden, who, first losing his identity in the Wild
Huntsman, sinks by degrees into the mere _spook_ of a Suabian baron,
sinfully fond of field-sports, and therefore punished with an eternal
phantasm of them, "the hunter and the deer a shade." More and more
vulgarized, the infernal train snatches up and sweeps along with it every
lawless shape and wild conjecture of distempered fancy, streaming away at
last into a comet's tail of wild-haired hags, eager with unnatural hate
and more unnatural lust, the nightmare breed of some exorcist's or
inquisitor's surfeit, whose own lie has turned upon him in sleep.

As it is painfully interesting to trace the gradual degeneration of a
poetic faith into the ritual of unimaginative Tupperism, so it is amusing
to see pedantry clinging faithfully to the traditions of its prosaic
nature, and holding sacred the dead shells that once housed a moral
symbol. What a divine thing the _out_side always has been and continues
to be! And how the cast clothes of the mind continue always to be in
fashion! We turn our coats without changing the cut of them. But was it
possible for a man to change not only his skin but his nature? Were there
such things as _versipelles, lycanthropi, werwolfs,_ and _loupgarous?_ In
the earliest ages science was poetry, as in the later poetry has become
science. The phenomena of nature, imaginatively represented, were not
long in becoming myths. These the primal poets reproduced again as
symbols, no longer of physical, but of moral truths. By and by the
professional poets, in search of a subject, are struck by the fund of
picturesque material lying unused in them, and work them up once more as
narratives, with appropriate personages and decorations. Thence they take
the further downward step into legend, and from that to superstition. How
many metamorphoses between the elder Edda and the Nibelungen, between
Arcturus and the "Idyls of the King"! Let a good, thorough-paced proser
get hold of one of these stories, and he carefully desiccates them of
whatever fancy may be left, till he has reduced them to the proper
dryness of fact. King Lycaon, grandson by the spindleside of Oceanus,
after passing through all the stages I have mentioned, becomes the
ancestor of the werwolf. Ovid is put upon the stand as a witness, and
testifies to the undoubted fact of the poor monarch's own

  "Territus ipse fugit, nactusque silentia ruris
  Exululat, frustraque loqui conatur."

Does any one still doubt that men may be changed into beasts? Call
Lucian, call Apuleius, call Homer, whose story of the companions of
Ulysses made swine of by Circe, says Bodin, _n'est pas fable_. If that
arch-patron of sorcerers, Wierus, is still unconvinced, and pronounces
the whole thing a delusion of diseased imagination, what does he say to
Nebuchadnezzar? Nay, let St. Austin be subpoenaed, who declares that "in
his time among the Alps sorceresses were common, who, by making
travellers eat of a certain cheese, changed them into beasts of burden
and then back again into men." Too confiding tourist, beware of
_Gruyère_, especially at supper! Then, there was the Philosopher
Ammonius, whose lectures were constantly attended by an ass,--a
phenomenon not without parallel in more recent times, and all the more
credible to Bodin, who had been professor of civil law.

In one case we have fortunately the evidence of the ass himself. In
Germany, two witches who kept an inn made an ass of a young actor,--not
always a very prodigious transformation it will be thought by those
familiar with the stage. In his new shape he drew customers by his
amusing tricks,--_voluptates mille viatoribus exhibebat_. But one day
making his escape (having overheard the secret from his mistresses), he
plunged into the water and was disasinized to the extent of recovering
his original shape. "Id Petrus Damianus, vir sua aetate inter primos
numerandus, cum rem sciscitatus est diligentissime ex hero, _ex asino_,
ex mulieribus sagis confessis factum, Leoni VII. Papae narravit, et
postquam diu in utramque partem coram Papa fuit disputatum, hoc tandem
posse fieri fuit constitum." Bodin must have been delighted with this
story, though perhaps as a Protestant he might have vilipended the
infallible decision of the Pope in its favor. As for lycanthropy, that
was too common in his own time to need any confirmation. It was notorious
to all men. "In Livonia, during the latter part of December, a villain
goes about summoning the sorcerers to meet at a certain place, and if
they fail, the Devil scourges them thither with an iron rod, and that so
sharply that the marks of it remain upon them. Their captain goes before;
and they, to the number of several thousands, follow him across a river,
which passed, they change into wolves, and, casting themselves upon men
and flocks, do all manner of damage." This we have on the authority of
Melancthon's son-in-law, Gaspar Peucerus. Moreover, many books published
in Germany affirm "that one of the greatest kings in Christendom, not
long since dead, was often changed into a wolf." But what need of words?
The conclusive proof remains, that many in our own day, being put to the
torture, have confessed the fact, and been burned alive accordingly. The
maintainers of the reality of witchcraft in the next century seem to have
dropped the _werwolf_ by common consent, though supported by the same
kind of evidence they relied on in other matters, namely, that of ocular
witnesses, the confession of the accused, and general notoriety. So
lately as 1765 the French peasants believed the "wild beast of the
Gevaudan" to be a _loupgarou_, and that, I think, is his last appearance.

The particulars of the concubinage of witches with their familiars were
discussed with a relish and a filthy minuteness worthy of Sanchez. Could
children be born of these devilish amours? Of course they could, said one
party; are there not plenty of cases in authentic history? Who was the
father of Romulus and Remus? nay, not so very long ago, of Merlin?
Another party denied the possibility of the thing altogether. Among these
was Luther, who declared the children either to be supposititious, or
else mere imps, disguised as innocent sucklings, and known as
_Wechselkinder_, or changelings, who were common enough, as everybody
must be aware. Of the intercourse itself Luther had no doubts.[111] A
third party took a middle ground, and believed that vermin and toads
might be the offspring of such amours. And how did the Demon, a mere
spiritual essence, contrive himself a body? Some would have it that he
entered into dead bodies, by preference, of course, those of sorcerers.
It is plain, from the confession of De la Rue, that this was the theory
of his examiners. This also had historical evidence in its favor. There
was the well-known leading case of the Bride of Corinth, for example. And
but yesterday, as it were, at Crossen in Silesia, did not Christopher
Monig, an apothecary's servant, come back after being buried, and do
duty, as if nothing particular had happened, putting up prescriptions as
usual, and "pounding drugs in the mortar with a mighty noise"?
Apothecaries seem to have been special victims of these Satanic pranks,
for another appeared at Reichenbach not long before, affirming that, "he
had poisoned several men with his drugs," which certainly gives an air of
truth to the story. Accordingly the Devil is represented as being
unpleasantly cold to the touch. "Caietan escrit qu'une sorciere demanda
un iour au diable pourquoy il ne se rechauffoit, qui fist response qu'il
faisoit ce qu'il pouuoit." Poor Devil! But there are cases in which the
demon is represented as so hot that his grasp left a seared spot as black
as charcoal. Perhaps some of them came from the torrid zone of their
broad empire, and others from the thrilling regions of thick-ribbed ice.
Those who were not satisfied with the dead-body theory contented
themselves, like Dr. More, with that of "adscititious particles," which
has, to be sure, a more metaphysical and scholastic flavor about it. That
the demons really came, either corporeally or through some diabolic
illusion that amounted to the same thing, and that the witch devoted
herself to him body and soul, scarce anybody was bold enough to doubt. To
these familiars their venerable paramours gave endearing nicknames, such
as My little Master, or My dear Martin,--the latter, probably, after the
heresy of Luther, and when the rack was popish. The famous witch-finder
Hopkins enables us to lengthen the list considerably. One witch whom he
convicted, after being "kept from sleep two or three nights," called in
five of her devilish servitors. The first was "_Holt_, who came in like a
white kitling"; the second "_Jarmara_, like a fat spaniel without any
legs at all"; the third, "_Vinegar Tom_, who was like a long-tailed
greyhound with an head like an oxe, with a long tail and broad eyes, who,
when this discoverer spoke to and bade him to the place provided for him
and his angells, immediately transformed himself into the shape of a
child of foure yeares old, without a head, and gave half a dozen turnes
about the house and vanished at the doore"; the fourth, "_Sack and
Sugar_, like a black rabbet"; the fifth, "_News_, like a polcat." Other
names of his finding were Elemauzer, Pywacket, Peck-in-the-Crown,
Grizzel, and Greedygut, "which," he adds, "no mortal could invent." The
name of _Robin_, which we met with in the confession of Alice Duke, has,
perhaps, wider associations than the woman herself dreamed of; for,
through Robin des Bois and Robin Hood, it may be another of those
scattered traces that lead us back to Woden. Probably, however, it is
only our old friend Robin Goodfellow, whose namesake Knecht Ruprecht
makes such a figure in the German fairy mythology. Possessed persons
called in higher agencies,--Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Powers; and
among the witnesses against Urbain Grandier we find the names of
Leviathan, Behemoth, Isaacarum, Belaam, Asmodeus, and Beherit, who spoke
French very well, but were remarkably poor Latinists, knowing, indeed,
almost as little of the language as if their youth had been spent in
writing Latin verses.[112] A shrewd Scotch physician tried them with
Gaelic, but they could make nothing of it.

It was only when scepticism had begun to make itself uncomfortably
inquisitive, that the Devil had any difficulty in making himself visible
and even palpable. In simpler times, demons would almost seem to have
made no inconsiderable part of the population. Trithemius tells of one
who served as cook to the Bishop of Hildesheim (one shudders to think of
the school where he had graduated as _Cordon bleu_), and who delectebatur
esse cum hominibus, loquens, interrogans, respondens familiariter
omnibus, aliquando visibiliter, aliquando invisibiliter apparens. This
last feat of "appearing invisibly" would have been worth seeing. In 1554,
the Devil came of a Christmas eve to Lawrence Doner, a parish priest in
Saxony, and asked to be confessed. "Admissus, horrendas adversus Christum
filium Dei blasphemias evomuit. Verum cum virtute verbi Dei a parocho
victus esset, intolerabili post se relicto foetore abiit." Splendidly
dressed, with two companions, he frequented an honest man's house at
Rothenberg. He brought with him a piper or fiddler, and contrived feasts
and dances under pretext of wooing the goodman's daughter. He boasted
that he was a foreign nobleman of immense wealth, and, for a time, was as
successful as an Italian courier has been known to be at one of our
fashionable watering-places. But the importunity of the guest and his
friends at length displicuit patrifamilias, who accordingly one evening
invited a minister of the Word to meet them at supper, and entered upon
pious discourse with him from the word of God. Wherefore, seeking other
matter of conversation, they said that there were many facetious things
more suitable to exhilarate the supper-table than the interpretation of
Holy Writ, and begged that they might be no longer bored with Scripture.
Thoroughly satisfied by their singular way of thinking that his guests
were diabolical, paterfamilias cries out in Latin worthy of Father Tom,
"Apagite, vos scelerati nebulones!" This said, the tartarean impostor and
his companions at once vanished with a great tumult, leaving behind them
a most unpleasant foetor and the bodies of three men who had been hanged.
Perhaps if the clergyman-cure were faithfully tried upon the next
fortune-hunting count with a large real estate in whiskers and an
imaginary one in Barataria, he also might vanish, leaving a strong smell
of barber's-shop, and taking with him a body that will come to the
gallows in due time. It were worth trying. Luther tells of a demon who
served as _famulus_ in a monastery, fetching beer for the monks, and
always insisting on honest measure for his money. There is one case on
record where the Devil appealed to the courts for protection in his
rights. A monk, going to visit his mistress, fell dead as he was passing
a bridge. The good and bad angel came to litigation about his soul. The
case was referred by agreement to Eichard, Duke of Normandy, who decided
that the monk's body should be carried back to the bridge, and his soul
restored to it by the claimants. If he persevered in keeping his
assignation, the Devil was to have him, if not, then the Angel. The monk,
thus put upon his guard, turns back and saves his soul, such as it
was.[113] Perhaps the most impudent thing the Devil ever did was to open
a school of magic in Toledo. The ceremony of graduation in this
institution was peculiar. The senior class had all to run through a
narrow cavern, and the venerable president was entitled to the hindmost,
if he could catch him. Sometimes it happened that he caught only his
shadow, and in that case the man who had been nimble enough to do what
Goethe pronounces impossible, became the most profound magician of his
year. Hence our proverb of _the Devil take the hindmost_, and Chamisso's
story of Peter Schlemihl.

There is no end of such stories. They were repeated and believed by the
gravest and wisest men down to the end of the sixteenth century; they
were received undoubtingly by the great majority down to the end of the
seventeenth. The Devil was an easy way of accounting for what was beyond
men's comprehension. He was the simple and satisfactory answer to all the
conundrums of Nature. And what the Devil had not time to bestow his
personal attention upon, the witch was always ready to do for him. Was a
doctor at a loss about a case? How could he save his credit more cheaply
than by pronouncing it witchcraft, and turning it over to the parson to
be exorcised? Did a man's cow die suddenly, or his horse fall lame?
Witchcraft! Did one of those writers of controversial quartos, heavy as
the stone of Diomed, feel a pain in the small of his back? Witchcraft!
Unhappily there were always ugly old women; and if you crossed them in
any way, or did them a wrong, they were given to scolding and banning.
If, within a year or two after, anything should happen to you or yours,
why, of course, old Mother Bombie or Goody Blake must be at the bottom of
it. For it was perfectly well known that there were witches, (does not
God's law say expressly, "Suffer not a _witch_ to live?") and that they
could cast a spell by the mere glance of their eyes, could cause you to
pine away by melting a waxen image, could give you a pain wherever they
liked by sticking pins into the same, could bring sickness into your
house or into your barn by hiding a Devil's powder under the threshold;
and who knows what else? Worst of all, they could send a demon into your
body, who would cause you to vomit pins, hair, pebbles, knives,-indeed,
almost anything short of a cathedral,-without any fault of yours, utter
through you the most impertinent things _verbi ministro_, and, in short,
make you the most important personage in the parish for the time being.
Meanwhile, you were an object of condolence and contribution to the whole
neighborhood. What wonder if a lazy apprentice or servant-maid (Bekker
gives several instances of the kind detected by him) should prefer being
possessed, with its attendant perquisites, to drudging from morning till
night? And to any one who has observed how common a thing in certain
states of mind self-connivance is, and how near it is to self-deception,
it will not be surprising that some were, to all intents and purposes,
really possessed. Who has never felt an almost irresistible temptation,
and seemingly not self-originated, to let himself go? to let his mind
gallop and kick and curvet and roll like a horse turned loose? in short,
as we Yankees say, "to speak out in meeting"? Who never had it suggested
to him by the fiend to break in at a funeral with a real character of the
deceased, instead of that Mrs. Grundyfied view of him which the clergyman
is so painfully elaborating in his prayer? Remove the pendulum of
conventional routine, and the mental machinery runs on with a whir that
gives a delightful excitement to sluggish temperaments, and is, perhaps,
the natural relief of highly nervous organizations. The tyrant Will is
dethroned, and the sceptre snatched by his frolic sister Whim. This state
of things, if continued, must become either insanity or imposture. But
who can say precisely where consciousness ceases and a kind of automatic
movement begins, the result of over-excitement? The subjects of these
strange disturbances have been almost always young women or girls at a
critical period of their development. Many of the most remarkable cases
have occurred in convents, and both there and elsewhere, as in other
kinds of temporary nervous derangement, have proved contagious.
Sometimes, as in the affair of the nuns of Loudon, there seems every
reason to suspect a conspiracy; but I am not quite ready to say that
Grandier was the only victim, and that some of the energumens were not
unconscious tools in the hands of priestcraft and revenge. One thing is
certain: that in the dioceses of humanely sceptical prelates the cases of
possession were sporadic only, and either cured, or at least hindered
from becoming epidemic, by episcopal mandate. Cardinal Mazarin, when
Papal vice-legate at Avignon, made an end of the trade of exorcism within
his government.

But scepticism, down to the beginning of the eighteenth century, was the
exception. Undoubting and often fanatical belief was the rule. It is easy
enough to be astonished at it, still easier to misapprehend it. How could
sane men have been deceived by such nursery-tales? Still more, how could
they have suffered themselves, on what seems to us such puerile evidence,
to consent to such atrocious cruelties, nay, to urge them on? As to the
belief, we should remember that the human mind, when it sails by _dead
reckoning_, without the possibility of a fresh observation, perhaps
without the instruments necessary to take one, will sometimes bring up in
very strange latitudes. Do we of the nineteenth century, then, always
strike out boldly into the unlandmarked deep of speculation and shape our
courses by the stars, or do we not sometimes con our voyage by what seem
to us the firm and familiar headlands of truth, planted by God himself,
but which may, after all, be no more than an insubstantial mockery of
cloud or airy juggle of mirage? The refraction of our own atmosphere has
by no means made an end of its tricks with the appearances of things in
our little world of thought. The men of that day believed what they saw,
or, as our generation would put it, what they _thought_ they saw. Very
good. The vast majority of men believe, and always will believe, on the
same terms. When one comes along who can partly distinguish the thing
seen from that travesty or distortion of it which the thousand disturbing
influences within him and without him would _make_ him see, we call him a
great philosopher. All our intellectual charts are engraved according to
his observations, and we steer contentedly by them till some man whose
brain rests on a still more unmovable basis corrects them still further
by eliminating what his predecessor thought _he_ saw. We must account for
many former aberrations in the moral world by the presence of more or
less nebulous bodies of a certain gravity which modified the actual
position of truth in its relation to the mind, and which, if they have
now vanished, have made way, perhaps, for others whose influence will in
like manner be allowed for by posterity in their estimate of us. In
matters of faith, astrology has by no means yet given place to astronomy,
nor alchemy become chemistry, which knows what to seek for and how to
find it. In the days of witchcraft all science was still in the condition
of _May-be;_ it is only just bringing itself to find a higher
satisfaction in the imperturbable _Must-be_ of law. We should remember
that what we call _natural_ may have a very different meaning for one
generation from that which it has for another. The boundary between the
"other" world and this ran till very lately, and at some points runs
still, through a vast tract of unexplored border-land of very uncertain
tenure. Even now the territory which Reason holds firmly as Lord Warden
of the marches during daylight, is subject to sudden raids of Imagination
by night. But physical darkness is not the only one that lends
opportunity to such incursions; and in midsummer 1692, when Ebenezer
Bapson, looking out of the fort at Gloucester in broad day, saw shapes of
men, sometimes in blue coats like Indians, sometimes in white waistcoats
like Frenchmen, it seemed _more_ natural to most men that they should be
spectres than men of flesh and blood. Granting the assumed premises, as
nearly every one did, the syllogism was perfect.

So much for the apparent reasonableness of the belief, since every man's
logic is satisfied with a legitimate deduction from his own postulates.
Causes for the cruelty to which the belief led are not further to seek.
Toward no crime have men shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel as in
punishing difference of belief, and the first systematic persecutions for
witchcraft began with the inquisitors in the South of France in the
thirteenth century. It was then and there that the charge of sexual
uncleanness with demons was first devised. Persecuted heretics would
naturally meet in darkness and secret, and it was easy to blacken such
meetings with the accusation of deeds so foul as to shun the light of day
and the eyes of men. They met to renounce God and worship the Devil. But
this was not enough. To excite popular hatred and keep it fiercely alive,
fear must be mingled with it; and this end was reached by making the
heretic also a sorcerer, who, by the Devil's help, could and would work
all manner of fiendish mischief. When by this means the belief in a
league between witch and demon had become firmly established, witchcraft
grew into a well-defined crime, hateful enough in itself to furnish
pastime for the torturer and food for the fagot. In the fifteenth
century, witches were burned by thousands, and it may well be doubted if
all paganism together was ever guilty of so many human sacrifices in the
same space of time. In the sixteenth, these holocausts were appealed to
as conclusive evidence of the reality of the crime, terror was again
aroused, the more vindictive that its sources were so vague and
intangible, and cruelty was the natural consequence. Nothing but an
abject panic, in which the whole use of reason, except as a mill to grind
out syllogisms, was altogether lost, will account for some chapters in
Bodin's _Démonomanie_. Men were surrounded by a forever-renewed
conspiracy whose ramifications they could not trace, though they might
now and then lay hold on one of its associates. Protestant and Catholic
might agree in nothing else, but they were unanimous in their dread of
this invisible enemy. If fright could turn civilized Englishmen into
savage Iroquois during the imagined negro plots of New York in 1741 and
of Jamaica in 1865, if the same invisible omnipresence of Fenianism shall
be able to work the same miracle, as it perhaps will, next year in
England itself, why need we be astonished that the blows should have
fallen upon many an innocent head when men were striking wildly in
self-defence, as they supposed, against the unindictable Powers of
Darkness, against a plot which could be carried on by human agents, but
with invisible accessories and by supernatural means? In the seventeenth
century an element was added which pretty well supplied the place of
heresy as a sharpener of hatred and an awakener of indefinable suspicion.
Scepticism had been born into the world, almost more hateful than heresy,
because it had the manners of good society and contented itself with a
smile, a shrug, an almost imperceptible lift of the eyebrow,--a kind of
reasoning especially exasperating to disputants of the old school, who
still cared about victory, even when they did not about the principles
involved in the debate.

The Puritan emigration to New England took place at a time when the
belief in diabolic agency had been hardly called in question, much less
shaken. The early adventurers brought it with them to a country in every
way fitted, not only to keep it alive, but to feed it into greater vigor.
The solitude of the wilderness (and solitude alone, by dis-furnishing the
brain of its commonplace associations, makes it an apt theatre for the
delusions of imagination), the nightly forest noises, the glimpse,
perhaps, through the leaves, of a painted savage face, uncertain whether
of redman or Devil, but more likely of the latter, above all, that
measureless mystery of the unknown and conjectural stretching away
illimitable on all sides and vexing the mind, somewhat as physical
darkness does, with intimation and misgiving,--under all these
influences, whatever seeds of superstition had in any way got over from
the Old World would find an only too congenial soil in the New. The
leaders of that emigration believed and taught that demons loved to dwell
in waste and wooded places, that the Indians did homage to the bodily
presence of the Devil, and that he was especially enraged against those
who had planted an outpost of the true faith upon this continent hitherto
all his own. In the third generation of the settlement, in proportion as
living faith decayed, the clergy insisted all the more strongly on the
traditions of the elders, and as they all placed the sources of goodness
and religion in some inaccessible Other World rather than in the soul of
man himself, they clung to every shred of the supernatural as proof of
the existence of that Other World, and of its interest in the affairs of
this. They had the countenance of all the great theologians, Catholic as
well as Protestant, of the leaders of the Reformation, and in their own
day of such men as More and Glanvil and Baxter.[114] If to all these
causes, more or less operative in 1692, we add the harassing excitement
of an Indian war (urged on by Satan in his hatred of the churches), with
its daily and nightly apprehensions and alarms, we shall be less
astonished that the delusion in Salem Village rose so high than that it
subsided so soon.

I have already said that it was religious antipathy or clerical interest
that first made heresy and witchcraft identical and cast them into the
same expiatory fire. The invention was a Catholic one, but it is plain
that Protestants soon learned its value and were not slow in making it a
plague to the inventor. It was not till after the Reformation that there
was any systematic hunting out of witches in England. Then, no doubt, the
innocent charms and rhyming prayers of the old religion were regarded as
incantations, and twisted into evidence against miserable beldames who
mumbled over in their dotage what they had learned at their mother's
knee. It is plain, at least, that this was one of Agnes Simpson's crimes.

But as respects the frivolity of the proof adduced, there was nothing to
choose between Catholic and Protestant. Out of civil and canon law a net
was woven through whose meshes there was no escape, and into it the
victims were driven by popular clamor. Suspicion of witchcraft was
justified by general report, by the ill-looks of the suspected, by being
silent when accused, by her mother's having been a witch, by flight, by
exclaiming when arrested, _I am lost!_ by a habit of using imprecations,
by the evidence of two witnesses, by the accusation of a man on his
death-bed, by a habit of being away from home at night, by fifty other
things equally grave. Anybody might be an accuser,--a personal enemy, an
infamous person, a child, parent, brother, or sister. Once accused, the
culprit was not to be allowed to touch the ground on the way to prison,
was not to be left alone there lest she have interviews with the Devil
and get from him the means of being insensible under torture, was to be
stripped and shaved in order to prevent her concealing some charm, or to
facilitate the finding of witch-marks. Her right thumb tied to her left
great-toe, and _vice versa_, she was thrown into the water. If she
floated, she was a witch; if she sank and was drowned, she was lucky.
This trial, as old as the days of Pliny the Elder, was gone out of
fashion, the author of _De Lamiis_ assures us, in his day, everywhere but
in Westphalia. "On halfproof or strong presumption," says Bodin, the
judge may proceed to torture. If the witch did not shed tears under the
rack, it was almost conclusive of guilt. On this topic of torture he
grows eloquent. The rack does very well, but to thrust splinters between
the nails and flesh of hands and feet "is the most excellent gehenna of
all, and practised in Turkey." That of Florence, where they seat the
criminal in a hanging chair so contrived that if he drop asleep it
overturns and leaves him hanging by a rope which wrenches his arms
backwards, is perhaps even better, "for the limbs are not broken, and
without trouble or labor one gets out the truth." It is well in carrying
the accused to the chamber of torture to cause some in the next room to
shriek fearfully as if on the rack, that they may be terrified into
confession. It is proper to tell them that their accomplices have
confessed and accused them ("though they have done no such thing") that
they may do the same out of revenge. The judge may also with a good
conscience lie to the prisoner and tell her that if she admit her guilt,
she may be pardoned. This is Bodin's opinion, but Walburger, writing a
century later, concludes that the judge may go to any extent _citra
mendacium_, this side of lying. He may tell the witch that he will be
favorable, meaning to the Commonwealth; that he will see that she has a
new house built for her, that is, a wooden one to burn her in; that her
confession will be most useful in saving her life, to wit, her life
eternal. There seems little difference between the German's white lies
and the Frenchman's black ones. As to punishment, Bodin is fierce for
burning. Though a Protestant, he quotes with evident satisfaction a
decision of the magistrates that one "who had eaten flesh on a Friday
should be burned alive unless he repented, and if he repented, yet he was
hanged out of compassion." A child under twelve who will not confess
meeting with the Devil should be put to death if convicted of the fact,
though Bodin allows that Satan made no express compact with those who had
not arrived at puberty. This he learned from the examination of Jeanne
Harvillier, who deposed, "that, though her mother dedicated her to Satan
so soon as she was born, yet she was not married to him, nor did he
demand that, or her renunciation of God, till she had attained the age of

There is no more painful reading than this, except the trials of the
witches themselves. These awaken, by turns, pity, indignation, disgust,
and dread,--dread at the thought of what the human mind may be brought to
believe not only probable, but proven. But it is well to be put upon our
guard by lessons of this kind, for the wisest man is in some respects
little better than a madman in a strait-waistcoat of habit, public
opinion, prudence, or the like. Scepticism began at length to make itself
felt, but it spread slowly and was shy of proclaiming itself. The
orthodox party was not backward to charge with sorcery whoever doubted
their facts or pitied their victims. Bodin says that it is good cause of
suspicion against a judge if he turn the matter into ridicule, or incline
toward mercy. The mob, as it always is, was orthodox. It was dangerous to
doubt, it might be fatal to deny. In 1453 Guillaume de Lure was burned at
Poitiers on his own confession of a compact with Satan, by which he
agreed "to preach and did preach that everything told of sorcerers was
mere fable, and that it was cruelly done to condemn them to death." This
contract was found among his papers signed "with the Devil's own claw,"
as Howell says speaking of a similar case. It is not to be wondered at
that the earlier doubters were cautious. There was literally a reign of
terror, and during such _régimes_ men are commonly found more eager to be
informers and accusers than of counsel for the defence. Peter of Abano is
reckoned among the earliest unbelievers who declared himself openly.[115]
Chaucer was certainly a sceptic, as appears by the opening of the Wife of
Bath's Tale. Wierus, a German physician, was the first to undertake
(1563) a refutation of the facts and assumptions on which the
prosecutions for witchcraft were based. His explanation of the phenomena
is mainly physiological. Mr. Leckie hardly states his position correctly,
in saying, "that he never dreamed of restricting the sphere of the
supernatural." Wierus went as far as he dared. No one can read his book
without feeling that he insinuates much more than he positively affirms
or denies. He would have weakened his cause if he had seemed to
disbelieve in demoniacal possession, since that had the supposed warrant
of Scripture; but it may be questioned whether he uses the words _Satan_
and _Demon_ in any other way than that in which many people still use the
word _Nature_. He was forced to accept certain premises of his opponents
by the line of his argument. When he recites incredible stories without
comment, it is not that he believes them, but that he thinks their
absurdity obvious. That he wrote under a certain restraint is plain from
the Colophon of his book, where he says: "Nihil autem hic ita assertum
volo, quod aequiori judicio Catholicae Christi Ecclesiae non omnino
submittam, palinodia mox spontanea emendaturus, si erroris alicubi
convincar." A great deal of latent and timid scepticism seems to have
been brought to the surface by his work. Many eminent persons wrote to
him in gratitude and commendation. In the Preface to his shorter treatise
_De Lamiis_ (which is a mere abridgment), he thanks God that his labors
had "in many places caused the cruelty against innocent blood to
slacken," and that "some more distinguished judges treat more mildly and
even absolve from capital punishment the wretched old women branded with
the odious name of witches by the populace." In the _Pseudomonarchia
Daemonum_, he gives a kind of census of the diabolic kingdom,[116] but
evidently with secret intention of making the whole thing ridiculous, or
it would not have so stirred the bile of Bodin. Wierus was saluted by
many contemporaries as a Hercules who destroyed monsters, and himself not
immodestly claimed the civic wreath for having saved the lives of
fellow-citizens. Posterity should not forget a man who really did an
honest life's work for humanity and the liberation of thought. From one
of the letters appended to his book we learn that Jacobus Savagius, a
physician of Antwerp, had twenty years before written a treatise with the
same design, but confining himself to the medical argument exclusively.
He was, however, prevented from publishing it by death. It is pleasant to
learn from Bodin that Alciato, the famous lawyer and emblematist, was one
of those who "laughed and made others laugh at the evidence relied on at
the trials, insisting that witchcraft was a thing impossible and
fabulous, and so softened the hearts of judges (in spite of the fact that
an inquisitor had caused to burn more than a hundred sorcerers in
Piedmont), that all the accused escaped." In England, Reginald Scot was
the first to enter the lists in behalf of those who had no champion. His
book, published in 1584, is full of manly sense and spirit, above all, of
a tender humanity that gives it a warmth which we miss in every other
written on the same side. In the dedication to Sir Roger Manwood he says:
"I renounce all protection and despise all friendship that might serve
towards the suppressing or supplanting of truth." To his kinsman, Sir
Thomas Scot, he writes: "My greatest adversaries are _young ignorance_
and _old custom_; for what folly soever tract of time hath fostered, it
is so superstitiously pursued of some, as though no error could be
acquainted with custom." And in his Preface he thus states his motives:
"God that knoweth my heart is witness, and you that read my book shall
see, that my drift and purpose in this enterprise tendeth only to these
respects. First, that the glory and power of God be not so abridged and
abased as to be thrust into the hand or lip of a lewd old woman, whereby
the work of the Creator should be attributed to the power of a creature.
Secondly, that the religion of the Gospel may be seen to stand without
such peevish trumpery. Thirdly, that lawful favor and Christian
compassion be rather used towards these poor souls than rigor and
extremity. Because they which are commonly accused of witchcraft are the
least sufficient of all other persons to speak for themselves, as having
the most base and simple education of all others, the extremity of their
age giving them leave to dote, their poverty to beg, their wrongs to
chide and threaten (as being void of any other way of revenge), their
humor melancholical to be full of imaginations, from whence chiefly
proceedeth the vanity of their confessions.... And for so much as the
mighty help themselves together, and the poor widow's cry, though it
reach to Heaven, is scarce heard here upon earth, I thought good
(according to my poor ability) to make intercession that some part of
common rigor and some points of hasty judgment may be advised upon."....
The case is nowhere put with more point, or urged with more sense and
eloquence, than by Scot, whose book contains also more curious matter, in
the way of charms, incantations, exorcisms, and feats of legerdemain,
than any other of the kind.

Other books followed on the same side, of which Bekker's, published about
a century later, was the most important. It is well reasoned, learned,
and tedious to a masterly degree. But though the belief in witchcraft
might be shaken, it still had the advantage of being on the whole
orthodox and respectable. Wise men, as usual, insisted on regarding
superstition as of one substance with faith, and objected to any scouring
of the shield of religion, lest, like that of Cornelius Scriblerus, it
should suddenly turn out to be nothing more than "a paltry old sconce
with the nozzle broke off." The Devil continued to be the only recognized
Minister Resident of God upon earth. When we remember that one man's
accusation on his death-bed was enough to constitute grave presumption of
witchcraft, it might seem singular that dying testimonies were so long of
no avail against the common credulity. But it should be remembered that
men are mentally no less than corporeally gregarious, and that public
opinion, the fetish even of the nineteenth century, makes men, whether
for good or ill, into a mob, which either hurries the individual judgment
along with it, or runs over and tramples it into insensibility. Those who
are so fortunate as to occupy the philosophical position of spectators
_ab extra_ are very few in any generation.

There were exceptions, it is true, but the old cruelties went on. In 1610
a case came before the tribunal of the _Tourelle_, and when the counsel
for the accused argued at some length that sorcery was ineffectual, and
that the Devil could not destroy life, President Seguier told him that he
might spare his breath, since the court had long been convinced on those
points. And yet two years later the grand-vicars of the Bishop of
Beauvais solemnly summoned Beelzebuth, Satan, Motelu, and Briffaut, with
the four legions under their charge, to appear and sign an agreement
never again to enter the bodies of reasonable or other creatures, under
pain of excommunication! If they refused, they were to be given over to
"the power of hell to be tormented and tortured more than was customary,
three thousand years after the judgment." Under this proclamation they
all came in, like reconstructed rebels, and signed whatever document was
put before them. Toward the middle of the seventeenth century, the safe
thing was still to believe, or at any rate to profess belief. Sir Thomas
Browne, though he had written an exposure of "Vulgar Errors," testified
in court to his faith in the possibility of witchcraft. Sir Kenelm Digby,
in his "Observations on the Religio Medici," takes, perhaps, as advanced
ground as any, when he says: "Neither do I deny there are witches; I only
reserve my assent till I meet with stronger motives to carry it." The
position of even enlightened men of the world in that age might be called
semi-sceptical. La Bruyère, no doubt, expresses the average of opinion:
"Que penser de la magie et du sortilége? La théorie en est obscurcie, les
principes vagues, incertains, et qui approchent du visionnaire; mais il y
a des faits embarrassants, affirmés par des hommes graves qui les ont
vus; les admettre tous, ou les nier tous, paraît un égal inconvénient, et
j'ose dire qu'en cela comme en toutes les choses extraordinaires et qui
sorteut des communes règles, il y a un parti à trouver entre les âmes
crédules et les esprits forts."[117] Montaigne, to be sure, had long
before declared his entire disbelief, and yet the Parliament of
Bourdeaux, his own city, condemned a man to be burned as a _noüeur
d'aiguillettes_ so lately as 1718. Indeed, it was not, says Maury, till
the first quarter of the eighteenth century that one might safely publish
his incredulity in France. In Scotland, witches were burned for the last
time in 1722. Garinet cites the case of a girl near Amiens possessed by
three demons,--Mimi, Zozo, and Crapoulet,--in 1816.

The two beautiful volumes of Mr. Upham are, so far as I know, unique in
their kind. It is, in some respects, a clinical lecture on human nature,
as well as on the special epidemical disease under which the patient is
laboring. He has written not merely a history of the so-called Salem
Witchcraft, but has made it intelligible by a minute account of the place
where the delusion took its rise, the persons concerned in it, whether as
actors or sufferers, and the circumstances which led to it. By deeds,
wills, and the records of courts and churches, by plans, maps, and
drawings, he has recreated Salem Village as it was two hundred years ago,
so that we seem wellnigh to talk with its people and walk over its
fields, or through its cart-tracks and bridle-roads. We are made partners
in parish and village feuds, we share in the chimney-corner gossip, and
learn for the first time how many mean and merely human motives, whether
consciously or unconsciously, gave impulse and intensity to the passions
of the actors in that memorable tragedy which dealt the death-blow in
this country to the belief in Satanic compacts. Mr. Upham's minute
details, which give us something like a photographic picture of the
in-door and out-door scenery that surrounded the events he narrates, help
us materially to understand their origin and the course they inevitably
took. In this respect his book is original and full of new interest. To
know the kind of life these people led, the kind of place they dwelt in,
and the tenor of their thought, makes much real to us that was
conjectural before. The influences of outward nature, of remoteness from
the main highways of the world's thought, of seclusion, as the
foster-mother of traditionary beliefs, of a hard life and unwholesome
diet in exciting or obscuring the brain through the nerves and stomach,
have been hitherto commonly overlooked in accounting for the phenomena of
witchcraft. The great persecutions for this imaginary crime have always
taken place in lonely places, among the poor, the ignorant, and, above
all, the ill-fed.

One of the best things in Mr. Upham's book is the portrait of Parris, the
minister of Salem Village, in whose household the children who, under the
assumed possession of evil spirits, became accusers and witnesses, began
their tricks. He is shown to us pedantic and something of a martinet in
church discipline and ceremony, somewhat inclined to magnify his office,
fond of controversy as he was skilful and rather unscrupulous in the
conduct of it, and glad of any occasion to make himself prominent. Was he
the unconscious agent of his own superstition, or did he take advantage
of the superstition of others for purposes of his own? The question is
not an easy one to answer. Men will sacrifice everything, sometimes even
themselves, to their pride of logic and their love of victory. Bodin
loses sight of humanity altogether in his eagerness to make out his case,
and display his learning in the canon and civil law. He does not scruple
to exaggerate, to misquote, to charge his antagonists with atheism,
sorcery, and insidious designs against religion and society, that he may
persuade the jury of Europe to bring in a verdict of guilty.[118] Yet
there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his belief. Was Parris
equally sincere? On the whole, I think it likely that he was. But if we
acquit Parris, what shall we say of the demoniacal girls? The probability
seems to be that those who began in harmless deceit found themselves at
length involved so deeply, that dread of shame and punishment drove them
to an extremity where their only choice was between sacrificing
themselves, or others to save themselves. It is not unlikely that some of
the younger girls were so far carried along by imitation or imaginative
sympathy as in some degree to "credit their own lie." Any one who has
watched or made experiments in animal magnetism knows how easy it is to
persuade young women of nervous temperaments that they are doing that by
the will of another which they really do by an obscure volition of their
own, under the influence of an imagination adroitly guided by the
magnetizer. The marvellous is so fascinating, that nine persons in ten,
if once persuaded that a thing is possible, are eager to believe it
probable, and at last cunning in convincing themselves that it is proven.
But it is impossible to believe that the possessed girls in this case did
not know how the pins they vomited got into their mouths. Mr. Upham has
shown, in the case of Anne Putnam, Jr., an hereditary tendency to
hallucination, if not insanity. One of her uncles had seen the Devil by
broad daylight in the novel disguise of a blue boar, in which shape, as a
tavern sign, he had doubtless proved more seductive than in his more
ordinary transfigurations. A great deal of light is let in upon the
question of whether there was deliberate imposture or no, by the
narrative of Rev. Mr. Turell of Medford, written in 1728, which gives us
all the particulars of a case of pretended possession in Littleton, eight
years before. The eldest of three sisters began the game, and found
herself before long obliged to take the next in age into her confidence.
By and by the youngest, finding her sisters pitied and caressed on
account of their supposed sufferings while she was neglected, began to
play off the same tricks. The usual phenomena followed. They were
convulsed, they fell into swoons, they were pinched and bruised, they
were found in the water, on the top of a tree or of the barn. To these
places they said they were conveyed through the air, and there were those
who had seen them flying, which shows how strong is the impulse which
prompts men to conspire with their own delusion, where the marvellous is
concerned. The girls did whatever they had heard or read that was common
in such cases. They even accused a respectable neighbor as the cause of
their torments. There were some doubters, but "so far as I can learn,"
says Turell, "the greater number believed and said they were under the
evil hand, or possessed by Satan." But the most interesting fact of all
is supplied by the confession of the elder sister, made eight years later
under stress of remorse. Having once begun, they found returning more
tedious than going o'er. To keep up their cheat made life a burden to
them, but they could not stop. Thirty years earlier, their juggling might
have proved as disastrous as that at Salem Village. There, parish and
boundary feuds had set enmity between neighbors, and the girls, called on
to say who troubled them, cried out upon those whom they had been wont to
hear called by hard names at home. They probably had no notion what a
frightful ending their comedy was to have; but at any rate they were
powerless, for the reins had passed out of their hands into the sterner
grasp of minister and magistrate. They were dragged deeper and deeper, as
men always are by their own lie.

The proceedings at the Salem trials are sometimes spoken of as if they
were exceptionally cruel. But, in fact, if compared with others of the
same kind, they were exceptionally humane. At a time when Baxter could
tell with satisfaction of a "_reading_ parson" eighty years old, who,
after being kept awake five days and nights, confessed his dealings with
the Devil, it is rather wonderful that no mode of torture other than
mental was tried at Salem. Nor were the magistrates more besotted or
unfair than usual in dealing with the evidence. Now and then, it is true,
a man more sceptical or intelligent than common had exposed some
pretended demoniac. The Bishop of Orléans, in 1598, read aloud to Martha
Brossier the story of the Ephesian Widow, and the girl, hearing Latin,
and taking it for Scripture, went forthwith into convulsions. He found
also that the Devil who possessed her could not distinguish holy from
profane water. But that there were deceptions did not shake the general
belief in the reality of possession. The proof in such cases could not
and ought not to be subjected to the ordinary tests. "If many natural
things," says Bodin, "are incredible and some of them incomprehensible,
_a fortiori_ the power of supernatural intelligences and the doings of
spirits are incomprehensible. But error has risen to its height in this,
that those who have denied the power of spirits and the doings of
sorcerers have wished to dispute physically concerning supernatural or
metaphysical things, which is a notable incongruity." That the girls were
really possessed, seemed to Stoughton and his colleagues the most
rational theory,--a theory in harmony with the rest of their creed, and
sustained by the unanimous consent of pious men as well as the evidence
of that most cunning and least suspected of all sorcerers, the Past,--and
how confront or cross-examine invisible witnesses, especially witnesses
whom it was a kind of impiety to doubt? Evidence that would have been
convincing in ordinary cases was of no weight against the general
prepossession. In 1659 the house of a man in Brightling, Sussex, was
troubled by a demon, who set it on fire at various times, and was
continually throwing things about. The clergy of the neighborhood held a
day of fasting and prayer in consequence. A maid-servant was afterwards
detected as the cause of the missiles. But this did not in the least
stagger Mr. Bennet, minister of the parish, who merely says: "There was a
_seeming blur_ cast, though not on the whole, yet upon some part of it,
for their servant-girl was at last found throwing some things," and goes
off into a eulogium on the "efficacy of prayer."

In one respect, to which Mr. Upham first gives the importance it
deserves, the Salem trials were distinguished from all others. Though
some of the accused had been terrified into confession, yet not one
persevered in it, but all died protesting their innocence, and with
unshaken constancy, though an acknowledgment of guilt would have saved
the lives of all. This martyr proof of the efficacy of Puritanism in the
character and conscience may be allowed to outweigh a great many sneers
at Puritan fanaticism. It is at least a testimony to the courage and
constancy which a profound religious sentiment had made common among the
people of whom these sufferers were average representatives. The accused
also were not, as was commonly the case, abandoned by their friends. In
all the trials of this kind there is nothing so pathetic as the picture
of Jonathan Cary holding up the weary arms of his wife during her trial,
and wiping away the sweat from her brow and the tears from her face.
Another remarkable fact is this, that while in other countries the
delusion was extinguished by the incredulity of the upper classes and the
interference of authority, here the reaction took place among the people
themselves, and here only was an attempt made at some legislative
restitution, however inadequate. Mr. Upham's sincere and honest
narrative, while it never condescends to a formal plea, is the best
vindication possible of a community which was itself the greatest
sufferer by the persecution which its credulity engendered.

If any lesson may be drawn from the tragical and too often disgustful
history of witchcraft, it is not one of exultation at our superior
enlightenment or shame at the shortcomings of the human intellect. It is
rather one of charity and self-distrust. When we see what inhuman
absurdities men in other respects wise and good have clung to as the
corner-stone of their faith in immortality and a divine ordering of the
world, may we not suspect that those who now maintain political or other
doctrines which seem to us barbarous and unenlightened, may be, for all
that, in the main as virtuous and clear-sighted as ourselves? While we
maintain our own side with an honest ardor of conviction, let us not
forget to allow for mortal incompetence in the other. And if there are
men who regret the Good Old Times, without too clear a notion of what
they were, they should at least be thankful that we are rid of that
misguided energy of faith which justified conscience in making men
unrelentingly cruel. Even Mr. Leckie softens a little at the thought of
the many innocent and beautiful beliefs of which a growing scepticism has
robbed us in the decay of supernaturalism. But we need not despair; for,
after all, scepticism is first cousin of credulity, and we are not
surprised to see the tough doubter Montaigne hanging up his offerings in
the shrine of our Lady of Loreto. Scepticism commonly takes up the room
left by defect of imagination, and is the very quality of mind most
likely to seek for sensual proof of supersensual things. If one came from
the dead, it could not believe; and yet it longs for such a witness, and
will put up with a very dubious one. So long as night is left and the
helplessness of dream, the wonderful will not cease from among men. While
we are the solitary prisoners of darkness, the witch seats herself at the
loom of thought, and weaves strange figures into the web that looks so
familiar and ordinary in the dry light of every-day. Just as we are
flattering ourselves that the old spirit of sorcery is laid, behold the
tables are tipping and the floors drumming all over Christendom. The
faculty of wonder is not defunct, but is only getting more and more
emancipated from the unnatural service of terror, and restored to its
proper function as a minister of delight. A higher mode of belief is the
best exorciser, because it makes the spiritual at one with the actual
world instead of hostile, or at best alien. It has been the grossly
material interpretations of spiritual doctrine that have given occasion
to the two extremes of superstition and unbelief. While the resurrection
of the body has been insisted on, that resurrection from the body which
is the privilege of all has been forgotten. Superstition in its baneful
form was largely due to the enforcement by the Church of arguments that
involved a _petitio principii_, for it is the miserable necessity of all
false logic to accept of very ignoble allies. Fear became at length its
chief expedient for the maintenance of its power; and as there is a
beneficent necessity laid upon a majority of mankind to sustain and
perpetuate the order of things they are born into, and to make all new
ideas manfully prove their right, first, to be at all, and then to be
heard, many even superior minds dreaded the tearing away of vicious
accretions as dangerous to the whole edifice of religion and society. But
if this old ghost be fading away in what we regard as the dawn of a
better day, we may console ourselves by thinking that perhaps, after all,
we are not so _much_ wiser than our ancestors. The rappings, the trance
mediums, the visions of hands without bodies, the sounding of musical
instruments without visible fingers, the miraculous inscriptions on the
naked flesh, the enlivenment of furniture,--we have invented none of
them, they are all heirlooms. There is surely room for yet another
schoolmaster, when a score of seers advertise themselves in Boston
newspapers. And if the metaphysicians can never rest till they have taken
their watch to pieces and have arrived at a happy positivism as to its
structure, though at the risk of bringing it to a no-go, we may be sure
that the majority will always take more satisfaction in seeing its hands
mysteriously move on, even if they should err a little as to the precise
time of day established by the astronomical observatories.


    [98] Salem Witchcraft, with an Account of Salem Village, and a
    History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects. By Charles W.
    Upham. Boston: Wiggin and Lunt. 1867. 2 vols.

    Ioannis Wieri de praestigiis daemonum, et incantationibus ac
    veneficiis libri sex, postrema editione sexta aucti et recogniti.
    Accessit liber apologeticus et pseudomonarchia daemonum. Cum rerum et
    verborum copioso indice. Cum Caes. Maiest. Regisq: Galliarum gratia
    et privelegio. Basiliae ex officina Oporiniani, 1583.

    Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft: proving the common opinions of
    Witches contracting with Divels, Spirits, or Familiars; and their
    power to kill, torment, and consume the bodies of men, women, and
    children, or other creatures by diseases or otherwise; their flying
    in the Air, &c.; To be but imaginary Erronious conceptions and
    novelties; Wherein also the lewde, unchristian practises of
    Witchmongers, upon aged, melancholy, ignorant and superstitious
    people in extorting confessions by inhumane terrors and Tortures, is
    notably detected. Also The knavery and confederacy of Conjurors. The
    impious blasphemy of Inchanters. The imposture of Soothsayers, and
    infidelity of Atheists. The delusion of Pythonists, Figure-casters,
    Astrologers, and vanity of Dreamers. The fruitlesse beggarly art of
    Alchimistry. The horrible art of Poisoning and all the tricks and
    conveyances of juggling and lieger-demain are fully deciphered. With
    many other things opened that have long lain hidden: though very
    necessary to be known for the undeceiving of Judges, Justices, and
    Juries, and for the preservation of poor, aged, deformed, ignorant
    people; frequently taken, arraigned, condemned and executed for
    Witches, when according to a right understanding, and a good
    conscience, Physick, Food, and necessaries should be administered to
    him. Whereunto is added a treatise upon the nature and substance of
    Spirits and Divels &c., all written and published in Anno 1584. By
    Reginald Scot, Esquire. Printed by R.C. and are to be sold by Giles
    Calvert dwelling at the Black Spread-Eagle, at the West-End of Pauls,

    De la Demonomanie des Sorciers. A Monseigneur M. Chrestofe De Thou,
    Chevalier, Seigneur de Coeli, premier President en la Cour de
    Parlement et Conseiller du Roy en son privé Conseil. Reveu, Corrigé,
    et augmenté d'une grande partie. Par I. Bodin Angevin. A Paris: Chez
    Iacques Du Puys, Libraire Iuré, á la Samaritaine. M.D.LXXXVII. Avec
    privilege du Roy.

    Magica, seu mirabilium historiarum de Spectris et Apparitionibus
    spirituum: Item, de magicis et diabolicis incantationibus. De
    Miraculis, Oraculis, Vaticiniis, Divinationibus, Praedictionibus,
    Revelationibus et aliis eiusmodi multis ac varijs praestigijs,
    ludibrijs et imposturis malorum Daemonum. Libri II. Ex probatis et
    fide dignis historiarum scriptoribus diligenter collecti. Islebiae,
    cura, Typis et sumptibus Henningi Grossij Bibl. Lipo. 1597. Cum

    The displaying of supposed Witchcraft wherein is affirmed that there
    are many sorts of Deceivers and Impostors, and divers persons under a
    passive delusion of Melancholy and Fancy. But that there is a
    corporeal league made betwixt the Devil and the Witch, or that he
    sucks on the Witch's body, has carnal copulation, or that Witches are
    turned into Cats, Dogs, raise Tempests or the like is utterly denied
    and disproved. Wherein is also handled, The existence of Angels and
    Spirits, the truth of Apparitions, the Nature of Astral and Sydereal
    Spirits, the force of Charms and Philters; with other abstruse
    matters. By John Webster, Practitioner in Physick. Falsa etenim
    opiniones Hominum non solum surdos sed et coecos faciunt, ita ut
    videre nequeant quae aliis perspicua apparent. Galen. lib. 8, de
    Comp. Med. London: Printed by I.M. and are to be sold by the
    booksellers in London. 1677.

