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Title: Principle in Art Etc.
Author: Patmore, Coventry
Language: English
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                           PRINCIPLE IN ART

                                 ETC.



                           PRINCIPLE IN ART

                                 ETC.

                                  BY

                           COVENTRY PATMORE

                                LONDON

                  GEORGE BELL AND SONS, YORK STREET,
                             COVENT GARDEN

                                 1889



PREFACE


With one exception, namely the last Paper in the Collection, which
appeared in the _Fortnightly Review_, all these Essays were printed in
the _St. James’s Gazette_ during the editorship of Mr. Greenwood. The
Essay on “Architectural Styles” contains a summary of principles which I
stated, some thirty years ago, in various Articles, chiefly in the
_Edinburgh Review_. As this Essay now stands, I hope that readers, who
have knowledge enough to enable them to judge, will find in it an
example of the kind of criticism which I have advocated earlier in the
volume.

                                                      COVENTRY PATMORE.



CONTENTS


ESSAY                                                               PAGE

    I. PRINCIPLE IN ART                                                1

   II. REAL APPREHENSION                                               6

  III. SEERS, THINKERS, AND TALKERS                                   14

   IV. POSSIBILITIES AND PERFORMANCES                                 25

    V. CHEERFULNESS IN LIFE AND ART                                   31

   VI. THE POINT OF REST IN ART                                       37

  VII. IMAGINATION                                                    43

 VIII. PATHOS                                                         49

   IX. POETICAL INTEGRITY                                             56

    X. THE POETRY OF NEGATION                                         62

   XI. THE LIMITATIONS OF GENIUS                                      67

  XII. LOVE AND POETRY                                                72

 XIII. KEATS                                                          80

  XIV. WHAT SHELLEY WAS                                               87

   XV. BLAKE                                                          97

  XVI. ROSSETTI AS A POET                                            103

 XVII. MR. SWINBURNE’S SELECTIONS                                    112

XVIII. ARTHUR HUGH CLOUGH                                            118

  XIX. EMERSON                                                       125

   XX. CRABBE AND SHELLEY                                            134

  XXI. SHALL SMITH HAVE A STATUE?                                    141

 XXII. IDEAL AND MATERIAL GREATNESS IN ARCHITECTURE                  146

XXIII. “OLD ENGLISH” ARCHITECTURE, ANCIENT AND MODERN                154

 XXIV. ARCHITECTURAL STYLES                                          160

  XXV. THOUGHTS ON KNOWLEDGE, OPINION, AND INEQUALITY                202



I

PRINCIPLE IN ART


It is not true, though it has so often been asserted, that criticism is
of no use or of little use to art. This notion prevails so widely only
because--among us at least--criticism has not been criticism. To
criticise is to judge; to judge requires judicial qualification; and
this is quite a different thing from a natural sensitiveness to beauty,
however much that sensitiveness may have become heightened by converse
with refined and beautiful objects of nature and works of art.
“Criticism,” which has been the outcome only of such sensitiveness and
such converse, may be, and often is,--delightful reading, and is
naturally far more popular than criticism which is truly judicial. The
pseudo-criticism, of which we have had such floods during the past
half-century, delights by sympathy with, and perhaps expansion of, our
own sensations; true criticism appeals to the intellect, and rebukes
the reader as often as it does the artist for his ignorance and his
mistakes. Such criticism may not be able to produce good art; but bad
art collapses at the contact of its breath, as the steam in the cylinder
of an engine collapses on each admission of the spray of cold water; and
thus, although good criticism cannot produce art, it removes endless
hindrances to its production, and tends to provide art with its chief
motive-power, a public prepared to acknowledge it. The enunciation of a
single principle has sometimes, almost at a blow, revolutionised not
only the technical practice of an art, but the popular taste with regard
to it. Strawberry Hill Gothic vanished like a nightmare when Pugin for
the first time authoritatively asserted and proved that architectural
decoration could never properly be an addition to constructive features,
but only a fashioning of them. The truth was manifest at once to amateur
as well as to architect; and this one principle proves to have contained
a power even of popular culture far greater than all the splendid
“sympathetic” criticism which followed during the next fifty years. And
it has done nothing but good, whereas the latter kind of writing,
together with much good, has done much harm. Pugin’s insight did not
enable him to discover the almost equally clear and simple principle
which governs the special form of decoration that properly characterises
each of the great styles of architecture. Therefore, while his law of
constructional decoration compelled all succeeding “critics” to keep
within its bounds, they were still free to give the rein to mere fancy
as to the nature of the decoration itself; and this has been becoming
worse and worse in proportion as critics and architects of genius, but
of no principle, have departed from the dry tradition of decorative form
which prevailed in Pugin’s day, and which finds its orthodox expression
in Parker’s _Glossary_ and the elementary works of Bloxam and Rickman.
Sensitiveness or natural “taste,” apart from principle, is, in art, what
love is apart from truth in morals. The stronger it is, the further it
is likely to go wrong. Nothing can be more tenderly “felt” than a school
of painting which is now much in favour; but, for want of knowledge and
masculine principle, it has come to delight in representing ugliness and
corruption in place of health and beauty. Venus or Hebe becomes, in its
hands, nothing but a _Dame aux Camélias_ in the last stage of moral and
physical deterioration. A few infallible and, when once uttered,
self-evident principles would at once put a stop to this sort of
representation among artists; and the public would soon learn to be
repelled by what now most attracts them, being thenceforward guided by a
critical conscience, which is the condition of “_good_ taste.”

There is little that is conclusive or fruitful in any of the criticism
of the present day. The very name that it has chosen, “Æsthetics,”
contains an implied admission of its lack of virility or principle. We
do not think of Lessing’s _Laocoön_, which is one of the finest pieces
of critical writing in the world, as belonging to “Æsthetics”; and, like
it, the critical sayings of Goethe and Coleridge seem to appertain to a
science deserving a nobler name--a science in which truth stands first
and feeling second, and of which the conclusions are demonstrable and
irreversible. A critic of the present day, in attempting to describe the
difference between the usual construction of a passage by Fletcher and
one by Shakespeare, would beat helplessly about the bush, telling us
many things about the different sorts of feelings awakened by the one
and by the other, and concluding, and desiring to conclude, nothing.
Coleridge in a single sentence defines the difference, and establishes
Shakespeare’s immeasurable superiority with the clearness and finality
of a mathematical statement; and the delight of the reader of
Shakespeare is for ever heightened because it is less than before a
zeal without knowledge.

There already exists, in the writings and sayings of Aristotle, Hegel,
Lessing, Goethe, and others, the greater part of the materials necessary
for the formation of a body of Institutes of Art which would supersede
and extinguish nearly all the desultory chatter which now passes for
criticism, and which would go far to form a true and abiding popular
taste--one which could render some reason for its likings and
dislikings. The man, however, who could put such materials together and
add such as are wanting does not live; or at any rate he is not known.
Hegel might have done it, had his artistic perception been as fine and
strong as his intellect; which would then have expressed its conclusions
without the mist of obscurity in which, for nearly all readers, they are
at present shrouded. In the meantime it would be well if the professed
critic would remember that criticism is not the expression, however
picturesque and glowing, of the faith that is in him, but the rendering
of sound and intelligible reasons for that faith.



II

REAL APPREHENSION


“Man,” says Dr. Newman, “is not a reasoning animal; he is a seeing,
feeling, contemplating, acting animal.” To see rightly is the first of
human qualities; right feeling and right acting are usually its
consequences. There are two ways of seeing: one is to comprehend, which
is to see all round a thing, or to embrace it; one is to apprehend,
which is to see it in part, or to take hold of it. A thing may be really
taken hold of which is much too big for embracing. Real apprehension
implies reality in that which is apprehended. You cannot “take hold” of
that which is nothing. The notional grasp which some people seem to have
of clouds and mares’ nests is a totally different thing from real
apprehension; though what this difference is could scarcely be made
clear to those who have no experience of the latter. A man may not be
able to convey to another his real apprehension of a thing; but there
will be something in his general character and way of discoursing which
will convince you, if you too are a man acquainted with realities, that
he has truly got hold of what he professes to have got hold of, and you
will be wary of denying what he affirms. The man of real apprehensions,
or the truly sensible man, has no opinions. Many things may be dubious
to him; but if he is compelled to act without knowledge, he does so
promptly, being prompt to discern which of the doubtful ways before him
is the least questionable, on the ground of such evidence as he has. As
to what he sees to be true or right, he does not argue with the person
who differs from him upon a vital point, but only avoids his company,
or, if he be of an irascible temperament, feels inclined to knock him
down. Of course there are some people who see things which do not exist;
but this is lunacy, and beyond the scope of these remarks. Real
apprehension is emphatically the quality which constitutes “good sense.”
Common good sense has a real apprehension of innumerable things which
those who add to good sense learning and reflection may comprehend; but
there is much that must for ever remain matter only of real apprehension
to the best seers; that is to say, everything in which the infinite has
a part, _i.e._ all religion, all virtue as distinguished from temporary
expediency, the grounds of all true art, etc. A man may have an immense
acquaintance with facts; he may have all history and the whole circle of
the sciences on the tip of his tongue; he may be the author of a
classical system of logic, or may have so cunningly elaborated a false
theory of nature as to puzzle and infuriate the wisest of men: and yet
may not really apprehend any part of the truth of life which is properly
human knowledge. At the present time it is by politics chiefly that the
difference between the two great classes of men is made apparent. For
the first time in English history, party limitations coincide almost
exactly with the limitations which separate silly from sensible men. If
you talk with a sincere Gladstonian--and, wonderful to say, there are
still many such--you will soon find that he has no real apprehension of
anything. He only feebly and foolishly opines.

It is not to be concluded from what has been said that the possession of
the apprehending faculty in any way supersedes the good of learning. The
power of really apprehending is nothing in the absence of realities to
be apprehended. In the great field of ordinary social relationships and
duties the subject-matter of such apprehension is largely supplied by
individual experience, and the exercise by most men of that faculty is
in the main limited to these; so that the praise of “good sense” has
acquired a much narrower signification than it ought to bear. Genius is
nothing but great good sense, or real apprehension, exercised upon
objects more or less out of common sight; and the chief ingredient of
even the highest and most heroic sanctity is the same apprehension
taking hold upon spiritual truths and applying them to the conduct of
the interior as well as the exterior life. Men with great strength of
real apprehension are easily capable of things which inferior characters
regard as great self-sacrifices; though to them such things are no more
sacrifice than in an ordinary man it would be to exchange a ton of lead
for a pound of gold. “Their hearts do not forget the things their eyes
have seen;” and persons like General Gordon or Sir Thomas More would
stare if you called anything they did or suffered by the name of
sacrifice.

You cannot read the writings of Newman, Hooker, Pascal, and St.
Augustine, without being strongly impressed with the presumption that
they have a real apprehension of the things they profess to believe;
and, since they do not justify in any other way the theory that they are
lunatics, a right-minded reader is likewise disposed to think that what
they have thus seen exists, and that his not having seen such things
does not materially diminish that probability.

And here it may be well to recur to the text of these remarks: “Man is
not a reasoning animal; he is a seeing, feeling, contemplating, acting
animal.” All men properly so called--but a good many who walk upright on
two legs cannot properly be so called--are seeing, feeling, and acting
animals; but very few men, indeed, have as yet attained to be
contemplating animals, though the act of contemplation exercised upon
the highest objects is, according to all great philosophers, even pagan,
the act for which he is created and in which his final perfection and
felicity are attained. The act of real apprehension, as it is exerted by
ordinary men, and even for the most part by men of extraordinary vigour
of intellectual vision, is momentary, however permanent may be its
effect upon their principles and lives. Men of vigorous apprehension
look at the heavens of truth, as it were, through a powerful telescope,
and see instantly as realities many living lights which are quite
invisible to the common eye. But contemplation--a faculty rare in all
times, but wellnigh unheard of in ours--is like the photographic plate
which finds stars that no telescope can discover, by simply setting its
passively expectant gaze in certain indicated directions so long and
steadily that telescopically invisible bodies become apparent by
accumulation of impression. Such men are prophets and apostles, whether
canonical or not. It is by the instrumentality of such men that
religions are established and upheld; and the term “verifiable religion”
is a piece of mere nineteenth-century slang, when applied to the
examination of dogma by such as have probably never had the remotest
apprehension of any spiritual reality. Certain facts of history relating
to religion may or may not be capable of “verification” to the
multitude; but the dogmas which are the substance of a religion, can
only be really apprehended--assuming them to be real and
apprehensible--by the exceedingly few to whom the highest powers of
contemplation, which are usually the accompaniments of equally
extraordinary virtues, are accorded. The mass of mankind must receive
and hold these things as they daily receive and hold a thousand other
things--laws, customs, traditions, the grounds of common moralities,
etc.--by faith; their real apprehension in such matters extending for
the most part only to the discernment of the reasonableness of so
receiving and holding them.

Now this faculty and habit of really apprehending things, even in its
lower and not uncommon degree, is an immeasurable advantage; but it has
its drawback. Those who possess it are singularly capable of committing
the unpardonable sin, the sin against knowledge. “Father, forgive them,
for they know not what they do” is a petition which He who spoke these
words could not have offered for deeds or denials in clear opposition to
what a man knows to be true and good. “My name is in him and He will not
pardon.” All men agree in calling the spirit of truth--which is the
spirit by which truth is really apprehended--holy; and to deny this
spirit in deliberate action may, without any appeal to Christian
doctrine, be proved to be unpardonable by the way such action is known
to influence a man’s character. A single act of such denial, if it be in
some great and vital matter, often seems to destroy the soul. History
affords more than one example of a statesman who has begun life with an
eagle eye for truth, a strong and tender love of honour, and everything
that makes a man among men. At some crisis of temptation he chooses
personal ambition before some clearly apprehended duty of patriotism;
and his whole nature seems thenceforward changed: he drops like a
scorched fly from the flame--

    Then takes his doom, to limp and crawl,
    Blind and despised, from fall to fall.

But the least practical denial of real apprehension of the truth is, to
such as have ever had a conscience and have observed themselves,
demonstrably unpardonable, inasmuch as it destroys a portion of the
capacity of the soul. “The remnant” may, indeed, “become a great
nation,” but it will be still and for ever a remnant of what it would
have been, had it preserved the integrity of its fidelity.

If we knew the secrets of the lives of those--alas! innumerable--who
seem to have no real apprehension of anything, none of the light which
it is said lighteth every man that cometh into the world, it would
probably be found that they have not been born without, but have
forfeited their noblest human heritage, by repeated practical denials of
the things which they have seen.



III

SEERS, THINKERS, AND TALKERS


I

The intellect, the understanding or discursive reason, and the memory,
it need scarcely be said, are three distinct faculties; yet in their
exercise and the character they acquire for their possessors, they are
apt to be confused, and that not without damage to the public and
private interests of those who make the mistake. Intellect, though it is
constantly spoken of as synonymous with understanding, is really an
incomparably rarer quality, the difference being that which subsists
between “genius” and “talent”; and to ignorant persons a ready and
well-stored memory, which is consistent with the almost total defect of
either of the nobler faculties, is often regarded as a combination of
both.

The intellect is the faculty of the “seer.” It discerns truth as a
living thing; and, according as it is in less or greater power, it
discerns with a more or less far-seeing glance the relationships of
principles to each other, and of facts, circumstances, and the realities
of nature to principles, without anything that can be properly called
ratiocination. It cannot be cultivated, as the understanding and memory
can be and need to be; and it cannot in the ordinary course of things be
injured, except by one means--namely, dishonesty, that is, habitual
denial by the will, for the sake of interested or vicious motives, of
its own perceptions. Genius and high moral--not necessarily
physical--courage are therefore found to be constant companions. Indeed,
it is difficult to say how far an absolute moral courage in
acknowledging intuitions may not be of the very nature of genius: and
whether it might not be described as a sort of interior sanctity which
dares to see and confess to itself that it sees, though its vision
should place it in a minority of one. Everybody feels that genius is, in
a sort, infallible. That it is so, is indeed an “identical proposition.”
So far as a man is not infallible in what he professes to see, he is not
a man of genius--that is, he is not a seer. It is by no figure of speech
that genius is called inspiration. Dr. Newman somewhere observes that
St. Augustine and some of the primitive teachers of the Church wandered
at will through all the mazes of theology with an intuitive orthodoxy of
genius.

Although this faculty of direct vision is very rare in comparison with
those of ordinary ratiocination and memory, it is not nearly so rare as
is supposed by such as measure genius by its manifestations in
philosophy, science, art, or statesmanship. For one seer who has the
accomplishments and opportunities whereby his faculty can be turned to
public account, there are scores and hundreds who possess and exercise
for their private use their extraordinary perceptive powers. To whom has
it not happened, at one time or other, to witness the instantaneous
shattering of some splendid edifice of reasoning and memory by the brief
Socratic interrogation of some ignoramus who could see?

No mortal intellect or genius is other than very partial, and, even in
that partial character, imperfect. Absolute genius would be nothing more
nor less than the sight of all things at once in their relationship and
origin; but the most imperfect genius has an infinite value--not only
because it is actual sight of truth, but also and still more because it
is a peculiar mode of seeing, a reflection of truth coloured but not
obscured by the individual character, which in each man of genius is
entirely unique. This unique character is, in its expression, what is
called “style”--the sure mark of genius, though the world at large is
unable to distinguish “style” from manner, or even from mannerism.
Incomparably the highest and fortunately the least uncommon form of
genius is wisdom in the conduct of life; for this form involves in a far
greater degree than any other the constant exercise of that courage
which is inseparable from genius. The saint is simply a person who has
so strong and clear a sight of the truth which concerns him
individually, and such courage to confess his vision, that he is always
ready to become a “confessor” under any extremity of persecution.

True statesmanship is another form of wisdom in the conduct of life; and
this is perhaps the rarest of all forms in which genius manifests
itself, because it requires a combination of inferior faculties and
opportunities which is almost as rare as genius. Poetry is the only near
rival of true statesmanship in this respect. The immensely wider and
more various range of vision which the great poet exercises when
compared with other artists, together with the necessity for the
combined working of many lesser faculties and laboriously acquired
accomplishments, has always made of the poet the ideal “genius” in the
world’s esteem. The separate insights into the significance of form,
colour, and sound, upon which the arts of the sculptor, painter, and
musician are founded, must be included in the vision of the poet of the
first rank.

What is called “common sense” is much more nearly allied to genius, or
true intellect, than either talent, which is the outcome of the
discursive reason, or learning, which is that of memory. Compared with
the sunlight by which the purer intellect sees, common sense is the
light of a foggy day, which is good enough to see near objects and to
avoid mischief by. Science is generally considered to be the outcome
solely of the observation of facts and the discursive reason; but in men
like Kepler, Newton, and Faraday there is no lack of “the vision and the
faculty divine.” The discovery of gravitation by the fall of an apple
was pure vision; and it is doubtful whether there was ever a Smith’s
Prizeman who had not a touch of a higher faculty than that which gropes
step by step from premisses to conclusions.

A ghastly semblance of genius is often retained by such persons as once
had it, but have ruined it by denying it in action, and by endeavouring
to prostitute it to selfish or vicious interests. Their judicial
blindness is the reverse of that which was inflicted upon Tiresias for
daring to gaze upon unveiled wisdom. He could no longer see the world;
they can no longer see the heavens. But their original genius takes the
perverted form of an intuitive craft in pursuing their ends which is no
less amazing, and which, in statesmen especially, is commonly mistaken
by the people for the holy faculty which has been quenched.

To be a man of talent a man must be able to think; to be a man of genius
he must be able not to think, and especially to abstain from the crazy
wool-gathering which is ordinarily regarded as thought. “The harvest of
a quiet eye,” and the learning of the ear which listens in a silence
even of thought, are the wealth of the pure intellect. And the fainter
and the more remote the whispers which are heard in such silence, the
more precious and potential are they likely to be. It is no condemnation
of the thought of Hegel that he is reported to have replied to some
question as to the meaning of a passage in his writings, that “he knew
what it meant when he wrote it.” This thought, too subtle or too simple
for expression and memory, might, if held down and compelled to manifest
itself more explicitly, have moved mankind.

Genius is a great disturber. It is always a new thing, and demands of
old things that they should make a place for it, which cannot be done
without more or less inconvenient rearrangements; and as it seems to
threaten even worse trouble than it is finally found to give, it is
generally hated and resisted on its first appearance. Moreover, to the
eye which is not congenial the fresh manifestation of genius in almost
any kind has something in it alarming and revolting; and it is welcomed
with an “Ugh, ugh! the horrid thing! It’s alive!” A man of genius who is
also a man of sense will never complain of such a reception from his
fellows. Their opposition is even respectable from their point of view
and with their faculties of beholding.


II

Genius, like sanctity, is commonly more or less foolish in the eyes of
the world. Its riches are “the riches of secret places”; and they so
much exceed, in its esteem, those that are considered riches by the
common sense of men, that its neglect of the ordinary goods of life
often amounts to real imprudence--imprudence even from its own point of
view, whereby it is bound to avoid hindrances to its free life and
exercise. The follies, however, of a Blake or a Hartley Coleridge are
venial when compared with those of the thoughtful and prudent fool--the
fool in respect of great things, as the other is in respect of small.
Who can measure the harm that may be done to the world by a thoughtful
and earnest fool--one who starts from data which he is too dull to
verify, and who multiplies his mistakes in proportion to the
perspicuity and extent of his deductions? The man of “talent” who is
merely such, is not a very common phenomenon--for “talent” is in great
part the product of culture; which “genius,” or the power of seeing, is
not. Most persons of talent still possess a share of that obscure kind
of genius called common sense, which keeps them from taking up with
false principles and following them into wild conclusions. We need,
however, only recall some famous figures in the present and past
generation in order to be assured that immense talent is consistent with
an almost complete deficiency of real insight. When the discursive
understanding is in great force, and has at its command abundant stores
of external information, we behold a power that may work the ruin of
empires amid applauding peoples, though it can never build them up. The
natural and exact sciences are the proper fields for the exertions of
such a faculty.

Stupid persons fancy they derogate from the supremacy of the pure
intellect or genius by observing that it is always associated with a
vivid imagination, which they regard as a faculty for seeing things as
they are not. Shelley made a mistake in a totally different direction
when he declared that the imagination is the power by which spiritual
things are discerned; whereas the truth is that intellect is the power
by which such things are discerned, and imagination is that by which
they are expressed. Sensible things alone can be expressed fully and
directly by sensible terms. Symbols and parables, and metaphors--which
are parables on a small scale--are the only means of adequately
conveying, or rather hinting, supersensual knowledge. “He spake not
without a parable.” Hebrew, Greek, Indian, and Egyptian religions all
spoke in parables; and poets deal in images and parables simply because
there is no other vehicle for what they have to say. “The things which
are unseen may be known by the things which are seen,” but only by way
of symbol and parable. Imagination, though it is not, as Shelley says it
is, the power of spiritual insight, is its invariable concomitant; and
even that dull kinsman of genius, common sense, would feel sadly
hampered in its endeavours to convey its perceptions to the minds of
others, were it wholly without the faculty of speaking in parables.

It has often been noted that men of genius have bad memories, and that
persons having extraordinary memories, like Cardinal Mezzofanti, have
little else. The truth is that there are two quite distinct kinds of
memory: the memory for external facts and words, apart from their
significance; and the memory for spiritual facts and principles. The
man of genius, who may have no special reason for cultivating the lower
kind of memory, may even find it rather a hindrance than a help. His
prayer is, “Let not my heart forget the things mine eyes have seen.” So
long as his heart retains the significance of the facts he has seen and
the words he has heard, he is willing to let the words and the facts go,
as a man casts away the shells after he has eaten the oysters. The
“well-informed” person commonly differs from the man of genius in this:
that he carries about with him all the shells of all the oysters he has
ever eaten, and that his soul has grown thin under the burthen.

A commonplace about men of genius is that they usually have religious
dispositions. It would be strange were it otherwise, seeing that genius
is nothing but the power of discerning the things of the spirit. The
first principle of the most recent form of “psychology” is, indeed, that
there is no soul; but that man must have little genius who would not say
“Amen” to St. Bernard’s epigram, “He must have little spirit who thinks
that a spirit is nothing.”

After what has just been said, it seems paradoxical to be obliged to
admit that the sins to which men of genius are usually most subject are
those of sense. From pride, and its offspring envy, hatred, and malice,
which play so terrible a part in the affairs of most men, they are
comparatively exempt. That they should often be more subject than others
to be misled by the ease and pleasure of the senses may be because the
senses of men of genius are more subtly permeated by the spirit, of
which they are the ultimate life, than are those of the world at large,
and are thereby rendered more acute and less sordidly wicked. This may
be said, I hope, without in any way condoning error.

Men of genius, who are therewithal men of cultivated talents and great
stores of appropriate information, are the only safe legislators and
governors of empires; not only because theirs alone is the sufficiency
of sound and far-seeing wisdom, but because they are far less likely
than other men to be misled by personal motives and weak fears. But such
men, unhappily, are the last to come to the front in states of
ultra-popular government; and in such states they have accordingly to
suffer that last misery (as by one of the greatest philosophers it has
been called), the misery of being governed by worse men than
themselves.



