The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies., by Anna Jameson This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org/license Title: A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies. 2nd ed. Author: Anna Jameson Release Date: May 12, 2012 [EBook #39680] Language: English Character set encoding: UTF-8 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A COMMONPLACE BOOK *** Produced by Julia Miller, Turgut Dincer and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries)
I must be allowed to say a few words in explanation of the contents of this little volume, which is truly what its name sets forth—a book of common-places, and nothing more. If I have never, in any work I have ventured to place before the public, aspired to teach, (being myself a learner in all things,) at least I have hitherto done my best to deserve the indulgence I have met with; and it would pain me if it could be supposed that such indulgence had rendered me presumptuous or careless.
For many years I have been accustomed to make a memorandum of any thought which might come across me—(if pen and paper were at hand), and to mark (and remark) any passage in a book which excited either a sympathetic or an antagonistic feeling. This collection of notes accumulated insensibly from day to day. The volumes on Shakspeare’s Women, on Sacred and Legendary Art, and various other productions, sprung from seed thus lightly and casually sown, which, I hardly know how, grew up and expanded into a regular, readable form, withvi a beginning, a middle, and an end. But what was to be done with the fragments which remained—without beginning, and without end—links of a hidden or a broken chain? Whether to preserve them or destroy them became a question, and one I could not answer for myself. In allowing a portion of them to go forth to the world in their original form, as unconnected fragments, I have been guided by the wishes of others, who deemed it not wholly uninteresting or profitless to trace the path, sometimes devious enough, of an “inquiring spirit,” even by the little pebbles dropped as vestiges by the way side.
A book so supremely egotistical and subjective can do good only in one way. It may, like conversation with a friend, open up sources of sympathy and reflection; excite to argument, agreement, or disagreement; and, like every spontaneous utterance of thought out of an earnest mind, suggest far higher and better thoughts than any to be found here to higher and more productive minds. If I had not the humble hope of such a possible result, instead of sending these memoranda to the printer, I should have thrown them into the fire; for I lack that creative faculty which can work up the teachings of heart-sorrow and world-experience into attractive forms of fiction or of art; and having no intention of leaving any such memorials to be published after my death, they must have gone into the fire as the only alternative left.
The passages from books are not, strictly speaking, selected; they are not given here on any principle of choice, but simply because that by some process of assimilation they became a part of the individual mind. They “found me,”—to borrow Coleridge’s expression,—“found me in some depth of my being;” I did not “find them.”
For the rest, all those passages which are marked by inverted commas must be regarded as borrowed, though I have not always been able to give my authority. All passages not so marked are, I dare not say, original or new, but at least the unstudied expression of a free discursive mind. Fruits, not advisedly plucked, but which the variable winds have shaken from the tree: some ripe, some “harsh and crude.”
Wordsworth’s famous poem of “The Happy Warrior” (of which a new application will be found at page 87.), is supposed by Mr. De Quincey to have been first suggested by the character of Nelson. It has since been applied to Sir Charles Napier (the Indian General), as well as to the Duke of Wellington; all which serves to illustrate my position, that the lines in question are equally applicable to any man or any woman whose moral standard is irrespective of selfishness and expediency.
With regard to the fragment on Sculpture, it may be necessary to state that it was written in 1848. The first three paragraphs were inserted in the Art Journal for April, 1849. It was intended to enlarge the whole into a comprehensive essay on “Subjects fitted for Artistic Treatment;” but this being now impossible, the fragment is given as originally written; others may think it out, and apply it better than I shall live to do.
|Truths and Truisms||3|
|Beauty and Use||5|
|What is Soul?||7|
|The Philosophy of Happiness||9|
|Cheerfulness a Virtue||10|
|Intellect and Sympathy||11|
|The Point of Honour||13|
|Thought and Theory||15|
|Impulse and Consideration||16|
|Principle and Expediency||16|
|Personality of the Evil Principle||17|
|The Catholic Spirit||18|
|x Thoughts on a Sermon||20|
|Love and Fear of God||22|
|Landor’s Wise Sayings||26|
|Justice and Generosity||27|
|Roman Catholic Converts||28|
|Stealing and Borrowing||28|
|Good and Bad||29|
|Italian Proverb. Greek Saying||30|
|Past and Futur||32|
|Progress and Progression||34|
|Happiness in Suffering||35|
|Life in the Future||36|
|The Secret of Peace||41|
|Motives and Impulses||42|
|Principle and Passion||43|
|Absence and Death||45|
|Sydney Smith. Theodore Hook||46|
|Werther and Childe Harold||50|
|Compensation for Sorrow||57|
|Value of Words||62|
|Nature and Art||64|
|Spirit and Form||67|
|Penal Retribution. The Church||68|
|Application of a Bon Mot of Talleyrand||73|
|Conflict in Love||76|
|Practical and Contemplative Life||78|
|Joanna Baillie. Macaulay’s Ballads||80|
|Men, Women, and Children||84|
|Madame de Staël. Dejà||103|
|Thought too free||105|
|Good Qualities, not Virtues||106|
|Sense and Phantasy||107|
|Use the Present||108|
|Pestilence of Falsehood||112|
|Signs instead of Words. Relations with the World||113|
|Milton’s Adam and Eve||115|
|A Revelation of Childhood||117|
|The Indian Hunter and the Fire; an Allegory||147|
|The Hermit and the Minstrel||155|
|Southey on the Religious Orders||162|
|Forms in Religion—Image Worship||164|
|Notes from various Sermons:—|
|A Roman Catholic Sermon||172|
|Church of England Sermon||178|
|Father Taylor of Boston||188|
|Notes from Books:—|
|Hazlitt’s “Liber Amoris”||263|
|Francis Horner, “The Nightingale”||267|
|Thackeray’s “English Humourists”||271|
|Notes on Art:—|
|xiii Definition of Art||279|
|No Patriotic Art||280|
|Verse and Colour||280|
|Morals in Art||283|
|Physiognomy of Hands||288|
|Mozart and Chopin||289|
|Rachel, the Actress||294|
|English and German Actresses||298|
|Character of Imogen||303|
|The Artistic Nature||307|
|The Greek Aphrodite||311|
|Love, in the Greek Tragedy||312|
|Wilkie’s Life and Letters||313|
|Materialism in Art||323|
|A Fragment on Sculpture, and on certain Characters in History and Poetry, considered as Subjects for Modern Art||326|
|Helen of Troy||332|
|xiv Hagar—Rebecca—Rachel—Queen of Sheba||356|
|Joan of Arc||359|
|Characters from Shakspeare||364|
|Characters from Spenser||366|
|From Milton. The Lady—Comus—Satan||367|
|From the Italian and Modern Poets||370|
|1.||Fruits and Flowers. After an old drawing.|
|2.||Out of my garden.|
|3.||Virgin Martyrs. Thought. Memory. Fancy. After Benedetto|
|4.||La Penserosa. After Ambrogio Lorenzette.|
|5.||La Fille du Feu. From a sketch by Von Schwind.|
|6.||Laus Dei. Angel after Hans Hemmeling.|
|7.||Eve and Cain. After Steinle.|
|8.||Study. After an old print.|
|9.||The Parcæ. From a sketch by Carstens.|
|10.||Antique Owlet. In Goethe’s collection at Weimar.|
|***||The woodcuts are inserted to divide the paragraphs and subjects, and are ornamental rather than illustrative. Where the same vignette heads several paragraphs consecutively, it is to signify that the ideas expressed stand in relation to each other.|
Bacon says, how wisely! that “there is often as great vanity in withdrawing and retiring men’s conceits from the world, as in obtruding them.” Extreme vanity sometimes hides under the garb of ultra modesty. When I see people haunted by the idea of self,—spreading their hands before their faces lest they meet the reflection of it in every other face, as if the world were to them like a2 French drawing-room, panelled with looking glass,—always fussily putting their obtrusive self behind them, or dragging over it a scanty drapery of consciousness, miscalled modesty,—always on their defence against compliments, or mistaking sympathy for compliment, which is as great an error, and a more vulgar one than mistaking flattery for sympathy,—when I see all this, as I have seen it, I am inclined to attribute it to the immaturity of the character, or to what is worse, a total want of simplicity. To some characters fame is like an intoxicating cup placed to the lips,—they do well to turn away from it, who fear it will turn their heads. But to others, fame is “love disguised,” the love that answers to love, in its widest most exalted sense. It seems to me, that we should all bring the best that is in us (according to the diversity of gifts which God has given us), and lay it a reverend offering on the altar of humanity,—if not to burn and enlighten, at least to rise in incense to heaven. So will the pure in heart, and the unselfish do; and they will not heed if those who can bring nothing or will bring nothing, unless they can blaze like a beacon, call out “VANITY!”
There are truths which, by perpetual repetition, have subsided into passive truisms, till, in some moment of feeling or experience, they kindle into conviction, start to life and light, and the truism becomes again a vital truth.
It It is well that we obtain what we require at the cheapest possible rate; yet those who cheapen goods, or beat down the price of a good article, or buy in preference to what is good and genuine of its kind an inferior article at an inferior price, sometimes do much mischief. Not only do they discourage the production of a better article, but if they be anxious about the education of the lower classes they undo with one hand what they do with the other; they encourage the mere mechanic and the production of what may be produced without effort of mind and without education, and they discourage and wrong the skilled workman for whom education has done much more and whose education has cost much more.
Every work so merely and basely mechanical, that a man can throw into it no part of his own life 4 and soul, does, in the long run, degrade the human being. It is only by giving him some kind of mental and moral interest in the labour of his hands, making it an exercise of his understanding, and an object of his sympathy, that we can really elevate the workman; and this is not the case with very cheap production of any kind. (Southampton, Dec. 1849.)
Since this was written the same idea has been carried out, with far more eloquent reasoning, in a noble passage which I have just found in Mr. Ruskin’s last volume of “The Stones of Venice” (the Sea Stories). As I do not always subscribe to his theories of Art, I am the more delighted with this anticipation of a moral agreement between us.
“We have much studied and much perfected of late, the great civilised invention of the division of labour, only we give it a false name. It is not, truly speaking, the labour that is divided, but the men:—divided into mere segments of men,—broken into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in a man is not enough to make a pin or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin or the head of a nail. Now, it is a good and desirable thing truly to make many pins in a day, but if we could only see with what crystal sand their points are polished—sand of human soul, much to be magnified before it can be 5 discerned for what it is,—we should think there might be some loss in it also; and the great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder than their furnace-blast, is all in very deed for this,—that we manufacture everything there except men,—we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages; and all the evil to which that cry is urging our myriads, can be met only in one way,—not by teaching nor preaching; for to teach them is but to show them their misery; and to preach to them—if we do nothing more than preach,—is to mock at it. It can be met only by a right understanding on the part of all classes, of what kinds of labour are good for men, raising them and making them happy; by a determined sacrifice of such convenience, or beauty or cheapness, as is to be got only by the degradation of the workman, and by equally determined demand for the products and results of a healthy and ennobling labour.” ...
“We are always in these days trying to separate the two (intellect and work). We want one man to be always thinking, and another to be always working; and we call one a gentleman and the other an operative; whereas, the workman ought to be often thinking, and the thinker often working, 6 and both should be gentlemen in the best sense. It is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy; and the two cannot be separated with impunity.”
Wordsworth, however, had said the same thing before either of us:
“Our life is turn’d Out of her course wherever man is made An offering or a sacrifice,—a tool Or implement,—a passive thing employed As a brute mean, without acknowledgment Of common right or interest in the end, Used or abused as selfishness may prompt. Say what can follow for a rational soul Perverted thus, but weakness in all good And strength in evil?”
And this leads us to the consideration of another mistake, analogous with the above, but referable in its results chiefly to the higher, or what Mr. Ruskin calls the thinking, classes of the community.
It is not good for us to have all that we value of worldly material things in the form of money. It is the most vulgar form in which value can be invested. Not only books, pictures, and all beautiful things are better; but even jewels and trinkets are7 sometimes to be preferred to mere hard money. Lands and tenements are good, as involving duties; but still what is valuable in the market sense should sometimes take the ideal and the beautiful form, and be dear and lovely and valuable for its own sake as well as for its convertible worth in hard gold. I think the character would be apt to deteriorate when all its material possessions take the form of money, and when money becomes valuable for its own sake, or as the mere instrument or representative of power.
We are told in a late account of Laura Bridgeman, the blind, deaf, and dumb girl, that her instructor once endeavoured to explain the difference between the material and the immaterial, and used the word “soul.” She interrupted to ask, “What is soul?”
“That which thinks, feels, hopes, loves,——”
“And aches?” she added eagerly.8
I was reading to-day in the Notes to Boswell’s Life of Johnson that “it is a theory which every one knows to be false in fact, that virtue in real life is always productive of happiness, and vice of misery.” I should say that all my experience teaches me that the position is not false but true: that virtue does produce happiness, and vice does produce misery. But let us settle the meaning of the words. By happiness, we do not necessarily mean a state of worldly prosperity. By virtue, we do not mean a series of good actions which may or may not be rewarded, and, if done for reward, lose the essence of virtue. Virtue, according to my idea, is the habitual sense of right, and the habitual courage to act up to that sense of right, combined with benevolent sympathies, the charity which thinketh no evil. This union of the highest conscience and the highest sympathy fulfils my notion of virtue. Strength is essential to it; weakness incompatible with it. Where virtue is, the noblest faculties and the softest feelings are predominant; the whole being is in that state of harmony which I call happiness. Pain may reach it, passion may disturb it, but there is always a glimpse 9 of blue sky above our head; as we ascend in dignity of being, we ascend in happiness, which is, in my sense of the word, the feeling which connects us with the infinite and with God.
And vice is necessarily misery: for that fluctuation of principle, that diseased craving for excitement, that weakness out of which springs falsehood, that suspicion of others, that discord with ourselves, with the absence of the benevolent propensities,—these constitute misery as a state of being. The most miserable person I ever met with in my life had 12,000l. a year; a cunning mind, dexterous to compass its own ends; very little conscience, not enough, one would have thought, to vex with any retributive pang; but it was the absence of goodness that made the misery, obvious and hourly increasing. The perpetual kicking against the pricks, the unreasonable exigéance with regard to things, without any high standard with regard to persons,—these made the misery. I can speak of it as misery who had it daily in my sight for five long years.
I have had arguments, if it be not presumption to call them so, with Carlyle on this point. It appeared to me that he confounded happiness with pleasure, with self-indulgence. He set aside with a towering scorn the idea of living for the sake of happiness, so called: he styled this philosophy of happiness, “the philosophy of the frying-pan.” But this was like 10 the reasoning of a child, whose idea of happiness is plenty of sugar-plums. Pleasure, pleasurable sensation, is, as the world goes, something to thank God for. I should be one of the last to undervalue it; I hope I am one of the last to live for it; and pain is pain, a great evil, which I do not like either to inflict or suffer. But happiness lies beyond either pain or pleasure—is as sublime a thing as virtue itself, indivisible from it; and under this point of view it seems a perilous mistake to separate them.
Dante places in his lowest Hell those who in life were melancholy and repining without a cause, thus profaning and darkening God’s blessed sunshine—Tristi fummo nel’ aer dolce; and in some of the ancient Christian systems of virtues and vices, Melancholy is unholy, and a vice; Cheerfulness is holy, and a virtue.
Lord Bacon also makes one of the characteristics of moral health and goodness to consist in “a constant quick sense of felicity, and a noble satisfaction.”
What moments, hours, days of exquisite felicity must Christ, our Redeemer, have had, though it has 11 become too customary to place him before us only in the attitude of pain and sorrow! Why should he be always crowned with thorns, bleeding with wounds, weeping over the world he was appointed to heal, to save, to reconcile with God? The radiant head of Christ in Raphael’s Transfiguration should rather be our ideal of Him who came “to bind up the broken-hearted, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
A profound intellect is weakened and narrowed in general power and influence by a limited range of sympathies. I think this is especially true of C——: excellent, honest, gifted as he is, he does not do half the good he might do, because his sympathies are so confined. And then he wants gentleness: he does not seem to acknowledge that “the wisdom that is from above is gentle.” He is a man who carries his bright intellect as a light in a dark-lantern; he sees only the objects on which he chooses to throw that blaze of light: those he sees vividly, but, as it were, exclusively. All other things, though lying near,12 are dark, because perversely he will not throw the light of his mind upon them.
Wilhelm von humboldt says, “Old letters lose their vitality.”
Not true. It is because they retain their vitality that it is so dangerous to keep some letters,—so wicked to burn others.
A man thinks himself, and is thought by others to be insulted when another man gives him the lie. It is an offence to be retracted at once, or only to be effaced in blood. To give a woman the lie is not considered in the same unpardonable light by herself or others,—is indeed a slight thing. Now, whence13 this difference? Is not truth as dear to a woman as to a man? Is the virtue itself, or the reputation of it, less necessary to the woman than to the man? If not, what causes this distinction,—one so injurious to the morals of both sexes?
It is good for us to look up, morally and mentally. If I were tired I would get some help to hold my head up, as Moses got some one to hold up his arms while he prayed.
“Ce qui est moins que moi m’éteint et m’assomme; ce qui est à côté de moi m’ennuie et me fatigue. II n’y a que ce qui est au-dessus de moi qui me soutienne et m’arrache à moi-même.”
There is an order of writers who, with characters perverted or hardened through long practice of14 iniquity, yet possess an inherent divine sense of the good and the beautiful, and a passion for setting it forth, so that men’s hearts glow with the tenderness and the elevation which live not in the heart of the writer,—only in his head.
And there is another class of writers who are excellent in the social relations of life, and kindly and true in heart, yet who, intellectually, have a perverted pleasure in the ridiculous and distorted, the cunning, the crooked, the vicious,—who are never weary of holding up before us finished representations of folly and rascality.
Now, which is the worst of these? the former, who do mischief by making us mistrust the good? or the latter, who degrade us by making us familiar with evil?
“Thought and theory,” said Wordsworth, “must precede all action that moves to salutary purposes. Yet action is nobler in itself than either thought or theory.”
Yes, and no. What we act has its consequences on earth. What we think, its consequences in heaven. It is not without reason that action should be preferred before barren thought; but all action which in its result is worth any thing, must result from thought. So the old rhymester hath it:
“He that good thinketh good may do, And God will help him there unto; For was never good work wrought, Without beginning of good thought.”
The result of impulse is the positive; the result of consideration the negative. The positive is essentially and abstractedly better than the negative, though relatively to facts and circumstances it may not be the most expedient.
On my observing how often I had had reason to regret not having followed the first impulse, O. G. said, “In good minds the first impulses are generally right and true, and, when altered or relinquished from regard to expediency arising out of complicated relations, I always feel sorry, for they remain right. Our first impulses always lean to the positive, our second thoughts to the negative; and I have no respect for the negative,—it is the vulgar side of every thing.”
On the other hand, it must be conceded, that one who stands endowed with great power and with great responsibilities in the midst of a thousand duties and 16 interests, can no longer take things in this simple fashion; for the good first impulse, in its flow, meets, perhaps, some rock, and splits upon it; it recoils on the heart, and becomes abortive. Or the impulse to do good here becomes injury there, and we are forced to calculate results; we cannot trust to them.
I have not sought to deduce my principles from conventional notions of expediency, but have believed that out of the steady adherence to certain fixed principles, the right and the expedient must ensue, and I believe it still. The moment one begins to solder right and wrong together, one’s conscience becomes like a piece of plated goods.