    Sadducismus Triumphatus: or Full and Plain Evidence concerning
    Witches and Apparitions. In two Parts. The First treating of their
    Possibility; the Second of their Real Existence. By Joseph Glanvil,
    late Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty, and Fellow of the Royal
    Society. The third edition. The advantages whereof above the former,
    the Reader may understand out of Dr H. More's Account prefixed
    therunto. With two Authentick, but wonderful Stories of certain
    Swedish Witches. Done into English by A. Horneck DD. London, Printed
    for S.L. and are to be sold by Anth. Baskerville at the Bible, the
    corner of Essex-street, without Temple-Bar. M.DCLXXXIX.

    Demonologie ou Traitte des Demons et Sorciers: De leur puissance et
    impuissance: Par Fr. Perraud. Ensemble L'Antidemon de Mascon, ou
    Histoire Veritable de ce qu'un Demon a fait et dit, il y a quelques
    années en la maison dudit Sr. Perreaud a Mascon. I. Jacques iv. 7, 8.
    "Resistez au Diable, et il s'enfuira de vous. Approchez vous de Dieu,
    et il s'approchera de vous." A Geneve, chez Pierre Aubert. M,DC,LIII.

    The Wonders of the Invisible World. Being an account of the tryals of
    several witches lately executed in New-England. By Cotton Mather,
    D.D. To which is added a farther account of the tryals of the New
    England Witches. By Increase Mather, D.D., President of Harvard
    College. London: John Russell Smith, Soho Square. 1862. (First
    printed in Boston, 1692.)

    I.N.D.N.J.C. Dissertatio Juridica de Lamiis earumque processu
    criminali, _Von Hexen und dem Peinl. Proceß wider dieselben_, Quam,
    auxiliante Divina Gratia, Consensu et Authoritate Magnifici JCtorum
    Ordinis in illustribus Athenis Salanis sub praesidio Magnifici,
    Nobilissimi, Amplissimi, Consultissimi, atque Excellentissimi Dn.
    Ernesti Frider. _Schroeter_ hereditarii in _Wickerstädt_, JCti et
    Antecessoris hujus Salanae Famigeratissimi, Consiliarii Saxonici,
    Curiae Provincialis, Facultatis Juridicae, et Scabinatus Assessoris
    longe Gravissimi, Domini Patroni Praeceptoris et Promotoris sui nullo
    non honoris et observantiae cultu sanctè devenerandi, colendi,
    publicae Eruditorum censurae subjicit Michael Paris _Walburger_,
    Groebzigâ Anhaltinus, in Acroaterio JCtorum ad diem 1. Maj. A. 1670.
    Editio Tertia. Jenae, Typis Pauli Ehrichii, 1707.

    Histoire de Diables de Loudun, ou de la Possession des Religieuses
    Ursulines, et de la condemnation et du suplice d'Urbain Grandier,
    Curé de la même ville. Cruels effets de la Vengeance du Cardinal de
    Richelieu. A Amsterdam Aux depens de la Compagnie. M.DCC.LII.

    A view of the Invisible World, or General History of Apparitions.
    Collected from the best Authorities, both Antient and Modern, and
    attested by Authors of the highest Reputation and Credit. Illustrated
    with a Variety of Notes and parallel Cases; in which some Account of
    the Nature and Cause of Departed Spirits visiting their former
    Stations by returning again into the present World, is treated in a
    Manner different to the prevailing Opinions of Mankind. And an
    Attempt is made from Rational Principles to account for the Species
    of such supernatural Appearances, when they may be suppos'd
    consistent with the Divine Appointment in the Government of the
    World. With the sentiments of Monsieur Le Clerc, Mr. Locke, Mr.
    Addison, and Others on this important Subject. In which some humorous
    and diverting instances are remark'd, in order to divert that Gloom
    of Melancholy that naturally arises in the Human Mind, from reading
    or meditating on such Subjects Illustrated with suitable Cuts.
    London: Printed in the year M,DCC,LII. [Mainly from DeFoe's "History
    of Apparitions."]

    Satan's Invisible World discovered; or, a choice Collection of Modern
    Relations, proving evidently, against the Atheists of this present
    Age, that there are Devils, Spirits, Witches and Apparitions, from
    Authentic Records, Attestations of Witnesses, and undoubted Verity.
    To which is added that marvellous History of Major Weir and his
    Sister, the Witches of Balgarran, Pittenweem and Calder, &c. By
    George Sinclair, late Professor of Philosophy in Glasgow. No man
    should be vain that he can injure the merit of a Book; for the
    meanest rogue may burn a City or kill a Hero; whereas he could never
    build the one, or equal the other. Sir George M'Kenzie, Edinburgh:
    Sold by P. Anderson, Parliament Square. M.DCC.LXXX.

    La Magie et l'Astrologie dans I'Antiquité et au Moyen Age, ou Étude
    sur les superstitions païennes qui se sont perpétuées jusqu'a nos
    jours. Par L.F. Alfred Maury. Troisième Edition revue et corrigée.
    Paris: Didier. 1864.

    [99] Lucian, in his "Liars," puts this opinion into the mouth of
    Arignotus. The theory by which Lucretius seeks to explain
    apparitions, though materialistic, seems to allow some influence also
    to the working of imagination. It is hard otherwise to explain how
    his _simulacra_, (which are not unlike the _astral spirits_ of later
    times) should appear in dreams.

           Quae simulacra....
      .... nobis vigilantibus obvia mentes
      terrificant atque in somnis, cum saepe figuras
      contuimur miras simulacraque luce carentum
      quae nos horrifice languentis saepe sopore

    _De Rer. Nat._ IV. 33-37, ed. Munro.

    [100] Pliny's Letters, VII. 27. Melmoth's translation.

    [101] Something like this is the speech of Don Juan, after the statue
    of Don Gonzales has gone out:

      "Pero todas son ideas
      Que da a la imaginacion
      El temor; y temer muertos
      Es muy villano temor.
      Que si un cuerpo noble, vivo,
      Con potencias y razon
      Y con alma no se tema,
      ¿Quien cuerpos muertos temió?"

    _El Burlador de Sevilla_, A. iii. s. 15.

    [102] Théatre Français au Moyen Age (Monmerqué et Michel), pp. 139,

      "There sat Auld Nick in shape o' beast,
      A towzy tyke, black, grim, an' large,
      To gie them music was his charge."

    [104] Hence, perhaps, the name Valant applied to the Devil, about the
    origin of which Grimm is in doubt.

    [105] One foot of the Greek Empusa was an ass's hoof.

    [106] Salt was forbidden at these witch-feasts.

    [107] De Lamiis, p. 59 _et seq_.

    [108] If the _Blokula_ of the Swedish witches be a reminiscence of
    this, it would seem to point back to remote times and heathen
    ceremonies. But it is so impossible to distinguish what was put into
    the mind of those who confessed by their examining torturers from
    what may have been there before, the result of a common superstition,
    that perhaps, after all, the meeting on mountains may have been
    suggested by what Pliny says of the dances of Satyrs on Mount Atlas.

    [109] Wierus, whose book was published not long after Faust's death,
    apparently doubted the whole story, for he alludes to it with an _ut
    fertur,_ and plainly looked on him as a mountebank.

    [110]  See Grimm's D.M., under _Hexenfart, Wutendes Heer_, &c.

    [111] Some Catholics, indeed, affirmed that he himself was the son of
    a demon who lodged in his father's house under the semblance of a
    merchant. Wierus says that a bishop preached to that effect in 1565,
    and gravely refutes the story.

    [112] Footnote: Melancthon, however, used to tell of a possessed girl
    in Italy who knew no Latin, but the Devil in her, being asked by
    Bonaroico, a Bolognese professor, what was the best verse in Virgil,
    answered at once:--

      "Discite justitiam moniti, et non temnere divos,"--

    a somewhat remarkable concession on the part of a fallen angel.

    [113] This story seems mediaeval and Gothic enough, but is hardly
    more so than bringing the case of the Furies _v._ Orestes before the
    Areopagus, and putting Apollo in the witness-box, as Aeschylus has
    done. The classics, to be sure, are always so classic! In the
    _Eumenides_, Apollo takes the place of the good angel. And why not?
    For though a demon, and a lying one, he has crept in to the calendar
    under his other nnme of Helios as St. Hellas. Could any of his
    oracles have foretold this?

    [114] Mr. Leckie, in his admirable chapter on Witchcraft, gives a
    little more credit to the enlightenment of the Church of England in
    this matter than it would seem fairly to deserve. More and Glanvil
    were faithful sons of the Church; and if the persecution of witches
    was especially rife during the ascendency of the Puritans, it was
    because they happened to be in power while there was a reaction
    against Sadducism. All the convictions were under the statute of
    James I., who was no Puritan. After the restoration, the reaction was
    the other way, and Hobbism became the fashion. It is more
    philosophical to say that the age believes this and that, than that
    the particular men who live in it do so.

    [115] I have no means of ascertaining whether he did or not. He was
    more probably charged with it by the inquisitors. Mr. Leckie seems to
    write of him only upon hearsay, for he calls him Peter "of Apono,"
    apparently translating a French translation of the Latin "Aponus."
    The only book attributed to him that I have ever seen is itself a
    kind of manual of magic.

    [116] "With the names and surnames," says Bodin, indignantly, "of
    seventy-two princes, and of seven million four hundred and five
    thousand nine hundred and twenty-six devils, _errors excepted_."

    [117] Cited by Maury, p. 221, note 4.

    [118] There is a kind of compensation in the fact that he himself
    lived to be accused of sorcery and Judaism.


It may be doubted whether any language be rich enough to maintain more
than one truly great poet,--and whether there be more than one period,
and that very short, in the life of a language, when such a phenomenon as
a great poet is possible. It may be reckoned one of the rarest pieces of
good-luck that ever fell to the share of a race, that (as was true of
Shakespeare) its most rhythmic genius, its acutest intellect, its
profoundest imagination, and its healthiest understanding should have
been combined in one man, and that he should have arrived at the full
development of his powers at the moment when the material in which he was
to work--that wonderful composite called English, the best result of the
confusion of tongues--was in its freshest perfection. The
English-speaking nations should build a monument to the misguided
enthusiasts of the Plain of Shinar; for, as the mixture of many bloods
seems to have made them the most vigorous of modern races, so has the
mingling of divers speeches given them a language which is perhaps the
noblest vehicle of poetic thought that ever existed.

Had Shakespeare been born fifty years earlier, he would have been cramped
by a book-language not yet flexible enough for the demands of rhythmic
emotion, not yet sufficiently popularized for the natural and familiar
expression of supreme thought, not yet so rich in metaphysical phrase as
to render possible that ideal representation of the great passions which
is the aim and end of Art, not yet subdued by practice and general
consent to a definiteness of accentuation essential to ease and congruity
of metrical arrangement. Had he been born fifty years later, his ripened
manhood would have found itself in an England absorbed and angry with the
solution of political and religious problems, from which his whole nature
was averse, instead of in that Elizabethan social system, ordered and
planetary in functions and degrees as the angelic hierarchy of the
Areopagite, where his contemplative eye could crowd itself with various
and brilliant picture, and whence his impartial brain--one lobe of which
seems to have been Normanly refined and the other Saxonly
sagacious--could draw its morals of courtly and worldly wisdom, its
lessons of prudence and magnanimity. In estimating Shakespeare, it should
never be forgotten, that, like Goethe, he was essentially observer and
artist, and incapable of partisanship. The passions, actions, sentiments,
whose character and results he delighted to watch and to reproduce, are
those of man in society as it existed; and it no more occurred to him to
question the right of that society to exist than to criticise the divine
ordination of the seasons. His business was with men as they were, not
with man as he ought to be,--with the human soul as it is shaped or
twisted into character by the complex experience of life, not in its
abstract essence, as something to be saved or lost. During the first half
of the seventeenth century, the centre of intellectual interest was
rather in the other world than in this, rather in the region of thought
and principle and conscience than in actual life. It was a generation in
which the poet was, and felt himself, out of place. Sir Thomas Browne,
out most imaginative mind since Shakespeare, found breathing-room, for a
time, among the "_O altitudines!_" of religious speculation, but soon
descended to occupy himself with the exactitudes of science. Jeremy
Taylor, who half a century earlier would have been Fletcher's rival,
compels his clipped fancy to the conventual discipline of prose, (Maid
Marian turned nun,) and waters his poetic wine with doctrinal eloquence.
Milton is saved from making total shipwreck of his large-utteranced
genius on the desolate Noman's Land of a religious epic only by the lucky
help of Satan and his colleagues, with whom, as foiled rebels and
republicans, he cannot conceal his sympathy. As purely poet, Shakespeare
would have come too late, had his lot fallen in that generation. In mind
and temperament too exoteric for a mystic, his imagination could not have
at once illustrated the influence of his epoch and escaped from it, like
that of Browne; the equilibrium of his judgment, essential to him as an
artist, but equally removed from propagandism, whether as enthusiast or
logician, would have unfitted him for the pulpit; and his intellectual
being was too sensitive to the wonder and beauty of outward life and
Nature to have found satisfaction, as Milton's could, (and perhaps only
by reason of his blindness,) in a world peopled by purely imaginary
figures. We might fancy him becoming a great statesman, but he lacked the
social position which could have opened that career to him. What we mean
when we say _Shakespeare_, is something inconceivable either during the
reign of Henry the Eighth, or the Commonwealth, and which would have been
impossible after the Restoration.

All favorable stars seem to have been in conjunction at his nativity.
The Reformation had passed the period of its vinous fermentation, and its
clarified results remained as an element of intellectual impulse and
exhilaration; there were small signs yet of the acetous and putrefactive
stages which were to follow in the victory and decline of Puritanism. Old
forms of belief and worship still lingered, all the more touching to
Fancy, perhaps, that they were homeless and attainted; the light of
sceptic day was baffled by depths of forest where superstitious shapes
still cowered, creatures of immemorial wonder, the raw material of
Imagination. The invention of printing, without yet vulgarizing letters,
had made the thought and history of the entire past contemporaneous;
while a crowd of translators put every man who could read in inspiring
contact with the select souls of all the centuries. A new world was thus
opened to intellectual adventure at the very time when the keel of
Columbus had turned the first daring furrow of discovery in that
unmeasured ocean which still girt the known earth with a beckoning
horizon of hope and conjecture, which was still fed by rivers that flowed
down out of primeval silences, and which still washed the shores of
Dreamland. Under a wise, cultivated, and firm-handed monarch also, the
national feeling of England grew rapidly more homogeneous and intense,
the rather as the womanhood of the sovereign stimulated a more chivalric
loyalty,--while the new religion, of which she was the defender, helped
to make England morally, as it was geographically, insular to the
continent of Europe.

If circumstances could ever make a great national poet, here were all the
elements mingled at melting-heat in the alembic, and the lucky moment of
projection was clearly come. If a great national poet could ever avail
himself of circumstances, this was the occasion,--and, fortunately,
Shakespeare was equal to it. Above all, we may esteem it lucky that he
found words ready to his use, original and untarnished,--types of thought
whose sharp edges were unworn by repeated impressions. In reading
Hakluyt's Voyages, we are almost startled now and then to find that even
common sailors could not tell the story of their wanderings without
rising to an almost Odyssean strain, and habitually used a diction that
we should be glad to buy back from desuetude at any cost. Those who look
upon language only as anatomists of its structure, or who regard it as
only a means of conveying abstract truth from mind to mind, as if it were
so many algebraic formulae, are apt to overlook the fact that its being
alive is all that gives it poetic value. We do not mean what is
technically called a living language,--the contrivance, hollow as a
speaking-trumpet, by which breathing and moving bipeds, even now, sailing
o'er life's solemn main, are enabled to hail each other and make known
their mutual shortness of mental stores,--but one that is still hot from
the hearts and brains of a people, not hardened yet, but moltenly ductile
to new shapes of sharp and clear relief in the moulds of new thought. So
soon as a language has become literary, so soon as there is a gap between
the speech of books and that of life, the language becomes, so far as
poetry is concerned, almost as dead as Latin, and (as in writing Latin
verses) a mind in itself essentially original becomes in the use of such
a medium of utterance unconsciously reminiscential and reflective, lunar
and not solar, in expression and even in thought. For words and thoughts
have a much more intimate and genetic relation, one with the other, than
most men have any notion of; and it is one thing to use our mother-tongue
as if it belonged to us, and another to be the puppets of an
overmastering vocabulary. "Ye know not," says Ascham, "what hurt ye do to
Learning, that care not for Words, but for Matter, and so make a Divorce
betwixt the Tongue and the Heart." _Lingua Toscana in bocca Romana_ is
the Italian proverb; and that of poets should be, _The tongue of the
people in the mouth of the scholar_. I imply here no assent to the early
theory, _or,_ at any rate, practice, of Wordsworth, who confounded
plebeian modes of thought with rustic forms of phrase, and then atoned
for his blunder by absconding into a diction more Latinized than that of
any poet of his century.

Shakespeare was doubly fortunate. Saxon by the father and Norman by the
mother, he was a representative Englishman. A country boy, he learned
first the rough and ready English of his rustic mates, who knew how to
make nice verbs and adjectives courtesy to their needs. Going up to
London, he acquired the _lingua aulica_ precisely at the happiest moment,
just as it was becoming, in the strictest sense of the word,
_modern,_--just as it had recruited itself, by fresh impressments from
the Latin and Latinized languages, with new words to express the new
ideas of an enlarging intelligence which printing and translation were
fast making cosmopolitan,--words which, in proportion to their novelty,
and to the fact that the mother-tongue and the foreign had not yet wholly
mingled, must have been used with a more exact appreciation of their
meaning.[119] It was in London, and chiefly by means of the stage, that a
thorough amalgamation of the Saxon, Norman, and scholarly elements of
English was brought about. Already, Puttenham, in his "Arte of English
Poesy," declares that the practice of the capital and the country within
sixty miles of it was the standard of correct diction, the _jus et norma
loquendi._ Already Spenser had almost re-created English poetry,--and it
is interesting to observe, that, scholar as he was, the archaic words
which he was at first overfond of introducing are often provincialisms of
purely English original. Already Marlowe had brought the English unrhymed
pentameter (which had hitherto justified but half its name, by being
always blank and never verse) to a perfection of melody, harmony, and
variety which has never been surpassed. Shakespeare, then, found a
language already to a certain extent _established_, but not yet fetlocked
by dictionary and grammar mongers,--a versification harmonized, but which
had not yet exhausted all its modulations, nor been set in the stocks by
critics who deal judgment on refractory feet, that will dance to Orphean
measures of which their judges are insensible. That the language was
established is proved by its comparative uniformity as used by the
dramatists, who wrote for mixed audiences, as well as by Ben Jonson's
satire upon Marston's neologisms; that it at the same time admitted
foreign words to the rights of citizenship on easier terms than now is in
good measure equally true. What was of greater import, no arbitrary line
had been drawn between high words and low; vulgar then meant simply what
was common; poetry had not been aliened from the people by the
establishment of an Upper House of vocables, alone entitled to move in
the stately ceremonials of verse, and privileged from arrest while they
forever keep the promise of meaning to the ear and break it to the sense.
The hot conception of the poet had no time to cool while he was debating
the comparative respectability of this phrase or that; but he snatched
what word his instinct prompted, and saw no indiscretion in making a king
speak as his country nurse might have taught him.[120] It was Waller who
first learned in France that to talk in rhyme alone comported with the
state of royalty. In the time of Shakespeare, the living tongue resembled
that tree which Father Huc saw in Tartary, whose leaves were
languaged,--and every hidden root of thought, every subtilest fibre of
feeling, was mated by new shoots and leafage of expression, fed from
those unseen sources in the common earth of human nature.

The Cabalists had a notion, that whoever found out the mystic word for
anything attained to absolute mastery over that thing. The reverse of
this is certainly true of poetic expression; for he who is thoroughly
possessed of his thought, who imaginatively conceives an idea or image,
becomes master of the word that shall most amply and fitly utter it.
Heminge and Condell tell us, accordingly, that there was scarce a blot in
the manuscripts they received from Shakespeare; and this is the natural
corollary from the fact that such an imagination as his is as
unparalleled as the force, variety, and beauty of the phrase in which it
embodied itself.[121] We believe that Shakespeare, like all other great
poets, instinctively used the dialect which he found current, and that
his words are not more wrested from their ordinary meaning than followed
necessarily from the unwonted weight of thought or stress of passion they
were called on to support. He needed not to mask familiar thoughts in the
weeds of unfamiliar phraseology; for the life that was in his mind could
transfuse the language of every day with an intelligent vivacity, that
makes it seem lambent with fiery purpose, and at each new reading a new
creation. He could say with Dante, that "no word had ever forced him to
say what he would not, though he had forced many a word to say what _it_
would not,"--but only in the sense that the mighty magic of his
imagination had conjured out of it its uttermost secret of power or
pathos. When I say that Shakespeare used the current language of his day,
I mean only that he habitually employed such language as was universally
comprehensible,--that he was not run away with by the hobby of any theory
as to the fitness of this or that component of English for expressing
certain thoughts or feelings. That the artistic value of a choice and
noble diction was quite as well understood in his day as in ours is
evident from the praises bestowed by his contemporaries on Drayton, and
by the epithet "well-languaged" applied to Daniel, whose poetic style is
as modern as that of Tennyson; but the endless absurdities about the
comparative merits of Saxon and Norman-French, vented by persons
incapable of distinguishing one tongue from the other, were as yet
unheard of. Hasty generalizers are apt to overlook the fact, that the
Saxon was never, to any great extent, a literary language. Accordingly,
it held its own very well in the names of common things, but failed to
answer the demands of complex ideas, derived from them. The author of
"Piers Ploughman" wrote for the people,--Chaucer for the court. We open
at random and count the Latin[122] words in ten verses of the "Vision"
and ten of the "Romaunt of the Rose," (a translation from the French,)
and find the proportion to be seven in the former and five in the latter.

The organs of the Saxon have always been unwilling and stiff in learning
languages. He acquired only about as many British words as we have Indian
ones, and I believe that more French and Latin was introduced through the
pen and the eye than through the tongue and the ear. For obvious reasons,
the question is one that must be decided by reference to prose-writers,
and not poets; and it is, we think, pretty well settled that more words
of Latin original were brought into the language in the century between
1550 and 1650 than in the whole period before or since,--and for the
simple reason, that they were absolutely needful to express new modes and
combinations of thought.[123] The language has gained immensely, by the
infusion, in richness of synonyme and in the power of expressing nice
shades of thought and feeling, but more than all in light-footed
polysyllables that trip singing to the music of verse. There are certain
cases, it is true, where the vulgar Saxon word is refined, and the
refined Latin vulgar, in poetry,--as in _sweat_ and _perspiration_; but
there are vastly more in which the Latin bears the bell. Perhaps there
might be a question between the old English _again-rising_ and
_resurrection;_ but there can be no doubt that _conscience_ is better
than _inwit_, and _remorse_ than _again-bite_. Should we translate the
title of Wordsworth's famous ode, "Intimations of Immortality," into
"Hints of Deathlessness," it would hiss like an angry gander. If, instead
of Shakespeare's

          "Age cannot wither her,
  Nor custom stale her infinite variety,"

we should say, "her boundless manifoldness," the sentiment would suffer
in exact proportion with the music. What homebred English could ape the
high Roman fashion of such togated words as

  "The multitudinous sea incarnadine,"--

where the huddling epithet implies the tempest-tossed soul of the
speaker, and at the same time pictures the wallowing waste of ocean more
vividly than the famous phrase of Aeschylus does its rippling sunshine?
Again, _sailor_ is less poetical than _mariner_, as Campbell felt, when
he wrote,

  "Ye mariners of England,"

and Coleridge, when he chose

  "It was an ancient mariner,"

rather than

  "It was an elderly seaman";

for it is as much the charm of poetry that it suggest a certain
remoteness and strangeness as familiarity; and it is essential not only
that we feel at once the meaning of the words in themselves, but also
their melodic meaning in relation to each other, and to the sympathetic
variety of the verse. A word once vulgarized can never be rehabilitated.
We might say now a _buxom_ lass, or that a chambermaid was _buxom_, but
we could not use the term, as Milton did, in its original sense of
_bowsome_,--that is, _lithe, gracefully bending_.[124]

But the secret of force in writing lies not so much in the pedigree of
nouns and adjectives and verbs, as in having something that you believe
in to say, and making the parts of speech vividly conscious of it. It is
when expression becomes an act of memory, instead of an unconscious
necessity, that diction takes the place of warm and hearty speech. It is
not safe to attribute special virtues (as Bosworth, for example, does to
the Saxon) to words of whatever derivation, at least in poetry. Because
Lear's "oak-cleaving thunderbolts," and "the all-dreaded thunder-stone"
in "Cymbeline" are so fine, we would not give up Milton's Virgilian
"fulmined over Greece," where the verb in English conveys at once the
idea of flash and reverberation, but avoids that of riving and
shattering. In the experiments made for casting the great bell for the
Westminster Tower, it was found that the superstition which attributed
the remarkable sweetness and purity of tone in certain old bells to the
larger mixture of silver in their composition had no foundation in fact
It was the cunning proportion in which the ordinary metals were balanced
against each other, the perfection of form, and the nice gradations of
thickness, that wrought the miracle. And it is precisely so with the
language of poetry. The genius of the poet will tell him what word to use
(else what use in his being poet at all?); and even then, unless the
proportion and form, whether of parts or whole, be all that Art requires
and the most sensitive taste finds satisfaction in, he will have failed
to make what shall vibrate through all its parts with a silvery
unison,--in other words, a poem.

I think the component parts of English were in the latter years of
Elizabeth thus exquisitely proportioned one to the other. Yet Bacon had
no faith in his mother-tongue, translating the works on which his fame
was to rest into what he called "the universal language," and affirming
that "English would bankrupt all our books." He was deemed a master of
it, nevertheless; and it is curious that Ben Jonson applies to him in
prose the same commendation which he gave Shakespeare in verse, saying,
that he "performed that in our tongue which may be compared or preferred
either to _insolent Greece or haughty Rome_"; and he adds this pregnant
sentence: "In short, within his view and about his time were all the wits
born that could honor a language or help study. Now things daily fall:
wits grow downwards, eloquence grows backwards." Ben had good reason for
what he said of the wits. Not to speak of science, of Galileo and Kepler,
the sixteenth century was a spendthrift of literary genius. An attack of
immortality in a family might have been looked for then as scarlet-fever
would be now. Montaigne, Tasso, and Cervantes were born within fourteen
years of each other; and in England, while Spenser was still delving over
the _propria quae maribus_, and Raleigh launching paper navies,
Shakespeare was stretching his baby hands for the moon, and the little
Bacon, chewing on his coral, had discovered that impenetrability was one
quality of matter. It almost takes one's breath away to think that
"Hamlet" and the "Novum Organon" were at the risk of teething and measles
at the same time. But Ben was right also in thinking that eloquence had
grown backwards. He lived long enough to see the language of verse become
in a measure traditionary and conventional. It was becoming so, partly
from the necessary order of events, partly because the most natural and
intense expression of feeling had been in so many ways satisfied and
exhausted,--but chiefly because there was no man left to whom, as to
Shakespeare, perfect conception gave perfection of phrase. Dante, among
modern poets, his only rival in condensed force, says: "Optimis
conceptionibus optima loquela conveniet; sed optimae conceptiones non
possunt esse nisi ubi scientia et ingenium est; ... et sic non omnibus
versificantibus optima loquela convenit, cum plerique sine scientiâ et
ingenio versificantur."[125]

Shakespeare must have been quite as well aware of the provincialism of
English as Bacon was; but he knew that great poetry, being universal in
its appeal to human nature, can make any language classic, and that the
men whose appreciation is immortality will mine through any dialect to
get at an original soul. He had as much confidence in his home-bred
speech as Bacon had want of it, and exclaims:--

  "Not marble nor the gilded monuments
   Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme."

He must have been perfectly conscious of his genius, and of the great
trust which he imposed upon his native tongue as the embodier and
perpetuator of it. As he has avoided obscurities in his sonnets, he would
do so _a fortiori_ in his plays, both for the purpose of immediate effect
on the stage and of future appreciation. Clear thinking makes clear
writing, and he who has shown himself so eminently capable of it in one
case is not to be supposed to abdicate intentionally in others. The
difficult passages in the plays, then, are to be regarded either as
corruptions, or else as phenomena in the natural history of Imagination,
whose study will enable us to arrive at a clearer theory and better
understanding of it.

While I believe that our language had two periods of culmination in
poetic beauty,--one of nature, simplicity, and truth, in the ballads,
which deal only with narrative and feeling,--another of Art, (or Nature
as it is ideally reproduced through the imagination,) of stately
amplitude, of passionate intensity and elevation, in Spenser and the
greater dramatists,--and that Shakespeare made use of the latter as he
found it, I by no means intend to say that he did not enrich it, or that
any inferior man could have dipped the same words out of the great poet's
inkstand. But he enriched it only by the natural expansion and
exhilaration of which it was conscious, in yielding to the mastery of a
genius that could turn and wind it like a fiery Pegasus, making it feel
its life in every limb. He enriched it through that exquisite sense of
music, (never approached but by Marlowe,) to which it seemed eagerly
obedient, as if every word said to him,

  "_Bid me_ discourse, I will enchant thine ear,"--

as if every latent harmony revealed itself to him as the gold to Brahma,
when he walked over the earth where it was hidden, crying, "Here am I,
Lord! do with me what thou wilt!" That he used language with that
intimate possession of its meaning possible only to the most vivid
thought is doubtless true; but that he wantonly strained it from its
ordinary sense, that he found it too poor for his necessities, and
accordingly coined new phrases, or that, from haste or carelessness, he
violated any of its received proprieties, I do not believe. I have said
that it was fortunate for him that he came upon an age when our language
was at its best; but it was fortunate also for us, because our costliest
poetic phrase is put beyond reach of decay in the gleaming precipitate in
which it united itself with his thought.

That the propositions I have endeavored to establish have a direct
bearing in various ways upon the qualifications of whoever undertakes to
edit the works of Shakespeare will, I think, be apparent to those who
consider the matter. The hold which Shakespeare has acquired and
maintained upon minds so many and so various, in so many vital respects
utterly unsympathetic and even incapable of sympathy with his own, is one
of the most noteworthy phenomena in the history of literature. That he
has had the most inadequate of editors, that, as his own Falstaff was the
cause of the wit, so he has been the cause of the foolishness that was in
other men, (as where Malone ventured to discourse upon his metres, and
Dr. Johnson on his imagination,) must be apparent to every one,--and also
that his genius and its manifestations are so various, that there is no
commentator but has been able to illustrate him from his own peculiar
point of view or from the results of his own favorite studies. But to
show that he was a good common lawyer, that he understood the theory of
colors, that he was an accurate botanist, a master of the science of
medicine, especially in its relation to mental disease, a profound
metaphysician, and of great experience and insight in politics,--all
these, while they may very well form the staple of separate treatises,
and prove, that, whatever the extent of his learning, the range and
accuracy of his knowledge were beyond precedent or later parallel, are
really outside the province of an editor.

We doubt if posterity owe a greater debt to any two men living in 1623
than to the two obscure actors who in that year published the first folio
edition of Shakespeare's plays. But for them, it is more than likely that
such of his works as had remained to that time unprinted would have been
irrecoverably lost, and among them were "Julius Caesar," "The Tempest,"
and "Macbeth." But are we to believe them when they assert that they
present to us the plays which they reprinted from stolen and
surreptitious copies "cured and perfect of their limbs," and those which
are original in their edition "absolute in their numbers as he
[Shakespeare] conceived them"? Alas, we have read too many theatrical
announcements, have been taught too often that the value of the promise
was in an inverse ratio to the generosity of the exclamation-marks, too
easily to believe that! Nay, we have seen numberless processions of
healthy kine enter our native village unheralded save by the lusty shouts
of drovers, while a wretched calf, cursed by stepdame Nature with two
heads, was brought to us in a triumphal car, avant-couriered by a band of
music as abnormal as itself, and announced as the greatest wonder of the
age. If a double allowance of vituline brains deserve such honor, there
are few commentators on Shakespeare that would have gone afoot, and the
trumpets of Messieurs Heminge and Condell call up in our minds too many
monstrous and deformed associations.

What, then, is the value of the first folio as an authority? For eighteen
of the plays it is the only authority we have, and the only one also for
four others in their complete form. It is admitted that in several
instances Heminge and Condell reprinted the earlier quarto impressions
with a few changes, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse;
and it is most probable that copies of those editions (whether
surreptitious or not) had taken the place of the original prompter's
books, as being more convenient and legible. Even in these cases it is
not safe to conclude that all or even any of the variations were made by
the hand of Shakespeare himself. And where the players printed from
manuscript, is it likely to have been that of the author? The probability
is small that a writer so busy as Shakespeare must have been during his
productive period should have copied out their parts for the actors
himself, or that one so indifferent as he seems to have been to the
immediate literary fortunes of his works should have given much care to
the correction of copies, if made by others. The copies exclusively in
the hands of Heminge and Condell were, it is manifest, in some cases,
very imperfect, whether we account for the fact by the burning of the
Globe Theatre or by the necessary wear and tear of years, and (what is
worthy of notice) they are plainly more defective in some parts than in
others. "Measure for Measure" is an example of this, and we are not
satisfied with being told that its ruggedness of verse is intentional, or
that its obscurity is due to the fact that Shakespeare grew more
elliptical in his style as he grew older. Profounder in thought he
doubtless became; though in a mind like his, we believe that this would
imply only a more absolute supremacy in expression. But, from whatever
original we suppose either the quartos or the first folio to have been
printed, it is more than questionable whether the proof-sheets had the
advantage of any revision other than that of the printing-office.
Steevens was of opinion that authors in the time of Shakespeare never
read their own proof-sheets; and Mr. Spedding, in his recent edition of
Bacon, comes independently to the same conclusion.[126] We may be very
sure that Heminge and Condell did not, as vicars, take upon themselves a
disagreeable task which the author would have been too careless to

Nevertheless, however strong a case may be made out against the Folio of
1623, whatever sins of omission we may lay to the charge of Heminge and
Condell, or of commission to that of the printers, it remains the only
text we have with any claims whatever to authenticity. It should be
deferred to as authority in all cases where it does not make Shakespeare
write bad sense, uncouth metre, or false grammar, of all which we believe
him to have been more supremely incapable than any other man who ever
wrote English. Yet we would not speak unkindly even of the blunders of
the Folio. They have put bread into the mouth of many an honest editor,
publisher, and printer for the last century and a half; and he who loves
the comic side of human nature will find the serious notes of a
_variorum_ edition of Shakespeare as funny reading as the funny ones are
serious. Scarce a commentator of them all, for more than a hundred years,
but thought, as Alphonso of Castile did of Creation, that, if he had only
been at Shakespeare's elbow, he could have given valuable advice; scarce
one who did not know off-hand that there was never a seaport in
Bohemia,--as if Shakespeare's world were one which Mercator could have
projected; scarce one but was satisfied that his ten finger-tips were a
sufficient key to those astronomic wonders of poise and counterpoise, of
planetary law and cometary seeming-exception, in his metres; scarce one
but thought he could gauge like an ale-firkin that intuition whose edging
shallows may have been sounded, but whose abysses, stretching down amid
the sunless roots of Being and Consciousness, mock the plummet; scarce
one but could speak with condescending approval of that prodigious
intelligence so utterly without congener that our baffled language must
coin an adjective to qualify it, and none is so audacious as to say
Shakesperian of any other. And yet, in the midst of our impatience, we
cannot help thinking also of how much healthy mental activity this one
man has been the occasion, how much good he has indirectly done to
society by withdrawing men to investigations and habits of thought that
secluded them from baser attractions, for how many he has enlarged the
circle of study and reflection; since there is nothing in history or
politics, nothing in art or science, nothing in physics or metaphysics,
that is not sooner or later taxed for his illustration. This is partially
true of all great minds, open and sensitive to truth and beauty through
any large arc of their circumference; but it is true in an unexampled
sense of Shakespeare, the vast round of whose balanced nature seems to
have been equatorial, and to have had a southward exposure and a summer
sympathy at every point, so that life, society, statecraft, serve us at
last but as commentaries on him, and whatever we have gathered of
thought, of knowledge, and of experience, confronted with his marvellous
page, shrinks to a mere foot-note, the stepping-stone to some hitherto
inaccessible verse. We admire in Homer the blind placid mirror of the
world's young manhood, the bard who escapes from his misfortune in poems
all memory, all life and bustle, adventure and picture; we revere in
Dante that compressed force of lifelong passion which could make a
private experience cosmopolitan in its reach and everlasting in its
significance; we respect in Goethe the Aristotelian poet, wise by
weariless observation, witty with intention, the stately _Geheimerrath_
of a provincial court in the empire of Nature. As we study these, we seem
in our limited way to penetrate into their consciousness and to measure
and master their methods; but with Shakespeare it is just the other way;
the more we have familiarized ourselves with the operations of our own
consciousness, the more do we find, in reading him, that he has been
beforehand with us, and that, while we have been vainly endeavoring to
find the door of his being, he has searched every nook and cranny of our
own. While other poets and dramatists embody isolated phases of character
and work inward from the phenomenon to the special law which it
illustrates, he seems in some strange way unitary with human nature
itself, and his own soul to have been the law and life-giving power of
which his creations are only the phenomena. We justify or criticise the
characters of other writers by our memory and experience, and pronounce
them natural or unnatural; but he seems to have worked in the very stuff
of which memory and experience are made, and we recognize his truth to
Nature by an innate and unacquired sympathy, as if he alone possessed the
secret of the "ideal form and universal mould," and embodied generic
types rather than individuals. In this Cervantes alone has approached
him; and Don Quixote and Sancho, like the men and women of Shakespeare,
are the contemporaries of every generation, because they are not products
of an artificial and transitory society, but because they are animated by
the primeval and unchanging forces of that humanity which underlies and
survives the forever-fickle creeds and ceremonials of the parochial
corners which we who dwell in them sublimely call The World.

That Shakespeare did not edit his own works must be attributed, we
suspect, to his premature death. That he should not have intended it is
inconceivable. Is there not something of self-consciousness in the
breaking of Prospero's wand and burying his book,--a sort of sad
prophecy, based on self-knowledge of the nature of that man who, after
such thaumaturgy, could go down to Stratford and live there for years,
only collecting his dividends from the Globe Theatre, lending money on
mortgage, and leaning over his gate to chat and bandy quips with
neighbors? His mind had entered into every phase of human life and
thought, had embodied all of them in living creations;--had he found all
empty, and come at last to the belief that genius and its works were as
phantasmagoric as the rest, and that fame was as idle as the rumor of the
pit? However this may be, his works have come down to us in a condition
of manifest and admitted corruption in some portions, while in others
there is an obscurity which may be attributed either to an idiosyncratic
use of words and condensation of phrase, to a depth of intuition for a
proper coalescence with which ordinary language is inadequate, to a
concentration of passion in a focus that consumes the lighter links which
bind together the clauses of a sentence or of a process of reasoning in
common parlance, or to a sense of music which mingles music and meaning
without essentially confounding them. We should demand for a perfect
editor, then, first, a thorough glossological knowledge of the English
contemporary with Shakespeare; second, enough logical acuteness of mind
and metaphysical training to enable him to follow recondite processes of
thought; third, such a conviction of the supremacy of his author as
always to prefer his thought to any theory of his own; fourth, a feeling
for music, and so much knowledge of the practice of other poets as to
understand that Shakespeare's versification differs from theirs as often
in kind as in degree; fifth, an acquaintance with the world as well as
with books; and last, what is, perhaps, of more importance than all, so
great a familiarity with the working of the imaginative faculty in
general, and of its peculiar operation in the mind of Shakespeare, as
will prevent his thinking a passage dark with excess of light, and enable
him to understand fully that the Gothic Shakespeare often superimposed
upon the slender column of a single word, that seems to twist under it,
but does not,--like the quaint shafts in cloisters,--a weight of meaning
which the modern architects of sentences would consider wholly
unjustifiable by correct principle.

Many years ago, while yet Fancy claimed that right in me which Fact has
since, to my no small loss, so successfully disputed, I pleased myself
with imagining the play of Hamlet published under some _alias_, and as
the work of a new candidate in literature. Then I _played_, as the
children say, that it came in regular course before some well-meaning
doer of criticisms, who had never read the original, (no very wild
assumption, as things go,) and endeavored to conceive the kind of way in
which he would be likely to take it. I put myself in his place, and tried
to write such a perfunctory notice as I thought would be likely, in
filling his column, to satisfy his conscience. But it was a _tour de
force_ quite beyond my power to execute without grimace. I could not
arrive at that artistic absorption in my own conception which would
enable me to be natural, and found myself, like a bad actor, continually
betraying my self-consciousness by my very endeavor to hide it under
caricature. The path of Nature is indeed a narrow one, and it is only the
immortals that seek it, and, when they find it, do not find themselves
cramped therein. My result was a dead failure,--satire instead of comedy.
I could not shake off that strange accumulation which we call self, and
report honestly what I saw and felt even to myself, much less to others.

Yet I have often thought, that, unless we can so far free ourselves from
our own prepossessions as to be capable of bringing to a work of art some
freshness of sensation, and receiving from it in turn some new surprise
of sympathy and admiration,--some shock even, it may be, of instinctive
distaste and repulsion,--though we may praise or blame, weighing our
_pros_ and _cons_ in the nicest balances, sealed by proper authority, yet
we shall not criticise in the highest sense. On the other hand, unless we
admit certain principles as fixed beyond question, we shall be able to
render no adequate judgment, but only to record our impressions, which
may be valuable or not, according to the greater or less ductility of the
senses on which they are made. Charles Lamb, for example, came to the old
English dramatists with the feeling of a discoverer. He brought with him
an alert curiosity, and everything was delightful simply because it was
strange. Like other early adventurers, he sometimes mistook shining sand
for gold; but he had the great advantage of not feeling himself
responsible for the manners of the inhabitants he found there, and not
thinking it needful to make them square with any Westminster Catechism of
aesthetics. Best of all, he did not feel compelled to compare them with
the Greeks, about whom he knew little, and cared less. He took them as he
found them, described them in a few pregnant sentences, and displayed his
specimens of their growth, and manufacture. When he arrived at the
dramatists of the Restoration, so far from being shocked, he was charmed
with their pretty and unmoral ways; and what he says of them reminds us
of blunt Captain Dampier, who, in his account of the island of Timor,
remarks, as a matter of no consequence, that the natives "take as many
wives as they can maintain, and as for religion, they have none."

Lamb had the great advantage of seeing the elder dramatists as they were;
it did not lie within his province to point out what they were not.
Himself a fragmentary writer, he had more sympathy with imagination where
it gathers into the intense focus of passionate phrase than with that
higher form of it, where it is the faculty that shapes, gives unity of
design and balanced gravitation of parts. And yet it is only this higher
form of it which can unimpeachably assure to any work the dignity and
permanence of a classic; for it results in that exquisite something
called Style, which, like the grace of perfect breeding, everywhere
pervasive and nowhere emphatic, makes itself felt by the skill with which
it effaces itself, and masters us at last with a sense of indefinable
completeness. On a lower plane we may detect it in the structure of a
sentence, in the limpid expression that implies sincerity of thought; but
it is only where it combines and organizes, where it eludes observation
in particulars to give the rarer delight of perfection as a whole, that
it belongs to art. Then it is truly ideal, the _forma mentis aeterna,_
not as a passive mould into which the thought is poured, but as the
conceptive energy which finds all material plastic to its preconceived
design. Mere vividness of expression, such as makes quotable passages,
comes of the complete surrender of self to the impression, whether
spiritual or sensual, of the moment. It is a quality, perhaps, in which
the young poet is richer than the mature, his very inexperience making
him more venturesome in those leaps of language that startle us with
their rashness only to bewitch us the more with the happy ease of their
accomplishment. For this there are no existing laws of rhetoric, for it
is from such felicities that the rhetoricians deduce and codify their
statutes. It is something which cannot be improved upon or cultivated,
for it is immediate and intuitive. But this power of expression is
subsidiary, and goes only a little way toward the making of a great poet.
Imagination, where it is truly creative, is a faculty, and not a quality;
it looks before and after, it gives the form that makes all the parts
work together harmoniously toward a given end, its seat is in the higher
reason, and it is efficient only as a servant of the will. Imagination,
as it is too often misunderstood, is mere fantasy, the image-making
power, common to all who have the gift of dreams, or who can afford to
buy it in a vulgar drug as De Quincey bought it.

The true poetic imagination is of one quality, whether it be ancient or
modern, and equally subject to those laws of grace, of proportion, of
design, in whose free service, and in that alone, it can become art.
Those laws are something which do not

              "Alter when they alteration find,
  And bend with the remover to remove."

And they are more clearly to be deduced from the eminent examples of
Greek literature than from any other source. It is the advantage of this
select company of ancients that their works are defecated of all turbid
mixture of contemporaneousness, and have become to us pure _literature_,
our judgment and enjoyment of which cannot be vulgarized by any
prejudices of time or place. This is why the study of them is fitly
called a liberal education, because it emancipates the mind from every
narrow provincialism whether of egoism or tradition, and is the
apprenticeship that every one must serve before becoming a free brother
of the guild which passes the torch of life from age to age. There would
be no dispute about the advantages of that Greek culture which Schiller
advocated with such generous eloquence, if the great authors of antiquity
had not been degraded from teachers of thinking to drillers in grammar,
and made the ruthless pedagogues of root and inflection, instead of
companions for whose society the mind must put on her highest mood. The
discouraged youth too naturally transfers the epithet of _dead_ from the
languages to the authors that wrote in them. What concern have we with
the shades of dialect in Homer or Theocritus, provided they speak the
spiritual _lingua franca_ that abolishes all alienage of race, and makes
whatever shore of time we land on hospitable and homelike? There is much
that is deciduous in books, but all that gives them a title to rank as
literature in the highest sense is perennial. Their vitality is the
vitality not of one or another blood or tongue, but of human nature;
their truth is not topical and transitory, but of universal acceptation;
and thus all great authors seem the coevals not only of each other, but
of whoever reads them, growing wiser with him as he grows wise, and
unlocking to him one secret after another as his own life and experience
give him the key, but on no other condition. Their meaning is absolute,
not conditional; it is a property of _theirs_, quite irrespective of
manners or creed; for the highest culture, the development of the
individual by observation, reflection, and study, leads to one result,
whether in Athens or in London. The more we know of ancient literature,
the more we are struck with its modernness, just as the more we study the
maturer dramas of Shakespeare, the more we feel his nearness in certain
primary qualities to the antique and classical. Yet even in saying this,
I tacitly make the admission that it is the Greeks who must furnish us
with our standard of comparison. Their stamp is upon all the allowed
measures and weights of aesthetic criticism. Nor does a consciousness of
this, nor a constant reference to it, in any sense reduce us to the mere
copying of a bygone excellence; for it is the test of excellence in any
department of art, that it can never be bygone, and it is not mere
difference from antique models, but the _way_ in which that difference is
shown, the direction it takes, that we are to consider in our judgment of
a modern work. The model is not there to be copied merely, but that the
study of it may lead us insensibly to the same processes of thought by
which its purity of outline and harmony of parts were attained, and
enable us to feel that strength is consistent with repose, that
multiplicity is not abundance, that grace is but a more refined form of
power, and that a thought is none the less profound that the limpidity of
its expression allows us to measure it at a glance. To be possessed with
this conviction gives us at least a determinate point of view, and
enables us to appeal a case of taste to a court of final judicature,
whose decisions are guided by immutable principles. When we hear of
certain productions, that they are feeble in design, but masterly in
parts, that they are incoherent, to be sure, but have great merits of
style, we know that it cannot be true; for in the highest examples we
have, the master is revealed by his plan, by his power of making all
accessories, each in its due relation, subordinate to it, and that to
limit style to the rounding of a period or a distich is wholly to
misapprehend its truest and highest function. Donne is full of salient
verses that would take the rudest March winds of criticism with their
beauty, of thoughts that first tease us like charades and then delight us
with the felicity of their solution; but these have not saved him. He is
exiled to the limbo of the formless and the fragmentary. To take a more
recent instance,--Wordsworth had, in some respects, a deeper insight, and
a more adequate utterance of it, than any man of his generation. But it
was a piece-meal insight and utterance; his imagination was feminine, not
masculine, receptive, and not creative. His longer poems are Egyptian
sand-wastes, with here and there an oasis of exquisite greenery, a grand
image, Sphinx-like, half buried in drifting commonplaces, or the solitary
Pompey's Pillar of some towering thought. But what is the fate of a poet
who owns the quarry, but cannot build the poem? Ere the century is out he
will be nine parts dead, and immortal only in that tenth part of him
which is included in a thin volume of "beauties." Already Moxon has felt
the need of extracting this essential oil of him; and his memory will be
kept alive, if at all, by the precious material rather than the
workmanship of the vase that contains his heart. And what shall we
forebode of so many modern poems, full of splendid passages, beginning
everywhere and leading nowhere, reminding us of nothing so much as the
amateur architect who planned his own house, and forgot the staircase
that should connect one floor with another, putting it as an afterthought
on the outside?

Lichtenberg says somewhere, that it was the advantage of the ancients to
write before the great art of writing ill had been invented; and
Shakespeare may be said to have had the good luck of coming after Spenser
(to whom the debt of English poetry is incalculable) had reinvented the
art of writing well. But Shakespeare arrived at a mastery in this respect
which sets him above all other poets. He is not only superior in degree,
but he is also different in kind. In that less purely artistic sphere of
style which concerns the matter rather than the form his charm is often
unspeakable. How perfect his style is may be judged from the fact that it
never curdles into mannerism, and thus absolutely eludes imitation.
Though here, if anywhere, the style is the man, yet it is noticeable
only, like the images of Brutus, by its absence, so thoroughly is he
absorbed in his work, while he fuses thought and word indissolubly
together, till all the particles cohere by the best virtue of each. With
perfect truth he has said of himself that he writes

             "All one, ever the same,
  Putting invention in a noted weed,
  That every word doth almost tell his name."

