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Title: The Collected Works of William Hazlitt, Vol. 7 (of 12)
Author: Hazlitt, William
Language: English
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                                  THE
                   COLLECTED WORKS OF WILLIAM HAZLITT
                           IN TWELVE VOLUMES


                              VOLUME SEVEN



                         _All rights reserved_


[Illustration:

  _William Hazlitt._

  _From the bust executed by Joseph Durham, RA_
]



                         THE COLLECTED WORKS OF
                            WILLIAM HAZLITT


                         EDITED BY A. R. WALLER
                           AND ARNOLD GLOVER

                        WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY

                              W. E. HENLEY

                                   ❦

                           The Plain Speaker.

                Essay on the Principles of Human Action

                                  Etc.

                                   ❦

                                  1903

                       LONDON: J. M. DENT _&_ CO.
                  McCLURE, PHILLIPS _&_ CO.: NEW YORK



               Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


                                                                    PAGE

 THE PLAIN SPEAKER                                                     5

 AN ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN ACTION                          385

 REMARKS ON THE SYSTEMS OF HARTLEY AND HELVETIUS                     434

 NOTES                                                               479



                           THE PLAIN SPEAKER



                          BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE


_The Plain Speaker: Opinions on Books, Men, and Things_, appeared
anonymously in 1826 in two volumes (9 × 5½ inches), published by Henry
Colburn, New Burlington Street. The imprint behind both title-pages is
‘London: Printed by Thomas Davison, Whitefriars’; but that at the end of
the second volume is ‘London: Printed by J. Nichols and Son, Parliament
Street.’ A list of ‘Interesting Works, Just published by Henry Colburn,’
at the end of the work contains an announcement of ‘The Spirits of the
Age.... The Second Edition, with Additions’ (see vol. IV. p. 186,
Bibliographical Note to _The Spirit of the Age_).

In the edition which was published in 1851, edited by his son, the Essay
entitled ‘On a Portrait of a Lady, by Vandyke’ is not included: it was
transferred to ‘Criticisms on Art.’

In the present issue the Essays have been numbered consecutively: in the
original two-volume edition the ‘Second Series’ began with Essay I. ‘On
the Qualifications Necessary to Success in Life.’

See also Bibliographical Note to _Table Talk_.



                                CONTENTS


                                ESSAY I.
                                                                    PAGE

 On the Prose-Style of Poets                                           5


                                ESSAY II.

 On Dreams                                                            17


                               ESSAY III.

 On the Conversation of Authors                                       24


                                ESSAY IV.

 The same Subject continued                                           35


                                ESSAY V.

 On Reason and Imagination                                            44


                                ESSAY VI.

 On Application to Study                                              55


                               ESSAY VII.

 On Londoners and Country People                                      66


                               ESSAY VIII.

 On the Spirit of Obligations                                         78


                                ESSAY IX.

 On the Old Age of Artists                                            88


                                ESSAY X.

 On Envy (A Dialogue)                                                 97


                                ESSAY XI.

 On Sitting for one’s Picture                                        107


                               ESSAY XII.

 Whether Genius is conscious of its Powers?                          117


                               ESSAY XIII.

 On the Pleasure of Hating                                           127


                               ESSAY XIV.

 On Dr. Spurzheim’s Theory                                           137


                                ESSAY XV.

 On Egotism                                                          157


                               ESSAY XVI.

 Hot and Cold                                                        169


                               ESSAY XVII.

 The New School of Reform (A Dialogue between a Rationalist and a
   Sentimentalist)                                                   179


                              ESSAY XVIII.

 On the Qualifications necessary to Success in Life                  195


                               ESSAY XIX.

 On the Look of a Gentleman                                          209


                                ESSAY XX.

 On Reading Old Books                                                220


                               ESSAY XXI.

 On Personal Character                                               230


                               ESSAY XXII.

 On People of Sense                                                  242


                              ESSAY XXIII.

 On Antiquity                                                        252


                               ESSAY XXIV.

 On the Difference between Writing and Speaking                      262


                               ESSAY XXV.

 On a Portrait of an English Lady, by Vandyke                        280


                               ESSAY XXVI.

 On Novelty and Familiarity                                          294


                              ESSAY XXVII.

 On Old English Writers and Speakers                                 311


                              ESSAY XXVIII.

 Madame Pasta and Mademoiselle Mars                                  324


                               ESSAY XXIX.

 Sir Walter Scott, Racine, and Shakespear                            336


                               ESSAY XXX.

 On Depth and Superficiality                                         346


                               ESSAY XXXI.

 On Respectable People                                               360


                              ESSAY XXXII.

 On Jealousy and Spleen of Party                                     365



                           THE PLAIN SPEAKER


                                ESSAY I
                      ON THE PROSE-STYLE OF POETS

         ‘Do you read or sing? If you sing, you sing very ill!’

I have but an indifferent opinion of the prose-style of poets: not that
it is not sometimes good, nay, excellent; but it is never the better,
and generally the worse from the habit of writing verse. Poets are
winged animals, and can cleave the air, like birds, with ease to
themselves and delight to the beholders; but like those ‘feathered,
two-legged things,’ when they light upon the ground of prose and
matter-of-fact, they seem not to have the same use of their feet.

What is a little extraordinary, there is a want of _rhythmus_ and
cadence in what they write without the help of metrical rules. Like
persons who have been accustomed to sing to music, they are at a loss in
the absence of the habitual accompaniment and guide to their judgment.
Their style halts, totters, is loose, disjointed, and without expressive
pauses or rapid movements. The measured cadence and regular _sing-song_
of rhyme or blank verse have destroyed, as it were, their natural ear
for the mere characteristic harmony which ought to subsist between the
sound and the sense. I should almost guess the Author of Waverley to be
a writer of ambling verses from the desultory vacillation and want of
firmness in the march of his style. There is neither _momentum_ nor
elasticity in it; I mean as to the _score_, or effect upon the ear. He
has improved since in his other works: to be sure, he has had practice
enough[1]. Poets either get into this incoherent, undetermined,
shuffling style, made up of ‘unpleasing flats and sharps,’ of
unaccountable starts and pauses, of doubtful odds and ends, flirted
about like straws in a gust of wind; or, to avoid it and steady
themselves, mount into a sustained and measured prose (like the
translation of Ossian’s Poems, or some parts of Shaftesbury’s
Characteristics) which is more odious still, and as bad as being at sea
in a calm. Dr. Johnson’s style (particularly in his Rambler,) is not
free from the last objection. There is a tune in it, a mechanical
recurrence of the same rise and fall in the clauses of his sentences,
independent of any reference to the meaning of the text, or progress or
inflection of the sense. There is the alternate roll of his cumbrous
cargo of words; his periods complete their revolutions at certain stated
intervals, let the matter be longer or shorter, rough or smooth, round
or square, different or the same. This monotonous and balanced mode of
composition may be compared to that species of portrait-painting which
prevailed about a century ago, in which each face was cast in a regular
and preconceived mould. The eye-brows were arched mathematically as if
with a pair of compasses, and the distances between the nose and mouth,
the forehead and chin, determined according to a ‘foregone conclusion,’
and the features of the identical individual were afterwards
accommodated to them, how they could![2]

Horne Tooke used to maintain that no one could write a good prose style,
who was not accustomed to express himself _vivâ voce_, or to talk in
company. He argued that this was the fault of Addison’s prose, and that
its smooth, equable uniformity, and want of sharpness and spirit, arose
from his not having familiarised his ear to the sound of his own voice,
or at least only among friends and admirers, where there was but little
collision, dramatic fluctuation, or sudden contrariety of opinion to
provoke animated discussion, and give birth to different intonations and
lively transitions of speech. His style (in this view of it) was not
indented, nor did it project from the surface. There was no stress laid
on one word more than another—it did not hurry on or stop short, or sink
or swell with the occasion: it was throughout equally insipid, flowing,
and harmonious, and had the effect of a studied recitation rather than
of a natural discourse. This would not have happened (so the Member for
Old Sarum contended) had Addison laid himself out to argue at his club,
or to speak in public; for then his ear would have caught the necessary
modulations of sound arising out of the feeling of the moment, and he
would have transferred them unconsciously to paper. Much might be said
on both sides of this question[3]: but Mr. Tooke was himself an
unintentional confirmation of his own argument; for the tone of his
written compositions is as flat and unraised as his manner of speaking
was hard and dry. Of the poet it is said by some one, that

                   ‘He murmurs by the running brooks
                   A music sweeter than their own.’

On the contrary, the celebrated person just alluded to might be said to
grind the sentences between his teeth, which he afterwards committed to
paper, and threw out crusts to the critics, or _bon mots_ to the
Electors of Westminster (as we throw bones to the dogs,) without
altering a muscle, and without the smallest tremulousness of voice or
eye[4]! I certainly so far agree with the above theory as to conceive
that no style is worth a farthing that is not calculated to be read out,
or that is not allied to spirited conversation: but I at the same time
think the process of modulation and inflection may be quite as complete,
or more so, without the external enunciation; and that an author had
better try the effect of his sentences on his stomach than on his ear.
He may be deceived by the last, not by the first. No person, I imagine,
can dictate a good style; or spout his own compositions with impunity.
In the former case, he will flounder on before the sense or words are
ready, sooner than suspend his voice in air; and in the latter, he can
supply what intonation he pleases, without consulting his readers.
Parliamentary speeches sometimes read well aloud; but we do not find,
when such persons sit down to write, that the prose-style of public
speakers and great orators is the best, most natural, or varied of all
others. It has almost always either a professional twang, a mechanical
rounding off, or else is stunted and unequal. Charles Fox was the most
rapid and even _hurried_ of speakers; but his written style halts and
creeps slowly along the ground[5].—A speaker is necessarily kept within
bounds in expressing certain things, or in pronouncing a certain number
of words, by the limits of the breath or power of respiration: certain
sounds are observed to join in harmoniously or happily with others: an
emphatic phrase must not be placed, where the power of utterance is
enfeebled or exhausted, &c. All this must be attended to in writing,
(and will be so unconsciously by a practised hand,) or there will be
_hiatus in manuscriptis_. The words must be so arranged, in order to
make an efficient readable style, as ‘to come trippingly off the
tongue.’ Hence it seems that there is a natural measure of prose in the
feeling of the subject and the power of expression in the voice, as
there is an artificial one of verse in the number and co-ordination of
the syllables; and I conceive that the trammels of the last do not
(where they have been long worn) greatly assist the freedom or the
exactness of the first.

Again, in poetry, from the restraints in many respects, a greater number
of inversions, or a latitude in the transposition of words is allowed,
which is not conformable to the strict laws of prose. Consequently, a
poet will be at a loss, and flounder about for the common or (as we
understand it) _natural_ order of words in prose-composition. Dr.
Johnson endeavoured to give an air of dignity and novelty to his diction
by affecting the order of words usual in poetry. Milton’s prose has not
only this draw-back, but it has also the disadvantage of being formed on
a classic model. It is like a fine translation from the Latin; and
indeed, he wrote originally in Latin. The frequency of epithets and
ornaments, too, is a resource for which the poet finds it difficult to
obtain an equivalent. A direct, or simple prose-style seems to him bald
and flat; and, instead of forcing an interest in the subject by severity
of description and reasoning, he is repelled from it altogether by the
absence of those obvious and meretricious allurements, by which his
senses and his imagination have been hitherto stimulated and dazzled.
Thus there is often at the same time a want of splendour and a want of
energy in what he writes, without the invocation of the Muse—_invita
Minervâ_. It is like setting a rope-dancer to perform a tumbler’s
tricks—the hardness of the ground jars his nerves; or it is the same
thing as a painter’s attempting to carve a block of marble for the first
time—the coldness chills him, the colourless uniformity distracts him,
the precision of form demanded disheartens him. So in prose-writing, the
severity of composition required damps the enthusiasm, and cuts off the
resources of the poet. He is looking for beauty, when he should be
seeking for truth; and aims at pleasure, which he can only communicate
by increasing the sense of power in the reader. The poet spreads the
colours of fancy, the illusions of his own mind, round every object, _ad
libitum_; the prose-writer is compelled to extract his materials
patiently and bit by bit, from his subject. What he adds of ornament,
what he borrows from the pencil, must be sparing, and judiciously
inserted. The first pretends to nothing but the immediate indulgence of
his feelings: the last has a remote practical purpose. The one strolls
out into the adjoining fields or groves to gather flowers: the other has
a journey to go, sometimes through dirty roads, and at others through
untrodden and difficult ways. It is this effeminacy, this immersion in
sensual ideas, or craving after continual excitement, that spoils the
poet for his prose-task. He cannot wait till the effect comes of itself,
or arises out of the occasion: he must force it upon all occasions, or
his spirit droops and flags under a supposed imputation of dulness. He
can never drift with the current, but is always hoisting sail, and has
his streamers flying. He has got a striking simile on hand; he _lugs_ it
in with the first opportunity, and with little connexion, and so defeats
his object. He has a story to tell: he tells it in the first page, and
where it would come in well, has nothing to say; like Goldsmith, who
having to wait upon a Noble Lord, was so full of himself and of the
figure he should make, that he addressed a set speech, which he had
studied for the occasion, to his Lordship’s butler, and had just ended
as the nobleman made his appearance. The prose ornaments of the poet are
frequently beautiful in themselves, but do not assist the subject. They
are pleasing excrescences—hindrances, not helps in an argument. The
reason is, his embellishments in his own walk grow out of the subject by
natural association; that is, beauty gives birth to kindred beauty,
grandeur leads the mind on to greater grandeur. But in treating a common
subject, the link is truth, force of illustration, weight of argument,
not a graceful harmony in the immediate ideas; and hence the obvious and
habitual clue which before guided him is gone, and he hangs on his
patchwork, tinsel finery at random, in despair, without propriety, and
without effect. The poetical prose-writer stops to describe an object,
if he admires it, or thinks it will bear to be dwelt on: the genuine
prose-writer only alludes to or characterises it in passing, and with
reference to his subject. The prose-writer is master of his materials:
the poet is the slave of his style. Every thing showy, every thing
extraneous tempts him, and he reposes idly on it: he is bent on
pleasure, not on business. He aims at effect, at captivating the reader,
and yet is contented with common-place ornaments, rather than none.
Indeed, this last result must necessarily follow, where there is an
ambition to shine, without the effort to dig for jewels in the mine of
truth. The habits of a poet’s mind are not those of industry or
research: his images come to him, he does not go to them; and in
prose-subjects, and dry matters of fact and close reasoning, the natural
stimulus that at other times warms and rouses, deserts him altogether.
He sees no unhallowed visions, he is inspired by no day-dreams. All is
tame, literal, and barren, without the Nine. Nor does he collect his
strength to strike fire from the flint by the sharpness of collision, by
the eagerness of his blows. He gathers roses, he steals colours from the
rainbow. He lives on nectar and ambrosia. He ‘treads the primrose path
of dalliance,’ or ascends ‘the highest heaven of invention,’ or falls
flat to the ground. _He is nothing, if not fanciful!_

I shall proceed to explain these remarks, as well as I can, by a few
instances in point.

It has always appeared to me that the most perfect prose-style, the most
powerful, the most dazzling, the most daring, that which went the
nearest to the verge of poetry, and yet never fell over, was Burke’s. It
has the solidity, and sparkling effect of the diamond: all other _fine
writing_ is like French paste or Bristol-stones in the comparison.
Burke’s style is airy, flighty, adventurous, but it never loses sight of
the subject; nay, is always in contact with, and derives its increased
or varying impulse from it. It may be said to pass yawning gulfs ‘on the
unstedfast footing of a spear:’ still it has an actual resting-place and
tangible support under it—it is not suspended on nothing. It differs
from poetry, as I conceive, like the chamois from the eagle: it climbs
to an almost equal height, touches upon a cloud, overlooks a precipice,
is picturesque, sublime—but all the while, instead of soaring through
the air, it stands upon a rocky cliff, clambers up by abrupt and
intricate ways, and browzes on the roughest bark, or crops the tender
flower. The principle which guides his pen is truth, not beauty—not
pleasure, but power. He has no choice, no selection of subject to
flatter the reader’s idle taste, or assist his own fancy: he must take
what comes, and make the most of it. He works the most striking effects
out of the most unpromising materials, by the mere activity of his mind.
He rises with the lofty, descends with the mean, luxuriates in beauty,
gloats over deformity. It is all the same to him, so that he loses no
particle of the exact, characteristic, extreme impression of the thing
he writes about, and that he communicates this to the reader, after
exhausting every possible mode of illustration, plain or abstracted,
figurative or literal. Whatever stamps the original image more
distinctly on the mind, is welcome. The nature of his task precludes
continual beauty; but it does not preclude continual ingenuity, force,
originality. He had to treat of political questions, mixed modes,
abstract ideas, and his fancy (or poetry, if you will) was ingrafted on
these artificially, and as it might sometimes be thought, violently,
instead of growing naturally out of them, as it would spring of its own
accord from individual objects and feelings. There is a resistance in
the _matter_ to the illustration applied to it—the concrete and abstract
are hardly co-ordinate; and therefore it is that, when the first
difficulty is overcome, they must agree more closely in the essential
qualities, in order that the coincidence may be complete. Otherwise, it
is good for nothing; and you justly charge the author’s style with being
loose, vague, flaccid and imbecil. The poet has been said

                                  ‘To make us heirs
              Of truth and pure delight in endless lays.’

Not so the prose-writer, who always mingles clay with his gold, and
often separates truth from mere pleasure. He can only arrive at the last
through the first. In poetry, one pleasing or striking image obviously
suggests another: the increasing the sense of beauty or grandeur is the
principle of composition: in prose, the professed object is to impart
conviction, and nothing can be admitted by way of ornament or relief,
that does not add new force or clearness to the original conception. The
two classes of ideas brought together by the orator or impassioned
prose-writer, to wit, the general subject and the particular image, are
so far incompatible, and the identity must be more strict, more marked,
more determinate, to make them coalesce to any practical purpose. Every
word should be a blow: every thought should instantly grapple with its
fellow. There must be a weight, a precision, a conformity from
association in the tropes and figures of animated prose to fit them to
their place in the argument, and make them _tell_, which may be
dispensed with in poetry, where there is something much more congenial
between the subject-matter and the illustration—

                ‘Like beauty making beautiful old rime!’

What can be more remote, for instance, and at the same time more
apposite, more _the same_, than the following comparison of the English
Constitution to ‘the proud Keep of Windsor,’ in the celebrated Letter to
a Noble Lord?

‘Such are _their_ ideas; such _their_ religion, and such _their_ law.
But as to _our_ country and _our_ race, as long as the well-compacted
structure of our church and state, the sanctuary, the holy of holies of
that ancient law, defended by reverence, defended by power—a fortress at
once and a temple[6]—shall stand inviolate on the brow of the British
Sion; as long as the British Monarchy—not more limited than fenced by
the orders of the State—shall, like the proud Keep of Windsor, rising in
the majesty of proportion, and girt with the double belt of its kindred
and coeval towers; as long as this awful structure shall oversee and
guard the subjected land, so long the mounds and dykes of the low, fat,
Bedford level will have nothing to fear from all the pickaxes of all the
levellers of France. As long as our Sovereign Lord the King, and his
faithful subjects, the Lords and Commons of this realm—the triple cord
which no man can break; the solemn, sworn, constitutional frank-pledge
of this nation; the firm guarantees of each other’s being, and each
other’s rights; the joint and several securities, each in its place and
order, for every kind and every quality of property and of dignity—As
long as these endure, so long the Duke of Bedford is safe: and we are
all safe together—the high from the blights of envy and the spoliations
of rapacity; the low from the iron hand of oppression and the insolent
spurn of contempt. Amen! and so be it: and so it will be,

             “_Dum domus Æneæ Capitoli immobile saxum
             Accolet; imperiumque pater Romanus habebit._”’

Nothing can well be more impracticable to a simile than the vague and
complicated idea which is here embodied in one; yet how finely, how
nobly it stands out, in natural grandeur, in royal state, with double
barriers round it to answer for its identity, with ‘buttress, frieze,
and coigne of ‘vantage’ for the imagination to ‘make its pendant bed and
procreant cradle,’ till the idea is confounded with the object
representing it—the wonder of a kingdom; and then how striking, how
determined the descent, ‘at one fell swoop,’ to the ‘low, fat, Bedford
level!’ Poetry would have been bound to maintain a certain decorum, a
regular balance between these two ideas; sterling prose throws aside all
such idle respect to appearances, and with its pen, like a sword, ‘sharp
and sweet,’ lays open the naked truth! The poet’s Muse is like a
mistress, whom we keep only while she is young and beautiful, _durante
bene placito_; the Muse of prose is like a wife, whom we take during
life, _for better for worse_. Burke’s execution, like that of all good
prose, savours of the texture of what he describes, and his pen slides
or drags over the ground of his subject, like the painter’s pencil. The
most rigid fidelity and the most fanciful extravagance meet, and are
reconciled in his pages. I never pass Windsor but I think of this
passage in Burke, and hardly know to which I am indebted most for
enriching my moral sense, that or the fine picturesque stanza, in Gray,

               ‘From Windsor’s heights the expanse below
               Of mead, of lawn, of wood survey,’ &c.

I might mention that the so much admired description in one of the India
speeches, of Hyder Ally’s army (I think it is) which ‘now hung like a
cloud upon the mountain, and now burst upon the plain like a thunder
bolt,’ would do equally well for poetry or prose. It is a bold and
striking illustration of a naturally impressive object. This is not the
case with the Abbe Sieyes’s far-famed ‘pigeon-holes,’ nor with the
comparison of the Duke of Bedford to ‘the Leviathan, tumbling about his
unwieldy bulk in the ocean of royal bounty.’ Nothing here saves the
description but the force of the invective; the startling truth, the
vehemence, the remoteness, the aptitude, the perfect peculiarity and
coincidence of the allusion. No writer would ever have thought of it but
himself; no reader can ever forget it. What is there in common, one
might say, between a Peer of the Realm, and ‘that sea-beast,’ of those

              ‘Created hugest that swim the ocean-stream?’

Yet Burke has knit the two ideas together, and no man can put them
asunder. No matter how slight and precarious the connection, the length
of line it is necessary for the fancy to give out in keeping hold of the
object on which it has fastened, he seems to have ‘put his hook in the
nostrils’ of this enormous creature of the crown, that empurples all its
track through the glittering expanse of a profound and restless
imagination!

In looking into the IRIS of last week, I find the following passages, in
an article on the death of Lord Castlereagh.

  ‘The splendour of Majesty leaving the British metropolis, careering
  along the ocean, and landing in the capital of the North, is
  distinguished only by glimpses through the dense array of clouds in
  which Death hid himself, while he struck down to the dust the
  stateliest courtier near the throne, and the broken train of which
  pursues and crosses the Royal progress wherever its glories are
  presented to the eye of imagination....

  ‘The same indefatigable mind—a mind of all work—which thus ruled the
  Continent with a rod of iron, the sword—within the walls of the
  House of Commons ruled a more distracted region with a more subtle
  and finely-tempered weapon, the tongue; and truly, if this _was_ the
  only weapon his Lordship wielded there, where he had daily to
  encounter, and frequently almost alone, enemies more formidable than
  Buonaparte, it must be acknowledged that he achieved greater
  victories than Demosthenes or Cicero ever gained in far more easy
  fields of strife; nay, he wrought miracles of speech, outvying those
  miracles of song, which Orpheus is said to have performed, when not
  only men and brutes, but rocks, woods, and mountains, followed the
  sound of his voice and lyre....

  ‘But there was a worm at the root of the gourd that flourished over
  his head in the brightest sunshine of a court; both perished in a
  night, and in the morning, that which had been his glory and his
  shadow, covered him like a shroud; while the corpse, notwithstanding
  all his honours, and titles, and offices, lay unmoved in the place
  where it fell, till a judgment had been passed upon him, which the
  poorest peasant escapes when he dies in the ordinary course of
  nature.’

                                  SHEFFIELD ADVERTISER, Aug. 20, 1822.

This, it must be confessed, is very unlike Burke: yet Mr. Montgomery is
a very pleasing poet, and a strenuous politician. The whole is
_travelling out of the record_, and to no sort of purpose. The author is
constantly getting away from the impression of his subject, to envelop
himself in a cloud of images, which weaken and perplex, instead of
adding force and clearness to it. Provided he is figurative, he does not
care how common-place or irrelevant the figures are, and he wanders on,
delighted in a labyrinth of words, like a truant school-boy, who is only
glad to have escaped from his task. He has a very slight hold of his
subject, and is tempted to let it go for any fallacious ornament of
style. How obscure and circuitous is the allusion to ‘the clouds in
which Death hid himself, to strike down the stateliest courtier near the
throne!’ How hackneyed is the reference to Demosthenes and Cicero, and
how utterly quaint and unmeaning is the ringing the changes upon Orpheus
and his train of men, beasts, woods, rocks, and mountains in connection
with Lord Castlereagh! But he is better pleased with this classical
fable than with the death of the Noble Peer, and delights to dwell upon
it, to however little use. So he is glad to take advantage of the
scriptural idea of a gourd; not to enforce, but as a relief to his
reflections; and points his conclusion with a puling sort of
common-place, that a peasant, who dies a natural death, has no Coroner’s
Inquest to sit upon him. All these are the faults of the ordinary
poetical style. Poets think they are bound, by the tenour of their
indentures to the Muses, to ‘elevate and surprise’ in every line; and
not having the usual resources at hand in common or abstracted subjects,
aspire to the end without the means. They make, or pretend, an
extraordinary interest where there is none. They are ambitious, vain,
and indolent—more busy in preparing idle ornaments, which they take
their chance of bringing in somehow or other, than intent on eliciting
truths by fair and honest inquiry. It should seem as if they considered
prose as a sort of waiting-maid to poetry, that could only be expected
to wear her mistress’s cast-off finery. Poets have been said to succeed
best in fiction; and the account here given may in part explain the
reason. That is to say, they must choose their own subject, in such a
manner as to afford them continual opportunities of appealing to the
senses and exciting the fancy. Dry details, abstruse speculations, do
not give scope to vividness of description; and, as they cannot bear to
be considered dull, they become too often affected, extravagant, and
insipid.

I am indebted to Mr. Coleridge for the comparison of poetic prose to the
second-hand finery of a lady’s maid (just made use of). He himself is an
instance of his own observation, and (what is even worse) of the
opposite fault—an affectation of quaintness and originality. With bits
of tarnished lace and worthless frippery, he assumes a sweeping oriental
costume, or borrows the stiff dresses of our ancestors, or starts an
eccentric fashion of his own. He is swelling and turgid—everlastingly
aiming to be greater than his subject; filling his fancy with fumes and
vapours in the pangs and throes of miraculous parturition, and bringing
forth only _still births_. He has an incessant craving, as it were, to
exalt every idea into a metaphor, to expand every sentiment into a
lengthened mystery, voluminous and vast, confused and cloudy. His style
is not succinct, but incumbered with a train of words and images that
have no practical, and only a possible relation to one another—that add
to its stateliness, but impede its march. One of his sentences winds its
‘forlorn way obscure’ over the page like a patriarchal procession with
camels laden, wreathed turbans, household wealth, the whole riches of
the author’s mind poured out upon the barren waste of his subject. The
palm-tree spreads its sterile branches overhead, and the land of promise
is seen in the distance. All this is owing to his wishing to overdo
every thing—to make something more out of everything than it is, or than
it is worth. The simple truth does not satisfy him—no direct proposition
fills up the moulds of his understanding. All is foreign, far-fetched,
irrelevant, laboured, unproductive. To read one of his disquisitions is
like hearing the variations to a piece of music without the score. Or,
to vary the simile, he is not like a man going a journey by the
stage-coach along the high-road, but is always getting into a balloon,
and mounting into the air, above the plain ground of prose. Whether he
soars to the empyrean, or dives to the centre (as he sometimes does), it
is equally to get away from the question before him, and to prove that
he owes every thing to his own mind. His object is to invent; he scorns
to imitate. The business of prose is the contrary. But Mr. Coleridge is
a poet, and his thoughts are free.

I think the poet-laureat is a much better prose-writer. His style
has an antique quaintness, with a modern familiarity. He has just a
sufficient sprinkling of _archaisms_, of allusions to old Fuller,
and Burton, and Latimer, to set off or qualify the smart flippant
tone of his apologies for existing abuses, or the ready, galling
virulence of his personal invectives. Mr. Southey is a faithful
historian, and no inefficient partisan. In the former character, his
mind is tenacious of facts; and in the latter, his spleen and
jealousy prevent the ‘extravagant and erring spirit’ of the poet
from losing itself in Fancy’s endless maze. He ‘stoops to _earth_,’
at least, and prostitutes his pen to some purpose (not at the same
time losing his own soul, and gaining nothing by it)—and he vilifies
Reform, and praises the reign of George III. in good set terms, in a
straightforward, intelligible, practical, pointed way. He is not
buoyed up by conscious power out of the reach of common
apprehensions, but makes the most of the obvious advantages he
possesses. You may complain of a pettiness and petulance of manner,
but certainly there is no want of spirit or facility of execution.
He does not waste powder and shot in the air, but loads his piece,
takes a level aim, and hits his mark. One would say (though his Muse
is ambidexter) that he wrote prose with his right hand; there is
nothing awkward, circuitous, or feeble in it. ‘The words of Mercury
are harsh after the songs of Apollo:’ but this would not apply to
him. His prose-lucubrations are pleasanter reading than his poetry.
Indeed, he is equally practised and voluminous in both; and it is no
improbable conjecture, that Mr. Southey may have had some idea of
rivalling the reputation of Voltaire in the extent, the spirit, and
the versatility of his productions in prose and verse, except that
he has written no tragedies but Wat Tyler!

To my taste, the Author of Rimini, and Editor of the Examiner, is among
the best and least corrupted of our poetical prose-writers. In his light
but well supported columns we find the raciness, the sharpness, and
sparkling effect of poetry, with little that is extravagant or
far-fetched, and no turgidity or pompous pretension. Perhaps there is
too much the appearance of relaxation and trifling (as if he had escaped
the shackles of rhyme), a caprice, a levity, and a disposition to
innovate in words and ideas. Still the genuine master-spirit of the
prose-writer is there; the tone of lively, sensible conversation; and
this may in part arise from the author’s being himself an animated
talker. Mr. Hunt wants something of the heat and earnestness of the
political partisan; but his familiar and miscellaneous papers have all
the ease, grace, and point of the best style of Essay-writing. Many of
his effusions in the INDICATOR show, that if he had devoted himself
exclusively to that mode of writing, he inherits more of the spirit of
Steele than any man since his time.

Lord Byron’s prose is bad; that is to say, heavy, laboured, and coarse:
he tries to knock some one down with the butt-end of every line, which
defeats his object—and the style of the Author of Waverley (if he comes
fairly into this discussion) as mere style, is villainous. It is pretty
plain he is a poet; for the sound of names runs mechanically in his
ears, and he rings the changes unconsciously on the same words in a
sentence, like the same rhymes in a couplet.

Not to spin out this discussion too much, I would conclude by observing,
that some of the old English prose-writers (who were not poets) are the
best, and, at the same time, the most _poetical_ in the favourable
sense. Among these we may reckon some of the old divines, and Jeremy
Taylor at the head of them. There is a flush like the dawn over his
writings; the sweetness of the rose, the freshness of the morning-dew.
There is a softness in his style, proceeding from the tenderness of his
heart: but his head is firm, and his hand is free. His materials are as
finely wrought up as they are original and attractive in themselves.
Milton’s prose-style savours too much of poetry, and, as I have already
hinted, of an imitation of the Latin. Dryden’s is perfectly
unexceptionable, and a model, in simplicity, strength, and perspicuity,
for the subjects he treated of.


                                ESSAY II
                               ON DREAMS

Dr. Spurzheim, in treating of the _Physiology of the Brain_, has the
following curious passage:

‘The state of somnambulism equally proves the plurality of the organs.
This is a state of incomplete sleep, wherein several organs are
watching. It is known that the brain acts upon the external world by
means of voluntary motion, of the voice, and of the five external
senses. Now, if in sleeping some organs be active, dreams take place; if
the action of the brain be propagated to the muscles, there follow
motions; if the action of the brain be propagated to the vocal organs,
the sleeping person speaks. Indeed, it is known that sleeping persons
dream and speak; others dream, speak, hear, and answer; others still
dream, rise, do various things, and walk. This latter state is called
somnambulism, that is, the state of walking during sleep. Now, as the
ear can hear, so the eyes may see, while the other organs sleep; and
there are facts quite positive which prove that several persons in the
state of somnambulism have seen, but always with open eyes. There are
also convulsive fits, in which the patients see without hearing, and
_vice versâ_. Some somnambulists do things of which they are not capable
in a state of watching; and dreaming persons reason sometimes better
than they do when awake. This phenomenon is not astonishing,’
&c.—PHYSIOGNOMICAL SYSTEM OF DRS. GALL AND SPURZHEIM, p. 217.

There is here a very singular mixing up of the flattest truisms with the
most gratuitous assumptions; so that the one being told with great
gravity, and the other delivered with the most familiar air, one is
puzzled in a cursory perusal to distinguish which is which. This is an
art of stultifying the reader, like that of the juggler, who shows you
some plain matter-of-fact experiment just as he is going to play off his
capital trick. The mind is, by this alternation of style, thrown off its
guard; and between wondering first at the absurdity, and then at the
superficiality of the work, becomes almost a convert to it. A thing
exceedingly questionable is stated so roundly, you think there must be
something in it: the plainest proposition is put in so doubtful and
cautious a manner, you conceive the writer must see a great deal farther
into the subject than you do. You mistrust your ears and eyes, and are
in a fair way to resign the use of your understanding. It is a fine
style of _mystifying_. Again, it is the practice with the German school,
and in particular with Dr. Spurzheim, to run counter to common sense and
the best authenticated opinions. They must always be more knowing than
every body else, and treat the wisdom of the ancients, and the wisdom of
the moderns, much in the same supercilious way. It has been taken for
granted generally that people see with their eyes; and therefore it is
stated in the above passage as a discovery of the author, ‘imparted in
dreadful secresy,’ that sleep-walkers always see with their eyes open.
The meaning of which is, that we are not to give too implicit or
unqualified an assent to the principle, at which modern philosophers
have arrived with some pains and difficulty, that we acquire our ideas
of external objects through the senses. The _transcendental_ sophists
wish to back out of that, as too conclusive and well-defined a position.
They would be glad to throw the whole of what has been done on this
question into confusion again, in order to begin _de novo_, like
children who construct houses with cards, and when the pack is built up,
shuffle them all together on the table again. These intellectual
Sysiphuses are always rolling the stone of knowledge up a hill, for the
perverse pleasure of rolling it down again. Having gone as far as they
can in the direction of reason and good sense, rather than seem passive
or the slaves of any opinion, they turn back with a wonderful look of
sagacity to all sorts of exploded prejudices and absurdity. It is a pity
that we cannot _let well done alone_, and that after labouring for
centuries to remove ignorance, we set our faces with the most wilful
officiousness against the stability of knowledge. The _Physiognomical
System_ of Drs. Gall and Spurzheim is full of this sort of disgusting
cant. We are still only to _believe in all unbelief_—in what they tell
us. The less credulous we are of other things, the more faith we shall
have in reserve for them: by exhausting our stock of scepticism and
caution on such obvious matters of fact as that people always see with
their eyes open, we shall be prepared to swallow their crude and
extravagant theories whole, and not be astonished at ‘the phenomenon,
that persons sometimes reason better asleep than awake!’

I have alluded to this passage because I myself am (or used some time
ago to be) a sleep-walker; and know how the thing is. In this sort of
disturbed, unsound sleep, the eyes are not closed, and are attracted by
the light. I used to get up and go towards the window, and make violent
efforts to throw it open. The air in some measure revived me, or I might
have tried to fling myself out. I saw objects indistinctly, the houses,
for instance, facing me on the opposite side of the street; but still it
was some time before I could recognise them or recollect where I was:
that is, I was still asleep, and the dimness of my senses (as far as it
prevailed) was occasioned by the greater numbness of my memory. This
phenomenon is not astonishing, unless we chuse in all such cases to put
the cart before the horse. For in fact, it is the mind that sleeps, and
the senses (so to speak) only follow the example. The mind dozes, and
the eye-lids close in consequence: we do not go to sleep, because we
shut our eyes. I can, however, speak to the fact of the eyes being open,
when their sense is shut; or rather, when we are unable to draw just
inferences from it. It is generally in the night-time indeed, or in a
strange place, that the circumstance happens; but as soon as the light
dawns on the recollection, the obscurity and perplexity of the senses
clear up. The external impression is made before, much in the same
manner as it is after we are awake; but it does not lead to the usual
train of associations connected with that impression; _e.g._ the name of
the street or town where we are, who lives at the opposite house, how we
came to sleep in the room where we are, &c.; all which are ideas
belonging to our waking experience, and are at this time cut off or
greatly disturbed by sleep. It is just the same as when persons recover
from a swoon, and fix their eyes unconsciously on those about them, for
a considerable time before they recollect where they are. Would any one
but a German physiologist think it necessary to assure us that at this
time they see, but with their eyes open, or pretend that though they
have lost all memory or understanding during their fainting fit, their
minds act then more vigorously and freely than ever, because they are
not distracted by outward impressions? The appeal is made to the outward
sense, in the instances we have seen; but the mind is deaf to it,
because its functions are for the time gone. It is ridiculous to pretend
with this author, that in sleep some of the organs of the mind rest,
while others are active: it might as well be pretended that in sleep one
eye watches while the other is shut. The stupor is general: the faculty
of thought itself is impaired; and whatever ideas we have, instead of
being confined to any particular faculty or the impressions of any one
sense, and invigorated thereby, float at random from object to object,
from one class of impressions to another, without coherence or control.
The _conscious_ or connecting link between our ideas, which forms them
into separate groups or compares different parts and views of a subject
together, seems to be that which is principally wanting in sleep; so
that any idea that presents itself in this anarchy of the mind is lord
of the ascendant for the moment, and is driven out by the next
straggling notion that comes across it. The bundles of thought are, as
it were, untied, loosened from a common centre, and drift along the
stream of fancy as it happens. Hence the confusion (not the
concentration of the faculties) that continually takes place in this
state of half-perception. The mind takes in but one thing at a time, but
one part of a subject, and therefore cannot correct its sudden and
heterogeneous transitions from one momentary impression to another by a
larger grasp of understanding. Thus we confound one person with another,
merely from some accidental coincidence, the name or the place where we
have seen them, or their having been concerned with us in some
particular transaction the evening before. They lose and regain their
proper identity perhaps half a dozen times in this rambling way; nor are
we able (though we are somewhat incredulous and surprised at these
compound creations) to detect the error, from not being prepared to
trace the same connected subject of thought to a number of varying and
successive ramifications, or to form the idea of a _whole_. We think
that Mr. Such-a-one did so and so: then, from a second face coming
across us, like the sliders of a magic lantern, it was not he, but
another; then some one calls him by his right name, and he is himself
again. We are little shocked at these gross contradictions; for if the
mind was capable of perceiving them in all their absurdity, it would not
be liable to fall into them. It runs into them for the same reason that
it is hardly conscious of them when made.

            ‘——That which was now a horse, a bear, a cloud,
            Even with a thought the rack dislimns,
            And makes it indistinct as water is in water.’

The difference, so far then, between sleeping and waking seems to be
that in the latter we have a greater range of conscious recollections, a
larger discourse of reason, and associate ideas in longer trains and
more as they are connected one with another in the order of nature;
whereas in the former, any two impressions, that meet or are alike, join
company, and then are parted again, without notice, like the froth from
the wave. So in madness, there is, I should apprehend, the same tyranny
of the imagination over the judgment; that is, the mind has slipped its
cable, and single images meet, and jostle, and unite suddenly together,
without any power to arrange or compare them with others, with which
they are connected in the world of reality. There is a continual
phantasmagoria: whatever shapes and colours come together are by the
heat and violence of the brain referred to external nature, without
regard to the order of time, place, or circumstance. From the same want
of continuity, we often forget our dreams so speedily: if we cannot
catch them as they are passing out at the door, we never set eyes on
them again. There is no clue or thread of imagination to trace them by.
In a morning sometimes we have had a dream that we try in vain to
recollect; it is gone, like the rainbow from the cloud. At other times
(so evanescent is their texture) we forget that we have dreamt at all;
and at these times the mind seems to have been a mere blank, and sleep
presents only an image of death. Hence has arisen the famous dispute,
_Whether the soul thinks always?_—on which Mr. Locke and different
writers have bestowed so much tedious and unprofitable discussion; some
maintaining that the mind was like a watch that goes continually, though
more slowly and irregularly at one time than another; while the opposite
party contended that it often stopped altogether, bringing the example
of sound sleep as an argument, and desiring to know what proof we could
have of thoughts passing through the mind, of which it was itself
perfectly unconscious, and retained not the slightest recollection. I
grant, we often sleep so sound, or have such faint imagery passing
through the brain, that if we awake by degrees, we forget it altogether:
we recollect our first waking, and perhaps some imperfect suggestions of
fancy just before; but beyond this, all is mere oblivion. But I have
observed that whenever I have been waked up suddenly, and not left to
myself to recover from this state of mental torpor, I have been always
dreaming of something, _i.e._ thinking, according to the tenor of the
question. Let any one call you at any time, however fast asleep you may
be, you make out their voice in the first surprise to be like some one’s
you were thinking of in your sleep. Let an accidental noise, the falling
of something in the next room, rouse you up, you constantly find
something to associate it with, or translate it back into the language
of your slumbering thoughts. You are never taken completely at a
_nonplus_—summoned, as it were, out of a state of non-existence. It is
easy for any one to try the experiment upon himself; that is, to examine
every time he is waked up suddenly, so that his waking and sleeping
state are brought into immediate contact, whether he has not in all such
cases been dreaming of something, and not fairly _caught napping_. For
myself, I think I can speak with certainty. It would indeed be rather
odd to awake out of such an absolute privation and suspense of thought
as is contended for by the partisans of the contrary theory. It would be
a peep into the grave, a consciousness of death, an escape from the
world of non-entity!

The vividness of our impressions in dreams, of which so much has been
said, seems to be rather apparent than real; or, if this mode of
expression should be objected to as unwarrantable, rather physical than
mental. It is a vapour, a fume, the effect of the ‘heat-oppressed
brain.’ The imagination gloats over an idea, and doats at the same time.
However warm or brilliant the colouring of these changing appearances,
they vanish with the dawn. They are put out by our waking thoughts, as
the sun puts out a candle. It is unlucky that we sometimes remember the
heroic sentiments, the profound discoveries, the witty repartees we have
uttered in our sleep. The one turn to bombast, the others are mere
truisms, and the last absolute nonsense. Yet we clothe them certainly
with a fancied importance at the moment. This seems to be merely the
effervescence of the blood or of the brain, physically acting. It is an
odd thing in sleep, that we not only fancy we see different persons, and
talk to them, but that we hear them make answers, and startle us with an
observation or a piece of news; and though we of course put the answer
into their mouths, we have no idea beforehand what it will be, and it
takes us as much by surprise as it would in reality. This kind of
successful ventriloquism which we practise upon ourselves may perhaps be
in some measure accounted for from the short-sightedness and incomplete
consciousness which were remarked above as the peculiar characteristics
of sleep.

The power of prophesying or foreseeing things in our sleep, as from a
higher and more abstracted sphere of thought, need not be here argued
upon. There is, however, a sort of profundity in sleep; and it may be
usefully consulted as an oracle in this way. It may be said, that the
voluntary power is suspended, and things come upon us as unexpected
revelations, which we keep out of our thoughts at other times. We may be
aware of a danger, that yet we do not chuse, while we have the full
command of our faculties, to acknowledge to ourselves: the impending
event will then appear to us as a dream, and we shall most likely find
it verified afterwards. Another thing of no small consequence is, that
we may sometimes discover our tacit, and almost unconscious sentiments,
with respect to persons or things in the same way. We are not hypocrites
in our sleep. The curb is taken off from our passions, and our
imagination wanders at will. When awake, we check these rising thoughts,
and fancy we have them not. In dreams, when we are off our guard, they
return securely and unbidden. We may make this use of the infirmity of
our sleeping metamorphosis, that we may repress any feelings of this
sort that we disapprove in their incipient state, and detect, ere it be
too late, an unwarrantable antipathy or fatal passion. Infants cannot
disguise their thoughts from others; and in sleep we reveal the secret
to ourselves.

It should appear that I have never been in love, for the same reason. I
never dream of the face of any one I am particularly attached to. I have
thought almost to agony of the same person for years, nearly without
ceasing, so as to have her face always before me, and to be haunted by a
perpetual consciousness of disappointed passion, and yet I never in all
that time dreamt of this person more than once or twice, and then not
vividly. I conceive, therefore, that this perseverance of the
imagination in a fruitless track must have been owing to mortified
pride, to an intense desire and hope of good in the abstract, more than
to love, which I consider as an individual and involuntary passion, and
which therefore, when it is strong, must predominate over the fancy in
sleep. I think myself into love, and dream myself out of it. I should
have made a very bad Endymion, in this sense; for all the time the
heavenly Goddess was shining over my head, I should never have had a
thought about her. If I had waked and found her gone, I might have been
in a considerable _taking_. Coleridge used to laugh at me for my want of
the faculty of dreaming; and once, on my saying that I did not like the
preternatural stories in the Arabian Nights (for the comic parts I love
dearly), he said, ‘That must be because you never dream. There is a
class of poetry built on this foundation, which is surely no
inconsiderable part of our nature, since we are asleep and building up
imaginations of this sort half our time.’ I had nothing to say against
it: it was one of his conjectural subtleties, in which he excels all the
persons I ever knew; but I had some satisfaction in finding afterwards,
that I had Bishop Atterbury expressly on my side in this question, who
has recorded his detestation of SINBAD THE SAILOR, in an interesting
letter to Pope. Perhaps he too did not dream!

Yet I dream sometimes; I dream of the Louvre—_Intus et in cute_. I
dreamt I was there a few weeks ago, and that the old scene returned—that
I looked for my favourite pictures, and found them gone or erased. The
dream of my youth came upon me; a glory and a vision unutterable, that
comes no more but in darkness and in sleep: my heart rose up, and I fell
on my knees, and lifted up my voice and wept, and I awoke. I also dreamt
a little while ago, that I was reading the New Eloise to an old friend,
and came to the concluding passage in Julia’s farewell letter, which had
much the same effect upon me.—The words are, ‘_Trop heureuse d’acheter
au prix de ma vie le droit de t’aimer toujours sans crime et de te le
dire encore une fois, avant que je meurs!_’ I used to sob over this
passage twenty years ago; and in this dream about it lately, I seemed to
live these twenty years over again in one short moment! I do not dream
ordinarily; and there are people who never could see anything in the
_New Eloise_. Are we not quits!


                               ESSAY III
                     ON THE CONVERSATION OF AUTHORS

An author is bound to write—well or ill, wisely or foolishly: it is his
trade. But I do not see that he is bound to talk, any more than he is
bound to dance, or ride, or fence better than other people. Reading,
study, silence, thought, are a bad introduction to loquacity. It would
be sooner learnt of chambermaids and tapsters. He understands the art
and mystery of his own profession, which is bookmaking: what right has
any one to expect or require him to do more—to make a bow gracefully on
entering or leaving a room, to make love charmingly, or to make a
fortune at all? In all things there is a division of labour. A lord is
no less amorous for writing ridiculous love-letters, nor a General less
successful for wanting wit and honesty. Why then may not a poor author
say nothing, and yet pass muster? Set him on the top of a stage-coach,
he will make no figure; he is _mum-chance_, while the slang-wit flies
about as fast as the dust, with the crack of the whip and the clatter of
the horses’ heels: put him in a ring of boxers, he is a poor creature—

                ‘And of his port as meek as is a maid.’

Introduce him to a tea-party of milliner’s girls, and they are ready to
split their sides with laughing at him: over his bottle, he is dry: in
the drawing-room, rude or awkward: he is too refined for the vulgar, too
clownish for the fashionable:—‘he is one that cannot make a good leg,
one that cannot eat a mess of broth cleanly, one that cannot ride a
horse without spur-galling, one that cannot salute a woman, and look on
her directly:’—in courts, in camps, in town and country, he is a cypher
or a butt: he is good for nothing but a laughing-stock or a scare-crow.
You can scarcely get a word out of him for love or money. He knows
nothing. He has no notion of pleasure or business, or of what is going
on in the world; he does not understand cookery (unless he is a doctor
in divinity) nor surgery, nor chemistry (unless he is a _Quidnunc_) nor
mechanics, nor husbandry and tillage (unless he is as great an admirer
of Tull’s Husbandry, and has profited as much by it as the philosopher
of Botley)—no, nor music, painting, the Drama, nor the Fine Arts in
general.

‘What the deuce is it then, my good sir, that he does understand, or
know anything about?’

‘BOOKS, VENUS, BOOKS!’

‘What books?’

‘Not receipt-books, Madona, nor account-books, nor books of pharmacy, or
the veterinary art (they belong to their respective callings and
handicrafts) but books of liberal taste and general knowledge.’

‘What do you mean by that general knowledge which implies not a
knowledge of things in general, but an ignorance (by your own account)
of every one in particular: or by that liberal taste which scorns the
pursuits and acquirements of the rest of the world in succession, and is
confined exclusively, and by way of excellence, to what nobody takes an
interest in but yourself, and a few idlers like yourself? Is this what
the critics mean by the _belles-lettres_, and the study of humanity?’

Book-knowledge, in a word, then, is knowledge _communicable by books_:
and it is general and liberal for this reason, that it is intelligible
and interesting on the bare suggestion. That to which any one feels a
romantic attachment, merely from finding it in a book, must be
interesting in itself: that which he instantly forms a lively and entire
conception of, from seeing a few marks and scratches upon paper, must be
taken from common nature: that which, the first time you meet with it,
seizes upon the attention as a curious speculation, must exercise the
general faculties of the human mind. There are certain broader aspects
of society and views of things common to every subject, and more or less
cognizable to every mind; and these the scholar treats and founds his
claim to general attention upon them, without being chargeable with
pedantry. The minute descriptions of fishing-tackle, of baits and flies
in Walton’s Complete Angler, make that work a great favourite with
sportsmen: the alloy of an amiable humanity, and the modest but touching
descriptions of familiar incidents and rural objects scattered through
it, have made it an equal favourite with every reader of taste and
feeling. Montaigne’s Essays, Dilworth’s Spelling Book, and Fearn’s
Treatise on Contingent Remainders, are all equally books, but not
equally adapted for all classes of readers. The two last are of no use
but to school-masters and lawyers: but the first is a work we may
recommend to any one to read who has ever thought at all, or who would
learn to think justly on any subject. Persons of different trades and
professions—the mechanic, the shopkeeper, the medical practitioner, the
artist, &c. may all have great knowledge and ingenuity in their several
vocations, the details of which will be very edifying to themselves, and
just as incomprehensible to their neighbours: but over and above this
professional and technical knowledge, they must be supposed to have a
stock of common sense and common feeling to furnish subjects for common
conversation, or to give them any pleasure in each other’s company. It
is to this common stock of ideas, spread over the surface, or striking
its roots into the very centre of society, that the popular writer
appeals, and not in vain; for he finds readers. It is of this finer
essence of wisdom and humanity, ‘etherial mould, sky-tinctured,’ that
books of the better sort are made. They contain the language of thought.
It must happen that, in the course of time and the variety of human
capacity, some persons will have struck out finer observations,
reflections, and sentiments than others. These they have committed to
books of memory, have bequeathed as a lasting legacy to posterity; and
such persons have become standard authors. We visit at the shrine, drink
in some measure of the inspiration, and cannot easily ‘breathe in other
air less pure, accustomed to immortal fruits.’ Are we to be blamed for
this, because the vulgar and illiterate do not always understand us? The
fault is rather in them, who are ‘confined and cabin’d in,’ each in
their own particular sphere and compartment of ideas, and have not the
same refined medium of communication or abstracted topics of discourse.
Bring a number of literary, or of illiterate persons together, perfect
strangers to each other, and see which party will make the best company.
‘Verily, we have our reward.’ We have made our election, and have no
reason to repent it, if we were wise. But the misfortune is, we wish to
have all the advantages on one side. We grudge, and cannot reconcile it
to ourselves, that any one ‘should go about to cozen fortune, without
the stamp of learning!’ We think ‘because we are _scholars_, there shall
be no more cakes and ale!’ We don’t know how to account for it, that
bar-maids should gossip, or ladies whisper, or bullies roar, or fools
laugh, or knaves thrive, without having gone through the same course of
select study that we have! This vanity is preposterous, and carries its
own punishment with it. Books are a world in themselves, it is true; but
they are not the only world. The world itself is a volume larger than
all the libraries in it. Learning is a sacred deposit from the
experience of ages; but it has not put all future experience on the
shelf, or debarred the common herd of mankind from the use of their
hands, tongues, eyes, ears, or understandings. Taste is a luxury for the
privileged few: but it would be hard upon those who have not the same
standard of refinement in their own minds that we suppose ourselves to
have, if this should prevent them from having recourse, as usual, to
their old frolics, coarse jokes, and horse-play, and getting through the
wear and tear of the world, with such homely sayings and shrewd helps as
they may. Happy is it, that the mass of mankind eat and drink, and
sleep, and perform their several tasks, and do as they like without
us—caring nothing for our scribblings, our carpings, and our quibbles;
and moving on the same, in spite of our fine-spun distinctions,
fantastic theories, and lines of demarcation, which are like the
chalk-figures drawn on ball-room floors to be danced out before morning!
In the field opposite the window where I write this, there is a
country-girl picking stones: in the one next it, there are several poor
women weeding the blue and red flowers from the corn: farther on, are
two boys, tending a flock of sheep. What do they know or care about what
I am writing about them, or ever will—or what would they be the better
for it, if they did? Or why need we despise

                              ‘The wretched slave,
              Who like a lackey, from the rise to the set,
              Sweats in the eye of Phœbus, and all night
              Sleeps in Elysium; next day, after dawn,
              Doth rise, and help Hyperion to his horse;
              And follows so the ever-running year
              With profitable labour to his grave?’

Is not this life as sweet as writing Ephemerides? But we put that which
flutters the brain idly for a moment, and then is heard no more, in
competition with nature, which exists every where, and lasts always. We
not only underrate the force of nature, and make too much of art—but we
also over-rate our own accomplishments and advantages derived from art.
In the presence of clownish ignorance, or of persons without any great
pretensions, real or affected, we are very much inclined to take upon
ourselves, as the virtual representatives of science, art, and
literature. We have a strong itch to show off and do the honours of
civilization for all the great men whose works we have ever read, and
whose names our auditors have never heard of, as noblemen’s lacqueys, in
the absence of their masters, give themselves airs of superiority over
every one else. But though we have read Congreve, a stage-coachman may
be an over-match for us in wit: though we are deep-versed in the
excellence of Shakspeare’s colloquial style, a village beldam may
outscold us: though we have read Machiavel in the original Italian, we
may be easily outwitted by a clown: and though we have cried our eyes
out over the New Eloise, a poor shepherd-lad, who hardly knows how to
spell his own name, may ‘tell his tale, under the hawthorn in the dale,’
and prove a more thriving wooer. What then is the advantage we possess
over the meanest of the mean? Why this, that we have read Congreve,
Shakspeare, Machiavel, the New Eloise;—not that we are to have their
wit, genius, shrewdness, or melting tenderness.

From speculative pursuits we must be satisfied with speculative
benefits. From reading, too, we learn to write. If we have had the
pleasure of studying the highest models of perfection in their kind, and
can hope to leave any thing ourselves, however slight, to be looked upon
as a model, or even a good copy in its way, we may think ourselves
pretty well off, without engrossing all the privileges of learning, and
all the blessings of ignorance into the bargain.

It has been made a question whether there have not been individuals in
common life of greater talents and powers of mind than the most
celebrated writers—whether, for instance, such or such a Liverpool
merchant, or Manchester manufacturer, was not a more sensible man than
Montaigne, of a longer reach of understanding than the Viscount of St.
Albans. There is no saying, unless some of these illustrious obscure had
communicated their important discoveries to the world. But then they
would have been authors!—On the other hand, there is a set of critics
who fall into the contrary error; and suppose that unless the proof of
capacity is laid before all the world, the capacity itself cannot exist;
looking upon all those who have not commenced authors, as literally
‘stocks and stones, and worse than senseless things.’ I remember trying
to convince a person of this class, that a young lady, whom he knew
something of, the niece of a celebrated authoress, had just the same
sort of fine _tact_ and ironical turn in conversation, that her relative
had shown in her writings when young. The only answer I could get was an
incredulous smile, and the observation that when she wrote any thing as
good as ——, or ——, he might think her as clever. I said all I meant was,
that she had the same family talents, and asked whether he thought that
if Miss —— had not been very clever, as a mere girl, before she wrote
her novels, she would ever have written them? It was all in vain. He
still stuck to his text, and was convinced that the niece was a little
fool compared to her aunt at the same age; and if he had known the aunt
formerly, he would have had just the same opinion of _her_. My friend
was one of those who have a settled persuasion that it is the book that
makes the author, and not the author the book. That’s a strange opinion
for a great philosopher to hold. But he wilfully shuts his eyes to the
germs and indistinct workings of genius, and treats them with
supercilious indifference, till they stare him in the face through the
press; and then takes cognizance only of the overt acts and published
evidence. This is neither a proof of wisdom, nor the way to be wise. It
is partly pedantry and prejudice, and partly feebleness of judgment and
want of magnanimity. He dare as little commit himself on the character
of books, as of individuals, till they are stamped by the public. If you
show him any work for his approbation, he asks, ‘Whose is the
superscription?’—He judges of genius by its shadow, reputation—of the
metal by the coin. He is just the reverse of another person whom I
know—for, as G—— never allows a particle of merit to any one till it is
acknowledged by the whole world, C—— withholds his tribute of applause
from every person, in whom any mortal but himself can descry the least
glimpse of understanding. He would be thought to look farther into a
millstone than any body else. He would have others see with his eyes,
and take their opinions from him on trust, in spite of their senses. The
more obscure and defective the indications of merit, the greater his
sagacity and candour in being the first to point them out. He looks upon
what he nicknames _a man of genius_, but as the breath of his nostrils,
and the clay in the potter’s hands. If any such inert, unconscious mass,
under the fostering care of the modern Prometheus, is kindled into
life,—begins to see, speak, and move, so as to attract the notice of
other people,—our jealous patroniser of latent worth in that case throws
aside, scorns, and hates his own handy-work; and deserts his
intellectual offspring from the moment they can go alone and shift for
themselves.—But to pass on to our more immediate subject.

The conversation of authors is not so good as might be imagined: but,
such as it is (and with rare exceptions) it is better than any other.
The proof of which is, that, when you are used to it, you cannot put up
with any other. That of mixed company becomes utterly intolerable—you
cannot sit out a common tea and card party, at least, if they pretend to
talk at all. You are obliged in despair to cut all your old acquaintance
who are not _au fait_ on the prevailing and most smartly contested
topics, who are not imbued with the high gusto of criticism and _virtù_.
You cannot bear to hear a friend whom you have not seen for many years,
tell at how much a yard he sells his laces and tapes, when he means to
move into his next house, when he heard last from his relations in the
country, whether trade is alive or dead, or whether Mr. Such-a-one gets
to look old. This sort of neighbourly gossip will not go down after the
high-raised tone of literary conversation. The last may be very absurd,
very unsatisfactory, and full of turbulence and heart-burnings; but it
has a zest in it which more ordinary topics of news or family-affairs do
not supply. Neither will the conversation of what we understand by
_gentlemen_ and men of fashion, do after that of men of letters. It is
flat, insipid, stale, and unprofitable, in the comparison. They talk
about much the same things, pictures, poetry, politics, plays; but they
do it worse, and at a sort of vapid second-hand. They, in fact, talk out
of newspapers and magazines, what _we write there_. They do not feel the
same interest in the subjects they affect to handle with an air of
fashionable condescension, nor have they the same knowledge of them, if
they were ever so much in earnest in displaying it. If it were not for
the wine and the dessert, no author in his senses would accept an
invitation to a well-dressed dinner-party, except out of pure
good-nature and unwillingness to disoblige by his refusal. Persons in
high life talk almost entirely by rote. There are certain established
modes of address, and certain answers to them expected as a matter of
course, as a point of etiquette. The studied forms of politeness do not
give the greatest possible scope to an exuberance of wit or fancy. The
fear of giving offence destroys sincerity, and without sincerity there
can be no true enjoyment of society, nor unfettered exertion of
intellectual activity.—Those who have been accustomed to live with the
great are hardly considered as conversible persons in literary society.
They are not to be talked with, any more than puppets or echos. They
have no opinions but what will please; and you naturally turn away, as a
waste of time and words, from attending to a person who just before
assented to what you said, and whom you find, the moment after, from
something that unexpectedly or perhaps by design drops from him, to be
of a totally different way of thinking. This _bush-fighting_ is not
regarded as fair play among scientific men. As fashionable conversation
is a sacrifice to politeness, so the conversation of low life is nothing
but rudeness. They contradict you without giving a reason, or if they
do, it is a very bad one—swear, talk loud, repeat the same thing fifty
times over, get to calling names, and from words proceed to blows. You
cannot make companions of servants, or persons in an inferior station in
life. You may talk to them on matters of business, and what they have to
do for you (as lords talk to bruisers on subjects of _fancy_, or
country-squires to their grooms on horse-racing) but out of that narrow
sphere, to any general topic, you cannot lead them; the conversation
soon flags, and you go back to the old question, or are obliged to break
up the sitting for want of ideas in common. The conversation of authors
is better than that of most professions. It is better than that of
lawyers, who talk nothing but _double entendre_—than that of physicians,
who talk of the approaching deaths of the College, or the marriage of
some new practitioner with some rich widow—than that of divines, who
talk of the last place they dined at—than that of University-men, who
make stale puns, repeat the refuse of the London newspapers, and affect
an ignorance of Greek and mathematics—it is better than that of players,
who talk of nothing but the green-room, and rehearse the scholar, the
wit, or the fine gentleman, like a part on the stage—or than that of
ladies, who, whatever you talk of, think of nothing, and expect you to
think of nothing, but themselves. It is not easy to keep up a
conversation with women in company. It is thought a piece of rudeness to
differ from them: it is not quite fair to ask them a reason for what
they say. You are afraid of pressing too hard upon them: but where you
cannot differ openly and unreservedly, you cannot heartily agree. It is
not so in France. There the women talk of things in general, and reason
better than the men in this country. They are mistresses of the
intellectual foils. They are adepts in all the topics. They know what is
to be said for and against all sorts of questions, and are lively and
full of mischief into the bargain. They are very subtle. They put you to
your trumps immediately. Your logic is more in requisition even than
your gallantry. You must argue as well as bow yourself into the good
graces of these modern Amazons. What a situation for an Englishman to be
placed in[7]!

The fault of literary conversation in general is its too great
tenaciousness. It fastens upon a subject, and will not let it go. It
resembles a battle rather than a skirmish, and makes a toil of a
pleasure. Perhaps it does this from necessity, from a consciousness of
wanting the more familiar graces, the power to sport and trifle, to
touch lightly and adorn agreeably, every view or turn of a question _en
passant_, as it arises. Those who have a reputation to lose are too
ambitious of shining, to please. ‘To excel in conversation,’ said an
ingenious man, ‘one must not be always striving to say good things: to
say one good thing, one must say many bad, and more indifferent ones.’
This desire to shine without the means at hand, often makes men silent:—

              ‘The fear of being silent strikes us dumb.’

A writer who has been accustomed to take a connected view of a difficult
question, and to work it out gradually in all its bearings, may be very
deficient in that quickness and ease, which men of the world, who are in
the habit of hearing a variety of opinions, who pick up an observation
on one subject, and another on another, and who care about none any
farther than the passing away of an idle hour, usually acquire. An
author has studied a particular point—he has read, he has inquired, he
has thought a great deal upon it: he is not contented to take it up
casually in common with others, to throw out a hint, to propose an
objection: he will either remain silent, uneasy, and dissatisfied, or he
will begin at the beginning and go through with it to the end. He is for
taking the whole responsibility upon himself. He would be thought to
understand the subject better than others, or indeed would show that
nobody else knows any thing about it. There are always three or four
points on which the literary novice at his first outset in life fancies
he can enlighten every company, and bear down all opposition: but he is
cured of this Quixotic and pugnacious spirit, as he goes more into the
world, where he finds that there are other opinions and other
pretensions to be adjusted besides his own. When this asperity wears
off, and a certain scholastic precocity is mellowed down, the
conversation of men of letters becomes both interesting and instructive.
Men of the world have no fixed principles, no ground-work of thought:
mere scholars have too much an object, a theory always in view, to which
they wrest every thing, and not unfrequently, common sense itself. By
mixing with society, they rub off their hardness of manner, and
impracticable, offensive singularity, while they retain a greater depth
and coherence of understanding. There is more to be learnt from them
than from their books. This was a remark of Rousseau’s, and it is a very
true one. In the confidence and unreserve of private intercourse, they
are more at liberty to say what they think, to put the subject in
different and opposite points of view, to illustrate it more briefly and
pithily by familiar expressions, by an appeal to individual character
and personal knowledge—to bring in the limitation, to obviate
misconception, to state difficulties on their own side of the argument,
and answer them as well as they can. This would hardly agree with the
prudery, and somewhat ostentatious claims of authorship. Dr. Johnson’s
conversation in Boswell’s Life is much better than his published works:
and the fragments of the opinions of celebrated men, preserved in their
letters or in anecdotes of them, are justly sought after as invaluable
for the same reason. For instance, what a fund of sense there is in
Grimm’s Memoirs! We thus get at the essence of what is contained in
their more laboured productions, without the affectation or
formality.—Argument, again, is the death of conversation, if carried on
in a spirit of hostility: but discussion is a pleasant and profitable
thing, where you advance and defend your opinions as far as you can, and
admit the truth of what is objected against them with equal
impartiality; in short, where you do not pretend to set up for an
oracle, but freely declare what you really know about any question, or
suggest what has struck you as throwing a new light upon it, and let it
pass for what it is worth. This tone of conversation was well described
by Dr. Johnson, when he said of some party at which he had been present
the night before—‘We had good talk, sir!’ As a general rule, there is no
conversation worth any thing but between friends, or those who agree in
the same leading views of a subject. Nothing was ever learnt by either
side in a dispute. You contradict one another, will not allow a grain of
sense in what your adversary advances, are blind to whatever makes
against yourself, dare not look the question fairly in the face, so that
you cannot avail yourself even of your real advantages, insist most on
what you feel to be the weakest points of your argument, and get more
and more absurd, dogmatical, and violent every moment. Disputes for
victory generally end to the dissatisfaction of all parties; and the one
recorded in Gil Blas breaks up just as it ought. I once knew a very
ingenious man, than whom, to take him in the way of common chit-chat or
fireside gossip, no one could be more entertaining or rational. He would
make an apt classical quotation, propose an explanation of a curious
passage in Shakspeare’s Venus and Adonis, detect a metaphysical error in
Locke, would infer the volatility of the French character from the
chapter in Sterne where the Count mistakes the feigned name of Yorick
for a proof of his being the identical imaginary character in Hamlet
(_Et vous êtes Yorick!_)—thus confounding words with things twice
over—but let a difference of opinion be once hitched in, and it was all
over with him. His only object from that time was to shut out common
sense, and to be proof against conviction. He would argue the most
ridiculous point (such as that there were two original languages) for
hours together, nay, through the horologe. You would not suppose it was
the same person. He was like an obstinate run-away horse, that takes the
bit in his mouth, and becomes mischievous and unmanageable. He had made
up his mind to one thing, not to admit a single particle of what any one
else said for or against him. It was all the difference between a man
drunk or sober, sane or mad. It is the same when he once gets the pen in
his hand. He has been trying to prove a contradiction in terms for the
ten last years of his life, _viz._ that the Bourbons have the same right
to the throne of France that the Brunswick family have to the throne of
England. Many people think there is a want of honesty or a want of
understanding in this. There is neither. But he will persist in an
argument to the last pinch; he will yield, in absurdity, to no man!

This litigious humour is bad enough: but there is one character still
worse, that of a person who goes into company, not to contradict, but to
_talk at_ you. This is the greatest nuisance in civilised society. Such
a person does not come armed to defend himself at all points, but to
unsettle, if he can, and throw a slur on all your favourite opinions. If
he has a notion that any one in the room is fond of poetry, he
immediately volunteers a contemptuous tirade against the idle jingle of
verse. If he suspects you have a delight in pictures, he endeavours, not
by fair argument, but by a side-wind, to put you out of conceit with so
frivolous an art. If you have a taste for music, he does not think much
good is to be done by this tickling of the ears. If you speak in praise
of a comedy, he does not see the use of wit: if you say you have been to
a tragedy, he shakes his head at this mockery of human misery, and
thinks it ought to be prohibited. He tries to find out beforehand
whatever it is that you take a particular pride or pleasure in, that he
may annoy your self-love in the tenderest point (as if he were probing a
wound) and make you dissatisfied with yourself and your pursuits for
several days afterwards. A person might as well make a practice of
throwing out scandalous aspersions against your dearest friends or
nearest relations, by way of ingratiating himself into your favour. Such
ill-timed impertinence is ‘villainous, and shews a pitiful ambition in
the fool that uses it.’

The soul of conversation is sympathy.—Authors should converse chiefly
with authors, and their talk should be of books. ‘When Greek meets
Greek, then comes the tug of war.’ There is nothing so pedantic as
pretending not to be pedantic. No man can get above his pursuit in life:
it is getting above himself, which is impossible. There is a
Free-masonry in all things. You can only speak to be understood, but
this you cannot be, except by those who are in the secret. Hence an
argument has been drawn to supersede the necessity of conversation
altogether; for it has been said, that there is no use in talking to
people of sense, who know all that you can tell them, nor to fools, who
will not be instructed. There is, however, the smallest encouragement to
proceed, when you are conscious that the more you really enter into a
subject, the farther you will be from the comprehension of your
hearers—and that the more proofs you give of any position, the more odd
and out-of-the-way they will think your notions. C—— is the only person
who can talk to all sorts of people, on all sorts of subjects, without
caring a farthing for their understanding one word he says—and _he_
talks only for admiration and to be listened to, and accordingly the
least interruption puts him out. I firmly believe he would make just the
same impression on half his audiences, if he purposely repeated absolute
nonsense with the same voice and manner and inexhaustible flow of
undulating speech! In general, wit shines only by reflection. You must
take your cue from your company—must rise as they rise, and sink as they
fall. You must see that your good things, your knowing allusions, are
not flung away, like the pearls in the adage. What a check it is to be
asked a foolish question; to find that the first principles are not
understood! You are thrown on your back immediately, the conversation is
stopped like a country-dance by those who do not know the figure. But
when a set of adepts, of _illuminati_, get about a question, it is worth
while to hear them talk. They may snarl and quarrel over it, like dogs;
but they pick it bare to the bone, they masticate it thoroughly.


                                ESSAY IV
                       THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED

This was the case formerly at L——’s—where we used to have many lively
skirmishes at their Thursday evening parties. I doubt whether the
Small-coal man’s musical parties could exceed them. Oh! for the pen of
John Buncle to consecrate a _petit souvenir_ to their memory!—There was
L—— himself, the most delightful, the most provoking, the most witty and
sensible of men. He always made the best pun, and the best remark in the
course of the evening. His serious conversation, like his serious
writing, is his best. No one ever stammered out such fine, piquant,
deep, eloquent things in half a dozen half sentences as he does. His
jests scald like tears: and he probes a question with a play upon words.
What a keen, laughing, hair-brained vein of home-felt truth! What choice
venom! How often did we cut into the haunch of letters, while we
discussed the haunch of mutton on the table! How we skimmed the cream of
criticism! How we got into the heart of controversy! How we picked out
the marrow of authors! ‘And, in our flowing cups, many a good name and
true was freshly remembered.’ Recollect (most sage and critical reader)
that in all this I was but a guest! Need I go over the names? They were
but the old everlasting set—Milton and Shakspeare, Pope and Dryden,
Steele and Addison, Swift and Gay, Fielding, Smollet, Sterne,
Richardson, Hogarth’s prints, Claude’s landscapes, the Cartoons at
Hampton-court, and all those things, that, having once been, must ever
be. The Scotch Novels had not then been heard of: so we said nothing
about them. In general, we were hard upon the moderns. The author of the
Rambler was only tolerated in Boswell’s Life of him; and it was as much
as any one could do to edge in a word for Junius. L—— could not bear Gil
Blas. This was a fault. I remember the greatest triumph I ever had was
in persuading him, after some years’ difficulty, that Fielding was
better than Smollet. On one occasion, he was for making out a list of
persons famous in history that one would wish to see again—at the head
of whom were Pontius Pilate, Sir Thomas Browne, and Dr. Faustus—but we
black-balled most of his list! But with what a gusto would he describe
his favourite authors, Donne, or Sir Philip Sidney, and call their most
crabbed passages _delicious_! He tried them on his palate as epicures
taste olives, and his observations had a smack in them, like a roughness
on the tongue. With what discrimination he hinted a defect in what he
admired most—as in saying that the display of the sumptuous banquet in
Paradise Regained was not in true keeping, as the simplest fare was all
that was necessary to tempt the extremity of hunger—and stating that
Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost were too much like married people. He has
furnished many a text for C—— to preach upon. There was no fuss or cant
about him: nor were his sweets or his sours ever diluted with one
particle of affectation. I cannot say that the party at L——’s were all
of one description. There were honorary members, lay-brothers. Wit and
good fellowship was the motto inscribed over the door. When a stranger
came in, it was not asked, ‘Has he written any thing?’—we were above
that pedantry; but we waited to see what he could do. If he could take a
hand at piquet, he was welcome to sit down. If a person liked any thing,
if he took snuff heartily, it was sufficient. He would understand, by
analogy, the pungency of other things, besides Irish blackguard, or
Scotch rappee. A character was good any where, in a room or on paper.
But we abhorred insipidity, affectation, and fine gentlemen. There was
one of our party who never failed to mark ‘two for his Nob’ at cribbage,
and he was thought no mean person. This was Ned P——, and a better fellow
in his way breathes not. There was ——, who asserted some incredible
matter of fact as a likely paradox, and settled all controversies by an
_ipse dixit_, a _fiat_ of his will, hammering out many a hard theory on
the anvil of his brain—the Baron Munchausen of politics and practical
philosophy:—there was Captain ——, who had you at an advantage by never
understanding you:—there was Jem White, the author of Falstaff’s
Letters, who the other day left this dull world to go in search of more
kindred spirits, ‘turning like the latter end of a lover’s lute:’—there
was A——, who sometimes dropped in, the Will Honeycomb of our set—and
Mrs. R——, who being of a quiet turn, loved to hear a noisy debate. An
utterly uninformed person might have supposed this a scene of vulgar
confusion and uproar. While the most critical question was pending,
while the most difficult problem in philosophy was solving, P—— cried
out, ‘That’s game,’ and M. B. muttered a quotation over the last remains
of a veal-pie at a side-table. Once, and once only, the literary
interest overcame the general. For C—— was riding the high German horse,
and demonstrating the Categories of the Transcendental philosophy to the
author of the Road to Ruin; who insisted on his knowledge of German, and
German metaphysics, having read the _Critique of Pure Reason_ in the
original. ‘My dear Mr. Holcroft,’ said C——, in a tone of infinitely
provoking conciliation, ‘you really put me in mind of a sweet pretty
German girl, about fifteen, that I met with in the Hartz forest in
Germany—and who one day, as I was reading the Limits of the Knowable and
the Unknowable, the profoundest of all his works, with great attention,
came behind my chair, and leaning over, said, What, _you_ read Kant?
Why, _I_ that am German born, don’t understand him!’ This was too much
to bear, and Holcroft, starting up, called out in no measured tone, ‘Mr.
C——, you are the most eloquent man I ever met with, and the most
troublesome with your eloquence!’ P—— held the cribbage-peg that was to
mark him game, suspended in his hand; and the whist table was silent for
a moment. I saw Holcroft down stairs, and, on coming to the
landing-place in Mitre-court, he stopped me to observe, that ‘he thought
Mr. C—— a very clever man, with a great command of language, but that he
feared he did not always affix very precise ideas to the words he used.’
After he was gone, we had our laugh out, and went on with the argument
on the nature of Reason, the Imagination, and the Will. I wish I could
find a publisher for it: it would make a supplement to the _Biographia
Literaria_ in a volume and a half octavo.

Those days are over! An event, the name of which I wish never to
mention, broke up our party, like a bomb-shell thrown into the room: and
now we seldom meet—

             ‘Like angels’ visits, short and far between.’

There is no longer the same set of persons, nor of associations. L——
does not live where he did. By shifting his abode, his notions seem less
fixed. He does not wear his old snuff-coloured coat and breeches. It
looks like an alteration in his style. An author and a wit should have a
separate costume, a particular cloth: he should present something
positive and singular to the mind, like Mr. Douce of the Museum. Our
faith in the religion of letters will not bear to be taken to pieces,
and put together again by caprice or accident. L. H—— goes there
sometimes. He has a fine vinous spirit about him, and tropical blood in
his veins: but he is better at his own table. He has a great flow of
pleasantry and delightful animal spirits: but his hits do not tell like
L——’s; you cannot repeat them the next day. He requires not only to be
appreciated, but to have a select circle of admirers and devotees, to
feel himself quite at home. He sits at the head of a party with great
gaiety and grace; has an elegant manner and turn of features; is never
at a loss—_aliquando sufflaminandus erat_—has continual sportive sallies
of wit or fancy; tells a story capitally; mimics an actor, or an
acquaintance to admiration; laughs with great glee and good humour at
his own or other people’s jokes; understands the point of an equivoque,
or an observation immediately; has a taste and knowledge of books, of
music, of medals; manages an argument adroitly; is genteel and gallant,
and has a set of bye-phrases and quaint allusions always at hand to
produce a laugh:—if he has a fault, it is that he does not listen so
well as he speaks, is impatient of interruption, and is fond of being
looked up to, without considering by whom. I believe, however, he has
pretty well seen the folly of this. Neither is his ready display of
personal accomplishment and variety of resources an advantage to his
writings. They sometimes present a desultory and slip-shod appearance,
owing to this very circumstance. The same things that tell, perhaps,
best, to a private circle round the fireside, are not always
intelligible to the public, nor does he take pains to make them so. He
is too confident and secure of his audience. That which may be
entertaining enough with the assistance of a certain liveliness of
manner, may read very flat on paper, because it is abstracted from all
the circumstances that had set it off to advantage. A writer should
recollect that he has only to trust to the immediate impression of
words, like a musician who sings without the accompaniment of an
instrument. There is nothing to help out, or slubber over, the defects
of the voice in the one case, nor of the style in the other. The reader
may, if he pleases, get a very good idea of L. H——’s conversation from a
very agreeable paper he has lately published, called the _Indicator_,
than which nothing can be more happily conceived or executed.

The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.
Authors in general are not good listeners. Some of the best talkers are,
on this account, the worst company; and some who are very indifferent,
but very great talkers, are as bad. It is sometimes wonderful to see how
a person, who has been entertaining or tiring a company by the hour
together, drops his countenance as if he had been shot, or had been
seized with a sudden lock-jaw, the moment any one interposes a single
observation. The best converser I know is, however, the best listener. I
mean Mr. Northcote, the painter. Painters by their profession are not
bound to shine in conversation, and they shine the more. He lends his
ear to an observation, as if you had brought him a piece of news, and
enters into it with as much avidity and earnestness, as if it interested
himself personally. If he repeats an old remark or story, it is with the
same freshness and point as for the first time. It always arises out of
the occasion, and has the stamp of originality. There is no parroting of
himself. His look is a continual, ever-varying history-piece of what
passes in his mind. His face is as a book. There need no marks of
interjection or interrogation to what he says. His manner is quite
picturesque. There is an excess of character and _naiveté_ that never
tires. His thoughts bubble up and sparkle, like beads on old wine. The
fund of anecdote, the collection of curious particulars, is enough to
set up any common retailer of jests, that dines out every day; but these
are not strung together like a row of galley-slaves, but are always
introduced to illustrate some argument or bring out some fine
distinction of character. The mixture of spleen adds to the sharpness of
the point, like poisoned arrows. Mr. Northcote enlarges with enthusiasm
on the old painters, and tells good things of the new. The only thing he
ever vexed me in was his liking the _Catalogue Raisonnée_. I had almost
as soon hear him talk of Titian’s pictures (which he does with tears in
his eyes, and looking just like them) as see the originals, and I had
rather hear him talk of Sir Joshua’s than see them. He is the last of
that school who knew Goldsmith and Johnson. How finely he describes
Pope! His elegance of mind, his figure, his character were not unlike
his own. He does not resemble a modern Englishman, but puts one in mind
of a Roman Cardinal or Spanish Inquisitor. I never ate or drank with Mr.
Northcote; but I have lived on his conversation with undiminished relish
ever since I can remember,—and when I leave it, I come out into the
street with feelings lighter and more etherial than I have at any other
time.—One of his _tête-à-têtes_ would at any time make an Essay; but he
cannot write himself, because he loses himself in the connecting
passages, is fearful of the effect, and wants the habit of bringing his
ideas into one focus or point of view. A _lens_ is necessary to collect
the diverging rays, the refracted and broken angular lights of
conversation on paper. Contradiction is half the battle in talking—the
being startled by what others say, and having to answer on the spot. You
have to defend yourself, paragraph by paragraph, parenthesis within
parenthesis. Perhaps it might be supposed that a person who excels in
conversation and cannot write, would succeed better in dialogue. But the
stimulus, the immediate irritation would be wanting; and the work would
read flatter than ever, from not having the very thing it pretended to
have.

Lively sallies and connected discourse are very different things. There
are many persons of that impatient and restless turn of mind, that they
cannot wait a moment for a conclusion, or follow up the thread of any
argument. In the hurry of conversation their ideas are somehow huddled
into sense; but in the intervals of thought, leave a great gap between.
Montesquieu said, he often lost an idea before he could find words for
it: yet he dictated, by way of saving time, to an amanuensis. This last
is, in my opinion, a vile method, and a solecism in authorship. Horne
Tooke, among other paradoxes, used to maintain, that no one could write
a good style who was not in the habit of talking and hearing the sound
of his own voice. He might as well have said that no one could relish a
good style without reading it aloud, as we find common people do to
assist their apprehension. But there is a method of trying periods on
the ear, or weighing them with the scales of the breath, without any
articulate sound. Authors, as they write, may be said to ‘hear a sound
so fine, there’s nothing lives ’twixt it and silence.’ Even musicians
generally compose in their heads. I agree that no style is good, that is
not fit to be spoken or read aloud with effect. This holds true not only
of emphasis and cadence, but also with regard to natural idiom and
colloquial freedom. Sterne’s was in this respect the best style that
ever was written. You fancy that you hear the people talking. For a
contrary reason, no college-man writes a good style, or understands it
when written. Fine writing is with him all verbiage and monotony—a
translation into classical centos or hexameter lines.

That which I have just mentioned is among many instances I could give of
ingenious absurdities advanced by Mr. Tooke in the heat and pride of
controversy. A person who knew him well, and greatly admired his
talents, said of him that he never (to his recollection) heard him
defend an opinion which he thought right, or in which he believed him to
be himself sincere. He indeed provoked his antagonists into the toils by
the very extravagance of his assertions, and the teasing sophistry by
which he rendered them plausible. His temper was prompter to his skill.
He had the manners of a man of the world, with great scholastic
resources. He flung every one else off his guard, and was himself
immoveable. I never knew any one who did not admit his superiority in
this kind of warfare. He put a full stop to one of C——’s long-winded
prefatory apologies for his youth and inexperience, by saying abruptly,
‘Speak up, young man!’ and, at another time, silenced a learned
professor, by desiring an explanation of a word which the other
frequently used, and which, he said, he had been many years trying to
get at the meaning of,—the copulative Is! He was the best intellectual
fencer of his day. He made strange havoc of Fuseli’s fantastic
hieroglyphics, violent humours, and oddity of dialect.—Curran, who was
sometimes of the same party, was lively and animated in convivial
conversation, but dull in argument; nay, averse to any thing like
reasoning or serious observation, and had the worst taste I ever knew.
His favourite critical topics were to abuse Milton’s Paradise Lost, and
Romeo and Juliet. Indeed, he confessed a want of sufficient acquaintance
with books when he found himself in literary society in London. He and
Sheridan once dined at John Kemble’s with Mrs. Inchbald and Mary
Woolstonecroft, when the discourse almost wholly turned on Love, ‘from
noon to dewy eve, a summer’s day!’ What a subject! What speakers, and
what hearers! What would I not give to have been there, had I not
learned it all from the bright eyes of Amaryllis, and may one day make a
_Table-Talk_ of it!—Peter Pindar was rich in anecdote and grotesque
humour, and profound in technical knowledge both of music, poetry, and
painting, but he was gross and overbearing. Wordsworth sometimes talks
like a man inspired on subjects of poetry (his own out of the
question)—Coleridge well on every subject, and G—dwin on none. To finish
this subject—Mrs. M——’s conversation is as fine-cut as her features, and
I like to sit in the room with that sort of coronet face. What she says
leaves a flavour, like fine green tea. H—t’s is like champaigne, and
N——’s like anchovy sandwiches. H—yd—n’s is like a game at trap-ball:
L—’s like snap-dragon: and my own (if I do not mistake the matter) is
not very much unlike a game at nine-pins!... One source of the
conversation of authors, is the character of other authors, and on that
they are rich indeed. What things they say! What stories they tell of
one another, more particularly of their friends! If I durst only give
some of these confidential communications!... The reader may perhaps
think the foregoing a specimen of them:—but indeed he is mistaken.

I do not know of any greater impertinence, than for an obscure
individual to set about pumping a character of celebrity. ‘Bring him to
me,’ said a Doctor Tronchin, speaking of Rousseau, ‘that I may see
whether he has any thing in him.’ Before you can take measure of the
capacity of others, you ought to be sure that they have not taken
measure of yours. They may think you a spy on them, and may not like
their company. If you really want to know whether another person can
talk well, begin by saying a good thing yourself, and you will have a
right to look for a rejoinder. ‘The best tennis-players,’ says Sir
Fopling Flutter, ‘make the best matches.’

                  ——For wit is like a rest
                Held up at tennis, which men do the best
                With the best players.

We hear it often said of a great author, or a great actress, that they
are very stupid people in private. But he was a fool that said so. _Tell
me your company, and I’ll tell you your manners._ In conversation, as in
other things, the action and reaction should bear a certain proportion
to each other.—Authors may, in some sense, be looked upon as foreigners,
who are not naturalized even in their native soil. L—— once came down
into the country to see us. He was ‘like the most capricious poet Ovid
among the Goths.’ The country people thought him an oddity, and did not
understand his jokes. It would be strange if they had; for he did not
make any, while he staid. But when we crossed the country to Oxford,
then he spoke a little. He and the old colleges were hail-fellow well
met; and in the quadrangles, he ‘walked gowned.’

There is a character of a gentleman; so there is a character of a
scholar, which is no less easily recognised. The one has an air of books
about him, as the other has of good-breeding. The one wears his thoughts
as the other does his clothes, gracefully; and even if they are a little
old-fashioned, they are not ridiculous: they have had their day. The
gentleman shows, by his manner, that he has been used to respect from
others: the scholar that he lays claim to self-respect and to a certain
independence of opinion. The one has been accustomed to the best
company; the other has passed his time in cultivating an intimacy with
the best authors. There is nothing forward or vulgar in the behaviour of
the one; nothing shrewd or petulant in the observations of the other, as
if he should astonish the bye-standers, or was astonished himself at his
own discoveries. Good taste and good sense, like common politeness, are,
or are supposed to be, matters of course. One is distinguished by an
appearance of marked attention to every one present; the other manifests
an habitual air of abstraction and absence of mind. The one is not an
upstart with all the self-important airs of the founder of his own
fortune; nor the other a self-taught man, with the repulsive
self-sufficiency which arises from an ignorance of what hundreds have
known before him. We must excuse perhaps a little conscious family-pride
in the one, and a little harmless pedantry in the other.—As there is a
class of the first character which sinks into the mere gentleman, that
is, which has nothing but this sense of respectability and propriety to
support it—so the character of a scholar not unfrequently dwindles down
into the shadow of a shade, till nothing is left of it but the mere
book-worm. There is often something amiable as well as enviable in this
last character. I know one such instance, at least. The person I mean
has an admiration for learning, if he is only dazzled by its light. He
lives among old authors, if he does not enter much into their spirit. He
handles the covers, and turns over the page, and is familiar with the
names and dates. He is busy and self-involved. He hangs like a film and
cobweb upon letters, or is like the dust upon the outside of knowledge,
which should not be rudely brushed aside. He follows learning as its
shadow; but as such, he is respectable. He browzes on the husk and
leaves of books, as the young fawn browzes on the bark and leaves of
trees. Such a one lives all his life in a dream of learning, and has
never once had his sleep broken by a real sense of things. He believes
implicitly in genius, truth, virtue, liberty, because he finds the names
of these things in books. He thinks that love and friendship are the
finest things imaginable, both in practice and theory. The legend of
good women is to him no fiction. When he steals from the twilight of his
cell, the scene breaks upon him like an illuminated missal, and all the
people he sees are but so many figures in a _camera obscura_. He reads
the world, like a favourite volume, only to find beauties in it, or like
an edition of some old work which he is preparing for the press, only to
make emendations in it, and correct the errors that have inadvertently
slipt in. He and his dog Tray are much the same honest, simple-hearted,
faithful, affectionate creatures—if Tray could but read! His mind cannot
take the impression of vice: but the gentleness of his nature turns gall
to milk. He would not hurt a fly. He draws the picture of mankind from
the guileless simplicity of his own heart: and when he dies, his spirit
will take its smiling leave, without having ever had an ill thought of
others, or the consciousness of one in itself!


                                ESSAY V
                       ON REASON AND IMAGINATION

I hate people who have no notion of any thing but generalities, and
forms, and creeds, and naked propositions, even worse than I dislike
those who cannot for the soul of them arrive at the comprehension of an
abstract idea. There are those (even among philosophers) who, deeming
that all truth is contained within certain outlines and common topics,
if you proceed to add colour or relief from individuality, protest
against the use of rhetoric as an illogical thing; and if you drop a
hint of pleasure or pain as ever entering into ‘this breathing world,’
raise a prodigious outcry against all appeals to the passions.

It is, I confess, strange to me that men who pretend to more than usual
accuracy in distinguishing and analysing, should insist that in treating
of human nature, of moral good and evil, the nominal differences are
alone of any value, or that in describing the feelings and motives of
men, any thing that conveys the smallest idea of what those feelings are
in any given circumstances, or can by parity of reason ever be in any
others, is a deliberate attempt at artifice and delusion—as if a
knowledge or representation of things as they really exist (rules and
definitions apart) was a proportionable departure from the truth. They
stick to the table of contents, and never open the volume of the mind.
They are for having maps, not pictures of the world we live in: as much
as to say that a bird’s-eye view of things contains the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth. If you want to look for the situation
of a particular spot, they turn to a pasteboard globe, on which they fix
their wandering gaze; and because you cannot find the object of your
search in their bald ‘abridgements,’ tell you there is no such place, or
that it is not worth inquiring after. They had better confine their
studies to the celestial sphere and the signs of the zodiac; for there
they will meet with no petty details to boggle at, or contradict their
vague conclusions. Such persons would make excellent theologians, but
are very indifferent philosophers.—To pursue this geographical reasoning
a little farther. They may say that the map of a county or shire, for
instance, is too large, and conveys a disproportionate idea of its
relation to the whole. And we say that their map of the globe is too
small, and conveys no idea of it at all.

                       ——‘In the world’s volume
               Our Britain shows as of it, but not in it;
               In a great pool a swan’s nest:’

but is it really so? What! the county is bigger than the map at any
rate: the representation falls short of the reality, by a million
degrees, and you would omit it altogether in order to arrive at a
balance of power in the non-entities of the understanding, and call this
keeping within the bounds of sense and reason? and whatever does not
come within those self-made limits is to be set aside as frivolous or
monstrous. But ‘there are more things between heaven and earth than were
ever dreamt of in this philosophy.’ They cannot get them all in, _of the
size of life_, and therefore they reduce them on a graduated scale, till
they think they can. So be it, for certain necessary and general
purposes, and in compliance with the infirmity of human intellect: but
at other times, let us enlarge our conceptions to the dimensions of the
original objects; nor let it be pretended that we have outraged truth
and nature, because we have encroached on your diminutive mechanical
standard. There is no language, no description that can strictly come up
to the truth and force of reality: all we have to do is to guide our
descriptions and conclusions by the reality. A certain proportion must
be kept: we must not invert the rules of moral perspective. Logic should
enrich and invigorate its decisions by the use of imagination; as
rhetoric should be governed in its application, and guarded from abuse
by the checks of the understanding. Neither, I apprehend, is sufficient
alone. The mind can conceive only one or a few things in their
integrity: if it proceeds to more, it must have recourse to artificial
substitutes, and judge by comparison merely. In the former case, it may
select the least worthy, and so distort the truth of things, by giving a
hasty preference: in the latter, the danger is that it may refine and
abstract so much as to attach no idea at all to them, corresponding with
their practical value, or their influence on the minds of those
concerned with them. Men act from individual impressions; and to know
mankind, we should be acquainted with nature. Men act from passion; and
we can only judge of passion by sympathy. Persons of the dry and husky
class above spoken of, often seem to think even nature itself an
interloper on their flimsy theories. They prefer the shadows in Plato’s
cave to the actual objects without it. They consider men ‘as mice in an
air-pump,’ fit only for their experiments; and do not consider the rest
of the universe, or ‘all the mighty world of eye and ear,’ as worth any
notice at all. This is making short, but not sure work. Truth does not
lie _in vacuo_, any more than in a well. We must improve our concrete
experience of persons and things into the contemplation of general rules
and principles; but without being grounded in individual facts and
feelings, we shall end as we began, in ignorance.

It is mentioned in a short account of the Last Moments of Mr. Fox, that
the conversation at the house of Lord Holland (where he died) turning
upon Mr. Burke’s style, that Noble Person objected to it as too gaudy
and meretricious, and said that it was more profuse of flowers than
fruit. On which Mr. Fox observed, that though this was a common
objection, it appeared to him altogether an unfounded one; that on the
contrary, the flowers often concealed the fruit beneath them, and the
ornaments of style were rather an hindrance than an advantage to the
sentiments they were meant to set off. In confirmation of this remark,
he offered to take down the book, and translate a page any where into
his own plain, natural style; and by his doing so, Lord Holland was
convinced that he had often missed the thought from having his attention
drawn off to the dazzling imagery. Thus people continually find fault
with the colours of style as incompatible with the truth of the
reasoning, but without any foundation whatever. If it were a question
about the figure of two triangles, and any person were to object that
one triangle was green and the other yellow, and bring this to bear upon
the acuteness or obtuseness of the angles, it would be obvious to remark
that the colour had nothing to do with the question. But in a dispute
whether two objects are coloured alike, the discovery, that one is green
and the other yellow, is fatal. So with respect to moral truth (as
distinct from mathematical), whether a thing is good or evil, depends on
the quantity of passion, of feeling, of pleasure and pain connected with
it, and with which we must be made acquainted in order to come to a
sound conclusion, and not on the inquiry, whether it is round or square.
Passion, in short, is the essence, the chief ingredient in moral truth;
and the warmth of passion is sure to kindle the light of imagination on
the objects around it. The ‘words that glow’ are almost inseparable from
the ‘thoughts that burn.’ Hence logical reason and practical truth are
_disparates_. It is easy to raise an outcry against violent invectives,
to talk loud against extravagance and enthusiasm, to pick a quarrel with
every thing but the most calm, candid, and qualified statement of facts:
but there are enormities to which no words can do adequate justice. Are
we then, in order to form a complete idea of them, to omit every
circumstance of aggravation, or to suppress every feeling of impatience
that arises out of the details, lest we should be accused of giving way
to the influence of prejudice and passion? This would be to falsify the
impression altogether, to misconstrue reason, and fly in the face of
nature. Suppose, for instance, that in the discussions on the
Slave-Trade, a description to the life was given of the horrors of the
_Middle Passage_ (as it was termed), that you saw the manner in which
thousands of wretches, year after year, were stowed together in the hold
of a slave-ship, without air, without light, without food, without hope,
so that what they suffered in reality was brought home to you in
imagination, till you felt in sickness of heart as one of them, could it
be said that this was a prejudging of the case, that your knowing the
extent of the evil disqualified you from pronouncing sentence upon it,
and that your disgust and abhorrence were the effects of a heated
imagination? No. Those evils that inflame the imagination and make the
heart sick, ought not to leave the head cool. This is the very test and
measure of the degree of the enormity, that it involuntarily staggers
and appals the mind. If it were a common iniquity, if it were slight and
partial, or necessary, it would not have this effect; but it very
properly carries away the feelings, and (if you will) overpowers the
judgment, because it is a mass of evil so monstrous and unwarranted as
not to be endured, even in thought. A man on the rack does not suffer
the less, because the extremity of anguish takes away his command of
feeling and attention to appearances. A pang inflicted on humanity is
not the less real, because it stirs up sympathy in the breast of
humanity. Would you tame down the glowing language of justifiable
passion into that of cold indifference, of self-complacent, sceptical
reasoning, and thus take out the sting of indignation from the mind of
the spectator? Not, surely, till you have removed the nuisance by the
levers that strong feeling alone can set at work, and have thus taken
away the pang of suffering that caused it! Or say that the question were
proposed to you, whether, on some occasion, you should thrust your hand
into the flames, and were coolly told that you were not at all to
consider the pain and anguish it might give you, nor suffer yourself to
be led away by any such idle appeals to natural sensibility, but to
refer the decision to some abstract, technical ground of propriety,
would you not laugh in your adviser’s face? Oh! no; where our own
interests are concerned, or where we are sincere in our professions of
regard, the pretended distinction between sound judgment and lively
imagination is quickly done away with. But I would not wish a better or
more philosophical standard of morality, than that we should think and
feel towards others as we should, if it were our own case. If we look
for a higher standard than this, we shall not find it; but shall lose
the substance for the shadow! Again, suppose an extreme or individual
instance is brought forward in any general question, as that of the
cargo of sick slaves that were thrown overboard as so much _live lumber_
by the captain of a Guinea vessel, in the year 1775, which was one of
the things that first drew the attention of the public to this nefarious
traffic[8], or the practice of suspending contumacious negroes in cages
to have their eyes pecked out, and to be devoured alive by birds of
prey—Does this form no rule, because the mischief is solitary or
excessive? The rule is absolute; for we feel that nothing of the kind
could take place, or be tolerated for an instant, in any system that was
not rotten at the core. If such things are ever done in any
circumstances with impunity, we know what must be done every day under
the same sanction. It shows that there is an utter deadness to every
principle of justice or feeling of humanity; and where this is the case,
we may take out our tables of abstraction, and set down what is to
follow through every gradation of petty, galling vexation, and wanton,
unrelenting cruelty. A state of things, where a single instance of the
kind can possibly happen without exciting general consternation, ought
not to exist for half an hour. The parent, hydra-headed injustice ought
to be crushed at once with all its viper brood. Practices, the mention
of which makes the flesh creep, and that affront the light of day, ought
to be put down the instant they are known, without inquiry and without
repeal.

There was an example of eloquent moral reasoning connected with this
subject, given in the work just referred to, which was not the less
solid and profound, because it was produced by a burst of strong
personal and momentary feeling. It is what follows:—‘The name of a
person having been mentioned in the presence of Naimbanna (a young
African chieftain), who was understood by him to have publicly asserted
something very degrading to the general character of Africans, he broke
out into violent and vindictive language. He was immediately reminded of
the Christian duty of forgiving his enemies; upon which he answered
nearly in the following words:—“If a man should rob me of my money, I
can forgive him; if a man should shoot at me, or try to stab me, I can
forgive him; if a man should sell me and all my family to a slave-ship,
so that we should pass all the rest of our days in slavery in the West
Indies, I can forgive him; but” (added he, rising from his seat with
much emotion) “if a man takes away the character of the people of my
country, I never can forgive him.” Being asked why he would not extend
his forgiveness to those who took away the character of the people of
his country, he answered: “If a man should try to kill me, or should
sell me and my family for slaves, he would do an injury to as many as he
might kill or sell; but if any one takes away the character of Black
people, that man injures Black people all over the world; and when he
has once taken away their character, there is nothing which he may not
do to Black people ever after. That man, for instance, will beat Black
men, and say, _Oh, it is only a Black man, why should not I beat him?_
That man will make slaves of Black people; for, when he has taken away
their character, he will say, _Oh, they are only Black people, why
should not I make them slaves?_ That man will take away all the people
of Africa if he can catch them; and if you ask him, But why do you take
away all these people? he will say, _Oh! they are only Black people—they
are not like White people—why should I not take them?_ That is the
reason why I cannot forgive the man who takes away the character of the
people of my country.”’—MEMOIRS OF GRANVILLE SHARP, p. 369.