It requires merely passive courage and strength to resist, and in some cases to overcome evil. But it requires more—it needs bravery and self-reliance and surpassing faith—to act out the true inspirations of your intelligence and the true impulses of your heart.
Out of the attempt to harmonise our actual life17 with our aspirations, our experience with our faith, we make poetry,—or, it may be, religion.
F—— used the phrase “stung into heroism” as Shelley said, “cradled into poetry,” by wrong.
Coleridge calls the personal existence of the Evil Principle, “a mere fiction, or, at best, an allegory supported by a few popular phrases and figures of speech, used incidentally or dramatically by the Evangelists.” And he says, that “the existence of a personal, intelligent, Evil Being, the counterpart and antagonist of God, is in direct contradiction to the most express declarations of Holy Writ. ‘Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?’—Amos, iii. 6. ‘I make peace and create evil.’—Isaiah, xlv. 7. This is the deep mystery of the abyss of God.”
Do our theologians go with him here? I think not: yet, as a theologian, Coleridge is constantly appealed to by Churchmen.
“We find (in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians), every where instilled as the essence of all well-being and well-doing, (without which the wisest public and political constitution is but a lifeless formula, and the highest powers of individual endowment profitless or pernicious,) the spirit of a divine sympathy with the happiness and rights,—with the peculiarities, gifts, graces, and endowments of other minds, which alone, whether in the family or in the Church, can impart unity and effectual working together for good in the communities of men.”
“The Christian religion was, in fact, a charter of freedom to the whole human race.”—Thom’s Discourses on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians.
And this is the true Catholic spirit,—the spirit and the teaching of Paul,—in contradistinction to the Roman Catholic spirit,—the spirit and tendency of Peter, which stands upon forms, which has no respect for individuality except in so far as it can19 imprison this individuality within a creed, or use it to a purpose.
Dr. Baillie once said that “all his observation of death-beds inclined him to believe that nature intended that we should go out of the world as unconscious as we came into it.” “In all my experience,” he added, “I have not seen one instance in fifty to the contrary.”
Yet even in such a large experience the occurrence of “one instance in fifty to the contrary” would invalidate the assumption that such was the law of nature (or “nature’s intention,” which, if it means any thing, means the same).
The moment in which the spirit meets death is perhaps like the moment in which it is embraced by sleep. It never, I suppose, happened to any one to be conscious of the immediate transition from the waking to the sleeping state.
He is really sublime, this man! with his faith in “the religion of pain,” and “the deification of sorrow!” But is he therefore right? What has he preached to us to-day with all the force of eloquence, all the earnestness of conviction? that “pain is the life of God as shown forth in Christ;”—“that we are to be crucified to the world and the world to us.” This perpetual presence of a crucified God between us and a pitying redeeming Christ, leads many a mourner to the belief that this world is all a Golgotha of pain, and that we are here to crucify each other. Is this the law under which we are to live and strive? The missionary Bridaine accused himself of sin in that he had preached fasting, penance, and the chastisements of God to wretches steeped in poverty and dying of hunger; and is there not a similar cruelty and misuse of power in the servants of Him who came to bind up the21 broken-hearted, when they preach the necessity, or at least the theory, of moral pain to those whose hearts are aching from moral evil?
Surely there is a great difference between the resignation or the endurance of a truthful, faithful, loving, hopeful spirit, and this dreadful theology of suffering as the necessary and appointed state of things! I, for one, will not accept it. Even while most miserable, I will believe in happiness; even while I do or suffer evil, I will believe in goodness; even while my eyes see not through tears, I will believe in the existence of what I do not see—that God is benign, that nature is fair, that the world is not made as a prison or a penance. While I stand lost in utter darkness, I will yet wait for the return of the unfailing dawn,—even though my soul be amazed into such a blind perplexity that I know not on which side to look for it, and ask “where is the East? and whence the dayspring?” For the East holds its wonted place, and the light is withheld only till its appointed time.
God so strengthen me that I may think of pain and sin only as accidental apparent discords in his great harmonious scheme of good! Then I am ready—I will take up the cross, and hear it bravely, while I must; but I will lay it down when I can, and in any case I will never lay it on another.
If I fear God it is because I love him, and believe in his love; I cannot conceive myself as standing in fear of any spiritual or human being in whose love I do not entirely believe. Of that Impersonation of Evil, who goes about seeking whom he may devour, the image brings to me no fear, only intense disgust and aversion. Yes, it is because of his love for me that I fear to offend against God; it is because of his love that his displeasure must be terrible. And with regard to human beings, only the being I love has the power to give me pain or inspire me with fear; only those in whose love I believe, have the power to injure me. Take away my love, and you take away my fear: take away their love, and you take away the power to do me any harm which can reach me in the sources of life and feeling.
Social opinion is like a sharp knife. There are foolish people who regard it only with terror, and dare not touch or meddle with it. There are more foolish people, who, in rashness or defiance, seize it by the blade, and get cut and mangled for their pains. And there are wise people, who grasp it discreetly and boldly by the handle, and use it to carve out their own purposes.
While we were discussing Balzac’s celebrity as a romance writer, she (O. G.) said, with a shudder: “His laurels are steeped in the tears of women,—every truth he tells has been wrung in tortures from some woman’s heart.”
Sir Walter Scott, writing in 1831, seems to regard it as a terrible misfortune that the whole burgher class in Scotland should be gradually preparing for representative reform. “I mean,” he says, “the middle and respectable classes: when a borough reform comes, which, perhaps, cannot long be delayed, ministers will no longer return a member for Scotland from the towns.” “The gentry,” he adds, “will abide longer by sound principles, for they are needy, and desire advancement for themselves, and appointments for their sons and so on. But this is a very hollow dependence, and those who sincerely hold ancient opinions are waxing old,” &c. &c.
With a great deal more, showing the strange moral confusion which his political bias had caused in his otherwise clear head and honest mind. The sound principles, then, by which educated people are to abide,—over the decay of which he laments,—are such as can only be upheld by the most vulgar self-interest! If a man should utter openly such sentiments in these days, what should we think of him?
In the order of absolutism lurk the elements of change and destruction. In the unrest of freedom the spirit of change and progress.
“A single life,” said Bacon, “doth well with churchmen, for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool.”
Certainly there are men whose charities are limited, if not dried up, by their concentrated domestic anxieties and relations. But there are others whose charities are more diffused, as well as healthier and warmer, through the strength of their domestic affections.
Wordsworth speaks strongly of the evils of ordaining men as clergymen in places where they had been born or brought up, or in the midst of their own relatives: “Their habits, their manners, their talk, their acquaintanceships, their friendships, and let me say, even their domestic affections, naturally draw them one way, while their professional obligations point out another.” If this were true universally, or even generally, it would be a strong argument in favour of the celibacy of the Roman Catholic clergy, which certainly is one element, and not the least, of their power.
Landor says truly: “Love is a secondary passion in those who love most, a primary in those who love least: he who is inspired by it in the strongest degree is inspired by honour in a greater.”
“Whatever is worthy of being loved for any thing is worthy to be preserved.”
Again:—“Those are the worst of suicides who voluntarily and prepensely stab or suffocate their own fame, when God hath commanded them to stand on high for an example.”
“Weak motives,” he says, “are sufficient for weak minds; whenever we see a mind which we believed a stronger than our own moved habitually by what appears inadequate, we may be certain that there is—to bring a metaphor from the forest—more top than root.”
Here is another sentence from the same writer—rich in wise sayings:27—
“Plato would make wives common to abolish selfishness; the very mischief which, above all others, it would directly and immediately bring forth. There is no selfishness where there is a wife and family. There the house is lighted up by mutual charities; everything achieved for them is a victory; everything endured a triumph. How many vices are suppressed that there may be no bad example! How many exertions made to recommend and inculcate a good one.”
True: and I have much more confidence in the charity which begins in the home and diverges into a large humanity, than in the world-wide philanthropy which begins at the outside of our horizon to converge into egotism, of which I could show you many and notable examples.
All my experience of the world teaches me that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the safe side and the just side of a question is the generous side and the merciful side. This your mere worldly people do not seem to know, and therein make the sorriest and the vulgarest of all mistakes. “Pour être assez bon il faut l’être trop:” we all need more mercy than we deserve.
How often in this world the actions that we condemn are the result of sentiments that we love and opinions that we admire!
A.—— observed in reference to some of her friends who had gone over to the Roman Catholic Church, “that the peace and comfort which they had sought and found in that mode of faith was like the drugged sleep in comparison with the natural sleep: necessary, healing perhaps, where there is disease and unrest, not otherwise.”
“A poet,” says Coleridge, “ought not to pick nature’s pocket. Let him borrow, and so borrow as to repay by the very act of borrowing.29 Examine nature accurately, but write from recollection, and trust more to your imagination than your memory.”
This advice is even more applicable to the painter, but true perhaps in its application to all artists. Raphael and Mozart were, in this sense, great borrowers.
“What is the difference between being good and being bad? the good do not yield to temptation and the bad do.”
This is often the distinction between the good and the bad in regard to act and deed; but it does not constitute the difference between being good and being bad.
The Italians say (in one of their characteristic proverbs) Sospetto licenzia Fede. Lord Bacon interprets the saying “as if suspicion did give a passport to faith,” which is somewhat obscure and ambiguous. It means, that suspicion discharges us from the duty of good faith; and in this, its original sense, it is, like many of the old Italian proverbs, worldly wise and profoundly immoral.
It was well said by Themistocles to the King of Persia, that “speech was like cloth of arras opened and put abroad, whereby the imagery doth appear in figure, whereas in thoughts they lie but in packs” (i. e. rolled up or packed up). Dryden had evidently this passage in his mind when he wrote those beautiful lines:
“Speech is the light, the morning of the mind; It spreads the beauteous images abroad, Which else lie furled and shrouded in the soul.”
Here the comparison of Themistocles, happy in itself, is expanded into a vivid poetical image.
“Those are the killing griefs that do not speak,” is true of some, not all characters. There are natures in which the killing grief finds utterance while it kills; moods in which we cry aloud, “as the beast crieth, expansive not appealing.” That is my own nature: so in grief or in joy, I say as the birds sing:
“Und wenn der Mensch in seiner Qual verstummt, Gab mir ein Got zu sagen was ich leide!”
Blessed is the memory of those who have kept themselves unspotted from the world!—yet more blessed and more dear the memory of those who have kept themselves unspotted in the world!
Everything that ever has been, from the beginning of the world till now, belongs to us, is ours, is even a part of us. We belong to the future, and shall be a part of it. Therefore the sympathies of all are in the past; only the poet and the prophet sympathise with the future.
When Tennyson makes Ulysses say, “I am a part of all that I have seen,” it ought to be rather the converse,—“What I have seen becomes a part of me.”
In what regards policy—government—the interest of the many is sacrificed to the few; in what regards society, the morals and happiness of individuals are sacrificed to the many.
We spoke to-night of the cowardice, the crime of a particular suicide: O. G. agreed as to this instance, but added: “There is a different aspect under which suicide might be regarded. It is not always, I think, from a want of religion, or in a spirit of defiance, or a want of confidence in God that we quit life. It is as if we should flee to the feet of the Almighty and embrace his knees, and exclaim, ‘O my father! take me home! I have endured as long as it was possible; I can endure no more, so I come to you!’”
Of an amiable man with a disagreeable expressionless face, she said: “His countenance always gives me the idea of matter too strong, too hard for the soul to pierce through. It is as a plaster mask which I long to break (making the gesture with her hand), that I may see the countenance of his heart, for that must be beautiful!”
Carlyle said to me: “I want to see some institution to teach a man the truth, the worth, the beauty, the heroism of which his present existence is capable; where’s the use of sending him to study what the Greeks and Romans did, and said, and wrote? Do ye think the Greeks and Romans would have been what they were, if they had just only studied what the Phœnicians did before them?” I should have answered, had I dared: “Yet perhaps the Greeks and Romans would not have been what they were if the Egyptians and Phœnicians had not been before them.”
Can there be progress which is not progression—which does not leave a past from which to start—on which to rest our foot when we spring forward? No wise man kicks the ladder from beneath him, or obliterates the traces of the road through which he has travelled, or pulls down the memorials he has built by the way side. We cannot get on without linking our present and our future with our past. All reaction is destructive—all progress conservative.35 When we have destroyed that which the past built up, what reward have we?—we are forced to fall back, and have to begin anew. “Novelty,” as Lord Bacon says, “cannot be content to add, but it must deface.” For this very reason novelty is not progress, as the French would try to persuade themselves and us. We gain nothing by defacing and trampling down the idols of the past to set up new ones in their places—let it be sufficient to leave them behind us, measuring our advance by keeping them in sight.
E—— was compassionating to-day the old and the invalided; those whose life is prolonged in spite of suffering; and she seemed, even out of the excess of her pity and sympathy, to wish them fairly out of the world; but it is a mistake in reasoning and feeling. She does not know how much of happiness may consist with suffering, with physical suffering, and even with mental suffering.
“Renoncez dans votre âme, et renoncez y fermement, une fois pour toutes, à vouloir vous connaître au-delà de cette existence passagère qui vous est imposée, et vous redeviendrez agréable à Dieu, utile aux autres hommes, tranquille avec vous-mêmes.”
This does not mean “renounce hope or faith in the future.” No! But renounce that perpetual craving after a selfish interest in the unrevealed future life which takes the true relish from the duties and the pleasures of this. We can conceive of no future life which is not a continuation of this: to anticipate in that future life, another life, a different life; what is it but to call in doubt our individual identity?
If we pray, “O teach us where and what is peace!” would not the answer be, “In the grave ye shall have it—not before?” Yet is it not strange that those who believe most absolutely in an after-life, yet think of the grave as peace? Now, if we carry this life with us—and what other life can we carry with us, unless we cease to be ourselves—how shall there be peace?
As to the future, my soul, like Cato’s, “shrinks back upon herself and startles at destruction;” but37 I do not think of my own destruction, rather of that which I love. That I should cease to be is not very intolerable; but that what I love, and do now in my soul possess, should cease to be—there is the pang, the terror! I desire that which I love to be immortal, whether I be so myself or not.
Is not the idea which most men entertain of another, of an eternal life, merely a continuation of this present existence under pleasanter conditions? We cannot conceive another state of existence,—we only fancy we do so.
“I conceive that in all probability we have immortality already. Most men seem to divide life and immortality, making them two distinct things, when, in fact, they are one and the same. What is immortality but a continuation of life—life which is already our own? We have, then, begun our immortality even now.”
For the same reason, or, rather, through the same want of reasoning by which we make life and immortality two (distinct things), do we make time and eternity two, which like the others are really one38 and the same. As immortality is but the continuation of life, so eternity is but the continuation of time; and what we call time is only that part of eternity in which we exist now.—The New Philosophy.
Strength does not consist only in the more or the less. There are different sorts of strength as well as different degrees:—The strength of marble to resist; the strength of steel to oppose; the strength of the fine gold, which you can twist round your finger, but which can bear the force of innumerable pounds without breaking.
Goethe used to say, that while intellectual attainment is progressive, it is difficult to be as good when we are old, as we were when young. Dr. Johnson has expressed the same thing.
Then are we to assume, that to do good effectively and wisely is the privilege of age and experience? To be good, through faith in goodness, the privilege of the young.
To preserve our faith in goodness with an extended knowledge of evil, to preserve the tenderness of our pity after long contemplation of pain, and the warmth of our charity after long experience of falsehood, is to be at once good and wise—to understand and to love each other as the angels who look down upon us from heaven.
We can sometimes love what we do not understand, but it is impossible completely to understand what we do not love.
I observe, that in our relations with the people around us, we forgive them more readily for what they do, which they can help, than for what they are, which they cannot help.
“Whence springs the greatest degree of moral suffering?” was a question debated this evening, but not settled. It was argued that it would depend on the texture of character, its more or less conscientiousness, susceptibility, or strength. I thought from two sentiments—from jealousy, that is, the sense of a wrong endured, in one class of characters; from remorse, that is, from the sense of a wrong inflicted, in another.
The bread of life is love; the salt of life is work; the sweetness of life, poesy; the water of life, faith.
I have seen triflers attempting to draw out a deep intellect; and they reminded me of children throwing pebbles down the well at Carisbrook, that they might hear them sound.
A bond is necessary to complete our being, only we must be careful that the bond does not become bondage.
“The secret of peace,” said A. B., “is the resolution of the lesser into the greater;” meaning, perhaps, the due relative appreciation of our duties, and the proper placing of our affections: or, did she not rather mean, the resolving of the lesser duties and affections into the higher? But it is true in either sense.
The love we have for Genius is to common love what the fire on the altar is to the fire on the hearth. We cherish it not for warmth or for service, but for an offering, as the expression of our worship.
All love not responded to and accepted is a species of idolatry. It is like the worship of a dumb beautiful image we have ourselves set up and deified,42 but cannot inspire with life, nor warm with sympathy. No!—though we should consume our own hearts on the altar. Our love of God would be idolatry if we did not believe in his love for us—his responsive love.
In the same moment that we begin to speculate on the possibility of cessation or change in any strong affection that we feel, even from that moment we may date its death: it has become the fetch of the living love.
“Motives,” said Coleridge, “imply weakness, and the reasoning powers imply the existence of evil and temptation. The angelic nature would act from impulse alone.” This is the sort of angel which Angelico da Fiesole conceived and represented, and he only.
Again:—“If a man’s conduct can neither be ascribed to the angelic or the bestial within him, it must be fiendish. Passion without appetite is fiendish.”
And, he might have added, appetite without passion, bestial. Love in which is neither appetite nor passion is angelic. The union of all is human; and according as one or other predominates, does the43 human being approximate to the fiend, the beast, or the angel.
I don’t mean to say that principle is not a finer thing than passion; but passions existed before principles: they came into the world with us; principles are superinduced.
There are bad principles as well as bad passions; and more bad principles than bad passions. Good principles derive life, and strength, and warmth from high and good passions; but principles do not give life, they only bind up life into a consistent whole. One great fault in education is, the pains taken to inculcate principles rather than to train feelings. It is as if we took it for granted that passions could only be bad, and are to be ignored or repressed altogether,—the old mischievous monkish doctrine.
It is easy to be humble where humility is a condescension—easy to concede where we know ourselves wronged—easy to forgive where vengeance is in our power.
“You and I,” said H. G., yesterday, “are alike in this:—both of us so abhor injustice, that we are ready to fight it with a broomstick if we can find nothing better!”
“The wise only possess ideas—the greater part of mankind are possessed by them. When once the mind, in despite of the remonstrating conscience, has abandoned its free power to a haunting impulse or idea, then whatever tends to give depth and vividness to this idea or indefinite imagination, increases its despotism, and in the same proportion renders the reason and free will ineffectual.” This paragraph from Coleridge sounds like a truism until we have felt its truth.
“La Volonté, en se déréglant, devient passion; cette passion continuée se change en habitude, et faute de résister à cette habitude elle se transforme en besoin.”—St. Augustin. Which may be rendered—“out of the unregulated will, springs passion, out of passion gratified, habit; out of habits unresisted, necessity.” This, also, is one of the truths which become, from the impossibility of disputing or refuting them, truisms—and little regarded, till the truth makes itself felt.
I wish I could realise what you call my “grand idea of being independent of the absent.” I have not a friend worthy the name, whose absence is not pain and dread to me;—death itself is terrible only as it is absence. At some moments, if I could, I would cease to love those who are absent from me, or to speak more correctly, those whose path in life diverges from mine—whose dwelling house is far off;—with whom I am united in the strongest bonds of sympathy while separated by duties and interests by space and time. The presence of those whom we love is as a double life; absence, in its anxious46 longing, and sense of vacancy, is as a foretaste of death.