And yet who has so succeeded in imitating him as to remind us of him by
even so much as the gait of a single verse?[127] Those magnificent
crystallizations of feeling and phrase, basaltic masses, molten and
interfused by the primal fires of passion, are not to be reproduced by
the slow experiments of the laboratory striving to parody creation with
artifice. Mr. Matthew Arnold seems to think that Shakespeare has damaged
English poetry. I wish he had! It is true he lifted Dryden above himself
in "All for Love"; but it was Dryden who said of him, by instinctive
conviction rather than judgment, that within his magic circle none dared
tread but he. Is he to blame for the extravagances of modern diction,
which are but the reaction of the brazen age against the degeneracy of
art into artifice, that has characterized the silver period in every
literature? We see in them only the futile effort of misguided persons to
torture out of language the secret of that inspiration which should be in
themselves. We do not find the extravagances in Shakespeare himself. We
never saw a line in any modern poet that reminded us of him, and will
venture to assert that it is only poets of the second class that find
successful imitators. And the reason seems to us a very plain one. The
genius of the great poet seeks repose in the expression of itself, and
finds it at last in style, which is the establishment of a perfect mutual
understanding between the worker and his material.[128] The secondary
intellect, on the other hand, seeks for excitement in expression, and
stimulates itself into mannerism, which is the wilful obtrusion of self,
as style is its unconscious abnegation. No poet of the first class has
ever left a school, because his imagination is incommunicable; while,
just as surely as the thermometer tells of the neighborhood of an
iceberg, you may detect the presence of a genius of the second class in
any generation by the influence of his mannerism, for that, being an
artificial thing, is capable of reproduction. Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe,
left no heirs either to the form or mode of their expression; while
Milton, Sterne, and Wordsworth left behind them whole regiments uniformed
with all their external characteristics. We do not mean that great poetic
geniuses may not have influenced thought, (though we think it would be
difficult to show how Shakespeare had done so, directly and wilfully,)
but that they have not infected contemporaries or followers with
mannerism. The quality in him which makes him at once so thoroughly
English and so thoroughly cosmopolitan is that aëration of the
understanding by the imagination which he has in common with all the
greater poets, and which is the privilege of genius. The modern school,
which mistakes violence for intensity, seems to catch its breath when it
finds itself on the verge of natural expression, and to say to itself,
"Good heavens! I had almost forgotten I was inspired!" But of Shakespeare
we do not even suspect that he ever remembered it. He does not always
speak in that intense way that flames up in Lear and Macbeth through the
rifts of a soil volcanic with passion. He allows us here and there the
repose of a commonplace character, the consoling distraction of a
humorous one. He knows how to be equable and grand without effort, so
that we forget the altitude of thought to which he has led us, because
the slowly receding slope of a mountain stretching downward by ample
gradations gives a less startling impression of height than to look over
the edge of a ravine that makes but a wrinkle in its flank.

Shakespeare has been sometimes taxed with the barbarism of profuseness
and exaggeration. But this is to measure him by a Sophoclean scale. The
simplicity of the antique tragedy is by no means that of expression, but
is of form merely. In the utterance of great passions, something must be
indulged to the extravagance of Nature; the subdued tones to which pathos
and sentiment are limited cannot express a tempest of the soul The range
between the piteous "no more but so," in which Ophelia compresses the
heart-break whose compression was to make her mad, and that sublime
appeal of Lear to the elements of Nature, only to be matched, if matched
at all, in the "Prometheus," is a wide one, and Shakespeare is as truly
simple in the one as in the other. The simplicity of poetry is not that
of prose, nor its clearness that of ready apprehension merely. To a
subtile sense, a sense heightened by sympathy, those sudden fervors of
phrase, gone ere one can say it lightens, that show us Macbeth groping
among the complexities of thought in his conscience-clouded mind, and
reveal the intricacy rather than enlighten it, while they leave the eye
darkened to the literal meaning of the words, yet make their logical
sequence, the grandeur of the conception, and its truth to Nature clearer
than sober daylight could. There is an obscurity of mist rising from the
undrained shallows of the mind, and there is the darkness of
thunder-cloud gathering its electric masses with passionate intensity
from the clear element of the imagination, not at random or wilfully, but
by the natural processes of the creative faculty, to brood those flashes
of expression that transcend rhetoric, and are only to be apprehended by
the poetic instinct.

In that secondary office of imagination, where it serves the artist, not
as the reason that shapes, but as the interpreter of his conceptions into
words, there is a distinction to be noticed between the higher and lower
mode in which it performs its function. It may be either creative or
pictorial, may body forth the thought or merely image it forth. With
Shakespeare, for example, imagination seems immanent in his very
consciousness; with Milton, in his memory. In the one it sends, as if
without knowing it, a fiery life into the verse,

  "Sei die Braut das Wort,
  Bräutigam der Geist";

in the other it elaborates a certain pomp and elevation. Accordingly, the
bias of the former is toward over-intensity, of the latter toward
over-diffuseness. Shakespeare's temptation is to push a willing metaphor
beyond its strength, to make a passion over-inform its tenement of words;
Milton cannot resist running a simile on into a fugue. One always fancies
Shakespeare _in_ his best verses, and Milton at the key-board of his
organ. Shakespeare's language is no longer the mere vehicle of thought,
it has become part of it, its very flesh and blood. The pleasure it gives
us is unmixed, direct, like that from the smell of a flower or the flavor
of a fruit. Milton sets everywhere his little pitfalls of bookish
association for the memory. I know that Milton's manner is very grand. It
is slow, it is stately, moving as in triumphal procession, with music,
with historic banners, with spoils from every time and every region, and
captive epithets, like huge Sicambrians, thrust their broad shoulders
between us and the thought whose pomp they decorate. But it is manner,
nevertheless, as is proved by the ease with which it is parodied, by the
danger it is in of degenerating into mannerism whenever it forgets
itself. Fancy a parody of Shakespeare,--I do not mean of his words, but
of his _tone_, for that is what distinguishes the master. You might as
well try it with the Venus of Melos. In Shakespeare it is always the
higher thing, the thought, the fancy, that is pre-eminent; it is Caesar
that draws all eyes, and not the chariot in which he rides, or the throng
which is but the reverberation of his supremacy. If not, how explain the
charm with which he dominates in all tongues, even under the
disenchantment of translation? Among the most alien races he is as
solidly at home as a mountain seen from different sides by many lands,
itself superbly solitary, yet the companion of all thoughts and
domesticated in all imaginations.

In description Shakespeare is especially great, and in that instinct
which gives the peculiar quality of any object of contemplation in a
single happy word that colors the impression on the sense with the mood
of the mind. Most descriptive poets seem to think that a hogshead of
water caught at the spout will give us a livelier notion of a
thunder-shower than the sullen muttering of the first big drops upon the
roof. They forget that it is by suggestion, not cumulation, that profound
impressions are made upon the imagination. Milton's parsimony (so rare in
him) makes the success of his

  "Sky lowered, and, muttering thunder, some sad drops
  Wept at completion of the mortal sin."

Shakespeare understood perfectly the charm of indirectness, of making his
readers seem to discover for themselves what he means to show them. If he
wishes to tell that the leaves of the willow are gray on the under side,
he does not make it a mere fact of observation by bluntly saying so, but
makes it picturesquely reveal itself to us as it might in Nature:--

  "There is a willow grows athwart the flood,
  That shows his _hoar_ leaves in the glassy stream."

Where he goes to the landscape for a comparison, he does not ransack wood
and field for specialties, as if he were gathering simples, but takes one
image, obvious, familiar, and makes it new to us either by sympathy or
contrast with his own immediate feeling. He always looked upon Nature
with the eyes of the mind. Thus he can make the melancholy of autumn or
the gladness of spring alike pathetic:--

  "That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
  When yellow leaves, or few, or none, do hang
  Upon those boughs that shake against the cold,
  Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang."

Or again:--

  "From thee have I been absent in the spring,
  When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
  Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
  That heavy Saturn leaped and laughed with him."

But as dramatic poet, Shakespeare goes even beyond this, entering so
perfectly into the consciousness of the characters he himself has
created, that he sees everything through their peculiar mood, and makes
every epithet, as if unconsciously, echo and re-echo it. Theseus asks

  "Can you endure the livery of a nun,
  For aye to be in shady cloister mewed,
  To live a _barren_ sister all your life,
  Chanting faint hymns to the _cold fruitless_ moon?"

When Romeo must leave Juliet, the private pang of the lovers becomes a
property of Nature herself, and

                              "_Envious_ streaks
  Do lace the _severing_ clouds in yonder east."

But even more striking is the following instance from Macbeth:--

               "The raven himself is hoarse
  That croaks the fatal enterance of Duncan
  Under your battlements."

Here Shakespeare, with his wonted tact, makes use of a vulgar
superstition, of a type in which mortal presentiment is already embodied,
to make a common ground on which the hearer and Lady Macbeth may meet.
After this prelude we are prepared to be possessed by her emotion more
fully, to feel in her ears the dull tramp of the blood that seems to make
the raven's croak yet hoarser than it is, and to betray the stealthy
advance of the mind to its fell purpose. For Lady Macbeth hears not so
much the voice of the bodeful bird as of her own premeditated murder, and
we are thus made her shuddering accomplices before the fact. Every image
receives the color of the mind, every word throbs with the pulse of one
controlling passion. The epithet _fatal_ makes us feel the implacable
resolve of the speaker, and shows us that she is tampering with her
conscience by putting off the crime upon the prophecy of the Weird
Sisters to which she alludes. In the word _battlements_, too, not only is
the fancy led up to the perch of the raven, but a hostile image takes the
place of a hospitable; for men commonly speak of receiving a guest under
their roof or within their doors. That this is not over-ingenuity, seeing
what is not to be seen, nor meant to be seen, is clear to me from what
follows. When Duncan and Banquo arrive at the castle, their fancies, free
from all suggestion of evil, call up only gracious and amiable images.
The raven was but the fantastical creation of Lady Macbeth's over-wrought

  "This castle hath a pleasant seat, the air
  Nimbly and sweetly doth commend itself
  Unto our gentle senses.
                                            This _guest_ of summer,
  The _temple-haunting_ martlet, doth approve
  By his _loved mansionry_ that the heaven's breath
  Smells _wooingly_ here; no jutty, frieze,
  Buttress, or coigne of vantage, but this bird
  Hath made his pendent bed and procreant cradle."

The contrast here cannot but be as intentional as it is marked. Every
image is one of welcome, security, and confidence. The summer, one may
well fancy, would be a very different hostess from her whom we have just
seen expecting _them_. And why _temple-haunting_, unless because it
suggests sanctuary? _O immaginativa, che si ne rubi delle cose di fuor_,
how infinitely more precious are the inward ones thou givest in return!
If all this be accident, it is at least one of those accidents of which
only this man was ever capable. I divine something like it now and then
in Aeschylus, through the mists of a language which will not let me be
sure of what I see, but nowhere else. Shakespeare, it is true, had, as I
have said, as respects English, the privilege which only first-comers
enjoy. The language was still fresh from those sources at too great a
distance from which it becomes fit only for the service of prose.
Wherever he dipped, it came up clear and sparkling, undefiled as yet by
the drainage of literary factories, or of those dye-houses where the
machine-woven fabrics of sham culture are colored up to the last
desperate style of sham sentiment. Those who criticise his diction as
sometimes extravagant should remember that in poetry language is
something more than merely the vehicle of thought, that it is meant to
convey the sentiment as much as the sense, and that, if there is a beauty
of use, there is often a higher use of beauty.

What kind of culture Shakespeare had is uncertain; how much he had is
disputed; that he had as much as he wanted, and of whatever kind he
wanted, must be clear to whoever considers the question. Dr. Farmer has
proved, in his entertaining essay, that he got everything at second-hand
from translations, and that, where his translator blundered, he loyally
blundered too. But Goethe, the man of widest acquirement in modern times,
did precisely the same thing. In his character of poet he set as little
store by useless learning as Shakespeare did. He learned to write
hexameters, not from Homer, but from Voss, and Voss found them faulty;
yet somehow _Hermann und Dorothea_ is more readable than _Luise_. So far
as all the classicism then attainable was concerned, Shakespeare got it
as cheap as Goethe did, who always bought it ready-made. For such
purposes of mere aesthetic nourishment Goethe always milked other
minds,--if minds those ruminators and digesters of antiquity into asses'
milk may be called. There were plenty of professors who were forever
assiduously browsing in vales of Enna and on Pentelican slopes among the
vestiges of antiquity, slowly secreting lacteous facts, and not one of
them would have raised his head from that exquisite pasturage, though Pan
had made music through his pipe of reeds. Did Goethe wish to work up a
Greek theme? He drove out Herr Böttiger, for example, among that fodder
delicious to him for its very dryness, that sapless Arcadia of
scholiasts, let him graze, ruminate, and go through all other needful
processes of the antiquarian organism, then got him quietly into a corner
and milked him. The product, after standing long enough, mantled over
with the rich Goethean cream, from which a butter could be churned, if
not precisely classic, quite as good as the ancients could have made out
of the same material. But who has ever read the _Achilleis_, correct in
all _un_essential particulars as it probably is?

It is impossible to conceive that a man, who, in other respects, made
such booty of the world around him, whose observation of manners was so
minute, and whose insight into character and motives, as if he had been
one of God's spies, was so unerring that we accept it without question,
as we do Nature herself, and find it more consoling to explain his
confessedly immense superiority by attributing it to a happy instinct
rather than to the conscientious perfecting of exceptional powers till
practice made them seem to work independently of the will which still
directed them,--it is impossible that such a man should not also have
profited by the converse of the cultivated and quick-witted men in whose
familiar society he lived, that he should not have over and over again
discussed points of criticism and art with them, that he should not have
had his curiosity, so alive to everything else, excited about those
ancients whom university men then, no doubt, as now, extolled without too
much knowledge of what they really were, that he should not have heard
too much rather than too little of Aristotle's _Poetics_, Quinctilian's
_Rhetoric_, Horace's _Art of Poetry_, and the _Unities_, especially from
Ben Jonson,--in short, that he who speaks of himself as

  "Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
  With what he most enjoyed contented least,"

and who meditated so profoundly on every other topic of human concern,
should never have turned his thought to the principles of that art which
was both the delight and business of his life, the bread-winner alike for
soul and body. Was there no harvest of the ear for him whose eye had
stocked its garners so full as wellnigh to forestall all after-comers?
Did he who could so counsel the practisers of an art in which he never
arrived at eminence, as in Hamlet's advice to the players, never take
counsel with himself about that other art in which the instinct of the
crowd, no less than the judgment of his rivals, awarded him an easy
pre-eminence? If he had little Latin and less Greek, might he not have
had enough of both for every practical purpose on this side pedantry? The
most extraordinary, one might almost say contradictory, attainments have
been ascribed to him, and yet he has been supposed incapable of what was
within easy reach of every boy at Westminster School. There is a
knowledge that comes of sympathy as living and genetic as that which
comes of mere learning is sapless and unprocreant, and for this no
profound study of the languages is needed.

If Shakespeare did not know the ancients, I think they were at least as
unlucky in not knowing him. But is it incredible that he may have laid
hold of an edition of the Greek tragedians, _Graecè et Latinè_, and then,
with such poor wits as he was master of, contrived to worry some
considerable meaning out of them? There are at least one or two
coincidences which, whether accidental or not, are curious, and which I
do not remember to have seen noticed. In the _Electra_ of Sophocles,
which is almost identical in its leading motive with _Hamlet_, the Chorus
consoles Electra for the supposed death of Orestes in the same
commonplace way which Hamlet's uncle tries with him.

  [Greek: Thnaetou pephukas patros, Aelektra phronei;
  Thnaetos d' Orestaes; oste mae lian stene,
  Pasin gar aemin tout' opheiletai pathein.]

         "Your father lost a father;
  That father lost, lost his....

                 But to perséver
  In obstinate condolement is a course
  Of impious stubbornness....
      'T is common; all that live must die."

Shakespeare expatiates somewhat more largely, but the sentiment in both
cases is almost verbally identical. The resemblance is probably a chance
one, for commonplace and consolation were always twin sisters, whom
always to escape is given to no man; but it is nevertheless curious. Here
is another, from the _Oedipus Coloneus_:--

  [Greek: Tois toi dikaiois cho brachus nika megan.]

  "Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just."

Hamlet's "prophetic soul" may be matched with the [Greek: promantis
thumos] of Peleus, (Eurip. Androm. 1075,) and his "sea of troubles," with
the [Greek: kakon pelagos] of Theseus in the _Hippolytus_, or of the
Chorus in the _Hercules Furens_. And, for manner and tone, compare the
speeches of Pheres in the _Alcestis_, and Jocasta in the _Phoenissae_,
with those of Claudio in _Measure for Measure_, and Ulysses in _Troilus
and Cressida_.

The Greek dramatists were somewhat fond of a trick of words in which
there is a reduplication of sense as well as of assonance, as in the

  [Greek: Alektra gaeraskousan anumenaia te].

So Shakespeare:--

  "Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled";

and Milton after him, or, more likely, after the Greek:--

  "Unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved."[129]

I mention these trifles, in passing, because they have interested me, and
therefore may interest others. I lay no stress upon them, for, if once
the conductors of Shakespeare's intelligence had been put in connection
with those Attic brains, he would have reproduced their message in a form
of his own. They would have inspired, and not enslaved him. His
resemblance to them is that of consanguinity, more striking in expression
than in mere resemblance of feature. The likeness between the
Clytemnestra--[Greek: gunaikos androboulon elpizon kear]--of Aeschylus
and the Lady Macbeth of Shakespeare was too remarkable to have escaped
notice. That between the two poets in their choice of epithets is as
great, though more difficult of proof. Yet I think an attentive student
of Shakespeare cannot fail to be reminded of something familiar to him in
such phrases as "flame-eyed fire," "flax-winged ships," "star-neighboring
peaks," the rock Salmydessus,

                "Rude jaw of the sea,
  Harsh hostess of the seaman, step-mother
  Of ships,"

and the beacon with its "_speaking eye_ of fire." Surely there is more
than a verbal, there is a genuine, similarity between the [Greek:
anaerithmon gelasma] and "the unnumbered beach" and "multitudinous sea."
Aeschylus, it seems to me, is willing, just as Shakespeare is, to risk
the prosperity of a verse upon a lucky throw of words, which may come up
the sices of hardy metaphor or the ambsace of conceit. There is such a
difference between far-reaching and far-fetching! Poetry, to be sure, is
always that daring one step beyond, which brings the right man to
fortune, but leaves the wrong one in the ditch, and its law is, Be bold
once and again, yet be not over-bold. It is true, also, that masters of
language are a little apt to play with it. But whatever fault may be
found with Shakespeare in this respect will touch a tender spot in
Aeschylus also. Does he sometimes overload a word, so that the language
not merely, as Dryden says, bends under him, but fairly gives way, and
lets the reader's mind down with the shock as of a false step in taste?
He has nothing worse than [Greek: pelagos anthoun nekrois]. A criticism,
shallow in human nature, however deep in Campbell's Rhetoric, has blamed
him for making persons, under great excitement of sorrow, or whatever
other emotion, parenthesize some trifling play upon words in the very
height of their passion. Those who make such criticisms have either never
felt a passion or seen one in action, or else they forget the exaltation
of sensibility during such crises, so that the attention, whether of the
senses or the mind, is arrested for the moment by what would be
overlooked in ordinary moods. The more forceful the current, the more
sharp the ripple from any alien substance interposed. A passion that
looks forward, like revenge or lust or greed, goes right to its end, and
is straightforward in its expression; but a tragic passion, which is in
its nature unavailing, like disappointment, regret of the inevitable, or
remorse, is reflective, and liable to be continually diverted by the
suggestions of fancy. The one is a concentration of the will, which
intensifies the character and the phrase that expresses it; in the other,
the will is helpless, and, as in insanity, while the flow of the mind
sets imperatively in one direction, it is liable to almost ludicrous
interruptions and diversions upon the most trivial hint of involuntary
association. I am ready to grant that Shakespeare sometimes allows his
characters to spend time, that might be better employed, in carving some
cherry-stone of a quibble;[130] that he is sometimes tempted away from
the natural by the quaint; that he sometimes forces a partial, even a
verbal, analogy between the abstract thought and the sensual image into
an absolute identity, giving us a kind of serious pun. In a pun our
pleasure arises from a gap in the logical nexus too wide for the reason,
but which the ear can bridge in an instant. "Is that your own hare, or a
wig?" The fancy is yet more tickled where logic is treated with a mock
ceremonial of respect.

  "His head was turned, _and so_ he chewed
     His pigtail till he died."

Now when this kind of thing is done in earnest, the result is one of
those ill-distributed syllogisms which in rhetoric are called conceits.

  "Hard was the hand that struck the blow,
     Soft was the heart that bled."

I have seen this passage from Warner cited for its beauty, though I
should have thought nothing could be worse, had I not seen General

  "Her heart and morning broke together
     In tears."

Of course, I would not rank with these Gloucester's

  "What! will the aspiring blood of Lancaster
  Sink in the ground? I thought it would have mounted";

though as mere rhetoric it belongs to the same class.[131]

It might be defended as a bit of ghastly humor characteristic of the
speaker. But at any rate it is not without precedent in the two greater
Greek tragedians. In a chorus of the _Seven against Thebes_ we have:--

                [Greek: en de gaia.
  Zoa phonoruto
  Memiktai, _karta d' eis' omaimoi_.]

And does not Sophocles make Ajax in his despair quibble upon his own name
quite in the Shakespearian fashion, under similar circumstances? Nor does
the coarseness with which our great poet is reproached lack an Aeschylean
parallel. Even the Nurse in _Romeo and Juliet_ would have found a true
gossip in her of the _Agamemnon_, who is so indiscreet in her confidences
concerning the nursery life of Orestes. Whether Raleigh is right or not
in warning historians against following truth too close upon the heels,
the caution is a good one for poets as respects truth to Nature. But it
is a mischievous fallacy in historian or critic to treat as a blemish of
the man what is but the common tincture of his age. It is to confound a
spatter of mud with a moral stain.

But I have been led away from my immediate purpose. I did not intend to
compare Shakespeare with the ancients, much less to justify his defects
by theirs. Shakespeare himself has left us a pregnant satire on
dogmatical and categorical aesthetics (which commonly in discussion soon
lose their ceremonious tails and are reduced to the internecine dog and
cat of their bald first syllables) in the cloud-scene between Hamlet and
Polonius, suggesting exquisitely how futile is any attempt at a cast-iron
definition of those perpetually metamorphic impressions of the beautiful
whose source is as much in the man who looks as in the thing he sees. In
the fine arts a thing is either good in itself or it is nothing. It
neither gains nor loses by having it shown that another good thing was
also good in itself, any more than a bad thing profits by comparison with
another that is worse. The final judgment of the world is intuitive, and
is based, not on proof that a work possesses some of the qualities of
another whose greatness is acknowledged, but on the immediate feeling
that it carries to a high point of perfection certain qualities proper to
itself. One does not flatter a fine pear by comparing it to a fine peach,
nor learn what a fine peach is by tasting ever so many poor ones. The boy
who makes his first bite into one does not need to ask his father if or
how or why it is good. Because continuity is a merit in some kinds of
writing, shall we refuse ourselves to the authentic charm of Montaigne's
want of it? I have heard people complain of French tragedies because they
were so very French. This, though it may not be to some particular
tastes, and may from one point of view be a defect, is from another and
far higher a distinguished merit. It is their flavor, as direct a
telltale of the soil whence they drew it as that of French wines is.
Suppose we should tax the Elgin marbles with being too Greek? When will
people, nay, when will even critics, get over this self-defrauding trick
of cheapening the excellence of one thing by that of another, this
conclusive style of judgment which consists simply in belonging to the
other parish? As one grows older, one loses many idols, perhaps comes at
last to have none at all, though he may honestly enough uncover in
deference to the worshippers before any shrine. But for the seeming loss
the compensation is ample. These saints of literature descend from their
canopied remoteness to be even more precious as men like ourselves, our
companions in field and street, speaking the same tongue, though in many
dialects, and owning one creed under the most diverse masks of form.

Much of that merit of structure which is claimed for the ancient tragedy
is due, if I am not mistaken, to circumstances external to the drama
itself,--to custom, to convention, to the exigencies of the theatre. It
is formal rather than organic. The _Prometheus_ seems to me one of the
few Greek tragedies in which the whole creation has developed itself in
perfect proportion from one central germ of living conception. The motive
of the ancient drama is generally outside of it, while in the modern (at
least in the English) it is necessarily within. Goethe, in a thoughtful
essay,[132] written many years later than his famous criticism of Hamlet
in _Wilhelm Meister_, says that the distinction between the two is the
difference between _sollen_ and _wollen_, that is, between _must_ and
_would_. He means that in the Greek drama the catastrophe is foreordained
by an inexorable Destiny, while the element of Freewill, and consequently
of choice, is the very axis of the modern. The definition is conveniently
portable, but it has its limitations. Goethe's attention was too
exclusively fixed on the Fate tragedies of the Greeks, and upon
Shakespeare among the moderns. In the Spanish drama, for example, custom,
loyalty, honor, and religion are as imperative and as inevitable as doom.
In the _Antigone_, on the other hand, the crisis lies in the character of
the protagonist. In this sense it is modern, and is the first example of
true character-painting in tragedy. But, from whatever cause, that
exquisite analysis of complex motives, and the display of them in action
and speech, which constitute for us the abiding charm of fiction, were
quite unknown to the ancients. They reached their height in Cervantes and
Shakespeare, and, though on a lower plane, still belong to the upper
region of art in Le Sage, Molière, and Fielding. The personages of the
Greek tragedy seem to be commonly rather types than individuals. In the
modern tragedy, certainly in the four greatest of Shakespeare's
tragedies, there is still something very like Destiny, only the place of
it is changed. It is no longer above man, but in him; yet the catastrophe
is as sternly foredoomed in the characters of Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and
Hamlet as it could be by an infallible oracle. In Macbeth, indeed, the
Weird Sisters introduce an element very like Fate; but generally it may
be said that with the Greeks the character is involved in the action,
while with Shakespeare the action is evolved from the character. In the
one case, the motive of the play controls the personages; in the other,
the chief personages are in themselves the motive to which all else is
subsidiary. In any comparison, therefore, of Shakespeare with the
ancients, we are not to contrast him with them as unapproachable models,
but to consider whether he, like them, did not consciously endeavor,
under the circumstances and limitations in which he found himself, to
produce the most excellent thing possible, a model also in its own
kind,--whether higher or lower in degree is another question. The only
fair comparison would be between him and that one of his contemporaries
who endeavored to anachronize himself, so to speak, and to subject his
art, so far as might be, to the laws of classical composition. Ben Jonson
was a great man, and has sufficiently proved that he had an eye for the
external marks of character; but when he would make a whole of them, he
gives us instead either a bundle of humors or an incorporated idea. With
Shakespeare the plot is an interior organism, in Jonson an external
contrivance. It is the difference between man and tortoise. In the one
the osseous structure is out of sight, indeed, but sustains the flesh and
blood that envelop it, while the other is boxed up and imprisoned in his

I have been careful to confine myself to what may be called Shakespeare's
ideal tragedies. In the purely historical or chronicle plays, the
conditions are different, and his imagination submits itself to the
necessary restrictions on its freedom of movement. Outside the tragedies
also, the _Tempest_ makes an exception worthy of notice. If I read it
rightly, it is an example of how a great poet should write allegory,--not
embodying metaphysical abstractions, but giving us ideals abstracted from
life itself, suggesting an under-meaning everywhere, forcing it upon us
nowhere, tantalizing the mind with hints that imply so much and tell so
little, and yet keep the attention all eye and ear with eager, if
fruitless, expectation. Here the leading characters are not merely
typical, but symbolical,--that is, they do not illustrate a class of
persons, they belong to universal Nature. Consider the scene of the play.
Shakespeare is wont to take some familiar story, to lay his scene in some
place the name of which, at least, is familiar,--well knowing the reserve
of power that lies in the familiar as a background, when things are set
in front of it under a new and unexpected light. But in the _Tempest_ the
scene is laid nowhere, or certainly in no country laid down on any map.
Nowhere, then? At once nowhere and anywhere,--for it is in the soul of
man, that still vexed island hung between the upper and the nether world,
and liable to incursions from both. There is scarce a play of
Shakespeare's in which there is such variety of character, none in which
character has so little to do in the carrying on and development of the
story. But consider for a moment if ever the Imagination has been so
embodied as in Prospero, the Fancy as in Ariel, the brute Understanding
as in Caliban, who, the moment his poor wits are warmed with the glorious
liquor of Stephano, plots rebellion against his natural lord, the higher
Reason. Miranda is mere abstract Womanhood, as truly so before she sees
Ferdinand as Eve before she was wakened to consciousness by the echo of
her own nature coming back to her, the same, and yet not the same, from
that of Adam. Ferdinand, again, is nothing more than Youth, compelled to
drudge at something he despises, till the sacrifice of will and
abnegation of self win him his ideal in Miranda. The subordinate
personages are simply types; Sebastian and Antonio, of weak character and
evil ambition; Gonzalo, of average sense and honesty; Adrian and
Francisco, of the walking gentlemen who serve to fill up a world. They
are not characters in the same sense with Iago, Falstaff, Shallow, or
Leontius; and it is curious how every one of them loses his way in this
enchanted island of life, all the victims of one illusion after another,
except Prospero, whose ministers are purely ideal. The whole play,
indeed, is a succession of illusions, winding up with those solemn words
of the great enchanter who had summoned to his service every shape of
merriment or passion, every figure in the great tragi-comedy of life, and
who was now bidding farewell to the scene of his triumphs. For in
Prospero shall we not recognize the Artist himself,--

  "That did not better for his life provide
  Than public means which public manners breeds,
  Whence comes it that his name receives a brand,"--

who has forfeited a shining place in the world's eye by devotion to his
art, and who, turned adrift on the ocean of life in the leaky carcass of
a boat, has shipwrecked on that Fortunate Island (as men always do who
find their true vocation) where he is absolute lord, making all the
powers of Nature serve him, but with Ariel and Caliban as special
ministers? Of whom else could he have been thinking, when he says,--

                                   "Graves, at my command,
  Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let them forth,
  By my so potent art"?

Was this man, so extraordinary from whatever side we look at him, who ran
so easily through the whole scale of human sentiment, from the homely
commonsense of, "When two men ride of one horse, one _must_ ride behind,"
to the transcendental subtilty of,

  "No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change;
  Thy pyramids, built up with newer might,
  To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
  They are but dressings of a former sight,"--

was he alone so unconscious of powers, some part of whose magic is
recognized by all mankind, from the school-boy to the philosopher, that
he merely sat by and saw them go without the least notion what they were
about? Was he an inspired idiot, _vôtre bizarre Shakespeare_? a vast,
irregular genius? a simple rustic, warbling his _native_ wood-notes wild,
in other words, insensible to the benefits of culture? When attempts have
been made at various times to prove that this singular and seemingly
contradictory creature, not one, but all mankind's epitome, was a
musician, a lawyer, a doctor, a Catholic, a Protestant, an atheist, an
Irishman, a discoverer of the circulation of the blood, and finally, that
he was not himself, but somebody else, is it not a little odd that the
last thing anybody should have thought of proving him was an artist?
Nobody believes any longer that immediate inspiration is possible in
modern times (as if God had grown old),--at least, nobody believes it of
the prophets of those days, of John of Leyden, or Reeves, or
Muggleton,--and yet everybody seems to take it for granted of this one
man Shakespeare. He, somehow or other, without knowing it, was able to do
what none of the rest of them, though knowing it all too perfectly well,
could begin to do. Everybody seems to get afraid of him in turn. Voltaire
plays gentleman usher for him to his countrymen, and then, perceiving
that his countrymen find a flavor in him beyond that of _Zaïre_ or
_Mahomet_, discovers him to be a _Sauvage ivre, sans le moindre étincelle
de bon goût, et sans le moindre connoissance des règles_. Goethe, who
tells us that _Götz von Berlichingen_ was written in the Shakespearian
manner,--and we certainly should not have guessed it, if he had not
blabbed,--comes to the final conclusion, that Shakespeare was a poet, but
not a dramatist. Châteaubriand thinks that he has corrupted art. "If, to
attain," he says, "the height of tragic art, it be enough to heap
together disparate scenes without order and without connection, to
dovetail the burlesque with the pathetic, to set the water-carrier beside
the monarch and the huckster-wench beside the queen, who may not
reasonably flatter himself with being the rival of the greatest masters?
Whoever should give himself the trouble to retrace a single one of his
days, ... to keep a journal from hour to hour, would have made a drama in
the fashion of the English poet." But there are journals and journals, as
the French say, and what goes into them depends on the eye that gathers
for them. It is a long step from St. Simon to Dangeau, from Pepys to
Thoresby, from Shakespeare even to the Marquis de Châteaubriand. M. Hugo
alone, convinced that, as founder of the French Romantic School, there is
a kind of family likeness between himself and Shakespeare, stands boldly
forth to prove the father as extravagant as the son. Calm yourself, M.
Hugo, you are no more a child of his than Will Davenant was! But, after
all, is it such a great crime to produce something absolutely new in a
world so tedious as ours, and so apt to tell its old stories over again?
I do not mean new in substance, but in the manner of presentation. Surely
the highest office of a great poet is to show us how much variety,
freshness, and opportunity abides in the obvious and familiar. He invents
nothing, but seems rather to _re_-discover the world about him, and his
penetrating vision gives to things of daily encounter something of the
strangeness of new creation. Meanwhile the changed conditions of modern
life demand a change in the method of treatment. The ideal is not a
strait-waistcoat. Because _Alexis and Dora_ is so charming, shall we have
no _Paul and Virginia?_ It was the idle endeavor to reproduce the old
enchantment in the old way that gave us the pastoral, sent to the garret
now with our grandmothers' achievements of the same sort in worsted.
Every age says to its poets, like a mistress to her lover, "Tell me what
I am like"; and he who succeeds in catching the evanescent expression
that reveals character--which is as much as to say, what is intrinsically
human--will be found to have caught something as imperishable as human
nature itself. Aristophanes, by the vital and essential qualities of his
humorous satire, is already more nearly our contemporary than Molière;
and even the _Trouvères_, careless and trivial as they mostly are, could
fecundate a great poet like Chaucer, and are still delightful reading.

The Attic tragedy still keeps its hold upon the loyalty of scholars
through their imagination, or their pedantry, or their feeling of an
exclusive property, as may happen, and, however alloyed with baser
matter, this loyalty is legitimate and well bestowed. But the dominion of
the Shakespearian is even wider. It pushes forward its boundaries from
year to year, and moves no landmark backward. Here Alfieri and Leasing
own a common allegiance; and the loyalty to him is one not of guild or
tradition, but of conviction and enthusiasm. Can this be said of any
other modern? of robust Corneille? of tender Racine? of Calderon even,
with his tropical warmth and vigor of production? The Greeks and he are
alike and alone in this, and for the same reason, that both are
unapproachably the highest in their kind. Call him Gothic, if you like,
but the inspiring mind that presided over the growth of these clustered
masses of arch and spire and pinnacle and buttress is neither Greek nor
Gothic,--it is simply genius lending itself to embody the new desire of
man's mind, as it had embodied the old. After all, to be delightful is to
be classic, and the chaotic never pleases long. But manifoldness is not
confusion, any more than formalism is simplicity. If Shakespeare rejected
the unities, as I think he who complains of "Art made tongue-tied by
Authority" might very well deliberately do, it was for the sake of an
imaginative unity more intimate than any of time and place. The antique
in itself is not the ideal, though its remoteness from the vulgarity of
everyday associations helps to make it seem so. The true ideal is not
opposed to the real, nor is it any artificial heightening thereof, but
lies _in_ it, and blessed are the eyes that find it! It is the _mens
divinior_ which hides within the actual, transfiguring matter-of-fact
into matter-of-meaning for him who has the gift of second-sight. In this
sense Hogarth is often more truly ideal than Raphael, Shakespeare often
more truly so than the Greeks. I think it is a more or less conscious
perception of this ideality, as it is a more or less well-grounded
persuasion of it as respects the Greeks, that assures to him, as to them,
and with equal justice, a permanent supremacy over the minds of men. This
gives to his characters their universality, to his thought its
irradiating property, while the artistic purpose running through and
combining the endless variety of scene and character will alone account
for his power of dramatic effect. Goethe affirmed, that, without
Schröder's prunings and adaptations, Shakespeare was too undramatic for
the German theatre,--that, if the theory that his plays should be
represented textually should prevail, he would be driven from the boards.
The theory has prevailed, and he not only holds his own, but is acted
oftener than ever. It is not irregular genius that can do this, for
surely Germany need not go abroad for what her own Werners could more
than amply supply her with.

But I would much rather quote a fine saying than a bad prophecy of a man
to whom I owe so much. Goethe, in one of the most perfect of his shorter
poems, tells us that a poem is like a painted window. Seen from without,
(and he accordingly justifies the Philistine, who never looks at them
otherwise,) they seem dingy and confused enough; but enter, and then

  "Da ist's auf einmal farbig helle,
  Geschicht' und Zierath glänzt in Schnelle."

With the same feeling he says elsewhere in prose, that "there is a
destructive criticism and a productive. The former is very easy; for one
has only to set up in his mind any standard, any model, however narrow"
(let us say the Greeks), "and then boldly assert that the work under
review does not match with it, and therefore is good for nothing,--the
matter is settled, and one must at once deny its claim. Productive
criticism is a great deal more difficult; it asks, What did the author
propose to himself? Is what he proposes reasonable and comprehensible?
and how far has he succeeded in carrying it out?" It is in applying this
latter kind of criticism to Shakespeare that the Germans have set us an
example worthy of all commendation. If they have been sometimes
over-subtile, they at least had the merit of first looking at his works
as wholes, as something that very likely contained an idea, perhaps
conveyed a moral, if we could get at it. The illumination lent us by most
of the English commentators reminds us of the candles which guides hold
up to show us a picture in a dark place, the smoke of which gradually
makes the work of the artist invisible under its repeated layers.
Lessing, as might have been expected, opened the first glimpse in the new
direction; Goethe followed with his famous exposition of Hamlet; A.W.
Schlegel took a more comprehensive view in his Lectures, which Coleridge
worked over into English, adding many fine criticisms of his own on
single passages; and finally, Gervinus has devoted four volumes to a
comment on the plays, full of excellent matter, though pushing the moral
exegesis beyond all reasonable bounds.[133] With the help of all these,
and especially of the last, I shall apply this theory of criticism to
Hamlet, not in the hope of saying anything new, but of bringing something
to the support of the thesis, that, if Shakespeare was skilful as a
playwright, he was even greater as a dramatist,--that, if his immediate
business was to fill the theatre, his higher object was to create
something which, by fulfilling the conditions and answering the
requirements of modern life, should as truly deserve to be called a
work of art as others had deserved it by doing the same thing in
former times and under other circumstances. Supposing him to have
accepted--consciously or not is of little importance--the new terms of
the problem which makes character the pivot of dramatic action, and
consequently the key of dramatic unity, how far did he succeed?

Before attempting my analysis, I must clear away a little rubbish. Are
such anachronisms as those of which Voltaire accuses Shakespeare in
Hamlet, such as the introduction of cannon before the invention of
gunpowder, and making Christians of the Danes three centuries too soon,
of the least bearing aesthetically? I think not; but as they are of a
piece with a great many other criticisms upon the great poet, it is worth
while to dwell upon them a moment.

The first demand we make upon whatever claims to be a work of art (and we
have a right to make it) is that it shall be _in keeping_. Now this
propriety is of two kinds, either extrinsic or intrinsic. In the first I
should class whatever relates rather to the body than the soul of the
work, such as fidelity to the facts of history, (wherever that is
important,) congruity of costume, and the like,--in short, whatever might
come under the head of _picturesque_ truth, a departure from which would
shock too rudely our preconceived associations. I have seen an Indian
chief in French boots, and he seemed to me almost tragic; but, put upon
the stage in tragedy, he would have been ludicrous. Lichtenberg, writing
from London in 1775, tells us that Garrick played Hamlet in a suit of the
French fashion, then commonly worn, and that he was blamed for it by some
of the critics; but, he says, one hears no such criticism during the
play, nor on the way home, nor at supper afterwards, nor indeed till the
emotion roused by the great actor has had time to subside. He justifies
Garrick, though we should not be able to endure it now. Yet nothing would
be gained by trying to make Hamlet's costume true to the assumed period
of the play, for the scene of it is laid in a Denmark that has no dates.

In the second and more important category, I should put, first,
co-ordination of character, that is, a certain variety in harmony of the
personages of a drama, as in the attitudes and coloring of the figures in
a pictorial composition, so that, while mutually relieving and setting
off each other, they shall combine in the total impression; second, that
subordinate truth to Nature which makes each character coherent in
itself; and, third, such propriety of costume and the like as shall
satisfy the superhistoric sense, to which, and to which alone, the higher
drama appeals. All these come within the scope of _imaginative_ truth. To
illustrate my third head by an example. Tieck criticises John Kemble's
dressing for Macbeth in a modern Highland costume, as being ungraceful
without any countervailing merit of historical exactness. I think a
deeper reason for his dissatisfaction might be found in the fact, that
this garb, with its purely modern and British army associations, is out
of place on Fores Heath, and drags the Weird Sisters down with it from
their proper imaginative remoteness in the gloom of the past to the
disenchanting glare of the foot-lights. It is not the antiquarian, but
the poetic conscience, that is wounded. To this, exactness, so far as
concerns ideal representation, may not only not be truth, but may even be
opposed to it. Anachronisms and the like are in themselves of no account,
and become important only when they make a gap too wide for our illusion
to cross unconsciously, that is, when they are anacoluthons to the
imagination. The aim of the artist is psychologic, not historic truth. It
is comparatively easy for an author to _get up_ any period with tolerable
minuteness in externals, but readers and audiences find more difficulty
in getting them down, though oblivion swallows scores of them at a gulp.
The saving truth in such matters is a truth to essential and permanent
characteristics. The Ulysses of Shakespeare, like the Ulysses of Dante
and Tennyson, more or less harmonizes with our ideal conception of the
wary, long-considering, though adventurous son of Laertes, yet Simon Lord
Lovat is doubtless nearer the original type. In Hamlet, though there is
no Denmark of the ninth century, Shakespeare has suggested the prevailing
rudeness of manners quite enough for his purpose. We see it in the single
combat of Hamlet's father with the elder Fortinbras, in the vulgar
wassail of the king, in the English monarch being expected to hang
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern out of hand merely to oblige his cousin of
Denmark, in Laertes, sent to Paris to be made a gentleman of, becoming
instantly capable of any the most barbarous treachery to glut his
vengeance. We cannot fancy Ragnar Lodbrog or Eric the Red matriculating
at Wittenberg, but it was essential that Hamlet should be a scholar, and
Shakespeare sends him thither without more ado. All through the play we
get the notion of a state of society in which a savage nature has
disguised itself in the externals of civilization, like a Maori deacon,
who has only to strip and he becomes once more a tattooed pagan with his
mouth watering for a spare-rib of his pastor. Historically, at the date
of Hamlet, the Danes were in the habit of burning their enemies alive in
their houses, with as much of their family about them as might be to make
it comfortable. Shakespeare seems purposely to have dissociated his play
from history by changing nearly every name in the original legend. The
motive of the play--revenge as a religious duty--belongs only to a social
state in which the traditions of barbarism are still operative, but, with
infallible artistic judgment, Shakespeare has chosen, not untamed Nature,
as he found it in history, but the period of transition, a period in
which the times are always out of joint, and thus the irresolution which
has its root in Hamlet's own character is stimulated by the very
incompatibility of that legacy of vengeance he has inherited from the
past with the new culture and refinement of which he is the
representative. One of the few books which Shakespeare is known to have
possessed was Florio's Montaigne, and he might well have transferred the
Frenchman's motto, _Que sçais je_? to the front of his tragedy; nor can I
help fancying something more than accident in the fact that Hamlet has
been a student at Wittenberg, whence those new ideas went forth, of whose
results in unsettling men's faith, and consequently disqualifying them
for promptness in action, Shakespeare had been not only an eye-witness,
but which he must actually have experienced in himself.

One other objection let me touch upon here, especially as it has been
urged against Hamlet, and that is the introduction of low characters and
comic scenes in tragedy. Even Garrick, who had just assisted at the
Stratford Jubilee, where Shakespeare had been pronounced divine, was
induced by this absurd outcry for the proprieties of the tragic stage to
omit the grave-diggers' scene from Hamlet. Leaving apart the fact that
Shakespeare would not have been the representative poet he is, if he had
not given expression to this striking tendency of the Northern races,
which shows itself constantly, not only in their literature, but even in
their mythology and their architecture, the grave-diggers' scene always
impresses me as one of the most pathetic in the whole tragedy. That
Shakespeare introduced such scenes and characters with deliberate
intention, and with a view to artistic relief and contrast, there can
hardly be a doubt. We must take it for granted that a man whose works
show everywhere the results of judgment sometimes acted with forethought.
I find the springs of the profoundest sorrow and pity in this hardened
indifference of the grave-diggers, in their careless discussion as to
whether Ophelia's death was by suicide or no, in their singing and
jesting at their dreary work.

  "A pickaxe and a spade, a spade,
  For--and a shrouding-sheet:
  O, a pit of clay for to be made
  For such a guest is meet!"

_We_ know who is to be the guest of this earthen hospitality,--how much
beauty, love, and heartbreak are to be covered in that pit of clay. All
we remember of Ophelia reacts upon us with tenfold force, and we recoil
from our amusement at the ghastly drollery of the two delvers with a
shock of horror. That the unconscious Hamlet should stumble on _this_
grave of all others, that it should be _here_ that he should pause to
muse humorously on death and decay,--all this prepares us for the
revulsion of passion in the next scene, and for the frantic confession,--

  "I loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers
  Could not with all _their_ quantity of love
  Make up my sum!"

And it is only here that such an asseveration would be true even to the
feeling of the moment; for it is plain from all we know of Hamlet that he
could not so have loved Ophelia, that he was incapable of the
self-abandonment of a true passion, that he would have analyzed this
emotion as he does all others, would have peeped and botanized upon it
till it became to him a mere matter of scientific interest. All this
force of contrast, and this horror of surprise, were necessary so to
intensify his remorseful regret that he should believe himself for once
in earnest. The speech of the King, "O, he is mad, Laertes," recalls him
to himself, and he at once begins to rave:--

  "Zounds! show me what thou'lt do!
  Woul't weep? woul't fight? woul't fast? woul't tear thyself?
  Woul't drink up eysil? eat a crocodile?"

It is easy to see that the whole plot hinges upon the character of
Hamlet, that Shakespeare's conception of this was the ovum out of which
the whole organism was hatched. And here let me remark, that there is a
kind of genealogical necessity in the character,--a thing not altogether
strange to the attentive reader of Shakespeare. Hamlet seems the natural
result of the mixture of father and mother in his temperament, the
resolution and persistence of the one, like sound timber wormholed and
made shaky, as it were, by the other's infirmity of will and
discontinuity of purpose. In natures so imperfectly mixed it is not
uncommon to find vehemence of intention the prelude and counterpoise of
weak performance, the conscious nature striving to keep up its
self-respect by a triumph in words all the more resolute that it feels
assured beforehand of inevitable defeat in action. As in such slipshod
housekeeping men are their own largest creditors, they find it easy to
stave off utter bankruptcy of conscience by taking up one unpaid promise
with another larger, and at heavier interest, till such self-swindling
becomes habitual and by degrees almost painless. How did Coleridge
discount his own notes of this kind with less and less specie as the
figures lengthened on the paper! As with Hamlet, so it is with Ophelia
and Laertes. The father's feebleness comes up again in the wasting
heartbreak and gentle lunacy of the daughter, while the son shows it in a
rashness of impulse and act, a kind of crankiness, of whose essential
feebleness we are all the more sensible as contrasted with a nature so
steady on its keel, and drawing so much water, as that of Horatio,--the
foil at once, in different ways, to both him and Hamlet. It was natural,
also, that the daughter of self-conceited old Polonius should have her
softness stiffened with a fibre of obstinacy; for there are two kinds of
weakness, that which breaks, and that which bends. Ophelia's is of the
former kind; Hero is her counterpart, giving way before calamity, and
rising again so soon as the pressure is removed.

I find two passages in Dante that contain the exactest possible
definition of that habit or quality of Hamlet's mind which justifies the
tragic turn of the play, and renders it natural and unavoidable from the
beginning. The first is from the second canto of the _Inferno_:--

  "E quale è quei che disvuol ciò che volle,
  E per nuovi pensier sangia proposta,
  Si che del cominciar tutto si tolle;
  Tal mi fec' io in quella oscura costa;
  Perchè pensando consumai la impresa
  Che fu nel cominciar cotanto tosta."

  "And like the man who unwills what he willed,
  And for new thoughts doth change his first intent,
  So that he cannot anywhere begin,
  Such became I upon that slope obscure,
  Because with thinking I consumed resolve,
  That was so ready at the setting out."

Again, in the fifth of the _Purgatorio_:--

  "Che sempre l' uomo in cui pensier rampoglia
  Sovra pensier, da sè dilunga il segno,
  Perchè la foga l' un dell' altro insolla."

  "For always he in whom one thought buds forth
  Out of another farther puts the goal.
  For each has only force to mar the other."

Dante was a profound metaphysician, and as in the first passage he
describes and defines a certain quality of mind, so in the other he tells
us its result in the character and life, namely, indecision and
failure,--the goal _farther_ off at the end than at the beginning. It is
remarkable how close a resemblance of thought, and even of expression,
there is between the former of these quotations and a part of Hamlet's
famous soliloquy:--

  "Thus conscience [i.e. consciousness] doth make cowards of us all;
  And thus the native hue of resolution
  Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
  And enterprises of great pitch and moment
  With this regard their currents turn awry,
  And lose the name of action!"