I conceive more real light and vital heat is thrown into the argument by
this struggle of natural feeling to relieve itself from the weight of a
false and injurious imputation, than would be added to it by twenty
volumes of tables and calculations of the _pros_ and _cons_ of right and
wrong, of utility and inutility, in Mr. Bentham’s handwriting. In
allusion to this celebrated person’s theory of morals, I will here go a
step farther, and deny that the dry calculation of consequences is the
sole and unqualified test of right and wrong; for we are to take into
the account (as well) the reaction of these consequences upon the mind
of the individual and the community. In morals, the cultivation of a
_moral sense_ is not the last thing to be attended to—nay, it is the
first. Almost the only unsophisticated or spirited remark that we meet
with in Paley’s Moral Philosophy, is one which is also to be found in
Tucker’s Light of Nature—namely, that in dispensing charity to common
beggars we are not to consider so much the good it may do the object of
it, as the harm it will do the person who refuses it. A sense of
compassion is involuntarily excited by the immediate appearance of
distress, and a violence and injury is done to the kindly feelings by
withholding the obvious relief, the trifling pittance in our power. This
is a remark, I think, worthy of the ingenious and amiable author from
whom Paley borrowed it. So with respect to the atrocities committed in
the Slave-Trade, it could not be set up as a doubtful plea in their
favour, that the actual and intolerable sufferings inflicted on the
individuals were compensated by certain advantages in a commercial and
political point of view—in a moral sense they _cannot_ be compensated.
They hurt the public mind: they harden and sear the natural feelings.
The evil is monstrous and palpable; the pretended good is remote and
contingent. In morals, as in philosophy, _De non apparentibus et non
existentibus eadem est ratio_. What does not touch the heart, or come
home to the feelings, goes comparatively for little or nothing. A
benefit that exists merely in possibility, and is judged of only by the
forced dictates of the understanding, is not a set-off against an evil
(say of equal magnitude in itself) that strikes upon the senses, that
haunts the imagination, and lacerates the human heart. A spectacle of
deliberate cruelty, that shocks every one that sees and hears of it, is
not to be justified by any calculations of cold-blooded self-interest—is
not to be permitted in any case. It is prejudged and self-condemned.
Necessity has been therefore justly called ‘the tyrant’s plea.’ It is no
better with the mere doctrine of utility, which is the sophist’s plea.
Thus, for example, an infinite number of lumps of sugar put into Mr.
Bentham’s artificial ethical scales would never weigh against the pounds
of human flesh, or drops of human blood, that are sacrificed to produce
them. The taste of the former on the palate is evanescent; but the
others sit heavy on the soul. The one are an object to the imagination:
the others only to the understanding. But man is an animal compounded
both of imagination and understanding; and, in treating of what is good
for man’s nature, it is necessary to consider both. A calculation of the
mere ultimate advantages, without regard to natural feelings and
affections, may improve the external face and physical comforts of
society, but will leave it heartless and worthless in itself. In a word,
the sympathy of the individual with the consequences of his own act is
to be attended to (no less than the consequences themselves) in every
sound system of morality; and this must be determined by certain natural
laws of the human mind, and not by rules of logic or arithmetic.

The aspect of a moral question is to be judged of very much like the
face of a country, by the projecting points, by what is striking and
memorable, by that which leaves traces of itself behind, or ‘casts its
shadow before.’ Millions of acres do not make a picture; nor the
calculation of all the consequences in the world a sentiment. We must
have some outstanding object for the mind, as well as the eye, to dwell
on and recur to—something marked and decisive to give a tone and texture
to the moral feelings. Not only is the attention thus roused and kept
alive; but what is most important as to the principles of action, the
desire of good or hatred of evil is powerfully excited. But all
individual facts and history come under the head of what these people
call _Imagination_. All full, true, and particular accounts they
consider as romantic, ridiculous, vague, inflammatory. As a case in
point, one of this school of thinkers declares that he was qualified to
write a better History of India from having never been there than if he
had, as the last might lead to local distinctions or party-prejudices;
that is to say, that he could describe a country better at second-hand
than from original observation, or that from having seen no one object,
place, or person, he could do ampler justice to the whole. It might be
maintained, much on the same principle, that an artist would paint a
better likeness of a person after he was dead, from description or
different sketches of the face, than from having seen the individual
living man. On the contrary, I humbly conceive that the seeing half a
dozen wandering Lascars in the streets of London gives one a better idea
of the soul of India, that cradle of the world, and (as it were) garden
of the sun, than all the charts, records, and statistical reports that
can be sent over, even under the classical administration of Mr.
Canning. _Ex uno omnes._ One Hindoo differs more from a citizen of
London than he does from all other Hindoos; and by seeing the two first,
man to man, you know comparatively and essentially what they are, nation
to nation. By a very few specimens you fix the great leading
differences, which are nearly the same throughout. Any one thing is a
better representative of its kind, than all the words and definitions in
the world can be. The sum total is indeed different from the
particulars; but it is not easy to guess at any general result, without
some previous induction of particulars and appeal to experience.

              ‘What can we reason, but from what we know?’

Again, it is quite wrong, instead of the most striking illustrations of
human nature, to single out the stalest and tritest, as if they were
most authentic and infallible; not considering that from the extremes
you may infer the means, but you cannot from the means infer the
extremes in any case. It may be said that the extreme and individual
cases may be retorted upon us:—I deny it, unless it be with truth. The
imagination is an _associating_ principle; and has an instinctive
perception when a thing belongs to a system, or is only an exception to
it. For instance, the excesses committed by the victorious besiegers of
a town do not attach to the nation committing them, but to the nature of
that sort of warfare, and are common to both sides. They may be struck
off the score of national prejudices. The cruelties exercised upon
slaves, on the other hand, grow out of the relation between master and
slave; and the mind intuitively revolts at them as such. The cant about
the horrors of the French Revolution is mere cant—every body knows it to
be so: each party would have retaliated upon the other: it was a civil
war, like that for a disputed succession: the general principle of the
right or wrong of the change remained untouched. Neither would these
horrors have taken place, except from Prussian manifestos, and treachery
within: there were none in the American, and have been none in the
Spanish Revolution. The massacre of St. Bartholomew arose out of the
principles of that religion which exterminates with fire and sword, and
keeps no faith with heretics.—If it be said that nick-names, party
watch-words, bugbears, the cry of ‘No Popery,’ &c. are continually
played off upon the imagination with the most mischievous effect, I
answer that most of these bugbears and terms of vulgar abuse have arisen
out of abstruse speculation or barbarous prejudice, and have seldom had
their root in real facts or natural feelings. Besides, are not general
topics, rules, exceptions, endlessly bandied to and fro, and balanced
one against the other by the most learned disputants? Have not
three-fourths of all the wars, schisms, heart-burnings in the world
begun on mere points of controversy?—There are two classes whom I have
found given to this kind of reasoning against the use of our senses and
feelings in what concerns human nature, _viz._ knaves and fools. The
last do it, because they think their own shallow dogmas settle all
questions best without any farther appeal; and the first do it, because
they know that the refinements of the head are more easily got rid of
than the suggestions of the heart, and that a strong sense of injustice,
excited by a particular case in all its aggravations, tells more against
them than all the distinctions of the jurists. Facts, concrete
existences, are stubborn things, and are not so soon tampered with or
turned about to any point we please, as mere names and abstractions. Of
these last it may be said,

            ‘A breath can _mar_ them, as a breath has made:’

and they are liable to be puffed away by every wind of doctrine, or
baffled by every plea of convenience. I wonder that Rousseau gave in to
this cant about the want of soundness in rhetorical and imaginative
reasoning; and was so fond of this subject, as to make an abridgment of
Plato’s rhapsodies upon it, by which he was led to expel poets from his
commonwealth. Thus two of the most flowery writers are those who have
exacted the greatest severity of style from others. Rousseau was too
ambitious of an exceedingly technical and scientific mode of reasoning,
scarcely attainable in the mixed questions of human life, (as may be
seen in his SOCIAL CONTRACT—a work of great ability, but extreme
formality of structure) and it is probable he was led into this error in
seeking to overcome his too great warmth of natural temperament and a
tendency to indulge merely the impulses of passion. Burke, who was a man
of fine imagination, had the good sense (without any of this false
modesty) to defend the moral uses of the imagination, and is himself one
of the grossest instances of its abuse.

It is not merely the fashion among philosophers—the poets also have got
into a way of scouting individuality as beneath the sublimity of their
pretensions, and the universality of their genius. The philosophers have
become mere logicians, and their rivals mere rhetoricians; for as these
last must float on the surface, and are not allowed to be harsh and
crabbed and recondite like the others, by leaving out the individual,
they become common-place. They cannot reason, and they must declaim.
Modern tragedy, in particular, is no longer like a vessel making the
voyage of life, and tossed about by the winds and waves of passion, but
is converted into a handsomely-constructed steam-boat, that is moved by
the sole expansive power of words. Lord Byron has launched several of
these ventures lately (if ventures they may be called) and may continue
in the same strain as long as he pleases. We have not now a number of
_dramatis personæ_ affected by particular incidents and speaking
according to their feelings, or as the occasion suggests, but each
mounting the rostrum, and delivering his opinion on fate, fortune, and
the entire consummation of things. The individual is not of sufficient
importance to occupy his own thoughts or the thoughts of others. The
poet fills his page with _grandes pensées_. He covers the face of nature
with the beauty of his sentiments and the brilliancy of his paradoxes.
We have the subtleties of the head, instead of the workings of the
heart, and possible justifications instead of the actual motives of
conduct. This all seems to proceed on a false estimate of individual
nature and the value of human life. We have been so used to count by
millions of late, that we think the units that compose them nothing; and
are so prone to trace remote principles, that we neglect the immediate
results. As an instance of the opposite style of dramatic dialogue, in
which the persons speak for themselves, and to one another, I will give,
by way of illustration, a passage from an old tragedy, in which a
brother has just caused his sister to be put to a violent death.

     ‘_Bosola._ Fix your eye here.

     _Ferdinand._ Constantly.

     _Bosola._ Do you not weep?
     Other sins only speak; murther shrieks out:
     The element of water moistens the earth;
     But blood flies upwards, and bedews the heavens.

     _Ferdinand._ Cover her face: mine eyes dazzle; she died young.

     _Bosola._ I think not so: her infelicity
     Seem’d to have years too many.

     _Ferdinand._ She and I were twins:
     And should I die this instant, I had lived
     Her time to a minute.’
                 DUCHESS OF MALFY, Act IV. Scene 2.

How fine is the constancy with which he first fixes his eye on the dead
body, with a forced courage, and then, as his resolution wavers, how
natural is his turning his face away, and the reflection that strikes
him on her youth and beauty and untimely death, and the thought that
they were twins, and his measuring his life by hers up to the present
period, as if all that was to come of it were nothing! Now, I would fain
ask whether there is not in this contemplation of the interval that
separates the beginning from the end of life, of a life too so varied
from good to ill, and of the pitiable termination of which the person
speaking has been the wilful and guilty cause, enough to ‘give the mind
pause?’ Is not that revelation as it were of the whole extent of our
being which is made by the flashes of passion and stroke of calamity, a
subject sufficiently staggering to have place in legitimate tragedy? Are
not the struggles of the will with untoward events and the adverse
passions of others as interesting and instructive in the representation
as reflections on the mutability of fortune or inevitableness of
destiny, or on the passions of men in general? The tragic Muse does not
merely utter muffled sounds: but we see the paleness on the cheek, and
the life-blood gushing from the heart! The interest we take in our own
lives, in our successes or disappointments, and the _home_ feelings that
arise out of these, when well described, are the clearest and truest
mirror in which we can see the image of human nature. For in this sense
each man is a microcosm. What he is, the rest are—whatever his joys and
sorrows are composed of, theirs are the same—no more, no less.

            ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.’

But it must be the genuine touch of nature, not the outward flourishes
and varnish of art. The spouting, oracular, didactic figure of the poet
no more answers to the living man, than the lay-figure of the painter
does. We may well say to such a one,

          ‘Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
          That thou dost glare with: thy bones are marrowless,
          Thy blood is cold!’

Man is (so to speak) an endless and infinitely varied repetition: and if
we know what one man feels, we so far know what a thousand feel in the
sanctuary of their being. Our feeling of general humanity is at once an
aggregate of a thousand different truths, and it is also the same truth
a thousand times told. As is our perception of this original truth, the
root of our imagination, so will the force and richness of the general
impression proceeding from it be. The boundary of our sympathy is a
circle which enlarges itself according to its propulsion from the
centre—the heart. If we are imbued with a deep sense of individual weal
or woe, we shall be awe-struck at the idea of humanity in general. If we
know little of it but its abstract and common properties, without their
particular application, their force or degrees, we shall care just as
little as we know either about the whole or the individuals. If we
understand the texture and vital feeling, we then can fill up the
outline, but we cannot supply the former from having the latter given.
Moral and poetical truth is like expression in a picture—the one is not
to be attained by smearing over a large canvas, nor the other by
bestriding a vague topic. In such matters, the most pompous sciolists
are accordingly found to be the greatest contemners of human life. But I
defy any great tragic writer to despise that nature which he
understands, or that heart which he has probed, with all its rich
bleeding materials of joy and sorrow. The subject may not be a source of
much triumph to him, from its alternate light and shade, but it can
never become one of supercilious indifference. He must feel a strong
reflex interest in it, corresponding to that which he has depicted in
the characters of others. Indeed, the object and end of playing, ‘both
at the first and now, is to hold the mirror up to nature,’ to enable us
to feel for others as for ourselves, or to embody a distinct interest
out of ourselves by the force of imagination and passion. This is summed
up in the wish of the poet—

           ‘To feel what others are, and know myself a man.’

If it does not do this, it loses both its dignity and its proper use.


                                ESSAY VI
                        ON APPLICATION TO STUDY

No one is idle, who can do any thing. It is conscious inability, or the
sense of repeated failure, that prevents us from undertaking, or deters
us from the prosecution of any work.

Wilson, the painter, might be mentioned as an exception to this rule;
for he was said to be an indolent man. After bestowing a few touches on
a picture, he grew tired, and said to any friend who called in, ‘Now,
let us go somewhere!’ But the fact is, that Wilson could not finish his
pictures minutely; and that those few masterly touches, carelessly
thrown in of a morning, were all that he could do. The rest would have
been labour lost. Morland has been referred to as another man of genius,
who could only be brought to work by fits and snatches. But his
landscapes and figures (whatever degree of merit they might possess)
were mere hasty sketches; and he could produce all that he was capable
of, in the first half-hour, as well as in twenty years. Why bestow
additional pains without additional effect? What he did was from the
impulse of the moment, from the lively impression of some coarse, but
striking object; and with that impulse his efforts ceased, as they
justly ought. There is no use in labouring, _invitâ Minerva_—nor any
difficulty in it, when the Muse is not averse.

                ‘The labour we delight in physics pain.’

Denner finished his unmeaning portraits with a microscope, and without
being ever weary of his fruitless task; for the essence of his genius
was industry. Sir Joshua Reynolds, courted by the Graces and by Fortune,
was hardly ever out of his painting-room; and lamented a few days, at
any time spent at a friend’s house or at a nobleman’s seat in the
country, as so much time lost. That darkly-illuminated room ‘to him a
kingdom was:’ his pencil was the sceptre that he wielded, and the
throne, on which his sitters were placed, a throne for Fame. Here he
felt indeed at home; here the current of his ideas flowed full and
strong; here he felt most self-possession, most command over others; and
the sense of power urged him on to his delightful task with a sort of
vernal cheerfulness and vigour, even in the decline of life. The feeling
of weakness and incapacity would have made his hand soon falter, would
have rebutted him from his object; or had the canvas mocked, and been
insensible to his toil, instead of gradually turning to

                  ‘A lucid mirror, in which nature saw
                  All her reflected features,’

he would, like so many others, have thrown down his pencil in despair,
or proceeded reluctantly, without spirit and without success. Claude
Lorraine, in like manner, spent whole mornings on the banks of the Tiber
or in his study, eliciting beauty after beauty, adding touch to touch,
getting nearer and nearer to perfection, luxuriating in endless
felicity—not merely giving the salient points, but filling up the whole
intermediate space with continuous grace and beauty! What farther motive
was necessary to induce him to persevere, but the bounty of his fate?
What greater pleasure could he seek for, than that of seeing the perfect
image of his mind reflected in the work of his hand? But as is the
pleasure and the confidence produced by consummate skill, so is the pain
and the desponding effect of total failure. When for the fair face of
nature, we only see an unsightly blot issuing from our best endeavours,
then the nerves slacken, the tears fill the eyes, and the painter turns
away from his art, as the lover from a mistress, that scorns him. Alas!
how many such have, as the poet says,

                                   ‘Begun in gladness;
         Whereof has come in the end despondency and madness’—

not for want of will to proceed, (oh! no,) but for lack of power!

Hence it is that those often do best (up to a certain point of
common-place success) who have least knowledge and least ambition to
excel. Their taste keeps pace with their capacity; and they are not
deterred by insurmountable difficulties, of which they have no idea. I
have known artists (for instance) of considerable merit, and a certain
native rough strength and resolution of mind, who have been active and
enterprising in their profession, but who never seemed to think of any
works but those which they had in hand; they never spoke of a picture,
or appeared to have seen one: to them Titian, Raphael, Rubens,
Rembrandt, Correggio, were as if they had never been: no tones, mellowed
by time to soft perfection, lured them to their luckless doom, no divine
forms baffled their vain embrace; no sound of immortality rung in their
ears, or drew off their attention from the calls of creditors or of
hunger: they walked through collections of the finest works, like the
Children in the Fiery Furnace, untouched, unapproached. With these true
_terræ filii_ the art seemed to begin and end: they thought only of the
subject of their next production, the size of their next canvas, the
grouping, the getting of the figures in; and conducted their work to its
conclusion with as little distraction of mind and as few misgivings as a
stage-coachman conducts a stage, or a carrier delivers a bale of goods,
according to its destination. Such persons, if they do not rise above,
at least seldom sink below themselves. They do not soar to the ‘highest
Heaven of invention,’ nor penetrate the inmost recesses of the heart;
but they succeed in all that they attempt, or are capable of, as men of
business and industry in their calling. For them the veil of the Temple
of Art is not rent asunder, and it is well: one glimpse of the
Sanctuary, of the Holy of the Holies, might palsy their hands, and dim
their sight for ever after!

I think there are two mistakes, common enough, on this subject; viz.
that men of genius, or of first-rate capacity, do little, except by
intermittent fits, or _per saltum_—and that they do that little in a
slight and slovenly manner. There may be instances of this; but they are
not the highest, and they are the exceptions, not the rule. On the
contrary, the greatest artists have in general been the most prolific or
the most elaborate, as the best writers have been frequently the most
voluminous as well as indefatigable. We have a great living instance
among writers, that the quality of a man’s productions is not to be
estimated in the inverse ratio of their quantity, I mean in the Author
of Waverley; the fecundity of whose pen is no less admirable than its
felicity. Shakespear is another instance of the same prodigality of
genius; his materials being endlessly poured forth with no niggard or
fastidious hand, and the mastery of the execution being (in many
respects at least) equal to the boldness of the design. As one example
among others that I might cite of the attention which he gave to his
subject, it is sufficient to observe, that there is scarcely a word in
any of his more striking passages that can be altered for the better. If
any person, for instance, is trying to recollect a favourite line, and
cannot hit upon some particular expression, it is in vain to think of
substituting any other so good. That in the original text is not merely
the best, but it seems the only right one. I will stop to illustrate
this point a little. I was at a loss the other day for the line in Henry
V.

                ‘_Nice_ customs curtesy to great kings.’

I could not recollect the word _nice_: I tried a number of others, such
as _old_, _grave_, &c.—they would none of them do, but seemed all heavy,
lumbering, or from the purpose: the word _nice_, on the contrary,
appeared to drop into its place, and be ready to assist in paying the
reverence required. Again,

                 ‘A jest’s _prosperity_ lies in the ear
                 Of him that hears it.’

I thought, in quoting from memory, of ‘A jest’s _success_,’ ‘A jest’s
_renown_,’ &c. I then turned to the volume, and there found the very
word that, of all others, expressed the idea. Had Shakespear searched
through the four quarters of the globe, he could not have lighted on
another to convey so exactly what he meant—a _casual_, _hollow_,
_sounding_ success! I could multiply such examples, but that I am sure
the reader will easily supply them himself; and they shew sufficiently
that Shakespear was not (as he is often represented) a loose or clumsy
writer. The bold, happy texture of his style, in which every word is
prominent, and yet cannot be torn from its place without violence, any
more than a limb from the body, is (one should think) the result either
of vigilant pains-taking or of unerring, intuitive perception, and not
the mark of crude conceptions, and ‘the random, blindfold blows of
Ignorance.’

There cannot be a greater contradiction to the common prejudice that
‘Genius is naturally a truant and a vagabond,’ than the astonishing and
(on this hypothesis) unaccountable number of _chef-d’œuvres_ left behind
them by the old masters. The stream of their invention supplies the
taste of successive generations like a river: they furnish a hundred
Galleries, and preclude competition, not more by the excellence than by
the number of their performances. Take Raphael and Rubens alone. There
are works of theirs in single Collections enough to occupy a long and
laborious life, and yet their works are spread through all the
Collections of Europe. They seem to have cost them no more labour than
if they ‘had drawn in their breath and puffed it forth again.’ But we
know that they made drawings, studies, sketches of all the principal of
these, with the care and caution of the merest tyros in the art; and
they remain equal proofs of their capacity and diligence. The Cartoons
of Raphael alone might have employed many years, and made a life of
illustrious labour, though they look as if they had been struck off at a
blow, and are not a tenth part of what he produced in his short but
bright career. Titian and Michael Angelo lived longer, but they worked
as hard and did as well. Shall we bring in competition with examples
like these some trashy caricaturist or idle dauber, who has no sense of
the infinite resources of nature or art, nor consequently any power to
employ himself upon them for any length of time or to any purpose, to
prove that genius and regular industry are incompatible qualities?

In my opinion, the very superiority of the works of the great painters
(instead of being a bar to) accounts for their multiplicity. Power is
pleasure; and pleasure sweetens pain. A fine poet thus describes the
effect of the sight of nature on his mind:

                 ——‘The sounding cataract
             Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
             The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
             Their colours and their forms were then to me
             An appetite, a feeling, and a love,
             That had no need of a remoter charm
             By thought supplied, or any interest
             Unborrowed from the eye.’

So the forms of nature, or the human form divine, stood before the great
artists of old, nor required any other stimulus to lead the eye to
survey, or the hand to embody them, than the pleasure derived from the
inspiration of the subject, and ‘propulsive force’ of the mimic
creation. The grandeur of their works was an argument with them, not to
stop short, but to proceed. They could have no higher excitement or
satisfaction than in the exercise of their art and endless generation of
truth and beauty. Success prompts to exertion; and habit facilitates
success. It is idle to suppose we can exhaust nature; and the more we
employ our own faculties, the more we strengthen them and enrich our
stores of observation and invention. The more we do, the more we _can_
do. Not indeed if we _get our ideas out of our own heads_—that stock is
soon exhausted, and we recur to tiresome, vapid imitations of ourselves.
But this is the difference between real and mock talent, between genius
and affectation. Nature is not limited, nor does it become effete, like
our conceit and vanity. The closer we examine it, the more it refines
upon us; it expands as we enlarge and shift our view; it ‘grows with our
growth, and strengthens with our strength.’ The subjects are endless;
and our capacity is invigorated as it is called out by occasion and
necessity. He who does nothing, renders himself incapable of doing any
thing; but while we are executing any work, we are preparing and
qualifying ourselves to undertake another. The principles are the same
in all nature; and we understand them better, as we verify them by
experience and practice. It is not as if there was a given number of
subjects to work upon, or a set of _innate_ or preconceived ideas in our
minds which we encroached upon with every new design; the subjects, as I
said before, are endless, and we acquire ideas by imparting them. Our
expenditure of intellectual wealth makes us rich: we can only be liberal
as we have previously accumulated the means. By lying idle, as by
standing still, we are confined to the same trite, narrow round of
topics: by continuing our efforts, as by moving forwards in a road, we
extend our views, and discover continually new tracts of country.
Genius, like humanity, rusts for want of use.

Habit also gives promptness; and the soul of dispatch is decision. One
man may write a book or paint a picture, while another is deliberating
about the plan or the title-page. The great painters were able to do so
much, because they knew exactly what they meant to do, and how to set
about it. They were thorough-bred workmen, and were not learning their
art while they were exercising it. One can do a great deal in a short
time if one only knows how. Thus an author may become very voluminous,
who only employs an hour or two in a day in study. If he has once
obtained, by habit and reflection, a use of his pen with plenty of
materials to work upon, the pages vanish before him. The time lost is in
beginning, or in stopping after we have begun. If we only go forwards
with spirit and confidence, we shall soon arrive at the end of our
journey. A practised writer ought never to hesitate for a sentence from
the moment he sets pen to paper, or think about the course he is to
take. He must trust to his previous knowledge of the subject and to his
immediate impulses, and he will get to the close of his task without
accidents or loss of time. I can easily understand how the old divines
and controversialists produced their folios: I could write folios
myself, if I rose early and sat up late at this kind of occupation. But
I confess I should be soon tired of it, besides wearying the reader.

In one sense, art is long and life is short. In another sense, this
aphorism is not true. The best of us are idle half our time. It is
wonderful how much is done in a short space, provided we set about it
properly, and give our minds wholly to it. Let any one devote himself to
any art or science ever so strenuously, and he will still have leisure
to make considerable progress in half a dozen other acquirements.
Leonardo da Vinci was a mathematician, a musician, a poet, and an
anatomist, besides being one of the greatest painters of his age. The
Prince of Painters was a courtier, a lover, and fond of dress and
company. Michael Angelo was a prodigy of versatility of talent—a writer
of Sonnets (which Wordsworth has thought worth translating) and the
admirer of Dante. Salvator was a lutenist and a satirist. Titian was an
elegant letter-writer, and a finished gentleman. Sir Joshua Reynolds’s
Discourses are more polished and classical even than any of his
pictures. Let a man do all he can in any one branch of study, he must
either exhaust himself and doze over it, or vary his pursuit, or else
lie idle. All our real labour lies in a nut-shell. The mind makes, at
some period or other, one Herculean effort, and the rest is mechanical.
We have to climb a steep and narrow precipice at first; but after that,
the way is broad and easy, where we may drive several accomplishments
abreast. Men should have one principal pursuit, which may be both
agreeably and advantageously diversified with other lighter ones, as the
subordinate parts of a picture may be managed so as to give effect to
the centre group. It has been observed by a sensible man,[9] that the
having a regular occupation or professional duties to attend to is no
excuse for putting forth an inelegant or inaccurate work; for a habit of
industry braces and strengthens the mind, and enables it to wield its
energies with additional ease and steadier purpose.—Were I allowed to
instance in myself, if what I write at present is worth nothing, at
least it costs me nothing. But it cost me a great deal twenty years ago.
I have added little to my stock since then, and taken little from it. I
‘unfold the book and volume of the brain,’ and transcribe the characters
I see there as mechanically as any one might copy the letters in a
sampler. I do not say they came there mechanically—I transfer them to
the paper mechanically. After eight or ten years’ hard study, an author
(at least) may go to sleep.

I do not conceive rapidity of execution necessarily implies slovenliness
or crudeness. On the contrary, I believe it is often productive both of
sharpness and freedom. The eagerness of composition strikes out sparkles
of fancy, and runs the thoughts more naturally and closely into one
another. There may be less formal method, but there is more life, and
spirit, and truth. In the play and agitation of the mind, it runs over,
and we dally with the subject, as the glass-blower rapidly shapes the
vitreous fluid. A number of new thoughts rise up spontaneously, and they
come in the proper places, because they arise from the occasion. They
are also sure to partake of the warmth and vividness of that ebullition
of mind, from which they spring. _Spiritus precipitandus est._ In these
sort of voluntaries in composition, the thoughts are worked up to a
state of projection: the grasp of the subject, the presence of mind, the
flow of expression must be something akin to _extempore_ speaking; or
perhaps such bold but finished draughts may be compared to _fresco_
paintings, which imply a life of study and great previous preparation,
but of which the execution is momentary and irrevocable. I will add a
single remark on a point that has been much disputed. Mr. Cobbett lays
it down that the first word that occurs is always the best. I would
venture to differ from so great an authority. Mr. Cobbett himself indeed
writes as easily and as well as he talks; but he perhaps is hardly a
rule for others without his practice and without his ability. In the
hurry of composition three or four words may present themselves, one on
the back of the other, and the last may be the best and right one. I
grant thus much, that it is in vain to seek for the word we want, or
endeavour to get at it second-hand, or as a paraphrase on some other
word—it must come of itself, or arise out of an immediate impression or
lively intuition of the subject; that is, the proper word must be
suggested immediately by the thoughts, but it need not be presented as
soon as called for. It is the same in trying to recollect the names of
places, persons, etc. We cannot force our memory; they must come of
themselves by natural association, as it were; but they may occur to us
when we least think of it, owing to some casual circumstance or link of
connexion, and long after we have given up the search. Proper
expressions rise to the surface from the heat and fermentation of the
mind, like bubbles on an agitated stream. It is this which produces a
clear and sparkling style.

In painting, great execution supplies the place of high finishing. A few
vigorous touches, properly and rapidly disposed, will often give more of
the appearance and texture (even) of natural objects than the most heavy
and laborious details. But this masterly style of execution is very
different from coarse daubing. I do not think, however, that the pains
or polish an artist bestows upon his works necessarily interferes with
their number. He only grows more enamoured of his task, proportionally
patient, indefatigable, and devotes more of the day to study. The time
we lose is not in overdoing what we are about, but in doing nothing.
Rubens had great facility of execution, and seldom went into the
details. Yet Raphael, whose oil-pictures were exact and laboured,
achieved, according to the length of time he lived, very nearly as much
as he. In filling up the parts of his pictures, and giving them the last
perfection they were capable of, he filled up his leisure hours, which
otherwise would have lain idle on his hands. I have sometimes accounted
for the slow progress of certain artists from the unfinished state in
which they have left their works at last. These were evidently done by
fits and throes—there was no appearance of continuous labour—one figure
had been thrown in at a venture, and then another; and in the intervals
between these convulsive and random efforts, more time had been wasted
than could have been spent in working up each individual figure on the
sure principles of art, and by a careful inspection of nature, to the
utmost point of practicable perfection.

Some persons are afraid of their own works; and having made one or two
successful efforts, attempt nothing ever after. They stand still midway
in the road to fame, from being startled at the shadow of their own
reputation. This is a needless alarm. If what they have already done
possesses real power, this will increase with exercise; if it has not
this power, it is not sufficient to ensure them lasting fame. Such
delicate pretenders tremble on the brink of _ideal_ perfection, like
dew-drops on the edge of flowers; and are fascinated, like so many
Narcissuses, with the image of themselves, reflected from the public
admiration. It is seldom, indeed, that this cautious repose will answer
its end. While seeking to sustain our reputation at the height, we are
forgotten. Shakespear gave different advice, and himself acted upon it.

               ——‘Perseverance, dear my lord,
       Keeps honour bright. To have done, is to hang
       Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail,
       In monumental mockery. Take the instant way;
       For honour travels in a strait so narrow,
       Where one but goes abreast. Keep then the path;
       For emulation hath a thousand sons,
       That one by one pursue. If you give way,
       Or hedge aside from the direct forth-right,
       Like to an enter’d tide, they all rush by,
       And leave you hindmost:—
       Or like a gallant horse, fall’n in first rank,
       Lie there for pavement to the abject rear,
       O’er-run and trampled. Then what they do in present,
       Though less than yours in past, must o’ertop yours:
       For time is like a fashionable host,
       That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand,
       And with his arms outstretch’d as he would fly,
       Grasps in the comer. Welcome ever smiles,
       And farewell goes out sighing. O let not virtue seek
       Remuneration for the thing it was; for beauty, wit,
       High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service,
       Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all
       To envious and calumniating Time.
       One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,
       That all with one consent praise new-born gauds,
       Though they are made and moulded of things past;
       And give to dust that is a little gilt
       More laud than gilt o’er dusted.
       The present eye praises the present object.’
                                           TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.

I cannot very well conceive how it is that some writers (even of taste
and genius) spend whole years in mere corrections for the press, as it
were—in polishing a line or adjusting a comma. They take long to
consider, exactly as there is nothing worth the trouble of a moment’s
thought; and the more they deliberate, the farther they are from
deciding: for their fastidiousness increases with the indulgence of it,
nor is there any real ground for preference. They are in the situation
of _Ned Softly_, in the TATLER, who was a whole morning debating whether
a line of a poetical epistle should run—

                 ‘You sing your song with so much art;’

or,

                 ‘Your song you sing with so much art.’

These are points that it is impossible ever to come to a determination
about; and it is only a proof of a little mind ever to have entertained
the question at all.

There is a class of persons whose minds seem to move in an element of
littleness; or rather, that are entangled in trifling difficulties, and
incapable of extricating themselves from them. There was a remarkable
instance of this improgressive, ineffectual, restless activity of temper
in a late celebrated and very ingenious landscape-painter. ‘Never
ending, still beginning,’ his mind seemed entirely made up of points and
fractions, nor could he by any means arrive at a conclusion or a
valuable whole. He made it his boast that he never sat with his hands
before him, and yet he never did any thing. His powers and his time were
frittered away in an importunate, uneasy, fidgetty attention to little
things. The first picture he ever painted (when a mere boy) was a copy
of his father’s house; and he began it by counting the number of bricks
in the front upwards and length-ways, and then made a scale of them on
his canvas. This literal style and mode of study stuck to him to the
last. He was put under Wilson, whose example (if any thing could) might
have cured him of this pettiness of conception; but nature prevailed, as
it almost always does. To take pains to no purpose, seemed to be his
motto, and the delight of his life. He left (when he died, not long ago)
heaps of canvasses with elaborately finished pencil outlines on them,
and with perhaps a little dead-colouring added here and there. In this
state they were thrown aside, as if he grew tired of his occupation the
instant it gave a promise of turning to account, and his whole object in
the pursuit of art was to erect scaffoldings. The same intense interest
in the most frivolous things extended to the common concerns of life, to
the arranging of his letters, the labelling of his books, and the
inventory of his wardrobe. Yet he was a man of sense, who saw the folly
and the waste of time in all this, and could warn others against it. The
perceiving our own weaknesses enables us to give others excellent
advice, but it does not teach us to reform them ourselves. ‘Physician,
heal thyself!’ is the hardest lesson to follow. Nobody knew better than
our artist that repose is necessary to great efforts, and that he who is
never idle, labours in vain!

Another error is to spend one’s life in procrastination and preparations
for the future. Persons of this turn of mind stop at the threshold of
art, and accumulate the means of improvement, till they obstruct their
progress to the end. They are always putting off the evil day, and
excuse themselves for doing nothing by commencing some new and
indispensable course of study. Their projects are magnificent, but
remote, and require years to complete or to put them in execution. Fame
is seen in the horizon, and flies before them. Like the recreant
boastful knight in Spenser, they turn their backs on their competitors,
to make a great career, but never return to the charge. They make
themselves masters of anatomy, of drawing, of perspective: they collect
prints, casts, medallions, make studies of heads, of hands, of the
bones, the muscles; copy pictures; visit Italy, Greece, and return as
they went. They fulfil the proverb, ‘When you are at Rome, you must do
as those at Rome do.’ This circuitous, erratic pursuit of art can come
to no good. It is only an apology for idleness and vanity. Foreign
travel especially makes men pedants, not artists. What we seek, we must
find at home or nowhere. The way to do great things is to set about
something, and he who cannot find resources in himself or in his own
painting-room, will perform the grand tour, or go through the circle of
the arts and sciences, and end just where he began!

The same remarks that have been here urged with respect to an
application to the study of art, will, in a great measure, (though not
in every particular) apply to an attention to business: I mean, that
exertion will generally follow success and opportunity in the one, as it
does confidence and talent in the other. Give a man a motive to work,
and he will work. A lawyer who is regularly feed, seldom neglects to
look over his briefs: the more business, the more industry. The stress
laid upon early rising is preposterous. If we have any thing to do when
we get up, we shall not lie in bed, to a certainty. Thomson the poet was
found late in bed by Dr. Burney, and asked why he had not risen earlier.
The Scotchman wisely answered, ‘I had no motive, young man!’ What indeed
had he to do after writing the Seasons, but to dream out the rest of his
existence, unless it were to write the CASTLE OF INDOLENCE[10]!


                               ESSAY VII
                    ON LONDONERS AND COUNTRY PEOPLE

I do not agree with Mr. _Blackwood_ in his definition of the word
_Cockney_. He means by it a person who has happened at any time to live
in London, and who is not a Tory—I mean by it a person who has never
lived out of London, and who has got all his ideas from it.

The true Cockney has never travelled beyond the purlieus of the
Metropolis, either in the body or the spirit. Primrose-hill is the
Ultima Thule of his most romantic desires; Greenwich Park stands him in
stead of the Vales of Arcady. Time and space are lost to him. He is
confined to one spot, and to the present moment. He sees every thing
near, superficial, little, in hasty succession. The world turns round,
and his head with it, like a round-about at a fair, till he becomes
stunned and giddy with the motion. Figures glide by as in a _camera
obscura_. There is a glare, a perpetual hubbub, a noise, a crowd about
him; he sees and hears a vast number of things, and knows nothing. He is
pert, raw, ignorant, conceited, ridiculous, shallow, contemptible. His
senses keep him alive; and he knows, inquires, and cares for nothing
farther. He meets the Lord Mayor’s coach, and without ceremony treats
himself to an imaginary ride in it. He notices the people going to court
or to a city-feast, and is quite satisfied with the show. He takes the
wall of a Lord, and fancies himself as good as he. He sees an infinite
quantity of people pass along the street, and thinks there is no such
thing as life or a knowledge of character to be found out of London.
‘Beyond Hyde Park all is a desart to him.’ He despises the country,
because he is ignorant of it, and the town, because he is familiar with
it. He is as well acquainted with St. Paul’s as if he had built it, and
talks of Westminster Abbey and Poets’ Corner with great indifference.
The King, the House of Lords and Commons are his very good friends. He
knows the members for Westminster or the City by sight, and bows to the
Sheriffs or the Sheriffs’ men. He is hand and glove with the Chairman of
some Committee. He is, in short, a great man by proxy, and comes so
often in contact with fine persons and things, that he rubs off a little
of the gilding, and is surcharged with a sort of second-hand, vapid,
tingling, troublesome self-importance. His personal vanity is thus
continually flattered and perked up into ridiculous self-complacency,
while his imagination is jaded and impaired by daily misuse. Every thing
is vulgarised in his mind. Nothing dwells long enough on it to produce
an interest; nothing is contemplated sufficiently at a distance to
excite curiosity or wonder. _Your true Cockney is your only true
leveller._ Let him be as low as he will, he fancies he is as good as any
body else. He has no respect for himself, and still less (if possible)
for you. He cares little about his own advantages, if he can only make a
jest at yours. Every feeling comes to him through a medium of levity and
impertinence; nor does he like to have this habit of mind disturbed by
being brought into collision with any thing serious or respectable. He
despairs (in such a crowd of competitors) of distinguishing himself, but
laughs heartily at the idea of being able to trip up the heels of other
people’s pretensions. A Cockney feels no gratitude. This is a first
principle with him. He regards any obligation you confer upon him as a
species of imposition, a ludicrous assumption of fancied superiority. He
talks about everything, for he has heard something about it; and
understanding nothing of the matter, concludes he has as good a right as
you. He is a politician; for he has seen the Parliament House: he is a
critic; because he knows the principal actors by sight—has a taste for
music, because he belongs to a glee-club at the West End, and is
gallant, in virtue of sometimes frequenting the lobbies at half-price. A
mere Londoner, in fact, from the opportunities he has of knowing
something of a number of objects (and those striking ones) fancies
himself a sort of privileged person; remains satisfied with the
assumption of merits, so much the more unquestionable as they are not
his own; and from being dazzled with noise, show, and appearances, is
less capable of giving a real opinion, or entering into any subject than
the meanest peasant. There are greater lawyers, orators, painters,
philosophers, poets, players in London, than in any other part of the
United Kingdom: he is a Londoner, and therefore it would be strange if
he did not know more of law, eloquence, art, philosophy, poetry, acting,
than any one without his local advantages, and who is merely from the
country. This is a _non sequitur_; and it constantly appears so when put
to the test.

A real Cockney is the poorest creature in the world, the most literal,
the most mechanical, and yet he too lives in a world of romance—a
fairy-land of his own. He is a citizen of London; and this abstraction
leads his imagination the finest dance in the world. London is the first
city on the habitable globe; and therefore he must be superior to every
one who lives out of it. There are more people in London than any where
else; and though a dwarf in stature, his person swells out and expands
into _ideal_ importance and borrowed magnitude. He resides in a garret
or in a two pair of stairs’ back room; yet he talks of the magnificence
of London, and gives himself airs of consequence upon it, as if all the
houses in Portman or in Grosvenor Square were his by right or in
reversion. ‘He is owner of all he surveys.’ The Monument, the Tower of
London, St. James’s Palace, the Mansion House, White-Hall, are part and
parcel of his being. Let us suppose him to be a lawyer’s clerk at
half-a-guinea a week: but he knows the Inns of Court, the Temple
Gardens, and Gray’s-Inn Passage, sees the lawyers in their wigs walking
up and down Chancery Lane, and has advanced within half-a-dozen yards of
the Chancellor’s chair:—who can doubt that he understands (by
implication) every point of law (however intricate) better than the most
expert country practitioner? He is a shopman, and nailed all day behind
the counter: but he sees hundreds and thousands of gay, well-dressed
people pass—an endless phantasmagoria—and enjoys their liberty and gaudy
fluttering pride. He is a footman—but he rides behind beauty, through a
crowd of carriages, and visits a thousand shops. Is he a tailor—that
last infirmity of human nature? The stigma on his profession is lost in
the elegance of the patterns he provides, and of the persons he adorns;
and he is something very different from a mere country botcher. Nay, the
very scavenger and nightman thinks the dirt in the street has something
precious in it, and his employment is solemn, silent, sacred, peculiar
to London! A _barker_ in Monmouth Street, a slop-seller in Radcliffe
Highway, a tapster at a night-cellar, a beggar in St. Giles’s, a drab in
Fleet-Ditch, live in the eyes of millions, and eke out a dreary,
wretched, scanty, or loathsome existence from the gorgeous, busy,
glowing scene around them. It is a common saying among such persons that
‘they had rather be hanged in London than die a natural death out of it
any where else’—Such is the force of habit and imagination. Even the eye
of childhood is dazzled and delighted with the polished splendour of the
jewellers’ shops, the neatness of the turnery ware, the festoons of
artificial flowers, the confectionery, the chemists’ shops, the lamps,
the horses, the carriages, the sedan-chairs: to this was formerly added
a set of traditional associations—Whittington and his Cat, Guy Faux and
the Gunpowder Treason, the Fire and the Plague of London, and the Heads
of the Scotch Rebels that were stuck on Temple Bar in 1745. These have
vanished, and in their stead the curious and romantic eye must be
content to pore in Pennant for the scite of old London-Wall, or to
peruse the sentimental mile-stone that marks the distance to the place
‘where Hickes’s Hall formerly stood!’

The _Cockney_ lives in a go-cart of local prejudices and positive
illusions; and when he is turned out of it, he hardly knows how to stand
or move. He ventures through Hyde Park Corner, as a cat crosses a
gutter. The trees pass by the coach very oddly. The country has a
strange blank appearance. It is not lined with houses all the way, like
London. He comes to places he never saw or heard of. He finds the world
is bigger than he thought for. He might have dropped from the moon, for
any thing he knows of the matter. He is mightily disposed to laugh, but
is half afraid of making some blunder. Between sheepishness and conceit,
he is in a very ludicrous situation. He finds that the people walk on
two legs, and wonders to hear them talk a dialect so different from his
own. He perceives London fashions have got down into the country before
him, and that some of the better sort are dressed as well as he is. A
drove of pigs or cattle stopping the road is a very troublesome
interruption. A crow in a field, a magpie in a hedge, are to him very
odd animals—he can’t tell what to make of them, or how they live. He
does not altogether like the accommodations at the inns—it is not what
he has been used to in town. He begins to be communicative—says he was
‘born within the sound of Bow-bell,’ and attempts some jokes, at which
nobody laughs. He asks the coachman a question, to which he receives no
answer. All this is to him very unaccountable and unexpected. He arrives
at his journey’s end; and instead of being the great man he anticipated
among his friends and country relations, finds that they are barely
civil to him, or make a butt of him; have topics of their own which he
is as completely ignorant of as they are indifferent to what he says, so
that he is glad to get back to London again, where he meets with his
favourite indulgences and associates, and fancies the whole world is
occupied with what he hears and sees.

A Cockney loves a tea-garden in summer, as he loves the play or the
Cider-Cellar in winter—where he sweetens the air with the fumes of
tobacco, and makes it echo to the sound of his own voice. This kind of
suburban retreat is a most agreeable relief to the close and confined
air of a city life. The imagination, long pent up behind a counter or
between brick walls, with noisome smells, and dingy objects, cannot bear
at once to launch into the boundless expanse of the country, but
‘shorter excursions tries,’ coveting something between the two, and
finding it at White-conduit House, or the Rosemary Branch, or Bagnigge
Wells. The landlady is seen at a bow-window in near perspective, with
punch-bowls and lemons disposed orderly around—the lime-trees or poplars
wave overhead to ‘catch the breezy air,’ through which, typical of the
huge dense cloud that hangs over the metropolis, curls up the thin,
blue, odoriferous vapour of Virginia or Oronooko—the benches are ranged
in rows, the fields and hedge-rows spread out their verdure; Hampstead
and Highgate are seen in the back-ground, and contain the imagination
within gentle limits—here the holiday people are playing ball; here they
are playing bowls—here they are quaffing ale, there sipping tea—here the
loud wager is heard, there the political debate. In a sequestered nook a
slender youth with purple face and drooping head, nodding over a glass
of gin toddy, breathes in tender accents—‘There’s nought so sweet on
earth as Love’s young dream;’ while ‘Rosy Ann’ takes its turn, and
‘Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled’ is thundered forth in accents that
might wake the dead. In another part sit carpers and critics, who
dispute the score of the reckoning or the game, or cavil at the taste
and execution of the _would-be_ Brahams and Durusets. Of this latter
class was Dr. Goodman, a man of other times—I mean of those of Smollett
and Defoe—who was curious in opinion, obstinate in the wrong, great in
little things, and inveterate in petty warfare. I vow he held me an
argument once ‘an hour by St. Dunstan’s clock,’ while I held an umbrella
over his head (the friendly protection of which he was unwilling to quit
to walk in the rain to Camberwell) to prove to me that Richard Pinch was
neither a fives-player nor a pleasing singer. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘I deny
that Mr. Pinch plays the game. He is a cunning player, but not a good
one. I grant his tricks, his little mean dirty ways, but he is not a
manly antagonist. He has no hit, and no left-hand. How then can he set
up for a superior player? And then as to his always striking the ball
against the side-wings at Copenhagen-house, Cavanagh, sir, used to say,
“The wall was made to hit at!” I have no patience with such pitiful
shifts and advantages. They are an insult upon so fine and athletic a
game! And as to his setting up for a singer, it’s quite ridiculous. You
know, Mr. H——, that to be a really excellent singer, a man must lay
claim to one of two things; in the first place, sir, he must have a
naturally fine ear for music, or secondly, an early education,
exclusively devoted to that study. But no one ever suspected Mr. Pinch
of refined sensibility; and his education, as we all know, has been a
little at large. Then again, why should he of all other things be always
singing “Rosy Ann,” and “Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,” till one is
sick of hearing them? It’s preposterous, and I mean to tell him so. You
know, I’m sure, without my hinting it, that in the first of these
admired songs, the sentiment is voluptuous and tender, and in the last
patriotic. Now Pinch’s romance never wandered from behind his counter,
and his patriotism lies in his breeches’ pocket. Sir, the utmost he
should aspire to would be to play upon the Jews’ harp!’ This story of
the Jews’ harp tickled some of Pinch’s friends, who gave him various
hints of it, which nearly drove him mad, till he discovered what it was;
for though no jest or sarcasm ever had the least effect upon him, yet he
cannot bear to think that there should be any joke of this kind about
him, and he not in the secret: it makes against that _knowing_ character
which he so much affects. Pinch is in one respect a complete specimen of
a _Cockney_. He never has any thing to say, and yet is never at a loss
for an answer. That is, his pertness keeps exact pace with his dulness.
His friend, the Doctor, used to complain of this in good set terms.—‘You
can never make any thing of Mr. Pinch,’ he would say. ‘Apply the most
cutting remark to him, and his only answer is, “_The same to you, sir_.”
If Shakespear were to rise from the dead to confute him, I firmly
believe it would be to no purpose. I assure you, I have found it so. I
once thought indeed I had him at a disadvantage, but I was mistaken. You
shall hear, sir. I had been reading the following sentiment in a modern
play—“The Road to Ruin,” by the late Mr. Holcroft—“For how should the
soul of Socrates inhabit the body of a stocking-weaver?” This was pat to
the point (you know our friend is a hosier and haberdasher) I came full
with it to keep an appointment I had with Pinch, began a game,
quarrelled with him in the middle of it on purpose, went up stairs to
dress, and as I was washing my hands in the slop-basin (watching my
opportunity) turned coolly round and said, “It’s impossible there should
be any sympathy between you and me, Mr. Pinch: for as the poet says, how
should the soul of Socrates inhabit the body of a stocking-weaver?”
“Ay,” says he, “does the poet say so? _then the same to you, sir_!” I
was confounded, I gave up the attempt to conquer him in wit or argument.
He would pose the Devil, sir, by his “_The same to you, sir_.”’ We had
another joke against Richard Pinch, to which the Doctor was not a party,
which was, that being asked after the respectability of the _Hole in the
Wall_, at the time that Randall took it, he answered quite
unconsciously, ‘Oh! it’s a very genteel place, I go there myself
sometimes!’ Dr. Goodman was descended by the mother’s side from the poet
Jago, was a private gentleman in town, and a medical dilettanti in the
country, dividing his time equally between business and pleasure; had an
inexhaustible flow of words, and an imperturbable vanity, and held
‘stout notions on the metaphysical score.’ He maintained the free agency
of man, with the spirit of a martyr and the gaiety of a man of wit and
pleasure about town—told me he had a curious tract on that subject by A.
C. (Anthony Collins) which he carefully locked up in his box, lest any
one should see it but himself, to the detriment of their character and
morals, and put it to me whether it was not hard, on the principles of
_philosophical necessity_, for a man to come to be hanged? To which I
replied, ‘I thought it hard on any terms!’ A knavish _marker_, who had
listened to the dispute, laughed at this retort, and seemed to assent to
the truth of it, supposing it might one day be his own case.

Mr. Smith and the Brangtons, in ‘Evelina,’ are the finest possible
examples of the spirit of _Cockneyism_. I once knew a linen-draper in
the City, who owned to me he did not quite like this part of Miss
Burney’s novel. He said, ‘I myself lodge in a first floor, where there
are young ladies in the house: they sometimes have company, and if I am
out, they ask me to lend them the use of my apartment, which I readily
do out of politeness, or if it is an agreeable party, I perhaps join
them. All this is so like what passes in the novel, that I fancy myself
a sort of second Mr. Smith, and am not quite easy at it!’ This was
mentioned to the fair Authoress, and she was delighted to find that her
characters were so true, that an actual person fancied himself to be one
of them. The resemblance, however, was only in the externals; and the
real modesty of the individual stumbled on the likeness to a city
coxcomb!

It is curious to what a degree persons, brought up in certain
occupations in a great city, are shut up from a knowledge of the world,
and carry their simplicity to a pitch of unheard of extravagance. London
is the only place in which the child grows completely up into the man. I
have known characters of this kind, which, in the way of childish
ignorance and self-pleasing delusion, exceeded any thing to be met with
in Shakespear or Ben Jonson, or the old comedy. For instance, the
following may be taken as a true sketch. Imagine a person with a florid,
shining complexion like a plough-boy, large staring teeth, a merry eye,
his hair stuck into the fashion with curling-irons and pomatum, a
slender figure, and a decent suit of black—add to which the
thoughtlessness of the school-boy, the forwardness of the thriving
tradesman, and the plenary consciousness of the citizen of London—and
you have Mr. Dunster before you, the fishmonger in the Poultry. You
shall hear how he chirps over his cups, and exults in his private
opinions. ‘I’ll play no more with you,’ I said, ‘Mr. Dunster—you are
five points in the game better than I am.’ I had just lost three
half-crown rubbers at cribbage to him, which loss of mine he presently
thrust into a canvas pouch (not a silk purse) out of which he had
produced just before, first a few halfpence, then half a dozen pieces of
silver, then a handfull of guineas, and lastly, lying _perdu_ at the
bottom, a fifty pound Bank-Note. ‘I’ll tell you what,’ I said, ‘I should
like to play you a game at marbles’—this was at a sort of Christmas
party or Twelfth Night merry-making. ‘Marbles!’ said Dunster, catching
up the sound, and his eye brightening with childish glee, ‘What! you
mean _ring-taw_?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I should beat you at it, to a certainty. I was
one of the best in our school (it was at Clapham, sir, the Rev. Mr.
Denman’s, at Clapham, was the place where I was brought up) though there
were two others there better than me. They were the best that ever were.
I’ll tell you, sir, I’ll give you an idea. There was a water-butt or
cistern, sir, at our school, that turned with a cock. Now suppose that
brass-ring that the window-curtain is fastened to, to be the cock, and
that these boys were standing where we are, about twenty feet off—well,
sir, I’ll tell you what I have seen them do. One of them had a favourite
taw (or _alley_ we used to call them) he’d take aim at the cock of the
cistern with this marble, as I may do now. Well, sir, will you believe
it? such was his strength of knuckle and certainty of aim, he’d hit it,
turn it, let the water out, and then, sir, when the water had run out as
much as it was wanted, the other boy (he’d just the same strength of
knuckle, and the same certainty of eye) he’d aim at it too, be sure to
hit it, turn it round, and stop the water from running out. Yes, what I
tell you is very remarkable, but it’s true. One of these boys was named
Cock, and t’other Butler.’ ‘They might have been named Spigot and
Fawcett, my dear sir, from your account of them.’ ‘I should not mind
playing you at fives neither, though I’m out of practice. I think I
should beat you in a week: I was a real good one at that. A pretty game,
sir! I had the finest ball, that I suppose ever was seen. Made it
myself, I’ll tell you how, sir. You see, I put a piece of cork at the
bottom, then I wound some fine worsted yarn round it, then I had to bind
it round with some packthread, and then sew the case on. You’d hardly
believe it, but I was the envy of the whole school for that ball. They
all wanted to get it from me, but lord, sir, I would let none of them
come near it. I kept it in my waistcoat pocket all day, and at night I
used to take it to bed with me and put it under my pillow. I couldn’t
sleep easy without it.’

The same idle vein might be found in the country, but I doubt whether it
would find a tongue to give it utterance. Cockneyism is a ground of
native shallowness mounted with pertness and conceit. Yet with all this
simplicity and extravagance in dilating on his favourite topics, Dunster
is a man of spirit, of attention to business, knows how to make out and
get in his bills, and is far from being hen-pecked. One thing is
certain, that such a man must be a true Englishman and a loyal subject.
He has a slight tinge of letters, with shame I confess it—has in his
possession a volume of the European Magazine for the year 1761, and is
an humble admirer of Tristram Shandy (particularly the story of the King
of Bohemia and his Seven Castles, which is something in his own endless
manner) and of Gil Blas of Santillane. Over these (the last thing before
he goes to bed at night) he smokes a pipe, and meditates for an hour.
After all, what is there in these harmless half-lies, these fantastic
exaggerations, but a literal, prosaic, _Cockney_ translation of the
admired lines in Gray’s Ode to Eton College:—

                  ‘What idle progeny succeed
                  To chase the rolling circle’s speed
                  Or urge the flying ball?’

A man shut up all his life in his shop, without any thing to interest
him from one year’s end to another but the cares and details of
business, with scarcely any intercourse with books or opportunities for
society, distracted with the buzz and glare and noise about him, turns
for relief to the retrospect of his childish years; and there, through
the long vista, at one bright loop-hole, leading out of the thorny mazes
of the world into the clear morning light, he sees the idle fancies and
gay amusements of his boyhood dancing like motes in the sunshine. Shall
we blame or should we laugh at him, if his eye glistens, and his tongue
grows wanton in their praise?

None but a Scotchman would—that pragmatical sort of personage, who
thinks it a folly ever to have been young, and who instead of dallying
with the frail past, bends his brows upon the future, and looks only to
the _mainchance_. Forgive me, dear Dunster, if I have drawn a sketch of
some of thy venial foibles, and delivered thee into the hands of these
Cockneys of the North, who will fall upon thee and devour thee, like so
many cannibals, without a grain of salt!

If familiarity in cities breeds contempt, ignorance in the country
breeds aversion and dislike. People come too much in contact in town: in
other places they live too much apart, to unite cordially and easily.
Our feelings, in the former case, are dissipated and exhausted by being
called into constant and vain activity; in the latter they rust and grow
dead for want of use. If there is an air of levity and indifference in
London manners, there is a harshness, a moroseness, and disagreeable
restraint in those of the country. We have little disposition to
sympathy, when we have few persons to sympathise with: we lose the
relish and capacity for social enjoyment, the seldomer we meet. A habit
of sullenness, coldness, and misanthropy grows upon us. If we look for
hospitality and a cheerful welcome in country places, it must be in
those where the arrival of a stranger is an event, the recurrence of
which need not be greatly apprehended, or it must be on rare occasions,
on ‘some high festival of once a year.’ Then indeed the stream of
hospitality, so long dammed up, may flow without stint for a short
season; or a stranger may be expected with the same sort of eager
impatience as a caravan of wild beasts, or any other natural curiosity,
that excites our wonder and fills up the craving of the mind after
novelty. By degrees, however, even this last principle loses its effect:
books, newspapers, whatever carries us out of ourselves into a world of
which we see and know nothing, becomes distasteful, repulsive; and we
turn away with indifference or disgust from every thing that disturbs
our lethargic animal existence, or takes off our attention from our
petty, local interests and pursuits. Man, left long to himself, is no
better than a mere clod; or his activity, for want of some other vent,
preys upon himself, or is directed to splenetic, peevish dislikes, or
vexatious, harassing persecution of others. I once drew a picture of a
country-life: it was a portrait of a particular place, a caricature if
you will, but with certain allowances, I fear it was too like in the
individual instance, and that it would hold too generally true. _See_
ROUND TABLE, vol. ii. p. 116.

If these then are the faults and vices of the inhabitants of town or of
the country, where should a man go to live, so as to escape from them? I
answer, that in the country we have the society of the groves, the
fields, the brooks, and in London a man may keep to himself, or chuse
his company as he pleases.

It appears to me that there is an amiable mixture of these two opposite
characters in a person who chances to have past his youth in London, and
who has retired into the country for the rest of his life. We may find
in such a one a social polish, a pastoral simplicity. He rusticates
agreeably, and vegetates with a degree of sentiment. He comes to the
next post-town to see for letters, watches the coaches as they pass, and
eyes the passengers with a look of familiar curiosity, thinking that he
too was a gay fellow in his time. He turns his horse’s head down the
narrow lane that leads homewards, puts on an old coat to save his
wardrobe, and fills his glass nearer to the brim. As he lifts the purple
juice to his lips and to his eye, and in the dim solitude that hems him
round, thinks of the glowing line—

                 ‘This bottle’s the sun of our table’—

another sun rises upon his imagination; the sun of his youth, the blaze
of vanity, the glitter of the metropolis, ‘glares round his soul, and
mocks his closing eye-lids.’ The distant roar of coaches in his ears—the
pit stare upon him with a thousand eyes—Mrs. Siddons, Bannister, King,
are before him—he starts as from a dream, and swears he will to London;
but the expense, the length of way deters him, and he rises the next
morning to trace the footsteps of the hare that has brushed the
dew-drops from the lawn, or to attend a meeting of Magistrates! Mr.
Justice Shallow answered in some sort to this description of a retired
Cockney and indigenous country-gentleman. He ‘knew the Inns of Court,
where they would talk of mad Shallow yet, and where the bona robas were,
and had them at commandment: aye, and had heard the chimes at midnight!’

It is a strange state of society (such as that in London) where a man
does not know his next-door neighbour, and where the feelings (one would
think) must recoil upon themselves, and either fester or become obtuse.
Mr. Wordsworth, in the preface to his poem of the ‘Excursion,’
represents men in cities as so many wild beasts or evil spirits, shut up
in cells of ignorance, without natural affections, and barricadoed down
in sensuality and selfishness. The nerve of humanity is bound up,
according to him, the circulation of the blood stagnates. And it would
be so, if men were merely cut off from intercourse with their immediate
neighbours, and did not meet together generally and more at large. But
man in London becomes, as Mr. Burke has it, a sort of ‘public creature.’
He lives in the eye of the world, and the world in his. If he witnesses
less of the details of private life, he has better opportunities of
observing its larger masses and varied movements. He sees the stream of
human life pouring along the streets—its comforts and embellishments
piled up in the shops—the houses are proofs of the industry, the public
buildings of the art and magnificence of man; while the public
amusements and places of resort are a centre and support for social
feeling. A playhouse alone is a school of humanity, where all eyes are
fixed on the same gay or solemn scene, where smiles or tears are spread
from face to face, and where a thousand hearts beat in unison! Look at
the company in a country-theatre (in comparison) and see the coldness,
the sullenness, the want of sympathy, and the way in which they turn
round to scan and scrutinise one another. In London there is a _public_;
and each man is part of it. We are gregarious, and affect the kind. We
have a sort of abstract existence; and a community of ideas and
knowledge (rather than local proximity) is the bond of society and
good-fellowship. This is one great cause of the tone of political
feeling in large and populous cities. There is here a visible
body-politic, a type and image of that huge Leviathan the State. We
comprehend that vast denomination, the _People_, of which we see a tenth
part daily moving before us; and by having our imaginations emancipated
from petty interests and personal dependence, we learn to venerate
ourselves as men, and to respect the rights of human nature. Therefore
it is that the citizens and freemen of London and Westminster are
patriots by prescription, philosophers and politicians by the right of
their birth-place. In the country, men are no better than a herd of
cattle or scattered deer. They have no idea but of individuals, none of
rights or principles—and a king, as the greatest individual, is the
highest idea they can form. He is ‘a species alone,’ and as superior to
any single peasant as the latter is to the peasant’s dog, or to a crow
flying over his head. In London the king is but as one to a million
(numerically speaking), is seldom seen, and then distinguished only from
others by the superior graces of his person. A country ’squire or a lord
of the manor is a greater man in his village or hundred!


                               ESSAY VIII
                      ON THE SPIRIT OF OBLIGATIONS

The two rarest things to be met with are good sense and good-nature. For
one man who judges right, there are twenty who can say good things; as
there are numbers who will serve you or do friendly actions, for one who
really wishes you well. It has been said, and often repeated, that ‘mere
good-nature is a fool:’ but I think that the dearth of sound sense, for
the most part, proceeds from the want of a real, unaffected interest in
things, except as they react upon ourselves; or from a neglect of the
maxim of that good old philanthropist, who said, ‘_Nihil humani a me
alienum puto_.’ The narrowness of the heart warps the understanding, and
makes us weigh objects in the scales of our self-love, instead of those
of truth and justice. We consider not the merits of the case, or what is
due to others, but the manner in which our own credit or consequence
will be affected; and adapt our opinions and conduct to the last of
these rather than to the first. The judgment is seldom wrong where the
feelings are right; and they generally are so, provided they are warm
and sincere. He who intends others well, is likely to advise them for
the best; he who has any cause at heart, seldom ruins it by his
imprudence. Those who play the public or their friends slippery tricks,
have in secret no objection to betray them.

One finds out the folly and malice of mankind by the impertinence of
friends—by their professions of service and tenders of advice—by their
fears for your reputation and anticipation of what the world may say of
you; by which means they suggest objections to your enemies, and at the
same time absolve themselves from the task of justifying your errors, by
having warned you of the consequences—by the care with which they tell
you ill-news, and conceal from you any flattering circumstance—by their
dread of your engaging in any creditable attempt, and mortification, if
you succeed—by the difficulties and hindrances they throw in your way—by
their satisfaction when you happen to make a slip or get into a scrape,
and their determination to tie your hands behind you, lest you should
get out of it—by their panic-terrors at your entering into a vindication
of yourself, lest in the course of it, you should call upon them for a
certificate to your character—by their lukewarmness in defending, by
their readiness in betraying you—by the high standard by which they try
you, and to which you can hardly ever come up—by their forwardness to
partake your triumphs, by their backwardness to share your disgrace—by
their acknowledgment of your errors out of candour, and suppression of
your good qualities out of envy—by their not contradicting, or by their
joining in the cry against you, lest they too should become objects of
the same abuse—by their playing the game into your adversaries’ hands,
by always letting their imaginations take part with their cowardice,
their vanity, and selfishness against you; and thus realising or
hastening all the ill consequences they affect to deplore, by spreading
abroad that very spirit of distrust, obloquy, and hatred which they
predict will be excited against you!

In all these pretended demonstrations of an over-anxiety for our
welfare, we may detect a great deal of spite and ill-nature lurking
under the disguise of a friendly and officious zeal. It is wonderful how
much love of mischief and rankling spleen lies at the bottom of the
human heart, and how a constant supply of gall seems as necessary to the
health and activity of the mind as of the body. Yet perhaps it ought not
to excite much surprise that this gnawing, morbid, acrimonious temper
should produce the effects it does, when, if it does not vent itself on
others, it preys upon our own comforts, and makes us see the worst side
of every thing, even as it regards our own prospects and tranquillity.
It is the not being comfortable in ourselves, that makes us seek to
render other people uncomfortable. A person of this character will
advise you against a prosecution for a libel, and shake his head at your
attempting to shield yourself from a shower of calumny—It is not that he
is afraid you will be _nonsuited_, but that you will gain a verdict!
They caution you against provoking hostility, in order that you may
submit to indignity. They say that ‘if you publish a certain work, it
will be your ruin’—hoping that it will, and by their tragical
denunciations, bringing about this very event as far as it lies in their
power, or at any rate, enjoying a premature triumph over you in the mean
time. What I would say to any friend who may be disposed to foretell a
general outcry against any work of mine, would be to request him to
judge and speak of it for himself, as he thinks it deserves—and not by
his overweening scruples and qualms of conscience on my account, to
afford those very persons whose hostility he deprecates the cue they are
to give to party-prejudice, and which they may justify by his authority.

Suppose you are about to give Lectures at a Public Institution, these
friends and well-wishers hope ‘you’ll be turned out—if you preserve your
principles, they are sure you will.’ Is it that your consistency gives
them any concern? No, but they are uneasy at your gaining a chance of a
little popularity—they do not like this new feather in your cap, they
wish to see it struck out, _for the sake of your character_—and when
this was once the case, it would be an additional relief to them to see
your character following the same road the next day. The exercise of
their bile seems to be the sole employment and gratification of such
people. They deal in the miseries of human life. They are always either
hearing or foreboding some new grievance. They cannot contain their
satisfaction, if you tell them any mortification or cross-accident that
has happened to yourself; and if you complain of their want of sympathy,
they laugh in your face. This would be unaccountable, but for the spirit
of perversity and contradiction implanted in human nature. If things go
right, there is nothing to be done—these active-minded persons grow
restless, dull, vapid,—life is a sleep, a sort of _euthanasia_—Let them
go wrong, and all is well again; they are once more on the alert, have
something to pester themselves and other people about; may wrangle on,
and ‘make mouths at the invisible event!’ Luckily, there is no want of
materials for this disposition to work upon, _there is plenty of grist
for the mill_. If you fall in love, they tell you (by way of
consolation) it is a pity that you do not fall downstairs and fracture a
limb—it would be a relief to your mind, and shew you your folly. So they
would reform the world. The class of persons I speak of are almost
uniform grumblers and croakers against governments; and it must be
confessed, governments are of great service in fostering their humours.
‘Born for their use, they live but to oblige them.’ While kings are left
free to exercise their proper functions, and poet-laureates make out
their Mittimus to Heaven without a warrant, they will never stop the
mouths of the censorious by changing their dispositions; the juices of
faction will ferment, and the secretions of the state be duly performed!
I do not mind when a character of this sort meets a Minister of State
like an east-wind round a corner, and gives him an ague-fit; but why
should he meddle with me? Why should he tell me I write too much, and
say that I should gain reputation if I could contrive to starve for a
twelvemonth? Or if I apply to him for a loan of fifty pounds for present
necessity, send me word back that he has too much regard for me, to
comply with my request? It is unhandsome irony. It is not friendly, ’tis
not pardonable.[11]

I like real good-nature and good-will, better than I do any offers of
patronage or plausible rules for my conduct in life. I may suspect the
soundness of the last, and I may not be quite sure of the motives of the
first. People complain of ingratitude for benefits, and of the neglect
of wholesome advice. In the first place, we pay little attention to
advice, because we are seldom thought of in it. The person who gives it
either contents himself to lay down (_ex cathedrâ_) certain vague,
general maxims, and ‘wise saws,’ which we knew before; or, instead of
considering what we _ought to do_, recommends what he himself _would
do_. He merely substitutes his own will, caprice, and prejudices for
ours, and expects us to be guided by them. Instead of changing places
with us (to see what is best to be done in the given circumstances), he
insists on our looking at the question from his point of view, and
acting in such a manner as to please him. This is not at all reasonable;
for _one man’s meat_, according to the old adage, _is another man’s
poison_. And it is not strange, that starting from such opposite
premises, we should seldom jump in a conclusion, and that the art of
giving and taking advice is little better than a game at cross-purposes.
I have observed that those who are the most inclined to assist others
are the least forward or peremptory with their advice; for having our
interest really at heart, they consider what can, rather than what
_cannot_ be done, and aid our views and endeavour to avert ill
consequences by moderating our impatience and allaying irritations,
instead of thwarting our main design, which only tends to make us more
extravagant and violent than ever. In the second place, benefits are
often conferred out of ostentation or pride, rather than from true
regard; and the person obliged is too apt to perceive this. People who
are fond of appearing in the light of patrons will perhaps go through
fire and water to serve you, who yet would be sorry to find you no
longer wanted their assistance, and whose friendship cools and their
good-will slackens, as you are relieved by their active zeal from the
necessity of being further beholden to it. Compassion and generosity are
their favourite virtues; and they countenance you, as you afford them
opportunities for exercising them. The instant you can go alone, or can
stand upon your own ground, you are discarded as unfit for their
purpose.

This is something more than mere good-nature or humanity. A thoroughly
good-natured man, a real friend, is one who is pleased at our
good-fortune, as well as prompt to seize every occasion of relieving our
distress. We apportion our gratitude accordingly. We are thankful for
good-will rather than for services, for the motive than the _quantum_ of
favour received—a kind word or look is never forgotten, while we cancel
prouder and weightier obligations; and those who esteem us or evince a
partiality to us are those whom we still consider as our best friends.
Nay, so strong is this feeling, that we extend it even to those
counterfeits in friendship, flatterers and sycophants. Our self-love,
rather than our self-interest, is the master-key to our affections.

I am not convinced that those are always the best-natured or the
best-conditioned men, who busy themselves most with the distresses of
their fellow-creatures. I do not know that those whose names stand at
the head of all subscriptions to charitable institutions, and who are
perpetual stewards of dinners and meetings to encourage and promote the
establishment of asylums for the relief of the blind, the halt, and the
orphan poor, are persons gifted with the best tempers or the kindliest
feelings. I do not dispute their virtue, I doubt their sensibility. I am
not here speaking of those who make a trade of the profession of
humanity, or set their names down out of mere idle parade and vanity. I
mean those who really enter into the details and drudgery of this sort
of service, _con amore_, and who delight in surveying and in diminishing
the amount of human misery. I conceive it possible, that a person who is
going to pour oil and balm into the wounds of afflicted humanity, at a
meeting of the Western Dispensary, by handsome speeches and by a
handsome donation (not grudgingly given) may be thrown into a fit of
rage that very morning, by having his toast too much buttered, may
quarrel with the innocent prattle and amusements of his children, cry
‘Pish!’ at every observation his wife utters, and scarcely feel a
moment’s comfort at any period of his life, except when he hears or
reads of some case of pressing distress that calls for his immediate
interference, and draws off his attention from his own situation and
feelings by the act of alleviating it. Those martyrs to the cause of
humanity, in short, who run the gauntlet of the whole catalogue of
unheard-of crimes and afflicting casualties, who ransack prisons, and
plunge into lazar-houses and slave-ships as their daily amusement and
highest luxury, must generally, I think (though not always), be prompted
to the arduous task by uneasy feelings of their own, and supported
through it by iron nerves. Their fortitude must be equal to their pity.
I do not think Mr. Wilberforce a case in point in this argument. He is
evidently a delicately-framed, nervous, sensitive man. I should suppose
him to be a kind and affectionately disposed person in all the relations
of life. His weakness is too quick a sense of reputation, a desire to
have the good word of all men, a tendency to truckle to power and fawn
on opinion. But there are some of these philanthropists that a
physiognomist has hard work to believe in. They seem made of pasteboard,
they look like mere machines: their benevolence may be said to go on
rollers, and they are screwed to the sticking-place by the wheels and
pulleys of humanity:

             ‘If to their share some splendid virtues fall,
             Look in their face, and you forget them all.’

They appear so much the creatures of the head and so little of the
heart, they are so cold, so lifeless, so mechanical, so much governed by
calculation, and so little by impulse, that it seems the toss-up of a
halfpenny, a mere turn of a feather, whether such people should become a
Granville Sharp, or a Hubert in ‘King John,’ a Howard, or a Sir Hudson
Lowe!

‘Charity covers a multitude of sins.’ Wherever it is, there nothing can
be wanting; wherever it is not, all else is vain. ‘The meanest peasant
on the bleakest mountain is not without a portion of it (says Sterne),
he finds the lacerated lamb of another’s flock,’ &c. (See the passage in
the _Sentimental Journey_.) I do not think education or circumstances
can ever entirely eradicate this principle. Some professions may be
supposed to blunt it, but it is perhaps more in appearance than in
reality. Butchers are not allowed to sit on a jury for life and death;
but probably this is a prejudice: if they have the _destructive organ_
in an unusual degree of expansion, they vent their sanguinary
inclinations on the brute creation; and besides, they look too jolly,
rosy, and in good case (they and their wives), to harbour much cruelty
in their dispositions. Neither would I swear that a man was humane,
merely for abstaining from animal food. A tiger would not be a lamb,
though it fed on milk. Surgeons are in general thought to be unfeeling,
and steeled by custom to the sufferings of humanity. They may be so, as
far as relates to broken bones and bruises, but not to other things. Nor
are they necessarily so in their profession; for we find different
degrees of callous insensibility in different individuals. Some
practitioners have an evident delight in alarming the apprehensions and
cutting off the limbs of their patients: these would have been
ill-natured men in any situation in life, and merely make an excuse of
their profession to indulge their natural ill-humour and brutality of
temper. A surgeon who is fond of giving pain to those who consult him
will not spare the feelings of his neighbours in other respects; has a
tendency to probe other wounds besides those of the body; and is
altogether a harsh and disagreeable character. A Jack-Ketch may be known
to tie the fatal noose with trembling fingers; or a jailor may have a
heart softer than the walls of his prison. There have been instances of
highwaymen who were proverbially gentlemen. I have seen a Bow-street
officer[12] (not but that the transition is ungracious and unjust)
reading Racine, and following the recitation of Talma at the door of a
room, which he was sent to guard. Police-magistrates, from the scenes
they have to witness and the characters they come in contact with, may
be supposed to lose the fine edge of delicacy and sensibility: yet they
are not all alike, but differ, as one star differs from another in
magnitude. One is as remarkable for mildness and lenity, as another is
notorious for harshness and severity. The late Mr. Justice Fielding was
a member of this profession, which (however little accordant with his
own feelings) he made pleasant to those of others. He generally sent
away the disputants in that unruly region, where he presided, tolerably
satisfied. I have often seen him, escaped from the noisy repulsive
scene, sunning himself in the adjoining walks of St. James’s Park, and
with mild aspect, and lofty but unwieldy mien, eyeing the verdant glades
and lengthening vistas where perhaps his childhood loitered. He had a
strong resemblance to his father, the immortal author of ‘Tom Jones.’ I
never passed him, that I did not take off my hat to him in spirit. I
could not help thinking of Parson Adams, of Booth and Amelia. I seemed
to belong, by intellectual adoption, to the same family, and would
willingly have acknowledged my obligations to the father to the son. He
had something of the air of Colonel Bath. When young, he had very
excellent prospects in the law, but neglected a brief sent him by the
Attorney-General, in order to attend a glee-club, for which he had
engaged to furnish a rondeau. This spoiled his fortune. A man whose
object is to please himself, or to keep his word to his friends, is the
last man to thrive at court. Yet he looked serene and smiling to his
latest breath, conscious of the goodness of his own heart, and of not
having sullied a name that had thrown a light upon humanity!

There are different modes of obligation, and different avenues to our
gratitude and favour. A man may lend his countenance who will not part
with his money, and open his mind to us who will not draw out his purse.
How many ways are there, in which our peace may be assailed, besides
actual want! How many comforts do we stand in need of, besides meat and
drink and clothing! Is it nothing to ‘administer to a mind diseased’—to
heal a wounded spirit? After all other difficulties are removed, we
still want some one to bear with our infirmities, to impart our
confidence to, to encourage us in our _hobbies_ (nay, to get up and ride
behind us) and to like us with all our faults. True friendship is
self-love at second-hand; where, as in a flattering mirror, we may see
our virtues magnified and our errors softened, and where we may fancy
our opinion of ourselves confirmed by an impartial and faithful witness.
He (of all the world) creeps the closest in our bosoms, into our favour
and esteem, who thinks of us most nearly as we do of ourselves. Such a
one is indeed the pattern of a friend, another self—and our gratitude
for the blessing is as sincere, as it is hollow in most other cases!
This is one reason why entire friendship is scarcely to be found, except
in love. There is a hardness and severity in our judgments of one
another; the spirit of competition also intervenes, unless where there
is too great an inequality of pretension or difference of taste to admit
of mutual sympathy and respect; but a woman’s vanity is interested in
making the object of her choice the God of her idolatry; and in the
intercourse with that sex, there is the finest balance and reflection of
opposite and answering excellences imaginable! It is in the highest
spirit of the religion of love in the female breast, that Lord Byron has
put that beautiful apostrophe into the mouth of Anah, in speaking of her
angel-lover (alas! are not the sons of men too, when they are deified in
the hearts of women, only ‘a little lower than the angels?’)

             ‘And when I think that his immortal wings
             Shall one day hover o’er the sepulchre
             Of the poor child of clay, that so adored him,
             As he adored the Highest, death becomes
             Less terrible!’

This is a dangerous string, which I ought never to touch upon; but the
shattered cords vibrate of themselves!

The difference of age, of situation in life, and an absence of all
considerations of business have, I apprehend, something of the same
effect in producing a refined and abstracted friendship. The person,
whose doors I enter with most pleasure, and quit with most regret, never
did me the smallest favour. I once did him an uncalled-for service, and
we nearly quarrelled about it. If I were in the utmost distress, I
should just as soon think of asking his assistance, as of stopping a
person on the highway. Practical benevolence is not his _forte_. He
leaves the profession of that to others. His habits, his theory are
against it as idle and vulgar. His hand is closed, but what of that? His
eye is ever open, and reflects the universe: his silver accents,
beautiful, venerable as his silver hairs, but not scanted, flow as a
river. I never ate or drank in his house; nor do I know or care how the
flies or spiders fare in it, or whether a mouse can get a living. But I
know that I can get there what I get nowhere else—a welcome, as if one
was expected to drop in just at that moment, a total absence of all
respect of persons and of airs of self-consequence, endless topics of
discourse, refined thoughts, made more striking by ease and simplicity
of manner—the husk, the shell of humanity is left at the door, and the
spirit, mellowed by time, resides within! All you have to do is to sit
and listen; and it is like hearing one of Titian’s faces speak. To think
of worldly matters is a profanation, like that of the money-changers in
the Temple; or it is to regard the bread and wine of the Sacrament with
carnal eyes. We enter the enchanter’s cell, and converse with the divine
inhabitant. To have this privilege always at hand, and to be circled by
that spell whenever we chuse, with an ‘_Enter Sessami_,’ is better than
sitting at the lower end of the tables of the Great, than eating
awkwardly from gold plate, than drinking fulsome toasts, or being
thankful for gross favours, and gross insults!

Few things tend more to alienate friendship than a want of punctuality
in our engagements. I have known the breach of a promise to dine or sup
break up more than one intimacy. A disappointment of this kind rankles
in the mind—it cuts up our pleasures (those rare events in human life,
which ought not to be wantonly sported with!)—it not only deprives us of
the expected gratification, but it renders us unfit for, and out of
humour with, every other; it makes us think our society not worth
having, which is not the way to make us delighted with our own thoughts;
it lessens our self-esteem, and destroys our confidence in others; and
having leisure on our hands (by being thus left alone) and sufficient
provocation withal, we employ it in ripping up the faults of the
acquaintance who has played us this slippery trick, and in forming
resolutions to pick a quarrel with him the very first opportunity we can
find. I myself once declined an invitation to meet Talma, who was an
admirer of Shakespear, and who idolized Buonaparte, to keep an
appointment with a person who had _forgot_ it! One great art of women,
who pretend to manage their husbands and keep them to themselves, is to
contrive some excuse for breaking their engagements with friends, for
whom they entertain any respect, or who are likely to have any influence
over them.

There is, however, a class of persons who have a particular satisfaction
in falsifying your expectations of pleasure in their society, who make
appointments for no other ostensible purpose than _not to keep them_;
who think their ill-behaviour gives them an air of superiority over you,
instead of placing them at your mercy; and who, in fact, in all their
overtures of condescending kindness towards you, treat you exactly as if
there was no such person in the world. Friendship is with them a
_mono-drama_, in which they play the principal and sole part. They must
needs be very imposing or amusing characters to surround themselves with
a circle of friends, who find that they are to be mere cyphers. The
egotism would in such instances be offensive and intolerable, if its
very excess did not render it entertaining. Some individuals carry this
hard, unprincipled, reckless unconsciousness of every thing but
themselves and their own purposes to such a pitch, that they may be
compared to _automata_, whom you never expect to consult your feelings
or alter their movements out of complaisance to others. They are wound
up to a certain point, by an internal machinery which you do not very
well comprehend; but if they perform their accustomed evolutions so as
to excite your wonder or laughter, it is all very well, you do not
quarrel with them, but look on at the _pantomime_ of friendship while it
lasts or is agreeable.

There are (I may add here) a happy few, whose manner is so engaging and
delightful, that injure you how they will, they cannot offend you. They
rob, ruin, ridicule you, and you cannot find in your heart to say a word
against them. The late Mr. Sheridan was a man of this kind. He _could
not_ make enemies. If any one came to request the repayment of a loan
from him, he borrowed more. A cordial shake of his hand was a receipt in
full for all demands. He could ‘coin his _smile_ for drachmas,’
cancelled bonds with _bon mots_, and gave jokes in discharge of a bill.
A friend of his said, ‘If I pull off my hat to him in the street, it
costs me fifty pounds, and if he speaks to me, it’s a hundred!’

Only one other reflection occurs to me on this subject. I used to think
better of the world than I do. I thought its great fault, its original
sin, was barbarous ignorance and want, which would be cured by the
diffusion of civilization and letters. But I find (or fancy I do) that
as selfishness is the vice of unlettered periods and nations, envy is
the bane of more refined and intellectual ones. Vanity springs out of
the grave of sordid self-interest. Men were formerly ready to cut one
another’s throats about the gross means of subsistence, and now they are
ready to do it about reputation. The worst is, you are no better off, if
you fail than if you succeed. You are despised if you do not excel
others, and hated if you do. Abuse or praise equally weans your friends
from you. We cannot bear eminence in our own department or pursuit, and
think it an impertinence in any other. Instead of being delighted with
the proofs of excellence and the admiration paid to it, we are mortified
with it, thrive only by the defeat of others, and live on the carcase of
mangled reputation. By being tried by an _ideal_ standard of vanity and
affectation, real objects and common people become odious or insipid.
Instead of being raised, all is prostituted, degraded, vile. Every thing
is reduced to this feverish, importunate, harassing state. I’m heartily
sick of it, and I’m sure I have reason if any one has.


                                ESSAY IX
                       ON THE OLD AGE OF ARTISTS

Mr. Nollekens died the other day at the age of eighty, and left 240,000
pounds behind him, and the name of one of our best English sculptors.
There was a great scramble among the legatees, a codicil to a will with
large bequests unsigned, and that last triumph of the dead or dying over
those who survive—hopes raised and defeated without a possibility of
retaliation, or the smallest use in complaint. The king was at first
said to be left residuary legatee. This would have been a fine instance
of romantic and gratuitous homage to Majesty, in a man who all his
life-time could never be made to comprehend the abstract idea of the
distinction of ranks or even of persons. He would go up to the Duke of
York, or Prince of Wales (in spite of warning), take them familiarly by
the button like common acquaintance, ask them _how their father did_;
and express pleasure at hearing he was well, saying, ‘when he was gone,
we should never get such another.’ He once, when the old king was
sitting to him for his bust, fairly stuck a pair of compasses into his
nose to measure the distance from the upper lip to the forehead, as if
he had been measuring a block of marble. His late Majesty laughed
heartily at this, and was amused to find that there was a person in the
world, ignorant of that vast interval which separated him from every
other man. Nollekens, with all his loyalty, merely liked the man, and
cared nothing about the king (which was one of those _mixed modes_, as
Mr. Locke calls them, of which he had no more idea than if he had been
one of the cream-coloured horses)—handled him like so much common clay,
and had no other notion of the matter, but that it was his business to
make the best bust of him he possibly could, and to set about in the
regular way. There was something in this plainness and simplicity that
savoured perhaps of the hardness and dryness of his art, and of his own
peculiar severity of manner. He conceived that one man’s head differed
from another’s only as it was a better or worse subject for modelling,
that a bad bust was not made into a good one by being stuck upon a
pedestal, or by any painting or varnishing, and that by whatever name he
was called, ‘_a man’s a man for a’ that_.’ A sculptor’s ideas must, I
should guess, be somewhat rigid and inflexible, like the materials in
which he works. Besides, Nollekens’s style was comparatively hard and
edgy. He had as much truth and character, but none of the polished
graces or transparent softness of Chantry. He had more of the rough,
plain, downright honesty of his art. It seemed to be his character. Mr.
Northcote was once complimenting him on his acknowledged
superiority—‘Ay, _you_ made the best busts of any body!’ ‘I don’t know
about that,’ said the other, his eyes (though their orbs were quenched)
smiling with a gleam of smothered delight—‘I only know I always tried to
make them as like as I could!’

I saw this eminent and singular person one morning in Mr. Northcote’s
painting-room. He had then been for some time blind, and had been
obliged to lay aside the exercise of his profession; but he still took a
pleasure in designing groups, and in giving directions to others for
executing them. He and Northcote made a remarkable pair. He sat down on
a low stool (from being rather fatigued), rested with both hands on a
stick, as if he clung to the solid and tangible, had an habitual twitch
in his limbs and motions, as if catching himself in the act of going too
far in chiselling a lip or a dimple in a chin; was _bolt_-upright, with
features hard and square, but finely cut, a hooked nose, thin lips, an
indented forehead; and the defect in his sight completed his resemblance
to one of his own masterly busts. He seemed, by time and labour, to
‘have _wrought_ himself to stone.’ Northcote stood by his side—all air
and spirit, stooping down to speak to him. The painter was in a loose
morning-gown, with his back to the light; his face was like a pale fine
piece of colouring; and his eye came out and glanced through the
twilight of the past, like an old eagle looking from its eyrie in the
clouds. In a moment they had lighted from the top of Mount Cenis in the
Vatican—

                ‘As when a vulture on Imaus bred
                Flies tow’rds the springs
                Of Ganges and Hydaspes, Indian streams,’

these two fine old men lighted with winged thoughts on the banks of the
Tiber, and there bathed and drank of the spirit of their youth. They
talked of Titian and Bernini; and Northcote mentioned, that when
Roubilliac came back from Rome, after seeing the works of the latter,
and went to look at his own in Westminster Abbey, he said—‘By G—d, they
looked like tobacco-pipes.’

They then recalled a number of anecdotes of Day (a fellow-student of
theirs), of Barry and Fuseli. Sir Joshua, and Burke, and Johnson were
talked of. The names of these great sons of memory were in the room, and
they almost seemed to answer to them—Genius and Fame flung a spell into
the air,

                  ‘And by the force of blear illusion,
                  Had drawn me on to my confusion,’

had I not been long ere this _siren-proof_! It is delightful, though
painful, to hear two veterans in art thus talking over the adventures
and studies of their youth, when one feels that they are not quite
mortal, that they have one imperishable part about them, and that they
are conscious, as they approach the farthest verge of humanity in
friendly intercourse and tranquil decay, that they have done something
that will live after them. The consolations of religion apart, this is
perhaps the only salve that takes out the sting of that sore evil,
Death; and by lessening the impatience and alarm at his approach, often
tempts him to prolong the term of his delay.

It has been remarked that artists, or at least academicians, live long.
It is but a short while ago that Northcote, Nollekens, West, Flaxman,
Cosway, and Fuseli were all living at the same time, in good health and
spirits, without any diminution of faculties, all of them having long
past their grand climacteric, and attained to the highest reputation in
their several departments. From these striking examples, the diploma of
a Royal Academician seems to be a grant of a longer lease of life, among
its other advantages. In fact, it is tantamount to the conferring a
certain reputation in his profession and a competence on any man, and
thus supplies the wants of the body and sets his mind at ease. Artists
in general (poor devils!), I am afraid, are not a long-lived race. They
break up commonly about forty, their spirits giving way with the
disappointment of their hopes of excellence, or the want of
encouragement for that which they have attained, their plans
disconcerted, and their affairs irretrievable; and in this state of
mortification and embarrassment (more or less prolonged and aggravated)
they are either starved or else drink themselves to death. But your
Academician is quite a different sort of person. He ‘bears a charmed
life, that must not yield’ to duns, or critics, or patrons. He is free
of Parnassus, and claims all the immunities of fame in his life-time. He
has but to paint (as the sun has but to shine), to baffle envious
maligners. He has but to send his pictures to the Exhibition at
Somerset-House, in order to have them hung up: he has but to dine once a
year with the Academy, the Nobility, the Cabinet-Minister, and the
Members of the Royal Family, in order not to want a dinner all the rest
of the year. Shall hunger come near the man that has feasted with
princes—shall a bailiff tap the shoulder on which a Marquis has
familiarly leaned, that has been dubbed with knighthood? No, even the
fell Serjeant Death stands as it were aloof, and he enjoys a kind of
premature immortality in recorded honours and endless labours. Oh! what
golden hours are his! In the short days of winter he husbands time; the
long evenings of summer still find him employed! He paints on, and takes
no thought for to-morrow. All is right in that respect. His bills are
regularly paid, his drafts are duly honoured. He has exercise for his
body, employment for his mind in his profession, and without ever
stirring out of his painting-room. He studies as much of other things as
he pleases. He goes into the best company, or talks with his
sitters—attends at the Academy Meetings, and enters into their intrigues
and cabals, or stays at home, and enjoys the _otium cum dignitate_. If
he is fond of reputation, Fame watches him at work, and weaves a woof,
like Iris, over his head—if he is fond of money, Plutus digs a mine
under his feet. Whatever he touches becomes gold. He is paid half-price
before he begins; and commissions pour in upon commissions. His
portraits are like, and his historical pieces fine; for to question the
talents or success of a Royal Academician is to betray your own want of
taste. Or if his pictures are not quite approved, he is an agreeable
man, and converses well. Or he is a person of elegant accomplishments,
dresses well, and is an ornament to a private circle. A man is not an
Academician for nothing. ‘His life spins round on its soft axle;’ and in
a round of satisfied desires and pleasing avocations, without any of the
_wear and tear_ of thought or business, there seems no reason why it
should not run smoothly on to its last sand!

Of all the Academicians, the painters, or persons I have ever known, Mr.
Northcote is the most to my taste. It may be said of him truly,

                  ‘Age cannot wither, nor custom stale
                  His infinite variety.’

Indeed, it is not possible he should become tedious, since, even if he
repeats the same thing, it appears quite new from his manner, that
breathes new life into it, and from his eye, that is as fresh as the
morning. How you hate any one who tells the same story or anticipates a
remark of his—it seems so coarse and vulgar, so dry and inanimate! There
is something like injustice in this preference—but no! it is a tribute
to the spirit that is in the man. Mr. Northcote’s manner is completely
_extempore_. It is just the reverse of Mr. Canning’s oratory. All his
thoughts come upon him unawares, and for this reason they surprise and
delight you, because they have evidently the same effect upon his mind.
There is the same unconsciousness in his conversation that has been
pointed out in Shakespear’s dialogues; or you are startled with one
observation after another, as when the mist gradually withdraws from a
landscape and unfolds objects one by one. His figure is small, shadowy,
emaciated; but you think only of his face, which is fine and expressive.
His body is out of the question. It is impossible to convey an adequate
idea of the _naiveté_, and unaffected, but delightful ease of the way in
which he goes on—now touching upon a picture—now looking for his
snuff-box—now alluding to some book he has been reading—now returning to
his favourite art. He seems just as if he was by himself or in the
company of his own thoughts, and makes you feel quite at home. If it is
a Member of Parliament, or a beautiful woman, or a child, or a young
artist that drops in, it makes no difference; he enters into
conversation with them in the same unconstrained manner, as if they were
inmates in his family. Sometimes you find him sitting on the floor, like
a school-boy at play, turning over a set of old prints; and I was
pleased to hear him say the other day, coming to one of some men putting
off in a boat from a ship-wreck—‘_That_ is the grandest and most
original thing I ever did!’ This was not egotism, but had all the beauty
of truth and sincerity. The print was indeed a noble and spirited
design. The circumstance from which it was taken happened to Captain
Englefield and his crew. He told Northcote the story, sat for his own
head, and brought the men from Wapping to sit for theirs; and these he
had arranged into a formal composition, till one Jeffrey, a conceited
but clever artist of that day, called in upon him, and said, ‘Oh! that
common-place thing will never do, it is like West; you should throw them
into an action something like this.’—Accordingly, the head of the boat
was reared up like a sea-horse riding the waves, and the elements put
into commotion, and when the painter looked at it the last thing as he
went out of his room in the dusk of the evening, he said that ‘it
frightened him.’ He retained the expression in the faces of the men
nearly as they sat to him. It is very fine, and truly English; and being
natural, it was easily made into history. There is a portrait of a young
gentleman striving to get into the boat, while the crew are pushing him
off with their oars; but at last he prevailed with them by his
perseverance and entreaties to take him in. They had only time to throw
a bag of biscuits into the boat before the ship went down; which they
divided into a biscuit a day for each man, dipping them into water which
they collected by holding up their handkerchiefs in the rain and
squeezing it into a bottle. They were out sixteen days in the Atlantic,
and got ashore at some place in Spain, where the great difficulty was to
prevent them from eating too much at once, so as to recover gradually.
Captain Englefield observed that he suffered more afterwards than at the
time—that he had horrid dreams of falling down precipices for a long
while after—that in the boat they told merry stories, and kept up one
another’s spirits as well as they could, and on some complaint being
made of their distressed situation, the young gentleman who had been
admitted into their crew remarked, ‘Nay, we are not so badly off
neither, we are not come to _eating_ one another yet!’—Thus, whatever is
the subject of discourse, the scene is revived in his mind, and every
circumstance brought before you without affectation or effort, just as
it happened. It might be called _picture-talking_. He has always some
pat allusion or anecdote. A young engraver came into his room the other
day, with a print which he had put into the crown of his hat, in order
not to crumple it, and he said it had been nearly blown away several
times in passing along the street. ‘You put me in mind,’ said Northcote,
‘of a bird-catcher at Plymouth, who used to put the birds he had caught
into his hat to bring them home, and one day meeting my father in the
road, he pulled off his hat to make him a low bow, and all the birds
flew away!’ Sometimes Mr. Northcote gets to the top of a ladder to paint
a palm-tree or to finish a sky in one of his pictures; and in this
situation he listens very attentively to any thing you tell him. I was
once mentioning some strange inconsistencies of our modern poets; and on
coming to one that exceeded the rest, he descended the steps of the
ladder one by one, laid his pallet and brushes deliberately on the
ground, and coming up to me, said—‘You don’t say so, it’s the very thing
I should have supposed of them: yet these are the men that speak against
Pope and Dryden.’ Never any sarcasms were so fine, so cutting, so
careless as his. The grossest things from his lips seem an essence of
refinement: the most refined became more so than ever. Hear him talk of
Pope’s Epistle to Jervas, and repeat the lines—

           ‘Yet should the Graces all thy figures place,
           And breathe an air divine on every face;
           Yet should the Muses bid my numbers roll
           Strong as their charms, and gentle as their soul,
           With Zeuxis’ Helen thy Bridgewater vie,
           And these be sung till Granville’s Myra die:
           Alas! how little from the grave we claim;
           Thou but preserv’st a face, and I a name.’

Or let him speak of Boccacio and his story of Isabella and her pot of
basil, in which she kept her lover’s head and watered it with her tears,
‘and how it grew, and it grew, and it grew,’ and you see his own eyes
glisten, and the leaves of the basil-tree tremble to his faltering
accents!

Mr. Fuseli’s conversation is more striking and extravagant, but less
pleasing and natural than Mr. Northcote’s. He deals in paradoxes and
caricatures. He talks allegories and personifications, as he paints
them. You are sensible of effort without any repose—no careless
pleasantry—no traits of character or touches from nature—every thing is
laboured or overdone. His ideas are gnarled, hard, and distorted, like
his features—his theories stalking and straddle-legged, like his
gait—his projects aspiring and gigantic, like his gestures—his
performance uncouth and dwarfish, like his person. His pictures are also
like himself, with eye-balls of stone stuck in rims of tin, and muscles
twisted together like ropes or wires. Yet Fuseli is undoubtedly a man of
genius, and capable of the most wild and grotesque combinations of
fancy. It is a pity that he ever applied himself to painting, which must
always be reduced to the test of the senses. He is a little like Dante
or Ariosto, perhaps; but no more like Michael Angelo, Raphael, or
Correggio, than I am. Nature, he complains, puts him out. Yet he can
laugh at artists who ‘paint ladies with iron lap-dogs;’ and he describes
the great masters of old in words or lines full of truth, and glancing
from a pen or tongue of fire. I conceive any person would be more struck
with Mr. Fuseli at first sight, but would wish to visit Mr. Northcote
oftener. There is a bold and startling outline in his style of talking,
but not the delicate finishing or bland tone that there is in that of
the latter. Whatever there is harsh or repulsive about him is, however,
in a great degree carried off by his animated foreign accent and broken
English, which give character where there is none, and soften its
asperities where it is too abrupt and violent.

Compared to either of these artists, West (the late President of the
Royal Academy) was a thoroughly mechanical and _common-place_ person—a
man ‘of no mark or likelihood.’ He too was small, thin, but with regular
well-formed features, and a precise, sedate, self-satisfied air. This,
in part, arose from the conviction in his own mind that he was the
greatest painter (and consequently the greatest man) in the world: kings
and nobles were common every-day folks, but there was but one West in
the many-peopled globe. If there was any one individual with whom he was
inclined to share the palm of undivided superiority, it was with
Buonaparte. When Mr. West had painted a picture, he thought it was
perfect. He had no idea of any thing in the art but rules, and these he
exactly conformed to; so that, according to his theory, what he did was
quite right. He conceived of painting as a mechanical or scientific
process, and had no more doubt of a face or a group in one of his high
ideal compositions being what it ought to be, than a carpenter has that
he has drawn a line straight with a ruler and a piece of chalk, or than
a mathematician has that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two
right ones.

When Mr. West walked through his gallery, the result of fifty years’
labour, he saw nothing, either on the right or the left, to be added or
taken away. The account he gave of his own pictures, which might seem
like ostentation or rhodomontade, had a sincere and infantine simplicity
in it. When some one spoke of his _St. Paul shaking off the serpent from
his arm_, (at Greenwich Hospital, I believe), he said, ‘A little burst
of genius, sir!’ West was one of those happy mortals who had not an idea
of any thing beyond himself or his own actual powers and knowledge. I
once heard him say in a public room, that he thought he had quite as
good an idea of Athens from reading the Travelling Catalogues of the
place, as if he lived there for years. I believe this was strictly true,
and that he would have come away with the same slender, literal,
unenriched idea of it as he went. Looking at a picture of Rubens, which
he had in his possession, he said with great indifference, ‘What a pity
that this man wanted expression!’ This natural self-complacency might be
strengthened by collateral circumstances of birth and religion. West, as
a native of America, might be supposed to own no superior in the
Commonwealth of art: as a Quaker, he smiled with sectarian
self-sufficiency at the objections that were made to his theory or
practice in painting. He lived long in the firm persuasion of being one
of the elect among the sons of Fame, and went to his final rest in the
arms of Immortality! Happy error! Enviable old man!

Flaxman is another living and eminent artist, who is distinguished by
success in his profession and by a prolonged and active old age. He is
diminutive in person, like the others. I know little of him, but that he
is an elegant sculptor, and a profound mystic. This last is a character
common to many other artists in our days—Loutherbourg, Cosway, Blake,
Sharp, Varley, &c.—who seem to relieve the literalness of their
professional studies by voluntary excursions into the regions of the
preternatural, pass their time between sleeping and waking, and whose
ideas are like a stormy night, with the clouds driven rapidly across,
and the blue sky and stars gleaming between!