“La mort de nos amis ne compte pas du moment où ils meurent, mais de celui où nous cessons de vivre avec eux;” or, it might rather be said, pour eux; but I think this arises from a want either of faith or faithfulness.
“La peur des morts est une abominable faiblesse! c’est la plus commune et la plus barbare des profanations; les mères ne la connaissent pas!”—And why? Because the most faithful love is the love of the mother for her child.
At dinner to-day there was an attempt made by two very clever men to place Theodore Hook above Sydney Smith. I fought with all my might against both. It seems to me that a mind must be strangely warped that could ever place on a par two men with aspirations and purposes so different, whether we consider them merely as individuals, or called before the bar of the public as writers. I do not take to Sydney Smith personally, because 47 my nature feels the want of the artistic and imaginative in his nature; but see what he has done for humanity, for society, for liberty, for truth,—for us women! What has Theodore Hook done that has not perished with him? Even as wits—and I have been in company with both—I could not compare them; but they say the wit of Theodore Hook was only fitted for the company of men—the strongest proof that it was not genuine of its kind, that when most bearable, it was most superficial. I set aside the other obvious inference, that it required to be excited by stimulants and those of the coarsest, grossest kind. The wit of Sydney Smith almost always involved a thought worth remembering for its own sake, as well as worth remembering for its brilliant vehicle: the value of ten thousand pounds sterling of sense concentrated into a cut and polished diamond.
It is not true, as I have heard it said, that after leaving the society of Sydney Smith you only remembered how much you had laughed, not the good things at which you had laughed. Few men—wits by profession—ever said so many memorable things as those recorded of Sydney Smith.
“When we would show any one that he is mistaken our best course is to observe on what side he considers the subject,—for his view of it is generally right on this side,—and admit to him that he is right so far. He will be satisfied with this acknowledgment, that he was not wrong in his judgment, but only inadvertent in not looking at the whole of the case.”—Pascal.
“We should reflect,” says Jeremy Taylor, preaching against ambition, “that whatever tempts the pride and vanity of ambitious persons is not so big as the smallest star which we see scattered in disorder and unregarded on the pavement of heaven.”
Very beautiful and poetical, but certainly no good argument against the sin he denounces. The star is inaccessible, and what tempts our pride or our ambi49tion is only that which we consider with hope as accessible. That we look up to the stars not desiring, not aspiring, but only loving—therein lies our hearts’ truest, holiest, safest devotion as contrasted with ambition.
It is the “desire of the moth for the star,” that leads to its burning itself in the candle.
The brow stamped “with the hieroglyphics of an eternal sorrow,” is a strong and beautiful expression of Bishop Taylor’s.
He says truly: “It is seldom that God sends such calamities upon men as men bring upon themselves and suffer willingly.” And again: “What will not tender women suffer to hide their shame!” What indeed! And again: “Nothing is intolerable that is necessary.” And again: “Nothing is to be esteemed evil which God and nature have fixed with eternal sanctions.”
There is not one of these ethical sentences which might not be treated as a text and expounded, opening into as many “branches” of consideration as ever did a Presbyterian sermon. Yet several involve a fallacy, as it seems to me;—others a deeper, wider, 50 and more awful signification than Taylor himself seems to have contemplated when he uttered them.
The same reasons which rendered Goethe’s “Werther” so popular, so passionately admired at the time it appeared—just after the seven years’ war,—helped to render Lord Byron so popular in his time. It was not the individuality of “Werther,” nor the individuality of “Childe Harold” which produced the effect of making them, for a time, a pervading power,—a part of the life of their contemporaries. It was because in both cases a chord was struck which was ready to vibrate. A phase of feeling preexistent, palpitating at the heart of society, which had never found expression in any poetic form since the days of Dante, was made visible and audible as if by an electric force; words and forms were given to a diffused sentiment of pain and resistance, caused by a long period of war, of political and social commotion, and of unhealthy moral excitement. “Werther” and “Childe Harold” will never perish; because, though they have ceased to be the echo of a wide despair, there will always be, unhappily, individual minds and hearts to respond to the individuality.
Lord Byron has sometimes, to use his own expression, “curdled” a whole world of meaning into the compass of one line:—
“The starry Galileo and his woes.” “The blind old man of Chio’s rocky isle.”
Here every word, almost every syllable, paints an idea. Such lines are picturesque. And I remember another, from Thomson, I think:—
“Placed far amid the melancholy main.”
In general, where words are used in description, the objects and ideas flow with the words in succession. But in each of these lines the mind takes in a wide horizon, comprising a multitude of objects at once, as the eye takes in a picture, with scene, and action, and figures, fore-ground and background, all at once. That is the reason I call such lines picturesque.
I have a great admiration for power, a great terror of weakness—especially in my own sex,—yet feel that my love is for those who overcome the mental and moral suffering and temptation, through excess of tenderness rather than through excess of strength; for those whose refinement and softness of nature mingling with high intellectual power and the capacity for strong passion, present to me a problem to solve, which, when solved, I take to my heart. The question is not, which of the two diversities of character be the highest and best, but which is most sympathetic with my own.
C—— told me, that some time ago, when poor Bethune the Scotch poet first became known, and was in great hardship, C—— himself had collected a little sum (about 30l.), and sent it to him through his publishers. Bethune wrote back to refuse it absolutely, and to say that, while he had head and hands, he would not accept charity. C—— wrote to him in answer, still anonymously, arguing53 against the principle, as founded in false pride, &c. Now poor Bethune is dead, and the money is found untouched,—left with a friend to be returned to the donors!
This sort of disgust and terror, which all finely constituted minds feel with regard to pecuniary obligation,—my own utter repugnance to it, even from the hands of those I most love,—makes one sad to think of. It gives one such a miserable impression of our social humanity!
Goethe makes the same remark in the Wilhelm Meister:—“Es ist sonderbar welch ein wunderliches Bedenken man sich macht, Geld von Freunden und Gönnern anzunehmen, von denen man jede andere Gabe mit Dank und Freude empfangen würde.”
“In the celestial hierarchy, according to Dionysius Areopageta, the angels of Love hold the first place, the angels of Light the second, and the54 Thrones and Dominations the third. Among terrestrials, the Intellects, which act through the imagination upon the heart of man—i. e. poets and artists—may be accounted first in order; the merely scientific intellects the second; and the merely ruling intellects—those which apply themselves to the government of mankind, without the aid of either science or imagination—will not be disparaged if they are placed last.”
All government, all exercise of power—no matter in what form—which is not based in love and directed by knowledge, is a tyranny. It is not of God, and shall not stand.
“A time will come when the operations of charity will no longer be carried on by machinery, relentless, ponderous, indiscriminate, but by human creatures, watchful, tearful, considerate, and wise.”—Westminster Review.
“Those writers who never go further into a subject than is compatible with making what they say indisputably clear to man, woman, and child, may be55 the lights of this age, but they will not be the lights of another.”
“It is not always necessary that truth should take a bodily form,—a material palpable form. It is sometimes better that it should dwell around us spiritually, creating harmony,—sounding through the air like the solemn sweet tone of a bell.”
Women are inclined to fall in love with priests and physicians, because of the help and comfort they derive from both in perilous moral and physical maladies. They believe in the presence of real pity, real sympathy, where the tone and look of each have become merely habitual and conventional,—I may say professional. On the other hand, women are inclined to fall in love with criminal and miserable men out of the pity which in our sex is akin to love, and out of the power of bestowing comfort or love. “Car les femmes out un instinct céleste pour le malheur.” So, in the first instance, 56 they love from gratitude or faith; in the last, from compassion or hope.
“Men of all countries,” says Sir James Mackintosh, “appear to be more alike in their best qualities than the pride of civilisation would be willing to allow.”
And in their worst. The distinction between savage and civilised humanity lies not in the qualities, but the habits.
Coleridge notices “the increase in modern times of vicious associations with things in themselves indifferent,” as a sign of unhealthiness in taste, in feeling, in conscience.
The truth of this remark is particularly illustrated in the French literature of the last century.
“And yet the compensations of calamity are made apparent to the understanding also after long intervals of time. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss and unpayable, but the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts. The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates a revolution in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a household, or a style of living, and allows the formation of new influences that prove of the first importance during the next years.”—Emerson.
Religion, in its general sense, is properly the comprehension and acknowledgment of an unseen spiritual power and the soul’s allegiance to58 it; and Christianity, in its particular sense, is the comprehension and appreciation of the personal character of Christ, and the heart’s allegiance to that.
Avarice is to the intellect what sensuality is to the morals. It is an intellectual form of sensuality, inasmuch as it is the passion for the acquisition, the enjoyment in the possession, of a palpable, tangible, selfish pleasure; and it would have the same tendency to unspiritualise, to degrade, and to harden the higher faculties that a course of grosser sensualism would have to corrupt the lower faculties. Both dull the edge of all that is fine and tender within us.
A king or a prince becomes by accident a part of history. A poet or an artist becomes by nature and necessity a part of universal humanity.
As what we call Genius arises out of the disproportionate power and size of a certain faculty, so the great difficulty lies in harmonising with it the rest of the character.
“Though it burn our house down, who does not venerate fire?” says the Hindoo proverb.
An elegant mind informing a graceful person is like a spirit lamp in an alabaster vase, shedding round its own softened radiance and heightening the beauty of its medium. An elegant mind in a plain ungraceful person is like the same lamp enclosed in a vase of bronze; we may, if we approach near enough, rejoice in its influence, though we may not behold its radiance.
Landor, in a passage I was reading to-day, speaks of a language of criticism, in which qualities should be graduated by colours; “as, for instance, purple might express grandeur and majesty of thought; scarlet, vigour of expression; pink, liveliness; green, elegant and equable composition, and so on.”
Blue, then, might express contemplative power? yellow, wit? violet, tenderness? and so on.
I quoted to A. the saying of a sceptical philosopher: “The world is but one enormous WILL, constantly rushing into life.”
“Is that,” she responded quickly, “another new name for God?”
A death-bed repentance has become proverbial for its fruitlessness, and a death-bed forgiveness61 equally so. They who wait till their own death-bed to make reparation, or till their adversary’s death-bed to grant absolution, seem to me much upon a par in regard to the moral, as well as the religious, failure.
A character endued with a large, vivacious, active intellect and a limited range of sympathies, generally remains immature. We can grow wise only through the experience which reaches us through our sympathies and becomes a part of our life. All other experience may be gain, but it remains in a manner extraneous, adds to our possessions without adding to our strength, and sharpens our implements without increasing our capacity to use them.
Not always those who have the quickest, keenest, perception of character are the best to deal with it, and perhaps for that very reason. Before we can influence or deal with mind, contemplation must be lost in sympathy, observation must be merged in love.
Montaigne, in his eloquent tirade against melancholy, observes that the Italians have the same word, Tristezza, for melancholy and for malignity or wickedness. The noun Tristo, “a wretch,” has the double sense of our English word corresponding with the French noun misérable. So Judas Iscariot is called quel tristo. Our word “wretchedness” is not, however, used in the double sense of tristezza.
“On ne considère pas assez les paroles comme des faits:” that was well said!
Since for the purpose of circulation and intercommunication we are obliged to coin truth into words, we should be careful not to adulterate the coin, to keep it pure, and up to the original standard of significance and value, that it may be reconvertible into the truth it represents.
If I use a term in a sense wherein I know it is 63 not understood by the person I address, then I am guilty of using words (in so far as they represent truth), if not to ensnare intentionally, yet to mislead consciously; it is like adulterating coin.
“Common people,” said Johnson, “do not accurately adapt their words to their thoughts, nor their thoughts to the objects;”—that is to say, they neither apprehend truly nor speak truly—and in this respect children, half-educated women, and ill-educated men, are the “common people.”
It is one of the most serious mistakes in Education that we are not sufficiently careful to habituate children to the accurate use of words. Accuracy of language is one of the bulwarks of truth. If we looked into the matter we should probably find that all the varieties and modifications of conscious and unconscious lying—as exaggeration, equivocation, evasion, misrepresentation—might be traced to the early misuse of words; therefore the contemptuous, careless tone in which people say sometimes “words—words—mere words!” is unthinking and unwise. It tends to debase the value of that which is the only medium of the inner life between man and man:64 “Nous ne sommes hommes, et nous ne tenons les uns aux autres, que par la parole,” said Montaigne.
“We are happy, good, tranquil, in proportion as our inner life is accessible to the external life, and in harmony with it. When we become dead to the moving life of Nature around us, to the changes of day and night (I do not speak here of the sympathetic influences of our fellow-creatures), then we may call ourselves philosophical, but we are surely either bad or mad.”
“Or perhaps only sad?”
There are moments in the life of every contemplative being, when the healing power of Nature is felt—even as Wordsworth describes it—felt in the blood, in every pulse along the veins. In such moments converse, sympathy, the faces, the presence of the dearest, come so near to us, they make us 65 shrink; books, pictures, music, anything, any object which has passed through the medium of mind, and has been in a manner humanised, is felt as an intrusive reflection of the busy, weary, thought-worn self within us. Only Nature, speaking through no interpreter, gently steals us out of our humanity, giving us a foretaste of that more diffused disembodied life which may hereafter be ours. Beautiful and genial, and not wholly untrue, were the old superstitions which placed a haunting divinity in every grove, and heard a living voice responsive in every murmuring stream.
This present Sunday I set off with the others to walk to church, but it was late; I could not keep up with the pedestrians, and, not to delay them, turned back. I wandered down the hill path to the river brink, and crossed the little bridge and strolled along, pensive yet with no definite or continuous subject of thought. How beautiful it was—how tranquil! not a cloud in the blue sky, not a breath of air! “And where the dead leaf fell there did it rest;” but so still it was that scarce a single leaf did flutter or fall, though the narrow pathway along the water’s edge was already encumbered with heaps of decaying foliage. Everywhere around, the autumnal tints prevailed, except in one sheltered place under the towering cliff, where a single tree, a magnificent 66 lime, still flourished in summer luxuriance, with not a leaf turned or shed. I stood still opposite, looking on it quietly for a long time. It seemed to me a happy tree, so fresh and fair and grand, as if its guardian Dryad would not suffer it to be defaced. Then I turned, for close beside me sounded the soft, interrupted, half-suppressed warble of a bird, sitting on a leafless spray, which seemed to bend with its tiny weight. Some lines which I used to love in my childhood came into my mind, blending softly with the presences around me.
“The little bird now to salute the morn Upon the naked branches sets her foot, The leaves still lying at the mossy root, And there a silly chirruping doth keep, As if she fain would sing, yet fain would weep; Praising fair summer that too soon is gone, And sad for winter, too soon coming on!” Drayton.
The river, where I stood, taking an abrupt turn, ran wimpling by; not as I had seen it but a few days before,—rolling tumultuously, the dead leaves whirling in its eddies, swollen and turbid with the mountain torrents, making one think of the kelpies, the water wraiths, and such uncanny things,—but gentle, transparent, and flashing in the low sunlight; even the barberries, drooping with rich crimson clusters over the little pools near the bank, and reflected in them as in a mirror, I remember vividly as a part of the exquisite loveliness which seemed to67 melt into my life. For such moments we are grateful: we feel then what God can do for us, and what man can not.—Carolside, November 5th, 1843.
“In the early ages of faith, the spirit of Christianity glided into and gave a new significance to the forms of heathenism. It was not the forms of heathenism which encrusted and overlaid the spirit of Christianity, for in that case the spirit would have burst through such extraneous formulæ, and set them aside at once and for ever.”
Questions. In the execution of the penal statutes, can the individual interest of the convict be re68conciled with the interest of society? or must the good of the convict and the good of society be considered as inevitably and necessarily opposed?—the one sacrificed to the other, and at the best only a compromise possible?
This is a question pending at present, and will require wise heads to decide it? How would Christ have decided it? When He set the poor accused woman free, was He considering the good of the culprit or the good of society? and how far are we bound to follow His example? If He consigned the wicked to weeping and gnashing of teeth, was it for atonement or retribution, punishment or penance? and how far are we bound to follow His example?
I marked the following passage in Montaigne as most curiously applicable to the present times, in so far as our religious contests are concerned; and I leave it in his quaint old French.
“C’est un effet de la Providence divine de permettre sa saincte Eglise être agitée, comme nous la voyons, de tant de troubles et d’orages, pour éveiller69 par ce contraste les âmes pies et les ravoir de l’oisiveté et du sommeil ou les avail plongées une si longue tranquillité. Si nous contrepèsons la perte que nous avons faite par le nombre de ceux qui se sont dévoyés, au gain qui nous vient par nous être remis en haleine, ressuscité notre zêle et nos forces à l’occasion de ce combat, je ne sais si l’utilité ne surmonte point le dommage.”
“They (the friends of Cassius) were divided in opinion,—some holding that servitude was the extreme of evils, and others that tyranny was better than civil war.”
Unhappy that nation, wherever it may be, where the question is yet pending between servitude and civil war! such a nation might be driven to solve the problem after the manner of Cassius—with the dagger’s point.
“Surely,” said Moore, “it is wrong for the lovers of liberty to identify the principle of resistance to power with such an odious person as the devil!”
“Where the the question is of a great deal of good to ensue from a small injustice, men must pursue the things which are just in present, and leave the future to Divine Providence.”
This so simple rule of right is seldom attended to as a rule of life till we are placed in some strait in which it is forced upon us.
A woman’s patriotism is more of a sentiment than a man’s,—more passionate: it is only an extension of the domestic affections, and with her la patrie is only an enlargement of home. In the same manner, a woman’s idea of fame is always a more extended sympathy, and is much more of a presence than an anticipation. To her the voice of fame is only the echo—fainter and more distant—of the voice of love.
“La doute s’introduit dans l’âme qui rêve, la foi descend dans l’âme qui souffre.”
The reverse is equally true,—and judging from my own experience, I should say oftener true.
“La curiosité est si voisine à la perfidie qu’elle peut enlaidir les plus beaux visages.”
When I told Tieck of the death of Coleridge (I had just received the sad but not unexpected news in a letter from England), he exclaimed with emotion, “A great spirit has passed away from the earth, and has left no adequate memorial of its greatness.” Speaking of him afterwards he said, “Coleridge possessed the creative and inventive spirit of poetry, not the productive; he thought too much to72 produce,—the analytical power interfered with the genius: Others with more active faculties seized and worked out his magnificent hints and ideas. Walter Scott and Lord Byron borrowed the first idea of the form and spirit of their narrative poems from Coleridge’s ‘Christabelle.’” This judgment of one great poet and critic passed on another seemed to me worth preserving.
Coleridge says, “In politics what begins in fear usually ends in folly.”
He might have gone farther, and added: In morals what begins in fear usually ends in wickedness. In religion what begins in fear usually ends in fanaticism. Fear, either as a principle or a motive, is the beginning of all evil.
In another place he says,—
“Talent lying in the understanding is often inherited; genius, being the action of reason and imagination, rarely or never.”
There seems confusion here, for genius lies not in the amount of intellect—it is a quality of the intellect apart from quantity. And the distinction between talent and genius is definite. Talent combines and uses; genius combines and creates.
Of Sara Coleridge, Mr. Kenyon said very truly and beautifully, “that like her father she had the controversial intellect without the controversial spirit.”