It is an inherent peculiarity of a mind like Hamlet's that it should be
conscious of its own defect. Men of his type are forever analyzing their
own emotions and motives. They cannot do anything, because they always
see two ways of doing it. They cannot determine on any course of action,
because they are always, as it were, standing at the cross-roads, and see
too well the disadvantages of every one of them. It is not that they are
incapable of resolve, but somehow the band between the motive power and
the operative faculties is relaxed and loose. The engine works, but the
machinery it should drive stands still. The imagination is so much in
overplus, that thinking a thing becomes better than doing it, and thought
with its easy perfection, capable of everything because it can accomplish
everything with ideal means, is vastly more attractive and satisfactory
than deed, which must be wrought at best with imperfect instruments, and
always falls short of the conception that went before it. "If to do,"
says Portia in the _Merchant of Venice_,--"if to do were as easy as to
know what 't were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's
cottages princes' palaces." Hamlet knows only too well what 't were good
to do, but he palters with everything in a double sense: he sees the
grain of good there is in evil, and the grain of evil there is in good,
as they exist in the world, and, finding that he can make those
feather-weighted accidents balance each other, infers that there is
little to choose between the essences themselves. He is of Montaigne's
mind, and says expressly that "there is nothing good or ill, but thinking
makes it so." He dwells so exclusively in the world of ideas that the
world of facts seems trifling, nothing is worth the while; and he has
been so long objectless and purposeless, so far as actual life is
concerned, that, when at last an object and an aim are forced upon him,
he cannot deal with them, and gropes about vainly for a motive outside of
himself that shall marshal his thoughts for him and guide his faculties
into the path of action. He is the victim not so much of feebleness of
will as of an intellectual indifference that hinders the will from
working long in any one direction. He wishes to will, but never wills.
His continual iteration of resolve shows that he has no resolution. He is
capable of passionate energy where the occasion presents itself suddenly
from without, because nothing is so irritable as conscious irresolution
with a duty to perform. But of deliberate energy he is not capable; for
there the impulse must come from within, and the blade of his analysis is
so subtile that it can divide the finest hair of motive 'twixt north and
northwest side, leaving him desperate to choose between them. The very
consciousness of his defect is an insuperable bar to his repairing it;
for the unity of purpose, which infuses every fibre of the character with
will available whenever wanted, is impossible where the mind can never
rest till it has resolved that unity into its component elements, and
satisfied itself which on the whole is of greater value. A critical
instinct so insatiable that it must turn upon itself, for lack of
something else to hew and hack, becomes incapable at last of originating
anything except indecision. It becomes infallible in what _not_ to do.
How easily he might have accomplished his task is shown by the conduct of
Laertes. When _he_ has a death to avenge, he raises a mob, breaks into
the palace, bullies the king, and proves how weak the usurper really was.

The world is the victim of splendid parts, and is slow to accept a
rounded whole, because that is something which is long in completing,
still longer in demonstrating its completion. We like to be surprised
into admiration, and not logically convinced that we ought to admire. We
are willing to be delighted with success, though we are somewhat
indifferent to the homely qualities which insure it. Our thought is so
filled with the rocket's burst of momentary splendor so far above us,
that we forget the poor stick, useful and unseen, that made its climbing
possible. One of these homely qualities is continuity of character, and
it escapes present applause because it tells chiefly, in the long run, in
results. With his usual tact, Shakespeare has brought in such a character
as a contrast and foil to Hamlet. Horatio is the only complete _man_ in
the play,--solid, well-knit, and true; a noble, quiet nature, with that
highest of all qualities, judgment, always sane and prompt; who never
drags his anchors for any wind of opinion or fortune, but grips all the
closer to the reality of things. He seems one of those calm,
undemonstrative men whom we love and admire without asking to know why,
crediting them with the capacity of great things, without any test of
actual achievement, because we feel that their manhood is a constant
quality, and no mere accident of circumstance and opportunity. Such men
are always sure of the presence of their highest self on demand. Hamlet
is continually drawing bills on the future, secured by his promise of
himself to himself, which he can never redeem. His own somewhat feminine
nature recognizes its complement in Horatio, and clings to it
instinctively, as naturally as Horatio is attracted by that fatal gift of
imagination, the absence of which makes the strength of his own
character, as its overplus does the weakness of Hamlet's. It is a happy
marriage of two minds drawn together by the charm of unlikeness. Hamlet
feels in Horatio the solid steadiness which he misses in himself; Horatio
in Hamlet that need of service and sustainment to render which gives him
a consciousness of his own value. Hamlet fills the place of a woman to
Horatio, revealing him to himself not only in what he says, but by a
constant claim upon his strength of nature; and there is great
psychological truth in making suicide the first impulse of this quiet,
undemonstrative man, after Hamlet's death, as if the very reason for his
being were taken away with his friend's need of him. In his grief, he for
the first and only time speaks of himself, is first made conscious of
himself by his loss. If this manly reserve of Horatio be true to Nature,
not less so are the communicativeness of Hamlet, and his tendency to
soliloquize. If self-consciousness be alien to the one, it is just as
truly the happiness of the other. Like a musician distrustful of himself,
he is forever tuning his instrument, first overstraining this cord a
little, and then that, but unable to bring them into unison, or to profit
by it if he could.

We do not believe that Horatio ever thought he "was not a pipe for
Fortune's finger to play what stop she please," till Hamlet told him so.
That was Fortune's affair, not his; let her try it, if she liked. He is
unconscious of his own peculiar qualities, as men of decision commonly
are, or they would not be men of decision. When there is a thing to be
done, they go straight at it, and for the time there is nothing for them
in the whole universe but themselves and their object. Hamlet, on the
other hand, is always studying himself. This world and the other, too,
are always present to his mind, and there in the corner is the little
black kobold of a doubt making mouths at him. He breaks down the bridges
before him, not behind him, as a man of action would do; but there is
something more than this. He is an ingrained sceptic; though his is the
scepticism, not of reason, but of feeling, whose root is want of faith in
himself. In him it is passive, a malady rather than a function of the
mind. We might call him insincere: not that he was in any sense a
hypocrite, but only that he never was and never could be in earnest.
Never could be, because no man without intense faith in something ever
can. Even if he only believed in himself, that were better than nothing;
for it will carry a man a great way in the outward successes of life,
nay, will even sometimes give him the Archimedean fulcrum for moving the
world. But Hamlet doubts everything. He doubts the immortality of the
soul, just after seeing his father's spirit, and hearing from its mouth
the secrets of the other world. He doubts Horatio even, and swears him to
secrecy on the cross of his sword, though probably he himself has no
assured belief in the sacredness of the symbol. He doubts Ophelia, and
asks her, "Are you honest?" He doubts the ghost, after he has had a
little time to think about it, and so gets up the play to test the guilt
of the king. And how coherent the whole character is! With what perfect
tact and judgment Shakespeare, in the advice to the players, makes him an
exquisite critic! For just here that part of his character which would be
weak in dealing with affairs is strong. A wise scepticism is the first
attribute of a good critic. He must not believe that the fire-insurance
offices will raise their rates of premium on Charles River, because the
new volume of poems is printing at Riverside or the University Press. He
must not believe so profoundly in the ancients as to think it wholly out
of the question that the world has still vigor enough in its loins to
beget some one who will one of these days be as good an ancient as any of

Another striking quality in Hamlet's nature is his perpetual inclination
to irony. I think this has been generally passed over too lightly, as if
it were something external and accidental, rather assumed as a mask than
part of the real nature of the man. It seems to me to go deeper, to be
something innate, and not merely factitious. It is nothing like the grave
irony of Socrates, which was the weapon of a man thoroughly in
earnest,--the _boomerang_ of argument, which one throws in the opposite
direction of what he means to hit, and which seems to be flying away from
the adversary, who will presently find himself knocked down by it. It is
not like the irony of Timon, which is but the wilful refraction of a
clear mind twisting awry whatever enters it,--or of Iago, which is the
slime that a nature essentially evil loves to trail over all beauty and
goodness to taint them with distrust: it is the half-jest, half-earnest
of an inactive temperament that has not quite made up its mind whether
life is a reality or no, whether men were not made in jest, and which
amuses itself equally with finding a deep meaning in trivial things and a
trifling one in the profoundest mysteries of being, because the want of
earnestness in its own essence infects everything else with its own
indifference. If there be now and then an unmannerly rudeness and
bitterness in it, as in the scenes with Polonius and Osrick, we must
remember that Hamlet was just in the condition which spurs men to sallies
of this kind: dissatisfied, at one neither with the world nor with
himself, and accordingly casting about for something out of himself to
vent his spleen upon. But even in these passages there is no hint of
earnestness, of any purpose beyond the moment; they are mere cat's-paws
of vexation, and not the deep-raking ground-swell of passion, as we see
it in the sarcasm of Lear.

The question of Hamlet's madness has been much discussed and variously
decided. High medical authority has pronounced, as usual, on both sides
of the question. But the induction has been drawn from too narrow
premises, being based on a mere diagnosis of the _case_, and not on an
appreciation of the character in its completeness. We have a case of
pretended madness in the Edgar of _King Lear_; and it is certainly true
that that is a charcoal sketch, coarsely outlined, compared with the
delicate drawing, the lights, shades, and half-tints of the portraiture
in Hamlet. But does this tend to prove that the madness of the latter,
because truer to the recorded observation of experts, is real, and meant
to be real, as the other to be fictitious? Not in the least, as it
appears to me. Hamlet, among all the characters of Shakespeare, is the
most eminently a metaphysician and psychologist. He is a close observer,
continually analyzing his own nature and that of others, letting fall his
little drops of acid irony on all who come near him, to make them show
what they are made of. Even Ophelia is not too sacred, Osrick not too
contemptible for experiment. If such a man assumed madness, he would play
his part perfectly. If Shakespeare himself, without going mad, could so
observe and remember all the abnormal symptoms as to be able to reproduce
them in Hamlet, why should it be beyond the power of Hamlet to reproduce
them in himself? If you deprive Hamlet of reason, there is no truly
tragic motive left. He would be a fit subject for Bedlam, but not for the
stage. We might have pathology enough, but no pathos. Ajax first becomes
tragic when he recovers his wits. If Hamlet is irresponsible, the whole
play is a chaos. That he is not so might be proved by evidence enough,
were it not labor thrown away.

This feigned madness of Hamlet's is one of the few points in which
Shakespeare has kept close to the old story on which he founded his play;
and as he never decided without deliberation, so he never acted without
unerring judgment, Hamlet _drifts_ through the whole tragedy. He never
keeps on one tack long enough to get steerage-way, even if, in a nature
like his, with those electric streamers of whim and fancy forever
wavering across the vault of his brain, the needle of judgment would
point in one direction long enough to strike a course by. The scheme of
simulated insanity is precisely the one he would have been likely to hit
upon, because it enabled him to follow his own bent, and to drift with an
apparent purpose, postponing decisive action by the very means he adopts
to arrive at its accomplishment, and satisfying himself with the show of
doing something that he may escape so much the longer the dreaded
necessity of really doing anything at all. It enables him to _play_ with
life and duty, instead of taking them by the rougher side, where alone
any firm grip is possible,--to feel that he is on the way toward
accomplishing somewhat, when he is really paltering with his own
irresolution. Nothing, I think, could be more finely imagined than this.
Voltaire complains that he goes mad without any sufficient object or
result. Perfectly true, and precisely what was most natural for him to
do, and, accordingly, precisely what Shakespeare meant that he should do.
It was delightful to him to indulge his imagination and humor, to prove
his capacity for something by playing a part: the one thing he could not
do was to bring himself to _act_, unless when surprised by a sudden
impulse of suspicion,--as where he kills Polonius, and there he could not
see his victim. He discourses admirably of suicide, but does not kill
himself; he talks daggers, but uses none. He puts by the chance to kill
the king with the excuse that he will not do it while he is praying, lest
his soul be saved thereby, though it is more than doubtful whether he
believed it himself. He allows himself to be packed off to England,
without any motive except that it would for the time take him farther
from a present duty: the more disagreeable to a nature like his because
it _was_ present, and not a mere matter for speculative consideration.
When Goethe made his famous comparison of the acorn planted in a vase
which it bursts with its growth, and says that in like manner Hamlet is a
nature which breaks down under the weight of a duty too great for it to
bear, he seems to have considered the character too much from one side.
Had Hamlet actually killed himself to escape his too onerous commission,
Goethe's conception of him would have been satisfactory enough. But
Hamlet was hardly a sentimentalist, like Werther; on the contrary, he saw
things only too clearly in the dry north-light of the intellect. It is
chance that at last brings him to his end. It would appear rather that
Shakespeare intended to show us an imaginative temperament brought face
to face with actualities, into any clear relation of sympathy with which
it cannot bring itself. The very means that Shakespeare makes use of to
lay upon him the obligation of acting--the ghost--really seems to make it
all the harder for him to act; for the spectre but gives an additional
excitement to his imagination and a fresh topic for his scepticism.

I shall not attempt to evolve any high moral significance from the play,
even if I thought it possible; for that would be aside from the present
purpose. The scope of the higher drama is to represent life, not everyday
life, it is true, but life lifted above the plane of bread-and-butter
associations, by nobler reaches of language, by the influence at once
inspiring and modulating of verse, by an intenser play of passion
condensing that misty mixture of feeling and reflection which makes the
ordinary atmosphere of existence into flashes of thought and phrase whose
brief, but terrible, illumination prints the outworn landscape of
every-day upon our brains, with its little motives and mean results, in
lines of tell-tale fire. The moral office of tragedy is to show us our
own weaknesses idealized in grander figures and more awful results,--to
teach us that what we pardon in our selves as venial faults, if they seem
to have but slight influence on our immediate fortunes, have arms as long
as those of kings, and reach forward to the catastrophe of our lives,
that they are dry-rotting the very fibre of will and conscience, so that,
if we should be brought to the test of a great temptation or a stringent
emergency, we must be involved in a ruin as sudden and complete as that
we shudder at in the unreal scene of the theatre. But the primary
_object_ of a tragedy is not to inculcate a formal moral. Representing
life, it teaches, like life, by indirection, by those nods and winks that
are thrown away on us blind horses in such profusion. We may learn, to be
sure, plenty of lessons from Shakespeare. We are not likely to have
kingdoms to divide, crowns foretold us by weird sisters, a father's death
to avenge, or to kill our wives from jealousy; but Lear may teach us to
draw the line more clearly between a wise generosity and a loose-handed
weakness of giving; Macbeth, how one sin involves another, and forever
another, by a fatal parthenogenesis, and that the key which unlocks
forbidden doors to our will or passion leaves a stain on the hand, that
may not be so dark as blood, but that will not out; Hamlet, that all the
noblest gifts of person, temperament, and mind slip like sand through the
grasp of an infirm purpose; Othello, that the perpetual silt of some one
weakness, the eddies of a suspicious temper depositing their one
impalpable layer after another, may build up a shoal on which an heroic
life and an otherwise magnanimous nature may bilge and go to pieces. All
this we may learn, and much more, and Shakespeare was no doubt well aware
of all this and more; but I do not believe that he wrote his plays with
any such didactic purpose. He knew human nature too well not to know that
one thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning,--that,
where one man shapes his life by precept and example, there are a
thousand who have it shaped for them by impulse and by circumstances. He
did not mean his great tragedies for scarecrows, as if the nailing of one
hawk to the barn-door would prevent the next from coming down souse into
the hen-yard. No, it is not the poor bleaching victim hung up to moult
its draggled feathers in the rain that he wishes to show us. He loves the
hawk-nature as well as the hen-nature; and if he is unequalled in
anything, it is in that sunny breadth of view, that impregnability of
reason, that looks down all ranks and conditions of men, all fortune and
misfortune, with the equal eye of the pure artist.

Whether I have fancied anything into Hamlet which the author never
dreamed of putting there I do not greatly concern myself to inquire.
Poets are always entitled to a royalty on whatever we find in their
works; for these fine creations as truly build themselves up in the brain
as they are built up with deliberate forethought. Praise art as we will,
that which the artist did not mean to put into his work, but which found
itself there by some generous process of Nature of which he was as
unaware as the blue river is of its rhyme with the blue sky, has somewhat
in it that snatches us into sympathy with higher things than those which
come by plot and observation. Goethe wrote his _Faust_ in its earliest
form without a thought of the deeper meaning which the exposition of an
age of criticism was to find in it: without foremeaning it, he had
impersonated in Mephistopheles the genius of his century. Shall this
subtract from the debt we owe him? Not at all. If originality were
conscious of itself, it would have lost its right to be original. I
believe that Shakespeare intended to impersonate in Hamlet not a mere
metaphysical entity, but a man of flesh and blood: yet it is certainly
curious how prophetically typical the character is of that introversion
of mind which is so constant a phenomenon of these latter days, of that
over-consciousness which wastes itself in analyzing the motives of action
instead of acting.

The old painters had a rule, that all compositions should be pyramidal in
form,--a central figure, from which the others slope gradually away on
the two sides. Shakespeare probably had never heard of this rule, and, if
he had, would not have been likely to respect it more than he has the
so-called classical unities of time and place. But he understood
perfectly the artistic advantages of gradation, contrast, and relief.
Taking Hamlet as the key-note, we find in him weakness of character,
which, on the one hand, is contrasted with the feebleness that springs
from overweening conceit in Polonius and with frailty of temperament in
Ophelia, while, on the other hand, it is brought into fuller relief by
the steady force of Horatio and the impulsive violence of Laertes, who is
resolute from thoughtlessness, just as Hamlet is irresolute from overplus
of thought.

If we must draw a moral from Hamlet, it would seem to be, that Will is
Fate, and that, Will once abdicating, the inevitable successor in the
regency is Chance. Had Hamlet acted, instead of musing how good it would
be to act, the king might have been the only victim. As it is, all the
main actors in the story are the fortuitous sacrifice of his
irresolution. We see how a single great vice of character at last draws
to itself as allies and confederates all other weaknesses of the man, as
in civil wars the timid and the selfish wait to throw themselves upon the
stronger side.

  "In Life's small things be resolute and great
  To keep thy muscles trained: know'st thou when Fate
  Thy measure takes? or when she'll say to thee,
  'I find thee worthy, do this thing for me'?"

I have said that it was doubtful if Shakespeare had any conscious moral
intention in his writings. I meant only that he was purely and primarily
poet. And while he was an English poet in a sense that is true of no
other, his method was thoroughly Greek, yet with this remarkable
difference,--that, while the Greek dramatists took purely national themes
and gave them a universal interest by their mode of treatment, he took
what may be called cosmopolitan traditions, legends of human nature, and
nationalized them by the infusion of his perfectly Anglican breadth of
character and solidity of understanding. Wonderful as his imagination and
fancy are, his perspicacity and artistic discretion are more so. This
country tradesman's son, coming up to London, could set high-bred wits,
like Beaumont, uncopiable lessons in drawing gentlemen such as are seen
nowhere else but on the canvas of Titian; he could take Ulysses away from
Homer and expand the shrewd and crafty islander into a statesman whose
words are the pith of history. But what makes him yet more exceptional
was his utterly unimpeachable judgment, and that poise of character which
enabled him to be at once the greatest of poets and so unnoticeable a
good citizen as to leave no incidents for biography. His material was
never far-sought; (it is still disputed whether the fullest head of which
we have record were cultivated beyond the range of grammar-school
precedent!) but he used it with a poetic instinct which we cannot
parallel, identified himself with it, yet remained always its born and
questionless master. He finds the Clown and Fool upon the stage,--he
makes them the tools of his pleasantry, his satire, and even his pathos;
he finds a fading rustic superstition, and shapes out of it ideal Pucks,
Titanias, and Ariels, in whose existence statesmen and scholars believe
forever. Always poet, he subjects all to the ends of his art, and gives
in Hamlet the churchyard ghost, but with the cothurnus on,--the messenger
of God's revenge against murder; always philosopher, he traces in Macbeth
the metaphysics of apparitions, painting the shadowy Banquo only on the
o'erwrought brain of the murderer, and staining the hand of his
wife-accomplice (because she was the more refined and higher nature) with
the disgustful blood-spot that is not there. We say he had no moral
intention, for the reason, that, as artist, it was not his to deal with
the realities, but only with the shows of things; yet, with a temperament
so just, an insight so inevitable as his, it was impossible that the
moral reality, which underlies the _mirage_ of the poet's vision, should
not always be suggested. His humor and satire are never of the
destructive kind; what he does in that way is suggestive only,--not
breaking bubbles with Thor's hammer, but puffing them away with the
breath of a Clown, or shivering them with the light laugh of a genial
cynic. Men go about to prove the existence of a God! Was it a bit of
phosphorus, that brain whose creations are so real, that, mixing with
them, we feel as if we ourselves were but fleeting magic-lantern shadows?

But higher even than the genius we rate the character of this unique man,
and the grand impersonality of what he wrote. What has he told us of
himself? In our self-exploiting nineteenth century, with its melancholy
liver-complaint, how serene and high he seems! If he had sorrows, he has
made them the woof of everlasting consolation to his kind; and if, as
poets are wont to whine, the outward world was cold to him, its biting
air did but trace itself in loveliest frost-work of fancy on the many
windows of that self-centred and cheerful soul.


    [119] As where Ben Jonson is able to say,--

        "Man may securely sin, but safely never."

    [120] "Vulgarem locutionem anpellamus cam qua infantes adsuefiunt ab
    adsistentibus cum primitus distinguere voces incipiunt: vel, quod
    brevius dici potest, vulgarem locutionem asserimus _quam sine omni
    regula, nutricem imitantes accepimus_." Dantes, _de Vulg. Eloquio_,
    Lib I. cap. i.

    [121] Gray, himself a painful corrector, told Nicholls that "nothing
    was done so well as at the first concoction,"--adding, as a reason,
    "We think in words." Ben Jonson said, it was a pity Shakespeare had
    not blotted more, for that he sometimes wrote nonsense,--and cited in
    proof of it the verse,

      "Caesar did never wrong but with just cause."

    The last four words do not appear in the passage as it now stands,
    and Professor Craik suggests that they were stricken out in
    consequence of Jonson's criticism. This is very probable; but we
    suspect that the pen that blotted them was in the hand of Master
    Heminge or his colleague. The moral confusion in the idea was surely
    admirably characteristic of the general who had just accomplished a
    successful _coup d'etat_, the condemnation of which he would fancy
    that he read in the face of every honest man he met, and which he
    would therefore be forever indirectly palliating.

    [122] We use the word _Latin_ here to express words derived either
    mediately or immediately from that language.

    [123] The prose of Chaucer (1390) and of Sir Thomas Malory
    (translating from the French, 1470) is less Latinized than that of
    Bacon, Browne, Taylor, or Milton. The glossary to Spenser's
    _Shepherd's Calendar_ (1679) explains words of Teutonic and Romanic
    root in about equal proportions. The parallel but independent
    development of Scotch is not to be forgotten.

    [124] I believe that for the last two centuries the Latin radicals of
    English have been more familiar and homelike to those who use them
    than the Teutonic. Even so accomplished a person as Professor Crail,
    in his _English of Shakespeare_, derives _head_, through the German
    _haupt_, from the Latin _caput_!  I trust that its genealogy is
    nobler, and that it is of kin with _coelum, tueri_, rather than with
    the Greek [kephalae], if Suidas be right in tracing the origin of
    that to a word meaning _vacuity_. Mr. Craik suggests, also, that
    _quick_ and _wicked_ may be etymologically identical, _because_ he
    fancies a relationship between _busy_ and the German _böse_, though
    _wicked_ is evidently the participial form of A. S. _wacan_, (German
    _weichen_,) _to bend, to yield_, meaning _one who has given way to
    temptation_, while _quick_ seems as clearly related to _wegan_,
    meaning _to move_, a different word, even if radically the same. In
    the "London Literary Gazette" for November 13,1858, I find an extract
    from Miss Millington's "Heraldry in History, Poetry, and Romance," in
    which, speaking of the motto of the Prince of Wales,--_De par Houmaut
    ich diene_,--she says; "The precise meaning of the former word
    [_Houmout_] has not, I think, been ascertained." The word is plainly
    the German _Hochmuth_, and the whole would read, _De par (Aus)
    Hochmuth ich diene_,--"Out of magnanimity I serve."  So entirely lost
    is the Saxon meaning of the word _knave_, (A. S. _cnava_, German
    _knabe_,) that the name _navvie_, assumed by railway-laborers, has
    been transmogrified into _navigator_. I believe that more people
    could tell why the month of July was so called than could explain the
    origin of the names for our days of the week, and that it is oftener
    the Saxon than the French words in Chaucer that puzzle the modern

    [125] _De Vulgari Eloquio_, Lib. II. cap. i. _ad finem_. I quote this
    treatise as Dante's, because the thoughts seem manifestly his; though
    I believe that in its present form it is an abridgment by some
    transcriber, who sometimes copies textually, and sometimes
    substitutes his own language for that of the original.

    [126] Vol. III. p. 348, _note_. He grounds his belief, not on the
    misprinting of words, but on the misplacing of whole paragraphs. We
    were struck with the same thing in the original edition of Chapman's
    "Biron's Conspiracy and Tragedy." And yet, in comparing two copies of
    this edition, I have found corrections which only the author could
    have made. One of the misprints which Mr. Spedding notices affords
    both a hint and a warning to the conjectural emendator. In the
    edition of "The Advancement of Learning" printed in 1605 occurs the
    word _dusinesse_. In a later edition this was conjecturally changed
    to _business_; but the occurrence of _vertigine_ in the Latin
    translation enables Mr. Spedding to print rightly, _dizziness_.

    [127] "At first sight, Shakespeare and his contemporary dramatists
    seem to write in styles much alike; nothing so easy as to fall into
    that of Massinger and the others; whilst no one has ever yet produced
    one scene conceived and expressed in the Shakespearian idiom. I
    suppose it is because Shakespeare is universal, and, in fact, has no
    _manner_."--_Coleridge's Tabletalk_, 214.

    [128] Pheidias said of one of his pupils that he had an inspired
    thumb, because the modelling-clay yielded to its careless sweep a
    grace of curve which it refused to the utmost pains of others.

    [129] The best instance I remember is in the _Frogs_, where Bacchus
    pleads his inexperience at the oar, and says he is

      [Greek: apeiros, athalattotos, asalaminios,]

    which might be rendered,

      Unskilled, unsea-soned, and un-Salamised.

    [130] So Euripides (copied by Theocritus, Id. xxvii.):--

      [Greek: Pentheus d' opos mae penthos eisoisei domois] (_Bacchae_,

      [Greek: _Esophronaesen ouk echousa sophronein_]. (_Hippol_., 1037.)

    So Calderon: "Y apenas llega, cuando llega á penas."

    [131] I have taken the first passage in point that occurred to my
    memory. It may not be Shakespeare's, though probably his. The
    question of authorship is, I think, settled, so far as criticism can
    do it, in Mr. Grant White's admirable essay appended to the Second
    Part of Henry VI.

    [132] Shakspeare und kein Ende.

    [133] I do not mention Ulrici's book, for it seems to me unwieldy and
    dull,--zeal without knowledge.


The history of New England is written imperishably on the face of a
continent, and in characters as beneficent as they are enduring. In the
Old World national pride feeds itself with the record of battles and
conquests;--battles which proved nothing and settled nothing; conquests
which shifted a boundary on the map, and put one ugly head instead of
another on the coin which the people paid to the tax-gatherer. But
wherever the New-Englander travels among the sturdy commonwealths which
have sprung from the seed of the Mayflower, churches, schools, colleges,
tell him where the men of his race have been, or their influence
penetrated; and an intelligent freedom is the monument of conquests whose
results are not to be measured in square miles. Next to the fugitives
whom Moses led out of Egypt, the little ship-load of outcasts who landed
at Plymouth two centuries and a half ago are destined to influence the
future of the world. The spiritual thirst of mankind has for ages been
quenched at Hebrew fountains; but the embodiment in human institutions of
truths uttered by the Son of man eighteen centuries ago was to be mainly
the work of Puritan thought and Puritan self-devotion. Leave New England
out in the cold! While you are plotting it, she sits by every fireside in
the land where there is piety, culture, and free thought.

Faith in God, faith in man, faith in work,--this is the short formula in
which we may sum up the teaching of the founders of New England, a creed
ample enough for this life and the next. If their municipal regulations
smack somewhat of Judaism, yet there can be no nobler aim or more
practical wisdom than theirs; for it was to make the law of man a living
counterpart of the law of God, in their highest conception of it. Were
they too earnest in the strife to save their souls alive? That is still
the problem which every wise and brave man is lifelong in solving. If the
Devil take a less hateful shape to us than to our fathers, he is as busy
with us as with them; and if we cannot find it in our hearts to break
with a gentleman of so much worldly wisdom, who gives such admirable
dinners, and whose manners are so perfect, so much the worse for us.

Looked at on the outside, New England history is dry and unpicturesque.
There is no rustle of silks, no waving of plumes, no clink of golden
spurs. Our sympathies are not awakened by the changeful destinies, the
rise and fall, of great families, whose doom was in their blood. Instead
of all this, we have the homespun fates of Cephas and Prudence repeated
in an infinite series of peaceable sameness, and finding space enough for
record in the family Bible; we have the noise of axe and hammer and saw,
an apotheosis of dogged work, where, reversing the fairy-tale, nothing is
left to luck, and, if there be any poetry, it is something that cannot be
helped,--the waste of the water over the dam. Extrinsically, it is
prosaic and plebeian; intrinsically, it is poetic and noble; for it is,
perhaps, the most perfect incarnation of an idea the world has ever seen.
That idea was not to found a democracy, nor to charter the city of New
Jerusalem by an act of the General Court, as gentlemen seem to think
whose notions of history and human nature rise like an exhalation from
the good things at a Pilgrim Society dinner. Not in the least. They had
no faith in the Divine institution of a system which gives Teague,
because he can dig, as much influence as Ralph, because he can think, nor
in personal at the expense of general freedom. Their view of human rights
was not so limited that it could not take in human relations and duties
also. They would have been likely to answer the claim, "I am as good as
anybody," by a quiet "Yes, for some things, but not for others; as good,
doubtless, in your place, where all things are good." What the early
settlers of Massachusetts _did_ intend, and what they accomplished, was
the founding here of a _new_ England, and a better one, where the
political superstitions and abuses of the old should never have leave to
take root. So much, we may say, they deliberately intended. No nobles,
either lay or cleric, no great landed estates, and no universal ignorance
as the seed-plot of vice and unreason; but an elective magistracy and
clergy, land for all who would till it, and reading and writing, will ye
nill ye, instead. Here at last, it would seem, simple manhood is to have
a chance to play his stake against Fortune with honest dice, uncogged by
those three hoary sharpers, Prerogative, Patricianism, and Priestcraft.
Whoever has looked into the pamphlets published in England during the
Great Rebellion cannot but have been struck by the fact, that the
principles and practice of the Puritan Colony had begun to react with
considerable force on the mother country; and the policy of the
retrograde party there, after the Restoration, in its dealings with New
England, finds a curious parallel as to its motives (time will show
whether as to its results) in the conduct of the same party towards
America during the last four years.[135] This influence and this fear
alike bear witness to the energy of the principles at work here.

We have said that the details of New England history were essentially dry
and unpoetic. Everything is near, authentic, and petty. There is no mist
of distance to soften outlines, no mirage of tradition to give characters
and events an imaginative loom. So much downright work was perhaps never
wrought on the earth's surface in the same space of time as during the
first forty years after the settlement. But mere work is unpicturesque,
and void of sentiment. Irving instinctively divined and admirably
illustrated in his "Knickerbocker" the humorous element which lies in
this nearness of view, this clear, prosaic daylight of modernness, and
this poverty of stage properties, which makes the actors and the deeds
they were concerned in seem ludicrously small when contrasted with the
semi-mythic grandeur in which we have clothed them, as we look backward
from the crowned result, and fancy a cause as majestic as our conception
of the effect. There was, indeed, one poetic side to the existence
otherwise so narrow and practical; and to have conceived this, however
partially, is the one original and American thing in Cooper. This diviner
glimpse illumines the lives of our Daniel Boones, the man of civilization
and old-world ideas confronted with our forest solitudes,--confronted,
too, for the first time, with his real self, and so led gradually to
disentangle the original substance of his manhood from the artificial
results of culture. Here was our new Adam of the wilderness, forced to
name anew, not the visible creation of God, but the invisible creation of
man, in those forms that lie at the base of social institutions, so
insensibly moulding personal character and controlling individual action.
Here is the protagonist of our New World epic, a figure as poetic as that
of Achilles, as ideally representative as that of Don Quixote, as
romantic in its relation to our homespun and plebeian mythus as Arthur in
his to the mailed and plumed cycle of chivalry. We do not mean, of
course, that Cooper's "Leatherstocking" is all this or anything like it,
but that the character typified in him is ideally and potentially all
this and more.

But whatever was poetical in the lives of the early New-Englanders had
something shy, if not sombre, about it. If their natures flowered, it was
out of sight, like the fern. It was in the practical that they showed
their true quality, as Englishmen are wont. It has been the fashion
lately with a few feeble-minded persons to undervalue the New England
Puritans, as if they were nothing more than gloomy and narrow-minded
fanatics. But all the charges brought against these large-minded and
far-seeing men are precisely those which a really able fanatic, Joseph de
Maistre, lays at the door of Protestantism. Neither a knowledge of human
nature nor of history justifies us in confounding, as is commonly done,
the Puritans of Old and New England, or the English Puritans of the third
with those of the fifth decade of the seventeenth century. Fanaticism,
or, to call it by its milder name, enthusiasm, is only powerful and
active so long as it is aggressive. Establish it firmly in power, and it
becomes conservatism, whether it will or no. A sceptre once put in the
hand, the grip is instinctive; and he who is firmly seated in authority
soon learns to think security, and not progress, the highest lesson of
statecraft. From the summit of power men no longer turn their eyes
upward, but begin to look about them. Aspiration sees only one side of
every question; possession, many. And the English Puritans, after their
revolution was accomplished, stood in even a more precarious position
than most successful assailants of the prerogative of whatever _is_ to
continue in being. They had carried a political end by means of a
religious revival. The fulcrum on which they rested their lever to
overturn the existing order of things (as history always placidly calls
the particular forms of _dis_order for the time being) was in the soul of
man. They could not renew the fiery gush of enthusiasm, when once the
molten metal had begun to stiffen in the mould of policy and precedent.
The religious element of Puritanism became insensibly merged in the
political; and, its one great man taken away, it died, as passions have
done before, of possession. It was one thing to shout with Cromwell
before the battle of Dunbar, "Now, Lord, arise, and let thine enemies be
scattered!" and to snuffle, "Rise, Lord, and keep us safe in our
benefices, our sequestered estates, and our five per cent!" Puritanism
meant something when Captain Hodgson, riding out to battle through the
morning mist, turns over the command of his troop to a lieutenant, and
stays to hear the prayer of a cornet, there was "so much of God in it."
Become traditional, repeating the phrase without the spirit, reading the
present backward as if it were written in Hebrew, translating Jehovah by
"I was" instead of "I am,"--it was no more like its former self than the
hollow drum made of Zisca's skin was like the grim captain whose soul it
had once contained.  Yet the change was inevitable, for it is not safe to
confound the things of Caesar with the things of God. Some honest
republicans, like Ludlow, were never able to comprehend the chilling
contrast between the ideal aim and the material fulfilment, and looked
askance on the strenuous reign of Oliver,--that rugged boulder of
primitive manhood lying lonely there on the dead level of the
century,--as if some crooked changeling had been laid in the cradle
instead of that fair babe of the Commonwealth they had dreamed. Truly
there is a tide in the affairs of men, but there is no gulf-stream
setting forever in one direction; and those waves of enthusiasm on whose
crumbling crests we sometimes see nations lifted for a gleaming moment
are wont to have a gloomy trough before and behind.

But the founders of New England, though they must have sympathized
vividly with the struggles and triumphs of their brethren in the mother
country, were never subjected to the same trials and temptations, never
hampered with the same lumber of usages and tradition. They were not
driven to win power by doubtful and desperate ways, nor to maintain it by
any compromises of the ends which make it worth having. From the outset
they were builders, without need of first pulling down, whether to make
room or to provide material. For thirty years after the colonization of
the Bay, they had absolute power to mould as they would the character of
their adolescent commonwealth. During this time a whole generation would
have grown to manhood who knew the Old World only by report, in whose
habitual thought kings, nobles, and bishops would be as far away from all
present and practical concern as the figures in a fairy-tale, and all
whose memories and associations, all their unconscious training by eye
and ear, were New English wholly. Nor were the men whose influence was
greatest in shaping the framework and the policy of the Colony, in any
true sense of the word, fanatics. Enthusiasts, perhaps, they were, but
with then the fermentation had never gone further than the ripeness of
the vinous stage. Disappointment had never made it acetous, nor had it
ever putrefied into the turbid zeal of Fifth Monarchism and sectarian
whimsey. There is no better ballast for keeping the mind steady on its
keel, and saving it from all risk of _crankiness_, than business. And
they were business men, men of facts and figures no less than of
religious earnestness. The sum of two hundred thousand pounds had been
invested in their undertaking,--a sum, for that time, truly enormous as
the result of private combination for a doubtful experiment. That their
enterprise might succeed, they must show a balance on the right side of
the countinghouse ledger, as well as in their private accounts with their
own souls. The liberty of praying when and how they would, must be
balanced with an ability of paying when and as they ought. Nor is the
resulting fact in this case at variance with the _a priori_ theory. They
succeeded in making their thought the life and soul of a body politic,
still powerful, still benignly operative, after two centuries; a thing
which no mere fanatic ever did or ever will accomplish. Sober, earnest,
and thoughtful men, it was no Utopia, no New Atlantis, no realization of
a splendid dream, which they had at heart, but the establishment of the
divine principle of Authority on the common interest and the common
consent; the making, by a contribution from the free-will of all, a power
which should curb and guide the free-will of each for the general good.
If they were stern in their dealings with sectaries, it should be
remembered that the Colony was in fact the private property of the
Massachusetts Company, that unity was essential to its success, and that
John of Leyden had taught them how unendurable by the nostrils of honest
men is the corruption of the right of private judgment in the evil and
selfish hearts of men when no thorough mental training has developed the
understanding and given the judgment its needful means of comparison and
correction. They knew that liberty in the hands of feeble-minded and
unreasoning persons (and all the worse if they are honest) means nothing
more than the supremacy of their particular form of imbecility; means
nothing less, therefore, than downright chaos, a Bedlam-chaos of
monomaniacs and bores. What was to be done with men and women, who bore
conclusive witness to the fall of man by insisting on walking up the
broad-aisle of the meeting-house in a costume which that event had put
forever out of fashion! About their treatment of witches, too, there has
been a great deal of ignorant babble. Puritanism had nothing whatever to
do with it. They acted under a delusion, which, with an exception here
and there (and those mainly medical men, like Wierus and Webster),
darkened the understanding of all Christendom. Dr. Henry More was no
Puritan; and his letter to Glanvil, prefixed to the third edition of the
"Sadducismus Triumphatus," was written in 1678, only fourteen years
before the trials at  Salem. Bekker's "Bezauberte Welt" was published in
1693; and in the Preface he speaks of the difficulty of overcoming "the
prejudices in which not only ordinary men, but the learned also, are
obstinate." In Hathaway's case, 1702, Chief-Justice Holt, in charging the
jury, expresses no disbelief in the possibility of witchcraft, and the
indictment implies its existence. Indeed, the natural reaction from the
Salem mania of 1692 put an end to belief in devilish compacts and
demoniac possessions sooner in New England than elsewhere. The last we
hear of it there is in 1720, when Rev. Mr. Turell of Medford detected and
exposed an attempted cheat by two girls. Even in 1692, it was the foolish
breath of Cotton Mather and others of the clergy that blew the dying
embers of this ghastly superstition into a flame; and they were actuated
partly by a desire to bring about a religious revival, which might stay
for a while the hastening lapse of their own authority, and still more by
that credulous scepticism of feeble-minded piety which, dreads the
cutting away of an orthodox tumor of misbelief, as if the life-blood of
faith would follow, and would keep even a stumbling-block in the way of
salvation, if only enough generations had tripped over it to make it
venerable. The witches were condemned on precisely the same grounds that
in our day led to the condemnation of "Essays and Reviews."

But Puritanism was already in the decline when such things were possible.
What had been a wondrous and intimate experience of the soul, a flash
into the very crypt and basis of man's nature from the fire of trial, had
become ritual and tradition. In prosperous times the faith of one
generation becomes the formality of the next. "The necessity of a
reformation," set forth by order of the Synod which met at Cambridge in
1679, though no doubt overstating the case, shows how much even at that
time the ancient strictness had been loosened. The country had grown
rich, its commerce was large, and wealth did its natural work in making
life softer and more worldly, commerce in deprovincializing the minds of
those engaged in it. But Puritanism had already done its duty. As there
are certain creatures whose whole being seems occupied with an egg-laying
errand they are sent upon, incarnate ovipositors, their bodies but bags
to hold this precious deposit, their legs of use only to carry them where
they may safeliest be rid of it, so sometimes a generation seems to have
no other end than the conception and ripening of certain germs. Its blind
stirrings, its apparently aimless seeking hither and thither, are but the
driving of an instinct to be done with its parturient function toward
these principles of future life and power. Puritanism, believing itself
quick with the seed of religious liberty, laid, without knowing it, the
egg of democracy. The English Puritans pulled down church and state to
rebuild Zion on the ruins, and all the while it was not Zion, but
America, they were building. But if their millennium went by, like the
rest, and left men still human; if they, like so many saints and martyrs
before them, listened in vain for the sound of that trumpet which was to
summon all souls to a resurrection from the body of this death which men
call life,--it is not for us, at least, to forget the heavy debt we owe
them. It was the drums of Naseby and Dunbar that gathered the minute-men
on Lexington Common; it was the red dint of the axe on Charles's block
that marked One in our era. The Puritans had their faults. They were
narrow, ungenial; they could not understand the text, "I have piped to
you and ye have not danced," nor conceive that saving one's soul should
be the cheerfullest, and not the dreariest, of businesses. Their
preachers had a way, like the painful Mr. Perkins, of pronouncing the
word _damn_ with such an emphasis as left a doleful echo in their
auditors' ears a good while after. And it was natural that men who
captained or accompanied the exodus from existing forms and associations
into the doubtful wilderness that led to the promised land, should find
more to their purpose in the Old Testament than in the New. As respects
the New England settlers, however visionary some of their religious
tenets may have been, their political ideas savored of the realty, and it
was no Nephelococcygia of which they drew the plan, but of a commonwealth
whose foundation was to rest on solid and familiar earth. If what they
did was done in a corner, the results of it were to be felt to the ends
of the earth; and the figure of Winthrop should be as venerable in
history as that of Romulus is barbarously grand in legend.

I am inclined to think that many of our national characteristics, which
are sometimes attributed to climate and sometimes to institutions, are
traceable to the influences of Puritan descent. We are apt to forget how
very large a proportion of our population is descended from emigrants who
came over before 1660. Those emigrants were in great part representatives
of that element of English character which was most susceptible of
religious impressions; in other words, the most earnest and imaginative.
Our people still differ from their English cousins (as they are fond of
calling themselves when they are afraid we may do them a mischief) in a
certain capacity for enthusiasm, a devotion to abstract principle, an
openness to ideas, a greater aptness for intuitions than for the slow
processes of the syllogism, and, as derivative from this, in minds of
looser texture, a light-armed, skirmishing habit of thought, and a
positive preference of the birds in the bush,--an excellent quality of
character _before_ you have your bird in the hand.

There have been two great distributing centres of the English race on
this continent, Massachusetts and Virginia. Each has impressed the
character of its early legislators on the swarms it has sent forth. Their
ideas are in some fundamental respects the opposites of each other, and
we can only account for it by an antagonism of thought beginning with the
early framers of their respective institutions. New England abolished
caste; in Virginia they still talk of "quality folks." But it was in
making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on
all, that the destiny of the free republics of America was practically
settled. Every man was to be trained, not only to the use of arms, but of
his wits also; and it is these which alone make the others effective
weapons for the maintenance of freedom. You may disarm the hands, but not
the brains, of a people, and to know what should be defended is the first
condition of successful defence. Simple as it seems, it was a great
discovery that the key of knowledge could turn both ways, that it could
open, as well as lock, the door of power to the many. The only things a
New-Englander was ever locked out of were the jails. It is quite true
that our Republic is the heir of the English Commonwealth; but as we
trace events backward to their causes, we shall find it true also, that
what made our Revolution a foregone conclusion was that act of the
General Court, passed in May, 1647, which established the system of
common schools. "To the end that learning may not be buried in the graves
of our forefathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our
endeavors, it is therefore ordered by this Court and authority thereof,
that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased
them to fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their
towns to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and

Passing through some Massachusetts village, perhaps at a distance from
any house, it may be in the midst of a piece of woods where four roads
meet, one may sometimes even yet see a small square one-story building,
whose use would not be long doubtful. It is summer, and the flickering
shadows of forest-leaves dapple the roof of the little porch, whose door
stands wide, and shows, hanging on either hand, rows of straw hats and
bonnets, that look as if they had done good service. As you pass the open
windows, you hear whole platoons of high-pitched voices discharging words
of two or three syllables with wonderful precision and unanimity. Then
there is a pause, and the voice of the officer in command is heard
reproving some raw recruit whose vocal musket hung fire. Then the drill
of the small infantry begins anew, but pauses again because some
urchin--who agrees with Voltaire that the superfluous is a very necessary
thing--insists on spelling "subtraction" with an _s_ too much.

If you had the good fortune to be born and bred in the Bay State, your
mind is thronged with half-sad, half-humorous recollections. The a-b abs
of little voices long since hushed in the mould, or ringing now in the
pulpit, at the bar, or in the Senate-chamber, come back to the ear of
memory. You remember the high stool on which culprits used to be elevated
with the tall paper fool's-cap on their heads, blushing to the ears; and
you think with wonder how you have seen them since as men climbing the
world's penance-stools of ambition without a blush, and gladly giving
everything for life's caps and bells. And you have pleasanter memories of
going after pond-lilies, of angling for horn-pouts,--that queer bat among
the fishes,--of nutting, of walking over the creaking snow-crust in
winter, when the warm breath of every household was curling up silently
in the keen blue air. You wonder if life has any rewards more solid and
permanent than the Spanish dollar that was hung around your neck to be
restored again next day, and conclude sadly that it was but too true a
prophecy and emblem of all worldly success. But your moralizing is broken
short off by a rattle of feet and the pouring forth of the whole
swarm,--the boys dancing and shouting,--the mere effervescence of the
fixed air of youth and animal spirits uncorked,--the sedater girls in
confidential twos and threes decanting secrets out of the mouth of one
cape-bonnet into that of another. Times have changed since the jackets
and trousers used to draw up on one side of the road, and the petticoats
on the other, to salute with bow and courtesy the white neckcloth of the
parson or the squire, if it chanced to pass during intermission.

Now this little building, and others like it, were an original kind of
fortification invented by the founders of New England. They are the
martello-towers that protect our coast. This was the great discovery of
our Puritan forefathers. They were the first lawgivers who saw clearly
and enforced practically the simple moral and political truth, that
knowledge was not an alms to be dependent on the chance charity of
private men or the precarious pittance of a trust-fund, but a sacred debt
which the Commonwealth owed to every one of her children. The opening of
the first grammar-school was the opening of the first trench against
monopoly in church and state; the first row of trammels and pothooks
which the little Shearjashubs and Elkanahs blotted and blubbered across
their copy-books, was the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
The men who gave every man the chance to become a landholder, who made
the transfer of land easy, and put knowledge within the reach of all,
have been called narrow-minded, because they were intolerant. But
intolerant of what? Of what they believed to be dangerous nonsense,
which, if left free, would destroy the last hope of civil and religious
freedom. They had not come here that every man might do that which seemed
good in his own eyes, but in the sight of God. Toleration, moreover, is
something which is won, not granted. It is the equilibrium of neutralized
forces. The Puritans had no notion of tolerating mischief. They looked
upon their little commonwealth as upon their own private estate and
homestead, as they had a right to do, and would no more allow the Devil's
religion of unreason to be preached therein, than we should permit a
prize-fight in our gardens. They were narrow; in other words they had an
edge to them, as men that serve in great emergencies must; for a Gordian
knot is settled sooner with a sword than a beetle.

The founders of New England are commonly represented in the after-dinner
oratory of their descendants as men "before their time," as it is called;
in other words, deliberately prescient of events resulting from new
relations of circumstances, or even from circumstances new in themselves,
and therefore altogether alien from their own experience. Of course, such
a class of men is to be reckoned among those non-existent human varieties
so gravely catalogued by the ancient naturalists. If a man could shape
his action with reference to what should happen a century after his
death, surely it might be asked of him to call in the help of that easier
foreknowledge which reaches from one day to the next,--a power of
prophecy whereof we have no example. I do not object to a wholesome pride
of ancestry, though a little mythical, if it be accompanied with the
feeling that _noblesse oblige_, and do not result merely in a placid
self-satisfaction with our own mediocrity, as if greatness, like
righteousness, could be imputed. We can pardon it even in conquered
races, like the Welsh and Irish, who make up to themselves for present
degradation by imaginary empires in the past whose boundaries they can
extend at will, carrying the bloodless conquests of fancy over regions
laid down upon no map, and concerning which authentic history is
enviously dumb. Those long beadrolls of Keltic kings cannot tyrannize
over us, and we can be patient so long as our own crowns are uncracked by
the shillalah sceptres of their actual representatives. In our own case,
it would not be amiss, perhaps, if we took warning by the example of
Teague and Taffy. At least, I think it would be wise in our orators not
to put forward so prominently the claim of the Yankee to universal
dominion, and his intention to enter upon it forthwith. If we do our
duties as honestly and as much in the fear of God as our forefathers did,
we need not trouble ourselves much about other titles to empire. The
broad foreheads and long heads will win the day at last in spite of all
heraldry, and it will be enough if we feel as keenly as our Puritan
founders did that those organs of empire may be broadened and lengthened
by culture.[136] That our self-complacency should not increase the
complacency of outsiders is not to be wondered at. As _we_ sometimes take
credit to ourselves (since all commendation of our ancestry is indirect
self-flattery) for what the Puritans fathers never were, so there are
others who, to gratify a spite against their descendants, blame them for
not having been what they could not be; namely, before their time in such
matters as slavery, witchcraft, and the like. The view, whether of friend
or foe, is equally unhistorical, nay, without the faintest notion of all
that makes history worth having as a teacher. That our grandfathers
shared in the prejudices of their day is all that makes them human to us;
and that nevertheless they could act bravely and wisely on occasion makes
them only the more venerable. If certain barbarisms and superstitions
disappeared earlier in New England than elsewhere, not by the decision of
exceptionally enlightened or humane judges, but by force of public
opinion, that is the fact that is interesting and instructive for us. I
never thought it an abatement of Hawthorne's genius that he came lineally
from one who sat in judgment on the witches in 1692; it was interesting
rather to trace something hereditary in the sombre character of his
imagination, continually vexing itself to account for the origin of evil,
and baffled for want of that simple solution in a personal Devil.

But I have no desire to discuss the merits or demerits of the Puritans,
having long ago learned the wisdom of saving my sympathy for more modern
objects than Hecuba. My object is to direct the attention of my readers
to a collection of documents where they may see those worthies as they
were in their daily living and thinking. The collections of our various
historical and antiquarian societies can hardly be said to be _published_
in the strict sense of the word, and few consequently are aware how much
they contain of interest for the general reader no less than the special
student. The several volumes of "Winthrop Papers," in especial, are a
mine of entertainment. Here we have the Puritans painted by themselves,
and, while we arrive at a truer notion of the characters of some among
them, and may accordingly sacrifice to that dreadful superstition of
being usefully employed which makes so many bores and bored, we can also
furtively enjoy the oddities of thought and speech, the humors of the
time, which our local historians are too apt to despise as inconsidered
trifles. For myself I confess myself heretic to the established theory of
the gravity of history, and am not displeased with an opportunity to
smile behind my hand at any ludicrous interruption of that sometimes
wearisome ceremonial. I am not sure that I would not sooner give up
Raleigh spreading his cloak to keep the royal Dian's feet from the mud,
than that awful judgment upon the courtier whose Atlantean thighs leaked
away in bran through the rent in his trunk-hose. The painful fact that
Fisher had his head cut off is somewhat mitigated to me by the
circumstance that the Pope should have sent him, of all things in the
world, a cardinal's hat after that incapacitation. Theology herself
becomes less unamiable to me when I find the Supreme Pontiff writing to
the Council of Trent that "they should begin with original sin,
_maintaining yet a due respect for the Emperor_." That infallibility
should thus courtesy to decorum, shall make me think better of it while I
live. I shall accordingly endeavor to give my readers what amusement I
can, leaving it to themselves to extract solid improvement from the
volumes before us, which include a part of the correspondence of three
generations of Winthrops.