Cosway is the last of these I shall mention. At that name I pause, and
must be excused if I consecrate to him a _petit souvenir_ in my best
manner; for he was Fancy’s child. What a fairy palace was his of
specimens of art, antiquarianism, and _virtù_, jumbled all together in
the richest disorder, dusty, shadowy, obscure, with much left to the
imagination, (how different from the finical, polished, petty,
modernised air of some Collections we have seen!) and with copies of the
old masters, cracked and damaged, which he touched and retouched with
his own hand, and yet swore they were the genuine, the pure originals.
All other collectors are fools to him: they go about with painful
anxiety to find out the realities:—he _said_ he had them—and in a moment
made them of the breath of his nostrils and of the fumes of a lively
imagination. His was the crucifix that Abelard prayed to—a lock of
Eloisa’s hair—the dagger with which Felton stabbed the Duke of
Buckingham—the first finished sketch of the Jocunda—Titian’s large
colossal profile of Peter Aretine—a mummy of an Egyptian king—a feather
of a phœnix—a piece of Noah’s Ark. Were the articles authentic? What
matter?—his faith in them was true. He was gifted with a _second-sight_
in such matters: he believed whatever was incredible. Fancy bore sway in
him; and so vivid were his impressions, that they included the
substances of things in them. The agreeable and the true with him were
one. He believed in Swedenborgianism—he believed in animal magnetism—he
had conversed with more than one person of the Trinity—he could talk
with his lady at Mantua through some fine vehicle of sense, as we speak
to a servant downstairs through a conduit-pipe. Richard Cosway was not
the man to flinch from an _ideal_ proposition. Once, at an Academy
dinner, when some question was made whether the story of Lambert’s Leap
was true, he started up, and said it was; for he was the person that
performed it:—he once assured me that the knee-pan of King James I. in
the ceiling at Whitehall was nine feet across (he had measured it in
concert with Mr. Cipriani, who was repairing the figures)—he could read
in the Book of the Revelations without spectacles, and foretold the
return of Buonaparte from Elba—and from St. Helena! His wife, the most
lady-like of Englishwomen, being asked in Paris what sort of a man her
husband was, made answer—‘_Toujours riant, toujours gai_.’ This was his
character. He must have been of French extraction. His soul appeared to
possess the life of a bird; and such was the jauntiness of his air and
manner, that to see him sit to have his half-boots laced on, you would
fancy (by the help of a figure) that, instead of a little withered
elderly gentleman, it was Venus attired by the Graces. His miniatures
and whole-length drawings were not merely fashionable—they were fashion
itself. His imitations of Michael Angelo were not the thing. When more
than ninety, he retired from his profession, and used to hold up the
palsied hand that had painted lords and ladies for upwards of sixty
years, and smiled, with unabated good-humour, at the vanity of human
wishes. Take him with all his faults and follies, we scarce ‘shall look
upon his like again!’

Why should such persons ever die? It seems hard upon them and us! Care
fixes no sting in their hearts, and their persons ‘present no mark to
the foe-man.’ Death in them seizes upon living shadows. They scarce
consume vital air: their gross functions are long at an end—they live
but to paint, to talk or think. Is it that the vice of age, the miser’s
fault, gnaws them? Many of them are not afraid of death, but of coming
to want; and having begun in poverty, are haunted with the idea that
they shall end in it, and so die—_to save charges_. Otherwise, they
might linger on for ever, and ‘defy augury!’


                                ESSAY X
                          ON ENVY (A DIALOGUE)

H. I had a theory about Envy at one time, which I have partly given up
of late—which was, that there was no such feeling, or that what is
usually considered as envy or dislike of real merit is, more properly
speaking, jealousy of false pretensions to it. I used to illustrate the
argument by saying, that this was the reason we were not envious of the
dead, because their merit was established beyond the reach of cavil or
contradiction; whereas we are jealous and uneasy at sudden and upstart
popularity, which wants the seal of time to confirm it, and which after
all may turn out to be false and hollow. There is no danger that the
testimony of ages should be reversed, and we add our suffrages to it
with confidence, and even with enthusiasm. But we doubt reasonably
enough, whether that which was applauded yesterday may not be condemned
to-morrow; and are afraid of setting our names to a fraudulent claim to
distinction. However satisfied we may be in our own minds, we are not
sufficiently borne out by general opinion and sympathy to prevent
certain misgivings and scruples on the subject. No one thinks, for
instance, of denying the merit of Teniers in his particular style of
art, and no one consequently thinks of envying him. The merit of Wilkie,
on the contrary, was at first strongly contested, and there were other
painters set up in opposition to him, till now that he has become a sort
of _classic_ in his way, he has ceased to be an object of envy or
dislike, because no one doubts his real excellence, as far as it goes.
He has no more than justice done him, and the mind never revolts at
justice. It only rejects false or superficial claims to admiration, and
is incensed to see the world take up with appearances, when they have no
solid foundation to support them. We are not envious of Rubens or
Raphael, because their fame is a pledge of their genius: but if any one
were to bring forward the highest living names as equal to these, it
immediately sets the blood in a ferment, and we try to stifle the sense
we have of their merits, not because they are new or modern, but because
we are not sure they will ever be old. Could we be certain that
posterity would sanction our award, we should grant it without scruple,
even to an enemy and a rival.

N. That which you describe is not envy. Envy is when you hate and would
destroy all excellence that you do not yourself possess. So they say
that Raphael, after he had copied the figures on one of the antique
vases, endeavoured to deface them; and Hoppner, it has been said, used
to get pictures of Sir Joshua’s into his possession, on purpose to paint
them over and spoil them.

H. I do not believe the first, certainly. Raphael was too great a man,
and with too fortunate a temper, to need or to wish to prop himself up
on the ruins of others. As to Hoppner, he might perhaps think that there
was no good reason for the preference given to Sir Joshua’s portraits
over his own, that his women of quality were the more airy and
fashionable of the two, and might be tempted (once perhaps) in a fit of
spleen, of caprice or impatience, to blot what was an eye-sore to
himself from its old-fashioned, faded, dingy look, and at the same time
dazzled others from the force of tradition and prejudice. Why, he might
argue, should that old fellow run away with all the popularity even
among those who (as he well knew) in their hearts preferred his own
insipid, flaunting style to any other? Though it might be true that Sir
Joshua was the greater painter, yet it was not true that Lords and
Ladies thought so: he felt that he ought to be _their_ favourite, and he
might naturally hate what was continually _thrust in his dish_, and (as
far as those about him were concerned) unjustly set over his head.
Besides, Hoppner had very little of his own to rely on, and might wish,
by destroying, to conceal the source from whence he had borrowed almost
every thing.

N. Did you never feel envy?

H. Very little, I think. In truth, I am out of the way of it: for the
only pretension, of which I am tenacious, is that of being a
metaphysician; and there is so little attention paid to this subject to
pamper one’s vanity, and so little fear of losing that little from
competition, that there is scarcely any room for envy here. One occupies
the niche of eminence in which one places one’s self, very quietly and
contentedly! If I have ever felt this passion at all, it has been where
some very paltry fellow has by trick and management contrived to obtain
much more credit than he was entitled to. There was ——, to whom I had a
perfect antipathy. He was the antithesis of a man of genius; and yet he
did better, by mere dint of dulness, than many men of genius. This was
intolerable. There was something in the man and in his manner, with
which you could not possibly connect the idea of admiration, or of any
thing that was not merely mechanical—

                  ‘His look made the still air cold.’

He repelled all sympathy and cordiality. What he did (though amounting
only to mediocrity) was an insult on the understanding. It seemed that
he should be able _to do nothing_; for he was nothing either in himself
or in other people’s idea of him! Mean actions or gross expressions too
often unsettle one’s theory of genius. We are unable as well as
unwilling to connect the feeling of high intellect with low moral
sentiment: the one is a kind of desecration of the other. I have for
this reason been sometimes disposed to disparage Turner’s fine
landscapes, and be glad when he failed in his higher attempts, in order
that my conception of the artist and his pictures might be more of a
piece. This is not envy or an impatience of extraordinary merit, but an
impatience of the incongruities in human nature, and of the drawbacks
and stumbling-blocks in the way of our admiration of it. Who is there
that admires the Author of Waverley more than I do? Who is there that
despises Sir W***** S**** more? I do not like to think there should be a
second instance of the same person’s being

                   ‘The wisest, meanest of mankind—’

and should be heartily glad if the greatest genius of the age should
turn out to be an honest man. The only thing that renders this
_misalliance_ between first-rate intellect and want of principle
endurable is that such an extreme instance of it teaches us that great
moral lesson of moderating our expectations of human perfection, and
enlarging our indulgence for human infirmity.

N. You start off with an idea as usual, and torture the plain state of
the case into a paradox. There may be some truth in what you suppose;
but malice or selfishness is at the bottom of the severity of your
criticism, not the love of truth or justice, though you may make it the
pretext. You are more angry at Sir W***** S****’s success than at his
servility. You would give yourself no trouble about his poverty of
spirit, if he had not made a hundred thousand pounds by his writings.
The sting lies there, though you may try to conceal it from yourself.

H. I do not think so. I hate the sight of the Duke of W********* for his
foolish face, as much as for any thing else. I cannot believe that a
great general is contained under such a pasteboard vizor of a man. This,
you’ll say, is party spite, and rage at his good fortune. I deny it. I
always liked Lord Castlereagh for the gallant spirit that shone through
his appearance; and his fine bust surmounted and crushed fifty orders
that glittered beneath it. Nature seemed to have meant him for something
better than he was. But in the other instance, Fortune has evidently
played Nature a trick,

                 ‘To throw a cruel sunshine on a fool.’

N. The truth is, you were reconciled to Lord Castlereagh’s face, and
patronised his person, because you felt a sort of advantage over him in
point of style. His blunders qualified his success; and you fancied you
could take his speeches in pieces, whereas you could not undo the
battles that the other had won.

H. So I have been accused of denying the merits of Pitt, from political
dislike and prejudice: but who is there that has praised Burke more than
I have? It is a subject I am never weary of, because I feel it.

N. You mean, because he is dead, and is now little talked of; and you
think you show superior discernment and liberality by praising him. If
there was a _Burke-Club_, you would say nothing about him. You deceive
yourself as to your own motives, and weave a wrong theory out of them
for human nature. The love of distinction is the ruling passion of the
human mind; we grudge whatever draws off attention from ourselves to
others; and all our actions are but different contrivances, either by
sheer malice or affected liberality, to keep it to ourselves or share it
with others. Goldsmith was jealous even of beauty in the other sex. When
the people at Amsterdam gathered round the balcony to look at the Miss
Hornecks, he grew impatient, and said peevishly, ‘There are places where
I also am admired.’ It may be said—What could their beauty have to do
with his reputation? No: it could not tend to lessen it, but it drew
admiration from himself to them. So Mr. C****r, the other day, when he
was at the Academy dinner, made himself conspicuous by displaying the
same feeling. He found fault with every thing, _damned_ all the
pictures—landscapes, portraits, busts, nothing pleased him; and not
contented with this, he then fell foul of the art itself, which he
treated as a piece of idle foolery, and said that Raphael had thrown
away his time in doing what was not worth the trouble. This, besides
being insincere, was a great breach of good-manners, which none but a
low-bred man would be guilty of; but he felt his own consequence
annoyed; he saw a splendid exhibition of art, a splendid dinner set out,
the Nobility, the Cabinet-Ministers, the branches of the Royal Family
invited to it; the most eminent professors were there present; it was a
triumph and a celebration of art, a dazzling proof of the height to
which it had attained in this country, and of the esteem in which it was
held. He felt that he played a very subordinate part in all this; and in
order to relieve his own wounded vanity, he was determined (as he
thought) to mortify that of others. He wanted to make himself of more
importance than any body else, by trampling on Raphael and on the art
itself. It was ridiculous and disgusting, because every one saw though
the motive; so that he defeated his own object.

H. And he would have avoided this exposure, if with all his conceit and
ill-humour, he had had the smallest taste for the art, or perception of
the beauties of Raphael. He has just knowledge enough of drawing to make
a whole length sketch of Buonaparte, verging on caricature, yet not
palpably outraging probability; so that it looked like a fat, stupid,
_common-place_ man, or a flattering likeness of some legitimate
monarch—he had skill, cunning, servility enough to do this with his own
hand, and to circulate a print of it with zealous activity, as an
indirect means of degrading him in appearance to that low level to which
fortune had once raised him in reality. But the man who could do this
deliberately, and with satisfaction to his own nature, was not the man
to understand Raphael, and might slander him or any other, the greatest
of earth’s born, without injuring or belying any feeling of admiration
or excellence in his own breast; for no such feeling had ever entered
there.

N. Come, this is always the way. Now you are growing personal. Why do
you so constantly let your temper get the better of your reason?

H. Because I hate a hypocrite, a time-server, and a slave. But to return
to the question, and say no more about this ‘_talking potato_’[13]—I do
not think that, except in circumstances of peculiar aggravation, or of
extraordinary ill-temper and moroseness of disposition, any one who has
a thorough feeling of excellence has a delight in gainsaying it. The
excellence that we feel, we participate in as if it were our own—it
becomes ours by transfusion of mind—it is instilled into our hearts—it
mingles with our blood. We are unwilling to allow merit, because we are
unable to perceive it. But to be convinced of it, is to be ready to
acknowledge and pay homage to it. Illiberality or narrowness of feeling
is a narrowness of taste, a want of proper _tact_. A bigotted and
exclusive spirit is real blindness to all excellence but our own, or
that of some particular school or sect. I think I can give an instance
of this in some friends of mine, on whom you will be disposed to have no
more mercy than I have on Mr. Croker—I mean the _Lake School_. Their
system of Ostracism is not unnatural: it begins only with the natural
limits of their tastes and feelings. Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Coleridge, and
Mr. Southey have no feeling for the excellence of Pope, or Goldsmith, or
Gray—they do not enter at all into their merits, and on that account it
is that they deny, proscribe, and envy them. _Incredulus odi_, is the
explanation here, and in all such cases. I am satisfied that the fine
turn of thought in Pope, the gliding verse of Goldsmith, the brilliant
diction of Gray have no charms for the Author of the Lyrical Ballads: he
has no faculty in his mind to which these qualities of poetry address
themselves. It is not an oppressive, galling sense of them, and a
burning envy to rival them, and shame that he cannot—he would not, if he
could. He has no more ambition to write couplets like Pope, than to turn
a barrel-organ. He has no pleasure in such poetry, and therefore he has
no patience with others that have. The enthusiasm that they feel and
express on the subject seems an effect without a cause, and puzzles and
provokes the mind accordingly. Mr. Wordsworth, in particular, is
narrower in his tastes than other people, because he sees everything
from a single and original point of view. Whatever does not fall in
strictly with this, he accounts no better than a delusion, or a play
upon words.

N. You mistake the matter altogether. The acting principle in their
minds is an inveterate selfishness or desire of distinction. They see
that a particular kind of excellence has been carried to its height—a
height that they have no hope of arriving at—the road is stopped up;
they must therefore strike into a different path; and in order to divert
the public mind and draw attention to themselves, they affect to decry
the old models, and overturn what they cannot rival. They know they
cannot write like Pope or Dryden, or would be only imitators if they
did; and they consequently strive to gain an original and equal
celebrity by singularity and affectation. Their simplicity is not
natural to them: it is the _forlorn-hope_ of impotent and disappointed
vanity.

H. I cannot think that. It may be so in part, but not principally or
altogether. Their minds are cast in a peculiar mould, and they cannot
produce nor receive any other impressions than those which they do. They
are, as to matters of taste, _très bornés_.

N. You make them out stupider than I thought. I have sometimes spoken
disrespectfully of their talents, and so I think, comparatively with
those of some of our standard writers. But I certainly should never
conceive them so lost to common sense, as not to perceive the beauty, or
splendour, or strength of Pope and Dryden. They are dazzled by it, and
wilfully shut their eyes to it, and try to throw dust in those of other
people. We easily discern and are confounded by excellence, which we are
conscious we should in vain attempt to equal. We may see that another is
taller than ourselves, and yet we may know that we can never grow to his
stature. A dwarf may easily envy a giant.

H. They would like the comparison to Polyphemus in ‘Acis and Galatea’
better. They think that little men have run away with the prize of
beauty.

N. No one admires poetry more than I do, or sees more beauties in it;
though if I were to try for a thousand years, I should never be able to
do any thing to please myself.

H. Perhaps not in the mechanical part; but still you admire and are most
struck with those passages in poetry, that accord with the previous
train of your own feelings, and give you back the images of your own
mind. There is something congenial in taste, at least, between ourselves
and those whom we admire. I do not think there is any point of sympathy
between Pope and the _Lake School_: on the contrary, I know there is an
antipathy between them.—When you speak of Titian, you look like him. I
can understand how it is that you talk so well on that subject, and that
your discourse has an extreme-unction about it, a marrowiness like his
colouring. But I do not believe that the late Mr. West had the least
notion of Titian’s peculiar excellences—he would think one of his own
copies of him as good as the original, and his own historical
compositions much better. He would therefore, I conceive, sit and listen
to a conversation in praise of him with something like impatience, and
think it an interruption to more important discussions on the principles
of high art. But if Mr. West had ever seen in nature what there is to be
found in Titian’s copies from it, he would never have thought of such a
comparison, and would have bowed his head in deep humility at the very
mention of his name. He might not have been able to do like him, and yet
might have seen nature with the same eyes.

N. We do not always admire most what we can do best; but often the
contrary. Sir Joshua’s admiration of Michael Angelo was perfectly
sincere and unaffected; but yet nothing could be more diametrically
opposite than the minds of the two men—there was an absolute gulph
between them. It was the consciousness of his own inability to execute
such works, that made him more sensible of the difficulty and the merit.
It was the same with his fondness for Poussin. He was always exceedingly
angry with me for not admiring him enough. But this showed his good
sense and modesty. Sir Joshua was always on the _look-out_ for whatever
might enlarge his notions on the subject of his art, and supply his
defects; and did not, like some artists, measure all possible excellence
by his own actual deficiencies. He thus improved and learned something
daily. Others have lost their way by setting out with a pragmatical
notion of their own self-sufficiency, and have never advanced a single
step beyond their first crude conceptions. Fuseli was to blame in this
respect. He did not want capacity or enthusiasm, but he had an
overweening opinion of his own peculiar acquirements. Speaking of
Vandyke, he said he would not go across the way to see the finest
portrait he had ever painted. He asked—‘What is it but a little bit of
colour?’ Sir Joshua said, on hearing this—‘Aye, he’ll live to repent
it.’ And he has lived to repent it. With that little bit added to his
own heap, he would have been a much greater painter, and a happier man.

H. Yes: but I doubt whether he could have added it in practice. I think
the indifference, in the first instance, arises from the want of taste
and capacity. If Fuseli had possessed an eye for colour, he would not
have despised it in Vandyke. But we reduce others to the limits of our
own capacity. We think little of what we cannot do, and envy it where we
imagine that it meets with disproportioned admiration from others. A
dull, pompous, and obscure writer has been heard to exclaim, ‘That
_dunce_, Wordsworth!’ This was excusable in one who is utterly without
feeling for any objects in nature, but those which would make splendid
furniture for a drawing-room, or any sentiment of the human heart, but
that with which a slave looks up to a despot, or a despot looks down
upon a slave. This contemptuous expression was an effusion of spleen and
impatience at the idea that there should be any who preferred
Wordsworth’s descriptions of a daisy or a linnet’s nest to his
_auctioneer_-poetry about curtains, and palls, and sceptres, and
precious stones: but had Wordsworth, in addition to his original sin of
simplicity and true genius, been a popular writer, his contempt would
have turned into hatred. As it is, he tolerates his _idle nonsense_:
there is a link of friendship in mutual political servility; and
besides, he has a fellow-feeling with him, as one of those writers of
whose merits the world have not been fully sensible. Mr. Croley set out
with high pretensions, and had some idea of rivalling Lord Byron in a
certain lofty, imposing style of versification: but he is probably by
this time convinced that mere constitutional _hauteur_ as ill supplies
the place of elevation of genius, as of the pride of birth; and that the
public know how to distinguish between a string of gaudy, painted,
turgid phrases, and the vivid creations of fancy, or touching
delineations of the human heart.

N. What did you say the writer’s name was?

H. Croley. He is one of the Royal Society of Authors.

N. I never heard of him. Is he an imitator of Lord Byron, did you say?

H. I am afraid neither he nor Lord Byron would have it thought so.

N. Such imitators do all the mischief, and bring real genius into
disrepute. This is in some measure an excuse for those who have
endeavoured to disparage Pope and Dryden. We have had a surfeit of
imitations of them. Poetry, in the hands of a set of mechanic
scribblers, had become such a tame, mawkish thing, that we could endure
it no longer, and our impatience of the abuse of a good thing
transferred itself to the original source. It was this which enabled
Wordsworth and the rest to raise up a new school (or to attempt it) on
the ruins of Pope; because a race of writers had succeeded him without
one particle of his wit, sense, and delicacy, and the world were tired
of their everlasting _sing-song_ and _namby-pamby_. People were
disgusted at hearing the faults of Pope (the part most easily imitated)
cried up as his greatest excellence, and were willing to take refuge
from such nauseous cant in any novelty.

H. What you now observe comes nearly to my account of the matter. Sir
Andrew Wylie will sicken people of the Author of Waverley. It was but
the other day that some one was proposing that there should be a Society
formed for not reading the Scotch Novels. But it is not the excellence
of that fine writer that we are tired of, or revolt at, but vapid
imitations or catch-penny repetitions of himself. Even the quantity of
them has an obvious tendency to lead to this effect. It lessens, instead
of increasing our admiration: for it seems to be an evidence that there
is no difficulty in the task, and leads us to suspect something like
trick or deception in their production. We have not been used to look
upon works of genius as of the _fungus_ tribe. Yet these are so. We had
rather doubt our own taste than ascribe such a superiority of genius to
another, that it works without consciousness or effort, executes the
labour of a life in a few weeks, writes faster than the public can read,
and scatters the rich materials of thought and feeling like so much
chaff.

N. Aye, there it is. We had rather do any thing than acknowledge the
merit of another, if we have any possible excuse or evasion to help it.
Depend upon it, you are glad Sir Walter Scott is a Tory—because it gives
you an opportunity of qualifying your involuntary admiration of him. You
would be sorry indeed if he were what you call an _honest man_! Envy is
like a viper coiled up at the bottom of the heart, ready to spring upon
and poison whatever approaches it. We live upon the vices, the
imperfections, the misfortunes, and disappointments of others, as our
natural food. We cannot bear a superior or an equal. Even our pretended
cordial admiration is only a subterfuge of our vanity. By raising one,
we proportionably lower and mortify others. Our self-love may perhaps be
taken by surprise and thrown off its guard by novelty; but it soon
recovers itself, and begins to cool in its warmest expressions, and find
every possible fault. Ridicule, for this reason, is sure to prevail over
truth, because the malice of mankind thrown into the scale gives the
casting-weight. We have one succession of authors, of painters, of
favourites, after another, whom we hail in their turns, because they
operate as a diversion to one another, and relieve us of the galling
sense of the superiority of any one individual for any length of time.
By changing the object of our admiration, we secretly persuade ourselves
that there is no such thing as excellence. It is that which we hate
above all things. It is the worm that gnaws us, that never dies. The mob
shout when a king or a conqueror appears: they would take him and tear
him in pieces, but that he is the scape-goat of their pride and vanity,
and makes all other men appear like a herd of slaves and cowards.
Instead of a thousand equals, we compound for one superior, and allay
all heart-burnings and animosities among ourselves, by giving the palm
_to the least worthy_. This is the secret of monarchy.—Loyalty is not
the love of kings, but hatred and jealousy of mankind. A lacquey rides
behind his lord’s coach, and feels no envy of his master. Why? because
he looks down and laughs, in his borrowed finery, at the ragged rabble
below. Is it not so in our profession? What Academician eats his dinner
in peace, if a rival sits near him; if his own are not the most admired
pictures in the room; or, in that case, if there are any others that are
at all admired, and divide distinction with him? Is not every artifice
used to place the pictures of other artists in the worst light? Do they
not go there after their performances are hung up, and try to _paint one
another out_? What is the case among players? Does not a favourite actor
threaten to leave the stage, as soon as a new candidate for public
favour is taken the least notice of? Would not a Manager of a theatre
(who has himself pretensions) sooner see it burnt down, than that it
should be saved from ruin and lifted into the full tide of public
prosperity and favour, by the efforts of one whom he conceives to have
supplanted himself in the popular opinion? Do we not see an author, who
has had a tragedy damned, sit at the play every night of a new
performance for years after, in the hopes of gaining a new companion in
defeat? Is it not an indelible offence to a picture-collector and patron
of the arts, to hint that another has a fine head in his collection?
Will any merchant in the city allow another to be worth a _plum_? What
wit will applaud a _bon mot_ by a rival? He sits uneasy and out of
countenance, till he has made another, which he thinks will make the
company forget the first. Do women ever allow beauty in others? Observe
the people in a country-town, and see how they look at those who are
better dressed than themselves; listen to the talk in country-places,
and mind if it is composed of any thing but slanders, gossip, and lies.

H. But don’t you yourself admire Sir Joshua Reynolds?

N. Why, yes: I think I have no envy myself, and yet I have sometimes
caught myself at it. I don’t know that I do not admire Sir Joshua merely
as a screen against the reputation of bad pictures.

H. Then, at any rate, what I say is true: we envy the good less than we
do the bad.

N. I do not think so; and am not sure that Sir Joshua himself did not
admire Michael Angelo to get rid of the superiority of Titian, Rubens,
and Rembrandt, which pressed closer on him, and ‘galled his kibe more.’

H. I should not think that at all unlikely; for I look upon Sir Joshua
as rather a spiteful man, and always thought he could have little real
feeling for the works of Michael Angelo or Raphael, which he extolled so
highly, or he would not have been insensible to their effect the first
time he ever beheld them.

N. He liked Sir Peter Lely better.


                                ESSAY XI
                      ON SITTING FOR ONE’S PICTURE

There is a pleasure in sitting for one’s picture, which many persons are
not aware of. People are coy on this subject at first, coquet with it,
and pretend not to like it, as is the case with other venial
indulgences, but they soon get over their scruples, and become resigned
to their fate. There is a conscious vanity in it; and vanity is the
_aurum potabile_ in all our pleasures, the true _elixir_ of human life.
The sitter at first affects an air of indifference, throws himself into
a slovenly or awkward position, like a clown when he goes a courting for
the first time, but gradually recovers himself, attempts an attitude,
and calls up his best looks, the moment he receives intimation that
there is something about him that will do for a picture. The beggar in
the street is proud to have his picture painted, and would almost sit
for nothing: the finest lady in the land is as fond of sitting to a
favourite artist as of seating herself before her looking-glass; and the
more so, as the glass in this case is sensible of her charms, and does
all it can to fix or heighten them. Kings lay aside their crowns to sit
for their portraits, and poets their laurels to sit for their busts! I
am sure, my father had as little vanity, and as little love for the art
as most persons: yet when he had sat to me a few times (now some twenty
years ago), he grew evidently uneasy when it was a fine day, that is,
when the sun shone into the room, so that we could not paint; and when
it became cloudy, began to bustle about, and ask me if I was not getting
ready. Poor old room! Does the sun still shine into thee, or does Hope
fling its colours round thy walls, gaudier than the rainbow? No, never,
while thy oak-pannels endure, will they enclose such fine movements of
the brain as passed through mine, when the fresh hues of nature gleamed
from the canvas, and my heart silently breathed the names of Rembrandt
and Correggio! Between my father’s love of sitting and mine of painting,
we hit upon a tolerable likeness at last; but the picture is cracked and
gone; and _Megilp_ (that bane of the English school) has destroyed as
fine an old Nonconformist head as one could hope to see in these
degenerate times.

The fact is, that the having one’s picture painted is like the creation
of another self; and that is an idea, of the repetition or reduplication
of which no man is ever tired, to the thousandth reflection. It has been
said that lovers are never tired of each other’s company, because they
are always talking of themselves. This seems to be the bond of connexion
(a delicate one it is!) between the painter and the sitter—they are
always thinking and talking of the same thing, the picture, in which
their self-love finds an equal counterpart. There is always something to
be done or to be altered, that touches that sensitive chord—this feature
was not exactly hit off, something is wanting to the nose or to the
eye-brows, it may perhaps be as well to leave out this mark or that
blemish, if it were possible to recal an expression that was remarked a
short time before, it would be an indescribable advantage to the
picture—a squint or a pimple on the face handsomely avoided may be a
link of attachment ever after. He is no mean friend who conceals from
ourselves, or only gently indicates, our obvious defects to the world.
The sitter, by his repeated, minute, _fidgetty_ inquiries about himself
may be supposed to take an indirect and laudable method of arriving at
self-knowledge; and the artist, in self-defence, is obliged to cultivate
a scrupulous tenderness towards the feelings of his sitter, lest he
should appear in the character of a spy upon him. I do not conceive
there is a stronger call upon secret gratitude than the having made a
favourable likeness of any one; nor a surer ground of jealousy and
dislike than the having failed in the attempt. A satire or a lampoon in
writing is bad enough; but here we look doubly foolish, for we are
ourselves parties to the plot, and have been at considerable pains to
give evidence against ourselves. I have never had a plaster cast taken
of myself: in truth, I rather shrink from the experiment; for I know I
should be very much mortified if it did not turn out well, and should
never forgive the unfortunate artist who had lent his assistance to
prove that I looked like a blockhead!

The late Mr. Opie used to remark that the most sensible people made the
best sitters; and I incline to his opinion, especially as I myself am an
excellent sitter. Indeed, it seems to me a piece of mere impertinence
not to sit as still as one can in these circumstances. I put the best
face I can upon the matter, as well out of respect to the artist as to
myself. I appear on my trial in the court of physiognomy, and am as
anxious to make good a certain idea I have of myself, as if I were
playing a part on the stage. I have no notion, how people go to sleep,
who are sitting for their pictures. It is an evident sign of want of
thought and of internal resources. There are some individuals, all whose
ideas are in their hands and feet—make them sit still, and you put a
stop to the machine altogether. The volatile spirit of quicksilver in
them turns to a _caput mortuum_. Children are particularly sensible of
this constraint from their thoughtlessness and liveliness. It is the
next thing with them to wearing the fool’s cap at school: yet they are
proud of having their pictures taken, ask when they are to sit again,
and are mightily pleased when they are done. Charles the First’s
children seem to have been good sitters, and the great dog sits like a
Lord Chancellor.

The second time a person sits, and the view of the features is
determined, the head seems fastened in an imaginary _vice_, and he can
hardly tell what to make of his situation. He is continually
overstepping the bounds of duty, and is tied down to certain lines and
limits chalked out upon the canvas, to him ‘invisible or dimly seen’ on
the throne where he is exalted. The painter has now a difficult task to
manage—to throw in his gentle admonitions, ‘A little more this way,
sir,’ or ‘You bend rather too forward, madam,’—and ought to have a
delicate white hand, that he may venture to adjust a straggling lock of
hair, or by giving a slight turn to the head, co-operate in the
practical attainment of a position. These are the ticklish and tiresome
places of the work, before much progress is made, where the sitter grows
peevish and abstracted, and the painter more anxious and particular than
he was the day before. Now is the time to fling in a few adroit
compliments, or to introduce general topics of conversation. The artist
ought to be a well-informed and agreeable man—able to expatiate on his
art, and abounding in lively and characteristic anecdotes. Yet he ought
not to talk too much, or to grow too animated; or the picture is apt to
stand still, and the sitter to be aware of it. Accordingly, the best
talkers in the profession have not always been the most successful
portrait-painters. For this purpose it is desirable to bring a friend,
who may relieve guard, or fill up the pauses of conversation, occasioned
by the necessary attention of the painter to his business, and by the
involuntary reveries of the sitter on what his own likeness will bring
forth; or a book, a newspaper, or a port-folio of prints may serve to
amuse the time. When the sitter’s face begins to flag, the artist may
then properly start a fresh topic of discourse, and while his attention
is fixed on the graces called out by the varying interest of the
subject, and the model anticipates, pleased and smiling, their being
transferred every moment to the canvas, nothing is wanting to improve
and carry to its height the amicable understanding and mutual
satisfaction and good-will subsisting between these two persons, so
happily occupied with each other!

Sir Joshua must have had a fine time of it with his sitters. Lords,
ladies, generals, authors, opera-singers, musicians, the learned and the
polite, besieged his doors, and found an unfailing welcome. What a
rustling of silks! What a fluttering of flounces and brocades! What a
cloud of powder and perfumes! What a flow of periwigs! What an exchange
of civilities and of titles! What a recognition of old friendships, and
an introduction of new acquaintance and sitters! It must, I think, be
allowed that this is the only mode in which genius can form a legitimate
union with wealth and fashion. There is a secret and sufficient tie in
interest and vanity. Abstract topics of wit or learning do not furnish a
connecting link: but the painter, the sculptor, come in close contact
with the persons of the Great. The lady of quality, the courtier, and
the artist, meet and shake hands on this common ground; the latter
exercises a sort of natural jurisdiction and dictatorial power over the
pretensions of the first to external beauty and accomplishment, which
produces a mild sense and tone of equality; and the opulent sitter pays
the taker of flattering likenesses handsomely for his trouble, which
does not lessen the sympathy between them. There is even a satisfaction
in paying down a high price for a picture—it seems as if one’s head was
worth something!—During the first sitting, Sir Joshua did little but
chat with the new candidate for the fame of portraiture, try an
attitude, or remark an expression. His object was to gain time, by not
being in haste to commit himself, until he was master of the subject
before him. No one ever dropped in but the friends and acquaintance of
the sitter—it was a rule with Sir Joshua that from the moment the latter
entered, he was at home—the room belonged to him—but what secret
whisperings would there be among these, what confidential, inaudible
communications! It must be a refreshing moment, when the cake and wine
had been handed round, and the artist began again. He, as it were, by
this act of hospitality assumed a new character, and acquired a double
claim to confidence and respect. In the mean time, the sitter would
perhaps glance his eye round the room, and see a Titian or a Vandyke
hanging in one corner, with a transient feeling of scepticism whether he
should make such a picture. How the ladies of quality and fashion must
bless themselves from being made to look like Dr. Johnson or Goldsmith!
How proud the first of these would be, how happy the last, to fill the
same arm-chair where the Bunburys and the Hornecks had sat! How superior
the painter would feel to them all! By ‘happy alchemy of mind,’ he
brought out all their good qualities and reconciled their defects, gave
an air of studious ease to his learned friends, or lighted up the face
of folly and fashion with intelligence and graceful smiles. Those
portraits, however, that were most admired at the time, do not retain
their pre-eminence now: the thought remains upon the brow, while the
colour has faded from the cheek, or the dress grown obsolete; and after
all, Sir Joshua’s best pictures are those of his worst sitters—_his
Children_. They suited best with his unfinished style; and are like the
infancy of the art itself, happy, bold, and careless. Sir Joshua formed
the circle of his private friends from the _elite_ of his sitters; and
Vandyke was, it appears, on the same footing with his. When any of those
noble or distinguished persons whom he has immortalised with his pencil,
were sitting to him, he used to ask them to dinner, and afterwards it
was their custom to return to the picture again, so that it is said that
many of his finest portraits were done in this manner, ere the colours
were yet dry, in the course of a single day. Oh! ephemeral works to last
for ever!

Vandyke married a daughter of Earl Gower, of whom there is a very
beautiful picture. She was the Œnone, and he his own Paris. A painter of
the name of Astley married a Lady ——, who sat to him for her picture. He
was a wretched hand, but a fine person of a man, and a great coxcomb;
and on his strutting up and down before the portrait when it was done
with a prodigious air of satisfaction, she observed, ‘If he was so
pleased with the copy, he might have the original.’ This Astley was a
person of magnificent habits and a sumptuous taste in living; and is the
same of whom the anecdote is recorded, that when some English students
walking out near Rome were compelled by the heat to strip off their
coats, Astley displayed a waistcoat with a huge waterfall streaming down
the back of it, which was a piece of one of his own canvases that he had
converted to this purpose. Sir Joshua fell in love with one of his fair
sitters, a young and beautiful girl, who ran out one day in a great
panic and confusion, hid her face in her companion’s lap who was reading
in an outer room, and said, ‘Sir Joshua had made her an offer!’ This
circumstance perhaps deserves mentioning the more, because there is a
general idea that Sir Joshua Reynolds was a confirmed old bachelor.
Goldsmith conceived a fruitless attachment to the same person, and
addressed some passionate letters to her. Alas! it is the fate of genius
to admire and to celebrate beauty, not to enjoy it! It is a fate,
perhaps not without its compensations—

              ‘Had Petrarch gained his Laura for a wife,
              Would he have written Sonnets all his life?’

This distinguished beauty is still living, and handsomer than Sir
Joshua’s picture of her when a girl; and inveighs against the freedom of
Lord Byron’s pen with all the charming prudery of the last age.[14]

The relation between the portrait-painter and his amiable sitters is one
of established custom: but it is also one of metaphysical nicety, and is
a running _double entendre_. The fixing an inquisitive gaze on beauty,
the heightening a momentary grace, the dwelling on the heaven of an eye,
the losing one’s-self in the dimple of a chin, is a dangerous
employment. The painter may chance to slide into the lover—the lover can
hardly turn painter. The eye indeed grows critical, the hand is busy:
but are the senses unmoved? We are employed to transfer living charms to
an inanimate surface; but they may sink into the heart by the way, and
the nerveless hand be unable to carry its luscious burden any further.
St. Preux wonders at the rash mortal who had dared to trace the features
of his Julia; and accuses him of insensibility without reason. Perhaps
he too had an enthusiasm and pleasures of his own! Mr. Burke, in his
_Sublime and Beautiful_, has left a description of what he terms the
most beautiful object in nature, the neck of a lovely and innocent
female, which is written very much as if he had himself formerly painted
this object, and sacrificed at this formidable shrine. There is no doubt
that the perception of beauty becomes more exquisite (‘till the sense
aches at it’) by being studied and refined upon as an object of art—it
is at the same time fortunately neutralised by this means, or the
painter would run mad. It is converted into an abstraction, an _ideal_
thing, into something intermediate between nature and art, hovering
between a living substance and a senseless shadow. The health and spirit
that but now breathed from a speaking face, the next moment breathe with
almost equal effect from a dull piece of canvas, and thus distract
attention: the eye sparkles, the lips are moist there too; and if we can
fancy the picture alive, the face in its turn fades into a picture, a
mere object of sight. We take rapturous possession with one sense, the
eye; but the artist’s pencil acts as a nonconductor to the grosser
desires. Besides, the sense of duty, of propriety interferes. It is not
the question at issue: we have other work on our hands, and enough to
do. Love is the product of ease and idleness: but the painter has an
anxious, feverish, never-ending task, to rival the beauty, to which he
dare not aspire even in thought, or in a dream of bliss. Paints and
brushes are not ‘amorous toys of light-winged Cupid’; a rising sigh
evaporates in the aroma of some fine oil-colour or varnish, a kindling
blush is transfixed in a bed of vermilion on the palette. A blue vein
meandering in a white wrist invites the hand to touch it: but it is
better to proceed, and not spoil the picture. The ambiguity becomes more
striking in painting from the naked figure. If the wonder occasioned by
the object is greater, so is the despair of rivalling what we see. The
sense of responsibility increases with the hope of creating an
artificial splendour to match the real one. The display of unexpected
charm foils our vanity, and mortifies passion. The painting _A Diana and
Nymphs_ is like plunging into a cold bath of desire: to make a statue of
a _Venus_ transforms the sculptor himself to stone. The snow on the lap
of beauty freezes the soul. The heedless, unsuspecting licence of
foreign manners gives the artist abroad an advantage over ours at home.
Sir Joshua Reynolds painted only the head of Iphigene from a beautiful
woman of quality: Canova had innocent girls to sit to him for his
Graces. The Princess Borghese, whose symmetry of form was admirable, sat
to him for a model, which he considered as his master-piece and the
perfection of the female form; and when asked if she did not feel
uncomfortable while it was taking, she replied with great indifference,
‘No: it was not cold!’ I have but one other word to add on this part of
the subject: if having to paint a delicate and modest female is a
temptation to gallantry, on the other hand the sitting to a lady for
one’s picture is a still more trying situation, and amounts (almost of
itself) to a declaration of love!

Landscape-painting is free from these tormenting dilemmas and
embarrassments. It is as full of the feeling of pastoral simplicity and
ease, as portrait-painting is of personal vanity and egotism. Away then
with those incumbrances to the true liberty of thought—the sitter’s
chair, the bag-wig and sword, the drapery, the lay figure—and let us to
some retired spot in the country, take out our port-folio, plant our
easel, and begin. We are all at once shrouded from observation—

              ‘The world forgetting, by the world forgot!’

We enjoy the cool shade, with solitude and silence; or hear the dashing
waterfall,

               ‘Or stock-dove plain amid the forest deep,
               That drowsy rustles to the sighing gale.’

It seems almost a shame to do any thing, we are so well content without
it; but the eye is restless, and we must have something to show when we
get home. We set to work, and failure or success prompts us to go on. We
take up the pencil, or lay it down again, as we please. We muse or
paint, as objects strike our senses or our reflection. The perfect
leisure we feel turns labour to a luxury. We try to imitate the grey
colour of a rock or of the bark of a tree: the breeze wafted from its
broad foliage gives us fresh spirits to proceed, we dip our pencil in
the sky, or ask the white clouds sailing over its bosom to sit for their
pictures. We are in no hurry, and have the day before us. Or else,
escaping from the close-embowered scene, we catch fading distances on
airy downs, and seize on golden sunsets with the fleecy flocks
glittering in the evening ray, after a shower of rain has fallen. Or
from Norwood’s ridgy heights, survey the snake-like Thames, or its
smoke-crowned capital;

               ‘Think of its crimes, its cares, its pain,
               Then shield us in the woods again.’

No one thinks of disturbing a landscape-painter at his task: he seems a
kind of magician, the privileged genius of the place. Wherever a Claude,
a Wilson has introduced his own portrait in the foreground of a picture,
we look at it with interest (however ill it may be done) feeling that it
is the portrait of one who was quite happy at the time, and how glad we
should be to change places with him.

Mr. Burke has brought in a striking episode in one of his later works in
allusion to Sir Joshua’s portrait of Lord Keppel, with those of some
other friends, painted in their better days. The portrait is indeed a
fine one, worthy of the artist and the critic, and perhaps recalls Lord
Keppel’s memory oftener than any other circumstance at present does.[15]
Portrait-painting is in truth a sort of cement of friendship, and a clue
to history. That blockhead, Mr. C****r, of the Admiralty, the other day
blundered upon some observations of mine relating to this subject, and
made the House stare by asserting that portrait-painting was history or
history portrait, as it happened; but went on to add, ‘That those
gentlemen who had seen the ancient portraits lately exhibited in
Pall-mall, must have been satisfied that they were strictly
_historical_;’ which showed that he knew nothing at all of the matter,
and merely talked by rote. There was nothing historical in the
generality of those portraits, except that they were portraits of people
mentioned in history—there was no more of the spirit of history in them
(which is _passion_ or _action_) than in their dresses. But this is the
way in which that person, by his pettifogging habits and literal
understanding, always mistakes a verbal truism for sense, and a misnomer
for wit! I was going to observe, that I think the aiding the
recollection of our family and friends in our absence may be a frequent
and strong inducement to sitting for our pictures; but that I believe
the love of posthumous fame, or of continuing our memories after we are
dead, has very little to do with it. And one reason I should give for
that opinion is this, that we are not naturally very prone to dwell with
pleasure on any thing that may happen in relation to us after we are
dead, because we are not fond of thinking of death at all. We shrink
equally from the prospect of that fatal event or from any speculation on
its consequences. The surviving ourselves in our pictures is but a poor
compensation—it is rather adding mockery to calamity. The perpetuating
our names in the wide page of history or to a remote posterity is a
vague calculation, that may take out the immediate sting of
mortality—whereas we ourselves may hope to last (by a fortunate
extension of the term of human life) almost as long as an ordinary
portrait; and the wounds of lacerated friendship it heals must be still
green, and our ashes scarcely cold. I think therefore that the looking
forward to this mode of keeping alive the memory of what we were by
lifeless hues and discoloured features, is not among the most approved
consolations of human life, or favourite dalliances of the imagination.
Yet I own I should like some part of me, as the hair or even nails, to
be preserved entire, or I should have no objection to lie like Whitfield
in a state of petrifaction. This smacks of the bodily reality at
least—acts like a deception to the spectator, and breaks the fall from
this ‘warm, kneaded motion to a clod’—from that to nothing—even to the
person himself. I suspect that the idea of posthumous fame, which has so
unwelcome a condition annexed to it, loses its general relish as we
advance in life, and that it is only while we are young that we pamper
our imaginations with this bait, with a sort of impunity. The reversion
of immortality is then so distant, that we may talk of it without much
fear of entering upon immediate possession: death is itself a fable—a
sound that dies upon our lips; and the only certainty seems the only
impossibility. Fame, at that romantic period, is the first thing in our
mouths, and death the last in our thoughts.


                               ESSAY XII
               WHETHER GENIUS IS CONSCIOUS OF ITS POWERS?

No really great man ever thought himself so. The idea of greatness in
the mind answers but ill to our knowledge—or to our ignorance of
ourselves. What living prose-writer, for instance, would think of
comparing himself with Burke? Yet would it not have been equal
presumption or egotism in him to fancy himself equal to those who had
gone before him—Bolingbroke or Johnson or Sir William Temple? Because
his rank in letters is become a settled point with us, we conclude that
it must have been quite as self-evident to him, and that he must have
been perfectly conscious of his vast superiority to the rest of the
world. Alas! not so. No man is truly himself, but in the idea which
others entertain of him. The mind, as well as the eye, ‘sees not itself,
but by reflection from some other thing.’ What parity can there be
between the effect of habitual composition on the mind of the
individual, and the surprise occasioned by first reading a fine passage
in an admired author; between what we do with ease, and what we thought
it next to impossible ever to be done; between the reverential awe we
have for years encouraged, without seeing reason to alter it, for
distinguished genius, and the slow, reluctant, unwelcome conviction that
after infinite toil and repeated disappointments, and when it is too
late and to little purpose, we have ourselves at length accomplished
what we at first proposed; between the insignificance of our petty,
personal pretensions, and the vastness and splendour which the
atmosphere of imagination lends to an illustrious name? He who comes up
to his own idea of greatness, must always have had a very low standard
of it in his mind. ‘What a pity,’ said some one, ‘that Milton had not
the pleasure of reading Paradise Lost!’ He could not read it, as we do,
with the weight of impression that a hundred years of admiration have
added to it—‘a phœnix gazed by all’—with the sense of the number of
editions it has passed through with still increasing reputation, with
the tone of solidity, time-proof, which it has received from the breath
of cold, envious maligners, with the sound which the voice of Fame has
lent to every line of it! The writer of an ephemeral production may be
as much dazzled with it as the public: it may sparkle in his own eyes
for a moment, and be soon forgotten by every one else. But no one can
anticipate the suffrages of posterity. Every man, in judging of himself,
is his own contemporary. He may feel the gale of popularity, but he
cannot tell how long it will last. His opinion of himself wants
distance, wants time, wants numbers, to set it off and confirm it. He
must be indifferent to his own merits, before he can feel a confidence
in them. Besides, every one must be sensible of a thousand weaknesses
and deficiencies in himself; whereas Genius only leaves behind it the
monuments of its strength. A great name is an abstraction of some one
excellence: but whoever fancies himself an abstraction of excellence, so
far from being great, may be sure that he is a blockhead, equally
ignorant of excellence or defect, of himself or others. Mr. Burke,
besides being the author of the _Reflections_, and the _Letter to a
Noble Lord_, had a wife and son; and had to think as much about them as
we do about him. The imagination gains nothing by the minute details of
personal knowledge.

On the other hand, it may be said that no man knows so well as the
author of any performance what it has cost him, and the length of time
and study devoted to it. This is one, among other reasons, why no man
can pronounce an opinion upon himself. The happiness of the result bears
no proportion to the difficulties overcome or the pains taken. _Materiam
superabat opus_, is an old and fatal complaint. The definition of genius
is that it acts unconsciously; and those who have produced immortal
works, have done so without knowing how or why. The greatest power
operates unseen, and executes its appointed task with as little
ostentation as difficulty. Whatever is done best, is done from the
natural bent and disposition of the mind. It is only where our
incapacity begins, that we begin to feel the obstacles, and to set an
undue value on our triumph over them. Correggio, Michael Angelo,
Rembrandt, did what they did without premeditation or effort—their works
came from their minds as a natural birth—if you had asked them why they
adopted this or that style, they would have answered, _because they
could not help it_, and because they knew of no other. So Shakespear
says:

           ‘Our poesy is as a gum which issues
           From whence ’tis nourish’d. The fire i’ th’ flint
           Shows not till it be struck: our gentle flame
           Provokes itself; and, like the current, flies
           Each bound it chafes.’

Shakespear himself was an example of his own rule, and appears to have
owed almost every thing to chance, scarce any thing to industry or
design. His poetry flashes from him, like the lightning from the
summer-cloud, or the stroke from the sun-flower. When we look at the
admirable comic designs of Hogarth, they seem, from the unfinished state
in which they are left, and from the freedom of the pencilling, to have
cost him little trouble; whereas the _Sigismunda_ is a very laboured and
comparatively feeble performance, and he accordingly set great store by
it. He also thought highly of his portraits, and boasted that ‘he could
paint equal to Vandyke, give him his time and let him choose his
subject.’ This was the very reason why he could not. Vandyke’s
excellence consisted in this, that he could paint a fine portrait of any
one at sight: let him take ever so much pains or choose ever so bad a
subject, he could not help making something of it. His eye, his mind,
his hand was cast in the mould of grace and delicacy. Milton again is
understood to have preferred _Paradise Regained_ to his other works.
This, if so, was either because he himself was conscious of having
failed in it; or because others thought he had. We are willing to think
well of that which we know wants our favourable opinion, and to prop the
ricketty bantling. Every step taken, _invitâ Minerva_, costs us
something, and is set down to account; whereas we are borne on the full
tide of genius and success into the very haven of our desires, almost
imperceptibly. The strength of the impulse by which we are carried along
prevents the sense of difficulty or resistance: the true inspiration of
the Muse is soft and balmy as the air we breathe; and indeed, leaves us
little to boast of, for the effect hardly seems to be our own.

There are two persons who always appear to me to have worked under this
involuntary, silent impulse more than any others; I mean Rembrandt and
Correggio. It is not known that Correggio ever saw a picture of any
great master. He lived and died obscurely in an obscure village. We have
few of his works, but they are all perfect. What truth, what grace, what
angelic sweetness are there! Not one line or tone that is not divinely
soft or exquisitely fair; the painter’s mind rejecting, by a natural
process, all that is discordant, coarse, or unpleasing. The whole is an
emanation of pure thought. The work grew under his hand as if of itself,
and came out without a flaw, like the diamond from the rock. He knew not
what he did; and looked at each modest grace as it stole from the canvas
with anxious delight and wonder. Ah! gracious God! not he alone; how
many more in all time have looked at their works with the same feelings,
not knowing but they too may have done something divine, immortal, and
finding in that sole doubt ample amends for pining solitude, for want,
neglect, and an untimely fate. Oh! for one hour of that uneasy rapture,
when the mind first thinks it has struck out something that may last for
ever; when the germ of excellence bursts from nothing on the startled
sight! Take, take away the gaudy triumphs of the world, the long
deathless shout of fame, and give back that heart-felt sigh with which
the youthful enthusiast first weds immortality as his secret bride! And
thou too, Rembrandt! who wert a man of genius, if ever painter was a man
of genius, did this dream hang over you as you painted that strange
picture of _Jacob’s Ladder_? Did your eye strain over those gradual
dusky clouds into futurity, or did those white-vested, beaked figures
babble to you of fame as they approached? Did you know what you were
about, or did you not paint much as it happened? Oh! if you had thought
once about yourself, or any thing but the subject, it would have been
all over with ‘the glory, the intuition, the amenity,’ the dream had
fled, the spell had been broken. The hills would not have looked like
those we see in sleep—that tatterdemalion figure of Jacob, thrown on one
side, would not have slept as if the breath was fairly taken out of his
body. So much do Rembrandt’s pictures savour of the soul and body of
reality, that the thoughts seem identical with the objects—if there had
been the least question what he should have done, or how he should do
it, or how far he had succeeded, it would have spoiled every thing.
Lumps of light hung upon his pencil and fell upon his canvas like
dew-drops: the shadowy veil was drawn over his back-grounds by the dull,
obtuse finger of night, making darkness visible by still greater
darkness that could only be felt!

Cervantes is another instance of a man of genius, whose work may be said
to have sprung from his mind, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. Don
Quixote and Sancho were a kind of twins; and the jests of the latter, as
he says, fell from him like drops of rain when he least thought of it.
Shakespear’s creations were more multiform, but equally natural and
unstudied. Raphael and Milton seem partial exceptions to this rule.
Their productions were of the _composite order_; and those of the latter
sometimes even amount to centos. Accordingly, we find Milton quoted
among those authors, who have left proofs of their entertaining a high
opinion of themselves, and of cherishing a strong aspiration after fame.
Some of Shakespear’s Sonnets have been also cited to the same purpose;
but they seem rather to convey wayward and dissatisfied complaints of
his untoward fortune than any thing like a triumphant and confident
reliance on his future renown. He appears to have stood more alone and
to have thought less about himself than any living being. One reason for
this indifference may have been, that as a writer he was tolerably
successful in his life-time, and no doubt produced his works with very
great facility.

I hardly know whether to class Claude Lorraine as among those who
succeeded most ‘through happiness or pains.’ It is certain that he
imitated no one, and has had no successful imitator. The perfection of
his landscapes seems to have been owing to an inherent quality of
harmony, to an exquisite sense of delicacy in his mind. His monotony has
been complained of, which is apparently produced from a preconceived
idea in his mind; and not long ago I heard a person, not more
distinguished for the subtilty than the _naïveté_ of his sarcasms,
remark, ‘Oh! I never look at Claude: if one has seen one of his
pictures, one has seen them all; they are every one alike: there is the
same sky, the same climate, the same time of day, the same tree, and
that tree is like a cabbage. To be sure, they say he did pretty well;
but when a man is always doing one thing, he ought to do it pretty
well.’ There is no occasion to write the name under this criticism, and
the best answer to it is that it is true—his pictures always are the
same, but we never wish them to be otherwise. Perfection is one thing. I
confess I think that Claude knew this, and felt that his were the finest
landscapes in the world—that ever had been, or would ever be.

I am not in the humour to pursue this argument any farther at present,
but to write a digression. If the reader is not already apprised of it,
he will please to take notice that I write this at Winterslow. My style
there is apt to be redundant and excursive. At other times it may be
cramped, dry, abrupt; but here it flows like a river, and overspreads
its banks. I have not to seek for thoughts or hunt for images: they come
of themselves, I inhale them with the breeze, and the silent groves are
vocal with a thousand recollections—

             ‘And visions, as poetic eyes avow,
             Hang on each leaf, and cling to ev’ry bough.’

Here I came fifteen years ago, a willing exile; and as I trod the
lengthened greensward by the low wood-side, repeated the old line,

                     ‘My mind to me a kingdom is!’

I found it so then, before, and since; and shall I faint, now that I
have poured out the spirit of that mind to the world, and treated many
subjects with truth, with freedom, and power, because I have been
followed with one cry of abuse ever since _for not being a
government-tool_? Here I returned a few years after to finish some works
I had undertaken, doubtful of the event, but determined to do my best;
and wrote that character of Millimant which was once transcribed by
fingers fairer than Aurora’s, but no notice was taken of it, because I
was not a government-tool, and must be supposed devoid of taste and
elegance by all who aspired to these qualities in their own persons.
Here I sketched my account of that old honest Signior Orlando
Friscobaldo, which with its fine, racy, acrid tone that old crab-apple,
G*ff***d, would have relished or pretended to relish, had I been a
government-tool! Here too I have written _Table-Talks_ without number,
and as yet without a falling-off, till now that they are nearly done, or
I should not make this boast. I could swear (were they not mine) the
thoughts in many of them are founded as the rock, free as air, the tone
like an Italian picture. What then? Had the style been like polished
steel, as firm and as bright, it would have availed me nothing, for I am
not a government-tool! I had endeavoured to guide the taste of the
English people to the best old English writers; but I had said that
English kings did not reign by right divine, and that his present
majesty was descended from an elector of Hanover in a right line; and no
loyal subject would after this look into Webster or Deckar because I had
pointed them out. I had done something (more than any one except
Schlegel) to vindicate the _Characters of Shakespear’s Plays_ from the
stigma of French criticism: but our Anti-Jacobin and Anti-Gallican
writers soon found out that I had said and written that Frenchmen,
Englishmen, men were not slaves by birth-right. This was enough to
_damn_ the work. Such has been the head and front of my offending. While
my friend Leigh Hunt was writing the _Descent of Liberty_, and strewing
the march of the Allied Sovereigns with flowers, I sat by the waters of
Babylon and hung my harp upon the willows. I knew all along there was
but one alternative—the cause of kings or of mankind. This I foresaw,
this I feared; the world see it now, when it is too late. Therefore I
lamented, and would take no comfort when the Mighty fell, because we,
all men, fell with him, like lightning from heaven, to grovel in the
grave of Liberty, in the stye of Legitimacy! There is but one question
in the hearts of monarchs, whether mankind are their property or not.
There was but this one question in mine. I had made an abstract,
metaphysical principle of this question. I was not the dupe of the voice
of the charmers. By my hatred of tyrants I knew what their hatred of the
free-born spirit of man must be, of the semblance, of the very name of
Liberty and Humanity. And while others bowed their heads to the image of
the BEAST, I spit upon it and buffetted it, and made mouths at it, and
pointed at it, and drew aside the veil that then half concealed it, but
has been since thrown off, and named it by its right name; and it is not
to be supposed that my having penetrated their mystery would go
unrequited by those whose darling and whose delight the idol,
half-brute, half-demon, was, and who were ashamed to acknowledge the
image and superscription as their own! Two half-friends of mine, who
would not make a whole one between them, agreed the other day that the
indiscriminate, incessant abuse of what I write was mere prejudice and
party-spirit, and that what I do in periodicals and without a name does
well, pays well, and is ‘cried out upon in the top of the compass.’ It
is this indeed that has saved my shallow skiff from quite foundering on
Tory spite and rancour; for when people have been reading and approving
an article in a miscellaneous journal, it does not do to say when they
discover the author afterwards (whatever might have been the case
before) it is written by a blockhead; and even Mr. Jerdan recommends the
volume of CHARACTERISTICS as an excellent little work, because it has no
cabalistic name in the title-page, and swears ‘there is a first-rate
article of forty pages in the last number of the Edinburgh from
Jeffrey’s own hand,’ though when he learns against his will that it is
mine, he devotes three successive numbers of the LITERARY GAZETTE to
abuse ‘that _strange_ article in the last number of the Edinburgh
Review.’ Others who had not this advantage have fallen a sacrifice to
the obloquy attached to the suspicion of doubting, or of being
acquainted with any one who is known to doubt, the divinity of kings.
Poor Keats paid the forfeit of this _lezè majesté_ with his health and
life. What, though his Verses were like the breath of spring, and many
of his thoughts like flowers—would this, with the circle of critics that
beset a throne, lessen the crime of their having been praised in the
Examiner? The lively and most agreeable Editor of that paper has in like
manner been driven from his country and his friends who delighted in
him, for no other reason than having written the Story of Rimini, and
asserted ten years ago, ‘that the most accomplished prince in Europe was
an Adonis of fifty!’

            ‘Return, Alpheus, the dread voice is past,
            That shrunk thy streams; return, Sicilian Muse!’

I look out of my window and see that a shower has just fallen: the
fields look green after it, and a rosy cloud hangs over the brow of the
hill; a lily expands its petals in the moisture, dressed in its lovely
green and white; a shepherd-boy has just brought some pieces of turf
with daisies and grass for his young mistress to make a bed for her
sky-lark, not doomed to dip his wings in the dappled dawn—my cloudy
thoughts draw off, the storm of angry politics has blown over—Mr.
Blackwood, I am yours—Mr. Croker, my service to you—Mr. T. Moore, I am
alive and well—Really, it is wonderful how little the worse I am for
fifteen years’ wear and tear, how I come upon my legs again on the
ground of truth and nature, and ‘look abroad into universality,’
forgetting that there is any such person as myself in the world!

I have let this passage stand (however critical) because it may serve as
a practical illustration to show what authors really think of themselves
when put upon the defensive—(I confess, the subject has nothing to do
with the title at the head of the Essay!)—and as a warning to those who
may reckon upon their fair portion of popularity as the reward of the
exercise of an independent spirit and such talents as they possess. It
sometimes seems at first sight as if the low scurrility and jargon of
abuse by which it is attempted to overlay all common sense and decency
by a tissue of lies and nicknames, everlastingly repeated and applied
indiscriminately to all those who are not of the regular
government-party, was peculiar to the present time, and the anomalous
growth of modern criticism; but if we look back, we shall find the same
system acted upon, as often as power, prejudice, dulness, and spite
found their account in playing the game into one another’s hands—in
decrying popular efforts, and in giving currency to every species of
base metal that had their own conventional stamp upon it. The names of
Pope and Dryden were assailed with daily and unsparing abuse—the epithet
A. P. E. was levelled at the sacred head of the former—and if even men
like these, having to deal with the consciousness of their own
infirmities and the insolence and spurns of wanton enmity, must have
found it hard to possess their souls in patience, any living writer
amidst such contradictory evidence can scarcely expect to retain much
calm, steady conviction of his own merits, or build himself a secure
reversion in immortality.

However one may in a fit of spleen and impatience turn round and assert
one’s claims in the face of low-bred, hireling malice, I will here
repeat what I set out with saying, that there never yet was a man of
sense and proper spirit, who would not decline rather than court a
comparison with any of those names, whose reputation he really
emulates—who would not be sorry to suppose that any of the great heirs
of memory had as many foibles as he knows himself to possess—and who
would not shrink from including himself or being included by others in
the same praise, that was offered to long-established and universally
acknowledged merit, as a kind of profanation. Those who are ready to
fancy themselves Raphaels and Homers are very inferior men indeed—they
have not even an idea of the mighty names that ‘they take in vain.’ They
are as deficient in pride as in modesty, and have not so much as served
an apprenticeship to a true and honourable ambition. They mistake a
momentary popularity for lasting renown, and a sanguine temperament for
the inspirations of genius. The love of fame is too high and delicate a
feeling in the mind to be mixed up with realities—it is a solitary
abstraction, the secret sigh of the soul—

            ‘It is all one as we should love
            A bright particular star, and think to wed it.’

A name ‘fast-anchored in the deep abyss of time’ is like a star
twinkling in the firmament, cold, silent, distant, but eternal and
sublime; and our transmitting one to posterity is as if we should
contemplate our translation to the skies. If we are not contented with
this feeling on the subject, we shall never sit in Cassiopeia’s chair,
nor will our names, studding Ariadne’s crown or streaming with
Berenice’s locks, ever make

                            ‘the face of heaven so bright,
          That birds shall sing, and think it were not night.’

Those who are in love only with noise and show, instead of devoting
themselves to a life of study, had better hire a booth at Bartlemy-Fair,
or march at the head of a recruiting regiment with drums beating and
colours flying!

It has been urged, that however little we may be disposed to indulge the
reflection at other times or out of mere self-complacency, yet the mind
cannot help being conscious of the effort required for any great work
while it is about it, of

               ‘The high endeavour and the glad success.’

I grant that there is a sense of power in such cases, with the exception
before stated; but then this very effort and state of excitement
engrosses the mind at the time, and leaves it listless and exhausted
afterwards. The energy we exert, or the high state of enjoyment we feel,
puts us out of conceit with ourselves at other times: compared to what
we are in the act of composition, we seem dull, common-place people,
generally speaking; and what we have been able to perform is rather
matter of wonder than of self-congratulation to us. The stimulus of
writing is like the stimulus of intoxication, with which we can hardly
sympathise in our sober moments, when we are no longer under the
inspiration of the demon, or when the virtue is gone out of us. While we
are engaged in any work, we are thinking of the subject, and cannot stop
to admire ourselves; and when it is done, we look at it with comparative
indifference. I will venture to say, that no one but a pedant ever read
his own works regularly through. They are not _his_—they are become mere
words, waste-paper, and have none of the glow, the creative enthusiasm,
the vehemence, and natural spirit with which he wrote them. When we have
once committed our thoughts to paper, written them fairly out, and seen
that they are right in the printing, if we are in our right wits, we
have done with them for ever. I sometimes try to read an article I have
written in some magazine or review—(for when they are bound up in a
volume, I dread the very sight of them)—but stop after a sentence or
two, and never recur to the task. I know pretty well what I have to say
on the subject, and do not want to go to school to myself. It is the
worst instance of the _bis repetita crambe_ in the world. I do not think
that even painters have much delight in looking at their works after
they are done. While they are in progress, there is a great degree of
satisfaction in considering what has been done, or what is still to
do—but this is hope, is reverie, and ceases with the completion of our
efforts. I should not imagine Raphael or Correggio would have much
pleasure in looking at their former works, though they might recollect
the pleasure they had had in painting them; they might spy defects in
them (for the idea of unattainable perfection still keeps pace with our
actual approaches to it), and fancy that they were not worthy of
immortality. The greatest portrait-painter the world ever saw used to
write under his pictures, ‘_Titianus faciebat_,’ signifying that they
were imperfect; and in his letter to Charles V. accompanying one of his
most admired works, he only spoke of the time he had been about it.
Annibal Caracci boasted that he could do like Titian and Correggio, and,
like most boasters, was wrong. (_See his spirited Letter to his cousin
Ludovico, on seeing the pictures at Parma._)

The greatest pleasure in life is that of reading, while we are young. I
have had as much of this pleasure as perhaps any one. As I grow older,
it fades; or else, the stronger stimulus of writing takes off the edge
of it. At present, I have neither time nor inclination for it: yet I
should like to devote a year’s entire leisure to a course of the English
Novelists; and perhaps clap on that old sly knave, Sir Walter, to the
end of the list. It is astonishing how I used formerly to relish the
style of certain authors, at a time when I myself despaired of ever
writing a single line. Probably this was the reason. It is not in mental
as in natural ascent—intellectual objects seem higher when we survey
them from below, than when we look down from any given elevation above
the common level. My three favourite writers about the time I speak of
were Burke, Junius, and Rousseau. I was never weary of admiring and
wondering at the felicities of the style, the turns of expression, the
refinements of thought and sentiment: I laid the book down to find out
the secret of so much strength and beauty, and took it up again in
despair, to read on and admire. So I passed whole days, months, and I
may add, years; and have only this to say now, that as my life began, so
I could wish that it may end. The last time I tasted this luxury in its
full perfection was one day after a sultry day’s walk in summer between
Farnham and Alton. I was fairly tired out; I walked into an inn-yard (I
think at the latter place); I was shown by the waiter to what looked at
first like common out-houses at the other end of it, but they turned out
to be a suite of rooms, probably a hundred years old—the one I entered
opened into an old-fashioned garden, embellished with beds of larkspur
and a leaden Mercury; it was wainscoted, and there was a grave-looking,
dark-coloured portrait of Charles II. hanging up over the tiled
chimney-piece. I had ‘_Love for Love_’ in my pocket, and began to read;
coffee was brought in in a silver coffee-pot; the cream, the bread and
butter, every thing was excellent, and the flavour of Congreve’s style
prevailed over all. I prolonged the entertainment till a late hour, and
relished this divine comedy better even than when I used to see it
played by Miss Mellon, as _Miss Prue_; Bob Palmer, as _Tattle_; and
Bannister, as honest _Ben_. This circumstance happened just five years
ago, and it seems like yesterday. If I count my life so by lustres, it
will soon glide away; yet I shall not have to repine, if, while it
lasts, it is enriched with a few such recollections!


                               ESSAY XIII
                       ON THE PLEASURE OF HATING

There is a spider crawling along the matted floor of the room where I
sit (not the one which has been so well allegorised in the admirable
_Lines to a Spider_, but another of the same edifying breed)—he runs
with heedless, hurried haste, he hobbles awkwardly towards me, he
stops—he sees the giant shadow before him, and, at a loss whether to
retreat or proceed, meditates his huge foe—but as I do not start up and
seize upon the straggling caitiff, as he would upon a hapless fly within
his toils, he takes heart, and ventures on, with mingled cunning,
impudence, and fear. As he passes me, I lift up the matting to assist
his escape, am glad to get rid of the unwelcome intruder, and shudder at
the recollection after he is gone. A child, a woman, a clown, or a
moralist a century ago, would have crushed the little reptile to
death—my philosophy has got beyond that—I bear the creature no ill-will,
but still I hate the very sight of it. The spirit of malevolence
survives the practical exertion of it. We learn to curb our will and
keep our overt actions within the bounds of humanity, long before we can
subdue our sentiments and imaginations to the same mild tone. We give up
the external demonstration, the _brute_ violence, but cannot part with
the essence or principle of hostility. We do not tread upon the poor
little animal in question (that seems barbarous and pitiful!) but we
regard it with a sort of mystic horror and superstitious loathing. It
will ask another hundred years of fine writing and hard thinking to cure
us of the prejudice, and make us feel towards this ill-omened tribe with
something of ‘the milk of human kindness,’ instead of their own shyness
and venom.

Nature seems (the more we look into it) made up of antipathies: without
something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action.
Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring
interests, the unruly passions of men. The white streak in our own
fortunes is brightened (or just rendered visible) by making all around
it as dark as possible; so the rainbow paints its form upon the cloud.
Is it pride? Is it envy? Is it the force of contrast? Is it weakness or
malice? But so it is, that there is a secret affinity, a _hankering_
after evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but a
fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of
satisfaction. Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit.
Pain is a bitter-sweet, which never surfeits. Love turns, with a little
indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal.—Do we
not see this principle at work every where? Animals torment and worry
one another without mercy: children kill flies for sport: every one
reads the accidents and offences in a newspaper, as the cream of the
jest: a whole town runs to be present at a fire, and the spectator by no
means exults to see it extinguished. It is better to have it so, but it
diminishes the interest; and our feelings take part with our passions,
rather than with our understandings. Men assemble in crowds, with eager
enthusiasm, to witness a tragedy: but if there were an execution going
forward in the next street, as Mr. Burke observes, the theatre would be
left empty. A strange cur in a village, an idiot, a crazy woman, are set
upon and baited by the whole community. Public nuisances are in the
nature of public benefits. How long did the Pope, the Bourbons, and the
Inquisition keep the people of England in breath, and supply them with
nick-names to vent their spleen upon! Had they done us any harm of late?
No: but we have always a quantity of superfluous bile upon the stomach,
and we wanted an object to let it out upon. How loth were we to give up
our pious belief in ghosts and witches, because we liked to persecute
the one, and frighten ourselves to death with the other! It is not the
quality so much as the quantity of excitement that we are anxious about:
we cannot bear a state of indifference and _ennui_: the mind seems to
abhor a _vacuum_ as much as ever matter was supposed to do. Even when
the spirit of the age (that is, the progress of intellectual refinement,
warring with our natural infirmities) no longer allows us to carry our
vindictive and headstrong humours into effect, we try to revive them in
description, and keep up the old bugbears, the phantoms of our terror
and our hate, in imagination. We burn Guy Faux in effigy, and the
hooting and buffeting and maltreating that poor tattered figure of rags
and straw makes a festival in every village in England once a year.
Protestants and Papists do not now burn one another at the stake: but we
subscribe to new editions of _Fox’s Book of Martyrs_; and the secret of
the success of the _Scotch Novels_ is much the same—they carry us back
to the feuds, the heart-burnings, the havoc, the dismay, the wrongs and
the revenge of a barbarous age and people—to the rooted prejudices and
deadly animosities of sects and parties in politics and religion, and of
contending chiefs and clans in war and intrigue. We feel the full force
of the spirit of hatred with all of them in turn. As we read, we throw
aside the trammels of civilisation, the flimsy veil of humanity. ‘Off,
you lendings!’ The wild beast resumes its sway within us, we feel like
hunting animals, and as the hound starts in his sleep and rushes on the
chase in fancy, the heart rouses itself in its native lair, and utters a
wild cry of joy, at being restored once more to freedom and lawless,
unrestrained impulses. Every one has his full swing, or goes to the
Devil his own way. Here are no Jeremy Bentham Panopticons, none of Mr.
Owen’s impassable Parallelograms, (Rob Roy would have spurned and poured
a thousand curses on them), no long calculations of self-interest—the
will takes its instant way to its object; as the mountain-torrent flings
itself over the precipice, the greatest possible good of each individual
consists in doing all the mischief he can to his neighbour: that is
charming, and finds a sure and sympathetic chord in every breast! So Mr.
Irving, the celebrated preacher, has rekindled the old, original, almost
exploded hell-fire in the aisles of the Caledonian Chapel, as they
introduce the real water of the New River at Sadler’s Wells, to the
delight and astonishment of his fair audience. _’Tis pretty, though a
plague_, to sit and peep into the pit of Tophet, to play at
_snap-dragon_ with flames and brimstone (it gives a smart electrical
shock, a lively fillip to delicate constitutions), and to see Mr.
Irving, like a huge Titan, looking as grim and swarthy as if he had to
forge tortures for all the damned! What a strange being man is! Not
content with doing all he can to vex and hurt his fellows here, ‘upon
this bank and shoal of time,’ where one would think there were
heart-aches, pain, disappointment, anguish, tears, sighs, and groans
enough, the bigoted maniac takes him to the top of the high peak of
school divinity to hurl him down the yawning gulf of penal fire; his
speculative malice asks eternity to wreak its infinite spite in, and
calls on the Almighty to execute its relentless doom! The cannibals burn
their enemies and eat them, in good-fellowship with one another: meek
Christian divines cast those who differ from them but a hair’s-breadth,
body and soul, into hell-fire, for the glory of God and the good of his
creatures! It is well that the power of such persons is not co-ordinate
with their wills: indeed, it is from the sense of their weakness and
inability to control the opinions of others, that they thus ‘outdo
termagant,’ and endeavour to frighten them into conformity by big words
and monstrous denunciations.

The pleasure of hating, like a poisonous mineral, eats into the heart of
religion, and turns it to rankling spleen and bigotry; it makes
patriotism an excuse for carrying fire, pestilence, and famine into
other lands: it leaves to virtue nothing but the spirit of
censoriousness, and a narrow, jealous, inquisitorial watchfulness over
the actions and motives of others. What have the different sects,
creeds, doctrines in religion been but so many pretexts set up for men
to wrangle, to quarrel, to tear one another in pieces about, like a
target as a mark to shoot at? Does any one suppose that the love of
country in an Englishman implies any friendly feeling or disposition to
serve another, bearing the same name? No, it means only hatred to the
French, or the inhabitants of any other country that we happen to be at
war with for the time. Does the love of virtue denote any wish to
discover or amend our own faults? No, but it atones for an obstinate
adherence to our own vices by the most virulent intolerance to human
frailties. This principle is of a most universal application. It extends
to good as well as evil: if it makes us hate folly, it makes us no less
dissatisfied with distinguished merit. If it inclines us to resent the
wrongs of others, it impels us to be as impatient of their prosperity.
We revenge injuries: we repay benefits with ingratitude. Even our
strongest partialities and likings soon take this turn. ‘That which was
luscious as locusts, anon becomes bitter as coloquintida;’ and love and
friendship melt in their own fires. We hate old friends: we hate old
books: we hate old opinions; and at last we come to hate ourselves.

I have observed that few of those, whom I have formerly known most
intimate, continue on the same friendly footing, or combine the
steadiness with the warmth of attachment. I have been acquainted with
two or three knots of inseparable companions, who saw each other ‘six
days in the week,’ that have broken up and dispersed. I have quarrelled
with almost all my old friends, (they might say this is owing to my bad
temper, but) they have also quarrelled with one another. What is become
of ‘that set of whist-players,’ celebrated by ELIA in his notable
_Epistle to Robert Southey, Esq._ (and now I think of it—that I myself
have celebrated in this very volume) ‘that for so many years called
Admiral Burney friend?’ They are scattered, like last year’s snow. Some
of them are dead—or gone to live at a distance—or pass one another in
the street like strangers; or if they stop to speak, do it as coolly and
try to _cut_ one another as soon as possible. Some of us have grown
rich—others poor. Some have got places under Government—others a _niche_
in the Quarterly Review. Some of us have dearly earned a name in the
world; whilst others remain in their original privacy. We despise the
one; and envy and are glad to mortify the other. Times are changed; we
cannot revive our old feelings; and we avoid the sight and are uneasy in
the presence of those, who remind us of our infirmity, and put us upon
an effort at seeming cordiality, which embarrasses ourselves and does
not impose upon our _quondam_ associates. Old friendships are like meats
served up repeatedly, cold, comfortless, and distasteful. The stomach
turns against them. Either constant intercourse and familiarity breed
weariness and contempt; or if we meet again after an interval of
absence, we appear no longer the same. One is too wise, another too
foolish for us; and we wonder we did not find this out before. We are
disconcerted and kept in a state of continual alarm by the wit of one,
or tired to death of the dullness of another. The _good things_ of the
first (besides leaving stings behind them) by repetition grow stale, and
lose their startling effect; and the insipidity of the last becomes
intolerable. The most amusing or instructive companion is at best like a
favourite volume, that we wish after a time to _lay upon the shelf_; but
as our friends are not willing to be laid there, this produces a
misunderstanding and ill-blood between us.—Or if the zeal and integrity
of friendship is not abated, or its career interrupted by any obstacle
arising out of its own nature, we look out for other subjects of
complaint and sources of dissatisfaction. We begin to criticise each
other’s dress, looks, and general character. ‘Such a one is a pleasant
fellow, but it is a pity he sits so late!’ Another fails to keep his
appointments, and that is a sore that never heals. We get acquainted
with some fashionable young men or with a mistress, and wish to
introduce our friend; but he is awkward and a sloven, the interview does
not answer, and this throws cold water on our intercourse. Or he makes
himself obnoxious to opinion—and we shrink from our own convictions on
the subject as an excuse for not defending him. All or any of these
causes mount up in time to a ground of coolness or irritation—and at
last they break out into open violence as the only amends we can make
ourselves for suppressing them so long, or the readiest means of
banishing recollections of former kindness, so little compatible with
our present feelings. We may try to tamper with the wounds or patch up
the carcase of departed friendship, but the one will hardly bear the
handling, and the other is not worth the trouble of embalming! The only
way to be reconciled to old friends is to part with them for good: at a
distance we may chance to be thrown back (in a waking dream) upon old
times and old feelings: or at any rate, we should not think of renewing
our intimacy, till we have fairly _spit our spite_, or said, thought,
and felt all the ill we can of each other. Or if we can pick a quarrel
with some one else, and make him the scape-goat, this is an excellent
contrivance to heal a broken bone. I think I must be friends with Lamb
again, since he has written that magnanimous Letter to Southey, and told
him a piece of his mind!—I don’t know what it is that attaches me to H——
so much, except that he and I, whenever we meet, sit in judgment on
another set of old friends, and ‘carve them as a dish fit for the Gods.’
There was L—— H——, John Scott, Mrs. ——, whose dark raven locks made a
picturesque back-ground to our discourse, B——, who is grown fat, and is,
they say, married, R——; these had all separated long ago, and their
foibles are the common link that holds us together. We do not affect to
condole or whine over their follies; we enjoy, we laugh at them till we
are ready to burst our sides, ‘_sans_ intermission, for hours by the
dial.’ We serve up a course of anecdotes, _traits_, master-strokes of
character, and cut and hack at them till we are weary. Perhaps some of
them are even with us. For my own part, as I once said, I like a friend
the better for having faults that one can talk about. ‘Then,’ said Mrs.
——, ‘you will never cease to be a philanthropist!’ Those in question
were some of the choice-spirits of the age, not ‘fellows of no mark or
likelihood;’ and we so far did them justice: but it is well they did not
hear what we sometimes said of them. I care little what any one says of
me, particularly behind my back, and in the way of critical and
analytical discussion—it is looks of dislike and scorn, that I answer
with the worst venom of my pen. The expression of the face wounds me
more than the expressions of the tongue. If I have in one instance
mistaken this expression, or resorted to this remedy where I ought not,
I am sorry for it. But the face was too fine over which it mantled, and
I am too old to have misunderstood it!... I sometimes go up to ——‘s; and
as often as I do, resolve never to go again. I do not find the old
homely welcome. The ghost of friendship meets me at the door, and sits
with me all dinner-time. They have got a set of fine notions and new
acquaintance. Allusions to past occurrences are thought trivial, nor is
it always safe to touch upon more general subjects. M. does not begin as
he formerly did every five minutes, ‘Fawcett used to say,’ &c. That
topic is something worn. The girls are grown up, and have a thousand
accomplishments. I perceive there is a jealousy on both sides. They
think I give myself airs, and I fancy the same of them. Every time I am
asked, ‘If I do not think Mr. Washington Irvine a very fine writer?’ I
shall not go again till I receive an invitation for Christmas-day in
company with Mr. Liston. The only intimacy I never found to flinch or
fade was a purely intellectual one. There was none of the cant of
candour in it, none of the whine of mawkish sensibility. Our mutual
acquaintance were considered merely as subjects of conversation and
knowledge, not at all of affection. We regarded them no more in our
experiments than ‘mice in an air-pump:’ or like malefactors, they were
regularly cut down and given over to the dissecting-knife. We spared
neither friend nor foe. We sacrificed human infirmities at the shrine of
truth. The skeletons of character might be seen, after the juice was
extracted, dangling in the air like flies in cobwebs: or they were kept
for future inspection in some refined acid. The demonstration was as
beautiful as it was new. There is no surfeiting on gall: nothing keeps
so well as a decoction of spleen. We grow tired of every thing but
turning others into ridicule, and congratulating ourselves on their
defects.

We take a dislike to our favourite books, after a time, for the same
reason. We cannot read the same works for ever. Our honey-moon, even
though we wed the Muse, must come to an end; and is followed by
indifference, if not by disgust. There are some works, those indeed that
produce the most striking effect at first by novelty and boldness of
outline, that will not bear reading twice: others of a less extravagant
character, and that excite and repay attention by a greater nicety of
details, have hardly interest enough to keep alive our continued
enthusiasm. The popularity of the most successful writers operates to
wean us from them, by the cant and fuss that is made about them, by
hearing their names everlastingly repeated, and by the number of
ignorant and indiscriminate admirers they draw after them:—we as little
like to have to drag others from their unmerited obscurity, lest we
should be exposed to the charge of affectation and singularity of taste.
There is nothing to be said respecting an author that all the world have
made up their minds about: it is a thankless as well as hopeless task to
recommend one that nobody has ever heard of. To cry up Shakespeare as
the God of our idolatry, seems like a vulgar, national prejudice: to
take down a volume of Chaucer, or Spenser, or Beaumont and Fletcher, or
Ford, or Marlowe, has very much the look of pedantry and egotism. I
confess it makes me hate the very name of Fame and Genius when works
like these are ‘gone into the wastes of time,’ while each successive
generation of fools is busily employed in reading the trash of the day,
and women of fashion gravely join with their waiting-maids in discussing
the preference between Paradise Lost and Mr. Moore’s Loves of the
Angels. I was pleased the other day on going into a shop to ask, ‘If
they had any of the _Scotch Novels_?’ to be told—‘That they had just
sent out the last, Sir Andrew Wylie!’—Mr. Galt will also be pleased with
this answer! The reputation of some books is raw and _unaired_: that of
others is worm-eaten and mouldy. Why fix our affections on that which we
cannot bring ourselves to have faith in, or which others have long
ceased to trouble themselves about? I am half afraid to look into Tom
Jones, lest it should not answer my expectations at this time of day;
and if it did not, I should certainly be disposed to fling it into the
fire, and never look into another novel while I lived. But surely, it
may be said, there are some works, that, like nature, can never grow
old; and that must always touch the imagination and passions alike! Or
there are passages that seem as if we might brood over them all our
lives, and not exhaust the sentiments of love and admiration they
excite: they become favourites, and we are fond of them to a sort of
dotage. Here is one:

                        ‘——Sitting in my window
              Printing my thoughts in lawn, I saw a God,
              I thought (but it was you), enter our gates;
              My blood flew out and back again, as fast
              As I had puffed it forth and sucked it in
              Like breath; then was I called away in haste
              To entertain you: never was a man
              Thrust from a sheepcote to a sceptre, raised
              So high in thoughts as I; you left a kiss
              Upon these lips then, which I mean to keep
              From you for ever. I did hear you talk
              Far above singing!’

A passage like this indeed leaves a taste on the palate like nectar, and
we seem in reading it to sit with the Gods at their golden tables: but
if we repeat it often in ordinary moods, it loses its flavour, becomes
vapid, ‘the wine of _poetry_ is drank, and but the lees remain.’ Or, on
the other hand, if we call in the aid of extraordinary circumstances to
set it off to advantage, as the reciting it to a friend, or after having
our feelings excited by a long walk in some romantic situation, or while
we

                 ‘——play with Amaryllis in the shade,
                 Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair’—

we afterwards miss the accompanying circumstances, and instead of
transferring the recollection of them to the favourable side, regret
what we have lost, and strive in vain to bring back ‘the irrevocable
hour’—wondering in some instances how we survive it, and at the
melancholy blank that is left behind! The pleasure rises to its height
in some moment of calm solitude or intoxicating sympathy, declines ever
after, and from the comparison and a conscious falling-off, leaves
rather a sense of satiety and irksomeness behind it.... ‘Is it the same
in pictures?’ I confess it is, with all but those from Titian’s hand. I
don’t know why, but an air breathes from his landscapes, pure,
refreshing as if it came from other years; there is a look in his faces
that never passes away. I saw one the other day. Amidst the heartless
desolation and glittering finery of Fonthill, there is a port-folio of
the Dresden Gallery. It opens, and a young female head looks from it; a
child, yet woman grown; with an air of rustic innocence and the graces
of a princess, her eyes like those of doves, the lips about to open, a
smile of pleasure dimpling the whole face, the jewels sparkling in her
crisped hair, her youthful shape compressed in a rich antique dress, as
the bursting leaves contain the April buds! Why do I not call up this
image of gentle sweetness, and place it as a perpetual barrier between
mischance and me?—It is because pleasure asks a greater effort of the
mind to support it than pain; and we turn, after a little idle
dalliance, from what we love to what we hate!

As to my old opinions, I am heartily sick of them. I have reason, for
they have deceived me sadly. I was taught to think, and I was willing to
believe, that genius was not a bawd—that virtue was not a mask—that
liberty was not a name—that love had its seat in the human heart. Now I
would care little if these words were struck out of the dictionary, or
if I had never heard them. They are become to my ears a mockery and a
dream. Instead of patriots and friends of freedom, I see nothing but the
tyrant and the slave, the people linked with kings to rivet on the
chains of despotism and superstition. I see folly join with knavery, and
together make up public spirit and public opinions. I see the insolent
Tory, the blind Reformer, the coward Whig! If mankind had wished for
what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain
enough; but they are prone to mischief, ‘to every good work reprobate.’
I have seen all that had been done by the mighty yearnings of the spirit
and intellect of men, ‘of whom the world was not worthy,’ and that
promised a proud opening to truth and good through the vista of future
years, undone by one man, with just glimmering of understanding enough
to feel that he was a king, but not to comprehend how he could be king
of a free people! I have seen this triumph celebrated by poets, the
friends of my youth and the friends of man, but who were carried away by
the infuriate tide that, setting in from a throne, bore down every
distinction of right reason before it; and I have seen all those who did
not join in applauding this insult and outrage on humanity proscribed,
hunted down (they and their friends made a bye-word of), so that it has
become an understood thing that no one can live by his talents or
knowledge who is not ready to prostitute those talents and that
knowledge to betray his species, and prey upon his fellow-man. ‘This was
some time a mystery: but the time gives evidence of it.’ The echoes of
liberty had awakened once more in Spain, and the morning of human hope
dawned again: but that dawn has been overcast by the foul breath of
bigotry, and those reviving sounds stifled by fresh cries from the
time-rent towers of the Inquisition—man yielding (as it is fit he
should) first to brute force, but more to the innate perversity and
dastard spirit of his own nature, which leaves no room for farther hope
or disappointment. And England, that arch-reformer, that heroic
deliverer, that mouther about liberty and tool of power, stands gaping
by, not feeling the blight and mildew coming over it, nor its very bones
crack and turn to a paste under the grasp and circling folds of this new
monster, Legitimacy! In private life do we not see hypocrisy, servility,
selfishness, folly, and impudence succeed, while modesty shrinks from
the encounter, and merit is trodden under foot? How often is ‘the rose
plucked from the forehead of a virtuous love to plant a blister there!’
What chance is there of the success of real passion? What certainty of
its continuance? Seeing all this as I do, and unravelling the web of
human life into its various threads of meanness, spite, cowardice, want
of feeling, and want of understanding, of indifference towards others
and ignorance of ourselves—seeing custom prevail over all excellence,
itself giving way to infamy—mistaken as I have been in my public and
private hopes, calculating others from myself, and calculating wrong;
always disappointed where I placed most reliance; the dupe of
friendship, and the fool of love; have I not reason to hate and to
despise myself? Indeed I do; and chiefly for not having hated and
despised the world enough.[16]


                               ESSAY XIV
                       ON DR. SPURZHEIM’S THEORY

It appears to me that the truth of physiognomy (if we allow it)
overturns the science of craniology. For instance, the system of Drs.
Gall and Spurzheim supposes that every _bump_ of protuberance on the
skull is necessarily produced by an extraordinary protrusion of the
brain or increase of the organ of perception immediately underneath it.
Now behind a great part of the face we have no brain, and can have no
such organs existing and accounting for the external phenomena; and yet
here are projections or ramifications of bones, muscles, &c. which are
allowed by these reasoners and most other persons to indicate character
and intellect just as surely as the new-discovered organs of craniology.
If then these projections or modifications of the countenance have such
force and meaning where there is no brain underneath to account for
them, is it not clear that in other cases the theory which assumes that
such projections can only be caused by an extraordinary pressure of the
brain, and of the appropriate local organ within, is in itself an
obvious fallacy and contradiction? The long prudent chin, the scornful
nose (_naso adunco_), the good-natured mouth, are proverbial in
physiognomy, but are totally excluded from the organic system. I
mentioned this objection once to Dr. Spurzheim personally, but he only
replied—‘We have treated of physiognomy in our larger work!’ I was not
satisfied with this answer.

I am utterly ignorant of the anatomical and physiological part of this
question, and only propose to point out a few errors or defects in his
system, which appear on the author’s own showing, in the manner of
marginal notes on the work. I would observe, by the bye, that the style
and manner of the writer are not such as to induce the reader to place a
very implicit reliance on his authority; and in a subject, which is so
much an occult science, a _terra incognita_ in the world of observation,
depending on the traveller’s report, authority is a good deal. The
craniologist may make fools of his disciples at pleasure, unless he is
an honest man. They have no check upon him. The face is as ‘a book where
men may read strange matters:’ it is open to every one: the language of
expression is as it were a kind of mother-tongue, in which every one
acquires more or less tact, so that his own practical judgment forms a
test to confirm or contradict the interpretation which is given of it.
But the skull, on which Drs. Gall and Spurzheim have laid their hands
for the discovery of so many important and undeniable truths, nobody
else knows any thing about, except as they are pleased to tell us. It is
concealed from ordinary observation by a covering of hair, and we must
go by hearsay. We may indeed examine one or two individual instances,
and grope out our way to truth in the dark; but there can be no habitual
conclusion formed, no broad light of experience thrown upon the subject.
The unbeliever in the fashionable system may well exclaim—

                ‘Oh! let me perish in the face of day!’

The only opportunity for fairly studying this question was at the period
when people wore artificial hair; for then any well-disposed person had
only to pull off his wig, and _show you his mind_.[17] But the hair is a
sort of natural mask to the head. The craniologist indeed ‘draws the
curtain, and shows the picture:’ but if there is the least want of good
faith in him, the science is all abroad again. Unfortunately for the
credit due to his system, Dr. Spurzheim (or his predecessor, Dr. Gall,
who got up the facts) has very much the air of a German quack-doctor. He
is, so to speak it, the Baron Munchausen of marvellous metaphysics. His
object is to astonish the reader into belief, as jugglers make clowns
gape and swallow whatever they please. He fabricates wonders with easy
assurance, and deals in men ‘whose heads do grow beneath their
shoulders, and the anthropophagi, that each other eat.’ He readily
admits whatever suits his purpose, and magisterially doubts whatever
makes against it. He has a cant of credulity mixed up with the cant of
scepticism—things not easily reconciled, except by a very deliberate
effort indeed. There is something gross and fulsome in all this, that
has tended to bring discredit on a system, which after all has probably
some foundation in nature, but which is here overloaded with exaggerated
and dogmatical assertions, warranted for facts. We doubt the whole, when
we know a part to be false, and withhold our assent from a creed, the
great apostle of which wants modesty, candour, and self-knowledge!
Another thing to be considered, and in truth the great stumbling-block
in the way of nearly the whole of this system, is this, that the
principle of thought and feeling in man is one, whereas the present
doctrine supposes it to be many. The mind is one, or it is infinite. If
there is not some single, superintending faculty or conscious power to
which all subordinate organic impressions are referred as to a centre,
and which decides and reacts upon them all, then there is no end of
particular organs, and there must be not only an organ for poetry, but
an organ for poetry of every sort and size, and so of all the rest. This
will be seen more at large when we come to details; but at present I
wish to lay it down as a corner-stone or fundamental principle in the
argument.

Of the way in which Dr. Spurzheim clears the ground before him, and
disarms the incredulity of the reader by a string of undeniable or
equivocal propositions blended together, the following may serve as a
specimen.

‘The doctrine, that every thing is provided with its own properties, was
from time to time checked by metaphysicians and scholastic divines; but
by degrees it gained ground, and the maxim that matter is inert was
entirely refuted. Natural philosophers discovered corporeal properties,
the laws of attraction and repulsion, of chemical affinity, of
fermentation, and even of organization. They considered the phenomena of
vegetables as the production of material qualities—as properties of
matter. Glisson attributed to matter a particular activity, and to the
animal fibre a specific irritability. De Gorter acknowledged in
vegetable life something more than pure mechanism. Winter and Zups
proved that the phenomena of vegetable life ought to be ascribed only to
irritability. Of this, several phenomena of flowers and leaves indicate
a great degree. The hop and French-bean twine round rods which are
planted near them. The tendrils of vines curl round poles or the
branches of neighbouring trees. The ivy climbs the oak, and adheres to
its sides, &c. Now it would be absurd to pretend that the organization
of animals is entirely destitute of properties: therefore Frederick
Hoffman took it for the basis of his system, that the human body, like
all other bodies, is endowed with material properties.’ Page 56.

‘Here be truths,’ but dashed and brewed with lies’ or doubtful points.
Yet they pass all together without discrimination or selection. There is
a simplicity in many of the propositions amounting to a sort of
_bonhomie_. There is an over-measure of candour and plainness. A man who
gravely informs you, as an important philosophical discovery, that ‘the
tendrils of vines curl round poles,’ and that ‘the human body is endowed
with material properties,’ may escape without the imputation of
intending to delude the unwary. But these kind of innocent pretences are
like shoeing-horns to draw on the hardest consequences. By the serious
offer of this meat for babes, you are prepared to swallow a horse-drench
of parboiled paradoxes. You are thrown off your guard into a state of
good-natured surprise, by the utter want of all meaning; and our
craniologist catches his wondering disciples in a trap of truisms.
Instances might be multiplied from this part of the work, where the
writer is occupied in getting up the plot, and lulling asleep any
suspicion, or feeling of petulance in the mind of the public. Just
after, he says—

‘In former times there were philosophers who thought that the soul forms
its own body; but if this be the case, an ill-formed body never could be
endowed with a good soul. All the natural influence of generation,
nutrition, climate, education, &c. would _therefore_ be inexplicable.
_Hence_, it is much more reasonable to think that the soul, in this
life, is only confined in the body, and makes use of its respective
instruments, which entirely depend on the laws of the organization. In
blindness, the soul is not mutilated, but it cannot perceive light
without eyes, &c.’ _with other matters of like pith and moment_. The
author’s style is interlarded with too many _hences_ and _therefores_;
neither do his inferences hang well together. They are ill-cemented. He
announces instead of demonstrating; and jumps at a conclusion in a
heavy, awkward way. He constantly assumes the point in dispute, or makes
a difficulty on one side of a question a decisive proof of the opposite
view of it. What credit can be attached to him in matters of fact or
theory where he must have it almost all his own way, when he presumes so
much on the _gullibility_ of his readers in common argument? ‘If these
things are done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?’—Once
more:

‘No one will endeavour to prove that the five senses are the production
of our will: their laws are determined by nature. _Therefore_ as soon as
an animal meets with the food destined for it, its smell and taste
declare in favour of it. _Thus_ it is not astonishing that a kid, taken
from the uterus of its mother, preferred broom-tops to other vegetables
which were presented to it. And Richerand is wrong in saying—“If such a
fact have any reality, we should be forced to admit that an animal may
possess a foreknowledge of what is proper for it; and that,
independently of any impressions which may be afterwards received by the
senses, it is capable, from the moment of birth, of choosing, that is,
of comparing and judging of what is presented to it.” The hog likewise
eats the acorn the first time he finds it. Animals however have, on that
account, no need of any previous exercise, of any innate idea, of any
comparison or reflection. The relations between the external world and
the five senses are determined by creation. We cannot see as red that
which is yellow, nor as great that which is little. How should animals
have any idea of what they have not felt?’ Page 59.

This is what might be termed the _inclusive style_ in argument. It is
impossible to distinguish the premises from the conclusion. We have
facts for arguments, and arguments for facts. He plays off a
phantasmagoria of illustrations as proofs, like Sir Epicure Mammon in
the Alchemist. It is like being in a round-about at a fair, or skating,
or flying. It is not easy to make out even the terms of the question, so
completely are they overlaid and involved one in the other, and that, as
it should seem, purposely, or from a habit of confounding the plainest
things. To proceed, however, to something more material. In treating of
innate faculties, Dr. Spurzheim runs the following career, which will
throw considerable light on the vagueness and contradictoriness of his
general mode of reasoning.

‘Now it is beyond doubt, that all the instinctive aptitudes and
inclinations of animals are innate. Is it not evident that the faculties
by which the spider makes its web, the honeybee its cell, the beaver its
hut, the bird its nest, &c. are inherent in the nature of these animals?
When the young duck or tortoise runs towards the water as soon as
hatched, when the bird brushes the worm with its bill, when the monkey,
before he eats the may-bug, bites off its head, &c. all these and
similar dispositions are conducive to the preservation of the animals;
but they are not at all acquired.’

If by _acquired_, be meant that these last acts do not arise out of
certain impressions made on the senses by different objects, (such as
the agreeable or disagreeable smell of food, &c.) this is by no means
either clear or acknowledged on all hands.

‘According to the same law,’ he adds, [What law?] ‘the hamster gathers
corn and grain, the dog hides his superfluous food’—[This at any rate
seems a rational act.]—‘the falcon kills the hare by driving his beak
into its neck,’ &c.

‘In the same way, all instinctive manifestations of man must be innate.
The new-born child sucks the fingers and seeks the breast, as the puppy
and calf seek the dug.’

The circumstance here indiscreetly mentioned of the child sucking the
fingers as well as the nipple, certainly does away the idea of _final
causes_. It shows that the child, from a particular state of irritation
of its mouth, fastens on any object calculated to allay that irritation,
whether conducive to its sustenance or not. It is difficult sometimes to
get children to take the breast. Dr. S. takes up a common prejudice,
without any qualification or inquiry, while it suits his purpose, and
lays it down without ceremony when it no longer serves the turn. He
proceeds—

‘_I have mentioned above, that voluntary motion and the five external
senses, common to man and animals, are innate._ Moreover, if man and
animals feel certain propensities and sentiments _with clear and
distinct consciousness_, we must consider these faculties as
innate.’—[The _clear and distinct consciousness_ has nothing to do with
the matter.]—‘Thus, if in animals we find examples of mutual inclination
between the sexes, of maternal care for the young, of attachment, of
mutual assistance, of sociableness, of union for life, of peaceableness,
of desire to fight, of propensity to destroy, of circumspection, of
slyness, of love of flattery, of obstinacy, &c. all these faculties must
be considered as innate.’—[A finer assumption of the question than this,
or a more complete jumble of instincts and acquired propensities
together, never was made. The author has here got hold of a figure
called _encroachment_, and advances accordingly!]—‘Let all these
faculties be ennobled in man: let animal instinct of propagation be
changed into moral love; the inclination of animals for their young into
the virtue of maternal care for children; animal attachment into
friendship; animal susceptibility of flattery into love of glory and
ambition; the nightingale’s melody into harmony; the bird’s nest and the
beaver’s hut into palaces and temples, &c.: these faculties are still of
the same nature, and all these phenomena are produced by faculties
common to man and animals. They are only ennobled in man by the
influence of superior qualities, which give another direction to the
inferior ones.’ Page 82.

This last passage appears to destroy his whole argument. For the Doctor
contends that every particular propensity or modification of the mind
must be innate, and have its separate organ; but if there are ‘faculties
common to man and animals,’ which are ennobled or debased by their
connexion with other faculties, then we must admit a general principle
of thought and action varying according to circumstances, and the
organic system becomes nearly an impertinence.

The following short section, entitled INNATENESS OF THE HUMAN FACULTIES,
will serve to place in a tolerably striking point of view the turn of
this writer to an unmeaning, _quackish_ sort of common-place reasoning.