We all remember the famous bon mot of Talleyrand. When seated between Madame de Staël and Madame Récamier, and pouring forth gallantry, first at the feet of one, then of the other, Madame de Staël suddenly asked him if she and Madame Récamier fell into the river, which of the two he would save first? “Madame,” replied Talleyrand, “je crois que vous savez nager!” Now we will match this pretty bon mot with one far prettier, and founded on it. Prince S., whom I knew formerly, was one day74 loitering on the banks of the Isar, in the English garden at Munich, by the side of the beautiful Madame de V., then the object of his devoted admiration. For a while he had been speaking to her of his mother, for whom, vaurien as he was, he had ever shown the strongest filial love and respect. Afterwards, as they wandered on, he began to pour forth his soul to the lady of his love with all the eloquence of passion. Suddenly she turned and said to him, “If your mother and myself were both to fall into this river, whom would you save first?” “My mother!” he instantly replied; and then, looking at her expressively, immediately added, “To save you first would be as if I were to save myself first!”
If we were not always bringing ourselves into comparison with others, we should know them better.
There are ways of governing every mind which lies within the circle described by our own; the only question is, whether the means required be such as we can use? and if so, whether we shall think it right to do so?
You think I do not know you, or that I mistake you utterly, because I am actuated by the impulses of my own nature, rather than by my perception of the impulses of yours? It is not so.
If we would retain our own consistency, without which there is no moral strength, we must stand firm upon our own moral life.
“Be true unto thyself; And it shall follow as the night to day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
But to be true to others as well as ourselves, is not merely to allow to them the same independence, but to sympathise with it. Unhappily here lies the chief difficulty. There are brains so large that they unconsciously swamp all individualities which come in contact or too near, and brains so small that they cannot take in the conception of any other individuality as a whole, only in part or parts. As in Religion, where there is a strong, sincere, definite faith, there is generally more or less intolerance; so in character, where there is strong individuality,76 self-assurance, and defined principles of action, there is usually something hard and intolerant of the individuality of others. In some characters we meet with, toleration is a principle of the reason, and intolerance a quality of the mind, and then the whole being strikes a discord.
If we can still love those who have made us suffer, we love them all the more. It is as if the principle, that conflict is a necessary law of progress, were applicable even to love. For there is no love like that which has roused up the intensest feelings of our nature,—revealed us to ourselves, like lightning suddenly disclosing an abyss,—yet has survived all the storm and tumult of such passionate discord and all the terror of such a revelation.
F has much, much to learn! Through power, through passion, through feeling we do much, but only through observation, reflection, and sympathy we learn much; hence it is that minds highly gifted77 often remain immature. Artist minds especially, so long as they live only or chiefly for their art, their faculties bent on creating or representing, remain immature on one side—the reasoning and reflecting side of the character.
Said a Frenchman of his adversary, “Il se croit supérieur à moi de toute la hauteur de sa bêtise!” There is a mingled felicity, politeness, and acrimony, in this phrase quite untranslatable.
It is a pity that we have no words to express the French distinction between rêver and rêvasser. The one implies meditation on a definite subject: the other the abandonment of the mind to vague discussion, aimless thoughts.
It seems to me that the conversation of the first converser in the world would tire me, pall on me at last, where I am not sure of the sincerity. Talk without truth is the hollow brass; talk without love is like the tinkling cymbal, and where it does not tinkle it gingles, and where it does not gingle, it jars.
There are few things more striking, more interesting to a thoughtful mind, than to trace through all the poetry, literature, and art of the Middle Ages that broad ever-present distinction between the practical and the contemplative life. This was, no doubt, suggested and kept in view by the one grand division of the whole social community into those who were devoted to the religious profession (an immense proportion of both sexes) and those who were not. All through Dante, all through the productions of mediæval art, we find this pervading idea; and we must understand it well and keep it in mind, or we shall never be able to apprehend 79 the entire beauty and meaning of certain religious groups in sculpture and painting, and the significance of the characters introduced. Thus, in subjects from the Old Testament, Leah always represents the practical, Rachel, the contemplative life. In the New Testament, Martha and Mary figure in the same allegorical sense; and among the saints we always find St. Catharine and St. Clara patronising the religious and contemplative life, while St. Barbara and St. Ursula preside over the military or secular existence. It was a part, and a very important part, of that beautiful and expressive symbolism through which art in all its forms spoke to the popular mind.
For myself, I have the strongest admiration for the practical, but the strongest sympathy with the contemplative life. I bow to Leah and to Martha, but my love is for Rachel and for Mary.
Bettina does not describe nature, she informs it, with her own life: she seems to live in the elements, to exist in the fire, the air, the water, like a sylph, a gnome, an elf; she does not contemplate nature, she is nature; she is like the bird in the air,80 the fish in the sea, the squirrel in the wood. It is one thing to describe nature, and quite another unconsciously so to inform nature with a portion of our own life.
Joanna Baillie had a great admiration of Macaulay’s Roman Ballads. “But,” said some one, “do you really account them as poetry?” She replied, “They are poetry if the sounds of the trumpet be music!”
All my own experience of life teaches me the contempt of cunning, not the fear. The phrase “profound cunning” has always seemed to me a contradiction in terms. I never knew a cunning mind which was not either shallow, or on some point diseased. People dissemble sometimes who yet hate dissembling, but a “cunning mind” emphatically delights in its own cunning, and is the ready prey of cunning. That “pleasure in deceiving and aptness to be deceived” usually go together, was one of the wise sayings of the wisest of men.
It was a saying of Paracelsus, that “Those who would understand the course of the heavens above must first of all recognise the heaven in man:” meaning, I suppose, that all pursuit of knowledge which is not accompanied by praise of God and love of our fellow-creatures must turn to bitterness, emptiness, foolishness. We must imagine him to have come to this conclusion only late in life.
Browning, in that wonderful poem of Paracelsus,—a poem in which there is such a profound far-seeing philosophy, set forth with such a luxuriance of illustration and imagery, and such a wealth of glorious eloquence, that I know nothing to be compared with it since Goethe and Wordsworth,—represents his aspiring philosopher as at first impelled solely by the appetite to know. He asks nothing of men, he despises them; but he will serve them, raise them, after a sort of God-like fashion, 82 independent of their sympathy, scorning their applause, using them like instruments, cheating them like children,—all for their good; but it will not do. In Aprile, “who would love infinitely, and be beloved,” is figured the type of the poet-nature, desiring only beauty, resolving all into beauty; while in Paracelsus we have the type of the reflecting, the inquiring mind desiring only knowledge, resolving all into knowledge, asking nothing more to crown his being. And both find out their mistake; both come to feel that love without knowledge is blind and weak, and knowledge without love barren and vain.
“I too have sought to know as thou to LOVE, Excluding love as thou refused’st knowledge; Still thou hast beauty and I power. We wake! ***** “Are we not halves of one dissever’d world, Whom this strange chance unites once more? Part?—Never! Till thou, the lover, know, and I, the knower, Love—until both are saved!”
After all, perhaps, only the same old world-renowned myth in another form—the marriage of Cupid and Psyche; Love and Intelligence long parted, long suffering, again embracing, and lighted on by Beauty to an immortal union. But to return to our poet. Aprile, exhausted by his own aimless, dazzling visions, expires on the bosom of him who knows; and Paracelsus, who began with a self 83 sufficing scorn of his kind, dies a baffled and degraded man in the arms of him who loves;—yet wiser in his fall than through his aspirations, he dies trusting in the progress of humanity so long as humanity is content to be human; to love as well as to know;—to fear, to hope, to worship, as well as to aspire.
Lord Bacon says: “I like a plantation (in the sense of colony) in a pure soil; that is, where people are not displanted to the end to plant in others: for else it is rather an extirpation than a plantation.” (Bacon, who wrote this, counselled to James I. the plantation of Ulster exactly on the principle he has here deprecated.)
He adds, “It is a shameful and unblessed thing to take the scum of people, and wicked condemned men, to be the people with whom you plant” (i. e. colonise). And it is only now that our politicians are beginning to discover and act upon this great moral84 truth and obvious fitness of things!—like Bacon, adopting practically, and from mere motives of expediency, a principle they would theoretically abjure!
Because in real life we cannot, or do not, reconcile the high theory with the low practice, we use our wit to render the theory ridiculous, and our reason to reconcile us to the practice. We ought to do just the reverse.
Many would say, if they spoke the truth, that it had cost them a life-long effort to unlearn what they had been taught.
For as the eye becomes blinded by fashion to positive deformity, so through social conventionalism the conscience becomes blinded to positive immorality.
It is fatal in any mind to make the moral standard for men high and the moral standard for women low, or vice versâ. This has appeared to me the very85 commonest of all mistakes in men and women who have lived much in the world, but fatal nevertheless, and in three ways; first, as distorting the moral ideal, so far as it exists in the conscience; secondly, as perplexing the bounds, practically, of right and wrong; thirdly, as being at variance with the spirit and principles of Christianity. Admit these premises, and it follows inevitably that such a mistake is fatal in the last degree, as disturbing the consistency and the elevation of the character, morally, practically, religiously.
Akin to this mistake, or identical with it, is the belief that there are essential masculine and feminine virtues and vices. It is not, in fact, the quality itself, but the modification of the quality, which is masculine or feminine: and on the manner or degree in which these are balanced and combined in the individual, depends the perfection of that individual character—its approximation to that of Christ. I firmly believe that as the influences of religion are extended, and as civilisation advances, those qualities which are now admired as essentially feminine will be considered as essentially human, such as gentleness, purity, the more unselfish and spiritual sense of duty, and the dominance of the affections over the passions. This is, perhaps, what Buffon, speaking as a naturalist, meant, when he said that with the86 progress of humanity, “Les races se féminisent;” at least I understand the phrase in this sense.
A man who requires from his own sex manly direct truth, and laughs at the cowardly subterfuges and small arts of women as being feminine;—a woman who requires from her own sex tenderness and purity, and thinks ruffianism and sensuality pardonable in a man as being masculine,—these have repudiated the Christian standard of morals which Christ, in his own person, bequeathed to us—that standard which we have accepted as Christians—theoretically at least—and which makes no distinction between “the highest, holiest manhood,” and the highest, holiest womanhood.
I might illustrate this position not only scripturally but philosophically, by quoting the axiom of the Greek philosopher Antisthenes, the disciple of Socrates,—“The virtue of the man and the woman is the same;” which shows a perception of the moral truth, a sort of anticipation of the Christian doctrine, even in the pagan times. But I prefer an illustration which is at once practical and poetical, and plain to the most prejudiced among men or women.
Every reader of Wordsworth will recollect, if he does not know by heart, the poem entitled “The Happy Warrior.” It has been quoted often as an87 epitome of every manly, soldierly, and elevated quality. I have heard it applied to the Duke of Wellington. Those who make the experiment of merely substituting the word woman for the word warrior, and changing the feminine for the masculine pronoun, will find that it reads equally well; that almost from beginning to end it is literally as applicable to the one sex as to the other. As thus:—
CHARACTER OF THE HAPPY WOMAN. Who is the happy woman? Who is she That every woman born should wish to be? It is the generous spirit, who, when brought Among the tasks of real life, had wrought Upon the plan that pleased her childish thought; Whose high endeavours are an inward light, That make the path before her always bright: Who, with a natural instinct to discern What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn; Abides by this resolve, and stops not there, But makes her moral being her prime care; Who, doomed to go in company with Pain, And Fear, and Sorrow, miserable train! Turns that necessity to glorious gain; In face of these doth exercise a power Which is our human nature’s highest dower: Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves Of their bad influence, and their good receives; By objects, which might force the soul to abate Her feeling, rendered more compassionate; Is placable—because occasions rise So often that demand such sacrifice; More skilful in self-knowledge, even more pure As tempted more; more able to endure, 88 As more exposed to suffering and distress; Thence, also, more alive to tenderness. ’Tis she whose law is reason; who depends Upon that law as on the best of friends; Whence in a state where men are tempted still To evil for a guard against worse ill, And what in quality or act is best, Doth seldom on a right foundation rest, She fixes good on good alone, and owes To virtue every triumph that she knows. Who, if she rise to station of command, Rises by open means; and there will stand On honourable terms, or else retire. ***** Who comprehends her trust, and to the same Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim; And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait For wealth, or honours, or for worldly state; Whom they must follow; on whose head must fall Like showers of manna, if they come at all: Whose powers shed round her in the common strife Or mild concerns of ordinary life, A constant influence, a peculiar grace; But who, if she be called upon to face Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined Great issue, good or bad for human kind, Is happy as a lover; and attired With sudden brightness, like to one inspired; And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law In calmness made, and sees what she foresaw; Or if an unexpected call succeed, Come when it will, is equal to the need!
In all these fifty-six lines there is only one line which cannot be feminised in its significance,—that which I have filled up with asterisks, and which is totally at variance with our ideal of A Happy Woman. It is the line—
“And in himself possess his own desire.”
No woman could exist happily or virtuously in such complete independence of all external affections as these words express. “Her desire is to her husband,”—this is the sort of subjection prophesied for the daughters of Eve. A woman doomed to exist without this earthly rest for her affections, does not “in herself possess her own desire;” she turns towards God; and if she does not make her life a life of worship, she makes it a life of charity, (which in itself is worship,) or she dies a spiritual and a moral death. Is it much better with the man who concentrates his aspirations in himself? I should think not.
Swift, as a man and a writer, is one of those who had least sympathy with women; and I have sometimes thought that the exaggeration, even to morbidity, of the coarse and the cruel in his character, arose from this want of sympathy; but his strong sense showed him the one great moral truth as regards the two sexes, and gave him the courage to avow it.
He says, “I am ignorant of any one quality that is amiable in a woman which is not equally so in a man. I do not except even modesty and gentleness of nature; nor do I know one vice or folly which is90 not equally detestable in both.” Then, remarking that cowardice is an infirmity generally allowed to women, he wonders that they should fancy it becoming or graceful, or think it worth improving by affectation, particularly as it is generally allied to cruelty.
Here is a passage from one of Humboldt’s letters, which I have seen quoted with sympathy and admiration, as applied to the manly character only:—
“Masculine independence of mind I hold to be in reality the first requisite for the formation of a character of real manly worth. The man who suffers himself to be deceived and carried away by his own weakness, may be a very amiable person in other respects, but cannot be called a good man; such beings should not find favour in the eyes of a woman, for a truly beautiful and purely feminine nature should be attracted only by what is highest and noblest in the character of man.”
Now we will take this bit of moral philosophy, and, without the slightest alteration of the context, apply it to the female character.
“Feminine independence of mind I hold to be in reality the first requisite for the formation of a character of real feminine worth. The woman who allows herself to be deceived and carried away by 91 her own weakness may be a very amiable person in other respects, but cannot be called a good woman; such beings should not find favour in the eyes of a man, for the truly beautiful and purely manly nature should be attracted only by what is highest and noblest in the character of woman.”
After reading the above extracts, does it not seem clear, that by the exclusive or emphatic use of certain phrases and epithets, as more applicable to one sex than to the other, we have introduced a most un-christian confusion into the conscience, and have prejudiced it early against the acceptance of the larger truth?
It might seem, that where we reject the distinction between masculine and feminine virtues, one and the same type of perfection should suffice for the two sexes; yet it is clear that the moment we come to consider the personality, the same type will not suffice: and it is worth consideration that when we place before us the highest type of manhood, as exemplified in Christ, we do not imagine him as the father, but as the son; and if we think of the most perfect type of womanhood, we never can exclude the mother.
Montaigne deals with the whole question in his own homely straightforward fashion:—
“Je dis que les mâles et les fémelles sont jettés en même moule; sauf l’institution et l’usage la différence n’y est pas grande. Platon appelle indifféremment les uns et les autres à la société de touts études, exercises, charges, et vocations guerrières et paisibles en sa république, et le philosophe Antisthènes ôtait toute distinction entre leur vertu et la nôtre. Il est bien plus aisé d’accuser un sexe que d’excuser l’autre: c’est ce qu’on dit, ‘le fourgon se moque de la poële.’”
Not that I agree with Plato,—rather would leave all the fighting, military and political, if there must be fighting, to the men.
Among the absurdities talked about women, one hears, perhaps, such an aphorism as the following quoted with a sort of ludicrous complacency,—“The woman’s strength consists in her weakness!” as if it were not the weakness of a woman which makes her in her violence at once so aggravating and so contemptible, in her dissimulation at once so shallow and so dangerous, and in her vengeance at once so cowardly and so cruel.
I should not say, from my experience of my own sex, that a woman’s nature is flexible and impressible,93 though her feelings are. I know very few instances of a very inferior man ruling the mind of a superior woman, whereas I know twenty—fifty—of a very inferior woman ruling a superior man. If he love her, the chances are that she will in the end weaken and demoralise him. If a superior woman marry a vulgar or inferior man he makes her miserable, but he seldom governs her mind, or vulgarises her nature, and if there be love on his side the chances are that in the end she will elevate and refine him.
The most dangerous man to a woman is a man of high intellectual endowments morally perverted; for in a woman’s nature there is such a necessity to approve where she admires, and to believe where she loves,—a devotion compounded of love and faith is so much a part of her being,—that while the instincts remain true and the feelings uncorrupted, the conscience and the will may both be led far astray. Thus fell “our general mother,”—type of her sex,—overpowered, rather than deceived, by the colossal intellect,—half serpent, half angelic.
Coleridge speaks, and with a just indignant scorn, of those who consider chastity as if it were a thing—a thing which might be lost or kept by external accident—a thing of which one might be94 robbed, instead of a state of being. According to law and custom, the chastity of Woman is as the property of Man, to whom she is accountable for it, rather than to God and her own conscience. Whatever people may say, such is the common, the social, the legal view of the case. It is a remnant of Oriental barbarism. It tends to much vice, or, at the best, to a low standard of morality, in both sexes. This idea of property in the woman survives still in our present social state, particularly among the lower orders, and is one cause of the ill treatment of wives. All those who are particularly acquainted with the manners and condition of the people will testify to this; namely, that when a child or any weaker individual is ill treated, those standing by will interfere and protect the victim; but if the sufferer be the wife of the oppressor, it is a point of etiquette to look on, to take no part in the fray, and to leave the brute man to do what he likes “with his own.” Even the victim herself, if she be not pummelled to death, frequently deprecates such an interference with the dignity and the rights of her owner. Like the poor woman in the “Médecin malgré lui:”—“Voyez un peu cet impertinent qui vent empêcher les maris de battre leurs femmes!—et si je veux qu’il me batte, moi?”—and so ends by giving her defender a box on the ear.
“Au milieu de tous les obstacles que la nature et la société out semés sur les pas de la femme, la seule condition de repos pour elle est de s’entourer de barrières que les passions ne puissent franchir; incapable de s’approprier l’existence, elle est toujours semblable a la Chinoise dont les pieds ont été mutilés et pour laquelle toute liberté est un leurre, toute espace ouverte une cause de chute. En attendant que l’éducation ait donné aux femmes leur véritable place, malheur à celles qui brisent les lisses accoutumées! pour elles l’indépendance ne sera, comme la gloire, qu’un deuil éclatant du bonheur!”—B. Constant.
This also is one of those common-places of well-sounding eloquence, in which a fallacy is so wrapt up in words we have to dig it out. If this be true, it is true only so long as you compress the feet and compress the intellect,—no longer.
Here is another:—
“L’expérience lui avait appris que quel que fut leur âge, ou leur caractère, toutes les femmes vivaient avec le même rêve, et qu’elles avaient toutes au fond du cœur un roman commencé dont elles attendaient jusqu’à la mort le héros, comme les juifs attendent le Messie.”