Let me premise that there are two men above all others for whom our
respect is heightened by these letters,--the elder John Winthrop and
Roger Williams. Winthrop appears throughout as a truly magnanimous and
noble man in an unobtrusive way,--a kind of greatness that makes less
noise in the world, but is on the whole more solidly satisfying than most
others,--a man who has been dipped in the river of God (a surer baptism
than Styx or dragon's blood) till his character is of perfect proof, and
who appears plainly as the very soul and life of the young Colony. Very
reverend and godly he truly was, and a respect not merely ceremonious,
but personal, a respect that savors of love, shows itself in the letters
addressed to him. Charity and tolerance flow so naturally from the pen of
Williams that it is plain they were in his heart. He does not show
himself a very strong or very wise man, but a thoroughly gentle and good
one. His affection for the two Winthrops is evidently of the warmest. We
suspect that he lived to see that there was more reason in the drum-head
religious discipline which made him, against his will, the founder of a
commonwealth, than he may have thought at first. But for the fanaticism
(as it is the fashion to call the sagacious straitness) of the abler men
who knew how to root the English stock firmly in this new soil on either
side of him, his little plantation could never have existed, and he
himself would have been remembered only, if at all, as one of the jarring
atoms in a chaos of otherwise-mindedness.

Two other men, Emanuel Downing and Hugh Peter, leave a positively
unpleasant savor in the nostrils. Each is selfish in his own
way,--Downing with the shrewdness of an attorney, Peter with that
clerical unction which in a vulgar nature so easily degenerates into
greasiness. Neither of them was the man for a forlorn hope, and both
returned to England when the civil war opened prospect of preferment
there. Both, we suspect, were inclined to value their Puritanism for its
rewards in this world rather than the next. Downing's son, Sir George,
was basely prosperous, making the good cause pay him so long as it was
solvent, and then selling out in season to betray his old commander,
Colonel Okey, to the shambles at Charing Cross. Peter became a colonel in
the Parliament's army, and under the Protectorate one of Cromwell's
chaplains. On his trial, after the Restoration, he made a poor figure, in
striking contrast to some of the brave men who suffered with him. At his
execution a shocking brutality was shown. "When Mr Cook was cut down and
brought to be quartered, one they called Colonel Turner calling to the
Sheriff's men to bring Mr Peters near, that he might see it; and by and
by the Hangman came to him all besmeared in blood, and rubbing his bloody
hands together, he tauntingly asked, _Come, how do you like this, Mr.
Peters? How do you like this work?_"[137] This Colonel Turner can hardly
have been other than the one who four years later came to the hangman's
hands for robbery; and whose behavior, both in the dock and at the
gallows, makes his trial one of the most entertaining as a display of
character. Peter would seem to have been one of those men gifted with
what is sometimes called eloquence; that is, the faculty of stating
things powerfully from momentary feeling, and not from that conviction of
the higher reason which alone can give force and permanence to words. His
letters show him subject, like others of like temperament, to fits of
"hypocondriacal melancholy," and the only witness he called on his trial
was to prove that he was confined to his lodgings by such an attack on
the day of the king's beheading. He seems to have been subject to this
malady at convenience, as some women to hysterics. Honest John Endicott
plainly had small confidence in him, and did not think him the right man
to represent the Colony in England. There is a droll resolve in the
Massachusetts records by which he is "desired to write to Holland for
500_l._ worth of _peter_, & 40_l._ worth of match." It is with a match
that we find him burning his fingers in the present correspondence.

Peter seems to have entangled himself somehow with a Mrs. Deliverance
Sheffield, whether maid or widow nowhere appears, but presumably the
latter. The following statement of his position is amusing enough: "I
have sent Mrs D. Sh. letter, which puts mee to new troubles, for though
shee takes liberty upon my Cossen Downing's speeches, yet (Good Sir) let
mee not be a foole in Israel. I had many good answers to yesterday's
worke [a Fast] and amongst the rest her letter; which (if her owne) doth
argue more wisedome than I thought shee had. You have often sayd I could
not leave her; what to doe is very considerable. Could I with comfort &
credit desist, this seemes best: could I goe on & content myselfe, that
were good.... For though I now seeme free agayne, yet the depth I know
not. Had shee come over with me, I thinke I had bin quieter. This shee
may know, that I have sought God earnestly, that the nexte weeke I shall
bee riper:--I doubt shee gaynes most by such writings: & shee deserves
most where shee is further of. If you shall amongst you advise mee to
write to hir, I shall forthwith; our towne lookes upon mee contracted &
so I have sayd myselfe; what wonder the charge [change?] would make, I
know not." Again: "Still pardon my offensive boldnes: I know not well
whither Mrs Sh. have set mee at liberty or not: my conclusion is, that if
you find I cannot make an honorable retreat, then I shall desire to
advance [Greek: sun Theo]. Of you I now expect your last advise, viz:
whither I must goe on or of, _saluo evangelij honore_: if shee bee in
good earnest to leave all agitations this way, then I stand still & wayt
God's mind concerning mee.... If I had much mony I would part with it to
her free, till wee heare what England doth, supposing I may bee called to
some imployment that will not suit a marryed estate": (here another mode
of escape presents itself, and he goes on:) "for indeed (Sir) some must
looke out & I have very strong thoughts to speake with the Duitch
Governor & lay some way there for a supply &c." At the end of the letter,
an objection to the lady herself occurs to him: "Once more for Mrs Sh: I
had from Mr Hibbins & others, her fellowpassengers, sad discouragements
where they saw her in her trim. I would not come of with dishonor, nor
come on with griefe, or ominous hesitations." On all this shilly-shally
we have a shrewd comment in a letter of Endicott: "I cannot but acquaint
you with my thoughts concerning Mr Peter since hee receaued a letter from
Mrs Sheffield, which was yesterday in the eveninge after the Fast, shee
seeming in her letter to abate of her affeccions towards him & dislikinge
to come to Salem vppon such termes as he had written. I finde now that
hee begins to play her parte, & if I mistake not, you will see him as
greatly in loue with her (if shee will but hold of a little) as euer shee
was with him; but he conceales it what he can as yett. The begininge of
the next weeke you will heare further from him." The widow was evidently
more than a match for poor Peter.

It should appear that a part of his trouble arose from his having
coquetted also with a certain Mrs. Ruth, about whom he was "dealt with by
Mrs Amee, Mr Phillips & 2 more of the Church, our Elder being one. When
Mr Phillips with much violence & sharpnes charged mee home ... that I
should hinder the mayd of a match at London, which was not so, could not
thinke of any kindnes I euer did her, though shee haue had above 300_li._
through my fingers, so as if God uphold me not after an especiall manner,
it will sinke me surely ... hee told me he would not stop my intended
marriage, but assured mee it would not bee good ... all which makes mee
reflect upon my rash proceedings with Mrs Sh." Panurge's doubts and
difficulties about matrimony were not more entertainingly contradictory.
Of course, Peter ends by marrying the widow, and presently we have a
comment on "her trim." In January, 1639, he writes to Winthrop: "My wife
is very thankfull for her apples, & _desires much the new fashioned
shooes_." Eight years later we find him writing from England, where he
had been two years: "I am coming over if I must; my wife comes of
necessity to New England, having run her selfe out of breath here"; and
then in the postscript, "bee sure you never let my wife come away from
thence without my leave, & then you love mee." But life is never pure
comedy, and the end in this case is tragical. Roger Williams, after his
return from England in 1654, writes to John Winthrop, Jr.: "Your brother
flourisheth in good esteeme & is eminent for maintaining the Freedome of
the Conscience as to matters of Beliefe, Religion, & Worship. Your Father
Peters preacheth the same Doctrine though not so zealously as some years
since, yet cries out against New English Rigidities & Persecutions, their
civil injuries & wrongs to himselfe, & their unchristian dealing with him
in excommunicating his distracted wife. All this he tould me in his
lodgings at Whitehall, those lodgings which I was tould were Canterburies
[the Archbishop], but he himselfe tould me that that Library wherein we
were together was Canterburies & given him by the Parliament. His wife
lives from him, not wholy but much distracted. He tells me he had but 200
a yeare & he allowed her 4 score per annum of it. Surely, Sir, the most
holy Lord is most wise in all the trialls he exerciseth his people with.
He tould me that his affliction from his wife stird him up to Action
abroad, & when successe tempted him to Pride, the Bitternes in his
bozome-comforts was a Cooler & a Bridle to him." Truly the whirligig of
time brings about strange revenges. Peter had been driven from England by
the persecutions of Laud; a few years later he "stood armed on the
scaffold" when that prelate was beheaded, and now we find him installed
in the archiepiscopal lodgings. Dr. Palfrey, it appears to me, gives
altogether too favorable an opinion both of Peter's character and
abilities. I conceive him to have been a vain and selfish man. He may
have had the bravery of passionate impulse, but he wanted that steady
courage of character which has such a beautiful constancy in Winthrop. He
always professed a longing to come back to New England, but it was only a
way he had of talking. That he never meant to come is plain from these
letters. Nay, when things looked prosperous in England, he writes to the
younger Winthrop: "My counsell is you should come hither with your family
for certaynly you will bee capable of a comfortable living in this free
Commonwealth. I doo seriously advise it.... G. Downing is worth 500_l_.
per annum but 4_l_. per diem--your brother Stephen worth 2000_l_. & a
maior. I pray come." But when he is snugly ensconced in Whitehall, and
may be presumed to have some influence with the prevailing powers, his
zeal cools. "I wish you & all friends to stay there & rather looke to the
West Indyes if they remoue, for many are here to seeke when they come
ouer." To me Peter's highest promotion seems to have been that he walked
with John Milton at the Protector's funeral. He was, I suspect, one of
those men, to borrow a charitable phrase of Roger Williams, who "feared
God in the main," that is, whenever it was not personally inconvenient.
William Coddington saw him in his glory in 1651: "Soe wee toucke the tyme
to goe to viset Mr Petters at his chamber. I was mery with him & called
him the Arch Bp: of Canterberye, in regard to his adtendance by ministers
& gentlemen, & it passed very well." Considering certain charges brought
against Peter, (though he is said, when under sentence of death, to have
denied the truth of them,) Coddington's statement that he liked to have
"gentlewomen waite of him" in his lodgings has not a pleasant look. One
last report of him we get (September, 1659) in a letter of John
Davenport,--"that Mr Hugh Peters is distracted & under sore horrors of
conscience, crying out of himselfe as damned & confessing haynous

Occasionally these letters give us interesting glimpses of persons and
things in England. In the letter of Williams just cited, there is a
lesson for all parties raised to power by exceptional causes. "Surely,
Sir, youre Father & all the people of God in England ... are now in the
sadle & at the helme, so high that _non datus descensus nisi cadendo_:
Some cheere up their spirits with the impossibilitie of another fall or
turne, so doth Major G. Harrison ... a very gallant most deserving
heavenly man, but most highflowne for the Kingdom of the Saints & the 5th
Monarchie now risen & their sun never to set againe &c. Others, as, to my
knowledge, the Protector ... are not so full of that faith of miracles,
but still imagine changes & persecutions & the very slaughter of the
witnesses before that glorious morning so much desired of a worldly
Kingdome, if ever such a Kingdome (as literally it is by so many
expounded) be to arise in this present world & dispensation." Poor
General Harrison lived to be one of the witnesses so slaughtered. The
practical good sense of Cromwell is worth noting, the English
understanding struggling against Judaic trammels. Williams gives us
another peep through the keyhole of the past: "It pleased the Lord to
call me for some time & with some persons to practice the Hebrew, the
Greeke, Latine, French & Dutch. The secretarie of the Councell (Mr
Milton) for my Dutch I read him, read me many more languages. Grammar
rules begin to be esteemed a Tyrannie. I taught 2 young Gentlemen, a
Parliament man's sons, as we teach our children English, by words,
phrazes, & constant talke, &c." It is plain that Milton had talked over
with Williams the theory put forth in his tract on Education, and made a
convert of him. We could wish that the good Baptist had gone a little
more into particulars. But which of us knows among the men he meets whom
time will dignify by curtailing him of the "Mr.," and reducing him to a
bare patronymic, as being a kind by himself? We have a glance or two at
Oliver, who is always interesting. "The late renowned Oliver confest to
me in close discourse about the Protestants aifaires &c that he yet feard
great persecutions to the protestants from the Romanists before the
downfall of the Papacie," writes Williams in 1660. This "close discourse"
must have been six years before, when Williams was in England. Within a
year after, Oliver interfered to some purpose in behalf of the
Protestants of Piedmont, and Mr. Milton wrote his famous sonnet. Of the
war with Spain, Williams reports from his letters out of England in 1656:
"This diversion against the Spaniard hath turnd the face & thoughts of
many English, so that the saying now is, Crowne the Protector with
gould,[138] though the sullen yet cry, Crowne him with thornes."

Again in 1654: "I know the Protector had strong thoughts of Hispaniola &
Cuba. Mr Cotton's interpreting of Euphrates to be the West Indies, the
supply of gold (to take off taxes), & the provision of a warmer
_diverticulum & receptaculum_ then N. England is, will make a footing
into those parts very precious, & if it shall please God to vouchsafe
successe to this fleete, I looke to hear of an invitation at least to
these parts for removall from his Highnes who lookes on N. E. only with
an eye of pitie, as poore, cold & useless." The mixture of Euphrates and
taxes, of the transcendental and practical, prophecy taking precedence of
thrift, is characteristic, and recalls Cromwell's famous rule, of fearing
God _and_ keeping your powder dry. In one of the Protector's
speeches,[139] he insists much on his wish to retire to a private life.
There is a curious confirmation of his sincerity in a letter of William
Hooke, then belonging to his household, dated the 13th of April, 1657.
The question of the kingly title was then under debate, and Hooke's
account of the matter helps to a clearer understanding of the reasons for
Cromwell's refusing the title: "The protector is urged _utrinque_ & (I am
ready to think) willing enough to betake himself to a private life, if it
might be. He is a godly man, much in prayer & good discourses, delighting
in good men & good ministers, self-denying & ready to promote any good
work for Christ."[140] On the 5th of February, 1654, Captain John Mason,
of Pequot memory, writes "a word or twoe of newes as it comes from Mr
Eaton, viz: that the Parliament sate in September last; they chose their
old Speaker & Clarke. The Protectour told them they were a free
Parliament, & soe left them that day. They, considering where the
legislative power resided, concluded to vote it on the morrow, & to take
charge of the militia. The Protectour hereing of it, sent for some
numbers of horse, went to the Parliament House, nayld up the doores, sent
for them to the Painted Chamber, told them they should attend the lawes
established, & that he would wallow in his blood before he would part
with what was conferd upon him, tendering them an oath: 140 engaged." Now
it is curious that Mr. Eaton himself, from whom Mason got his news,
wrote, only two days before, an account, differing, in some particulars,
and especially in tone, from Mason's. Of the speech he says, that it
"gave such satisfaction that about 200 have since ingaged to owne the
present Government." Yet Carlyle gives the same number of signers (140)
as Mason, and there is a sentence in Cromwell's speech, as reported by
Carlyle, of precisely the same purport as that quoted by Mason. To me,
that "wallow in my blood" has rather more of the Cromwellian ring in it,
more of the quality of spontaneous speech, than the "rolled into my grave
and buried with infamy" of the official reporter. John Haynes (24th July,
1653) reports "newes from England of astonishing nature," concerning the
dissolution of the Rump. We quote his story both as a contemporaneous
version of the event, and as containing some particulars that explain the
causes that led to it. It differs, in some respects, from Carlyle, and is
hardly less vivid as a picture: "The Parliament of England & Councell of
State are both dissolved, by whom & the manner this: The Lord Cromwell,
Generall, went to the house & asked the Speaker & Bradshaw by what power
they sate ther. They answered by the same power that he woare his sword.
Hee replied they should know they did not, & said they should sitt noe
longer, demanding an account of the vast sommes of money they had
received of the Commons. They said the matter was of great consequence &
they would give him accompt in tenn dayes. He said, Noe, they had sate
too long already (& might now take their ease,) for ther inriching
themselves & impoverishing the Commons, & then seazed uppon all the
Records. Immediatly Lambert, Livetenant Generall, & Hareson Maior
Generall (for they two were with him), tooke the Speaker Lenthall by the
hands, lift him out of the Chaire, & ledd him out of the house, &
commanded the rest to depart, which fortwith was obeied, & the Generall
tooke the keyes & locked the doore." He then goes on to give the reasons
assigned by different persons for the act. Some said that the General
"scented their purpose" to declare themselves perpetual, and to get rid
of him by ordering him to Scotland. "Others say this, that the cries of
the oppressed proveiled much with him.... & hastned the declaracion of
that ould principle, _Salus populi suprema lex_ &c." The General, in the
heat of his wrath, himself snatching the keys and locking the door, has a
look of being drawn from the life. Cromwell, in a letter to General
Fortescue (November,1655), speaks sharply of the disorders and
debauchedness, profaneness and wickedness, commonly practised amongst the
army sent out to the West Indies. Major Mason gives us a specimen: "It is
here reported that some of the soldiers belonging to the ffleet at Boston
ffell upon the watch: after some bickering they comanded them to goe
before the Governour; they retorned that they were Cromwell's boyes."
Have we not, in these days, heard of "Sherman's boys"?

Belonging properly to the "Winthrop Papers," but printed in an earlier
volume (Third Series, Vol. I. pp. 185-198), is a letter of John
Maidstone, which contains the best summary of the Civil War that I ever
read. Indeed, it gives a clearer insight into its causes, and a better
view of the vicissitudes of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, than any
one of the more elaborate histories. There is a singular equity and
absence of party passion in it which gives us faith in the author's
judgment. He was Oliver's Steward of the Household, and his portrait of
him, as that of an eminently fair-minded man who knew him well, is of
great value. Carlyle has not copied it, and, as many of my readers may
never have seen it, I reproduce it here: "Before I pass further, pardon
me in troubling you with the character of his person, which, by reason of
my nearness to him, I had opportunity well to observe. His body was well
compact and strong; his stature under six feet, (I believe about two
inches;) his head so shaped as you might see it a store-house and shop
both, of a vast treasury of natural parts. His temper exceeding fiery, as
I have known, but the flame of it kept down for the most part or soon
allayed with those moral endowments he had. He was naturally
compassionate towards objects in distress, even to an effeminate measure;
though God had made him a heart wherein was left little room for any fear
but what was due to himself, of which there was a large proportion, yet
did he exceed in tenderness toward sufferers. A larger soul, I think,
hath seldom dwelt in a house of clay than his was. I do believe, if his
story were impartially transmitted, and the unprejudiced world well
possessed with it, she would add him to her nine worthies and make that
number a _decemviri_. He lived and died in comfortable communion with
God, as judicious persons near him well observed. He was that Mordecai
that sought the welfare of his people and spake peace to his seed. Yet
were his temptations such, as it appeared frequently that he that hath
grace enough for many men may have too little for himself, the treasure
he had being but in an earthen vessel and that equally defiled with
original sin as any other man's nature is." There are phrases here that
may be matched with the choicest in the life of Agricola; and, indeed,
the whole letter, superior to Tacitus in judicial fairness of tone, goes
abreast of his best writing in condensation, nay, surpasses it in this,
that, while in Tacitus the intensity is of temper, here it is the clear
residuum left by the ferment and settling of thought. Just before,
speaking of the dissolution of Oliver's last Parliament, Maidstone says:
"That was the last which sat during his life, he being compelled to
wrestle with the difficulties of his place so well as he could without
parliamentary assistance, and in it met with so great a burthen as (I
doubt not to say) it drank up his spirits, of which his natural
constitution yielded a vast stock, and brought him to his grave, his
interment being the seed-time of his glory and England's calamity."
Hooke, in a letter of April 16, 1658, has a passage worth quoting: "The
dissolucion of the last Parliament puts the supreme powers upon
difficulties, though the trueth is the Nacion is so ill spirited that
little good is to be expected from these Generall Assemblies. They [the
supreme powers, to wit, Cromwell] have been much in Counsell since this
disappointment, & God hath been sought by them in the effectuall sense of
the need of help from heaven & of the extreme danger impendent on a
miscarriage of their advises. But our expences are so vast that I know
not how they can avoyde a recurrence to another Session & to make a
further tryall.... The land is full of discontents, & the Cavaleerish
party doth still expect a day & nourish hopes of a Revolucion. The
Quakers do still proceed & are not yet come to their period. The
Presbyterians do abound, I thinke, more than ever, & are very bold &
confident because some of their masterpieces lye unanswered, particularly
theire _Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici_ which I have sent to Mr.
Davenporte. It hath been extant without answer these many years [only
four, brother Hooke, if we may trust the title-page]. The Anabaptists
abound likewise, & Mr Tombes hath pretended to have answered all the
bookes extant against his opinion. I saw him presenting it to the
Protectour of late. The Episcopall men ply the Common-Prayer booke with
much more boldness then ever since these turnes of things, even in the
open face of the City in severall places. I have spoken of it to the
Protectour but as yet nothing is done in order to their being
suppressed." It should teach us to distrust the apparent size of objects,
which is a mere cheat of their nearness to us, that we are so often
reminded of how small account things seem to one generation for which
another was ready to die. A copy of the _Jus Divinum_ held too close to
the eyes could shut out the universe with its infinite chances and
changes, its splendid indifference to our ephemeral fates. Cromwell, we
should gather, had found out the secret of this historical perspective,
to distinguish between the blaze of a burning tar-barrel and the final
conflagration of all things. He had learned tolerance by the possession
of power,--a proof of his capacity for rule. In 1652 Haynes writes: "Ther
was a Catechise lately in print ther, that denied the divinity of Christ,
yett ther was motions in the house by some, to have it lycenced by
authority. Cromwell mainly oposed, & at last it was voted to bee burnt
which causes much discontent of somme." Six years had made Cromwell

One more extract from a letter of Hooke's (30th March, 1659) is worth
giving. After speaking of Oliver's death, he goes on to say: "Many
prayers were put up solemnly for his life, & some, of great & good note,
were too confident that he would not die.... I suppose himselfe had
thoughts that he should have outlived this sickness till near his
dissolution, perhaps a day or two before; which I collect partly by some
words which he was said to speak ... & partly from his delaying, almost
to the last, to nominate his successor, to the wonderment of many who
began sooner to despair of his life.... His eldest son succeedeth him,
being chosen by the Council, the day following his father's death,
whereof he had no expectation. I have heard him say he had thought to
have lived as a country gentleman, & that his father had not employed him
in such a way as to prepare him for such employment; which, he thought,
he did designedly. I suppose his meaning was lest it should have been
apprehended ha had prepared & appointed him for such a place, the burthen
whereof I have several times heard him complaining under since his coming
to the Government, the weighty occasions whereof with continuall
oppressing cares had drunk up his father's spirits, in whose body very
little blood was found when he was opened: the greatest defect visible
was in his heart, which was flaccid & shrunk together. Yet he was one
that could bear much without complaining, as one of a strong constitution
of brain (as appeared when he was dissected) & likewise of body. His son
seemeth to be of another frame, soft & tender, & penetrable with easier
cares by much, yet he is of a sweete countenance, vivacious & candid, as
is the whole frame of his spirit, only naturally inclined to choler. His
reception of multitudes of addresses from towns, cities, & counties doth
declare, among several other indiciums, more of ability in him than
could, ordinarily, have been expected from him. He spake also with
general acceptation & applause when he made his speech before the
Parliament, even far beyond the Lord Fynes....[141]  If this Assembly
miss it, we are like to be in an ill condition. The old ways & customs of
England, as to worshipe, are in the hearts of the most, who long to see
the days again which once they saw.... The hearts of very many are for
the house of the Stewarts, & there is a speech as if they would attempt
to call the late King's judges into question.... The city, I hear is full
of Cavaliers." Poor Richard appears to have inherited little of his
father but the inclination to choler. That he could speak far beyond the
Lord Fynes seems to have been not much to the purpose. Rhetoric was not
precisely the medicine for such a case as he had to deal with. Such were
the glimpses which the New England had of the Old. Ishmael must ere-long
learn to shift for himself.

The temperance question agitated the fathers very much as it still does
the children. We have never seen the anti-prohibition argument stated
more cogently than in a letter of Thomas Shepard, minister of Cambridge,
to Winthrop, in 1639: "This also I doe humbly intreat, that there may be
no sin made of _drinking in any case one to another_, for I am confident
he that stands here will fall & be beat from his grounds by his own
arguments; as also that the consequences will be very sad, and the thing
provoking to God & man to make more sins than (as yet is seene) God
himself hath made." A principle as wise now as it was then. Our ancestors
were also harassed as much as we by the difficulties of domestic service.
In a country where land might be had for the asking, it was not easy to
keep hold of servants brought over from England. Emanuel Downing, always
the hard, practical man, would find a remedy in negro slavery. "A warr
with the Narraganset," he writes to Winthrop in 1645, "is verie
considerable to this plantation, ffor I doubt whither it be not synne in
us, having power in our hands, to suffer them to maynteyne the worship of
the devill which their pawwawes often doe; 2lie, If upon a just warre the
Lord should deliver them into our hands, wee might easily have men,
woemen, & children enough to exchange for Moores, which wilbe more
gaynefull pilladge for us than wee conceive, for I doe not see how wee
can thrive untill wee gett into a stock of slaves sufficient to doe all
our buisenes, for our childrens children will hardly see this great
Continent filled with people, soe that our servants will still desire
freedome to plant for them selves, & not stay but for verie great wages.
And I suppose you know verie well how wee shall maynteyne 20 Moores
cheaper than one Englishe servant." The doubt whether it be not sin in us
longer to tolerate their devil-worship, considering how much need we have
of them as merchandise, is delicious. The way in which Hugh Peter grades
the sharp descent from the apostolic to the practical with an _et
cetera_, in the following extract, has the same charm: "Sir, Mr Endecot &
myself salute you in the Lord Jesus &c. Wee have heard of a dividence of
women & children in the bay & would bee glad of a share viz: a young
woman or girle & a boy if you thinke good." Peter seems to have got what
he asked for, and to have been worse off than before; for we find him
writing two years later: "My wife desires my daughter to send to Hanna
that was her mayd, now at Charltowne, to know if shee would dwell with
us, for truly wee are so destitute (having now but an Indian) that wee
know not what to doe." Let any housewife of our day, who does not find
the Keltic element in domestic life so refreshing as to Mr. Arnold in
literature, imagine a household with one wild Pequot woman, communicated
with by signs, for its maid of all work, and take courage. Those were
serious times indeed, when your cook might give warning by taking your
scalp, or _chignon_, as the case might be, and making off with it into
the woods. The fewness and dearness of servants made it necessary to call
in temporary assistance for extraordinary occasions, and hence arose the
common use of the word _help_. As the great majority kept no servants at
all, and yet were liable to need them for work to which the family did
not suffice, as, for instance, in harvest, the use of the word was
naturally extended to all kinds of service. That it did not have its
origin in any false shame at the condition itself, induced by democratic
habits, is plain from the fact that it came into use while the word
_servant_ had a much wider application than now, and certainly implied no
social stigma. Downing and Hooke, each at different times, one of them so
late as 1667, wished to place a son as "servant" with one of the
Winthrops. Roger Williams writes of his daughter, that "she desires to
spend some time in service & liked much Mrs Brenton, who wanted." This
was, no doubt, in order to be well drilled in housekeeping, an example
which might be followed still to advantage. John Tinker, himself the
"servant" or steward of the second Winthrop, makes use of _help_ in both
the senses we have mentioned, and shows the transition of the word from
its restricted to its more general application. "We have fallen a pretty
deal of timber & drawn some by Goodman Rogers's team, but unless your
worship have a good team of your own & a man to go with them, I shall be
much distracted for _help_ ... & when our business is most in haste we
shall be most to seek." Again, writing at harvest, as appears both by the
date and by an elaborate pun,--"I received the _sithes_ you sent but in
that there came not also yourself, it maketh me to _sigth_,"--he says:
"_Help_ is scarce and hard to get, difficult to please, uncertain, &c.
Means runneth out & wages on & I cannot make choice of my _help_."

It may be some consolation to know that the complaint of a decline in the
quality of servants is no modern thing. Shakespeare makes Orlando say to

  "O, good old man, how well in thee appears
  The constant service of the antique world,
  When service sweat for duty, not for meed!
  Thou art not of the fashion of these times,
  When none will sweat but for promotion."

When the faithful old servant is brought upon the stage, we may be sure
he was getting rare. A century later, we have explicit testimony that
things were as bad in this respect as they are now. Don Manuel Gonzales,
who travelled in England in 1730, says of London servants: "As to common
menial servants, they have great wages, are well kept and cloathed, but
are notwithstanding the plague of almost every house in town. They form
themselves into societies or rather confederacies, contributing to the
maintenance of each other when out of place, and if any of them cannot
manage the family where they are entertained, as they please, immediately
they give notice they will be gone. There is no speaking to them, they
are above correction, and if a master should attempt it, he may expect to
be handsomely drubbed by the creature he feeds and harbors, or perhaps an
action brought against him for it. It is become a common saying, _If my
servant ben't a thief, if he be but honest, I can bear with other
things._ And indeed it is very rare in London to meet with an honest
servant."[142] Southey writes to his daughter Edith, in 1824, "All the
maids eloped because I had turned a man out of the kitchen at eleven
o'clock on the preceding night." Nay, Hugh Rhodes, in his _Boke of
Nurture_(1577), speaks of servants "ofte fleeting," i.e. leaving one
master for another.

One of the most curious things revealed to us in these volumes is the
fact that John Winthrop, Jr., was seeking the philosopher's stone, that
universal elixir which could transmute all things to its own substance.
This is plain from the correspondence of Edward Howes. Howes goes to a
certain doctor, professedly to consult him about the method of making a
cement for earthen vessels, no doubt crucibles. His account of him is
amusing, and reminds one of Ben Jonson's Subtle. This was one of the many
quacks who gulled men during that twilight through which alchemy was
passing into chemistry. "This Dr, for a Dr he is, brags that if he have
but the hint or notice of any useful thing not yet invented, he will
undertake to find it out, except some few which he hath vowed not to
meddle with as _vitrum maliabile, perpet. motus, via proxima ad Indos &
lapis philosi_: all, or anything else he will undertake, but for his
private gain, to make a monopoly thereof & to sell the use or knowledge
thereof at too high rates." This breed of pedlers in science is not yet
extinct. The exceptions made by the Doctor show a becoming modesty.
Again: "I have been 2 or 3 times with the Dr & can get but small
satisfaction about your queries.... Yet I must confess he seemed very
free to me, only in the main he was mystical. This he said, that when the
will of God is you shall know what you desire, it will come with such a
light that it will make a harmony among all your authors, causing them
sweetly to agree, & put you forever out of doubt & question." In another
letter: "I cannot discover into _terram incognitam_, but I have had a ken
of it showed unto me. The way to it is, for the most part, horrible &
fearful, the dangers none worse, to them that are _destinati filii_:
sometimes I am travelling that way.... I think I have spoken with some
that have been there."

Howes writes very cautiously: "Dear friend, I desire with all my heart
that I might write plainer to you, but in discovering the mystery, I may
diminish its majesty & give occasion to the profane to abuse it, if it
should fall into unworthy hands." By and by he begins to think his first
doctor a humbug, but he finds a better. Howes was evidently a man of
imaginative temper, fit to be captivated by the alchemistic theory of the
unity of composition in nature, which was so attractive to Goethe.
Perhaps the great poet was himself led to it by his Rosicrucian studies
when writing the first part of Faust. Howes tells his friend that "there
is all good to be found in unity, & all evil in duality & multiplicity.
_Phoenix illa admiranda sola semper existit_, therefore while a man & she
is two, he shall never see her,"--a truth of very wide application, and
too often lost sight of or never seen at all. "The Arabian Philos. I writ
to you of, he was styled among us Dr Lyon, the best of all the
Rosicrucians[143] that ever I met withal, far beyond Dr Ewer: they that
are of his strain are knowing men; they pretend [i.e. claim] to live in
free light, they honor God & do good to the people among whom they live,
& I conceive you are in the right that they had their learning from

Howes is a very interesting person, a mystic of the purest kind, and that
while learning to be an attorney with Emanuel Downing. How little that
perfunctory person dreamed of what was going on under his nose,--as
little as of the spiritual wonders that lay beyond the tip of it! Howes
was a Swedenborgian before Swedenborg. Take this, for example: "But to
our sympathetical business whereby we may communicate our minds one to
another though the diameter of the earth interpose. _Diana non est
centrum omnium_. I would have you so good a geometrician as to know your
own centre. Did you ever yet measure your everlasting self, the length of
your life, the breadth of your love, the depth of your wisdom & the
height of your light? Let Truth be your centre, & you may do it,
otherways not. I could wish you would now begin to leave off being
altogether an outward man; this is but _casa Regentis_; the Ruler can
draw you straight lines from your centre to the confines of an infinite
circumference, by which you may pass from any part of the circumference
to another without obstacle of earth or secation of lines, if you observe
& keep but one & the true & only centre, to pass by it, from it, & to it.
Methinks I now see you _intus et extra_ & talk to you, but you mind me
not because you are from home, you are not within, you look as if you
were careless of yourself; your hand & your voice differ; 'tis my
friend's hand, I know it well; but the voice is your enemy's. O, my
friend, if you love me, get you home, get you in! You have a friend as
well as an enemy. Know them by their voices. The one is still driving or
enticing you out; the other would have you stay within. Be within and
keep within, & all that are within & keep within shall you see know &
communicate with to the full, & shall not need to strain your outward
senses to see & hear that which is like themselves uncertain & too-too
often false, but, abiding forever within, in the centre of Truth, from
thence you may behold & understand the innumerable divers emanations
within the circumference, & still within; for without are falsities,
lies, untruths, dogs &c." Howes was tolerant also, not from want of
faith, but from depth of it. "The relation of your fight with the Indians
I have read in print, but of the fight among yourselves, _bellum
linguarum_ the strife of tongues, I have heard much, but little to the
purpose. I wonder your people, that pretend to know so much, doe not know
that love is the fulfilling of the law, & that against love there is no
law." Howes forgot that what might cause only a ripple in London might
overwhelm the tiny Colony in Boston. Two years later, he writes more
philosophically, and perhaps with a gentle irony, concerning "two
monstrous births & a general earthquake." He hints that the people of the
Bay might perhaps as well take these signs to themselves as lay them at
the door of Mrs. Hutchinson and what not. "Where is there such another
people then [as] in New England, that labors might & main to have Christ
formed in them, yet would give or appoint him his shape & clothe him too?
It cannot be denied that we have conceived many monstrous imaginations of
Christ Jesus: the one imagination says, _Lo, here he is_; the other says,
_Lo, there he is_; multiplicity of conceptions, but is there any one true
shape of Him? And if one of many produce a shape, it is not the shape of
the Son of God, but an ugly horrid metamorphosis. Neither is it a living
shape, but a dead one, yet a crow thinks her own bird the fairest, & most
prefer their own wisdom before God's, Antichrist before Christ." Howes
had certainly arrived at that "centre" of which he speaks and was before
his time, as a man of speculation, never a man of action, may sometimes
be. He was fitter for Plotinus's colony than Winthrop's. He never came to
New England, yet there was always a leaven of his style of thinkers here.

Howes was the true adept, seeking what spiritual ore there might be among
the dross of the hermetic philosophy. What he says sincerely and inwardly
was the cant of those outward professors of the doctrine who were content
to dwell in the material part of it forever. In Jonathan Brewster, we
have a specimen of these Wagners. Is it not curious, that there should
have been a _balneum Mariae_ at New London two hundred years ago? that
_la recherche de l'Absolu_ should have been going on there in a log-hut,
under constant fear that the Indians would put out, not merely the flame
of one little life, but, far worse, the fire of our furnace, and so rob
the world of this divine secret, just on the point of revealing itself?
Alas! poor Brewster's secret was one that many have striven after before
and since, who did not call themselves alchemists,--the secret of getting
gold without earning it,--a chase that brings some men to a four-in-hand
on Shoddy Avenue, and some to the penitentiary, in both cases advertising
its utter vanity. Brewster is a capital specimen of his class, who are
better than the average, because they _do_ mix a little imagination with
their sordidness, and who have also their representatives among us, in
those who expect the Jennings and other ideal estates in England. If
Hawthorne had but known of him! And yet how perfectly did his genius
divine that ideal element in our early New England life, conceiving what
must have been without asking proof of what actually was!

An extract or two will sufficiently exhibit Brewster in his lunes.
Sending back some alchemistic book to Winthrop, he tells him that if his
name be kept secret, "I will write as clear a light, as far as I dare to,
in finding the first ingredience.... The first figure in Flamonell doth
plainly resemble the first ingredience, what it is, & from whence it
comes, & how gotten, as there you may plainly see set forth by 2
resemblances held in a man's hand; for the confections there named is a
delusion, for they are but the operations of the work after some time
set, as the scum of the Red Sea, which is the Virgin's Milk upon the top
of the vessel, white. Red Sea is the sun & moon calcinated & brought &
reduced into water mineral which in some time, & most of the whole time,
is red. 2ndly, the fat of mercurial wind, that is the fat or quintessence
of sun & moon, earth & water, drawn out from them both, & flies aloft &
bore up by the operation of our mercury, that is our fire which is our
air or wind." This is as satisfactory as Lepidus's account of the
generation of the crocodile: "Your serpent of Egypt is bred now of your
mud by the operation of your sun: so is your crocodile." After describing
the three kinds of fire, that of the lamp, that of ashes, and that
against nature, which last "is the fire of fire, that is the secret fire
drawn up, being the quintessence of the sun & moon, with the other
mercurial water joined with & together, which is fire elemental," he
tells us that "these fires are & doth contain the whole mystery of the
work." The reader, perhaps, thinks that he has nothing to do but
forthwith to turn all the lead he can lay his hands on into gold. But no:
"If you had the first ingredience & the proportion of each, yet all were
nothing if you had not the certain times & seasons of the planets &
signs, when to give more or less of this fire, namely a hot & dry, a cold
& moist fire which you must use in the mercurial water before it comes to
black & after into white & then red, which is only done by these fires,
which when you practise you will easily see & perceive, that you shall
stand amazed, & admire at the great & admirable wisdom of God, that can
produce such a wonderful, efficacious, powerful thing as this is to
convert all metallic bodies to its own nature, which may be well called a
first essence. I say by such weak simple means of so little value & so
little & easy labor & skill, that I may say with Artephus, 200 page, it
is of a worke so easy & short, fitter for women & young children than
sage & grave men.... I thank the Lord, I understand the matter perfectly
in the said book, yet I could desire to have it again 12 months hence,
for about that time I shall have occasion to peruse, whenas I come to the
second working which is most difficult, which will be some three or [4]
months before the perfect white, & afterwards, as Artephus saith, I may
burn my books, for he saith it is one regiment as well for the red as for
the white. The Lord in mercy give me life to see the end of it!"--an
exclamation I more than once made in the course of some of Brewster's

Again, under pledge of profound secrecy, he sends Winthrop a manuscript,
which he may communicate to the owner of the volume formerly lent,
because "it gave me such light in the second work as I should not readily
have found out by study, also & especially how to work the elixir fit for
medicine & healing all maladies which is clean another way of working
than we held formerly. Also a light given how to dissolve any hard
substance into the elixir, which is also another work. And many other
things which in Ribley [Ripley?] I could not find out. More works of the
same I would gladly see ... for, Sir, so it is that any book of this
subject, I can understand it, though never so darkly written, having both
knowledge & experience of the world,[144] that now easily I may
understand their envious carriages to hide it.... You may marvel why I
should give any light to others in this thing before I have perfected my
own. This know, that my work being true thus far by all their writings,
it cannot fail ... for if &c &c you cannot miss if you would, except you
break your glass." He confesses he is mistaken as to the time required,
which he now, as well as I can make out, reckons at about ten years. "I
fear I shall not live to see it finished, in regard partly of the
Indians, who, I fear, will raise wars, as also I have a conceit that God
sees me not worthy of such a blessing, by reason of my manifold
miscarriages." Therefore he "will shortly write all the whole work in few
words plainly which may be done in 20 lines from the first to the last &
seal it up in a little box & subscribe it to yourself ... & will so write
it that neither wife nor children shall know thereof." If Winthrop should
succeed in bringing the work to perfection, Brewster begs him to remember
his wife and children. "I mean if this my work should miscarry by wars of
the Indians, for I may not remove it till it be perfected, otherwise I
should so unsettle the body by removing sun & moon out of their settled
places, that there would then be no other afterworking." Once more he
inculcates secrecy, and for a most comical reason: "For it is such a
secret as is not fit for every one either for secrecy or for parts to use
it, as God's secret for his glory, to do good there with, or else they
may do a great deal of hurt, spending & employing it to satisfy sinful
lusts. Therefore, I intreat you, sir, spare to use my name, & let my
letters I send either be safely kept or burned that I write about it, for
indeed, sir, I am more than before sensible of the evil effects that will
arise by the publishing of it. I should never be at quiet, neither at
home nor abroad, for one or other that would be enquiring & seeking after
knowledge thereof, that I should be tired out & forced to leave the
place: nay, it would be blazed abroad into Europe." How much more comic
is nature than any comedy! _Mutato nomine de te_. Take heart, ambitious
youth, the sun and moon will be no more disconcerted by any effort of
yours than by the pots and pans of Jonathan Brewster. It is a curious
proof of the duality so common (yet so often overlooked) in human
character, that Brewster was all this while manager of the Plymouth
trading-post, near what is now New London. The only professors of the
transmutation of metals who still impose on mankind are to be found in
what is styled the critical department of literature. Their _materia
prima_, or universal solvent, serves equally for the lead of Tupper or
the brass of Swinburne.

In a letter of Sir Kenelm Digby to J. Winthrop, Jr., we find some odd
prescriptions. "For all sorts of agues, I have of late tried the
following magnetical experiment with infallible success. Pare the
patient's nails when the fit is coming on, & put the parings into a
little bag of fine linen or sarsenet, & tie that about a live eel's neck
in a tub of water. The eel will die & the patient will recover. And if a
dog or hog eat that eel, they will also die."

  "The man recovered of the bite,
      The dog it was that died!"

"I have known one that cured all deliriums & frenzies whatsoever, & at
once taking, with an elixir made of dew, nothing but dew purified &
nipped up in a glass & digested 15 months till all of it was become a
gray powder, not one drop of humidity remaining. This I know to be true,
& that first it was as black as ink, then green then gray, & at 22
months' end it was as white & lustrous as any oriental pearl. But it
cured manias at 15 months' end." Poor Brewster would have been the better
for a dose of it, as well as some in our day, who expect to cure men of
being men by act of Congress. In the same letter Digby boasts of having
made known the properties of _quinquina_, and also of the sympathetic
powder, with which latter he wrought a "famous cure" of pleasant James
Howell, author of the "Letters." I do not recollect that Howell anywhere
alludes to it. In the same letter, Digby speaks of the books he had sent
to Harvard College, and promises to send more. In all Paris he cannot
find a copy of Blaise Viginere _Des Chiffres_. "I had it in my library in
England, but at the plundering of my house I lost it with many other good
books. I have _laid out_ in all places for it." The words we have
underscored would be called a Yankeeism now. The house was Gatehurst, a
fine Elizabethan dwelling, still, or lately, standing. Digby made his
peace with Cromwell, and professes his readiness to spend his blood for
him. He kept well with both sides, and we are not surprised to find Hooke
saying that he hears no good of him from any.

The early colonists found it needful to bring over a few trained
soldiers, both as drillmasters and engineers. Underhill, Patrick, and
Gardner had served in the Low Countries, probably also Mason. As Paris
has been said to be not precisely the place for a deacon, so the camp of
the Prince of Orange could hardly have been the best training-school for
Puritans in practice, however it may have been for masters of casuistic
theology. The position of these rough warriors among a people like those
of the first emigration must have been a droll one. That of Captain
Underhill certainly was. In all our early history, there is no figure so
comic. Full of the pedantry of his profession and fond of noble phrases,
he is a kind of cross between Dugald Dalgetty and Ancient Pistol, with a
slight relish of the _miles gloriosus_. Underhill had taken side with Mr.
Wheelwright in his heretical opinions, and there is every reason why he
should have maintained, with all the ardor of personal interest, the
efficiency of a covenant of grace without reference to the works of the
subject of it. Coming back from a visit to England in 1638, he "was
questioned for some speeches uttered by him in the ship, viz: that they
at Boston were zealous as the scribes and pharisees were and as Paul was
before his conversion, which he denying, they were proved to his face by
a sober woman whom he had seduced in the ship and drawn to his opinion;
but she was afterwards better informed in the truth. Among other
passages, he told her how he came by his assurance, saying that, having
long lain under a spirit of bondage, and continued in a legal way near
five years, he could get no assurance, till at length, as he was taking a
pipe of the good creature tobacco, the spirit fell home upon his heart,
an absolute promise of free grace, with such assurance and joy, as he
never doubted since of his good estate, neither should he, whatsoever sin
he should fall into,--a good preparative for such motions as he
familiarly used to make to some of that sex.... The next day he was
called again and banished. The Lord's day after, he made a speech in the
assembly, showing that as the Lord was pleased to convert Paul as he was
persecuting &c, so he might manifest himself to him as he was making
moderate use of the good creature called tobacco." A week later "he was
privately dealt with upon suspicion of incontinency ... but his excuse
was that the woman was in great trouble of mind, and some temptations,
and that he resorted to her to comfort her." He went to the Eastward,
and, having run himself out there, thought it best to come back to Boston
and reinstate himself by eating his leek. "He came in his worst clothes
(being accustomed to take great pride in his bravery and neatness)
without a band, in a foul linen cap pulled close to his eyes, and,
standing upon a form, he did, with many deep sighs and abundance of
tears, lay open his wicked course, his adultery, his hypocrisy &c. He
spake well, save that his blubbering &c. interrupted him." We hope he was
a sincere penitent, but men of his complexion are apt to be pleased with
such a tragi-comedy of self-abasement, if only they can be chief actors
and conspicuous enough therein. In the correspondence before us Underhill
appears in full turkey-cock proportions. Not having been advanced
according to his own opinion of his merits, he writes to Governor
Winthrop, with an oblique threat that must have amused him somewhat: "I
profess, sir, till I know the cause, I shall not be satisfied, but I hope
God will subdue me to his will; yet this I say that such handling of
officers in foreign parts hath so far subverted some of them as to cause
them turn public rebels against their state & kingdom, which God forbid
should ever be found once so much as to appear in my breast." Why, then
the world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open! Next we hear him
on a point of military discipline at Salem. "It is this: how they have of
their own appointment made them a captain, lieutenant & ensign, & after
such a manner as was never heard of in any school of war, nor in no
kingdom under heaven.... For my part, if there should not be a
reformation in this disordered practise, I would not acknowledge such
officers. If officers should be of no better esteem than for constables
to place them, & martial discipline to proceed disorderly, I would rather
lay down my command than to shame so noble a prince from whom we came."
Again: "Whereas it is somewhat questionable whether the three months I
was absent, as well in the service of the country as of other particular
persons, my request therefore is that this honored Court would be pleased
to decide this controversy, myself alleging it to be the custom of
Nations that, if a Commander be lent to another State, by that State to
whom he is a servant, both his place & means is not detained from him, so
long as he doth not refuse the call of his own State to which he is a
servant, in case they shall call him home." Then bringing up again his
"ancient suit" for a grant of land, he throws in a neat touch of piety:
"& if the honored Court shall vouchsafe to make some addition, that which
hath not been deserved, by the same power of God, may be in due season."
In a postscript, he gives a fine philosophical reason for this desired
addition which will go to the hearts of many in these days of high prices
and wasteful taxation. "The time was when a little went far; then much
was not known nor desired; the reason of the difference lieth only in the
error of judgment, for nature requires no more to uphold it now than when
it was satisfied with less." The valiant Captain interprets the law of
nations, as sovereign powers are wont to do, to suit his advantage in the
special case. We find a parallel case in a letter of Bryan Rosseter to
John Winthrop, Jr., pleading for a remission of taxes. "The lawes of
nations exempt allowed phisitians from personall services, & their
estates from rates & assessments." In the Declaration of the town of
Southampton on Long Island (1673), the dignity of constable is valued at
a juster rate than Underhill was inclined to put upon it. The Dutch, it
seems, demanded of them "to deliver up to them the badge of Civil &
Military power; namely, the Constable's staffe & the Colonel's." Mayor
Munroe of New Orleans did not more effectually magnify his office when he
surrendered the city to General Butler.