IV

POSSIBILITIES AND PERFORMANCES


If we take stock of the world’s actual achievements--intellectual,
moral, and artistic--in the six thousand years during which we know
anything about it, it is impossible not to be struck with the extreme
smallness of the sum of the acquisitions and attainments of the human
race which can bear any comparison with its desires and apparent
possibilities. If those desires and possibilities had in no instances
been fulfilled, the entire absence of attainment would have been less
startling than is its actual paucity. It would not have been nearly so
wonderful if none had reached the high table-lands of excellence in any
department of human activity, as it is that those heights have been
reached by some and by so few. And the marvel of this paucity becomes
yet further increased when it is considered that not only is it all that
mankind has done, but in all likelihood nearly as much as it could have
done had it tried ever so hard. For it is a peculiarity of the very
highest work in every kind, that it is not the result of painful labour,
but that it is easier to do it than not to do it, when it can be done at
all. So that humanity must not be allowed to cover its enormous
shortcomings with an “I could an’ I would.” How many philosophers has
philosophy produced? If Aristotle be the type, where is the other
specimen of the species? How many statesmen have there been whose
faculties and characters, nearly inspected, do not provoke the
exclamation, “With how little wisdom the world is governed!” In how many
Christians has Christianity flowered, as in the souls of St. John and
St. Francis? Greek architecture and Greek sculpture mean little more
than the Parthenon and its friezes. What survives of Greek poetry will
scarcely fill one bookshelf, and English poetry, which forms the greater
part of the rest of the poetry of the human race, would rest easily on
three. The building of the Middle Ages is nothing but the repetition of
one inspiration, which would remain transmitted to us almost in its
entirety were the Cathedral of Freiburg the only specimen left to us. A
single gallery of the Vatican would provide wall-room sufficient for all
the paintings of the world that are able to fill with satisfying peace
the eye which has been educated by Botticelli, Luini, and Raphael. An
ordinary life affords abundant leisure to take in all that two hundred
generations of mankind have so done as to fill the craving for what all
men feel to be alone satisfyingly human. That is to say, one man in
twenty millions or so has been able, during some--often very
small--proportion of his life, to be and to do that which all men, when
they behold such being and doing, feel to be their natural though
utterly unattainable prerogative. Thousands and thousands climb, with
praiseworthy struggles and integrity of purpose and with shouts of
“Excelsior!” the minor peaks of life; while two or three in a generation
are seen walking with easy breath about those great and tranquil
table-lands for which all of us, on beholding them, feel that we were
born. It is not that, in a world of inequalities, some two or three in a
generation must naturally stand higher than all the rest, as only one
among many competitors can be Senior Wrangler. That fuller excellence is
a region, and not a pinnacle; and those who reach it are all upon a
great and facile equality, their altitude being simply that of right and
unhindered human faculty.

Every individual of the human race is, in this regard, an image of the
race itself. Only for a few hours, perhaps, of the million which is
about the sum of the longest lifetime, has each one easily and
unaccountably found himself to be living indeed. Some accident, some
passing occasion which has called upon him to be more than himself, some
glimpse of grace in nature or in woman, some lucky disaster even, or
some mere wayward tide of existence, has caused the black walls of his
prison-house to vanish; and he has breathed in a realm of vision,
generosity, and gracious peace, “too transient for delight and too
divine.” These prophetic moments--one in a million--pass; but, unless he
has despised and denied them, they leave him capable, more or less, of
understanding prophecy; and he knows that in him also there is a
potentiality, realisable perhaps under other than present conditions, of
becoming one in that great society in which such states of life appear
to be not momentary crises but habits. The wider and the deeper his
personal experience of beauty and felicity, the more readily will a man
confess that life contains scarcely anything for fruition but abundance
for hope; and the better he is acquainted with that which has been best
done and said in all ages, the less he will be inclined to believe that
the world is making any advances towards the realisation of the promise
which every age repeats. An enigma for which science has no key is the
certain fact, that if the world be not a prophecy of good things which
it shows no likelihood of providing, then it is all nothing but a
purposeless and badly conceived tragedy, upon which the sooner the black
curtain drops the better. For if the world be not such a prophecy, then
the best of men are of all men the most miserable; to these is given
beyond others the “transitory gleam” which shows the dulness of their
ordinary life for the lingering death it really is; but, knowing little
or nothing of life as it is known to such, the stupid and “the wicked
have no bonds in their death,” and can only feel the comparatively
tolerable evils of external and accidental adversity.

There never was a time in which the “higher life,” “high art,” etc.,
were less known than in the present, when every goose is gabbling about
them. The proof is in the way these names are constantly associated with
that of “progress”; whereas progress, as respects the realities, is, if
it exists at all, most certainly a progress backwards. The rejoicings of
Lord Macaulay and his like over the recent advances of mankind are
exactly those of a prosperous shopman over the increase of his business;
and the hallelujahs of science are mainly over the elaboration of mighty
means for petty ends and of theories which explain away God and exhibit
all that past ages have called wisdom as folly. It is too absurd! Yet we
must not allow the present eclipse of the electric lights of true
learning by the flaring tar-barrels of jubilant ignorance to discourage
us in the belief that there is, on the whole, no cessation of the work
for which the world goes on. The conscience of mankind, though
occasionally confused and obscured, will always cry “Amen” to the great
word of St. Augustine, “What ought to be must be;” and the rare
achievements of genius and sanctity and the few and far-between glimpses
of the life that is indeed life, which are accorded to all, will
continue to be accepted as “the substance of things hoped for, the
evidence of things not seen.”



V

CHEERFULNESS IN LIFE AND ART


“Rejoice always: and again I say, Rejoice,” says one of the highest
authorities; and a poet who is scarcely less infallible in psychological
science writes--

    A cheerful heart is what the Muses love.

Dante makes Melancholy dismally punished in Purgatory; though his own
interior gaiety--of which a word by and by--is so interior, and its
outward aspect often so grim, that he is vulgarly considered to have
himself been a sinner in this sort. Good art is nothing but a
representation of life; and that the good are gay is a commonplace, and
one which, strange to say, is as generally disbelieved as it is, when
rightly understood, undeniably true. The good and brave heart is always
gay in this sense: that, although it may be afflicted and oppressed by
its own misfortunes and those of others, it refuses in the darkest
moment to consent to despondency; and thus a habit of mind is formed
which can discern in most of its own afflictions some cause for grave
rejoicing, and can thence infer at least a probability of such cause in
cases where it cannot be discerned. Regarding thus cheerfully and
hopefully its own sorrows, it is not over-troubled by those of others,
however tender and helpful its sympathies may be. It is impossible to
weep much for that in others which we should smile at in ourselves; and
when we see a soul writhing like a worm under what seems to us a small
misfortune, our pity for its misery is much mitigated by contempt for
its cowardice.

A couple of generations ago most people would have opened their eyes
wide at any one who should have thought remarks like these worth making.
Such truth formed part of the universal tradition of civilisation and
moral culture. But a wilful melancholy, and, the twin sign of
corruption, a levity which acutely fears and sympathises with pains
which are literally only skin-deep, have been increasing upon us of late
in a most portentous way. The much-vaunted growth of “humanity” has been
due rather to a softening of the brain than of the heart. Huge moral
ill, the fact of national degradation, the prospect of national
disaster, arouses less pain in the sympathetic hearts of humanitarians
than the yelp of a poodle which has had its ear pinched. Men and times
do not talk about the virtues they possess. Which is more inhuman: to
punish with rack and wheel the treason which voluntarily sacrifices or
jeopardises the welfare of millions, or to condone or ignore it for the
sake of momentary ease? The England in which melancholy and levity are
becoming prevalent habits is merry England no more. “The nation thou
hast multiplied, but not increased the joy.” And we are not the only
nation which deserves this lamentation of the prophet. The growths of
melancholy and levity have been still more marked in France. In America,
some traveller has remarked, “there is comfort everywhere, but no joy.”
America is accordingly the only country which has no art.

It is, as we have said, a vulgar error to consider Dante a melancholy
poet. In the whole range of art, joy is nowhere expressed so often and
with such piercing sweetness as in the _Paradiso_; and it flashes
occasionally through the dun atmosphere of the other parts of the poem.
The _Inferno_ is pervaded by the vigorous joy of the poet at beholding
thoroughly bad people getting their deserts; and the penances of
purgatory are contemplated by him with the grave pleasure which is often
felt by the saner sort of persons, even in this world, under the
sufferings they acknowledge to be the appropriate punishment of and
purification from the sins they have fallen into. Shakespeare is the
most cheerful of poets. We read his deepest tragedies without
contracting even a momentary stain of melancholy, however many tears
they may have drawn from us. Calderon flies among horrors and disasters
on the wings of a bird of Paradise, without any resulting incongruity;
and like things may be said of the greatest painters and musicians,
until quite recent times. But since about the beginning of this century
how many of our geniuses have mingled their songs with tears and sighs
over “insoluble problems” and “mysteries of life” which have no
existence for a man who is in his right senses and who minds his own
business; while the “scrannel pipes” of the smaller wits have been
playing to the sorry Yankee tune of “There’s nothing new, and there’s
nothing true, and it doesn’t signify.” Music has taken to imitate the
wailing of lost spirits or the liveliness of the casino; and the highest
ambition of several of our best painters seems to have been to evoke a
pathos from eternal gloom.

This is false art, and represents a false life, or rather that which is
not life at all; for life is not only joyful, it is joy itself. Life,
unhindered by the internal obstruction of vice or the outward
obscurations of pain, sorrow, and anxiety, is pure and simple joy; as we
have most of us experienced during the few hours of our lives in which,
the conscience being free, all bodily and external evils have been
removed or at least quiescent. And, though these glimpses of perfect
sunshine are few and far between, the joy of life will not be wholly
obscured to us by any external evil--provided the breast is clear of
remorse, envy, discontent, or any other habitually cherished sin. The
opportunities and hindrances of joyful life are pretty fairly
distributed among all classes and persons. God is just, and His mercy is
over all His works. If gardens and parks are denied to the inhabitant of
a city lane, his eye is so sharpened by its fasts that it can drink in
its full share of the sweetness of nature from a flowering geranium or a
pot of crocuses on his window-sill. There are really very few persons
who have not enough to eat. Marriage is open almost equally to all,
except, perhaps, the less wealthy members of the upper orders. None are
without opportunities of joy and abundant reasons for gratitude: and the
hindrances of joy are, if justly considered, only opportunities of
acquiring new capacities for delight. In proportion as life becomes high
and pure it becomes gay. The profound spiritualities of the Greek and
Indian myths laugh for joy; and there are, perhaps, no passages of
Scripture more fondly dwelt upon in the Roman Breviary than those which
paint the gladness of the Uncreated Wisdom: “When he balanced the
foundations of the earth, I was with him, forming all things: and was
delighted every day, playing before him at all times, playing in the
world: and my delight is to be with the children of men.”



VI

THE POINT OF REST IN ART


Coleridge, who had little technical knowledge of any art but that in
which, when he was himself, he supremely excelled--poetry--had
nevertheless a deeper insight into the fundamental principles of art
than any modern writer, with the sole exception of Goethe. And this is
one of his many fruitful sayings: “All harmony is founded on a relation
to rest--on relative rest. Take a metallic plate and strew sand on it,
sound an harmonic chord over the sand, and the grains will whirl about
in circles and other geometrical figures, all, as it were, depending on
some point of sand relatively at rest. Sound a discord, and every grain
will whisk about without any order at all, in no figures, and with no
point of rest.”

Without pretending to be able to trace this principle of rest to more
than a very limited distance, and in a very few examples, I think it is
worth notice in a time when art generally is characterised by a want of
that repose which until recent times has especially “marked the manners
of the great.” Look through the National Gallery, and few pictures will
be found which would not add a grace of peace to the house they were
hung in, no matter how wild the subject or passionate the motive. Step
into an Academy Exhibition, and there will scarcely be discovered a
dozen canvases in a thousand which, however skilful and in many respects
admirable they may be, would not constitute points of _un_rest, if they
were in daily and hourly sight. It is the same with nearly all modern
poetry, sculpture, and architecture; and if it is not true of music, it
is because music absolutely cannot exist without some reference to a
point or points of rest, in keynote, fundamental strain, or reiterated
refrain.

It might at first be supposed that, in a picture, this point should be
that on which the eye should repose in order to bring the remainder into
focal proportion; and this is true with regard to those painters who
paint on the theory that the eye is fixed, and not roving in its regard.
But this theory has never been that of the greatest times of art. Crome,
Constable, and Gainsborough’s landscapes do not fade off from a certain
point on which the eye is supposed to be fixed; yet there will usually
be found some point, generally quite insignificant in matter, on which,
indeed, the eye does not necessarily fix itself, but to which it
involuntarily returns for repose.

The most noteworthy remark to be made about this point of rest is, that
it is not in itself the most but the least interesting point in the
whole work. It is the _punctum indifferens_ to which all that is
interesting is more or less unconsciously referred. In an elaborate
landscape it may be--as it is in one of Constable’s--the sawn-off end of
a branch of a tree: or a piece of its root, as it is in one of Michael
Angelo’s pieces in the Sistine Chapel. In the Dresden “Madonna” of
Raphael it is the heel of the Infant. No one who has not given some
thought to the subject can have any idea of the value of these
apparently insignificant points in the pictures in which they occur,
unless he tries the experiment of doing away with them. Cover them from
sight and, to a moderately sensitive and cultivated eye, the whole life
of the picture will be found to have been lowered.

In proportion to the extent and variety of points of interest in a
painting or a poem the necessity for this point of rest seems to
increase. In a lyric or idyll, or a painting with very few details,
there is little need for it. It is accordingly in the most elaborate
plays of Shakespeare that we find this device in its fullest value; and
it is from two or three of these that we shall draw our main
illustrations of a little-noticed but very important principle of art.
In _King Lear_ it is by the character of Kent, in _Romeo and Juliet_ by
Friar Laurence, in _Hamlet_ by Horatio, in _Othello_ by Cassio, and in
the _Merchant of Venice_ by Bassanio, that the point of rest is
supplied; and this point being also in each case a point of vital
comparison by which we measure and feel the relationships of all the
other characters, it becomes an element of far higher value than when it
is simply an, as it were, accidental point of repose, like the lopped
branch in Constable’s landscape. Each of these five characters stands
out of the stream of the main interest, and is additionally unimpressive
in itself by reason of its absolute conformity to reason and moral order
from which every other character in the play departs more or less. Thus
Horatio is the exact _punctum indifferens_ between the opposite excesses
of the characters of Hamlet and Laertes--over-reasoning inaction and
unreasoning action--between which extremes the whole interest of the
play vibrates. The unobtrusive character of Kent is, as it were, the eye
of the tragic storm which rages round it; and the departure, in various
directions, of every character more or less from moderation, rectitude,
or sanity, is the more clearly understood or felt from our more or less
conscious reference to him. So with the central and comparatively
unimpressive characters in many other plays--characters unimpressive on
account of their facing the exciting and trying circumstances of the
drama with the regard of pure reason, justice, and virtue. Each of these
characters is a peaceful focus radiating the calm of moral solution
throughout all the difficulties and disasters of surrounding fate: a
vital centre, which, like that of a great wheel, has little motion in
itself, but which at once transmits and controls the fierce revolution
of the circumference.

It is obvious, as I have indicated, that a point of rest and comparison
is necessary only when the objects and interests are many and more or
less conflicting; but the principle is sometimes at play in forms and
works in which we should scarcely have expected to find it. An armlet,
or even a finger-ring, gives every portion of the nude figure an
increase of animation, unity, and repose. The artistic justification of
the unmeaning “burthen” of many an old ballad may probably be found, at
least in part, in the same principle; as may also be that of the
trick--as old as poetry--of occasionally repeating a line or phrase
without any apparent purpose in the repetition.

Of course the “point of rest” will not create harmony where--as in most
modern works--its elements are absent; but, where harmony exists, it
will be strangely brought out and accentuated by this in itself often
trifling, and sometimes, perhaps, even accidental accessory.



VII

IMAGINATION


There are things which can never be more than approximately defined, and
which, even when so defined, are only to be rightly understood in
proportion to the degrees in which they are possessed by those who would
attempt to comprehend them. Such are, for example, “imagination” and
“genius”; which, being faculties that are possessed in a very low degree
by nearly all and in a very high degree by extremely few, are matters of
the most general interest and the most variable apprehension. That such
faculties should, however, as far as possible, be understood is of great
practical importance to all persons; inasmuch as it greatly concerns all
to know something of the signs, sanctions, and claims of those powers by
which they are inevitably more or less ruled, externally and internally.

It is nothing against a definition of an entity which cannot be fully
defined to say that such definition is “new.” It was objected against an
interpretation by St. Augustine of some Old Testament history or
parable, that other authorities had given other interpretations. “The
more interpretations the better,” was the saint’s reply. In such cases
various definitions and interpretations are merely apprehensions of
various sides of a matter not wholly to be embraced or comprehended by
any single definition or interpretation. In recent times genius and
imagination have come to be widely regarded as one and the same thing.
They are not so, however, though they are perhaps indissolubly
connected. The most peculiar and characteristic mark of genius is
insight into subjects which are dark to ordinary vision and for which
ordinary language has no adequate expression. Imagination is rather the
language of genius: the power which traverses at a single glance the
whole external universe, and seizes on the likenesses and images, and
their combinations, which are best able to embody ideas and feelings
which are otherwise inexpressible; so that the “things which are unseen
are known by the things which are seen.” Imagination, in its higher
developments, is so quick and subtle a power that the most delicate
analysis can scarcely follow its shortest flights. Coleridge said that
it would take a whole volume to analyse the effect of a certain passage
of only a few syllables in length. In dealing with such a work as _The
Tempest_ criticism is absolutely helpless, and its noblest function is
to declare its own helplessness by directing attention to beauty beyond
beauty which defies analysis. _The Tempest_, like all very great works
of art, is the shortest and simplest, and indeed the only possible
expression of its “idea.” The idea is the product of genius proper; the
expression is the work of imagination. There are cases, however, in
which it is hard to distinguish at all between these inseparable
qualities. The initiation of a scientific theory seems often to have
been due to the action of the imagination working independently of any
peculiar direct insight; the analogy-discovering faculty--that is, the
imagination--finding a law for a whole sphere of unexplained phenomena
in the likeness of such phenomena to others of a different sphere of
which the law is known. Hence the real discoverers of such theories are
scarcely ever those who have obtained the credit of them; for nothing is
usually more abhorrent to men of extraordinary imagination than
“fact-grinding.” Such men, after having flung out their discoveries to
the contempt or neglect of their contemporaries, leave the future proof
of them to mental mechanics; religiously avoiding such work themselves,
lest, as Goethe said of himself, they should find themselves imprisoned
in “the charnel-house of science.” Genius and imagination of a very high
kind are not at all uncommon in children under twelve years of age,
especially when their education has been “neglected.” The writer can
guarantee the following facts from personal witness: A clever child of
seven, who could not read, and had certainly never heard of the
Newtonian theory of gravitation, said to his mother suddenly, “What
makes this ball drop when I leave hold of it?--Oh, I know: the ground
pulls it.” Another child, a year or two older, lay stretched on a gravel
path, staring intently on the pebbles. “They are alive,” he cried, in
the writer’s hearing; “they are always wanting to burst, but something
draws them in.” This infantine rediscovery of the doctrine of the
coinherence of attraction and repulsion in matter seems to have been an
effort of direct insight. The repetition of the Newtonian apple
revelation seems rather to have been the work of the imagination,
tracking likeness in difference; but to discern such likeness is, again,
an effort of direct insight, and justifies Aristotle’s saying that this
power of finding similitude in things diverse is a proof of the highest
human faculty, and that thence poetry is worthier than history. The
poet’s eye glances from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven; and his
faculty of discerning likeness in difference enables him to express the
unknown in the terms of the known, so as to confer upon the former a
_sensible_ credibility, and to give the latter a truly sacramental
dignity. The soul contains world upon world of the most real of
realities of which it has no consciousness until it is awakened to their
existence by some parable or metaphor, some strain of rhythm or music,
some combination of form or colour, some scene of beauty or sublimity,
which suddenly expresses the inexpressible by a lower likeness. The
vulgar cynic, blessing when he only means to bray, declares that love
between the sexes is “all imagination.” What can be truer? What baser
thing is there than such love, when it is not of imagination all
compact? or what more nearly divine when it is? Why? Because the
imagination deals with the spiritual realities to which the material
realities correspond, and of which they are only, as it were, the
ultimate and sensible expressions. And here it may be noted, by the way,
that Nature supplies the ultimate analogue of every divine mystery with
some vulgar use or circumstance, in order, as it would seem, to enable
the stupid and the gross to deny the divine without actual blasphemy.

Profligacy and “fact-grinding” destroy the imagination by habitually
dwelling in ultimate expressions while denying or forgetting the primary
realities of which they are properly only the vessels. Purity ends by
finding a goddess where impurity concludes by confessing carrion. Which
of these is the reality let each man judge according to his taste.
“Fact-grinding”--which Darwin confessed and lamented had destroyed his
imagination and caused him to “nauseate Shakespeare”--commonly ends in
destroying the religious faculty, as profligacy destroys the faculty of
love; for neither love nor religion can survive without imagination,
which Shelley, in one of his prefaces, identifying genius with
imagination, declares to be the power of discerning spiritual facts.
Those who have no imagination regard it as all one with “fancy,” which
is only a playful mockery of imagination, bringing together things in
which there is nothing but an accidental similarity in externals.



VIII

PATHOS


Neither Aristotle nor Hegel, the two great expositors of the relation of
the emotions to art, has discussed the nature of that which is
understood by moderns as “pathos.” Aristotle has described in his
_Rhetoric_, with the greatest acuteness and sensibility, the conditions
and modes of exciting pity. But pity includes much that is excluded by
pathos; and it may be useful to endeavour to ascertain what the
limitations of the latter are, and what are its conditions in relation
more particularly to art, in which it plays so important a part.

Pity, then, differs from pathos in this: the latter is simply emotional,
and reaches no higher than the sensitive nature; though the sensitive
nature, being dependent for its power and delicacy very much upon the
cultivation of will and intellect, may be indefinitely developed by
these active factors of the soul. Pity is helpful, and is not deadened
or repelled by circumstances which disgust the simply sensitive nature;
and its ardour so far consumes such obstacles to merely emotional
sympathy, that the person who truly pities finds the field of pathos
extended far beyond the ordinary limits of the dainty passion which
gives tears to the eyes of the selfish as well as the self-sacrificing.
In an ideally perfect nature, indeed, pity and pathos, which is the
feeling of pity, would be coextensive; and the latter would demand for
its condition the existence of the former, with some ground of actual
reality to work beneficially upon. On the other hand, entire selfishness
would destroy even the faintest capacity for discerning pathos in art or
circumstance. In the great mass of men and women there is sufficient
virtue of pity--pity that would act if it had the opportunity--to extend
in them the _feeling_ of pity, that is pathos, to a far larger range of
circumstances than their active virtue would be competent to encounter,
even if it had the chance.

Suffering is of itself enough to stir pity; for absolute wickedness,
with the torment of which all wholesome minds would be quite content,
cannot be certainly predicated of any individual sufferer; but pathos,
whether in a drawing-room tale of delicate distress or in a tragedy of
Æschylus or Shakespeare, requires that some obvious goodness, or
beauty, or innocence, or heroism should be the subject of suffering, and
that the circumstance or narration of it should have certain conditions
of repose, contrast, and form. The range of pathos is immense, extending
from the immolation of an Isaac or an Iphigenia to the death of a kitten
that purrs and licks the hand about to drown it. Next to the fact of
goodness, beauty, innocence, or heroism in the sufferer, contrast is the
chief factor in artistic pathos. The celestial sadness of Desdemona’s
death is immensely heightened by the black shadow of Iago; and perhaps
the most intense touch of pathos in all history is that of Gordon
murdered at Khartoum, while his betrayer occupies himself, between the
acts of a comedy at the Criterion, in devising how best he may excuse
his presence there by denying that he was aware of the _contretemps_ or
by representing his news of it as non-official. The singer of Fair
Rosamund’s sorrows knew the value of contrast when he sang--

    Hard was the heart that gave the blow,
      Soft were the lips that bled.

Every one knows how irresistible are a pretty woman’s tears.

    Nought is there under heav’n’s wide hollowness
    That moves more dear compassion of mind
    Than beauty brought to unworthy wretchedness.

It is partly the contrast of beauty, which is the natural appanage of
happiness, that renders her tears so pathetic; but it is still more the
way in which she is given to smiling through them. The author of the
_Rhetoric_ shows his usual incomparable subtilty of observation when he
notes that a little good coming upon or in the midst of extremity of
evil is a source of the sharpest pathos; and when the shaft of a
passionate female sorrow is feathered with beauty and pointed with a
smile there is no heart that can refuse her her will. In absolute and
uncontrolled suffering there is no pathos. Nothing in the _Inferno_ has
this quality except the passage of Paolo and Francesca, still embracing,
through the fiery drift. It is the embrace that makes the pathos,
“tempering extremities with extreme sweet,” or at least with the memory
of it. Our present sorrows generally owe their grace of pathos to their
“crown,” which is “remembering happier things.” No one weeps in sympathy
with the “base self-pitying tears” of Thersites, or with those of any
whose grief is without some contrasting dignity of curb. Even a little
child does not move us by its sorrow, when expressed by tears and cries,
a tenth part so much as by the quivering lip of attempted self-control.
A great and present evil, coupled with a distant and uncertain hope, is
also a source of pathos; if indeed it be not the same with that which
Aristotle describes as arising from the sequence of exceeding ill and a
little good. There is pathos in a departing pleasure, however small. It
is the fact of sunset, not its colours--which are the same as those of
sunrise--that constitutes its sadness; and in mere darkness there may be
fear and distress, but not pathos. There are few things so pathetic in
literature as the story of the supper which Amelia, in Fielding’s novel,
had prepared for her husband, and to which he did not come, and that of
Colonel Newcome becoming a Charterhouse pensioner. In each of these
cases the pathos arises wholly from the contrast of noble reticence with
a sorrow which has no direct expression. The same necessity for contrast
renders reconciliations far more pathetic than quarrels, and the march
to battle of an army to the sound of cheerful military music more able
to draw tears than the spectacle of the battle itself.

The soul of pathos, like that of wit, is brevity. Very few writers are
sufficiently aware of this. Humour is cumulative and diffusive, as
Shakespeare, Rabelais, and Dickens well knew; but how many a good piece
of pathos has been spoiled by the historian of Little Nell by an
attempt to make too much of it! A drop of citric acid will give
poignancy to a feast; but a draught of it----! Hence it is doubtful
whether an English eye ever shed a tear over the _Vita Nuova_, whatever
an Italian may have done. Next to the patient endurance of heroism, the
bewilderment of weakness is the most fruitful source of pathos. Hence
the exquisitely touching points in _A Pair of Blue Eyes_, _Two on a
Tower_, _The Trumpet-Major_, and other of Hardy’s novels.