This “roman commencé,” (et qui ne finit jamais), is true as regards women who are idle, and who have not replaced dreams by duties. And what are the96 “barrières” which passion cannot overleap, from the moment it has subjugated the will? How fine, how true that scene in Calderon’s “Magico Prodigioso,” where Justina conquers the fiend only by not consenting to ill!
——“This agony Of passion which afflicts my heart and soul May sweep imagination in its storm; The will is firm.”
And the baffled demon shrinks back,—
“Woman, thou hast subdued me Only by not owning thyself subdued!”
A friend of mine was once using some mincing elegancies of language to describe a high degree of moral turpitude, when a man near her interposed, with stern sarcasm, “Speak out! Give things their proper names! Half words are the perdition of women!”
“I observe,” said Sydney Smith, “that generally about the age of forty, women get tired of being97 virtuous and men of being honest.” This was said and received with a laugh as one of his good things; but, like many of his good things, how dreadfully true! And why? because, generally, education has made the virtue of the woman and the honesty of the man a matter of external opinion, not a law of the inward life.
Dante, in his lowest hell, has placed those who have betrayed women; and in the lowest deep of the lowest deep those who have betrayed trust.
Inveterate sensuality, which has the effect of utterly stupifying and brutifying lower minds, gives to natures more sensitively or more powerfully organised a horrible dash of ferocity. For there is an awful relation between animal blood-thirstiness and the proneness to sensuality, and in some sensualists a sort of feline propensity to torment and lacerate the prey they have not the appetite to devour.
“La Chevalerie faisait une tentative qui n’a jamais réussi, quoique souvent essayée; la tentative de se servir des passions humaines, et particulièrement de l’amour pour conduire l’homme à la vertu. Dans cette route l’homme s’arrête toujours en chemin. L’amour inspire beaucoup de bons sentiments—le courage, le dévouement, le sacrifice des biens et de la vie; mais il ne se sacrifie pas lui-même, et c’est là que la faiblesse humaine reprend ses droits.”—St. Marc-Girardin.
I am not sure that this well-sounding remark is true—or, if true, it is true of the mere passion, not of love in its highest phase, which is self-sacrificing, which has its essence in the capability of self-sacrifice.
“Love was given, Encouraged, sanctioned, chiefly for this end; For this the passion to excess was driven, That self might be annull’d.”
In every mind where there is a strong tendency to fear, there is a strong capacity to hate. Those who dwell in fear dwell next door to hate; and I think it is the cowardice of women which makes them such intense haters.
Our present social opinion says to the man, “You may be a vulgar brutal sensualist, and use the basest means to attain the basest ends; but so long as you do not offend against conventional good manners you shall be held blameless.” And to the woman it says, “You shall be guilty of nothing but of yielding to the softest impulses of tenderness, of relenting pity; but if you cannot add hypocrisy you shall be punished as the most desperate criminal.”
“It is worthy of notice that the external expressions appropriated to certain feelings undergo change at different periods of life and in different constitutions. The child cries and sobs from fear or pain, the adult more generally from sudden grief or warm affection, or sympathy with the feeling of others.”—Dr. Holland.
Those who have been accustomed to observe the ways of children will doubt the accuracy of this100 remark, though from the high authority of one of the most accomplished physiologists of our time. Children cry from grief, and from sympathy with grief, at a very early age. I have seen an infant in its mother’s arms, before it could speak, begin to whimper and cry when it looked up in her face, which was disturbed and bathed with tears; and that has always appeared to me an exquisite touch of most truthful nature in Wordsworth’s description of the desolation of Margaret:—
“Her little child Had from its mother caught the trick of grief, And sighed amid its playthings.”
“Letters,” said Sir James Mackintosh, “must not be on a subject. Lady Mary Wortley’s letters on her journey to Constantinople are an admirable book of travels, but they are not letters. A meeting to discuss a question of science is not conversation, nor are papers written to another to inform or discuss, letters. Conversation is relaxation, not business, and must never appear to be occupation;—nor must letters.”
“A masculine character may be a defect in a female, but a masculine genius is still a praise to a writer of whatever sex. The feminine graces of Madame de Sevigné’s genius are exquisitely charming, but the philosophy and eloquence of Madame de Staël are above the distinctions of sex.”
Of the wars between Napoleon and the Holy Alliance, Madame de Staël once said with most admirable and prophetic sense:—“It is a contest between a man who is the enemy of liberty, and a system which is equally its enemy.” But it is easier to get rid of a man than of a system: witness the Russians, who assassinate their czars one after another, but cannot get rid of their system.
The Empress Elizabeth of Russia during the war with Sweden commanded the old Hetman of102 the Cossacks to come to court on his way to Finland. “If the Emperor, your father,” said the Hetman, “had taken my advice, your Majesty would not now have been annoyed by the Swedes.” “What was your advice?” asked the Empress. “To put all the nobility to death, and transplant the people into Russia.” “But that,” said the Empress, “would have been cruel!” “I do not see that,” he replied quietly; “they are all dead now, and they would only have been dead if my advice had been taken.”
Something strangely comprehensive and unanswerable in this barbarian logic!
It was the Abbé Boileau who said of the Jesuits, that they had lengthened the Creed and shortened the Decalogue. The same witty ecclesiastic being asked why he always wrote in Latin, took a pinch of snuff, and answered gravely, “Why, for fear the bishops should read me!”
When Talleyrand once visited a certain reprobate friend of his, who was ill of cholera, the patient exclaimed in his agony, “Je sens les tourmens de l’enfer!”
“Déjà?” said Talleyrand.
Much in a word! I remember seeing a pretty French vaudeville wherein a lady is by some accident or contrivance shut up perforce with a lover she has rejected. She frets at the contretemps. He makes use of the occasion to plead his cause. The cruel fair one will not relent. Still he pleads—still she turns away. At length they are interrupted.
“Déjà!” exclaims the lady, in an accent we may suppose to be very different from that of Talleyrand; and on the intonation of this one word, pronounced as only an accomplished French actress could pronounce it, depends the dénouement of the piece.
Louis XVI. sent a distinguished physician over to England to inquire into the management of our hospitals. He praised them much, but added, “Il y manque deux choses; nos curés et nos hospitalières;” that is, he felt the want of the re104ligious element in the official and medical treatment of the sick. A want which, I think, is felt at present and will be supplied.
Those who have the largest horizon of thought, the most extended vision in regard to the relation of things, are not remarkable for self-reliance and ready judgment. A man who sees limitedly and clearly, is more sure of himself, and more direct in his dealings with circumstances and with others, than a man whose many-sided capacity embraces an immense extent of objects and objections,—just as, they say, a horse with blinkers more surely chooses his path, and is less likely to shy.
What we truly and earnestly aspire to be, that in some sense we are. The mere aspiration, by changing the frame of the mind, for the moment realises itself.
There are no such self-deceivers as those who think they reason when they only feel.
There are moments when the liberty of the inner life, opposed to the trammels of the outer, becomes too oppressive: moments when we wish that our mental horizon were less extended, thought less free; when we long to put the discursive soul into a narrow path like a railway, and force it to run on in a straight line to some determined goal.
If the deepest and best affections which God has given us sometimes brood over the heart like doves of peace,—they sometimes suck out our life-blood like vampires.
To a Frenchman the words that express things seem often to suffice for the things themselves, and he pronounces the words amour, grâce, sensibilité, as if with a relish in his mouth—as if he tasted them—as if he possessed them.
There are many good qualities, and valuable ones too, which hardly deserve the name of virtues. The word Virtue was synonymous in the old time with valour, and seems to imply contest; not merely passive goodness, but active resistance to evil. I wonder sometimes why it is that we so continually hear the phrase, “a virtuous woman,” and scarcely ever that of a “virtuous man,” except in poetry or from the pulpit.
A lie, though it be killed and dead, can sting sometimes,—like a dead wasp.
“On me dit toute la journée dans le monde, telle opinion, telle idée, sont reçues. On ne sait donc pas qu’en fait d’opinion, et d’idées j’aime beaucoup mieux les choses qui sont rejettées que celles qui sont reçues?”
“Sense can support herself handsomely in most countries on some eighteenpence a day, but for phantasy, planets and solar systems will not suffice.” And thence do you infer the superiority of sense over phantasy? Shallow reasoning! God who made the soul of man of sufficient capacity to embrace whole worlds and systems of worlds, gave us thereby a foretaste of our immortality.
“Faith in the hereafter is as necessary for the intellectual as the moral character, and to the man of letters as well as to the Christian, the present forms but the slightest portion of his existence.”—Southey.
Goethe did not think so. “Genutzt dem Augenblick,” “Use the present,” was his favourite maxim; and always this notion of sacrificing or slighting the present seems to me a great mistake. It ought to be the most important part of our existence, as it is the only part of it over which we have power. It is in the present only that we absolve the past and lay the foundation for the future.
“Je allseitigen, je individueller,” is a beautiful significant phrase, quite untranslateable, used, I think, by Rahel (Madame Varnhagen). It means that the more the mind can multiply on every side its capacities of thinking and feeling, the more individual, the more original, that mind becomes.
“I wonder,” said C., “that facts should be called stubborn things.” I wonder, too, seeing you can always oppose a fact with another fact, and that nothing is so easy as to twist, pervert, and argue or misrepresent a fact into twenty different forms. “Il n’y a rien qui s’arrange aussi facilement que les faits,”—Nothing so tractable as facts,—said Benjamin Constant. True; so long as facts are only material,—or as one should say, mere matter of fact,—you can modify them to a purpose, turn them upside down and inside out; but once vivify a fact with a feeling, and it stands up before us a living and a very stubborn thing.
Every human being is born to influence some other human being; or many, or all human beings, in proportion to the extent and power of the sympathies, rather than of the intellect.
It was said, and very beautifully said, that “one man’s wit becomes all men’s wisdom.” Even more true is it that one man’s virtue becomes a standard which raises our anticipation of possible goodness in all men.
It is curious that the memory, most retentive of images, should yet be much more retentive of feelings than of facts: for instance, we remember with such intense vividness a period of suffering, that it seems even to renew itself through the medium of thought; yet, at the same time, we perhaps find difficulty in recalling, with any distinctness, the causes of that pain.
“Truth has never manifested itself to me in such a broad stream of light as seems to be poured upon some minds. Truth has appeared to my mental eye, like a vivid, yet small and trembling star in a storm, now appearing for a moment with a beauty that enraptured, now lost in such clouds, as, had I less faith, might make me suspect that the previous clear sight had been a delusion.”—Blanco White.
Very exquisite in the aptness as well as poetry of the comparison! Some walk by daylight, some111 walk by starlight. Those who see the sun do not see the stars; those who see the stars do not see the sun.
He says in another place:—
“I am averse to too much activity of the imagination on the future life. I hope to die full of confidence that no evil awaits me: but any picture of a future life distresses me. I feel as if an eternity of existence were already an insupportable burden on my soul.”
How characteristic of that lassitude of the soul and sickness of the heart which “asks not happiness, but longs for rest!”
“Those are the worst of suicides who voluntarily and prepensely stab or suffocate their fame when God hath commanded them to stand on high for an example.”
Carlyle thus apostrophised a celebrated orator, who abused his gift of eloquence to insincere purposes of vanity, self-interest, and expediency:112—“You blasphemous scoundrel! God gave you that gifted tongue of yours, and set it between your teeth, to make known your true meaning to us, not to be rattled like a muffin-man’s bell!”
I think, with Carlyle, that a lie should be trampled on and extinguished wherever found. I am for fumigating the atmosphere when I suspect that falsehood, like pestilence, breathes around me. A. thinks this is too young a feeling, and that as the truth is sure to conquer in the end, it is not worth while to fight every separate lie, or fling a torch into every infected hole. Perhaps not, so far as we are ourselves concerned; but we should think of others. While secure in our own antidote, or wise in our own caution, we should not leave the miasma to poison the healthful, or the briars to entangle the unwary. There is no occasion perhaps for truth to sally forth like a knight-errant tilting at every vizor, but neither should she sit self-assured in her tower of strength, leaving pitfalls outside her gate for the blind to fall into.
“There is a way to separate memory from imagination—we may narrate without painting. I am convinced that the mind can employ certain indistinct signs to represent even its most vivid impressions; that instead of picture writing, it can use something like algebraic symbols: such is the language of the soul when the paroxysm of pain has passed, and the wounds it received formerly are skinned over, not healed:—it is a language very opposite to that used by the poet and the novel-writer.”—Blanco White.
True; but a language in which the soul can converse only with itself; or else a language more conventional than words, and like paper as a tender for gold, more capable of being defaced and falsified. There is a proverb we have heard quoted: “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” But better is the silver diffused than the talent of gold buried.
However distinguished and gifted, mentally and morally, we find that in conduct and in our114 external relations with, society there is ever a levelling influence at work. Seldom in our relations with the world, and in the ordinary commerce of life, are the best and highest within us brought forth; for the whole system of social intercourse is levelling. As it is said that law knows no distinction of persons but that which it has itself instituted; so of society it may be said, that it allows of no distinction but those which it can recognise—external distinctions.
We hear it said that general society—the world, as it is called—and a public school, are excellent educators; because in one the man, in the other the boy, “finds, as the phrase is, his own level.” He does not; he finds the level of others. That may be good for those below mediocrity, but for those above it bad: and it is for those we should most care, for if once brought down in early life by the levelling influence of numbers, they seldom rise again, or only partially. Nothing so dangerous as to be perpetually measuring ourselves against what is beneath us, feeling our superiority to that which we force ourselves to assimilate to. This has been the perdition of many a schoolboy and many a man.
“Il me semble que le plus noble rapport entre le ciel et la terre, le plus beau don que Dieu ait fait à l’homme, la pensée, l’inspiration, se décompose en quelque sorte dès qu’elle est descendue dans son âme. Elle y vient simple et désintéressée; il la reproduit corrompue par tous les intérêts auxquels il l’associe; elle lui a été confiée pour la multiplier à l’avantage de tous; il la publie au profit de son amour-propre.”—Madame de Saint-Aulaire.
There would be much to say about this, for it is not always, nor generally, amour-propre or interest; it is the desire of sympathy, which impels the artist mind to the utterance in words, or the expression in form, of that thought or inspiration which God has sent into his soul.
Milton’s Eve is the type of the masculine standard of perfection in woman; a graceful figure, an abundance of fine hair, much “coy submission,” and such a degree of unreasoning wilfulness as shall risk perdition.
And the woman’s standard for the man is Adam, who rules and demands subjection, and is so indulgent that he gives up to blandishment what he116 would refuse to reason, and what his own reason condemns.
Every subject which excites discussion impels to thought. Every expression of a mind humbly seeking truth, not assuming to have found it, helps the seeker after truth.
As a man just released from the rack stands bruised and broken,—bleeding at every pore, and dislocated in every limb, and raises his eyes to heaven, and says, “God be praised! I suffer no more!” because to that past sharp agony the respite comes like peace—like sleep,—so we stand, after some great wrench in our best affections, where they have been torn up by the root; when the conflict is over, and the tension of the heart-strings is relaxed, then comes a sort of rest,—but of what kind?
To trust religiously, to hope humbly, to desire nobly, to think rationally, to will resolutely, and to work earnestly,—may this be mine.
We are all interested in this great question of popular education; but I see others much more sanguine than I am. They hope for some immediate good result from all that is thought, written, spoken on the subject day after day. I see such results as possible, probable, but far, far off. All this talk is of systems and methods, institutions, school houses, schoolmasters, schoolmistresses, school books; the ways and the means by which we are to instruct, inform, manage, mould, regulate, that which lies in most cases beyond our reach—the spirit sent from God. What do we know of the mystery of child-nature, child-life? What, indeed, do we know of any life? All life we acknowledge to be an awful mystery, but child-life we treat as if it were no mystery whatever—just so much material placed in our hands to be fashioned to a certain form according to our will or our prejudices,—fitted118 to certain purposes according to our notions of expediency. Till we know how to reverence childhood we shall do no good. Educators commit the same mistake with regard to childhood that theologians commit with regard to our present earthly existence; thinking of it, treating of it, as of little value or significance in itself, only transient, and preparatory to some condition of being which is to follow—as if it were something separate from us and to be left behind us as the creature casts its skin. But as in the sight of God this life is also something for its own sake, so in the estimation of Christ, childhood was something for its own sake,—something holy and beautiful in itself, and dear to him. He saw it not merely as the germ of something to grow out of it, but as perfect and lovely in itself as the flower which precedes the fruit. We misunderstand childhood, and we misuse it; we delight in it, and we pamper it; we spoil it ingeniously, we neglect it sinfully; at the best we trifle with it as a plaything which we can pull to pieces and put together at pleasure—ignorant, reckless, presumptuous that we are!
And if we are perpetually making the grossest mistakes in the physical and practical management of childhood, how much more in regard to what is spiritual! What do we know of that which lies in the minds of children? we know only what we put119 there. The world of instincts, perceptions, experiences, pleasures, and pains, lying there without self-consciousness,—sometimes helplessly mute, sometimes so imperfectly expressed, that we quite mistake the manifestation—what do we know of all this? How shall we come at the understanding of it? The child lives, and does not contemplate its own life. It can give no account of that inward, busy, perpetual activity of the growing faculties and feelings which it is of so much importance that we should know. To lead children by questionings to think about their own identity, or observe their own feelings, is to teach them to be artificial. To waken self-consciousness before you awaken conscience is the beginning of incalculable mischief. Introspection is always, as a habit, unhealthy: introspection in childhood, fatally so. How shall we come at a knowledge of life such as it is when it first gushes from its mysterious fountain head? We cannot reascend the stream. We all, however we may remember the external scenes lived through in our infancy, either do not, or cannot, consult that part of our nature which remains indissolubly connected with the inward life of that time. We so forget it, that we know not how to deal with the child-nature when it comes under our power. We seldom reason about children from natural laws, or psychological data. Unconsciously we confound our matured120 experience with our memory: we attribute to children what is not possible, exact from them what is impossible;—ignore many things which the child has neither words to express, nor the will nor the power to manifest. The quickness with which children perceive, the keenness with which they suffer, the tenacity with which they remember, I have never seen fully appreciated. What misery we cause to children, what mischief we do them by bringing our own minds, habits, artificial prejudices and senile experiences, to bear on their young life, and cramp and overshadow it—it is fearful!
Of all the wrongs and anomalies that afflict our earth, a sinful childhood, a suffering childhood, are among the worst.
O ye men! who sit in committees, and are called upon to legislate for children,—for children who are the offspring of diseased or degenerate humanity, or the victims of a yet more diseased society,—do you, when you take evidence from jailors, and policemen, and parish schoolmasters, and doctors of divinity, do you ever call up, also, the wise physician, the thoughtful physiologist, the experienced mother? You have accumulated facts, great blue books full of facts, but till you know in what fixed and uniform principles of nature to seek their solution, your facts remain a dead letter.
I say nothing here of teaching, though very few in truth understand that lowest part of our duty to121 children. Men, it is generally allowed, teach better than women because they have been better taught the things they teach. Women train better than men because of their quick instinctive perceptions and sympathies, and greater tenderness and patience. In schools and in families I would have some things taught by men, and some by women: but we will here put aside the art, the act of teaching: we will turn aside from the droves of children in national schools and reformatory asylums, and turn to the individual child, brought up within the guarded circle of a home or a select school, watched by an intelligent, a conscientious influence. How shall we deal with that spirit which has come out of nature’s hands unless we remember what we were ourselves in the past? What sympathy can we have with that state of being which we regard as immature, so long as we commit the double mistake of sometimes attributing to children motives which could only spring from our adult experience, and sometimes denying to them the same intuitive tempers and feelings which actuate and agitate our maturer life? We do not sufficiently consider that our life is not made up of separate parts, but is one—is a progressive whole. When we talk of leaving our childhood behind us, we might as well say that the river flowing onward to the sea had left the fountain behind.