Underhill's style is always of the finest. His spelling was under the
purest covenant of grace. I must give a single specimen of it from a
letter whose high moral tone is all the more diverting that it was
written while he was under excommunication for the sin which he
afterwards confessed. It is addressed to Winthrop and Dudley. "Honnored
in the Lord. Youer silenc one more admirse me. I youse chrischan
playnnes. I know you love it. Silenc can not reduce the hart of youer
love'g brother: I would the rightchous would smite me, espeschali youer
slfe & the honnored Depoti to whom I also dereckt this letter together
with youer honnored slfe. Jesos Christ did wayt; & God his Father did dig
and telfe bout the barren figtre before he would cast it of: I would to
God you would tender my soule so as to youse playnnes with me." (As if
anything could be plainer than excommunication and banishment!) "I wrot
to you both, but now [no] answer; & here I am dayli abused by malischous
tongse: John Baker I here hath rot to the honnored depoti how as I was
dronck & like to be cild, & both falc, upon okachon I delt with Wanuerton
for intrushon, & findding them resolutli bent to rout out all gud a mong
us & advanc there superstischous waye, & by boystrous words indeferd to
fritten men to acomplish his end, & he abusing me to my face, dru upon
him with intent to corb his insolent and dasterdli sperrite, but now [no]
danger of my life, although it might hafe bin just with God to hafe
giffen me in the hanse of youer enemise & mine, for they hat the wayse of
the Lord & them that profes them, & therfore layes trapes to cachte the
pore into there deboyst corses, as ister daye on Pickeren their Chorch
Warden caim up to us with intent to mak some of ourse dronc, as is
sospeckted, but the Lord soferd him so to misdemen himslfe as he is likli
to li by the hielse this too month.... My hombel request is that you will
be charitabel of me.... Let justies and merci be goyned.... You may plese
to soggest youer will to this barrer, you will find him tracktabel." The
concluding phrase seems admirably chosen, when we consider the means of
making people "tractable" which the magistrates of the Bay had in their
hands, and were not slow to exercise, as Underhill himself had

I cannot deny myself the pleasure of giving one more specimen of the
Captain's "grand-delinquent" style, as I once heard such fine writing
called by a person who little dreamed what a hit he had made. So far as I
have observed, our public defaulters, and others who have nothing to say
for themselves, always rise in style as they sink in self-respect. He is
speaking of one Scott, who had laid claim to certain lands, and had been
called on to show his title. "If he break the comand of the Asembli &
bring not in the counterfit portreture of the King imprest in yello waxe,
anext to his false perpetuiti of 20 mile square, where by he did chet the
Town of Brouckhaven, he is to induer the sentance of the Court of
Asisies." Pistol would have been charmed with that splendid amplification
of the Great Seal. We have seen nothing like it in our day, except in a
speech made to Mr. George Peabody at Danvers, if I recollect, while that
gentleman was so elaborately concealing from his left hand what his right
had been doing. As examples of Captain Underhill's adroitness in phonetic
spelling, I offer _fafarabel_ and _poseschonse_, and  reluctantly leave

Another very entertaining fellow for those who are willing to work
through a pretty thick husk of tiresomeness for a genuine kernel of humor
underneath is Coddington. The elder Winthrop endured many trials, but I
doubt if any were sharper than those which his son had to undergo in the
correspondence of this excellently tiresome man. _Tantae molis Romanam
condere gentem!_ The dulness of Coddington, always that of no ordinary
man, became irritable and aggressive after being stung by the gadfly of
Quakerism. Running counter to its proper nature, it made him morbidly
uneasy. Already an Anabaptist, his brain does not seem to have been large
enough to lodge two maggots at once with any comfort to himself. Fancy
John Winthrop, Jr., with all the affairs of the Connecticut Colony on his
back, expected to prescribe alike for the spiritual and bodily ailments
of all the hypochondriacs in his government, and with Philip's war
impending,--fancy him exposed also to perpetual trials like this: "G.F.
[George Fox] hath sent thee a book of his by Jere: Bull, & two more now
which thou mayest communicate to thy Council & officers. Also I remember
before thy last being in England, I sent thee a book written by Francis
Howgall against persecution, by Joseph Nicallson which book thou lovingly
accepted and communicated to the Commissioners of the United Colonies (as
I desired) also J.N. thou entertained with a loving respect which
encouraged me" (fatal hospitality!)--"As a token of that ancient love
that for this 42 years I have had for thee, I have sent thee three
Manuscripts, one of 5 queries, other is of 15, about the love of Jesus
&c. The 3d is why we cannot come to the worship which was not set up by
Christ Jesus, which I desire thee to communicate to the priests to answer
in thy jurisdiction, the Massachusetts, New Plymouth, or elsewhere, &
send their answer in writing to me. Also two printed papers to set up in
thy house. It's reported in Barbadoes that thy brother Sammuell shall be
sent Governour to Antego." What a mere dust of sugar in the last sentence
for such a portentous pill! In his next letter he has other writings of
G. F., "not yet copied, which if thou desireth, when I hear from thee, I
may convey them unto thee. Also sence G. Ffox departure William Edmondson
is arrived at this Island, who having given out a paper to all in
authority, which, my wife having copied, I have here inclosed presented
thee therewith." Books and manuscripts were not all. Coddington was also
glad to bestow on Winthrop any wandering tediousness in the flesh that
came to hand. "I now understand of John Stubbs freedom to visit thee
(with the said Jo: B.) he is a larned man, as witness the battle
door[145] on 35 languages,"--a terrible man this, capable of inflicting
himself on three dozen different kindreds of men. It will be observed
that Coddington, with his "thou desireths," is not quite so well up in
the grammar of his thee-and-thouing as my Lord Coke. Indeed, it is rather
pleasant to see that in his alarm about "the enemy," in 1673, he
backslides into the second person plural. If Winthrop ever looked over
his father's correspondence, he would have read in a letter of Henry
Jacie the following dreadful example of retribution: "The last news we
heard was that the Bores in Bavaria slew about 300 of the Swedish forces
& took about 200 prisoners, of which they put out the eyes of some & cut
out the tonges of others & so sent them to the King of Sweden, which
caused him to lament bytterly for an hour. Then he sent an army &
destroyed those Bores, about 200 or 300 of their towns. Thus we hear."
Think of that, Master Coddington! Could the sinful heart of man always
suppress the wish that a Gustavus might arise to do judgment on the Bores
of Rhode Island? The unkindest part of it was that, on Coddington's own
statement, Winthrop had never persecuted the Quakers, and had even
endeavored to save Robinson and Stevenson in 1659.

Speaking of the execution of these two martyrs to the bee in their
bonnets, John Davenport gives us a capital example of the way in which
Divine "judgments" may be made to work both ways at the pleasure of the
interpreter. As the crowd was going home from the hanging, a drawbridge
gave way, and some lives were lost. The Quakers, of course, made the most
of this lesson to the _pontifices_ in the bearing power of timber,
claiming it as a proof of God's wrath against the persecutors. This was
rather hard, since none of the magistrates perished, and the popular
feeling was strongly in favor of the victims of their severity. But
Davenport gallantly captures these Quaker guns, and turns them against
the enemy himself. "Sir, the hurt that befell so many, by their own
rashness, at the Draw Bridge in Boston, being on the day that the Quakers
were executed, was not without God's special providence in judgment &
wrath, I fear, against the Quakers & their abettors, who will be much
hardened thereby." This is admirable, especially as his parenthesis about
"their own rashness" assumes that the whole thing was owing to natural
causes. The pity for the Quakers, too, implied in the "I fear," is a nice
touch. It is always noticeable how much more liberal those who deal in
God's command without his power are of his wrath than of his mercy. But
we should never understand the Puritans if we did not bear in mind that
they were still prisoners in that religion of Fear which casts out Love.
The nearness of God was oftener a terror than a comfort to them. Yet
perhaps in them was the last apparition of Faith as a wonder-worker in
human affairs. Take away from them what you will, you cannot deny them
_that_, and its constant presence made them great in a way and measure of
which this generation, it is to be feared, can have but a very inadequate
conception. If men now-a-days find their tone antipathetic, it would be
modest at least to consider whether the fault be wholly theirs,--whether
it was they who lacked, or we who have lost. Whether they were right or
wrong in their dealing with the Quakers is not a question to be decided
glibly after two centuries' struggle toward a conception of toleration
very imperfect even yet, perhaps impossible to human nature. If they did
not choose what seems to us the wisest way of keeping the Devil out of
their household, they certainly had a very honest will to keep him out,
which we might emulate with advantage. However it be in other cases,
historic toleration must include intolerance among things to be

The false notion which the first settlers had of the savages by whom the
continent was beflead rather than inhabited, arose in part from what they
had heard of Mexico and Peru, in part from the splendid exaggerations of
the early travellers, who could give their readers an El Dorado at the
cheap cost of a good lie. Hence the kings, dukes, and earls who were so
plenty among the red men. Pride of descent takes many odd shapes, none
odder than when it hugs itself in an ancestry of filthy barbarians, who
daubed themselves for ornament with a mixture of bear's-grease and soot,
or colored clay, and were called emperors by Captain John Smith and his
compeers. The droll contrast between this imaginary royalty and the
squalid reality is nowhere exposed with more ludicrous unconsciousness
than in the following passage of a letter from Fitz-John Winthrop to his
father, November, 1674: "The bearer hereof, Mr. Danyell, one of the Royal
Indian blood ... does desire me to give an account to yourself of the
late unhappy accident which has happened to him. A little time since, a
careless girl playing with fire at the door, it immediately took hold of
the mats, & in an instant consumed it to ashes, with all the common as
well as his lady's chamber furniture, & his own wardrobe & armory, Indian
plate, & money to the value (as is credibly reported in his estimation)
of more than an hundred pounds Indian.... The Indians have handsomely
already built him a good house & brought him in several necessaries for
his present supply, but that which takes deepest melancholy impression
upon him is the loss of an excellent Masathuset cloth cloak & hat, which
was only seen upon holy days & their general sessions. His journey at
this time is only to intreat your favor & the gentlemen there for a kind
relief in his necessity, having no kind of garment but a short jerkin
which was charitably given him by one of his Common-Councilmen. He
principally aims at a cloak & hat."

  "King Stephen was a worthy peer,
  His breeches cost him but a crown."

But it will be observed that there is no allusion to any such article of
dress in the costume of this prince of Pequot. Some light is perhaps
thrown on this deficiency by a line or two in one of Williams's letters,
where he says: "I have long had scruples of selling the Natives ought but
what may tend or bring to civilizing: I therefore neither brought nor
shall sell them loose coats nor breeches." Precisely the opposite course
was deemed effectual with the Highland Scotch, between whom and our
Indians there was a very close analogy. They were compelled by law to
adopt the usages of _Gallia Braccata_, and sansculottism made a penal
offence. What impediment to civilization Williams had discovered in the
offending garment it is hard to say. It is a question for Herr
Teufelsdröck. Royalty, at any rate, in our day, is dependent for much of
its success on the tailor. Williams's opportunities of studying the
Indian character were perhaps greater than those of any other man of his
time. He was always an advocate for justice toward them. But he seems to
have had no better opinion of them than Mr. Parkman,[146] calling them
shortly and sharply, "wolves endowed with men's brains." The same change
of feeling has followed the same causes in their case as in that of the
Highlanders,--they have become romantic in proportion as they ceased to
be dangerous.

As exhibitions of the writer's character, no letters in the collection
have interested us more than those of John Tinker, who for many years was
a kind of steward for John Winthrop and his son. They show him to have
been a thoroughly faithful, grateful, and unselfish servant. He does not
seem to have prospered except in winning respect, for when he died his
funeral charges were paid by the public. We learn from one of his letters
that John Winthrop, Jr., had a negro (presumably a slave) at Paquanet,
for he says that a mad cow there "had almost spoiled the neger & made him
ferfull to tend the rest of the cattell." That such slaves must have been
rare, however, is plain from his constant complaints about the difficulty
of procuring "help," some of which we have already quoted. His spelling
of the word "ferfull" shows that the New England pronunciation of that
word had been brought from the old country. He also uses the word
"creatures" for kine, and the like, precisely as our farmers do now.
There is one very comical passage in a letter of the 2nd of August, 1660,
where he says: "There hath been a motion by some, the chief of the town,
(New London) for my keeping an ordinary, or rather under the notion of a
tavern which, _though it suits not with my genius_, yet am almost
persuaded to accept for some good grounds." Tinker's modesty is most
creditable to him, and we wish it were more common now. No people on the
face of the earth suffer so much as we from impostors who keep
inconveniences, "under the notion of a tavern," without any call of
natural genius thereto; none endure with such unexemplary patience the
superb indifference of inn-keepers, and the condescending inattention of
their gentlemanly deputies. We are the thralls of our railroads and
hotels, and we deserve it.

Richard Saltonstall writes to John Winthrop, Jr., in 1636: "The best
thing that I have to beg your thoughts for at this present is a motto or
two that Mr. Prynne hath writ upon his chamber walls in the Tower." We
copy a few phrases, chiefly for the contrast they make with Lovelace's
famous verses to Althea. Nothing could mark more sharply the different
habits of mind in Puritan and Cavalier. Lovelace is very charming, but he

  "The sweetness, mercy, majesty,
    And glories of _his_ King,"

to wit, Charles I. To him "stone walls do not a prison make," so long as
he has "freedom in his love, and in his soul is free." Prynne's King was
of another and higher kind: "_Carcer excludit mundum, includit Deum. Deus
est turris etiam in turre: turris libertatis in turre angustiae: Turris
quietis in turre molestice.... Arctari non potest qui in ipsa Dei
infinitate incarceratus spatiatur.... Nil crus sentit in nervo si animus
sit in coelo: nil corpus patitur in ergastulo, si anima sit in Christo_."
If Lovelace has the advantage in fancy, Prynne has it as clearly in depth
of sentiment. There could be little doubt which of the parties
represented by these men would have the better if it came to a

There is curiously little sentiment in these volumes. Most of the
letters, except where some point of doctrine is concerned, are those of
shrewd, practical men, busy about the affairs of this world, and earnest
to build their New Jerusalem on something more solid than cloud. The
truth is, that men anxious about their souls have not been by any means
the least skilful in providing for the wants of the body. It was far less
the enthusiasm than the common sense of the Puritans which made them what
they were in politics and religion. That a great change should be wrought
in the settlers by the circumstances of their position was inevitable;
that this change should have had some disillusion in it, that it should
have weaned them from the ideal and wonted them to the actual, was
equally so. In 1664, not much more than a generation after the
settlement, Williams prophesies: "When we that have been the eldest are
rotting (to-morrow or next day) a generation will act, I fear, far unlike
the first Winthrops and their models of love. I fear that the common
trinity of the world (profit, preferment, pleasure) will here be the
_tria omnia_ as in all the world beside, that Prelacy and Papacy too will
in this wilderness predominate, that god Land will be (as now it is) as
great a god with us English as god Gold was with the Spaniards. While we
are here, noble sir, let us _viriliter hoc agere, rem agere humanam,
divinam, Christianam_, which, I believe, is all of a most public genius,"
or, as we should now say, true patriotism. If Williams means no play on
the word _humanam_ and _divinam_, the order of precedence in which he
marshals them is noticeable. A generation later, what Williams had
predicted was in a great measure verified. But what made New England
Puritanism narrow was what made Scotch Cameronianism narrow,--its being
secluded from the great movement of the nation. Till 1660 the colony was
ruled and mostly inhabited by Englishmen closely connected with the party
dominant in the mother country, and with their minds broadened by having
to deal with questions of state and European policy. After that time they
sank rapidly into provincials, narrow in thought, in culture, in creed.
Such a pedantic portent as Cotton Mather would have been impossible in
the first generation; he was the natural growth of the third,--the
manifest judgment of God on a generation who thought Words a saving
substitute for Things. Perhaps some injustice has been done to men like
the second Governor Dudley, and it should be counted to them rather as a
merit than a fault, that they wished to bring New England back within
reach of the invigorating influence of national sympathies, and to rescue
it from a tradition which had become empty formalism. Puritanism was
dead, and its profession had become a wearisome cant before the
Revolution of 1688 gave it that vital force in politics which it had lost
in religion.

I have gleaned all I could of what is morally picturesque or
characteristic from these volumes, but New England history has rather a
gregarious than a personal interest. Here, by inherent necessity rather
than design, was made the first experiment in practical democracy, and
accordingly hence began that reaction of the New World upon the Old whose
result can hardly yet be estimated. There is here no temptation to make a
hero, who shall sum up in his own individuality and carry forward by his
own will that purpose of which we seem to catch such bewitching glances
in history, which reveals itself more clearly and constantly, perhaps, in
the annals of New England than elsewhere, and which yet, at best, is but
tentative, doubtful of itself, turned this way and that by chance, made
up of instinct, and modified by circumstance quite as much as it is
directed by deliberate forethought. Such a purpose, or natural craving,
or result of temporary influences, may be misguided by a powerful
character to his own ends, or, if he be strongly in sympathy with it, may
be hastened toward its own fulfilment; but there is no such heroic
element in our drama, and what is remarkable is, that, under whatever
government, democracy grew with the growth of the New England Colonies,
and was at last potent enough to wrench them, and the better part of the
continent with them, from the mother country. It is true that Jefferson
embodied in the Declaration of Independence the speculative theories he
had learned in France, but the impulse to separation came from New
England; and those theories had been long since embodied there in the
practice of the people, if they had never been formulated in distinct

I have little sympathy with declaimers about the Pilgrim Fathers, who
look upon them all as men of grand conceptions and superhuman foresight.
An entire ship's company of Columbuses is what the world never saw. It is
not wise to form any theory and fit our facts to it, as a man in a hurry
is apt to cram his travelling-bag, with a total disregard of shape or
texture. But perhaps it may be found that the facts will only fit
comfortably together on a single plan, namely, that the fathers did have
a conception (which those will call grand who regard simplicity as a
necessary element of grandeur) of founding here a commonwealth on those
two eternal bases of Faith and Work; that they had, indeed, no
revolutionary ideas of universal liberty, but yet, what answered the
purpose quite as well, an abiding faith in the brotherhood of man and the
fatherhood of God; and that they did not so much propose to make all
things new, as to develop the latent possibilities of English law and
English character, by clearing away the fences by which the abuse of the
one was gradually discommoning the other from the broad fields of natural
right. They were not in advance of their age, as it is called, for no one
who is so can ever work profitably in it; but they were alive to the
highest and most earnest thinking of their time.


    [135] Written in December, 1864.

    [136] It is curious, that, when Cromwell proposed to transfer a
    colony from New England to Ireland, one of the conditions insisted on
    in Massachusetts was that a college should be established.

    [137] State Trials, II. 409. One would not reckon too closely with a
    man on trial for his life, but there is something pitiful in Peter's
    representing himself as coming back to England "out of the West
    Indias," in order to evade any complicity with suspected New England.

    [138] Waller put this into verse:--

      "Let the rich ore forthwith be melted down
       And the state fixed by making him a crown."

    [139] The _third_ in Carlyle, 1654.

    [140] Collections, Third Series, Vol I. p. 183.

    [141] This speech may be found in the Annual Register of 1762.

    [142] Collection of Voyages, &c., from the Library of the Earl of
    Oxford, Vol. I. p. 151.

    [143] Howes writes the word symbolically.

    [144] "World" here should clearly be "work."

    [145] The title-page of which our learned Marsh has cited for the
    etymology of the word.

    [146] In his Jesuits in North America.


When Burns's humor gave its last pathetic flicker in his "John, don't let
the awkward squad fire over me," was he thinking of actual
brother-volunteers, or of possible biographers? Did his words betray only
the rhythmic sensitiveness of poetic nerves, or were they a foreboding of
that helpless future, when the poet lies at the mercy of the plodder,--of
that bi-voluminous shape in which dulness overtakes and revenges itself
on genius at last? Certainly Burns has suffered as much as most
large-natured creatures from well-meaning efforts to account for him, to
explain him away, to bring him into harmony with those well-regulated
minds which, during a good part of the last century, found out a way,
through rhyme, to snatch a prosiness beyond the reach of prose. Nay, he
has been wronged also by that other want of true appreciation, which
deals in panegyric, and would put asunder those two things which God has
joined,--the poet and the man,--as if it were not the same rash
improvidence that was the happiness of the verse and the misfortune of
the gauger. But his death-bed was at least not haunted by the
unappeasable apprehension of a German for his biographer; and that the
fame of Lessing should have four times survived this cunningest assault
of oblivion is proof enough that its base is broad and deep-set.

There seems to be, in the average German mind, an inability or a
disinclination to see a thing as it really is, unless it be a matter of
science. It finds its keenest pleasure in divining a profound
significance in the most trifling things, and the number of mare's-nests
that have been stared into by the German _Gelehrter_ through his
spectacles passes calculation. They are the one object of contemplation
that makes that singular being perfectly happy, and they seem to be as
common as those of the stork. In the dark forest of aesthetics,
particularly, he finds them at every turn,--"fanno tutto il loco varo."
If the greater part of our English criticism is apt only to skim the
surface, the German, by way of being profound, too often burrows in
delighted darkness quite beneath its subject, till the reader feels the
ground hollow beneath him, and is fearful of caving into unknown depths
of stagnant metaphysic air at every step. The Commentary on Shakespeare
of Gervinus, a really superior man, reminds one of the Roman Campagna,
penetrated underground in all directions by strange winding caverns, the
work of human borers in search of we know not what. Above are the divine
poet's larks and daisies, his incommunicable skies, his broad prospects
of life and nature; and meanwhile our Teutonic _teredo_ worms his way
below, and offers to be our guide into an obscurity of his own
contriving. The reaction of language upon style, and even upon thought,
by its limitations on the one hand, and its suggestions on the other, is
so apparent to any one who has made even a slight study of comparative
literature, that we have sometimes thought the German tongue at least an
accessory before the fact, if nothing more, in the offences of German
literature. The language has such a fatal genius for going
stern-foremost, for yawing, and for not minding the helm without some ten
minutes' notice in advance, that he must be a great sailor indeed who can
safely make it the vehicle for anything but imperishable commodities.
Vischer's _Aesthetik_, the best treatise on the subject, ancient or
modern, is such a book as none but a German could write, and it is
written as none but a German could have written it. The abstracts of its
sections are sometimes nearly as long as the sections themselves, and it
is as hard to make out which head belongs to which tail, as in a knot of
snakes thawing themselves into sluggish individuality under a spring sun.
The average German professor spends his life in making lanterns fit to
guide us through the obscurest passages of all the _ologies_ and _ysics_,
and there are none in the world of such honest workmanship. They are
durable, they have intensifying glasses, reflectors of the most
scientific make, capital sockets in which to set a light, and a handsome
lump of potentially illuminating tallow is thrown in. But, in order to
_see_ by them, the explorer must make his own candle, supply his own
cohesive wick of common-sense, and light it himself. And yet the
admirable thoroughness of the German intellect! We should be ungrateful
indeed if we did not acknowledge that it has supplied the raw material in
almost every branch of science for the defter wits of other nations to
work on; yet we have a suspicion that there are certain lighter
departments of literature in which it may be misapplied, and turn into
something very like clumsiness. Delightful as Jean Paul's humor is, how
much more so would it be if he only knew when to stop! Ethereally deep as
is his sentiment, should we not feel it more if he sometimes gave us a
little less of it,--if he would only not always deal out his wine by
beer-measure? So thorough is the German mind, that might it not seem now
and then to work quite through its subject, and expatiate in cheerful
unconsciousness on the other side thereof?

With all its merits of a higher and deeper kind, it yet seems to us that
German literature has not quite satisfactorily answered that so
long-standing question of the French Abbé about _esprit_. Hard as it is
for a German to be clear, still harder to be light, he is more than ever
awkward in his attempts to produce that quality of style, so peculiarly
French, which is neither wit nor liveliness taken singly, but a mixture
of the two that must be drunk while the effervescence lasts, and will not
bear exportation into any other language. German criticism, excellent in
other respects, and immeasurably superior to that of any other nation in
its constructive faculty, in its instinct for getting at whatever
principle of life lies at the heart of a work of genius, is seldom lucid,
almost never entertaining. It may turn its light, if we have patience,
into every obscurest cranny of its subject, one after another, but it
never flashes light _out_ of the subject itself, as Sainte-Beuve, for
example, so often does, and with such unexpected charm. We should be
inclined to put Julian Schmidt at the head of living critics in all the
more essential elements of his outfit; but with him is not one conscious
at too frequent intervals of the professorial grind,--of that German
tendency to bear on too heavily, where a French critic would touch and go
with such exquisite measure? The Great Nation, as  it cheerfully calls
itself, is in nothing greater than its talent for saying little things
agreeably, which is perhaps the very top of mere culture, and in
literature is the next best thing to the power of saying great things as
easily as if they were little German learning, like the elephants of
Pyrrhus, is always in danger of turning upon what it was intended to
adorn and reinforce, and trampling it ponderously to death. And yet what
do we not owe it? Mastering all languages, all records of intellectual
man, it has been able, or has enabled others, to strip away the husks of
nationality and conventionalism from the literatures of many races, and
to disengage that kernel of human truth which is the germinating
principle of them all. Nay, it has taught us to recognize also a certain
value in those very husks, whether as shelter for the unripe or food for
the fallen seed.

That the general want of style in German authors is not wholly the fault
of the language is shown by Heine (a man of mixed blood), who can be
daintily light in German; that it is not altogether a matter of race, is
clear from the graceful airiness of Erasmus and Reuchlin in Latin, and of
Grimm in French. The sense of heaviness which creeps over the reader from
so many German books is mainly due, we suspect to the language, which
seems wellnigh incapable of that aerial perspective so delightful in
first-rate French, and even English, writing. But there must also be in
the national character an insensibility to proportion, a want of that
instinctive discretion which we call tact. Nothing short of this will
account for the perpetual groping of German imaginative literature after
some foreign mould in which to cast its thought or feeling, now trying a
Louis Quatorze pattern, then something supposed to be Shakespearian, and
at last going back to ancient Greece, or even Persia. Goethe himself,
limpidly perfect as are many of his shorter poems, often fails in giving
artistic coherence to his longer works. Leaving deeper qualities wholly
out of the question, Wilhelm Meister seems a mere aggregation of episodes
if compared with such a masterpiece as Paul and Virginia, or even with a
happy improvisation like the Vicar of Wakefield. The second part of
Faust, too, is rather a reflection of Goethe's own changed view of life
and man's relation to it, than an harmonious completion of the original
conception. Full of placid wisdom and exquisite poetry it certainly is;
but if we look at it as a poem, it seems more as if the author had
striven to get in all he could, than to leave out all he might. We cannot
help asking what business have paper money and political economy and
geognosy here? We confess that Thales and the Homunculus weary us not a
little, unless, indeed, a poem be nothing, after all, but a prolonged
conundrum. Many of Schiller's lyrical poems--though the best of them find
no match in modern verse for rapid energy, the very axles of language
kindling with swiftness--seem disproportionately long in parts, and the
thought too often has the life wellnigh squeezed out of it in the
sevenfold coils of diction, dappled though it be with splendid imagery.

In German sentiment, which runs over so easily into sentimentalism, a
foreigner cannot help being struck with a certain incongruousness. What
can be odder, for example, than the mixture of sensibility and sausages
in some of Goethe's earlier notes to Frau von Stein, unless, to be sure,
the publishing them? It would appear that Germans were less sensible to
the ludicrous--and we are far from saying that this may not have its
compensatory advantages--than either the English or the French. And what
is the source of this sensibility, if it be not an instinctive perception
of the incongruous and disproportionate? Among all races, the English has
ever shown itself most keenly alive to the fear of making itself
ridiculous; and among all, none has produced so many humorists, only one
of them, indeed, so profound as Cervantes, yet all masters in their
several ways. What English-speaking man, except Boswell, could have
arrived at Weimar, as Goethe did, in that absurd _Werthermontirung_? And
where, out of Germany, could he have found a reigning Grand Duke to put
his whole court into the same sentimental livery of blue and yellow,
leather breeches, boots, and all, excepting only Herder, and that not on
account of his clerical profession, but of his age? To be sure, it might
be asked also where else in Europe was a prince to be met with capable of
manly friendship with a man whose only decoration was his genius? But the
comicality of the other fact no less remains. Certainly the German
character is in no way so little remarkable as for its humor. If we were
to trust the evidence of Herr Hub's dreary _Deutsche komische und
humoristische Dichtung_, we should believe that no German had even so
much as a suspicion of what humor meant, unless the book itself, as we
are half inclined to suspect, be a joke in three volumes, the _want_ of
fun being the real point thereof. If German patriotism can be induced to
find a grave delight in it, we congratulate Herr Hub's publishers, and
for ourselves advise any sober-minded man who may hereafter "be merry,"
not to "sing psalms," but to read Hub as the more serious amusement of
the two. There are epigrams there that make life more solemn, and, if
taken in sufficient doses, would make it more precarious. Even Jean Paul,
the greatest of German humorous authors, and never surpassed in comic
conception or in the pathetic quality of humor, is not to be named with
his master, Sterne, as a creative humorist. What are Siebenkäs, Fixlein,
Schmelzle, and Fibel, (a single lay-figure to be draped at will with
whimsical sentiment and reflection, and put in various attitudes,)
compared with the living reality of Walter Shandy and his brother Toby,
characters which we do not see merely as puppets in the author's mind,
but poetically projected from it in an independent being of their own?
Heine himself, the most graceful, sometimes the most touching, of modern
poets, and clearly the most easy of German humorists, seems to me wanting
in a refined perception of that inward propriety which is only another
name for poetic proportion, and shocks us sometimes with an
_Unfläthigkeit_, as at the end of his _Deutschland_, which, if it make
Germans laugh, as we should be sorry to believe, makes other people hold
their noses. Such things have not been possible in English since Swift,
and the _persifleur_ Heine cannot offer the same excuse of savage
cynicism that might be pleaded for the Irishman.

I have hinted that Herr Stahr's Life of Lessing is not precisely the kind
of biography that would have been most pleasing to the man who could not
conceive that an author should be satisfied with anything more than truth
in praise, or anything less in criticism. My respect for what Lessing
was, and for what he did, is profound. In the history of literature it
would be hard to find a man so stalwart, so kindly, so sincere,[148] so
capable of great ideas, whether in their influence on the intellect or
the life, so unswervingly true to the truth, so free from the common
weaknesses of his class. Since Luther, Germany has given birth to no such
intellectual athlete,--to no son so German to the core. Greater poets she
has had, but no greater writer; no nature more finely tempered. Nay, may
we not say that great character is as rare a thing as great genius, if it
be not even a nobler form of it? For surely it is easier to embody fine
thinking, or delicate sentiment, or lofty aspiration, in a book than in a
life. The written leaf, if it be, as some few are, a safe-keeper and
conductor of celestial fire, is secure. Poverty cannot pinch, passion
swerve, or trial shake it. But the man Lessing, harassed and striving
life-long, always poor and always hopeful, with no patron but his own
right-hand, the very shuttlecock of fortune, who saw ruin's ploughshare
drive through the hearth on which his first home-fire was hardly kindled,
and who, through all, was faithful to himself, to his friend, to his
duty, and to his ideal, is something more inspiring for us than the most
glorious utterance of merely intellectual power. The figure of Goethe is
grand, it is rightfully pre-eminent, it has something of the calm, and
something of the coldness, of the immortals; but the Valhalla of German
letters can show one form, in its simple manhood, statelier even than

Manliness and simplicity, if they are not necessary coefficients in
producing character of the purest tone, were certainly leading elements
in the Lessing who is still so noteworthy and lovable to us when
eighty-six years have passed since his bodily presence vanished from
among men. He loved clearness, he hated exaggeration in all its forms. He
was the first German who had any conception of style, and who could be
full without spilling over on all sides. Herr Stahr, we think, is not
just the biographer he would have chosen for himself. His book is rather
a panegyric than a biography. There is sometimes an almost comic
disproportion between the matter and the manner, especially in the epic
details of Lessing's onslaughts on the nameless herd of German authors.
It is as if Sophocles should have given a strophe to every bullock slain
by Ajax in his mad foray upon the Grecian commissary stores. He is too
fond of striking an attitude, and his tone rises unpleasantly near a
scream, as he calls the personal attention of heaven and earth to
something which Lessing himself would have thought a very
matter-of-course affair. He who lays it down as an axiom, that "genius
loves simplicity," would hardly have been pleased to hear the "Letters on
Literature" called the "burning thunderbolts of his annihilating
criticism," or the Anti-Götze pamphlets, "the hurtling arrows that sped
from the bow of the immortal hero." Nor would he with whom accuracy was a
matter of conscience have heard patiently that the Letters "appeared in a
period distinguished for its lofty tone of mind, and in their own
towering boldness they are a true picture of the intrepid character of
the age."[149] If the age was what Herr Stahr represents it to have been,
where is the great merit of Lessing? He would have smiled, we suspect, a
little contemptuously, at Herr Stahr's repeatedly quoting a certificate
from the "historian of the proud Britons," that he was "the first critic
in Europe." Whether we admit or not Lord Macaulay's competence in the
matter, we are sure that Lessing would not have thanked his biographer
for this soup-ticket to a ladleful of fame. If ever a man stood firmly on
his own feet, and asked help of none, that man was Gotthold Ephraim

Herr Stahr's desire to _make_ a hero of his subject, and his love for
sonorous sentences like those we have quoted above, are apt to stand
somewhat in the way of our chance at taking a fair measure of the man,
and seeing in what his heroism really lay. He furnishes little material
for a comparative estimate of Lessing, or for judging of the foreign
influences which helped from time to time in making him what he was.
Nothing is harder than to worry out a date from Herr Stahr's haystacks of
praise and quotation. Yet dates are of special value in tracing the
progress of an intellect like Lessing's, which, little actuated by an
inward creative energy, was commonly stirred to motion by the impulse of
other minds, and struck out its brightest flashes by collision with them.
He himself tells us that a critic should "first seek out some one with
whom he can contend," and quotes in justification from one of Aristotle's
commentators, _Solet Aristoteles quaerere pugnam in suis libris_. This
Lessing was always wont to do. He could only feel his own strength, and
make others feel it,--could only call it into full play in an
intellectual wrestling-bout. He was always anointed and ready for the
ring, but with this distinction, that he was no mere prize-fighter, or
bully for the side that would pay him best, nor even a contender for mere
sentiment, but a self-forgetful champion for the truth as he saw it. Nor
is this true of him only as a critic. His more purely imaginative
works--his Minna, his Emilia, his Nathan--were all written, not to
satisfy the craving of a poetic instinct, nor to rid head and heart of
troublous guests by building them a lodging outside himself, as Goethe
used to do, but to prove some thesis of criticism or morals by which
Truth could be served. His zeal for her was perfectly unselfish. "Does
one write, then, for the sake of being always in the right? I think I
have been as serviceable to Truth," he says, "when I miss her, and my
failure is the occasion of another's discovering her, as if I had
discovered her myself."[150] One would almost be inclined to think, from
Herr Stahr's account of the matter, that Lessing had been an
autochthonous birth of the German soil, without intellectual ancestry or
helpful kindred. That this is the sufficient natural history of no
original mind we need hardly say, since originality consists quite as
much in the power of using to purpose what it finds ready to its hand, as
in that of producing what is absolutely new. Perhaps we might say that it
was nothing more than the faculty of combining the separate, and
therefore ineffectual, conceptions of others, and making them into living
thought by the breath of its own organizing spirit. A great man without a
past, if he be not an impossibility, will certainly have no future. He
would be like those conjectural Miltons and Cromwells of Gray's imaginary
Hamlet. The only privilege of the original man is, that, like other
sovereign princes, he has the right to call in the current coin and
reissue it stamped with his own image, as was the practice of Lessing.

Herr Stahr's over-intensity of phrase is less offensive than amusing when
applied to Lessing's early efforts in criticism. Speaking of poor old
Gottsched, he says: "Lessing assailed him sometimes with cutting
criticism, and again with exquisite humor. In the notice of Gottsched's
poems, he says, among other things, 'The exterior of the volume is so
handsome that it will do great credit to the bookstores, and it is to be
hoped that it will continue to do so for a long time. But to give a
satisfactory idea of the interior surpasses our powers.' And in
conclusion he adds, 'These poems cost two thalers and four groschen. The
two thalers pay for the ridiculous, and the four groschen pretty much for
the useful.'" Again, he tells us that Lessing concludes his notice of
Klopstock's Ode to God "with these inimitably roguish words: 'What
presumption to beg thus earnestly for a woman!' Does not a whole book of
criticism lie in these nine words?" For a young man of twenty-two,
Lessing's criticisms show a great deal of independence and maturity of
thought; but humor he never had, and his wit was always of the
bluntest,--crushing rather than cutting. The mace, and not the scymitar,
was his weapon. Let Herr Stahr put all Lessing's "inimitably roguish
words" together, and compare them with these few intranslatable lines
from Voltaire's letter to Rousseau, thanking him for his _Discours sur
l'Inégalite_: "On n'a jamais employé tant d'esprit à vouloir nous rendre
bêtes; il prend enviede marcher à quatre pattes quand on lit votre
ouvrage." Lessing from the first was something far better than a wit.
Force was always much more characteristic of him than cleverness.
Sometimes Herr Stahr's hero-worship leads him into positive misstatement.
For example, speaking of Lessing's Preface to the "Contributions to the
History and Reform of the Theatre," he tells us that "his eye was
directed chiefly to the English theatre and Shakespeare." Lessing at that
time (1749) was only twenty, and knew little more than the names of any
foreign dramatists except the French. In this very Preface his English
list skips from Shakespeare to Dryden, and in the Spanish he omits
Calderon, Tirso de Molina, and Alarcon. Accordingly, we suspect that the
date is wrongly assigned to Lessing's translation of _Toda la Vida es
Sueño_. His mind was hardly yet ready to feel the strange charm of this
most imaginative of Calderon's dramas.

Even where Herr Stahr undertakes to give us light on the _sources_ of
Lessing, it is something of the dimmest. He attributes "Miss Sara
Sampson" to the influence of the "Merchant of London," as Mr. Evans
translates it literally from the German, meaning our old friend, "George
Barnwell." But we are strongly inclined to suspect from internal evidence
that Moore's more recent "Gamester" gave the prevailing impulse. And if
Herr Stahr must needs tell us anything of the Tragedy of Middle-Class
Life, he ought to have known that on the English stage it preceded Lillo
by more than a century,--witness the "Yorkshire Tragedy,"--and that
something very like it was even much older in France. We are inclined to
complain, also, that he does not bring out more clearly how much Lessing
owed to Diderot both as dramatist and critic, nor give us so much as a
hint of what already existing English criticism did for him in the way of
suggestion and guidance. But though we feel it to be our duty to say so
much of Herr Stahr's positive faults and negative short-comings, yet we
leave him in very good humor. While he is altogether too full upon
certain points of merely transitory importance,--such as the quarrel with
Klotz,--yet we are bound to thank him both for the abundance of his
extracts from Lessing, and for the judgment he has shown in the choice of
them. Any one not familiar with his writings will be able to get a very
good notion of the quality of his mind, and the amount of his literary
performance, from these volumes; and that, after all, is the chief
matter. As to the absolute merit of his works other than critical, Herr
Stahr's judgment is too much at the mercy of his partiality to be of
great value.

Of Mr. Evans's translation we can speak for the most part with high
commendation. There are great difficulties in translating German prose;
and whatever other good things Herr Stahr may have learned from Lessing,
terseness and clearness are not among them. We have seldom seen a
translation which read more easily, or was generally more faithful. That
Mr. Evans should nod now and then we do not wonder, nor that he should
sometimes choose the wrong word. We have only compared him with the
original where we saw reason for suspecting a slip; but, though we have
not found much to complain of, we have found enough to satisfy us that
his book will gain by a careful revision. We select a few oversights,
mainly from the first volume, as examples. On page 34, comparing Lessing
with Goethe on arriving at the University, Mr. Evans, we think, obscures,
if he does not wholly lose the meaning, when he translates _Leben_ by
"social relations," and is altogether wrong in rendering _Patrizier_ by
"aristocrat." At the top of the next page, too, "suspicious" is not the
word for _bedenklich_. Had he been writing English, he would surely have
said "questionable." On page 47, "overtrodden shoes" is hardly so good as
the idiomatic "down at the heel." On page 104, "A very humorous
representation" is oddly made to "confirm the documentary evidence." The
reverse is meant. On page 115, the sentence beginning "the tendency in
both" needs revising. On page 138, Mr. Evans speaks of the "Poetical
Village-younker of Destouches." This, we think, is hardly the English of
_Le Poète Campagnard_, and almost recalls Lieberkühn's theory of
translation, toward which Lessing was so unrelenting,--"When I do not
understand a passage, why, I translate it word for word." On page 149,
"Miss Sara Sampson" is called "the first social tragedy of the German
Drama." All tragedies surely are _social_, except the "Prometheus."
_Bürgerliche Tragödie_ means a tragedy in which the protagonist is taken
from common life, and perhaps cannot be translated clearly into English
except by "tragedy of middle-class life." So on page 170 we find Emilia
Galotti called a "Virginia _bourgeoise_," and on page 172 a hospital
becomes a _lazaretto_. On page 190 we have a sentence ending in this
strange fashion: "in an episode of the English original, which Wieland
omitted entirely, one of its characters nevertheless appeared in the
German tragedy." On page 205 we have the Seven Years' War called "a
bloody _process_." This is mere carelessness, for Mr. Evans, in the
second volume, translates it rightly "_lawsuit_." What English reader
would know what "You are intriguing me" means, on page 228? On page 264,
Vol. II., we find a passage inaccurately rendered, which we consider of
more consequence, because it is a quotation from Lessing. "O, out upon
the man who claims, Almighty God, to be a preacher of Thy word, and yet
so impudently asserts that, in order to attain Thy purposes, there was
only one way in which it pleased _Thee_ to make _Thyself_ known to him!"
This is very far from _nur den einzigen Weg gehabt den Du Dir gefallen
lassen ihm kund zu machen!_ The _ihm_ is scornfully emphatic. We hope
Professor Evans will go over his version for a second edition much more
carefully than we have had any occasion to do. He has done an excellent
service to our literature, for which we heartily thank him, in choosing a
book of this kind to translate, and translating it so well. We would not
look such a gift horse too narrowly in the mouth.

Let us now endeavor to sum up the result of Lessing's life and labor with
what success we may.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was born (January 22, 1729) at Camenz, in Upper
Lusatia, the second child and eldest son of John Gottfried Lessing, a
Lutheran clergyman. Those who believe in the persistent qualities of
race, or the cumulative property of culture, will find something to their
purpose in his Saxon blood and his clerical and juristic ancestry. It is
worth mentioning, that his grandfather, in the thesis for his doctor's
degree, defended the right to entire freedom of religious belief. The
name first comes to the surface in Parson Clement Lessigk, nearly three
centuries ago, and survives to the present day in a painter of some
distinction. It has almost passed into a proverb, that the mothers of
remarkable children have been something beyond the common. If there be
any truth in the theory, the case of Lessing was an exception, as might
have been inferred, perhaps, from the peculiarly masculine type of his
character and intellect. His mother was in no wise superior, but his
father seems to have been a man somewhat above the pedantic average of
the provincial clergymen of his day, and to have been a scholar in the
ampler meaning of the word. Besides the classics, he had possessed
himself of French and English, and was somewhat versed in the Oriental
languages. The temper of his theology may be guessed from his having
been, as his son tells us with some pride, one of "the earliest
translators of Tillotson." We can only conjecture him from the letters
which Lessing wrote to him, from which we should fancy him as on the
whole a decided and even choleric old gentleman, in whom the wig, though
not a predominant, was yet a notable feature, and who was, like many
other fathers, permanently astonished at the fruit of his loins. He would
have preferred one of the so-called learned professions for his
son,--theology above all,--and would seem to have never quite reconciled
himself to his son's distinction, as being in none of the three careers
which alone were legitimate. Lessing's bearing towards him, always
independent, is really beautiful in its union of respectful tenderness
with unswerving self-assertion. When he wished to evade the maternal eye,
Gotthold used in his letters to set up a screen of Latin between himself
and her; and we conjecture the worthy Pastor Primarius playing over again
in his study at Camenz, with some scruples of conscience, the old trick
of Chaucer's fox:--

  "Mulier est hominis confusio;
  Madam, the sentence of this Latin is.
  Woman is mannës joy and mannës bliss."

He appears to have snatched a fearful and but ill-concealed joy from the
sight of the first collected edition of his son's works, unlike Tillotson
as they certainly were. Ah, had they only been _Opera_! Yet were they not
volumes, after all, and able to stand on their own edges beside the
immortals, if nothing more?

After grinding with private-tutor Mylius the requisite time, Lessing
entered the school of Camenz, and in his thirteenth year was sent to the
higher institution at Meissen. We learn little of his career there,
except that Theophrastus, Plautus, and Terence were already his favorite
authors, that he once characteristically distinguished himself by a
courageous truthfulness, and that he wrote a Latin poem on the valor of
the Saxon soldiers, which his father very sensibly advised him to
shorten. In 1750, four years after leaving the school, he writes to his
father: "I believed even when I was at Meissen that one must learn much
there which he cannot make the least use of in real life (_der Welt_),
and I now [after trying Leipzig and Wittenberg] see it all the more
clearly,"--a melancholy observation which many other young men have made
under similar circumstances. Sent to Leipzig in his seventeenth year, he
finds himself an awkward, ungainly lad, and sets diligently to perfecting
himself in the somewhat unscholastic accomplishments of riding, dancing,
and fencing. He also sedulously frequents the theatre, and wrote a play,
"The Young Scholar," which attained the honor of representation.
Meanwhile his most intimate companion was a younger brother of his
old tutor Mylius, a young man of more than questionable morals,
and who had even written a satire on the elders of Camenz, for
which--over-confidently trusting himself in the outraged city--he had
been fined and imprisoned; so little could the German Muse, celebrated by
Klopstock for her swiftness of foot, protect her son. With this
scandalous person and with play-actors, more than probably of both sexes,
did the young Lessing share a Christmas cake sent him by his mother. Such
news was not long in reaching Camenz, and we can easily fancy how tragic
it seemed in the little parsonage there, to what cabinet councils it gave
rise in the paternal study, to what ominous shaking of the clerical wig
in that domestic Olympus. A pious fraud is practised on the boy, who
hurries home thinly clad through the winter weather, his ill-eaten
Christmas cake wringing him with remorseful indigestion, to receive the
last blessing, if such a prodigal might hope for it, of a broken-hearted
mother. He finds the good dame in excellent health, and softened toward
him by a cold he has taken on his pious journey. He remains at home
several months, now writing Anacreontics of such warmth that his sister
(as volunteer representative of the common hangman) burns them in the
family stove; now composing sermons to convince his mother that "he could
be a preacher any day,"--a theory of that sacred office unhappily not yet
extinct. At Easter, 1747, he gets back to Leipzig again, with some scant
supply of money in his pocket, but is obliged to make his escape thence
between two days somewhere toward the middle of the next year, leaving
behind him some histrionic debts (chiefly, we fear, of a certain
Mademoiselle Lorenz) for which he had confidingly made himself security.
Stranded, by want of floating or other capital, at Wittenberg, he enters
himself, with help from home, as a student there, but soon migrates again
to Berlin, which had been his goal when making his hegira from Leipzig.
In Berlin he remained three years, applying himself to his chosen calling
of author at all work, by doing whatever honest job offered
itself,--verse, criticism, or translation,--and profitably studious in a
very wide range of languages and their literature. Above all, he learned
the great secret, which his stalwart English contemporary, Johnson, also
acquired, of being able to "dine heartily" for threepence.

Meanwhile he continues in a kind of colonial dependence on the parsonage
at Camenz, the bonds gradually slackening, sometimes shaken a little
rudely, and always giving alarming hints of approaching and inevitable
autonomy. From the few home letters of Lessing which remain, (covering
the period before 1753, there are only eight in all,) we are able to
surmise that a pretty constant maternal cluck and shrill paternal warning
were kept up from the home coop. We find Lessing defending the morality
of the stage and his own private morals against charges and suspicions of
his parents, and even making the awful confession that he does not
consider the Christian religion itself as a thing "to be taken on trust,"
nor a Christian by mere tradition so valuable a member of society as "one
who has _prudently_ doubted, and by the way of examination has arrived at
conviction, or at least striven to arrive." Boyish scepticism of the
superficial sort is a common phenomenon enough, but the Lessing variety
of it seems to us sufficiently rare in a youth of twenty. What strikes us
mainly in the letters of these years is not merely the maturity they
show, though that is remarkable, but the tone. We see already in them the
cheerful and never overweening self-confidence which always so pleasantly
distinguished Lessing, and that strength of tackle, so seldom found in
literary men, which brings the mind well home to its anchor, enabling it
to find holding ground and secure riding in any sea. "What care I to live
in plenty," he asks gayly, "if I only live?" Indeed, Lessing learned
early, and never forgot, that whoever would be life's master, and not its
drudge, must make it a means, and never allow it to become an end. He
could say more truly than Goethe, _Mein Acker ist die Zeit_, since he not
only sowed in it the seed of thought for other men and other times, but
cropped it for his daily bread. Above all, we find Lessing even thus
early endowed with the power of keeping his eyes wide open to what he was
after, to what would help or hinder him,--a much more singular gift than
is commonly supposed. Among other jobs of this first Berlin period, he
had undertaken to arrange the library of a certain Herr Rüdiger, getting
therefor his meals and "other receipts," whatever they may have been. His
father seems to have heard with anxiety that this arrangement had ceased,
and Lessing writes to him: "I never wished to have anything to do with
this old man longer than _until I had made myself thoroughly acquainted
with his great library_. This is now accomplished, and we have
accordingly parted." This was in his twenty-first year, and we have no
doubt, from the _range_ of scholarship which Lessing had at command so
young, that it was perfectly true. All through his life he was thoroughly
German in this respect also, that he never _quite_ smelted his knowledge
clear from some slag of learning.

In the early part of the first Berlin residence, Pastor Primarius
Lessing, hearing that his son meditated a movement on Vienna, was much
exercised with fears of the temptation to Popery he would be exposed to
in that capital. We suspect that the attraction thitherward had its
source in a perhaps equally catholic, but less theological magnet,--the
Mademoiselle Lorenz above mentioned. Let us remember the perfectly
innocent passion of Mozart for an actress, and be comforted. There is not
the slightest evidence that Lessing's life at this time, or any other,
though careless, was in any way debauched. No scandal was ever coupled
with his name, nor is any biographic chemistry needed to bleach spots out
of his reputation. What cannot be said of Wieland, of Goethe, of
Schiller, of Jean Paul, may be safely affirmed of this busy and
single-minded man. The parental fear of Popery brought him a seasonable
supply of money from home, which enabled him to clothe himself decently
enough to push his literary fortunes, and put on a bold front with
publishers. Poor enough he often was, but never in so shabby a pass that
he was forced to write behind a screen, like Johnson.

It was during this first stay in Berlin that Lessing was brought into
personal relations with Voltaire. Through an acquaintance with the great
man's secretary, Richier, he was employed as translator in the scandalous
Hirschel lawsuit, so dramatically set forth by Carlyle in his Life of
Frederick, though Lessing's share in it seems to have been unknown to
him. The service could hardly have been other than distasteful to him;
but it must have been with some thrill of the _anche io!_ kind that the
poor youth, just fleshing his maiden pen in criticism, stood face to face
with the famous author, with whose name all Europe rang from side to
side. This was in February, 1751. Young as he was, we fancy those cool
eyes of his making some strange discoveries as to the real nature of that
lean nightmare of Jesuits and dunces. Afterwards the same secretary lent
him the manuscript of the _Siècle de Louis XIV._, and Lessing
thoughtlessly taking it into the country with him, it was not forthcoming
when called for by the author. Voltaire naturally enough danced with
rage, screamed all manner of unpleasant things about robbery and the
like, cashiered the secretary, and was, we see no reason to doubt, really
afraid of a pirated edition. _This_ time his cry of wolf must have had a
quaver of sincerity in it. Herr Stahr, who can never keep separate the
Lessing as he then was and the Lessing as he afterwards became, takes
fire at what he chooses to consider an unworthy suspicion of the
Frenchman, and treats himself to some rather cheap indignation on the
subject. For ourselves, we think Voltaire altogether in the right, and we
respect Lessing's honesty too much to suppose, with his biographer, that
it was this which led him, years afterwards, to do such severe justice to
_Merope_, and other tragedies of the same author. The affair happened in
December, 1751, and a year later Lessing calls Voltaire a "great man,"
and says of his _Amalie_, that "it has not only beautiful passages, it is
beautiful throughout, and the tears of a reader of feeling will justify
our judgment." Surely there is no resentment here. Our only wonder would
be at its being written after the Hirschel business. At any rate, we
cannot allow Herr Stahr to shake our faith in the sincerity of Lessing's
motives in criticism,--he could not in the soundness of the criticism
itself,--by tracing it up to a spring at once so petty and so personal.