‘Finally, man is endowed with faculties which are peculiar to him. Now
it is to be investigated, whether the faculties which distinguish man
from animals, and which constitute his human character, are innate. It
must be answered, that all the faculties of man are given by creation,
and that human nature is as determinate as that of every other being.
Thus, though we see that man compares his sensations and ideas, inquires
into the causes of phenomena, draws consequences and discovers laws and
general principles; that he measures distances and times, and crosses
the sea from one end to another; that he acknowledges culpability and
worthiness; that he bears a monitor in his own breast, and raises his
mind to the idea and adoration of God:—yet all these faculties result
neither from accidental influence from without, nor from his own will.
How indeed could the Creator abandon man in the greatest and most
important occupations, and give him up to chance? No!’ Page 83.

No, indeed; but there is a difference between _chance_ and a number of
bumps on the head. One would think that all this, being common to the
same being, proceeded from a general faculty manifesting itself in
different ways, and not from a parcel of petty faculties huddled
together nobody knows how, and acting without concert or coherence. Does
man cross the seas, measure the heavens, construct telescopes, &c. from
a general capacity of invention in the mind, or does the navigator lie
_perdu_, shut up like a Jack-in-a-box in one corner of the brain, the
mechanic in another, the astronomer in another, and so forth? That is
the simple question. Dr. Spurzheim adds shortly after—

‘We every where find the same species; whether man stain his skin, or
powder his hair; whether he dance to the sound of a drum or to the music
of a concert; whether he adore the stars, the sun, the moon, or the God
of Christians. The special faculties are every where the same.’ Page 85.

He ought to have said the _general_ faculties are the same, not the
_special_. But if there is not a specific faculty and organ for every
act of the mind and object in nature, then Dr. Spurzheim must admit the
existence of a general faculty modified by circumstances, and we must be
slow in accounting for different phenomena from particular independent
organs, without the most obvious proofs or urgent necessity. His organs
are too few or too many.

‘Malebranche,’ says our author, ‘deduces the different manner of
thinking and feeling in men and women from the different delicacy of the
cerebral fibres. According to our doctrine, certain parts of the brain
are more developed in men, others in women; and in that way is the
difference of the manifestations of their faculties perfectly
explicable.’ Page 105.

For my part, I prefer Malebranche’s solution to the more modern one. It
seems to me that the strength or weakness, the pliancy or firmness of
the characters of men or women is to be accounted for from something in
the general texture of their minds, just as their corporeal strength or
weakness, activity or grace is to be accounted for from something in the
general texture of their bodies, and not from the arbitrary
preponderance of this or that particular limb or muscle. I think the
analogy is conclusive against our author. If there is no difference of
_quality_; _i.e._ of delicacy, firmness, &c. in the parts of the brain
‘more developed in men,’ the difference of _quantity_ alone cannot
account for the difference of character. And, on the other hand, if we
allow such a difference of quality in the cerebral fibres, or of
hardness and softness, flexibility or sluggishness in the whole brain,
we shall have no occasion for particular bumps or organs of the brain to
account for the difference in the minds of men and women generally. Drs.
Gall and Spurzheim seem desirous to set aside all differences of
texture, irritability, tenacity, &c. in the composition of the brain, as
if these were _occult_ qualities, and to reduce every thing to positive
and ostensible quantity; not considering that quantity alone accounts
for no difference of character or operation. The increasing the size of
the organ of music, for instance, will not qualify that organ to perform
the functions of the organ of colour: there must be a natural aptitude
in _kind_, before we talk about the degree or excess of the faculty
resulting from the peculiar conformation of a given part. The piling up
larger parcels of the same materials of the brain will not produce a new
faculty: we must include the nature of the different materials, and it
is not too much to assume that whenever the faculty is available to a
number of purposes, the difference in the nature of the thinking
substance cannot be merely _local_ or organic. For instance, say that
the _Organ of Memory_ is distinguished by greater tenaciousness of
particles, or by something correspondent to this; that in like manner,
the _Organ of Fancy_ is distinguished by greater irritability of
structure; is it not better to suppose that the first character pervades
the brain of a man remarkable for strong memory, and the last that of
another person excelling in fancy, generally and primarily, instead of
supposing that the whole retentiveness of the brain is in the first
instance lodged in one particular compartment of it, and the whole
volatility or liveliness, in the second instance, imprisoned in another
hole or corner, with quite as little reason? It may be said, that the
organ in question is not an organ of memory in general, but of the
memory of some particular thing. Then this will require that there
should be an organ of memory of every other particular thing; an organ
of invention, and an organ of judgment of the same; which is too much to
believe, and besides can be of no use: for unless in addition to these
separate organs, over which is written—‘No connexion with the next
door’—we have some general organ or faculty, receiving information,
comparing ideas, and arranging our volitions, there can be no one
homogeneous act or exercise of the understanding, no one art attained,
or study engaged in. There will either be a number of detached objects
and sensations without a mind to superintend them, or else a number of
minds for every distinct object, without any common link of intelligence
among themselves. In the first case, each organ would be that of a mere
brute instinct, that could never arrive at the dignity of any one art or
science, as painting or music; in the second case, no art or science
(such as poetry) ever could exist that implied a comparison between any
two ideas or the impressions of different organs, as of sight and sound.

Dr. Spurzheim observes, (page 107) ‘The child advances to boyhood,
adolescence, and manhood. Then all these faculties manifest the greatest
energy. By degrees they begin to decrease; and in the decrepitude of old
age, the sensations are blunted, the sentiments weak, and the
intellectual faculties almost or entirely suppressed. Hence, as the
manifestations of the faculties of the mind and understanding are
proportionate to the organization, it is evident that they depend on
it.’

I do not see the exact inference meant to be drawn here. All the
conditions above enumerated affect the whole brain generally. There is
not an organ of youth, of manhood, of decrepitude, &c.

‘A brain too small, however, is always accompanied with imbecility.
Willis described the brain of one who was an idiot from birth. It was
not more than half the size of an ordinary brain.’ Page 109.

At this rate, if there are idiots by birth, there must be also such a
thing as general capacity.

‘I have seen two twin-boys so like each other, that it was almost
impossible to distinguish them. Their inclinations and talents presented
also a striking and astonishing similitude. Two others, twin-sisters,
are very different: in the one the muscular system is the most
developed, in the other the nervous. The former is of little
understanding, whereas the second is endowed with strong intellectual
faculties.’ Page 112.

This is coming to Malebranche’s way of putting the question. In the same
page we find the following _morceau_:—

‘Gaubius relates, that a girl, whose father had killed men in order to
eat them, and who was separated from her father in her infancy and
carefully educated, committed the same crime. Gaubius drew from this
fact the consequence, that the faculties are propagated with the
organization.’—Good Gaubius Gobbo! Without believing his fact, we need
not dispute his consequence.

‘Malebranche explains the difference of the faculties of both sexes, the
various kinds and particular tastes of different nations and
individuals, by the firmness and softness, dryness and moisture of the
cerebral fibres; and he remarks that our time cannot be better employed
than in investigating the material causes of human phenomena. The
Cartesians, by their doctrine of the tracks which they admit in the
brain, acknowledge the influence of the brain on the intellectual
faculties.’ Page 118.

Dr. Spurzheim altogether explodes the doctrine of a difference in
constitutional temperaments, the sanguine, the phlegmatic, and so on;
because this difference, being general, is not consistent with his
special organs. He also denies unequivocally the doctrine of the
association of ideas, which Des Cartes’s ‘tracks in the brain’ were
meant to explain. One would think this alone decisive against his book.
Indeed the capacity of association, possessed in a greater or less
degree, seems to be the great discriminating feature between man and
man. But what _organ of association_ there can be between different
_local_ organs it is difficult to conjecture; and Dr. Spurzheim was
right in boldly denying a truth which he could not reconcile with his
mechanical and incongruous theory.

‘There are persons who maintain that in the highest degree of magnetic
influence, the manifestations of the soul are independent of the
organization.’ Page 122.

What! have we animal magnetism in the dance too? Would our great
physiologist awe us into belief by bringing into the field quackery
greater than his own? Then it is time to be on our guard.

‘We find sanguine and bilious individuals, who are intellectual or
stupid, meek or impetuous; we may observe phlegmatics of a bold,
quarrelsome, and imperious character. In short, the doctrine of the
temperaments, as applied to the indication of determinate faculties, is
not more sure or better founded, than divination by the hands, feet,
skin, hair, ears, and similar physiognomical signs.’ Page 128.

That is, red-haired people, for instance, have not a certain general
character. After that, I will not believe a word the learned author says
upon his bare authority.

Dr. Spurzheim with great formality devotes a number of sections to prove
that the several senses alone, without any other faculty or principle of
thought and feeling, do not account for the moral and intellectual
faculties. ‘There needs no ghost to tell us that.’ In his mode of
entering upon this part of his subject, the Doctor seems to have been
aware of the old maxim—_Divide et impera_—Distinguish and confound!

‘We have still to examine whether sight produces any moral sentiment or
intellectual faculty. It is a common opinion that the art of painting is
the result of sight; and it is true that eyes are necessary to perceive
colours, as the ears are to perceive sounds and tones; but the art of
painting does not consist in the perception of colours, any more than
music in the perception of sounds. Sight, therefore, and the faculty of
painting are not at all in proportion. The sight of many animals is more
perfect than that of man, but they do not know what painting is; and in
mankind the talent of painting cannot be measured by the acuteness of
sight. Great painters never attribute their talent to their eyes. They
say, it is not the eye, but the understanding, which perceives the
harmony of colours.’ Page 158.

This is well put, and quite true; that is, it is the mind alone that
perceives the relation and connexion between all our sensations. Thus
the impression of the line bounding one side of the face does not
perceive or compare itself with the impression of the line forming the
other side of the face, but it is the mind or understanding (by means
indeed of the eye) that perceives and compares the two impressions
together. But neither will an _organ of painting_ answer this purpose,
unless this separate organ includes a separate _mind_, with a complete
workshop and set of offices to execute all the departments of judgment,
taste, invention, &c. _i.e._ to compare, analyse, and combine its own
particular sensations. But neither will this answer the end. For either
all these must be included under one, and exhibit themselves in the same
proportions wherever the organ exists, which is not the fact; or if they
are distinct and independent of one another, then they cannot be
expressed by any one organ. Dr. Spurzheim has, in a subsequent part of
his work, provided for this objection, and divided the _Organ of Sight_
into five or six subdivisions; such as, the _Organ of Form_, the _Organ
of Colour_, the _Organ of Weight_, the _Organ of Space_, and God knows
how many more. This is evading and at the same time increasing the
difficulty. Thus. The best draughtsmen are not observed to be always the
best colourists, Raphael and Titian for example. There must therefore be
a new division of the _Organ of Sight_ into (at least) the two divisions
of Form and Colour. Now it is not to be supposed that these organs are
thus separated merely for separation’s sake, but that there is something
in the quality or texture of the substance of the brain in each organ,
peculiarly fitted for each different sort of impression, and by an
excess of quantity producing an excess of faculty. The _size_ alone of
the organ cannot account for the difference of the faculty, without this
other condition of quality annexed. Suppose the distinguishing quality
of the _organ of form_ to be a certain tenaciousness; that of the _organ
of colour_ to be a certain liquid softness in the finer particles of the
brain. Now a greater quantity of the medullary substance of a given
texture and degree of softness will produce the _organ of colour_: but
then will not a greater degree of this peculiar softness or texture
(whatever it is) with the same quantity of substance, produce an
extraordinary degree of faculty equally? That is, we make the fineness
or quality of the nerves, brain, mind, atone for the want of quantity,
or get the faculty universally without the organ: Q. E. D. Dr. Spurzheim
does not make an organ of melody and an organ of harmony; yet he ought,
if every distinct operation of the mind or senses requires a distinct
local organ, and if his whole system is not merely arbitrary. Farther,
one part of painting is _expression_, namely, the power of connecting
certain feelings of pleasure and pain with certain lines and movements
of face; that is, there ought to be an _organ of expression_, or an
organ, in the first place, of pleasure and pain—which Dr. Spurzheim
denies—these being general and not specific manifestations of the mind;
and in the second place, an organ for associating the impressions of one
organ with those of all the rest—of which the Doctor also denies the
existence or even possibility. His is quite a new constitution of the
human mind.

‘Finally, every one feels that he thinks by means of the brain.’ Page
165.

When it was urged before, that every one thinks that he feels by means
of the heart, Dr. Spurzheim scouted this sort of proof as vulgar and
ridiculous, it being then against himself.

‘Tiedeman relates the example of one Moser, who was insane on one side
of his head, and who observed his madness with the other side. Gall
attended a minister who had a similar disease _for three years_. He
heard constantly on his left side reproaches and injuries; he turned his
head on this side, and looked at the persons.’—[What persons?]—‘With his
right side he _commonly_ judged the madness of his left side; but
sometimes _in a fit of fever_ he could not rectify his peculiar state.
Long after being cured, if he happened to be angry, or if he had drunk
more than he was accustomed to do, he observed in his left side a
tendency to his former alienation.’ Page 171.

This is an amusing book after all. One might collect from it materials
for a new edition of the _Wonderful Magazine_. How familiarly the writer
insinuates the most incredible stories, and takes for granted the
minutest circumstances! This style, though it may incline the credulous
to gape and swallow everything, must make the judicious grieve, and the
wary doubt.

‘It is however necessary to remark, that all observations of this kind
can only be made upon beings of the same species, and it is useless to
compare the same faculty with the respective organ in different species
of animals. _The irritability is very different in different kinds of
animals._’ Page 205.

And why not in the same kind?

‘The state of disease proves also the plurality of the organs. For how
is it possible to combine partial insanities with the unity of the
brain? A chemist was a madman in everything but chemistry. An
embroiderer in her fits, and in the midst of the greatest absurdities,
calculated perfectly how much stuff was necessary to such or such a
piece of work.’ Page 219.

Does our author mean that there is an organ of chemistry, and an organ
for embroidery? King Ferdinand would be a good subject to ascertain this
last observation upon. If I could catch him, I should be disposed to
try. I would not let him go, like the Cortes.

‘The external apparatus of the nerves of the five senses are said to be
different, because they receive different impressions: but how is it
possible that different impressions should be transmitted to the brain
by the same nerves? How can the impressions of light be propagated by
the auditory nerve?’ Page 227.

We only know that they are not. But how, we might ask, can the different
impressions of sight—as red, yellow, blue—be transmitted by the same
nerve?

‘Plattner made the following objection:—“A musician plays with his
fingers on all instruments; why should not the soul manifest all its
operations by means of one and the same organ?” This observation is
rather for than against the plurality of the organs. First, there are
ten fingers which play: moreover, the instruments present different
chords or holes. We admit only one organ for music; and all kinds of
music are produced by this organ. Hence, this assertion of Plattner does
not invalidate our theory.’ Page 230.

But it does though, unless you could show that a musician can play only
as many tunes as he has fingers, on the same kind of instrument. Dr.
Spurzheim contends elsewhere that one organ can perform only one
function, and brings as a proof of the plurality of the organs the
alternate action and rest of the body and mind. But if the same organ
cannot undergo a different state, how can it rest? There must then be an
organ of action and an organ of rest, an organ to do something and an
organ to do nothing! Very fine and clear all this.

The following passages seem to bear closest upon the general question,
and I shall apply myself to answer them as well as I can.

‘The intellectual faculties have been placed in the brain; but it was
impossible to point out any organ, because organs have been sought for
faculties which have no organ, namely, for common and general
faculties.... General or common phenomena never have any particular
organ. Secretion, for instance, is a common name, and secretion in
general has no particular organ; but the particular secretions, as of
saliva, bile, tears, &c. are attached to particular organs. Sensation is
an expression which indicates the common function of the five external
senses; therefore this common faculty has no particular organ, but every
determinate sensation—as of sight, hearing, smelling, taste, or
feeling—is attached to some particular organ.’ Page 273.

In the first place, then, Dr. Spurzheim himself assigns particular
organs for common and general faculties; such as self-love, veneration,
hope, covetousness, language, comparison, causality, wit, imitation, &c.
He also talks of the organs of abstraction, individuality, invention,
&c. It would be hard to deny that these mean more than one thing, and
refer to more than to one class of sensations. In fact, the author all
through his volume regularly confounds general principles with
particular acts and mechanic exercises of the mind. Secondly, he either
does not or will not apprehend the precise meaning of the terms _common_
or _general faculties_, as applied to the mind. _Sensation_ is a common
function of the five external senses, that is, it belongs severally to
the exercise of the five external senses: but _understanding_ is a
common faculty of the mind—not because it belongs to any number of ideas
in succession, but because it takes cognizance of a number of them
together. UNDERSTANDING is perceiving the relations between objects and
impressions, which the senses and particular or individual organs can
never do. It is this superintending or _conscious_ faculty or principle
which is aware both of the colour, form, and sound of an object; which
connects its present appearance with its past history; which arranges
and combines the multifarious impressions of nature into one whole;
which balances the various motives of action, and renders man what he
is—a rational and moral agent: but for this faculty we find no regular
place or station assigned amongst that heap of organic _tumuli_, which
could produce nothing but mistakes and confusion. The seat of this
faculty is one, or its impressions are communicated to the same
intelligent mind, which contemplates and reacts upon them all with more
or less wisdom and comprehensive power. Thus the poet is not a being
made up of a string of organs—an eye, an ear, a heart, a tongue—but is
one and the same intellectual essence, looking out from its own nature
on all the different impressions it receives, and to a certain degree
moulding them into itself. It is _I_ who remember certain objects, who
judge of them, who invent from them, who connect certain sounds that I
hear, as of a thrush singing, with certain sights that I see, as the
wood whence the notes issue. There is some bond, some conscious
connexion brought about between these impressions and acts of the mind;
that is, there is a principle of joint and common understanding in the
mind, quite different from the ignorance in which the ear is left of
what passes before the eye, &c. and which overruling and primary faculty
of the soul, blending with all our thoughts and feelings, Dr. Spurzheim
does not once try to explain, but does all he can to overturn.

‘Understanding,’ he continues, ‘being an expression which designates a
general faculty, has no particular organ, but every determinate species
of understanding is attached to a particular organ.’ _Ibid._

If so, how does it contrive to compare notes with the impressions of
other particular organs? For example, how does the organ of wit combine
with the organ of form or of individuality, to give a grotesque
description of a particular person, without some common and intermediate
faculty to which these several impressions are consciously referred?
Will any one tell me that one of these detached and very particular
organs perceives the stained _colour_ of an old cloak—[How would it
apprehend any thing of the _age_ of the cloak?]—that another has a
glimpse of its antiquated _form_; that a third supplies a _witty_
allusion or apt _illustration_ of what it knows nothing about; and that
this patchwork process is clubbed by a number of organic impressions
that have no law of subordination, nor any common principle of reference
between them, to make a lively caricature?

‘Finally, it is the same with all common faculties of the
understanding—of which philosophers and physiologists speak—namely, with
_perception_, _memory_, or _recollection_, _judgment_, and
_imagination_. These expressions are common, and the respective
faculties have no organs; but every peculiar perception—memory,
judgment, and imagination—as of space, form, colour, tune, and number,
have their particular organs. If the common faculties of understanding
were attached to particular organs, the person who possesses the organ
of any common faculty ought to be endowed with all particular kinds of
faculties. If there were an organ of perception, of memory, of judgment,
or of imagination, any one who has the organ of perception, of memory,
of judgment, or of imagination, ought to possess all kinds of
perception, of memory, of judgment, or of imagination. Now this is
against all experience.’ _Ibid._

No more, than a person possessed of the general organ of sight must be
acquainted equally with all objects of sight, whether they have ever
fallen in his way, or whether he has studied them or not. But it is
according to all experience, that some persons are distinguished more by
memory, others more by judgment, others more by imagination, generally
speaking. That is, upon whatever subject they exercise their attention,
they show the same turn of mind or predominating faculty. Some people do
every thing from impulse. It is their character under all impressions
and in all studies and pursuits. Is there then an organ of impulse? An
organ of tune is intelligible, because it denotes a general faculty
exercised upon a particular class of impressions, _viz._ sounds. But
what is an organ of wit? It means nothing; for it denotes a faculty
without any specific objects: and yet _an organ_ means a faculty limited
to specific objects. Wit is the faculty of combining suddenly and
glancing over the whole range of art and nature; but an organ is shut up
in a particular cell of sensation, and sees nothing beyond itself.

‘One has a great memory of one kind,’ proceeds our author, ‘and a very
little memory of other things.’

Yes, partly from habit, but chiefly, I grant, from original character;
not because certain things strike upon a certain part of the brain, but
touch a certain quality or disposition of the mind. Thus, some remember
trifles, others things of importance. Some retain forms, others
feelings. Some have a memory of words, others of things. Some remember
what regards their own interests, others what is interesting in itself,
according to the bias and scope of their sensibility. All these results
depend evidently not on a particular local impression, but on a variety
of general causes combined in one common effect. Again: ‘a poet
possesses one kind of imagination in a high degree; but has he therefore
every kind of imagination, as that of inventing machines, of composing
music, &c.?’ Page 275.

Or it may be retorted—Has he therefore every kind of poetical
imagination? Does the same person write epigrams and epics, comedies and
tragedies? Is there not light and serious poetry? Is not Mr. T. Moore
just as likely to become Newton as to become Milton? Or as the wren the
eagle? Yet Dr. Spurzheim has but one organ for poetry, as he says—‘We
allow but one organ for tune.’ But is there not tune in poetry? Has not
the poet an ear as well as the musician? How then does the author
reconcile these common or analogous qualities, and the complex
impressions from all the senses implied in poetry (for instance) with
his detached, circumscribed, _local_ organs? His system is merely
_nominal_, and a very clumsy specimen of nomenclature into the
bargain.—Poetry relates to all sorts of impressions, from all sorts of
objects, moral and physical. Music relates to one sort of impressions
only, and so far there is an excuse for assigning it to a particular
organ; but it also implies common and general faculties, such as
retention, judgment, invention, &c. which essentially reside in the
understanding or thinking principle at large. But suppose them to be
cooped and cabined up in the particular organ:—do they not exist in
different degrees, and is this difference expressed merely by the size
of the organ?—It cannot be. The circumstance of size can only determine
that such a one is a great musician; not what sort of a musician he is.
Therefore this characteristic difference is not expressed by quantity,
and therefore none of the differences themselves, or faculties of
judgment, invention, refinement, &c. which form the great musician, can
be expressed by quantity; and if none of these component parts of
musical genius are so expressed, why then ‘it follows, as the night the
day,’ that there can be no organ of music. There may be an organ
peculiarly adapted for retaining musical impressions, but this (without
including the intellectual operations, which is impossible) would only
answer the purposes of a peculiarly fine and sensitive ear.

‘Natural philosophers were wrong in looking for organs of common
faculties.’—[_That’s_ true.]—‘A speculative philosopher may be satisfied
with vague and common expressions, which do not denote the particular
and determinate qualities of the different beings; but these general or
common considerations are not sufficient for a naturalist who endeavours
to know the functions and faculties of every organic part in particular.
Throughout all natural history, the expressions are the less significant
the more general or common they are; and a distinct knowledge of any
being requires a study of its peculiarities.’ Page 275.

Take away the human mind and its common functions, operations, and
principles, and Dr. Spurzheim’s craniology gives a very satisfactory and
categorical view of human nature. In material science, the common
properties may be the least significant; but in the mind of man, the
common principle (whatever it be) that feels, thinks, and acts, is the
chief thing.

I do not believe then in the Doctor’s _organs_, either generally or
particularly. I have only his word for them; and reason and common sense
are against them. There may be an exception now and then, but there is
every where a total want of classification and analytic power. The
author, instead of giving the _rationale_ of any one thing, runs on with
endless illustrations and assumptions of the same kind. The organs are
sometimes general and sometimes particular; sometimes compound and
sometimes simple. You know not what to make of them: they turn over like
tumbler-pigeons. I should be inclined to admit the _organ of
amativeness_ as a physical reinforcement of a mental passion; but hardly
that of _philoprogenitiveness_—at least, it is badly explained here. I
will give an instance or two. ‘A male servant,’ Dr. Spurzheim observes,
‘seldom takes care of children so well as a woman.’ Women, then, are
fond of children generally; not of their own merely. Is not this an
extension of the organic principle beyond its natural and positive
limits? Again: ‘Little girls are fond of dolls,’ &c. Is there then an
express organ for this; since dolls are not literally children? Oh no!
it is only a modification of the _organ of philoprogenitiveness_. Well
then, why should not this organ itself or particular propensity be a
modification of philanthropy, or of an amiable disposition, good-nature,
and generosity in general? There seems no assignable reason why most, if
not all of these special organs should be considered as any thing more
than so many manifestations or cases of general dispositions,
capacities, &c. arising from general irritability, tenderness, firmness,
quickness, comprehension, &c. of the mind or brain; just as the
particular varieties and obliquities of organic faculties and affections
are attributed by Spurzheim and Gall to a common law or principle
combined with others, or with peculiar circumstances. The account of the
_organ of inhabitiveness_ is a master-piece of confusion. It is an organ
seated on the top of the head, and impelling you to live in high places,
and then again in low places; on land and water; to be here and there
and everywhere; which is the same and different, and is in short an
organ, not for any particular thing, but for all sorts of
contradictions. First, it is the same as the organ of pride, and
accounts for the chamois climbing rocks, and the eagle the sky; for
children mounting on chairs, and kings on thrones, &c. But then some
animals prefer low marshy grounds, and some birds build in the hollows,
and not on the tops of trees. Then it looks like a dispensation of
Providence to people different regions of the earth; and one would think
in this view that local prejudices would be resolved into a species of
habitual attachment. But no, that would not be a _nostrum_. It is
therefore said—‘Nature, which intended that all regions and countries
should be inhabited, assigned to all animals their dwellings, and gave
to every kind of animal its respective propensity to some particular
region;’ that is, not to the place where it had been born and bred, but
where _it was to be_ born and bred. People who prefer this mode of
philosophy are welcome to it. No wonder our author finds it ‘difficult
to point out the seat of this organ;’ yet he assures us, that ‘it must
be deep-seated in the brain.’ The _organ of adhesiveness_ is evidently
the same as the general faculty of attachment. The _organ of
combativeness_ I conceive to be nothing but strength of bone and muscle,
and some projection arising from and indicating these. The _organs of
destructiveness and constructiveness_ are the same, but ‘so as with a
difference’—that is, they express strong will, with greater or less
impatience of temper and comprehensiveness of mind. The conqueror who
overturns one state, builds up and aggrandises another. I can conceive
persons who are gifted with the _organ of veneration_ to have expanded
brains as well as swelling ideas. ‘The head of CHRIST,’ says our
physiologist, ‘is always represented as very elevated.’—Yet he was
remarkable for meekness as well as piety. Spurzheim says of the _organ
of covetiveness_, that ‘it gives a desire for all that pleases.’ Again,
Dr. Gall observed, that ‘persons of a firm and constant character have
the top of the brain much developed;’ and this is called the _organ of
determinativeness_. Now if so, are we to believe that the difference in
resolute and irresolute persons is confined to this organ, and that the
nerves, fibres, &c. of the rest of the brain are not lax or firm, in
proportion as the person is of a generally weak or determined character?
The whole question nearly turns upon this. Say that there is a
particular prominence in this part, owing to a greater strength and size
of the levers of the will at this place. This would prove nothing but
the particular manifestation or development of a general power; just as
the prominence of the muscles of the calf of the leg denotes general
muscular strength. But the craniologist says that the strength of the
whole body lies in the calf of the leg, and has its seat or organ there.
Not so, in the name of common sense! When Dr. Spurzheim gets down to the
visible region of the face, the eyes, forehead, &c. he makes sad work of
it: an infinite number of distinctions are crowded one upon the back of
the other, and to no purpose. Will any body believe that there are five
or six different organs for the impressions of one sense (sight,) _viz._
colour, form, size, and so on? Do we see the form with one organ and the
colour of the same object with another? There may be different organs to
receive different material or concrete impressions, but surely only the
mind can abstract the different impressions of the same sense from each
other. The _organ of space_ appears to me to answer to the look of wild,
staring curiosity. All that is not accounted for in this way, either
from general conformation or from physiognomical expression, is a heap
of crude, capricious, unauthenticated trash. I select one paragraph out
of this puzzling chaos, as a sample of what the reader must expect from
the whole.

‘What then is the _special_ faculty of the organ of _individuality_ and
its sphere of activity? Persons endowed with this faculty in a high
degree are attentive to _all_ that happens around them; to every object,
to every phenomenon, to every fact: _hence also to motions_. This
faculty neither learns the qualities of objects, nor _the details_ of
facts: it knows only their existence. The qualities of the objects, and
the particularities of the facts, are known by the assistance of other
organs. _Besides_, this faculty has knowledge of _all internal
faculties, and acts upon them_. It wishes to know all by experience;
consequently it puts every organ into action: it wishes to hear, see,
smell, taste, and touch; _to know all arts and sciences_; it is fond of
instruction, collects facts, and leads to practical knowledge.’ Page
430.

In the next page he affirms that ‘crystallography is the result of the
organ of form,’ and that we do not get the ideas of roughness and
smoothness from the touch.—But I will end here, and turn to the amusing
account of Dousterswivel in the ANTIQUARY![18]


                                ESSAY XV
                               ON EGOTISM

It is mentioned in the Life of Salvator Rosa, that on the occasion of an
altar-piece of his being exhibited at Rome, in the triumph of the
moment, he compared himself to Michael Angelo, and spoke against
Raphael, calling him _hard_, _dry_, &c. Both these were fatal symptoms
for the ultimate success of the work: the picture was in fact afterwards
severely censured, so as to cause him much uneasiness; and he passed a
great part of his life in quarrelling with the world for admiring his
landscapes, which were truly excellent, and for not admiring his
historical pieces, which were full of defects. Salvator wanted
self-knowledge, and that respect for others, which is both a cause and
consequence of it. Like many more, he mistook the violent and irritable
workings of self-will (in a wrong direction) for the impulse of genius,
and his insensibility to the vast superiority of others for a proof of
his equality with them.

In the first place, nothing augurs worse for any one’s pretensions to
the highest rank of excellence than his making free with those of
others. He who boldly and unreservedly places himself on a level with
the _mighty dead_, shows a want of sentiment—the only thing that can
ensure immortality to his own works. When we forestal the judgment of
posterity, it is because we are not confident of it. A mind that brings
all others into a line with its own naked or assumed merits, that sees
all objects in the foreground as it were, that does not regard the lofty
monuments of genius through the atmosphere of fame, is coarse, crude,
and repulsive as a picture without aerial perspective. Time, like
distance, spreads a haze and a glory round all things. Not to perceive
this, is to want a sense, is to be without imagination. Yet there are
those who strut in their own self-opinion, and deck themselves out in
the plumes of fancied self-importance as if they were crowned with
laurel by Apollo’s own hand. There was nothing in common between
Salvator and Michael Angelo: if there had, the consciousness of the
power with which he had to contend would have over-awed and struck him
dumb; so that the very familiarity of his approaches proved (as much as
any thing else) the immense distance placed between them. Painters alone
seem to have a trick of putting themselves on an equal footing with the
greatest of their predecessors, of advancing, on the sole strength of
their vanity and presumption, to the highest seats in the Temple of
Fame, of talking of themselves and Raphael and Michael Angelo in the
same breath! What should we think of a poet who should publish to the
world, or give a broad hint in private, that he conceived himself fully
on a par with Homer or Milton or Shakespear? It would be too much for a
friend to say so of him. But artists suffer their friends to puff them
in the true ‘King Cambyses’ vein’ without blushing. Is it that they are
often men without a liberal education, who have no notion of any thing
that does not come under their immediate observation, and who
accordingly prefer the living to the dead, and themselves to all the
rest of the world? Or that there is something in the nature of the
profession itself, fixing the view on a particular point of time, and
not linking the present either with the past or future?

Again, Salvator’s disregard for Raphael, instead of inspiring him with
any thing like ‘vain and self-conceit,’ ought to have taught him the
greatest diffidence in himself. Instead of anticipating a triumph over
Raphael from this circumstance, he might have foreseen in it the sure
source of his mortification and defeat. The public looked to find in
_his_ pictures what he did not see in Raphael, and were necessarily
disappointed. He could hardly be expected to produce that which when
produced and set before him, he did not feel or understand. The genius
for a particular thing does not imply taste in general or for other
things, but it assuredly presupposes a taste or feeling for that
particular thing. Salvator was so much offended with the _dryness_,
_hardness_, &c. of Raphael, only because he was not struck, that is, did
not sympathise with the divine mind within. If he had, he would have
bowed as at a shrine, in spite of the homeliness or finicalness of the
covering. Let no man build himself a spurious self-esteem on his
contempt or indifference for acknowledged excellence. He will in the end
pay dear for a momentary delusion: for the world will sooner or later
discover those deficiences in him, which render him insensible to all
merits but his own.

Of all modes of acquiring distinction and, as it were, ‘getting the
start of the majestic world,’ the most absurd as well as disgusting is
that of setting aside the claims of others in the lump, and holding out
our own particular excellence or pursuit as the only one worth attending
to. We thus set ourselves up as the standard of perfection, and treat
every thing else that diverges from that standard as beneath our notice.
At this rate, a contempt for any thing and a superiority to it are
synonymous. It is a cheap and a short way of showing that we possess all
excellence within ourselves, to deny the use or merit of all those
qualifications that do not belong to us. According to such a mode of
computation, it would appear that our value is to be estimated not by
the number of acquirements that we _do_ possess, but of those in which
we are deficient and to which we are insensible:—so that we can at any
time supply the place of wisdom and skill by a due proportion of
ignorance, affectation, and conceit. If so, the dullest fellow, with
impudence enough to despise what he does not understand, will always be
the brightest genius and the greatest man. If stupidity is to be a
substitute for taste, knowledge, and genius, any one may dogmatise and
play the critic on this ground. We may easily make a monopoly of talent,
if the torpedo-touch of our callous and wilful indifference is to
neutralise all other pretensions. We have only to deny the advantages of
others to make them our own: illiberality will carve out the way to
pre-eminence much better than toil or study or quickness of parts; and
by narrowing our views and divesting ourselves at last of common feeling
and humanity, we may arrogate every valuable accomplishment to
ourselves, and exalt ourselves vastly above our fellow-mortals! That is,
in other words, we have only to shut our eyes, in order to blot the sun
out of heaven, and to annihilate whatever gives light or heat to the
world, if it does not emanate from one single source, by spreading the
cloud of our own envy, spleen, malice, want of comprehension, and
prejudice over it. Yet how many are there who act upon this theory in
good earnest, grow more bigoted to it every day, and not only become the
dupes of it themselves, but by dint of gravity, by bullying and
brow-beating, succeed in making converts of others!

A man is a political economist. Good: but this is no reason he should
think there is nothing else in the world, or that every thing else is
good for nothing. Let us suppose that this is the most important
subject, and that being his favourite study, he is the best judge of
that point, still it is not the only one—why then treat every other
question or pursuit with disdain as insignificant and mean, or endeavour
to put others who have devoted their whole time to it out of conceit
with that on which they depend for their amusement or (perhaps)
subsistence? I see neither the wit, wisdom, nor good-nature of this mode
of proceeding. Let him fill his library with books on this one subject,
yet other persons are not bound to follow the example, and exclude every
other topic from theirs—let him write, let him talk, let him think on
nothing else, but let him not impose the same pedantic humour as a duty
or a mark of taste on others—let him ride the high horse, and drag his
heavy load of mechanical knowledge along the iron rail-way of the
master-science, but let him not move out of it to taunt or jostle those
who are jogging quietly along upon their several _hobbies_, who ‘owe him
no allegiance,’ and care not one jot for his opinion. Yet we could
forgive such a person, if he made it his boast that he had read Don
Quixote twice through in the original Spanish, and preferred Lycidas to
all Milton’s smaller poems! What would Mr. —— say to any one who should
profess a contempt for political economy? He would answer very bluntly
and very properly, ‘Then you know nothing about it.’ It is a pity that
so sensible a man and close a reasoner should think of putting down
other lighter and more elegant pursuits by professing a contempt or
indifference for them, which springs from precisely the same source, and
is of just the same value. But so it is that there seems to be a tacit
presumption of folly in whatever gives pleasure; while an air of gravity
and wisdom hovers round the painful and pedantic.

A man comes into a room, and on his first entering, declares without
preface or ceremony his contempt for poetry. Are we therefore to
conclude him a greater genius than Homer? No: but by this cavalier
opinion he assumes a certain natural ascendancy over those who admire
poetry. To _look down_ upon any thing seemingly implies a greater
elevation and enlargement of view than to _look up_ to it. The present
Lord Chancellor took upon him to declare in open court that he would not
go across the street to hear Madame Catalani sing. What did this prove?
His want of an ear for music, not his capacity for any thing higher: So
far as it went, it only showed him to be inferior to those thousands of
persons who go with eager expectation to hear her, and come away with
astonishment and rapture. A man might as well tell you he is deaf, and
expect you to look at him with more respect. The want of any external
sense or organ is an acknowledged defect and infirmity: the want of an
internal sense or faculty is equally so, though our self-love contrives
to give a different turn to it. We mortify others by _throwing cold
water_ on that in which they have an advantage over us, or stagger their
opinion of an excellence which is not of self-evident or absolute
utility, and lessen its supposed value, by limiting the universality of
a taste for it. Lord Eldon’s protest on this occasion was the more
extraordinary, as he is not only a good-natured but a successful man.
These little spiteful allusions are most apt to proceed from
disappointed vanity, and an apprehension that justice is not done to
ourselves. By being at the top of a profession, we have leisure to look
beyond it. Those who really excel and are allowed to excel in any thing
have no excuse for trying to gain a reputation by undermining the
pretensions of others; they stand on their own ground; and do not need
the aid of invidious comparisons. Besides, the consciousness of
excellence produces a fondness for, a faith in it. I should half suspect
that any one could not be a great lawyer, who denied that Madame
Catalani was a great singer. The Chancellor must dislike her decisive
tone, the rapidity of her movements! The late Chancellor (Erskine) was a
man of (at least) a different stamp. In the exuberance and buoyancy of
his animal spirits, he scattered the graces and ornaments of life over
the dust and cobwebs of the law. What is there that is now left of
him—what is there to redeem his foibles, or to recal the flush of early
enthusiasm in his favour, or kindle one spark of sympathy in the breast,
but his romantic admiration of Mrs. Siddons? There are those who, if you
praise _Walton’s Complete Angler_, sneer at it as a childish or
old-womanish performance: some laugh at the amusement of fishing as
silly, others carp at it as cruel; and Dr. Johnson said that ‘a
fishing-rod was a stick with a hook at one end, and a fool at the
other.’ I would rather take the word of one who had stood for days, up
to his knees in water, and in the coldest weather, intent on this
employ, who returned to it again with unabated relish, and who spent his
whole life in the same manner without being weary of it at last. There
is something in this more than Dr. Johnson’s definition accounts for. A
_fool_ takes no interest in any thing; or if he does, it is better to be
a fool, than a wise man, whose only pleasure is to disparage the
pursuits and occupations of others, and out of ignorance or prejudice to
condemn them, merely because they are not _his_.

Whatever interests, is interesting. I know of no way of estimating the
real value of objects in all their bearings and consequences, but I can
tell at once their intellectual value by the degree of passion or
sentiment the very idea and mention of them excites in the mind. To
judge of things by reason or the calculations of positive utility is a
slow, cold, uncertain, and barren process—their power of appealing to
and affecting the imagination as subjects of thought and feeling is best
measured by the habitual impression they leave upon the mind, and it is
with this only we have to do in expressing our delight or admiration of
them, or in setting a just mental value upon them. They ought to excite
all the emotion which they do excite; for this is the instinctive and
unerring result of the constant experience we have had of their power of
affecting us, and of the associations that cling unconsciously to them.
Fancy, feeling may be very inadequate tests of truth; but truth itself
operates chiefly on the human mind through them. It is in vain to tell
me that what excites the heart-felt sigh of youth, the tears of delight
in age, and fills up the busy interval between with pleasing and lofty
thoughts, is frivolous, or a waste of time, or of no use. You only by
that give me a mean opinion of your ideas of utility. The labour of
years, the triumph of aspiring genius and consummate skill, is not to be
put down by a cynical frown, by a supercilious smile, by an ignorant
sarcasm. Things barely of use are subjects of professional skill and
scientific inquiry: they must also be beautiful and pleasing to attract
common attention, and be naturally and universally interesting. A pair
of shoes is good to wear: a pair of sandals is a more picturesque
object; and a statue or a poem are certainly good to think and talk
about, which are part of the business of life. To think and speak of
them with contempt is therefore a wilful and studied solecism. Pictures
are good things to go and see. This is what people do; they do not
expect to eat or make a dinner of them; but we sometimes want to fill up
the time before dinner. The progress of civilisation and refinement is
from instrumental to final causes; from supplying the wants of the body
to providing luxuries for the mind. To stop at the _mechanical_, and
refuse to proceed to the _fine arts_, or churlishly to reject all
ornamental studies and elegant accomplishments as mean and trivial,
because they only afford employment to the imagination, create food for
thought, furnish the mind, sustain the soul in health and enjoyment, is
a rude and barbarous theory—

               ‘Et propter vitam vivendi perdere causas.’

Before we absolutely condemn any thing, we ought to be able to show
something better, not merely in itself, but in the same class. To know
the best in each class infers a higher degree of taste; to reject the
class is only a negation of taste; for different classes do not
interfere with one another, nor can any one’s _ipse dixit_ be taken on
so wide a question as abstract excellence. Nothing is truly and
altogether despicable that excites angry contempt or warm opposition,
since this always implies that some one else is of a different opinion,
and takes an equal interest in it.

When I speak of what is interesting, however, I mean not only to a
particular profession, but in general to others. Indeed, it is the very
popularity and obvious interest attached to certain studies and
pursuits, that excites the envy and hostile regard of graver and more
recondite professions. Man is perhaps not naturally an egotist, or at
least he is satisfied with his own particular line of excellence and the
value that he supposes inseparable from it, till he comes into the world
and finds it of so little account in the eyes of the vulgar; and he then
turns round and vents his chagrin and disappointment on those more
attractive, but (as he conceives) superficial studies, which cost less
labour and patience to understand them, and are of so much less use to
society. The injustice done to ourselves makes us unjust to others. The
man of science and the hard student (from this cause, as well as from a
certain unbending hardness of mind) come at last to regard whatever is
generally pleasing and striking as worthless and light, and to
proportion their contempt to the admiration of others; while the artist,
the poet, and the votary of pleasure and popularity treat the more solid
and useful branches of human knowledge as disagreeable and dull. This is
often carried to too great a length. It is enough that ‘wisdom is
justified of her children:’ the philosopher ought to smile, instead of
being angry at the folly of mankind (if such it is), and those who find
both pleasure and profit in adorning and polishing the airy ‘capitals’
of science and of art, ought not to grudge those who toil under-ground
at the foundation, the praise that is due to their patience and
self-denial. There is a variety of tastes and capacities that requires
all the variety of men’s talents to administer to it. The less excellent
must be provided for as well as the more excellent. Those who are only
capable of amusement ought to be amused. If all men were forced to be
great philosophers and lasting benefactors of their species, how few of
us could ever do any thing at all! But nature acts more impartially,
though not improvidently. Wherever she bestows a _turn_ for any thing on
the individual, she implants a corresponding taste for it in others. We
have only to ‘throw our bread upon the waters, and after many days we
shall find it again.’ Let us do our best, and we need not be ashamed of
the smallness of our talent, or afraid of the calumnies and contempt of
envious maligners. When Goldsmith was talking one day to Sir Joshua of
writing a fable in which little fishes were to be introduced, Dr.
Johnson rolled about uneasily in his seat and began to laugh, on which
Goldsmith said rather angrily—‘Why do you laugh? If you were to write a
fable for little fishes, you would make them speak like great whales!’
The reproof was just. Johnson was in truth conscious of Goldsmith’s
superior inventiveness, and of the lighter graces of his pen, but he
wished to reduce every thing to his own pompous and oracular style.
There are not only _books for children_, but books for all ages and for
both sexes. After we grow up to years of discretion, we do not all
become equally wise at once. Our own tastes change: the tastes of other
individuals are still more different. It was said the other day, that
‘Thomson’s Seasons would be read while there was a boarding-school girl
in the world.’ If a thousand volumes were written against _Hervey’s
Meditations_, the Meditations would be read when the criticisms were
forgotten. To the illiterate and vain, affectation and verbiage will
always pass for fine writing, while the world stands. No woman ever
liked Burke, or disliked Goldsmith. It is idle to set up an universal
standard. There is a large class who, in spite of themselves, prefer
Westall or Angelica Kauffman to Raphael; nor is it fit they should do
otherwise. We may come to something like a fixed and exclusive standard
of taste, if we confine ourselves to what will please the best judges,
meaning thereby persons of the most refined and cultivated minds, and by
persons of the most refined and cultivated minds, generally meaning
_ourselves_![19]

To return to the original question. I can conceive of nothing so little
or ridiculous as pride. It is a mixture of insensibility and ill-nature,
in which it is hard to say which has the largest share. If a man knows
or excels in, or has ever studied any two things, I will venture to
affirm he will be proud of neither. It is perhaps excusable for a person
who is ignorant of all but one thing, to think _that_ the sole
excellence, and to be full of himself as the possessor. The way to cure
him of this folly is to give him something else to be proud of. Vanity
is a building that falls to the ground as you widen its foundation, or
strengthen the props that should support it. The greater a man is, the
less he necessarily thinks of himself, for his knowledge enlarges with
his attainments. In himself he feels that he is nothing, a point, a
speck in the universe, except as his mind reflects that universe, and as
he enters into the infinite variety of truth, beauty, and power
contained in it. Let any one be brought up among books, and taught to
think words the only things, and he may conceive highly of himself from
the proficiency he has made in language and in letters. Let him then be
compelled to attempt some other pursuit—painting, for instance—and be
made to feel the difficulties, the refinements of which it is capable,
and the number of things of which he was utterly ignorant before, and
there will be an end of his pedantry and his pride together. Nothing but
the want of comprehension of view or generosity of spirit can make any
one fix on his own particular acquirement as the limit of all
excellence. No one is (generally speaking) great in more than one
thing—if he extends his pursuits, he dissipates his strength—yet in that
one thing how small is the interval between him and the next in merit
and reputation to himself! But he thinks nothing of, or scorns or
loathes the name of his rival, so that all that the other possesses in
common goes for nothing, and the fraction of a difference between them
constitutes (in his opinion) the sum and substance of all that is
excellent in the universe! Let a man be wise, and then let us ask, will
his wisdom make him proud? Let him excel all others in the graces of the
mind, has he also those of the body? He has the advantage of fortune,
but has he also that of birth, or if he has both, has he health,
strength, beauty in a supreme degree? Or have not others the same, or
does he think all these nothing because he does not possess them? The
proud man fancies that there is no one worth regarding but himself: he
might as well fancy there is no other being but himself. The one is not
a greater stretch of madness than the other. To make pride justifiable,
there ought to be but one proud man in the world, for if any one
individual has a right to be so, nobody else has. So far from thinking
ourselves superior to all the rest of the species, we cannot be sure
that we are above the meanest and most despised individual of it: for he
may have some virtue, some excellence, some source of happiness or
usefulness within himself, which may redeem all other disadvantages: or
even if he is without any such hidden worth, this is not a subject of
exultation, but of regret, to any one tinctured with the smallest
humanity, and he who is totally devoid of the latter, cannot have much
reason to be proud of any thing else. Arkwright, who invented the
spinning-jenny, for many years kept a paltry barber’s shop in a
provincial town: yet at that time that wonderful machinery was working
in his brain, which has added more to the wealth and resources of this
country than all the pride of ancestry or insolence of upstart nobility
for the last hundred years. We should be cautious whom we despise. If we
do not know them, we can have no right to pronounce a hasty sentence: if
we do, they may espy some few defects in us. _No man is a hero to his
valet-de-chambre._ What is it then that makes the difference! The dress
and pride. But he is the most of a hero who is least distinguished by
the one, and most free from the other. If we enter into conversation
upon equal terms with the lowest of the people, unrestrained by
circumstance, unawed by interest, we shall find in ourselves but little
superiority over them. If we know what they do not, they know what we do
not. In general, those who do things for others, know more about them
than those for whom they are done. A groom knows more about horses than
his master. He rides them too: but the one rides behind, the other
before! Hence the number of forms and ceremonies that have been invented
to keep the magic circle of fancied self-importance inviolate. The late
King sought but one interview with Dr. Johnson: his present Majesty is
never tired of the company of Mr. Croker.

The collision of truth or genius naturally gives a shock to the pride of
exalted rank: the great and mighty usually seek out the dregs of
mankind, buffoons and flatterers, for their pampered self-love to repose
on. Pride soon tires of every thing but its shadow, servility: but how
poor a triumph is that which exists only by excluding all rivalry,
however remote. He who invites competition (the only test of merit), who
challenges fair comparisons, and weighs different claims, is alone
possessed of manly ambition; but will not long continue vain or proud.
Pride is ‘a cell of ignorance; travelling a-bed.’ If we look at all out
of ourselves, we must see how far short we are of what we would be
thought. The man of genius is poor;[20] the rich man is not a lord: the
lord wants to be a king: the king is uneasy to be a tyrant or a God. Yet
he alone, who could claim this last character upon earth, gave his life
a ransom for others! The dwarf in the romance, who saw the shadows of
the fairest and the mightiest among the sons of men pass before him,
that he might assume the shape he liked best, had only his choice of
wealth, or beauty, or valour, or power. But could he have clutched them
all, and melted them into one essence of pride, the triumph would not
have been lasting. Could vanity take all pomp and power to itself, could
it, like the rainbow, span the earth, and seem to prop the heavens,
after all it would be but the wonder of the ignorant, the pageant of a
moment. The fool who dreams that he is great should first forget that he
is a man, and before he thinks of being proud, should pray to be
mad!—The only great man in modern times, that is, the only man who rose
in deeds and fame to the level of antiquity, who might turn his gaze
upon himself, and wonder at his height, for on him all eyes were fixed
as his majestic stature towered above thrones and monuments of renown,
died the other day in exile, and in lingering agony; and we still see
fellows strutting about the streets, and fancying they are something!

Personal vanity is incompatible with the great and the _ideal_. He who
has not seen, or thought, or read of something finer than himself, has
seen, or read, or thought little; and he who has, will not be always
looking in the glass of his own vanity. Hence poets, artists, and men of
genius in general, are seldom coxcombs, but often slovens; for they find
something out of themselves better worth studying than their own
persons. They have an imaginary standard in their minds, with which
ordinary features (even their own) will not bear a comparison, and they
turn their thoughts another way. If a man had a face like one of
Raphael’s or Titian’s heads, he might be proud of it, but not else; and,
even then, he would be stared at as a _non-descript_ by ‘the universal
English nation.’ Few persons who have seen the Antinous or the Theseus
will be much charmed with their own beauty or symmetry; nor will those
who understand the _costume_ of the antique, or Vandyke’s dresses, spend
much time in decking themselves out in all the deformity of the
prevailing fashion. A coxcomb is his own lay-figure, for want of any
better models to employ his time and imagination upon.

There is an inverted sort of pride, the reverse of that egotism that has
been above described, and which, because it cannot be every thing, is
dissatisfied with every thing. A person who is liable to this infirmity,
‘thinks nothing done, while any thing remains to be done.’ The sanguine
egotist prides himself on what he can do or possesses, the morbid
egotist despises himself for what he wants, and is ever going out of his
way to attempt hopeless and impossible tasks. The effect in either case
is not at all owing to reason, but to temperament. The one is as easily
depressed by what mortifies his latent ambition, as the other is elated
by what flatters his immediate vanity. There are persons whom no
success, no advantages, no applause can satisfy, for they dwell only on
failure and defeat. They constantly ‘forget the things that are behind,
and press forward to the things that are before.’ The greatest and most
decided acquisitions would not indemnify them for the smallest
deficiency. They go beyond the old motto—_Aut Cæsar, aut nihil_—they not
only want to be at the head of whatever they undertake, but if they
succeed in that, they immediately want to be at the head of something
else, no matter how gross or trivial. The charm that rivets their
affections is not the importance or reputation annexed to the new
pursuit, but its novelty or difficulty. That must be a wonderful
accomplishment indeed, which baffles their skill—nothing is with them of
any value but as it gives scope to their restless activity of mind,
their craving after an uneasy and importunate state of excitement. To
them the pursuit is every thing, the possession nothing. I have known
persons of this stamp, who, with every reason to be satisfied with their
success in life, and with the opinion entertained of them by others,
despised themselves because they could not do something which they were
not bound to do, and which, if they could have done it, would not have
added one jot to their respectability, either in their own eyes or those
of any one else, the very insignificance of the attainment irritating
their impatience, for it is the humour of such dispositions to argue,
‘If they cannot succeed in what is trifling and contemptible, how should
they succeed in any thing else?’ If they could make the circuit of the
arts and sciences, and master them all, they would take to some
mechanical exercise, and if they failed, be as discontented as ever. All
that they can do vanishes out of sight the moment it is within their
grasp, and ‘nothing is but what is not.’ A poet of this description is
ambitious of the thews and muscles of a prize fighter, and thinks
himself nothing without them. A prose-writer would be a fine
tennis-player, and is thrown into despair because he is not one, without
considering that it requires a whole life devoted to the game to excel
in it; and that, even if he could dispense with this apprenticeship, he
would still be just as much bound to excel in rope-dancing, or
horsemanship, or playing at cup and ball like the Indian jugglers, all
which is impossible. This feeling is a strange mixture of modesty and
pride. We think nothing of what we are, because we cannot be every thing
with a wish. Goldsmith was even jealous of beauty in the other sex, and
the same character is attributed to Wharton by Pope:

            ‘Though listening senates hung on all he spoke,
            The club must hail him master of the joke.’

Players are for going into the church—officers in the army turn players.
For myself, do what I might, I should think myself a poor creature
unless I could beat a boy of ten years old at chuck-farthing, or an
elderly gentlewoman at piquet!

The extreme of fastidious discontent and repining is as bad as that of
over-weening presumption. We ought to be satisfied if we have succeeded
in any one thing, or with having done our best. Any thing more is for
health and amusement, and should be resorted to as a source of pleasure,
not of fretful impatience, and endless pity, self-imposed mortification.
Perhaps the jealous, uneasy temperament is most favourable to continued
exertion and improvement, if it does not lead us to fritter away
attention on too many pursuits. By looking out of ourselves, we gain
knowledge: by being little satisfied with what we have done, we are less
apt to sink into indolence and security. To conclude with a piece of
egotism: I never begin one of these _Essays_ with a consciousness of
having written a line before; and having got to the end of the volume,
hope never to look into it again.


                               ESSAY XVI
                              HOT AND COLD

         ‘——Hot, cold, moist, and dry, four champions fierce,
         Strive here for mastery.’—                    MILTON.

‘The Protestants are much cleaner than the Catholics,’ said a shopkeeper
of Vevey to me. ‘They are so,’ I replied, ‘but why should they?’ A
prejudice appeared to him a matter-of-fact, and he did not think it
necessary to assign reasons for a matter-of-fact. That is not my way. He
had not bottomed his proposition on proofs, nor rightly defined it.

Nearly the same remark, as to the extreme cleanliness of the people in
this part of the country, had occurred to me as soon as I got to Brigg,
where however the inhabitants are Catholics. So the original statement
requires some qualification as to the mode of enunciation. I had no
sooner arrived in this village, which is situated just under the
Simplon, and where you are surrounded with _glaciers_ and _goitres_,
than the genius of the place struck me on looking out at the pump under
my window the next morning, where the ‘neat-handed Phyllises’ were
washing their greens in the water, that not a caterpillar could crawl on
them, and scouring their pails and tubs that not a stain should be left
in them. The raw, clammy feeling of the air was in unison with the
scene. I had not seen such a thing in Italy. They have there no delight
in splashing and dabbling in fresh streams and fountains—they have a
dread of ablutions and abstersions, almost amounting to _hydrophobia_.
Heat has an antipathy in nature to cold. The sanguine Italian is chilled
and shudders at the touch of cold water, while the Helvetian boor, whose
humours creep through his veins like the dank mists along the sides of
his frozen mountains, is ‘native and endued unto that element.’ Here
every thing is purified and filtered: there it is baked and burnt up,
and sticks together in a most amicable union of filth and laziness.
There is a little mystery and a little contradiction in the case—let us
try if we cannot get rid of both by means of caution and daring
together. It is not that the difference of latitude between one side of
the Alps and the other can signify much: but the phlegmatic blood of
their German ancestors is poured down the valleys of the Swiss like
water, and _iced_ in its progress; whereas that of the Italians, besides
its vigorous origin, is enriched and ripened by basking in more genial
plains. A single Milanese market-girl (to go no farther south) appeared
to me to have more blood in her body, more fire in her eye (as if the
sun had made a burning _lens_ of it), more spirit and probably more
mischief about her than all the nice, _tidy_, good-looking, hardworking
girls I have seen in Switzerland. To turn this physiognomical
observation to a metaphysical account, I should say then that Northern
people are clean and Southern people dirty as a general rule, because
where the principle of life is more cold, weak, and impoverished, there
is a greater shyness and aversion to come in contact with external
matter (with which it does not so easily amalgamate), a greater
fastidiousness and delicacy in choosing its sensations, a greater desire
to know surrounding objects and to keep them clear of each other, than
where this principle being more warm and active, it may be supposed to
absorb outward impressions in itself, to melt them into its own essence,
to impart its own vital impulses to them, and in fine, instead of
shrinking from every thing, to be shocked at nothing. The Southern
temperament is (so to speak) more sociable with matter, more gross,
impure, indifferent, from relying on its own strength; while that
opposed to it, from being less able to react on external applications,
is obliged to be more cautious and particular as to the kind of
excitement to which it renders itself liable. Hence the timidity,
reserve, and occasional hypocrisy of Northern manners; the boldness,
freedom, levity, and frequent licentiousness of Southern ones. It would
be too much to say, that if there is any thing of which a genuine
Italian has a horror, it is of cleanliness; or that if there is any
thing which seems ridiculous to a thorough-bred Italian woman, it is
modesty: but certainly the degree to which nicety is carried by some
people is a _bore_ to an Italian imagination, as the excess of delicacy
which is pretended or practised by some women is quite incomprehensible
to the females of the South. It is wrong, however, to make the greater
confidence or forwardness of manners an absolute test of morals: the
love of virtue is a different thing from the fear or even hatred of
vice. The squeamishness and prudery in the one case have a more
plausible appearance; but it does not follow that there may not be more
native goodness and even habitual refinement in the other, though
accompanied with stronger nerves, and a less morbid imagination. But to
return to the first question.[21]—I can readily understand how a Swiss
peasant should stand a whole morning at a pump, washing cabbages,
cauliflowers, sallads, and getting rid half a dozen times over of the
sand, dirt, and insects they contain, because I myself should not only
be _gravelled_ by meeting with the one at table, but should be in
horrors at the other. A Frenchman or an Italian would be thrown into
convulsions of laughter at this superfluous delicacy, and would think
his repast enriched or none the worse for such additions. The reluctance
to prey on life, or on what once had it, seems to arise from a sense of
incongruity, from the repugnance between life and death—from the cold,
clammy feeling which belongs to the one, and which is enhanced by the
contrast to its former warm, lively state, and by the circumstance of
its being taken into the mouth, and devoured as food. Hence the desire
to get rid of the idea of the living animal even in ordinary cases by
all the disguises of cookery, of boiled and roast, and by the artifice
of changing the name of the animal into something different when it
becomes food.[22] Hence sportsmen are not devourers of game, and hence
the aversion to kill the animals we eat.[23] There is a contradiction
between the animate and the inanimate, which is felt as matter of
peculiar annoyance by the more cold and congealed temperament which
cannot so well pass from one to the other; but this objection is easily
swallowed by the inhabitant of gayer and more luxurious regions, who is
so full of life himself that he can at once impart it to all that comes
in his way, or never troubles himself about the difference. So the
Neapolitan bandit takes the life of his victim with little remorse,
because he has enough and to spare in himself: his pulse still beats
warm and vigorous, while the blood of a more humane native of the frozen
North would run cold with horror at the sight of the stiffened corse,
and this makes him pause before he stops in another the gushing source,
of which he has such feeble supplies in himself. The wild Arab of the
Desert can hardly entertain the idea of death, neither dreading it for
himself nor regretting it for others. The Italians, Spaniards, and
people of the South swarm alive without being sick or sorry at the
circumstance: they hunt the accustomed prey in each other’s tangled
locks openly in the streets and on the highways, without manifesting
shame or repugnance: combs are an invention of our Northern climes. Now
I can comprehend this, when I look at the dirty, dingy, greasy,
sun-burnt complexion of an Italian peasant or beggar, whose body seems
alive all over with a sort of tingling, oily sensation, so that from any
given particle of his shining skin to the beast ‘whose name signifies
love’ the transition is but small. This populousness is not
unaccountable where all teems with life, where all is glowing and in
motion, and every pore thrills with an exuberance of feeling. Not so in
the dearth of life and spirit, in the drossy, dry, material texture, the
clear complexions and fair hair of the Saxon races, where the puncture
of an insect’s sting is a solution of their personal identity, and the
idea of life attached to and courting an intimacy with them in spite of
themselves, naturally produces all the revulsions of the most violent
antipathy and nearly drives them out of their wits. How well the smooth
ivory comb and auburn hair agree—while the Greek _dandy_, on entering a
room, applies his hand to brush a cloud of busy stragglers from his hair
like powder, and gives himself no more concern about them than about the
motes dancing in the sunbeams! The dirt of the Italians is as it were
baked into them, and so ingrained as to become a part of themselves, and
occasion no discontinuity of their being.

I can forgive the dirt and sweat of a gipsey under a hedge, when I
consider that the earth is his mother, the sun is his father. He hunts
vermin for food: he is himself hunted like vermin for prey. His
existence is not one of choice, but of necessity. The hungry Arab
devours the raw shoulder of a horse. This again I can conceive. His
feverish blood seethes it, and the virulence of his own breath carries
off the disagreeableness of the smell. I do not see that the horse
should be reckoned among unclean animals, according to any notions I
have of the matter. The dividing of the hoof or the contrary, I should
think, has not any thing to do with the question. I can understand the
distinction between beasts of prey and the herbivorous and domestic
animals, but the horse is tame. The natural distinction between clean
and unclean animals (which has been sometimes made into a religious one)
I take to depend on two circumstances, viz. the claws and bristly hide,
which generally, though not always, go together. One would not wish to
be torn in pieces instead of making a comfortable meal, ‘to be supped
upon’ where we thought of supping. With respect to the wolf, the tiger,
and other animals of the same species, it seems a question which of us
should devour the other: this baulks our appetite by distracting our
attention, and we have so little relish for being eaten ourselves, or
for the fangs and teeth of these shocking animals, that it gives us a
distaste for their whole bodies. The horror we conceive at preying upon
them arises in part from the fear we had of being preyed upon by them.
No such apprehension crosses the mind with respect to the deer, the
sheep, the hare—‘here all is conscience and tender heart.’ These gentle
creatures (whom we compliment as useful) offer no resistance to the
knife, and there is therefore nothing shocking or repulsive in the idea
of devoting them to it. There is no confusion of ideas, but a beautiful
simplicity and uniformity in our relation to each other, we as the
slayers, they as the slain. A perfect understanding subsists on the
subject. The hair of animals of prey is also strong and bristly, and
forms an obstacle to our Epicurean designs. The calf or fawn is sleek
and smooth: the bristles on a dog’s or a cat’s back are like ‘the quills
upon the fretful porcupine,’ a very impracticable repast to the
imagination, that stick in the throat and turn the stomach. Who has not
read and been edified by the account of the supper in Gil Blas? Besides,
there is also in all probability the practical consideration urged by
Voltaire’s traveller, who being asked ‘which he preferred—black mutton
or white?’ replied, ‘Either, provided it was tender.’ The greater
rankness in the flesh is however accompanied by a corresponding
irritability of surface, a tenaciousness, a pruriency, a soreness to
attack, and not that fine, round, pampered passiveness to impressions
which cuts up into handsome joints and entire pieces without any
fidgetty process, and with an obvious view to solid, wholesome
nourishment. Swine’s flesh, the abomination of the Jewish law, certainly
comes under the objection here stated; and the bear with its shaggy fur
is only smuggled into the Christian larder as half-brother to the wild
boar, and because from its lazy, lumpish character and appearance, it
seems matter of indifference whether it eats or is eaten. The horse,
with sleek round haunches, is fair game, except from custom; and I think
I could survive having swallowed part of an ass’s foal without being
utterly loathsome to myself.[24] Mites in a rotten cheese are endurable,
from being so small and dry that they are scarce distinguishable from
the atoms of the cheese itself, ‘so drossy and divisible are they:’ but
the Lord deliver me from their more thriving next-door neighbours!
Animals that are made use of as food should either be so small as to be
imperceptible, or else we should dig into the quarry of life, hew away
the masses, and not leave the form standing to reproach us with our
gluttony and cruelty. I hate to see a rabbit trussed, or a hare brought
to table in the form which it occupied while living: they seem to me
apparitions of the burrowers in the earth or the rovers in the wood,
sent to scare away appetite. One reason why toads and serpents are
disgusting, is from the way in which they run against or suddenly cling
to the skin: the encountering them causes a solution of continuity, and
we shudder to feel a life which is not ours in contact with us. It is
this disjointed or imperfect sympathy which in the recoil produces the
greatest antipathy. Sterne asks why a sword, which takes away life, may
be named without offence, though other things, which contribute to
perpetuate it, cannot? Because the idea in the one case is merely
painful, and there is no mixture of the agreeable to lead the
imagination on to a point from which it must make a precipitate retreat.
The morally indecent arises from the doubtful conflict between
temptation and duty: the physically revolting is the product of
alternate attraction and repulsion, of partial adhesion, or of something
that is foreign to us sticking closer to our persons than we could wish.
The nastiest tastes and smells are not the most pungent and painful, but
a compound of sweet and bitter, of the agreeable and disagreeable; where
the sense, having been relaxed and rendered effeminate as it were by the
first, is unable to contend with the last, faints and sinks under it,
and has no way of relieving itself but by violently throwing off the
load that oppresses it. Hence loathing and sickness. But these hardly
ever arise without something contradictory or _impure_ in the objects,
or unless the mind, having been invited and prepared to be gratified at
first, this expectation is turned to disappointment and disgust. Mere
pains, mere pleasures do not have this effect, save from an excess of
the first causing insensibility and then a faintness ensues, or of the
last, causing what is called a surfeit. Sea-sickness has some analogy to
this. It comes on with that unsettled motion of the ship, which takes
away the ordinary footing or firm hold we have of things, and by
relaxing our perceptions, unbraces the whole nervous system. The
giddiness and swimming of the head on looking down a precipice, when we
are ready with every breath of imagination to topple down into the
abyss, has its source in the same uncertain and rapid whirl of the fancy
through possible extremes. Thus we find that for cases of fainting,
sea-sickness, &c. a glass of brandy is recommended as ‘the sovereign’st
thing on earth,’ because by grappling with the coats of the stomach and
bringing our sensations to a _focus_, it does away that nauseous
fluctuation and suspense of feeling which is the root of the mischief. I
do not know whether I make myself intelligible, for the utmost I can
pretend is to suggest some very subtle and remote analogies: but if I
have at all succeeded in opening up the train of argument I intend, it
will at least be possible to conceive how the sanguine Italian is less
nice in his intercourse with material objects, less startled at
incongruities, less liable to take offence, than the more literal and
conscientious German, because the more headstrong current of his own
sensations fills up the gaps and ‘makes the odds all even.’ He does not
care to have his cabbages and sallads washed ten times over, or his beds
cleared of vermin: he can lend or borrow satisfaction from all objects
indifferently. The air over his head is full of life, of the hum of
insects; the grass under his feet rings and is loud with the cry of the
grasshopper; innumerable green lizards dart from the rocks and sport
before him: what signifies it if any living creature approaches nearer
his own person, where all is one vital glow? The Indian even twines the
forked serpent round his hand unharmed, copper-coloured like it, his
veins as heated; and the Brahmin cherishes life and disregards his own
person as an act of his religion—the religion of fire and of the sun!
Yet how shall we reconcile to this theory the constant ablutions (five
times a day) of the Eastern nations, and the squalid customs of some
Northern people, the dirtiness of the Russians and of the Scotch?
Superstition may perhaps account for the one, and poverty and barbarism
for the other.[25]

Laziness has a great deal to do in the question, and this again is owing
to a state of feeling sufficient to itself, and rich in enjoyment
without the help of action. Clothilde (the finest and darkest of the
Gensano girls) fixes herself at her door about noon (when her day’s work
is done): her smile reflects back the brightness of the sun, she darts
upon a little girl with a child in her arms, nearly overturns both,
devours it with kisses, and then resumes her position at the door, with
her hands behind her back and her shoes down at heel. This
slatternliness and negligence is the more remarkable in so fine a girl,
and one whose ordinary costume is a gorgeous picture, but it is a part
of the character; her dress would never have been so rich, if she could
take more pains about it—they have no nervous or fidgetty feeling
whether a thing is coming off or not: all their sensations, as it were,
sit loose upon them. Their clothes are no part of themselves,—they even
fling their limbs about as if they scarcely belonged to them; the heat
in summer requires the utmost freedom and airiness (which becomes a
habit), and they have nothing tight-bound or strait-laced about their
minds or bodies. The same girl in winter (for ‘dull, cold winter does
inhabit here’ also) would have a _scaldaletto_ (an earthen pan with
coals in it) dangling at her wrists for four months together, without
any sense of incumbrance or distraction, or any other feeling but of the
heat it communicated to her hands. She does not mind its chilling the
rest of her body or disfiguring her hands, making her fingers look like
‘long purples’—these children of nature ‘take the good the Gods provide
them,’ and trouble themselves little about consequences or appearances.
Their self-will is much stronger than their vanity—they have as little
curiosity about others as concern for their good opinion. Two Italian
peasants talking by the roadside will not so much as turn their heads to
look at an English carriage that is passing. They have no interest
except in what is personal, sensual. Hence they have as little
tenaciousness on the score of property as in the acquisition of ideas.
They want neither. Their good spirits are food, clothing, and books to
them. They are fond of comfort too, but their notion of it differs from
ours—ours consists in accumulating the means of enjoyment, theirs in
being free to enjoy, in the dear _far niente_. What need have they to
encumber themselves with furniture or wealth or business, when all they
require (for the most part) is air, a bunch of grapes, bread, and
stone-walls? The Italians, generally speaking, have nothing, do nothing,
want nothing,—to the surprise of foreigners, who ask how they live? The
men are too lazy to be thieves, the women to be something else. The
dependence of the Swiss and English on their comforts, that is, on all
‘appliances and means to boot,’ as helps to enjoyment or hindrances to
annoyance, makes them not only eager to procure different objects of
accommodation and luxury, but makes them take such pains in their
preservation and embellishment, and _pet_ them so when acquired. ‘A
man,’ says Yorick, ‘finds an apple, spits upon it, and calls it his.’
The more any one finds himself clinging to material objects for
existence or gratification, the more he will take a personal interest in
them, and the more will he clean, repair, polish, scrub, scour, and tug
at them without end, as if it were his own soul that he was keeping
clear from spot or blemish. A Swiss dairy-maid scours the very heart out
of a wooden pail; a scullion washes the taste as well as the worms out
of a dish of broccoli. The wenches are in like manner neat and clean in
their own persons, but insipid. The most coarse and ordinary furniture
in Switzerland has more pains bestowed upon it to keep it in order, than
the finest works of art in Italy. There the pictures are suffered to
moulder on the walls; and the Claudes in the Doria Palace at Rome are
black with age and dirt. We set more store by them in England, where we
have scarce any other sunshine! At the common inns on this side the
Simplon, the very sheets have a character for whiteness to lose: the
rods and testers of the beds are like a peeled wand. On the opposite
side you are thankful when you are not shown into an apartment
resembling a three-stalled stable, with horse-cloths for coverlids to
hide the dirt, and beds of horse-hair or withered leaves as harbourage
for vermin. The more, the merrier; the dirtier, the warmer; live and let
live, seem maxims inculcated by the climate. Wherever things are not
kept carefully apart from foreign admixtures and contamination, the
distinctions of property itself will not, I conceive, be held
exceedingly sacred. This feeling is strong as the passions are weak. A
people that are remarkable for cleanliness, will be so for industry, for
honesty, for avarice, and _vice versâ_. The Italians cheat, steal, rob
(when they think it worth their while to do so) with licensed impunity:
the Swiss, who feel the value of property, and labour incessantly to
acquire it, are afraid to lose it. At Brigg I first heard the cry of
watchmen at night, which I had not heard for many months. I was reminded
of the traveller who after wandering in remote countries saw a gallows
near at hand, and knew by this circumstance that he approached the
confines of civilization. The police in Italy is both secret and severe,
but it is directed chiefly to political and not to civil matters.
Patriot sighs are heaved unheard in the dungeons of St. Angelo: the
Neapolitan bandit breathes the free air of his native mountains!

It may by this time be conjectured why Catholics are less cleanly than
Protestants, because in fact they are less scrupulous, and swallow
whatever is set before them in matters of faith as well as other things.
Protestants, as such, are captious and scrutinising, try to pick holes
and find fault,—have a dry, meagre, penurious imagination. Catholics are
buoyed up over doubts and difficulties by a greater redundance of fancy,
and make religion subservient to a sense of enjoyment. The one are for
detecting and weeding out all corruptions and abuses in doctrine or
worship: the others enrich theirs with the dust and cobwebs of
antiquity, and think their ritual none the worse for the tarnish of age.
Those of the Catholic Communion are willing to take it for granted that
every thing is right; the professors of the Reformed religion have a
pleasure in believing that every thing is wrong, in order that they may
have to set it right. In morals, again, Protestants are more precise
than their Catholic brethren. The creed of the latter absolves them of
half their duties, of all those that are a clog on their inclinations,
atones for all slips, and patches up all deficiencies. But though this
may make them less censorious and sour, I am not sure that it renders
them less in earnest in the part they do perform. When more is left to
freedom of choice, perhaps the service that is voluntary will be purer
and more effectual. That which is not so may as well be done by proxy;
or if it does not come from the heart, may be suffered to exhale merely
from the lips. If less is owing in this case to a dread of vice and fear
of shame, more will proceed from a love of virtue, free from the least
sinister construction. It is asserted that Italian women are more gross;
I can believe it, and that they are at the same time more refined than
others. Their religion is in the same manner more sensual: but is it not
to the full as visionary and imaginative as any? I have heard Italian
women say things that others would not—it does not therefore follow that
they would do them: partly because the knowledge of vice that makes it
familiar renders it indifferent; and because the same masculine tone of
thinking that enables them to confront vice, may raise them above it
into a higher sphere of sentiment. If their senses are more inflammable,
their passions (and their love of virtue and of religion among the rest)
may glow with proportionable ardour. Indeed the truest virtue is that
which is least susceptible of contamination from its opposite. I may
admire a Raphael, and yet not swoon at sight of a daub. Why should there
not be the same taste in morals as in pictures or poems? Granting that
vice has more votaries here, at least it has fewer mercenary ones, and
this is no trifling advantage. As to manners, the Catholics must be
allowed to carry it over all the world. The better sort not only say
nothing to give you pain; they say nothing of others that it would give
them pain to hear repeated. Scandal and tittle-tattle are long banished
from good society. After all, to be wise is to be humane. What would our
English _blue-stockings_ say to this? The fault and the excellence of
Italian society is, that the shocking or disagreeable is not supposed to
have an existence in the nature of things.[26]


                               ESSAY XVII
                        THE NEW SCHOOL OF REFORM

         A DIALOGUE BETWEEN A RATIONALIST AND A SENTIMENTALIST

_R._ What is it you so particularly object to this school? Is there any
thing so very obnoxious in the doctrine of Utility, which they profess?
Or in the design to bring about the greatest possible good by the most
efficacious and disinterested means?

_S._ Disinterested enough, indeed: since their plan seems to be to
sacrifice every individual comfort for the good of the whole. Can they
find out no better way of making human life run smooth and pleasant,
than by drying up the brain and curdling the blood? I do not want
society to resemble a _Living Skeleton_, whatever these ‘Job’s
Comforters’ may do. They are like the fox in the fable—they have no
feeling themselves, and would persuade others to do without it. Take
away the _dulce_ of the poet, and I do not see what is to become of the
_utile_. It is the common error of the human mind, of forgetting the end
in the means.

_R._ I see you are at your _Sentimentalities_ again. Pray, tell me, is
it not their having applied this epithet to some of your favourite
speculations, that has excited this sudden burst of spleen against them?

_S._ At least I cannot retort this phrase on those printed _circulars_
which they throw down areas and fasten under knockers. But pass on for
that. Answer me then, what is there agreeable or ornamental in human
life that they do not explode with fanatic rage? What is there sordid
and cynical that they do not eagerly catch at? What is there that
delights others that does not disgust them. What that disgusts others
with which they are not delighted? I cannot think that this is owing to
philosophy, but to a sinister bias of mind; inasmuch as a marked
deficiency of temper is a more obvious way of accounting for certain
things than an entire superiority of understanding. The Ascetics of old
thought they were doing God good service by tormenting themselves and
denying others the most innocent amusements. Who doubts now that in this
(armed as they were with texts and authorities and awful denunciations)
they were really actuated by a morose and envious disposition, that had
no capacity for enjoyment itself or felt a malicious repugnance to the
idea of it in any one else? What in them took the garb of religion, with
us puts on the semblance of philosophy; and instead of dooming the
heedless and refractory to hell-fire or the terrors of purgatory, our
modern polemics set their disciples in the stocks of Utility, or throw
all the elegant arts and amiable impulses of humanity into the Limbo of
Political Economy.

_R._ I cannot conceive what possible connection there can be between the
weak and mischievous enthusiasts you speak of, and the most enlightened
reasoners of the nineteenth century. They would laugh at such a
comparison.

_S._ Self-knowledge is the last thing which I should lay to the charge
of _soi-disant_ philosophers; but a man may be a bigot without a
particle of religion, a monk or an Inquisitor in a plain coat and
professing the most liberal opinions.

_R._ You still deal, as usual, in idle sarcasms and flimsy generalities.
Will you descend to particulars, and state facts before you draw
inferences from them?

_S._ In the first place then, they are mostly Scotchmen—lineal
descendants of the Covenanters and Cameronians, and inspired with the
true John Knox zeal for mutilating and defacing the carved work of the
sanctuary——

_R._ Hold, hold—this is vulgar prejudice and personality——

_S._ But it’s the fact, and I thought you called for facts. Do you
imagine if I hear a fellow in Scotland abusing the Author of Waverley,
who has five hundred hearts beating in his bosom, because there is no
Religion in his works, and a fellow in Westminster doing the same thing
because there is no Political Economy in them, that any thing will
prevent me from supposing that this is virtually the same Scotch pedlar
with his pack of Utility at his back, whether he deals in tape and stays
or in drawling compilations of history and reviews?

_R._ I did not know you had such an affection for Sir Walter——

_S._ I said the _Author of Waverley_. Not to like him would be not to
love myself or human nature, of which he has given so many interesting
specimens: though for the sake of that same human nature, I have no
liking to Sir Walter. Those ‘few and recent writers,’ on the contrary,
who by their own account ‘have discovered the true principles of the
greatest happiness to the greatest numbers,’ are easily reconciled to
the Tory and the bigot, because they here feel a certain superiority
over him; but they cannot forgive the great historian of life and
manners, because he has enlarged our sympathy with human happiness
beyond their pragmatical limits. They are not even ‘good haters:’ for
they hate not what degrades and afflicts, but what consoles and elevates
the mind. Their plan is to _block out_ human happiness wherever they see
a practicable opening to it.

_R._ But perhaps their notions of happiness differ from yours. They
think it should be regulated by the doctrine of Utility. Whatever is
incompatible with this, they regard as spurious and false, and scorn all
base compromises and temporary palliatives.

_S._ Yes; just as the religious fanatic thinks there is no salvation out
of the pale of his own communion, and damns without scruple every
appearance of virtue and piety beyond it. Poor David Deans! how would he
have been surprised to see all his follies—his ‘right-hand defections
and his left-hand compliances,’ and his contempt for human learning,
blossom again in a knot of sophists and professed _illuminés_! Such
persons are not to be treated as philosophers and metaphysicians, but as
conceited sectaries and ignorant mechanics. In neither case is the
intolerant and proscribing spirit a deduction of pure reason,
indifferent to consequences, but the dictate of presumption, prejudice,
and spiritual pride, or a strong desire in the elect to narrow the
privilege of salvation to as small a circle as possible, and in ‘a few
and recent writers’ to have the whole field of happiness and argument to
themselves. The enthusiasts of old did all they could to strike the
present existence from under our feet to give us another—to annihilate
our natural affections and worldly vanities, so as to conform us to the
likeness of God: the modern sciolists offer us Utopia in lieu of our
actual enjoyments; for warm flesh and blood would give us a head of clay
and a heart of steel, and conform us to their own likeness—‘a
consummation not very devoutly to be wished!’ Where is the use of
getting rid of the trammels of superstition and slavery, if we are
immediately to be handed over to these new ferrets and inspectors of a
_Police-Philosophy_; who pay domiciliary visits to the human mind,
catechise an expression, impale a sentiment, put every enjoyment to the
rack, leave you not a moment’s ease or respite, and imprison all the
faculties in a round of cant-phrases—the Shibboleth of a party? They are
far from indulging or even tolerating the strain of exulting enthusiasm
expressed by Spenser:—

           ‘What more felicity can fall to creature
           Than to enjoy delight with liberty,
           And to be lord of all the works of nature?
           To reign in the air from earth to highest sky,
           To feed on flowers and weeds of glorious feature,
           To taste whatever thing doth please the eye?
           Who rests not pleased with such happiness,
           Well worthy he to taste of wretchedness!’

Without air or light, they grope their way under-ground, till they are
made ‘fierce with dark keeping:’[27] their attention, confined to the
same dry, hard, mechanical subjects, which they have not the power nor
the will to exchange for others, frets and corrodes; and soured and
disappointed, they wreak their spite and mortification on all around
them.

_R._ I cannot but think your imagination runs away with your candour.
Surely the writers you are so ready to inveigh against labour hard to
correct errors and reform grievances.

_S._ Yes; because the one affords exercise for their vanity, and the
other for their spleen. They are attracted by the odour of abuses,
and regale on fancied imperfections. But do you suppose they like
any thing else better than they do the Government? Are they on any
better terms with their own families or friends? Do they not make
the lives of every one they come near a torment to them, with their
pedantic notions and captious egotism? Do they not quarrel with
their neighbours, placard their opponents, supplant those on their
own side of the question? Are they not equally at war with the rich
and the poor? And having failed (for the present) in their project
of _cashiering kings_, do they not give scope to their troublesome,
overbearing humour, by taking upon them to _snub_ and lecture the
poor _gratis_? Do they not wish to extend ‘the greatest happiness to
the greatest numbers,’ by putting a stop to population—to relieve
distress by withholding charity, to remedy disease by shutting up
hospitals? Is it not a part of their favourite scheme, their
nostrum, their panacea, to prevent the miseries and casualties of
human life by extinguishing it in the birth? Do they not exult in
the thought (and revile others who do not agree to it) of plucking
the crutch from the cripple, and tearing off the bandages from the
agonized limb? Is it thus they would gain converts, or make an
effectual stand against acknowledged abuses, by holding up a picture
of the opposite side, the most sordid, squalid, harsh, and
repulsive, that narrow reasoning, a want of imagination, and a
profusion of bile can make it? There is not enough of evil already
in the world, but we must harden our feelings against the miseries
that daily, hourly, present themselves to our notice, and set our
faces against every thing that promises to afford any one the least
gratification or pleasure. This is their _idea of a perfect
commonwealth_: where each member performs his part in the machine,
taking care of himself, and no more concerned about his neighbours,
than the iron and wood-work, the pegs and nails in a spinning-jenny.
Good screw! good wedge! good ten-penny nail! Are they really in
earnest, or are they bribed, partly by their interests, partly by
the unfortunate bias of their minds, to play the game into the
adversary’s hands? It looks like it; and the Government give them
‘good _œillades_’—Mr. Blackwood pats them on the back—Mr. Canning
grants an interview and plays the amiable—Mr. Hobhouse keeps the
peace. One of them has a place at the India-House: but then nothing
is said against the India-House, though the poor and pious Old Lady
sweats and almost swoons at the conversations which her walls are
doomed to hear, but of which she is ashamed to complain. One triumph
of the _School_ is to throw Old Ladies into hysterics![28] The
obvious (I should still hope not the intentional) effect of the
Westminster tactics is to put every volunteer on the same side _hors
de combat_, who is not a zealot of the strictest sect of those they
call Political Economists; to come behind you with dastard,
cold-blooded malice, and trip up the heels of those stragglers whom
their friends and patrons in the Quarterly have left still standing;
to strip the cause of Reform (out of seeming affection to it) of
every thing like a _misalliance_ with elegance, taste, decency,
common sense, or polite literature, (as their fellow labourers in
the same vineyard had previously endeavoured to do out of
acknowledged hatred)—to disgust the friends of humanity, to cheer
its enemies; and for the sake of indulging their unbridled
dogmatism, envy and uncharitableness, to leave nothing intermediate
between the Ultra-Toryism of the courtly scribes and their own
Ultra-Radicalism—between the extremes of practical wrong and
impracticable right. Their, _our_ antagonists will be very well
satisfied with this division of the spoil:—give them the earth, and
any one who chooses may take possession of the moon for them!

_R._ You allude to their attacks on the Edinburgh Review?

_S._ And to their articles on Scott’s Novels, on Hospitals, on National
Distress, on Moore’s Life of Sheridan, and on every subject of taste,
feeling, or common humanity. Sheridan, in particular, is termed ‘an
unsuccessful adventurer.’ How gently this Jacobin jargon will fall on
ears polite! This is what they call attacking principles and sparing
persons: they spare the persons indeed of men in power (who have places
to give away), and attack the characters of the dead or the unsuccessful
with impunity! Sheridan’s brilliant talents, his genius, his wit, his
political firmness (which all but they admire) draw forth no passing
tribute of admiration; his errors, his misfortunes, and his death (which
all but they deplore) claim no pity. This indeed would be to understand
the doctrine of Utility to very little purpose, if it did not at the
first touch weed from the breast every amiable weakness and imperfect
virtue which had—never taken root there. But they make up for their
utter want of sympathy with the excellences or failings of others by a
proportionable self-sufficiency. Sheridan, Fox, and Burke were mere
tyros and school-boys in politics compared to them, who are the ‘mighty
land-marks of these latter times’—ignorant of those principles of ‘the
greatest happiness to the greatest numbers,’ which _a few and recent
writers_ have promulgated. It is one way of raising a pure and lofty
enthusiasm, as to the capacities of the human mind, to scorn all that
has gone before us. Rather say, this dwelling with overacted disgust on
common frailties, and turning away with impatience from the brightest
points of character, is ‘a discipline of humanity,’ which should be
confined as much as possible to the Westminster School. Believe me,
their theories and their mode of enforcing them stand in the way of
reform: their philosophy is as little addressed to the head as to the
heart—it is fit neither for man nor beast. It is not founded on any
sympathy with the secret yearnings or higher tendencies of man’s nature,
but on a rankling antipathy to whatever is already best. Its object is
to offend—its glory to find out and wound the tenderest part. What is
not malice, is cowardice, and not candour. They attack the weak and
spare the strong, to indulge their officiousness and add to their
self-importance. Nothing is said in the Westminster Review of the
treatment of Mr. Buckingham by the East India Company: it might lessen
the writer’s _sphere of utility_, as Mr. Hall goes from Leicester to
Bristol _to save more souls_! They do not grapple with the rich to wrest
his superfluities from him (in this they might be foiled) but trample on
the poor (a safe and pick-thank office) and wrench his pittance from him
with their logical instruments and lying arguments. Let their system
succeed, as they pretend it would, and diffuse comfort and happiness
around; and they would immediately turn against it as effeminate,
insipid, and sickly; for their tastes and understandings are too
strongly braced to endure any but the most unpalatable truths and the
bitterest ingredients. Their benefits are extracted by the Cæsarean
operation. Their happiness, in short, is that—which will never be; just
as their receipt for a popular article in a newspaper or review, is one
that will never be read. _Their_ articles are never read, and if they
are not popular, no others ought to be so. The more any flimsy stuff is
read and admired, and the more service it does to the sale of a journal,
so much the more does it debauch the public taste, and render it averse
to their dry and solid lucubrations. This is why they complain of the
patronage of my _Sentimentalities_ as one of the sins of the Edinburgh
Review; and why they themselves are determined to drench the town with
the most unsavoury truths, without one drop of honey to sweeten the
gall. Had they felt the least regard to the ultimate success of their
principles—of ‘the greatest happiness to the greatest numbers,’ though
giving pain might be one paramount and primary motive, they would have
combined this object with something like the comfort and accommodation
of their unenlightened readers.

_R._ I see no ground for this philippic, except in your own imagination.

_S._ Tell me, do they not abuse poetry, painting, music? Is it, think
you, for the pain or the pleasure these things give? Or because they are
without eyes, ears, imaginations? Is that an excellence in them, or the
fault of these arts? Why do they treat Shakespear so cavalierly? Is
there any one they would set up against him—any Sir Richard Blackmore
they patronise; or do they prefer Racine, as Adam Smith did before them?
Or what are we to understand?

_R._ I can answer for it, they do not wish to pull down Shakespear in
order to set up Racine on the ruins of his reputation. They think little
indeed of Racine.

_S._ Or of Moliere either, I suppose?

_R._ Not much.

_S._ And yet these two contributed something to ‘the greatest happiness
of the greatest numbers;’ that is, to the amusement and delight of a
whole nation for the last century and a half. But that goes for nothing
in the system of Utility, which is satisfied with nothing short of the
good of the whole. Such benefactors of the species, as Shakespear,
Racine, and Moliere, who sympathised with human character and feeling in
their finest and liveliest moods, can expect little favour from ‘those
few and recent writers,’ who scorn the Muse, and whose philosophy is a
dull antithesis to human nature. Unhappy they who lived before their
time! Oh! age of Louis XIV. and of Charles II., ignorant of the _Je ne
sçais quoi_ and of the _sçavoir vivre_! Oh! Paris built (till now) of
mud! Athens, Rome, Susa, Babylon, Palmyra—barbarous structures of a
barbarous period—hide your diminished heads! Ye fens and dykes of
Holland, ye mines of Mexico, what are ye worth! Oh! bridges raised,
palaces adorned, cities built, fields cultivated without skill or
science, how came ye to exist till now! Oh! pictures, statues, temples,
altars, hearths, the poet’s verse, and solemn-breathing airs, are ye not
an insult on the great principles of ‘a few and recent writers’? How
came ye to exist without their leave? Oh! Arkwright, unacquainted with
spinning-jennies! Oh, Sir Robert Peel, unversed in calico-printing! Oh!
generation of upstarts, what good could have happened before your time?
What ill can happen after it?

_R._ But at least you must allow the importance of first principles?

_S._ Much as I respect a dealer in marine stores, in old rags and iron:
both the goods and the principles are generally stolen. I see advertised
in the papers—‘Elements of Political Economy, by James Mill,’ and
‘Principles of Political Economy, by John Macculloch.’ Will you tell me
in this case, whose are the First Principles? which is the true Simon
Pure?

             ‘Strange! that such difference there should be
             ‘Twixt _Tweedle-dum_ and _Tweedle-dee_!’

_R._ You know we make it a rule to discountenance every attempt at wit,
as much as the world in general abhor a punster.

_S._ By your using the phrase, ‘attempts at wit,’ it would seem that you
admit there is a true and a false wit; then why do you confound the
distinction? Is this logical, or even politic?

_R._ The difference is not worth attending to.

_S._ Still, I suppose, you have a great deal of this quality, if you
chose to exert it?

_R._ I fancy not much.

_S._ And yet you take upon you to despise it! I have sometimes thought
that the great professors of the modern philosophy were hardly sincere
in the contempt they express for poetry, painting, music, and the Fine
Arts in general—that they were private _amateurs_ and prodigious
proficients _under the rose_, and, like other lovers, hid their passion
as a weakness—that Mr. M—— turned a barrel-organ—that Mr. P—— warbled
delightfully—that Mr. Pl—— had a manuscript tragedy by him, called ‘The
Last Man,’ which he withheld from the public, not to compromise the
dignity of philosophy by affording any one the smallest actual
satisfaction during the term of his natural life.

_R._ Oh, no! you are quite mistaken in this supposition, if you are at
all serious in it. So far from being proficients, or having wasted their
time in these trifling pursuits, I believe not one of the persons you
have named has the least taste or capacity for them, or any idea
corresponding to them, except Mr. Bentham, who is fond of music, and
says, with his usual _bonhomie_ (which seems to increase with his age)
that he does not see why others should not find an agreeable recreation
in poetry and painting.[29]

_S._ You are sure this cynical humour of theirs is not affectation, at
least?

_R._ I am quite sure of it.

_S._ Then I am sure it is intolerable presumption in them to think their
want of taste and knowledge qualifies them to judge (_ex cathedrâ_) of
these Arts; or is a standard by which to measure the degree of interest
which others do or ought to take in them. It is the height of
impertinence, mixed up with a worse principle. As to the excesses or
caprices of posthumous fame, like other commodities, it soon finds its
level in the market. _Detur optimo_ is a tolerably general rule. It is
not of forced or factitious growth. People would not trouble their heads
about Shakespear, if he had given them no pleasure, or cry him up to the
skies, if he had not first raised them there. The world are not grateful
_for nothing_. Shakespear, it is true, had the misfortune to be born
before our time, and is not one of ‘those few and recent writers,’ who
monopolise all true greatness and wisdom (though not the reputation of
it) to themselves. He need not, however, be treated with contumely on
this account: the instance might be passed over as a solitary one. We
shall have a thousand Political Economists, before we have another
Shakespear.

_R._ Your mode of arriving at conclusions is very different, I confess,
from the one to which I have been accustomed, and is too wild and
desultory for me to follow it. Allow me to ask in my turn, Do you not
admit Utility to be the test of morals, as Reason is the test of
Utility?

_S._ Pray, what definition have you (in the School) of Reason and of
Utility?

_R._ Nay, they require no definition; the meaning of both is obvious.

_S._ Indeed, it is easy to dogmatize without definitions, and to repeat
broad assertions without understanding them. Nothing is so convenient as
to begin with gravely assuming our own infallibility, and we can then
utter nothing but oracles, of course.

_R._ What is it _you_ understand by Reason?

_S._ It is your business to answer the question; but still, if you
choose, I will take the _onus_ upon myself, and interpret for you.

_R._ I have no objection, if you do it fairly.

_S._ You shall yourself be judge. Reason, with most people, means their
own opinion; and I do not find your friends a particular exception to
the rule. Their dogmatical tone, their arrogance, their supercilious
treatment of the pretensions of others, their vulgar conceit and
satisfaction in their own peculiar tenets, so far from convincing me
that they are right, convince me that they must be wrong (except by
accident, or by mechanically parroting others); for no one ever thought
for himself, or looked attentively at truth and nature, that did not
feel his own insufficiency and the difficulty and delicacy of his task.
Self-knowledge is the first step to wisdom. The _Rational Dissenters_
(who took this title as a characteristic distinction, and who professed
an entire superiority over prejudice and superstition of all sorts,)
were as little disposed to have their opinions called in question as any
people I ever knew. One of their preachers thanked God publicly for
having given them a _liberal religion_. So your School thank God in
their hearts for having given them a _liberal philosophy_: though what
with them passes for liberal is considered by the rest of the world as
very much akin to illiberality.

_R._ May I beseech you to come to the point at once?

_S._ We shall be there soon enough, without hurrying. Reason, I
conceive, in the sense that you would appeal to it, may signify any one
of three things, all of them insufficient as tests and standards of
moral sentiment, or (if that word displeases) of moral conduct:—1.
Abstract truth, as distinct from local impressions or individual
partialities; 2. Calm, inflexible self-will, as distinct from passion;
3. Dry matter of fact or reality, as distinct from sentimentality or
poetry.

_R._ Let me hear your objections; but do for once adhere to the track
you have chalked out.

_S._ ‘Thereafter as it happens.’ You may drag your grating go-cart of
crude assumptions and heavy paralogisms along your narrow iron rail-way,
if you please: but let me diverge down ‘primrose paths,’ or break my
neck over precipices, as I think proper.

_R._ Take your own course. _A wilful man must have his way._ You demur,
if I apprehend you right, to founding moral rectitude on the mere
dictates of the Understanding. This I grant to be the grand _arcanum_ of
the doctrine of Utility. I desire to know what other foundation for
morals you will find so solid?

_S._ I know of none so flimsy. What! would you suspend all the natural
and private affections on the mere logical deductions of the
Understanding, and exenterate the former of all the force, tenderness,
and constancy they derive from habit, local nearness or immediate
sympathy, because the last are contrary to the speculative reason of the
thing? I am afraid such a speculative morality will end in speculation,
or in something worse. Am I to feel no more for a friend or a relative
(say) than for an inhabitant of China or of the Moon, because, as a
matter of argument, or setting aside their connection with me, and
considered absolutely in themselves, the objects are, perhaps, of equal
value? Or am I to screw myself up to feel as much for the Antipodes (or
God knows who) as for my next-door neighbours, by such a forced
intellectual scale? The last is impossible; and the result of the
attempt will be to make the balance even by a diminution of our natural
sensibility, instead of an universal and unlimited enlargement of our
philosophic benevolence. The feelings cannot be made to keep pace with
our bare knowledge of existence or of truth; nor can the affections be
disjoined from the impressions of time, place, and circumstance, without
destroying their vital principle. Yet, without the sense of pleasure and
pain, I do not see what becomes of the theory of Utility, which first
reduces everything to pleasure and pain, and then tramples upon and
crushes these by its own sovereign will. The effect of this system is,
like the touch of the torpedo, to chill and paralyse. We,
notwithstanding, find persons acting upon it with exemplary coolness and
self-complacency. One of these ‘subtilised savages’ informs another who
drops into his shop that news is come of the death of his eldest
daughter, adding, as matter of boast—‘I am the only person in the house
who will eat any dinner to-day: _they do not understand the doctrine of
Utility_!’ I perceive this illustration is not quite to your taste.

_R._ Is it any thing more than the old doctrine of the Stoics?

_S._ I thought the system had been wholly new—the notable project of a
‘few and recent writers.’ I could furnish you with another parallel
passage in the HYPOCRITE.[30]

_R._ Is it not as well, on any system, to suppress the indulgence of
inordinate grief and violent passion, that is as useless to the dead as
it is hurtful to the living?

_S._ If we could indulge our affections while they run on smoothly, and
discard them from our breasts the instant they fail of their objects, it
might be well. But the feelings, the habitual and rooted sentiments of
the soul, are not the creatures of choice or of a fanciful theory. To
take the utmost possible interest in an object, and be utterly and
instantaneously indifferent to the loss of it, is not exactly in the
order of human nature. We may blunt or extirpate our feelings altogether
with proper study and pains, by ill-humour, conceit, and affectation,
but not make them the playthings of a verbal paradox. I fancy if Mr. ——
had lost a hundred pounds by a bad debt, or if a lump of soot had fallen
into his broth, it would have spoiled his dinner. The doctrine of
Utility would not have come to his aid here. It is reserved for great
and trying occasions; or serves as an excuse for not affecting grief
which its professors do not feel. So much for reason against passion.

_R._ But if they do not possess all the softness and endearing charities
of private life, they have the firmness and unflinching hardihood of
patriotism and devotion to the public cause.

_S._ That is what I have yet to learn. They are a kind of Ishmaelites,
whose hand is _against_ others—what or who they are for (except
themselves) I do not know. They do not willingly come forward into the
front nor even show themselves in the rear of the battle, but are very
ready to denounce and disable those who are indiscreet enough to do so.
They are not for precipitating a crisis, but for laying down certain
general principles, which will do posterity a world of good and
themselves no harm. They are a sort of _occult_ reformers, and patriots
_incognito_. They get snug places under Government, and mar popular
Elections—but it is to advance the good of the cause. Their theories are
as whole and as sleek as their skins, but that there is a certain
jejuneness and poverty in both which prevents their ever putting on a
wholesome or comfortable appearance.

_R._ But at least you will not pretend to deny the distinction (you just
now hinted at) between things of real Utility and merely fanciful
interest?

_S._ No, I admit that distinction to the full. I only wish you and
others not to mistake it.

_R._ I have not the slightest guess at what you mean.

_S._ Is there any possible view of the subject that has not been
canvassed over and over again in the _School_? Or do you pass over all
possible objections as the dreams of idle enthusiasts? Let me ask, have
you not a current dislike to any thing in the shape of sentiment or
_sentimentality_? for with you they are the same. Yet a thing and the
_cant_ about it are not the same. The cant about Utility does not
destroy its essence. What do you mean by _sentimentality_?

_R._ I do not know.

_S._ Well: you complain, however, that things of the greatest use in
reality are not always of the greatest importance in an imaginary and
romantic point of view?

_R._ Certainly; this is the very pivot of all our well-grounded censure
and dissatisfaction with poetry, novel-writing, and other things of that
flimsy, unmeaning stamp.

_S._ It appears, then, that there are two standards of value and modes
of appreciation in human life, the one practical, the other ideal,—that
that which is of the greatest moment to the Understanding is often of
little or none at all to the Fancy, and _vice versâ_. Why then force
these two standards into one? Or make the Understanding judge of what
belongs to the Fancy, any more than the Fancy judge of what belongs to
the Understanding? Poetry would make bad mathematics, mathematics bad
poetry: why jumble them together? Leave things, that are so, separate.
_Cuique tribuito suum._

_R._ I do not yet comprehend your precise drift.