Pathos is the luxury of grief, and when it ceases to be other than a
keen-edged pleasure it ceases to be pathos. Hence Tennyson’s question in
“Love and Duty,” “Shall sharpest pathos blight us?” involves a
misunderstanding of the word; although his understanding of the thing is
well proved by such lyrics as “Tears, idle tears,” and “O well for the
fisherman’s boy.” Pleasure and beauty--which may be said to be pleasure
visible--are without their highest perfection if they are without a
touch of pathos. This touch, indeed, accrues naturally to profound
pleasure and to great beauty by the mere fact of the incongruity of
their earthly surroundings and the sense of isolation, peril, and
impermanence caused thereby. It is a doctrine of that inexhaustible and
(except by Dante) almost unworked mine of poetry, Catholic theology,
that the felicity of the angels and glorified saints and of God Himself
would not be perfect without the edge of pathos, which it receives from
the fall and reconciliation of man. Hence, on Holy Saturday the Church
exclaims, “O felix culpa!” and hence “there is more joy in heaven over
one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine righteous who need
no repentance.” Sin, says St. Augustine, is the necessary shadow of
heaven; and pardon, says some other, is the highest light of its
beatitude.



IX

POETICAL INTEGRITY


The assertion that the value of the words of a poet does and ought to
depend very much upon his personal character may seem, at the first
glance, a violent paradox; but it is demonstrably true. A wise or tender
phrase in the mouth of a Byron or a Moore will be despised, where a
commonplace of morality or affection in that of a Wordsworth or a Burns
is respected. If the author of _Don Juan_ had said that for him “the
meanest flower that blows could give thoughts that do often lie too deep
for tears,” as he would have said had it occurred to him to do so, no
one would have believed him; it would have passed for a mere “poetical
licence,” and would have been excused as such and forgotten. Byron and
Wordsworth have both declared in words of similar force and beauty that
the sights and sounds of nature “haunted them like a passion.” But the
declaration was not consistent with what we know of Byron, and it was
consistent with what we know of Wordsworth; and in the one case it
creates a like frame of mind in the reader, while in the other it passes
like a melodious wind, leaving no impression. Now this mighty element of
character resides, not in the poet’s active life, by which he is and
ought to be socially judged; but in the spiritual consistency and
integrity of his mind and heart, as it is to be inferred from the
cumulative testimony of his words, which are, after all, the safest
witnesses of what the man truly is. A man’s actions--although we are
bound socially to judge him thereby--may belie him: his words never. Out
of his mouth shall the interior man be judged; for the interior man is
what he heartily desires to be, however miserably he may fail to bring
his external life into correspondence with his desire; and the words of
the man will infallibly declare what he thus inwardly is, especially
when, as in the case of the poet, the powers of language are so
developed as to become the very glass of the soul, reflecting its purity
and integrity, or its stains and insincerities, with a fidelity of which
the writer himself is but imperfectly conscious.

To a soundly trained mind there is no surer sign of shallowness and of
interior corruption than that habitual predominance of form over
formative energy, of splendour of language and imagery over human
significance, which has so remarkably distinguished a great deal of the
most widely praised poetry of the past eighty years. Much of this poetry
has about as much relation to actual or imaginative reality as the
transformation scene of a pantomime; and much more--called
“descriptive”--has so low a degree of significance and betrays so
inhuman an absorption in the merest superficies of nature, that when the
writer pretends to deal with those facts and phenomena of humanity
which, directly or indirectly, are the main region of every true poet’s
song, he has to overcome our sense that he is an habitual trifler before
he can gain credit for sincerity, even when he is giving utterance to
what may really be a passing strain of true poetic thought and feeling.
A poet who is thus constantly occupied with the superficies of nature
may probably attain to an accuracy and splendour of analytical
description which has its value in its way, and which may, in certain
transitory conditions of popular taste, raise him to the highest
pinnacle of favour. But such poetry will be judged, in the end, by its
human significance; and the writer of it will have the fatal verdict of
“heartless” recorded against him--a verdict which even in the time of
his favour is implicitly pronounced by the indifference with which his
professions of human principle and feeling are received, even by his
admirers.

The slightest touch of genuine humanity is of more actual and poetic
value than all that is not human which the sun shines on. The interest
of what is called “descriptive” or “representative” in real poetry and
all real art is always human, or, in other words, “imaginative.” A
description by Wordsworth, Coleridge, or Burns, a landscape by Crome,
Gainsborough, or Constable, is not merely nature, but nature reflected
in and giving expression to a state of mind. The state of mind is the
true subject, the natural phenomena the terms in which it is uttered;
and there has never been a greater critical fallacy than that contained
in Mr. Ruskin’s strictures on the “pathetic fallacy.” Nature has no
beauty or pathos (using the term in its widest sense) but that with
which the mind invests it. Without the imaginative eye it is like a
flower in the dark, which is only beautiful as having in it a power of
reflecting the colours of the light. The true light of nature is the
human eye; and if the light of the human eye is darkness, as it is in
those who see nothing but surfaces, how great is that darkness!

The saying of Wordsworth concerning the Poet, that

    You must love him ere to you
      He will seem worthy of your love,

which at first reading sounds very much like nonsense, is absolutely
true. He must have won your credit and confidence in his words, by
proofs of habitual veracity and sincerity, before you can so receive the
words which come from his heart that they will move your own. If, in the
utterance of what he offers to you as the cry or the deep longing of
passion, you catch him in busily noticing trifles--for which very likely
he gets praised for “accurate observation of nature”--you will put him
down as one who knows nothing of the passion he is pretending to
express. If you detect him in the endeavour to say “fine things” in
order to win your admiration for himself, instead of rendering his whole
utterance a single true thing, which shall win your sympathy with the
thought or feeling by which he declares himself to be dominated, the
result will be the same; as also it will be if you discover that the
beauty of his words is obtained rather by the labour of polish than the
inward labour and true finish of passion. When, on the other hand, some
familiarity with the poet’s work has assured you that, though his speech
may be unequal and sometimes inadequate, it is never false; that he has
always something to say, even when he fails in saying it: then you will
not only believe in and be moved by what he says well; but when the
form is sometimes imperfect you will be carried over such passages, as
over thin ice, by the formative power of passion or feeling which
quickens the whole; although you would reject such passages with disgust
were they found in the writing of a man in whose thoughts you know that
the manner stands first and the matter second.



X

THE POETRY OF NEGATION


Poetry is essentially catholic and affirmative, dealing only with the
permanent facts of nature and humanity, and interested in the events and
controversies of its own time only so far as they evolve manifestly
abiding fruits. But the abiding fruits of such events and controversies
are very rarely manifest until the turmoil in which they are produced
has long since subsided; and therefore poets, in all times before our
own, have either allowed the present to drift unheeded by or have so
handled its phenomena as to make them wholly subsidiary to and
illustrative of matters of well-ascertained stability. The many
occasional poems of past times, of which temporary incidents have been
the subjects, in no way contradict this assertion in the main; and the
casual example of a poet like Dryden affords only the confirming
exception. Dryden was fond of protesting, especially when he was a
Catholic; and there is no doubt but that this habit added greatly to his
popularity in his lifetime, as it does to the favour in which some of
the most distinguished of our modern poets are now held; but all those
points which probably constituted the high lights of Dryden’s poetry to
his contemporaries have suffered in course of time a change like that
which has come over the whites of many of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ pictures;
and it is much to be feared that a similar fate awaits a large
proportion of what has been written by several of the best poets of the
generation which is now passing away. Most of our recent poets, even
while condemning political revolution, have shared in the ideas or
feelings which are at the bottom of revolutions, a hope which the facts
of nature do not justify, and a disbelief in what those facts do
justify--namely, the ineradicable character of moral evil, with its
circumstantial consequences. The heart of the modern poet is, as a rule,
always vibrating between the extremes of despondent grumbling at the
present conditions and hasty and unreasonable aspirations for the
improvement of his kind; his tragedies and hymns of rejoicing are alike
void of the dignity and repose which arise from a sound confession of
the facts of humanity and a cheerful resignation to its imperfections;
and he whose true function is to stand aside as the tranquil seer too
often now becomes the excited agent in matters which concern him least
of all men, because of all men he is the least fitted to meddle with
them. It is hard to say which is more wonderful--the clearness of the
true poet’s vision for things when he is contented with looking at them
as they are, or his blindness when he fancies he can mend them. Famous
statesmen have marvellously drivelled in verse, but not more
marvellously than famous poets have drivelled in what pertains to
statesmanship. It is scarcely without a feeling of amazement that a man
of ordinary good sense contrasts the power of poetic vision in writers
like Victor Hugo and Carlyle with the childishness of their judgments
when they propose antidotes for evils which they so clearly see, but for
which they do not see that there are no antidotes, but only palliatives.
Looking for what they fancy may be, when their vocation is to proclaim
with clearness that which is, one poet will shriek to us (for untruths
cannot be sung) that all will be well when King Log is down and King
Stork reigns in his stead; another that Niagara may yet be dammed if
country gentlemen will hire drill-sergeants to put their gardeners and
farm-labourers through the goose-step; another says the world will be
saved if a few gentlemen and ladies, with nothing better to do, will
take to playing at being their own domestics; a fourth, in order to save
morals, proposes their abolition; a fifth proclaims that all will have
good wages when there remains no one to pay them; a sixth discovers in
the science of the future a sedative for human passions instead of a
wider platform for their display; and so on. Others, who have no patent
medicines on hand, impotently grumble or rage at evils in which, if they
looked steadily, they might discern the good of justice, or that of
trial, or both (as great poets in past times always have done); and,
instead of truly singing, they sob hysterical sympathy with such
sufferings in others as, if they were their own, they either would bear
or know that they ought to bear with equanimity.

The statesman, the social reformer, the political economist, the natural
philosopher, the alms-giver, the hospital visitor, the preacher, even
the cynical humorist, has each his function, and each is rightly more or
less negative; but the function of the poet is clearly distinguished
from all of these, and is higher though less obtrusive than any. It is
simply affirmative of things which it greatly concerns men to know, but
which they have either not discovered or have allowed to lapse into the
death of commonplace. He alone has the power of revealing by his insight
and magic words the undreamt-of mines of felicity which exist
potentially for all in social relationships and affections. The
inexhaustible glories of nature are a blank for many who are yet able to
behold them reflected in his perceptions. His convincing song can
persuade many to believe in, if they do not attain to taste--as he, if
indeed he be a poet, must have tasted--the sweet and wholesome kernel
which the rough shell of unmerited suffering conceals for those who are
patient. And he can so contemplate the one real evil in the world as to
give body and life and intelligibility to that last and sharpest cry of
faith, “O felix culpa!”

The temptations which our time offers to the poet in order to induce him
to forsake his own line are very great, and poets are human. The
conceited present craves to have singers of its own, who will praise it,
or at least abuse it; and it pays them well for pandering to its
self-consciousness, lavishing its best honours upon them as leaders of
the “Liberal movement,” and scoffing at those, as “behind their time,”
who stand apart and watch and help those abiding developments of
humanity which advance “with the slow process of the suns.”



XI

THE LIMITATIONS OF GENIUS


In art, as in higher matters, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the
way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it;” and the
initial cause of failure, in many who seem to have faculties which
should ensure success, is not so much the difficulty of the road which
leads to it, as want of humility in confessing its narrowness. Each man
is by birth a unique individuality, which the circumstances of his life
will increase and develop continually, if he be content to do his duty
in the station, intellectual and otherwise, to which it has pleased God
to call him, without falling below its obligations or assuming others
which have not been laid upon him. The low but still priceless degree of
genius which consists in individuality in manners, and which renders the
possessor of it powerfully though imperceptibly edifying in all
companies, is open to all, though few are sufficiently simple and honest
and unambitious to attain to it, by turning neither to the right hand
nor the left in pursuit of their particular good of life.

“Originality,” whether in manners, action, or art, consists simply in a
man’s being upon his own line; in his advancing with a single mind
towards his unique apprehension of good; and in his doing so in harmony
with the universal laws which secure to all men the liberty of doing as
he is doing, without hindrance from his or any other’s individuality.
Unless “originality” thus works in submission to and harmony with
general law, it loses its nature. In morals it becomes sin or insanity,
in manners and in art oddity and eccentricity, which are in reality the
extreme opposites and travesties of originality. As in religion it is
said that “no man can know whether he is worthy of love,” so in art and
ordinary life no man can know whether he is original. If through
habitual fidelity to his idea of good he has attained to originality, he
will be the last person in the world to know it. If he thinks he is
original, he is probably not so; and if he is commonly praised for
originality, he may hardly hope to attain to any such distinction.
Originality never expresses itself in harsh and obtrusive singularities.
A society of persons of true originality in manners would be like an
oak-tree, the leaves of which all look alike until they are carefully
compared, when it is found that they are all different. In art, the
sphere of extraordinary originalities, there is the same absence of
strongly pronounced distinctions, and therefore the same withdrawal from
the recognition of the vulgar, who look for originality in antics,
oddities, crudities, and incessant violations of the universal laws,
which true originality religiously observes; its very function
consisting, as it does, in upholding those laws and illustrating them
and making them unprecedentedly attractive by its own peculiar emphases
and modulations.

The individuality or “genius” of a man, which results from fidelity in
life and art to his “ruling love,” is almost necessarily narrow.
Shakespeare is the only artist that ever lived whose genius has even
approached to universality. His range is so great that ordinary readers,
if, like Mr. Frederic Harrison, they had the courage to speak their
impressions, would with him condemn the greater part of his work as
“rubbish”--that is, as having no counterpart in the “positivism” of
their actual or imaginative experience. Every play of Shakespeare is a
new vision--not only a new aspect of his vision, as is the case with the
different works of nearly all other artists, even the greatest.
Narrowness, indeed, so far from being opposed to greatness in art, is
often its condition. Dante and Wordsworth are proofs that greatness of
genius consists in seeing clearly rather than much; and well it would
have been both for poets and for readers had the former always or even
generally understood the economy of moving always on their own lines.
Nothing has so much injured modern art as the artist’s ambition to show
off his “breadth”; and many an immortal lyric or idyll has been lost
because the lyric or idyllic poet has chosen to forsake his line for the
production of exceedingly mortal epics or tragedies. The modern custom
of exhibiting all the works of a single painter at a time affords proof
which every one will understand of what has been said. Who, with an eye
for each painter’s true quality, can have gone over the collections in
recent years of the pictures of Landseer, Reynolds, Rossetti, Blake,
Holman Hunt, and others, without a feeling of surprise, and some perhaps
irrational disappointment, at the discovery for the first time of the
artist’s limitations? Each had painted the same vision over and over
again! There was no harm in that. The mistake was in bringing together
the replicas which should have adorned “palace chambers far apart.” But
poets, whose “works” are always collectively exhibited, should beware
how they betray the inevitable fact of the narrowness of genius. Not
only should they never leave their own line for another which is not
their own, but they should be equally careful not to go over it again
when they have once got to the end of it.



XII

LOVE AND POETRY


Every man and woman who has not denied or falsified nature knows, or at
any rate feels, that love, though the least “serious,” is the most
significant of all things. The wise do not talk much about this
knowledge, for fear of exposing its delicate edge to the stolid
resistance of the profligate and unbelieving, and because its light,
though, and for the reason that, it exceeds all other, is deficient in
definition. But they see that to this momentary transfiguration of life
all that is best in them looks forward or looks back, and that it is for
this the race exists, and not this for the race--the seed for the
flower, not the flower for the seed. All religions have sanctified this
love, and have found in it their one word for and image of their fondest
and highest hopes; and the Catholic has exalted it into a “great
Sacrament,” holding that, with Transubstantiation--which it
resembles--it is only unreasonable because it is above reason. “The love
which is the best ground of marriage,” writes also the Protestant and
“judicious” Hooker, “is that which is least able to render a reason for
itself.” Indeed, the extreme unreasonableness of this passion, which
gives cause for so much blaspheming to the foolish, is one of its surest
sanctions and a main cause of its inexhaustible interest and power; for
who but a “scientist” values greatly or is greatly moved by anything he
can understand--that which can be comprehended being necessarily less
than we are ourselves?

In this matter the true poet must always be a mystic--altogether to the
vulgar, and more or less to all who have not attained to his peculiar
knowledge. For what is a mystery but that which one does not know? The
common handicrafts used to be called mysteries; and their professors
were mystics to outsiders exactly in the sense that poets or
theologians, with sure, but to them uncommunicated and perhaps
incommunicable, knowledge, are mystics to the many. The poet simply
knows more than they do; but it flatters their malignant vanity to call
him names which they mean to be opprobrious, though they are not,
because he is not such a spiritual pauper as themselves. But poets are
mystics, not only by virtue of knowledge which the greater part of
mankind does not possess, but also because they deal with knowledge
against which the accusation of dunces who know the differential
calculus is etymologically true--namely, that it is _absurd_. Love is
eternally absurd, for that which is the root of all things must itself
be without root. Aristotle says that things are unintelligible to man in
proportion as they are simple; and another says, in speaking of the
mysteries of love, that the angels themselves desire in vain to look
into these things.

In the hands of the poet mystery does not hide knowledge, but reveals it
as by its proper medium. Parables and symbols are the only possible
modes of expressing realities which are clear to perception though dark
to the understanding. “Without a parable he spake not” who always spake
of primary realities. Every spiritual reality fades into something else,
and none can tell the point at which it fades. The only perfectly
definite things in the universe are the conceptions of a fool, who would
deny the sun he lives by if he could not see its disk. Natural sciences
are definite, because they deal with laws which are not realities but
conditions of realities. The greatest and perhaps the only real use of
natural science is to supply similes and parables for poets and
theologians.

But if the realities of love were not in themselves dark to the
understanding, it would be necessary to darken them--not only lest they
should be profaned, but also because, as St. Bernard says, “The more the
realities of heaven are clothed with obscurity, the more they delight
and attract, and nothing so much heightens longing as such tender
refusal.” “Night,” says the inspirer of St. Bernard, “is the light of my
pleasures.”

Love is rooted deeper in the earth than any other passion; and for that
cause its head, like that of the Tree Igdrasil, soars higher into
heaven. The heights demand and justify the depths, as giving them
substance and credibility. “That He hath ascended--what is it but
because He first also descended into the lower parts of the earth?” Love
“reconciles the highest with the lowest, ordering all things strongly
and sweetly from end to end.” St. Bernard says that “divine love”
(religion) “has its first root in the most secret of the human
affections.” This affection is the only key to the inner sanctuaries of
that faith which declares, “Thy Maker is thy Husband;” the only clue by
which searchers of the “secret of the King,” in the otherwise
inscrutable writings of prophet and apostle, discover, as Keble writes,
“the loving hint that meets the longing guess,” which looks to the
future for the satisfying and abiding reality, the passage of whose
momentary shadow forms the supreme glory of our mortality.

The whole of after-life depends very much upon how life’s transient
transfiguration in youth by love is subsequently regarded; and the
greatest of all the functions of the poet is to aid in his readers the
fulfilment of the cry, which is that of nature as well as religion, “Let
not my heart forget the things mine eyes have seen.” The greatest
perversion of the poet’s function is to falsify the memory of that
transfiguration of the senses, and to make light of its sacramental
character. This character is instantly recognised by the unvitiated
heart and apprehension of every youth and maiden; but it is very easily
forgotten and profaned by most, unless its sanctity is upheld by priests
and poets. Poets are naturally its prophets--all the more powerful
because, like the prophets of old, they are wholly independent of the
priests, and are often the first to discover and rebuke the lifelessness
into which that order is always tending to fall. If society is to
survive its apparently impending dangers, it must be mainly by guarding
and increasing the purity of the sources in which society begins. The
world is finding out, as it has often done before, and more or less
forgotten, that it cannot do without religion. Love is the first thing
to wither under its loss. What love does in transfiguring life, that
religion does in transfiguring love: as any one may see who compares one
state or time with another. Love is sure to be something less than human
if it is not something more; and the so-called extravagances of the
youthful heart, which always claims a character for divinity in its
emotions, fall necessarily into sordid, if not shameful, reaction, if
those claims are not justified to the understanding by the faith which
declares man and woman to be priest and priestess to each other of
relations inherent in Divinity itself, and proclaimed in the words “Let
us make man in our own image” and “male and female created he them.”
Nothing can reconcile the intimacies of love to the higher feelings,
unless the parties to them are conscious--and true lovers always
are--that, for the season at least, they justify the words “I have said,
Ye are gods.” Nuptial love bears the clearest marks of being nothing
other than the rehearsal of a communion of a higher nature. Its felicity
consists in a perpetual conversion of phase from desire to sacrifice,
and from sacrifice to desire, accompanied by unchangeable complaisance
in the delight shining in the beauty of the beloved; and it is agitated
in all its changes by fear, without which love cannot long exist as
emotion. Such a state, in proportion to its fervour, delicacy, and
perfection, is ridiculous unless it is regarded as a “great sacrament.”
It is the inculcation of this significance which has made love between
man and woman what it is now--at least to the idea and aspirations of
all good minds. It is time that the sweet doctrine should be enforced
more clearly. Love being much more respected and religion much less than
of old, the danger of profanation is not so great as it was when
religion was revered and love despised. The most characteristic virtue
of woman, or at least the most alluring of her weaknesses--her not
caring for masculine truth and worth unless they woo her with a smile or
a touch or some such flattery of her senses--is the prevailing vice of
most men, especially in these times. This general effeminacy is the
poet’s great opportunity. It is his pontifical privilege to feel the
truth; and his function is to bridge the gulf between severe verity and
its natural enemy, feminine sentiment, by speech which, without any
sacrifice of the former, is “simple, sensuous, and passionate.” He
insinuates in nerve-convincing music the truths which the mass of
mankind must feel before they believe. He leads them by their affections
to things above their affections, making Urania acceptable to them by
her prænomen Venus. He is the apostle of the Gentiles, and conveys to
them, without any flavour of cant or exclusiveness, the graces which the
chosen people have too often denied or disgraced in their eyes.



XIII

KEATS


Mr. Sidney Colvin’s book upon Keats is, in the main, a welcome exception
to what has become, of late, the rule in this class of work. It is
remarkably just, and every good reader will feel it to be the more
warmly appreciative because it is scarcely ever extravagantly so. The
bulk of Keats’s poetry, including “Endymion,” is estimated at its true
worth, which, as Keats--the severest judge of his own work--knew and
confessed, was not much; and the little volume (justly styled by Mr.
Colvin “immortal”) which was published in 1820, and which does not
consist of more than about 3000 lines, is declared to contain nearly the
whole of the poet’s effective writing. And even in this little
volume--which includes “Lamia,” “Isabella,” “The Eve of St. Agnes,” the
five “Odes,” and “Hyperion”--Mr. Colvin acutely detects and boldly
points out many serious defects. From the comparatively worthless waste
of the rest of Keats’s writing, Mr. Colvin picks out with accurate
discernment the few pieces and passages of real excellence; and he does
criticism good service in directing attention to the especial value of
the fragment called “The Eve of St. Mark,” and of that which is probably
the very finest lyric in the English language, “La Belle Dame sans
Merci.”

As long as Mr. Colvin limits himself to the positive beauties and
defects of Keats’s poetry he is nearly always right; it is only in his
summing up and in his estimate of the comparative worth of his subject
that a less enthusiastic critic must part company with him. “I think it
probable that by power, as well as by temperament and aim, he was the
most Shakespearian spirit that has lived since Shakespeare.” Is not the
truth rather that, among real poets, Keats was the most un-Shakespearian
poet that ever lived? True poets may be divided into two distinct
classes, though there is a border-line at which they occasionally become
confused. In the first class, which contains all the greatest poets,
with Shakespeare at their head, intellect predominates; governing and
thereby strengthening passion, and evolving beauty and sweetness as
accidents--though inevitable accidents--of its operation. The vision of
such poets may almost be described in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas,
in speaking of the Beatific Vision. “The vision,” he writes, “is a
virtue, the beatitude an accident.” Such poets are truly spoken of as
masculine. In the other class--in which Keats stands as high as any
other, if not higher--the “beatitude,” the beauty and sweetness, is the
essential, the truth and power of intellect and passion the accident.
These poets are, without any figure of speech, justly described as
feminine (not necessarily effeminate); and they are separated from the
first class by a distance as great as that which separates a truly manly
man from a truly womanly woman. The trite saying that the spirit of the
great poet has always a feminine element is perfectly true
notwithstanding. “The man is not without the woman;” though “the man is
not for the woman, but the woman for the man.” The difference lies in
that which has the lead and mastery. In Keats the man had not the
mastery. For him a thing of beauty was not only a joy for ever, but was
the supreme and only good he knew or cared to know; and the consequence
is that his best poems are things of exquisite and most sensitively felt
beauty, and nothing else. But it is a fact of primary significance, both
in morals and in art (a fact which is sadly lost sight of just now),
that the highest beauty and joy are not attainable when they occupy the
first place as motives, but only when they are more or less the
accidents of the exercise of the manly virtue of the vision of truth.
There is at fitting seasons a serene splendour and a sunny sweetness
about that which is truly masculine, whether in character or in art,
which women and womanly artists never attain--an inner radiance of
original loveliness and joy which comes, and can only come, of the
purity of motive which regards external beauty and delight as
accidental.