During a part of 1752,[151] Lessing was at Wittenberg again as student of
medicine, the parental notion of a strictly professional career of some
kind not having yet been abandoned. We must give his father the credit of
having done his best, in a well-meaning paternal fashion, to make his son
over again in his own image, and to thwart the design of nature by
coaxing or driving him into the pinfold of a prosperous obscurity. But
Gotthold, with all his gifts, had no talent whatever for contented
routine. His was a mind always in solution, which the divine order of
things, as it is called, could not precipitate into any of the
traditional forms of crystallization, and in which the time to come was
already fermenting. The principle of growth was in the young literary
hack, and he must obey it or die. His was to the last a _natura
naturans_, never a _naturata_. Lessing seems to have done what he could
to be a dutiful failure. But there was something in him stronger and more
sacred than even filial piety; and the good old pastor is remembered now
only as the father of a son who would have shared the benign oblivion of
his own theological works, if he could only have had his wise way with
him. Even after never so many biographies and review articles, genius
continues to be a marvellous and inspiring thing. At the same time,
considering the then condition of what was pleasantly called literature
in Germany, there was not a little to be said on the paternal side of the
question, though it may not seem now a very heavy mulct to give up one
son out of ten to immortality,--at least the Fates seldom decimate in
_this_ way. Lessing had now, if we accept the common standard in such
matters, "completed his education," and the result may be summed up in
his own words to Michaelis, 16th October, 1754: "I have studied at the
Fürstenschule at Meissen, and after that at Leipzig and Wittenberg. But I
should be greatly embarrassed if I were asked to tell _what_." As early
as his twentieth year he had arrived at some singular notions as to the
uses of learning. On the 20th of January, 1749, he writes to his mother:
"I found out that books, indeed, would make me learned, _but never make
me a man_." Like most men of great knowledge, as distinguished from mere
scholars, he seems to have been always a rather indiscriminate reader,
and to have been fond, as Johnson was, of "browsing" in libraries.
Johnson neither in amplitude of literature nor exactness of scholarship
could be deemed a match for Lessing; but they were alike in the power of
readily applying whatever they had learned, whether for purposes of
illustration or argument. They resemble each other, also, in a kind of
absolute common-sense, and in the force with which they could plant a
direct blow with the whole weight both of their training and their
temperament behind it. As a critic, Johnson ends where Lessing begins.
The one is happy in the lower region of the understanding: the other can
breathe freely in the ampler air of reason alone. Johnson acquired
learning, and stopped short from indolence at a certain point. Lessing
assimilated it, and accordingly his education ceased only with his life.
Both had something of the intellectual sluggishness that is apt to go
with great strength; and both had to be baited by the antagonism of
circumstances or opinions, not only into the exhibition, but into the
possession of their entire force. Both may be more properly called
original men than, in the highest sense, original writers.

From 1752 to 1760, with an interval of something over two years spent in
Leipzig to be near a good theatre, Lessing was settled in Berlin, and
gave himself wholly and earnestly to the life of a man of letters. A
thoroughly healthy, cheerful nature he most surely had, with something at
first of the careless light-heartedness of youth. Healthy he was not
always to be, not always cheerful, often very far from light-hearted, but
manly from first to last he eminently was. Downcast he could never be,
for his strongest instinct, invaluable to him also as a critic, was to
see things as they really are. And this not in the sense of a cynic, but
of one who measures himself as well as his circumstances,--who loves
truth as the most beautiful of all things and the only permanent
possession, as being of one substance with the soul. In a man like
Lessing, whose character is even more interesting than his works, the
tone and turn of thought are what we like to get glimpses of. And for
this his letters are more helpful than those of most authors, as might be
expected of one who said of himself, that, in his more serious work, "he
must profit by his first heat to accomplish anything." He began, we say,
light-heartedly. He did not believe that "one should thank God only for
good things." "He who is only in good health, and is willing to work, has
nothing to fear in the world." "What another man would call want, I call
comfort." "Must not one often act thoughtlessly, if one would provoke
Fortune to do something for him?" In his first inexperience, the life of
"the sparrow on the house-top" (which we find oddly translated "roof")
was the one he would choose for himself. Later in life, when he wished to
marry, he was of another mind, and perhaps discovered that there was
something in the old father's notion of a fixed position. "The life of
the sparrow on the house-top is only right good if one need not expect
any end to it. If it cannot always last, every day it lasts too
long,"--he writes to Ebert in 1770. Yet even then he takes the manly
view. "Everything in the world has its time, everything may be overlived
and overlooked, if one only have health." Nor let any one suppose that
Lessing, full of courage as he was, found professional authorship a
garden of Alcinoüs. From creative literature he continually sought
refuge, and even repose, in the driest drudgery of mere scholarship. On
the 26th of April, 1768, he writes to his brother with something of his
old gayety: "Thank God, the time will soon come when I cannot call a
penny in the world my own but I must first earn it. I am unhappy if it
must be by writing." And again in May, 1771: "Among all the wretched, I
think him the most wretched who must work with his head, even if he is
not conscious of having one. But what is the good of complaining?"
Lessing's life, if it is a noble example, so far as it concerned himself
alone, is also a warning when another is to be asked to share it. He too
would have profited had he earlier learned and more constantly borne in
mind the profound wisdom of that old saying, _Si sit prudentia_. Let the
young poet, however he may believe of his art that "all other pleasures
are not worth its pains," consider well what it is to call down fire from
heaven to keep the pot boiling, before he commit himself to a life of
authorship as something fine and easy. That fire will not condescend to
such office, though it come without asking on ceremonial days to the free
service of the altar.

Lessing, however, never would, even if he could, have so desecrated his
better powers. For a bare livelihood, he always went sturdily to the
market of hack-work, where his learning would fetch him a price. But it
was only in extremest need that he would claim that benefit of clergy. "I
am worried," he writes to his brother Karl, 8th April, 1773, "and work
because working is the only means to cease being so. But you and Vess are
very much mistaken if you think that it could ever be indifferent to me,
under such circumstances, on what I work. Nothing less true, whether as
respects the work itself or the principal object wherefor I work. I have
been in my life before now in very wretched circumstances, yet never in
such that I would have written for bread in the true meaning of the word.
I have begun my 'Contributions' because this work helps me ... to live
from one day to another." It is plain that he does not call this kind of
thing in any high sense writing. Of that he had far other notions; for
though he honestly disclaimed the title, yet his dream was always to be a
poet. But he _was_ willing to work, as he claimed to be, because he had
one ideal higher than that of being a poet, namely, to be thoroughly a
man. To Nicolai he writes in 1758: "All ways of earning his bread are
alike becoming to an honest man, whether to split wood or to sit at the
helm of state. It does not concern his conscience how useful he is, but
how useful he would be." Goethe's poetic sense was the Minotaur to which
he sacrificed everything. To make a study, he would soil the maiden
petals of a woman's soul; to get the delicious sensation of a reflex
sorrow, he would wring a heart. All that saves his egoism from being
hateful is, that, with its immense reaches, it cheats the sense into a
feeling of something like sublimity. A patch of sand is unpleasing; a
desert has all the awe of ocean. Lessing also felt the duty of
self-culture; but it was not so much for the sake of feeding fat this or
that faculty as of strengthening character,--the only soil in which real
mental power can root itself and find sustenance. His advice to his
brother Karl, who was beginning to write for the stage, is two parts
moral to one literary. "Study ethics diligently, learn to express
yourself well and correctly, and cultivate your own character. Without
that I cannot conceive a good dramatic author." Marvellous counsel this
will seem to those who think that wisdom is only to be found in the
fool's paradise of Bohemia!

We said that Lessing's dream was to be a poet. In comparison with success
as a dramatist, he looked on all other achievement as inferior in kind.
In. 1767 he writes to Gleim (speaking of his call to Hamburg): "Such
circumstances were needed to rekindle in me an almost extinguished love
for the theatre. I was just beginning to lose myself in other studies
which would have made me unfit for any work of genius. My _Laocoon_ is
now a secondary labor." And yet he never fell into the mistake of
overvaluing what he valued so highly. His unflinching common-sense would
have saved him from that, as it afterwards enabled him to see that
something was wanting in him which must enter into the making of true
poetry, whose distinction from prose is an inward one of nature, and not
an outward one of form. While yet under thirty, he assures Mendelssohn
that he was quite right in neglecting poetry for philosophy, because
"only a part of our youth should be given up to the arts of the
beautiful. We must practise ourselves in weightier things before we die.
An old man, who lifelong has done nothing but rhyme, and an old man who
lifelong has done nothing but pass his breath through a stick with holes
in it,--I doubt much whether such an old man has arrived at what he was
meant for."

This period of Lessing's life was a productive one, though none of its
printed results can be counted of permanent value, except his share in
the "Letters on German Literature." And even these must be reckoned as
belonging to the years of his apprenticeship and training for the
master-workman he afterwards became. The small fry of authors and
translators were hardly fitted to call out his full strength, but his
vivisection of them taught him the value of certain structural
principles. "To one dissection of the fore quarter of an ass," says
Haydon in his diary, "I owe my information." Yet even in his earliest
criticisms we are struck with the same penetration and steadiness of
judgment, the same firm grasp of the essential and permanent, that were
afterwards to make his opinions law in the courts of taste. For example,
he says of Thomson, that, "as a dramatic poet, he had the fault of never
knowing when to leave off; he lets every character talk so long as
anything can be said; accordingly, during these prolonged conversations,
the action stands still, and the story becomes tedious." Of "Roderick
Random," he says that "its author is neither a Richardson nor a Fielding;
he is one of those writers of whom there are plenty among the Germans and
French." We cite these merely because their firmness of tone seems to us
uncommon in a youth of twenty-four. In the "Letters," the range is much
wider, and the application of principles more consequent. He had already
secured for himself a position among the literary men of that day, and
was beginning to be feared for the inexorable justice of his criticisms.
His "Fables" and his "Miss Sara Sampson" had been translated into French,
and had attracted the attention of Grimm, who says of them (December,
1754): "These Fables commonly contain in a few lines a new and profound
moral meaning. M. Lessing has much wit, genius, and invention; the
dissertations which follow the Fables prove moreover that he is an
excellent critic." In Berlin, Lessing made friendships, especially with
Mendelssohn, Von Kleist, Nicolai, Gleim, and Ramler. For Mendelssohn and
Von Kleist he seems to have felt a real love; for the others at most a
liking, as the best material that could be had. It certainly was not of
the juiciest. He seems to have worked hard and played hard, equally at
home in his study and Baumann's wine-cellar. He was busy, poor, and

But he was restless. We suspect that the necessity of forever picking up
crumbs, and their occasional scarcity, made the life of the sparrow on
the house-top less agreeable than he had expected. The imagined freedom
was not quite so free after all, for necessity is as short a tether as
dependence, or official duty, or what not, and the regular occupation of
grub-hunting is as tame and wearisome as another. Moreover, Lessing had
probably by this time sucked his friends dry of any intellectual stimulus
they could yield him; and when friendship reaches that pass, it is apt to
be anything but inspiring. Except Mendelssohn and Von Kleist, they were
not men capable of rating him at his true value; and Lessing was one of
those who always burn up the fuel of life at a fearful rate. Admirably
dry as the supplies of Ramler and the rest no doubt were, they had not
substance enough to keep his mind at the high temperature it needed, and
he would soon be driven to the cutting of green stuff from his own
wood-lot, more rich in smoke than fire. Besides this, he could hardly
have been at ease among intimates most of whom could not even conceive of
that intellectual honesty, that total disregard of all personal interests
where truth was concerned, which was an innate quality of Lessing's mind.
Their theory of criticism was, Truth, or even worse if possible, for all
who do not belong to our set; for us, that delicious falsehood which is
no doubt a slow poison, but then so _very_ slow. Their nerves were
unbraced by that fierce democracy of thought, trampling on all
prescription, all tradition, in which Lessing loved to shoulder his way
and advance his insupportable foot. "What is called a heretic," he says
in his Preface to _Berengarius_, "has a very good side. It is a man who
at least _wishes_ to see with his own eyes." And again, "I know not if it
be a duty to offer up fortune and life to the truth; ... but I know it
_is_ a duty, if one undertake to teach the truth, to teach the whole of
it, or none at all." Such men as Gleim and Ramler were mere _dilettanti_,
and could have no notion how sacred his convictions are to a militant
thinker like Lessing. His creed as to the rights of friendship in
criticism might be put in the words of Selden, the firm tread of whose
mind was like his own: "Opinion and affection extremely differ. Opinion
is something wherein I go about to give reason why all the world should
think as I think. Affection is a thing wherein I look after the pleasing
of myself." How little his friends were capable of appreciating this view
of the matter is plain from a letter of Ramler to Gleim, cited by Herr
Stahr. Lessing had shown up the weaknesses of a certain work by the Abbé
Batteux (long ago gathered to his literary fathers as conclusively as
poor old Ramler himself), without regard to the important fact that the
Abbé's book had been translated by a friend. Horrible to think of at
best, thrice horrible when the friend's name was Ramler! The impression
thereby made on the friendly heart may be conceived. A ray of light
penetrated the rather opaque substance of Herr Ramler's mind, and
revealed to him the dangerous character of Lessing. "I know well," he
says, "that Herr Lessing means to speak his own opinion, and"--what is
the dreadful inference?--"and, by suppressing others, to gain air, and
make room for himself. This disposition is not to be overcome."[152]
Fortunately not, for Lessing's opinion always meant something, and was
worth having. Gleim no doubt sympathized deeply with the sufferer by this
treason, for he too had been shocked at some disrespect for La Fontaine,
as a disciple of whom he had announced himself.

Berlin was hardly the place for Lessing, if he could not take a step in
any direction without risk of treading on somebody's gouty foot. This was
not the last time that he was to have experience of the fact that the
critic's pen, the more it has of truth's celestial temper, the more it is
apt to reverse the miracle of the archangel's spear, and to bring out
whatever is toadlike in the nature of him it touches. We can well
understand the sadness with which he said,

              "Der Blick des Forscher's fand
  Nicht selten mehr als er zu finden wünschte."

Here, better than anywhere, we may cite something which he wrote of
himself to a friend of Klotz. Lessing, it will be remembered, had
literally "suppressed" Klotz. "What do you apprehend, then, from me? The
more faults and errors you point out to me, so much the more I shall
learn of you; the more I learn of you, the more thankful shall I be....I
wish you knew me more thoroughly. If the opinion you have of my learning
and genius (_Geist_) should perhaps suffer thereby, yet I am sure the
idea I would like you to form of my character would gain. I am not the
insufferable, unmannerly, proud, slanderous man Herr Klotz proclaims me.
It cost me a great deal of trouble and compulsion to be a little bitter
against him."[153] Ramler and the rest had contrived a nice little
society for mutual admiration, much like that described by Goldsmith, if,
indeed, he did not convey it from the French, as was not uncommon with
him. "'What, have you never heard of the admirable Brandellius or the
ingenious Mogusius, one the eye and the other the heart of our
University, known all over the world?' 'Never,' cried the traveller; 'but
pray inform me what Brandellius is particularly remarkable for.' 'You
must be little acquainted with the republic of letters,' said the other,
'to ask such a question. Brandellius has written a most sublime panegyric
on Mogusius.' 'And, prithee, what has Mogusius done to deserve so great a
favor?' 'He has written an excellent poem in praise of Brandellius.'"
Lessing was not the man who could narrow himself to the proportions of a
clique; lifelong he was the terror of the Brandellii and Mogusii, and, at
the signal given by him,

              "They, but now who seemed
  In bigness to surpass Earth's giant sons,
  Now less than smallest dwarfs in narrow room
  Throng numberless."

Besides whatever other reasons Leasing may have had for leaving Berlin,
we fancy that his having exhausted whatever means it had of helping his
spiritual growth was the chief. Nine years later, he gave as a reason for
not wishing to stay long in Brunswick, "Not that I do not like Brunswick,
but because nothing comes of being long in a place which one likes."[154]
Whatever the reason, Leasing, in 1760, left Berlin for Breslau, where the
post of secretary had been offered him under Frederick's tough old
General Tauentzien. "I will spin myself in for a while like an ugly worm,
that I may be able to come to light again as a brilliant winged
creature," says his diary. Shortly after his leaving Berlin, he was
chosen a member of the Academy of Sciences there. Herr Stahr, who has no
little fondness for the foot-light style of phrase, says, "It may easily
be imagined that he himself regarded his appointment as an insult rather
than as an honor." Lessing himself merely says that it was a matter of
indifference to him, which is much more in keeping with his character and
with the value of the intended honor.

The Seven Years' War began four years before Lessing took up his abode in
Breslau, and it may be asked how he, as a Saxon, was affected by it. We
might answer, hardly at all. His position was that of armed neutrality.
Long ago at Leipzig he had been accused of Prussian leanings; now in
Berlin he was thought too Saxon. Though he disclaimed any such sentiment
as patriotism, and called himself a cosmopolite, it is plain enough that
his position was simply that of a German. Love of country, except in a
very narrow parochial way, was as impossible in Germany then as in
America during the Colonial period. Lessing himself, in the latter years
of his life, was librarian of one of those petty princelets who sold
their subjects to be shot at in America,--creatures strong enough to
oppress, too weak to protect their people. Whoever would have found a
Germany to love must have pieced it together as painfully as Isis did the
scattered bits of Osiris. Yet he says that "the true patriot is by no
means extinguished" in him. It was the noisy ones that he could not
abide; and, writing to Gleim about his "Grenadier" verses, he advises him
to soften the tone of them a little, he himself being a "declared enemy
of imprecations," which he would leave altogether to the clergy. We think
Herr Stahr makes too much of these anti-patriot flings of Lessing, which,
with a single exception, occur in his letters to Gleim, and with
reference to a kind of verse that could not but be distasteful to him, as
needing no more brains than a drum, nor other inspiration than serves a
trumpet. Lessing undoubtedly had better uses for his breath than to spend
it in shouting for either side in this "bloody lawsuit," as he called it,
in which he was not concerned. He showed himself German enough, and in
the right way, in his persistent warfare against the tyranny of French

He remained in Breslau the better part of five years, studying life in
new phases, gathering a library, which, as commonly happens, he
afterwards sold at great loss, and writing his _Minna_ and his _Laocoön_.
He accompanied Tauentzien to the siege of Schweidnitz, where Frederick
was present in person. He seems to have lived a rather free-and-easy life
during his term of office, kept shockingly late hours, and learned, among
other things, to gamble,--a fact for which Herr Stahr thinks it needful
to account in a high philosophical fashion. We prefer to think that there
are _some_ motives to which remarkable men are liable in common with the
rest of mankind, and that they may occasionally do a thing merely because
it is pleasant, without forethought of medicinal benefit to the mind.
Lessing's friends (whose names were _not_, as the reader might be tempted
to suppose, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) expected him to make something
handsome out of his office; but the pitiful result of those five years of
opportunity was nothing more than an immortal book. Unthrifty Lessing, to
have been so nice about your fingers, (and so near the mint, too,) when
your general was wise enough to make his fortune! As if ink-stains were
the only ones that would wash out, and no others had ever been covered
with white kid from the sight of all reasonable men! In July, 1764, he
had a violent fever, which he turned to account in his usual cheerful
way: "The serious epoch of my life is drawing nigh. I am beginning to
become a man, and flatter myself that in this burning fever I have raved
away the last remains of my youthful follies. Fortunate illness!" He had
never intended to bind himself to an official career. To his father he
writes: "I have more than once declared that my present engagement could
not continue long, that I have not given up my old plan of living, and
that I am more than ever resolved to withdraw from any service that is
not wholly to my mind. I have passed the middle of my life, and can think
of nothing that could compel me to make myself a slave for the poor
remainder of it. I write you this, dearest father, and must write you
this, in order that you may not be astonished if, before long, you should
see me once more very far removed from all hopes of, or claims to, a
settled prosperity, as it is called." Before the middle of the next year
he was back in Berlin again.

There he remained for nearly two years, trying the house-top way of life
again, but with indifferent success, as we have reason to think. Indeed,
when the metaphor resolves itself into the plain fact of living just on
the other side of the roof,--in the garret, namely,--and that from hand
to mouth, as was Lessing's case, we need not be surprised to find him
gradually beginning to see something more agreeable in a _fixirtes Glück_
than he had once been willing to allow. At any rate, he was willing, and
even heartily desirous, that his friends should succeed in getting for
him the place of royal librarian. But Frederick, for some unexplained
reason, would not appoint him. Herr Stahr thinks it had something to do
with the old _Siècle_ manuscript business. But this seems improbable, for
Voltaire's wrath was not directed against Lessing; and even if it had
been, the great king could hardly have carried the name of an obscure
German author in his memory through all those anxious and war-like years.
Whatever the cause, Lessing early in 1767 accepts the position of
Theatrical Manager at Hamburg, as usual not too much vexed with
disappointment, but quoting gayly

    "Quod non dant proceres, dabit histrio."

Like Burns, he was always "contented wi' little and canty wi' mair." In
connection with his place as Manager he was to write a series of dramatic
essays and criticisms. It is to this we owe the _Dramaturgie_,--next to
the _Laocoön_ the most valuable of his works. But Lessing--though it is
plain that he made his hand as light as he could, and wrapped his lash in
velvet--soon found that actors had no more taste for truth than authors.
He was obliged to drop his remarks on the special merits or demerits of
players, and to confine himself to those of the pieces represented. By
this his work gained in value; and the latter part of it, written without
reference to a particular stage, and devoted to the discussion of those
general principles of dramatic art on which he had meditated long and
deeply, is far weightier than the rest. There are few men who can put
forth all their muscle in a losing race, and it is characteristic of
Lessing that what he wrote under the dispiritment of failure should be
the most lively and vigorous. Circumstances might be against him, but he
was incapable of believing that a cause could be lost which had once
enlisted his conviction.

The theatrical enterprise did not prosper long; but Lessing had meanwhile
involved himself as partner in a publishing business which harassed him
while it lasted, and when it failed, as was inevitable, left him hampered
with debt. Help came in his appointment (1770) to take charge of the Duke
of Brunswick's library at Wolfenbüttel, with a salary of six hundred
thalers a year. This was the more welcome, as he soon after was betrothed
with Eva König, widow of a rich manufacturer.[155] Her husband's affairs,
however, had been left in confusion, and this, with Lessing's own
embarrassments, prevented their being married till October, 1776. Eva
König was every way worthy of him. Clever, womanly, discreet, with just
enough coyness of the will to be charming when it is joined with
sweetness and good sense, she was the true helpmate of such a man,--the
serious companion of his mind and the playfellow of his affections. There
is something infinitely refreshing to me in the love-letters of these two
persons. Without wanting sentiment, there is such a bracing air about
them as breathes from the higher levels and strong-holds of the soul.
They show that self-possession which can alone reserve to love the power
of new self-surrender,--of never cloying, because never wholly possessed.
Here is no invasion and conquest of the weaker nature by the stronger,
but an equal league of souls, each in its own realm still sovereign. Turn
from such letters as these to those of St. Preux and Julie, and you are
stifled with the heavy perfume of a demirep's boudoir,--to those of
Herder to his Caroline, and you sniff no doubtful odor of professional
unction from the sermon-case. Manly old Dr. Johnson, who could be tender
and true to a plain woman, knew very well what he meant when he wrote
that single poetic sentence of his,--"The shepherd in Virgil grew at last
acquainted with Love, and found him to be a native of the rocks."

In January, 1778, Lessing's wife died from the effects of a difficult
childbirth. The child, a boy, hardly survived its birth. The few words
wrung out of Lessing by this double sorrow are to me as deeply moving as
anything in tragedy. "I wished for once to be as happy (_es so gut
haben_) as other men. But it has gone ill with me!" "And I was so loath
to lose him, this son!" "My wife is dead; and I have had this experience
also. I rejoice that I have not many more such experiences left to make,
and am quite cheerful." "If you had known her! But they say that to
praise one's wife is self-praise. Well, then, I say no more of her! But
if you had known her!" _Quite cheerful!_ On the 10th of August he writes
to Elise Reimarus,--he is writing to a woman now, an old friend of his
and his wife, and will be less restrained: "I am left here all alone. I
have not a single friend to whom I can wholly confide myself.... How
often must I curse my ever wishing to be for once as happy as other men!
How often have I wished myself back again in my old, isolated
condition,--to be nothing, to wish nothing, to do nothing, but what the
present moment brings with it!... Yet I am too proud to think myself
unhappy. I just grind my teeth, and let the boat go as pleases wind and
waves. Enough that I will not overset it myself." It is plain from this
letter that suicide had been in his mind, and, with his antique way of
thinking on many subjects, he would hardly have looked on it as a crime.
But he was too brave a man to throw up the sponge to fate, and had work
to do yet. Within a few days of his wife's death he wrote to Eschenburg:
"I am right heartily ashamed if my letter betrayed the least despair.
Despair is not nearly so much my failing as levity, which often expresses
itself with a little bitterness and misanthropy." A stoic, not from
insensibility or cowardice, as so many are, but from stoutness of heart,
he blushes at a moment's abdication of self-command. And he will not roil
the clear memory of his love with any tinge of the sentimentality so much
the fashion, and to be had so cheap, in that generation. There is a
moderation of sincerity peculiar to Lessing in the epithet of the
following sentence: "How dearly must I pay for the single year I have
lived with a _sensible_ wife!" Werther had then been published four
years. Lessing's grief has that pathos which he praised in sculpture,--he
may writhe, but he must not scream. Nor is this a new thing with him. On
the death of a younger brother, he wrote to his father, fourteen years
before: "Why should those who grieve communicate their grief to each
other purposely to increase it?... Many mourn in death what they loved
not living. I will love in life what nature bids me love, and after death
strive to bewail it as little as I can."

We think Herr Stahr is on his stilts again when he speaks of Lessing's
position at Wolfenbüttel. He calls it an "assuming the chains of feudal
service, being buried in a corner, a martyrdom that consumed the best
powers of his mind and crushed him in body and spirit forever." To crush
_forever_ is rather a strong phrase, Herr Stahr, to apply to the spirit,
if one must ever give heed to the sense as well as the sound of what one
is writing. But eloquence has no bowels for its victims. We have no doubt
the Duke of Brunswick meant well by Lessing, and the salary he paid him
was as large as he would have got from the frugal Frederick. But one
whose trade it was to be a Duke could hardly have had much sympathy with
his librarian after he had once found out what he really was. For even if
he was not, as Herr Stahr affirms, a republican, and we doubt very much
if he was, yet he was not a man who could play with ideas in the light
French fashion. At the ardent touch of his sincerity, they took fire, and
grew dangerous to what is called the social fabric. The logic of wit,
with its momentary flash, is a very different thing from that consequent
logic of thought, pushing forward its deliberate sap day and night with a
fixed object, which belonged to Lessing. The men who attack abuses are
not so much to be dreaded by the reigning house of Superstition as those
who, as Dante says, syllogize hateful truths. As for "the chains of
feudal service," they might serve a Fenian Head-Centre on a pinch, but
are wholly out of place here. The slavery that Lessing had really taken
on him was that of a great library, an Alcina that could always too
easily witch him away from the more serious duty of his genius. That a
mind like his could be buried in a corner is mere twaddle, and of a kind
that has done great wrong to the dignity of letters. Where-ever Lessing
sat, was the head of the table. That he suffered at Wolfenbüttel is true;
but was it nothing to be in love and in debt at the same time, and to
feel that his fruition of the one must be postponed for uncertain years
by his own folly in incurring the other? If the sparrow-life must end,
surely a wee bush is better than nae beild. One cause of Lessing's
occasional restlessness and discontent Herr Stahr has failed to notice.
It is evident from many passages in his letters that he had his share of
the hypochondria which goes with an imaginative temperament. But in him
it only serves to bring out in stronger relief his deep-rooted manliness.
He spent no breath in that melodious whining which, beginning with
Rousseau, has hardly yet gone out of fashion. Work of some kind was his
medicine for the blues,--if not always of the kind he would have chosen,
then the best that was to be had; for the useful, too, had for him a
sweetness of its own. Sometimes he found a congenial labor in rescuing,
as he called it, the memory of some dead scholar or thinker from the
wrongs of ignorance or prejudice or falsehood; sometimes in fishing a
manuscript out of the ooze of oblivion, and giving it, after a critical
cleansing, to the world. Now and then he warmed himself and kept his
muscle in trim with buffeting soundly the champions of that shallow
artificiality and unctuous wordiness, one of which passed for orthodox in
literature, and the other in theology. True religion and creative genius
were both so beautiful to him that he could never abide the mediocre
counterfeit of either, and he who put so much of his own life into all he
wrote could not but hold all scripture sacred in which a divine soul had
recorded itself. It would be doing Lessing great wrong to confound his
controversial writing with the paltry quarrels of authors. His own
personal relations enter into them surprisingly little, for his quarrel
was never with men, but with falsehood, cant, and misleading tradition,
in whomsoever incarnated. Save for this, they were no longer readable,
and might be relegated to that herbarium of Billingsgate gathered by the
elder Disraeli.

So far from being "crushed in spirit" at Wolfenbüttel, the years he spent
there were among the most productive of his life. "Emilia Galotti," begun
in 1758, was finished there and published in 1771. The controversy with
Götze, by far the most important he was engaged in, and the one in which
he put forth his maturest powers, was carried on thence. His "Nathan the
Wise" (1779), by which almost alone he is known as a poet outside of
Germany, was conceived and composed there. The last few years of his life
were darkened by ill-health and the depression which it brings. His
Nathan had not the success he hoped. It is sad to see the strong,
self-sufficing man casting about for a little sympathy, even for a little
praise. "It is really needful to me that you should have some small good
opinion of it [Nathan], in order to make me once more contented with
myself," he writes to Elise Reimarus in May, 1779. That he was weary of
polemics, and dissatisfied with himself for letting them distract him
from better things, appears from his last pathetic letter to the old
friend he loved and valued most,--Mendelssohn. "And in truth, dear
friend, I sorely need a letter like yours from time to time, if I am not
to become wholly out of humor. I think you do not know me as a man that
has a very hot hunger for praise. But the coldness with which the world
is wont to convince certain people that they do not suit it, if not
deadly, yet stiffens one with chill. I am not astonished that _all_ I
have written lately does not please _you_.... At best, a passage here and
there may have cheated you by recalling our better days. I, too, was then
a sound, slim sapling, and am now such a rotten, gnarled trunk!" This was
written on the 19th of December, 1780; and on the 15th of February, 1781,
Lessing died, not quite fifty-two years old. Goethe was then in his
thirty-second year, and Schiller ten years younger.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of Lessing's relation to metaphysics the reader will find ample
discussion in Herr Stahr's volumes. We are not particularly concerned
with them, because his interest in such questions was purely speculative,
and because he was more concerned to exercise the powers of his mind than
to analyze them. His chief business, his master impulse always, was to be
a man of letters in the narrower sense of the term. Even into theology he
only made occasional raids across the border, as it were, and that not so
much with a purpose of reform as in defence of principles which applied
equally to the whole domain of thought. He had even less sympathy with
heterodoxy than with orthodoxy, and, so far from joining a party or
wishing to form one, would have left belief a matter of choice to the
individual conscience. "From the bottom of my heart I hate all those
people who wish to found sects. For it is not error, but sectarian error,
yes, even sectarian truth, that makes men unhappy, or would do so if
truth would found a sect."[156] Again he says, that in his theological
controversies he is "much less concerned about theology than about sound
common-sense, and only therefore prefer the old orthodox (at bottom
_tolerant_) theology to the new (at bottom _intolerant_), because the
former openly conflicts with sound common-sense, while the latter would
fain corrupt it. I reconcile myself with my open enemies in order the
better to be on my guard against my secret ones."[157] At another time he
tells his brother that he has a wholly false notion of his (Lessing's)
relation to orthodoxy. "Do you suppose I grudge the world that anybody
should seek to enlighten it?--that I do not heartily wish that every one
should think rationally about religion? I should loathe myself if even in
my scribblings I had any other end than to help forward those great
views. But let me choose my own way, which I think best for this purpose.
And what is simpler than this way? I would not have the impure water,
which has long been unfit to use, preserved; but I would not have it
thrown away before we know whence to get purer.... Orthodoxy, thank God,
we were pretty well done with; a partition-wall had been built between it
and Philosophy, behind which each could go her own way without troubling
the other. But what are they doing now? They are tearing down this wall,
and, under the pretext of making us rational Christians, are making us
very irrational philosophers.... We are agreed that our old religious
system is false; but I cannot say with you that it is a patchwork of
bunglers and half-philosophers. I know nothing in the world in which
human acuteness has been more displayed or exercised than in that."[158]
Lessing was always for freedom, never for looseness, of thought, still
less for laxity of principle. But it must be a real freedom, and not that
vain struggle to become a majority, which, if it succeed, escapes from
heresy only to make heretics of the other side. _Abire ad plures_ would
with him have meant, not bodily but spiritual death. He did not love the
fanaticism of innovation a whit better than that of conservatism. To his
sane understanding, both were equally hateful, as different masks of the
same selfish bully. Coleridge said that toleration was impossible till
indifference made it worthless. Lessing did not wish for toleration,
because that implies authority, nor could his earnest temper have
conceived of indifference. But he thought it as absurd to regulate
opinion as the color of the hair. Here, too, he would have agreed with
Selden, that "it is a vain thing to talk of an heretic, for a man for his
heart cannot think any otherwise than he does think." Herr Stahr's
chapters on this point, bating a little exaltation of tone, are very
satisfactory; though, in his desire to make a leader of Lessing, he
almost represents him as being what he shunned,--the founder of a sect.
The fact is, that Lessing only formulated in his own way a general
movement of thought, and what mainly interests us is that in him we see a
layman, alike indifferent to clerisy and heresy, giving energetic and
pointed utterance to those opinions of his class which the clergy are
content to ignore so long as they remain esoteric. At present the world
has advanced to where Lessing stood, while the Church has done its best
to stand stock-still; and it would be a curious were it not a melancholy
spectacle, to see the indifference with which the laity look on while
theologians thrash their wheatless straw, utterly unconscious that there
is no longer any common term possible that could bring their creeds again
to any point of bearing on the practical life of men. Fielding never made
a profounder stroke of satire than in Squire Western's indignant "Art not
in the pulpit now! When art got up there, I never mind what dost say."

As an author, Lessing began his career at a period when we cannot say
that German literature was at its lowest ebb, only because there had not
yet been any flood-tide. That may be said to have begun with him. When we
say German literature, we mean so much of it as has any interest outside
of Germany. That part of the literary histories which treats of the dead
waste and middle of the eighteenth century reads like a collection of
obituaries, and were better reduced to the conciseness of epitaph, though
the authors of them seem to find a melancholy pleasure, much like that of
undertakers, in the task by which they live. Gottsched reigned supreme on
the legitimate throne of dulness. In Switzerland, Bodmer essayed a more
republican form of the same authority. At that time a traveller reports
eight hundred authors in Zürich alone! Young aspirant for lettered fame,
in imagination clear away the lichens from their forgotten headstones,
and read humbly the "As I am, so thou must be," on all! Everybody
remembers how Goethe, in the seventh book of his autobiography, tells the
story of his visit to Gottsched. He enters by mistake an inner room at
the moment when a frightened servant brings the discrowned potentate a
periwig large enough to reach to the elbows. That awful emblem of
pretentious sham seems to be the best type of the literature then
predominant. We always fancy it set upon a pole, like Gessler's hat, with
nothing in it that was not wooden, for all men to bow down before. The
periwig style had its natural place in the age of Louis XIV., and there
were certainly brains under it. But it had run out in France, as the
tie-wig style of Pope had in England. In Germany it was the mere
imitation of an imitation. Will it be believed that Gottsched recommends
his Art of Poetry to beginners, in preference to Breitinger's, because it
"_will enable them to produce every species of poem in a correct style_,
while out of that no one can learn to make an ode or a cantata"?
"Whoever," he says, "buys Breitinger's book _in order to learn how to
make poems_, will too late regret his money."[159] Gottsched, perhaps,
did some service even by his advocacy of French models, by calling
attention to the fact that there _was_ such a thing as style, and that it
was of some consequence. But not one of the authors of that time can be
said to survive, nor to be known even by name except to Germans, unless
it be Klopstock, Herder, Wieland, and Gellert. And the latter's
immortality, such as it is, reminds us somewhat of that Lady Gosling's,
whose obituary stated that she was "mentioned by Mrs. Barbauld in her
Life of Richardson 'under the name of Miss M., afterwards Lady G.'"
Klopstock himself is rather remembered for what he was than what he
is,--an immortality of unreadableness; and we much doubt if many Germans
put the "Oberon" in their trunks when they start on a journey. Herder
alone survives, if not as a contributor to literature, strictly so
called, yet as a thinker and as part of the intellectual impulse of the
day. But at the time, though there were two parties, yet within the lines
of each there was a loyal reciprocity of what is called on such occasions
appreciation. Wig ducked to wig, each blockhead had a brother, and there
was a universal apotheosis of the mediocrity of our set. If the greatest
happiness of the greatest number be the true theory, this was all that
could be desired. Even Lessing at one time looked up to Hagedorn as the
German Horace. If Hagedorn were pleased, what mattered it to Horace?
Worse almost than this was the universal pedantry. The solemn bray of one
pedagogue was taken up and prolonged in a thousand echoes. There was not
only no originality, but no desire for it,--perhaps even a dread of it,
as something that would break the _entente cordiale_ of placid mutual
assurance. No great writer had given that tone of good-breeding to the
language which would gain it entrance to the society of European
literature. No man of genius had made it a necessity of polite culture.
It was still as rudely provincial as the Scotch of Allan Ramsay.
Frederick the Great was to be forgiven if, with his practical turn, he
gave himself wholly to French, which had replaced Latin as a cosmopolitan
tongue. It had lightness, ease, fluency, elegance,--in short, all the
good qualities that German lacked. The study of French models was perhaps
the best thing for German literature before it got out of long-clothes.
It was bad only when it became a tradition and a tyranny. Lessing did
more than any other man to overthrow this foreign usurpation when it had
done its work.

The same battle had to be fought on English soil also, and indeed is
hardly over yet. For the renewed outbreak of the old quarrel between
Classical and Romantic grew out of nothing more than an attempt of the
modern spirit to free itself from laws of taste laid down by the _Grand
Siècle_. But we must not forget the debt which all modern prose
literature owes to France. It is true that Machiavelli was the first to
write with classic pith and point in a living language; but he is, for
all that, properly an ancient. Montaigne is really the first modern
writer,--the first who assimilated his Greek and Latin, and showed that
an author might be original and charming, even classical, if he did not
try too hard. He is also the first modern critic, and his judgments of
the writers of antiquity are those of an equal. He made the ancients his
servants, to help him think in Gascon French; and, in spite of his
endless quotations, began the crusade against pedantry. It was not,
however, till a century later, that the reform became complete in France,
and then crossed the Channel. Milton is still a pedant in his prose, and
not seldom even in his great poem. Dryden was the first Englishman who
wrote perfectly easy prose, and he owed his style and turn of thought to
his French reading. His learning sits easily on him, and has a modern
cut. So far, the French influence was one of unmixed good, for it rescued
us from pedantry. It must have done something for Germany in the same
direction. For its effect on poetry we cannot say as much; and its
traditions had themselves become pedantry in another shape when Lessing
made an end of it. He himself certainly learned to write prose of
Diderot; and whatever Herr Stahr may think of it, his share in the
"Letters on German Literature" got its chief inspiration from France.

It is in the _Dramaturgie_ that Lessing first properly enters as an
influence into European literature. He may be said to have begun the
revolt from pseudo-classicism in poetry, and to have been thus
unconsciously the founder of romanticism. Wieland's translation of
Shakespeare had, it is true, appeared in 1762; but Lessing was the first
critic whose profound knowledge of the Greek drama and apprehension of
its principles gave weight to his judgment, who recognized in what the
true greatness of the poet consisted, and found him to be really nearer
the Greeks than any other modern. This was because Lessing looked always
more to the life than the form,--because he knew the classics, and did
not merely cant about them. But if the authority of Lessing, by making
people feel easy in their admiration for Shakespeare, perhaps increased
the influence of his works, and if his discussions of Aristotle have
given a new starting-point to modern criticism, it may be doubted whether
the immediate effect on literature of his own critical essays was so
great as Herr Stahr supposes. Surely "Götz" and "The Robbers" are nothing
like what he would have called Shakespearian, and the whole _Sturm und
Drang_ tendency would have roused in him nothing but antipathy. Fixed
principles in criticism are useful in helping us to form a judgment of
works already produced, but it is questionable whether they are not
rather a hindrance than a help to living production. Ben Jonson was a
fine critic, intimate with the classics as few men have either the
leisure or the strength of mind to be in this age of many books, and
built regular plays long before they were heard of in France. But he
continually trips and falls flat over his metewand of classical
propriety, his personages are abstractions, and fortunately neither his
precepts nor his practice influenced any one of his greater coevals.[160]
In breadth of understanding, and the gravity of purpose that comes of it,
he was far above Fletcher or Webster, but how far below either in the
subtler, the incalculable, qualities of a dramatic poet! Yet Ben, with
his principles off, could soar and sing with the best of them; and there
are strains in his lyrics which Herrick, the most Catullian of poets
since Catullus, could imitate, but never match. A constant reference to
the statutes which taste has codified would only bewilder the creative
instinct. Criticism can at best teach writers without genius what is to
be avoided or imitated. It cannot communicate life; and its effect, when
reduced to rules, has commonly been to produce that correctness which is
so praiseworthy and so intolerable. It cannot give taste, it can only
demonstrate who has had it. Lessing's essays in this kind were of service
to German literature by their manliness of style, whose example was worth
a hundred treatises, and by the stimulus there is in all original
thinking. Could he have written such a poem as he was capable of
conceiving, his influence would have been far greater. It is the living
soul, and not the metaphysical abstraction of it, that is genetic in
literature. If to do were as easy as to know what were good to be done!
It was out of his own failures to reach the ideal he saw so clearly, that
Lessing drew the wisdom which made him so admirable a critic. Even here,
too, genius can profit by no experience but its own.

For, in spite of Herr Stahr's protest, we must acknowledge the truth of
Lessing's own characteristic confession, that he was no poet. A man of
genius he unquestionably was, if genius may be claimed no less for force
than fineness of mind,--for the intensity of conviction that inspires the
understanding as much as for that apprehension of beauty which gives
energy of will to imagination,--but a poetic genius he was not. His mind
kindled by friction in the process of thinking, not in the flash of
conception, and its delight is in demonstration, not in bodying forth.
His prose can leap and run, his verse is always thinking of its feet. Yet
in his "Minna" and his "Emilia"[161] he shows one faculty of the
dramatist, that of construction, in a higher degree than any other
German.[162] Here his critical deductions served him to some purpose. The
action moves rapidly, there is no speechifying, and the parts are
coherent. Both plays act better than anything of Goethe or Schiller. But
it is the story that interests us, and not the characters. These are not,
it is true, the incorporation of certain ideas, or, still worse, of
certain dogmas, but they certainly seem something like machines by which
the motive of the play is carried on; and there is nothing of that
interplay of plot and character which makes Shakespeare more real in the
closet than other dramatists with all the helps of the theatre. It is a
striking illustration at once of the futility of mere critical insight
and of Lessing's want of imagination, that in the Emilia he should have
thought a Roman motive consistent with modern habits of thought, and that
in Nathan he should have been guilty of anachronisms which violate not
only the accidental truth of fact, but the essential truth of character.
Even if we allowed him imagination, it must be only on the lower plane of
prose; for of verse as anything more than so many metrical feet he had
not the faintest notion. Of that exquisite sympathy with the movement of
the mind, with every swifter or slower pulse of passion, which proves it
another species from prose, the very [Greek: aphroditae kai lura] of
speech, and not merely a higher one, he wanted the fineness of sense to
conceive. If we compare the prose of Dante or Milton, though both were
eloquent, with their verse, we see at once which was the most congenial
to them. Lessing has passages of freer and more harmonious utterance in
some of his most careless prose essays, than can be found in his Nathan
from the first line to the last. In the _numeris lege solutis_ he is
often snatched beyond himself, and becomes truly dithyrambic; in his
pentameters the march of the thought is comparatively hampered and
irresolute. His best things are not poetically delicate, but have the
tougher fibre of proverbs. Is it not enough, then, to be a great
prose-writer? They are as rare as great poets, and if Lessing have the
gift to stir and to dilate that something deeper than the mind which
genius only can reach, what matter if it be not done to music? Of his
minor poems we need say little. Verse was always more or less mechanical
with him, and his epigrams are almost all stiff, as if they were bad
translations from the Latin. Many of them are shockingly coarse, and in
liveliness are on a level with those of our Elizabethan period. Herr
Stahr, of course, cannot bear to give them up, even though Gervinus be
willing. The prettiest of his shorter poems (_Die Namen_)has been
appropriated by Coleridge, who has given it a grace which it wants in the
original. His Nathan, by a poor translation of which he is chiefly known
to English readers, is an Essay on Toleration in the form of a dialogue.
As a play, it has not the interest of Minna or Emilia, though the
Germans, who have a praiseworthy national stoicism where one of their
great writers is concerned, find in seeing it represented a grave
satisfaction, like that of subscribing to a monument. There is a sober
lustre of reflection in it that makes it very good reading; but it wants
the molten interfusion of thought and phrase which only imagination can

As Lessing's mind was continually advancing,--always open to new
impressions, and capable, as very few are, of apprehending the
many-sidedness of truth,--as he had the rare quality of being honest with
himself,--his works seem fragmentary, and give at first an impression of
incompleteness. But one learns at length to recognize and value this very
incompleteness as characteristic of the man who was growing lifelong, and
to whom the selfish thought that any share of truth could be exclusively
_his_ was an impossibility. At the end of the ninety-fifth number of the
_Dramaturgie_ he says: "I remind my readers here, that these pages are by
no means intended to contain a dramatic system. I am accordingly not
bound to solve all the difficulties which I raise. I am quite willing
that my thoughts should seem to want connection,--nay, even to contradict
each other,--if only there are thoughts in which they [my readers] find
material for thinking themselves. I wish to do nothing more than scatter
the _fermenta cognitionis_." That is Lessing's great praise, and gives
its chief value to his works,--a value, indeed, imperishable, and of the
noblest kind. No writer can leave a more precious legacy to posterity
than this; and beside this shining merit, all mere literary splendors
look pale and cold. There is that life in Lessing's thought which
engenders life, and not only thinks for us, but makes us think. Not
sceptical, but forever testing and inquiring, it is out of the cloud of
his own doubt that the flash comes at last with sudden and vivid
illumination. Flashes they indeed are, his finest intuitions, and of very
different quality from the equable north-light of the artist. He felt it,
and said it of himself, "Ever so many flashes of lightning do not make
daylight." We speak now of those more rememberable passages where his
highest individuality reveals itself in what may truly be called a
passion of thought. In the "Laocoön" there is daylight of the serenest
temper, and never was there a better example of the discourse of reason,
though even that is also a fragment.

But it is as a nobly original man, even more than as an original thinker,
that Lessing is precious to us, and that he is so considerable in German
literature. In a higher sense, but in the same kind, he is to Germans
what Dr. Johnson is to us,--admirable for what he was. Like Johnson's,
too, but still from a loftier plane, a great deal of his thought has a
direct bearing on the immediate life and interests of men. His genius was
not a St. Elmo's fire, as it so often is with mere poets,--as it was in
Shelley, for example, playing in ineffectual flame about the points of
his thought,--but was interfused with his whole nature and made a part of
his very being. To the Germans, with their weak nerve of sentimentalism,
his brave common-sense is a far wholesomer tonic than the cynicism of
Heine, which is, after all, only sentimentalism soured. His jealousy for
maintaining the just boundaries whether of art or speculation may warn
them to check with timely dikes the tendency of their thought to diffuse
inundation. Their fondness in aesthetic discussion for a nomenclature
subtile enough to split a hair at which even a Thomist would have
despaired, is rebuked by the clear simplicity of his style.[163] But he
is no exclusive property of Germany. As a complete man, constant,
generous, full of honest courage, as a hardy follower of Thought wherever
she might lead him, above all, as a confessor of that Truth which is
forever revealing itself to the seeker, and is the more loved because
never wholly revealable, he is an ennobling possession of mankind. Let
his own striking words characterize him:--

"Not the truth of which any one is, or supposes himself to be, possessed,
but the upright endeavor he has made to arrive at truth, makes the worth
of the man. For not by the possession, but by the investigation, of truth
are his powers expanded, wherein alone his ever-growing perfection
consists. Possession makes us easy, indolent, proud.

"If God held all truth shut in his right hand, and in his left nothing
but the ever-restless instinct for truth, though with the condition of
for ever and ever erring, and should say to me, Choose! I should bow
humbly to his left hand, and say, Father, give! pure truth is for Thee

It is not without reason that fame is awarded only after death. The
dust-cloud of notoriety which follows and envelopes the men who drive
with the wind bewilders contemporary judgment. Lessing, while he lived,
had little reward for his labor but the satisfaction inherent in all work
faithfully done; the highest, no doubt, of which human nature is capable,
and yet perhaps not so sweet as that sympathy of which the world's praise
is but an index. But if to perpetuate herself beyond the grave in healthy
and ennobling influences be the noblest aspiration of the mind, and its
fruition the only reward she would have deemed worthy of herself, then is
Lessing to be counted thrice fortunate. Every year since he was laid
prematurely in the earth has seen his power for good increase, and made
him more precious to the hearts and intellects of men. "Lessing," said
Goethe, "would have declined the lofty title of a Genius; but his
enduring influence testifies against himself. On the other hand, we have
in literature other and indeed important names of men who, while they
lived, were esteemed great geniuses, but whose influence ended with their
lives, and who, accordingly, were less than they and others thought. For,
as I have said, there is no genius without a productive power that
continues forever operative."[164]


    [147] G. E. Lessing. _Sein Leben und seine Werke_. Von Adolf Stahr.
    Vermehrte und verbesserte Volks-Ausgabe. Dritte Auflage Berlin. 1864.

    _The Same_. Translated by E. P. Evans, Ph. D., Professor, &c. in the
    University of Michigan. Boston: W. V. Spencer. 1866. 2 vols.