_S._ Nay, then, you will not. It is granted that a certain thing, in
itself highly useful, does not afford as much pleasure to the
imagination, or excite as much interest as it ought to do, or as some
other thing which is of less real and practical value. But why _ought_
it to excite this degree of interest, if it is not its nature to do so?
Why not set it down to its proper account of Utility in any
philosophical estimate—let it go for what it is worth there, _valeat
quantum valet_—and let the other less worthy and (if you will) more
meretricious object be left free to produce all the sentiment and
emotion it is capable of, and which the former is inadequate to, and its
value be estimated accordingly!

_R._ Will you favour me with an illustration—with any thing like common
sense?

_S._ A table, a chair, a fire-shovel, a Dutch-stove are useful things,
but they do not excite much sentiment—they are not confessedly the
poetry of human life.

_R._ No.

_S._ Why then endeavour to make them so; or in other words, to make them
more than they are or can become? A lute, a sonnet, a picture, the sound
of distant bells can and do excite an emotion, do appeal to the fancy
and the heart (excuse this antiquated phraseology!)—why then grudge them
the pleasure they give to the human mind, and which it seems, on the
very face of the argument, your objects of mere downright Utility (which
are not also objects of Imagination) cannot? Why must I come to your
shop, though you expressly tell me you have not the article I want? Or
why swear, with Lord Peter in the Tale of a Tub, that your loaf of brown
bread answers all the purposes of mutton? Why deprive life of what
cheers and adorns, more than of what supports it? A chair is good to sit
in (as a matter of fact), a table to write on, a fire to warm one’s self
by—No one disputes it; but at the same time I want something else to
amuse and occupy my mind, something that stirs the breath of fancy,
something that but to think of is to feel an interest in. Besides my
automatic existence, I have another, a sentimental one, which must be
nourished and supplied with proper food. This end the mere circumstance
of practical or real Utility does not answer, and therefore is so far
good for nothing.

_R._ But is it not to be feared that this preference should be carried
to excess, and that the essential should be neglected for the frivolous?

_S._ I see no disposition in mankind to neglect the essential. Necessity
has no choice. They pursue the mechanical mechanically, as _puss_ places
herself by the fireside, and snuffs up the warmth:—they dream over the
romantic; and when their dreams are golden ones, it is pity to disturb
them. There is as little danger as possible of excess here; for the
interest in things merely _ideal_ can be only in proportion to the
pleasure, that is, the real benefit which attends them. A calculation of
consequences may deceive, the impulses of passion may hurry us away:
sentiment alone is infallible, since it centres and reposes on itself.
Like mercy, ‘its quality is not strained: it droppeth as the gentle dew
from heaven upon the place beneath!’—

_R._ You have asked me what Reason is: may I ask you what it is that
constitutes Sentiment?

_S._ I have told you what Reason is: you should tell me what Sentiment
is. Or I will give your learned professors and profound Encyclopedists,
who lay down laws for the human mind without knowing any of the springs
by which it acts, five years to make even a tolerable guess at what it
is in objects that produces the fine flower of Sentiment, and what it is
that leaves only the husk and stalk of Utility behind it.

_R._ They are much obliged to you, but I fancy their time is better
employed.

_S._ What! in ringing the changes on the same cant-phrases, one after
the other, in newspapers, reviews, lectures, octavo volumes,
examinations, and pamphlets, and seeing no more of the matter all the
while than a blind horse in a mill?

_R._ I have already protested against this personality. But surely you
would not put fiction on a par with reality?

_S._ My good friend, let me give you an instance of my way of thinking
on this point. I met Dignum (the singer) in the street the other day: he
was humming a tune; and his eye, though quenched, was smiling. I could
scarcely forbear going up to speak to him. Why so? I had seen him in the
year 1792 (the first time I ever was at a play), with Suett and Miss
Romanzini and some others, in NO SONG NO SUPPER; and ever since, that
bright vision of my childhood has played round my fancy with unabated,
vivid delight. Yet the whole was fictitious, your cynic philosophers
will say. I wish there were but a few realities that lasted so long, and
were followed with so little disappointment. The _imaginary_ is what we
conceive to be: it is reality that tantalizes us and turns out a
fiction—that is the false Florimel!

_R._ But the Political Economists, in directing the attention to ‘the
greatest happiness of the greatest numbers,’ wish to provide for the
solid comforts and amelioration of human life.

_S._ Yes, in a very notable way, after their fashion. I should not
expect from men who are jealous of the mention of any thing like
enjoyment, any great anxiety about its solid comforts. Theirs is a very
comfortable theory indeed! They would starve the poor outright, reduce
their wages to what is barely necessary to keep them alive, and if they
cannot work, refuse them a morsel for charity. If you hint at any other
remedy but ‘the grinding law of necessity’ suspended _in terrorem_ over
the poor, they are in agonies and think their victims are escaping them:
if you talk of the pressure of Debt and Taxes, they regard you as a very
common-place person indeed, and say they can show you cases in the reign
of Edward III. where, without any reference to Debt or Taxes, the price
of labour was tripled—after a plague! So full is their imagination of
this desolating doctrine, that sees no hope of good but in cutting off
the species, that they fly to a pestilence as a resource against all our
difficulties—if we had but a pestilence, it would demonstrate all their
theories!

_R._ Leave Political Economy to those who profess it, and come back to
your mystical metaphysics. Do you not place actual sensations before
sentimental refinements, and think the former the first things to be
attended to in a sound moral system?

_S._ I place the heart in the centre of my moral system, and the senses
and the understanding are its two extremities. You leave nothing but
gross, material objects as the ends of pursuit, and the dry, formal
calculations of the understanding as the means of ensuring them. Is this
enough? Is man a mere animal, or a mere machine for philosophical
experiments? All that is intermediate between these two is sentiment: I
do not wonder you sometimes feel a _vacuum_, which you endeavour to fill
up with spleen and misanthropy. Can you divest the mind of habit,
memory, imagination, foresight, will? Can you make it go on physical
sensations, or on abstract reason alone? Not without making it over
again. As it is constituted, reflection recals what sense has once
embodied; imagination weaves a thousand associations round it, time
endears, regret, hope, fear, innumerable shapes of uncertain good still
hover near it. I hear the sound of village bells—it ‘opens all the cells
where memory slept’—I see a well-known prospect, my eyes are dim with
manifold recollections. What say you? Am I only as a rational being to
hear the sound, to see the object with my bodily sense? Is all the rest
to be dissolved as an empty delusion, by the potent spell of unsparing
philosophy? Or rather, have not a thousand real feelings and incidents
hung upon these impressions, of which such dim traces and doubtful
suggestions are all that is left? And is it not better that truth and
nature should speak this imperfect but heart-felt language, than be
entirely dumb? And should we not preserve and cherish this precious link
that connects together the finer essence of our past and future being by
some expressive symbol, rather than suffer all that cheers and sustains
life to fall into the dregs of material sensations and blindfold
ignorance? There, now, is half a definition of Sentiment: for the other
half we must wait till we see the article in the Scotch Encyclopedia on
the subject. To deprive man of sentiment, is to deprive him of all that
is interesting to himself or others, except the present object and a
routine of cant-phrases, and to turn him into a savage, an automaton, or
a Political Economist. Nay more, if we are to feel or do nothing for
which we cannot assign a precise reason, why we cannot so much as walk,
speak, hear, or see, without the same unconscious, implicit faith—not a
word, not a sentence but hangs together by a number of imperceptible
links, and is a bundle of prejudices and abstractions.

_R._ I can make nothing of you or your arguments.

_S._ All I would say is, that you cannot take the measure of human
nature with a pair of compasses or a slip of parchment: nor do I think
it an auspicious opening to the new _Political Millennium_ to begin with
setting our faces against all that has hitherto kindled the enthusiasm,
or shutting the door against all that may in future give pleasure to the
world. Your Elysium resembles Dante’s _Inferno_—‘Who enters there must
leave all hope behind!’

_R._ The poets have spoiled you for all rational and sober views of men
and society.

_S._ I had rather be wrong with them, than right with some other persons
that I could mention. I do not think you have shewn much tact or
consecutiveness of reasoning in your defence of the system: but you have
only to transcribe the trite arguments on the subject, set your own and
a bookseller’s name to them, and pass off for the head of a school and
one of the great lights of the age!


                              ESSAY XVIII
           ON THE QUALIFICATIONS NECESSARY TO SUCCESS IN LIFE

It is curious to consider the diversity of men’s talents, and the causes
of their failure or success, which are not less numerous and
contradictory than their pursuits in life. Fortune does not always smile
on merit:—‘the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong’:
and even where the candidate for wealth or honours succeeds, it is as
often, perhaps, from the qualifications which he wants as from those
which he possesses; or the eminence which he is lucky enough to attain,
is owing to some faculty or acquirement, which neither he nor any body
else suspected. There is a balance of power in the human mind, by which
defects frequently assist in furthering our views, as superfluous
excellences are converted into the nature of impediments; and again,
there is a continual substitution of one talent for another, through
which we mistake the appearance for the reality, and judge (by
implication) of the means from the end. So a Minister of State wields
the House of Commons by his _manner_ alone; while his friends and his
foes are equally at a loss to account for his influence, looking for it
in vain in the matter or style of his speeches. So the air with which a
celebrated barrister waved a white cambrick handkerchief passed for
eloquence. So the buffoon is taken for a wit. To be thought wise, it is
for the most part only necessary to seem so; and the noisy demagogue is
easily translated, by the popular voice, into the orator and patriot.
Qualities take their colour from those that are next them, as the
cameleon borrows its hue from the nearest object; and unable otherwise
to grasp the phantom of our choice or our ambition, we do well to lay
violent hands on something else within our reach, which bears a general
resemblance to it; and the impression of which, in proportion as the
thing itself is cheap and worthless, is likely to be gross, obvious,
striking, and effectual. The way to secure success, is to be more
anxious about obtaining than about deserving it; the surest hindrance to
it is to have too high a standard of refinement in our own minds, or too
high an opinion of the discernment of the public. He who is determined
not to be satisfied with any thing short of perfection, will never do
any thing at all, either to please himself or others. The question is
not what we ought to do, but what we _can_ do for the best. An excess of
modesty is in fact an excess of pride, and more hurtful to the
individual, and less advantageous to society, than the grossest and most
unblushing vanity—

                  Aspiring to be Gods, if angels fell,
                  Aspiring to be angels, men rebel.

If a celebrated artist in our own day had staid to do justice to his
principal figure in a generally admired painting, before he had
exhibited it, it would never have seen the light. He has passed on to
other things more within his power to accomplish, and more within the
competence of the spectators to understand. They see what he has done,
which is a great deal—they could not have judged of, or given him credit
for the _ineffable idea_ in his own mind, which he might vainly have
devoted his whole life in endeavouring to embody. The picture, as it is,
is good enough for the age and for the public. If it had been ten times
better, its merits would have been thrown away: if it had been ten times
better in the more refined and lofty conception of character and
sentiment, and had failed in the more palpable appeal to the senses and
prejudices of the vulgar, in the usual ‘appliances and means to boot,’
it would never have done. The work might have been praised by a few, a
very few, and the artist himself have pined in penury and neglect.—Mr.
Wordsworth has given us the _essence_ of poetry in his works, without
the machinery, the apparatus of poetical diction, the theatrical pomp,
the conventional ornaments; and we see what he has made of it. The way
to fame, through merit alone, is the narrowest, the steepest, the
longest, the hardest of all others—(that it is the most certain and
lasting, is even a doubt)—the most sterling reputation is, after all,
but a species of imposture. As for ordinary cases of success and
failure, they depend on the slightest shades of character or turn of
accident—‘some trick not worth an egg’—

                  There’s but the twinkling of a star
                  Betwixt a man of peace and war;
                  A thief and justice, fool and knave,
                  A huffing officer and a slave;
                  A crafty lawyer and pick-pocket,
                  A great philosopher and a blockhead;
                  A formal preacher and a player,
                  A learn’d physician and manslayer.

Men are in numberless instances qualified for certain things, for no
other reason than because they are qualified for nothing else. Negative
merit is the passport to negative success. In common life, the
narrowness of our ideas and appetites is more favourable to the
accomplishment of our designs, by confining our attention and ambition
to one single object, than a greater enlargement of comprehension or
susceptibility of taste, which (as far as the trammels of custom and
routine of business are concerned) only operate as diversions to our
ensuring the _mainchance_; and, even in the pursuit of arts and science,
a dull plodding fellow will often do better than one of a more mercurial
and fiery cast—the mere unconsciousness of his own deficiencies, or of
any thing beyond what he himself can do, reconciles him to his
mechanical progress, and enables him to perform all that lies in his
power with labour and patience. By being content with mediocrity, he
advances beyond it; whereas the man of greater taste or genius may be
supposed to fling down his pen or pencil in despair, haunted with the
idea of unattainable excellence, and ends in being nothing, because he
cannot be every thing at once. Those even who have done the greatest
things, were not always perhaps the greatest men. To do any given work,
a man should not be greater in himself than the work he has to do; the
faculties which he has beyond this, will be _faculties to let_, either
not used, or used idly and unprofitably, to hinder, not to help. To do
any one thing best, there should be an exclusiveness, a concentration, a
bigotry, a blindness of attachment to that one object; so that the
widest range of knowledge and most diffusive subtlety of intellect will
not uniformly produce the most beneficial results;—and the performance
is very frequently in the inverse ratio, not only of the pretensions, as
we might superficially conclude, but of the real capacity. _A part is
greater than the whole_: and this old saying seems to hold true in moral
and intellectual questions also—in nearly all that relates to the mind
of man, which cannot embrace the whole, but only a part.

I do not think (to give an instance or two of what I mean) that Milton’s
mind was (so to speak) greater than the Paradise Lost; it was just big
enough to fill that mighty mould; the shrine contained the Godhead.
Shakespear’s genius was, I should say, greater than any thing he has
done, because it still soared free and unconfined beyond whatever he
undertook—ran over, and could not be ‘constrained by mastery’ of his
subject. Goldsmith, in his Retaliation, celebrates Burke as one who was
kept back in his dazzling, wayward career, by the supererogation of his
talents—

           Though equal to all things, for all things unfit,
           Too nice for a statesman, too proud for a wit.

Dr. Johnson, in Boswell’s Life, tells us that the only person whose
conversation he ever _sought_ for improvement was George Psalmanazar:
yet who knows any thing of this extraordinary man now, but that he wrote
about twenty volumes of the Universal History—invented a Formosan
alphabet and vocabulary—being a really learned man, contrived to pass
for an impostor, and died no one knows how or where! The well known
author of the ‘Enquiry concerning Political Justice,’ in conversation
has not a word to throw at a dog; all the stores of his understanding or
genius he reserves for his books, and he has need of them, otherwise
there would be _hiatus in manuscriptis_. He says little, and that little
were better left alone, being both dull and nonsensical; his talk is as
flat as a pancake, there is no leaven in it, he has not dough enough to
make a loaf and a cake; he has no idea of any thing till he is wound up,
like a clock, not to speak, but to write, and then he seems like a
person risen from sleep or from the dead. The author of the _Diversions
of Purley_, on the other hand, besides being the inventor of the theory
of grammar, was a politician, a wit, a master of conversation, and
overflowing with an _interminable babble_—that fellow had cut and come
again in him, and

                   ‘Tongue with a garnish of brains;’

but it only served as an excuse to cheat posterity of the definition of
a verb, by one of those conversational _ruses de guerre_ by which he put
off his guests at Wimbledon with some teazing equivoque which he would
explain the next time they met—and made him die at last with a nostrum
in his mouth! The late Professor Porson was said to be a match for the
Member for Old Sarum in argument and raillery:—he was a profound
scholar, and had wit at will—yet what did it come to? His jests have
evaporated with the marks of the wine on the tavern table; the page of
Thucydides or Æschylus, which was stamped on his brain, and which he
could read there with equal facility backwards or forwards, is
contained, after his death, as it was while he lived, just as well in
the volume on the library shelf. The man of perhaps the greatest ability
now living is the one who has not only done the least, but who is
actually incapable of ever doing any thing worthy of him—unless he had a
hundred hands to write with, and a hundred mouths to utter all that it
hath entered into his heart to conceive, and centuries before him to
embody the endless volume of his waking dreams. Cloud rolls over cloud;
one train of thought suggests and is driven away by another; theory
after theory is spun out of the bowels of his brain, not like the
spider’s web, compact and round, a citadel and a snare, built for
mischief and for use; but, like the gossamer, stretched out and
entangled without end, clinging to every casual object, flitting in the
idle air, and glittering only in the ray of fancy. No subject can come
amiss to him, and he is alike attracted and alike indifferent to all—he
is not tied down to any one in particular—but floats from one to
another, his mind every where finding its level, and feeling no limit
but that of thought—now soaring with its head above the stars, now
treading with fairy feet among flowers, now winnowing the air with
winged words—passing from Duns Scotus to Jacob Behmen, from the Kantean
philosophy to a conundrum, and from the Apocalypse to an acrostic—taking
in the whole range of poetry, painting, wit, history, politics,
metaphysics, criticism, and private scandal—every question giving birth
to some new thought, and every thought ‘discoursed in eloquent music,’
that lives only in the ear of fools, or in the report of absent friends.
Set him to write a book, and he belies all that has been ever said about
him—

        Ten thousand great ideas filled his mind,
        But with the clouds they fled, and left no trace behind.

Now there is ——, who never had an idea in his life, and who therefore
has never been prevented by the fastidious refinements of
self-knowledge, or the dangerous seductions of the Muse, from succeeding
in a number of things which he has attempted, to the utmost extent of
his dulness, and contrary to the advice and opinion of all his friends.
He has written a book without being able to spell, by dint of asking
questions—has painted draperies with great exactness, which have passed
for finished portraits—daubs in an unaccountable figure or two, with a
back-ground, and on due deliberation calls it history—he is dubbed an
Associate after being twenty times black-balled, wins his way to the
highest honours of the Academy, through all the gradations of
discomfiture and disgrace, and may end in being made a foreign Count!
And yet (such is the principle of distributive justice in matters of
taste) he is just where he was. We judge of men not by what they do, but
by what they are. _Non ex quovis ligno fit Mercurius._ Having once got
an idea of ——, it is impossible that any thing he can do should ever
alter it—though he were to paint like Raphael and Michael Angelo, no one
in the secret would give him credit for it, and ‘though he had all
knowledge, and could speak with the tongues of angels,’ yet without
genius he would be nothing. The original sin of being what he is,
renders his good works and most meritorious efforts null and void. ‘You
cannot gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles.’ Nature still
prevails over art. You look at ——, as you do at a curious machine, which
performs certain puzzling operations, and as your surprise ceases,
gradually unfolds other powers which you would little expect—but do what
it will, it is but a machine still; the _thing_ is without a soul!

_Respice finem_, is the great rule in all practical pursuits: to attain
our journey’s end, we should look little to the right or to the left;
the knowledge of excellence as often deters and distracts, as it
stimulates the mind to exertion; and hence we may see some reason, why
the general diffusion of taste and liberal arts is not always
accompanied with an increase of individual genius.

As there is a degree of dulness and phlegm, which, in the long run,
sometimes succeeds better than the more noble and aspiring impulses of
our nature (as the beagle by its sure tracing overtakes the bounding
stag), so there is a degree of animal spirits and showy accomplishment,
which enables its possessors ‘to get the start of the majestic world,’
and bear the palm alone. How often do we see vivacity and impertinence
mistaken for wit; fluency for argument; sound for sense; a loud or
musical voice for eloquence! Impudence again is an equivalent for
courage; and the assumption of merit and the possession of it are too
often considered as one and the same thing. On the other hand,
simplicity of manner reduces the person who cannot so far forego his
native disposition as by any effort to shake it off, to perfect
insignificance in the eyes of the vulgar, who, if you do not seem to
doubt your own pretensions, will never question them; and on the same
principle, if you do not try to palm yourself on them for what you are
not, will never be persuaded you can be any thing. Admiration, like
mocking, is catching: and the good opinion which gets abroad of us
begins at home. If a man is not as much astonished at his own
acquirements—as proud of and as delighted with the bauble, as others
would be if put into sudden possession of it, they hold that true desert
and he must be strangers to each other: if he entertains an idea beyond
his own immediate profession or pursuit, they think very wisely he can
know nothing at all: if he does not play off the quack or the coxcomb
upon them at every step, they are confident he is a dunce and a fellow
of no pretensions. It has been sometimes made a matter of surprise that
Mr. Pitt did not talk politics out of the House; or that Mr. Fox
conversed like any one else on common subjects; or that Walter Scott is
fonder of an old Scotch ditty or antiquarian record, than of listening
to the praises of the Author of Waverley. On the contrary, I cannot
conceive how any one who feels conscious of certain powers, should
always be labouring to convince others of the fact; or how a person, to
whom their exercise is as familiar as the breath he draws, should think
it worth his while to convince them of what to him must seem so very
simple, and at the same time, so very evident. I should not wonder,
however, if the author of the Scotch Novels laid an undue stress on the
praises of the Monastery. We nurse the ricketty child, and prop up our
want of self-confidence by the opinion of friends. A man (unless he is a
fool) is never _vain_, but when he stands in need of the tribute of
adulation to strengthen the hollowness of his pretensions; nor
_conceited_, but when he can find no one to flatter him, and is obliged
secretly to pamper his good opinion of himself, to make up for the want
of sympathy in others. A _damned_ author has the highest sense of his
own merits, and an inexpressible contempt for the judgment of his
contemporaries; in the same manner that an actor who is hissed or hooted
from the stage, creeps into exquisite favour with himself, in proportion
to the blindness and injustice of the public. A prose-writer, who has
been severely handled in the Reviews, will try to persuade himself that
there is nobody else who can write a word of English: and we have seen a
poet of our time, whose works have been much, but not (as he thought)
sufficiently admired, undertake formally to prove, that no poet, who
deserved the name of one, was ever popular in his life-time, or scarcely
after his death!

There is nothing that floats a man sooner into the tide of reputation,
or oftener passes current for genius, than what might be called
_constitutional talent_. A man without this, whatever may be his worth
or real powers, will no more get on in the world than a leaden Mercury
will fly into the air; as any pretender with it, and with no one quality
beside to recommend him, will be sure either to blunder upon success, or
will set failure at defiance. By constitutional talent I mean, in
general, the warmth and vigour given to a man’s ideas and pursuits by
his bodily _stamina_, by mere physical organization. A weak mind in a
sound body is better, or at least more profitable, than a sound mind in
a weak and crazy conformation. How many instances might I quote! Let a
man have a quick circulation, a good digestion, the bulk, and thews, and
sinews of a man, and the alacrity, the unthinking confidence inspired by
these; and without an atom, a shadow of the _mens divinior_, he shall
strut and swagger and vapour and jostle his way through life, and have
the upper-hand of those who are his betters in every thing but health
and strength. His jests shall be echoed with loud laughter, because his
own lungs begin to crow like chanticleer, before he has uttered them;
while a little hectic nervous humourist shall stammer out an admirable
conceit that is damned in the doubtful delivery—_vox faucibus
hæsit_.—The first shall tell a story as long as his arm, without
interruption, while the latter stops short in his attempts from mere
weakness of chest: the one shall be empty and noisy and successful in
argument, putting forth the most common-place things ‘with a confident
brow and a throng of words, that come with more than impudent sauciness
from him,’ while the latter shrinks from an observation ‘too deep for
his hearers,’ into the delicacy and unnoticed retirement of his own
mind. The one shall never feel the want of intellectual resources,
because he can _back_ his opinions with his person; the other shall lose
the advantages of mental superiority, seek to anticipate contempt by
giving offence, court mortification in despair of popularity, and even
in the midst of public and private admiration, extorted slowly by
incontrovertible proofs of genius, shall never get rid of the awkward,
uneasy sense of personal weakness and insignificance, contracted by
early and long-continued habit. What imports the inward to the outward
man, when it is the last that is the general and inevitable butt of
ridicule or object of admiration?—It has been said that a good face is a
letter of recommendation. But the finest face will not carry a man far,
unless it is set upon an active body, and a stout pair of shoulders. The
countenance is the index of a man’s talents and attainments: his figure
is the criterion of his progress through life. We may have seen faces
that spoke ‘a soul as fair—

              ‘Bright as the children of yon azure sheen’—

yet that met with but an indifferent reception in the world—and that
being supported by a couple of spindle-shanks and a weak stomach, in
fulfilling what was expected of them,

               ‘Fell flat, and shamed their worshippers.’

Hence the successes of such persons did not correspond with their
deserts. There was a natural contradiction between the physiognomy of
their minds and bodies! The phrase, ‘a good-looking man,’ means
different things in town and country; and artists have a separate
standard of beauty from other people. A country-squire is thought
good-looking, who is in good condition like his horse: a country-farmer,
to take the neighbours’ eyes, must seem stall-fed, like the prize-ox;
they ask, ‘how he cuts up in the caul, how he tallows in the kidneys.’
The _letter-of-recommendation_ face, in general, is not one that
expresses the finer movements of thought or of the soul, but that makes
part of a vigorous and healthy form. It is one in which Cupid and Mars
take up their quarters, rather than Saturn or Mercury. It may be
objected here that some of the greatest favourites of fortune have been
little men. ‘A little man, but of high fancy,’ is Sterne’s description
of Mr. Hammond Shandy. But then they have been possessed of strong
fibres and an iron constitution. The late Mr. West said, that Buonaparte
was the best-made man he ever saw in his life. In other cases, the
gauntlet of contempt which a puny body and a fiery spirit are forced to
run, may determine the possessors to aim at great actions; indignation
may make men heroes as well as poets, and thus revenge them on the
niggardliness of nature and the prejudices of the world. I remember Mr.
Wordsworth’s saying, that he thought ingenious poets had been of small
and delicate frames, like Pope; but that the greatest (such as
Shakespear and Milton) had been healthy, and cast in a larger and
handsomer mould. So were Titian, Raphael, and Michael Angelo. This is
one of the few observations of Mr. Wordsworth’s I recollect worth
quoting, and I accordingly set it down as his, because I understand he
is tenacious on that point.

In love, in war, in conversation, in business, confidence and resolution
are the principal things. Hence the poet’s reasoning:

                 ‘For women, born to be controll’d,
                 Affect the loud, the vain, the bold.’

Nor is this peculiar to them, but runs all through life. It is the
opinion we appear to entertain of ourselves, from which (thinking we
must be the best judges of our own merits) others accept their idea of
us on trust. It is taken for granted that every one pretends to the
utmost he can do, and he who pretends to little, is supposed capable of
nothing. The humility of our approaches to power or beauty ensures a
repulse, and the repulse makes us unwilling to renew the application;
for there is pride as well as humility in this habitual backwardness and
reserve. If you do not bully the world, they will be sure to insult over
you, because they think they can do it with impunity. They insist upon
the arrogant assumption of superiority somewhere, and if you do not
prevent them, they will practise it on you. Some one must top the part
of Captain in the play. Servility however chimes in, and plays Scrub in
the farce. Men patronise the fawning and obsequious, as they submit to
the vain and boastful. It is the air of modesty and independence, which
will neither be put upon itself, nor put upon others, that they cannot
endure—that excites all the indignation they should feel for pompous
affectation, and all the contempt they do not show to meanness and
duplicity. Our indolence, and perhaps our envy take part with our
cowardice and vanity in all this. The obtrusive claims of empty
ostentation, played off like the ring on the finger, fluttering and
sparkling in our sight, relieve us from the irksome task of seeking out
obscure merit: the scroll of virtues written on the bold front, or
triumphing in the laughing eye, save us the trouble of sifting the
evidence and deciding for ourselves: besides, our self-love receives a
less sensible shock from encountering the mere semblance than the solid
substance of worth; folly chuckles to find the blockhead put over the
wise man’s head, and cunning winks to see the knave, by his own good
leave, transformed into a saint.

                  ‘Doubtless, the pleasure is as great
                  In being cheated, as to cheat.’

In all cases, there seems a sort of compromise, a principle of collusion
between imposture and credulity. If you ask what sort of adventurers
have swindled tradesmen of their goods, you will find they are all
_likely_ men, with plausible manners or a handsome equipage, hired on
purpose:—if you ask what sort of gallants have robbed women of their
hearts, you will find they are those who have jilted hundreds before,
from which the willing fair conceives the project of fixing the truant
to herself—so the bird flutters its idle wings in the jaws of
destruction, and the foolish moth rushes into the flame that consumes
it! _There is no trusting to appearances_, we are told; but this maxim
is of no avail, for men are the eager dupes of them. Life, it has been
said, is ‘the art of being well deceived;’ and accordingly, hypocrisy
seems to be the great business of mankind. The game of fortune is, for
the most part, set up with counters; so that he who will not cut in
because he has no gold in his pocket, must sit out above half his time,
and lose his chance of sweeping the tables. Delicacy is, in ninety-nine
cases out of a hundred, considered as rusticity; and sincerity of
purpose is the greatest affront that can be offered to society. To
insist on simple truth, is to disqualify yourself for place or
patronage—the less you deserve, the more merit in their encouraging you;
and he who, in the struggle for distinction, trusts to realities and not
to appearances, will in the end find himself the object of universal
hatred and scorn. A man who thinks to gain and keep the public ear by
the force of style, will find it very up-hill work; if you wish to pass
for a great author, you ought not to look as if you were ignorant that
you had ever written a sentence or discovered a single truth. If you
keep your own secret, be assured the world will keep it for you. A
writer, whom I know very well, cannot gain an admission to Drury-lane
Theatre, because he does not lounge into the lobbies, or sup at the
Shakespear—nay, the same person having written upwards of sixty columns
of original matter on politics, criticism, belles-lettres, and _virtù_
in a respectable Morning Paper, in a single half-year, was, at the end
of that period, on applying for a renewal of his engagement, told by the
Editor ‘he might give in a specimen of what he could do!’ One would
think sixty columns of the Morning Chronicle were a sufficient specimen
of what a man could do. But while this person was thinking of his next
answer to Vetus, or his account of Mr. Kean’s performance of Hamlet, he
had neglected ‘to point the toe,’ to hold up his head higher than usual
(having acquired a habit of poring over books when young), and to get a
new velvet collar to an old-fashioned great coat. These are ‘the
graceful ornaments to the columns of a newspaper—the Corinthian capitals
of a polished style!’ This unprofitable servant of the press found no
difference in himself before or after he became known to the readers of
the Morning Chronicle, and it accordingly made no difference in his
appearance or pretensions. ‘Don’t you remember,’ says Gray, in one of
his letters, ‘Lord C—— and Lord M—— who are now great statesmen, little
dirty boys playing at cricket? For my own part, I don’t feel myself a
bit taller, or older, or wiser, than I did then.’ It is no wonder that a
poet, who thought in this manner of himself, was hunted from college to
college,—has left us so few precious specimens of his fine powers, and
shrunk from his reputation into a silent grave!

‘I never knew a man of genius a coxcomb in dress,’ said a man of genius
and a sloven in dress. I _do_ know a man of genius who is a coxcomb in
his dress, and in every thing else. But let that pass.

             ‘C’est un mauvais métier que celui de médire.’

I also know an artist who has at least the ambition and the boldness of
genius, who has been reproached with being a coxcomb, and with affecting
singularity in his dress and demeanour. If he is a coxcomb that way, he
is not so in himself, but a rattling hair-brained fellow, with a great
deal of unconstrained gaiety, and impetuous (not to say turbulent) life
of mind! Happy it is when a man’s exuberance of self-love flies off to
the circumference of a broad-brimmed hat, descends to the toes of his
shoes, or carries itself off with the peculiarity of his gait, or even
vents itself in a little professional quackery;—and when he seems to
think sometimes of you, sometimes of himself, and sometimes of others,
and you do not feel it necessary to pay to him all the finical devotion,
or to submit to be treated with the scornful neglect of a proud beauty,
or some Prince Prettyman. It is well to be something besides the
coxcomb, for our own sake as well as that of others; but to be born
wholly without this faculty or gift of Providence, a man had better have
had a stone tied about his neck, and been cast into the sea.

In general, the consciousness of internal power leads rather to a
disregard of, than a studied attention to external appearance. The wear
and tear of the mind does not improve the sleekness of the skin, or the
elasticity of the muscles. The burthen of thought weighs down the body
like a porter’s burthen. A man cannot stand so upright or move so
briskly under it as if he had nothing to carry in his head or on his
shoulders. The rose on the cheek and the canker at the heart do not
flourish at the same time; and he who has much to think of, must take
many things to heart; for thought and feeling are one. He who can truly
say, _Nihil humani a me alienum puto_, has a world of cares on his
hands, which nobody knows any thing of but himself. This is not one of
the least miseries of a studious life. The common herd do not by any
means give him full credit for his gratuitous sympathy with their
concerns; but are struck with his lack-lustre eye and wasted appearance.
They cannot translate the expression of his countenance out of the
vulgate; they mistake the knitting of his brows for the frown of
displeasure, the paleness of study for the languor of sickness, the
furrows of thought for the regular approaches of old age. They read his
looks, not his books; have no clue to penetrate the last recesses of the
mind, and attribute the height of abstraction to more than an ordinary
share of stupidity. ‘Mr. —— never seems to take the slightest interest
in any thing,’ is a remark I have often heard made in a whisper. People
do not like your philosopher at all, for he does not look, say, or think
as they do; and they respect him still less. The majority go by personal
appearances, not by proofs of intellectual power; and they are quite
right in this, for they are better judges of the one than of the other.
There is a large party who undervalue Mr. Kean’s acting, (and very
properly, as far as they are concerned,) for they can see that he is a
little ill-made man, but they are incapable of entering into the depth
and height of the passion in his Othello. A nobleman of high rank,
sense, and merit, who had accepted an order of knighthood, on being
challenged for so doing by a friend, as a thing rather degrading to him
than otherwise, made answer—‘What you say, may be very true; but I am a
little man, and am sometimes jostled, and treated with very little
ceremony in walking along the streets; now the advantage of this new
honour will be that when people see the star at my breast, they will
every one make way for me with the greatest respect.’ Pope bent himself
double and ruined his constitution by over-study when young. He was
hardly indemnified by all his posthumous fame, ‘the flattery that
soothes the dull cold ear of death,’ nor by the admiration of his
friends, nor the friendship of the great, for the distortion of his
person, the want of robust health, and the insignificant figure he made
in the eyes of strangers, and of Lady Mary Wortley Montague. Not only
was his diminutive and misshapen form against him in such trivial toys,
but it was made a set-off and a bar to his poetical pretensions by his
brother-poets, who ingeniously converted the initial and final letters
of his name into the invidious appellation A. P. E. He probably had the
passage made under-ground from his garden to his grotto, that he might
not be rudely gazed at in crossing the road by some untutored clown; and
perhaps started to see the worm he trod upon writhed into his own form,
like Elshie the Black Dwarf. Let those who think the mind everything and
the body nothing, ‘ere we have shuffled off this mortal coil,’ read that
fine moral fiction, or the real story of David Ritchie—believe and
tremble![31]

It may be urged that there is a remedy for all this in the appeal from
the ignorant many to the enlightened few. But the few who are judges of
what is called real and solid merit, are not forward to communicate
their occult discoveries to others; they are withheld partly by envy,
and partly by pusillanimity. The strongest minds are by rights the most
independent and ingenious: but then they are competitors in the lists,
and jealous of the prize. The prudent (and the wise are prudent!) only
add their hearty applause to the acclamations of the multitude, which
they can neither silence nor dispute. So Mr. Gifford dedicated those
verses to Mr. Hoppner, when securely seated on the heights of fame and
fortune, which before he thought might have savoured too much of
flattery or friendship. Those even who have the sagacity to discover it,
seldom volunteer to introduce obscure merit into publicity, so as to
endanger their own pretensions: they praise the world’s idols, and bow
down at the altars which they cannot overturn by violence or undermine
by stealth! Suppose literary men to be the judges and vouchers for
literary merit:—but it may sometimes happen that a literary man (however
high in genius or in fame) has no passion but the love of distinction,
and hates every person or thing that interferes with his inadmissible
and exorbitant claims. Dead to every other interest, he is alive to
that, and starts up, like a serpent when trod upon, out of the slumber
of wounded pride. The cold slime of indifference is turned into rank
poison at the sight of your approach to an equality or competition with
himself. If he is an old acquaintance, he would keep you always where
you were, under his feet to be trampled on: if a new one, he wonders he
never heard of you before. As you become known, he expresses a greater
contempt for you, and grows more captious and uneasy. The more you
strive to merit his good word, the farther you are from it. Such
characters will not only sneer at your well-meant endeavours, and keep
silent as to your good qualities, but are out of countenance, ‘quite
chop-fallen,’ if they find you have a cup of water, or a crust of bread.
It is only when you are in a jail, starved or dead, that their exclusive
pretensions are safe, or their Argus-eyed suspicions laid asleep. This
is a true copy, nor is it taken from one sitting, or a single
subject.—An author now-a-days, to succeed, must be something more than
an author,—a nobleman, or rich plebeian: the simple literary character
is not enough. ‘Such a poor forked animal,’ as a mere poet or
philosopher turned loose upon public opinion, has no chance against the
flocks of bats and owls that instantly assail him. It is name, it is
wealth, it is title and influence that mollifies the tender-hearted
Cerberus of criticism—first, by placing the honorary candidate for fame
out of the reach of Grub-street malice; secondly, by holding out the
prospect of a dinner or a vacant office to successful sycophancy. This
is the reason why a certain Magazine praises Percy Bysshe Shelley, and
vilifies ‘Johnny Keats:’[32] they know very well that they cannot ruin
the one in fortune as well as in fame, but they may ruin the other in
both, deprive him of a livelihood together with his good name, send him
_to Coventry_, and into the Rules of a prison; and this is a double
incitement to the exercise of their laudable and legitimate vocation. We
do not hear that they plead the good-natured motive of the Editor of the
Quarterly Review, that ‘they did it for his good,’ because some one, in
consequence of that critic’s abuse, had sent the author a present of
five-and-twenty pounds! One of these writers went so far, in a sort of
general profession of literary servility, as to declare broadly that
there had been no great English poet, and that no one had a right to
pretend to the character of a man of genius in this country, who was not
of patrician birth—or connections by marriage! This hook was well
baited.

            These are the _doctrines_ that enrich the shops,
            That pass with reputation through the land,
            And bring their authors an immortal name.

It is the sympathy of the public with the spite, jealousy, and irritable
humours of the writers, that nourishes this disease in the public mind;
this, this ‘embalms and spices to the April day again,’ what otherwise
‘the spital and the lazar-house would heave the gorge at!’


                               ESSAY XIX
                       ON THE LOOK OF A GENTLEMAN

  ‘The nobleman-look? Yes, I know what you mean very well: that look
  which a nobleman should have, rather than what they have generally
  now. The Duke of Buckingham (Sheffield[33]) was a genteel man, and
  had a great deal the look you speak of. Wycherley was a very genteel
  man, and had the nobleman-look as much as the Duke of
  Buckingham.—POPE.

  He instanced it too in Lord Peterborough, Lord Bolingbroke, Lord
  Hinchinbroke, the Duke of Bolton, and two or three more.’—SPENCE’S
  _Anecdotes of Pope_.

I have chosen the above motto to a very delicate subject, which in
prudence I might let alone. I, however, like the title; and will try, at
least, to make a sketch of it.

What it is that constitutes the look of a gentleman is more easily felt
than described. We all know it when we see it; but we do not know how to
account for it, or to explain in what it consists. _Causa latet, res
ipsa notissima._ Ease, grace, dignity have been given as the exponents
and expressive symbols of this look; but I would rather say, that an
habitual self-possession determines the appearance of a gentleman. He
should have the complete command, not only over his countenance, but
over his limbs and motions. In other words, he should discover in his
air and manner a voluntary power over his whole body, which with every
inflection of it, should be under the controul of his will. It must be
evident that he looks and does as he likes, without any restraint,
confusion, or awkwardness. He is, in fact, master of his person, as the
professor of any art or science is of a particular instrument; he
directs it to what use he pleases and intends. Wherever this power and
facility appear, we recognise the look and deportment of the
gentleman,—that is, of a person who by his habits and situation in life,
and in his ordinary intercourse with society, has had little else to do
than to study those movements, and that carriage of the body, which were
accompanied with most satisfaction to himself, and were calculated to
excite the approbation of the beholder. Ease, it might be observed, is
not enough; dignity is too much. There must be a certain _retenu_, a
conscious decorum, added to the first,—and a certain ‘familiarity of
regard, quenching the austere countenance of controul,’ in the other, to
answer to our conception of this character. Perhaps propriety is as near
a word as any to denote the manners of the gentleman; elegance is
necessary to the fine gentleman; dignity is proper to noblemen; and
majesty to kings!

Wherever this constant and decent subjection of the body to the mind is
visible in the customary actions of walking, sitting, riding, standing,
speaking, &c. we draw the same conclusion as to the individual,—whatever
may be the impediments or unavoidable defects in the machine, of which
he has the management. A man may have a mean or disagreeable exterior,
may halt in his gait, or have lost the use of half his limbs; and yet he
may shew this habitual attention to what is graceful and becoming in the
use he makes of all the power he has left,—in the ‘nice conduct’ of the
most unpromising and impracticable figure. A hump-backed or deformed man
does not necessarily look like a clown or a mechanic; on the contrary,
from his care in the adjustment of his appearance, and his desire to
remedy his defects, he for the most part acquires something of the look
of a gentleman. The common nick-name of _My Lord_, applied to such
persons, has allusion to this—to their circumspect deportment, and tacit
resistance to vulgar prejudice. Lord Ogleby, in the Clandestine
Marriage, is as crazy a piece of elegance and refinement, even after he
is ‘wound up for the day,’ as can well be imagined; yet in the hands of
a genuine actor, his tottering step, his twitches of the gout, his
unsuccessful attempts at youth and gaiety, take nothing from the
nobleman. He has the _ideal_ model in his mind, resents his deviations
from it with proper horror, recovers himself from any ungraceful action
as soon as possible; does all he can with his limited means, and fails
in his just pretensions, not from inadvertence, but necessity. Sir
Joseph Banks, who was almost bent double, retained to the last the look
of a privy-counsellor. There was all the firmness and dignity that could
be given by the sense of his own importance to so distorted and disabled
a trunk. Sir Charles B—nb—ry, as he saunters down St. James’s-street,
with a large slouched hat, a lack-lustre eye, and aquiline nose, an old
shabby drab-coloured coat, buttoned across his breast without a
cape,—with old top-boots, and his hands in his waistcoat or breeches’
pockets, as if he were strolling along his own garden-walks, or over the
turf at Newmarket, after having made his bets secure,—presents nothing
very dazzling, or graceful, or dignified to the imagination; though you
can tell infallibly at the first glance, or even a bow-shot off, that he
is a gentleman of the first water (the same that sixty years ago married
the beautiful Lady Sarah L—nn—x, with whom the king was in love). What
is the clue to this mystery? It is evident that his person costs him no
more trouble than an old glove. His limbs are, as it were, left to take
care of themselves; they move of their own accord; he does not strut or
stand on tip-toe to show

                                        ——how tall
                    His person is above them all;——

but he seems to find his own level, and wherever he is, to slide into
his place naturally; he is equally at home among lords or gamblers;
nothing can discompose his fixed serenity of look and purpose; there is
no mark of superciliousness about him, nor does it appear as if any
thing could meet his eye to startle or throw him off his guard; he
neither avoids nor courts notice; but the _archaism_ of his dress may be
understood to denote a lingering partiality for the costume of the last
age, and something like a prescriptive contempt for the finery of this.
The old one-eyed Duke of Queensbury is another example that I might
quote. As he sat in his bow-window in Piccadilly, erect and emaciated,
he seemed like a nobleman framed and glazed, or a well-dressed mummy of
the court of George II.

We have few of these precious specimens of the gentleman or
nobleman-look now remaining; other considerations have set aside the
exclusive importance of the character, and of course, the jealous
attention to the outward expression of it. Where we oftenest meet with
it now-a-days, is, perhaps, in the butlers in old families, or the
valets, and ‘gentlemen’s gentlemen’ of the younger branches. The sleek
pursy gravity of the one answers to the stately air of some of their
_quondam_ masters; and the flippancy and finery of our old-fashioned
beaux, having been discarded by the heirs to the title and estate, have
been retained by their lacqueys. The late Admiral Byron (I have heard
N—— say) had a butler, or steward, who, from constantly observing his
master, had so learned to mimic him—the look, the manner, the voice, the
bow were so alike—he was so ‘subdued to the very quality of his
lord’—that it was difficult to distinguish them apart. Our modern
footmen, as we see them fluttering and lounging in lobbies, or at the
doors of ladies’ carriages, bedizened in lace and powder, with
ivory-headed cane and embroidered gloves, give one the only idea of the
fine gentleman of former periods, as they are still occasionally
represented on the stage; and indeed our theatrical heroes, who top such
parts, might be supposed to have copied, as a last resource, from the
heroes of the shoulder-knot. We also sometimes meet with a straggling
personation of this character, got up in common life from pure romantic
enthusiasm, and on absolutely ideal principles. I recollect a well-grown
comely haberdasher, who made a practice of walking every day from
Bishop’sgate-street to Pall-mall and Bond-street with the undaunted air
and strut of a general-officer; and also a prim undertaker, who
regularly tendered his person, whenever the weather would permit, from
the neighbourhood of Camberwell into the favourite promenades of the
city, with a mincing gait that would have become a gentleman-usher of
the black-rod. What a strange infatuation to live in a dream of being
taken for what one is not,—in deceiving others, and at the same time
ourselves; for no doubt these persons believed that they thus appeared
to the world in their true characters, and that their assumed
pretensions did no more than justice to their real merits.

           _Dress_ makes the man, and want of it the fellow:
           The rest is all but leather and prunella.

I confess, however, that I admire this look of a gentleman, more when it
rises from the level of common life, and bears the stamp of intellect,
than when it is formed out of the mould of adventitious circumstances. I
think more highly of Wycherley than I do of Lord Hinchinbroke, for
looking like a lord. In the one, it was the effect of native genius,
grace, and spirit; in the other, comparatively speaking, of pride or
custom. A visitor complimenting Voltaire on the growth and flourishing
condition of some trees in his grounds, ‘Aye,’ said the French wit,
‘they have nothing else to do!’ A lord has nothing to do but to look
like a lord: our comic poet had something else to do, and did it![34]

Though the disadvantages of nature or accident do not act as obstacles
to the look of a gentleman, those of education and employment do. A
shoe-maker, who is bent in two over his daily task; a taylor who sits
cross-legged all day; a ploughman, who wears clog-shoes over the
furrowed miry soil, and can hardly drag his feet after him; a scholar
who has pored all his life over books,—are not likely to possess that
natural freedom and ease, or to pay that strict attention to personal
appearances, that the look of a gentleman implies. I might add, that a
man-milliner behind a counter, who is compelled to show every mark of
complaisance to his customers, but hardly expects common civility from
them in return; or a sheriff’s officer, who has a consciousness of
power, but none of good-will to or from any body,—are equally remote
from the _beau ideal_ of this character. A man who is awkward from
bashfulness is a clown,—as one who is shewing off a number of
impertinent airs and graces at every turn, is a coxcomb, or an upstart.
Mere awkwardness or rusticity of behaviour may arise, either from want
of presence of mind in the company of our _betters_, (the commonest hind
goes about his regular business without any of the _mauvaise honte_,)
from a deficiency of breeding, as it is called, in not having been
taught certain fashionable accomplishments—or from unremitting
application to certain sorts of mechanical labour, unfitting the body
for general or indifferent uses. (That vulgarity which proceeds from a
total disregard of decorum, and want of careful controul over the
different actions of the body—such as loud speaking, boisterous
gesticulations, &c.—is rather rudeness and violence, than awkwardness or
uneasy restraint.) Now the gentleman is free from all these causes of
ungraceful demeanour. He is independent in his circumstances, and is
used to enter into society on equal terms; he is taught the modes of
address and forms of courtesy, most commonly practised and most proper
to ingratiate him into the good opinion of those he associates with; and
he is relieved from the necessity of following any of those laborious
trades or callings which cramp, strain, and distort the human frame. He
is not bound to do any one earthly thing; to use any exertion, or put
himself in any posture, that is not perfectly easy and graceful,
agreeable and becoming. Neither is he (at the present day) required to
excel in any art or science, game or exercise. He is supposed qualified
to dance a minuet, not to dance on the tight rope—to stand upright, not
to stand on his head. He has only to sacrifice to the Graces. Alcibiades
threw away a flute, because the playing on it discomposed his features.
Take the fine gentleman out of the common boarding-school or
drawing-room accomplishments, and set him to any ruder or more difficult
task, and he will make but a sorry figure. Ferdinand in the Tempest,
when he is put by Prospero to carry logs of wood, does not strike us as
a very heroical character, though he loses nothing of the king’s son. If
a young gallant of the first fashion were asked to shoe a horse, or hold
a plough, or fell a tree, he would make a very ridiculous business of
the first experiment. I saw a set of young naval officers, very
genteel-looking young men, playing at rackets not long ago, and it is
impossible to describe the uncouthness of their motions and
unaccountable contrivances for hitting the ball.—Something effeminate as
well as common-place, then, enters into the composition of the
gentleman: he is a little of the _petit-maître_ in his pretensions. He
is only graceful and accomplished in those things to which he has paid
almost his whole attention,—such as the carriage of his body, and
adjustment of his dress; and to which he is of sufficient importance in
the scale of society to attract the idle attention of others.

A man’s manner of presenting himself in company is but a superficial
test of his real qualifications. Serjeant Atkinson, we are assured by
Fielding, would have marched, at the head of his platoon, up to a masked
battery, with less apprehension than he came into a room full of pretty
women. So we may sometimes see persons look foolish enough on entering a
party, or returning a salutation, who instantly feel themselves at home,
and recover all their self-possession, as soon as any of that sort of
conversation begins from which nine-tenths of the company retire in the
extremest trepidation, lest they should betray their ignorance or
incapacity. A high spirit and stubborn pride are often accompanied with
an unprepossessing and unpretending appearance. The greatest heroes do
not shew it by their looks. There are individuals of a nervous habit,
who might be said to abhor their own persons, and to startle at their
own appearance, as the peacock tries to hide its legs. They are always
shy, uncomfortable, restless; and all their actions are, in a manner, at
cross-purposes with themselves. This, of course, destroys the look we
are speaking of, from the want of ease and self-confidence. There is
another sort who have too much negligence of manner and contempt for
formal punctilios. They take their full swing in whatever they are
about, and make it seem almost necessary to get out of their way.
Perhaps something of this bold, licentious, slovenly, lounging character
may be objected by a fastidious eye to the appearance of Lord C—— It
might be said of him, without disparagement, that he looks more like a
lord than like a gentleman. We see nothing petty or finical,
assuredly,—nothing hard-bound or reined-in,—but a flowing outline, a
broad free style. He sits in the House of Commons, with his hat slouched
over his forehead, and a sort of stoop in his shoulders, as if he
cowered over his antagonists, like a bird of prey over its
quarry,—‘hatching vain empires.’ There is an irregular grandeur about
him, an unwieldy power, loose, disjointed, ‘voluminous and vast,’—coiled
up in the folds of its own purposes,—cold, death-like, smooth and
smiling,—that is neither quite at ease with itself, nor safe for others
to approach! On the other hand, there is the Marquis Wellesley, a jewel
of a man. He advances into his place in the House of Lords, with head
erect, and his best foot foremost. The star sparkles on his breast, and
the garter is seen bound tight below his knee. It might be thought that
he still trod a measure on soft carpets, and was surrounded, not only by
spiritual and temporal lords, but

                  Stores of ladies, whose bright eyes
                  Rain influence, and judge the prize.

The chivalrous spirit that shines through him, the air of gallantry in
his personal as well as rhetorical appeals to the House, glances a
partial lustre on the Woolsack as he addresses it; and makes Lord
Erskine raise his sunken head from a dream of transient popularity. His
heedless vanity throws itself unblushingly on the unsuspecting candour
of his hearers, and ravishes mute admiration. You would almost guess of
this nobleman beforehand that he was a Marquis—something higher than an
earl, and less important than a duke. Nature has just fitted him for the
niche he fills in the scale of rank or tide. He is a finished
miniature-picture set in brilliants: Lord C—— might be compared to a
loose sketch in oil, not properly hung. The character of the one is
ease, of the other, elegance. Elegance is something more than ease; it
is more than a freedom from awkwardness or restraint. It implies, I
conceive, a precision, a polish, a sparkling effect, spirited yet
delicate, which is perfectly exemplified in Lord Wellesley’s face and
figure.

The greatest contrast to this little lively nobleman was the late Lord
Stanhope. Tall above his peers, he presented an appearance something
between a Patagonian chief and one of the Long Parliament. With his long
black hair, ‘unkempt and wild’—his black clothes, lank features, strange
antics, and screaming voice, he was the Orson of debate.

               A Satyr that comes staring from the woods,
               Cannot at first speak like an orator.

Yet he was both an orator and a wit in his way. His harangues were an
odd jumble of logic and mechanics, of the Statutes at large and Joe
Miller jests, of stern principle and sly humour, of shrewdness and
absurdity, of method and madness. What is more extraordinary, he was an
honest man. He was out of his place in the House of Lords. He
particularly delighted in his eccentric onsets, to make havoc of the
bench of bishops. ‘I like,’ said he, ‘to argue with one of my lords the
bishops; and the reason why I do so is, that I generally have the best
of the argument.’ He was altogether a different man from Lord Eldon; yet
his lordship ‘gave him good œillades,’ as he broke a jest, or argued a
moot-point, and while he spoke, smiles, roguish twinkles, glittered in
the Chancellor’s eyes.

The look of the gentleman, ‘the nobleman-look,’ is little else than the
reflection of the looks of the world. We smile at those who smile upon
us: we are gracious to those who pay their court to us: we naturally
acquire confidence and ease when all goes well with us, when we are
encouraged by the blandishments of fortune, and the good opinion of
mankind. A whole street bowing regularly to a man every time he rides
out, may teach him how to pull off his hat in return, without supposing
a particular genius for bowing (more than for governing, or any thing
else) born in the family. It has been observed that persons who sit for
their pictures improve the character of their countenances, from the
desire they have to procure the most favourable representation of
themselves. ‘Tell me, pray good Mr. Carmine, when you come to the eyes,
that I may call up a look,’ says the Alderman’s wife, in Foote’s Farce
of Taste. Ladies grow handsome by looking at themselves in the glass,
and heightening the agreeable airs and expression of features they so
much admire there. So the favourites of fortune adjust themselves in the
glass of fashion, and the flattering illusions of public opinion. Again,
the expression of face in the gentleman, or thorough-bred man of the
world is not that of refinement so much as of flexibility; of
sensibility or enthusiasm, so much as of indifference:—it argues
presence of mind, rather than enlargement of ideas. In this it differs
from the heroic and philosophical look. Instead of an intense unity of
purpose, wound up to some great occasion, it is dissipated and frittered
down into a number of evanescent expressions, fitted for every variety
of unimportant occurrences: instead of the expansion of general thought
or intellect, you trace chiefly the little, trite, cautious, moveable
lines of conscious, but concealed self-complacency. If Raphael had
painted St. Paul as a gentleman, what a figure he would have made of the
great Apostle of the Gentiles—occupied with himself, not carried away,
raised, inspired with his subject—insinuating his doctrines into his
audience, not launching them from him with the tongues of the Holy
Spirit, and with looks of fiery scorching zeal! Gentlemen luckily can
afford to sit for their own portraits: painters do not trouble them to
sit as studies for history. What a difference is there in this respect
between a Madonna of Raphael, and a lady of fashion, even by Vandyke:
the former refined and elevated, the latter light and trifling, with no
emanation of soul, no depth of feeling,—each arch expression playing on
the surface, and passing into any other at pleasure,—no one thought
having its full scope, but checked by some other,—soft, careless,
insincere, pleased, affected, amiable! The French physiognomy is more
cut up and subdivided into pretty lines and sharp angles than any other:
it does not want for subtlety, or an air of gentility, which last it
often has in a remarkable degree,—but it is the most unpoetical and the
least picturesque of all others. I cannot explain what I mean by this
variable telegraphic machinery of polite expression better than by an
obvious allusion. Every one by walking the streets of London (or any
other populous city) acquires a walk which is easily distinguished from
that of strangers; a quick flexibility of movement, a smart jerk, an
aspiring and confident tread, and an air, as if on the alert to keep the
line of march; but for all that, there is not much grace or grandeur in
this local strut: you see the person is not a country bumpkin, but you
would not say, he is a hero or a sage—because he is a cockney. So it is
in passing through the artificial and thickly peopled scenes of life.
You get the look of a man of the world: you rub off the pedant and the
clown; but you do not make much progress in wisdom or virtue, or in the
characteristic expression of either.

The character of a gentleman (I take it) may be explained nearly thus:—A
blackguard (_un vaurien_) is a fellow who does not care whom he
offends:—a clown is a blockhead who does not know when he offends:—a
gentleman is one who understands and shews every mark of deference to
the claims of self-love in others, and exacts it in return from them.
Politeness and the pretensions to the character in question have
reference almost entirely to this reciprocal manifestation of good-will
and good opinion towards each other in casual society. Morality
regulates our sentiments and conduct as they have a connection with
ultimate and important consequences:—Manners, properly speaking,
regulate our words and actions in the routine of personal intercourse.
They have little to do with real kindness of intention, or practical
services, or disinterested sacrifices; but they put on the garb, and
mock the appearance of these, in order to prevent a breach of the peace,
and to smooth and varnish over the discordant materials, when any number
of individuals are brought in contact together. The conventional compact
of good manners does not reach beyond the moment and the company. Say,
for instance, that the _rabble_, the labouring and industrious part of
the community, are taken up with supplying their own wants, and pining
over their own hardships,—scrambling for what they can get, and not
refining on any of their pleasures, or troubling themselves about the
fastidious pretensions of others: again, there are philosophers who are
busied in the pursuit of truth,—or patriots who are active for the good
of their country; but here, we will suppose, are a knot of people got
together, who, having no serious wants of their own, with leisure and
independence, and caring little about abstract truth or practical
utility, are met for no mortal purpose but to say and to do all manner
of obliging things, to pay the greatest possible respect, and shew the
most delicate and flattering attentions to one another. The politest set
of gentlemen and ladies in the world can do no more than this. The laws
that regulate this species of select and fantastic society are
conformable to its ends and origin. The fine gentleman or lady must not,
on any account, say a rude thing to the persons present, but you may
turn them into the utmost ridicule the instant they are gone: nay, not
to do so is sometimes considered as an indirect slight to the party that
remains. You must compliment your bitterest foe to his face, and may
slander your dearest friend behind his back. The last may be immoral,
but it is not unmannerly. The gallant maintains his title to this
character by treating every woman he meets with the same marked and
unremitting attention as if she was his mistress: the courtier treats
every man with the same professions of esteem and kindness as if he were
an accomplice with him in some plot against mankind. Of course, these
professions, made only to please, go for nothing in practice. To insist
on them afterwards as literal obligations, would be to betray an
ignorance of this kind of interlude, or masquerading in real life. To
ruin your friend at play is not inconsistent with the character of a
gentleman and a man of honour, if it is done with civility; though to
warn him of his danger, so as to imply a doubt of his judgment, or
interference with his will, would be to subject yourself to be run
through the body with a sword. It is that which wounds the self-love of
the individual that is offensive—that which flatters it that is
welcome—however salutary the one, or however fatal the other may be. A
habit of plain-speaking is totally contrary to the tone of
good-breeding. You must prefer the opinion of the company to your own,
and even to truth. I doubt whether a gentleman must not be of the
Established Church, and a Tory. A true cavalier can only be a martyr to
prejudice or fashion. A Whig lord appears to me as great an anomaly as a
patriot king. A sectary is sour and unsociable. A philosopher is quite
out of the question. He is in the clouds, and had better not be let down
on the floor in a basket, to play the blockhead. He is sure to commit
himself in good company—and by dealing always in abstractions, and
driving at generalities, to offend against the three proprieties of
time, place, and person. Authors are angry, loud, and vehement in
argument: the man of more refined breeding, who has been ‘all
tranquillity and smiles,’ goes away, and tries to ruin the antagonist,
whom he could not vanquish in a dispute. The manners of a court and of
polished life are by no means downright, straightforward, but the
contrary. They have something dramatic in them; each person plays an
assumed part; the affected, overstrained politeness and suppression of
real sentiment lead to concealed irony, and the spirit of satire and
raillery; and hence we may account for the perfection of the genteel
comedy of the century before the last, when poets were allowed to mingle
in the court-circles, and took their cue from the splendid ring

                Of mimic statesmen and their merry king.

The essence of this sort of conversation and intercourse, both on and
off the stage, has some how since evaporated; the disguises of royalty,
nobility, gentry have been in some measure seen through: we have become
individually of little importance, compared with greater objects, in the
eyes of our neighbours, and even in our own: abstract topics, not
personal pretensions, are the order of the day; so that what remains of
the character we have been talking of, is chiefly exotic and provincial,
and may be seen still flourishing in country-places, in a wholesome
state of vegetable decay!

A man may have the manners of a gentleman without having the look, and
he may have the character of a gentleman, in a more abstracted point of
view, without the manners. The feelings of a gentleman, in this higher
sense, only denote a more refined humanity—a spirit delicate in itself,
and unwilling to offend, either in the greatest or the smallest things.
This may be coupled with absence of mind, with ignorance of forms, and
frequent blunders. But the will is good. The spring of gentle offices
and true regards is untainted. A person of this stamp blushes at an
impropriety he was guilty of twenty years before, though he is, perhaps,
liable to repeat it to-morrow. He never forgives himself for even a slip
of the tongue, that implies an assumption of superiority over any one.
In proportion to the concessions made to him, he lowers his demands. He
gives the wall to a beggar:[35] but does not always bow to great men.
This class of character have been called ‘God Almighty’s gentlemen.’
There are not a great many of them.—The _late_ G—— D—— was one; for we
understand that that gentleman was not able to survive some ill-disposed
person’s having asserted of him, that he had mistaken Lord Castlereagh
for the author of Waverley!


                                ESSAY XX
                          ON READING OLD BOOKS

I hate to read new books. There are twenty or thirty volumes that I have
read over and over again, and these are the only ones that I have any
desire ever to read at all. It was a long time before I could bring
myself to sit down to the Tales of My Landlord, but now that author’s
works have made a considerable addition to my scanty library. I am told
that some of Lady Morgan’s are good, and have been recommended to look
into Anastasius; but I have not yet ventured upon that task. A lady, the
other day, could not refrain from expressing her surprise to a friend,
who said he had been reading Delphine:—she asked,—If it had not been
published some time back? Women judge of books as they do of fashions or
complexions, which are admired only ‘in their newest gloss.’ That is not
my way. I am not one of those who trouble the circulating libraries
much, or pester the booksellers for mail-coach copies of standard
periodical publications. I cannot say that I am greatly addicted to
black-letter, but I profess myself well versed in the marble bindings of
Andrew Millar, in the middle of the last century; nor does my taste
revolt at Thurloe’s State Papers, in Russia leather; or an ample
impression of Sir William Temple’s Essays, with a portrait after Sir
Godfrey Kneller in front. I do not think altogether the worse of a book
for having survived the author a generation or two. I have more
confidence in the dead than the living. Contemporary writers may
generally be divided into two classes—one’s friends or one’s foes. Of
the first we are compelled to think too well, and of the last we are
disposed to think too ill, to receive much genuine pleasure from the
perusal, or to judge fairly of the merits of either. One candidate for
literary fame, who happens to be of our acquaintance, writes finely, and
like a man of genius; but unfortunately has a foolish face, which spoils
a delicate passage:—another inspires us with the highest respect for his
personal talents and character, but does not quite come up to our
expectations in print. All these contradictions and petty details
interrupt the calm current of our reflections. If you want to know what
any of the authors were who lived before our time, and are still objects
of anxious inquiry, you have only to look into their works. But the dust
and smoke and noise of modern literature have nothing in common with the
pure, silent air of immortality.

When I take up a work that I have read before (the oftener the better) I
know what I have to expect. The satisfaction is not lessened by being
anticipated. When the entertainment is altogether new, I sit down to it
as I should to a strange dish,—turn and pick out a bit here and there,
and am in doubt what to think of the composition. There is a want of
confidence and security to second appetite. New-fangled books are also
like made-dishes in this respect, that they are generally little else
than hashes and _rifaccimentos_ of what has been served up entire and in
a more natural state at other times. Besides, in thus turning to a
well-known author, there is not only an assurance that my time will not
be thrown away, or my palate nauseated with the most insipid or vilest
trash,—but I shake hands with, and look an old, tried, and valued friend
in the face,—compare notes, and chat the hours away. It is true, we form
dear friendships with such ideal guests—dearer, alas! and more lasting,
than those with our most intimate acquaintance. In reading a book which
is an old favourite with me (say the first novel I ever read) I not only
have the pleasure of imagination and of a critical relish of the work,
but the pleasures of memory added to it. It recals the same feelings and
associations which I had in first reading it, and which I can never have
again in any other way. Standard productions of this kind are links in
the chain of our conscious being. They bind together the different
scattered divisions of our personal identity. They are land-marks and
guides in our journey through life. They are pegs and loops on which we
can hang up, or from which we can take down, at pleasure, the wardrobe
of a moral imagination, the relics of our best affections, the tokens
and records of our happiest hours. They are ‘for thoughts and for
remembrance!’ They are like Fortunatus’s Wishing-Cap—they give us the
best riches—those of Fancy; and transport us, not over half the globe,
but (which is better) over half our lives, at a word’s notice!

My father Shandy solaced himself with Bruscambille. Give me for this
purpose a volume of Peregrine Pickle or Tom Jones. Open either of them
any where—at the Memoirs of Lady Vane, or the adventures at the
masquerade with Lady Bellaston, or the disputes between Thwackum and
Square, or the escape of Molly Seagrim, or the incident of Sophia and
her muff, or the edifying prolixity of her aunt’s lecture—and there I
find the same delightful, busy, bustling scene as ever, and feel myself
the same as when I was first introduced into the midst of it. Nay,
sometimes the sight of an odd volume of these good old English authors
on a stall, or the name lettered on the back among others on the shelves
of a library, answers the purpose, revives the whole train of ideas, and
sets ‘the puppets dallying.’ Twenty years are struck off the list, and I
am a child again. A sage philosopher, who was not a very wise man, said,
that he should like very well to be young again, if he could take his
experience along with him. This ingenious person did not seem to be
aware, by the gravity of his remark, that the great advantage of being
young is to be without this weight of experience, which he would fain
place upon the shoulders of youth, and which never comes too late with
years. Oh! what a privilege to be able to let this hump, like
Christian’s burthen, drop from off one’s back, and transport one’s self,
by the help of a little musty duodecimo, to the time when ‘ignorance was
bliss,’ and when we first got a peep at the rarée-show of the world,
through the glass of fiction—gazing at mankind, as we do at wild beasts
in a menagerie, through the bars of their cages,—or at curiosities in a
museum, that we must not touch! For myself, not only are the old ideas
of the contents of the work brought back to my mind in all their
vividness, but the old associations of the faces and persons of those I
then knew, as they were in their life-time—the place where I sat to read
the volume, the day when I got it, the feeling of the air, the fields,
the sky—return, and all my early impressions with them. This is better
to me—those places, those times, those persons, and those feelings that
come across me as I retrace the story and devour the page, are to me
better far than the wet sheets of the last new novel from the Ballantyne
press, to say nothing of the Minerva press in Leadenhall-street. It is
like visiting the scenes of early youth. I think of the time ‘when I was
in my father’s house, and my path ran down with butter and honey,’—when
I was a little, thoughtless child, and had no other wish or care but to
con my daily task, and be happy!—Tom Jones, I remember, was the first
work that broke the spell. It came down in numbers once a fortnight, in
Cooke’s pocket-edition, embellished with cuts. I had hitherto read only
in school-books, and a tiresome ecclesiastical history (with the
exception of Mrs. Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest): but this had a
different relish with it,—‘sweet in the mouth,’ though not ‘bitter in
the belly.’ It smacked of the world I lived in, and in which I was to
live—and shewed me groups, ‘gay creatures’ not ‘of the element,’ but of
the earth; not ‘living in the clouds,’ but travelling the same road that
I did;—some that had passed on before me, and others that might soon
overtake me. My heart had palpitated at the thoughts of a
boarding-school ball, or gala-day at Midsummer or Christmas: but the
world I had found out in Cooke’s edition of the British Novelists was to
me a dance through life, a perpetual gala-day. The sixpenny numbers of
this work regularly contrived to leave off just in the middle of a
sentence, and in the nick of a story, where Tom Jones discovers Square
behind the blanket; or where Parson Adams, in the inextricable confusion
of events, very undesignedly gets to bed to Mrs. Slip-slop. Let me
caution the reader against this impression of Joseph Andrews; for there
is a picture of Fanny in it which he should not set his heart on, lest
he should never meet with any thing like it; or if he should, it would,
perhaps, be better for him that he had not. It was just like —— ——! With
what eagerness I used to look forward to the next number, and open the
prints! Ah! never again shall I feel the enthusiastic delight with which
I gazed at the figures, and anticipated the story and adventures of
Major Bath and Commodore Trunnion, of Trim and my Uncle Toby, of Don
Quixote and Sancho and Dapple, of Gil Blas and Dame Lorenza Sephora, of
Laura and the fair Lucretia, whose lips open and shut like buds of
roses. To what nameless ideas did they give rise,—with what airy
delights I filled up the outlines, as I hung in silence over the
page!—Let me still recal them, that they may breathe fresh life into me,
and that I may live that birthday of thought and romantic pleasure over
again! Talk of the _ideal_! This is the only true ideal—the heavenly
tints of Fancy reflected in the bubbles that float upon the spring-tide
of human life.

          Oh! Memory! shield me from the world’s poor strife,
          And give those scenes thine everlasting life!

The paradox with which I set out is, I hope, less startling than it was;
the reader will, by this time, have been let into my secret. Much about
the same time, or I believe rather earlier, I took a particular
satisfaction in reading Chubb’s Tracts, and I often think I will get
them again to wade through. There is a high gusto of polemical divinity
in them; and you fancy that you hear a club of shoemakers at Salisbury,
debating a disputable text from one of St. Paul’s Epistles in a
workmanlike style, with equal shrewdness and pertinacity. I cannot say
much for my metaphysical studies, into which I launched shortly after
with great ardour, so as to make a toil of a pleasure. I was presently
entangled in the briars and thorns of subtle distinctions,—of ‘fate,
free-will, foreknowledge absolute,’ though I cannot add that ‘in their
wandering mazes I found no end; ‘for I did arrive at some very
satisfactory and potent conclusions; nor will I go so far, however
ungrateful the subject might seem, as to exclaim with Marlowe’s
Faustus—‘Would I had never seen Wittenberg, never read book’—that is,
never studied such authors as Hartley, Hume, Berkeley, &c. Locke’s Essay
on the Human Understanding is, however, a work from which I never
derived either pleasure or profit; and Hobbes, dry and powerful as he
is, I did not read till long afterwards. I read a few poets, which did
not much hit my taste,—for I would have the reader understand, I am
deficient in the faculty of imagination; but I fell early upon French
romances and philosophy, and devoured them tooth-and-nail. Many a dainty
repast have I made of the New Eloise;—the description of the kiss; the
excursion on the water; the letter of St. Preux, recalling the time of
their first loves; and the account of Julia’s death; these I read over
and over again with unspeakable delight and wonder. Some years after,
when I met with this work again, I found I had lost nearly my whole
relish for it (except some few parts) and was, I remember, very much
mortified with the change in my taste, which I sought to attribute to
the smallness and gilt edges of the edition I had bought, and its being
perfumed with rose-leaves. Nothing could exceed the gravity, the
solemnity with which I carried home and read the Dedication to the
Social Contract, with some other pieces of the same author, which I had
picked up at a stall in a coarse leathern cover. Of the Confessions I
have spoken elsewhere, and may repeat what I have said—‘Sweet is the dew
of their memory, and pleasant the balm of their recollection!’ Their
beauties are not ‘scattered like stray-gifts o’er the earth,’ but sown
thick on the page, rich and rare. I wish I had never read the Emilius,
or read it with less implicit faith. I had no occasion to pamper my
natural aversion to affectation or pretence, by romantic and artificial
means. I had better have formed myself on the model of Sir Fopling
Flutter. There is a class of persons whose virtues and most shining
qualities sink in, and are concealed by, an absorbent ground of modesty
and reserve; and such a one I do, without vanity, profess myself.[36]
Now these are the very persons who are likely to attach themselves to
the character of Emilius, and of whom it is sure to be the bane. This
dull, phlegmatic, retiring humour is not in a fair way to be corrected,
but confirmed and rendered desperate, by being in that work held up as
an object of imitation, as an example of simplicity and magnanimity—by
coming upon us with all the recommendations of novelty, surprise, and
superiority to the prejudices of the world—by being stuck upon a
pedestal, made amiable, dazzling, a _leurre de dupe_! The reliance on
solid worth which it inculcates, the preference of sober truth to gaudy
tinsel, hangs like a millstone round the neck of the imagination—‘a load
to sink a navy’—impedes our progress, and blocks up every prospect in
life. A man, to get on, to be successful, conspicuous, applauded, should
not retire upon the centre of his conscious resources, but be always at
the circumference of appearances. He must envelop himself in a halo of
mystery—he must ride in an equipage of opinion—he must walk with a train
of self-conceit following him—he must not strip himself to a
buff-jerkin, to the doublet and hose of his real merits, but must
surround himself with a _cortege_ of prejudices, like the signs of the
Zodiac—he must seem any thing but what he is, and then he may pass for
any thing he pleases. The world love to be amused by hollow professions,
to be deceived by flattering appearances, to live in a state of
hallucination; and can forgive every thing but the plain, downright,
simple honest truth—such as we see it chalked out in the character of
Emilius.—To return from this digression, which is a little out of place
here.

Books have in a great measure lost their power over me; nor can I revive
the same interest in them as formerly. I perceive when a thing is good,
rather than feel it. It is true,

                   Marcian Colonna is a dainty book;

and the reading of Mr. Keats’s Eve of Saint Agnes lately made me regret
that I was not young again. The beautiful and tender images there
conjured up, ‘come like shadows—so depart.’ The tiger-moth’s wings,’
which he has spread over his rich poetic blazonry, just flit across my
fancy; the gorgeous twilight window which he has painted over again in
his verse, to me ‘blushes’ almost in vain ‘with blood of queens and
kings.’ I know how I should have felt at one time in reading such
passages; and that is all. The sharp luscious flavour, the fine _aroma_
is fled, and nothing but the stalk, the bran, the husk of literature is
left. If any one were to ask me what I read now, I might answer with my
Lord Hamlet in the play—‘Words, words, words.’—‘What is the
matter?’—‘_Nothing!_’—They have scarce a meaning. But it was not always
so. There was a time when to my thinking, every word was a flower or a
pearl, like those which dropped from the mouth of the little
peasant-girl in the Fairy tale, or like those that fall from the great
preacher in the Caledonian Chapel! I drank of the stream of knowledge
that tempted, but did not mock my lips, as of the river of life, freely.
How eagerly I slaked my thirst of German sentiment, ‘as the hart that
panteth for the water-springs;’ how I bathed and revelled, and added my
floods of tears to Goëthe’s Sorrows of Werter, and to Schiller’s
Robbers—

          Giving my stock of more to that which had too much!

I read, and assented with all my soul to Coleridge’s fine Sonnet,
beginning—

            Schiller! that hour I would have wish’d to die,
            If through the shuddering midnight I had sent,
            From the dark dungeon of the tow’r time-rent,
            That fearful voice, a famish’d father’s cry!

I believe I may date my insight into the mysteries of poetry from the
commencement of my acquaintance with the authors of the Lyrical Ballads;
at least, my discrimination of the higher sorts—not my predilection for
such writers as Goldsmith or Pope: nor do I imagine they will say I got
my liking for the Novelists, or the comic writers,—for the characters of
Valentine, Tattle, or Miss Prue, from them. If so, I must have got from
them what they never had themselves. In points where poetic diction and
conception are concerned, I may be at a loss, and liable to be imposed
upon: but in forming an estimate of passages relating to common life and
manners, I cannot think I am a plagiarist from any man. I there ‘know my
cue without a prompter.’ I may say of such studies—_Intus et in cute_. I
am just able to admire those literal touches of observation and
description, which persons of loftier pretensions overlook and despise.
I think I comprehend something of the characteristic part of Shakspeare;
and in him indeed, all is characteristic, even the nonsense and poetry.
I believe it was the celebrated Sir Humphrey Davy who used to say, that
Shakspeare was rather a metaphysician than a poet. At any rate, it was
not ill said. I wish that I had sooner known the dramatic writers
contemporary with Shakspeare; for in looking them over about a year ago,
I almost revived my old passion for reading, and my old delight in
books, though they were very nearly new to me. The Periodical Essayists
I read long ago. The Spectator I liked extremely: but the Tatler took my
fancy most. I read the others soon after, the Rambler, the Adventurer,
the World, the Connoisseur: I was not sorry to get to the end of them,
and have no desire to go regularly through them again. I consider myself
a thorough adept in Richardson. I like the longest of his novels best,
and think no part of them tedious; nor should I ask to have any thing
better to do than to read them from beginning to end, to take them up
when I chose, and lay them down when I was tired, in some old family
mansion in the country, till every word and syllable relating to the
bright Clarissa, the divine Clementina, the beautiful Pamela, ‘with
every trick and line of their sweet favour,’ were once more ‘graven in
my heart’s table.’[37] I have a sneaking kindness for Mackenzie’s Julia
de Roubignè—for the deserted mansion, and straggling gilliflowers on the
mouldering garden-wall; and still more for his Man of Feeling; not that
it is better, nor so good; but at the time I read it, I sometimes
thought of the heroine, Miss Walton, and of Miss —— together, and ‘that
ligament, fine as it was, was never broken!’—One of the poets that I
have always read with most pleasure, and can wander about in for ever
with a sort of voluptuous indolence, is Spenser; and I like Chaucer even
better. The only writer among the Italians I can pretend to any
knowledge of, is Boccacio, and of him I cannot express half my
admiration. His story of the Hawk I could read and think of from day to
day, just as I would look at a picture of Titian’s!—

I remember, as long ago as the year 1798, going to a neighbouring town
(Shrewsbury, where Farquhar has laid the plot of his Recruiting Officer)
and bringing home with me, ‘at one proud swoop,’ a copy of Milton’s
Paradise Lost, and another of Burke’s Reflections on the French
Revolution—both which I have still; and I still recollect, when I see
the covers, the pleasure with which I dipped into them as I returned
with my double prize. I was set up for one while. That time is past
‘with all its giddy raptures:’ but I am still anxious to preserve its
memory, ‘embalmed with odours.’—With respect to the first of these
works, I would be permitted to remark here in passing, that it is a
sufficient answer to the German criticism which has since been started
against the character of Satan (_viz._ that it is not one of disgusting
deformity, or pure, defecated malice) to say that Milton has there
drawn, not the abstract principle of evil, not a devil incarnate, but a
fallen angel. This is the scriptural account, and the poet has followed
it. We may safely retain such passages as that well-known one—

                         ——His form had not yet lost
               All her original brightness; nor appear’d
               Less than archangel ruin’d; and the excess
               Of glory obscur’d——

for the theory, which is opposed to them, ‘falls flat upon the grunsel
edge, and shames its worshippers.’ Let us hear no more then of this
monkish cant, and bigotted outcry for the restoration of the horns and
tail of the devil!—Again, as to the other work, Burke’s Reflections, I
took a particular pride and pleasure in it, and read it to myself and
others for months afterwards. I had reason for my prejudice in favour
of this author. To understand an adversary is some praise: to admire
him is more. I thought I did both: I knew I did one. From the first
time I ever cast my eyes on any thing of Burke’s (which was an extract
from his Letter to a Noble Lord in a three-times a week paper, The St.
James’s Chronicle, in 1796), I said to myself, ‘This is true
eloquence: this is a man pouring out his mind on paper.’ All other
style seemed to me pedantic and impertinent. Dr. Johnson’s was walking
on stilts; and even Junius’s (who was at that time a favourite with
me) with all his terseness, shrunk up into little antithetic points
and well-trimmed sentences. But Burke’s style was forked and playful
as the lightning, crested like the serpent. He delivered plain things
on a plain ground; but when he rose, there was no end of his flights
and circumgyrations—and in this very Letter, ‘he, like an eagle in a
dove-cot, fluttered _his_ Volscians’ (the Duke of Bedford and the Earl
of Lauderdale)[38] ‘in Corioli.’ I did not care for his doctrines. I
was then, and am still, proof against their contagion; but I admired
the author, and was considered as not a very staunch partisan of the
opposite side, though I thought myself that an abstract proposition
was one thing—a masterly transition, a brilliant metaphor, another. I
conceived too that he might be wrong in his main argument, and yet
deliver fifty truths in arriving at a false conclusion. I remember
Coleridge assuring me, as a poetical and political set-off to my
sceptical admiration, that Wordsworth had written an Essay on
Marriage, which, for manly thought and nervous expression, he deemed
incomparably superior. As I had not, at that time, seen any specimens
of Mr. Wordsworth’s prose style, I could not express my doubts on the
subject. If there are greater prose-writers than Burke, they either
lie out of my course of study, or are beyond my sphere of
comprehension. I am too old to be a convert to a new mythology of
genius. The niches are occupied, the tables are full. If such is still
my admiration of this man’s misapplied powers, what must it have been
at a time when I myself was in vain trying, year after year, to write
a single Essay, nay, a single page or sentence; when I regarded the
wonders of his pen with the longing eyes of one who was dumb and a
changeling; and when, to be able to convey the slightest conception of
my meaning to others in words, was the height of an almost hopeless
ambition! But I never measured others’ excellences by my own defects:
though a sense of my own incapacity, and of the steep, impassable
ascent from me to them, made me regard them with greater awe and
fondness. I have thus run through most of my early studies and
favourite authors, some of whom I have since criticised more at large.
Whether those observations will survive me, I neither know nor do I
much care: but to the works themselves, ‘worthy of all acceptation,’
and to the feelings they have always excited in me since I could
distinguish a meaning in language, nothing shall ever prevent me from
looking back with gratitude and triumph. To have lived in the
cultivation of an intimacy with such works, and to have familiarly
relished such names, is not to have lived quite in vain.

There are other authors whom I have never read, and yet whom I have
frequently had a great desire to read, from some circumstance relating
to them. Among these is Lord Clarendon’s History of the Grand Rebellion,
after which I have a hankering, from hearing it spoken of by good
judges—from my interest in the events, and knowledge of the characters
from other sources, and from having seen fine portraits of most of them.
I like to read a well-penned character, and Clarendon is said to have
been a master in this way. I should like to read Froissart’s Chronicles,
Hollingshed and Stowe, and Fuller’s Worthies. I intend, whenever I can,
to read Beaumont and Fletcher all through. There are fifty-two of their
plays, and I have only read a dozen or fourteen of them. A Wife for a
Month, and Thierry and Theodoret, are, I am told, delicious, and I can
believe it. I should like to read the speeches in Thucydides, and
Guicciardini’s History of Florence, and Don Quixote in the original. I
have often thought of reading the Loves of Persiles and Sigismunda, and
the Galatea of the same author. But I somehow reserve them like ‘another
Yarrow.’ I should also like to read the last new novel (if I could be
sure it was so) of the author of Waverley:—no one would be more glad
than I to find it the best!—


                               ESSAY XXI
                         ON PERSONAL CHARACTER

  ‘Men palliate and conceal their original qualities, but do not
  extirpate them.’

                                                 MONTAIGNE’S _Essays_.

No one ever changes his character from the time he is two years old;
nay, I might say, from the time he is two hours old. We may, with
instruction and opportunity, mend our manners, or else alter for the
worse,—‘as the flesh and fortune shall serve;’ but the character, the
internal, original bias, remains always the same, true to itself to the
very last—

            ‘And feels the ruling passion strong in death!’

A very grave and dispassionate philosopher (the late celebrated chemist,
Mr. Nicholson) was so impressed with the conviction of the instantaneous
commencement and development of the character with the birth, that he
published a long and amusing article in the Monthly Magazine, giving a
detailed account of the progress, history, education, and tempers of two
twins, up to the period of their being _eleven days old_. This is,
perhaps, considering the matter too curiously, and would amount to a
species of horoscopy, if we were to build on such premature indications;
but the germ no doubt is there, though we must wait a little longer to
see what form it takes. We need not in general wait long. The Devil soon
betrays the cloven foot; or a milder and better spirit appears in its
stead. A temper sullen or active, shy or bold, grave or lively, selfish
or romantic, (to say nothing of quickness or dulness of apprehension) is
manifest very early; and imperceptibly, but irresistibly moulds our
inclinations, habits, and pursuits through life. The greater or less
degree of animal spirits,—of nervous irritability,—the complexion of the
blood,—the proportion of ‘hot, cold, moist, and dry, four champions
fierce that strive for mastery,’—the Saturnine or the Mercurial,—the
disposition to be affected by objects near, or at a distance, or not at
all,—to be struck with novelty, or to brood over deep-rooted
impressions,—to indulge in laughter or in tears, the leaven of passion
or of prudence that tempers this frail clay, is born with us, and never
quits us. ‘It is not in our stars,’ in planetary influence, but neither
is it owing ‘to ourselves, that we are thus or thus.’ The accession of
knowledge, the pressure of circumstances, favourable or unfavourable,
does little more than minister occasion to the first predisposing
bias—than assist, like the dews of heaven, or retard, like the nipping
north, the growth of the seed originally sown in our constitution—than
give a more or less decided expression to that personal character, the
outlines of which nothing can alter. What I mean is, that Blifil and Tom
Jones, for instance, by changing places, would never have changed
characters. The one might, from circumstances, and from the notions
instilled into him, have become a little less selfish, and the other a
little less extravagant; but with a trifling allowance of this sort,
taking the proposition _cum grano salis_, they would have been just
where they set out. Blifil would have been Blifil still, and Jones what
nature intended him to be. I have made use of this example without any
apology for its being a fictitious one, because I think good novels are
the most authentic as well as most accessible repositories of the
natural history and philosophy of the species.

I shall not borrow assistance or illustration from the organic system of
Doctors Gall and Spurzheim, which reduces this question to a small
compass and very distinct limits, because I do not understand or believe
in it: but I think those who put faith in physiognomy at all, or imagine
that the mind is stamped upon the countenance, must believe that there
is such a thing as an essential difference of character in different
individuals. We do not change our features with our situations; neither
do we change the capacities or inclinations which lurk beneath them. A
flat face does not become an oval one, nor a pug nose a Roman one, with
the acquisition of an office, or the addition of a title. So neither is
the pert, hard, unfeeling outline of character turned from selfishness
and cunning to openness and generosity, by any softening of
circumstances. If the face puts on an habitual smile in the sunshine of
fortune, or if it suddenly lowers in the storms of adversity, do not
trust too implicitly to appearances; the man is the same at bottom. The
designing knave may sometimes wear a vizor, or, ‘to beguile the time,
look like the time;’ but watch him narrowly, and you will detect him
behind his mask! We recognise, after a length of years, the same
well-known face that we were formerly acquainted with, changed by time,
but the same in itself; and can trace the features of the boy in the
full-grown man. Can we doubt that the character and thoughts have
remained as much the same all that time; have borne the same image and
superscription; have grown with the growth, and strengthened with the
strength? In this sense, and in Mr. Wordsworth’s phrase, ‘the child’s
the father of the man’ surely enough. The same tendencies may not always
be equally visible, but they are still in existence, and break out,
whenever they dare and can, the more for being checked. Again, we often
distinctly notice the same features, the same bodily peculiarities, the
same look and gestures, in different persons of the same family; and
find this resemblance extending to collateral branches and through
several generations, showing how strongly nature must have been warped
and biassed in that particular direction at first. This
pre-determination in the blood has its caprices too, and wayward as well
as obstinate fits. The family-likeness sometimes skips over the next of
kin or the nearest branch, and re-appears in all its singularity in a
second or third cousin, or passes over the son to the grand-child. Where
the pictures of the heirs and successors to a title or estate have been
preserved for any length of time in Gothic halls and old-fashioned
mansions, the prevailing outline and character does not wear out, but
may be traced through its numerous inflections and descents, like the
winding of a river through an expanse of country, for centuries. The
ancestor of many a noble house has sat for the portraits of his youthful
descendants; and still the soul of ‘Fairfax and the starry Vere,’
consecrated in Marvel’s verse, may be seen mantling in the suffused
features of some young court-beauty of the present day. The portrait of
Judge Jeffries, which was exhibited lately in the Gallery in Pall
Mall—young, handsome, spirited, good-humoured, and totally unlike, at
first view, what you would expect from the character, was an exact
likeness of two young men whom I knew some years ago, the living
representatives of that family. It is curious that, consistently enough
with the delineation in the portrait, old Evelyn should have recorded in
his Memoirs, that ‘he saw the Chief-Justice Jeffries in a large company
the night before, and that he thought he laughed, drank, and danced too
much for a man who had that day condemned Algernon Sidney to the block.’
It is not always possible to foresee the tyger’s spring, till we are in
his grasp; the fawning, cruel eye dooms its prey, while it glitters!
Features alone do not run in the blood; vices and virtues, genius and
folly are transmitted through the same sure, but unseen channel. There
is an involuntary, unaccountable family character, as well as family
face; and we see it manifesting itself in the same way, with unbroken
continuity, or by fits and starts. There shall be a regular breed of
misers, of incorrigible old _hunkses_ in a family, time out of mind; or
the shame of the thing, and the hardships and restraint imposed upon him
while young, shall urge some desperate spendthrift to wipe out the
reproach upon his name by a course of extravagance and debauchery; and
his immediate successors shall make his example an excuse for relapsing
into the old jog-trot incurable infirmity, the grasping and pinching
disease of the family again.[39] A person may be indebted for a nose or
an eye, for a graceful carriage or a voluble discourse, to a great-aunt
or uncle, whose existence he has scarcely heard of; and distant
relations are surprised, on some casual introduction, to find each other
an _alter idem_. Country cousins, who meet after they are grown up for
the first time in London, often start at the likeness,—it is like
looking at themselves in the glass—nay, they shall see, almost before
they exchange a word, their own thoughts (as it were) staring them in
the face, the same ideas, feelings, opinions, passions, prejudices,
likings and antipathies; the same turn of mind and sentiment, the same
foibles, peculiarities, faults, follies, misfortunes, consolations, the
same self, the same every thing! And farther, this coincidence shall
take place and be most remarkable, where not only no intercourse has
previously been kept up, not even by letter or by common friends, but
where the different branches of a family have been estranged for long
years, and where the younger part in each have been brought up in
totally different situations, with different studies, pursuits,
expectations and opportunities. To assure me that this is owing to
circumstances, is to assure me of a gratuitous absurdity, which you
cannot know, and which I shall not believe. It is owing, not to
circumstances, but to the force of kind, to the stuff of which our blood
and humours are compounded being the same. Why should I and an old
hair-brained uncle of mine fasten upon the same picture in a Collection,
and talk of it for years after, though one of no particular ‘mark or
likelihood’ in itself, but for something congenial in the look to our
own humour and way of seeing nature? Why should my cousin L—— and I fix
upon the same book, Tristram Shandy,—without comparing notes, have it
‘doubled down and dogeared’ in the same places, and live upon it as a
sort of food that assimilated with our natural dispositions?—‘Instinct,
Hal, instinct!’ They are fools who say otherwise, and have never studied
nature or mankind, but in books and systems of philosophy. But, indeed,
the colour of our lives is woven into the fatal thread at our births:
our original sins, and our redeeming graces are infused into us; nor is
the bond, that confirms our destiny, ever cancelled.

            Beneath the hills, amid the flowery groves,
            The generations are prepar’d; the pangs,
            The internal pangs, are ready; the dread strife
            Of poor humanity’s afflicted will
            Struggling in vain with ruthless destiny.

The ‘winged wounds’ that rankle in our breasts to our latest day, were
planted there long since, ticketed and labelled on the outside in small
but indelible characters, written in our blood, ‘like that ensanguined
flower inscribed with woe:’ we are in the toils from the very first,
hemmed in by the hunters; and these are our own passions, bred of our
brain and humours, and that never leave us, but consume and gnaw the
heart in our short life-time, as worms wait for us in the grave!

Critics and authors, who congregate in large cities, and see nothing of
the world but a sort of phantasmagoria, to whom the numberless
characters they meet in the course of a few hours are fugitive ‘as the
flies of a summer,’ evanescent as the figures in a _camera obscura_, may
talk very learnedly, and attribute the motions of the puppets to
circumstances of which they are confessedly in total ignorance. They see
character only in the bust, and have not room (for the crowd) to study
it as a whole-length, that is, as it exists in reality. But those who
trace things to their source, and proceed from individuals to generals,
know better. School-boys, for example, who are early let into the
secret, and see the seeds growing, are not only sound judges, but true
prophets of character; so that the nick-names they give their
play-fellows usually stick by them ever after. The gossips in
country-towns, also, who study human nature, not merely in the history
of the individual, but in the genealogy of the race, know the
comparative anatomy of the minds of a whole neighbourhood to a tittle,
where to look for marks and defects,—explain a vulgarity by a cross in
the breed, or a foppish air in a young tradesman by his grandmother’s
marriage with a dancing-master, and are the only practical conjurors and
expert decypherers of the determinate lines of true or supposititious
character.

The character of women (I should think it will at this time of day be
granted) differs essentially from that of men, not less so than their
shape or the texture of their skin. It has been said indeed, ‘Most women
have no character at all,’—and on the other hand, the fair and eloquent
authoress of the Rights of Women was for establishing the masculine
pretensions and privileges of her sex on a perfect equality with ours. I
shall leave Pope and Mary Wolstonecraft to settle that point between
them. I should laugh at any one who told me that the European, the
Asiatic, and the African character were the same. I no more believe it
than I do that black is the same colour as white, or that a straight
line is a crooked one. We see in whole nations and large classes the
physiognomies, and I should suppose (‘not to speak it profanely’) the
general characters of different animals with which we are acquainted, as
of the fox, the wolf, the hog, the goat, the dog, the monkey; and I
suspect this analogy, whether perceived or not, has as prevailing an
influence on their habits and actions, as any theory of moral sentiments
taught in the schools. Rules and precautions may, no doubt, be applied
to counteract the excesses and overt demonstrations of any such
characteristic infirmity; but still the disease will be in the mind, an
impediment, not a help to virtue. An exception is usually taken to all
national or general reflections, as unjust and illiberal, because they
cannot be true of every individual. It is not meant that they are; and
besides, the same captious objection is not made to the handsome things
that are said of whole bodies and classes of men. A lofty panegyric, a
boasted virtue will fit the inhabitants of an entire district to a hair;
the want of strict universality, of philosophical and abstract truth, is
no difficulty here; but if you hint at an obvious vice or defect, this
is instantly construed into a most unfair and partial view of the case,
and each defaulter throws the imputation from himself and his country
with scorn. Thus you may praise the generosity of the English, the
prudence of the Scotch, the hospitality of the Irish, as long as you
please, and not a syllable is whispered against these sweeping
expressions of admiration; but reverse the picture, hold up to censure,
or only glance at the unfavourable side of each character (and they
themselves admit that they have a distinguishing and generic character
as a people), and you are assailed by the most violent clamours, and a
confused Babel of noises, as a disseminator of unfounded prejudices, or
a libeller of human nature. I am sure there is nothing reasonable in
this.—Harsh and disagreeable qualities wear out in nations, as in
individuals, from time and intercourse with the world; but it is at the
expense of their intrinsic excellences. The vices of softness and
effeminacy sink deeper with age, like thorns in the flesh. Single acts
or events often determine the fate of mortals, yet may have nothing to
do with their general deserts or failings. He who is said to be cured of
any glaring infirmity may be suspected never to have had it; and lastly,
it may be laid down as a general rule, that mankind improve, by means of
luxury and civilisation, in social manners, and become more depraved in
what relates to personal habits and character. There are few nations, as
well as few men (with the exception of tyrants) that are cruel and
voluptuous, immersed in pleasure, and bent on inflicting pain on others,
at the same time. Ferociousness is the characteristic of barbarous ages,
licentiousness of more refined periods.[40]

I shall not undertake to decide exactly how far the original character
may be modified by the general progress of society, or by particular
circumstances happening to the individual; but I think the alteration
(be it what it may) is more apparent than real, more in conduct than in
feeling. I will not deny, that an extreme and violent difference of
circumstances (as that between the savage and civilized state) will
supersede the common distinctions of character, and prevent certain
dispositions and sentiments from ever developing themselves. Yet with
reference to this, I would observe, in the first place, that in the most
opposite ranks and conditions of life, we find qualities shewing
themselves, which we should have least expected,—grace in a cottage,
humanity in a bandit, sincerity in courts; and secondly, in ordinary
cases, and in the mixed mass of human affairs, the mind contrives to lay
hold of those circumstances and motives which suit its own bias and
confirm its natural disposition, whatever it may be, gentle or rough,
vulgar or refined, spirited or cowardly, open-hearted or cunning. The
will is not blindly impelled by outward accidents, but selects the
impressions by which it chooses to be governed, with great dexterity and
perseverance. Or the machine may be at the disposal of fortune: the man
is still his own master. The soul, under the pressure of circumstances,
does not lose its original spring, but, as soon as the pressure is
removed, recoils with double violence to its first position. That which
any one has been long learning unwillingly, he unlearns with
proportionable eagerness and haste. Kings have been said to be
incorrigible to experience. The maxim might be extended, without injury,
to the benefit of their subjects; for every man is a king (with all the
pride and obstinacy of one) in his own little world. It is only lucky
that the rest of the species are not answerable for his caprices! We
laugh at the warnings and advice of others; we resent the lessons of
adversity, and lose no time in letting it appear that we have escaped
from its importunate hold. I do not think, with every assistance from
reason and circumstances, that the slothful ever becomes active, the
coward brave, the headstrong prudent, the fickle steady, the mean
generous, the coarse delicate, the ill-tempered amiable, or the knave
honest; but that the restraint of necessity and appearances once taken
away, they would relapse into their former and real character
again:—_Cucullus non facit monachum_. Manners, situation, example,
fashion, have a prodigious influence on exterior deportment. But do they
penetrate much deeper? The thief will not steal by day; but his having
this command over himself does not do away his character or calling. The
priest cannot indulge in certain irregularities; but unless his pulse
beats temperately from the first, he will only be playing a part through
life. Again, the soldier cannot shrink from his duty in a dastardly
manner; but if he has not naturally steady nerves and strong
resolution,—except in the field of battle, he may be fearful as a woman,
though covered with scars and honour. The judge must be disinterested
and above suspicion; yet should he have from nature an itching palm, an
eye servile and greedy of office, he will somehow contrive to indemnify
his private conscience out of his public principle, and husband a
reputation for legal integrity, as a stake to play the game of political
profligacy with more advantage! There is often a contradiction in
character, which is composed of various and unequal parts; and hence
there will arise an appearance of fickleness and inconsistency. A man
may be sluggish by the father’s side, and of a restless and uneasy
temper by the mother’s; and he may favour either of these inherent
dispositions according to circumstances. But he will not have changed
his character, any more than a man who sometimes lives in one apartment
of a house and then takes possession of another, according to whim or
convenience, changes his habitation. The simply phlegmatic never turns
to the truly ‘fiery quality.’ So, the really gay or trifling never
become thoughtful and serious. The light-hearted wretch takes nothing to
heart. He, on whom (from natural carelessness of disposition) ‘the shot
of accident and dart of chance’ fall like drops of oil on water, so that
he brushes them aside with heedless hand and smiling face, will never be
roused from his volatile indifference to meet inevitable calamities. He
may try to laugh them off, but will not put himself to any inconvenience
to prevent them. I know a man that, if a tiger were to jump into his
room, would only play off some joke, some ‘quip, or crank, or wanton
wile’ upon him. Mortifications and disappointments may break such a
person’s heart; but they will be the death of him ere they will make him
provident of the future, or willing to forego one idle gratification of
the passing moment for any consideration whatever. The dilatory man
never becomes punctual. Resolution is of no avail; for the very essence
of the character consists in this, that the present impression is of
more efficacy than any previous resolution. I have heard it said of a
celebrated writer, that if he had to get a reprieve from the gallows for
himself or a friend (with leave be it spoken), and was to be at a
certain place at a given time for this purpose, he would be a quarter of
an hour behind-hand. What is to be done in this case? Can you talk or
argue a man out of his humour? You might as well attempt to talk or
argue him out of a lethargy, or a fever. The disease is in the blood:
you may see it (if you are a curious observer) meandering in his veins,
and reposing on his eye-lids! Some of our foibles are laid in the
constitution of our bodies; others in the structure of our minds, and
both are irremediable. The vain man, who is full of himself, is never
cured of his vanity, but looks for admiration to the last, with a
restless, suppliant eye, in the midst of contumely and contempt; the
modest man never grows vain from flattery, or unexpected applause, for
he sees himself in the diminished scale of other things. He will not
‘have his nothings monstered.’ He knows how much he himself wants, how
much others have; and till you can alter this conviction in him, or make
him drunk by infusing some new poison, some celestial _ichor_ into his
veins, you cannot make a coxcomb of him. He is too well aware of the
truth of what has been said, that ‘the wisest amongst us is a fool in
some things, as the lowest amongst men has some just notions, and
therein is as wise as Socrates; so that every man resembles a statue
made to stand against a wall, or in a niche; on one side it is a Plato,
an Apollo, a Demosthenes; on the other, it is a rough, unformed piece of
stone.’[41] Some persons of my acquaintance, who think themselves _teres
et rotundus_, and armed at all points with perfections, would not be
much inclined to give in to this sentiment, the modesty of which is only
equalled by its sense and ingenuity. The man of sanguine temperament is
seldom weaned from his castles in the air; nor can you, by virtue of any
theory, convert the cold, careful calculator into a wild enthusiast. A
self-tormentor is never satisfied, come what will. He always apprehends
the worst, and is indefatigable in conjuring up the apparition of
danger. He is uneasy at his own good fortune, as it takes from him his
favourite topic of repining and complaint. Let him succeed to his
heart’s content in all that is reasonable or important, yet if there is
any one thing (and _that_ he is sure to find out) in which he does not
get on, this embitters all the rest. I know an instance. Perhaps it is
myself. Again, a surly man, in spite of warning, neglects his own
interest, and will do so, because he has more pleasure in disobliging
you than in serving himself. ‘A friendly man will shew himself
friendly,’ to the last; for those who are said to have been spoiled by
prosperity were never really good for any thing. A good-natured man
never loses his native happiness of disposition: good temper is an
estate for life; and a man born with common sense rarely turns out a
very egregious fool. It is more common to see a fool become wise, that
is, set up for wisdom, and be taken at his word by fools. We frequently
judge of a man’s intellectual pretensions by the number of books he
writes; of his eloquence by the number of speeches he makes; of his
capacity for business, by the number of offices he holds. These are not
true tests. Many a celebrated author is a known blockhead (between
friends); and many a minister of state, whose gravity and
self-importance pass with the world for depth of thought and weight of
public care, is a laughing-stock to his very servants and
dependants.[42] The talents of some men, indeed, which might not
otherwise have had a field to display themselves, are called out by
extraordinary situations, and rise with the occasion; but for all the
routine and mechanical preparation, the pomp and parade and big looks of
great statesmen, or what is called merely _filling office_, a very
shallow capacity, with a certain immoveableness of countenance, is, I
should suppose, sufficient, from what I have seen. Such political
machines are not so good as the Mock-Duke in the Honey-Moon. As to
genius and capacity for the works of art and science, all that a man
really excels in, is his own and incommunicable; what he borrows from
others he has in an inferior degree, and it is never what his fame rests
on. Sir Joshua observes, that Raphael, in his latter pictures, shewed
that he had learnt in some measure the colouring of Titian. If he had
learnt it quite, the merit would still have been Titian’s; but he did
not learn it, and never would. But his expression (his glory and his
excellence) was what he had within himself, first and last; and this it
was that seated him on the pinnacle of fame, a pre-eminence that no
artist, without an equal warrant from nature and genius, will ever
deprive him of. With respect to indications of early genius for
particular things, I will just mention, that I myself know an instance
of a little boy, who could catch the hardest tunes, when between two and
three years old, without any assistance but hearing them played on a
hand-organ in the street; and who followed the exquisite pieces of
Mozart, played to him for the first time, so as to fall in like an echo
at the close. Was this accident, or education, or natural aptitude? I
think the last. All the presumptions are for it, and there are none
against it.