In his individual criticisms of Keats’s poems Mr. Colvin fully
recognises their defect of masculine character. In speaking of
“Isabella” he says: “Its personages appeal to us, not so much humanly
and in themselves, as by the circumstances, scenery, and atmosphere
amidst which we see them move. Herein lies the strength, and also the
weakness, of modern romance: its strength, inasmuch as the charm of the
mediæval colour and mystery is unfailing for those who feel it at all;
its weakness, inasmuch as under the influence of that charm both writer
and reader are too apt to forget the need for human and moral truth; and
without these no great literature can exist.” Again: “In Keats’s
conceptions of his youthful heroes there is at all times a touch, not
the wholesomest, of effeminacy and physical softness, and the influence
of passion he is apt to make fever and unman them quite; as, indeed, a
helpless and enslaved submission of all the faculties to love proved,
when it came to the trial, to be the weakness of his own nature.” And
again: “In matters of poetic feeling and fancy Keats and Hunt had not a
little in common. Both alike were given to ‘luxuriating’ somewhat
effusively and fondly over the ‘deliciousness’ of whatever they liked in
art, books, and nature.” In these and other equally just and
unquestionable criticisms of Keats’s character and works, surely Mr.
Colvin sufficiently refutes his own assertion that this writer was “by
temperament” “the most Shakespearian” of poets since Shakespeare. And
whether he was also such (as Mr. Colvin further asserts him to have
been) “by power,” let the poet’s work declare. In his own lovely
line--which he faithfully kept to in “Lamia,” “Isabella,” “The Eve of
St. Agnes,” and the “Odes”--he is unsurpassed and perhaps unequalled.
When he is true to that line we do not feel the want of anything better,
though we may know that there is something better: as, in the presence
of a beautiful woman, we do not sigh because she is not a General Gordon
or a Sir Thomas More. But let Keats try to assume the man--as he does in
his latest work, his attempts at dramatic composition or at satirical
humour, in the “Cap and Bells”--and all his life and power seem to
shrivel and die, like the beauty of Lamia in the presence of Apollonius.
Some of his readers may object the semblance of Miltonic strength in
certain passages of the fragment “Hyperion”; but Keats himself knew and
admitted that it was only a semblance and an echo, and therefore wisely
abandoned the attempt, having satisfied himself with having shown the
world that there was no object of merely external nature, from “roses
amorous of the moon” to

                                The solid roar
    Of thunderous waterfalls and torrents hoarse,
    Pouring a constant bulk, uncertain where,

which he had not nerves to feel and words so to utter that others should
feel as he did.

In making this distinction between poetry of a masculine and that of a
feminine order, it must be understood that no sort of disrespect is
intended to the latter in saying a good word for that “once important
sex” of poetry which the bewitching allurements of Keats and Shelley and
their followers have caused, for a season, to be comparatively despised.
The femininity of such poets as these is a glorious and immortal gift,
such as no mortal lady has ever attained or ever will attain. It has
been proved to us how well a mortal lady may become able to read the
classics; but, humbled as some of us may feel by her having headed the
Tripos, it is still some compensation for those of our sex to remember
that we alone can write “classics,” even of the feminine order. Nor let
it be thought that we have been insisting upon a modern and fanciful
distinction in thus dividing great men into two classes, in one of which
the masculine and in the other the feminine predominates. It is a fact
the observation of which is as old as the mythology which attributed the
parentage of heroes in whom the intellectual powers prevailed to the
union of gods with women, while those who distinguished themselves by
more external and showy faculties were said to have been born of the
commerce of goddesses with men.



XIV

WHAT SHELLEY WAS


Professor Dowden has had access to a very large quantity of hitherto
unpublished correspondence and other matter, some of which throws much
new light upon Shelley’s singular character; and, but for one most
important point--his sudden separation from Harriet Westbrook, for which
no substantial reason is given--the Professor’s eleven hundred closely
printed pages contain all and more than all that any reasonable person
can want to know about the subject. Professor Dowden’s arrangement of
this mass of material is so lucid that interest seldom flags; and the
whole work reads like a first-class sensational novel, of which the only
faults are that the characters are unnatural and the incidents
improbable. A beautiful youth of almost superhuman genius,
sensitiveness, and self-abnegation, is the hero. He is given early to
blaspheming whatever society has hitherto respected; and to cursing the
King and his father--an old gentleman whose chief foible seems to have
been attachment to the Church of England. His charity is so angelical
that he remains on the best of terms with one man who has tried to
seduce his wife, and with another--a beautiful young lord with a
club-foot, whom he finds wallowing in a society given to vices which
cannot be named, and who is also a supreme poet--notwithstanding the
fact that this lord has had a child by one of the ladies of his (the
hero’s) wife’s family and treats her with the most unmerited contempt
and cruelty. He adores three really respectable and attractive young
ladies--by name Harriet Westbrook, Elizabeth Hitchener, and Emilia
Viviani--with a passion which eternity cannot exhaust, and praises them
in music like that of the spheres (witness “Epipsychidion”); and, anon,
Harriet is “a frantic idiot,” Elizabeth a “brown demon,” and Emilia a
“centaur.” “It was,” says his biographer, “one of the infirmities of
Shelley’s character that, from thinking the best of a friend or
acquaintance, he could of a sudden, and with insufficient cause, pass
over to the other side and think the worst.” It is, perhaps, fortunate
that Providence should afflict supreme sanctities and geniuses with such
“infirmities”; otherwise we might take them for something more than
mere saints and poets. The hero, as became absolute charity, gave every
one credit--at least, when it suited his mood and convenience--for being
as charitable as himself: witness his soliciting Harriet Westbrook for
money after he had run away with his fresh “wife,” her rival. He was
addicted even from his babyhood to the oddest and most “charming”
eccentricities. “When Bysshe,” then quite a child, “one day set a
fagot-stack on fire, the excuse was a charming one: he did so that he
might have ‘a little hell of his own.’” At Eton “in a paroxysm of rage
he seized the nearest weapon, a fork, and stuck it into the hand of his
tormentor.” On another occasion, when his tutor found him apparently
setting fire to himself and the house, and asked him “What on earth are
you doing, Shelley?” he replied, “Please, sir, I’m raising the devil.”
The pet virtue of the hero was tolerance. “Here I swear,” he writes to
Mr. Hogg, “and as I break my oaths, may Infinity, Eternity blast
me--here I swear that never will I forgive intolerance! It is the only
point on which I allow myself to encourage revenge ... not one that
leaves the wretch at rest, but lasting, long revenge.” His resolutions
to be himself tolerant often broke down, and he could not abide “men who
pray” and such-like; but what could be expected from such a hero in such
a world! He had all the naïveté as well as the self-reliance of true
greatness. He had no sooner become an undergraduate at Oxford than he
printed a pamphlet on “The Necessity of Atheism,” and sent copies to the
Vice-Chancellor, the heads of houses, and all the bishops, with “a
pretty letter in his own handwriting” to each. He was summoned before
the University authorities, who “pleaded, implored, and threatened; on
the other side, the unabashed and beardless boy maintaining his right to
think, and declare his thoughts to others.” Much evil as he believed of
such vermin, he does not seem to have dreamed of the intolerance of
which they were capable. Hogg--the dear and life-long friend who tried
to seduce his wife--writes: “He rushed in; he was terribly agitated. ‘I
am expelled,’ he said, as soon as he had recovered himself a little; ‘I
am expelled!’... He sat on the sofa, repeating with convulsive
vehemence the words ‘Expelled! expelled!’” Professor Dowden thinks “it
was natural and perhaps expedient that measures should have been taken
to vindicate the authority of the heads of the institution; ... but good
feeling” would not have punished so severely what “was more an offence
of the intellect than of the heart and will”: for what was it “to fling
out a boy’s defiance against the first article of the Creed,” compared
with the drinking and disorderly life of some other undergraduates who
were yet allowed to remain in the University? The conduct of the
authorities was the less excusable that we have Mr. Hogg’s authority for
the fact that at this time “the purity and sanctity of his life were
most conspicuous,” and that “in no individual, perhaps, was the moral
sense ever more completely developed than in Shelley.” Of course, in
face of such an authority as Mr. Hogg, the assertion of Thornton Hunt
that “he was aware of facts which gave him to understand that Shelley
while at college, in tampering with venal passions, had seriously
injured his health; and that this was followed by a reaction ‘marked by
horror,’” is not to be listened to, and is therefore relegated to a
footnote. Professor Dowden rightly thinks that Shelley might have been
all the better had he left the University at the usual time, and with
his mind weighted with more discipline and knowledge. “His voyage,” says
his biographer, “must needs have been fleet and far, and the craft, with
fore and flying sails set, must often have run upon her side and drunk
the water; all the more reason, therefore, for laying in some ballast
below before she raced into the gale.” Every one knows how the craft
raced into the gale, with Miss Westbrook on board, as soon as the Oxford
hawser was cut. Shelley might have done much worse. She was a good and
attractive person. He began by liking her. “There are some hopes,” he
says, “of this dear little girl; she would be a divine little scion of
infidelity if I could get hold of her.” She seems to have been sincerely
devoted to him and he afterwards to her, until circumstances unknown or
undivulged made his home insupportable to her, and she became the
“frantic idiot” who, though she would give Shelley money when she had
it, was apparently not sufficiently “tolerant” upon other points--such
as that of his proposition that she should enjoy the scenery of
Switzerland in his company and that of her supplanter; and it certainly
showed some narrowness of mind to cast herself, upon his final desertion
of her, first into some desperation of living and afterwards into the
Serpentine, when she might have shared, or at least witnessed, the
“eternal rapture” and “divine aspirations” which her husband was
enjoying in the arms of another woman. Poor little “idiot” as she was,
she constitutes almost the only point in all this bewildering “romance
of reality” upon which the mind can rest with any peace or pleasure.

What Shelley was at first he remained to the last: a beautiful,
effeminate, arrogant boy--constitutionally indifferent to money,
generous by impulse, self-indulgent by habit, ignorant to the end of
all that it most behoves a responsible being to know, and so conceited
that his ignorance was incurable; showing at every turn the most
infallible sign of a feeble intellect, a belief in human perfectibility;
and rushing at once to the conclusion, when he or others met with
suffering, that some one, not the sufferer, was doing grievous wrong. If
to do what is right in one’s own eyes is the whole of virtue, and to
suffer for so doing is to be a martyr, then Shelley was the saint and
martyr which a large number of--chiefly young--persons consider him to
have been as a man; and if to have the faculty of saying everything in
the most brilliant language and imagery, without having anything
particular to say beyond sublime commonplaces and ethereal fallacies
about love and liberty, is to be a “supreme” poet, then Shelley
undoubtedly was such. But, as a man, Shelley was almost wholly devoid of
the instincts of the “political animal,” which Aristotle defines a man
to be. If he could not see the reasons for any social institution or
custom, he could not _feel_ any; and forthwith set himself to convince
the world that they were the invention of priests and tyrants. He was
equally deficient in what is commonly understood by natural affection.
The ties of relationship were no ties to him: for he could only _see_
them as accidents. “I, like the God of the Jews,” writes Shelley, “set
up myself as no respecter of persons; and relationship is regarded by me
as bearing that relation to reason which a band of straw does to fire.”
As these deficiencies were the cause of all the abnormal phenomena of
his life, so they are at the root of, or rather are, the imperfections
of his poetry, which is all splendour and sentiment and sensitiveness,
and little or no true wisdom or true love. The very texture of his verse
suffers from these causes. In his best poems it is firm, fluent,
various, and melodious; but the more serious and subtle music of life
which he had not in his heart he could not put into his rhythms; which
no one who knows what rhythm is will venture to compare with the best of
Tennyson’s or Wordsworth’s, far less with the best of our really
“supreme” poets. A very great deal of his poetry is much like the
soap-bubbles he was so fond of blowing--its superficies beauty, its
substance wind; or like many a young lady who looks and moves and
modulates her speech like a goddess, and chatters like an ape.

After Shelley, the chief male figure in this romance--which would be
altogether incredible were it not real--is that of the guide,
philosopher, and friend of the poet’s youth, Godwin. Pecksniff is
genteel comedy compared with the grim farce of this repulsive lover of
wisdom as embodied in himself. Like the German poet who was entrusted by
one friend to be the bearer of a sausage to another, and, bit by bit,
ate it all on his way, Godwin “sincerely abhorred all that was sordid
and mean; but he liked sausage”; and the way he combined the necessity
for nibbling at Shelley’s future fortune by making incessant claims,
which the latter could only satisfy by repeated and ruinous post-obits,
with the other necessity for keeping up the insulted and injured dignity
of a man whom Shelley had wronged past pardon, is funny beyond
description. His writing to tell Shelley that he had insulted him by
giving him a heavy sum of money in the form of a cheque made payable to
his (Godwin’s) own name, thereby making the gift liable to be construed
as such by the banker, and threatening solemnly not to receive the gift
at all, unless the name was changed to “Hume” or any other the poet
might select, is a touch which Shakespeare might have coveted for
Ancient Pistol.

It appears that there still exists a good deal of writing by and
concerning Shelley which it has not been deemed expedient to publish. A
footnote, for instance, assures us that “a poetical epistle to Graham
referring to his father in odious terms” is still “in existence”; and
various other unprinted letters and poems are alluded to. But it is
scarcely to be supposed that any future _Life of Shelley_ will supersede
Professor Dowden’s--unless, indeed, it should be an abridgment, more
suitable in bulk and perhaps in tone than the present publication is,
for the use of those who, undazzled, or possibly repelled, by the
glamour of Shelley’s personality and revolutionary convictions, admire
the meteoric splendour of his genius and allow it its not unimportant
place in the permanent literature of England.



XV

BLAKE


Blake’s poetry, with the exception of four or five lovely lyrics and
here and there in the other pieces a startling gleam of unquestionable
genius, is mere drivel. A sensible person can easily distinguish between
that which he cannot understand and that in which there is nothing to be
understood. Mr. W. Rossetti, who is an enthusiast for “the much-maligned
Paris Commune” and for Blake’s poetry, says of some of the latter, where
it is nearly at its worst, “We feel its potent and arcane influence, but
cannot dismember this into articulated meanings.” This sentence, if put
into less exalted English, expresses tolerably well the aspect of mind
with which we regard much of the writing of the Prophets and of the
great ancient and modern mystics. Some light of their meaning forces
itself through the, in most cases, purposely obscure cloud of their
words and imagery; but when, by chance, a glimpse of the disk itself is
caught, it is surprisingly strong, bright, and intelligible. Such
writers are only spoken of with irreverence by those that would have
given their verdict in favour of the famous Irishman who, being
confronted with one witness swearing to having seen him take a
handkerchief from another gentleman’s pocket, brought four who testified
with equal solemnity to not having seen him do any such thing. The
obvious rule in regard to such writers is, “When you cannot understand a
man’s ignorance, think yourself ignorant of his understanding.” Again,
if a man’s sayings are wholly unintelligible to us, he may claim the
benefit of a small possibility of a doubt that his meanings may be too
great and necessarily “arcane” for our powers of reception. But when a
writer’s works consist of a few passages of great beauty and such
simplicity that a child may understand them--like Blake’s
“Chimney-Sweep,” “Tiger,” “Piping down the valleys wild,” “Why was Cupid
a boy?” and “Auguries of Innocence”--and a great deal more that is mere
ill-expressed but perfectly intelligible platitude and commonplace mixed
with petty spite, and a far larger quantity still which to the ear of
the natural understanding is mere gibberish, he has no right to claim,
as Blake does, that the latter shall be regarded as plenarily inspired,
or, indeed, as being anything better than the delirious rubbish it
obviously is.

Mr. W. Rossetti, though he goes a great way further in his admiration of
Blake than reason can be shown for, does the cause of reason a good
service in declaring his opinion that the poet was probably mad. “When,”
says he, “I find a man pouring forth conceptions and images for which he
professes himself not responsible, and which are in themselves in the
highest degree remote, nebulous, and intangible, and putting some of
these, moreover, into words wherein congruent sequence and significance
of expression or analogy are not to be traced, then I cannot resist a
strong presumption that that man was in some true sense of the word
mad.” As Pope “could not take his tea without a stratagem,” so Blake
could not “mix his colours with diluted glue” without declaring that
“the process was revealed to him by St. Joseph”; and it was the ghost of
his brother who taught him the new, though, had we not been told
otherwise, the not supernaturally wonderful device of saving the expense
of ordinary typography by etching the words of his verses on the copper
plate which bore their illustrations. Blake was morally as well as
intellectually mad; proposing on one occasion, for example, that his
wife should allow him to introduce a second partner to his bed, and
doing so with a _bonâ fide_ unconsciousness of anything amiss in such a
suggestion as perfect as that with which Shelley urged his wife to come
and share the delights of a tour in Switzerland with him and his
mistress Mary Godwin.

That “great wits to madness nearly are allied” is not true; but it is
not only true but psychologically explicable that small “geniuses” often
are so. Most children are geniuses before the dawn of moral and
intellectual responsibilities; and there are some who remain, not
children, but moral and intellectual manikins, all their lives. It must
be confessed that conscience makes, not only cowards, but more or less
dullards, of us all. The child, that

    Mighty prophet, seer blest,
    On whom those truths do rest
    Which we are toiling all our lives to find,

owes his power of vision to his not being able to see the flaming sword
of conscience which turns every way, and hinders all men but a very few
from getting a glimpse through the closed gates of Paradise. Yet it is
better to be a purblind man with a conscience than a seeing manikin with
none. It is better still, and best of all, when the man of developed
intellect and fully accepted responsibilities retains a cherished memory
of and an innocent sympathy with the knowledge that came to him in
childhood and early youth, and uses his trained powers of expression in
order to make the world partakers of those thoughts and feelings which
had no tongue when they first arose in him, and leave no memory in the
mass of men until the man of true and sane genius touches chords of
recollection that would otherwise have slept in them for ever. One of
the few really good things ever said by Hazlitt is that “men of genius
spend their lives in teaching the world what they themselves learned
before they were twenty.”

For the time, however, the manikin type of genius is all the fashion,
especially with a class of critics who have it in their power to give
notoriety, if they cannot give fame. Craziness alone passes at present
for a strong presumption of genius, and where genius is really found in
company therewith it is at once pronounced “supreme.” This is partly
because most people can see that craziness has something abnormal about
it, and are ready, therefore, to identify it with genius, of which most
persons only know that it also is “abnormal”; and partly because the
manikin mind is always red republican, and ardent in its hatred of
kings, priests, “conventions,” the “monopoly” of property and of women,
and all other hindrances put in the way of virtue, liberty, and
happiness by the wicked “civilizee.”

Blake, as an artist, is a more important figure than Blake the poet; and
naturally so, for the smallest good poem involves a consecutiveness and
complexity of thought which are only required in paintings of a
character which Blake rarely attempted. Yet, even as a painter his
reputation has until lately been much exaggerated. The recent exhibition
of his collected drawings and paintings was a great blow to the fame
which had grown up from a haphazard acquaintance by his admirers with a
few sketches or an illustrated poem. Here and there there was a gleam of
such pure and simple genius as is often revealed in the speech of a
finely natured child amid its ordinary chatter; here and there the
expression of a tender or distempered dream, which was not like anything
else in the spectator’s experience; now and then an outline that had a
look of Michael Angelo, with sometimes hints which might have formed the
themes of great works, and which justified the saying of Fuseli that
“Blake is damned good to steal from”; but the effect of the whole
collection was dejecting and unimpressive, and did little towards
confirming its creator’s opinion that Titian, Reynolds, and Gainsborough
were bad artists, and Blake, Barry, and Fuseli good ones.



XVI

ROSSETTI AS A POET


The claims of Rossetti as a painter and a poet have obtained a full and
generous recognition; and he has acquired a standing in either art which
will in all probability abide, though it is far too soon to attempt any
estimate of his relative position in the permanent ranks of artists and
writers. His thoughtfulness, and the clearness and intensity of his
perceptions, do not require to be insisted upon, nor the almost
unexampled way in which he has merged--and often, it must be admitted,
confounded--the functions of painter and poet. This he has done to the
detriment of his perfection in either art; in neither of which can he be
truly said to have attained the character of mastery which may be found,
more or less, in almost all other workers of equal genius with himself,
and sometimes in those whose natural qualifications have been inferior
to his. Little of his drawing and none of his painting can be enjoyed
without the drawback of some sense of manifest technical failure; and
nearly all his poetry--which is more or less difficult by reason of the
quick succession of out-of-the-way thoughts and images, needing the
closest attention for their appreciation--is rendered unnecessarily so
by language which rarely has the fluency of perfection. In the two or
three instances in which his verse becomes fluent and more or less
masterly--notably in the “Burden of Nineveh” and “Jenny”--it ceases to
be characteristic or subtle. The “Burden of Nineveh” might have been
written by Southey, or any other writer of forcible words and thoughts
in somewhat commonplace rhythm. This fact, that fluency fails him as
soon as he gets upon his own proper ground, renders it extremely
difficult to discern and to describe exactly what that ground is. Style,
which is the true expression of the poet’s individuality--the mark by
which we discover, not what, but how, he thinks and feels--is almost
suffocated, in Rossetti’s most characteristic work, by voluntary
oddities of manner and by a manifest difficulty in so moving in the
bonds of verse as to convert them into graces. If subtle thoughts and
vivid imagery were all that went to make a poet, Rossetti would stand
very high. But these qualities must have the running commentary and
musical accompaniment of free feeling, which only a correspondingly
subtle and vivid versification can express, before they can be allowed
to constitute a claim to the highest poetical rank. Rossetti as a
versifier was as technically defective as Rossetti as a painter; his
best poems and his best paintings are the outcome, not only of very high
aims--which are as common as blackberries--but of very high aims deeply
and characteristically felt; and his superiority to many far more
technically perfect artists results from the fact that his
characteristic feeling is strong enough to make itself powerfully,
however indistinctly, perceived through the mist and obstructions of his
mannerism and defective verse.

Like all men of strong artistic individuality combined with serious
artistic faults, Rossetti has had a great influence upon the literature
of his day--such an influence as comparatively faultless writers never
exert, at least in their time. Many young versifiers and painters fancy
they are reproducing Rossetti’s intensity when they are only imitating
the most prevailing fault of his art, its tensity. His brother, William
Rossetti, in his modest and judicious introduction to these volumes,
tells how he and Gabriel used to amuse themselves in making
_bouts-rimés_. William says of his brother’s literary toys of this
sort: “Some have a _faux air_ of intensity of meaning, as well as of
expression; but their real core of significance is small.” It cannot be
denied that a careful scrutiny of much of Rossetti’s published work is
open to this criticism. It is tense without being intense. This fault is
his great attraction to his imitators, whose every sensation is
represented as a pang, delicious or otherwise, and whose mental sky is a
canopy of iron destiny compared with which the melancholy of Byron,
which likewise had so many copyists, was no more than a pleasant shade.

In endeavouring to do justice to Rossetti it must be remembered that,
though born and bred in England, he was an Italian by blood and
sympathy. His acquaintance with Englishmen and English books was by no
means wide. Love, the constant theme of his art, is in some of his most
important poems, not the English love whose stream is steady affection
and only its occasional eddies passion, and which, when disappointed,
does not cease to be love, though it becomes sorrow: but the Italian
ardour, in perennial crisis, which stabs its rival and hates its object,
if she refuses its satisfaction, as ardently as it worships her so long
as there is hope. The limitations, also, which characterise Rossetti’s
poetry belong to Italian poetry itself. There is little breadth in it,
but much acuteness. Dante is to Shakespeare as the Peak of Teneriffe to
the tableland of Tibet; and, as any reader of Rossetti’s translations of
the minor Italian poets may see, the same proportion prevails between
them and the lesser singers of England. It is therefore quite unfair to
try an essentially Italian poet, like Rossetti, by comparing his works
with the classical poetry of a nation which, for combined breadth and
height, far surpasses the poetry of all other languages present and
past, with the doubtful exception of the Greek. The English language
itself is not made for Italian thought and passion. It has about four
times as many vowel sounds as Italian and a corresponding consonantal
power; that is to say, it differs from the Italian about as much as an
organ differs from a flute. Rossetti uses little beside the flute-notes
of our English organ; and, if he had made himself complete master of
those notes, it would have been the most that could have been expected
of him. In appearance and manners Rossetti was thoroughly Italian. In
his youth especially he had the sweet and easy courtesy peculiar to his
nation. His brother says, “There was a certain British bluffness
streaking the finely poised Italian suppleness and facility.” This
describes, better than perhaps Mr. William Rossetti intended, a
characteristic which occasionally, but fortunately not often, appears in
his poetry, which is most pleasing when it is least “streaked” with
British bluffness: as it is, for example, in “Jenny.”

Rossetti’s power is chiefly shown in his long ballads, such as “Sister
Helen,” “The Bride’s Prelude,” “Rose Mary,” and “The King’s Tragedy.”
Had these been found in Percy’s “Relics,” they would have constituted
the chief ornaments of that collection. As it is, it is impossible not
to feel that they are more or less anachronisms, both in spirit and in
form. The repetition of a refrain through the fifty stanzas or so of
“Sister Helen,” the most forcible of all these lyrical narratives, has
no sufficient justification for its interruption of the fiercely flowing
history. A refrain which extends to more than three or four stanzas
requires and originally assumed a musical accompaniment. The constant
high-pressure of passion in these ballads is also an anachronism; and to
the cultured modern reader this character is calculated to defeat the
poet’s purpose, giving him an impression of cold instead of warmth, as
if the fire had a salamander instead of a heart in its centre. A kindred
fault, which Rossetti has in common with some of the most famous poets
of the century, is that of conferring upon all his images an acute and
independent clearness which is never found in the natural and truly
poetical expression of feeling. It is true, and great poets (especially
Shakespeare) have noted it, that in extreme crises of passion there will
sometimes be a moment of calm in which the minutiæ of some most trifling
object or circumstance will, as it were, photograph themselves upon the
mind. But this præternatural calm is only the “eye of the storm”; and to
scatter broadcast, over a long poem, imagery with the sharpest outlines
is to prove, not only that it has not been written from true passion,
but that the poet has not even observed the phenomena of true passion.
Such independent force and clearness of imagery can only be justified in
poems of the very lowest type of artistic construction, such as
Schiller’s “Song of the Bell” and “Childe Harold,” which scarcely
profess to have more unity than is to be found in a scrap-book. A fine
poem may or may not be full of “fine things”; but, if it does abound in
them, their independent value should only appear when they are separated
from their context. In Rossetti, as in several other modern poets of
great reputation, we are constantly being pulled up, in the professedly
fiery course of a tale of passion, to observe the moss on a rock or the
note of a chaffinch. High finish has nothing to do with this quality of
extreme definiteness in detail; indeed, it is more often exercised by
the perfect poet in blurring outlines than in giving them acuteness. It
must be admitted, however, that Rossetti had an unusual temptation to
this kind of excess in his extraordinary faculty for seeing objects in
such a fierce light of imagination as very few poets have been able to
throw upon external things. He can be forgiven for spoiling a tender
lyric by a stanza such as this, which seems scratched with an adamantine
pen upon a slab of agate--

      But the sea stands spread
    As one wall with the flat skies,
    Where the lean black craft, like flies,
      Seem wellnigh stagnated,
      Soon to drop off dead.