    G. E. Lessing's Sämmtliche Schriften, herausgegeben von Karl
    Lachmann. 1853-57. 12 Bände.

    [148] "If I write at all, it is not possible for me to write
    otherwise than just as I think and feel."--Lessing to his father,
    21st December, 1767.

    [149] "I am sure that Kleist would rather have taken another wound
    with him into his grave than have such stuff jabbered over him (_sich
    solch Zeug nachschwatzen lassen_)." Lessing to Gleim, 6th September

    [150] Letter to Klotz, 9th June, 1766.

    [151] Herr Stahr heads the fifth chapter of his Second Book, "Lessing
    at Wittenberg. December, 1751, to November, 1752." But we never feel
    quite sure of his dates. The Richier affair puts Lessing in Berlin in
    December, 1751, and he took his Master's degree at Wittenberg, 29th
    April, 1752. We are told that he finally left Wittenberg "toward the
    end" of that year. He himself, writing from Berlin in 1754, says that
    he has been absent from that city _nur ein halbes Jahr_ since 1748.
    There is only one letter for 1762, dated at Wittenberg, 9th June.

    [152] "Ramler," writes Georg Forster, "ist die Ziererei, die
    Eigenliebe die Eitelkeit in eigener Person."

    [153] Lessing to Von Murr, 25th November, 1768. The whole letter is
    well worth reading.

    [154] A favorite phrase of his, which Egbert has preserved for us
    with its Saxon accent, was, _Es kommt doch nischt dabey heraus_,
    implying that one might do something better for a constancy than
    shearing twine.

    [155] I find surprisingly little about Lessing in such of the
    contemporary correspondence of German literary men as I have read. A
    letter of Boie to Merck (10 April, 1775) gives us a glimpse of him.
    "Do you know that Lessing will probably marry Reiske's widow and come
    to Dresden in place of Hagedorn? The restless spirit! How he will get
    along with the artists, half of them, too, Italians, is to be
    seen.... Liffert and he have met and parted good friends. He has worn
    ever since on his finger the ring with the skeleton and butterfly
    which Liffert gave him. He is reported to be much dissatisfied with
    the theatrical filibustering of Goethe and Lenz, especially with the
    remarks on the drama in which so little respect is shown for his
    Aristotle, and the Leipzig folks are said to be greatly rejoiced at
    getting such an ally."

    [156] To his brother Karl, 20th April, 1774.

    [157] To the same, 20th March, 1777.

    [158] To the same, 2d February, 1774.

    [159] Gervinus, IV. 62.

    [160] It should be considered, by those sagacious persons who think
    that the most marvellous intellect of which we have any record could
    not master so much Latin and Greek as would serve a sophomore, that
    Shakespeare must through conversation have possessed himself of
    whatever principles of art Ben Jonson and the other university men
    had been able to deduce from their study of the classics. That they
    should not have discussed these matters over their sack at the
    Mermaid is incredible; that Shakespeare, who left not a drop in any
    orange he squeezed, could not also have got all the juice out of this
    one, is even more so.

    [161] In "Minna" and "Emilia" Lessing followed the lead of Diderot.
    In the Preface to the second edition of Diderot's _Théâtre_, he says:
    "I am very conscious that my taste, without Diderot's example and
    teaching, would have taken quite another direction. Perhaps one more
    my own, yet hardly one with which my understanding would in the long
    run have been so well content." Diderot's choice of prose was
    dictated and justified by the accentual poverty of his mother-tongue,
    Lessing certainly revised his judgment on this point (for it was not
    equally applicable to German), and wrote his maturer "Nathan" in what
    he took for blank verse. There was much kindred between the minds of
    the two men. Diderot always seems to us a kind of deboshed Lessing.
    Lessing was also indebted to Burke, Hume, the two Wartons, and Hurd,
    among other English writers. Not that he borrowed anything of them
    but the quickening of his own thought. It should be remembered that
    Rousseau was seventeen, Diderot and Sterne sixteen, and Winckelmann
    twelve years older than Lessing. Wieland was four years younger.

    [162] Goethe's appreciation of Lessing grew with his years. He writes
    to Lavater, 18th March, 1781: "Lessing's death has greatly depressed
    me. I had much pleasure in him and much hope of him." This is a
    little patronizing in tone. But in the last year of his life, talking
    with Eckermann, he naturally antedates his admiration, as
    reminiscence is wont to do: "You can conceive what an effect this
    piece (_Minna_)had upon us young people. It was, in fact, a shining
    meteor. It made us aware that something higher existed than anything
    whereof that feeble literary epoch had a notion. The first two acts
    are truly a masterpiece of exposition, from which one learned much
    and can always learn."

    [163] Nothing can be droller than the occasional translation by
    Vischer of a sentence of Lessing into his own jargon.

    [164] Eckermann, Gespräche mit Goethe, III. 229.


"We have had the great professor and founder of the philosophy of Vanity
in England. As I had good opportunities of knowing his proceedings almost
from day to day, he left no doubt in my mind that he entertained no
principle either to influence his heart or to guide his understanding but
vanity; with this vice he was possessed to a degree little short of
madness. Benevolence to the whole species, and want of feeling for every
individual with whom the professors come in contact, form the character
of the new philosophy. Setting up for an unsocial independence, this
their hero of vanity refuses the just price of common labor, as well as
the tribute which opulence owes to genius, and which, when paid, honors
the giver and the receiver, and then pleads his beggary as an excuse for
his crimes. He melts with tenderness for those only who touch him by the
remotest relation, and then, without one natural pang, casts away, as a
sort of offal and excrement, the spawn of his disgustful amours, and
sends his children to the hospital of foundlings. The bear loves, licks,
and forms her young, but bears are not philosophers."

This was Burke's opinion of the only contemporary who can be said to
rival him in fervid and sustained eloquence, to surpass him in grace and
persuasiveness of style. Perhaps we should have been more thankful to him
if he had left us instead a record of those "proceedings almost from day
to day" which he had such "good opportunities of knowing," but it
probably never entered his head that posterity might care as much about
the doings of the citizen of Geneva as about the sayings of even a
British Right Honorable. Vanity eludes recognition by its victims in more
shapes, and more pleasing, than any other passion, and perhaps had Mr.
Burke been able imaginatively to translate Swiss Jean Jacques into Irish
Edmund, he would have found no juster equivalent for the obnoxious
trisyllable than "righteous self-esteem." For Burke was himself also, in
the subtler sense of the word, a sentimentalist, that is, a man who took
what would now be called an aesthetic view of morals and politics. No man
who ever wrote English, except perhaps Mr. Ruskin, more habitually
mistook his own personal likes and dislikes, tastes and distastes, for
general principles, and this, it may be suspected, is the secret of all
merely eloquent writing. He hints at madness as an explanation of
Rousseau, and it is curious enough that Mr. Buckle was fain to explain
_him_ in the same way. It is not, we confess, a solution that we find
very satisfactory in this latter case. Burke's fury against the French
Revolution was nothing more than was natural to a desperate man in
self-defence. It was his own life, or, at least, all that made life dear
to him, that was in danger. He had all that abstract political wisdom
which may be naturally secreted by a magnanimous nature and a sensitive
temperament, absolutely none of that rough-and-tumble kind which is so
needful for the conduct of affairs. Fastidiousness is only another form
of egotism; and all men who know not where to look for truth save in the
narrow well of self will find their own image at the bottom, and mistake
it for what they are seeking. Burke's hatred of Rousseau was genuine and
instinctive. It was so genuine and so instinctive as no hatred can be but
that of self, of our own weaknesses as we see them in another man. But
there was also something deeper in it than this. There was mixed with it
the natural dread in the political diviner of the political logician,--in
the empirical, of the theoretic statesman. Burke, confounding the idea of
society with the form of it then existing, would have preserved that as
the only specific against anarchy. Rousseau, assuming that society as it
then existed was but another name for anarchy, would have reconstituted
it on an ideal basis. The one has left behind him some of the profoundest
aphorisms of political wisdom; the other, some of the clearest principles
of political science. The one, clinging to Divine right, found in the
fact that things were, a reason that they ought to be; the other, aiming
to solve the problem of the Divine order, would deduce from that
abstraction alone the claim of anything to be at all. There seems a mere
oppugnancy of nature between the two, and yet both were, in different
ways, the dupes of their own imaginations.

Now let us hear the opinion of a philosopher who _was_ a bear, whether
bears be philosophers or not. Boswell had a genuine relish for what was
superior in any way, from genius to claret, and of course he did not let
Rousseau escape him. "One evening at the Mitre, Johnson said
sarcastically to me, 'It seems, sir, you have kept very good company
abroad,--Rousseau and Wilkes!' I answered with a smile, 'My dear sir, you
don't call Rousseau bad company; do you really think _him_ a bad man?'
Johnson: 'Sir, if you are talking jestingly of this, I don't talk with
you. If you mean to be serious, I think him one of the worst of men, a
rascal who ought to be hunted out of society, as he has been. Three or
four nations have expelled him, and it is a shame that he is protected in
this country. Rousseau, sir, is a very bad man. I would sooner sign a
sentence for his transportation, than that of any felon who has gone from
the Old Bailey these many years. Yes, I should like to have him work in
the plantations.'" _We_ were the plantations then, and Rousseau was
destined to work there in another and much more wonderful fashion than
the gruff old Ursa Major imagined. However, there is always a refreshing
heartiness in his growl, a masculine bass with no snarl in it. The
Doctor's logic is of that fine old crusted Port sort, the native
manufacture of the British conservative mind. Three or four nations
_have_, therefore England ought. A few years later, had the Doctor been
living, if three or four nations had treated their kings as France did
hers, would he have thought the _ergo_ a very stringent one for England?

Mr. Burke, who could speak with studied respect of the Prince of Wales,
and of his vices with that charity which thinketh no evil and can afford
to think no evil of so important a living member of the British
Constitution, surely could have had no unmixed moral repugnance for
Rousseau's "disgustful amours." It was because they were _his_ that they
were so loathsome. Mr. Burke was a snob, though an inspired one. Dr.
Johnson, the friend of that wretchedest of lewd fellows, Richard Savage,
and of that gay man about town, Topham Beauclerk,--himself sprung from an
amour that would have been disgustful had it not been royal,--must also
have felt something more in respect of Rousseau than the mere repugnance
of virtue for vice. We must sometimes allow to personal temperament its
right of peremptory challenge. Johnson had not that fine sensitiveness to
the political atmosphere which made Burke presageful of coming tempest,
but both of them felt that there was something dangerous in this man.
Their dislike has in it somewhat of the energy of fear. Neither of them
had the same feeling toward Voltaire, the man of supreme talent, but both
felt that what Rousseau was possessed by was genius, with its terrible
force either to attract or repel.

  "By the pricking of my thumbs,
  Something wicked this way comes."

Burke and Johnson were both of them sincere men, both of them men of
character as well as of intellectual force; and we cite their opinions of
Rousseau with the respect which is due to an honest conviction which has
apparent grounds for its adoption, whether we agree with it or no. But it
strikes us as a little singular that one whose life was so full of moral
inconsistency, whose character is so contemptible in many ways, in some
we might almost say so revolting, should yet have exercised so deep and
lasting an influence, and on minds so various, should still be an object
of minute and earnest discussion,--that he should have had such vigor in
his intellectual loins as to have been the father of Châteaubriand,
Byron, Lamartine, George Sand, and many more in literature, in politics
of Jefferson and Thomas Paine,--that the spots he had haunted should draw
pilgrims so unlike as Gibbon and Napoleon, nay, should draw them still,
after the lapse of near a century. Surely there must have been a basis of
sincerity in this man seldom matched, if it can prevail against so many
reasons for repugnance, aversion, and even disgust. He could not have
been the mere sentimentalist and rhetorician for which the
rough-and-ready understanding would at first glance be inclined to
condemn him. In a certain sense he was both of these, but he was
something more. It will bring us a little nearer the point we are aiming
at if we quote one other and more recent English opinion of him.

Mr. Thomas Moore, returning pleasantly in a travelling-carriage from a
trip to Italy, in which he had never forgotten the poetical shop at home,
but had carefully noted down all the pretty images that occurred to him
for future use,--Mr. Thomas Moore, on his way back from a visit to his
noble friend Byron, at Venice, who had there been leading a life so gross
as to be talked about, even amid the crash of Napoleon's fall, and who
was just writing "Don Juan" for the improvement of the world,--Mr. Thomas
Moore, fresh from the reading of Byron's Memoirs, which were so
scandalous that, by some hocus-pocus, three thousand guineas afterward
found their way into his own pocket for consenting to suppress them,--Mr.
Thomas Moore, the _ci-devant_ friend of the Prince Regent, and the author
of Little's Poems, among other objects of pilgrimage visits _Les
Charmettes_, where Rousseau had lived with Madame de Warens. So good an
opportunity for occasional verses was not to be lost, so good a text for
a little virtuous moralizing not to be thrown away; and accordingly Mr.
Moore pours out several pages of octosyllabic disgust at the sensuality
of the dead man of genius. There was no horror for Byron. Toward him all
was suavity and decorous _bienséance_. That lively sense of benefits to
be received made the Irish Anacreon wink with both his little eyes. In
the judgment of a liberal like Mr. Moore, were not the errors of a lord
excusable? But with poor Rousseau the case was very different. The son of
a watchmaker, an outcast from boyhood up, always on the perilous edge of
poverty,--what right had he to indulge himself in any immoralities? So it
is always with the sentimentalists. It is never the thing in itself that
is bad or good, but the thing in its relation to some conventional and
mostly selfish standard. Moore could be a moralist, in this case, without
any trouble, and with the advantage of winning Lord Lansdowne's approval;
he could write some graceful verses which everybody would buy, and for
the rest it is not hard to be a stoic in eight-syllable measure and a
travelling-carriage. The next dinner at Bowood will taste none the worse.
Accordingly he speaks of

                "The mire, the strife
  And vanities of this man's life,
  Who more than all that e'er have glowed
  With fancy's flame (and it was his
  In fullest warmth and radiance) showed
  What an impostor Genius is;
  How, with that strong mimetic art
  Which forms its life and soul, it takes
  All shapes of thought, all hues of heart,
  Nor feels itself one throb it wakes;
  How, like a gem, its light may shine,
  O'er the dark path by mortals trod,
  Itself as mean a worm the while
  As crawls at midnight o'er the sod;
         *       *       *       *       *
  How, with the pencil hardly dry
  From coloring up such scenes of love
  And beauty as make young hearts sigh,
  And dream and think through heaven they rove," &c., &c.

Very spirited, is it not? One has only to overlook a little
threadbareness in the similes, and it is very good oratorical verse. But
would we believe in it, we must never read Mr. Moore's own journal, and
find out how thin a piece of veneering his own life was,--how he lived in
sham till his very nature had become subdued to it, till he could
persuade himself that a sham could be written into a reality, and
actually made experiment thereof in his Diary.

One verse in this diatribe deserves a special comment,--

  "What an impostor Genius is!"

In two respects there is nothing to be objected to in it. It is of eight
syllables, and "is" rhymes unexceptionably with "his." But is there the
least filament of truth in it? We venture to assert, not the least. It
was not Rousseau's genius that was an impostor. It was the one thing in
him that was always true. We grant that, in allowing that a man has
genius. Talent is that which is in a man's power; genius is that in whose
power a man is. That is the very difference between them. We might turn
the tables on Moore, the man of talent, and say truly enough, What an
impostor talent is! Moore talks of the mimetic power with a total
misapprehension of what it really is. The mimetic power had nothing
whatever to do with the affair. Rousseau had none of it; Shakespeare had
it in excess; but what difference would it make in our judgment of Hamlet
or Othello if a manuscript of Shakespeare's memoirs should turn up, and
we should find out that he had been a pitiful fellow? None in the world;
for he is not a professed moralist, and his life does not give the
warrant to his words. But if Demosthenes, after all his Philippies,
throws away his shield and runs, we feel the contemptibleness of the
contradiction. With genius itself we never find any fault. It would be an
over-nicety that would do that. We do not get invited to nectar and
ambrosia so often that we think of grumbling and saying we have better at
home. No; the same genius that mastered him who wrote the poem masters us
in reading it, and we care for nothing outside the poem itself. How the
author lived, what he wore, how he looked,--all that is mere gossip,
about which we need not trouble ourselves. Whatever he was or did,
somehow or other God let him be worthy to write _this_, and that is
enough for us. We forgive everything to the genius; we are inexorable to
the man. Shakespeare, Goethe, Burns,--what have their biographies to do
with us? Genius is not a question of character. It may be sordid, like
the lamp of Aladdin, in its externals; what care we, while the touch of
it builds palaces for us, makes us rich as only men in dream-land are
rich, and lords to the utmost bound of imagination? So, when people talk
of the ungrateful way in which the world treats its geniuses, they speak
unwisely. There is no work of genius which has not been the delight of
mankind, no word of genius to which the human heart and soul have not,
sooner or later, responded. But the man whom the genius takes possession
of for its pen, for its trowel, for its pencil, for its chisel, _him_ the
world treats according to his deserts. Does Burns drink? It sets him to
gauging casks of gin. For, remember, it is not to the practical world
that the genius appeals; it _is_ the practical world which judges of the
man's fitness for its uses, and has a right so to judge. No amount of
patronage could have made distilled liquors less toothsome to Robbie
Burns, as no amount of them could make a Burns of the Ettrick Shepherd.

There is an old story in the _Gesta Romanorum_ of a priest who was found
fault with by one of his parishioners because his life was in painful
discordance with his teaching. So one day he takes his critic out to a
stream, and, giving him to drink of it, asks him if he does not find it
sweet and pure water. The parishioner, having answered that it was, is
taken to the source, and finds that what had so refreshed him flowed from
between the jaws of a dead dog. "Let this teach thee," said the priest,
"that the very best doctrine may take its rise in a very impure and
disgustful spring, and that excellent morals may be taught by a man who
has no morals at all." It is easy enough to see the fallacy here. Had the
man known beforehand from what a carrion fountain-head the stream issued,
he could not have drunk of it without loathing. Had the priest merely
bidden him to _look_ at the stream and see how beautiful it was, instead
of tasting it, it would have been quite another matter. And this is
precisely the difference between what appeals to our aesthetic and to our
moral sense, between what is judged of by the taste and the conscience.

It is when the sentimentalist turns preacher of morals that we
investigate his character, and are justified in so doing. He may express
as many and as delicate shades of feeling as he likes,--for this the
sensibility of his organization perfectly fits him, no other person could
do it so well,--but the moment he undertakes to establish his feeling as
a rule of conduct, we ask at once how far are his own life and deed in
accordance with what he preaches? For every man feels instinctively that
all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely
action; and that while tenderness of feeling and susceptibility to
generous emotions are accidents of temperament, goodness is an
achievement of the will and a quality of the life. Fine words, says our
homely old proverb, butter no parsnips; and if the question be how to
render those vegetables palatable, an ounce of butter would be worth more
than all the orations of Cicero. The only conclusive evidence of a man's
sincerity is that he give _himself_ for a principle. Words, money, all
things else, are comparatively easy to give away; but when a man makes a
gift of his daily life and practice, it is plain that the truth, whatever
it may be, has taken possession of him. From that sincerity his words
gain the force and pertinency of deeds, and his money is no longer the
pale drudge 'twixt man and man, but, by a beautiful magic, what erewhile
bore the image and superscription of Caesar seems now to bear the image
and superscription of God. It is thus that there is a genius for
goodness, for magnanimity, for self-sacrifice, as well as for creative
art; and it is thus that by a more refined sort of Platonism the Infinite
Beauty dwells in and shapes to its own likeness the soul which gives it
body and individuality. But when Moore charges genius with being an
impostor, the confusion of his ideas is pitiable. There is nothing so
true, so sincere, so downright and forthright, as genius. It is always
truer than the man himself is, greater than he. If Shakespeare the man
had been as marvellous a creature as the genius that wrote his plays,
that genius so comprehensive in its intelligence, so wise even in its
play, that its clowns are moralists and philosophers, so penetrative that
a single one of its phrases reveals to us the secret of our own
character, would his contemporaries have left us so wholly without record
of him as they have done, distinguishing him in no wise from his

Rousseau, no doubt, was weak, nay, more than that, was sometimes
despicable, but yet is not fairly to be reckoned among the herd of
sentimentalists. It is shocking that a man whose preaching made it
fashionable for women of rank to nurse their own children should have
sent his own, as soon as born, to the foundling hospital, still more
shocking that, in a note to his _Discours sur l'Inégalité_, he should
speak of this crime as one of the consequences of our social system. But
for all that there was a faith and an ardor of conviction in him that
distinguish him from most of the writers of his time. Nor were his
practice and his preaching always inconsistent. He contrived to pay
regularly, whatever his own circumstances were, a pension of one hundred
_livres_ a year to a maternal aunt who had been kind to him in childhood.
Nor was his asceticism a sham. He might have turned his gift into laced
coats and _châteaux_ as easily as Voltaire, had he not held it too sacred
to be bartered away in any such losing exchange.

But what is worthy of especial remark is this,--that in nearly all that
he wrote his leading object was the good of his kind, and that through
all the vicissitudes of a life which illness, sensibility of temperament,
and the approaches of insanity rendered wretched,--the associate of
infidels, the foundling child, as it were, of an age without belief,
least of all in itself,--he professed and evidently felt deeply a faith
in the goodness both of man and of God. There is no such thing as
scoffing in his writings. On the other hand, there is no stereotyped
morality. He does not ignore the existence of scepticism; he recognizes
its existence in his own nature, meets it frankly face to face, and makes
it confess that there are things in the teaching of Christ that are
deeper than its doubt. The influence of his early education at Geneva is
apparent here. An intellect so acute as his, trained in the school of
Calvin in a republic where theological discussion was as much the
amusement of the people as the opera was at Paris, could not fail to be a
good logician. He had the fortitude to follow his logic wherever it led
him. If the very impressibility of character which quickened his
perception of the beauties of nature, and made him alive to the charm of
music and musical expression, prevented him from being in the highest
sense an original writer, and if his ideas were mostly suggested to him
by books, yet the clearness, consecutiveness, and eloquence with which he
stated and enforced them made them his own. There was at least that
original fire in him which could fuse them and run them in a novel mould.
His power lay in this very ability of manipulating the thoughts of
others. Fond of paradox he doubtless was, but he had a way of putting
things that arrested attention and excited thought. It was, perhaps, this
very sensibility of the surrounding atmosphere of feeling and
speculation, which made Rousseau more directly influential on
contemporary thought (or perhaps we should say sentiment) than any writer
of his time. And this is rarely consistent with enduring greatness in
literature. It forces us to remember, against our will, the oratorical
character of his works. They were all pleas, and he a great advocate,
with Europe in the jury-box. Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm, eloquence
produces conviction for the moment, but it is only by truth to nature and
the everlasting intuitions of mankind that those abiding influences are
won that enlarge from generation to generation. Rousseau was in many
respects--as great pleaders always are--a man of the day, who must needs
become a mere name to posterity, yet he could not but have had in him
some not inconsiderable share of that principle by which man eternizes
himself. For it is only to such that the night cometh not in which no man
shall work, and he is still operative both in politics and literature by
the principles he formulated or the emotions to which he gave a voice so
piercing and so sympathetic.

In judging Rousseau, it would be unfair not to take note of the malarious
atmosphere in which he grew up. The constitution of his mind was thus
early infected with a feverish taint that made him shiveringly sensitive
to a temperature which hardier natures found bracing. To him this rough
world was but too literally a rack. Good-humored Mother Nature commonly
imbeds the nerves of her children in a padding of self-conceit that
serves as a buffer against the ordinary shocks to which even a life of
routine is liable, and it would seem at first sight as if Rousseau had
been better cared for than usual in this regard. But as his self-conceit
was enormous, so was the reaction from it proportionate, and the fretting
suspiciousness of temper, sure mark of an unsound mind, which rendered
him incapable of intimate friendship, while passionately longing for it,
became inevitably, when turned inward, a tormenting self-distrust. To
dwell in unrealities is the doom of the sentimentalist; but it should not
be forgotten that the same fitful intensity of emotion which makes them
real as the means of elation, gives them substance also for torture. Too
irritably jealous to endure the rude society of men, he steeped his
senses in the enervating incense that women are only too ready to burn.
If their friendship be a safeguard to the other sex, their homage is
fatal to all but the strongest, and Rousseau was weak both by inheritance
and early training. His father was one of those feeble creatures for whom
a fine phrase could always satisfactorily fill the void that
non-performance leaves behind it. If he neglected duty, he made up for it
by that cultivation of the finer sentiments of our common nature which
waters flowers of speech with the brineless tears of a flabby remorse,
without one fibre of resolve in it, and which impoverishes the character
in proportion as it enriches the vocabulary. He was a very Apicius in
that digestible kind of woe which makes no man leaner, and had a favorite
receipt for cooking you up a sorrow _à la douleur inassouvie_ that had
just enough delicious sharpness in it to bring tears into the eyes by
tickling the palate. "When he said to me, 'Jean Jacques, let us speak of
thy mother,' I said to him, 'Well, father, we are going to weep, then,'
and this word alone drew tears from him. 'Ah !' said he, groaning, 'give
her back to me, console me for her, fill the void she has left in my
soul!'" Alas! in such cases, the void she leaves is only that she found.
The grief that seeks any other than its own society will erelong want an
object. This admirable parent allowed his son to become an outcast at
sixteen, without any attempt to reclaim him, in order to enjoy unmolested
a petty inheritance to which the boy was entitled in right of his mother.
"This conduct," Rousseau tells us, "of a father whose tenderness and
virtue were so well known to me, caused me to make reflections on myself
which have not a little contributed to make my heart sound. I drew from
it this great maxim of morals, the only one perhaps serviceable in
practice, to avoid situations which put our duties in opposition to our
interest, and which show us our own advantage in the wrong of another,
sure that in such situations, _however sincere may be one's love of
virtue_, it sooner or later grows weak without our perceiving it, _and
that we become unjust and wicked in action without having ceased to be
just and good in soul_."

This maxim may do for that "fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised
and unbreathed, that never sallies out and seeks its adversary," which
Milton could not praise,--that is, for a manhood whose distinction it is
not to be manly,--but it is chiefly worth notice as being the
characteristic doctrine of sentimentalism. This disjoining of deed from
will, of practice from theory, is to put asunder what God has joined by
an indissoluble sacrament. The soul must be tainted before the action
become corrupt; and there is no self-delusion more fatal than that which
makes the conscience dreamy with the anodyne of lofty sentiments, while
the life is grovelling and sensual,--witness Coleridge. In his case we
feel something like disgust. But where, as in his son Hartley, there is
hereditary infirmity, where the man sees the principle that might rescue
him slip from the clutch of a nerveless will, like a rope through the
fingers of a drowning man, and the confession of faith is the moan of
despair, there is room for no harsher feeling than pity. Rousseau showed
through life a singular proneness for being convinced by his own
eloquence; he was always his own first convert; and this reconciles his
power as a writer with his weakness as a man. He and all like him mistake
emotion for conviction, velleity for resolve, the brief eddy of sentiment
for the midcurrent of ever-gathering faith in duty that draws to itself
all the affluents of conscience and will, and gives continuity of purpose
to life. They are like men who love the stimulus of being under
conviction, as it is called, who, forever getting religion, never get
capital enough to retire upon and spend for their own need and the common

The sentimentalist is the spiritual hypochondriac, with whom fancies
become facts, while facts are a discomfort because they will not be
evaporated into fancy. In his eyes, Theory is too fine a dame to confess
even a country-cousinship with coarse handed Practice, whose homely ways
would disconcert her artificial world. The very susceptibility that makes
him quick to feel, makes him also incapable of deep and durable feeling.
He loves to think he suffers, and keeps a pet sorrow, a blue-devil
familiar, that goes with him everywhere, like Paracelsus's black dog. He
takes good care, however, that it shall not be the true sulphurous
article that sometimes takes a fancy to fly away with his conjurer. René
says: "In my madness I had gone so far as even to wish I might experience
a misfortune, so that my suffering might at least have a real object."
But no; selfishness is only active egotism, and there is nothing and
nobody, with a single exception, which this sort of creature will not
sacrifice, rather than give any other than an imaginary pang to his idol.
Vicarious pain he is not unwilling to endure, nay, will even commit
suicide by proxy, like the German poet who let his wife kill herself to
give him a sensation. Had young Jerusalem been anything like Goethe's
portrait of him in Werther, he would have taken very good care not to
blow out the brains which he would have thought only too precious. Real
sorrows are uncomfortable things, but purely aesthetic ones are by no
means unpleasant, and I have always fancied the handsome young Wolfgang
writing those distracted letters to Auguste Stolberg with a looking-glass
in front of him to give back an image of his desolation, and finding it
rather pleasant than otherwise to shed the tear of sympathy with self
that would seem so bitter to his fair correspondent. The tears that have
real salt in them will keep; they are the difficult, manly tears that are
shed in secret; but the pathos soon evaporates from that fresh-water with
which a man can bedew a dead donkey in public, while his wife is having a
good cry over his neglect of her at home. We do not think the worse of
Goethe for hypothetically desolating himself in the fashion aforesaid,
for with many constitutions it is as purely natural a crisis as
dentition, which the stronger worry through, and turn out very sensible,
agreeable fellows. But where there is an arrest of development, and the
heartbreak of the patient is audibly prolonged through life, we have a
spectacle which the toughest heart would wish to get as far away from as

We would not be supposed to overlook the distinction, too often lost
sight of, between sentimentalism and sentiment, the latter being a very
excellent thing in its way, as genuine things are apt to be. Sentiment is
intellectualized emotion, emotion precipitated, as it were, in pretty
crystals by the fancy. This is the delightful staple of the poets of
social life like Horace and Béranger, or Thackeray, when he too rarely
played with verse. It puts into words for us that decorous average of
feeling to the expression of which society can consent without danger of
being indiscreetly moved. It is excellent for people who are willing to
save their souls alive to any extent that shall not be discomposing. It
is even satisfying till some deeper experience has given us a hunger
which what we so glibly call "the world" cannot sate, just as a water-ice
is nourishment enough to a man who has had his dinner. It is the
sufficing lyrical interpreter of those lighter hours that should make
part of every healthy man's day, and is noxious only when it palls men's
appetite for the truly profound poetry which is very passion of very soul
sobered by afterthought and embodied in eternal types by imagination.
True sentiment is emotion ripened by a slow ferment of the mind and
qualified to an agreeable temperance by that taste which is the
conscience of polite society. But the sentimentalist always insists on
taking his emotion neat, and, as his sense gradually deadens to the
stimulus, increases his dose till he ends in a kind of moral deliquium.
At first the debaucher, he becomes at last the victim of his sensations.

Among the ancients we find no trace of sentimentalism. Their masculine
mood both of body and mind left no room for it, and hence the bracing
quality of their literature compared with that of recent times, its tonic
property, that seems almost too astringent to palates relaxed by a
daintier diet. The first great example of the degenerate modern tendency
was Petrarch, who may be said to have given it impulse and direction. A
more perfect specimen of the type has not since appeared. An intellectual
voluptuary, a moral _dilettante_, the first instance of that character,
since too common, the gentleman in search of a sensation, seeking a
solitude at Vaucluse because it made him more likely to be in demand at
Avignon, praising philosophic poverty with a sharp eye to the next rich
benefice in the gift of his patron, commending a good life but careful
first of a good living, happy only in seclusion but making a dangerous
journey to enjoy the theatrical show of a coronation in the Capitol,
cherishing a fruitless passion which broke his heart three or four times
a year and yet could not make an end of him till he had reached the ripe
age of seventy and survived his mistress a quarter of a century,--surely
a more exquisite perfection of inconsistency would be hard to find.

When Petrarch returned from his journey into the North of Europe in 1332,
he balanced the books of his unrequited passion, and, finding that he had
now been in love seven years, thought the time had at last come to call
deliberately on Death. Had Death taken him at his word, he would have
protested that he was only in fun. For we find him always taking good
care of an excellent constitution, avoiding the plague with commendable
assiduity, and in the very year when he declares it absolutely essential
to his peace of mind to die for good and all, taking refuge in the
fortress of Capranica, from a wholesome dread of having his throat cut by
robbers. There is such a difference between dying in a sonnet with a
cambric handkerchief at one's eyes, and the prosaic reality of demise
certified in the parish register! Practically it is inconvenient to be
dead. Among other things, it puts an end to the manufacture of sonnets.
But there seems to have been an excellent understanding between Petrarch
and Death, for he was brought to that grisly monarch's door so often,
that, otherwise, nothing short of a miracle or the nine lives of that
animal whom love also makes lyrical could have saved him. "I consent," he
cries, "to live and die in Africa among its serpents, upon Caucasus, or
Atlas, if, while I live, to breathe a pure air, and after my death a
little corner of earth where to bestow my body, may be allowed me. This
is all I ask, but this I cannot obtain. Doomed always to wander, and to
be a stranger everywhere, O Fortune, Fortune, fix me at last to some one
spot! I do not covet thy favors. Let me enjoy a tranquil poverty, let me
pass in this retreat the few days that remain to me!"  The pathetic stop
of Petrarch's poetical organ was one he could pull out at pleasure,--and
indeed we soon learn to distrust literary tears, as the cheap subterfuge
for want of real feeling with natures of this quality. Solitude with him
was but the pseudonyme of notoriety. Poverty was the archdeaconry of
Parma, with other ecclesiastical pickings. During his retreat at
Vaucluse, in the very height of that divine sonneteering love of Laura,
of that sensitive purity which called Avignon Babylon, and rebuked the
sinfulness of Clement, he was himself begetting that kind of children
which we spell with a _b_. We believe that, if Messer Francesco had been
present when the woman was taken in adultery, he would have flung the
first stone without the slightest feeling of inconsistency, nay, with a
sublime sense of virtue. The truth is, that it made very little
difference to him what sort of proper sentiment he expressed, provided he
could do it elegantly and with unction.

Would any one feel the difference between his faint abstractions and the
Platonism of a powerful nature fitted alike for the withdrawal of ideal
contemplation and for breasting the storms of life,--would any one know
how wide a depth divides a noble friendship based on sympathy of pursuit
and aspiration, on that mutual help which souls capable of
self-sustainment are the readiest to give or to take, and a simulated
passion, true neither to the spiritual nor the sensual part of man,--let
him compare the sonnets of Petrarch with those which Michel Angelo
addressed to Vittoria Colonna. In them the airiest pinnacles of sentiment
and speculation are buttressed with solid mason-work of thought, and of
an actual, not fancied experience, and the depth of feeling is measured
by the sobriety and reserve of expression, while in Petrarch's all
ingenuousness is frittered away into ingenuity. Both are cold, but the
coldness of the one is self-restraint, while the other chills with
pretence of warmth. In Michel Angelo's, you feel the great architect; in
Petrarch's the artist who can best realize his conception in the limits
of a cherry-stone. And yet this man influenced literature longer and more
widely than almost any other in modern times. So great is the charm of
elegance, so unreal is the larger part of what is written!

Certainly I do not mean to say that a work of art should be looked at by
the light of the artist's biography, or measured by our standard of his
character. Nor do I reckon what was genuine in Petrarch--his love of
letters, his refinement, his skill in the superficial graces of language,
that rhetorical art by which the music of words supplants their meaning,
and the verse moulds the thought instead of being plastic to it--after
any such fashion. I have no ambition for that character of _valet de
chambre_ which is said to disenchant the most heroic figures into mere
every-day personages, for it implies a mean soul no less than a servile
condition. But we have a right to demand a certain amount of reality,
however small, in the emotion of a man who makes it his business to
endeavor at exciting our own. We have a privilege of nature to shiver
before a painted flame, how cunningly soever the colors be laid on. Yet
our love of minute biographical detail, our desire to make ourselves
spies upon the men of the past, seems so much of an instinct in us, that
we must look for the spring of it in human nature, and that somewhat
deeper than mere curiosity or love of gossip. It should seem to arise
from what must be considered on the whole a creditable feeling, namely,
that we value character more than any amount of talent,--the skill to
_be_ something, above that of doing anything but the best of its kind.
The highest creative genius, and that only, is privileged from arrest by
this personality, for there the thing produced is altogether disengaged
from the producer. But in natures incapable of this escape from
themselves, the author is inevitably mixed with his work, and we have a
feeling that the amount of his sterling character is the security for the
notes he issues. Especially we feel so when truth to self, which is
always self-forgetful, and not truth to nature, makes an essential part
of the value of what is offered us; as where a man undertakes to narrate
personal experience or to enforce a dogma. This is particularly true as
respects sentimentalists, because of their intrusive self-consciousness;
for there is no more universal characteristic of human nature than the
instinct of men to apologize to themselves for themselves, and to justify
personal failings by generalizing them into universal laws. A man would
be the keenest devil's advocate against himself, were it not that he has
always taken a retaining fee for the defence; for we think that the
indirect and mostly unconscious pleas in abatement which we read between
the lines in the works of many authors are oftener written to set
themselves right in their own eyes than in those of the world. And in the
real life of the sentimentalist it is the same. He is under the wretched
necessity of keeping up, at least in public, the character he has
assumed, till he at last reaches that last shift of bankrupt
self-respect, to play the hypocrite with himself. Lamartine, after
passing round the hat in Europe and America, takes to his bed from
wounded pride when the French Senate votes him a subsidy, and sheds tears
of humiliation. Ideally, he resents it; in practical coin, he will accept
the shame without a wry face.

George Sand, speaking of Rousseau's "Confessions," says that an
autobiographer always makes himself the hero of his own novel, and cannot
help idealizing, even if he would. But the weak point of all
sentimentalists is that they always have been, and always continue under
every conceivable circumstance to be, their own ideals, whether they are
writing their own lives or no. Rousseau opens his book with the
statement: "I am not made like any of those I have seen; I venture to
believe myself unlike any that exists. If I am not worth more, at least I
am different." O exquisite cunning of self-flattery! It is this very
imagined difference that makes us worth more in our own foolish sight.
For while all men are apt to think, or to persuade themselves that they
think, all other men their accomplices in vice or weakness, they are not
difficult of belief that they are singular in any quality or talent on
which they hug themselves. More than this; people who are truly original
are the last to find it out, for the moment we become conscious of a
virtue it has left us or is getting ready to go. Originality does not
consist in a fidgety assertion of selfhood, but in the faculty of getting
rid of it altogether, that the truer genius of the man, which commerces
with universal nature and with other souls through a common sympathy with
that, may take all his powers wholly to itself,--and the truly original
man could no more be jealous of his peculiar gift, than the grass could
take credit to itself for being green. What is the reason that all
children are geniuses, (though they contrive so soon to outgrow that
dangerous quality,) except that they never cross-examine themselves on
the subject? The moment that process begins, their speech loses its gift
of unexpectedness, and they become as tediously impertinent as the rest
of us.

If there never was any one like him, if he constituted a genus in
himself, to what end write confessions in which no other human being
could ever be in a condition to take the least possible interest? All men
are interested in Montaigne in proportion as all men find more of
themselves in him, and all men see but one image in the glass which the
greatest of poets holds up to nature, an image which at once startles and
charms them with its familiarity. Fabulists always endow their animals
with the passions and desires of men. But if an ox could dictate his
confessions, what glimmer of understanding should we find in those bovine
confidences, unless on some theory of pre existence, some blank misgiving
of a creature moving about in worlds not realized? The truth is, that we
recognize the common humanity of Rousseau in the very weakness that
betrayed him into this conceit of himself; we find he is just like the
rest of us in this very assumption of essential difference, for among all
animals man is the only one who tries to pass for more than he is, and so
involves himself in the condemnation of seeming less.

But it would be sheer waste of time to hunt Rousseau through all his
doublings of inconsistency, and run him to earth in every new paradox.
His first two books attacked, one of them literature, and the other
society. But this did not prevent him from being diligent with his pen,
nor from availing himself of his credit with persons who enjoyed all the
advantages of that inequality whose evils he had so pointedly exposed.
Indeed, it is curious how little practical communism there has been, how
few professors it has had who would not have gained by a general
dividend. It is perhaps no frantic effort of generosity in a philosopher
with ten crowns in his pocket when he offers to make common stock with a
neighbor who has ten thousand of yearly income, nor is it an uncommon
thing to see such theories knocked clean out of a man's head by the
descent of a thumping legacy. But, consistent or not, Rousseau remains
permanently interesting as the highest and most perfect type of the
sentimentalist of genius. His was perhaps the acutest mind that was ever
mated with an organization so diseased, the brain most far-reaching in
speculation that ever kept itself steady and worked out its problems amid
such disordered tumult of the nerves.[166] His letter to the Archbishop
of Paris, admirable for its lucid power and soberness of tone, and his
_Rousseau juge de Jean Jacques_, which no man can read and believe him to
have been sane, show him to us in his strength and weakness, and give us
a more charitable, let us hope therefore a truer, notion of him than his
own apology for himself. That he was a man of genius appears unmistakably
in his impressibility by the deeper meaning of the epoch in which he
lived. Before an eruption, clouds steeped through and through with
electric life gather over the crater, as if in sympathy and expectation.
As the mountain heaves and cracks, these vapory masses are seamed with
fire, as if they felt and answered the dumb agony that is struggling for
utterance below. Just such flashes of eager sympathetic fire break
continually from the cloudy volumes of Rousseau, the result at once and
the warning of that convulsion of which Paris was to be the crater and
all Europe to feel the spasm. There are symptoms enough elsewhere of that
want of faith in the existing order which made the Revolution
inevitable,--even so shallow an observer as Horace Walpole could forebode
it so early as 1765,--but Rousseau more than all others is the
unconscious expression of the groping after something radically new, the
instinct for a change that should be organic and pervade every fibre of
the social and political body. Freedom of thought owes far more to the
jester Voltaire, who also had his solid kernel of earnest, than to the
sombre Genevese, whose earnestness is of the deadly kind. Yet, for good
or evil, the latter was the father of modern democracy, and with out him
our Declaration of Independence would have wanted some of those sentences
in which the immemorial longings of the poor and the dreams of solitary
enthusiasts were at last affirmed as axioms in the manifesto of a nation,
so that all the world might hear.

Though Rousseau, like many other fanatics, had a remarkable vein of
common sense in him, (witness his remarks on duelling, on
landscape-gardening, on French poetry, and much of his thought on
education,) we cannot trace many practical results to his teaching, least
of all in politics. For the great difficulty with his system, if system
it may be called, is, that, while it professes to follow nature, it not
only assumes as a starting-point that the individual man may be made over
again, but proceeds to the conclusion that man himself, that human
nature, must be made over again, and governments remodelled on a purely
theoretic basis. But when something like an experiment in this direction
was made in 1789, not only did it fail as regarded man in general, but
even as regards the particular variety of man that inhabited France. The
Revolution accomplished many changes, and beneficent ones, yet it left
France peopled, not by a new race without traditions, but by Frenchmen.
Still, there could not but be a wonderful force in the words of a man
who, above all others, had the secret of making abstractions glow with
his own fervor; and his ideas--dispersed now in the atmosphere of
thought--have influenced, perhaps still continue to influence, speculative
minds, which prefer swift and sure generalization to hesitating and
doubtful experience.

Rousseau has, in one respect, been utterly misrepresented and
misunderstood. Even Châteaubriand most unfilially classes him and
Voltaire together. It appears to me that the inmost core of his being was
religious. Had he remained in the Catholic Church he might have been a
saint. Had he come earlier, he might have founded an order. His was
precisely the nature on which religious enthusiasm takes the strongest
hold,--a temperament which finds a sensuous delight in spiritual things,
and satisfies its craving for excitement with celestial debauch. He had
not the iron temper of a great reformer and organizer like Knox, who,
true Scotchman that he was, found a way to weld this world and the other
together in a cast-iron creed; but he had as much as any man ever had
that gift of a great preacher to make the oratorical fervor which
persuades himself while it lasts into the abiding conviction of his
hearers. That very persuasion of his that the soul could remain pure
while the life was corrupt, is not unexampled among men who have left
holier names than he. His "Confessions," also, would assign him to that
class with whom the religious sentiment is strong, and the moral nature
weak. They are apt to believe that they may, as special pleaders say,
confess and avoid. Hawthorne has admirably illustrated this in the
penance of Mr. Dimmesdale. With all the soil that is upon Rousseau, I
cannot help looking on him as one capable beyond any in his generation of
being divinely possessed; and if it happened otherwise, when we remember
the much that hindered and the little that helped in a life and time like
his, we shall be much readier to pity than to condemn. It was his very
fitness for being something better that makes him able to shock us so
with what in too many respects he unhappily was. Less gifted, he had been
less hardly judged. More than any other of the sentimentalists, except
possibly Sterne, he had in him a staple of sincerity. Compared with
Châteaubriand, he is honesty, compared with Lamartine, he is manliness
itself. His nearest congener in our own tongue is Cowper.

In the whole school there is a sickly taint. The strongest mark which
Rousseau has left upon literature is a sensibility to the picturesque in
Nature, not with Nature as a strengthener and consoler, a wholesome tonic
for a mind ill at ease with itself, but with Nature as a kind of feminine
echo to the mood, flattering it with sympathy rather than correcting it
with rebuke or lifting it away from its unmanly depression, as in the
wholesomer fellow-feeling of Wordsworth. They seek in her an accessary,
and not a reproof. It is less a sympathy with Nature than a sympathy with
ourselves as we compel her to reflect us. It is solitude, Nature for her
estrangement from man, not for her companionship with him,--it is
desolation and ruin, Nature as she has triumphed over man,--with which
this order of mind seeks communion and in which it finds solace. It is
with the hostile and destructive power of matter, and not with the spirit
of life and renewal that dwells in it, that they ally themselves. And in
human character it is the same. St. Preux, René, Werther, Manfred,
Quasimodo, they are all anomalies, distortions, ruins,--so much easier is
it to caricature life from our own sickly conception of it, than to paint
it in its noble simplicity; so much cheaper is unreality than truth.

Every man is conscious that he leads two lives,--the one trivial and
ordinary, the other sacred and recluse; one which he carries to society
and the dinner-table, the other in which his youth and aspiration survive
for him, and which is a confidence between himself and God. Both may be
equally sincere, and there need be no contradiction between them, any
more than in a healthy man between soul and body. If the higher life be
real and earnest, its result, whether in literature or affairs, will be
real and earnest too. But no man can produce great things who is not
thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself, who would not exchange the
finest show for the poorest reality, who does not so love his work that
he is not only glad to give himself for it, but finds rather a gain than
a sacrifice in the surrender. The sentimentalist does not think of what
he does so much as of what the world will think of what he does. He
translates should into would, looks upon the spheres of duty and beauty
as alien to each other, and can never learn how life rounds itself to a
noble completeness between these two opposite but mutually sustaining
poles of what we long for and what we must.

Did Rousseau, then, lead a life of this quality? Perhaps, when we
consider the contrast which every man who looks backward must feel
between the life he planned and the life which circumstance within him
and without him has made for him, we should rather ask, Was this the life
he meant to lead? Perhaps, when we take into account his faculty of
self-deception,--it may be no greater than our own,--we should ask, Was
this the life he believed he led? Have we any right to judge this man
after our blunt English fashion, and condemn him, as we are wont to do,
on the finding of a jury of average householders? Is French reality
precisely our reality? Could we tolerate tragedy in rhymed alexandrines,
instead of blank verse? The whole life of Rousseau is pitched on this
heroic key, and for the most trivial occasion he must be ready with the
sublime sentiments that are supposed to suit him rather than it. It is
one of the most curious features of the sentimental ailment, that, while
it shuns the contact of men, it courts publicity. In proportion as
solitude and communion with self lead the sentimentalist to exaggerate
the importance of his own personality, he comes to think that the least
event connected with it is of consequence to his fellow-men. If he change
his shirt, he would have mankind aware of it. Victor Hugo, the greatest
living representative of the class, considers it necessary to let the
world know by letter from time to time his opinions on every conceivable
subject about which it is not asked nor is of the least value unless we
concede to him an immediate inspiration. We men of colder blood, in whom
self-consciousness takes the form of pride, and who have deified
_mauvaise honte_ as if our defect were our virtue, find it especially
hard to understand that artistic impulse of more southern races to _pose_
themselves properly on every occasion, and not even to die without some
tribute of deference to the taste of the world they are leaving. Was not
even mighty Caesar's last thought of his drapery? Let us not condemn
Rousseau for what seems to us the indecent exposure of himself in his

Those who allow an oratorical and purely conventional side disconnected
with our private understanding of the facts, and with life, in which
everything has a wholly parliamentary sense where truth is made
subservient to the momentary exigencies of eloquence, should be
charitable to Rousseau. While we encourage a distinction which
establishes two kinds of truth, one for the world, and another for the
conscience, while we take pleasure in a kind of speech that has no
relation to the real thought of speaker or hearer, but to the rostrum
only, we must not be hasty to condemn a sentimentalism which we do our
best to foster. We listen in public with the gravity or augurs to what we
smile at when we meet a brother adept. France is the native land of
eulogy, of truth padded out to the size and shape demanded by
_comme-il-faut_. The French Academy has, perhaps, done more harm by the
vogue it has given to this style, than it has done good by its literary
purism; for the best purity of a language depends on the limpidity of its
source in veracity of thought. Rousseau was in many respects a typical
Frenchman, and it is not to be wondered at if he too often fell in with
the fashion of saying what was expected of him, and what he thought due
to the situation, rather than what would have been true to his inmost
consciousness. Perhaps we should allow something also to the influence of
a Calvinistic training, which certainly helps men who have the least
natural tendency towards it to set faith above works, and to persuade
themselves of the efficacy of an inward grace to offset an outward and
visible defection from it.

As the sentimentalist always takes a fanciful, sometimes an unreal, life
for an ideal one, it would be too much to say that Rousseau was a man of
earnest convictions. But he was a man of fitfully intense ones, as suited
so mobile a temperament, and his writings, more than those of any other
of his tribe, carry with them that persuasion that was in him while he
wrote. In them at least he is as consistent as a man who admits new ideas
can ever be. The children of his brain he never abandoned, but clung to
them with paternal fidelity. Intellectually he was true and fearless;
constitutionally, timid, contradictory, and weak; but never, if we
understand him rightly, false. He was a little too credulous of sonorous
sentiment, but he was never, like Châteaubriand or Lamartine, the lackey
of fine phrases. If, as some fanciful physiologists have assumed, there
be a masculine and feminine lobe of the brain, it would seem that in men
of sentimental turn the masculine half fell in love with and made an idol
of the other, obeying and admiring all the pretty whims of this _folle du
logis_. In Rousseau the mistress had some noble elements of character,
and less taint of the _demi-monde_ than is visible in more recent cases
of the same illicit relation.


    [165] _Histoire des Idées Morales et Politiques en France au XVIIIme
    Siecle._ Par M. Jules Barni, Professeur à l'Académie de Genève, Tome
    II. Paris, 1867.

    [166] Perhaps we should except Newton.

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