I will here put together some recollections of my own child-life; not because it was in any respect an exceptional or remarkable existence, but for a reason exactly the reverse, because it was like that of many children; at least I have met with many children who throve or suffered from the same or similar unseen causes even under external conditions and management every way dissimilar. Facts, therefore, which can be relied on, may be generally useful as hints towards a theory of conduct in education. What I shall say here shall be simply the truth so far as it goes; not something between the false and the true, garnished for effect,—not something half-remembered, half-imagined,—but plain, absolute, matter of fact.
No; certainly I was not an extraordinary child. I have had something to do with children, and have met with several more remarkable for quickness of talent, and precocity of feeling. If any thing in particular, I believe I was particularly naughty,—at least so it was said twenty times a day. But 123 looking back now, I do not think I was particular even in this respect; I perpetrated not more than the usual amount of mischief—so called—which every lively active child perpetrates between five and ten years old. I had the usual desire to know, and the usual dislike to learn; the usual love of fairy tales, and hatred of French exercises. But not of what I learned, but of what I did not learn; not of what they taught me, but of what they could not teach me; not of what was open, apparent, manageable, but of the under current, the hidden, the unmanaged or unmanageable, I have to speak, and you, my friend, to hear and turn to account, if you will, and how you will. As we grow old the experiences of infancy come back upon us with a strange vividness. There is a period when the overflowing, tumultuous life of our youth rises up between us and those first years; but as the torrent subsides in its bed we can look across the impassable gulf to that haunted fairy land which we shall never more approach, and never more forget!
In memory I can go back to a very early age. I perfectly remember being sung to sleep, and can remember even the tune which was sung to me—blessings on the voice that sang it! I was an affectionate, but not, as I now think, a loveable nor an attractive child. I did not, like the little Mozart,124 ask of every one around me, “Do you love me?” The instinctive question was, rather, “Can I love you?” Yet certainly I was not more than six years old when I suffered from the fear of not being loved where I had attached myself, and from the idea that another was preferred before me, such anguish as had nearly killed me. Whether those around me regarded it as a fit of ill-temper, or a fit of illness, I do not know. I could not then have given a name to the pang that fevered me. I knew not the cause, but never forgot the suffering. It left a deeper impression than childish passions usually do; and the recollection was so far salutary, that in after life I guarded myself against the approaches of that hateful, deformed, agonising thing which men call jealousy, as I would from an attack of cramp or cholera. If such self-knowledge has not saved me from the pain, at least it has saved me from the demoralising effects of the passion, by a wholesome terror, and even a sort of disgust.
With a good temper, there was the capacity of strong, deep, silent resentment, and a vindictive spirit of rather a peculiar kind. I recollect that when one of those set over me inflicted what then appeared a most horrible injury and injustice, the thoughts of vengeance haunted my fancy for months: but it was an inverted sort of vengeance. I imagined the house of my enemy on fire, 125 and rushed through the flames to rescue her. She was drowning, and I leaped into the deep water to draw her forth. She was pining in prison, and I forced bars and bolts to deliver her. If this were magnanimity, it was not the less vengeance; for, observe, I always fancied evil, and shame, and humiliation to my adversary; to myself the rôle of superiority and gratified pride. For several years this sort of burning resentment against wrong done to myself and others, though it took no mean or cruel form, was a source of intense, untold suffering. No one was aware of it. I was left to settle it; and my mind righted itself I hardly know how: not certainly by religious influences—they passed over my mind, and did not at the time sink into it,—and as for earthly counsel or comfort, I never had either when most needed. And as it fared with me then, so it has been in after life; so it has been, must be, with all those who, in fighting out alone the pitched battle between principle and passion, will accept no intervention between the infinite within them and the infinite above them; so it has been, must be, with all strong natures. Will it be said that victory in the struggle brings increase of strength? It may be so with some who survive the contest; but then, how many sink! how many are crippled morally for life! how many, strengthened in some particular faculties, suffer in losing the harmony of the character 126 as a whole! This is one of the points in which the matured mind may help the childish nature at strife with itself. It is impossible to say how far this sort of vindictiveness might have penetrated and hardened into the character, if I had been of a timid or retiring nature. It was expelled at last by no outer influences, but by a growing sense of power and self-reliance.
In regard to truth—always such a difficulty in education,—I certainly had, as a child, and like most children, confused ideas about it. I had a more distinct and absolute idea of honour than of truth,—a mistake into which our conventional morality leads those who educate and those who are educated. I knew very well, in a general way, that to tell a lie was wicked; to lie for my own profit or pleasure, or to the hurt of others, was, according to my infant code of morals, worse than wicked—it was dishonourable. But I had no compunction about telling fictions;—inventing scenes and circumstances, which I related as real, and with a keen sense of triumphant enjoyment in seeing the listener taken in by a most artful and ingenious concatenation of impossibilities. In this respect “Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, that liar of the first magnitude,” was nothing in comparison to me. I must have been twelve years old before my conscience was first127 awakened up to a sense of the necessity of truth as a principle, as well as its holiness as a virtue. Afterwards, having to set right the minds of others cleared my own mind on this and some other important points.
I do not think I was naturally obstinate, but remember going without food all day, and being sent hungry and exhausted to bed, because I would not do some trifling thing required of me. I think it was to recite some lines I knew by heart. I was punished as wilfully obstinate: but what no one knew then, and what I know now as the fact, was, that after refusing to do what was required, and bearing anger and threats in consequence, I lost the power to do it. I became stone: the will was petrified, and I absolutely could not comply. They might have hacked me in pieces before my lips could have unclosed to utterance. The obstinacy was not in the mind, but on the nerves; and I am persuaded that what we call obstinacy in children, and grownup people, too, is often something of this kind, and that it may be increased, by mismanagement, by persistence, or what is called firmness, in the controlling power, into disease, or something near to it.
There was in my childish mind another cause of suffering besides those I have mentioned, less acute, 128 but more permanent and always unacknowledged. It was fear—fear of darkness and supernatural influences. As long as I can remember anything, I remember these horrors of my infancy. How they had been awakened I do not know; they were never revealed. I had heard other children ridiculed for such fears, and held my peace. At first these haunting, thrilling, stifling terrors were vague; afterwards the form varied; but one of the most permanent was the ghost in Hamlet. There was a volume of Shakspeare lying about, in which was an engraving I have not seen since, but it remains distinct in my mind as a picture. On one side stood Hamlet with his hair on end, literally “like quills upon the fretful porcupine,” and one hand with all the fingers outspread. On the other strided the ghost, encased in armour with nodding plumes; one finger pointing forwards, and all surrounded with a supernatural light. O that spectre! for three years it followed me up and down the dark staircase, or stood by my bed: only the blessed light had power to exorcise it. How it was that I knew, while I trembled and quaked, that it was unreal, never cried out, never expostulated, never confessed, I do not know. The figure of Apollyon looming over Christian, which I had found in an old edition of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” was also a great torment. But worse, perhaps, were certain phantasms without shape, 129 things like the vision in Job—“A spirit passed before my face; it stood still, but I could not discern the form thereof:”—and if not intelligible voices, there were strange unaccountable sounds filling the air around with a sort of mysterious life. In daylight I was not only fearless, but audacious, inclined to defy all power and brave all danger,—that is, all danger I could see. I remember volunteering to lead the way through a herd of cattle (among which was a dangerous bull, the terror of the neighbourhood) armed only with a little stick; but first I said the Lord’s Prayer fervently. In the ghastly night I never prayed; terror stifled prayer. These visionary sufferings, in some form or other, pursued me till I was nearly twelve years old. If I had not possessed a strong constitution and a strong understanding, which rejected and contemned my own fears, even while they shook me, I had been destroyed. How much weaker children suffer in this way, I have since known; and have known how to bring them help and strength, through sympathy and knowledge, the sympathy that soothes and does not encourage—the knowledge that dispels, and does not suggest, the evil.
People, in general, even those who have been much interested in education, are not aware of the sacred duty of truth, exact truth in their intercourse 130 with children. Limit what you tell them according to the measure of their faculties; but let what you say be the truth. Accuracy not merely as to fact, but well-considered accuracy in the use of words, is essential with children. I have read some wise book on the treatment of the insane, in which absolute veracity and accuracy in speaking is prescribed as a curative principle; and deception for any purpose is deprecated as almost fatal to the health of the patient. Now, it is a good sanatory principle, that what is curative is preventive; and that an unhealthy state of mind, leading to madness, may, in some organisations, be induced by that sort of uncertainty and perplexity which grows up where the mind has not been accustomed to truth in its external relations. It is like breathing for a continuance an impure or confined air.
Of the mischief that may be done to a childish mind by a falsehood uttered in thoughtless gaiety, I remember an absurd and yet a painful instance. A visitor was turning over, for a little girl, some prints, one of which represented an Indian widow springing into the fire kindled for the funeral pile of her husband. It was thus explained to the child, who asked innocently, whether, if her father died, her mother would be burned? The person to whom the question was addressed, a lively, amiable woman, was probably much amused by the question, and an 131swered, giddily, “Oh, of course,—certainly!” and was believed implicitly. But thenceforth, for many weary months, the mind of that child was haunted and tortured by the image of her mother springing into the devouring flames, and consumed by fire, with all the accessories of the picture, particularly the drums beating to drown her cries. In a weaker organisation, the results might have been permanent and serious. But to proceed.
These terrors I have described had an existence external to myself: I had no power over them to shape them by my will, and their power over me vanished gradually before a more dangerous infatuation,—the propensity to reverie. This shaping spirit of imagination began when I was about eight or nine years old to haunt my inner life. I can truly say that, from ten years old to fourteen or fifteen, I lived a double existence; one outward, linking me with the external sensible world, the other inward, creating a world to and for itself, conscious to itself only. I carried on for whole years a series of actions, scenes, and adventures; one springing out of another, and coloured and modified by increasing knowledge. This habit grew so upon me, that there were moments—as when I came to some crisis in my imaginary adventures,—when I was not more awake to outward things than in sleep,—scarcely took cognisance of the beings around me. 132 When punished for idleness by being placed in solitary confinement (the worst of all punishments for children), the intended penance was nothing less than a delight and an emancipation, giving me up to my dreams. I had a very strict and very accomplished governess, one of the cleverest women I have ever met with in my life; but nothing of this was known or even suspected by her, and I exulted in possessing something which her power could not reach. My reveries were my real life: it was an unhealthy state of things.
Those who are engaged in the training of children will perhaps pause here. It may be said, in the first place, How are we to reach those recesses of the inner life which the God who made us keeps from every eye but his own? As when we walk over the field in spring we are aware of a thousand influences and processes at work of which we have no exact knowledge or clear perception, yet must watch and use accordingly,—so it is with education. And secondly, it may be asked, if such secret processes be working unconscious mischief, where the remedy? The remedy is in employment. Then the mother or the teacher echoes with astonishment, “Employment! the child is employed from morning till night; she is learning a dozen sciences and languages; she has masters and lessons for every hour of every day: with her pencil, 133 her piano, her books, her companions, her birds, her flowers,—what can she want more?” An energetic child even at a very early age, and yet farther as the physical organisation is developed, wants something more and something better; employment which shall bring with it the bond of a higher duty than that which centres in self and self-improvement; employment which shall not merely cultivate the understanding, but strengthen and elevate the conscience; employment for the higher and more generous faculties; employment addressed to the sympathies; employment which has the aim of utility, not pretended, but real, obvious, direct utility. A girl who as a mere child is not always being taught or being amused, whose mind is early restrained by the bond of definite duty, and thrown out of the limit of self, will not in after years be subject to fancies that disturb or to reveries that absorb, and the present and the actual will have that power they ought to have as combined in due degree with desire and anticipation.
The Roman Catholic priesthood understand this well: employment, which enlists with the spiritual the sympathetic part of our being, is a means through which they guide both young and adult minds. Physicians who have to manage various states of mental and moral disease understand this well; they speak of the necessity of employment (not mere 134 amusement) as a curative means, but of employment with the direct aim of usefulness, apprehended and appreciated by the patient, else it is nothing. It is the same with children. Such employment, chosen with reference to utility, and in harmony with the faculties, would prove in many cases either preventive or curative. In my own case, as I now think, it would have been both.
There was a time when it was thought essential that women should know something of cookery, something of medicine, something of surgery. If all these things are far better understood now than heretofore, is that a reason why a well educated woman should be left wholly ignorant of them? A knowledge of what people call “common things”—of the elements of physiology, of the conditions of health, of the qualities, nutritive or remedial, of substances commonly used as food or medicine, and the most economical and most beneficial way of applying both,—these should form a part of the system of every girls’ school—whether for the higher or the lower classes. At present you shall see a girl studying chemistry, and attending Faraday’s lectures, who would be puzzled to compound a rice-pudding or a cup of barley-water: and a girl who could work quickly a complicated sum in the Rule of Three, afterwards wasting a fourth of her husband’s wages through want of management.
In my own case, how much of the practical and the sympathetic in my nature was exhausted in airy visions!
As to the stuff out of which my waking dreams were composed, I cannot tell you much. I have a remembrance that I was always a princess-heroine in the disguise of a knight, a sort of Clorinda or Britomart, going about to redress the wrongs of the poor, fight giants, and kill dragons; or founding a society in some far-off solitude or desolate island, which would have rivalled that of Gonsalez, where there were to be no tears, no tasks, and no laws,—except those which I made myself,—no caged birds nor tormented kittens.
Enough of the pains, and mistakes, and vagaries of childhood; let me tell of some of its pleasures equally unguessed and unexpressed. A great, and exquisite source of enjoyment arose out of an early, instinctive, boundless delight in external beauty. How this went hand in hand with my terrors and reveries, how it could coexist with them, I cannot136 tell now—it was so; and if this sympathy with the external, living, beautiful world, had been properly, scientifically cultivated, and directed to useful definite purposes, it would have been the best remedy for much that was morbid: this was not the case, and we were, unhappily for me, too early removed from the country to a town residence. I can remember, however, that in very early years the appearances of nature did truly “haunt me like a passion;” the stars were to me as the gates of heaven; the rolling of the wave to the shore, the graceful weeds and grasses bending before the breeze as they grew by the wayside; the minute and delicate forms of insects; the trembling shadows of boughs and leaves dancing on the ground in the highest noon; these were to me perfect pleasures of which the imagery now in my mind is distinct. Wordsworth’s poem of “The Daffodils,” the one beginning—
“I wandered lonely as a cloud,”
may appear to some unintelligible or overcharged, but to me it was a vivid truth, a simple fact; and if Wordsworth had been then in my hands I think I must have loved him. It was this intense sense of beauty which gave the first zest to poetry: I love it, not because it told me what I did not know, but because it helped me to words in which to clothe my own knowledge and perceptions, and reflected back 137 the pictures unconsciously hoarded up in my mind. This was what made Thomson’s “Seasons” a favourite book when I first began to read for my own amusement, and before I could understand one half of it; St. Pierre’s “Indian Cottage” (“La Chaumière Indienne”) was also charming, either because it reflected my dreams, or gave me new stuff for them in pictures of an external world quite different from that I inhabited,—palm-trees, elephants, tigers, dark-turbaned men with flowing draperies; and the “Arabian Nights” completed my Oriental intoxication, which lasted for a long time.
I have said little of the impressions left by books, and of my first religious notions. A friend of mine had once the wise idea of collecting together a variety of evidence as to the impressions left by certain books on childish or immature minds: If carried out, it would have been one of the most valuable additions to educational experience ever made. For myself I did not much care about the books put into my hands, nor imbibe much information from them. I had a great taste, I am sorry to say, for forbidden books; yet it was not the forbidden books that did the mischief, except in their being read furtively. I remember impressions of vice and cruelty from some parts of the Old Testament and Goldsmith’s “History of England,” which I shudder to recall. Shakspeare was on the forbidden 138 shelf. I had read him all through between seven and ten years old. He never did me any moral mischief. He never soiled my mind with any disordered image. What was exceptionable and coarse in language I passed by without attaching any meaning whatever to it. How it might have been if I had read Shakspeare first when I was fifteen or sixteen, I do not know; perhaps the occasional coarsenesses and obscurities might have shocked the delicacy or puzzled the intelligence of that sensitive and inquiring age. But at nine or ten I had no comprehension of what was unseemly; what might be obscure in words to wordy commentators, was to me lighted up by the idea I found or interpreted for myself—right or wrong.
No; I repeat, Shakspeare—bless him!—never did me any moral mischief. Though the Witches in Macbeth troubled me,—though the Ghost in Hamlet terrified me (the picture that is,—for the spirit in Shakspeare was solemn and pathetic, not hideous),—though poor little Arthur cost me an ocean of tears,—yet much that was obscure, and all that was painful and revolting was merged on the whole in the vivid presence of a new, beautiful, vigorous, living world. The plays which I now think the most wonderful produced comparatively little effect on my fancy: Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, struck me then less than the historical plays, and far less 139 than the Midsummer Night’s Dream and Cymbeline. It may be thought, perhaps, that Falstaff is not a character to strike a child, or to be understood by a child:—no; surely not. To me Falstaff was not witty and wicked—only irresistibly fat and funny; and I remember lying on the ground rolling with laughter over some of the scenes in Henry the Fourth,—the mock play, and the seven men in buckram. But The Tempest and Cymbeline were the plays I liked best and knew best.
Altogether I should say that in my early years books were known to me, not as such, not for their general contents, but for some especial image or picture I had picked out of them and assimilated to my own mind and mixed up with my own life. For example out of Homer’s Odyssey (lent to me by the parish clerk) I had the picture of Nasicaa and her maidens going down in their chariots to wash their linen: so that when the first time I went to the Pitti Palace, and could hardly see the pictures through blinding tears, I saw that picture of Rubens, which all remember who have been at Florence, and it flashed delight and refreshment through those remembered childish associations. The Syrens and Polypheme left also vivid pictures on my fancy. The Iliad, on the contrary, wearied me, except the parting of Hector and Andromache, in which the child, scared by its father’s 140 dazzling helm and nodding crest, remains a vivid image in my mind from that time.
The same parish clerk—a curious fellow in his way—lent me also some religious tracts and stories, by Hannah More. It is most certain that more moral mischief was done to me by some of these than by all Shakspeare’s plays together. These so-called pious tracts first introduced me to a knowledge of the vices of vulgar life, and the excitements of a vulgar religion,—the fear of being hanged and the fear of hell became co-existent in my mind; and the teaching resolved itself into this,—that it was not by being naughty, but by being found out, that I was to incur the risk of both. My fairy world was better!
About Religion:—I was taught religion as children used to be taught it in my younger days, and are taught it still in some cases, I believe—through the medium of creeds and catechisms. I read the Bible too early, and too indiscriminately, and too irreverently. Even the New Testament was too early placed in my hands; too early made a lesson book, as the custom then was. The letter of the Scriptures—the words—were familiarised to me by sermonising and dogmatising, long before I could enter into the spirit. Meantime, happily, another religion was growing up in my heart, which, strangely enough, seemed to me quite apart from 141 that which was taught,—which, indeed, I never in any way regarded as the same which I was taught when I stood up wearily on a Sunday to repeat the collect and say the catechism. It was quite another thing. Not only the taught religion and the sentiment of faith and adoration were never combined, but it never for years entered into my head to combine them; the first remained extraneous, the latter had gradually taken root in my life, even from the moment my mother joined my little hands in prayer. The histories out of the Bible (the Parables especially) were, however, enchanting to me, though my interpretation of them was in some instances the very reverse of correct or orthodox. To my infant conception our Lord was a being who had come down from heaven to make people good, and to tell them beautiful stories. And though no pains were spared to indoctrinate me, and all my pastors and masters took it for granted that my ideas were quite satisfactory, nothing could be more confused and heterodox.