Though the foregoing strictures apply to a large portion of Rossetti’s
work, there is a really precious residuum which they do not touch. There
are several pieces--such as “Love’s Nocturn,” “The Portrait,” “A Little
While,” and many sonnets--which are full of natural feeling expressed
with simple and subtle art; and in much of his work there is a rich and
obscure glow of insight into depths too profound and too sacred for
clear speech, even if they could be spoken: a sort of insight not at
all uncommon in the great art of past times, but exceedingly rare in the
art of our own.



XVII

MR. SWINBURNE’S SELECTIONS


It has probably been a misfortune for Mr. Swinburne’s growth as a poet
that no winter of critical neglect preceded the full recognition of his
very remarkable talents. His best friends must allow that he is still
somewhat younger in judgment than in his years and experience of
authorship. It is not, however, much to be wondered at that he should
have been tempted to rest content with having apparently attained at a
single step a height of reputation to reach which has been with most
poets the work of hard climbing during many years. Mr. Swinburne is
still in the prime of life and in full possession of his powers, and
some of his later work shows that he has that continued power of growth
which is one of the greatest privileges of genius. If he will only
listen to his own critical conscience, he may yet do work better and
much more enduring than any he has yet done. He cannot, indeed, hope to
excel certain single passages of prose and verse in which he has
attained a character of breadth and poetic ardour scarcely to be found
in any other writer of the time; but he can (and there have of late been
signs that he intends to) modify his manner of thinking and writing so
that his best--which is very good indeed--may not be discredited by so
much of the jejune in thought and composition as is to be found in a
great deal of his work heretofore. Hitherto Mr. Swinburne has been too
much given to protesting; which is not the poet’s work, even when it is
done wisely. In his future writing we shall probably hear more of the
whisper of affirmative wisdom than the whirlwind of passionate negation;
he will recognise more and more fully that the world is not and never
will be made up of Swinburnes and Rossettis, and that it is vain to
denounce popular beliefs and institutions, when he has only, to set up
in their places, others which are, and for ever will be, unintelligible
by the great majority of mankind, and inapplicable to their demands. The
people will always insist on having kings and priests; and Mr. Swinburne
has, no doubt, had his eyes too well opened by very recent history not
to discern that it would be of little use to dethrone King Log in favour
of Prime Minister Stork, or to unfrock an Archbishop of Canterbury in
order to transfer his authority to a General Booth.

Hitherto it has been impossible not to feel that there has been some
disproportion between Mr. Swinburne’s power of saying things and the
things he has to say. This defect of the “body of thought,” which
Coleridge once complained was wanting in an otherwise good poem, has
reacted upon Mr. Swinburne’s language itself, producing sometimes a
reiteration of words and imagery surpassing even that which is to be
found in the works of Shelley, and which in them arose from the same
inadequacy of matter. For example, in a passage of thirteen lines in the
present volume we have “flowery forefront of the year,” “foam-flowered
strand,” “blossom-fringe,” “flower-soft face,” and “spray-flowers”; and
in Mr. Swinburne’s poems generally it must be confessed that flowers,
stars, waves, flames and three or four other entities of the natural
order, come in so often as to suggest some narrowness of observation and
vocabulary. This defect, also, is less manifest than it used to be,
though probably the abandonment to the mere joy of words, which is
natural and not altogether ungraceful in a writer who can use them so
splendidly, will always be a characteristic of Mr. Swinburne’s poetry.
It reminds us of the rapture of Tristram in the truly magnificent
description of the bath he took before breakfast in “Sea and Sunrise,”
and the reader is often carried with like joy upon the waves of words
without troubling himself as to whether he and the poet are not both out
of their depth.

Mr. Swinburne’s mode of dealing with human passions is somewhat of an
anachronism. His heroes and heroines, like those of the old English
drama and the Scandinavian poems, often become heroic by the sacrifice
of humanity, and, thereby, of the reader’s sympathy. The pictures of
Mary Queen of Scots and of Iseult in this volume, for instance, though
painted with a great brush are not truly great, because they are not
greatly true--at all events, to any conditions which the modern world
recognises or should desire to recognise. Nor, granting that the
characters and situations are poetical, is the execution quite what it
ought to be. The effects are obtained by a cumulative rather than a
developing process; and, at the end of a long poem or passage full of
strong words and images, the idea of strength thence derived is rather
that given by a hill than the living hole of a huge tree.

Mr. Swinburne’s metrical practice should be criticised with respect; for
he has an unquestionably fine ear, and has ransacked the literature of
all times in order to discover and appropriate, or modify to his own
uses, a number of movements which, unlike our familiar English metres,
are whirlwinds and blasts of passion in themselves. Such metres,
however, should be sparingly used. They almost satisfy the ear without
any accompaniment of sound meaning, and evoke, as it were by a trick, a
current of emotion that is independent of any human feeling in the poet
himself. This is a great temptation, and Mr. Swinburne has not always
avoided the traps which he has thus set for himself. Such metres have,
moreover, the disadvantage of fixing in too peremptory a manner the key
in which the poems written in them must be sustained. They allow none of
the endless modulations which are open to the poet who writes in almost
any of our native and less emphatic measures. Mr. Swinburne has the less
reason for resorting so habitually as he does to this too easy means of
obtaining passionate effect, inasmuch as some of his very best and most
effective passages are written in our common metres. Witness the almost
incomparable apostrophe to Athens, in “Erechtheus” (unfortunately not
included in these selections), and “Sea and Sunrise,” and “Herse.”

There is one still easier and far less excusable source of effect which
every friend of the poet must rejoice to see that he has of late
abandoned. There is nothing in the _Selections_ which a schoolgirl
might not be permitted to read and understand, if she could; and there
are a number of pieces about children which are so full of pure and
tender perceptions as to cause a doubt whether, in some of his earlier
writings, the poet was not wantonly flouting the world’s opinion rather
than expressing any very real phase of his own feeling.



XVIII

ARTHUR HUGH CLOUGH


Clough worshipped Truth with more than the passion of a lover, and his
writings are, for the most part, the tragic records of a life-long
devotion to a mistress who steadily refused his embraces; but as it is
greatly better to have loved without attaining than to have attained
without loving, so Clough’s ardent and unrewarded stumblings in the dark
towards his adored though unseen divinity are greatly more attractive
and edifying to those who have shared, successfully or not, the same
passion, than is that complacent fruition of her smiles which she often
accords to those who are contented to be no more than her speaking
acquaintances. Regarded from a purely intellectual point of view,
Clough’s utterances on religion, duty, etc., are little better than the
commonplaces which in these days pass through the mind and more or less
affect the feelings of almost every intelligent and educated youth
before he is twenty years of age; but there are commonplaces which cease
to be such, and become indefinitely interesting, in proportion as they
are animated by moral ardour and passion. Speech may work good by
warming as well as by enlightening; and if Clough’s writings teach no
new truth, they may inflame the love of truth, which is perhaps as great
a service. Though he professes that he can nowhere see light where light
is most necessary and longed for, his mind is utterly opposed to the
negative type; and he exactly exemplifies the class of believer whom
Richard Hooker endeavours to comfort, in his great sermon on “the
perpetuity of faith in the elect,” by the reminder that a longing to
believe is implicit faith, and that we cannot sorrow for the lack of
that which we interiorly hold to be nonexistent. A question that must
suggest itself to most readers is, What is the use and justification of
these endless and tautological lamentations over the fact--as Clough
conceived it to be--that, for such as him at least, “Christ is not
risen”? The reply is, that the responsibility of the publication of so
much that is profoundly passionate but far from profoundly intellectual
scepticism was not his. With the exception of some not very significant
critical essays, his prose consists of letters, which were of course
not meant for the public; and the greater part of his poetry remained to
the day of Clough’s death in his desk, and would probably never have
left it, with his consent, unless to be put in the fire.

Those who recognise in the “Bothie” Clough’s almost solitary claim to
literary eminence must somewhat wonder at the considerable figure he
stands for in the estimation of the present generation. The fact is that
Clough, like James Spedding, was personally far more impressive than his
works; and the singularly strong effect produced among his friends by
the extreme simplicity and shy kindliness of his life and manners, and
the at once repellent and alluring severity of his truthfulness, gave
his character a consequence beyond that of his writings with all who
knew him though ever so slightly; and the halo of this sanctity hangs,
through the report of his friends, about all that he has done, and
renders cold criticism of it almost impossible. No one who knew Clough
can so separate his personality from his writings as to be able to
criticise them fairly as literature; no one who has not known him can
understand their value as the outcome of character.

The impressionable and feminine element, which is manifest in all
genius, but which in truly effective genius is always subordinate to
power of intellect, had in Clough’s mind the preponderance. The
masculine power of intellect consists scarcely so much in the ability to
see truth, as in the tenacity of spirit which cleaves to and assimilates
the truth when it is found, and which steadfastly refuses to be blown
about by every wind of doctrine and feeling. The reiterated theme of
Clough’s poetry is that the only way of forgetting certain problems now,
and of securing their solution hereafter, is to do faithfully our
nearest duty. This is no new teaching: it is that of every religion and
all philosophy. But Clough had no power of trusting patiently to the
promise, “Do my commandments, and you shall know of the doctrine.” This
was the ruin of what might otherwise have been a fine poetic faculty. A
“Problem” will not sing even in the process of solution, much less while
it is only a hopeless and irritating “Pons.” Clough was curiously
attracted by Emerson, of whom he spoke as the only great contemporary
American. Now Emerson, at his very best, never approached greatness. He
was at highest only a brilliant metaphysical epigrammatist. But a
religion without a dogma, and with only one commandment, “Thou shalt
neither think nor do anything that is customary,” had great attractions
for Clough; to whom it never seems to have occurred that the vast mass
of mankind, for whose moral and religious welfare he felt so keenly, has
not and never can have a religion of speechless aspirations and
incommunicable feelings, and that to teach men to despise custom is to
cut the immense majority of them adrift from all moral restraint. The
promise that we shall all be priests and kings seems scarcely to be for
this world. At all events we are as far from its fulfilment now as we
were two thousand years ago; and we shall not be brought nearer to it by
any such outpourings of sarcastic discontent as go to the making of such
poems as the tedious Mephistophelian drama called “Dipsychus,” which
Clough had the good sense not to publish, though it is included with
many others of equally doubtful value in posthumous editions of his
works. This class of his poems possesses, indeed, a lively interest for
a great many people of our own time, who are in the painful state of
moral and religious ferment which these verses represent; but it is a
mere accident of the time that there is any considerable audience for
such utterances, and in a generation or two it is probable that most men
will feel surprise that there could ever have been a public who found
poetry in this sort of matter.

The “Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich” is the only considerable poem of
Clough’s in which he seems, for a time, to have got out of his slough
of introspection and doubt and to have breathed the healthy air of
nature and common humanity. In spite of many artistic shortcomings, this
poem is so healthy, human, and original, that it can scarcely fail to
survive when a good deal of far more fashionable verse shall have
disappeared from men’s memories. The one infallible note of a true
poet--the power of expressing himself in rhythmical movements of
subtilty and sweetness which baffle analysis--is also distinctly
manifest in passages of the “Bothie,” passages the music of which was,
we fancy, lingering in the ear of Tennyson when he wrote certain parts
of “Maud.” The originality of this idyl is beyond question. It is not in
the least like any other poem, and an occasionally ostentatious touch of
the manner of “Herman and Dorothea” seems to render this originality all
the more conspicuous in the main. Another note of poetical power,
scarcely less questionable than is that of sweetness and subtilty of
rhythm, is the warm and pure breath of womanhood which is exhaled from
the love-passages of this poem. Clough seems to have felt, in the
presence of a simple and amiable woman, a mystery of life which acted
for a time as the rebuke and speechless solution of all doubts and
intellectual distresses. These passages in the “Bothie,” and, in a less
degree, some others in the “Amours de Voyage,” stand, in the disturbed
course of Clough’s ordinary verse, like the deep, pure, and
sky-reflecting pools which occasionally appear in the course of a
restless mountain river.



XIX

EMERSON


The life and writings of Emerson owe their chief claim on our attention
to the fact that they represent with singular force a line of thought
and belief--if belief it can be called--which an immense number of the
young, intelligent, and sincere of the past and present generation have
been endeavouring to follow, though as yet without any remarkable or
satisfactory results. “Every man is potentially a man of genius,” is the
one dogma of Emerson’s religion--though it is nowhere put thus plainly
by him; and its one commandment is “Be a man of genius.” Absolute
nonconformity with everything, we are taught, is the first condition of
personal and social well-being; and we are enjoined to look upon our
individual insight as our one infallible guide, though it may bid us go
one way to-day and the opposite to-morrow. At the time when Emerson was
debating with himself as to whether he should throw up his office as
Unitarian preacher he seems to have had some searchings of heart as to
the validity of the new doctrine. “How,” he writes, in his Journal,
“shall the droning world get on if all its _beaux esprits_ recalcitrate
upon its approved forms and accepted constitutions and quit them in
order to be single-minded? The double-refiners would produce at the
other end the double-damned.” This is perhaps the wisest thing ever said
by Emerson; but he nevertheless chose his part definitively with the
“double refiners.” “I hate preaching,” he writes in a subsequent page of
his Journal. “Preaching is a pledge, and I wish to say what I feel and
think to-day, with the proviso that to-morrow perhaps I shall contradict
it all.” In the free use of his proviso he accordingly, for the
remainder of his life, followed and taught others to follow what he
called “intuition,” even though it should not wait for “to-morrow” to
contradict itself. For example, in the last page but one of the essay on
“Character” we are instructed to reject the doctrine of the divinity of
Christ because “the mind requires a victory to the senses, a force of
character which will convert judge, jury, soldier, and king and on the
following page we are told that, “when that love which is all-suffering,
all-abstaining, all-aspiring ... comes into our streets and houses,
only the pure and aspiring can know its face.”

Emerson’s life, journals, and letters considerably modify the impression
which his published essays and lectures are calculated to leave--namely,
that he was a mere stringer-together of lively thoughts, images, and
poetical epigrams. He seems to have made the best of his own humanity,
and to have always done the right according to his judgment, though the
doing of it sometimes involved serious pecuniary inconvenience, and, as
in the case of his opposition to the fugitive slave law, violent popular
disapprobation. He was kindly and moral in his family and social
relationships, and was conscientious even to a fault in avoiding those
venial sins of language to which the most of us are perhaps too
indifferent. His American admirers sometimes spoke of him as an “angel.”
At any rate, he was a sort of sylph. He noted of his compatriots
generally that “they have no passions, only appetites.” He seems to have
had neither passion nor appetite; and there was an utter absence of
“nonsense” about him which made it almost impossible to be intimate with
him. Margaret Fuller, his closest friend, and even his wife, whom he
loved in his own serene way, seem to have chafed under the impossibility
of getting within the adamantine sphere of self-consciousness which
surrounded him. He not only could not forget himself, but he could not
forget his grammar; and when he talked he seemed rather to be
“composing” his thoughts than thinking them. His friend and admirer, Mr.
Henry James the elder, complains that for this reason his conversation
was without charm. “For nothing ever came but epigrams, sometimes
clever, sometimes not.” His manners and discourse were, however,
invariably kind and amiable. He never seems to have uttered a personal
sarcasm, and only once in his life to have been seriously angry. This
was on occasion of the famous fugitive slave law, which he indignantly
declared would be disobeyed, if need be, by himself and every honest
man.

Dr. W. H. Furness writes of Emerson: “We were babies and schoolfellows
together. I don’t think he ever engaged in boys’ plays.... I can as
little remember when he was not literary in his pursuits as when I first
made his acquaintance.” Indeed, “orating” was in Emerson’s blood. Nearly
all his known ancestors and relatives seem to have been “ministers” of
some denomination or other. His school-days--though he never became a
scholar in any department of learning--began before he was three years
old. His father complains of the baby of two years and odd
months--“Ralph does not read very well yet”; and during all the rest of
his youth Dr. Furness says that he grew up under “the pressure of I know
not how many literary atmospheres.” Add to this the fact that his father
and mother and his aunt--who was the chief guide of his nonage--were
persons who seemed to think that love could only be manifested by severe
duty, and rarely showed him any signs of the weaknesses of “affection,”
and we have as bad a bringing-up for a moral, philosophical, and
religious teacher as could well have been devised. “The natural first,
and afterwards the spiritual.” Where innocent joy and personal affection
have not been main factors of early experience the whole life wants the
key to Christianity; and a rejection of all faith--except that in
“genius,” “over-soul,” “a somewhat which makes for righteousness,” or
some other such impotent abstraction--is, in our day, almost inevitable
in a mind of constitutional sincerity like Emerson’s, especially when
such sincerity is unaccompanied, as it was in him, by a warm and
passionate nature and its intellectual correlative, a vigorous
conscience. Emerson, though a good man--that is, one who lived up to his
lights--had little or no conscience. He admired good, but did not love
it; he denounced evil, but did not hate it, and did not even maintain
that it was hateful, but only greatly inexpedient.

Though Emerson could not see that a religion of which there is nothing
left but an “over-soul” is much the same thing as a man of whom there is
nothing left but his hat, the religious bodies to which he was for many
years more or less attached were less devoid of humour, and the joke of
a faith without a dogma became, in time, too much for their seriousness.
Consequently they agreed amicably to part, and Emerson pursued his
course; that which had hitherto been called “preaching” becoming
thenceforward lecturing and “orating.”

There can be no greater misfortune for a sincere and truthful mind like
Emerson’s than to have to get a living by “orating.” This was his
predicament, however; and there can be no doubt that his mind and his
writings were the worse for this necessity. His philosophy afforded him
only a very narrow range of subject. In all his essays and lectures he
is but ringing the changes upon three or four ideas--which are really
commonplace, though his sprightly wit and imagination give them
freshness; and it is impossible to read any single essay, much less
several in succession, without feeling that the licence of tautology is
used to its extremest limits. In a few essays--for example, “The Poet,”
“Character,” and “Love”--the writer’s heart is so much in the matter
that these endless variations of one idea have the effect of music
which delights us to the end with the reiteration of an exceedingly
simple theme; but in many other pieces it is impossible not to detect
that weariness of the task of having to coin dollars out of
transcendental sentiments to which Emerson’s letters and journals often
bear witness. But, whether delighted with or weary of his labour, there
is no progress in his thought, which resembles the spinning of a
cockchafer on a pin rather than the flight of a bird on its way from one
continent to another.

Emerson’s was a sweet and uniformly sunny spirit; but the sunshine was
that of the long Polar day, which enlightens but does not fructify. It
never even melted the icy barrier which separated his soul from others;
and men and women were nothing to him, because he never got near enough
to understand them. Hence his journals and letters about his visits to
Europe, and especially to England, are curiously superficial in
observation. He made many acute and witty remarks, such as, “Every
Englishman is a House of Commons, and expects that you will not end your
speech without proposing a measure;” but, on the whole, he quite
misunderstood the better class of our countrymen, of whom, in his second
visit to England, he had the opportunity of seeing a good deal. Although
there was much constitutional reserve, there was no real reticence in
him. His ethereal, unimpassioned ideas had, indeed, nothing in them
that, for him, commanded reticence; and he concluded that the best sort
of Englishmen were without any motives that “transcend” sense, because
he did not feel, as all such Englishmen do, that though that which
transcends sense may be infinitely dearer than all else, and even
because it is so dear, it is better not to talk of things which can
scarcely be spoken of without inadequacy and even an approach to
nonsense. Many an Englishman would turn aside with a jest from any
attempt to lead him into “transcendental” talk, not because he was less,
but because he was more “serious” than his interlocutor; and also
because the very recognition of certain kinds of knowledge involves the
recognition of obligations, to confess directly or indirectly the
fulfilment or neglect of which implies either self-praise or self-blame,
which, in ordinary circumstances, are alike indecent. In fact, Emerson
was totally deficient in the religious sense, which is very strong in
the hearts of a vast number of Englishmen who own to no fixed creed, but
who would be revolted by the profound and unconscious irreverence with
which Emerson was in the habit of speaking and writing of the most
sacred things and names. The name of “Jesus” frequently occurs in such
sentences as this: “Nor Jesus, nor Pericles, nor Cæsar, nor Angelo, nor
Washington,” etc.

If we put aside Emerson’s unconscious malpractices in this sort, the
attitude of his mind with regard to the serious beliefs of the world
were too childish for resentment or exposure. It is as if one should be
angry with a young lady who should simper, “Oh, my religion is the
religion of the Sermon on the Mount!” in answer to an attempt to talk
with her about Bossuet or Hooker.



XX

CRABBE AND SHELLEY


The firmament of fame is full of variable stars, and they are nowhere
thicker than in that great constellation of poets which marks the end of
the last and the commencement of this century. Among the names of Byron,
Moore, Rogers, Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Burns,
Campbell, Crabbe, Cowper, and Scott, there are only two the lustre of
whose names has remained perfectly steady and seems likely to remain so.
Two or three, which blazed forth at once as luminaries of the first
magnitude, have gradually and persistently waned--whether or not ever to
recover any part of their lost splendour is very doubtful. The light of
one or two others has fluctuated violently, and continues to do so, with
a manifest diminution, however, in their total sum of light; one or two
others have suffered a distinct degradation from first into second or
third class lustres, and at present show no sign of further alteration.
Two at least have grown astonishingly in conspicuousness, and now glow
like the Dog-star and Aldebaran--though there are not wanting
sky-critics who declare that they discern conditions of coming change
and retrogression; and one at least has almost disappeared from the
heaven of public recognition, not, however, without prognostications
from some of an assured reassertion of a moderate if not predominating
position.

To quit figures of speech, Coleridge and Burns--though poets of very
different calibre--are the only two of the thirteen above mentioned
whose reputations have been altogether unaffected by the violent changes
of literary fashion which have taken place in the course of the century.
Each of these two poets has written a good deal which the world will
willingly let die; but Coleridge in his great way, and Burns in his
comparatively small way, have done a certain moderate amount of work so
thoroughly and manifestly well that no sane critic has ever called it
into question or ever will. By the leaders of poetic fashion Moore and
Rogers have come to be accounted as almost nowhere as poets. Southey and
Cowper now depend mainly for their fame upon a few small pieces, which
in their own day were not regarded as of much account in comparison with
such works as _The Task_ and _The Curse of Kehama_; Campbell now lives
only, but vigorously, in a few lyrics. Who but Mr. Ruskin is there that
would not laugh now to hear the name of Scott coupled with those of
Keats and Shelley? Byron, who once outblazed all others, is now
considered, by many judges not altogether to be disregarded, less as a
great fixed star than as a meteor formed from earthly fumes condensed
and for a time incandescent in the upper air. Wordsworth’s fame, though
all agree that it is assured, has suffered and is likely still to suffer
some fluctuations; and, when poetry is talked about in circles of modern
experts, no one ever hears of Crabbe, though here and there one comes
upon some literary oddity who maintains that he has as good a claim as
Shelley to a place in the heavens of abiding fame. As this, to most
modern ears astounding, paradox is certainly maintained, in private at
least, by several persons whose opinion the most advanced critic would
not think of despising, it may be worth while to see what can be said
for it.

Things, it is said, are best known by comparison with their opposites;
and, if so, surely Crabbe must be best illustrated by Shelley and
Shelley by Crabbe. Shelley was an atheist and profoundly immoral; but
his irreligion was radiant with pious imagination, and his immorality
delicately and strictly conscientious. Crabbe was a most sincere
Christian in faith and life; but his religion and morality were
intolerant, narrow, and scrupulous, and sadly wanting in all the modern
graces. Shelley had no natural feeling or affection and the greatest
sensitiveness; Crabbe had the tenderest and strongest affections, but
his nerves and æsthetic constitution were of the coarsest. Shelley’s
taste often stood him in the stead of morality. He would have starved
rather than write begging letters to Thurlow, Burke, and other magnates,
as Crabbe did when he wanted to better his condition as an apothecary’s
apprentice. Crabbe’s integrity produced some of the best effects of
taste, and made him at once an equal in manners with the dukes and
statesmen with whom he associated as soon as he had been taken from his
beggary by Burke. Through years and years of poverty and almost hopeless
trial Crabbe was a devoted and faithful lover, and afterwards as devoted
and faithful a husband to his “Myra,” whom he adored in verses that
justified some one’s description of his style as “Pope in worsted
stockings.” Shelley breathes eternal vows in music of the spheres, to
woman after woman, whom he will abandon and speak or write of with
hatred and contempt as soon as their persons have ceased to please him.
Crabbe knew nothing of the “ideal,” but loved all actualities,
especially unpleasant ones, upon which he would turn the electric light
of his peculiar powers of perception till the sludge and dead dogs of a
tidal river shone. Jeffrey described the true position of Crabbe among
poets better than any one else has done when he wrote, “He has
represented his villagers and humble burghers as altogether as
dissipated and more dishonest and discontented than the profligates of
higher life.... He may be considered as the satirist of low life--an
occupation sufficiently arduous, and in a great degree new and original
in our language.” In this his proper vocation Crabbe is so far from
being a “Pope in worsted stockings,” that his lines often resemble the
strokes of Dryden’s sledge-hammer rather than the stings of his
successor’s cane. But, when uninspired by the intensely disagreeable or
vicious, Crabbe’s “diction” is to modern ears, for the most part,
intolerable. In his cooler moments he poured forth thousands of such
couplets as

    It seems to us that our Reformers knew
    Th’ important work they undertook to do.

And to such vile newspaper prose he not only added the ghastly adornment
of verse, but also frequently enlivened it with the “poetic licences”
and Parnassian “lingo” of the Pope period. What a contrast with Shelley!
He erred quite as much as Crabbe did from the imaginative reality which
is the true ideal; but it was all in the opposite way. If Crabbe’s eye,
in its love for the actual and concrete, dwelt too habitually upon the
hardness and ugliness of the earth on which he trod, Shelley’s thoughts
and perceptions were for the most part

    Pinnacled dim in the intense inane

of a fancy which had no foundation in earth or heaven. His poetry has,
however, the immortal reality of music; and his songs _are_ songs,
though they may be often called “songs without words,” the words meaning
so little though they sound so sweet.