In fine, do we not see how hard certain early impressions, or prejudices
acquired later, are to overcome? Do we not say, habit is a second
nature? And shall we not allow the force of nature itself? If the real
disposition is concealed for a time and tampered with, how readily it
breaks out with the first excuse or opportunity! How soon does the
drunkard forget his resolution and constrained sobriety, at sight of the
foaming tankard and blazing hearth! Does not the passion for gaming, in
which there had been an involuntary pause, return like a madness all at
once? It would be needless to offer instances of so obvious a truth. But
if this superinduced nature is not to be got the better of by reason or
prudence, who shall pretend to set aside the original one by
prescription and management? Thus, if we turn to the characters of
women, we find that the shrew, the jilt, the coquette, the wanton, the
intriguer, the liar, continue all their lives the same. Meet them after
the lapse of a quarter or half a century, and they are still infallibly
at their old work. No rebuke from experience, no lessons of misfortune,
make the least impression on them. On they go; and, in fact, they can go
on in no other way. They try other things, but it will not do. They are
like fish out of water, except in the element of their favourite vices.
They might as well not be, as cease to be what they are by nature and
custom. ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?’
Neither do these wretched persons find any satisfaction or consciousness
of their power, but in being a plague and a torment to themselves and
every one else as long as they can. A good sort of woman is a character
more rare than any of these, but it is equally durable. Look at the head
of Hogarth’s Idle Apprentice in the boat, holding up his fingers as
horns at Cuckold’s Point, and ask what penitentiary, what
prison-discipline, would change the form of his forehead, ‘villainous
low,’ or the conceptions lurking within it? Nothing:—no mother’s fearful
warnings,—nor the formidable precautions of that wiser and more loving
mother, his country! That fellow is still to be met with somewhere in
our time. Is he a spy, a jack-ketch, or an underling of office? In
truth, almost all the characters in Hogarth are of the class of
incorrigibles; so that I often wonder what has become of some of them.
Have the worst of them been cleared out, like the breed of noxious
animals? Or have they been swept away, like locusts, in the whirlwind of
the French Revolution? Or has Mr. Bentham put them into his Panopticon;
from which they have come out, so that nobody knows them, like the
chimney-sweeper boy at Sadler’s Wells, that was thrown into a cauldron
and came out a little dapper volunteer? I will not deny that some of
them may, like Chaucer’s characters, have been modernised a little; but
I think I could re-translate a few of them into their mother-tongue, the
original honest _black-letter_. We may refine, we may disguise, we may
equivocate, we may compound for our vices, without getting rid of them;
as we change our liquors, but do not leave off drinking. We may, in this
respect, look forward to a decent and moderate, rather than a thorough
and radical reform. Or (without going deep into the political question)
I conceive we may improve the mechanism, if not the texture of society;
that is, we may improve the physical circumstances of individuals and
their general relations to the state, though the internal character,
like the grain in wood, or the sap in trees, that still rises, bend them
how you will, may remain nearly the same. The clay that the potter uses
may be of the same quality, coarse or fine in itself, though he may
mould it into vessels of very different shape or beauty. Who shall alter
the stamina of national character by any systematic process? Who shall
make the French respectable, or the English amiable? Yet the Author of
THE YEAR 2500[43] has done it! Suppose public spirit to become the
general principle of action in the community—how would it shew itself?
Would it not then become the fashion, like loyalty, and have its apes
and parrots, like loyalty? The man of principle would no longer be
distinguished from the crowd, the _servum pecus imitatorum_. There is a
cant of democracy as well as of aristocracy; and we have seen both
triumphant in our day. The Jacobin of 1794 was the Anti-Jacobin of 1814.
The loudest chaunters of the Pæans of liberty were the loudest
applauders of the restored doctrine of divine right. They drifted with
the stream, they sailed before the breeze in either case. The politician
was changed; the man was the same, the very same!—But enough of this.

I do not know any moral to be deduced from this view of the subject but
one, namely, that we should mind our own business, cultivate our good
qualities, if we have any, and irritate ourselves less about the
absurdities of other people, which neither we nor they can help. I grant
there is something in what I have said, which might be made to glance
towards the doctrines of original sin, grace, election, reprobation, or
the Gnostic principle that acts did not determine the virtue or vice of
the character; and in those doctrines, so far as they are deducible from
what I have said, I agree—but always with a salvo.


                               ESSAY XXII
                           ON PEOPLE OF SENSE

People of sense (as they are called) give themselves great and
unwarrantable airs over the rest of the world. If we examine the history
of mankind, we shall find that the greatest absurdities have been most
strenuously maintained by these very persons, who give themselves out as
wiser than every body else. The fictions of law, the quibbles of
school-divinity, the chicanery of politics, the mysteries of the
Cabbala, the doctrine of Divine Right, and the secret of the
philosopher’s stone,—all the grave impostures that have been acted in
the world, have been the contrivance of those who set up for oracles to
their neighbours. The learned professions alone have propagated and lent
their countenance to as many perverse contradictions and idle fallacies
as have puzzled the wits, and set the credulous, thoughtless,
unpretending part of mankind together by the ears, ever since the
distinction between learning and ignorance subsisted. It is the part of
deep investigators to teach others what they do not know themselves, and
to prove by infallible rules the truth of any nonsense they happen to
take in their heads, or chuse to give out to amuse the gaping multitude.
What every one felt and saw for himself—the obvious dictates of common
sense and humanity—such superficial studies as these afforded a very
insufficient field for the exercise of reason and abstruse philosophy,
in the view of ‘the demure, grave-looking, spring-nailed, velvet-pawed,
green-eyed’ despisers of popular opinion; _their_ object has regularly
been, by taking post in the _terra incognita_ of science, to discover
what could not be known, and to establish what could be of no use if it
were. Hence one age is employed in pulling down what another with
infinite pomp and pains has been striving to build up; and our greatest
proof of wisdom is to unlearn the follies and prejudices that have been
instilled into us by our predecessors. It took ages of ingenuity, of
sophistry, and learning, to incorporate the Aristotelian, or scholastic
philosophy, into a complete system of absurdity, applicable to all
questions, and to all the purposes of life; and it has taken two
centuries of metaphysical acuteness and boldness of inquiry, to take to
pieces the cumbrous, disproportioned edifice, and to convert the
materials to the construction of the _modern French philosophy_, by
means of verbal logic, self-evident propositions, and undoubted axioms—a
philosophy just as remote from truth and nature, and setting them
equally at defiance. What a number of parties and schools have we in
medicine,—all noisy and dogmatical, and agreeing in nothing but contempt
and reprobation of each other! Again, how many sects in religion,—all
confident of being in the right, able to bring chapter and verse in
support of every doctrine and tittle of belief, all ready to damn and
excommunicate one another; yet only one, out of all these pretenders to
superior wisdom and infallibility, _can_ be right; the conclusions of
all the others, drawn with such laboured accuracy, and supported with
such unbending constancy and solemnity, are, and must be, a bundle of
heresies and errors! How many idle schemes and intolerant practices have
taken their rise from no better a foundation than a mystic garment, a
divining-rod, or Pythagoras’s golden thigh!—When Baxter, the celebrated
controversial divine, and nonconformist minister in the reign of Charles
II. went to preach at Kidderminster, he regularly every Sunday insisted
from the pulpit that baptism was necessary to salvation, and roundly
asserted, that ‘Hell was paved with infants’ skulls.’ This roused the
indignation of the poor women of Kidderminster so much, that they were
inclined to pelt their preacher as he passed along the streets. His
zeal, however, was as great as theirs, and his learning and his
eloquence greater; and he poured out such torrents of texts upon them,
and such authorities from grave councils and pious divines, that the
poor women were defeated, and forced with tears in their eyes, to
surrender their natural feelings and unenlightened convictions to the
proofs from reason and Scripture, which they did not know how to answer.
Yet these untutored, unsophisticated dictates of nature and instinctive
affection have, in their turn, triumphed over all the pride of
casuistry, and merciless bigotry of Calvinism! We hear it said, that the
Inquisition would not have been lately restored in Spain, but for the
infatuation and prejudices of the populace. That is, after power and
priestcraft have been instilling the poison of superstition and cruelty
into the minds of the people for centuries together, hood-winking their
understandings, and hardening every feeling of the heart, it is made a
taunt and a triumph over this very people (so long the creatures of the
government, carefully moulded by them, like clay in the potter’s hands,
into vessels, not of honour, but of dishonour) that their prejudices and
misguided zeal are the only obstacles that stand in the way of the
adoption of more liberal and humane principles. The engines and
establishments of tyranny, however, are the work of cool, plotting,
specious heads, and not the spontaneous product of the levity and
rashness of the multitude. It is a work of time to reconcile them to
such abominable and revolting abuses of power and authority, as it is a
work of time to wean them from their monstrous infatuation.[44] We may
trace a speculative absurdity or practical enormity of this kind into
its tenth or fifteenth century, supported story above story, gloss upon
gloss, till it mocks at Heaven, and tramples upon earth, propped up on
decrees and councils and synods, and appeals to popes and cardinals and
fathers of the church (all grave, reverend men!) with the regular clergy
and people at their side battling for it, and others below (schismatics
and heretics) oppugning it; till in the din and commotion and collision
of dry rubs and hard blows, it loses ground, as it rose, century by
century; is taken to pieces by timid friends and determined foes;
totters and falls, and not a fragment of it is left upon another. A text
of Scripture or a passage in ecclesiastical history, is for one whole
century ‘torn to tatters, to very rags,’ and wrangled and fought for, as
maintaining the doctrine of the true and Catholic church; in the next
century after that, the whole body of the Reformed clergy, Lutherans,
Calvinists, Arminians, get hold of it, wrest it out of the hands of
their adversaries, and twist and torture it in a thousand different
ways, to overturn the abominations of Anti-Christ; in the third a great
cabal, a clamour, a noise like the confusion of Babel, jealousies,
feuds, heart-burnings, wars in countries, divisions in families, schisms
in the church arise, because this text has been thought to favour a lax
interpretation of an article of faith, necessary to salvation; and in
the fourth century from the time the question began to be agitated with
so much heat and fury, it is discovered that no such text existed in the
genuine copies. Yet all and each of these, Popes, councils, fathers of
the church, reformed leaders, Lutherans, Calvinists, Independents,
Presbyterians, sects, schisms, clergy, people, all believe that their
own interpretation is the true sense; that, compared with this
fabricated and spurious faith of theirs, ‘the pillar’d firmament is
rottenness, and earth’s base built on stubble;’ and are so far from
being disposed to treat the matter lightly, or to suppose it possible
that they do not proceed on solid and indubitable grounds in every
contradiction they run into, that they would hand over to the civil
power, to be consigned to a prison, the galleys, or the stake (as it
happened), any one who demurred for a single instant to their being
people of sense, gravity, and wisdom. Sense (that is, that sort of sense
which consists in pretension and a claim to superiority) is shewn, not
in things that are plain and clear, but in deciding upon doubts and
difficulties; the greater the doubt, therefore, the greater must be the
dogmatism and the consequential airs of those who profess to settle
points beyond the reach of the vulgar; nay, to increase the authority of
such persons, the utmost stress must be laid on the most frivolous as
well as ticklish questions, and the most unconscionable absurdities have
always had the stoutest sticklers, and the most numerous victims. The
affectation of sense so far, then, has given birth to more folly and
done more mischief than any one thing else.

Hence we may, perhaps, be able to assign one reason, why those arts
which do not undertake to unfold mysteries and inculcate dogmas,
generally shine out at first with full lustre, because they start from
the ‘vantage ground of nature, and are not buried under the dust and
rubbish of ages of perverse prejudice. Biblical critics were a long time
at work to strip Popery of her finery, muffled up as she was in the
formal disguises of interest, pride, and bigotry. It was like peeling
off the coats of an onion, which is a work of time and patience. Titian,
on the other hand, (which our protestant painters are sometimes amazed
at) saw the colour of the skin at once, without any intellectual film
spread over it; Raphael painted the actions and passions of men, without
any indirect process, as he found them. The fine arts, such as painting,
which reveals the face of nature, and poetry, which paints the heart of
man, are true and unsophisticated, because they are conversant with real
objects, and because they are cultivated for amusement without any
further view or inference; and please by the truth of imitation only.
Yet your _people of sense_, in all ages, have made a point of scouting
the arts of painting, music, and poetry, as frivolous, effeminate, and
worthless, as appealing to sentiment and fancy alone, and involving no
useful theory or principle, because they afforded them no scope, no
opportunity for _darkening knowledge_, and setting up their own
blindness and frailty as the measure of abstract truth, and the standard
of universal propriety. Poetry acts by sympathy with nature, that is,
with the natural impulses, customs, and imaginations of men, and is, on
that account, always popular, delightful, and at the same time
instructive. It is nature moralizing and _idealizing_ for us; inasmuch
as, by shewing us things as they are, it implicitly teaches us what they
ought to be; and the grosser feelings, by passing through the strainers
of this imaginary, wide-extended experience, acquire an involuntary
tendency to higher objects. Shakespear was, in this sense, not only one
of the greatest poets, but one of the greatest moralists that we have.
Those who read him are the happier, better, and wiser for it. No one
(that I know of) is the happier, better, or wiser, for reading Mr.
Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound.[45] One thing is that nobody reads it. And
the reason for one or both is the same, that he is not a poet, but a
sophist, a theorist, a controversial writer in verse. He gives us, for
representations of things, rhapsodies of words. He does not lend the
colours of imagination and the ornaments of style to the objects of
nature, but paints gaudy, flimsy, allegorical pictures on gauze, on the
cobwebs of his own brain, ‘Gorgons and Hydras, and Chimeras dire.’ He
assumes certain doubtful speculative notions, and proceeds to prove
their truth by describing them in detail as matters of fact. This
mixture of fanatic zeal with poetical licentiousness is not quite the
thing. The poet describes what he pleases as he pleases—if he is not
tied down to certain given principles, if he is not to plead prejudice
and opinion as his warrant or excuse, we are left out at sea, at the
mercy of every reckless fancy-monger, who may be tempted to erect an
_ipse dixit_ of his own, by the help of a few idle flourishes and
extravagant epithets, into an exclusive system of morals and philosophy.
The poet describes vividly and individually, so that any general results
from what he writes must be from the aggregate of well-founded
particulars: to embody an abstract theory, as if it were a given part of
actual nature, is an impertinence and indecorum. The charm of poetry,
however, depends on the union of fancy with reality, on its finding a
tally in the human breast; and without this, all its tumid efforts will
be less pernicious than vain and abortive. Plato shewed himself to be a
person of frigid apprehension, ‘with eye severe and beard of formal
cut,’ when he banished the poets from his Republic, as corrupters of
morals, because they described the various passions and affections of
the mind. This did not suit with that Procrustes’ bed of criticism on
which he wished to stretch and lop them; but Homer’s imitations of
nature have been more popular than Plato’s inversions of her; and his
morality is at least as sound. The errors of nature are accidental and
pardonable; those of science are systematic and incorrigible. The
understanding, or reasoning faculty presumes too much over her younger
sisters; and yet plays as fantastic tricks as any of them, only with
more solemnity, which enhances the evil. We have partly seen what right
she has, on the score of past behaviour, to set up for a strict and
unerring guide. The haughtiness of her pretensions at present, ‘full of
wise saws and modern instances,’ is not the most unequivocal pledge of
her abandonment of her old errors. To bring down this account then from
the ancients to the moderns.

People of sense, the self-conceited wise, are at all times at issue with
common sense and feeling. They formerly dogmatised on speculative
matters, out of the reach of common apprehension; they now dogmatise
with the same headstrong self-sufficiency on practical questions, more
within the province of actual inquiry and observation. In this new and
more circumscribed career, they set out with exploding the sense of all
those who have gone before them, as of too light and fanciful a texture.
They make a clear stage of all former opinions—get rid of the _mixed
modes_ of prejudice, authority, suggestion—and begin _de novo_, with
reason for their rule, certainty for their guide, and the greatest
possible good as a _sine qua non_. The modern Panoptic and Chrestomathic
School of reformers and reconstructors of society propose to do it upon
entirely mechanical and scientific principles. Nothing short of that
will satisfy their scrupulous pretensions to wisdom and gravity. They
proceed by the rule and compass, by logical diagrams, and with none but
demonstrable conclusions, and leave all the taste, fancy, and sentiment
of the thing to the admirers of Mr. Burke’s Reflections on the French
Revolution. That work is to them a very flimsy and superficial
performance, because it is rhetorical and figurative, and they judge of
solidity by barrenness, of depth by dryness. Till they see a little
farther into it, they will not be able to answer it, or counteract its
influence; and yet that were a task of some importance to atchieve. They
say that the proportions are false, because the colouring is fine, which
is bad logic. If they do not like a painted statue, a florid argument,
that is a matter of taste and not of reasoning. Some may conceive that
the gold, the sterling bullion of thought, is the better for being
wrought into rich and elegant figures; _they_ are the only people who
contend that it is the worse on that account. These crude projectors
give, in their new plan and elevation of society, neither ‘princes’
palaces nor poor men’s cottages,’ but a sort of log-houses and
gable-ends, in which the solid contents and square dimensions are to be
ascertained and parcelled out to a nicety; they employ the carpenter,
joiner, and bricklayer, but will have nothing to say to the plasterer,
painter, paper-hanger, upholsterer, carver and gilder, &c.; so that I am
afraid, in this fastidious and luxurious age, they will hardly find
tenants for their bare walls and skeletons of houses, run up in haste
and by the job. Their system wants _house-warming_; it is destitute of
comfort as of outside shew; it has nothing to recommend it but its
poverty and nakedness. They profess to set aside and reject all
compromise with the prejudices of authority, the allurements of sense,
the customs of the world, and the instincts of nature. They will make a
man with a quadrant, as the tailors at Laputa made a suit of clothes.
They put the mind into a machine, as the potter puts a lump of clay into
a mould, and out it comes in any clumsy or disagreeable shape that they
would have it. They hate all grace, ornament, elegance. They are
addicted to abstruse science, but sworn enemies to the fine arts. They
are a kind of puritans in morals. Do you suppose that the race of the
Iconoclasts is dead with the dispute in Laud’s time about image-worship?
We have just the same set of moon-eyed philosophers in our days, who
cannot bear to be dazzled with the sun of beauty. They are only
half-alive. They can distinguish the hard edges and determinate outline
of things; but are alike insensible to the stronger impulses of passion,
to the finer essences of thought. Their intellectual food does not
assimilate with the juices of the mind, or turn to subtle spirit, but
lies a crude, undigested heap of material substance, begetting only the
windy impertinence of words. They are acquainted with the form, not the
power of truth; they insist on what is necessary, and never arrive at
what is desirable. They refer every thing to utility, and yet banish
pleasure with stoic pride and cynic slovenliness. They talk big of
increasing the sum of human happiness, and yet in the mighty grasp and
extension of their views, leave hardly any one source from which the
smallest ray of satisfaction can be derived. They have an instinctive
aversion to plays, novels, amusements of every kind; and this not so
much from affectation or want of knowledge, as from sheer incapacity and
want of taste. Shew one of these men of narrow comprehension a beautiful
prospect, and he wonders you can take delight in what is of no use: you
would hardly suppose that this very person had written a book, and was
perhaps at the moment holding an argument, to prove that nothing is
useful but what pleases. Speak of Shakespear, and another of the same
_automatic_ school will tell you he has read him, but could find nothing
in him. Point to Hogarth, and they do confess there is something in his
prints, that, by contrast, throws a pleasing light on their Utopian
schemes, and the future progress of society. One of these
pseudo-philosophers would think it a disparagement to compare him to
Aristotle: he fancies himself as great a man as Aristotle was in his
day, and that the world is much wiser now than it was in the time of
Aristotle. He would be glad to live the ten remaining years of his life,
a year at a time at the end of the next ten centuries, to see the effect
of his writings on social institutions, though posterity will know no
more than his contemporaries that so great a man ever existed. So little
does he know of himself or the world! Persons of his class, indeed,
cautiously shut themselves up from society, and take no more notice of
men than of animals; and from their ignorance of what mankind are, can
tell exactly what they will be. ‘What can we reason but from what we
know?’—is not their maxim. Reason with them is a mathematical force that
acts with most certainty in the absence of experience, in the vacuum of
pure speculation. These secure alarmists and dreaming guardians of the
state are like superannuated watchmen enclosed in a sentry-box, that
never hear ‘when thieves break through and steal.’ They put an oil-skin
over their heads, that the dust raised by the passions and interests of
the countless, ever-moving multitude, may not annoy or disturb the
clearness of their vision. They build a Penitentiary, and are satisfied
that Dyot-street, Bloomsbury-square, will no longer send forth its
hordes of young delinquents, ‘an aerie of children,’ the embryo
performers on locks and pockets for the next generation. They put men
into a Panopticon, like a glass hive, to carry on all sorts of
handicrafts (‘——So work the honey-bees’—) under the omnipresent eye of
the inventor, and want and idleness are banished from the world. They
propose to erect a Chrestomathic school, by cutting down some fine old
trees on the classic ground where Milton thought and wrote, to introduce
a rabble of children, who for the Greek and Latin languages, poetry, and
history, that fine pabulum of useful enthusiasm, that breath of
immortality infused into our youthful blood, that balm and cordial of
our future years, are to be drugged with chemistry and apothecaries’
receipts, are to be taught to do every thing, and to see and feel
nothing;—that the grubbing up of elegant arts and polite literature may
be followed by the systematic introduction of accomplished barbarism and
mechanical quackery. Such enlightened geniuses would pull down
Stonehenge to build pig-sties, and would convert Westminster Abbey into
a central House of Correction. It would be in vain to point to the
arched windows,

                   ‘Shedding a dim, religious light,’

to touch the deep, solemn organ-stop in their ears, to turn to the
statue of Newton, to gaze upon the sculptured marble on the walls, to
call back the hopes and fears that lie buried there, to cast a wistful
look at Poet’s Corner (they scorn the Muse!)—all this would not stand
one moment in the way of any of the schemes of these retrograde
reformers; who, instead of being legislators for the world, and stewards
to the intellectual inheritance of nations, are hardly fit to be
parish-beadles, or pettifogging attorneys to a litigated estate! ‘Their
speech bewrayeth them.’ The leader of this class of reasoners does not
write to be understood, because he would make fewer converts, if he did.
The language he adopts is his own—a word to the wise—a technical and
conventional jargon, unintelligible to others, and conveying no idea to
himself in common with the rest of mankind, purposely cut off from human
sympathy and ordinary apprehension. Mr. Bentham’s writings require to be
translated into a foreign tongue or his own, before they can be read at
all, except by the adepts. This is not a very fair or very wise
proceeding. No man who invents words arbitrarily, can be sure that he
uses them conscientiously. There is no check upon him in the popular
criticism exercised by the mass of readers—there is no clue to propriety
in the habitual associations of his own mind. He who pretends to fit
words to things, will much oftener accommodate things to words, to
answer a theory. Words are a measure of truth. They ascertain
(intuitively) the degrees, inflections, and powers of things in a
wonderful manner; and he who voluntarily deprives himself of their
assistance, does not go the way to arrive at any very nice or sure
results. Language is the medium of our communication with the thoughts
of others. But whoever becomes wise, becomes wise by sympathy; whoever
is powerful, becomes so by making others sympathize with him. To think
justly, we must understand what others mean: to know the value of our
thoughts, we must try their effect on other minds. There is this
privilege in the use of a conventional style, as there was in that of
the learned languages—a man may be as absurd as he pleases without being
ridiculous. His folly and his wisdom are alike a secret to the
generality. If it were possible to contrive a perfect language,
consistent with itself, and answering to the complexity of human
affairs, there would be some excuse for the attempt; but he who knows
any thing of the nature of language, or of the complexity of human
thought, knows that this is impossible. What is gained in formality, is
more than lost in force, ease, and perspicuity. Mr. Bentham’s language,
in short, is like his reasoning, a logical apparatus, which will work
infallibly and perform wonders, taking it for granted that his
principles and definitions are universally true and intelligible; but as
this is not exactly the case, neither the one nor the other is of much
use or authority. Thus, the maxim that ‘mankind act from calculation’
may be, in a general sense, true: but the moment you apply this maxim to
subject all their actions systematically and demonstrably to reason, and
to exclude passion both in common and in extreme cases, you give it a
sense in which the principle is false, and in which all the inferences
built upon it (many and mighty, no doubt) fall to the ground. ‘Madmen
reason.’ But in what proportion does this hold good? How far does reason
guide them, or their madness err? There is a difference between reason
and madness in this respect; but according to Mr. Bentham, there can be
none; for all men act from calculation, and equally so. ‘So runs the
bond.’ Passion is liable to be restrained by reason, as drunkenness may
be changed to sobriety by some strong motive: but passion is not reason,
_i.e._ does not act by the same rule or law; and therefore all that
follows is, that men act (according to the common-sense of the thing)
either from passion or reason, from impulse or calculation, more or
less, as circumstances lead. But no sweeping, metaphysical conclusion
can be drawn from hence, as if reason were absolute, and passion a mere
non-entity in the government of the world. People in general, or writers
speculating on human actions, form wrong judgments concerning them,
because they decide coolly, and at a distance, on what is done in heat
and on the spur of the occasion. Man is not a machine; nor is he to be
measured by mechanical rules. The decisions of abstract reason would
apply to what men might do if all men were philosophers: but if all men
were philosophers, there would be no need of systems of philosophy!

The race of alchemists and visionaries is not yet extinct; and, what is
remarkable, we find them existing in the shape of deep logicians and
enlightened legislators. They have got a menstruum for dissolving the
lead and copper of society, and turning it to pure gold, as the adepts
of old had a trick for finding the philosopher’s stone. The author of
St. Leon has represented his hero as possessed of the _elixir vitæ_ and
_aurum potabile_. The author of the Political Justice has adopted one
half of this romantic fiction as a serious hypothesis, and maintains the
natural immortality of man, without a figure. The truth is, that persons
of the most precise and formal understandings are persons of the loosest
and most extravagant imaginations. Take from them their _norma
loquendi_, their literal clue, and there is no absurdity into which they
will not fall with pleasure. They have no means or principle of judging
of that which does not admit of absolute proof; and between this and the
idlest fiction, they perceive no medium:—as those artists who take
likenesses with a machine, are quite thrown out in their calculations
when they have to rely on the eye or hand alone. People who are
accustomed to trust to their imaginations or feelings, know how far to
go, and how to keep within certain limits: those who seldom exert these
faculties are all abroad, in a wide sea of speculation without rudder or
compass, the instant they leave the shore of matter-of-fact or dry
reasoning, and never stop short of the last absurdity. They go all
lengths, or none. They laugh at poets, and are themselves lunatics. They
are the dupes of all sorts of projectors and impostors. Being of a busy,
meddlesome turn, they are for reducing whatever comes into their heads
(and cannot be demonstrated by mood and figure to amount to a
contradiction in terms) to practice. What they would scout in a fiction,
they would set about realizing in sober sadness, and melt their fortunes
in compassing what others consider as the amusement of an idle hour.
Astolpho’s voyage to the moon in Ariosto, they criticize sharply as a
quaint and ridiculous burlesque: but if any one had the face seriously
to undertake such a thing, they would immediately patronize it, and defy
any one to prove by a logical dilemma that the attempt was physically
impossible. So, again, we find that painters and engravers, whose
attention is confined and rivetted to a minute investigation of actual
objects, or of visible lines and surfaces, are apt to fly out into all
the extravagance and rhapsodies of the most unbridled fanaticism.
Several of the most eminent are at this moment Swedenborgians, animal
magnetists, &c. The mind (as it should seem), too long tied down to the
evidence of sense and a number of trifling particulars, is wearied of
the bondage, revolts at it, and instinctively takes refuge in the
wildest schemes and most magnificent contradictions of an unlimited
faith. Poets, on the contrary, who are continually throwing off the
superfluities of feeling or fancy in little sportive sallies and short
excursions with the Muse, do not find the want of any greater or more
painful effort of thought; leave the ascent of the ‘highest Heaven of
Invention’ as a holiday task to persons of more mechanical habits and
turn of mind; and the characters of poet and sceptic are now often
united in the same individual, as those of poet and prophet were
supposed to be of old.


                              ESSAY XXIII
                              ON ANTIQUITY

There is no such thing as Antiquity in the ordinary acceptation we affix
to the term. Whatever is or has been, while it is passing, must be
modern. The early ages may have been barbarous in themselves; but they
have become _ancient_ with the slow and silent lapse of successive
generations. The ‘olden times’ are only such in reference to us. The
past is rendered strange, mysterious, visionary, awful, from the great
gap in time that parts us from it, and the long perspective of waning
years. Things gone by and almost forgotten, look dim and dull, uncouth
and quaint, from our ignorance of them, and the mutability of customs.
But in their day—they were fresh, unimpaired, in full vigour, familiar,
and glossy. The Children in the Wood, and Percy’s Relics, were once
recent productions; and Auld Robin Gray was, in his time, a very
common-place old fellow! The wars of York and Lancaster, while they
lasted, were ‘lively, audible, and full of vent,’ as fresh and lusty as
the white and red roses that distinguished their different banners,
though they have since became a bye-word and a solecism in history.

The sun shone in Julius Cæsar’s time just as it does now. On the
roadside between Winchester and Salisbury are some remains of old Roman
encampments, with their double lines of circumvallation (now turned into
pasturage for sheep), which answer exactly to the descriptions of this
kind in Cæsar’s Commentaries. In a dull and cloudy atmosphere, I can
conceive that this is the identical spot, that the first Cæsar trod,—and
figure to myself the deliberate movements and scarce perceptible march
of close-embodied legions. But if the sun breaks out, making its way
through dazzling, fleecy clouds, lights up the blue serene, and gilds
the sombre earth, I can no longer persuade myself that it is the same
scene as formerly, or transfer the actual image before me so far back.
The brightness of nature is not easily reduced to the low, twilight tone
of history; and the impressions of sense defeat and dissipate the faint
traces of learning and tradition. It is only by an effort of reason, to
which fancy is averse, that I bring myself to believe that the sun shone
as bright, that the sky was as blue, and the earth as green, two
thousand years ago as it is at present. How ridiculous this seems; yet
so it is!

The _dark_ or middle ages, when every thing was hid in the fog and haze
of confusion and ignorance, seem, to the same involuntary kind of
prejudice, older and farther off, and more inaccessible to the
imagination, than the brilliant and well-defined periods of Greece and
Rome. A Gothic ruin appears buried in a greater depth of obscurity, to
be weighed down and rendered venerable with the hoar of more distant
ages, to have been longer mouldering into neglect and oblivion, to be a
record and memento of events more wild and alien to our own times, than
a Grecian temple.[46] Amadis de Gaul, and the seven Champions of
Christendom, with me (honestly speaking) rank as contemporaries with
Theseus, Pirithous, and the heroes of the fabulous ages. My imagination
will stretch no farther back into the commencement of time than the
first traces and rude dawn of civilization and mighty enterprise, in
either case; and in attempting to force it upwards by the scale of
chronology, it only recoils upon itself, and dwindles from a lofty
survey of ‘the dark rearward and abyss of time,’ into a poor and puny
calculation of insignificant cyphers. In like manner, I cannot go back
to any time more remote and dreary than that recorded in Stow’s and
Holingshed’s Chronicles, unless I turn to ‘the wars of old Assaracus and
Inachus divine,’ and the gorgeous events of Eastern history, where the
distance of place may be said to add to the length of time and weight of
thought. That is old (in sentiment and poetry) which is decayed,
shadowy, imperfect, out of date, and changed from what it was. That of
which we have a distinct idea, which comes before us entire and made out
in all its parts, will have a novel appearance, however old in
reality,—and cannot be impressed with the romantic and superstitious
character of antiquity. Those times that we can parallel with our own in
civilization and knowledge, seem advanced into the same line with our
own in the order of progression. The perfection of art does not look
like the infancy of things. Or those times are prominent, and, as it
were, confront the present age, that are raised high in the scale of
polished society,—and the trophies of which stand out above the low,
obscure, grovelling level of barbarism and rusticity. Thus, Rome and
Athens were two cities set on a hill, that could not be hid, and that
every where meet the retrospective eye of history. It is not the
full-grown, articulated, thoroughly accomplished periods of the world,
that we regard with the pity or reverence due to age; so much as those
imperfect, unformed, uncertain periods, which seem to totter on the
verge of non-existence, to shrink from the grasp of our feeble
imaginations, as they crawl out of, or retire into, the womb of time,
and of which our utmost assurance is to doubt whether they ever were or
not!

To give some other instances of this feeling, taken at random:
Whittington and his Cat, the first and favourite studies of my
childhood, are, to my way of thinking, as old and reverend personages as
any recorded in more authentic history. It must have been long before
the invention of triple bob-majors, that Bow-bells rung out their
welcome never-to-be-forgotten peal, hailing him Thrice Lord Mayor of
London. Does not all we know relating to the site of old London-wall,
and the first stones that were laid of this mighty metropolis, seem of a
far older date (hid in the lap of ‘chaos and old night’) than the
splendid and imposing details of the decline and fall of the Roman
Empire?—Again, the early Italian pictures of Cimabue, Giotto, and
Ghirlandaio are covered with the marks of unquestionable antiquity;
while the Greek statues, done a thousand years before them, shine in
glossy, undiminished splendour, and flourish in immortal youth and
beauty. The latter Grecian Gods, as we find them there represented, are
to all appearance a race of modern fine gentlemen, who _led the life of
honour_ with their favourite mistresses of mortal or immortal
mould,—were gallant, graceful, well-dressed, and well-spoken; whereas
the Gothic deities long after, carved in horrid wood or misshapen stone,
and worshipped in dreary waste or tangled forest, belong, in the mind’s
heraldry, to almost as ancient a date as those elder and discarded Gods
of the Pagan mythology, Ops, and Rhea and old Saturn,—those strange
anomalies of earth and cloudy spirit, born of the elements and conscious
will, and clothing themselves and all things with shape and formal
being. The Chronicle of Brute, in Spenser’s Fairy Queen, has a tolerable
air of antiquity in it; so in the dramatic line, the Ghost of one of the
old kings of Ormus, introduced as Prologue to Fulke Greville’s play of
Mustapha, is reasonably far-fetched, and palpably obscure. A monk in the
Popish Calendar, or even in the Canterbury Tales, is a more questionable
and out-of-the-way personage than the Chiron of Achilles, or the priest
in Homer. When Chaucer, in his Troilus and Cressida, makes the Trojan
hero invoke the absence of light, in these two lines—

               Why proffer’st thou light me for to sell?
               Go sell it them that smallé seles grave!

he is guilty of an anachronism; or at least I much doubt whether there
was such a profession as that of seal-engraver in the Trojan war. But
the dimness of the objects and the quaintness of the allusion throw us
farther back into the night of time, than the golden, glittering images
of the Iliad. The Travels of Anacharsis are less obsolete at this time
of day, than Coryate’s Crudities, or Fuller’s Worthies. ‘Here is some of
the ancient city,’ said a Roman, taking up a handful of dust from
beneath his feet. The ground we tread on is as old as the creation,
though it does not seem so, except when collected into gigantic masses,
or separated by gloomy solitudes from modern uses and the purposes of
common life. The lone Helvellyn and the silent Andes are in thought
coeval with the Globe itself, and can only perish with it. The Pyramids
of Egypt are vast, sublime, old, eternal; but Stonehenge, built no doubt
in a later day, satisfies my capacity for the sense of antiquity; it
seems as if as much rain had drizzled on its grey, withered head, and it
had watched out as many winter-nights; the hand of time is upon it, and
it has sustained the burden of years upon its back, a wonder and a
ponderous riddle, time out of mind, without known origin or use,
baffling fable or conjecture, the credulity of the ignorant, or wise
men’s search.

           Thou noblest monument of Albion’s isle,
           Whether by Merlin’s aid, from Scythia’s shore
           To Amber’s fatal plain Pendragon bore,
           Huge frame of giant hands, the mighty pile,
           T’entomb his Briton’s slain by Hengist’s guile:
           Or Druid priests, sprinkled with human gore,
           Taught mid thy massy maze their mystic lore:
           Or Danish chiefs, enrich’d with savage spoil,
           To victory’s idol vast, an unhewn shrine,
           Rear’d the rude heap, or in thy hallow’d ground
           Repose the kings of Brutus’ genuine line;
           Or here those kings in solemn state were crown’d;
           Studious to trace thy wondrous origin,
           We muse on many an ancient tale renown’d.
                                                   _Warton._

So it is with respect to ourselves also; it is the sense of change or
decay that marks the difference between the real and apparent progress
of time, both in the events of our own lives and the history of the
world we live in.

Impressions of a peculiar and accidental nature, of which few traces are
left, and which return seldom or never, fade in the distance, and are
consigned to obscurity,—while those that belong to a given and definite
class are kept up, and assume a constant and tangible form, from
familiarity and habit. That which was personal to myself merely, is lost
and confounded with other things, like a drop in the ocean; it was but a
point at first, which by its nearness affected me, and by its removal
becomes nothing; while circumstances of a general interest and abstract
importance present the same distinct, well-known aspect as ever, and are
durable in proportion to the extent of their influence. Our own idle
feelings and foolish fancies we get tired or grow ashamed of, as their
novelty wears out; ‘when we become men, we put away childish things;’
but the impressions we derive from the exercise of our higher faculties
last as long as the faculties themselves. They have nothing to do with
time, place, and circumstance; and are of universal applicability and
recurrence. An incident in my own history, that delighted or tormented
me very much at the time, I may have long since blotted from my
memory,—or have great difficulty in calling to mind after a certain
period; but I can never forget the first time of my seeing Mrs. Siddons
act;—which is as if it happened yesterday; and the reason is because it
has been something for me to think of ever since. The petty and the
personal, that which appeals to our senses and our appetites, passes
away with the occasion that gives it birth. The grand and the ideal,
that which appeals to the imagination, can only perish with it, and
remains with us, unimpaired in its lofty abstraction, from youth to age;
as wherever we go, we still see the same heavenly bodies shining over
our heads! An old familiar face, the house that we were brought up in,
sometimes the scenes and places that we formerly knew and loved, may be
changed, so that we hardly know them again; the characters in books, the
faces in old pictures, the propositions in Euclid, remain the same as
when they were first pointed out to us. There is a continual alternation
of generation and decay in individual forms and feelings, that marks the
progress of existence, and the ceaseless current of our lives, borne
along with it; but this does not extend to our love of art or knowledge
of nature. It seems a long time ago since some of the first events of
the French Revolution; the prominent characters that figured then have
been swept away and succeeded by others; yet I cannot say that this
circumstance has in any way abated my hatred of tyranny, or reconciled
my understanding to the fashionable doctrine of Divine Right. The sight
of an old newspaper of that date would give one a fit of the spleen for
half an hour; on the other hand, it must be confessed, Mr. Burke’s
Reflections on this subject are as fresh and dazzling as in the year
1791; and his Letter to a Noble Lord is even now as interesting as Lord
John Russell’s Letter to Mr. Wilberforce, which appeared only a few
weeks back. Ephemeral politics and still-born productions are speedily
consigned to oblivion; great principles and original works are a match
even for time itself!

We may, by following up this train of ideas, give some account why time
runs faster as our years increase. We gain by habit and experience a
more determinate and settled, that is, a more uniform notion of things.
We refer each particular to a given standard. Our impressions acquire
the character of identical propositions. Our most striking thoughts are
turned into truisms. One observation is like another, that I made
formerly. The idea I have of a certain character or subject is just the
same as I had ten years ago. I have learnt nothing since. There is no
alteration perceptible, no advance made; so that the two points of time
seem to touch and coincide. I get from the one to the other immediately
by the familiarity of habit, by the undistinguishing process of
abstraction. What I can recal so easily and mechanically does not seem
far off; it is completely within my reach, and consequently close to me
in apprehension. I have no intricate web of curious speculation to wind
or unwind, to pass from one state of feeling and opinion to the other;
no complicated train of associations, which place an immeasurable
barrier between my knowledge or my ignorance at different epochs. There
is no contrast, no repugnance to widen the interval; no new sentiment
infused, like another atmosphere, to lengthen the perspective. I am but
where I was. I see the object before me just as I have been accustomed
to do. The ideas are written down in the brain as in the page of a
book—_totidem verbis et literis_. The mind becomes _stereotyped_. By not
going forward to explore new regions, or break up new grounds, we are
thrown back more and more upon our past acquisitions; and this habitual
recurrence increases the facility and indifference with which we make
the imaginary transition. By thinking of what has been, we change places
with ourselves, and transpose our personal identity at will; so as to
fix the slider of our improgressive continuance at whatever point we
please. This is an advantage or a disadvantage, which we have not in
youth. After a certain period, we neither lose nor gain, neither add to,
nor diminish our stock; up to that period we do nothing else but lose
our former notions and being, and gain a new one every instant. Our life
is like the birth of a new day; the dawn breaks apace, and the clouds
clear away. A new world of thought and observation is opened to our
search. A year makes the difference of an age. A total alteration takes
place in our ideas, feelings, habits, looks. We outgrow ourselves. A
separate set of objects, of the existence of which we had not a
suspicion, engages and occupies our whole souls. Shapes and colours of
all varieties, and of gorgeous tint, intercept our view of what we were.
Life thickens. Time glows on its axle. Every revolution of the wheel
gives an unsettled aspect to things. The world and its inhabitants turn
round, and we forget one change of scene in another. Art woos us;
science tempts us into her intricate labyrinths; each step presents
unlooked-for vistas, and closes upon us our backward path. Our onward
road is strange, obscure, and infinite. We are bewildered in a shadow,
lost in a dream. Our perceptions have the brightness and the
indistinctness of a trance. Our continuity of consciousness is broken,
crumbles, and falls in pieces. We go on, learning and forgetting every
hour. Our feelings are chaotic, confused, strange to each other and to
ourselves. Our life does not hang together,—but straggling, disjointed,
winds its slow length along, stretching out to the endless
future—unmindful of the ignorant past. We seem many beings in one, and
cast the slough of our existence daily. The birth of knowledge is the
generation of time. The unfolding of our experience is long and
voluminous; nor do we all at once recover from our surprise at the
number of objects that distract our attention. Every new study is a
separate, arduous, and insurmountable undertaking. We are lost in wonder
at the magnitude, the difficulty, and the interminable prospect. We
spell out the first years of our existence, like learning a lesson for
the first time, where every advance is slow, doubtful, interesting;
afterwards we rehearse our parts by rote, and are hardly conscious of
the meaning. A very short period (from fifteen to twenty-five or thirty)
includes the whole map and table of contents of human life. From that
time we may be said to live our lives over again, repeat ourselves,—the
same thoughts return at stated intervals, like the tunes of a
barrel-organ; and the volume of the universe is no more than a form of
words and book of reference.

Time in general is supposed to move faster or slower, as we attend more
or less to the succession of our ideas, in the same manner as distance
is increased or lessened by the greater or less variety of intervening
objects. There is, however, a difference in this respect. Suspense,
where the mind is engrossed with one idea, and kept from amusing itself
with any other, is not only the most uncomfortable, but the most
tiresome of all things. The fixing our attention on a single point makes
us more sensible of the delay, and hangs an additional weight of fretful
impatience on every moment of expectation. People in country-places,
without employment or artificial resources, complain that time lies
heavy on their hands. Its leaden pace is not occasioned by the quantity
of thought, but by vacancy, and the continual languid craving after
excitement. It wants spirit and vivacity to give it motion. We are on
the watch to see how time goes; and it appears to lag behind, because,
in the absence of objects to arrest our immediate attention, we are
always getting on before it. We do not see its divisions, but we feel
the galling pressure of each creeping sand that measures out our hours.
Again, a rapid succession of external objects and amusements, which
leave no room for reflection, and where one gratification is forgotten
in the next, makes time pass quickly, as well as delightfully. We do not
perceive an extent of surface, but only a succession of points. We are
whirled swiftly along by the hand of dissipation, but cannot stay to
look behind us. On the contrary, change of scene, travelling through a
foreign country, or the meeting with a variety of striking adventures
that lay hold of the imagination, and continue to haunt it in a waking
dream, will make days seem weeks. From the crowd of events, the number
of distinct points of view, brought into a small compass, we seem to
have passed through a great length of time, when it is no such thing. In
traversing a flat, barren country, the monotony of our ideas fatigues,
and makes the way longer; whereas, if the prospect is diversified and
picturesque, we get over the miles without counting them. In painting or
writing, hours are melted almost into minutes: the mind, absorbed in the
eagerness of its pursuit, forgets the time necessary to accomplish it;
and, indeed, the clock often finds us employed on the same thought or
part of a picture that occupied us when it struck last. It seems, then,
there are several other circumstances besides the number and
distinctness of our ideas, to be taken into the account in the measure
of time, or in considering ‘whom time ambles withal, whom time gallops
withal, and whom he stands still withal.’[47] Time wears away slowly
with a man in solitary confinement; not from the number or variety of
his ideas, but from their weary sameness, fretting like drops of water.
The imagination may distinguish the lapse of time by the brilliant
variety of its tints, and the many striking shapes it assumes; the heart
feels it by the weight of sadness, and ‘grim-visaged, comfortless
despair!’

I will conclude this subject with remarking, that the fancied shortness
of life is aided by the apprehension of a future state. The constantly
directing our hopes and fears to a higher state of being beyond the
present, necessarily brings death habitually before us, and defines the
narrow limits within which we hold our frail existence, as mountains
bound the horizon, and unavoidably draw our attention to it. This may be
one reason among others why the fear of death was a less prominent
feature in ancient times than it is at present; because the thoughts of
it, and of a future state, were less frequently impressed on the mind by
religion and morality. The greater progress of civilization and security
in modern times has also considerably to do with our practical
effeminacy; for though the old Pagans were not bound to think of death
as a religious duty, they never could foresee when they should be
compelled to submit to it, as a natural necessity, or accident of war,
&c. They viewed death, therefore, with an eye of speculative
indifference and practical resolution. That the idea of annihilation did
not impress them with the same horror and repugnance as it does the
modern believer, or even infidel, is easily accounted for (though a
writer in the Edinburgh Review thinks the question insoluble)[48] from
this plain reason, _viz._ that not being taught from childhood a belief
in a future state of existence as a part of the creed of their country,
the supposition that there was no such state in store for them, could
not shock their feelings, or confound their imagination, in the same
manner as it does with us, who have been brought up in such a belief;
and who live with those who deeply cherish, and would be unhappy without
a full conviction of it. It is the Christian religion alone that takes
us to the highest pinnacle of the Temple, to point out to us ‘the glory
hereafter to be revealed,’ and that makes us shrink back with affright
from the precipice of annihilation that yawns below. Those who have
never entertained a hope, cannot be greatly staggered by having it
struck from under their feet; those who have never been led to expect
the reversion of an estate, will not be excessively disappointed at
finding that the inheritance has descended to others.


                               ESSAY XXIV
             ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WRITING AND SPEAKING

  ‘Some minds are proportioned to that which may be dispatched at
  once, or within a short return of time: others to that which begins
  afar off, and is to be won with length of pursuit.’

                                                           LORD BACON.

It is a common observation, that few persons can be found who speak and
write equally well. Not only is it obvious that the two faculties do not
always go together in the same proportions: but they are not unusually
in direct opposition to each other. We find that the greatest authors
often make the worst company in the world; and again, some of the
liveliest fellows imaginable in conversation, or extempore speaking,
seem to lose all their vivacity and spirit the moment they set pen to
paper. For this a greater degree of quickness or slowness of parts,
education, habit, temper, turn of mind, and a variety of collateral and
predisposing causes are necessary to account. The subject is at least
curious, and worthy of an attempt to explain it. I shall endeavour to
illustrate the difference by familiar examples rather than by analytical
reasonings. The philosopher of old was not unwise, who defined motion by
getting up and walking.

The great leading distinction between writing and speaking is, that more
time is allowed for the one than the other: and hence different
faculties are required for, and different objects attained by, each. He
is properly the best speaker who can collect together the greatest
number of apposite ideas at a moment’s warning: he is properly the best
writer who can give utterance to the greatest quantity of valuable
knowledge in the course of his whole life. The chief requisite for the
one, then, appears to be quickness and facility of perception—for the
other, patience of soul, and a power increasing with the difficulties it
has to master. He cannot be denied to be an expert speaker, a lively
companion, who is never at a loss for something to say on every occasion
or subject that offers: he, by the same rule, will make a respectable
writer, who, by dint of study, can find out any thing good to say upon
any one point that has not been touched upon before, or who, by asking
for time, can give the most complete and comprehensive view of any
question. The one must be done off-hand, at a single blow: the other can
only be done by a repetition of blows, by having time to think and do
better. In speaking, less is required of you, if you only do it at once,
with grace and spirit: in writing, you stipulate for all that you are
capable of, but you have the choice of your own time and subject. You do
not expect from the manufacturer the same dispatch in executing an order
that you do from the shopkeeper or warehouseman. The difference of
_quicker_ and _slower_, however, is not all: that is merely a difference
of comparison in doing the same thing. But the writer and speaker have
to do things essentially different. Besides habit, and greater or less
facility, there is also a certain reach of capacity, a certain depth or
shallowness, grossness or refinement of intellect, which marks out the
distinction between those whose chief ambition is to shine by producing
an immediate effect, or who are thrown back, by a natural bias, on the
severer researches of thought and study.

We see persons of that standard or texture of mind that they can do
nothing, but on the spur of the occasion: if they have time to
deliberate, they are lost. There are others who have no resource, who
cannot advance a step by any efforts or assistance, beyond a successful
arrangement of common-places: but these they have always at command, at
every body’s service. There is F——; meet him where you will in the
street, he has his topic ready to discharge in the same breath with the
customary forms of salutation; he is hand and glove with it; on it goes
and off, and he manages it like Wart his caliver.

             Hear him but reason in divinity,
             And, all-admiring, with an inward wish
             You would desire that he were made a prelate.
             Let him but talk of any state-affair,
             You’d say it had been all in all his study.
             Turn him to any cause of policy,
             The Gordian knot of it he will unloose,
             Familiar as his garter. When he speaks,
             The air, a charter’d libertine, stands still—

but, ere you have time to answer him, he is off like a shot, to repeat
the same rounded, fluent observations to others:—a perfect master of the
sentences, a walking polemic wound up for the day, a smartly bound
political pocket-book! Set the same person to write a common paragraph,
and he cannot get through it for very weariness: ask him a question,
ever so little out of the common road, and he stares you in the face.
What does all this bustle, animation, plausibility, and command of words
amount to? A lively flow of animal spirits, a good deal of confidence, a
communicative turn, and a tolerably tenacious memory with respect to
floating opinions and current phrases. Beyond the routine of the daily
newspapers and coffeehouse criticism, such persons do not venture to
think at all: or if they did, it would be so much the worse for them,
for they would only be perplexed in the attempt, and would perform their
part in the mechanism of society with so much the less alacrity and easy
volubility.

The most dashing orator I ever heard is the flattest writer I ever read.
In speaking, he was like a volcano vomiting out lava; in writing, he is
like a volcano burnt out. Nothing but the dry cinders, the hard shell
remains. The tongues of flame, with which, in haranguing a mixed
assembly, he used to illuminate his subject, and almost scorched up the
panting air, do not appear painted on the margin of his works. He was
the model of a flashy, powerful demagogue—a madman blessed with a fit
audience. He was possessed, infuriated with the patriotic _mania_; he
seemed to rend and tear the rotten carcase of corruption with the
remorseless, indecent rage of a wild beast: he mourned over the bleeding
body of his country, like another Antony over the dead body of Cæsar, as
if he would ‘move the very stones of Rome to rise and mutiny:’ he
pointed to the ‘Persian abodes, the glittering temples’ of oppression
and luxury, with prophetic exultation; and, like another Helen, had
almost fired another Troy! The lightning of national indignation flashed
from his eye; the workings of the popular mind were seen labouring in
his bosom: it writhed and swelled with its rank ‘fraught of aspics’
tongues,’ and the poison frothed over at his lips. Thus qualified, he
‘wielded at will the fierce democracy, and fulmin’d over’ an area of
souls, of no mean circumference. He who might be said to have ‘roared
you in the ears of the groundlings an ’twere any lion, aggravates his
voice’ on paper, ‘like any sucking-dove.’ It is not merely that the same
individual cannot sit down quietly in his closet, and produce the same,
or a correspondent effect—that what he delivers over to the compositor
is tame, and trite, and tedious—that he cannot by any means, as it were,
‘create a soul under the ribs of death’—but sit down yourself, and read
one of these very popular and electrical effusions (for they have been
published) and you would not believe it to be the same! The
thunder-and-lightning mixture of the orator turns out a mere
drab-coloured suit in the person of the prose-writer. We wonder at the
change, and think there must be some mistake, some leger-de-main trick
played off upon us, by which what before appeared so fine now appears to
be so worthless. The deception took place _before_; now it is removed.
‘Bottom! thou art translated!’ might be placed as a motto under most
collections of printed speeches that I have had the good fortune to meet
with, whether originally addressed to the people, the senate, or the
bar. Burke’s and Windham’s form an exception: Mr. Coleridge’s _Conciones
ad Populum_ do not, any more than Mr. Thelwall’s _Tribune_. What we read
is the same: what we hear and see is different—‘the self-same words, but
_not_ to the self-same tune.’ The orator’s vehemence of gesture, the
loudness of the voice, the speaking eye, the conscious attitude, the
inexplicable dumb shew and noise,—all ‘those brave sublunary things that
made his raptures clear,’—are no longer there, and without these he is
nothing;—his ‘fire and air’ turn to puddle and ditch-water, and the God
of eloquence and of our idolatry sinks into a common mortal, or an image
of lead, with a few labels, nicknames, and party watch-words stuck in
his mouth. The truth is, that these always made up the stock of his
intellectual wealth; but a certain exaggeration and extravagance of
_manner_ covered the nakedness, and swelled out the emptiness of the
_matter_: the sympathy of angry multitudes with an impassioned
theatrical declaimer supplied the place of argument or wit; while the
physical animation and ardour of the speaker evaporated in ‘sound and
fury, signifying nothing,’ and leaving no trace behind it. A popular
speaker (such as I have been here describing) is like a vulgar actor off
the stage—take away his cue, and he has nothing to say for himself. Or
he is so accustomed to the intoxication of popular applause, that
without that stimulus he has no motive or power of exertion left—neither
imagination, understanding, liveliness, common sense, words or ideas—he
is fairly cleared out; and in the intervals of sober reason, is the
dullest and most imbecil of all mortals.

An orator can hardly get beyond _common-places_: if he does, he gets
beyond his hearers. The most successful speakers, even in the House of
Commons, have not been the best scholars or the finest writers—neither
those who took the most profound views of their subject, nor who adorned
it with the most original fancy, or the richest combinations of
language. Those speeches that in general told best at the time, are not
now readable. What were the materials of which they were chiefly
composed? An imposing detail of passing events, a formal display of
official documents, an appeal to established maxims, an echo of popular
clamour, some worn-out metaphor newly vamped-up,—some hackneyed argument
used for the hundredth, nay thousandth, time, to fall in with the
interests, the passions, or prejudices of listening and devoted
admirers;—some truth or falsehood, repeated as the Shibboleth of party
time out of mind, which gathers strength from sympathy as it spreads,
because it is understood or assented to by the million, and finds, in
the increased action of the minds of numbers, the weight and force of an
instinct. A common-place does not leave the mind ‘sceptical, puzzled,
and undecided in the moment of action:’—‘it gives a body to opinion, and
a permanence to fugitive belief.’ It operates mechanically, and opens an
instantaneous and infallible communication between the hearer and
speaker. A set of cant-phrases, arranged in sounding sentences, and
pronounced ‘with good emphasis and discretion,’ keep the gross and
irritable humours of an audience in constant fermentation; and levy no
tax on the understanding. To give a reason for any thing is to breed a
doubt of it, which doubt you may not remove in the sequel; either
because your reason may not be a good one, or because the person to whom
it is addressed may not be able to comprehend it, or because _others_
may not be able to comprehend it. He who offers to go into the grounds
of an acknowledged axiom, risks the unanimity of the company ‘by most
admired disorder,’ as he who digs to the foundation of a building to
shew its solidity, risks its falling. But a common-place is enshrined in
its own unquestioned evidence, and constitutes its own immortal basis.
Nature, it has been said, abhors a _vacuum_; and the House of Commons,
it might be said, hates everything but a common-place!—Mr. Burke did not
often shock the prejudices of the House: he endeavoured to _account for
them_, to ‘lay the flattering unction’ of philosophy ‘to their souls.’
They could not endure him. Yet he did not attempt this by dry argument
alone: he called to his aid the flowers of poetical fiction, and strewed
the most dazzling colours of language over the Standing Orders of the
House. It was a double offence to them—an aggravation of the
encroachments of his genius. They would rather ‘hear a cat mew or an
axle-tree grate,’ than hear a man talk philosophy by the hour—

             Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
             But musical as is Apollo’s lute,
             And a perpetual feast of nectar’d sweets,
             Where no crude surfeit reigns.

He was emphatically called the _Dinner-Bell_. They went out by shoals
when he began to speak. They coughed and shuffled him down. While he was
uttering some of the finest observations (to speak in compass) that ever
were delivered in that House, they walked out, not as the beasts came
out of the ark, by twos and by threes, but in droves and companies of
tens, of dozens, and scores! Oh! it is ‘the heaviest stone which
melancholy can throw at a man,’ when you are in the middle of a delicate
speculation to see ‘a robusteous, periwig-pated fellow’ deliberately
take up his hat and walk out. But what effect could Burke’s finest
observations be expected to have on the House of Commons in their
corporate capacity? On the supposition that they were original, refined,
comprehensive, his auditors had never heard, and assuredly they had
never thought of them before: how then should they know that they were
good or bad, till they had time to consider better of it, or till they
were told what to think? In the mean time, their effect would be to stop
the question: they were blanks in the debate: they could at best only be
laid aside and left _ad referendum_. What would it signify if four or
five persons, at the utmost, felt their full force and fascinating power
the instant they were delivered? They would be utterly unintelligible to
nine-tenths of the persons present, and their impression upon any
particular individual, more knowing than the rest, would be
involuntarily paralysed by the torpedo touch of the elbow of a
country-gentleman or city-orator. There is a reaction in insensibility
as well as in enthusiasm; and men in society judge not by their own
convictions, but by sympathy with others. In reading, we may go over the
page again, whenever any thing new or questionable ‘gives us pause:’
besides, we are by ourselves, and it is _a word to the wise_. We are not
afraid of understanding too much, and being called upon to unriddle. In
hearing we are (saving the mark!) in the company of fools; and time
presses. Was the debate to be suspended while Mr. Fox or Mr. Windham
took this or that Honourable Member aside, to explain to them _that fine
observation_ of Mr. Burke’s, and to watch over the new birth of their
understandings, the dawn of this new light! If we were to wait till
Noble Lords and Honourable Gentlemen were inspired with a relish for
abstruse thinking, and a taste for the loftier flights of fancy, the
business of this great nation would shortly be at a stand. No: it is too
much to ask that our good things should be duly appreciated by the first
person we meet, or in the next minute after their disclosure; if the
world are a little, a very little, the wiser or better for them a
century hence, it is full as much as can be modestly expected!—The
impression of any thing delivered in a large assembly must be
comparatively null and void, unless you not only understand and feel its
value yourself, but are conscious that it is felt and understood by the
meanest capacity present. Till that is the case, the speaker is in your
power, not you in his. The eloquence that is effectual and irresistible
must stir the inert mass of prejudice, and pierce the opaquest shadows
of ignorance. Corporate bodies move slow in the progress of intellect,
for this reason, that they must keep back, like convoys, for the
heaviest sailing vessels under their charge. The sinews of the wisest
councils are, after all, impudence and interest: the most enlightened
bodies are often but slaves of the weakest intellects they reckon among
them, and the best-intentioned are but tools of the greatest hypocrites
and knaves.—To conclude what I had to say on the character of Mr.
Burke’s parliamentary style, I will just give an instance of what I mean
in affirming that it was too recondite for his hearers; and it shall be
even in so obvious a thing as a quotation. Speaking of the new-fangled
French Constitution, and in particular of the King (Louis XVI.) as the
chief power in form and appearance only, he repeated the famous lines in
Milton describing Death, and concluded with peculiar emphasis,

                                ——What _seem’d_ its head,
              The _likeness_ of a kingly crown had on.

The person who heard him make the speech said, that, if ever a poet’s
language had been finely applied by an orator to express his thoughts
and make out his purpose, it was in this instance. The passage, I
believe, is not in his reported speeches; and I should think, in all
likelihood, it ‘fell still-born’ from his lips; while one of Mr.
Canning’s well-thumbed quotations out of Virgil would electrify the
Treasury Benches, and be echoed by all the politicians of his own
standing, and the tyros of his own school, from Lord Liverpool in the
Upper down to Mr. William Ward in the Lower House.

Mr. Burke was an author before he was a Member of Parliament: he
ascended to that practical eminence from ‘the platform’ of his literary
pursuits. He walked out of his study into the House. But he never became
a thorough-bred debater. He was not ‘native to that element,’ nor was he
ever ‘subdued to the quality’ of that motley crew of knights, citizens,
and burgesses. The late Lord Chatham was made for, and by it. He seemed
to vault into his seat there, like Hotspur, with the exclamation in his
mouth—‘that Roan shall be my throne.’ Or he sprang out of the genius of
the House of Commons, like Pallas from the head of Jupiter, completely
armed. He assumed an ascendancy there from the very port and stature of
his mind—from his aspiring and fiery temperament. He vanquished because
he could not yield. He controlled the purposes of others, because he was
strong in his own obdurate self-will. He convinced his followers, by
never doubting himself. He did not argue, but assert; he took what he
chose for granted, instead of making a question of it. He was not a
dealer in _moot-points_. He seized on some strong-hold in the argument,
and held it fast with a convulsive grasp—or wrested the weapons out of
his adversaries’ hands by main force. He entered the lists like a
gladiator. He made political controversy a combat of personal skill and
courage. He was not for wasting time in long-winded discussions with his
opponents, but tried to disarm them by a word, by a glance of his eye,
so that they should not dare to contradict or confront him again. He did
not wheedle, or palliate, or circumvent, or make a studied appeal to the
reason or the passions—he _dictated_ his opinions to the House of
Commons. ‘He spoke as one having authority, and not as the Scribes.’—But
if he did not produce such an effect either by reason or imagination,
how did he produce it? The principle by which he exerted his influence
over others (and it is a principle of which some speakers that I might
mention seem not to have an idea, even in possibility) was sympathy. He
himself evidently had a strong possession of his subject, a thorough
conviction, an intense interest; and this communicated itself from his
_manner_, from the tones of his voice, from his commanding attitudes,
and eager gestures, instinctively and unavoidably to his hearers. His
will was surcharged with electrical matter like a Voltaic battery; and
all who stood within its reach felt the full force of the shock. Zeal
will do more than knowledge. To say the truth, there is little
knowledge,—no ingenuity, no parade of individual details, not much
attempt at general argument, neither wit nor fancy in his speeches—but
there are a few plain truths told home: whatever he says, he does not
mince the matter, but clenches it in the most unequivocal manner, and
with the fullest sense of its importance, in clear, short, pithy, old
English sentences. The most obvious things, as he puts them, read like
axioms—so that he appears, as it were, the genius of common sense
personified; and in turning to his speeches you fancy that you have met
with (at least) one honest statesman!—Lord Chatham commenced his career
in the intrigues of a camp and the bustle of a mess-room; where he
probably learnt that the way to govern others, is to make your will your
warrant, and your word a law. If he had spent the early part of his
life, like Mr. Burke, in writing a treatise on the _Sublime and
Beautiful_, and in dreaming over the abstract nature and causes of
things, he would never have taken the lead he did in the British Senate.

Both Mr. Fox and Mr. Pitt (though as opposite to each other as possible)
were essentially speakers, not authors, in their mode of oratory. Beyond
the moment, beyond the occasion, beyond the immediate power shewn,
astonishing as that was, there was little remarkable or worth preserving
in their speeches. There is no thought in them that implies a habit of
deep and refined reflection (more than we are accustomed ordinarily to
find in people of education); there is no knowledge that does not lie
within the reach of obvious and mechanical search; and as to the powers
of language, the chief miracle is, that a source of words so apt,
forcible, and well-arranged, so copious and unfailing, should have been
found constantly open to express their ideas without any previous
preparation. Considered as written style, they are not far out of the
common course of things; and perhaps it is assuming too much, and making
the wonder greater than it is, with a very natural love of indulging our
admiration of extraordinary persons, when we conceive that parliamentary
speeches are in general delivered without any previous preparation. They
do not, it is true, allow of preparation at the moment, but they have
the preparation of the preceding night, and of the night before that,
and of nights, weeks, months, and years of the same endless drudgery and
routine, in going over the same subjects, argued (with some paltry
difference) on the same grounds. _Practice makes perfect._ He who has
got a speech by heart on any particular occasion, cannot be much
gravelled for lack of matter on any similar occasion in future. Not only
are the topics the same; the very same phrases—whole batches of
them,—are served up as the Order of the Day; the same parliamentary
bead-roll of grave impertinence is twanged off, in full cadence, by the
Honourable Member or his Learned and Honourable Friend; and the
well-known, voluminous, calculable periods roll over the drowsy ears of
the auditors, almost before they are delivered from the vapid tongue
that utters them! It may appear, at first sight, that here are a number
of persons got together, picked out from the whole nation, who can speak
at all times upon all subjects in the most exemplary manner; but the
fact is, they only repeat the same things over and over on the same
subjects,—and they obtain credit for general capacity and ready wit,
like Chaucer’s Monk, who, by having three words of Latin always in his
mouth, passed for a great scholar.

                 A few termes coude he, two or three,
                 That he had learned out of som decree;
                 No wonder is, he herd it all the day.

Try them on any other subject _out of doors_, and see how soon the
extempore wit and wisdom ‘will halt for it.’ See how few of those who
have distinguished themselves _in_ the House of Commons have done any
thing _out of it_; how few that have, shine _there_! Read over the
collections of old Debates, twenty, forty, eighty, a hundred years ago;
they are the same _mutatis mutandis_, as those of yesterday. You wonder
to see how little has been added; you grieve that so little has been
lost. Even in their own favourite topics, how much are they to seek!
They still talk gravely of the Sinking Fund in St. Stephen’s Chapel,
which has been for some time exploded as a juggle by Mr. Place of
Charing-Cross; and a few of the principles of Adam Smith, which every
one else had been acquainted with long since, are just now beginning to
dawn on the collective understanding of the two Houses of Parliament.
Instead of an exuberance of sumptuous matter, you have the same meagre
standing dishes for every day in the year. You must serve an
apprenticeship to a want of originality, to a suspension of thought and
feeling. You are in a go-cart of prejudices, in a regularly constructed
machine of pretexts and precedents; you are not only to wear the livery
of other men’s thoughts, but there is a House-of-Commons jargon which
must be used for every thing. A man of simplicity and independence of
mind cannot easily reconcile himself to all this formality and mummery;
yet woe to him that shall attempt to discard it! You can no more move
against the stream of custom, than you can make head against a crowd of
people; the mob of lords and gentlemen will not let you speak or think
but as they do. You are hemmed in, stifled, pinioned, pressed to
death,—and if you make one false step, are ‘trampled under the hoofs of
a swinish multitude!’ Talk of mobs! Is there any body of people that has
this character in a more consummate degree than the House of Commons? Is
there any set of men that determines more by acclamation, and less by
deliberation and individual conviction? That is moved more _en masse_,
in its aggregate capacity, as brute force and physical number? That
judges with more Midas ears, blind and sordid, without discrimination of
right and wrong? The greatest test of courage I can conceive, is to
speak truth in the House of Commons. I have heard Sir Francis Burdett
say things there which I could not enough admire; and which he could not
have ventured upon saying, if, besides his honesty, he had not been a
man of fortune, of family, of character,—aye, and a very good-looking
man into the bargain! Dr. Johnson had a wish to try his hand in the
House of Commons. An elephant might as well have been introduced there,
in all the forms: Sir William Curtis makes a better figure. Either he or
the Speaker (Onslow) must have resigned. The orbit of his intellect was
not the one in which the intellect of the house moved by ancient
privilege. _His_ common-places were not _their_ common-places.—Even
Horne Tooke failed, with all his _tact_, his self-possession, his ready
talent, and his long practice at the hustings. He had weapons of his
own, with which he wished to make play, and did not lay his hand upon
the established levers for wielding the House of Commons. A succession
of dry, sharp-pointed sayings, which come in excellently well in the
pauses or quick turns of conversation, do not make a speech. A series of
drops is not a stream. Besides, he had been in the practice of rallying
his guests and tampering with his subject; and this ironical tone did
not suit his new situation. He had been used to ‘give his own little
Senate laws,’ and when he found the resistance of the great one more
than he could manage, he shrunk back from the attempt, disheartened and
powerless. It is nothing that a man can talk (the better, the worse it
is for him) unless he can talk in trammels; he must be drilled into the
regiment; he must not run out of the course! The worst thing a man can
do is to set up for a wit there—or rather (I should say) for a
humourist—to say odd out-of-the-way things, to ape a character, to play
the clown or the wag in the House. This is the very forlorn hope of a
parliamentary ambition. They may tolerate it till they know what you are
at, but no longer. It may succeed once or twice, but the third time you
will be sure to break your neck. They know nothing of you, or your
whims, nor have they time to look at a puppet-show. ‘They look only at
the stop-watch, my Lord!’ We have seen a very lively sally of this sort
which failed lately. The House of Commons is the last place where a man
will draw admiration by making a jest of his own character. But if he
has a mind to make a jest of humanity, of liberty, and of common sense
and decency, he will succeed well enough!

The only person who ever ‘hit the House between wind and water’ in this
way,—who made sport for the Members, and kept his own dignity (in our
time at least), was Mr. Windham. He carried on the traffic in
parliamentary conundrums and enigmas with great _éclat_ for more than
one season. He mixed up a vein of characteristic eccentricity with a
succession of far-fetched and curious speculations, very pleasantly.
Extremes meet; and Mr. Windham overcame the obstinate attachment of his
hearers to fixed opinions by the force of paradoxes. He startled his
bed-rid audience effectually. A paradox was a treat to them, on the
score of novelty at least; ‘the sight of one,’ according to the Scotch
proverb, ‘was good for sore eyes.’ So Mr. Windham humoured them in the
thing for once. He took all sorts of commonly received doctrines and
notions (with an understood reserve)—reversed them, and set up a
fanciful theory of his own, instead. The changes were like those in a
pantomime. Ask the first old woman you met her opinion on any subject,
and you could get at the statesman’s; for his would be just the
contrary. He would be wiser than the old woman at any rate. If a thing
had been thought cruel, he would prove that it was humane; if barbarous,
manly; if wise, foolish; if sense, nonsense. His creed was the
antithesis of common sense, loyalty excepted. Economy he could turn into
ridicule, ‘as a saving of cheese-parings and candle-ends’;—and total
failure was with him ‘negative success.’ He had no occasion, in thus
setting up for original thinking, to inquire into the truth or falsehood
of any proposition, but to ascertain whether it was currently believed
in, and then to contradict it point-blank. He made the vulgar prejudices
of others ‘servile ministers’ to his own solecisms. It was not easy
always to say whether he was in jest or earnest—but he contrived to
hitch his extravagances into the midst of some grave debate; the House
had their laugh for nothing; the question got into shape again, and Mr.
Windham was allowed to have been more _brilliant_ than ever.[49]

Mr. Windham was, I have heard, a silent man in company. Indeed his whole
style was an artificial and studied imitation, or capricious caricature
of Burke’s bold, natural, discursive manner. This did not imply much
spontaneous power or fertility of invention; he was an intellectual
posture-master, rather than a man of real elasticity and vigour of mind.
Mr. Pitt was also, I believe, somewhat taciturn and reserved. There was
nothing clearly in the subject-matter of his speeches to connect with
the ordinary topics of discourse, or with any given aspect of human
life. One would expect him to be quite as much in the clouds as the
automaton chess-player, or the last new Opera-singer. Mr. Fox said
little in private, and complained that in writing he had no style. So
(to compare great things with small) Jack Davies, the unrivalled
racket-player, never said any thing at all in company, and was what is
understood by a modest man. When the racket was out of his hand, his
occupation, his delight, his glory, (that which he excelled all mankind
in) was gone! So when Mr. Fox had no longer to keep up the ball of
debate, with the floor of Saint Stephen’s for a stage, and the world for
spectators of the game, it is hardly to be wondered at that he felt a
little at a loss—without his usual train of subjects, the same crowd of
associations, the same spirit of competition, or stimulus to
extraordinary exertion. The excitement of leading in the House of
Commons (which, in addition to the immediate attention and applause that
follows, is a sort of whispering gallery to all Europe) must act upon
the brain like brandy or laudanum upon the stomach; and must, in most
cases, produce the same debilitating effects afterwards. A man’s
faculties must be quite exhausted, his virtue gone out of him. That any
one accustomed all his life to the tributary roar of applause from the
great council of the nation, should think of dieting himself with the
prospect of posthumous fame as an author, is like offering a confirmed
dram-drinker a glass of fair water for his morning’s draught. Charles
Fox is not to be blamed for having written an indifferent history of
James II. but for having written a history at all. It was not his
business to write a history—his business was _not to have made any more
Coalitions_! But he found writing so dull, he thought it better to be a
colleague of Lord Grenville! He did not want style (to say so is
nonsense, because the style of his speeches was just and fine)—he wanted
a sounding-board in the ear of posterity to try his periods upon. If he
had gone to the House of Commons in the morning, and tried to make a
speech fasting, when there was nobody to hear him, he might have been
equally disconcerted at his want of style. The habit of speaking is the
habit of being heard, and of wanting to be heard; the habit of writing
is the habit of thinking aloud, but without the help of an echo. The
orator sees his subject in the eager looks of his auditors; and feels
doubly conscious, doubly impressed with it in the glow of their
sympathy; the author can only look for encouragement in a blank piece of
paper. The orator feels the impulse of popular enthusiasm,

                      ——like proud seas under him:

the only Pegasus the writer has to boast, is the hobby-horse of his own
thoughts and fancies. How is he to get on then? From the lash of
necessity. We accordingly see persons of rank and fortune continually
volunteer into the service of oratory—and the State; but we have few
authors who are not paid by the sheet!—I myself have heard Charles Fox
engaged in familiar conversation. It was in the Louvre. He was
describing the pictures to two persons that were with him. He spoke
rapidly, but very unaffectedly. I remember his saying—‘All those blues
and greens and reds are the Guercinos; you may know them by the
colours.’ He set Opie right as to Domenichino’s Saint Jerome. ‘You will
find,’ he said, ‘though you may not be struck with it at first, that
there is a great deal of truth and good sense in that picture.’ There
was a person at one time a good deal with Mr. Fox, who, when the opinion
of the latter was asked on any subject, very frequently interposed to
give the answer. This sort of tantalizing interruption was ingeniously
enough compared by some one, to walking up Ludgate-hill, and having the
spire of St. Martin’s constantly getting in your way, when you wish to
see the dome of St. Paul’s!—Burke, it is said, conversed as he spoke in
public, and as he wrote. He was communicative, diffuse, magnificent.
‘What is the use,’ said Mr. Fox to a friend, ‘of Sheridan’s trying to
swell himself out in this manner, like the frog in the fable?’—alluding
to his speech on Warren Hastings’s trial. ‘It is very well for Burke to
express himself in that figurative way. It is natural to him; he talks
so to his wife, to his servants, to his children; but as for Sheridan,
he either never opens his mouth at all, or if he does, it is to utter
some joke. It is out of the question for him to affect these
_Orientalisms_.’ Burke once came into Sir Joshua Reynolds’s
painting-room, when one of his pupils was sitting for one of the sons of
Count Ugolino; this gentleman was personally introduced to him;—‘Ah!
then,’ said Burke, ‘I find that Mr. N—— has not only a head that would
do for Titian to paint, but is himself a painter.’ At another time, he
came in when Goldsmith was there, and poured forth such a torrent of
violent personal abuse against the King, that they got to high words,
and Goldsmith threatened to leave the room if he did not desist.
Goldsmith bore testimony to his powers of conversation. Speaking of
Johnson, he said, ‘Does he wind into a subject like a serpent, as Burke
does?’ With respect to his facility in composition, there are
contradictory accounts. It has been stated by some, that he wrote out a
plain sketch first, like a sort of dead colouring, and added the
ornaments and tropes afterwards. I have been assured by a person who had
the best means of knowing, that the _Letter to a Noble Lord_ (the most
rapid, impetuous, glancing, and sportive of all his works) was printed
off, and the proof sent to him: and that it was returned to the
printing-office with so many alterations and passages interlined, that
the compositors refused to correct it as it was—took the whole matter in
pieces, and re-set the copy. This looks like elaboration and
after-thought. It was also one of Burke’s latest compositions.[50] A
regularly bred speaker would have made up his mind beforehand; but
Burke’s mind being, as originally constituted and by its first bias,
that of an author, never became set. It was in further search and
progress. It had an internal spring left. It was not tied down to the
printer’s form. It could still project itself into new beauties, and
explore strange regions from the unwearied impulse of its own delight or
curiosity. Perhaps among the passages interlined, in this case, were the
description of the Duke of Bedford, as ‘the Leviathan among all the
creatures of the crown,’—the _catalogue raisonnée_ of the Abbé Sieyes’s
pigeon-holes,—or the comparison of the English Monarchy to ‘the proud
keep of Windsor, with its double belt of kindred and coeval towers.’
Were these to be given up? If he had had to make his defence of his
pension in the House of Lords, they would not have been ready in time,
it appears; and, besides, would have been too difficult of execution on
the spot: a speaker must not set his heart on such forbidden fruit. But
Mr. Burke was an author, and the press did not ‘shut the gates of
_genius_ on mankind.’ A set of oratorical flourishes, indeed, is soon
exhausted, and is generally all that the extempore speaker can safely
aspire to. Not so with the resources of art or nature, which are
inexhaustible, and which the writer has time to seek out, to embody, and
to fit into shape and use, if he has the strength, the courage, and
patience to do so.

There is then a certain range of thought and expression beyond the
regular rhetorical routine, on which the author, to vindicate his title,
must trench somewhat freely. The proof that this is understood to be so,
is, that what is called an oratorical style is exploded from all good
writing; that we immediately lay down an article, even in a common
newspaper, in which such phrases occur as ‘the Angel of Reform,’ ‘the
drooping Genius of Albion;’ and that a very brilliant speech at a loyal
dinner-party makes a very flimsy, insipid pamphlet. The orator has to
get up for a certain occasion a striking compilation of partial topics,
which, ‘to leave no rubs or botches in the work,’ must be pretty
familiar, as well as palatable to his hearers; and in doing this, he may
avail himself of all the resources of an artificial memory. The writer
must be original, or he is nothing. He is not to take up with ready-made
goods; for he has time allowed him to create his own materials, to make
novel combinations of thought and fancy, to contend with unforeseen
difficulties of style and execution, while we look on, and admire the
growing work in secret and at leisure. There is a degree of finishing as
well as of solid strength in writing, which is not to be got at every
day, and we can wait for perfection. The author owes a debt to truth and
nature which he cannot satisfy at sight, but he has pawned his head on
redeeming it. It is not a string of clap-traps to answer a temporary or
party-purpose,—violent, vulgar, and illiberal,—but general and lasting
truth that we require at his hands. We go to him as pupils, not as
partisans. We have a right to expect from him profounder views of
things; finer observations; more ingenious illustrations; happier and
bolder expressions. He is to give the choice and picked results of a
whole life of study; what he has struck out in his most felicitous
moods, has treasured up with most pride, has laboured to bring to light
with most anxiety and confidence of success. He may turn a period in his
head fifty different ways, so that it comes out smooth and round at
last. He may have caught a glimpse of a simile, and it may have vanished
again: let him be on the watch for it, as the idle boy watches for the
lurking-place of the adder. We can wait. He is not satisfied with a
reason he has offered for something; let him wait till he finds a better
reason. There is some word, some phrase, some idiom that expresses a
particular idea better than any other, but he cannot for the life of him
recollect it: let him wait till he does. Is it strange that among twenty
thousand words in the English language, the one of all others that he
most needs should have escaped him? There are more things in nature than
there are words in the English language, and he must not expect to lay
rash hands on them all at once.

                Learn to _write_ slow: all other graces
                Will follow in their proper places.

You allow a writer a year to think of a subject; he should not put you
off with a truism at last. You allow him a year more to find out words
for his thoughts; he should not give us an echo of all the fine things
that have been said a hundred times.[51] All authors, however, are not
so squeamish; but take up with words and ideas as they find them
delivered down to them. Happy are they who write Latin verses! Who copy
the style of Dr. Johnson! Who hold up the phrase of ancient Pistol! They
do not trouble themselves with those hair-breadth distinctions of
thought or meaning that puzzle nicer heads—let us leave them to their
repose! A person in habits of composition often hesitates in
conversation for a particular word: it is because he is in search of the
best word, and _that_ he cannot hit upon. In writing he would stop till
it came.[52] It is not true, however, that the scholar could avail
himself of a more ordinary word if he chose, or readily acquire a
command of ordinary language; for his associations are habitually
intense, not vague and shallow; and words occur to him only as _tallies_
to certain modifications of feeling. They are links in the chain of
thought. His imagination is fastidious, and rejects all those that are
‘of no mark or likelihood.’ Certain words are in his mind indissolubly
wedded to certain things; and none are admitted at the _levée_ of his
thoughts, but those of which the banns have been solemnised with
scrupulous propriety. Again, the student finds a stimulus to literary
exertion, not in the immediate _éclat_ of his undertaking, but in the
difficulty of his subject, and the progressive nature of his task. He is
not wound up to a sudden and extraordinary effort of presence of mind;
but is for ever awake to the silent influxes of things, and his life is
one long labour. Are there no sweeteners of his toil? No reflections, in
the absence of popular applause or social indulgence, to cheer him on
his way? Let the reader judge. _His_ pleasure is the counterpart of, and
borrowed from the same source as the writer’s. A man does not read out
of vanity, nor in company, but to amuse his own thoughts. If the reader,
from disinterested and merely intellectual motives, relishes an author’s
‘fancies and good nights,’ the last may be supposed to have relished
them no less. If he laughs at a joke, the inventor chuckled over it to
the full as much. If he is delighted with a phrase, he may be sure the
writer jumped at it; if he is pleased to cull a straggling flower from
the page, he may believe that it was plucked with no less fondness from
the face of nature. Does he fasten, with gathering brow and looks
intent, on some difficult speculation? He may be convinced that the
writer thought it a fine thing to split his brain in solving so curious
a problem, and to publish his discovery to the world. There is some
satisfaction in the contemplation of power; there is also a little pride
in the conscious possession of it. With what pleasure do we read books!
If authors could but feel this, or remember what they themselves once
felt, they would need no other temptation to persevere.

To conclude this account with what perhaps I ought to have set out with,
a definition of the character of an author. There are persons who in
society in public intercourse, feel no excitement,

             ‘Dull as the lake that slumbers in the storm,’

but who, when left alone, can lash themselves into a foam. They are
never less alone than when alone. Mount them on a dinner-table, and they
have nothing to say; shut them up in a room by themselves, and they are
inspired. They are ‘made fierce with dark keeping.’ In revenge for being
tongue-tyed, a torrent of words flows from their pens, and the storm
which was so long collecting comes down apace. It never rains but it
pours. Is not this strange, unaccountable? Not at all so. They have a
real interest, a real knowledge of the subject, and they cannot summon
up all that interest, or bring all that knowledge to bear, while they
have any thing else to attend to. Till they can do justice to the
feeling they have, they can do nothing. For this they look into their
own minds, not in the faces of a gaping multitude. What they would say
(if they could) does not lie at the orifices of the mouth ready for
delivery, but is wrapped in the folds of the heart and registered in the
chambers of the brain. In the sacred cause of truth that stirs them,
they would put their whole strength, their whole being into requisition;
and as it implies a greater effort to drag their words and ideas from
their lurking-places, so there is no end when they are once set in
motion. The whole of a man’s thoughts and feelings cannot lie on the
surface, made up for use; but the whole must be a greater quantity, a
mightier power, if they could be got at, layer under layer, and brought
into play by the levers of imagination and reflection. Such a person
then sees farther and feels deeper than most others. He plucks up an
argument by the roots, he tears out the very heart of his subject. He
has more pride in conquering the difficulties of a question, than vanity
in courting the favour of an audience. He wishes to satisfy himself
before he pretends to enlighten the public. He takes an interest in
things in the abstract more than by common consent. Nature is his
mistress, truth his idol. The contemplation of a pure idea is the ruling
passion of his breast. The intervention of other people’s notions, the
being the immediate object of their censure or their praise, puts him
out. What will tell, what will produce an effect, he cares little about;
and therefore he produces the greatest. The _personal_ is to him an
impertinence; so he conceals himself and writes. Solitude ‘becomes his
glittering bride, and airy thoughts his children.’ Such a one is a true
author; and not a member of any Debating Club, or Dilettanti Society
whatever![53]


                               ESSAY XXV
              ON A PORTRAIT OF AN ENGLISH LADY, BY VANDYKE

The portrait I speak of is in the Louvre, where it is numbered 416, and
the only account of it in the _Catalogue_ is that of a _Lady and her
daughter_. It is companion to another whole-length by the same artist,
No. 417, of a _Gentleman and a little girl_. Both are evidently English.

The face of the lady has nothing very remarkable in it, but that it may
be said to be the very perfection of the English female face. It is not
particularly beautiful, but there is a sweetness in it, and a goodness
conjoined, which is inexpressibly delightful. The smooth ivory forehead
is a little ruffled, as if some slight cause of uneasiness, like a
cloud, had just passed over it. The eyes are raised with a look of timid
attention; the mouth is compressed with modest sensibility; the
complexion is delicate and clear; and over the whole figure (which is
seated) there reign the utmost propriety and decorum. The habitual
gentleness of the character seems to have been dashed with some anxious
thought or momentary disquiet, and, like the shrinking flower, in whose
leaves the lucid drop yet trembles, looks out and smiles at the storm
that is overblown. A mother’s tenderness, a mother’s fear, appears to
flutter on the surface, and on the extreme verge of the expression, and
not to have quite subsided into thoughtless indifference or mild
composure. There is a reflection of the same expression in the little
child at her knee, who turns her head round with a certain appearance of
constraint and innocent wonder; and perhaps it is the difficulty of
getting her to sit (or to sit still) that has caused the transient
contraction of her mother’s brow,—that lovely, unstained mirror of pure
affection, too fair, too delicate, too soft and feminine for the breath
of serious misfortune ever to come near, or not to crush it. It is a
face, in short, of the greatest purity and sensibility, sweetness and
simplicity, or such as Chaucer might have described

              ‘Where all is conscience and tender heart.’

I have said that it is an English face; and I may add (without being
invidious) that it is not a French one. I will not say that they have no
face to equal this; of that I am not a judge; but I am sure they have no
face equal to this, in the qualities by which it is distinguished. They
may have faces as amiable, but then the possessors of them will be
conscious of it. There may be equal elegance, but not the same ease;
there may be even greater intelligence, but without the innocence; more
vivacity, but then it will run into petulance or coquetry; in short,
there may be every other good quality but a total absence of all
pretension to or wish to make a display of it, but the same unaffected
modesty and simplicity. In French faces (and I have seen some that were
charming both for the features and expression) there is a varnish of
insincerity, a something theatrical or meretricious; but here, every
particle is pure to the ‘last recesses of the mind.’ The face (such as
it is, and it has a considerable share both of beauty and meaning) is
without the smallest alloy of affectation. There is no false glitter in
the eyes to make them look brighter; no little wrinkles about the
corners of the eye-lids, the effect of self-conceit; no pursing up of
the mouth, no significant leer, no primness, no extravagance, no assumed
levity or gravity. You have the genuine text of nature without gloss or
comment. There is no heightening of conscious charms to produce greater
effect, no studying of airs and graces in the glass of vanity. You have
not the remotest hint of the milliner, the dancing-master, the dealer in
paints and patches. You have before you a real English lady of the
seventeenth century, who looks like one, because she cannot look
otherwise; whose expression of sweetness, intelligence, or concern is
just what is natural to her, and what the occasion requires; whose
entire demeanour is the emanation of her habitual sentiments and
disposition, and who is as free from guile or affectation as the little
child by her side. I repeat that this is not the distinguishing
character of the French physiognomy, which, at its best, is often
spoiled by a consciousness of what it is, and a restless desire to be
something more.

Goodness of disposition, with a clear complexion and handsome features,
is the chief ingredient in English beauty. There is a great difference
in this respect between Vandyke’s portraits of women and Titian’s, of
which we may find examples in the Louvre. The picture, which goes by the
name of his _Mistress_, is one of the most celebrated of the latter. The
neck of this picture is like a broad crystal mirror; and the hair which
she holds so carelessly in her hand is like meshes of beaten gold. The
eyes which roll in their ample sockets, like two shining orbs, and which
are turned away from the spectator, only dart their glances the more
powerfully into the soul; and the whole picture is a paragon of frank
cordial grace, and transparent brilliancy of colouring. Her tight
boddice compresses her full but finely proportioned waist; while the
tucker in part conceals and almost clasps the snowy bosom. But you never
think of any thing beyond the personal attractions, and a certain
sparkling intelligence. She is not marble, but a fine piece of animated
clay. There is none of that retired and shrinking character, that
modesty of demeanour, that sensitive delicacy, that starts even at the
shadow of evil—that are so evidently to be traced in the portrait by
Vandyke. Still there is no positive vice, no meanness, no hypocrisy, but
an unconstrained elastic spirit of self-enjoyment, more bent on the end
than scrupulous about the means; with firmly braced nerves, and a
tincture of vulgarity. She is not like an English lady, nor like a lady
at all; but she is a very fine servant-girl, conscious of her
advantages, and willing to make the most of them. In fact, Titian’s
_Mistress_ answers exactly, I conceive, to the idea conveyed by the
English word, _sweetheart_.—The Marchioness of Guasto is a fairer
comparison. She is by the supposition a lady, but still an Italian one.
There is a honeyed richness about the texture of the skin, and her air
is languid from a sense of pleasure. Her dress, though modest, has the
marks of studied coquetry about it; it touches the very limits which it
dares not pass; and her eyes which are bashful and downcast, do not seem
to droop under the fear of observation, but to retire from the gaze of
kindled admiration,

                    ——‘As if they thrill’d
                    Frail hearts, yet quenched not!’

One might say, with Othello, of the hand with which she holds the globe
that is offered to her acceptance——

             ——‘This hand of yours requires
             A sequester from liberty, fasting and pray’r,
             Much castigation, exercise devout;
             For here’s a young and _melting_ devil here,
             That commonly rebels.’

The hands of Vandyke’s portrait have the purity and coldness of marble.
The colour of the face is such as might be breathed upon it by the
refreshing breeze; that of the Marchioness of Guasto’s is like the glow
it might imbibe from a golden sunset. The expression in the English lady
springs from her duties and her affections; that of the Italian Countess
inclines more to her ease and pleasures. The Marchioness of Guasto was
one of three sisters, to whom, it is said, the inhabitants of Pisa
proposed to pay divine honours, in the manner that beauty was worshipped
by the fabulous enthusiasts of old. Her husband seems to have
participated in the common infatuation, from the fanciful homage that is
paid to her in this allegorical composition; and if she was at all
intoxicated by the incense offered to her vanity, the painter must be
allowed to have ‘qualified’ the expression of it ‘very craftily.’

I pass on to another female face and figure, that of the Virgin, in the
beautiful picture of the _Presentation in the Temple_, by Guido. The
expression here is _ideal_, and has a reference to visionary objects and
feelings. It is marked by an abstraction from outward impressions, a
downcast look, an elevated brow, an absorption of purpose, a stillness
and resignation, that become the person and the scene in which she is
engaged. The colour is pale or gone; so that purified from every
grossness, dead to worldly passions, she almost seems like a statue
kneeling. With knees bent, and hands uplifted, her motionless figure
appears supported by a soul within, all whose thoughts, from the low
ground of humility, tend heavenward. We find none of the triumphant
buoyancy of health and spirit as in the _Titian’s Mistress_, nor the
luxurious softness of the portrait of the Marchioness of Guasto, nor the
flexible, tremulous sensibility, nor the anxious attention to passing
circumstances, nor the familiar look of the lady by Vandyke; on the
contrary, there is a complete unity and concentration of expression, the
whole is wrought up and moulded into one intense feeling, but that
feeling fixed on objects remote, refined, and etherial as the form of
the fair supplicant. A still greater contrast to this internal, or as it
were, _introverted_ expression, is to be found in the group of female
heads by the same artist, Guido, in his picture of the _Flight of Paris
and Helen_. They are the three last heads on the left-hand side of the
picture. They are thrown into every variety of attitude, as if to take
the heart by surprise at every avenue. A tender warmth is suffused over
their faces; their head-dresses are airy and fanciful, their complexion
sparkling and glossy; their features seem to catch pleasure from every
surrounding object, and to reflect it back again. Vanity, beauty, gaiety
glance from their conscious looks and wreathed smiles, like the changing
colours from the ring-dove’s neck. To sharpen the effect and point the
moral, they are accompanied by a little negro-boy, who holds up the
train of elegance, fashion, and voluptuous grace!

Guido was the ‘genteelest’ of painters; he was a poetical Vandyke. The
latter could give, with inimitable and perfect skill, the airs and
graces of people of fashion under their daily and habitual aspects, or
as he might see them in a looking-glass. The former saw them in his
‘mind’s eye,’ and could transform them into supposed characters and
imaginary situations. Still the elements were the same. Vandyke gave
them with the _mannerism_ of habit and the individual details; Guido, as
they were rounded into grace and smoothness by the breath of fancy, and
borne along by the tide of sentiment. Guido did not want the _ideal_
faculty, though he wanted strength and variety. There is an effeminacy
about his pictures, for he gave only the different modifications of
beauty. It was the Goddess that inspired him, the Siren that seduced
him; and whether as saint or sinner, was equally welcome to him. His
creations are as frail as they are fair. They all turn on a passion for
beauty, and without this support, are nothing. He could paint beauty
combined with pleasure or sweetness, or grief, or devotion; but unless
it were the ground-work and the primary condition of his performance, he
became insipid, ridiculous, and extravagant. There is one thing to be
said in his favour; he knew his own powers or followed his own
inclinations; and the delicacy of his _tact_ in general prevented him
from attempting subjects uncongenial with it. He ‘trod the primrose path
of dalliance,’ with equal prudence and modesty. That he is a little
monotonous and tame, is all that can be said against him; and he seldom
went out of his way to expose his deficiencies in a glaring point of
view. He came round to subjects of beauty at last, or gave them that
turn. A story is told of his having painted a very lovely head of a
girl, and being asked from whom he had taken it, he replied, ‘From his
old man!’ This is not unlikely. He is the only great painter (except
Correggio) who appears constantly to have subjected what he saw to an
imaginary standard. His Magdalens are more beautiful than sorrowful; in
his Madonnas there is more of sweetness and modesty than of elevation.
He makes but little difference between his heroes and his heroines; his
angels are women, and his women angels! If it be said that he repeated
himself too often, and has painted too many Magdalens and Madonnas, I
can only say in answer, ‘Would he had painted twice as many!’ If Guido
wanted compass and variety in his art, it signifies little, since what
he wanted is abundantly supplied by others. He had softness, delicacy
and _ideal_ grace in a supreme degree, and his fame rests on these as
the cloud on the rock. It is to the highest point of excellence in any
art or department that we look back with gratitude and admiration, as it
is the highest mountain-peak that we catch in the distance, and lose
sight of only when it turns to air.

I know of no other difference between Raphael and Guido, than that the
one was twice the man the other was. Raphael was a bolder genius, and
invented according to nature: Guido only made draughts after his own
disposition and character. There is a common cant of criticism which
makes Titian merely a colourist. What he really wanted was invention: he
had expression in the highest degree. I declare I have seen heads of his
with more meaning in them than any of Raphael’s. But he fell short of
Raphael in this, that (except in one or two instances) he could not
heighten and adapt the expression that he saw to different and more
striking circumstances. He gave more of what he saw than any other
painter that ever lived, and in the imitative part of his art had a more
universal genius than Raphael had in composition and invention. Beyond
the actual and habitual look of nature, however, ‘the demon that he
served’ deserted him, or became a very tame one. Vandyke gave more of
the general air and manners of fashionable life than of individual
character; and the subjects that he treated are neither remarkable for
intellect nor passion. They are people of polished manners, and placid
constitutions; and many of the very best of them are ‘stupidly good.’
Titian’s portraits, on the other hand, frequently present a much more
formidable than inviting appearance. You would hardly trust yourself in
a room with them. You do not bestow a cold, leisurely approbation on
them, but look to see what they may be thinking of you, not without some
apprehension for the result. They have not the clear smooth skins or the
even pulse that Vandyke’s seem to possess. They are, for the most part,
fierce, wary, voluptuous, subtle, haughty. Raphael painted Italian faces
as well as Titian. But he threw into them a character of intellect
rather than of temperament. In Titian the irritability takes the lead,
sharpens and gives direction to the understanding. There seems to be a
personal controversy between the spectator and the individual whose
portrait he contemplates, which shall be master of the other. I may
refer to two portraits in the Louvre, the one by Raphael, the other by
Titian (Nos. 1153 and 1210), in illustration of these remarks. I do not
know two finer or more characteristic specimens of these masters, each
in its way. The one is of a student dressed in black, absorbed in
thought, intent on some problem, with the hands crossed and leaning on a
table for support, as it were to give freer scope to the labour of the
brain, and though the eyes are directed towards you, it is with evident
absence of mind. Not so the other portrait, No. 1210. All its faculties
are collected to see what it can make of you, as if you had intruded
upon it with some hostile design, it takes a defensive attitude, and
shews as much vigilance as dignity. It draws itself up, as if to say,
‘Well, what do you think of me?’ and exercises a discretionary power
over you. It has ‘an eye to threaten and command,’ not to be lost in
idle thought, or in ruminating over some abstruse, speculative
proposition. It is this intense personal character which, I think, gives
the superiority to Titian’s portraits over all others, and stamps them
with a living and permanent interest. Of other pictures you tire, if you
have them constantly before you; of his, never. For other pictures have
either an abstracted look and you dismiss them, when you have made up
your mind on the subject as a matter of criticism; or an heroic look,
and you cannot be always straining your enthusiasm; or an insipid look,
and you sicken of it. But whenever you turn to look at Titian’s
portraits, they appear to be looking at you; there seems to be some
question pending between you, as though an intimate friend or inveterate
foe were in the room with you; they exert a kind of fascinating power;
and there is that exact resemblance of individual nature which is always
new and always interesting, because you cannot carry away a mental
abstraction of it, and you must recur to the object to revive it in its
full force and integrity. I would as soon have Raphael’s or most other
pictures hanging up in a Collection, that I might pay an occasional
visit to them: Titian’s are the only ones that I should wish to have
hanging in the same room with me for company!