It is a common observation that girls of lively talents are apt to grow pert and satirical. I fell into this danger when about ten years old. Sallies at the expense of certain people, ill-looking, or ill-dressed, or ridiculous, or foolish, had been laughed at and applauded in company, until, without being 142 naturally malignant, I ran some risk of becoming so from sheer vanity.
The fables which appeal to our higher moral sympathies may sometimes do as much for us as the truths of science. So thought our Saviour when he taught the multitude in parables.
A good clergyman who lived near us, a famous Persian scholar, took it into his head to teach me Persian (I was then about seven years old), and I set to work with infinite delight and earnestness. All I learned was soon forgotten; but a few years afterwards, happening to stumble on a volume of Sir William Jones’s works—his Persian grammar—it revived my Orientalism, and I began to study it eagerly. Among the exercises given was a Persian fable or poem—one of those traditions of our Lord which are preserved in the East. The beautiful apologue of “St. Peter and the Cherries,” which Goethe has versified or imitated, is a well known example. This fable I allude to was something similar, but I have not met with the original these forty years, and must give it here from memory.
“Jesus,” says the story, “arrived one evening at the gates of a certain city, and he sent his disciples forward to prepare supper, while he himself, intent on doing good, walked through the streets into the market place.
“And he saw at the corner of the market some 143 people gathered together looking at an object on the ground; and he drew near to see what it might be. It was a dead dog, with a halter round his neck, by which he appeared to have been dragged through the dirt; and a viler, a more abject, a more unclean thing, never met the eyes of man.
“And those who stood by looked on with abhorrence.
“‘Faugh!’ said one, stopping his nose; ‘it pollutes the air.’ ‘How long,’ said another, ‘shall this foul beast offend our sight?’ ‘Look at his torn hide,’ said a third; ‘one could not even cut a shoe out of it.’ ‘And his ears,’ said a fourth, ‘all draggled and bleeding!’ ‘No doubt,’ said a fifth, ‘he hath been hanged for thieving!’
“And Jesus heard them, and looking down compassionately on the dead creature, he said, ‘Pearls are not equal to the whiteness of his teeth!’
“Then the people turned towards him with amazement, and said among themselves, ‘Who is this? this must be Jesus of Nazareth, for only He could find something to pity and approve even in a dead dog;’ and being ashamed, they bowed their heads before him, and went each on his way.”
I can recall, at this hour, the vivid, yet softening and pathetic impression left on my fancy by this old Eastern story. It struck me as exquisitely humorous, as well as exquisitely beautiful. It gave me 144 a pain in my conscience, for it seemed thenceforward so easy and so vulgar to say satirical things, and so much nobler to be benign and merciful, and I took the lesson so home, that I was in great danger of falling into the opposite extreme,—of seeking the beautiful even in the midst of the corrupt and the repulsive. Pity, a large element in my composition, might have easily degenerated into weakness, threatening to subvert hatred of evil in trying to find excuses for it; and whether my mind has ever completely righted itself, I am not sure.
Educators are not always aware, I think, how acute are the perceptions, and how permanent the memories, of children. I remember experiments tried upon my temper and feelings, and how I was made aware of this, by their being repeated, and, in some instances, spoken of, before me. Music, to which I was early and peculiarly sensitive, was sometimes made the medium of these experiments. Discordant sounds were not only hateful, but made me turn white and cold, and sent the blood backward to my heart; and certain tunes had a curious effect, I cannot now account for: for though, when heard for the first time, they had little effect, they became intolerable by repetition; they turned up some hidden emotion within me too strong to be borne. It could not have been from association, which I believe 145 to be a principal element in the emotion excited by music. I was too young for that. What associations could such a baby have had with pleasure or with pain? Or could it be possible that associations with some former state of existence awoke up to sound? That our life “hath elsewhere its beginning, and cometh from afar,” is a belief or at least an instinct, in some minds, which music, and only music, seems to thrill into consciousness. At this time, when I was about five or six years old, Mrs. Arkwright—she was then Fanny Kemble—used to come to our house, and used to entrance me with her singing. I had a sort of adoration for her, such as an ecstatic votary might have for a Saint Cecilia. I trembled with pleasure when I only heard her step. But her voice!—it has charmed hundreds since; whom has it ever moved to a more genuine passion of delight than the little child that crept silent and tremulous to her side? And she was fond of me,—fond of singing to me, and, it must be confessed, fond also of playing these experiments on me. The music of “Paul and Virginia” was then in vogue, and there was one air—a very simple air—in that opera, which, after the first few bars, always made me stop my ears and rush out of the room. I became at last aware that this was sometimes done by particular desire to please my parents, or amuse and interest others by the display of such vehement emotion. 146 My infant conscience became perplexed between the reality of the feeling and the exhibition of it. People are not always aware of the injury done to children by repeating before them things they say, or describing things they do: words and actions, spontaneous and unconscious, become thenceforth artificial and conscious. I can speak of the injury done to myself, between five and eight years old. There was some danger of my becoming a precocious actress,—danger of permanent mischief such as I have seen done to other children,—but I was saved by the recoil of resistance and resentment excited in my mind.
This is enough. All that has been told here refers to a period between five and ten years old.
Once upon a time the lightning from heaven fell upon a tree standing in the old primeval forest and kindled it, so that it flamed on high. And it happened that a young hunter, who had lost his path in that wilderness, beheld the gleam of the flames from a distance, and, forcing his way through the thicket, he flung himself down in rapture before the blazing tree.
“O divine light and warmth!” he exclaimed,148 stretching forth his arms. “O blessed! O heaven-descended Fire! let me thank thee! let me adore thee! Giver of a new existence, quickening thro’ every pulse, how lost, how cold, how dark have I dwelt without thee! Restorer of my life! remain ever near me, and, through thy benign and celestial influence, send love and joy to illuminate my soul!”
And the Fire answered and said to him, “It is true that my birth is from heaven, but I am now, through mingling with earthly elements, subdued to earthly influences; therefore, beware how you choose me for thy friend, without having first studied my twofold nature. O youth! take heed lest what appear to thee now a blessing, may be turned, at some future time, to fiery pain and death.” And the youth replied, “No! O no! thou blessed Fire, this could never be. Am I then so senseless, so inconstant, so thankless? O believe it not! Let me stay near thee; let me be thy priest, to watch and tend thee truly. Ofttimes in my wild wintry life, when the chill darkness encompassed me, and the ice-blast lifted my hair, have I dreamed of the soft summer breath,—of the sunshine that should light up the world within me and the world around me. But still that time came not. It seemed ever far, far off; and I had perished utterly before the light and the warmth had reached me, had it not been for thee!”
Thus the youth poured forth his soul, and the 149 Fire answered him in murmured tones, while her beams with a softer radiance played over his cheek and brow: “Be it so then. Yet do thou watch me constantly and minister to me carefully; neglect me not, leave me not to myself, lest the light and warmth in which thou so delightest fail thee suddenly, and there be no redress; and O watch thyself also! beware lest thou too ardently stir up my impatient fiery being! beware lest thou heap too much fuel upon me; once more beware, lest, instead of life, and love, and joy, I bring thee only death and burning pain!” And the youth passionately vowed to keep her behest: and in the beginning all went well. How often, for hours together, would he lie gazing entranced toward the radiant beneficent Fire, basking in her warmth, and throwing now a leafy spray, now a fragment of dry wood, anon a handful of odorous gums, as incense, upon the flame, which gracefully curling and waving upwards, quivering and sparkling, seemed to whisper in return divine oracles; or he fancied he beheld, while gazing into the glowing depths, marvellous shapes, fairy visions dancing and glancing along. Then he would sing to her songs full of love, and she, responding to the song she had herself inspired, sometimes replied, in softest whispers, so loving and so low, that even the jealous listening woods could not overhear; at other times she would shoot up suddenly in rapturous 150 splendour, like a pillar of light, and revealed to him all the wonders and the beauties which lay around him, hitherto veiled from his sight.
But at length, as he became accustomed to the glory and the warmth, and nothing more was left for the fire to bestow, or her light to reveal, then he began to weary and to dream again of the morning, and to long for the sun-beams; and it was to him as if the fire stood between him and the sun’s light, and he reproached her therefore, and he became moody and ungrateful; and the fire was no longer the same, but unquiet and changeful, sometimes flickering unsteadily, sometimes throwing out a lurid glare. And when the youth, forgetful of his ministry, left the flame unfed and unsustained, so that ofttimes she drooped and waned, and crept in dying gleams along the damp ground, his heart would fail him with a sudden remorse, and he would cast on the fuel with such a rough and lavish hand that the indignant fire hissed thereat, and burst forth in a smoky sullen gleam,—then died away again. Then the youth, half sorrowful, half impatient, would remember how bright, how glowing, how dazzling was the flame in those former happy days, when it played over his chilled and wearied limbs, and shed its warmth upon his brow, and he desired eagerly to recall that once inspiring glow. And he stirred up the embers violently till they burned him, and then he grew angry, 151 and then again he wearied of all the watching and the care which the subtle, celestial, tameless element required at his hand: and at length, one day in a sullen mood, he snatched up a pitcher of water from the fountain and poured it hastily on the yet living flame.——
For one moment it arose blazing towards heaven, shed a last gleam upon the pale brow of the youth, and then sank down in darkness extinguished for ever!
PAULINA. from an unfinished tale, 1823. And think’st thou that the fond o’erflowing love I bear thee in my heart could ever be Repaid by careless smiles that round thee rove, And beam on others as they beam on me? Oh, could I speak to thee! could I but tell The nameless thoughts that in my bosom swell, And struggle for expression! or set free From the o’er mastering spirit’s proud control The pain that throbs in silence at my soul, Perhaps—yet no—I will not sue, nor bend, To win a heartless pity—Let it end! I have been near thee still at morn, at eve; Have mark’d thee in thy joy, have seen thee grieve; Have seen thee gay with triumph, sick with fears, Radiant in beauty, desolate in tears: And communed with thy heart, till I made mine The echo and the mirror unto thine. And I have sat and looked into thine eyes As men on earth look to the starry skies, That seek to read in Heaven their human destinies! Too quickly I read mine,—I knew it well,— I judg’d not of thy heart by all it gave, But all that it withheld; and I could tell The very sea-mark where affection’s wave Would cease to flow, or flow to ebb again, And knew my lavish love was pour’d in vain, As fruitless streams o’er sandy deserts melt, Unrecompensed, unvalued, and unfelt! ****
Take me, my mother Earth, to thy cold breast, And fold me there in everlasting rest, The long day is o’er! I’m weary, I would sleep— But deep, deep, Never to waken more! I have had joy and sorrow; I have proved What life could give; have lov’d, have been belov’d; I am sick, and heart sore, And weary,—let me sleep! But deep, deep, Never to waken more! To thy dark chambers, mother Earth, I come, Prepare my dreamless bed in my last home; Shut down the marble door, And leave me,—let me sleep! But deep, deep, Never to waken more! Now I lie down,—I close my aching eyes, If on this night another morn must rise, Wake me not, I implore! I only ask to sleep, And deep, deep, Never to waken more!
A certain holy anchorite had passed a long life in a cave of the Thebaid, remote from all communion with men; and eschewing, as he would the gates of Hell, even the very presence of a woman; and he fasted and prayed, and performed many and severe penances; and his whole thought was how he should make himself of account in the sight of God, that he might enter into his paradise.
And having lived this life for three score and ten156 years he was puffed up with the notion of his own great virtue and sanctity, and, like to St. Anthony, he besought the Lord to show him what saint he should emulate as greater than himself, thinking perhaps, in his heart, that the Lord would answer that none was greater or holier. And the same night the angel of God appeared to him, and said, “If thou wouldst excel all others in virtue and sanctity, thou must strive to be like a certain minstrel who goes begging and singing from door to door.”
And the holy man was in great astonishment, and he arose and took his staff and ran forth in search of this minstrel; and when he had found him he questioned him earnestly, saying, “Tell me, I pray thee, my brother, what good works thou hast performed in thy lifetime, and by what prayers and penances thou hast made thyself acceptable to God?”
And the man, greatly wondering and ashamed to be so questioned, hung down his head as he replied, “I beseech thee, holy father, mock me not! I have performed no good works, and as to praying, alas! sinner that I am, I am not worthy to pray. I do nothing but go about from door to door amusing the people with my viol and my flute.”
And the holy man insisted and said, “Nay, but peradventure in the midst of this thy evil life thou hast done some good works?” And the minstrel replied, “I know of nothing good that I have done.157” And the hermit, wondering more and more, said, “How hast thou become a beggar: hast thou spent thy substance in riotous living, like most others of thy calling?” and the man answering, said, “Nay; but there was a poor woman whom I found running hither and thither in distraction, for her husband and her children had been sold into slavery to pay a debt. And the woman being very fair, certain sons of Belial pursued after her; so I took her home to my hut and protected her from them, and I gave her all I possessed to redeem her family, and conducted her in safety to the city, where she was reunited to her husband and children. But what of that, my father; is there a man who would not have done the same?”
And the hermit, hearing the minstrel speak these words, wept bitterly, saying, “For my part, I have not done so much good in all my life; and yet they call me a man of God, and thou art only a poor minstrel!”
At Vienna, some years ago, I saw a picture by Von Schwind, which was conceived in the spirit of this old apologue. It exhibited the lives of two twin brothers diverging from the cradle. One of them, by profound study, becomes a most learned and skilful physician, and ministers to the sick; attaining to great riches and honours through his labours and his philanthropy. The other brother, 158 who has no turn for study, becomes a poor fiddler, and spends his life in consoling, by his music, sufferings beyond the reach of the healing art. In the end, the two brothers meet at the close of life. He who had been fiddling through the world is sick and worn out: his brother prescribes for him, and is seen culling simples for his restoration, while the fiddler touches his instrument for the solace of his kind physician.
It is in such representations that painting did once speak, and might again speak to the hearts of the people.
Another version of the same thought, we find in De Berenger’s pretty ballad, “Les deux Sœurs de Charité.”
When I was a child, and read Milton for the first time, his Pandemonium seemed to me a magnificent place. It struck me more than his Paradise, for that was beautiful, but Pandemonium was terrible and beautiful too. The wondrous fabric that “from159 the earth rose like an exhalation to the sound of dulcet symphonies and voices sweet,”—the splendid piles of architecture sweeping line beyond line, “Cornice and frieze with bossy sculptures graven,”—realised a certain picture of Palmyra I had once seen, and which had taken possession of my imagination: then the throne, outshining the wealth of Ormuz and of Ind,—the flood of light streaming from “starry lamps and blazing cressets” quite threw the flames of perdition into the shade. As it was said of Erskine, that he always spoke of Satan with respect, as of a great statesman out of place, a sort of leader of the Opposition; so to me the grand arch-fiend was a hero, like my then favourite Greeks and Romans, a Cymon, a Curtius, a Decius, devoting himself for the good of his country;—such was the moral confusion created in my mind. Pandemonium inspired no horror; on the contrary, my fancy revelled in the artistic beauty of the creation. I felt that I should like to go and see it; so that, in fact, if Milton meant to inspire abhorrence, he has failed, even to the height of his sublimity. Dante has succeeded better. Those who dwell with complacency on the doctrine of eternal punishments must delight in the ferocity and the ingenuity of his grim inventions, worthy of a vengeful theology. Wicked latitudinarians may shudder and shiver at the images called up—grotesque, abominable, hideous—but then Dante him160self would sternly rebuke them for making their human sympathies a measure for the judgments of God, and compassion only a veil for treason and rebellion:—
“Chi è piu scellerato di colui Ch’ al giudicio divin passion porta?”
“Who can show greater wickedness than he Whose passion by the will of God is moved?”
However, it must be said in favour of Dante’s Inferno, that no one ever wished to go there.
These be the Christian poets! but they must yield in depth of imagined horrors to the Christian Fathers. Tertullian (writing in the second century) not only sends the wicked into that dolorous region of despair, but makes the endless measureless torture of the doomed a part of the joys of the redeemed. The spectacle is to give them the same sort of delight as the heathen took in their games, and Pandemonium is to be as a vast amphitheatre for the amusement of the New Jerusalem. “How magnificent,” exclaims this pious doctor of the Church, “will be the scale of that game! With what admiration, what laughter, what glee, what triumph, shall I behold so many mighty monarchs, who had been given out as received into the skies, moaning in unfathomable gloom! Persecutors of the Christians liquefying amid shooting spires of flame! Philosophers blushing before their disciples amid those161 ruddy fires! Then,” he goes on, still alluding to the amphitheatre, “then is the time to hear the tragedians doubly pathetic, now that they bewail their own agonies! To observe actors released by the fierceness of their torments from all restraints on their gestures! Then may we admire the charioteer glowing all over in his car of torture, and watch the wrestlers struggling, not in the gymnasium but with flames!” And he asks exultingly, “What prætor, or consul, or questor, or priest, can purchase you by his munificence a game of triumph like this?”
And even more terrible are the imaginations of good Bishop Taylor, who distils the essence from all sins, all miseries, all sorrows, all terrors, all plagues, and mingles them in one chalice of wrath and vengeance to be held to the lips and forced down the unwilling throats of the doomed “with violence of devils and accursed spirits!” Are these mere words? Did any one ever fancy or try to realise what they express?
I was surprised to find this passage in one of Southey’s letters:—
“A Catholic Establishment would be the best, perhaps the only means of civilising Ireland. Jesuits and Benedictines, though they would not enlighten the savages, would humanise them and bring the country into cultivation. A petition that asked for this, saying plainly, ‘We are Papists, and will be so, and this is the best thing that can be done for us and you too,’—such a petition I would support, considering what the present condition of Ireland is, how wretchedly it has always been governed, and how hopeless the prospect.” (1805.)
Southey was thinking of what the religious orders had done for Paraguay; whether he would have penned the same sentiments twenty or even ten years later, is more than doubtful.
The old monks and penitents—dirty, ugly, emaciated old fellows they were!—spent their days in speaking and preaching of their own and others’ sinfulness, yet seem to have had ever present before them a standard of beauty, brightness, beneficence,163 aspirations which nothing earthly could satisfy, which made their ideas of sinfulness and misery comparative, and their scale was graduated from themselves upwards. We philosophers reverse this. We teach and preach the spiritual dignity, the lofty capabilities of humanity. Yet, by some mistake, we seem to be always speculating on the amount of evil which may or can be endured, and on the amount of wickedness which may or must be tolerated; and our scale is graduated from ourselves downwards.
“So long as the ancient mythology had any separate establishment in the empire, the spiritual worship which our religion demands, and so essentially implies as only fitting for it, was preserved in its purity by means of the salutary contrast; but no sooner had the Church become completely triumphant and exclusive, and the parallel of Pagan idolatry totally removed, than the old constitutional appetite revived in all its original force, and after a short but famous struggle with the Iconoclasts, an image worship was established, and consecrated by bulls and canons, which, in whatever light it is regarded, differed in no respect but the names of its objects from that which had existed for so many164 ages as the chief characteristic of the religious faith of the Gentiles.”—H. Nelson Coleridge.