This “parallel”--as lines starting and continued in opposite directions
have got to be called--might be carried much further with advantage to
the student of poetry; and the comparison might be still more profitable
if the best poems of Coleridge were examined as illustrations of the
true poetic reality from which Crabbe and Shelley diverge equally, but
in contrary ways. Crabbe mistakes actuality for reality; Shelley’s
imagination is unreal. Coleridge, when he is himself, whether he is in
the region of actuality, as in “Genevieve,” or in that of imagination,
as in “Christabel,” is always both real and ideal in the only true
poetic sense, in which reality and ideality are truly one. In each of
these poems, as in every work of true art, there is a living idea which
expresses itself in every part, while the complete work remains its
briefest possible expression, so that it is as absurd to ask What is its
idea? as it would be to ask what is the idea of a man or of an oak. This
idea cannot be a simple negation; and simple evil--which is so often
Crabbe’s theme--is simple negation. On the other hand, good, in order to
be the ground of the ideal in art, must be intelligible--that is to say,
imaginatively credible, though it may want the conditions of present
actuality. But is there any such ideal as this in Shelley?



XXI

SHALL SMITH HAVE A STATUE?


The modern practice of sending the hat round for money to set up in the
Abbey or elsewhere a statue, or at least a bust, of Smith, during or
immediately after his lifetime, in grateful remembrance of the service
or pleasure he may have done us, can rarely be indulged without danger
of making him and ourselves ridiculous in the eyes of our children; or
even in our own, should we survive for a few years the amiable folly of
having raised an abiding memorial of our possibly transient enthusiasm.
There could have been no doubt of the propriety of setting up a statue
to the Duke of Wellington after Waterloo, however much there may
reasonably have been about the propriety of the statue itself which the
ladies of England dedicated to the hero. But even in the case of such
obvious and measurable merits as those of warriors, it is best not to be
in a hurry. Historical criticism has discovered that the credit of
great battles and even campaigns has not always been rightly due to the
commanders-in-chief. Again, improvements like those of the steam jet, by
which it became at once possible to raise the rate of railway travelling
from under ten to over fifty miles an hour, the penny post, and the
electric telegraph, are certainly matters for permanent memorials,
provided that they are raised to the right men. But improvements and
inventions of this magnitude scarcely ever are, in the first instance,
attributed to the right men, who are generally more or less obscure and
unrewarded geniuses. It is the practical man, who has the quickness to
see the money value of a great invention and the means of removing the
last external hindrance to its popular use, that gets the statue, and
the money too. Few would envy him the latter; but it is cruel to him no
less than to ourselves to be in such haste to decorate him with a laurel
crown, which the touch of time may change into a fool’s cap. Again,
unless statues are due to good intentions ardently prosecuted without
reference to results, we ought to be very careful how we impose
immortality upon great philanthropists and humanitarians. It would not
have been for the abiding happiness and honour of the two eminent
prelates and the able editor who lately constituted themselves high
commissioners of public morality, to have had their images set up in
Hyde Park back to back, like the figure of Hecate Triformis, and so to
have been forbidden eternally to blush unseen, as no doubt they now
desire to do. It would be prudent, also, to wait a while before
conferring diplomas of immortality upon the heroes of legislation. The
fame of repealers of navigation laws and founders of household franchise
should be considered as in a state of pupilage for at least fifty years;
and they should not be allowed to sport bronze thighs and the _toga
virilis_, before the public buildings or in the squares of the
metropolis, ere the paper on which their Bills are printed is well dry.
It should be remembered that, in our haste, we may be placing an awful
and easy vengeance in the hands of posterity; which might choose, not to
pull down such monuments, but--to let them stand.

But of all modes of premature insistence upon the verdict of fame, that
which is most to be avoided, if we would avoid making ourselves
unnecessarily absurd, is that of decreeing immortality during or soon
after their lifetime to literary men and artists. If, indeed, there
existed academies of art and literature, which should consist of all the
best men of their kind, all actuated by the most disinterested
appreciation of merit not their own in their own profession, then we
might have some approximation--but only an approximation--to a safe
tribunal; and if Smith and his friends were such boobies as to want the
cake of fame before it was baked, Smith might be “busted up” in the
Abbey, or obtain a parliamentary guarantee of being puff-worthy, in his
own day or immediately after, with little more to be said against it
than that it was a want of decorum, all the more disgusting on account
of the dignity of the occasion and the absence of any call for hurry.
But, as no such academy could exist, or, if it existed, could make its
decrees prevail with those who are the decreers of statues, how does the
matter stand? A man who has done his best, perhaps, to give us harmless
amusement, and whose only crime is that of having succeeded too well in
adapting himself to the poor capacities and passing moods of his present
audience, is now in such danger as he never was at any former time of
finding himself rewarded with ten thousand per annum here and an
eternity of contempt hereafter.

If persons of culture and natural taste have often to confess that the
painter or poet or novelist whose muse was the seemingly faultless
mistress of his affections five-and-twenty years ago, now stands before
him as a false Duessa, what should we think of the right to raise
monuments claimed by that public which is as changeable in its tastes
as it is liberal in paying for their indulgence? Yet it is this public
that is venturing more and more audaciously to anticipate the verdict of
time. True, it often uses a Minister or a committee of experts as its
agent, councillor, and representative; but it is none the safer for
that. If the agents themselves know better, they know the value of their
own popularity too well to say so; or they may have a secret grudge
against Smith, and so cry “Ay” with all their hearts when the people
ask, “Shall Smith have a statue?”



XXII

IDEAL AND MATERIAL GREATNESS IN ARCHITECTURE


St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Great riches are not required for the habit
of magnificence; it is enough that a man should dispose of such as he
possesses greatly, according to time and place.” As in life, so in art,
and especially in architecture, greatness of style is quite independent
of wealth of material; indeed, wealth of material is constantly found by
true artists to be a fatal hindrance to grandeur of effect. Hence great
poets and painters are usually very shy of what commonly pass for great
subjects--that is, subjects full of obvious interest and splendour; and,
if they treat such subjects at all, they begin by denuding them as far
as possible of all that makes them attractive to the novice in art,
until they come to a simple greatness which was hitherto a secret.

Now I wish to point out what I conceive to be a principal condition of
great effect with small means and in small or comparatively small
buildings. It is magnificence in the expenditure of such material as the
architect possesses, and especially of stone, brick, and timber. It is
commonly supposed, even by architects, that a solidity of wall and roof
sufficient to put far out of sight any idea of insecurity or decay, if
properly shown forth and expressed by chamfer, moulding, cornice,
shafted recess, and the many other “decorations” which are principally
methods of showing the thickness of wall and weight of roof, is all that
noble building calls for; and that the frequent--nay, general--practice
of ancient architecture in going much further than this was simply waste
of material caused by want of mechanical knowledge. But those who know
most of ancient architecture know best that there was no want of
mechanical knowledge displayed in it, but quite the reverse. Not only is
mechanical knowledge, equal if not beyond our own, proved by such
buildings as York and Salisbury Cathedrals, but the house and cottage
builder of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seems to have known
all the details of his business fully as well as the most ingenious
economist of material that ever “scamped” a modern tenement of the same
order. He was fully aware that the strength of a rafter lay rather in
its depth than its breadth, and that, for a time at least, a few boards
two inches thick and ten inches deep, set edgeways, would suffice to
carry the roof, which nevertheless it pleased him better to lay upon a
succession of beams ten inches square. It is the reality, and the modest
ostentation of the reality, of such superfluous substantiality that
constitutes the whole secret of effect in many an old house that strikes
us as “architectural” though it may not contain a single item of
architectural ornament; and, in the very few instances in which modern
buildings have been raised in the same fashion, the beholder at once
feels that their generous regard for the far future is of almost as
poetical a character as the aged retrospect of a similar house of the
time of Henry VII or Elizabeth. A man now hires a bit of ground for
eighty or ninety years; and, if he has something to spare to spend on
beauty, he says to himself: “I will build me a house that will last my
time, and what money I have over I will spend in decorating it. Why
should I waste my means in raising wall and roof which will last five
times as long as I or mine shall want them?” The answer is: Because that
very “waste” is the truest and most striking ornament; and though you
and your family’s usufruct of a house thus magnanimously built may be
but a fifth of its natural age, there lies in that very fact an
“ornament” of the most noble and touching kind, which will be obvious at
all seasons to yourself and every beholder, though the consciousness of
its cause may be dormant; whereas the meanness of your own plan will be
only the more apparent with every penny you spend in making it
meretricious.

I have said that a modest _ostentation_ of extreme substantiality is
also an element of architectural effect in the kind of building
contemplated. This, indeed, is the properly architectural or artistic
element. A house will look respectable, and something more than
respectable, which has only the reality of being built somewhat better
than well. But consciousness is the life of art, and there must be a
quiet rejoicing in strength, solidity, and permanence, to give these
characters that power over the imagination which a work of art must
have. A labourer’s cottage or the smallest village church which has this
character is an artistic and rightly architectural work; and the
nobleman’s mansion or the cathedral which wants it is not. Here comes in
that true “decoration” which scarcely the humblest house of the
sixteenth or early part of the seventeenth century was altogether
without. In out-of-the-way villages and roadside inns of that period,
you will find your attention directed to the thickness and weight of
the roof-timbers by a carved or moulded cornice, which measures and
expatiates upon the depth and substance of the rafters which terminate
therein; or one or more of the brackets supporting the joists of the
overhanging bedroom floor will have a touch of carving, to declare with
what ease and pleasure the burthen is borne upon their sturdy shoulders;
or the lintel of the door will show and boast of the thickness of the
wall by a moulded chamfer. A single touch of such decoration glorifies
the whole, and puts the living spirit of art into the body of an honest
building, however humble it may be.

So far is size from being needful to greatness in architecture, that one
of the very grandest pieces of domestic building I ever saw is a little
village inn of extremely early date in a Sussex village which scarcely
anybody has ever heard of, though it stands but two miles from Berwick
Station on the South Coast Railway. This village is Aldfriston. It has
in its little market-place an extremely ancient stone cross, far gone in
decay, having never been touched by restorer. The whole village has an
air of antiquity such as breathes from no other English village I have
ever seen; but older than anything, except the cross, is its
hostelry--no bigger than a well-to-do bailiff’s cottage, showing no
Elizabethan “variety” in its ground-plan, and the front to the street
having but three windows above and one on either side of the doorway.
Coming upon it quite unprepared for seeing anything particular in the
village, this house fairly took my breath away by its exemplification of
the way in which ideal and material greatness differ. It was like
coming, in a newspaper article, upon three or four lines of great and
unknown poetry. Yet it was nothing but a cottage built mightily, and
with a mighty consciousness of being so built. It seems never to have
been touched, except here and there by the house-painter, since the date
at which it was raised, which was probably in the fifteenth century, the
carved foliage in the spandrels of the small arched doorway indicating
that period. An architect learned in mouldings might perhaps fix the
date to within twenty-five years, from those of the cornice. The bedroom
story projects considerably over the ground-floor, and is borne by great
oak brackets, the faces of which are adorned with painted carvings of
figures in mitres, one being St. Hubert, as is shown by the stag at his
feet. The spaces between these brackets are ceiled with a great plaster
“cavetto,” which, together with the brackets, springs from a wide timber
cornice above the door and windows of the ground-floor. In the hollow of
this cornice are four or five grotesque faces, the painting of which,
though fresh, seems, like the painting of all the other decorations, to
be nothing but the original colouring faithfully transmitted. The three
windows of the upper floor are bays, and are carried by great spread
brackets, carved and painted with most curiously quaint and simple
representations of St. George and the Dragon and symbols of his
tradition, the tails of two dragons in the central bracket running in
their extremities into the outlines of a pointed and foliated arch. The
roof is covered in with slabs of ragged stone, thick enough for a London
pavement. The dimensions of the timbers of the roof are proved
inferentially by the fact that the roof-tree has not sagged an inch
under some four hundred years of this burthen; and their mass and power
are expressed artistically by their termination in a cornice of immense
depth, and consisting of a greater number of moulded “members” than I
remember to have seen in any other feature of the kind. The walls are
plastered in their plain spaces, but indicate their construction of
solid oak--which, by the way, is far more durable than either brick or
any ordinary stone--by the chance appearance in one place of a strange
animal which runs up the face of the wall and is obviously carved out of
a beam otherwise hid by the plaster.

There is nothing heavy in the total effect of this extraordinary piece
of cottage architecture; for there is artistic animation everywhere, and
the expression of its strength is that of living power and not mere
passive sufficiency.

To build such a cottage now might cost about three times as much as it
does to build a common country inn of the same dimensions. It would not,
of course, suit a London citizen so well as a Chiselhurst villa of like
size and cost; but it would be a fit abode for a duke in difficulties.



XXIII

“OLD ENGLISH” ARCHITECTURE, ANCIENT AND MODERN


The style of architecture in which the great majority of country houses,
and very many town houses, from the cottage to the mansion, have been
built during the past fifteen years, is a very great improvement upon
the nameless mode--for which no better title could be invented than the
“factory style”--which prevailed in house architecture during great part
of last century and the first half of this. And it is a yet greater
improvement upon the falsification of that simple though sordid way of
building, by attempting to change its misery into magnificence by
“compo” mockeries of stone construction and a style of ornament created
to express the thickness of the wall or the weight of roof of a
Renaissance palace. Most persons are contented with describing the
improved mode as Old English, fancying that it is a real return to the
way in which houses were built in the reign of Elizabeth or James or
thereabouts. But there is a notable distinction between ancient and
modern “Old English.” It is this: the “variety” in form which is of the
essence of the last was but the accident of the first. Whitehall and the
Parthenon are not more simply symmetrical in their masses than are many
of the finest specimens of Early English domestic architecture; and the
“variety” which we moderns suppose we are copying is, in nearly all
cases, either the result of change of plan in the process of building,
or of subsequent additions by which the original symmetry was
sacrificed. That the sacrifice was often without loss, and often even a
gain--as such a sacrifice could never be in the case of a Greek or
Renaissance building--is owing to the fact that domesticity is the
central thought and expression of the one kind of architecture and
public ostentation of the other. Accordingly, the keynote of an Early
English house is its stack of chimneys, upon which it was considered
impossible to lavish too much ornament. From the cottage of the Sussex
labourer to the great nobleman’s mansion--such as that most exquisite of
all existing specimens of Tudor building, “Compton in the Hole”--the
chimneys are the things which first attract the eye and delight it
longest; whereas the Greek, Roman, or Renaissance house is heartily
ashamed of its smoke, and has never yet succeeded thoroughly in dealing
with its disgrace. Symmetry, then, in the old country house was looked
upon as good; but convenience and comfort, and the expression of
convenience and comfort, better. Now, in a house well and deliberately
planned for the convenience of any household, large or small, the
ground-plan and elevation will be naturally simple and symmetrical;
simplicity, too, is economical, and economy a part of domesticity.
Accordingly, the great Tudor mansions and palaces of England, the
builders of which could have best afforded to pay for the supposed charm
of “variety,” are, for the most part, the simplest in plan and
elevation; while it is in the ill-planned and often-added-to village inn
or rectory that the vagaries of “variety,” so alluring to the modern
mind, are almost exclusively found.

In Old English architecture this variety is a very real though
accidental beauty. It has the double charm of intensifying the primary
expression of domesticity by the very sense of the sacrifice which has
been made to it, and of giving the building, however small, a touch of
historical character. But what if these beauties of the old architecture
are sought to be obtained in the modern by sacrifices of convenience,
economy, and domesticity, and by a deliberate planning of structural
“after-thoughts,” or subsequent necessities, from the beginning! What if
a house, full of small and uncomfortable rooms connected, or rather
isolated, by mazes of dark staircases, landings, and passages, has been
manifestly built at one blow, and at twice the cost at which a simple
and symmetrical and scarcely less--nay, to the initiated,
more--beautiful house of the same period of architecture might have been
built, without the sacrifice of any modern convenience? Surely, if the
devil were an architect his “favourite sin” would be this kind of
“cottage of gentility.”

The “variety” of a real Old English house is not only nearly always the
outcome of some convenience or necessity discovered or arising after the
first building of it, but is nearly always obviously so. Some little
difference of style not too great to break harmony, will indicate a
difference of date; or it will be shown by some infraction of the lines
of the original building. The library or parlour which cuts off a return
of the label of the pantry window is manifestly an addition. But it
would be too ridiculous to copy such proofs of accident and alteration
into a nineteenth-century rectory, villa, or mansion; and the
consequence is, that to an understanding eye its variety is often in
appearance, as it is in reality, mere imbecility aping the movements of
reason.

There is no real anachronism in the revival of the ordinary details of
Old English house architecture, though there is sometimes in that of the
material. The “half-timbered” wall belongs only to times and places in
which bricks and tiles are not to be had, and in which abundance of the
best oak timber is. But hooded gables, deep cornices, bracketed bays,
weather-tiled walls, the projection of upper over lower stories, and
almost all the other charming features of the mode, have sound reasons
of use which hold as good now as they did in the year 1600; and in these
reasons alone consists their architectural charm. The characteristic Old
English chimney--the most ornamental feature of the style--has its full
justification in use; the loading of the top with projecting layer after
layer of bricks, laid even or notch-wise, forming that security against
hurricane which is so often sought, in the “factory” style, by the one
or more long iron rods which agreeably break the sky-line of many modern
mansions. Even the scalloped tile, which so often replaces the square in
old weather-tiled walls, has its utilitarian purpose--a saving of
material; the greatest breadth of the scallop being superposed upon the
juncture of the tiles below, so as to protect it from wet. The
projection, in a long low house of the modest rectory or farmhouse type,
of the bedroom story over the basement is the feature farthest of all
from being merely ornamental. In such a house more space was usually
wanted for bedrooms than for living-rooms and offices, and a very
moderate projection of the upper story supplies this additional space.



XXIV

ARCHITECTURAL STYLES


I

Every one has a perfectly definite impression of what is meant by an
architectural style; and would recognise a building as Egyptian, Greek,
Ecclesiastical Gothic, Norman, or Moresque, not merely by the
characteristic details of each of these manners, but still more by a
perfectly distinct character attained in each manner by the combination
of those details--a character which is totally different from any effect
that could result from any such random though more or less constant
collocation of details as is to be found, for example, in the bastard
“Italian Gothic.” This, though it was made popular by Mr. Ruskin, has
about as much relation to a true style as a curiosity-shop has to a
well-ordered living-room. It is a remarkable fact, and one especially
worth dwelling upon in this context, that Italy, the country of the
arts, never had an architecture, and could never even adopt one from its
neighbours without degrading or abolishing its character as a style. The
so-called “Romanesque” was an incongruous hybrid until it was developed
into the “Norman” by the northern nations of Europe; and though the
pointed arch made its appearance in Italy very early, no Italian
architect ever seems to have had any perception of its artistic
capacity, even when he adopted in his buildings the constructive system
to which that feature belonged. Italy had great architects, but no great
architecture. Buildings like St. Mark’s, the Doge’s Palace, the Duomo of
Florence, etc., owe their influence upon the imagination to the
personality of the architect, which has known how to impress itself on a
combination of in themselves unmeaning or incongruous forms, rather than
to that imaginative integrity of style which makes every Old English
parish church look as if the Spirit had builded its own house. Every
great architect--like every great poet, painter, or musician--has his
own style, whether he works on the lines of a great integral style like
the Northern Pointed, or in a mongrel mode like that of the Romanesque,
or in no accepted manner at all. Sir Christopher Wren could not build a
common brick house without imposing his own character upon it. But this
personal character or style, which always marks the work of the great
artist, is usually almost beyond the power of analysis; and, were it
otherwise, would scarcely be worth the trouble of analysis, which would
only serve the purpose of encouraging imitations of that which owes its
value to its unique individuality.

The five styles above named--_i.e._ the Egyptian, the Greek, the Pointed
Gothic, the Norman, and the Moresque--are so much distinguished from all
other modes of building by the integrity with which a single idea is
carried out in every detail, that in comparison with them there is no
other manner which deserves to be called a style. And it is hard to
conjecture the possibility of the development in the future of any sixth
style which shall deserve to rank with them; for these five seem to have
exhausted the five possible modes in which weight or mass of
material--apparently the foundations of all architectural
expression--can be treated. Two of these styles, the Norman and the
Moresque, though equal to the others in artistic integrity, are
immeasurably inferior to them in significance; the first three having
dealt with and exhausted the only modes in which the primary fact of
weight of material in stone construction can be subordinated to
religious expression, and the field itself of religious expression in
architecture having been in like manner cleared by these styles: for
when the Material, the Rational, and the Spiritual have once found
utterance in stone--as they have done in the temple-architectures of
Egypt, Greece, and Northern Europe--what fourth religious aspect remains
to inspire a new art?

It is proposed in these papers to consider the several expressional
themes of the five great architectures, and to give a brief exposition
of the way in which they are worked out. It should be premised, however,
that as it does not require a knowledge of how an effect is produced in
order to feel that effect, so it is not pretended that any very distinct
consciousness of the adaptation of means to expressional ends must have
existed in the minds of the inventors of the great styles of
architecture. All artistic production involves a large element of lucky
accident, of which the true artist alone knows how to avail himself; and
it is often from a lucky accident in a happy season that a great work or
a great art will take its origin, as the dropping of a grain of sand
into a saturated solution of certain salts will form the centre and
cause of its sudden crystallisation. As sound philosophy is only sound
sense spread out, so true criticism of great work is only right
perception spread out; and the use of criticism of such work is not so
much to teach men to enjoy it, as to enable them to pronounce a prompt
and assured and demonstrable condemnation of bad or inferior work when
false or exaggerated claims are put forth in its favour.

The three primary architectures seem to have owed their origin to three
accidents. The immense and wholly unreasonable massiveness which
characterises the Egyptian style is probably due to its having emerged
from caverns. It carried into the air its memory of having had the rocky
earth for its roof and walls, and of the time when its close-packed
squadrons of granite shafts were a necessity which it cost nothing to
provide. The Parthenon, again, is a manifest glorification in stone of
the forms of the wooden hut; and the pointed arch, with all its immense
consequences, arose from the constructional accident of cross-vaulting.

Weight, then, which is the most general and characteristic attribute of
matter, was taken by the Egyptian, Greek, and Gothic architects as the
ground of their several ideas--whether consciously or not, is no concern
of ours. The Egyptian architect, as will be shown, subordinated every
detail, from the mass of the pyramid--which may be regarded as the form
taken by weight in the abstract--down to almost every particular of
decoration, to the creation of an effect of compulsory submission to an
irresistible and for-ever-enduring material power. The mightiest bulk of
Alp or Apennine is a bubble compared with an Egyptian temple, which is
the awful _life_ of ponderosity and crushing earthliness; and there is
no need to pause in order to point out how aptly this expression suited
the political and religious character of the people out of whom Israel
fled.

In the architecture of Greece, weight--representative of material
force--was still the theme; but it was material force which had met with
its match, the force of mind; and the ponderous entablature, every
detail of which expresses weight, is lifted and borne beautifully in air
by a series of members every one of which conveys the impression of an
opposite ascendant force, which recognises but does not suffer in the
least degree from its burthen, beneath which the animated shaft is seen
to fling away a part of its supporting power just at the point where
most weight is borne, and the Caryatides of the Pandrosium can afford to
stand with one knee bent easily forward. Here, then, again was a great
and new phase of the human mind envisaging the universe, expressed by
simple reference to weight of material in its temples.

The third great phase--that in which an ascetic spirituality, refusing
all willing alliance with earthliness, only recognises it as a
thing to sbe defied and to be made the measure of the spirit’s
predominance--obtained its artistic expression by employing material
weight as the symbol of its opponent; which it neither suffers from nor
enters into alliance with, but vanquishes, converts, and glorifies in
ascending streams of life.

The Moresque style also owes its singular integrity of effect to a
peculiar mode of regarding the idea of gravitation: if that can be
called a mode of regarding it which consists in a most ingenious and
fanciful ignoring of it, either as an oppressor, an ally, or a
vanquished foe. The honeycombed domes of the Alhambra and the Mosque of
Cordova hang apparently suspended in air upon “pendentives,” like sunny
clouds in station; and the astonishing art by which innumerable details
are made to concur in this effect would justify this style in ranking
with the three foregoing, had this effect any symbolic meaning for the
human race and its religions; but it has no meaning for men who have
their feet upon the earth, and is only adapted for the palaces and
temples of a race of sylphs or gnomes.

Lastly, the Norman style, though no less consistent an exponent of one
idea than are the other temple styles, is founded upon no reference to
superincumbent weight, but depends almost wholly upon its boast of the
mass and eternal stability of the wall. It well conveys the solemn
expression of a calm eternity of time; but for religious purposes it
will not bear the least comparison with the flamelike Gothic, expressing
at once the peace and ardour of the “eternal moment.”

In the following papers a short analysis will be given of the somewhat
obscure means by which the well-recognised expressions of these five
great architectures are obtained.


II

The symbolisation of material life and power by an elaborately artistic
treatment of the mere fact of weight, which is the most universal and
obvious attribute of matter, is the object of every general form and of
almost every, so-called decorative, detail of Egyptian architecture; the
few exceptions, such as the occasional intrusion of the lotus and palm
into the capitals of the columns, being due to an obscure but probably
intimately related symbolism of a different kind.