Titian in his portraits appears to have understood the principle of
historical design better than any body. Every part tells, and has a
bearing on the whole. There is no one who has such simplicity and
repose—no violence, no affectation, no attempt at forcing an effect;
insomuch that by the uninitiated he is often condemned as unmeaning and
insipid. A turn of the eye, a compression of the lip decides the point.
He just draws the face out of its most ordinary state, and gives it the
direction he would have it take; but then every part takes the same
direction, and the effect of this united impression (which is absolutely
momentary and all but habitual) is wonderful. It is that which makes his
portraits the most natural and the most striking in the world. It may be
compared to the effect of a number of small loadstones, that by acting
together lift the greatest weights. Titian seized upon the lines of
character in the most original and connected point of view. Thus in his
celebrated portrait of Hippolito de Medici, there is a keen, sharpened
expression that strikes you, like a blow from the spear that he holds in
his hand. The look goes through you; yet it has no frown, no startling
gesticulation, no affected penetration. It is quiet, simple, but it
almost withers you. The whole face and each separate feature is cast in
the same acute or wedge-like form. The forehead is high and narrow, the
eye-brows raised and coming to a point in the middle, the nose straight
and peaked, the mouth contracted and drawn up at the corners, the chin
acute, and the two sides of the face slanting to a point. The number of
acute angles which the lines of the face form, are, in fact, a net
entangling the attention and subduing the will. The effect is felt at
once, though it asks time and consideration to understand the cause. It
is a face which you would beware of rousing into anger or hostility, as
you would beware of setting in motion some complicated and dangerous
machinery. The possessor of it, you may be sure, is no trifler. Such,
indeed, was the character of the man. This is to paint true portrait and
true history. So if our artist painted a mild and thoughtful expression,
all the lines of the countenance were softened and relaxed. If the mouth
was going to speak, the whole face was going to speak. It was the same
in colour. The gradations are infinite, and yet so blended as to be
imperceptible. No two tints are the same, though they produce the
greatest harmony and simplicity of tone, like flesh itself. ‘If,’ said a
person, pointing to the shaded side of a portrait of Titian, ‘you could
turn this round to the light, you would find it would be of the same
colour as the other side!’ In short, there is manifest in his portraits
a greater tenaciousness and identity of impression than in those of any
other painter. Form, colour, feeling, character, seemed to adhere to his
eye, and to become part of himself; and his pictures, on this account,
‘leave stings’ in the minds of the spectators! There is, I grant, the
same personal appeal, the same point-blank look in some of Raphael’s
portraits (see those of a Princess of Arragon and of Count Castiglione,
No. 1150 and 1151) as in Titian: but they want the texture of the skin
and the minute individual details to stamp them with the same reality.
And again, as to the uniformity of outline in the features, this
principle has been acted upon and carried to excess by Kneller and other
artists. The eyes, the eye-brows, the nose, the mouth, the chin, are
rounded off as if they were turned in a _lathe_, or as a peruke-maker
arranges the curls of a wig. In them it is vile and mechanical, without
any reference to truth of character or nature; and instead of being
pregnant with meaning and originality of expression, produces only
insipidity and monotony.

Perhaps what is offered above as a key to the peculiar expression of
Titian’s heads may also serve to explain the difference between painting
or copying a portrait. As the perfection of his faces consists in the
entire unity and coincidence of all the parts, so the difficulty of
ordinary portrait-painting is to bring them to bear at all, or to piece
one feature, or one day’s labour on to another. In copying, this
difficulty does not occur at all. The human face is not one thing, as
the vulgar suppose, nor does it remain always the same. It has infinite
varieties, which the artist is obliged to notice and to reconcile, or he
will make strange work. Not only the light and shade upon it do not
continue for two minutes the same: the position of the head constantly
varies (or if you are strict with a sitter, he grows sullen and stupid),
each feature is in motion every moment, even while the artist is working
at it, and in the course of a day the whole expression of the
countenance undergoes a change, so that the expression which you gave to
the forehead or eyes yesterday is totally incompatible with that which
you have to give to the mouth to-day. You can only bring it back again
to the same point or give it a consistent construction by an effort of
imagination, or a strong feeling of character; and you must connect the
features together less by the eye than by the mind. The mere setting
down what you see in this medley of successive, teazing, contradictory
impressions, would never do; either you must continually efface what you
have done the instant before, or if you retain it, you will produce a
piece of patchwork, worse than any caricature. There must be a
comprehension of the whole, and in truth a _moral sense_ (as well as a
literal one) to unravel the confusion, and guide you through the
labyrinth of shifting muscles and features. You must feel what _this_
means, and dive into the hidden soul, in order to know whether _that_ is
as it ought to be; for you cannot be sure that it remains as it was.
Portrait-painting is, then, painting from recollection and from a
conception of character, with the object before us to assist the memory
and understanding. In copying, on the contrary, one part does not run
away and leave you in the lurch, while you are intent upon another. You
have only to attend to what is before you, and finish it carefully a bit
at a time, and you are sure that the whole will come right. One might
parcel it out into squares, as in engraving, and copy one at a time,
without seeing or thinking of the rest. I do not say that a conception
of the whole, and a feeling of the art will not abridge the labour of
copying, or produce a truer likeness; but it is the changeableness or
identity of the object that chiefly constitutes the difficulty or
facility of imitating it, and, in the latter case, reduces it nearly to
a mechanical operation. It is the same in the imitation of _still-life_,
where real objects have not a principle of motion in them. It is as easy
to produce a _fac-simile_ of a table or a chair as to copy a picture,
because these things do not stir from their places any more than the
features of a portrait stir from theirs. You may therefore bestow any
given degree of minute and continued attention on finishing any given
part without being afraid that when finished it will not correspond with
the rest. Nay, it requires more talent to copy a fine portrait than to
paint an original picture of a table or a chair, for the picture has a
soul in it, and the table has not.—It has been made an objection (and I
think a just one) against the extreme high-finishing of the drapery and
back-grounds in portraits (to which some schools, particularly the
French, are addicted), that it gives an unfinished look to the face, the
most important part of the picture. A lady or a gentleman cannot sit
quite so long or so still as a lay-figure, and if you finish up each
part according to the length of time it will remain in one position, the
face will seem to have been painted for the sake of the drapery, not the
drapery to set off the face. There is an obvious limit to every thing,
if we attend to common sense and feeling. If a carpet or a curtain will
admit of being finished more than the living face, we finish them less
because they excite less interest, and we are less willing to throw away
our time and pains upon them. This is the unavoidable result in a
natural and well regulated style of art; but what is to be said of a
school where no interest is felt in any thing, where nothing is known of
any object but that it is there, and where superficial and petty details
which the eye can explore, and the hand execute, with persevering and
systematic indifference, constitute the soul of art?

The expression is the great difficulty in history or portrait-painting,
and yet it is the great clue to both. It renders forms doubly impressive
from the interest and signification attached to them, and at the same
time renders the imitation of them critically nice, by making any
departure from the line of truth doubly sensible. Mr. Coleridge used to
say, that what gave the romantic and mysterious interest to Salvator’s
landscapes was their containing some implicit analogy to human or other
living forms. His rocks had a latent resemblance to the outline of a
human face; his trees had the distorted jagged shape of a satyr’s horns
and grotesque features. I do not think this is the case; but it may
serve to supply us with an illustration of the present question. Suppose
a given outline to represent a human face, but to be so disguised by
circumstances and little interruptions as to be mistaken for a
projecting fragment of a rock in a natural scenery. As long as we
conceive of this outline merely as a representation of a rock or other
inanimate substance, any copy of it, however rude, will seem the same
and as good as the original. Now let the disguise be removed and the
general resemblance to a human face pointed out, and what before seemed
perfect, will be found to be deficient in the most essential features.
Let it be further understood to be a profile of a particular face that
we know, and all likeness will vanish from the want of the individual
expression, which can only be given by being felt. That is, the
imitation of external and visible form is only correct or nearly
perfect, when the information of the eye and the direction of the hand
are aided and confirmed by the previous knowledge and actual feeling of
character in the object represented. The more there is of character and
feeling in any object, and the greater sympathy there is with it in the
mind of the artist, the closer will be the affinity between the
imitation and the thing imitated; as the more there is of character and
expression in the object without a proportionable sympathy with it in
the imitator, the more obvious will this defect and the imperfection of
the copy become. That is, expression is the great test and measure of a
genius for painting, and the fine arts. The mere imitation of
_still-life_, however perfect, can never furnish proofs of the highest
skill or talent; for there is an inner sense, a deeper intuition into
nature that is never unfolded by merely mechanical objects, and which,
if it were called out by a new soul being suddenly infused into an
inanimate substance, would make the former unconscious representation
appear crude and vapid. The eye is sharpened and the hand made more
delicate in its tact,

                                 ‘While by the power
                 Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
                 We see into the life of things.’

We not only _see_, but _feel_ expression, by the help of the finest of
all our senses, the sense of pleasure and pain. He then is the greatest
painter who can put the greatest quantity of expression into his works,
for this is the nicest and most subtle object of imitation; it is that
in which any defect is soonest visible, which must be able to stand the
severest scrutiny, and where the power of avoiding errors, extravagance,
or tameness can only be supplied by the fund of moral feeling, the
strength or delicacy of the artist’s sympathy with the ideal object of
his imitation. To see or imitate any given sensible object is one thing,
the effect of attention and practice; but to give expression to a face
is to collect its meaning from a thousand other sources, is to bring
into play the observation and feeling of one’s whole life, or an
infinity of knowledge bearing upon a single object in different degrees
and manners, and implying a loftiness and refinement of character
proportioned to the loftiness and refinement of expression delineated.
Expression is of all things the least to be mistaken, and the most
evanescent in its manifestations. Pope’s lines on the character of women
may be addressed to the painter who undertakes to embody it.

           ‘Come then, the colours and the ground prepare,
           Dip in the rainbow, trick it off in air;
           Chuse a firm cloud, before it falls, and in it
           Catch, ere it change, the Cynthia of the minute.’

It is a maxim among painters that no one can paint more than his own
character, or more than he himself understands or can enter into. Nay,
even in copying a head, we have some difficulty in making the features
unlike our own. A person with a low forehead or a short chin puts a
constraint on himself in painting a high forehead or a long chin. So
much has sympathy to do with what is supposed to be a mere act of
servile imitation!—To pursue this argument one step farther. People
sometimes wonder what difficulty there can be in painting, and ask what
you have to do but to set down what you see? This is true, but the
difficulty is to see what is before you. This is at least as difficult
as to learn any trade or language. We imagine that we see the whole of
nature, because we are aware of no more than we see of it. We also
suppose that any given object, a head, a hand, is one thing, because we
see it at once, and call it by one name. But how little we see or know,
even of the most familiar face, beyond a vague abstraction, will be
evident to every one who tries to recollect distinctly all its component
parts, or to draw the most rude outline of it for the first time; or who
considers the variety of surface, the numberless lights and shades, the
tints of the skin, every particle and pore of which varies, the forms
and markings of the features, the combined expression, and all these
caught (as far as common use is concerned) by a random glance, and
communicated by a passing word. A student, when he first copies a head,
soon comes to a stand, or is at a loss to proceed from seeing nothing
more in the face than there is in his copy. After a year or two’s
practice he never knows when to have done, and the longer he has been
occupied in copying a face or any particular feature, sees more and more
in it, that he has left undone and can never hope to do. There have been
only four or five painters who could ever produce a copy of the human
countenance really fit to be seen; and even of these few none was ever
perfect, except in giving some single quality or partial aspect of
nature, which happened to fall in with his own particular studies and
the bias of his genius, as Raphael the drawing, Rembrandt the light and
shade, Vandyke ease and delicacy of appearance, &c. Titian gave more
than any one else, and yet he had his defects. After this, shall we say
that any, the commonest and most uninstructed spectator sees the whole
of nature at a single glance, and would be able to stamp a perfect
representation of it on the canvass, if he could embody the image in his
mind’s eye?

I have in this Essay mentioned one or two of the portraits in the Louvre
that I like best. The two landscapes which I should most covet, are the
one with a Rainbow by Rubens, and the Adam and Eve in Paradise by
Poussin. In the first, shepherds are reposing with their flocks under
the shelter of a breezy grove, the distances are of air, and the whole
landscape seems just washed with the shower that has passed off. The
Adam and Eve by Poussin is the full growth and luxuriant expansion of
the principle of vegetation. It is the first lovely dawn of creation,
when nature played her virgin fancies wild; when all was sweetness and
freshness, and the heavens dropped fatness. It is the very _ideal_ of
landscape-painting, and of the scene it is intended to represent. It
throws us back to the first ages of the world, and to the only period of
perfect human bliss, which is, however, on the point of being soon
disturbed.[54] I should be contented with these four or five pictures,
the Lady by Vandyke, the Titian, the Presentation in the Temple, the
Rubens, and the Poussin, or even with faithful copies of them, added to
the two which I have of a young Neapolitan Nobleman and of the Hippolito
de Medici; and which, when I look at them, recal other times and the
feelings with which they were done. It is now twenty years since I made
those copies, and I hope to keep them while I live. It seems to me no
longer ago than yesterday. Should the next twenty years pass as swiftly,
forty years will have glided by me like a dream. By this kind of
speculation I can look down as from a slippery height on the beginning,
and the end of life beneath my feet, and the thought makes me dizzy!

My taste in pictures is, I believe, very different from that of rich and
princely collectors. I would not give two-pence for the whole Gallery at
Fonthill. I should like to have a few pictures hung round the room, that
speak to me with well-known looks, that touch some string of memory—not
a number of varnished, smooth, glittering gewgaws. The taste of the
Great in pictures is singular, but not unaccountable. The King is said
to prefer the Dutch to the Italian school of painting; and if you hint
your surprise at this, you are looked upon as a very Gothic and _outré_
sort of person. You are told, however, by way of consolation,—‘To be
sure, there is Lord Carlisle likes an Italian picture—Mr. Holwell Carr
likes an Italian picture—the Marquis of Stafford is fond of an Italian
picture—Sir George Beaumont likes an Italian picture!’ These,
notwithstanding, are regarded as quaint and daring exceptions to the
established rule; and their preference is a species of _lezè majesté_ in
the Fine Arts, as great an eccentricity and want of fashionable
etiquette, as if any gentleman or nobleman still preferred old claret to
new, when the King is known to have changed his mind on this subject; or
was guilty of the offence of dipping his fore-finger and thumb in the
middle of a snuff-box, instead of gradually approximating the contents
to the edge of the box, according to the most approved models. One would
imagine that the great and exalted in station would like lofty subjects
in works of art, whereas they seem to have an almost exclusive
predilection for the mean and mechanical. One would think those whose
word was law, would be pleased with the great and striking effects of
the pencil;[55] on the contrary, they admire nothing but the little and
elaborate. They have a fondness for cabinet and _furniture_ pictures,
and a proportionable antipathy to works of genius. Even art with them
must be servile, to be tolerated. Perhaps the seeming contradiction may
be explained thus. Such persons are raised so high above the rest of the
species, that the more violent and agitating pursuits of mankind appear
to them like the turmoil of ants on a mole-hill. Nothing interests them
but their own pride and self-importance. Our passions are to them an
impertinence; an expression of high sentiment they rather shrink from as
a ludicrous and upstart assumption of equality. They therefore like what
glitters to the eye, what is smooth to the touch; but they shun, by an
instinct of sovereign taste, whatever has a soul in it, or implies a
reciprocity of feeling. The Gods of the earth can have no interest in
any thing human; they are cut off from all sympathy with the ‘bosoms and
businesses of men.’ Instead of requiring to be wound up beyond their
habitual feeling of stately dignity, they wish to have the springs of
overstrained pretension let down, to be relaxed with ‘trifles light as
air,’ to be amused with the familiar and frivolous, and to have the
world appear a scene of _still-life_, except as they disturb it! The
little in thought and internal sentiment is a natural relief and set off
to the oppressive sense of external magnificence. Hence kings babble and
repeat they know not what. A childish dotage often accompanies the
consciousness of absolute power. Repose is somewhere necessary, and the
soul sleeps while the senses gloat around! Besides, the mechanical and
high-finished style of art may be considered as something _done to
order_. It is a task to be executed more or less perfectly, according to
the price given, and the industry of the artist. We stand by, as it
were, to see the work done, insist upon a greater degree of neatness and
accuracy, and exercise a sort of petty, jealous jurisdiction over each
particular. We are judges of the minuteness of the details, and though
ever so nicely executed, as they give us no ideas beyond what we had
before, we do not feel humbled in the comparison. The artizan scarcely
rises into the artist; and the name of genius is degraded rather than
exalted in his person. The performance is so far ours that we have paid
for it, and the highest price is all that is necessary to produce the
highest finishing. But it is not so in works of genius and imagination.
Their price is above rubies. The inspiration of the Muse comes not with
the _fiat_ of a monarch, with the donation of a patron; and, therefore,
the Great turn with disgust or effeminate indifference from the mighty
masters of the Italian school, because such works baffle and confound
their self-love, and make them feel that there is something in the mind
of man which they can neither give nor take away.

               ‘Quam nihil ad tuum, Papiniane, ingenium!’


                               ESSAY XXVI
                       ON NOVELTY AND FAMILIARITY

 _‘Horatio._ Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness.

 _Hamlet._ ’Tis e’en so: the hand of little employment hath the daintier
    sense.’

Shakespear represents his _Grave-digger_ as singing while he is occupied
in his usual task of flinging the skulls out of the earth with his
spade. On this he takes occasion to remark, through one of his speakers,
the effect of habit in blunting our sensibility to what is painful or
disgusting in itself. ‘Custom hath made it a property of easiness in
him.’ To which the other is made to reply in substance, that those who
have the least to do have the finest feelings generally. The minds and
bodies of those who are enervated by luxury and ease, and who have not
had to encounter the wear-and-tear of life, present a soft, unresisting
surface to outward impressions, and are endued with a greater degree of
susceptibility to pleasure and pain. Habit in most cases hardens and
encrusts, by taking away the keener edge of our sensations: but does it
not in others quicken and refine, by giving a mechanical facility, and
by engrafting an acquired sense? Habit may be said in technical language
to add to our irritability and lessen our sensibility, or to sharpen our
active perceptions, and deaden our passive ones. Practice makes
perfect—experience makes us wise. The one refers to what we have to do,
the other to what we feel. I will endeavour to explain the distinction,
and to give some examples in each kind.

Clowns, servants, and common labourers have, it is true, hard and coarse
hands, because they are accustomed to hard and coarse employments; but
mechanics, artizans, and artists of various descriptions, who are as
constantly employed, though on works demanding greater skill and
exactness, acquire a proportionable nicety and discrimination of tact
with practice and unremitted application. A working jeweller can
perceive slight distinctions of surface, and make the smallest incisions
in the hardest substances from mere practice: a woollen-draper perceives
the different degrees of the fineness in cloth, on the same principle; a
watchmaker will insert a great bony fist, and perform the nicest
operations among the springs and wheels of a complicated and curious
machinery, where the soft delicate hand of a woman or a child would make
nothing but blunders. Again, a blind man shews a prodigious sagacity in
hearing and almost _feeling_ objects at a distance from him. His other
senses acquire an almost preternatural quickness from the necessity of
recurring to them oftener, and relying on them more implicitly, in
consequence of the privation of sight. The musician distinguishes tones
and notes, the painter expressions and colours, from constant habit and
unwearied attention, that are quite lost upon the common observer. The
critic discovers beauties in a poem, the poet features in nature, that
are generally overlooked by those who have not employed their
imaginations or understandings on these particular studies. Whatever art
or science we devote ourselves to, we grow more perfect in with time and
practice. The range of our perceptions is at once enlarged and refined.
But—there lies the question that must ‘give us pause’—is the pleasure
increased in proportion to our habitual and critical discernment, or
does not our familiarity with nature, with science, and with art, breed
an indifference for those objects we are most conversant with and most
masters of? I am afraid the answer, if an honest one, must be on the
unfavourable side; and that from the moment that we can be said to
understand any subject thoroughly, or can execute any art skilfully, our
pleasure in it will be found to be on the decline. No doubt, that with
the opening of every new inlet of ideas, there is unfolded a new source
of pleasure; but this does not last much longer than the first discovery
we make of this _terra incognita_; and with the closing up of every
avenue of novelty, of curiosity, and of mystery, there is an end also of
our transport, our wonder, and our delight; or it is converted into a
very sober, rational, and household sort of satisfaction.

There is a craving after information, as there is after food; and it is
in supplying the void, in satisfying the appetite, that the pleasure in
both cases chiefly consists. When the uneasy want is removed, both the
pleasure and the pain cease. So in the acquisition of knowledge or of
skill, it is the transition from perplexity and helplessness, that
relieves and delights us; it is the surprise occasioned by the unfolding
of some new aspect of nature, that fills our eyes with tears and our
hearts with joy; it is the fear of not succeeding, that makes success so
welcome, and a giddy uncertainty about the extent of our acquisitions,
that makes us drunk with unexpected possession. We are happy not in the
total amount of our knowledge, but in the last addition we have made to
it, in the removal of some obstacle, in the drawing aside of some veil,
in the contrast between the obscurity of night and the brightness of the
dawn. But objects are magnified in the mist and haze of confusion; the
mind is most open to receive striking impressions of things in the
outset of its progress. The most trivial pursuits or successes then
agitate the whole brain; whereas afterwards the most important only
occupy one corner of it. The facility which habit gives in admitting new
ideas, or in reflecting upon old ones, renders the exercise of
intellectual activity a matter of comparative insignificance; and by
taking away the resistance and the difficulty, takes away the liveliness
of impulse that imparts a sense of pleasure or of pain to the soul. No
one reads the same book twice over with the same satisfaction. It is not
that our knowledge of it is not greater the second time than the first:
but our interest in it is less, because the addition we make to our
knowledge the second time is very trifling, while in the first perusal
it was all _clear gain_. Thus in youth and childhood every step is
fairy-ground, because every step is an advance in knowledge and
pleasure, opens new prospects, and excites new hopes, as in after-years,
though we may enlarge our circle a little, and measure our way more
accurately, yet in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred we only retrace
our steps, and repeat the same dull round of weariness and
disappointment. Knowledge is power; but it is not pleasure, except when
it springs immediately out of ignorance and incapacity. An actor, who
plays a character for the hundred and fortieth time, understands and
perhaps performs it better; but does he feel the part, has he the same
pleasure in it as he had the first time? The wonder is how he can go
through with it at all; nor could he, were he not supported by the
plaudits of the audience, who seem like new friends to him, or urged on
by the fear of disgrace, to which no man is ever reconciled.

I will here take occasion to suggest what appears to me the true state
of the question, whether a great actor is enabled to embody his part
from feeling or from study. I think at the time from neither; but merely
(or chiefly at least) from habit. But I think he must have felt the
character in the first instance with all the enthusiasm of nature and
genius, or he never would have distinguished himself in it. To say that
the intellect alone can determine or supply the movements or the
language of passion, is little short of a contradiction in terms.
Substituting the head for the heart is like saying that the eye is a
judge of sounds or the ear of colours. If a man in cold blood knows how
another feels in a fit of passion, it is from having been in a passion
himself before. Nor can the indifferent observation of the outward signs
attain to the truth of nature, without the inward sympathy to impel us
forward, and to tell us where to stop. Without that living criterion, we
shall be either tame and mechanical, or turgid and extravagant. The
study of individual models produces imitators and mannerists: the study
of general principles produces pedants. It is feeling alone that makes
up for the deficiencies of either mode of study; that expands the
meagreness of the one, that unbends the rigidity of the other, that
floats a man into the tide of popularity, and electrifies an audience.
It is feeling, or it is hope and fear, joy and sorrow, love and hatred,
that is the original source of the effects in nature which are brought
forward on the stage; and assuredly it is a sympathy with this feeling,
that must dictate the truest and most natural imitations of them. To
suppose that a person altogether dead to these primary passions of the
human breast can make a great actor, or feign the effects while he is
entirely ignorant of the cause, is no less absurd than to suppose that I
can describe a place which I never saw, or mimic a voice which I never
heard, or speak a language which I never learnt. An actor void of genius
and passion may be taught to strut about the stage, and mouth out his
words with mock-solemnity, and give himself the airs of a great actor,
but he will never _be_ one. He may express his own emptiness and vanity,
and make people stare, but he will not ‘send the hearers weeping to
their beds.’ The true, original master-touches that go to the heart,
must come from it. There is neither truth or beauty without nature.
Habit may repeat the lesson that is thus learnt, just as a poet may
transcribe a fine passage without being affected by it at the time; but
he could not have written it in the first instance without feeling the
beauty of the object he was describing, or without having been deeply
impressed with it in some moment of enthusiasm. It was then that his
genius was inspired, his style formed, and the foundation of his fame
laid. People tell you that Sterne was hard-hearted; that the author of
Waverley is a mere worldling; that Shakespear was a man without
passions. Do not believe them. Their passions might have worn themselves
out with constant over-excitement, so that they only knew how they
formerly felt; or they might have the controul over them; or from their
very compass and variety they might have kept one another in check, so
that none got very much a-head, and broke out into extravagant and overt
acts. But those persons must have experienced the feelings they express,
and entered into the situations they describe so finely, at some period
or other of their lives: the sacred source from whence the tears trickle
down the cheeks of others, was once full, though it may be now dried up;
and in all cases where a strong impression of truth and nature is
conveyed to the minds of others, it must have previously existed in an
equal or greater degree in the mind producing it. Perhaps it does not
strictly follow, that

          ‘They best can paint them, who have felt them most.’

To do this in perfection other qualifications may be necessary: language
may be wanting where the heart speaks, but that the tongue or the pen or
pencil can describe the workings of nature with the highest truth and
eloquence without being prompted or holding any communication with the
heart, past, present, or to come, I utterly deny. When Talma, in the
part of Œdipus, after the discovery of his misfortune, slowly raises his
hands and joins them together over his head in an attitude of despair, I
conceive it is because in the extremity of his anguish, and in the full
sense of his ghastly and desolate situation, he feels a want of
something as a shield or covering to protect him from the weight that is
ready to fall and crush him, and he makes use of that fine and
impressive action for this purpose:—not that I suppose he is affected in
this manner every time he repeats it, but he never would have thought of
it but from having this deep and bewildering feeling of weight and
oppression, which naturally suggested it to his imagination, and at the
same time assured him that it was just. Feeling is in fact the scale
that weighs the truth of all original conceptions. When Mrs. Siddons
played the part of Mrs. Beverley in the Gamester, and on Stukely’s
abrupt declaration of his unprincipled passion at the moment of her
husband’s imprisonment, threw into her face that noble succession of
varying emotions, first seeming not to understand him, then, as her
doubt is removed, rising into sudden indignation, then turning to pity,
and ending in a burst of hysteric scorn and laughter, was this the
effect of stratagem or forethought as a painter arranges a number of
colours on his palette? No—but by placing herself amply in the situation
of her heroine, and entering into all the circumstances, and feeling the
dignity of insulted virtue and misfortune, that wonderful display of
keen and high-wrought expressions burst from her involuntarily at the
same moment, and kindled her face almost into a blaze of lightning. Yet
Mrs. Siddons is sometimes accused of being cold and insensible. I do not
wonder that she may seem so after exertions such as these; as the Sybils
of old after their inspired prophetic fury sunk upon the ground,
breathless and exhausted. But that any one can embody high thoughts and
passions without having the prototypes in their own breast, is what I
shall not believe upon hearsay, and what I am sure cannot be proved by
argument.

It is a common complaint, that actors and actresses are dull when off
the stage. I do not know that it is the case; but I own I should be
surprised if it were otherwise. Many persons expect from the _éclat_
with which they appear in certain characters to find them equally
brilliant in company, not considering that the effect they produce in
their artificial characters is the very circumstance that must
disqualify them for producing any in ordinary cases. They who have
intoxicated and maddened multitudes by their public display of talent,
can rarely be supposed to feel much stimulus in entertaining one or two
friends, or in being the life of a dinner-party. She who perished
over-night by the dagger or the bowl as Cassandra or Cleopatra, may be
allowed to sip her tea in silence, and not to be herself again, till she
revives in Aspasia. A tragic tone does not become familiar conversation,
and any other must come very awkwardly and reluctantly from a great
tragic actress. At least, in the intervals of her professional
paroxysms, she will hardly set up for a verbal critic or
_blue-stocking_. Comic actors again have their repartees put into their
mouths, and must feel considerably at a loss when their cue is taken
from them. The most sensible among them are modest and silent. It is
only those of second-rate pretensions who think to make up for the want
of original wit by practical jokes and _slang_ phrases. _Theatrical_
manners are, I think, the most repulsive of all others.—Actors live on
applause, and drag on a laborious artificial existence by the
administration of perpetual provocatives to their sympathy with the
public gratification—I will not call it altogether _vanity_ in them who
delight to make others laugh, any more than in us who delight to laugh
with them. They have a significant phrase to express the absence of a
proper sense in the audience—‘there was not a hand in the house.’ I have
heard one of the most modest and meritorious of them declare, that if
there was nobody else to applaud, he should like to see a dog wag his
tail in approbation. There cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose
that singers dislike to be encored. There is often a violent opposition
out of compassion, with cries of ‘shame, shame!’ when a young female
debutante is about to be _encored_ twice in a favourite air, as if it
were taking a cruel advantage of her—instead of the third, she would be
glad to sing it for the thirtieth time, and ‘die of an _encore_ in
_operatic_ pain!’ The excitement of public applause at last becomes a
painful habit, and either in indolent or over-active temperaments
produces a corresponding craving after privacy and leisure. Mr. L—— a
short time ago was in treaty for a snug little place near his friend Mr.
M—— at Highgate, on which he had so set his heart, that when the bargain
failed, he actually shed tears like a child. He has a right to blubber
like a school-boy whenever he pleases, who almost every night of his
life makes hundreds of people laugh till they forget they are no longer
school-boys. I hope, if this should prove a hard winter, he will again
wrap himself up in flannel and _lamb’s-wool_, take to his fireside, and
read the English Novelists once more fairly through. Let him have these
lying on his table, Hogarth’s prints hung round the room, and with his
own face to boot, I defy the world to match them again! There is
something very amiable and praise-worthy in the friendships of the two
ingenious actors I have just alluded to: from the example of contrast
and disinterestedness it affords, it puts me in mind of that of
Rosinante and Dapple. These Arcadian retirements and ornamented retreats
are, I suspect, tantalising and unsatisfactory resources to the
favourites of the town. The constant fever of applause, and of anxiety
to deserve it, which produces the wish for repose, disables them from
enjoying it. Let the _calenture_ be as strong as it will, the eye of the
pit is upon them in the midst of it: the smile of the boxes, the roar of
the gallery, pierces through their holly-hedges, and overthrows all
their pastoral theories. Of the public as of the sex it may be said,
when one has once been a candidate for their favours,

           ‘There is no living with them, nor without them!’

I wish the late Mr. Kemble had not written that stupid book about
Richard III. and closed a proud theatrical career with a piece of
literary foppery. Yet why do I wish it if it pleased him, since it made
no alteration in my opinion respecting him? Its dry details, its little
tortuous struggles after contradiction, nay, its fulsome praises of a
kindred critic, Mr. Gifford (what will not a retired tragedian do for a
niche in the _Quarterly Review_?) did not blot from my memory his
stately form, his noble features, in which old Rome saw herself revived,
his manly sense and plaintive tones, that were an echo to deep-fraught
sentiment; nor make me forget another volume published and suppressed
long before, a volume of poems addressed to Mrs. Inchbald, ‘the
silver-voiced Anna.’ Both are dead. Such is the stuff of which our lives
are made—bubbles that reflect the glorious features of the universe, and
that glance a passing shadow, a feeble gleam, on those around them!

Mrs. Siddons was in the meridian of her reputation when I first became
acquainted with the stage. She was an established veteran, when I was an
unfledged novice; and, perhaps, played those scenes without emotion,
which filled me, and so many others, with delight and awe. So far I had
the advantage of her, and of myself too. I did not then analyse her
excellences as I should now, or divide her merits into physical and
intellectual advantages, or see that her majestic form rose up against
misfortune in equal sublimity, an antagonist power to it—but the total
impression (unquestioned, unrefined upon) overwhelmed and drowned me in
a flood of tears. I was stunned and torpid after seeing her in any of
her great parts. I was uneasy, and hardly myself, but I felt (more than
ever) that human life was something very far from being indifferent, and
I seemed to have got a key to unlock the springs of joy and sorrow in
the human heart. This was no mean possession, and I availed myself of it
with no sparing hand. The pleasure I anticipated at that time in
witnessing her dullest performance, was certainly greater than I should
have now in seeing her in the most brilliant. The very sight of her name
in the play-bills in Tamerlane, or Alexander the Great, threw a light
upon the day, and drew after it a long trail of Eastern glory, a joy and
felicity unutterable, that has since vanished in the mists of criticism
and the glitter of idle distinctions. I was in a trance, and my dreams
were of mighty empires fallen, of vast burning zones, of waning time, of
Persian thrones and them that sat on them, of sovereign beauty, and of
victors vanquished by love. Death and Life played their pageant before
me. The gates were unbarred, the folding doors of fancy were thrown
open, and I saw all that mankind had been, or that I myself could
conceive, pass in sudden and gorgeous review before me. No wonder that
the huge, dim, disjointed vision should enchant and startle me. One
reason why our first impressions are so strong and lasting is that they
are _whole-length_ ones. We afterwards divide and compare, and judge of
things only as they differ from other things. At first we measure them
from the ground, take in only the groups and masses, and are struck with
the entire contrast to our former ignorance and inexperience. If we
apprehend only a vague gaudy outline, this is not a disadvantage; for we
fill it up with our desires and fancies, which are most potent in their
capacity to create good or evil. The first glow of passion in the breast
throws its radiance over the opening path of life; and it is wonderful
how much of the volume of our future existence the mere title-page
discloses. The results do not indeed exactly correspond with our
expectations; but our passions survive their first eager ebullition and
bitter disappointment, the bulk of our sensations consists of broken
vows and fading recollections; and it is not astonishing that there is
so near a resemblance between our earliest anticipations and our latest
sigh, since we obstinately believe things to be to the last, what we at
first wished to find them.

           ‘Hope travels through, nor quits us till we die.’

Our existence is a tissue of passion, and our successive years only
present us with fainter and fainter copies of the first
proof-impressions. ‘The dregs of life,’ therefore, contain very little
of force or spirit which

            ——‘the first spritely runnings could not give.’

Imagination is, in this sense, sometimes truer than reality; for our
passions being ‘compacted of imagination,’ and our desires whetted by
impatience and delay, often lose some of their taste and essence with
possession. So in youth we look forward to the advances of age, and feel
them more strongly than when they arrive; nor is this more extraordinary
than that from the height of a precipice the descent below should make
us giddy, and that we should be less sensible of it when we come to the
ground. Experience can teach us little, I suspect, after the first
unfolding of our faculties, and the first strong excitement of outward
objects. It can only add to or take away from our original impressions,
and the imagination can make out the addition as largely or feel the
privation as sharply as the senses. The little it can teach us, which is
to moderate our chagrins and sober our expectations to the dull standard
of reality, we will not learn. ‘Reason panders will;’ and if we have
been disappointed forty times, we are only the more resolved that the
forty-first time shall make up for all the rest, and our hope grows
desperate as the chances are against it. A man who is wary, is so
naturally; he who is of a sanguine and credulous disposition, will
continue so in spite of warning; we hearken to no voice but that of our
secret inclinations and native bias. Mr. Wordsworth being asked why he
admired the sleep of infancy, said he thought ‘there was a grandeur in
it;’ the reason of which is partly owing to the contrast of total
unconsciousness to all the ills of life, and partly that it is the germ
implying all the future good; an untouched, untold treasure. In the
outset of life, all that is to come of it seems to press with double
force upon the heart, and our yearnings after good and dread of evil are
in proportion to the little we have known of either. The first
ebullitions of hope and fear in the human heart lift us to heaven, or
sink us to the abyss; but when served out to us in dribblets and palled
by repetition, they lose their interest and effect. Or the dawn of
experience, like that of day, shews the wide prospect stretched out
before us, and dressed in its liveliest colours; as we proceed, we tire
of the length of the way and complain of its sameness. The path of life
is stripped of its freshness and beauty; and as we grow acquainted with
them, we become indifferent to weal or woe.

The best part of our lives we pass in counting on what is to come; or in
fancying what may have happened in real or fictitious story to others. I
have had more pleasure in reading the adventures of a novel (and perhaps
changing situations with the hero) than I ever had in my own. I do not
think any one can feel much happier—a greater degree of heart’s
ease—than I used to feel in reading Tristram Shandy, and Peregrine
Pickle, and Tom Jones, and the Tatler, and Gil Blas of Santillane, and
Werter, and Boccacio. It was some years after that I read the last, but
his tales

                  ‘Dallied with the innocence of love,
                  Like the old Time.’

The story of Frederigo Alberigi affected me as if it had been my own
case, and I saw his hawk upon her perch in the clear, cold air, ‘and how
fat and fair a bird she was,’ as plain as ever I saw a picture of
Titian’s; and felt that I should have served her up as he did, as a
banquet for his mistress, who came to visit him at his own poor farm. I
could wish that Lord Byron had employed himself while in Italy in
rescuing such a writer as Boccacio from unmerited obloquy, instead of
making those notable discoveries, that Pope was a poet, and that
Shakespear was not one! Mrs. Inchbald was always a great favourite with
me. There is the true soul of woman breathing from what she writes, as
much as if you heard her voice. It is as if Venus had written books. I
first read her _Simple Story_ (of all places in the world) at M——. No
matter where it was; for it transported me out of myself. I recollect
walking out to escape from one of the tenderest parts, in order to
return to it again with double relish. An old crazy hand-organ was
playing Robin Adair, a summer-shower dropped manna on my head, and
slaked my feverish thirst of happiness. Her heroine, Miss Milner, was at
my side. My dream has since been verified:—how like it was to the
reality! In truth, the reality itself was but a dream. Do I not still
see that ‘simple movement of her finger’ with which Madame Basil
beckoned Jean Jacques to the seat at her feet, the heightened colour
that tinged her profile as she sat at her work netting, the bunch of
flowers in her hair? Is not the glow of youth and beauty in her cheek
blended with the blushes of the roses in her hair? Do they not breathe
the breath of love? And (what though the adventure was unfinished by
either writer or reader) is not the blank filled up with the rare and
subtle spirit of fancy, that imparts the fullness of delight to the
air-drawn creations of brain? I once sat on a sunny bank in a field in
which the green blades of corn waved in the fitful northern breeze, and
read the letter in the _New Eloise_, in which St. Preux describes the
Pays de Vaud. I never felt what Shakespear calls my ‘glassy essence,’ so
much as then. My thoughts were pure and free. They took a tone from the
objects before me, and from the simple manners of the inhabitants of
mountain-scenery, so well described in the letter. The style gave me the
same sensation as the drops of morning dew before they are scorched by
the sun; and I thought Julia did well to praise it. I wished I could
have written such a letter. That wish, enhanced by my admiration of
genius and the feeling of the objects around me, was accompanied with
more pleasure than if I had written fifty such letters, or had gained
all the reputation of its immortal author! Of all the pictures, prints,
or drawings I ever saw, none ever gave me such satisfaction as the rude
etchings at the top of Rousseau’s _Confessions_. There is a necromantic
spell in the outlines. Imagination is a witch. It is not even said
anywhere that such is the case, but I had got it in my head that the
rude sketches of old-fashioned houses, stone-walls, and stumps of trees
represented the scenes at Annecy and Vevay, where he who relished all
more sharply than others, and by his own intense aspirations after good
had nearly delivered mankind from the yoke of evil, first drew the
breath of hope. Here love’s golden rigol bound his brows, and here fell
from it. It was the partition-wall between life and death to him, and
all beyond it was a desert!...

             ‘And bade the lovely scenes at distance hail.’

I used to apply this line to the distant range of hills in a paltry
landscape, which however had a tender vernal tone and a dewy freshness.
I could look at them till my eyes filled with tears, and my heart
dissolved in faintness. Why do I recal the circumstance after a lapse of
years with so much interest? Because I felt it then. Those feeble
outlines were linked in my mind to the purest, fondest yearnings after
good, that dim, airy space contained my little all of hope, buoyed up by
charming fears; the delight with which I dwelt upon it, enhanced by my
ignorance of what was in store for me, was free from mortal grossness,
familiarity or disappointment, and I drank pleasure out of the bosom of
the silent hills and gleaming vallies as from a cup filled to the brim
with love-philtres and poisonous sweetness by the sorceress, Fancy!

Mr. Opie used to consider it as an error to suppose that an artist’s
first works were necessarily crude and raw, and that he went on
regularly improving on them afterwards. On the contrary, he maintained
that they had the advantage of being done ‘with all his heart, and soul,
and might;’ that they contained his best thoughts, those which his
genius most eagerly prompted, and which he had matured and treasured up
longest, from the first dawn of art and nature on his mind; and that his
subsequent works were rather after-thoughts, and the leavings and
_make-shifts_ of his invention. There is a great deal of truth in this
view of the matter. _Poeta nascitur, non fit_; that is, it is the strong
character and impulse of the mind that forces out its way and stamps
itself upon outward objects, not that is elicited and laboriously raised
into artificial importance by contrivance and study. An _improving_
actor, artist, or poet never becomes a great one. I have known such in
my time, who were always advancing by slow and sure steps to the height
of their profession; but in the mean time, some man of genius rose, and
passing them, at once seized on the top-most round of ambition’s ladder,
so that they still remained in the second class. A volcano does not give
warning when it will break out, nor a thunder-bolt send word of its
approach. Mr. Kean stamped himself the first night in Shylock; he never
did any better. Mr. Kemble is the only great and truly impressive actor
I remember, who rose to his stately height by the interposition of art
and gradations of merit. A man of genius is _sui generis_—to be known,
he need only to be seen—you can no more dispute whether he is one, than
you can dispute whether it is a panther that is shewn you in a cage.
Mrs. Siddons did not succeed the first time she appeared on the London
boards, but then it was in Garrick’s time, who sent her back to the
country. He startled and put her out in some part she had to play with
him, by the amazing vividness and intrepidity of his style of acting.
Yet old Dr. Chauncey who frequented Sir Joshua Reynolds’s, said that he
was not himself in his latter days, that he got to play harlequin’s
tricks, and was too much in the trammels of the stage, and was quite
different from what he was when he came out at Goodman’s-Field’s, when
he surprised the town in Richard, as if he had dropped from the clouds,
and his acting was all fire and air. Mrs. Siddons was hardly satisfied
with the admiration of those who had only seen her latter performances,
which were distinguished chiefly by their towering height and marble
outline. She has been heard to exclaim, ‘You have seen me only in Lady
Macbeth and Queen Katherine, and Belvidera and Jane Shore—you should
have seen me when I played these characters alternately with Juliet, and
Desdemona, and Calista, and the Mourning Bride, night after night, when
I first came from Bath!’ If she indeed filled these parts with a beauty
and tenderness equal to the sublimity of her other performances, one had
only to see her in them and die! Lord Byron says, that Lady Macbeth died
when Mrs. Siddons left the stage. Could not even her acting help him to
understand Shakespear?—Sir Joshua Reynolds at a late period saw some
portraits he had done in early life, and lamented the little progress he
had made. Yet he belonged to the laborious and _climbing_ class. No one
generation improves much upon another; no one individual improves much
upon himself. What we impart to others we have within us, and we have it
almost from the first. The strongest insight we obtain into nature is
that which we receive from the broad light thrown upon it by the sudden
developement of our own faculties and feelings.

Even in science the greatest discoveries have been made at an early age.
Sir Isaac Newton was not twenty when he saw the apple fall to the
ground. Harvey, I believe, discovered the circulation of the blood at
eighteen. Berkeley was only six and twenty when he published his Essay
on Vision. Hartley’s great principle was developed in an inaugural
dissertation at College. Hume wrote his Treatise on Human Nature while
he was yet quite a young man. Hobbes put forth his metaphysical system
very soon after he quitted the service of Lord Bacon. I believe also
that Galileo, Leibnitz, and Euler commenced their career of discovery
quite young; and I think it is only then, before the mind becomes set in
its own opinions or the dogmas of others, that it can have vigour or
elasticity to throw off the load of prejudice and seize on new and
extensive combinations of things. In exploring new and doubtful tracts
of speculation, the mind strikes out true and original views; as a drop
of water hesitates at first what direction it shall take, but afterwards
follows its own course. The very oscillation of the mind in its first
perilous and staggering search after truth, brings together extreme
arguments and illustrations, that would never occur in a more settled
and methodised state of opinion, and felicitous suggestions turn up when
we are trying experiments on the understanding, of which we can have no
hope when we have once made up our minds to a conclusion, and only go
over the previous steps that led to it. So that the greater number of
opinions we have formed, we are less capable of forming new ones, and
slide into common-places, according as we have them at hand to resort
to. It is easier taking the beaten path than making our way over bogs
and precipices. The great difficulty in philosophy is to come to every
question with a mind fresh and unshackled by former theories, though
strengthened by exercise and information; as in the practice of art, the
great thing is to retain our admiration of the beautiful in nature,
together with the power to imitate it, and not, from a want of this
original feeling, to be enslaved by formal rules, or dazzled by the mere
difficulties of execution. Habit is necessary to give power: but with
the stimulus of novelty, the love of truth and nature ceases through
indolence or insensibility. Hence wisdom too commonly degenerates into
prejudice; and skill into pedantry. Ask a metaphysician what subject he
understands best; and he will tell you that which he knows the least
about. Ask a musician to play a favourite tune, and he will select an
air the most difficult of execution. If you ask an artist his opinion of
a picture, he will point to some defect in perspective or anatomy. If an
opera-dancer wishes to impress you with an idea of his grace and
accomplishments, he will throw himself into the most distorted attitude
possible. Who would not rather see a dance in the forest of Montmorenci
on a summer’s evening by a hundred laughing peasant-girls and their
partners, who come to this scene for several miles round, rushing
through the forest-glades, as the hart panteth for the water-brooks,
than all the _pirouettes_, _pied-a-plombs_, and _entrechats_, performed
at the French Opera by the whole _corps de ballet_? Yet the first only
just contrive to exert their heels, and not put their partners out,
whilst the last perform nothing but feats of dexterity and miracles of
skill—not one of which they could ever perform, if they had not lost
every idea of natural grace, ease, or decorum in habitual callousness or
professional vanity, or had one feeling left which prompts their rustic
rivals to run through the mazes of the dance

                ‘With heedless haste and giddy cunning,’

while the leaves tremble to the festive sounds of music, and the air
circles in gladder currents to their joyous movements!—There was a dance
in the pantomime at Covent-Garden two years ago, which I could have gone
to see every night. I _did_ go to see it every night that I could make
an excuse for that purpose. It was nothing; it was childish. Yet I could
not keep away from it. Some young people came out of a large
twelfth-cake, dressed in full court-costume, and danced a quadrille, and
then a minuet, to some divine air. Was it that it put me in mind of my
school-boy days, and of the large bunch of lilac that I used to send as
a present to my partner? Or of times still longer past, the court of
Louis XIV. the Duke de Nemours and the Princess of Cleves? Or of the
time when she who was all grace moved in measured steps before me, and
wafted me into Elysium? I know not how it was; but it came over the
sense with a power not to be resisted,

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

I mention these things to shew, as I think, that pleasures are not

                        ‘Like poppies spread,
                You seize the flower, the bloom is shed,
                Or like the snow, falls in the river,
                A moment white—then melts for ever;
                Or like the borealis race,
                That flit ere you can point their place;
                Or like the rainbow’s lovely form,
                Evanishing amid the storm.’

On the contrary, I think they leave traces of themselves behind them,
durable and delightful even in proportion to the regrets accompanying
them, and which we relinquish only with our being. The most
irreconcileable disappointments are perhaps those which arise from our
obtaining all we wish.

The Opera-figurante despises the peasant-girl that dances on the green,
however much happier she may be or may be thought by the first. The one
can do what the other cannot. Pride is founded not on the sense of
happiness, but on the sense of power; and this is one great source of
self-congratulation, if not of self-satisfaction. This, however, is
continually increasing, or at least renewing with our advances in skill
and the conquest of difficulties; and, accordingly, there is no end of
it while we live or till our faculties decay. He who undertakes to
master any art or science has cut himself out work enough to last the
rest of his life, and may promise himself all the enjoyment that is to
be found in looking down with self-complacent triumph on the inferiority
of others, or all the torment that there is in envying their success.
There is no danger that the machine will ever stand still afterwards.
Mandeville has endeavoured to shew that if it were not for envy, malice,
and all uncharitableness, mankind would perish of pure chagrin and
_ennui_; and I am not in the humour to contradict him.—The same spirit
of emulation that urges us on to surpass others, supplies us with a new
source of satisfaction (of something which is at least the reverse of
indifference and apathy) in the indefatigable exertion of our faculties
and the perception of new and minor shades of distinction. These, if not
so delightful, are more subtle, and may be multiplied indefinitely. They
borrow something of taste and pleasure from their first origin, till
they dwindle away into mere abstractions. The exercise, whether of our
minds or bodies, sharpens and gives additional alacrity to our active
impressions, as the indulgence of our sensibility, whether to pleasure
or pain, blunts our passive ones. The will to do, the power to think, is
a progressive faculty, though not the capacity to feel. Otherwise, the
business of life could not go on. If it were necessity alone that oiled
the springs of society, people would grow tired and restive, they would
lie down and die. But with use there comes a habit, a positive need of
something to keep off the horror of vacancy. The sense of power has a
sense of pleasure annexed to it, or what is practically tantamount, an
impulse, an endeavour, that carries us through the most tiresome
drudgery or the hardest tasks. Indolence is a part of our nature too.
There is a _vis inertiæ_ at first, a difficulty in beginning or in
leaving off. I have spun out this Essay in a good measure from the dread
I feel of entering upon new subjects.—Some such reasoning is necessary
to account for the headstrong and incorrigible violence of the passions
when the will is once implicated. So in ambition, in avarice, in the
love of gaming and of drinking (where the strong stimulus is the chief
excitement), there is no hope of any termination, of any pause or
relaxation; but we are hurried forward, as by a fever, when all sense of
pleasure is dead, and we only persevere as it were out of contradiction,
and in defiance of the obstacles, the mortifications and privations we
have to encounter. The resistance of the will to outward circumstances,
its determination to create its own good or evil, is also a part of the
same constitution of the mind. The solitary captive can make a companion
of the spider that straggles into his cell, or find amusement in
counting the nails in his dungeon-door; while the proud lord that placed
him there feels the depth of solitude in crowded ball-rooms and hot
theatres, and turns with weariness from the scenes of luxury and
dissipation. Defoe’s romance is the finest possible exemplification of
the manner in which our internal resources increase with our external
wants.

Our affections are enlarged and unfolded with time and acquaintance. If
we like new books, new faces, new scenes, or _hanker_ after those we
have never seen, we also like old books, old faces, old haunts,

         ‘Round which, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
         Our pastime and our happiness have grown.’

If we are repelled after a while by familiarity, or when the first gloss
of novelty wears off, we are brought back from time to time by recurring
recollections, and are at last wedded to them by a thousand
associations. Passion is the undue irritation of the will from
indulgence or opposition: imagination is the anticipation of unknown
good: affection is the attachment we form to any object from its being
connected with the habitual impression of numberless sources and
ramifications of pleasure. The heart is the most central of all things.
Our duties also (in which either our affections or our understandings
are our teachers) are uniform, and must find us at our posts. If this is
ever difficult at first, it is always easy in the end. The last pleasure
in life is the sense of discharging our duty.

Our physical pleasures (unless as they depend on imagination and
opinion) undergo less alteration, and are even more lasting than any
others. They return with returning appetite, and are as good as new. We
do not read the same book twice two days following, but we had rather
eat the same dinner two days following than go without one. Our
intellectual pleasures, which are spread out over a larger surface, are
variable for that very reason, that they tire by repetition, and are
diminished in comparison.[56] Our physical ones have but one condition
for their duration and sincerity, _viz._ that they shall be unforced and
natural. Our passions of a grosser kind wear out before our senses: but
in ordinary cases they grow indolent and conform to habit, instead of
becoming impatient and inordinate from a desire of change, as we are
satisfied with more moderate bodily exercise in age or middle life than
we are in youth.—Upon the whole, there are many things to prop up and
reinforce our fondness for existence, after the intoxication of our
first acquaintance with it is over; health, a walk and the appetite it
creates, a book, the doing a good-natured or friendly action, are
satisfactions that hold out to the last; and with these, and any others
to aid us that fall harmlessly in our way, we may make a shift for a few
seasons, after having exhausted the short-lived transports of an eager
and enthusiastic imagination, and without being under the necessity of
hanging or drowning ourselves as soon as we come to years of discretion.


                              ESSAY XXVII
                  ON OLD ENGLISH WRITERS AND SPEAKERS

When I see a whole row of standard French authors piled up on a Paris
book-stall, to the height of twenty or thirty volumes, shewing their
mealy coats to the sun, pink, blue, and yellow, they seem to me a wall
built up to keep out the intrusion of foreign letters. There is scarcely
such a thing as an English book to be met with, unless, perhaps, a dusty
edition of Clarissa Harlowe lurks in an obscure corner, or a volume of
the Sentimental Journey perks its well-known title in your face.[57] But
there is a huge column of Voltaire’s works complete in sixty volumes,
another (not so frequent) of Rousseau’s in fifty, Racine in ten volumes,
Moliere in about the same number, La Fontaine, Marmontel, Gil Blas, for
ever; Madame Sevigné’s Letters, Pascal, Montesquieu, Crebillon,
Marivaux, with Montaigne, Rabelais, and the grand Corneille more rare;
and eighteen full-sized volumes of La Harpe’s criticism, towering
vain-gloriously in the midst of them, furnishing the streets of Paris
with a graduated scale of merit for all the rest, and teaching the very
_garçons perruquiers_ how to measure the length of each act of each play
by a stop-watch, and to ascertain whether the angles at the four corners
of each classic volume are right ones. How climb over this lofty pile of
taste and elegance to wander down into the bogs and wastes of English or
of any other literature, ‘to this obscure and wild?’ Must they ‘on that
fair mountain leave to feed, to batten on this moor?’ Or why should
they? Have they not literature enough of their own, and to spare,
without coming to us? Is not the public mind crammed, choaked with
French books, pictures, statues, plays, operas, newspapers, parties, and
an incessant farrago of words, so that it has not a moment left to look
at home into itself, or abroad into nature? Must they cross the Channel
to increase the vast stock of impertinence, to acquire foreign tastes,
suppress native prejudices, and reconcile the opinions of the Edinburgh
and Quarterly Reviews? It is quite needless. There is a project at
present entertained in certain circles, to give the French a taste for
Shakespear. They should really begin with the English.[58] Many of their
own best authors are neglected; others, of whom new Editions have been
printed, lie heavy on the booksellers’ hands. It is by an especial
dispensation of Providence that languages wear out; as otherwise we
should be buried alive under a load of books and knowledge. People talk
of a philosophical and universal language. We have enough to do to
understand our own, and to read a thousandth part (perhaps not the best)
of what is written in it. It is ridiculous and monstrous vanity. We
would set up a standard of general taste and of immortal renown; we
would have the benefits of science and of art universal, because we
suppose our own capacity to receive them unbounded; and we would have
the thoughts of others never die, because we flatter ourselves that our
own will last for ever; and like the frog imitating the ox in the fable,
we burst in the vain attempt. Man, whatever he may think, is a very
limited being; the world is a narrow circle drawn about him; the horizon
limits our immediate view; immortality means a century or two. Languages
happily restrict the mind to what is of its own native growth and fitted
for it, as rivers and mountains bound countries; or the empire of
learning, as well as states, would become unwieldy and overgrown. A
little importation from foreign markets may be good; but the home
production is the chief thing to be looked to.

            ‘The proper study of the _French_ is _French_!’

No people can act more uniformly upon a conviction of this maxim, and in
that respect I think they are much to be commended.

Mr. Lamb has lately taken it into his head to read St. Evremont, and
works of that stamp. I neither praise nor blame him for it. He observed,
that St. Evremont was a writer half-way between Montaigne and Voltaire,
with a spice of the wit of the one and the sense of the other. I said I
was always of opinion that there had been a great many clever people in
the world, both in France and England, but I had been sometimes rebuked
for it. Lamb took this as a slight reproach; for he has been a little
exclusive and national in his tastes. He said that Coleridge had lately
given up all his opinions respecting German literature, that all their
high-flown pretensions were in his present estimate sheer cant and
affectation, and that none of their works were worth any thing but
Schiller’s and the early ones of Goethè. ‘What,’ I said, ‘my old friend
Werter! How many battles have I had in my own mind, and compunctious
visitings of criticism to stick to my old favourite, because Coleridge
thought nothing of it! It is hard to find one’s-self right at last!’ I
found they were of my mind with respect to the celebrated FAUST—that it
is a mere piece of abortive perverseness, a wilful evasion of the
subject and omission of the characters; that it is written on the absurd
principle that as to produce a popular and powerful effect is not a
proof of the highest genius, so to produce no effect at all is an
evidence of the highest poetry—and in fine, that the German play is not
to be named in a day with Marlowe’s. Poor Kit! How Lord Byron would have
sneered at this comparison between the boasted modern and a contemporary
of Shakespear’s! Captain Medwin or his Lordship must have made a mistake
in the enumeration of plays of that period still acted. There is one of
Ben Jonson’s, ‘Every Man in his Humour;’ and one of Massinger’s, ‘A new
Way to Pay old Debts;’ but there is none of Ford’s either acted or worth
acting, except ‘’Tis Pity She’s a Whore,’ and that would no more bear
acting than Lord Byron and Goethè together could have written it.

This account of Coleridge’s vacillations of opinion on such subjects
might be adduced to shew that our love for foreign literature is an
acquired or rather an assumed taste; that it is, like a foreign
religion, adopted for the moment, to answer a purpose or to please an
idle humour; that we do not enter into the _dialect_ of truth and nature
in their works as we do in our own; and that consequently our taste for
them seldom becomes a part of ourselves, that ‘grows with our growth,
and strengthens with our strength,’ and only quits us when we die.
Probably it is this acquaintance with, and pretended admiration of,
extraneous models, that adulterates and spoils our native literature,
that polishes the surface but undermines its basis, and by taking away
its original simplicity, character, and force, makes it just tolerable
to others, and a matter of much indifference to ourselves. When I see
Lord Byron’s poems stuck all over Paris, it strikes me as ominous of the
decline of English genius: on the contrary, when I find the Scotch
Novels in still greater request, I think it augurs well for the
improvement of French taste.[59]

There was advertised not long ago in Paris an Elegy on the Death of Lord
Byron, by his friend Sir Thomas More,—evidently confounding the living
bard with the old statesman. It is thus the French in their light,
salient way transpose every thing. The mistake is particularly ludicrous
to those who have ever seen Mr. Moore, or Mr. Shee’s portrait of him in
Mr. Hookham’s shop, and who chance to see Holbein’s head of Sir Thomas
More in the Louvre. There is the same difference that there is between a
surly English mastiff and a little lively French pug. Mr. Moore’s face
is gay and smiling enough, old Sir Thomas’s is severe, not to say sour.
It seems twisted awry with difficult questions, and bursting asunder
with a ponderous load of meaning. Mr. Moore has nothing of this painful
and puritanical cast. He floats idly and fantastically on the top of the
literature of his age; his renowned and almost forgotten namesake has
nearly sunk to the bottom of his. The author of Utopia was no flincher,
he was a martyr to his opinions, and was burnt to death for them—the
most heroic action of Mr. Moore’s life is, the having burnt the Memoirs
of his friend!

The expression in Holbein’s pictures conveys a faithful but not very
favourable notion of the literary character of that period. It is
painful, dry, and laboured. Learning was then an ascetic, but recluse
and profound. You see a weight of thought and care in the studious heads
of the time of the Reformation, a sincerity, an integrity, a sanctity of
purpose, like that of a formal dedication to a religious life, or the
inviolability of monastic vows. They had their work to do; we reap the
benefits of it. We skim the surface, and travel along the high road.
They had to explore dark recesses, to dig through mountains, and make
their way through pathless wildernesses. It is no wonder they looked
grave upon it. The seriousness, indeed, amounts to an air of devotion;
and it has to me something fine, manly, and _old English_ about it.
There is a heartiness and determined resolution; a willingness to
contend with opposition; a superiority to ease and pleasure; some sullen
pride, but no trifling vanity. They addressed themselves to study as to
a duty, and were ready to ‘leave all and follow it.’ In the beginning of
such an era, the difference between ignorance and learning, between what
was commonly known and what was possible to be known, would appear
immense; and no pains or time would be thought too great to master the
difficulty. Conscious of their own deficiencies and the scanty
information of those about them, they would be glad to look out for aids
and support, and to put themselves apprentices to time and nature. This
temper would lead them to exaggerate rather than to make light of the
difficulties of their undertaking; and would call forth sacrifices in
proportion. Feeling how little they knew, they would be anxious to
discover all that others had known, and instead of making a display of
themselves, their first object would be to dispel the mist and darkness
that surrounded them. They did not cull the flowers of learning, or
pluck a leaf of laurel for their own heads, but tugged at the roots and
very heart of their subject, as the woodman tugs at the roots of the
gnarled oak. The sense of the arduousness of their enterprise braced
their courage, so that they left nothing half done. They inquired _de
omne scibile et quibusdam aliis_. They ransacked libraries, they
exhausted authorities. They acquired languages, consulted books, and
decyphered manuscripts. They devoured learning, and swallowed antiquity
whole, and (what is more) digested it. They read incessantly, and
remembered what they read, from the zealous interest they took in it.
Repletion is only bad, when it is accompanied with apathy and want of
exercise. They laboured hard, and shewed great activity both of
reasoning and speculation. Their fault was that they were too prone to
unlock the secrets of nature with the key of learning, and often to
substitute authority in the place of argument. They were also too
polemical; as was but naturally to be expected in the first breaking up
of established prejudices and opinions. It is curious to observe the
slow progress of the human mind in loosening and getting rid of its
trammels, link by link, and how it crept on its hands and feet, and with
its eyes bent on the ground, out of the cave of Bigotry, making its way
through one dark passage after another; those who gave up one half of an
absurdity contending as strenuously for the remaining half, the lazy
current of tradition stemming the tide of innovation, and making an
endless struggle between the two. But in the dullest minds of this
period there was a deference to the opinions of their leaders; an
imposing sense of the importance of the subject, of the necessity of
bringing all the faculties to bear upon it; a weight either of armour or
of internal strength, a zeal either _for_ or _against_; a head, a heart,
and a hand, a holding out to the death for conscience sake, a strong
spirit of proselytism—no flippancy, no indifference, no compromising, no
pert shallow scepticism, but truth was supposed indissolubly knit to
good, knowledge to usefulness, and the temporal and eternal welfare of
mankind to hang in the balance. The pure springs of a lofty faith (so to
speak) had not then descended by various gradations from their skyey
regions and cloudy height, to find their level in the smooth, glittering
expanse of modern philosophy, or to settle in the stagnant pool of stale
hypocrisy! A learned man of that day, if he knew no better than others,
at least knew all that they did. He did not come to his subject, like
some dapper barrister who has never looked at his brief, and trusts to
the smartness of his wit and person for the agreeable effect he means to
produce, but like an old and practised counsellor, covered over with the
dust and cobwebs of the law. If it was a speaker in Parliament, he came
prepared to handle his subject, armed with cases and precedents, the
constitution and history of Parliament from the earliest period, a
knowledge of the details of business and the local interests of the
country; in short, he had taken up _the freedom of the House_, and did
not treat the question like a cosmopolite, or a writer in a Magazine. If
it were a divine, he knew the Scriptures and the Fathers, and the
Councils and the Commentators by heart, and thundered them in the ears
of his astonished audience. Not a trim essay or a tumid oration,
patronising religion by modern sophisms, but the Law and the Prophets,
the chapter and the verse. If it was a philosopher, Aristotle and the
Schoolmen were drawn out in battle-array against you:—if an antiquarian,
the Lord bless us! There is a passage in Selden’s notes on Drayton’s
Poly-Olbion, in which he elucidates some point of topography by a
reference not only to Stowe and Holinshed and Camden and
Saxo-Grammaticus and Dugdale and several other authors that we are
acquainted with, but to twenty obscure names, that no modern reader ever
heard of; and so on through the notes to a folio volume, written
apparently for relaxation. Such were the intellectual amusements of our
ancestors! Learning then ordinarily lay-in of folio volumes: now she
litters octavos and duodecimos, and will soon, as in France, miscarry of
half sheets! Poor Job Orton! why should I not record a jest of his
(perhaps the only one he ever made) emblematic as it is of the living
and the learning of the good old times? The Rev. Job Orton was a
Dissenting Minister in the middle of the last century, and had grown
heavy and gouty by sitting long at dinner and at his studies. He could
only get down stairs at last by spreading the folio volumes of Caryl’s
Commentaries upon Job on the steps and sliding down them. Surprised one
day in his descent, he exclaimed, ‘You have often heard of Caryl upon
Job—now you see Job upon Caryl!’ This same quaint-witted gouty old
gentleman seems to have been one of those ‘superior, happy spirits,’ who
slid through life on the rollers of learning, enjoying the good things
of the world and laughing at them, and turning his infirmities to a
livelier account than his patriarchal namesake. Reader, didst thou ever
hear either of Job Orton or of Caryl on Job? I daresay not. Yet the one
did not therefore slide down his theological staircase the less
pleasantly; nor did the other compile his Commentaries in vain! For
myself, I should like to browze on folios, and have to deal chiefly with
authors that I have scarcely strength to lift, that are as solid as they
are heavy, and if dull, are full of matter. It is delightful to repose
on the wisdom of the ancients; to have some great name at hand, besides
one’s own initials always staring one in the face: to travel out of
one’s-self into the Chaldee, Hebrew, and Egyptian characters; to have
the palm-trees waving mystically in the margin of the page, and the
camels moving slowly on in the distance of three thousand years. In that
dry desert of learning, we gather strength and patience, and a strange
and insatiable thirst of knowledge. The ruined monuments of antiquity
are also there, and the fragments of buried cities (under which the
adder lurks) and cool springs, and green sunny spots, and the whirlwind
and the lion’s roar, and the shadow of angelic wings. To those who turn
with supercilious disgust from the ponderous tomes of scholastic
learning, who never felt the witchery of the Talmuds and the Cabbala, of
the Commentators and the Schoolmen, of texts and authorities, of types
and anti-types, hieroglyphics and mysteries, dogmas and contradictions,
and endless controversies and doubtful labyrinths, and quaint
traditions, I would recommend the lines of Warton written in a Blank
Leaf of Dugdale’s Monasticon:

           ‘Deem not devoid of elegance the sage,
           By fancy’s genuine feelings unbeguiled,
           Of painful pedantry the poring child,
           Who turns of these proud domes the historic page,
           Now sunk by time and Henry’s fiercer rage.
           Thinkst thou the warbling Muses never smiled
           On his lone hours? Ingenuous views engage
           His thoughts, on themes (unclassic falsely styled)
           Intent. While cloister’d piety displays
           Her mouldering scroll, the piercing eye explores
           New manners and the pomp of elder days;
           Whence culls the pensive bard his pictured stores.
           Nor rough nor barren are the winding ways
           Of hoar Antiquity, but strewn with flowers.’

This Sonnet, if it were not for a certain intricacy in the style, would
be a perfect one: at any rate, the thought it contains is fine and just.
Some of the _caput mortuum_ of learning is a useful ballast and relief
to the mind. It must turn back to the acquisitions of others as its
natural sustenance and support; facts must go hand in hand with
feelings, or it will soon prey like an empty stomach on itself, or be
the sport of the windy impertinence of ingenuity self-begotten. Away
then with this idle cant, as if every thing were barbarous and without
interest, that is not the growth of our own times and of our own taste;
with this everlasting evaporation of mere sentiment, this affected
glitter of style, this equivocal generation of thought out of ignorance
and vanity, this total forgetfulness of the subject, and display of the
writer, as if every possible train of speculation must originate in the
pronoun _I_, and the world had nothing to do but to look on and admire.
It will not do to consider all truth or good as a reflection of our own
pampered and inordinate self-love; to resolve the solid fabric of the
universe into an essence of Della-Cruscan witticism and conceit. The
perpetual search after effect, the premature and effeminate indulgence
of nervous sensibility, defeats and wears itself out. We cannot make an
abstraction of the intellectual ore from the material dross, of feelings
from objects, of results from causes. We must get at the kernel of
pleasure through the dry and hard husk of truth. We must wait nature’s
time. These false births weaken the constitution. It has been observed
that men of science live longer than mere men of letters. They exercise
their understandings more, their sensibility less. There is with them
less _wear and tear_ of the irritable fibre, which is not shattered and
worn to a very thread. On the hill of science, they keep an eye intent
on truth and fame:

             ‘Calm pleasures there abide, majestic pains,’—

while the man of letters mingles in the crowd below, courting popularity
and pleasure. His is a frail and feverish existence accordingly, and he
soon exhausts himself in the tormenting pursuit—in the alternate
excitement of his imagination and gratification of his vanity.

                               ——‘Earth destroys
                 Those raptures duly: Erebus disdains!’

Lord Byron appears to me to have fairly run himself out in his
debilitating intercourse with the wanton Muse. He had no other idea left
but that of himself and the public—he was uneasy unless he was occupied
in administering repeated provocatives to idle curiosity, and receiving
strong doses of praise or censure in return: the irritation at last
became so violent and importunate, that he could neither keep on with it
nor take any repose from it. The glistering orb of heated popularity

        ‘Glared round his soul and mocked his closing eye-lids.’

The successive endless Cantos of Don Juan were the quotidian that killed
him!—Old Sir Walter will last long enough, stuffing his wallet and his
‘wame,’ as he does, with mouldy fragments and crumbs of comfort. He does
not ‘spin his brains,’ but something much better. The cunning _chield_,
the old _canty gaberlunzie_ has got hold of another clue—that of nature
and history—and long may he spin it, ‘even to the crack of doom,’
watching the threads as they are about to break through his fringed
eye-lids, catching a tradition in his mouth like a trap, and heaping his
forehead with facts, till it shoves up the Baronet’s blue bonnet into a
Baron’s crown, and then will the old boy turn in his chair, rest his
chin upon his crutch, give a last look to the Highlands, and with his
latest breath, thank God that he leaves the world as he found it! And so
he will pretty nearly with one exception, the Scotch Novels. They are a
small addition to this round world of ours. We and they shall jog on
merrily together for a century or two, I hope, till some future Lord
Byron asks, ‘Who reads Sir Walter Scott now?’ There is the last and
almost worst of them. I would take it with me into a wilderness. Three
pages of poor Peter Peebles will at any time redeem three volumes of
Red-Gauntlet. And Nanty Ewart is even better with his steady walk upon
the deck of the Jumping Jenny and his story of himself, ‘and her whose
foot (whether he came in or went out) was never off the stair.’ There
you came near me, there you touched me, old true-penny! And then again
the catch that blind Willie and his wife and the boy sing in the hollow
of the heath—there is more mirth and heart’s ease in it than in all Lord
Byron’s Don Juan, or Mr. Moore’s Lyrics. And why? Because the author is
thinking of beggars and a beggar’s brat, and not of himself while he
writes it. He looks at nature, sees it, hears it, feels it, and believes
that it exists, before it is printed, hot-pressed, and labelled on the
back, _By the Author of Waverley_. He does not fancy, nor would he for
one moment have it supposed, that his name and fame compose all that is
worth a moment’s consideration in the universe. This is the great secret
of his writings—a perfect indifference to self. Whether it is the same
in his politics, I cannot say. I see no comparison between his prose
writing and Lord Byron’s poems. The only writer that I should hesitate
about is Wordsworth. There are thoughts and lines of his that to me shew
as fine a mind, a subtler sense of beauty than any thing of Sir
Walter’s, such as those above quoted, and that other line in the
Laodamia-

                  ‘Elysian beauty, melancholy grace.’

I would as soon have written that line as have carved a Greek statue.
But in this opinion I shall have three or four with me, and all the rest
of the world against me. I do not dislike a House-of-Commons Minority in
matters of taste—that is, one that is select, independent, and has a
proxy from posterity.—To return to the question with which I set out.

Learning is its own exceeding great reward; and at the period of which
we speak, it bore other fruits, not unworthy of it. Genius, when not
smothered and kept down by learning, blazed out triumphantly over it;
and the Fancy often rose to a height proportioned to the depth to which
the Understanding had struck its roots. After the first emancipation of
the mind from the trammels of Papal ignorance and superstition, people
seemed to be in a state of breathless wonder at the new light that was
suffered to break in upon them. They were startled as ‘at the birth of
nature from the unapparent deep.’ They seized on all objects that rose
in view with a firm and eager grasp, in order to be sure whether they
were imposed upon or not. The mind of man, ‘pawing to get free’ from
custom and prejudice, struggled and plunged, and like the fabled
Pegasus, opened at each spring a new source of truth. Images were piled
on heaps, as well as opinions and facts, the ample materials for poetry
or prose, to which the bold hand of enthusiasm applied its torch, and
kindled it into a flame. The accumulation of past records seemed to form
the frame-work of their prose, as the observation of external objects
did of their poetry—

              ‘Whose body nature was, and _man_ the soul.’

Among poets they have to boast such names, for instance, as Shakespear,
Spenser, Beaumont and Fletcher, Marlowe, Webster, Deckar, and soon
after, Milton; among prose-writers, Selden, Bacon, Jeremy Taylor,
Baxter, and Sir Thomas Brown; for patriots, they have such men as Pym,
Hampden, Sydney; and for a witness of their zeal and piety, they have
Fox’s Book of Martyrs, instead of which we have Mr. Southey’s Book of
the Church, and a whole host of renegades! Perhaps Jeremy Taylor and
also Beaumont and Fletcher may be mentioned as rather exceptions to the
gravity and severity I have spoken of as characteristic of our earlier
literature. It is true, they are florid and voluptuous in their style,
but they still keep their state apart, and there is an eloquence of the
heart about them, which seems to gush from the ‘pure well of English
undefiled.’ The one treats of sacred things with a vividness and fervour
as if he had a revelation of them: the others speak of human interests
with a tenderness as if man’s nature were divine. Jeremy Taylor’s pen
seems to have been guided by the very spirit of joy and youth, but yet
with a sense of what was due to the reverence of age, and ‘tears of
pious awe, that feared to have offended.’ Beaumont and Fletcher’s
love-scenes are like the meeting of hearts in Elysium. Let any one have
dwelt on any object with the greatest fondness, let him have cherished
the feeling to the utmost height, and have it put to the test in the
most trying circumstances, and he will find it described to the life in
Beaumont and Fletcher. Our modern dramatists (with one exception[60]),
appeal not to nature or the heart, but—to the readers of modern poetry.
Words and paper, each _couleur de rose_, are the two requisites of a
fashionable style. But the glossy splendour, the voluptuous glow of the
obsolete, old-fashioned writers just mentioned has nothing artificial,
nothing meretricious in it. It is the luxuriance of natural feeling and
fancy. I should as soon think of accusing the summer-rose of vanity for
unfolding its leaves to the dawn, or the hawthorn that puts forth its
blossoms in the genial warmth of spring, of affecting to be fine. We
have heard a good deal of the pulpit-eloquence of Bossuet and other
celebrated preachers of the time of Fenelon; but I doubt much whether
all of them together could produce any number of passages to match the
best of those in the Holy Living and Dying, or even Baxter’s severe but
thrilling denunciations of the insignificance and nothingness of life
and the certainty of a judgment to come. There is a fine portrait of
this last-named powerful controversialist, with his high forehead and
black velvet cap, in Calamy’s Non-Conformist’s Memorial, containing an
account of the Two Thousand Ejected Ministers at the Restoration of
Charles II. This was a proud list for Old England; and the account of
their lives, their zeal, their eloquence and sufferings for conscience
sake, is one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the
human mind. How high it can soar in faith! How nobly it can arm itself
with resolution and fortitude! How far it can surpass itself in cruelty
and fraud! How incapable it seems to be of good, except as it is urged
on by the contention with evil! The retired and inflexible descendants
of the Two Thousand Ejected Ministers and their adherents are gone with
the spirit of persecution that gave a soul and body to them; and with
them, I am afraid, the spirit of liberty, of manly independence, and of
inward self-respect is nearly extinguished in England. There appears to
be no natural necessity for evil, but that there is a perfect
indifference to good without it. One thing exists and has a value set
upon it only as it has a foil in some other; learning is set off by
ignorance, liberty by slavery, refinement by barbarism. The cultivation
and attainment of any art or excellence is followed by its neglect and
decay; and even religion owes its zest to the spirit of contradiction;
for it flourishes most from persecution and hostile factions. Mr. Irvine
speaks of the great superiority of religion over every other motive,
since it enabled its professors to ‘endure having hot molten lead poured
down their throats.’ He forgets that it was religion that poured it down
their throats, and that this principle, mixed with the frailty of human
passion, has often been as ready to inflict, as to endure. I could make
the world good, wise, happy to-morrow, if, when made, it would be
contented to remain so without the alloy of mischief, misery, and
absurdity: that is, if every possession did not require the principle of
contrast, contradiction, and excess, to enliven and set it off and keep
it at a safe distance from sameness and insipidity.

The different styles of art and schools of learning vary and fluctuate
on this principle. After the Restoration of Charles, the grave,
enthusiastic, puritanical, ‘prick-eared’ style became quite exploded,
and a gay and piquant style, the reflection of courtly conversation and
polished manners, and borrowed from the French, came into fashion, and
lasted till the Revolution. Some examples of the same thing were given
in the time of Charles I. by Sir J. Suckling and others, but they were
eclipsed and overlaid by the prevalence and splendour of the opposite
examples. It was at its height, however, in the reign of the restored
monarch, and in the witty and licentious writings of Wycherley,
Congreve, Rochester, and Waller. Milton alone stood out as a partisan of
the old Elizabethan school. Out of compliment, I suppose, to the Houses
of Orange and Hanover, we sobered down, after the Revolution, into a
strain of greater demureness, and into a Dutch and German fidelity of
imitation of domestic manners and individual character, as in the
periodical Essayists, and in the works of Fielding and Hogarth. Yet, if
the two last-named painters of manners are not English, who are so? I
cannot give up my partiality to them for the fag-end of a theory. They
have this mark of genuine English intellect, that they constantly
combine truth of external observation with strength of internal meaning.
The Dutch are patient observers of nature, but want character and
feeling. The French, as far as we have imitated them, aim only at the
pleasing, and glance over the surfaces of words and things. Thus has our
literature descended (according to the foregoing scale) from the tone of
the pulpit to that of the court or drawing-room, from the drawing-room
into the parlour, and from thence, if some critics say true, into the
kitchen and ale-house. It may do even worse than that!

French literature has undergone great changes in like manner, and was
supposed to be at its height in the time of Louis XIV. We sympathise
less, however, with the pompous and set speeches in the tragedies of
Racine and Corneille, or in the serious comedies of Moliere, than we do
with the grotesque farces of the latter, with the exaggerated
descriptions and humour of Rabelais (whose wit was a madness, a
drunkenness), or with the accomplished humanity, the easy style, and
gentlemanly and scholar-like sense of Montaigne. But these we consider
as in a great measure English, or as what the old French character
inclined to, before it was corrupted by courts and academies of
criticism. The exquisite graces of La Fontaine, the indifferent
sarcastic tone of Voltaire and Le Sage, who make light of every thing,
and who produce their greatest effects with the most imperceptible and
rapid touches, we give wholly to the constitutional genius of the
French, and despair of imitating. Perhaps in all this we proceed by
guess-work at best. Nations (particularly rival nations) are bad judges
of one another’s literature or physiognomy. The French certainly do not
understand _us_: it is most probable we do not understand _them_. How
slowly great works, great names make their way across the Channel! M.
Tracey’s ‘Ideologie’ has not yet been heard of among us, and a Frenchman
who asks if you have read it, almost subjects himself to the suspicion
of being the author. They have also their little sects and parties in
literature, and though they do not nick-name and vilify their rivals, as
is done with us (thanks to the national politeness); yet if you do not
belong to the prevailing party, they very civilly suppress all mention
of you, your name is not noticed in the Journals, nor your work inquired
for at the shops.[61]

Those who explain every thing by final causes (that is, who deduce
causes from effects) might avail themselves of their privilege on this
occasion. There must be some checks to the excessive increase of
literature as of population, or we should be overwhelmed by it; and they
are happily found in the envy, dulness, prejudices, and vanity of
mankind. While we think we are weighing the merits of an author, we are
indulging our own national pride, indolence, or ill-humour, by laughing
at what we do not understand, or condemning what thwarts our
inclinations. The French reduce all philosophy to a set of agreeable
sensations: the Germans reduce the commonest things to an abstruse
metaphysics. The one are a mystical, the other a superficial people.
Both proceed by the severest logic; but the real guide to their
conclusions is the proportion of phlegm or mercury in their
dispositions. When we appeal to a man’s reason against his inclinations,
we speak a language without meaning, and which he will not understand.
Different nations have favourite modes of feeling and of accounting for
things to please themselves and fall in with their ordinary habits; and
our different systems of philosophy, literature, and art meet, contend,
and repel one another on the confines of opinion, because their elements
will not amalgamate with our several humours, and all the while we fancy
we settle the question by an abstract exercise of reason, and by laying
down some refined and exclusive standard of taste. There is no great
harm in this delusion, nor can there be much in seeing through it; for
we shall still go on just as we did before.[62]


                              ESSAY XXVIII
                   MADAME PASTA AND MADEMOISELLE MARS

I liked Mademoiselle Mars exceedingly well, till I saw Madame Pasta whom
I liked so much better. The reason is, the one is the perfection of
French, the other of natural acting. Madame Pasta is Italian, and she
might be English—Mademoiselle Mars belongs emphatically to her country;
the scene of her triumphs is Paris. She plays naturally too, but it is
French nature. Let me explain. She has, it is true, none of the vices of
the French theatre, its extravagance, its flutter, its grimace, and
affectation, but her merit in these respects is as it were negative, and
she seems to put an artificial restraint upon herself. There is still a
pettiness, an attention to _minutiæ_, an etiquette, a mannerism about
her acting: she does not give an entire loose to her feelings, or trust
to the unpremeditated and habitual impulse of her situation. She has
greater elegance, perhaps, and precision of style than Madame Pasta, but
not half her boldness or grace. In short, every thing she does is
voluntary, instead of being spontaneous. It seems as if she might be
acting from marginal directions to her part. When not speaking, she
stands in general quite still. When she speaks, she extends first one
hand and then the other, in a way that you can foresee every time she
does so, or in which a machine might be elaborately constructed to
develope different successive movements. When she enters, she advances
in a straight line from the other end to the middle of the stage with
the slight unvarying trip of her country-women, and then stops short, as
if under the drill of a _fugal-man_. When she speaks, she articulates
with perfect clearness and propriety, but it is the facility of a singer
executing a difficult passage. The case is that of habit, not of nature.
Whatever she does, is right in the intention, and she takes care not to
carry it too far; but she appears to say beforehand, ‘_This_ I will do,
I must not do _that_.’ Her acting is an inimitable study or consummate
rehearsal of the part as a preparatory performance: she hardly yet
appears to have assumed the character; something more is wanting, and
that something you find in Madame Pasta. If Mademoiselle Mars has to
smile, a slight and evanescent expression of pleasure passes across the
surface of her face; twinkles in her eye-lids, dimples her chin,
compresses her lips, and plays on each feature: when Madame Pasta
smiles, a beam of joy seems to have struck upon her heart, and to
irradiate her countenance. Her whole face is bathed and melted in
expression, instead of its glancing from particular points. When she
speaks, it is in music. When she moves, it is without thinking whether
she is graceful or not. When she weeps, it is a fountain of tears, not a
few trickling drops, that glitter and vanish the instant after. The
French themselves admire Madame Pasta’s acting, (who indeed can help
it?) but they go away thinking how much one of her simple movements
would be improved by their extravagant gesticulations, and that her
noble, natural expression would be the better for having twenty airs of
mincing affectation added to it. In her Nina there is a listless
vacancy, an awkward grace, a want of _bienseance_, that is like a child
or a changeling, and that no French actress would venture upon for a
moment, lest she should be suspected of a want of _esprit_ or of _bon
mien_. A French actress always plays before the court; she is always in
the presence of an audience, with whom she first settles her personal
pretensions by a significant hint or side-glance, and then as much
nature and simplicity as you please. Poor Madame Pasta thinks no more of
the audience than Nina herself would, if she could be observed by
stealth, or than the fawn that wounded comes to drink, or the flower
that droops in the sun or wags its sweet head in the gale. She gives
herself entirely up to the impression of the part, loses her power over
herself, is led away by her feelings either to an expression of stupor
or of artless joy, borrows beauty from deformity, charms unconsciously,
and is transformed into the very being she represents. She does not act
the character—she _is_ it, looks it, breathes it. She does not study for
an effect, but strives to possess herself of the feeling which should
dictate what she is to do, and which gives birth to the proper degree of
grace, dignity, ease, or force. She makes no point all the way through,
but her whole style and manner is in perfect keeping, as if she were
really a love-sick, care-crazed maiden, occupied with one deep sorrow,
and who had no other idea or interest in the world. This alone is true
nature and true art. The rest is sophistical; and French art is not free
from the imputation; it never places an implicit faith in nature but
always mixes up a certain portion of art, that is, of consciousness and
affectation with it. I shall illustrate this subject from a passage in
Shakespear.

         ‘_Polixenes._—Shepherdess,
         (A fair one are you) will you fit our ages
         With flow’rs of winter?

         _Perdita._—Sir, the year growing ancient,
         Not yet on summer’s death, nor on the birth
         Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o’ th’ season
         Are our carnations and streak’d gilliflowers,
         Which some call nature’s bastards; of that kind
         Our rustic garden’s barren, and I care not
         To get slips of them.

         _Polix._—Wherefore, gentle maiden,
         Do you neglect them?

         _Perdita._—For I have heard it said,
         There is an art which in their piedness shares
         With great creating nature.

         _Polix._—Say, there be,
         Yet nature is made better by no mean,
         But nature makes that mean; so o’er that art,
         Which you say adds to nature, is an art,
         That nature makes; you see, sweet maid, we marry
         A gentle scyon to the wildest stock,
         And make conceive a bark of baser kind
         By bud of nobler race. This is an art,
         Which does mend nature, change it rather; but
         The art itself is nature.

         _Perdita._—So it is.

         _Polix._—Then make your garden rich in gilliflowers,
         And do not call them bastards.

         _Perdita._—I’ll not put
         A dibble in earth, to set one slip of them;
         No more than, were I painted, I should wish
         This youth to say, ’twere well; and only therefore
         Desire to breed by me.—_Winter’s Tale, Act IV._

Madame Pasta appears to be of Perdita’s mind in respect to her acting,
and I applaud her resolution heartily. We English are charged unjustly
with wishing to disparage the French: we cannot help it; there is a
natural antipathy between the two nations. Thus unable to deny their
theatrical merit, we are said insidiously to have invented the
appellation, _French nature_, to explain away or throw a stigma on their
most successful exertions:

                  ——‘Though that their art be nature,
                We throw such changes of vexation on it,
                As it may lose some colour.’

The English are a heavy people, and the most like a stone of all others.
The French are a lively people, and more like a feather. They are easily
moved and by slight causes, and each part of the impression has its
separate effect: the English, if they are moved at all (which is a work
of time and difficulty), are moved altogether, or in mass, and the
impression, if it takes root, strikes deep and spreads wide, involving a
number of other impressions in it. If a fragment of a rock wrenched from
its place rolls slowly at first, gathers strength and fury as it
proceeds, tears up everything in its way, and thunders to the plain
below, there is something noble and imposing in the sight, for it is an
image of our own headlong passions and the increasing vehemence of our
desires. But we hate to see a feather launched into the air and driven
back on the hand that throws it, shifting its course with every puff of
wind, and carried no farther by the strongest than by the slightest
impulse. It is provoking (is it not?) to see the strength of the blow
always defeated by the very insignificance and want of resistance in the
object, and the impulse received never answering to the impulse given.
It is the very same fluttering, fidgetting, tantalizing,
inconsequential, ridiculous process that annoys us in the French
character. There seems no _natural_ correspondence between objects and
feelings, between things and words. By yielding to every impulse at
once, nothing produces a powerful or permanent impression; nothing
produces an aggregate impression, for every part tells separately. Every
idea turns off to something else, or back upon itself; there is no
progress made, no blind impulse, no accumulation of imagination with
circumstances, no absorption of all other feelings in one overwhelming
one, that is, no keeping, no _momentum_, no integrity, no totality, no
inflexible sincerity of purpose, and it is this resolution of the
sentiments into their detached points and first impressions, so that
they do not take an entire and involuntary hold of them, but either they
can throw them off from their lightness, or escape from them by reason
of their minuteness, that we English complain of as French nature or a
want of nature, for by nature is only meant that the mind identifies
itself with something so as to be no longer master of itself, and the
French mind never identifies itself with any thing, but always has its
own consciousness, its own affectation, its own gratification, its own
slippery inconstancy or impertinent prolixity interposed between the
object and the impression. It is this theatrical or artificial nature
with which we cannot and will not sympathise, because it circumscribes
the truth of things and the capacities of the human mind within the
petty round of vanity, indifference, and physical sensations, stunts the
growth of imagination, effaces the broad light of nature, and requires
us to look at all things through the prism of their petulance and
self-conceit. The French in a word leave _sincerity_ out of their nature
(not moral but imaginative sincerity) cut down the varieties of feeling
to their own narrow and superficial standard, and having clipped and
adulterated the current coin of expression, would pass it off as
sterling gold. We cannot make an exchange with them. They are affected
by things in a different manner from us, not in a different degree; and
a mutual understanding is hopeless. We have no dislike to foreigners as
such: on the contrary, a rage for foreign artists and works of art is
one of our foibles. But if we give up our national pride, it must be to
our taste and understandings. Nay, we adopt the manners and the fashions
of the French, their dancing and their cooking,—not their music, not
their painting, not their poetry, not their metaphysics, not their style
of acting. If we are sensible of our own stupidity, we cannot admire
_their_ vivacity; if we are sick of our own awkwardness, we like it
better than their grace; we cannot part with our grossness for their
refinement; if we would be glad to have our lumpish clay animated, it
must be with true Promethean heat, not with painted phosphorus: they are
not the Frankensteins that must perform this feat. Who among us in
reading Schiller’s Robbers for the first time ever asked if it was
German or not? Who in reading Klopstock’s Messiah did not object that it
was German, not because it was German, but because it was heavy; that
is, because the imagination and the heart do not act like a machine, so
as to be wound up or let down by the pulleys of the will? Do not the
French complain (and complain justly), that a picture is English, when
it is coarse and unfinished, and leaves out the details which are one
part of nature? Do not the English remonstrate against this defect too,
and endeavour to cure it? But it may be said we relish Schiller, because
he is barbarous, violent, and like Shakespear. We have the cartoons of
Raphael then, and the Elgin marbles; and we profess to admire and
understand these too, and I think without any affectation. The reason is
that there is no affectation in them. We like those noble outlines of
the human face at Hampton Court; the sustained dignity of the
expression; the broad, ample folds of the drapery; the bold, massive
limbs; there is breath and motion in them, and we would willingly be so
transformed and spiritualised: but we do not want to have our heavy,
stupid faces flittered away into a number of glittering points or
transfixed into a smooth petrifaction on French canvas. Our faces, if
wanting in expression, have a settled purpose in them; are as solid as
they are stupid; and we are at least flesh and blood. We also like the
sway of the limbs and negligent grandeur of the Elgin marbles; in spite
of their huge weight and manly strength, they have the buoyancy of a
wave of the sea, with all the ease and softness of flesh: they fall into
attitudes of themselves: but if they were put into attitudes by the
genius of Opera-dancing, we should feel no disposition to imitate or
envy them, any more than we do the Zephyr and Flora graces of French
statuary. We prefer a single head of Chantry’s to a quarry of French
sculpture. The English are a modest people, except in comparing
themselves with their next neighbours, and nothing provokes their pride
in this case, so much as the self-sufficiency of the latter. When Madame
Pasta walks in upon the stage, and looks about her with the same
unconsciousness or timid wonder as the young stag in the forest; when
she moves her limbs as carelessly as a tree its branches; when she
unfolds one of her divine expressions of countenance, which reflect the
inmost feelings of the soul, as the calm, deep lake reflects the face of
heaven; do we not sufficiently admire her, do we not wish her ours, and
feel, with the same cast of thought and character, a want of glow, of
grace, and ease in the expression of what we feel? We bow, like
Guiderius and Arviragus in the cave when they saw Imogen, as to a thing
superior. On the other hand, when Mademoiselle Mars comes on the stage,
something in the manner of a fantoccini figure slid along on a wooden
frame, and making directly for the point at which her official
operations commence—when her face is puckered into a hundred little
expressions like the wrinkles on the skin of a bowl of cream, set in a
window to cool, her eyes peering out with an ironical meaning, her nose
pointing it, and her lips confirming it with a dry pressure—we admire
indeed, we are delighted, we may envy, but we do not sympathise or very
well know what to make of it. We are not electrified, as in the former
instance, but _animal-magnetised_.[63] We can manage pretty well with
any one feeling or expression (like a clown that must be taught his
letters one at a time) if it keeps on in the same even course, that
expands and deepens by degrees, but we are distracted and puzzled, or at
best only amused with that sort of expression which is hardly itself for
two moments together, that shifts from point to point, that seems to
have no place to rest on, no impulse to urge it forward, and might as
well be twenty other things at the same time—where tears come so easily
they can hardly be real, where smiles are so playful they appear put on,
where you cannot tell what you are to believe, for the parties
themselves do not know whether they are in jest or earnest, where the
whole tone is ironical, conventional, and where the difference between
nature and art is nearly imperceptible. This is what we mean by French
nature, _viz._ that the feelings and ideas are so slight and
discontinuous that they can be changed for others like a dress or vizor;
or else, to make up for want of truth and breadth, are caricatured into
a mask. This is the defect of their tragedy, and the defect and
excellence of their comedy; the one is a pompous abortion, the other a
_fac-simile_ of life, almost too close to be agreeable. A French comic
actor might be supposed to have left his shop for half an hour to shew
himself upon a stage—there is no difference, worth speaking of, between
the man and the actor—whether on the stage or at home, he is equally
full of gesticulation, equally voluble, and without meaning—as their
tragic actors are solemn puppets, moved by rules, pulled by wires, and
with their mouths stuffed with rant and bombast. This is the harm that
can be said of them: they themselves are doubtless best acquainted with
the good, and are not too diffident to tell it. Though other people
abuse them, they can still praise themselves! I once knew a French lady
who said all manner of good things and forgot them the next moment; who
maintained an argument with great wit and eloquence, and presently after
changed sides, without knowing that she had done so; who invented a
story and believed it on the spot; who wept herself and made you weep
with the force of her descriptions, and suddenly drying her eyes,
laughed at you for looking grave. Is not this like acting? Yet it was
not affected in her, but natural, involuntary, incorrigible. The hurry
and excitement of her natural spirits was like a species of
intoxication, or she resembled a child in thoughtlessness and
incoherence. She was a Frenchwoman. It was nature, but nature that had
nothing to do with truth or consistency.

In one of the Paris Journals lately, there was a criticism on two
pictures by Girodet of Bonchamps and Cathelineau, Vendean chiefs. The
paper is well written, and points out the defects of the portraits very
fairly and judiciously. These persons are there called ‘Illustrious
Vendeans.’ The dead dogs of 1812 are the illustrious Vendeans of 1824.
Monsieur Chateaubriand will have it so, and the French are too polite a
nation to contradict him. They split on this rock of complaisance,
surrendering every principle to the fear of giving offence, as we do on
the opposite one of party-spirit and rancorous hostility, sacrificing
the best of causes, and our best friends to the desire of giving
offence, to the indulgence of our spleen, and of an ill-tongue. We apply
a degrading appellation, or bring an opprobrious charge against an
individual; and such is our tenaciousness of the painful and
disagreeable, so fond are we of brooding over grievances, so incapable
are our imaginations of raising themselves above the lowest scurrility
or the dirtiest abuse, that should the person attacked come out an angel
from the contest, the prejudice against him remains nearly the same as
if the charge had been fully proved. An unpleasant association has been
created, and this is too delightful an exercise of the understanding
with the English public easily to be parted with. John Bull would as
soon give up an estate as a bugbear. Having been once gulled, they are
not soon _ungulled_. They are too knowing for that. Nay, they resent the
attempt to undeceive them as an injury. The French apply a brilliant
epithet to the most vulnerable characters; and thus gloss over a life of
treachery or infamy. With them the immediate or last impression is every
thing: with us, the first, if it is sufficiently strong and gloomy,
never wears out! The French critic observes that M. Girodet has given
General Bonchamps, though in a situation of great difficulty and danger,
a calm and even smiling air, and that the portrait of Cathelineau,
instead of a hero, looks only like an angry peasant. In fact, the lips
in the first portrait are made of marmalade, the complexion is cosmetic,
and the smile ineffably engaging; while the eye of the peasant
Cathelineau darts a beam of light, such as no eye, however illustrious,
was ever illumined with. But so it is, the Senses, like a favourite
lap-dog, are pampered and indulged at any expence: the Imagination, like
a gaunt hound, is starved and driven away. Danger and death, and
ferocious courage and stern fortitude, however the subject may exact
them, are uncourtly topics and kept out of sight: but smiling lips and
glistening eyes are pleasing objects, and there you find them. _The
style of portrait requires it._ It is of this varnish and glitter of
sentiment that we complain (perhaps it is no business of ours) as what
must forever intercept the true feeling and genuine rendering of nature
in French art, as what makes it spurious and counterfeit, and strips it
of simplicity, force and grandeur. Whatever pleases, whatever strikes,
holds out a temptation to the French artist too strong to be resisted,
and there is too great a sympathy in the public mind with this view of
the subject, to quarrel with or severely criticise what is so congenial
with its own feelings. A premature and superficial sensibility is the
grave of French genius and of French taste. Beyond the momentary impulse
of a lively organisation, all the rest is mechanical and pedantic; they
give you rules and theories for truth and nature, the Unities for
poetry, and the dead body for the living soul of art. They colour a
Greek statue ill and call it a picture: they paraphrase a Greek tragedy,
and overload it with long-winded speeches, and think they have a
national drama of their own. Any other people would be ashamed of such
preposterous pretensions. In invention, they do not get beyond models;
in imitation, beyond details. Their microscopic vision hinders them from
seeing nature. I observed two young students the other day near the top
of Montmartre, making oil sketches of a ruinous hovel in one corner of
the road. Paris lay below, glittering grey and gold (like a spider’s
web) in the setting sun, which shot its slant rays upon their shining
canvas, and they were busy in giving the finishing touches. The little
outhouse was in itself picturesque enough: it was covered with moss,
which hung down in a sort of drooping form as the rain had streamed down
it, and the walls were loose and crumbling in pieces. Our artists had
repaired every thing: not a stone was out of its place: no traces were
left of the winter’s flaw in the pendent moss. One would think the
bricklayer and gardener had been regularly set to work to do away every
thing like sentiment or keeping in the object before them. Oh, Paris! it
was indeed on this thy weak side (thy inability to connect any two ideas
into one) that thy barbarous and ruthless foes entered in!—

The French have a great dislike to any thing obscure. They cannot bear
to suppose for a moment there should be any thing they do not
understand: they are shockingly afraid of being _mystified_. Hence they
have no idea either of mental or aerial perspective. Every thing must be
distinctly made out and in the foreground; for if it is not so clear
that they can take it up bit by bit, it is wholly lost upon them, and
they turn away as from an unmeaning blank. This is the cause of the
stiff, unnatural look of their portraits. No allowance is made for the
veil that shade as well as an oblique position casts over the different
parts of the face; every feature, and every part of every feature is
given with the same flat effect, and it is owing to this perverse
fidelity of detail, that that which is literally true, is naturally
false. The side of a face seen in perspective does not present so many
markings as the one that meets your eye full: but if it is put into the
_vice_ of French portrait, wrenched round by incorrigible affectation
and conceit (that insist upon knowing all that is there, and set it down
formally, though it is not to be seen), what can be the result, but that
the portrait will look like a head stuck in a vice, will be flat, hard,
and finished, will have the appearance of reality and at the same time
look like paint; in short, will be a French portrait? That is, the
artist, from a pettiness of view and want of more enlarged and liberal
notions of art, comes forward not to represent nature, but like an
impertinent commentator to explain what she has left in doubt, to insist
on that which she passes over or touches only slightly, to throw a
critical light on what she casts into shade, and to pick out the details
of what she blends into masses. I wonder they allow the existence of the
term _clair-obscur_ at all, but it is a word; and a word is a thing they
can repeat and remember. A French gentleman formerly asked me what I
thought of a landscape in their Exhibition. I said I thought it too
clear. He made answer that he should have conceived that to be
impossible. I replied, that what I meant was, that the parts of the
several objects were made out with too nearly equal distinctness all
over the picture; that the leaves of the trees in shadow were as
distinct as those in light, the branches of the trees at a distance as
plain as of those near. The perspective arose only from the diminution
of objects, and there was no interposition of air. I said, one could not
see the leaves of a tree a mile off, but this, I added, appertained to a
question in metaphysics. He shook his head, thinking that a young
Englishman could know as little of abstruse philosophy as of fine art,
and no more was said. I owe to this gentleman (whose name was Merrimee,
and who I understand is still living,) a grateful sense of many friendly
attentions and many useful suggestions, and I take this opportunity of
acknowledging my obligations.