The pyramid is the simplest artistic form by which mere weight can be
expressed. It is nothing more nor less than a mound or mountain shaped
so as to give it an artistic consciousness. The form of the Egyptian
Temple is nothing but the expression of this elementary form of weight
with emphasis upon emphasis, until there results such an accumulation
and concentration of the idea of weight that the whole building seems as
if it would crush the earth on which it stands. This effect is mainly
produced by a multiplication of the pyramidal form in the masses of the
building; by its truncation at various heights, which introduces the
powerful element of suggestion; by numerous inferior members which
emphasise the expression by contrast; and by such a multiplication and
formation of shaft and capital as to convey the idea of an overwhelming
burthen above them. The great double-towered Propylon of the typical
Egyptian Temple is, in its entire mass, a truncated pyramid; and, as
simply such, is a much more forcible expression of pyramidal form than
the pyramid itself. This expression is doubled by the division of the
upper part of the mass into two low towers. Immense _cavetto_ cornices
crown these towers, and intensify their effect by the strongest
contrast. Their pyramidal outline is emphasised to the eye by the great
roll-mouldings which follow the angles of the masonry from summit to
base. Finally, the plane of the great doorway by which the two masses of
the Propylon are joined leaves that of the pyramidal mass and becomes
nearly perpendicular, while the sides of the doorway become actually
perpendicular--constituting a _cumulative_ contrast which seems to
double the already manifold emphasis of the main bulk of the building.
The comparatively low mass of the body of the temple behind the Propylon
is still the truncated pyramid crowned with the contrasting cornice; but
the truncation occurs so near the ground, and so far from what would be
the apex were the converging lines of wall continued upwards, that the
pyramidal form would scarcely have been suggested, were it not for its
plainer manifestation in the Propylon; but, with this aid, the eye at
once catches the idea of the decapitated pyramid throughout. Through
openings in these strongly inclined walls appeared the vertical
colonnades; and such niches or apertures as were practised in these
walls had the contrast of perpendicular jambs. In front of the vast
ponderosity of the Egyptian Temple rose the final and most effective
contrast to the whole--the “fingers of the sun”: the pair of tall and
slender monoliths, which only tapered sufficiently to give them the
reality and the appearance of security. In the interior of the building
the idea of weight had to be conveyed in a different manner--namely, by
the bulk, number, and form of the columns. Every detail of shaft and
capital--with the two or three exceptions already spoken of--was
calculated to express actual sufferance from the burthen borne by them.
The shafts bulge towards the base, and the capitals likewise swell as
they approach their juncture with the shafts; shaft and capital being
usually clothed with vertical convex mouldings: the exact reverse of the
Doric shaft, which, as will be shown, had exactly the opposite idea to
convey. Unlike the repose and sufficiency of the Doric column, the
Egyptian expresses violent and yet insufficient energy, which seems to
rush towards and to be partially driven back by the entablature. The
immense thickness of wall, wherever it was shown, was emphasised by
sculpture in very low relief. These are only the main elements of an
effect which, and the means of producing which, will be more forcibly
felt by a corresponding analysis of Greek architecture, which culminates
in the Doric of the Parthenon.

This temple has a double basement, the first of which is on a “dead
level”; from this rises the second basement, in which the true life of
the building commences. In 1837 Mr. Pennethorne announced the important
discovery that the lines of this basement, together with those of the
entablature, are not horizontal lines, but parabolic curves; and Mr.
Penrose, in 1852, in a work published by the Society of Dilettanti,
gave the actual measurements of these curves; which are found to prevail
not only in the horizontal but in all the vertical lines and faces, in
the inclined lines of the pediment, and in the axes of the shafts. These
curves are so subtle--the rise being only an inch or two in as many
hundred feet--that they are rather felt than seen; but that they are
felt, even by the comparatively gross modern eye, is clear enough from
the different way in which it is affected by the Parthenon itself and by
any imitation of it by modern builders. It is probable that these curves
were in some instances meant to correct optical illusions, by which
straight lines would look hollow, etc.; but a far greater motive for
their introduction was an effect of animation in the whole and in every
part and of unity through the predominance of general curves, which a
cultivated eye can discern very easily, but which is probably beyond our
present powers of analysis. Above the basement the Doric Temple
externally--and the Greek Temple’s architectural beauty is all
outside--consists of two parts, of opposite and exactly balanced
significance. The first consists of a colonnade of shafts, each of which
rises at once from the stylobate, without the footing or “base” found in
subsequent styles. The shaft diminishes somewhat rapidly, until it
impinges upon and ends in the capital; which is an hyperbolic “ovolo,”
spreading widely under the “abacus” or tile, which constitutes the
neutral point, or point of rest, between the column and the entablature.
The outlines of the shaft (always fluted in early Greek architecture)
converge from the base towards the capital--not in straight lines, but
in decided parabolic curves, of which the departure from straight lines
is greatest at about two-thirds of the height of the shaft. This curve
of the shaft is called the _entasis_; and upon it depends mainly the
expressional life of the shaft. It will be remembered that there is a
similar swelling in the Egyptian shaft; but this is where it approaches
the base. Its position in the Greek shaft expresses an ascendant energy
of force, which is manifested most strongly as it approaches the
capital. In the one case yielding under weight is expressed, in the
other superabundant power. This animated expression is multiplied by
every multiplication of the outline provided by the flutings, which in
the Greek shaft are concave, expressing concentration of force towards
the centre; whereas, in the Egyptian the flutings are convex, expressing
further a tendency to bulge and burst under their burthen. A little
under the capital, and just where the Greek shaft is thinnest, one or
more deep channels are incised in its substance, showing that power can
be triumphantly cast away just where power is most needed. The Egyptian
shaft, at the same point, is usually bound with a heavy thonglike
moulding, as if to prevent it from being crushed. The ovolo, which
constitutes the Doric capital, provides and expresses the distribution
of the power of the shaft to meet the superincumbent entablature; and
the “quirk” or sudden diminution of its breadth immediately under the
abacus is a repetition of the device of the incised channels for proving
the existence of superabundant power. At the point where the Greek
entablature is met with easy grace by the noble spread of the hyperbolic
ovolo, the Egyptian capital, as a rule, diminishes and seems to dash
itself with violence towards the point of conflict.

As every feature of the column thus expresses cheerful and abundant
energy, every detail of the entablature is a mode of expressing the
weight which is thus met and carried with such graceful power. The Doric
entablature is made up of three parts--architrave, frieze, and
cornice--each expressing in a different manner the idea of weight. The
architrave is a massive layer of stone with its face unbroken by any
sort of “decoration”; it projects beyond the neck of the shaft, so that
a line dropped from it would about touch the outer circumference of the
shaft at its base. In this member, then, weight is expressed by a
simple mass directly imposed upon the centres of support. The frieze is
a similar layer of masonry having its face broken up by
triglyphs--members resembling, and no doubt originating in, the
terminations of beams of timber. These triglyphs are slightly projecting
quadrilateral masses of stone, considerably higher than they are broad,
and cut into deep vertical channels. They would express little besides
the memory of the old timber construction, were it not for the _guttæ_
which hang below them, separated from them by a fillet. These guttæ, by
multiplying the vertical lines of the triglyphs, confer upon them the
appearance of pendants, the force of the earthward tendency being
increased by the fillets, whose momentary interruption of that tendency
seems to increase it. To increase what Franz Kugler calls the
“triglyphic character,” little pendants sometimes occur at the top of
the chamfered sides of the triglyphs. No one can realise the whole force
of this extremely simple means of expression except by trying what the
Doric entablature would be without it. There is, or was, a church in the
Waterloo Road, massively built and preserving pretty well all the
features of the Doric Temple, except the triglyphs and guttæ. Their
omission makes the whole building light-headed. There seems to be no
meaning in the vast current of upward force in the fluted shafts, if
that is all they have to carry. Any one can satisfy himself of this
point by simply covering the frieze, in a print of a Doric Temple, by a
slip of white paper. Of course this all-important triglyphic character,
though only expressed in the frieze, is felt to apply to the entire mass
of the entablature, of which the weight is thus _made visible_.

As the architrave expresses simple weight, and the frieze weight
depending, so the cornice is weight impending. The great projection of
this massive member beyond the face of the frieze and architrave
contains in itself the ground of that expression; but it is carefully
heightened by the deep undercutting of the corona, which throws the mass
forward and separates it by a dark shadow from the top of the frieze;
and it is still further heightened by a repetition of the rows of
guttæ--which, however, in this instance seem to be sliding off the
inclined faces of the mutules (inclined slabs set in the undercutting of
the corona); so that the same device which gives dependent weight in the
frieze, expresses weight impendent in the cornice.

These are only a few of the more obvious means by which the lovely
equilibrium of the Doric style is created. There are many other details
which it is impossible to notice here; but every one bears the central
thought constantly in view, and adds to the most perfect--though not
perhaps the highest--architectural beauty which the world has ever seen.
The other so-called “orders” are only modifications or corruptions of
the same idea.


III

Before proceeding to show how the idea of Greek architecture, symbolised
in a system of construction and decoration which emphasised to the eye
in every detail an exact adequacy of endeavour to effect, was modified
or corrupted in the so-called “Ionic,” “Corinthian,” and other “orders,”
a few words should be said about the very peculiar and little understood
treatment of the wall by the Doric architects. As a contrast to the
active conflict of apparently ascending power in the columns with the
gravitating power, rendered, as it were, visible in the entablature, the
treatment of the walls of the _naos_, _pronaos_, and _posticum_--that
is, of the body of the temple and of the porches created by the
prolongation of the side walls--is emphatically passive and neutral, and
just the reverse of the treatment of the wall by the Egyptians, who made
it the base of a truncated pyramid, a mass of conscious ponderosity,
which “lean’d down on earth with all its weight.” The vertical junctures
of the stones of the walls of the Greek Temple were rendered invisible
by polishing their adjacent faces; but the horizontal faces were
rough-worked, so that the wall-face presented a series of straight lines
parallel to the base. These lines were only strong enough to be plainly
seen, through the gaps in that torrent of ascending power, the fluted
colonnade; increasing that force by their contrast, but themselves
expressing nothing but the fact that the wall was a wall, built in
ordinary courses of masonry. Had the perpendicular junctures of the
masonry been visible, the contrast to the shafts--which were either
monoliths or had the junctures of the _frustra_ so polished that they
looked like monoliths--would have been lost. The _antæ_, or ends of the
walls, are treated in a way which is particularly noteworthy. In the
Roman corruptions of Greek architecture these antæ were confused with
and often treated as flattened and applied shafts. The fact of passive
resistance of the wall, in contrast to the active resistance of the
colonnade, is carefully but very unobtrusively expressed in these
wall-terminations in the purest Doric. Where the strongly ascending
force of the shaft sacrifices power in order to prove its abundance, the
antæ are increased in breadth and strength by successive cappings, or
by mouldings so undercut as to express a rolling over or sufferance from
superimposed weight; there is no _entasis_ or visible swell in the
antæ--until they were used by later architects who had lost the sense of
what entasis meant; these wall-terminations were further strengthened by
a base, which no Doric shaft ever had. The base and capping were, more
or less, continued along the top and bottom of the whole wall, the doors
and other apertures of which usually diminished in width towards the
top, suggesting--but still in a passive and unobtrusive way--the simple
reality of weight and pressure in the wall, and affording a further and
most important contrast to the living “emporstreben,” as the German
critics call it, of the line of shafts. Thus Mr. Ruskin is wrong in
saying that “in the Greek Temple the wall is as nothing; the entire
interest is in the detached columns and the frieze (entablature?) they
bear.” The wall is the expression of the passive life that becomes
active when it is concentrated in the colonnade, and has so much more
work to do.

In the “Ionic Order” exactly the same idea of the symbolisation of the
balance of material and intellectual forces is carried out with the same
integrity as in the Doric, though with less simplicity and obviousness.
The idea of elasticity--as noticed by Franz Kugler in his _Handbuch der
Kunstgeschichte_ for the first time--is added to that of simple upward
met by simple downward force. It occurs especially in the base and the
volutes of the column, as these members are found modified and perfected
by the Attic architects. By tracing the growth of the Attic base, much
light will be thrown upon the Greek architectural idea. A base is a
support for the shaft. The Doric had no base, because the notion of any
weight to be supported was not allowed to be expressed anywhere but in
the entablature; the Ionic differing from the Doric mainly in this--that
the visible conflict between weight and supporting power, which in the
Doric was wholly concentrated upon the abacus, or tile, where the column
met the entablature, was in the Ionic so distributed that almost every
member was at once agent and reagent, expressing an adequate power of
supporting what was above it, but also requiring support from that which
was below. A great square stone or plinth is the simplest form of base;
but this would have looked poor and inorganic underneath the elaborately
fluted and voluted column. The square stone cut into a circle with its
edges rounded is the next simplest form; but it was left for the Romans
to use this base, for they had not the sensitive eye that discerned the
fatal effect of swelling or sufferance from weight which this
cushion-like form conveys. The first Ionic base had a _scotia_, or
hollow receding moulding, under the round _torus_. This contradicted the
above impression; but it did it violently and awkwardly. Finally, the
Attic base was formed of a large torus below, a smaller one above, and
the scotia, or receding moulding, between them; so that the base--which,
on the whole, was a spreading and supporting member--was nevertheless
narrowest where it would have been thickest had it suffered, like a
cushion, from the weight it carried. The fluting of the Ionic order,
while it expressed ascendant force like the Doric, had a flat space or
fillet instead of a sharp edge between each concavity, and each line of
fluting had semicircular terminations. The effect of this was to endow
the shaft itself with a substantive expression of weight, which had no
existence in the Doric shaft, that flew, like a sheaf of arrows, from
the earth to strike against the ovolo of the capital. The Ionic capital,
like the Ionic base, had its elastic character perfectly developed by
Attic architects. In the original Ionic the ears of the volutes simply
hang on either side of the ovolo like horns; but in Attic specimens they
appear to be formed by the pressure of the entablature upon a series of
elastic curves. The Ionic abacus differs from the Doric in expressing,
in common with all the other members of the Ionic column, an active
supporting power; whereas the Doric tile is simply negative, the “point
of rest” between the opposing forces of the column and entablature. The
architrave, the first member of the Ionic entablature, instead of
expressing weight by simple mass, as the Doric architrave does, consists
of two or three layers of masonry, the upper projecting over the other,
and giving to the entire entablature the expression of impending weight,
which in the Doric is limited to the corona. In the frieze there are no
guttæ or triglyphs, because the pendent effect which these give to the
Doric frieze would be inconsistent with the continuation of the idea of
support as well as weight throughout all the members of the Ionic order.
In the pure Doric there is absolutely no such thing as ornament; though
Kugler, notwithstanding that he is of all critics the one who has come
nearest to the perception of the true sense of Greek architecture,
asserts that the head and foot members of the antæ are merely
ornamental. How far this is from being the case has been now shown. The
so-called “egg and arrow” and other figures into which Greek mouldings
were cut have nothing to do with ornament. They are simply the means of
emphasising the forms of the mouldings and rendering them visible at
distances at which otherwise they would not be distinguished. But in the
Ionic we have real architectural ornament, and lines of roses or bands
of foliage are inserted at points where it is desirable to express--in
the absence of more severe means of expression--the freedom and
cheerfulness with which a superincumbent weight is carried.

The “Corinthian” is only a highly decorated Ionic, and the Greeks of the
good age seem to have thought it fittest for secular or semi-secular
purposes. It only attained somewhat of the character of an “Order” in
the hands of the Romans, who had little taste for or understanding of
pure Greek art, but had sufficient intelligence to see how to apply
ornament for the most part in the right places. When they tried to
improve upon the Doric of the Parthenon, they did it in a very
characteristic way. They simplified it by doing away with the fluting of
the shaft and setting it upon a base of the single torus or
roll-moulding, so that it looked like a big sausage set on end upon a
small curly one; and instead of the channel cut in the neck of the
shaft--which must have been a hopeless puzzle to them--they bound the
shaft at the same point with a projecting moulding: as the Egyptians did
rightly, because they wanted to express an idea the exact opposite of
the Greek one. Meretricious ornament and mock simplicity went hand in
hand, and all pretensions to integrity of style had to be abandoned when
the arch and the entablature had to be reconciled. As builders the
Romans perhaps surpassed all others before or since; and as architects
also they were as great as they could be, in the absence of the Greek
devotion to the unity produced by one all-pervading symbolic thought.


IV

The pointed Gothic, though it took its rise more than fifteen hundred
years after the decay of Attic architecture, and after the intervention
of several other styles, of which the “Norman” constitutes one of the
five great and only pure styles which the world has seen, is
nevertheless in closer artistic relationship with the Attic style than
the Norman is, and should be therefore treated earliest. The immense
effort which was made to develop a great style from the dome--the
natural outcome of the circular arch introduced by the Romans--never
came to anything but the production of here and there an edifice which,
like the Pantheon and St. Sophia, were miracles of technical skill,
until the idea was taken up by the fanciful Moresque architects. Again,
the Norman, though a great integral style, as will be shown, is not
based upon any relation to weight of material; which is at once the
great fact of building, and as such is made by the Egyptian, Greek, and
Gothic architects to express the material, intellectual, and spiritual
character of worship in ways that exhaust this primary source of
architectural symbolism.

Weight--simple and irresistible in the Egyptian, adequately supported in
the Greek--is, in the pointed Gothic, not abolished as in the Moresque,
but totally vanquished and borne above, as by a superior spiritual
power. Two happy accidents gave rise to this architectural development.
As the Egyptian architecture was an artistic transfiguration of the
necessities of an original cavern architecture, and as the Doric Temple
in a similar way transmuted to undreamt-of significance the forms of the
timber hut, so the Gothic architecture found in the Basilica--the main
forms of which were transmitted through the Norman cathedral--the
accidental key to what probably will for ever remain the supreme glory
of the art of temple-building. The Basilica itself contained nothing but
the discovery of the most convenient way of roofing-in and lighting a
great oblong hall. It consisted of nave and aisles; the walls of the
nave rising within and above those of the aisles, to form the
clerestory, which gave the centre of the edifice externally the
appearance of unsheathing itself from and soaring above the rest. The
means of emphasising and multiplying this effect indefinitely--as the
pyramidal effect was multiplied and emphasised in the Egyptian
Temple--were provided by another fortunate accident, the development of
the pointed arch from the mechanical necessities of cross-vaulting. No
sooner did a row of pointed arches make its appearance in the clerestory
windows than the power of Gothic expression, latent in the main body of
the building, became obvious. The tower, with its spire, was the first
and simplest sequence. It was to the clerestory what this was to the
main body of the building. In the course of a few years every detail of
construction and decoration became subordinated to the heavenward flight
which the main masses of the building had thus taken.

This fact is a threadbare commonplace of architectural criticism, and
one which is obvious to the eye of the dullest beholder of the interior
or exterior of every Gothic cathedral; but the number and subtlety of
the means by which the effect is gained is beyond all reckoning and
analysis; and the object of this paper is to point out only a few of
them which are not to be found in architectural manuals, and to show how
this all-prevailing stream of ardent aspiration was moderated and
governed so as to acquire the expression of peace as well as ardour, as
befitted the beauty of the Christian temple. Mr. Freeman comes nearer
than any other eminent architectural critic to a clear discernment of
Gothic character when he says: “Where there is no strife there is no
victory; the vertical line cannot be called predominant unless the
horizontal exist in a visible condition of subjection and inferiority.”
But the vertical line exists in Gothic architecture as much more than a
foil to vertical character; it checks and keeps it within bounds, and
exhibits it as an expression of the infinite bounded and peacefully
bounded by the finite--which is the true character of the life and
worship symbolised. Hence the square-headed tower is as fine, if not a
finer finish to the Gothic cathedral than the spire. Compare the tower
of York with the spire of Freyburg in Breisgau--the finest spire in the
world, rising as it does as a spire from the ground--and it will be
found that the cessation of the great, steady heavenward current in
York, gradually prepared for as it is by the treatment of the face of
the tower, and culminating in the compromise of open battlements, each
of which frames the pointed arch, creates a more solemn and
heart-expanding sense of infinite aspiration than the apparently greater
flight of endeavour in the famous spire, which soars indeed twice the
height of the tower, but, as it were, evaporates as it soars. The minds
of the Gothic architects seem to have been much divided as to which was
better: the checked and contained expression of the tower, in which an
undiminished force of ascension was suggested, or the exhausting flight
of the spire. The tower of Salisbury, for example, was not originally
intended to carry the spire, which was added long after the cathedral
was completed. They often obtained both features, giving a spire to only
one of the west-end towers. There is, perhaps, no more satisfactory
treatment of the west front than this, as may be seen in Strasburg
Cathedral. Like many other fine effects, this most probably arose from
accident--the accident of its not being convenient at the time to add
the second spire; but that the incompleteness was fully recognised as a
perfection is proved by the many instances of its having been, if not
devised, allowed to remain.

There are three ways of treating the spire. It may commence at the
earth, as that of Freyburg does, without the intervention of a tower; or
it may rise from a tower the head of which is considerably larger than
the base of the spire; or the base of the spire may coincide with the
top of the tower, in which case it is called a “broach spire.” The
second is the finest and by far the most frequent arrangement, as it
combines the effects of spire and tower without confusing them; a part
of the force of the tower being contained and checked, and a part being
allowed to take its self-exhausting flight. It is to be observed,
however, that even when the spire is most prominent--as in Lichfield,
where there are three of them--it is, when compared with the whole
building, only as it were an accidental escape and waste of the vast
current of vertical force expressed by the entire mass of the building.
Perhaps the most expressive treatment of the tower is in the innumerable
examples in which only a very small proportion of its vertical force is
permitted to escape in four or more pinnacles, one of which is often
larger than the others. Spires and pinnacles are in most cases covered
with lines of “crockets”: figures in which ascending power is usually
expressed by the upward growth of a leaf; which is emphasised by some
check, made apparent to the eye by a strong bulge, like that of a
current flowing over a stone. Wherever the idea of weight or side-thrust
would occur naturally to the eye--as in buttresses, lower angles of
gables, etc.--there is an especial outburst of flaming finial or
pinnacle, or other mode of contradicting and reversing the idea, which
the Greek architect would have been contented with accepting and
beautifying.

Let us now enter the church, which is, within as well as without, a
great geyser of ascending life; which may indeed lose itself in the
dimness of the vaulted roof, as the spire loses itself in air, but never
shows weariness of its flight or a memory of the earth from which it
started. As in Egyptian and Greek architecture, so in the Gothic, we
must look to the column for the strongest expression of the
characterising idea. The Egyptian column suffered and seemed
half-crushed under the weight it bore; the Greek rose to its burthen
with the glad assurance of being fully adequate to its task. The Gothic
is conscious of no task at all; but flies, without the least diminution
of its substance, and without swelling either under sufferance or
gathering of strength by entasis at any particular point, to the
commencement of the arch; where it divides itself, sending up the
streams of its clustered shafts, some into the lines of the arch and
others to the top of the clerestory wall; then dividing again to follow
the lines of the vaulting, there to meet like fingers joined in prayer,
but still having no thought of the weight of the roof they really help
to carry.

Mr. Ruskin complains of Gothic capitals--as he might also have done of
Gothic bases--that they are unnecessary and ridiculous because they have
no bearing power. If they had, they would cease to be Gothic, and the
whole character of the wonderful art would be ruined. Capitals are
sometimes entirely omitted, as in the shafted piers of Cologne; but when
this is the case the point at which the arch springs becomes doubtful to
the eye, and there is something exhausting in the wholly uninterrupted
flight of the vertical lines. The capitals, like the horizontal
_astragal_ which often binds at intervals the clustered column, have no
other purpose but to correct these effects of unrelieved continuity; and
the mouldings of capitals, when they exist, not only have no and express
no “bearing-power,” but they very carefully express the contrary by
various devices of undercutting, etc. It is the same with the base, when
it is not altogether dispensed with. The most common form of Gothic base
is a curious caricature of the Attic base, the form of which had been
transmitted unimpaired to the Gothic architect through the Romanesque
and Norman. It was perched upon and _overhung_ a stilted plinth, which
was itself a reversal of the expression of elementary support in the
original flat plinth; and the curves of this base were so diminished in
one part and exaggerated in another that all reference to supporting
power seemed to be derisively abolished. The “ogee” is a moulding which
strongly expresses carrying power. A favourite Gothic base was two
_reversed_ ogees, the lower projecting far over the edge of the plinth,
which, in classic architecture, always afforded a wide-spreading field
for the base. And so on.

It would take a bulky volume to trace the wonderful integrity with which
the three modes of envisaging the idea of weight are carried out in the
three great architectures; but enough has been said to give the clue by
which a fairly cultivated and perceptive student may follow up the
subject for himself.


V

Before proceeding to consider the Norman and Moresque styles, a word
should be said about that portion of Gothic decoration which does not
directly help the main effect of aspiration--namely, cusped and foliated
tracery, diaper-work, the foliage of spandrels, etc. etc. Kugler says:
“This filling-in appears as a peculiar sort of architecture of
independent signification.” He does not, however, give the
interpretation which he sees to be required. Yet there is an
interpretation which only needs to be put in words to be obvious to
every eye which has made itself familiar with these objects. In exact
proportion to the recognised perfection of these details, as it was
attained in the middle or “decorated” period of pointed architecture,
they become expressions of an idea almost identical with that which has
been traced in the mode by which contented suspension or delay of the
infinitely aspiring character in the main lines of the building is
conveyed. As the inexhaustible torrent of upward life is checked
peacefully, but with no denial of infinite _potential_ aspiration, in
the square-headed tower, so the same reconciliation of life with law
without the least detriment to either--that reconciliation which is the
consummation of Christianity--is expressed even more completely in the
more essentially decorative details of pointed architecture. It is in
the treatment of foliage that this character can be most easily traced,
and this can be done best by comparing it with other modes of treatment.
By the Greek architect this and other natural objects, when wanted for
ornament, were what is called “conventionalised”; honeysuckles, roses,
and waves of the sea were represented by certain formal figures which
suited the lines of the architecture, and were not too much like nature
to attract attention from those all-important lines to themselves. In
the Italian Gothic, again, such natural objects are represented as
nearly as possible like nature, but with such slight modifications and
arrangements as were necessary to give them the consciousness of art.
This is the sort of imitation which Mr. Ruskin recommends, and into
which the northern Gothic fell in the decay of the art. But in
fourteenth-century Gothic--that is to say, in the Gothic which was as
much superior to that of the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries as the
art of Athens was superior to that of Pæstum or Rome--nature was neither
imitated nor conventionalised. The special aim of the fourteenth-century
ornamentation is to show a vigorous life playing with perfect freedom in
severely geometrical forms--with freedom so perfect that it is difficult
to say whether the life shapes the law or the law the life. This highly
and essentially symbolic character is the most marked expression of
Gothic tracery. In its decay it took the form of licence and weakness in
the French “flamboyant,” and of hardness and rigidity in the English
“perpendicular”; the life prevailing--to its own destruction--in the
one, the lifeless law preponderating in the other. Gothic foliage,
again, always _feels_ the law; though, so far from suffering thereby, it
is, in its place, far more beautiful than nature. The leafage not only
follows geometrical outlines, but swells under its limitation into rich
protuberances. The yearning for and potentiality of infinite ascension,
peacefully accepting its temporal limitations, and the freedom of life
perfected by law, are the artistic motives of every detail as well as of
the main masses of pure Gothic.

The Romano-Byzantine style attained in its final development, the
“Norman,” to the unity of idea which is the criterion of a true style.
The arch up to this time had been treated partly as a thing of beauty in
itself and partly as the constructive theme; in the Norman it took its
place, expressionally, as subordinate to the wall, the mass of which it
carries and distributes between the piers. The wall itself is the
artistic theme of Norman architecture, and all decorative and some
constructional features are devoted to making a boast of its _mass_ and
_thickness_. _Weight_--the theme in the three highly contrasted modes of
the Egyptian, Greek, and Pointed architectures--plays no part in the
Norman expression. The arch, being recognised by the eye for what it is,
an infinitely powerful supporter, can express no proportion to finite
superincumbent weight; and it is treated as a mere head to the gap in
the wall between nave and aisle. The expressional intention of the
Norman architects in this matter is curiously and decisively proved by
the fact that their favourite arch-mouldings were the _billet_ and
_chevron_--_i.e._ lines of notches and angles which completely broke up
all idea of arch-character as referable to supporting power or to weight
distributed on to the piers, and transferred the interest of the eye to
the material substance of the wall out of which these figures were cut.
The piers between these arches were huge masses of wall, either
quadrangular or turned into great cylinders, without _entasis_ or any
other sign of having to bear anything; and such decoration as they had
was devised so as to deny emphatically any reference to superimposed
burthen. The figure of the weight-carrying shaft set in the angles of
these piers was their principal decoration; but they were Lilliputian
mockeries of the Attic shaft, or were twisted singly or doubly, and in
various other ways ridiculed, as it were, the idea that shaft-_power_
was demanded in the huge masses of masonry to which they were attached.
The only thing that these little shafts--whether in notch of pier or in
recess of porch, blind arcade, or window--ever carried or appeared to
carry was a single line of the often innumerable mouldings, the purpose
of which was simply to display the immense thickness of the wall, which
was the true and only theme of this style. This system of emphasising
the wall by negativing the shaft-power was occasionally carried into the
almost grotesque excess of representing the shaft as broken in the
middle! The favourite treatment of the Norman wall was to boast of its
thickness exactly as the Doric shaft boasted of its supporting
power--that is, by throwing away some portion of it. The face of the
wall was recessed in panels, which were often filled with blind arcades.
Modern builders often recess walls in this way in order to save
material, leaving the wall thickest where it has most work to do; but
the Norman and Lombard architects had no such economy in view. The
windows and other apertures in the wall showed, by their shafted and
moulded chamfers, the reality of thickness so great that the panelling
and blank arcading was seen to _be_ no sacrifice, though it was a
delicate and effective suggestion of one. This arcaded panelling is not
only on one plane of the wall-surface. The recessed plane is again
recessed in the same way, and yet again, arcade within arcade; and
finally, in the higher portions of the wall, open galleries are worked
in its thickness. In apertures the constructive rule which requires that
the bevel or chamfer should slant inwards, to give the better light, is
sacrificed to the opportunity of showing the mass of the wall; and the
chamfer is external, and is so treated in its decoration as to increase
in every possible way the appearance of thickness. The treatment of the
doorway, which is the point from which the expressional idea may be best
enforced upon every beholder, is very peculiar. When there is no
advanced porch, a deep arch is practised through a great part of the
wall, and the thickness is emphasised by an elaborate perspective of
shafts and mouldings. Within this deeply recessed arch the actual
doorway is often worked as a horizontal-headed aperture in a plane face
of wall without chamfer; the remaining thickness of the wall, not shown
by the recessed arch, being thus left to be measured by the imagination,
which has already been excited by the display of thickness within
thickness of decorated archway. The Norman architects, in order still
further to increase this effect, had sometimes recourse to a device that
can scarcely be justified by strict architectural principles, which
should never falsify construction in order to heighten expression. A
face of wall was advanced in front of the main wall of the building, in
order to obtain a much greater depth of masonry for showing off the
multitudinously moulded entrance-arch. This projection did not form a
real advanced porch, having its proper ecclesiastical purposes, but was
nothing but a boast and display of mass in the masonry which really had
no existence, the advanced face of wall concealing the fact that there
was only mass enough behind it to allow of this misleading display. It
may be said that the Gothic spire is constructed simply for display. It
is quite true; but it is avowedly so constructed, and there was no
concealment about it.

Mr. Ruskin, by the way, strangely affirms that “the direct symbolisation
of a sentiment is a weak motive with all men”; inferring thence that
there was no intention of aspiration in the Pointed architecture which
he cares so little for. But surely the reverse is the case; and such
symbolisation, in one way or other, constitutes a great part of the life
of all men. The Gothic spire, which was the most costly as well as the
most useless feature of the Gothic cathedral, is a final answer to such
doctrine, which strikes indeed at the life of all artistic work. If it
did not “symbolise a sentiment,” what was done by it?

The round arch, which was the accident of the Norman architecture, being
treated therein as a mere cavernous gap in masses of, in themselves,
all-sufficient masonry, was, as it has been already said, adopted by the
Byzantine architects as the principal theme of their art; but this arch
could be made nothing of, as the main source of expression, until it
developed the dome; and the dome, as it proved, could not be made much
of, until the Moresque builders took it in hand. It had the fatal
defect, when on a large scale, of lateral thrust, which could only be
met by a construction which had the double defect of positive and
negative falsehood. The domes of St. Sophia and St. Vitale, which the
eye naturally presumes to be of one mass or substance with the
substructure, are really formed, for lightness, of Rhodian bricks,
pumice-stone, and coils of empty jars; and yet the lateral thrust is so
great that it has to be opposed by a vast buttress-system, which is
carefully concealed, because it would contradict, if exposed, the
inevitable effect of extreme lightness in the dome. The Renaissance
architects found themselves equally at a loss, as we know, in dealing
with this feature. Both in St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s there is not one
but two entirely separate domes. And when all is done the Byzantine and
Renaissance domes are nothing to the eye but hollow shells, with no
special artistic expression.

The Moresque architects hit upon the astonishing fancy of giving the
dome _substance_, and thereby reconciling it with the constructive
masses which supported and abutted upon it, and at the same time
annihilating the idea of weight. This last idea already lurked in the
Byzantine domes of St. Sophia, which seem to be carried wholly by
“pendentives,” and not at all by the piers to which these are attached.
But it only lurked therein; for the eye necessarily inferred the immense
lateral weight which piers and walls received. Now the honeycombed domes
of the Moresque architecture are multiplied masses of pendentive forms
hanging actually in air, and making it impossible for the eye to
entertain any idea of lateral thrust in the whole or any part; and every
detail of column, wall, and arch corroborates this fanciful negation of
weight so perfectly that, for unity of effect, the Attic architecture
remains the only rival of the Moresque, though there is this infinite
difference between them: that, whereas the first appeals to the
imagination and symbolises the Greek ideal of mental and moral
equilibrium in forms of true construction, the latter only excites the
fancy by a fairy tale. The whole carrying and resisting power of the
arch is flung away by conferring upon it outlines which have no such
power (the real carrying arch being hidden in the wall far outside the
visible arch): the arches in colonnades, etc., seldom rest on, but
simply abut against, the columns, which usually carry broad
perpendicular beams, these being crossed above the arch-head by similar
horizontal beams; so that there is only a small rectangular space of
wall over each arch, and the idea of the weight of this being carried by
the arch is contradicted by a network of bars carrying the lines of the
wall into the upright beams. When a single arch is set in a wall, it is
similarly framed in fretwork, the lines of which carry the eye off the
arch without being pronounced enough to convey the idea that the force
of the wall is thus conducted laterally to some support outside the
arch.

It is impossible, in the space which can here be given to the matter, to
notice one in a score of the details which combine to produce the effect
with which every one is familiar. The purpose of these papers will have
been answered if the vivifying thought of each of the five architectures
which alone are integral styles, and not mixtures of styles, has been
stated clearly, and such hints of the means by which such thought is
conveyed have been given as will enable those who care to go further
into the subject to do the rest of the analysis by themselves.



XXV

THOUGHTS ON KNOWLEDGE, OPINION, AND INEQUALITY


Some learned men have maintained that we can know nothing. The truth is
better stated by St. Paul: “If a man thinks that he knows anything, he
knows nothing as he ought,” that is nothing other than imperfectly. It
is the more difficult to deal systematically with this matter, because
we want, in our tongue, words of such relative meaning as _scire_,
_cognoscere_, _intelligere_, etc. I propose only to run together a few
such observations as simple good sense can make, and accept, and find
use for.

A great and increasing proportion of persons would, if you asked them,
maintain that all convictions are merely opinions. But it is not so. A
fool may opine absolutely that a wise man is a fool, but the wise man
knows that the fool is one. The same or opposite conclusions, political
or otherwise, may be arrived at by two persons from a view of the same
facts, and each may be equally confident; but the conclusions of one may
be knowledge, and those of the other opinion. The reality of the
difference is indicated by the difference of the feelings which commonly
subsist between those who opine and those who know. Those who opine hate
those who know, and who speak as those who know. They think it an
assumption of superiority, whereas it is only its reality, and cannot
but appear more or less in its manner of expression. Those who know, are
only contemptuous or indifferent towards such as impudently or
ignorantly opine. The consequence is that the knowledge which is wisdom
is nowhere, as an acknowledged force and factor in worldly affairs, and
is only able to assert itself _sub rosa_, or by accident, or by the more
or less underhand management of folly and ignorance.

What most people call “deep and earnest convictions” on political and
social topics are generally muddle-headed medleys of knowledge of fact
and opinion. They know that such and such a thing is an evil, and they
opine that they see a way to amend it; and if wiser people point out to
them that the evil would not be so amended, or that greater evils would
accrue from the attempt, they only feel that their “convictions” are
affronted and opposed by cold-blooded calculations. This kind of
opinion is often as confident as actual knowledge. When Carlyle said
that it was impossible to believe a lie, he can only have meant that it
was impossible to believe it with that highest kind of certitude which
consists in intellectual perception. Probably no one could believe a lie
with that degree of faith which would enable him to suffer deliberate
martyrdom for it. Protestant and Catholic martyrs have usually been
sufferers for one and the same faith, or, at least, parts of the same
faith, in which parts they have considered the whole to be involved.
Very few, if any, have ever carried the courage of mere “opinions” to
the stake.

There can be no absolute certitude about the impressions of the senses
or the inferences drawn from them. There can be about moral and
spiritual things. The knave may sincerely opine that it is best for his
interests to lie and cheat; but the honest man knows that he is a being
whose interests are above all external contingencies, and that under
certain circumstances it would be madness to behave otherwise than in a
way which would be directly opposed to every argument and persuasion of
the senses. It is only the mind of the most highly “scientific”
constitution that will have its confidence in knowledge of this kind
tried by considerations of its moral and intellectual obligations to
Hottentots and Australian aborigines. “We can live in houses without
being architects”; and we can know, without knowing or caring to know
how we came by our knowledge. The house of the gods has lasted intact
since Abraham and Hesiod, and shows no sign yet of tumbling about our
ears.

The faculty of knowing, as differing from that of opining, seems, as
might be expected from what has been said, to have as much to do with
the character of the will as of the mind. To be honest, Shakespeare
tells us, is to be one in ten thousand; and to discern intellectually,
or to know, is a part, and a very great part, of honesty. A man may have
learned a dozen languages, and have the whole circle of the sciences at
his fingers’ ends, and may know nothing worthy of being called
knowledge; indeed, there is nothing which seems to be a greater
hindrance to the acquisition of living knowledge than an engrossing
devotion to the acquisition of words, facts, logical methods, and
natural laws. It requires little learning to make a wise or truly
knowing man, but much learning may not impossibly spoil one.

Mr. Matthew Arnold has said that a thorough classical education has
often the same effects on a man’s character as a grave experience. The
reason is that it is a grave experience, a long series of small
exercises of honesty, patience, and self-sacrifice, the sum of which is
equal to a great and soul-sobering calamity. The author of the
_Imitation_ notes a kindred fact when he says, “No man can know anything
till he is tried.” Not only is the discipline of such an education,
which, in its early stage at least has much in it that is repugnant and
compulsory, fitted to qualify the character for the reception of true
knowledge, but it conveys also, in an eminent degree, the matter of true
knowledge. Without any disrespect to Mr. Huxley, Mr. Herbert Spencer,
and Professor Max Müller, we may affirm that the man who knew Plato,
Homer, and Æschylus rightly, and knew little else, would know far more
than he who knew all that these great scientists could teach, and knew
nothing else.

The man who knows, often finds himself at great disadvantage in the
presence of fact-gatherers and persons who opine. His attitude is
necessarily affirmative, and often, to the great scandal and contempt of
his adversaries, simply affirmative. It does not enter into his
calculations to have actively to defend a position which he sees to be
impregnable; and when he leaves his proper occupation of “climbing trees
in the Hesperides” to wield his club against those who know of no such
trees, he is like a Hercules fighting mosquitoes. They cannot even see
his club, and the conflict generally ends, as did that between the Lady
and Comus, with an angry and wholly unconvincing assertion of
incompetence.

    Fain would I something say, yet to what end?
    Thou hast nor ear, nor soul to apprehend
    The sublime notion and high mystery
    That must be utter’d to unfold the sage
    And serious doctrine of virginity.
    And thou art worthy that thou should’st not know
    More happiness than is thy present lot.
    Enjoy your dear wit and gay rhetoric,
    That hath so well been taught her dazzling fence;
    Thou art not fit to hear thyself convinced.

Wordsworth, in a still greater passion, calls his scientific adversary
“a fingering slave.” Of course this sort of thing tends to make the
relations of the parties unpleasant; and in the eyes of the world the
man of immense “information” and convinced ignorance goes off with the
laurels.

Metaphysics for the most part is justly open to the objection that it
attempts to explain things which Aristotle declares to be too simple to
be intelligible--things which we cannot see with definiteness, not
because they are beyond the focus of the mind’s eye, but because they
are too much within it. The metaphysician Hegel says that the sense of
honour arises from our consciousness of infinite personal value. This
may not be wholly satisfactory, but it is helpful; it is a part of the
truth. But what do physicists make of such things as honour and
chastity? They certainly endeavour to explain such ideas and feelings as
they do everything else, but their explanations necessarily discredit
these and all other things which profess to have “infinite value,” and
which wise men know to have infinite value.

The knowledge which can be made common to all, is a foundation upon
which a certain increasing school, finding popular “opinion” too sandy,
is endeavouring to build up a new state of things, religious, moral,
political, and social. This kind of “positivism,” which claims for its
sanction the common, that is to say, the lowest experience of mankind,
is and always has been the religion of the vulgar, to whatever class
they belong. The growth of an unconscious and undogmatic positivism
among the people at large is perhaps the most notable fact of the time.
It shows itself not only in an increasing impatience of the notion that
there is any reality which cannot be seen and felt, but in an
intolerance even of any experience which is not, or cannot immediately
be made, the experience of all. As boards and committees proverbially
have to work on the level of the least wise of their members, so the
ideal perfection of this positivism would be government by the insight
of the greatest dunderhead, since his experiences and perceptions alone
would be sufficiently communicable to have the character of
universality. Under such ideal conditions, every reality that makes life
human would be completely eliminated. A man who should be detected in
secretly entertaining principles of abstract honour, or trying to form
his life upon the pattern of a beauty unknown to the arch-dunderhead,
would fare as it fared in Athens with the man who dared to crown his
house with a pediment; and vestries, consisting of the prophets of
commonplace and popular experience, would vote everything in painting
and poetry to be “bosh” which should be more esoteric in character than
Frith’s “Railway Station” or Martin Tupper’s _Proverbial Philosophy_.

Science has already come very generally to mean, not that which may be
known, but only such knowledge as every animal with faculties a little
above those of an ant or a beaver can be induced to admit.
Incommunicable knowledge, or knowledge which can be communicated at
present only to a portion--perhaps a small portion--of mankind, is
already affirmed to be no knowledge at all. A man who knows and acts up
to his knowledge that it is better to suffer or inflict any extremity
of temporal evil, rather than lie or cheat, though he may not be able to
give any universally intelligible account of his knowledge, is already
beginning to be looked upon as a prig or a fanatic; and chastity is
already widely declared to be one of the “dead virtues,” and marriage
only legalised fornication, because “the sublime notion and high mystery
that must be uttered to unfold the sage and serious doctrine” of purity
must be taken, if taken at all by the many, upon trust.

The pure and simple ideal of life founded upon facts of universal
experience is, however, too base ever to be perfectly attained in this
world. There will always be a lingering suspicion with many that some
have powers of discernment and an experience which are not granted to
all; there will always be hidden heretics who will believe that there
are realities which cannot be seen or touched by the natural eye or
hand, or even by the rational perception of the many; and the present
downward tendency may perhaps be checked, or at least delayed, by
recalling to the minds of men that, as yet, we are all living more or
less by faith in the better knowledge of the few, and by reminding them
of that abyss towards which a new step is taken whenever any item of
that knowledge is denied, in order to widen the foundations of the
throne of popular experience.

The religion of universal experience must of course begin, as the
dogmatic positivist insists, in the denial of God, or, what is exactly
equivalent, in the assertion that, if God exists, He is altogether
unknowable and removed from the practical interests of life. Now, let it
be remembered that for a man to deny that God can be known is quite a
different thing from his not being able to affirm, from positive
knowledge, the reverse. A very small minority of mankind, but a minority
which includes almost all who have attained the highest peaks of heroic
virtue, and many who have been no less eminent for power of intellect
and practical wisdom, have declared that, to them at least, God is
knowable, communicable with, and personally discernible with a certainty
which exceeds all other certainties; and they have further affirmed that
this knowledge comes and can only come from a man’s putting himself _en
rapport_ with the Divinity by an, in the beginning, more or less
experimental faith, and by a conformity to the dictates of the highest
conscience, so perfect as to involve, for a considerable period at
least, laborious and painful self-denial. Now it would be placing
oneself upon a level with such assertors of the highest knowledge to say
that one knows that these declarations are true, however strong the
presumption of their truth may appear; but it is simply vulgar and
brutal impudence for any one to assert positively that they are untruths
or illusions, merely because his own experience and that of his
pot-companions contains nothing which gives the least clue to their
meaning. The _reductio ad absurdum_ becomes complete when the same
argument is carried into regions of more extended experience. A drunken
bargeman has exactly the same right to deny the reality of the asserted
experiences of a Petrarch or a Wordsworth as these would have to deny
those of the saint or the apostle; and to descend a few steps farther,
the amateur of abominable delights and the violator of natural
relationships would justly, upon the widest experimental grounds, claim
exemption from a condemnation chiefly founded upon an obscure perception
and an intuitive horror of which he for his part had no experience.

Popular positivism will, however, always stop short of the length to
which the doctrines of its prophets would lead it, and will, from time
to time, be beaten back into the paths of the positivism of the nobler
few on which all virtue and religion are founded, by finding itself in
contact with the tremendous paradox, that the most universally
beneficial and admired fruits of civilisation are and always have been
gathered from trees of which the roots are wholly out of common view.
The heroes themselves of the people will always refute popular
experience better than any philosopher can. Though a Gladstone may
dazzle them for a day by investing with a fatuous glamour the principles
and platitudes with which the vulgar are familiar, it is to a Gordon,
with inimitable courage and honour, the obvious outcome of
unintelligible thoughts and experiences, that they will look with
abiding reverence, and an elevating instinct that such men habitually
move about in worlds by them unrealised.

The immense and unalterable inequalities in the knowing faculties of man
are the source and in part the justification of that social inequality
which roughly and very partially reflects them. Many otherwise amiable
and conservative thinkers have, however, made the mistake of conceding
that such inequality is, abstractedly considered, an evil, though a
hopelessly incurable one. Conservative teaching would be much more
effective than it is, were it more frequently occupied with proving that
such inequality is no evil, but a very great good for all parties.

Dr. Johnson, who sometimes let fall, in off-hand talk, sayings of such
depth, simplicity, and significance that we must go back to the
philosophers of antiquity to find the like of them, once remarked that
“inequality is the source of all delight.” This saying, which must seem
surprising to most modern ears, is absolutely true and even
demonstrable.

All delight--not all pleasure, which is quite a different thing--will be
found, when thoroughly examined, to consist in the rendering and
receiving of love and the services of love. Hence the great and
fortunately inextinguishable fountains of delight in the relationships
of man and woman and of parents and children. It is true that a low and
inorganic form of national polity may, to some extent, suppress even
these pure springs of felicity; but, so long as there are women and
children in the world, it can never become quite joyless. The doctrines
of liberty, fraternity, and equality are known instinctively only by
very bad children, and most women, when once they have been in love,
repudiate such teaching indignantly, under whatever polity they may have
been born.

    Between unequals sweet is equal love;

and the fact is that there is no love, and therefore no sweetness, which
is not thus conditioned; and the greater the inequality the greater the
sweetness. Hence the doctrine that infinite felicity can only arise from
the mutual love of beings infinitely unequal--that is, of the creator
and the creature. Inequality, far from implying any dishonour on either
side of the mutual compact of love, is the source of honour to both.
Hooker, writing of marriage, says: “It is no small honour to a man that
a creature so like himself should be subjected to him”; and we all know
that the honour to woman which the chivalry of the middle ages made an
abiding constituent of civilisation, was founded upon Catholic views of
her subjection, and the obligation to give special honour, as of right,
to the weaker vessel. Look also at the relations which usually subsist
between an hereditary gentleman and his hereditary unequals and
dependants, and compare them with the ordinary fraternal relations
between a Radical master-tradesman and his workmen. The intercourse
between the gentleman and his hind or labourer is free, cheerful, and
exhilarating, because there is commonly in it the only equality worth
regarding, that of goodwill; whereas the commands of the sugar-boiler or
the screw-maker to their brothers are probably given with a frown and
received with a scowl. Social inequality, since it arises from
unalterable nature and inevitable chance, is irritating only when it is
not recognised. The American plutocrat may be forced to travel for a
week in the company of a hodman, because American theories
discountenance first and third class carriages; but catch him speaking
to him! Whereas an English duke, if by chance thrown into the
companionship of an honest countryman, would be on the best of terms
with him before an hour was over, and the good understanding between the
two would be made all the easier should the latter have on his
distinguishing smock-frock. The genuine Tory is the most accessible of
persons, the genuine Radical the least so. The one takes things as they
are and must be, the other views them as they are not and cannot be,
and, kicking against imaginary evils, often pays the penalty of finding
himself firmly saddled with the realities.

“One can live in a house without being an architect,” and it is not at
all necessary that the common people should understand the English
constitution in order to feel that their lives are the sweeter and
nobler because they are members of its living organism. Not a ploughboy
or a milkmaid but would feel, without in the least knowing why, that a
light had passed from their lives with the disappearance of social
inequalities, and the consequent loss of their dignity as integral parts
of a somewhat that was greater than themselves.

The other day, walking in a country lane, I saw what appeared at a
little distance to be a dying animal. On a closer view it proved to be
the carcase of a sheep which had in great measure been actually
transformed into a mass of the soft, white, malodorous grubs known to
anglers by the name of gentles. The struggles of these creatures to get
at the food which they concealed produced a strong and regular pulsation
throughout the whole mass, and gave it a ghastly semblance of breathing.
The ordered state of England, according to its ideal, which for many
generations has been more or less realised, compared with the sort of
democracy to which we are fast drifting and have wellnigh attained, is
much like the animal in which myriads of individual organs, nerves,
veins, tissues, and cells formed subordinated parts of one living thing,
compared with this pulsating mass of grubs, each one of which had no
thought but of its just share of carrion.

Democracy is only a continually shifting aristocracy of money,
impudence, animal energy, and cunning, in which the best grub gets the
best of the carrion; and the level to which it tends to bring all things
is not a mountain tableland, as its promoters would have their victims
think, but the unwholesome platitude of the fen and the morass, of which
black envy would enjoy the malaria so long as all others shared in it.
Whatever may be the pretences set forth by the leading advocates of
such a state of things among us, it is manifest enough that black envy
is the principal motive with many of them, who hate the beauty of the
ordered life, to be ruling stars of which they cannot attain, just as
certain others are said to “hate the happy light from which they fell.”
They hate hereditary honours, chiefly because they produce hereditary
honour, and create a standard of truth and courage for which even the
basest are the better in so far as they are shamed by it. Do the United
States, some may ask, justify this condemnation? They are but a poor
approach to the idea of democracy which seems now about to be realised
among us: but they have already gone a long way towards extinguishing
that last glory of, and now best substitute for, a generally extinct
religion--a sense of honour among the people. “Why, what a dern’d fool
you must be!” exclaimed a New York shopkeeper to a friend of mine, who
had received a dollar too much in changing a note, and returned it. If
there is a shopkeeper in England who would think such a thing, there is
certainly not one who would dare to say it.

Nor, in losing sight of the sense of “infinite personal value,” which is
the source of honour and the growth of a long-enduring recognition of
inevitable inequalities, have the Americans preserved delight. Dr.
Johnson’s saying finds a remarkable comment in the observation of a
recent American traveller: “In the United States there is everywhere
comfort, but no joy.”

To conclude, it is quite possible to change the forms of social
inequality, but to do away with the fact is of all things the most
impossible. It is the trick or ignorance of the demagogue to charge
existing inequalities with the evils and injustices in which they began,
and with which they were attended for a long time afterwards. When
conquest or revolution establishes the ever-inevitable political and
social inequalities in new forms, it takes many generations of misery
and turmoil to introduce into them the moral equality which renders them
not only tolerable, but the source of true freedom and happiness.


THE END


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_





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