Some one was observing of Madame Pasta’s acting, that its chief merit
consisted in its being natural. To which it was replied, ‘Not so, for
that there was an ugly and a handsome nature.’ There is an old proverb,
that ‘Home is home, be it never so homely:’ and so it may be said of
nature; that whether ugly or handsome, it is nature still. Besides
beauty, there is truth, which is always one principal thing. It doubles
the effect of beauty, which is mere affectation without it, and even
reconciles us to deformity. Nature, the truth of nature in imitation,
denotes a given object, a ‘foregone conclusion’ in reality, to which the
artist is to conform in his copy. In nature real objects exist, real
causes act, which are only supposed to act in art; and it is in the
subordination of the uncertain and superficial combinations of fancy to
the more stable and powerful law of reality that the perfection of art
consists. A painter may arrange fine colours on his palette; but if he
merely does this, he does nothing. It is accidental or arbitrary. The
difficulty and the charm of the combination begins with the truth of
imitation, that is, with the resemblance to a given object in nature, or
in other words, with the strength, coherence, and justness of our
impressions, which must be verified by a reference to a known and
determinate class of objects as the test. Art is so far the developement
or the communication of knowledge, but there can be no knowledge unless
it be of some given or standard object which exists independently of the
representation and bends the will to an obedience to it. The strokes of
the pencil are what the artist pleases, are mere idleness and caprice
without meaning, unless they point to nature. Then they are right and
wrong, true or false, as they follow in her steps and copy her style.
Art must anchor in nature, or it is the sport of every breath of folly.
Natural objects convey given or intelligible ideas which art embodies
and represents, or it represents nothing, is a mere chimera or bubble;
and, farther, natural objects or events cause certain feelings, in
expressing which art manifests its power, and genius its prerogative.
The capacity of expressing these movements of passion is in proportion
to the power with which they are felt; and this is the same as sympathy
with the human mind placed in actual situations, and influenced by the
real causes that are supposed to act. Genius is the power which
equalises or identifies the imagination with the reality or with nature.
Certain events happening to us naturally produce joy, others sorrow, and
these feelings, if excessive, lead to other consequences, such as stupor
or ecstasy, and express themselves by certain signs in the countenance
or voice or gestures; and we admire and applaud an actress accordingly,
who gives these tones and gestures as they would follow in the order of
things, because we then know that her mind has been affected in like
manner, that she enters deeply into the resources of nature, and
understands the riches of the human heart. For nothing else can impel
and stir her up to the imitation of the truth. The way in which real
causes act upon the feelings is not arbitrary, is not fanciful; it is as
true as it is powerful and unforeseen; the effects can only be similar
when the exciting causes have a correspondence with each other, and
there is nothing like feeling _but_ feeling. The sense of joy can alone
produce the smile of joy; and in proportion to the sweetness, the
unconsciousness, and the expansion of the last, we may be sure is the
fulness and sincerity of the heart from which it proceeds. The elements
of joy at least are there, in their integrity and perfection. The death
or absence of a beloved object is nothing as a word, as a mere passing
thought, till it comes to be dwelt upon, and we begin to feel the
revulsion, the long dreary separation, the stunning sense of the blow to
our happiness, as we should in reality. The power of giving this sad and
bewildering effect of sorrow on the stage is derived from the force of
sympathy with what we should feel in reality. That is, a great
histrionic genius is one that approximates the effects of words, or of
supposed situations on the mind, most nearly to the deep and vivid
effect of real and inevitable ones. Joy produces tears: the violence of
passion turns to childish weakness; but this could not be foreseen by
study, nor taught by rules, nor mimicked by observation. Natural acting
is therefore fine, because it implies and calls forth the most varied
and strongest feelings that the supposed characters and circumstances
can possibly give birth to: it reaches the height of the subject. The
conceiving or entering into a part in this sense is every thing: the
acting follows easily and of course. But art without nature is a
nick-name, a word without meaning, a conclusion without any premises to
go upon. The beauty of Madame Pasta’s acting in Nina proceeds upon this
principle. It is not what she does at any particular juncture, but she
seems to be the character, and to be incapable of divesting herself of
it. This is true acting: any thing else is playing tricks, may be clever
and ingenious, is French Opera-dancing, recitation, heroics or
hysterics—but it is not true nature or true art.


                               ESSAY XXIX
                SIR WALTER SCOTT, RACINE, AND SHAKESPEAR

The argument at the end of the last Essay may possibly serve to throw
some light on the often agitated and trite question, Whether we receive
more pleasure from an Opera or a Tragedy, from the words or the
pantomime of a fine dramatic representation? A musician I can conceive
to declare, sincerely and conscientiously, in favour of the Opera over
the theatre, for he has made it his chief or exclusive study. But I have
heard some literary persons do the same; and in them it appears to me to
be more the affectation of candour, than candour itself. ‘The still
small voice is wanting’ in this preference; for however lulling or
overpowering the effect of music may be at the time, we return to nature
at last; it is there we find solidity and repose, and it is from this
that the understanding ought to give its casting vote. Indeed there is a
sense of reluctance and a sort of critical remorse in the opposite
course as in giving up an old prejudice or a friend to whom we are under
considerable obligations; but this very feeling of the conquest or
sacrifice of a prejudice is a tacit proof that we are wrong; for it
arises only out of the strong interest excited in the course of time,
and involved in the nature and principle of the drama.

Words are the signs which point out and define the objects of the
highest import to the human mind; and speech is the habitual, and as it
were most _intimate_ mode of expressing those signs, the one with which
our practical and serious associations are most in unison. To give a
deliberate verdict on the other side of the question seems, therefore,
effeminate and unjust. A rose is delightful to the smell, a pine-apple
to the taste. The nose and the palate, if their opinion were asked,
might very fairly give it in favour of these against any rival
sentiment; but the head and the heart cannot be expected to become
accomplices against themselves. We cannot pay a worse compliment to any
pleasure or pursuit than to surrender the pretensions of some other to
it. Every thing stands best on its own foundation. A sound expresses,
for the most part, nothing but itself; a word expresses a million of
sounds. The thought or impression of the moment is one thing, and it may
be more or less delightful; but beyond this, it may relate to the fate
or events of a whole life, and it is this moral and intellectual
perspective that words convey in its full signification and extent, and
that gives a proportionable superiority in weight, in compass, and
dignity to the denunciations of the tragic Muse. The language of the
understanding is necessary to a rational being. Man is dumb and prone to
the earth without it. It is that which opens the vista of our past or
future years. Otherwise a cloud is upon it, like the mist of the
morning, like a veil of roses, an exhalation of sweet sounds, or rich
distilled perfumes; no matter what—it is the nerve or organ that is
chiefly touched, the sense that is wrapped in ecstacy or waked to
madness; the man remains unmoved, torpid, and listless, blind to causes
and consequences, which he can never remain satisfied without knowing,
but seems shut up in a cell of ignorance, baffled and confounded. Sounds
without meaning are like a glare of light without objects; or, an Opera
is to a Tragedy what a transparency is to a picture. We are delighted
because we are dazzled. But words are a key to the affections. They not
only excite feelings, but they point to the _why_ and _wherefore_.
Causes march before them, and consequences follow after them. They are
links in the chain of the universe, and the grappling-irons that bind us
to it. They open the gates of Paradise, and reveal the abyss of human
woe.

             ‘Four lagging winters and four wanton springs
             Die in a word; such is the breath of kings.’

But in this respect, all men who have the use of speech are kings. It is
words that constitute all but the present moment, but the present
object. They may not and they do not give the whole of any train of
impressions which they suggest; but they alone answer in any degree to
the truth of things, unfold the dark labyrinth of fate, or unravel the
web of the human heart; for they alone describe things in the order and
relation in which they happen in human life. Men do not dance or sing
through life; or an Opera or a ballet would ‘come home to the bosoms and
businesses of men,’ in the same manner that a Tragedy or Comedy does. As
it is, they do not piece on to our ordinary existence, nor go to enrich
our habitual reflections. We wake from them as from a drunken dream, or
a last night’s debauch; and think of them no more, till the actual
impression is repeated.—On the other hand, pantomime action (as an
exclusive and new species of the drama) is like tragedy obtruncated and
thrown on the ground, gasping for utterance and struggling for breath.
It is a display of the powers of art, I should think more wonderful than
satisfactory. There is a stifling sensation about it. It does not throw
off ‘the perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart,’ but must rather
aggravate and tighten the pressure.

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

This is perhaps the cause of our backwardness to admit a comparison
between Mrs. Siddons and Palarini, between Shakespear and Vigano. Poetry
and words speak a language proper to humanity; every other is
comparatively foreign to it. The distinction here laid down is
important, and should be kept sacred. Even in speaking a foreign
language, words lose half their meaning, and are no longer an echo to
the sense; virtue becomes a cant-term, vice sounds like an agreeable
novelty, and ceases to shock. How much more must this effect happen, if
we lay aside speech (our distinguishing faculty) altogether, or try to
‘gabble most brutishly,’ measure good and evil by the steps of a dance,
and breathe our souls away in dying swan-like symphonies! But it may be
asked, how does all this affect my favourite art of painting? I leave
somebody else to answer that question. It will be a good exercise for
their ingenuity, if not for their ingenuousness.

I proceed to the more immediate object of this Essay, which was to
distinguish between the talents of Sir Walter Scott, Racine, and
Shakespear. The subject occurred to me from some conversation with a
French lady, who entertains a project of introducing Shakespear in
France. As I demurred to the probability of this alteration in the
national taste, she endeavoured to overcome my despondency by several
lively arguments, and among other things, urged the instantaneous and
universal success of the Scotch Novels among all ranks and conditions of
the French people. As Shakespear had been performing quarantine among
them for a century and a half to no purpose, I thought this circumstance
rather proved the difference in the genius of the two writers than a
change in the taste of the nation. Madame B. stoutly maintained the
contrary opinion: and when an Englishman argues with a Frenchwoman, he
has very considerable odds against him. The only advantage you have in
this case is that you can plead inability to express yourself properly,
and may be supposed to have a meaning where you have none. An eager
manner will supply the place of distinct ideas, and you have only not to
surrender in form, to appear to come off with flying colours. The not
being able to make others understand me, however, prevents me from
understanding myself, and I was by no means satisfied with the reasons I
alleged in the present instance. I tried to mend them the next day, and
the following is the result.—It was supposed at one time that the genius
of the Author of Waverley was confined to Scotland; that his Novels and
Tales were a bundle of national prejudices and local traditions, and
that his superiority would desert him, the instant he attempted to cross
the Border. He made the attempt, however, and contrary to these
unfavourable prognostics, succeeded. Ivanhoe, if not equal to the very
best of the Scotch Novels, is very nearly so; and the scenery and
manners are truly English. In Quentin Durward, again, he made a descent
upon France, and gained new laurels, instead of losing his former ones.
This seemed to bespeak a versatility of talent and a plastic power,
which in the first instance had been called in question. A Scotch mist
had been suspected to hang its mystery over the page; his imagination
was borne up on Highland superstitions and obsolete traditions, ‘sailing
with supreme dominion’ through the murky regions of ignorance and
barbarism; and if ever at a loss, his invention was eked out and _got a
cast_ by means of ancient documents and the records of criminal
jurisprudence or fanatic rage. The Black Dwarf was a paraphrase of the
current anecdotes of David Ritchie, without any additional point or
interest, and the story of Effie Deans had slept for a century in the
law reports and depositions relative to the Heart of Mid-Lothian. To be
sure, nothing could be finer or truer to nature; for the human heart,
whenever or however it is wakened, has a stirring power in it, and as to
the truth of nature, nothing can be more like nature than facts, if you
know where to find them. But as to sheer invention, there appeared to be
about as much as there is in the getting up the melo-dramatic
representation of the Maid and the Magpye from the _Causes Celebres_.
The invention is much greater and the effect is not less in Mrs.
Inchbald’s NATURE AND ART, where there is nothing that can have been
given _in evidence_ but the Trial-Scene near the end, and even that is
not a legal anecdote, but a pure dramatic fiction. Before I proceed, I
may as well dwell on this point a little. The heroine of the story, the
once innocent and beautiful Hannah, is brought by a series of
misfortunes and crimes (the effect of a misplaced attachment) to be
tried for her life at the Old Bailey, and as her Judge, her former lover
and seducer, is about to pronounce sentence upon her, she calls out in
an agony—‘Oh! not from YOU!’ and as the Hon. Mr. Norwynne proceeds to
finish his solemn address, falls in a swoon, and is taken senseless from
the bar. I know nothing in the world so affecting as this. Now if Mrs.
Inchbald had merely found this story in the Newgate-Calendar, and
transplanted it into a novel, I conceive that her merit in point of
genius (not to say feeling) would be less than if having all the other
circumstances given, and the apparatus ready, and this exclamation alone
left blank, she had filled it up from her own heart, that is, from an
intense conception of the situation of the parties, so that from the
harrowing recollections passing through the mind of the poor girl so
circumstanced, this uncontrolable gush of feeling would burst from her
lips. Just such I apprehend, generally speaking, is the amount of the
difference between the genius of Shakespear and that of Sir Walter
Scott. It is the difference between _originality_ and the want of it,
between writing and transcribing. Almost all the finest scenes and
touches, the great master-strokes in Shakespear are such as must have
belonged to the class of invention, where the secret lay between him and
his own heart, and the power exerted is in adding to the given materials
and working something out of them: in the Author of Waverley, not all,
but the principal and characteristic beauties are such as may and do
belong to the class of compilation, that is, consist in bringing the
materials together and leaving them to produce their own effect. Sir
Walter Scott is much such a writer as the Duke of Wellington is a
General (I am prophaning a number of great names in this article by
unequal comparisons). The one gets a hundred thousand men together, and
wisely leaves it to them to fight out the battle, for if he meddled with
it, he might spoil sport: the other gets an innumerable quantity of
facts together, and lets them tell their own story, as best they may.
The facts are stubborn in the last instance as the men are in the first,
and in neither case is _the broth spoiled by the cook_. This abstinence
from interfering with their resources, lest they should defeat their own
success, shews great modesty and self-knowledge in the compiler of
romances and the leader of armies, but little boldness or inventiveness
of genius. We begin to measure Shakespear’s height from the
superstructure of passion and fancy he has raised out of his subject and
story, on which too rests the triumphal arch of his fame: if we were to
take away the subject and story, the portrait and history from the
Scotch Novels, no great deal would be left worth talking about.

No one admires or delights in the Scotch Novels more than I do; but at
the same time when I hear it asserted that his mind is of the same class
with Shakespear’s, or that he imitates nature in the same way, I confess
I cannot assent to it. No two things appear to me more different. Sir
Walter is an imitator of nature and nothing more; but I think Shakespear
is infinitely more than this. The creative principle is every where
restless and redundant in Shakespear, both as it relates to the
invention of feeling and imagery; in the Author of Waverley it lies for
the most part dormant, sluggish, and unused. Sir Walter’s mind is full
of information, but the ‘_o’er-informing power_’ is not there.
Shakespear’s spirit, like fire, shines through him: Sir Walter’s, like a
stream, reflects surrounding objects. It is true, he has shifted the
scene from Scotland into England and France, and the manners and
characters are strikingly English and French; but this does not prove
that they are not local, and that they are not borrowed, as well as the
scenery and costume, from comparatively obvious and mechanical sources.
Nobody from reading Shakespear would know (except from the _Dramatis
Personæ_) that Lear was an English king. He is merely a king and a
father. The ground is common: but what a well of tears has he dug out of
it! The tradition is nothing, or a foolish one. There are no data in
history to go upon; no advantage is taken of costume, no acquaintance
with geography or architecture or dialect is necessary: but there is an
old tradition, human nature—an old temple, the human mind—and Shakespear
walks into it and looks about him with a lordly eye, and seizes on the
sacred spoils as his own. The story is a thousand or two years old, and
yet the tragedy has no smack of antiquarianism in it. I should like very
well to see Sir Walter giving us a tragedy of this kind, a huge
‘globose’ of sorrow, swinging round in mid-air, independent of time,
place, and circumstance, sustained by its own weight and motion, and not
propped up by the levers of custom, or patched up with quaint,
old-fashioned dresses, or set off by grotesque back-grounds or rusty
armour, but in which the mere paraphernalia and accessories were left
out of the question, and nothing but the soul of passion and the pith of
imagination was to be found. ‘A Dukedom to a beggarly _denier_,’ he
would make nothing of it. Does this prove he has done nothing, or that
he has not done the greatest things? No, but that he is not like
Shakespear. For instance, when Lear says, ‘The little dogs and all,
Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart, see they bark at me!’ there is no old
Chronicle of the line of Brute, no _black-letter_ broadside, no tattered
ballad, no vague rumour, in which this exclamation is registered; there
is nothing romantic, quaint, mysterious in the objects introduced: the
illustration is borrowed from the commonest and most casual images in
nature, and yet it is this very circumstance that lends its extreme
force to the expression of his grief by shewing that even the lowest
things in creation and the last you would think of had in his
imagination turned against him. All nature was, as he supposed, in a
conspiracy against him, and the most trivial and insignificant creatures
concerned in it were the most striking proofs of its malignity and
extent. It is the depth of passion, however, or of the poet’s sympathy
with it, that distinguishes this character of torturing familiarity in
them, invests them with corresponding importance, and suggests them by
the force of contrast. It is not that certain images are surcharged with
a prescriptive influence over the imagination from known and existing
prejudices, so that to approach or even mention them is sure to excite a
pleasing awe and horror in the mind (the effect in this case is mostly
mechanical)—the whole sublimity of the passage is from the weight of
passion thrown into it, and this is the poet’s own doing. This is not
trick, but genius. Meg Merrilies on her death-bed says, ‘Lay my head to
the East!’ Nothing can be finer or more thrilling than this in its way;
but the author has little to do with it. It is an Oriental superstition;
it is a proverbial expression; it is part of the gibberish (sublime
though it be) of her gipsey clan!—‘Nothing but his unkind daughters
could have brought him to this pass.’ This is not a cant-phrase, nor the
fragment of an old legend, nor a mysterious spell, nor the butt-end of a
wizard’s denunciation. It is the mere natural ebullition of passion,
urged nearly to madness, and that will admit no other cause of dire
misfortune but its own, which swallows up all other griefs. The force of
despair hurries the imagination over the boundary of fact and common
sense, and renders the transition sublime; but there is no precedent or
authority for it, except in the general nature of the human mind. I
think, but am not sure that Sir Walter Scott has imitated this turn of
reflection, by making Madge Wildfire ascribe Jenny Deans’s uneasiness to
the loss of her baby, which had unsettled her own brain. Again, Lear
calls on the Heavens to take his part, for ‘they are old like him.’ Here
there is nothing to prop up the image but the strength of passion,
confounding the infirmity of age with the stability of the firmament,
and equalling the complainant, through the sense of suffering and wrong,
with the Majesty of the Highest. This finding out a parallel between the
most unlike objects, because the individual would wish to find one to
support the sense of his own misery and helplessness, is truly
Shakespearian; it is an instinctive law of our nature, and the genuine
inspiration of the Muse. Racine (but let me not anticipate) would make
him pour out three hundred verses of lamentation for his loss of
kingdom, his feebleness, and his old age, coming to the same conclusion
at the end of every third couplet, instead of making him grasp at once
at the Heavens for support. The witches in Macbeth are traditional,
preternatural personages; and there Sir Walter would have left them
after making what use of them he pleased as a sort of Gothic machinery.
Shakespear makes something more of them, and adds to the mystery by
explaining it.

               ‘The earth hath bubbles as the water hath,
               And these are of them.’

We have their physiognomy too—

                    ——‘and enjoin’d silence,
                By each at once her choppy finger laying
                Upon her skinny lip.’

And the mode of their disappearance is thus described—

                 ‘And then they melted into thin air.’

What an idea is here conveyed of silence and vacancy! The geese of
Micklestane Muir (the country-woman and her flock of geese turned into
stone) in the Black Dwarf, are a fine and petrifying metamorphosis; but
it is the tradition of the country and no more. Sir Walter has told us
nothing farther of it than the first clown whom we might ask concerning
it. I do not blame him for that, though I cannot give him credit for
what he has not done. The poetry of the novel is a _fixture_ of the
spot. Meg Merrilies I also allow, with all possible good-will, to be a
most romantic and astounding personage; yet she is a little
melo-dramatic. Her exits and entrances are pantomimic, and her long red
cloak, her elf-locks, the rock on which she stands, and the white cloud
behind her are, or might be made the property of a theatre. Shakespear’s
witches are nearly exploded on the stage. Their broomsticks are left;
their metaphysics are gone, buried five editions deep in Captain
Medwin’s Conversations! The passion in Othello is made out of nothing
but itself; there is no external machinery to help it on; its highest
intermediate agent is an old-fashioned pocket-handkerchief. Yet ‘there’s
magic in the web’ of thoughts and feelings, done after the commonest
pattern of human life. The power displayed in it is that of intense
passion and powerful intellect, wielding every-day events, and imparting
its force to them, not swayed or carried along by them as in a go-cart.
The splendour is that of genius darting out its forked flame on whatever
comes in its way, and kindling and melting it in the furnace of
affection, whether it be flax or iron. The colouring, the form, the
motion, the combination of objects depend on the predisposition of the
mind, moulding nature to its own purposes; in Sir Walter the mind is as
wax to circumstances, and owns no other impress. Shakespear is a
half-worker with nature. Sir Walter is like a man who has got a romantic
spinning-jenny, which he has only to set a going, and it does his work
for him much better and faster than he can do it for himself. He lays an
embargo on ‘all appliances and means to boot,’ on history, tradition,
local scenery, costume and manners, and makes his characters chiefly up
of these. Shakespear seizes only on the ruling passion, and miraculously
evolves all the rest from it. The eagerness of desire suggests every
possible event that can irritate or thwart it, foresees all obstacles,
catches at every trifle, clothes itself with imagination, and tantalises
itself with hope; ‘sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt,’ starts at a
phantom, and makes the universe tributary to it, and the play-thing of
its fancy. There is none of this over-weening importunity of the
imagination in the Author of Waverley, he does his work well, but in
another-guess manner. His imagination is a matter-of-fact imagination.
To return to Othello. Take the celebrated dialogue in the third act.
‘’Tis common.’ There is nothing but the writhings and contortions of the
heart, probed by affliction’s point, as the flesh shrinks under the
surgeon’s knife. All its starts and flaws are but the conflicts and
misgivings of hope and fear, in the most ordinary but trying
circumstances. The ‘Not a jot, not a jot,’ has nothing to do with any
old legend or prophecy. It is only the last poor effort of human hope,
taking refuge on the lips. When after being infected with jealousy by
Iago, he retires apparently comforted and resigned, and then without any
thing having happened in the interim, returns stung to madness, crowned
with his wrongs, and raging for revenge, the effect is like that of
poison inflaming the blood, or like fire inclosed in a furnace. The sole
principle of invention is the sympathy with the natural revulsion of the
human mind, and its involuntary transition from false security to
uncontrolable fury. The springs of mental passion are fretted and
wrought to madness, and produce this explosion in the poet’s breast. So
when Othello swears ‘By yon _marble_ heaven,’ the epithet is suggested
by the hardness of his heart from the sense of injury: the texture of
the outward object is borrowed from that of the thoughts: and that noble
simile, ‘Like the Propontic,’ &c. seems only an echo of the sounding
tide of passion, and to roll from the same source, the heart. The
dialogue between Hubert and Arthur, and that between Brutus and Cassius
are among the finest illustrations of the same principle, which indeed
is every where predominant (perhaps to a fault) in Shakespear. His
genius is like the Nile overflowing and enriching its banks; that of Sir
Walter is like a mountain-stream rendered interesting by the
picturesqueness of the surrounding scenery. Shakespear produces his most
striking dramatic effects out of the workings of the finest and most
intense passions; Sir Walter places his _dramatis personæ_ in romantic
situations, and subjects them to extraordinary occurrences, and narrates
the results. The one gives us what we see and hear; the other what we
_are_. Hamlet is not a person whose nativity is cast, or whose death is
foretold by portents: he weaves the web of his destiny out of his own
thoughts, and a very quaint and singular one it is. We have, I think, a
stronger fellow-feeling with him than we have with Bertram or Waverley.
All men feel and think, more or less: but we are not all foundlings,
Jacobites, or astrologers. We might have been overturned with these
gentlemen in a stage-coach: we seem to have been school-fellows with
Hamlet at Wittenberg.

I will not press this argument farther, lest I should make it tedious,
and run into questions I have no intention to meddle with. All I mean to
insist upon is, that Sir Walter’s _forte_ is in the richness and variety
of his materials, and Shakespear’s in the working them up. Sir Walter is
distinguished by the most amazing retentiveness of memory, and vividness
of conception of what would happen, be seen, and felt by every body in
given circumstances; as Shakespear is by inventiveness of genius, by a
faculty of tracing and unfolding the most hidden yet powerful springs of
action, scarce recognised by ourselves, and by an endless and felicitous
range of poetical illustration, added to a wide scope of reading and of
knowledge. One proof of the justice of these remarks is, that whenever
Sir Walter comes to a truly dramatic situation, he declines it or fails.
Thus in the Black Dwarf, all that relates to the traditions respecting
this mysterious personage, to the superstitious stories founded on it,
is admirably done and to the life, with all the spirit and freedom of
originality: but when he comes to the last scene for which all the rest
is a preparation, and which is full of the highest interest and passion,
nothing is done; instead of an address from Sir Edward Mauley,
recounting the miseries of his whole life, and withering up his guilty
rival with the recital, the Dwarf enters with a strange rustling noise,
the opposite doors fly open, and the affrighted spectators rush out like
the figures in a pantomime. This is not dramatic, but melo-dramatic.
There is a palpable disappointment and falling-off, where the interest
had been worked up to the highest pitch of expectation. The gratifying
of this appalling curiosity and interest was all that was not done to
Sir Walter’s hand; and this he has failed to do. All that was known
_about_ the Black Dwarf, his figure, his desolate habitation, his
unaccountable way of life, his wrongs, his bitter execrations against
intruders on his privacy, the floating and exaggerated accounts of him,
all these are given with a masterly and faithful hand, this is matter of
description and narrative: but when the true imaginative and dramatic
part comes, when the subject of this disastrous tale is to pour out the
accumulated and agonising effects of all this series of wretchedness and
torture upon his own mind, that is, when the person is to speak from
himself and to stun us with the recoil of passion upon external agents
or circumstances that have caused it, we find that it is Sir Walter
Scott and not Shakespear that is his counsel-keeper, that the author is
a novelist and not a poet. All that is gossipped in the neighbourhood,
all that is handed down in print, all of which a drawing or an etching
might be procured, is gathered together and communicated to the public:
what the heart whispers to itself in secret, what the imagination tells
in thunder, this alone is wanting, and this is the great thing required
to make good the comparison in question. Sir Walter has not then
imitated Shakespear, but he has given us nature, such as he found and
could best describe it; and he resembles him only in this, that he
thinks of his characters and never of himself, and pours out his works
with such unconscious ease and prodigality of resources that he thinks
nothing of them, and is even greater than his own fame.

The genius of Shakespear is dramatic, that of Scott narrative or
descriptive, that of Racine is didactic. He gives, as I conceive, the
_common-places_ of the human heart better than any one, but nothing or
very little more. He enlarges on a set of obvious sentiments and
well-known topics with considerable elegance of language and copiousness
of declamation, but there is scarcely one stroke of original genius, nor
any thing like imagination in his writings. He strings together a number
of moral reflections, and instead of reciting them himself, puts them
into the mouths of his _dramatis personæ_, who talk well about their own
situations and the general relations of human life. Instead of laying
bare the heart of the sufferer with all its bleeding wounds and
palpitating fibres, he puts into his hand a common-place book, and he
reads us a lecture from this. This is not the essence of the drama,
whose object and privilege it is to give us the extreme and subtle
workings of the human mind in individual circumstances, to make us
sympathise with the sufferer, or feel as we should feel in his
circumstances, not to tell the indifferent spectator what the
indifferent spectator could just as well tell him. Tragedy is human
nature tried in the crucible of affliction, not exhibited in the vague
theorems of speculation. The poet’s pen that paints all this in words of
fire and images of gold is totally wanting in Racine. He gives neither
external images nor the internal and secret workings of the human
breast. Sir Walter Scott gives the external imagery or machinery of
passion; Shakespear the soul; and Racine the moral or argument of it.
The French object to Shakespear for his breach of the Unities, and hold
up Racine as a model of classical propriety, who makes a Greek hero
address a Grecian heroine as _Madame_. Yet this is not barbarous—Why?
Because it is French, and because nothing that is French can be
barbarous in the eyes of this frivolous and pedantic nation, who would
prefer a peruke of the age of Louis XIV. to a simple Greek head-dress!


                               ESSAY XXX
                      ON DEPTH AND SUPERFICIALITY

I wish to make this Essay a sort of study of the meaning of several
words, which have at different times a good deal puzzled me. Among these
are the words, _wicked_, _false_ and _true_, as applied to feeling; and
lastly, _depth_ and _shallowness_. It may amuse the reader to see the
way in which I work out some of my conclusions under-ground, before
throwing them up on the surface.

A great but useless thinker once asked me, if I had ever known a child
of a naturally wicked disposition? and I answered, ‘Yes, that there was
one in the house with me that cried from morning to night, _for spite_.’
I was laughed at for this answer, but still I do not repent it. It
appeared to me that this child took a delight in tormenting itself and
others; that the love of tyrannising over others and subjecting them to
its caprices was a full compensation for the beating it received, that
the screams it uttered soothed its peevish, turbulent spirit, and that
it had a positive pleasure in pain from the sense of power accompanying
it. _His principiis nascuntur tyranni, his carnifex animus._ I was
supposed to magnify and over-rate the symptoms of the disease, and to
make a childish humour into a bugbear; but, indeed, I have no other idea
of what is commonly understood by wickedness than that perversion of the
will or love of mischief for its own sake, which constantly displays
itself (though in trifles and on a ludicrously small scale) in early
childhood. I have often been reproached with extravagance for
considering things only in their abstract principles, and with heat and
ill-temper, for getting into a passion about what no ways concerned me.
If any one wishes to see me quite calm, they may cheat me in a bargain,
or tread upon my toes; but a truth repelled, a sophism repeated, totally
disconcerts me, and I lose all patience. I am not, in the ordinary
acceptation of the term, _a good-natured man_; that is, many things
annoy me besides what interferes with my own ease and interest. I hate a
lie; a piece of injustice wounds me to the quick, though nothing but the
report of it reach me. Therefore I have made many enemies and few
friends; for the public know nothing of well-wishers, and keep a wary
eye on those that would reform them. Coleridge used to complain of my
irascibility in this respect, and not without reason. Would that he had
possessed a little of my tenaciousness and jealousy of temper; and then,
with his eloquence to paint the wrong, and acuteness to detect it, his
country and the cause of liberty might not have fallen without a
struggle! The craniologists give me _the organ of local memory_, of
which faculty I have not a particle, though they may say that my
frequent allusions to conversations that occurred many years ago prove
the contrary. I once spent a whole evening with Dr. Spurzheim, and I
utterly forget all that passed, except that the Doctor _waltzed_ before
we parted! The only faculty I do possess, is that of a certain morbid
interest in things, which makes me equally remember or anticipate by
nervous analogy whatever touches it; and for this our nostrum-mongers
have no specific organ, so that I am quite left out of their system. No
wonder that I should pick a quarrel with it! It vexes me beyond all
bearing to see children kill flies for sport; for the principle is the
same as in the most deliberate and profligate acts of cruelty they can
afterwards exercise upon their fellow-creatures. And yet I let moths
burn themselves to death in the candle, for it makes me mad; and I say
it is in vain to prevent fools from rushing upon destruction. The author
of the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ (who sees farther into such things
than most people,) could not understand why I should bring a charge of
_wickedness_ against an infant before it could speak, merely for
squalling and straining its lungs a little. If the child had been in
pain or in fear, I should have said nothing, but it cried only to vent
its passion and alarm the house, and I saw in its frantic screams and
gestures that great baby, the world, tumbling about in its
swaddling-clothes, and tormenting itself and others for the last six
thousand years! The plea of ignorance, of folly, of grossness, or
selfishness makes nothing either way: it is the downright love of pain
and mischief for the interest it excites, and the scope it gives to an
abandoned will, that is the root of all the evil, and the original sin
of human nature. There is a love of power in the mind independent of the
love of good, and this love of power, when it comes to be opposed to the
spirit of good, and is leagued with the spirit of evil to commit it with
greediness, is wickedness. I know of no other definition of the term. A
person who does not foresee consequences is a fool: he who cheats others
to serve himself is a knave: he who is immersed in sensual pleasure is a
brute; but he alone, who has a pleasure in injuring another, or in
debasing himself, that is, who does a thing with a particular relish
because he ought not, is properly wicked. This character implies the
fiend at the bottom of it; and is mixed up pretty plentifully (according
to my philosophy) in the untoward composition of human nature. It is
this craving after what is prohibited, and the force of contrast adding
its zest to the violations of reason and propriety, that accounts for
the excesses of pride, of cruelty, and lust; and at the same time frets
and vexes the surface of life with petty evils, and plants a canker in
the bosom of our daily enjoyments. Take away the enormities dictated by
the wanton and pampered pride of human will, glutting itself with the
sacrifice of the welfare of others, or with the desecration of its own
best feelings, and also the endless bickerings, heart-burnings, and
disappointments produced by the spirit of contradiction on a smaller
scale, and the life of man would ‘spin round on its soft axle,’ unharmed
and free, neither appalled by huge crimes, nor infested by insect
follies. It might, indeed, be monotonous and insipid; but it is the
hankering after mischievous and violent excitement that leads to this
result, that causes that indifference to good and proneness to evil,
which is the very thing complained of. The griefs we suffer are for the
most part of our own seeking and making; or we incur or inflict them,
not to avert other impending evils, but to drive off _ennui_. There must
be a spice of mischief and wilfulness thrown into the cup of our
existence to give it its sharp taste and sparkling colour. I shall not
go into a formal argument on this subject, for fear of being tedious,
nor endeavour to enforce it by extreme cases for fear of being
disgusting; but shall content myself with some desultory and familiar
illustrations of it.

I laugh at those who deny that we ever wantonly or unnecessarily inflict
pain upon others, when I see how fond we are of ingeniously tormenting
ourselves. What is sullenness in children or grown people but revenge
against ourselves? We had rather be the victims of this absurd and
headstrong feeling, than give up an inveterate purpose, retract an
error, or relax from the intensity of our will, whatever it may cost us.
A surly man is his own enemy, and knowingly sacrifices his interest to
his ill-humour, because he would at any time rather disoblige you than
serve himself, as I believe I have already shewn in another place. The
reason is, he has a natural aversion to everything agreeable or happy—he
turns with disgust from every such feeling, as not according with the
severe tone of his mind—and it is in excluding all interchange of
friendly affections or kind offices that the ruling bias and the chief
satisfaction of his life consist. Is not every country-town supplied
with its scolds and scandal-mongers? The first cannot cease from
plaguing themselves and every body about them with their senseless
clamour, because the rage of words has become by habit and indulgence a
thirst, a fever on their parched tongue; and the others continue to make
enemies by some smart hit or sly insinuation at every third word they
speak, because with every new enemy there is an additional sense of
power. One man will sooner part with his friend than his joke, because
the stimulus of saying a good thing is irritated, instead of being
repressed, by the fear of giving offence, and by the imprudence or
unfairness of the remark. Malice often takes the garb of truth. We find
a set of persons who pride themselves on being _plain-spoken people_,
that is, who blurt out every thing disagreeable to your face, by way of
wounding your feelings and relieving their own, and this they call
honesty. Even among philosophers we may have noticed those who are not
contented to inform the understandings of their readers, unless they can
shock their prejudices; and among poets those who tamper with the rotten
parts of their subject, adding to their fancied pretensions by trampling
on the sense of shame. There are rigid reasoners who will not be turned
aside from following up a logical argument by any regard to
consequences, or the ‘compunctious visitings of nature,’ (such is their
love of truth)—I never knew one of these scrupulous and hard-mouthed
logicians who would not falsify the facts and distort the inference in
order to arrive at a distressing and repulsive conclusion. Such is the
fascination of what releases our own will from thraldom, and compels
that of others reluctantly to submit to terms of our dictating! We feel
our own power, and disregard their weakness and effeminacy with
prodigious self-complacency. Lord Clive, when a boy, saw a butcher
passing with a calf in a cart. A companion whom he had with him said, ‘I
should not like to be that butcher!’—‘I should not like to be that
calf,’ replied the future Governor of India, laughing at all sympathy
but that with his own sufferings. The ‘wicked’ Lord Lyttleton (as he was
called) dreamt a little before his death that he was confined in a huge
subterranean vault (the inside of this round globe) where as far as eye
could see, he could discern no living object, till at last he saw a
female figure coming towards him, and who should it turn out to be, but
Mother Brownrigg, whom of all people he most hated! That was the very
reason why he dreamt of her.

        ‘You ask her crime: she whipp’d two ‘prentices to death,
        And hid them in the coal-hole.’
                                  POETRY OF THE ANTI-JACOBIN.

I do not know that hers is exactly a case in point; but I conceive that
in the well-known catastrophe here alluded to, words led to blows, bad
usage brought on worse from mere irritation and opposition, and that,
probably, even remorse and pity urged on to aggravated acts of cruelty
and oppression, as the only means of drowning reflection on the past in
the fury of present passion. I believe that remorse for past offences
has sometimes made the greatest criminals, as the being unable to
appease a wounded conscience renders men desperate; and if I hear a
person express great impatience and uneasiness at some error that he is
liable to, I am tolerably sure that the conflict will end in a
repetition of the offence. If a man who got drunk over-night, repents
bitterly next morning, he will get drunk again at night; for both in his
repentance and his self-gratification he is led away by the feeling of
the moment. But this is not wickedness, but despondency and want of
strength of mind; and I only attribute wickedness to those who carry
their wills in their hands, and who wantonly and deliberately suffer
them to tyrannise over conscience, reason, and humanity, and who even
draw an additional triumph from this degrading conquest. The wars,
persecutions, and bloodshed, occasioned by religion, have generally
turned on the most trifling differences in forms and ceremonies; which
shews that it was not the vital interests of the questions that were at
stake, but that these were made a handle and pretext to exercise cruelty
and tyranny on the score of the most trivial and doubtful points of
faith. There seems to be a love of absurdity and falsehood as well as
mischief in the human mind, and the most ridiculous as well as barbarous
superstitions have on this account been the most acceptable to it. A lie
is welcome to it, for it is, as it were, its own offspring; and it likes
to believe, as well as act, whatever it pleases, and in the pure spirit
of contradiction. The old idolatry took vast hold of the earliest ages;
for to believe that a piece of painted stone or wood was a God (in the
teeth of the fact) was a fine exercise of the imagination; and modern
fanaticism thrives in proportion to the quantity of contradictions and
nonsense it pours down the throats of the gaping multitude, and the
jargon and mysticism it offers to their wonder and credulity. _Credo
quia impossibile est_, is the standing motto of bigotry and
superstition; that is, I believe, because to do so is a favourite act of
the will, and to do so in defiance of common sense and reason enhances
the pleasure and the merit (tenfold) of this indulgence of blind faith
and headstrong imagination. Methodism, in particular, which at once
absolves the understanding from the rules of reasoning, and the
conscience from the restraints of morality, throwing the whole
responsibility upon a vicarious righteousness and an abstract belief,
must, besides its rant, its vulgarity, and its amatory style, have a
double charm both for saints and sinners. I have also observed a sort of
_fatuity_, an indolence or indocility of the will to circumstances,
which I think has a considerable share in the common affairs of life. I
would willingly compound for all the mischiefs that are done me
voluntarily, if I could escape those which are done me without any
motive at all, or even with the best intentions. For instance, if I go
to a distance where I am anxious to receive an answer to my letters, I
am sure to be kept in suspense. My friends are aware of this, as also of
my impatience and irritability; and they cannot prevail on themselves to
put an end to this dramatic situation of the parties. There is pleasure
(an innocent and well-meaning one) in keeping a friend in suspense, in
not putting one’s-self out of one’s way for his ill humours and
apprehensions (though one would not for the world do him a serious
injury), as there is in dangling the finny prey at the end of a hook, or
in twirling round a cock-chaffer after sticking a pin through him at the
end of a string,—there is no malice in the case, no deliberate cruelty,
but the buzzing noise and the secret consciousness of superiority to any
annoyance or inconvenience ourselves lull the mind into a delightful
state of listless torpor and indifference. If a letter requires an
immediate answer, send it by a private hand to save postage. If our
messenger falls sick or breaks a leg and begs us to forward it by some
other means, return it him again, and insist on its being conveyed
according to its first destination. His cure may be slow but sure. In
the mean time our friend can wait. We have done our duty in writing the
letter, and are in no hurry to _receive_ it! We know the contents, and
they are matters of perfect indifference to us. No harm is meant by all
this, but a great deal of mischief may accrue. There is, in short, a
sluggishness and untractableness about the will, that does not easily
put itself in the situation of others, and that consults its own bias
best by giving itself no trouble about them. Human life is so far a game
of cross-purposes. If we wish a thing to be kept secret, it is sure to
transpire; if we wish it to be known, not a syllable is breathed about
it. This is not meant; but it happens so from mere simplicity and
thoughtlessness. No one has ever yet seen through all the intricate
folds and delicate involutions of our self-love, which is wrapped up in
a set of smooth flimsy pretexts like some precious jewel in covers of
silver paper.

I proceed to say something of the words _false_ and _true_, as applied
to moral feelings. It may be argued that this is a distinction without a
difference; for that as feelings only exist by being _felt_, wherever,
and in so far as they exist, they must be true, and that there can be no
falsehood or deception in the question. The distinction between true and
false pleasure, between real and seeming good, would be thus done away
with; for the reality and the appearance are here the same. And this
would be the case if our sensations were simple and detached, and one
had no influence on another. But it is in their secret and close
dependence one on another, that the distinction here spoken of takes its
rise. That then is _true_ or _pure_ pleasure that has no alloy or
draw-back in some other consideration; that is free from remorse and
alarm; and that will bear the soberest reflection; because there is
nothing that, upon examination, can be found acting indirectly to check
and throw a damp upon it. On the other hand, we justly call those
pleasures _false_ and _hollow_, not merely which are momentary and ready
to elude our grasp, but which, even at the time, are accompanied with
such a consciousness of other circumstances as must embitter and
undermine them. For instance, putting morality quite out of the
question; is there not an undeniable and wide difference between the
gaiety and animal spirits of one who indulges in a drunken debauch to
celebrate some unexpected stroke of good fortune, and his who does the
same thing to drown care for the loss of all he is worth? The outward
objects, the immediate and more obvious sensations are, perhaps, very
much the same in the latter case as in the former,—the rich viands, the
sparkling wines, the social merriment, the wit, the loud laughter, and
the maddening brain, but the still small voice is wanting, there is a
reflection at bottom, that however stifled and kept down, poisons and
spoils all, even by the violent effort to keep it from intruding; the
mirth in the one case is forced, in the other is natural; the one
reveller is (we all know by experience) a gay, laughing wretch, the
other a happy man. I profess to speak of human nature as I find it; and
the circumstance that any distinction I can make may be favourable to
the theories of virtue, will not prevent me from setting it down, from
the fear of being charged with cant and prejudice. Even in a case less
palpable than the one supposed, where some ‘sweet oblivious antidote’
has been applied to the mind, and it is lulled to temporary
forgetfulness of its immediate cause of sorrow, does it therefore cease
to gnaw the heart by stealth; are no traces of it left in the careworn
brow or face; is the state of mind the same as it was; or is there the
same buoyancy, freedom, and erectness of spirit as in more prosperous
circumstances? On the contrary, it is torpid, vexed, and sad, enfeebled
or harassed, and weighed down by the corroding pressure of care, whether
it thinks of it or not. The pulse beats slow and languid, the eye is
dead; no object strikes us with the same alacrity; the avenues to joy or
content are shut; and life becomes a burthen and a perplexing mystery.
Even in sleep, we are haunted with the broken images of distress or the
mockery of bliss, and we in vain try to still the idle tumult of the
heart. The constantly tampering with the truth, the putting off the day
of reckoning, the fear of looking our situation in the face, gives the
mind a wandering and unsettled turn, makes our waking thoughts a
troubled dream, or sometimes ends in madness, without any violent
paroxysm, without any severe pang, without any _overt act_, but from
that silent operation of the mind which preys internally upon itself,
and works the decay of its powers the more fatally, because we dare not
give it open and avowed scope. Do we not, in case of any untoward
accident or event, know, when we wake in the morning, that something is
the matter, before we recollect what it is? The mind no more recovers
its confidence and serenity after a staggering blow, than the haggard
cheek and sleepless eye their colour and vivacity, because we do not see
them in the glass. Is it to be supposed that there is not a firm and
healthy tone of the mind as well as of the body; or that when this has
been deranged, we do not feel pain, lassitude, and fretful impatience,
though the local cause or impression may have been withdrawn? Is the
state of the mind or of the nervous system, and its disposition or
indisposition to receive certain impressions from the remains of others
still vibrating on it, nothing? Shall we say that the laugh of a madman
is sincere; or that the wit we utter in our dreams is sterling? We often
feel uneasy at something, without being able to tell why, or attribute
it to a wrong cause. Our unconscious impressions necessarily give a
colour to, and react upon our conscious ones; and it is only when these
two sets of feeling are in accord, that our pleasures are true and
sincere; where there is a discordance and misunderstanding in this
respect, they are said (not absurdly as is pretended) to be false and
hollow. There is then a serenity of virtue, a peace of conscience, a
confidence in success, and a pride of intellect, which subsist and are a
strong source of satisfaction independently of outward and immediate
objects, as the general health of the body gives a glow and animation to
the whole frame, notwithstanding a scratch we may have received in our
little finger, and certainly very different from a state of sickness and
infirmity. The difficulty is not so much in supposing one mental cause
or phenomenon to be affected and imperceptibly moulded by another, as in
setting limits to the everlasting ramifications of our impressions, and
in defining the obscure and intricate ways in which they communicate
together. Suppose a man to labour under an habitual indigestion. Does it
not oppress the very sun in the sky, beat down all his powers of
enjoyment, and imprison all his faculties in a living tomb? Yet he
perhaps long laboured under this disease, and felt its withering
effects, before he was aware of the cause. It was not the less real on
this account; nor did it interfere the less with the sincerity of his
other pleasures, tarnish the face of nature, and throw a gloom over
every thing. ‘He was hurt, and knew it not.’ Let the pressure be
removed, and he breathes freely again; his spirits run with a livelier
current, and he greets nature with smiles; yet the change is in him, not
in her. Do we not pass the same scenery that we have visited but a
little before, and wonder that no object appears the same, because we
have some secret cause of dissatisfaction? Let any one feel the force of
disappointed affection, and he may forget and scorn his error, laugh and
be gay to all outward appearance, but the heart is not the less seared
and blighted ever after. The splendid banquet does not supply the loss
of appetite, nor the spotless ermine cure the itching palm, nor gold nor
jewels redeem a lost name, nor pleasure fill up the void of affection,
nor passion stifle conscience. Moralists and divines say true, when they
talk of the ‘unquenchable fire, and the worm that dies not.’ The human
soul is not an invention of priests, whatever fables they have engrafted
on it; nor is there an end of all our natural sentiments because French
philosophers have not been able to account for them!—Hume, I think,
somewhere contends that all satisfactions are equal,[64] because the cup
can be no more than full. But surely, though this is the case, one cup
holds more than another. As to mere negative satisfaction, the argument
may be true. But as to positive satisfaction or enjoyment, I see no more
how this must be equal, than how the heat of a furnace must in all cases
be equally intense. Thus, for instance, there are many things with which
we are contented, so as not to feel an uneasy desire after more, but yet
we have a much higher relish of others. We may eat a mutton-chop without
complaining, though we should consider a haunch of venison as a greater
luxury if we had it. Again, in travelling abroad, the mind acquires a
restless and vagabond habit. There is more of hurry and novelty, but
less of sincerity and certainty in our pursuits than at home. We snatch
hasty glances of a great variety of things, but want some central point
of view. After making the grand tour, and seeing the finest sights in
the world, we are glad to come back at last to our native place and our
own fireside. Our associations with it are the most stedfast and
habitual, we there feel most at home and at our ease, we have a resting
place for the sole of our foot, the flutter of hope, anxiety, and
disappointment is at an end, and whatever our satisfactions may be, we
feel most confidence in them, and have the strongest conviction of their
truth and reality. There is then a true and a false or spurious in
sentiment as well as in reasoning, and I hope the train of thought I
have here gone into may serve in some respects as a clue to explain it.

The hardest question remains behind. What is _depth_, and what is
_superficiality_? It is easy to answer that the one is what is obvious,
familiar, and lies on the surface, and that the other is recondite and
hid at the bottom of a subject. The difficulty recurs—What is meant by
lying on the surface, or being concealed below it, in moral and
metaphysical questions? Let us try for an analogy. _Depth_ consists then
in tracing any number of particular effects to a general principle, or
in distinguishing an unknown cause from the individual and varying
circumstances with which it is implicated, and under which it lurks
unsuspected. It is in fact resolving the concrete into the abstract. Now
this is a task of difficulty, not only because the abstract naturally
merges in the concrete, and we do not well know how to set about
separating what is thus jumbled or cemented together in a single object,
and presented under a common aspect; but being scattered over a larger
surface, and collected from a number of undefined sources, there must be
a strong feeling of its weight and pressure, in order to dislocate it
from the object and bind it into a principle. The impression of an
abstract principle is faint and doubtful in each individual instance; it
becomes powerful and certain only by the repetition of the experiment,
and by adding the last results to our first hazardous conjectures. We
thus gain a distinct hold or clue to the demonstration, when a number of
vague and imperfect reminiscences are united and drawn out together, by
tenaciousness of memory and conscious feeling, in one continued act. So
that the depth of the understanding or reasoning in such cases may be
explained to mean, that there is a pile of _implicit_ distinctions
analyzed from a great variety of facts and observations, each supporting
the other, and that the mind, instead of being led away by the last or
first object or detached view of the subject that occurs, connects all
these into a whole from the top to the bottom, and by its intimate
sympathy with the most obscure and random impressions that tend to the
same result, evolves a principle of abstract truth. Two circumstances
are combined in a particular object to produce a given effect: how shall
I know which is the true cause, but by finding it in another instance?
But the same effect is produced in a third object, which is without the
concomitant circumstances of the first or second case. I must then look
out for some other latent cause in the rabble of contradictory
pretensions huddled together, which I had not noticed before, and to
which I am eventually led by finding a necessity for it. But if my
memory fails me, or I do not seize on the true character of different
feelings, I shall make little progress, or be quite thrown out in my
reckoning. Insomuch that according to the general diffusion of any
element of thought or feeling, and its floating through the mixed mass
of human affairs, do we stand in need of a greater quantity of that
refined experience I have spoken of, and of a quicker and firmer tact in
connecting or distinguishing its results. However, I must make a
reservation here. Both knowledge and sagacity are required, but sagacity
abridges and anticipates the labour of knowledge, and sometimes jumps
instinctively at a conclusion; that is, the strength or fineness of the
feeling, by association or analogy, sooner elicits the recollection of a
previous and forgotten one in different circumstances, and the two
together, by a sort of internal evidence and collective force, stamp any
proposed solution with the character of truth or falsehood. Original
strength of impression is often (in usual questions at least) a
substitute for accumulated weight of experience; and intensity of
feeling is so far synonymous with depth of understanding. It is that
which here gives us a contentious and palpable consciousness of whatever
affects it in the smallest or remotest manner, and leaves to us the
hidden springs of thought and action through our sensibility and
jealousy of whatever touches them.—To give an illustration or two of
this very abstruse subject.

_Elegance_ is a word that means something different from ease, grace,
beauty, dignity; yet it is akin to all these; but it seems more
particularly to imply a sparkling brilliancy of effect with finish and
precision. We do not apply the term to great things; we should not call
an epic poem or a head of Jupiter _elegant_, but we speak of an elegant
copy of verses, an elegant head-dress, an elegant fan, an elegant
diamond brooch, or bunch of flowers. In all these cases (and others
where the same epithet is used) there is something little and
comparatively trifling in the objects and the interest they inspire. So
far I deal chiefly in examples, conjectures, and negatives. But this is
far from a definition. I think I know what personal beauty is, because I
can say in one word what I mean by it, viz. _harmony of form_; and this
idea seems to me to answer to all the cases to which the term personal
beauty, is ever applied. Let us see if we cannot come to something
equally definitive with respect to the other phrase. Sparkling effect,
finish, and precision, are characteristic, as I think, of elegance, but
as yet I see no reason why they should be so, any more than why blue,
red, and yellow, should form the colours of the rainbow. I want a common
idea as a link to connect them, or to serve as a substratum for the
others. Now suppose I say that elegance is beauty, or at least _the
pleasurable_ in little things: we then have a ground to rest upon at
once. For elegance being beauty or pleasure in little or slight
impressions, precision, finish, and polished smoothness follow from this
definition as matters of course. In other words, for a thing that is
little to be beautiful, or at any rate to please,[65] it must have
precision of outline, which in larger masses and gigantic forms is not
so indispensable. In what is small, the parts must be finished, or they
will offend. Lastly, in what is momentary and evanescent, as in dress,
fashions, &c. there must be a glossy and sparkling effect, for
brilliancy is the only virtue of novelty. That is to say, by getting the
primary conditions or essential qualities of elegance in all
circumstances whatever, we see how these branch off into minor divisions
in relation to form, details, colour, surface, &c. and rise from a
common ground of abstraction into all the variety of consequences and
examples. The Hercules is not elegant; the Venus is simply beautiful.
The French, whose ideas of beauty or grandeur never amount to more than
an elegance, have no relish for Rubens, nor will they understand this
definition.

When Sir Isaac Newton saw the apple fall, it was a very simple and
common observation, but it suggested to his mind the law that holds the
universe together. What then was the process in this case? In general,
when we see any thing fall, we have the idea of a particular direction,
of _up_ and _down_ associated with the motion by invariable and every
day’s experience. The earth is always (as we conceive) under our feet,
and the sky above our heads, so that according to this local and
habitual feeling, all heavy bodies must everlastingly fall in the same
direction downwards, or parallel to the upright position of our bodies.
Sir Isaac Newton by a bare effort of abstraction, or by a grasp of mind
comprehending all the possible relations of things, got rid of this
prejudice, turned the world as it were on its back, and saw the apple
fall not _downwards_, but simply _towards_ the earth, so that it would
fall _upwards_ on the same principle, if the earth were above it, or
towards it at any rate in whatever direction it lay. This highly
abstracted view of the case answered to all the phenomena of nature, and
no other did; and this view he arrived at by a vast power of
comprehension, retaining and reducing the contradictory phenomena of the
universe under one law, and counteracting and banishing from his mind
that almost invincible and instinctive association of _up_ and _down_ as
it relates to the position of our own bodies and the gravitation of all
others to the earth in the same direction. From a circumscribed and
partial view we make that, which is general, particular: the great
mathematician here spoken of, from a wide and comprehensive one, made it
general again, or he perceived the essential condition or cause of a
general effect, and that which acts indispensably in all circumstances,
separate from other accidental and arbitrary ones.

I lately heard an anecdote related of an American lady (one of two
sisters) who married young and well, and had several children; her
sister, however, was married soon after herself to a richer husband, and
had a larger (if not finer) family, and after passing several years of
constant repining and wretchedness, she died at length of pure envy. The
circumstance was well known, and generally talked of. Some one said on
hearing this, that it was a thing that could only happen in America;
that it was a trait of the republican character and institutions, where
alone the principle of mutual jealousy, having no high and distant
objects to fix upon, and divert it from immediate and private
mortifications, seized upon the happiness or outward advantages even of
the nearest connexions as its natural food, and having them constantly
before its eyes, gnawed itself to death upon them. I assented to this
remark, and I confess it struck me as shewing a deep insight into human
nature. Here was a sister envying a sister, and that not for objects
that provoke strong passion, but for common and contentional advantages,
till it ends in her death. They were also represented as good and
respectable people. How then is this extraordinary developement of an
ordinary human frailty to be accounted for? From the peculiar
circumstances? These were the country and state of society. It was in
America that it happened. The democratic level, the flatness of imagery,
the absence of those towering and artificial heights that in old and
monarchical states act as conductors to attract and carry off the
splenetic humours and rancorous hostilities of a whole people, and to
make common and petty advantages sink into perfect insignificance, were
full in the mind of the person who suggested the solution; and in this
dearth of every other mark or vent for it, it was felt intuitively, that
the natural spirit of envy and discontent would fasten upon those that
were next to it, and whose advantages, there being no great difference
in point of elevation, would gall in proportion to their proximity and
repeated recurrence. The remote and exalted advantages of birth and
station in countries where the social fabric is constructed of lofty and
unequal materials, necessarily carry the mind out of its immediate and
domestic circle; whereas, take away those objects of imaginary spleen
and moody speculation, and they leave, as the inevitable alternative,
the envy and hatred of our friends and neighbours at every advantage we
possess, as so many eye-sores and stumbling-blocks in their way, where
these selfish principles have not been curbed or given way altogether to
charity and benevolence. The fact, as stated in itself, is an anomaly:
as thus explained, by combining it with a general state of feeling in a
country, it seems to point out a great principle in society. Now this
solution would not have been attained but for the deep impression which
the operation of certain general causes of moral character had recently
made, and the quickness with which the consequences of its removal were
felt. I might give other instances, but these will be sufficient to
explain the argument, or set others upon elucidating it more clearly.

Acuteness is depth, or sagacity in connecting individual effects with
individual causes, or _vice versâ_, as in stratagems of war, policy, and
a knowledge of character and the world. Comprehension is the power of
combining a vast number of particulars in some one view, as in
mechanics, or the game of chess, but without referring them to any
abstract or general principle. A _common-place_ differs from an abstract
discourse in this, that it is trite and vague, instead of being new and
profound. It is a common-place at present to say that heavy bodies fall
by attraction. It would always have been one to say that this falling is
the effect of a law of nature, or the will of God. This is assigning a
general but not adequate cause.

The depth of passion is where it takes hold of circumstances too remote
or indifferent for notice from the force of association or analogy, and
turns the current of other passions by its own. Dramatic power in the
depth of the knowledge of the human heart, is chiefly shewn in tracing
this effect. For instance, the fondness displayed by a mistress for a
lover (as she is about to desert him for a rival) is not mere hypocrisy
or art to deceive him, but nature, or the reaction of her pity, or
parting tenderness towards a person she is about to injure, but does not
absolutely hate. Shakespear is the only dramatic author who has laid
open this reaction or involution of the passions in a manner worth
speaking of. The rest are common place declaimers, and may be very fine
poets, but not deep philosophers.—There is a depth even in
superficiality, that is, the affections cling round obvious and familiar
objects, not recondite and remote ones; and the intense continuity of
feeling thus obtained, forms the depth of sentiment. It is that that
redeems poetry and romance from the charge of superficiality. The
habitual impressions of things are, as to feeling, the most refined
ones. The painter also in his mind’s eye penetrates beyond the surface
or husk of the object, and sees into a labyrinth of forms, an abyss of
colour. My head has grown giddy in following the windings of the drawing
in Raphael, and I have gazed on the breadth of Titian, where infinite
imperceptible gradations were blended in a common mass, as into a
dazzling mirror. This idea is more easily transferred to Rembrandt’s
chiaro-scura, where the greatest clearness and the nicest distinctions
are observed in the midst of obscurity. In a word, I suspect depth to be
that strength, and at the same time subtlety of impression, which will
not suffer the slightest indication of thought or feeling to be lost,
and gives warning of them, over whatever extent of surface they are
diffused, or under whatever disguises of circumstances they lurk.


                               ESSAY XXXI
                         ON RESPECTABLE PEOPLE

There is not any term that is oftener misapplied, or that is a stronger
instance of the abuse of language, than this same word _respectable_. By
a _respectable man_ is generally meant a person whom there is no reason
for respecting, or none that we choose to name: for if there is any good
reason for the opinion we wish to express, we naturally assign it as the
ground of his respectability. If the person whom you are desirous to
characterise favourably, is distinguished for his good-nature, you say
that he is a good-natured man; if by his zeal to serve his friends, you
call him a friendly man; if by his wit or sense, you say that he is
witty or sensible; if by his honesty or learning, you say so at once;
but if he is none of these, and there is no one quality which you can
bring forward to justify the high opinion you would be thought to
entertain of him, you then take the question for granted, and jump at a
conclusion, by observing gravely, that ‘he is a very respectable man.’
It is clear, indeed, that where we have any striking and generally
admitted reasons for respecting a man, the most obvious way to ensure
the respect of others, will be to mention his estimable qualities; where
these are wanting, the wisest course must be to say nothing about them,
but to insist on the general inference which we have our particular
reasons for drawing, only vouching for its authenticity. If, for
instance, the only motive we have for thinking or speaking well of
another is, that he gives us good dinners, as this is not a valid reason
to those who do not, like us, partake of his hospitality, we may
(without going into particulars) content ourselves with assuring them,
that he is a most respectable man: if he is a slave to those above him,
and an oppressor of those below him, but sometimes makes us the channels
of his bounty or the tools of his caprice, it will be as well to say
nothing of the matter, but to confine ourselves to the safer generality,
that he is a person of the highest respectability: if he is a low dirty
fellow, who has amassed an immense fortune, which he does not know what
to do with, the possession of it alone will guarantee his
respectability, if we say nothing of the manner in which he has come by
it, or in which he spends it. A man may be a knave or a fool, or both
(as it may happen) and yet be a most respectable man, in the common and
authorized sense of the term, provided he saves appearances, and does
not give common fame a handle for no longer keeping up the imposture.
The best title to the character of respectability lies in the
convenience of those who echo the cheat, and in the conventional
hypocrisy of the world. Any one may lay claim to it who is willing to
give himself airs of importance, and can find means to divert others
from inquiring too strictly into his pretensions. It is a disposable
commodity,—not a part of the man, that sticks to him like his skin, but
an appurtenance, like his goods and chattels. It is meat, drink, and
clothing to those who take the benefit of it by allowing others the
credit. It is the current coin, the circulating medium, in which the
factitious intercourse of the world is carried on, the bribe which
interest pays to vanity. Respectability includes all that vague and
undefinable mass of respect floating in the world, which arises from
sinister motives in the person who pays it, and is offered to
adventitious and doubtful qualities in the person who receives it. It is
spurious and nominal; hollow and venal. To suppose that it is to be
taken literally or applied to sterling merit, would betray the greatest
ignorance of the customary use of speech. When we hear the word coupled
with the name of any individual, it would argue a degree of romantic
simplicity to imagine that it implies any one quality of head or heart,
any one excellence of body or mind, any one good action or praise-worthy
sentiment; but as soon as it is mentioned, it conjures up the ideas of a
handsome house with large acres round it, a sumptuous table, a cellar
well stocked with excellent wines, splendid furniture, a fashionable
equipage, with a long list of elegant contingencies. It is not what a
man _is_, but what he _has_, that we speak of in the significant use of
this term. He may be the poorest creature in the world in himself, but
if he is well to do, and can spare some of his superfluities, if he can
lend us his purse or his countenance upon occasion, he then ‘buys golden
opinions’ of us;—it is but fit that we should speak well of the bridge
that carries us over, and in return for what we can get from him, we
embody our servile gratitude, hopes, and fears, in this word
_respectability_. By it we pamper his pride, and feed our own
necessities. It must needs be a very honest uncorrupted word that is the
go-between in this disinterested kind of traffic. We do not think of
applying this word to a great poet or a great painter, to the man of
genius, or the man of virtue, for it is seldom we can _spunge_ upon
them. It would be a solecism for any one to pretend to the character who
has a shabby coat to his back, who goes without a dinner, or has not a
good house over his head. He who has reduced himself in the world by
devoting himself to a particular study, or adhering to a particular
cause, occasions only a smile of pity or a shrug of contempt at the
mention of his name; while he who has raised himself in it by a
different course, who has become rich for want of ideas, and powerful
from want of principle, is looked up to with silent homage, and passes
for a respectable man. ‘The learned pate ducks to the golden fool.’ We
spurn at virtue and genius in rags; and lick the dust in the presence of
vice and folly in purple. When Otway was left to starve after having
produced ‘Venice Preserv’d,’ there was nothing in the phrenzied action
with which he devoured the food that choked him, to provoke the respect
of the mob, who would have hooted at him the more for knowing that he
was a poet. Spenser, kept waiting for the hundred pounds which Burleigh
grudged him ‘for a song,’ might feel the mortification of his situation;
but the statesman never felt any diminution of his Sovereign’s regard in
consequence of it. Charles the Second’s neglect of his favourite poet
Butler did not make him look less gracious in the eyes of his courtiers,
or of the wits and critics of the time. Burns’s embarrassments, and the
temptations to which he was exposed by his situation, degraded him; but
left no stigma on his patrons, who still meet to celebrate his memory,
and consult about his monument, in the face of day. To enrich the mind
of a country by works of art or science, and leave yourself poor, is not
the way for any one to rank as respectable, at least in his
life-time:—to oppress, to enslave, to cheat, and plunder it, is a much
better way. ‘The time gives evidence of it.’ But the instances are
common.

Respectability means a man’s situation and success in life, not his
character or conduct. The city merchant never loses his respectability
till he becomes a bankrupt. After that, we hear no more of it or him.
The Justice of the Peace, and the Parson of the parish, the Lord and the
Squire, are allowed, by immemorial usage, to be very respectable people,
though no one ever thinks of asking why. They are a sort of fixtures in
this way. To take an example from one of them. The Country Parson may
pass his whole time, when he is not employed in the cure of souls, in
flattering his rich neighbours, and leaguing with them to _snub_ his
poor ones, in seizing poachers, and encouraging informers; he may be
exorbitant in exacting his tithes, harsh to his servants, the dread and
bye-word of the village where he resides, and yet all this, though it
may be notorious, shall abate nothing of his respectability. It will not
hinder his patron from giving him another living to play the petty
tyrant in, or prevent him from riding over to the Squire’s in his
carriage and being well received, or from sitting on the bench of
Justices with due decorum and with clerical dignity. The poor Curate, in
the mean time, who may be a real comfort to the bodies and minds of his
parishioners, will be passed by without notice. Parson Adams, drinking
his ale in Sir Thomas Booby’s kitchen, makes no very respectable figure;
but Sir Thomas himself was right worshipful, and his widow a person of
honour!—A few such historiographers as Fielding would put an end to the
farce of respectability, with several others like it. Peter Pounce, in
the same author, was a consummation of this character, translated into
the most vulgar English. The character of Captain Blifil, his epitaph,
and funeral sermon, are worth tomes of casuistry and patched-up theories
of moral sentiments. Pope somewhere exclaims, in his fine indignant way,

             ‘What can ennoble sots, or knaves, or cowards?
             Alas! not all the blood of all the Howards.’

But this is the heraldry of poets, not of the world. In fact, the only
way for a poet now-a-days to emerge from the obscurity of poverty and
genius, is to prostitute his pen, turn literary pimp to some
borough-mongering lord, canvass for him at elections, and by this means
aspire to the same importance, and be admitted on the same respectable
footing with him as his valet, his steward, or his practising attorney.
A Jew, a stock-jobber, a war-contractor, a successful monopolist, a
Nabob, an India Director, or an African slave-dealer, are all very
respectable people in their turn. A Member of Parliament is not only
respectable, but _honourable_;—‘all honourable men!’ Yet this
circumstance, which implies such a world of respect, really means
nothing. To say of any one that he is a Member of Parliament, is to say,
at the same time, that he is not at all distinguished as such. No body
ever thought of telling you, that Mr. Fox or Mr. Pitt were Members of
Parliament. Such is the constant difference between names and things.

The most mischievous and offensive use of this word has been in
politics. By respectable people (in the fashionable cant of the day) are
meant those who have not a particle of regard for any one but
themselves, who have feathered their own nests, and only want to lie
snug and warm in them. They have been set up and appealed to as the only
friends of their country and the Constitution, while in truth they were
friends to nothing but their own interest. With them all is well, if
they are well off. They are raised by their lucky stars above the reach
of the distresses of the community, and are cut off by their situation
and sentiments, from any sympathy with their kind. They would see their
country ruined before they would part with the least of their
superfluities. Pampered in luxury and their own selfish comforts, they
are proof against the calls of patriotism, and the cries of humanity.
They would not get a scratch with a pin to save the universe. They are
more affected by the overturning of a plate of turtle-soup than by the
starving of a whole county. The most desperate characters, picked from
the most necessitous and depraved classes, are not worse judges of
politics than your true, staunch, thorough-paced ‘lives and fortunes
men,’ who have what is called a _stake_ in the country, and see
everything through the medium of their cowardly and unprincipled hopes
and fears.—London is, perhaps, the only place in which the standard of
respectability at all varies from the standard of money. There things go
as much by appearance as by weight; and he may be said to be a
respectable man who cuts a certain figure in company by being dressed in
the fashion, and venting a number of common-place things with tolerable
grace and fluency. If a person there brings a certain share of
information and good manners into mixed society, it is not asked, when
he leaves it, whether he is rich or not. Lords and fiddlers, authors and
common councilmen, editors of newspapers and parliamentary speakers meet
together, and the difference is not so much marked as one would suppose.
To be an Edinburgh Reviewer is, I suspect, the highest rank in modern
literary society.


                              ESSAY XXXII
                ON THE JEALOUSY AND THE SPLEEN OF PARTY

           ‘It is michin-malico, and means mischief.’—HAMLET.

I was sorry to find the other day, on coming to Vevey, and looking into
some English books at a library there, that Mr. Moore had taken an
opportunity, in his ‘Rhymes on the Road,’ of abusing Madame Warens,
Rousseau, and men of genius in general. _It’s an ill bird_, as the
proverb says. This appears to me, I confess, to be _pick-thank_ work, as
needless as it is ill-timed, and, considering from whom it comes,
particularly unpleasant. In conclusion, he thanks God with the Levite,
that ‘he is not one of those,’ and would rather be any thing, a worm,
the meanest thing that crawls, than numbered among those who give light
and law to the world by an excess of fancy and intellect.[66] Perhaps
Posterity may take him at his word, and no more trace be found of his
‘Rhymes’ upon the onward tide of time than of

                     ‘the snow-falls in the river,
                 A moment white, then melts for ever!’

It might be some increasing consciousness of the frail tenure by which
he holds his rank among the great heirs of Fame, that urged our Bard to
pawn his reversion of immortality for an indulgent smile of patrician
approbation, as he raised his puny arm against ‘the mighty dead,’ to
lower by a flourish of his pen the aristocracy of letters nearer to the
level of the aristocracy of rank—two ideas that keep up a perpetual
_see-saw_ in Mr. Moore’s mind like buckets in a well, and to which he is
always ready to lend a helping hand, according as he is likely to be
hoisted up, or in danger of being let down with either of them. The mode
in which our author proposes to correct the extravagance of public
opinion, and qualify the interest taken in such persons as Rousseau and
Madame de Warens, is singular enough, and savours of the late unlucky
bias of his mind:—it is by referring us to what the well-bred people in
the neighbourhood thought of Rousseau and his pretensions a hundred
years ago or thereabouts. ‘_So shall their anticipation prevent our
discovery!_’

                ‘And doubtless ’mong the grave and good
                And gentle of their neighbourhood,
                _If known at all_, they were but known
                As strange, low people, low and bad,
                Madame herself to footmen prone,
                And her young _pauper_, all but mad.’

This is one way of reversing the judgment of posterity, and setting
aside the _ex-post-facto_ evidence of taste and genius. So, after ‘all
that’s come and gone yet,’—after the anxious doubts and misgivings of
his mind as to his own destiny—after all the pains he took to form
himself in solitude and obscurity—after the slow dawn of his faculties,
and their final explosion, that like an eruption of another Vesuvius,
dazzling all men with its light, and leaving the burning lava behind it,
shook public opinion, and overturned a kingdom—after having been ‘the
gaze and shew of the time’—after having been read by all classes,
criticised, condemned, admired in every corner of Europe—after
bequeathing a name that at the end of half a century is never repeated
but with emotion as another name for genius and misfortune—after having
given us an interest in his feelings as in our own, and drawn the veil
of lofty imagination or of pensive regret over all that relates to his
own being, so that we go a pilgrimage to the places where he lived, and
recall the names he loved with tender affection (worshipping at the
shrines where his fires were first kindled, and where the purple light
of love still lingers—‘Elysian beauty, melancholy grace!’)—after all
this, and more, instead of taking the opinion which one half of the
world have formed of Rousseau with eager emulation, and the other have
been forced to admit in spite of themselves, we are to be sent back by
Mr. Moore’s eaves-dropping Muse to what the people in the neighbourhood
thought of him (_if_ ever they thought of him at all) before he had
shewn any one proof of what he was, as the fairer test of truth and
candour, and as coming nearer to the standard of greatness, that is, of
_something asked to dine out_, existing in the author’s own mind.

               ‘This, this is the unkindest cut of all.’

Mr. Moore takes the inference which he chuses to attribute to the
neighbouring gentry concerning ‘the pauper lad,’ namely, that ‘he was
mad’ because he was poor, and flings it to the passengers out of a
landau and four as the true version of his character by the fashionable
and local authorities of the time. He need not have gone out of his way
to Charmettes merely to drag the reputations of Jean Jacques and his
mistress after him, chained to the car of aristocracy, as ‘people low
and bad,’ on the strength of his enervated sympathy with the genteel
conjectures of the day as to what and who they were—we have better and
more authentic evidence. What would he say if this method of
neutralising the voice of the public were applied to himself, or to his
friend Mr. Chantry; if we were to deny that the one ever rode in an open
carriage _tête-à-tête_ with a lord, because his father stood behind a
counter, or were to ask the sculptor’s customers when he drove a
milk-cart what we are to think of his bust of Sir Walter? _It will never
do._ It is the peculiar hardship of genius not to be recognised with the
first breath it draws—often not to be admitted even during its
life-time—to make its way slow and late, through good report and evil
report, ‘through clouds of detraction, of envy and lies’—to have to
contend with the injustice of fortune, with the prejudices of the world,

            ‘Rash judgments and the sneers of selfish men’—

to be shamed by personal defects, to pine in obscurity, to be the butt
of pride, the jest of fools, the bye-word of ignorance and malice—to
carry on a ceaseless warfare between the consciousness of inward worth
and the slights and neglect of others, and to hope only for its reward
in the grave and in the undying voice of fame:—and when, as in the
present instance, that end has been marvellously attained and a final
sentence has been passed, would any one but Mr. Moore wish to shrink
from it, to revive the injustice of fortune and the world, and to abide
by the idle conjectures of a fashionable _cotêrie_ empannelled on the
spot, who would come to the same shallow conclusion whether the
individual in question were an idiot or a God? There is a degree of
gratuitous impertinence and frivolous servility in all this not easily
to be accounted for or forgiven.

There is something more particularly offensive in the cant about ‘people
low and bad’ applied to the intimacy between Rousseau and Madame Warens,
inasmuch as the volume containing this nice strain of morality is
dedicated to Lord Byron, who was at that very time living on the very
same sentimental terms with an Italian lady of rank, and whose MEMOIRS
Mr. Moore has since thought himself called upon to suppress, out of
regard to his Lordship’s character and to that of his friends, _most_ of
whom were not ‘low people.’ Is it quality, not charity, that with Mr.
Moore covers all sorts of slips!

            ‘But ’tis the fall degrades her to a whore;
            Let Greatness own her, and she’s mean no more!’

What also makes the _dead-set_ at the heroine of the ‘Confessions’ seem
the harder measure, is, that it is preceded by an effusion to Mary
Magdalen in the devotional style of Madame Guyon, half amatory, half
pious, but so tender and rapturous that it dissolves Canova’s marble in
tears, and heaves a sigh from Guido’s canvas. The melting pathos that
trickles down one page is frozen up into the most rigid morality, and
hangs like an icicle upon the next. Here Thomas Little smiles and weeps
in ecstacy; there Thomas Brown (not ‘the younger,’ but the elder surely)
frowns disapprobation, and meditates dislike. Why, it may be asked, does
Mr. Moore’s insect-Muse always hover round this alluring subject, ‘now
in glimmer and now in gloom’—now basking in the warmth, now writhing
with the smart—now licking his lips at it, now making wry faces—but
always fidgetting and fluttering about the same gaudy, luscious topic,
either in flimsy raptures or trumpery horrors? I hate, for my own part,
this alternation of meretricious rhapsodies and methodistical cant,
though the one generally ends in the other. One would imagine that the
author of ‘Rhymes on the Road’ had lived too much in the world, and
understood the tone of good society too well to link the phrases ‘people
_low_ and _bad_’ together as synonymous. But the crossing the Alps has,
I believe, given some of our fashionables a shivering-fit of morality,
as the sight of Mont Blanc convinced our author of the Being of a
God[67]—they are seized with an amiable horror and remorse for the vices
of others (of course so much worse than their own,) so that several of
our _blue-stockings_ have got the _blue-devils_, and Mr. Moore, as the
Squire of Dames, chimes in with the cue that is given him. The panic,
however, is not universal. He must have heard of the romping, the
languishing, the masquerading, the intriguing, and the Platonic
attachments of English ladies of the highest quality and Italian
Opera-singers. He must know what Italian manners are—what they were a
hundred years ago, at Florence or at Turin,[68] better than I can tell
him. Not a word does he hint on the subject. No: the elevation and
splendour of the examples dazzle him; the extent of the evil overpowers
him; and he chooses to make Madame Warens the scape-goat of his little
budget of querulous casuistry, as if her errors and irregularities were
to be set down to the account of the genius of Rousseau and of modern
philosophy, instead of being the result of the example of the privileged
class to which she belonged, and of the licentiousness of the age and
country in which she lived. She appears to have been a handsome,
well-bred, fascinating, condescending _demirep_ of that day, like any of
the author’s fashionable acquaintances in the present, but the eloquence
of her youthful _protegè_ has embalmed her memory, and thrown the
illusion of fancied perfections and of hallowed regrets over her
frailties; and it is this that Mr. Moore cannot excuse, and that draws
down upon her his pointed hostility of attack, and rouses all the venom
of his moral indignation. Why does he not, in like manner, pick a
quarrel with that celebrated monument in the _Pere la Chaise_, brought
there

           ‘From Paraclete’s white walls and silver springs;’

or why does he not leave a lampoon, instead of an elegy, on Laura’s
tomb? The reason is, he _dare_ not. The cant of morality is not here
strong enough to stem the opposing current of the cant of sentiment, to
which he by turns commits the success of his votive rhymes.

Not content with stripping off the false colours from the frail fair
(one of whose crimes it is not to have been young) the poet makes a
‘swan-like end,’ and falls foul of men of genius, fancy, and sentiment
in general, as impostors and mountebanks, who feel the least themselves
of what they describe and make others feel. I beg leave to enter my flat
and peremptory protest against this view of the matter, as an
impossibility. I am not absolutely blind to the weak sides of authors,
poets, and philosophers (for ‘’tis my vice to spy into abuses’) but that
they are not generally in earnest in what they write, that they are not
the dupes of their own imaginations and feelings, before they turn the
heads of the world at large, is what I must utterly deny. So far from
the likelihood of any such antipathy between their sentiments and their
professions, from their being recreants to truth and nature, quite
callous and insensible to what they make such a rout about, it is pretty
certain that whatever they make others feel in any marked degree, they
must themselves feel first; and further, they must have this feeling all
their lives. It is not a fashion got up and put on for the occasion; it
is the very condition and ground-work of their being. What the reader is
and feels at the instant, _that_ the author is and feels at all other
times. It is stamped upon him at his birth; it only quits him when he
dies. His existence is intellectual, _ideal_: it is hard to say he takes
no interest in what he is. His passion is beauty; his pursuit is truth.
On whomsoever else these may sit light, to whomever else they may appear
indifferent, whoever else may play at fast-and-loose with them, may
laugh at or despise them, may take them up or lay them down as it suits
their convenience or pleasure, it is not so with him. He cannot shake
them off, or play the hypocrite or renegado, if he would. ‘Can the
Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?’ They are become a
habit, a second nature to him. He is _totus in illis_: he has no other
alternative or resource, and cannot do without them. The man of fashion
may resolve to study as a condescension, the man of business as a
relaxation, the idler to employ his time. But the poet is ‘married to
immortal verse,’ the philosopher to lasting truth. Whatever the reader
thinks fine in books (and Mr. Moore acknowledges that fine and rare
things are to be found there) assuredly existed before in the living
volume of the author’s brain: that which is a passing and casual
impression in the one case, a floating image, an empty sound, is in the
other an heirloom of the mind, the very form into which it is warped and
moulded, a deep and inward harmony that flows on for ever, as the
springs of memory and imagination unlock their secret stores. ‘Thoughts
that glow, and words that burn,’ are his daily sustenance. He leads a
spiritual life, and walks with God. The personal is, as much as may be,
lost in the universal. He is Nature’s high-priest, and his mind is a
temple where she treasures up her fairest and loftiest forms. These he
broods over, till he becomes enamoured of them, inspired by them, and
communicates some portion of his ethereal fires to others. For these he
has given up every thing, wealth, pleasure, ease, health; and yet we are
to be told he takes no interest in them, does not enter into the meaning
of the words he uses, or feel the force of the ideas he imprints upon
the brain of others. _Let us give the Devil his due._ An author, I
grant, may be deficient in dress or address, may neglect his person and
his fortune—

                          ‘But his soul is fair,
              Bright as the children of yon azure sheen;’

he may be full of inconsistencies elsewhere, but he is himself in his
books: he may be ignorant of the world we live in, but that he is not at
home and enchanted with that fairy-world which hangs upon his pen, that
he does not reign and revel in the creations of his own fancy, or tread
with awe and delight the stately domes and empyrean palaces of eternal
truth, the portals of which he opens to us, is what I cannot take Mr.
Moore’s word for. He does not ‘give us reason with his rhyme.’ An
author’s appearance or his actions may not square with his theories or
his descriptions, but his mind is seen in his writings, as his face is
in the glass. All the faults of the literary character, in short, arise
out of the predominance of the professional _mania_ of such persons, and
their absorption in those _ideal_ studies and pursuits, their affected
regard to which the poet tells us is a mere mockery, and a bare-faced
insult to people of plain, strait-forward, practical sense and unadorned
pretensions, like himself. Once more, I cannot believe it. I think that
Milton did not dictate ‘Paradise Lost’ _by rote_ (as a mouthing player
repeats his part) that Shakespear worked himself up with a certain
warmth to express the passion in Othello, that Sterne had some affection
for My Uncle Toby, Rousseau a _hankering_ after his dear Charmettes,
that Sir Isaac Newton really forgot his dinner in his fondness for
fluxions, and that Mr. Locke prosed in sober sadness about the
malleability of gold. Farther, I have no doubt that Mr. Moore himself is
not an exception to this theory—that he has infinite satisfaction in
those tinkling rhymes and those glittering conceits with which the world
are so taken, and that he had very much the same sense of mawkish
sentiment and flimsy reasoning in inditing the stanzas in question that
many of his admirers must have experienced in reading them!—In turning
to the ‘Castle of Indolence’ for the lines quoted a little way back, I
chanced to light upon another passage which I cannot help transcribing:

            ‘I care not, Fortune, what you me deny:
            You cannot rob me of free Nature’s grace;
            You cannot shut the windows of the sky,
            Through which Aurora shews her brightening face;
            You cannot bar my constant feet to trace
            The woods and lawns by living stream at eve:
            Let health my nerves and finer fibres brace,
            And I their toys to the great children leave:
            Of fancy, reason, virtue nought can me bereave.’

Were the sentiments here so beautifully expressed mere affectation in
Thomson; or are we to make it a rule that as a writer imparts to us a
sensation of disinterested delight, he himself has none of the feeling
he excites in us? This is one way of shewing our gratitude, and being
even with him. But perhaps Thomson’s works may not come under the
intention of Mr. Moore’s strictures, as they were never (like
Rousseau’s) excluded from the libraries of English Noblemen!

         ‘Books, dreams are each a world, and books, we know,
         Are a substantial world, both pure and good;
         Round which, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
         Our pastime and our happiness may grow.’

Let me then conjure the gentle reader, who has ever felt an attachment
to books, not hastily to divorce them from their authors. Whatever love
or reverence may be due to the one, is equally owing to the other. The
volume we prize may be little, old, shabbily bound, an imperfect copy,
does not step down from the shelf to give us a graceful welcome, nor can
it extend a hand to serve us in extremity, and so far may be like the
author: but whatever there is of truth or good or of proud consolation
or of cheering hope in the one, all this existed in a greater degree in
the imagination and the heart and brain of the other. To cherish the
work and _damn_ the author is as if the traveller who slakes his thirst
at the running stream, should revile the spring-head from which it
gushes. I do not speak of the degree of passion felt by Rousseau towards
Madame Warens, nor of his treatment of her, nor her’s of him: but that
he thought of her for years with the tenderest yearnings of affection
and regret, and felt towards her all that he has made his readers feel,
this I cannot for a moment doubt.[69] So far, then, he is no impostor or
juggler. Still less could he have given a new and personal character to
the literature of Europe, and changed the tone of sentiment and the face
of society, if he had not felt the strongest interest in persons and
things, or had been the heartless pretender he is sometimes held out to
us.

The tone of politics and of public opinion has undergone a considerable
and curious change, even in the few short years I can remember. In my
time, that is, in the early part of it, the love of liberty (at least by
all those whom I came near) was regarded as the dictate of common sense
and common honesty. It was not a question of depth or learning, but an
instinctive feeling, prompted by a certain generous warmth of blood in
every one worthy the name of Briton. A man would as soon avow himself to
be a pimp or a pick-pocket as a tool or a pander to corruption. This was
the natural and at the same time the national feeling. Patriotism was
not at variance with philanthropy. To take an interest in humanity, it
was only thought necessary to have the form of a man: to espouse its
cause, nothing was wanting but to be able to articulate the name. It was
not inquired what coat a man wore, where he was born or bred, what was
his party or his profession, to qualify him to vote on this broad and
vital question—to take his share in advancing it, was the undisputed
birth-right of every free-man. No one was too high or too low, no one
was too wise or too simple to join in the common cause. It would have
been construed into lukewarmness and cowardice not to have done so. The
voice as of one crying in the wilderness had gone forth—‘Peace on earth,
and good-will towards men!’ The dawn of a new era was at hand. Might was
no longer to lord it over right, opinion to march hand in hand with
falsehood. The heart swelled at the mention of a public as of a private
wrong—the brain teemed with projects for the benefit of mankind.
History, philosophy, all well-intentioned and well-informed men agreed
in the same conclusion. If a good was to be done, let it—if a truth was
to be told, let it! There could be no harm in that: it was only
necessary to distinguish right from wrong, truth from lies, to know to
which we should give the preference. A rose was then doubly sweet, the
notes of a thrush went to the heart, there was ‘a witchery in the soft
blue sky’ because we could feel and enjoy such things by the privilege
of our common nature, ‘not by the sufferance of supernal power,’ and
because the common feelings of our nature were not trampled upon and
sacrificed in scorn to shew and external magnificence. Humanity was no
longer to be crushed like a worm, as it had hitherto been—power was to
be struck at, wherever it reared its serpent crest. It had already
roamed too long unchecked. Kings and priests had played the game of
violence and fraud for thousands of years into each other’s hands, on
pretences that were now seen through, and were no farther feasible. The
despot’s crown appeared tarnished and blood-stained: the cowl of
superstition fell off, that had been so often made a cloak for tyranny.
The doctrine of the _Jus Divinum_ ‘squeaked and gibbered in our
streets,’ ashamed to shew its head: Holy Oil had lost its efficacy, and
was laughed at as an exploded mummery. Mr. Locke had long ago (in his
_Treatise of Government_, written at the express desire of King William)
settled the question as it affected our own Revolution (and naturally
every other) in favour of liberal principles as a part of the law of the
land and as identified with the existing succession. Blackstone and De
Lolme (the loudest panegyrists of the English Constitution) founded
their praise on the greater alloy of Liberty implied in it. Tyranny was
on the wane, at least in theory: public opinion might be said to rest on
an inclined plane, tending more and more from the heights of arbitrary
power and individual pretension to the level of public good; and no man
of common sense or reading would have had the face to object as a bar to
the march of truth and freedom—

              ‘The right divine of Kings to govern wrong!’

No one had then dared to answer the claim of a whole nation to the
choice of a free government with the impudent taunt, ‘Your King is at
hand!’ Mr. Burke had in vain sung his _requiem_ over the ‘age of
chivalry:’ Mr. Pitt mouthed out his speeches on the existence of social
order to no purpose: Mr. Malthus had not cut up Liberty by the roots by
passing ‘the grinding law of necessity’ over it, and entailing vice and
misery on all future generations as their happiest lot: Mr. Ricardo had
not pared down the schemes of visionary projectors and idle talkers into
the form of Rent: Mr. Southey had not surmounted his cap of Liberty with
the laurel wreath; nor Mr. Wordsworth proclaimed Carnage as ‘God’s
Daughter;’ nor Mr. Coleridge, to patch up a rotten cause, written the
FRIEND. Every thing had not then been done (or had, ‘like a devilish
engine, back recoiled upon itself’) to stop the progress of truth, to
stifle the voice of humanity, to break in pieces and defeat opinion by
sophistry, calumny, intimidation, by tampering with the interests of the
proud and selfish, the prejudices of the ignorant, the fears of the
timid, the scruples of the good, and by resorting to every subterfuge
which art could devise to perpetuate the abuses of power. Freedom then
stood erect, crowned with orient light, ‘with looks commercing with the
skies:’—since then, she has fallen by the sword and by slander, whose
edge is sharper than the sword; by her own headlong zeal or the watchful
malice of her foes, and through that one unrelenting purpose in the
hearts of Sovereigns to baffle, degrade, and destroy the People, whom
they had hitherto considered as their property, and whom they now saw
(oh! unheard-of presumption) setting up a claim to be free. This claim
has been once more set aside, annulled, overthrown, trampled upon with
every mark of insult and ignominy, in word or deed; and the consequence
has been that all those who had stood forward to advocate it have been
hurled into the air with it, scattered, stunned, and have never yet
recovered from their confusion and dismay. The shock was great, as it
was unexpected; the surprise extreme: Liberty became a sort of bye-word;
and such was the violence of party-spirit and the desire to retaliate
former indignities, that all those who had ever been attached to the
fallen cause seemed to have suffered contamination and to labour under a
stigma. The PARTY (both of Whigs and Reformers) were left completely in
the lurch; and (what may appear extraordinary at first sight) instead of
wishing to strengthen their cause, took every method to thin their ranks
and make the terms of admission to them more difficult. In proportion as
they were scouted by the rest of the world, they grew more captious,
irritable, and jealous of each other’s pretensions. The general obloquy
was so great that every one was willing to escape from it in the crowd,
or to curry favour with the victors by denouncing the excesses or
picking holes in the conduct of his neighbours. While the victims of
popular prejudice and ministerial persecution were eagerly sought for,
no one was ready to own that he was one of the set. Unpopularity ‘doth
part the flux of company.’ Each claimed an exception for himself or
party, was glad to have any loop-hole to hide himself from this ‘open
and apparent shame,’ and to shift the blame from his own shoulders, and
would by no means be mixed up with Jacobins and Levellers—the terms with
which their triumphant opponents qualified indiscriminately all those
who differed with them in any degree. Where the cause was so
disreputable, the company should be select. As the flood-gates of
Billingsgate abuse and courtly malice were let loose, each _coterie_
drew itself up in a narrower circle: the louder and more sweeping was
the storm of Tory spite without, the finer were the distinctions, the
more fastidious the precautions used within. The Whigs, completely cowed
by the Tories, threw all the odium on the Reformers; who in return with
equal magnanimity vented their stock of spleen and vituperative rage on
the Whigs. The common cause was forgot in each man’s anxiety for his own
safety and character. If any one, bolder than the rest, wanted to ward
off the blows that fell in showers, or to retaliate on the assailants,
he was held back or turned out as one who longed to bring an old house
about their ears. One object was to give as little offence as possible
to ‘the powers that be’—to lie by, to trim, to shuffle, to wait for
events, to be severe on our own errors, just to the merits of a
prosperous adversary, and not to throw away the scabbard or make
reconciliation hopeless. Just as all was hushed up, and the
‘chop-fallen’ Whigs were about to be sent for to Court, a great
cloutering blow from an incorrigible Jacobin might spoil all, and put
off the least chance of anything being done ‘for the good of the
country,’ till another reign or the next century. But the great thing
was to be genteel, and keep out the rabble. They that touch pitch are
defiled. ‘No connection with the mob,’ was labelled on the back of every
friend of the People. Every pitiful retainer of Opposition took care to
disclaim all affinity with such fellows as Hunt, Carlisle, or
Cobbett.[70] As it was the continual drift of the Ministerial writers to
confound the different _grades_ of their antagonists, so the chief dread
of the Minority was to be confounded with the populace, the _Canaille_,
&c. They would be thought neither _with_ the Government or _of_ the
People. They are an awkward mark to hit at. It is true they have no
superfluous popularity to throw away upon others, and they may be so far
right in being shy in the choice of their associates. They are critical
in examining volunteers into the service. It is necessary to ask leave
of a number of circumstances equally frivolous and vexatious, before you
can enlist in their skeleton-regiment. Thus you must have a good coat to
your back; for they have no uniform to give you. You must bring a
character in your pocket; for they have no respectability to lose. If
you have any scars to shew, you had best hide them, or procure a
certificate for your pacific behaviour from the opposite side, with whom
they wish to stand well, and not to be always wounding the feelings of
distinguished individuals. You must have vouchers that you were neither
born, bred, nor reside within the Bills of Mortality, or Mr. Theodore
Hook will cry ‘Cockney’! You must have studied at one or other of the
English Universities, or Mr. Croker will prove every third word to be a
_Bull_. If you are a patriot and a martyr to your principles, this is a
painful consideration, and must act as a draw-back to your pretensions,
which would have a more glossy and creditable appearance, if they had
never been tried. If you are a lord or a dangler after lords, it is
well: the glittering star hides the plebeian stains, the obedient smile
and habitual cringe of approbation are always welcome. A courtier abuses
courts with a better grace: for one who has held a place to rail at
place-men and pensioners shews candour and a disregard to self. There is
nothing low, vulgar, or disreputable in it!—I doubt whether this
_martinet_ discipline and spruceness of demeanour is favourable to the
popular side. The Tories are not so squeamish in their choice of tools.
If a writer comes up to a certain standard of dulness, impudence, and
want of principle, nothing more is expected. There is fat M——, lean J——,
black C——, flimsy H——, lame G——, and one-eyed M——. Do they not form an
impenetrable phalanx round the throne, and worthy of it! Who ever
thought of inquiring into the talents, qualifications, birth, or
breeding of a Government-scribbler? If the workman is fitted to the
work, they care not one straw what you or I say about him. This shews a
confidence in themselves, and is the way to assure others. The Whigs,
who do not feel their ground so well, make up for their want of strength
by a proportionable want of spirit. Their cause is ticklish, and they
support it by the least hazardous means. Any violent or desperate
measures on their part might recoil upon themselves.

               ‘When they censure the age,
               They are cautious and sage,
                 Lest the courtiers offended should be.’

Whilst they are pelted with the most scurrilous epithets and unsparing
abuse, they insist on language the most classical and polished in
return; and if any unfortunate devil lets an expression or allusion
escape that stings, or jars the tone of good company, he is given up
without remorse to the tender mercies of his foes for this infraction of
good manners and breach of treaty. The envy or cowardice of these
half-faced friends of liberty regularly sacrifices its warmest defenders
to the hatred of its enemies—mock-patriotism and effeminate self-love
ratifying the lists of proscription made out by servility and
intolerance. This is base, and contrary to all the rules of political
warfare. What! if the Tories give a man a bad name, must the Whigs hang
him? If a writer annoys the first, must he alarm the last? Or when they
find he has irritated his and their opponents beyond all forgiveness and
endurance, instead of concluding from the abuse heaped upon him that he
has ‘done the State some service,’ must they set him aside as an
improper person merely for the odium which he has incurred by his
efforts in the common cause, which, had they been of no effect, would
have left him still fit for their purposes of negative success and
harmless opposition? Their ambition seems to be to exist by sufferance;
to be safe in a sort of conventional insignificance; and in their dread
of exciting the notice or hostility of the lords of the earth, they are
like the man in the storm who silenced the appeal of his companion to
the Gods—‘Call not so loud, or they will hear us!’ One would think that
in all ordinary cases honesty to feel for a losing cause, capacity to
understand it, and courage to defend it, would be sufficient
introduction and recommendation to fight the battles of a party, and
serve at least in the ranks. But this of Whig Opposition is, it seems, a
peculiar case. There is more in it than meets the eye. The _corps_ may
one day be summoned to pass muster before Majesty, and in that case it
will be expected that they should be of _crack_ materials, without a
stain and without a flaw. Nothing can be too elegant, too immaculate and
refined for their imaginary return to office. They are in a pitiable
dilemma—having to reconcile the hopeless reversion of court-favour with
the most distant and delicate attempts at popularity. They are strangely
puzzled in the choice and management of their associates. Some of them
must undergo a thorough ventilation and perfuming, like poor Morgan,
before Captain Whiffle would suffer him to come into his presence.
Neither can any thing base and plebeian be supposed to ‘come betwixt the
wind and their nobility.’ As their designs are doubtful, their friends
must not be suspected: as their principles are popular, their
pretensions must be proportionably aristocratic. The reputation of
Whiggism, like that of women, is a delicate thing, and will bear neither
to be blown upon or handled. It has an ill odour, which requires the aid
of fashionable essences and court-powders to carry it off. It labours
under the frown of the Sovereign: and swoons at the shout and pressure
of the People. Even in its present forlorn and abject state, it relapses
into convulsions if any low fellow offers to lend it a helping hand:
those who would have their overtures of service accepted must be
bedizened and sparkling all over with titles, wealth, place,
connections, fashion (in lieu of zeal and talent), as a set-off to the
imputation of low designs and radical origin; for there is nothing that
the patrons of the People dread so much as being identified with them,
and of all things the patriotic party abhor (even in their dreams) a
_misalliance_ with the rabble!

Why must I mention the instances, in order to make the foregoing
statement intelligible or credible? I would not, but that I and others
have suffered by the weakness here pointed out; and I think the cause
must ultimately suffer by it, unless some antidote be applied by reason
or ridicule. Let one example serve for all. At the time that Lord Byron
thought proper to join with Mr. Leigh Hunt and Mr. Shelley in the
publication called the LIBERAL, Blackwood’s Magazine overflowed, as
might be expected, with tenfold gall and bitterness; the John Bull was
outrageous; and Mr. Jerdan black in the face at this unheard-of and
disgraceful union. But who would have supposed that Mr. Thomas Moore and
Mr. Hobhouse, those staunch friends and partisans of the people, should
also be thrown into almost hysterical agonies of well-bred horror at the
coalition between their noble and ignoble acquaintance, between the
Patrician and ‘the Newspaper-Man?’ Mr. Moore darted backwards and
forwards from Cold-Bath-Fields’ Prison to the Examiner-Officer, from Mr.
Longman’s to Mr. Murray’s shop, in a state of ridiculous trepidation, to
see what was to be done to prevent this degradation of the aristocracy
of letters, this indecent encroachment of plebeian pretensions, this
undue extension of patronage and compromise of privilege. The Tories
were shocked that Lord Byron should grace the popular side by his direct
countenance and assistance—the Whigs were shocked that he should share
his confidence and counsels with any one who did not unite the double
recommendations of birth and genius—but themselves! Mr. Moore had lived
so long among the Great that he fancied himself one of them, and
regarded the indignity as done to himself. Mr. Hobhouse had lately been
black-balled by the Clubs, and must feel particularly sore and tenacious
on the score of public opinion. Mr. Shelley’s father, however, was an
older Baronet than Mr. Hobhouse’s—Mr. Leigh Hunt was ‘to the full as
genteel a man’ as Mr. Moore in birth, appearance, and education—the
pursuits of all four were the same, the Muse, the public favour, and the
public good! Mr. Moore was himself invited to assist in the undertaking,
but he professed an utter aversion to, and warned Lord Byron against
having any concern with, _joint-publications_, as of a very neutralizing
and levelling description. He might speak from experience. He had tried
his hand in that Ulysses’ bow of critics and politicians, the Edinburgh
Review, though his secret had never transpired. Mr. Hobhouse too had
written Illustrations of Childe Harold (a sort of partnership
concern)—yet to quash the publication of the LIBERAL, he seriously
proposed that his Noble Friend should write once a week _in his own
name_ in the Examiner—the Liberal scheme, he was afraid, might succeed:
the Newspaper one, he knew, could not. I have been whispered that the
Member for Westminster (for whom I once gave an ineffectual vote) has
also conceived some distaste for me—I do not know why, except that I was
at one time named as the writer of the famous _Trecenti Juravimus_
Letter to Mr. Canning, which appeared in the Examiner and was afterwards
suppressed. He might feel the disgrace of such a supposition: I confess
I did not feel the honour. The