I think, with submission, that it differed in sentiment; for in the mythology of the Pagans the worship was to beauty, immortality, and power, and in the Christian mythology—if I may call it so—of the Middle Ages, the worship was to purity, self-denial, and charity.
“A narrow half-enlightened reason may easily make sport of all those forms in which religious faith has been clothed by human imagination, and ask why they are retained, and why one should be preferred to another? It is sufficient to reply, that some forms there must be if Religion is to endure as a social influence, and that the forms already in existence are the best, if they are in unison with human sympathies, and express, with the breadth and vagueness which every popular utterance must from its nature possess, the interior convictions of the general mind. What would become of the most sacred truth if all the forms which have harboured it were destroyed at once by an unrelenting reason, and it were driven naked and shivering about the earth till some clever logician had devised a suitable abode for its reception? It is on these outward165 forms of religion that the spirit of artistic beauty descends and moulds them into fitting expressions of the invisible grace and majesty of spiritual truth.”—Prospective Review, Feb. 24. 1845.
“Have not Dying Christs taught fortitude to the virtuous sufferer? Have not Holy Families cherished and ennobled domestic affections? The tender genius of the Christian morality, even in its most degenerate state, has made the Mother and her Child the highest objects of affectionate superstition. How much has that beautiful superstition by the pencils of great artists contributed to humanise mankind?”—Sir James Mackintosh, writing in 1802.
I remember once at Merton College Chapel (May, 1844), while Archdeacon Manning was preaching an eloquent sermon on the eternity of reward and punishment in the future life, I was looking at the row of windows opposite, and I saw that there were seven, all different in pattern and construction, yet all harmonising with each other and with the building of which they formed a part;—a symbol they166 might have been of differences in the Church of Christ. From the varied windows opposite I looked down to the faces of the congregation, all upturned to the preacher, with expression how different! Faith, hope, fear, in the open mouths and expanded eyelids of some; a sort of silent protest in the compressed lips and knitted brows of others; a speculative inquiry and interest, or merely admiring acquiescence in others; as the high or low, the wide or contracted head prevailed; and all this diversity in organisation, in habits of thought, in expression, harmonised for the time by one predominant object, one feeling! the hungry sheep looking up to be fed! When I sigh over apparent disagreement, let me think of those windows in Merton College Chapel, and the same light from heaven streaming through them all!—and of that assemblage of human faces, uplifted with the same aspiration one and all!
I have just read the article (by Sterling, I believe), in the “Edinburgh Review” for July; and167 as it chanced, this same evening, Dr. Channing’s “Discourse on the Church,” and Captain Maconochie’s “Report on Secondary Punishments” from Sydney, came before me.
And as I laid them down, one after another, this thought struck me:—that about the same time, in three different and far divided regions of the globe, three men, one military, the other an ecclesiastic, the third a lawyer, and belonging apparently to different religious denominations, all gave utterance to nearly the same sentiments in regard to a Christian Church. Channing says, “A church destined to endure through all ages, to act on all, to blend itself with new forms of society, and with the highest improvements of the race, cannot be expected to ordain an immutable mode of administration, but must leave its modes of worship and communion to conform themselves silently and gradually to the wants and progress of humanity. The rites and arrangements which suit one period lose their significance or efficiency in another; the forms which minister to the mind now may fetter it hereafter, and must give place to its free unfolding,” &c., and more to the same purpose.
The reviewer says, “We believe that in the judgment of an enlightened charity, many Christian societies who are accustomed to denounce each others’ errors, will at length come to be regarded as members168 in common of one great and comprehensive Church, in which diversity of forms are harmonised by an all-pervading unity of spirit.” And more to the same purpose. The soldier and reformer says, “I believe there may be error because there must be imperfection in the religious faith of the best among us; but that the degree of this error is not vital in any Christian denomination seems demonstrable by the best fruits of faith—good works—being evidenced by all.”
It is pleasant to see benign spirits divided in opinion, but harmonised by faith, thus standing hand in hand upon a shore of peace, and looking out together in serene hope for the dawning of a better day, instead of rushing forth, each with his own farthing candle, under pretence of illuminating the world—every one even more intent on putting out his neighbour’s light than on guarding his own.
(Nov. 15. 1841.)
While the idea of possible harmony in the universal Church of Christ (by which I mean all who accept His teaching and are glad to bear His name) is gaining ground theoretically, practically it seems more and more distant; since 1841 (when the above was written) the divergence is greater than ever; and, as in politics, moderate opinions appear (since 1848) to merge on either side into the extremes of169 ultra conservatism and ultra radicalism, as fear of the past or hope of the future predominate, so it is in the Church. The sort of dualism which prevails in politics and religion might give some colour to Lord Lindsay’s theory of “progress through antagonism.”
I incline to agree with those who think it a great mistake to consider the present conditions or conception of Christianity as complete and final: like the human soul to which it was fitted by Divine love and wisdom, it has an immeasurable capacity of development, and “The Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of his Holy Word.”
The nations of the present age want not less religion, but more. They do not wish for less com170munity with the Apostolic times, but for more; but above all, they want their wounds healed by a Christianity showing a life-renewing vitality allied to reason and conscience, and ready and able to reform the social relations of life, beginning with the domestic and culminating with the political. They want no negations, but positive reconstruction—no conventionality, but an honest bonâ fide foundation, deep as the human mind, and a structure free and organic as nature. In the meantime let no national form be urged as identical with divine truth, let no dogmatic formula oppress conscience and reason, and let no corporation of priests, no set of dogmatists, sow discord and hatred in the sacred communities of domestic and national life. This view cannot be obtained without national efforts, Christian education, free institutions, and social reforms. Then no zeal will be called Christian which is not hallowed by charity,—no faith Christian which is not sanctioned by reason.”—Hippolitus.
“Any author who in our time treats theological and ecclesiastical subjects frankly, and therefore with reference to the problems of the age, must expect to be ignored, and if that cannot be done, abused and reviled.”
The same is true of moral subjects on which strong prejudices (or shall I say strong convictions?) exist in minds not very strong.
It is not perhaps of so much consequence what we believe, as it is important that we believe; that we do not affect to believe, and so belie our own souls. Belief is not always in our power, but truth is.
It seems an arbitrary limitation of the design of Christianity to assume, as Priestley does, that “it consists solely in the revelation of a future life confirmed by the bodily resurrection of Christ.” This is truly a very material view of Christianity. If I were to be sure of annihilation I should not be less certain of the truth of Christianity as a system of morals exquisitely adapted for the improvement and happiness of man as an individual; and equally adapted to conduce to the amelioration and progressive happiness of mankind as a species.
When travelling in Ireland, I stayed over one Sunday in a certain town in the north, and rambled out early in the morning. It was cold and wet, the streets empty and quiet, but the sound of voices drew me in one direction, down a court where was a Roman Catholic chapel. It was so crowded that many of the congregation stood round the door. I remarked among them a number of soldiers and most miserable-looking women. All made way for me with true national courtesy, and I entered at the moment the priest was finishing mass, and about to begin his sermon. There was no pulpit, and he 173 stood on the step of the altar; a fine-looking man, with a bright face, a sonorous voice, and a very strong Irish accent. His text was from Matt. v. 43, 44.
He began by explaining what Christ really meant by the words “Love thy neighbour.” Then drew a picture in contrast of hatred and dissension, commencing with dissension in families, between kindred, and between husband and wife. Then made a most touching appeal in behalf of children brought up in an atmosphere of contention where no love is. “God help them! God pity them! small chance for them of being either good or happy! for their young hearts are saddened and soured with strife, and they eat their bread in bitterness!”
Then he preached patience to the wives, indulgence to the husbands, and denounced scolds and quarrelsome women in a manner that seemed to glance at recent events: “When ye are found in the streets vilifying and slandering one another, ay, and fighting and tearing each other’s hair, do ye think ye’re women? no, ye’re not! ye’re devils incarnate, and ye’ll go where the devils will be fit companions for ye!” &c. (Here some women near me, with long black hair streaming down, fell upon their knees, sobbing with contrition.) He then went on, in the same strain of homely eloquence, to the evils of political and religious hatred, and quoted the 174 text, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” “I’m a Catholic,” he went on, “and I believe in the truth of my own religion above all others. I’m convinced, by long study and observation, it’s the best that is; but what then? Do ye think I hate my neighbour because he thinks differently? Do ye think I mane to force my religion down other people’s throats? If I were to preach such uncharity to ye, my people, you wouldn’t listen to me, ye oughtn’t to listen to me. Did Jesus Christ force His religion down other people’s throats? Not He! He endured all, He was kind to all, even to the wicked Jews that afterwards crucified Him.” “If you say you can’t love your neighbour because he’s your enemy, and has injured you, what does that mane? ‘ye can’t! ye can’t!’ as if that excuse will serve God? hav’n’t ye done more and worse against Him? and didn’t He send His only Son into the world to redeem ye? My good people, you’re all sprung from one stock, all sons of Adam, all related to one another. When God created Eve, mightn’t He have made her out of any thing, a stock or a stone, or out of nothing at all, at all? but He took one of Adam’s ribs and moulded her out of that, and gave her to him, just to show that we’re all from one original, all related together, men and women, Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Turks and Christians; all bone of one bone, and175 flesh of one flesh!” He then insisted and demonstrated that all the miseries of life, all the sorrows and mistakes of men, women, and children; and, in particular, all the disasters of Ireland, the bankrupt landlords, the religious dissensions, the fights domestic and political, the rich without thought for the poor, and the poor without food or work, all arose from nothing but the want of love. “Down on your knees,” he exclaimed, “and ask God’s mercy and pardon; and as ye hope to find it, ask pardon one of another for every angry word ye have spoken, for every uncharitable thought that has come into your minds; and if any man or woman have aught against his neighbour, no matter what, let it be plucked out of his heart before he laves this place, let it be forgotten at the door of this chapel. Let me, your pastor, have no more rason to be ashamed of you; as if I were set over wild bastes, instead of Christian men and women!”
After more in this fervid strain, which I cannot recollect, he gave his blessing in the same earnest heartfelt manner. I never saw a congregation more attentive, more reverent, and apparently more touched and edified. (1848.)
This Discourse was preached on the festival of St. John the Baptist, and was a summary of his doctrine, life, and character. The text was taken from St. Luke, iii. 9. to 14.; in which St. John answers the question of the people, “what shall we do then?” by a brief exposition of their several duties.
“What is most remarkable in all this,” said the priest, “is truly that there is nothing very remarkable in it. The Baptist required from his hearers very simple and very familiar duties,—such as he was not the first to preach, such as had been recognised as duties by all religions; and do you think that those who were neither Jews nor Christians were therefore left without any religion? No! never did God leave any of his creatures without religion; they could not utter the words right, wrong,—beautiful, hateful, without recognising a religion written by God on their hearts from the beginning—a religion which existed before the preaching of John, before the coming of Christ, and of which the appearance of John and the doctrine and sacrifice of Christ, were but the fulfilment. For Christ came to fulfil the law, not to destroy it. Do you ask what law?177 Not the law of Moses, but the universal law of God’s moral truth written in our hearts. It is, my friends, a folly to talk of natural religion as of something different from revealed religion.
“The great proof of the truth of John’s mission lies in its comprehensiveness: men and women, artisans and soldiers, the rich and the poor, the young and the old, gathered to him in the wilderness; and he included all in his teaching, for he was sent to all; and the best proof of the truth of his teaching lies in its harmony with that law already written in the heart and the conscience of men. When Christ came afterwards, he preached a doctrine more sublime, with a more authoritative voice; but here, also, the best proof we have of the truth of that divine teaching lies in this—that he had prepared from the beginning the heart and the conscience of man to harmonise with it.”
This was a very curious sermon; quiet, elegant, and learned, with a good deal of sacred and profane history introduced in illustration, which I am sorry I cannot remember in detail. It made, however, no appeal to feeling or to practice; and after listening to it, we all went in to luncheon and discussed our newspapers.
Text, Luke iv., from the 14th to the 18th, but more especially the 18th verse. This sermon was extempore.
The preacher began by observing, that our Lord’s sermon at Nazareth established the second of two principles. By his sermon from the Mount, in which he had addressed the multitude in the open air, under the vault of the blue heaven alone, he has left to us the principle that all places are fitted for the service of God, and that all places may be sanctified by the preaching of his truth. While, by his sermon in the Synagogue (that which is recorded by St. Luke in this passage), he has established the principle, that it is right to set apart a place to assemble together in worship and to listen to instruction; and it is observable that on this occasion our Saviour taught in the synagogue, where there was no sacrifice, no ministry of the priests, as in the Temple; but where a portion of the law and the prophets might be read by any man; and any man, even a stranger (as he was himself), might be called upon to expound.
Then reading impressively the whole of the narrative down to the 32nd verse, the preacher closed the sacred volume, and went on to this effect:—
“There are two orders of evil in the world—Sin and Crime. Of the second, the world takes strict cognisance; of the first, it takes comparatively little; yet that is worse in the eyes of God. There are two orders of temptation: the temptation which assails our lower nature—our appetites; the temptation which assails our higher nature—our intellect. The first, leading to sin in the body, is punished in the body,—the consequence being pain, disease, death. The second, leading to sins of the soul, as pride chiefly, uncharitableness, selfish sacrifice of others to our own interests or purposes,—is punished in the soul—in the Hell of the Spirit.”
(All this part of his discourse very beautiful, earnest, eloquent; but I regretted that he did not follow out the distinction he began with between sin and crime, and the views and deductions, religious and moral, which that distinction leads to.)
He continued to this effect: “Christ said that it was a part of his mission to heal the broken-hearted. What is meant by the phrase ‘a broken heart?’” He illustrated it by the story of Eli, and by the wife of Phineas, both of whom died broken in heart; “and our Saviour himself died on the cross heart-broken by sorrow rather than by physical torture.”—
(I lost something here because I was questioning and doubting within myself, for I have always had the thought that Christ must have been glad to die.)
He went on:—“To heal the broken-hearted is to say to those who are beset by the remembrance and the misery of sin, ‘My brother, the past is past—think not of it to thy perdition; arise and sin no more.’” (All this, and more to the same purpose, wonderfully beautiful! and I became all soul—subdued to listen.) “There are two ways of meeting the pressure of misery and heart-break: first, by trusting to time” (then followed a quotation from Schiller’s “Wallenstein,” in reference to grief, which sounded strange, and yet beautiful, from the pulpit, “Was verschmerzte nicht der Mensch?”—what cannot man grieve down?); “secondly, by defiance and resistance, setting oneself resolutely to endure. But Christ taught a different way from either—by submission—by the complete surrender of our whole being to the will of God.
“The next part of Christ’s mission was to preach deliverance to the captives.” (Then followed a most eloquent and beautiful exposition of Christian freedom—of who were free; and who were not free, but properly spiritual captives.) “To be content within limitations is freedom; to desire beyond those limitations is bondage. The bird which is content within her cage is free; the bird which can fly from tree to tree, yet desires to soar like the eagle,—the eagle which can ascend to the mountain peak yet desires to reach the height of that sun on which his eye is181 fixed,—these are in bondage. The man who is not content within his sphere of duties and powers, but feels his faculties, his position, his profession; a perpetual trammel,—he is spiritually in bondage. The only freedom is the freedom of the soul, content within its external limitations, and yet elevated spiritually far above them by the inward powers and impulses which lift it up to God.”
Recollections of another Church of England Sermon preached extempore.
The text was taken from Matt. xii. 42.: “The Queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it,” &c.
The preacher began by drawing that distinction between knowledge and wisdom which so many comprehend and allow, and so few apply. He then described the two parties in the great question of popular education. Those who would base all human progress on secular instruction, on knowledge in contradistinction to ignorance, as on light opposed to darkness;—and the mistake of those who, taking the contrary extreme, denounce all secular instruction imparted to the poor as dangerous, or contemn it as useless. The error of those who sneer at the triumph 182 of intellect he termed a species of idiocy; and the error of those who do not see the insufficiency of knowledge, blind presumption. Then he contrasted worldly wisdom and spiritual; with a flow of gorgeous eloquence he enlarged on the picture of worldly wisdom as exhibited in the character of Solomon, and of intellect, and admiration for intellect, in the character of the Queen of Sheba. “In what consisted the wisdom of Solomon? He made, as the sacred history assures us, three thousand proverbs, mostly prudential maxims relating to conduct in life; the use and abuse of riches; prosperity and adversity. His acquirements in natural philosophy seem to have been confined to the appearances of material and visible things; the herbs and trees, the beasts and birds, the creeping things and fishes. His political wisdom consisted in increasing his wealth, his dominions, and the number of his subjects and cities. On his temple he lavished all that art had then accomplished, and on his own house a world of riches in gold, and silver, and precious things: but all was done for his own glory—nothing for the improvement or the happiness of his people, who were ground down by taxes, suffered in the midst of all his magnificence, and remained ignorant in spite of all his knowledge. Witness the wars, tyrannies, miseries, delusions, and idolatries which followed after his death.”
“But the Queen of Sheba came not from the uttermost parts of the earth to view the magnificence and wonder at the greatness of the King, she came to hear his wisdom. She came not to ask anything from him, but to prove him with hard questions. No idea of worldly gain, or selfish ambition was in her thoughts; she paid even for the pleasure of hearing his wise sayings by rare and costly gifts.”
“Knowledge is power; but he who worships knowledge not for its own sake, but for the power it brings, worships power. Knowledge is riches; but he who worships knowledge for the sake of all it bestows, worships riches. The Queen of Sheba worshipped knowledge solely for its own sake; and the truths which she sought from the lips of Solomon she sought for truth’s sake. She gave, all she could give, in return, the spicy products of her own land, treasures of pure gold, and blessings warm from her heart. The man who makes a voyage to the antipodes only to behold the constellation of the Southern Cross, the man who sails to the North to see how the magnet trembles and varies, these love knowledge for its own sake, and are impelled by the same enthusiasm as the Queen of Sheba.” He went on to analyse the character of Solomon, and did not treat him, I thought, with much reverence either as sage or prophet. He remarked that, “of the thousand songs of Solomon one only survives, and that both 184 in this song and in his proverbs his meaning has often been mistaken; it is supposed to be spiritual, and is interpreted symbolically, when in fact the plain, obvious, material significance is the true one.”
He continued to this effect,—but with a power of language and illustration which I cannot render. “We see in Solomon’s own description of his dominion, his glory, his wealth, his fame, what his boasted wisdom achieved; what it could, and what it could not do for him. What was the end of all his magnificence? of his worship of the beautiful? of his intellectual triumphs? of his political subtlety? of his ships, and his commerce, and his chariots, and his horses, and his fame which reached to the ends of the earth? All—as it is related—ended in feebleness, in scepticism, in disbelief of happiness, in sensualism, idolatry, and dotage! The whole ‘Book of Ecclesiastes,’ fine as it is, presents a picture of selfishness and epicurism. This was the King of the Jews! the King of those that know! (Il maestro di color chi sanno.) Solomon is a type of worldly wisdom, of desire of knowledge for the sake of all that knowledge can give. We imitate him when we would base the happiness of a people on knowledge. When we have commanded the sun to be our painter, and the lightning to run on our errands, what reward have we? Not the increase of happiness, 185 nor the increase of goodness; nor—what is next to both—our faith in both.”
“It would seem profane to contrast Solomon and Christ had not our Saviour himself placed that contrast distinctly before us. He consecrated the comparison by applying it—‘Behold a greater than Solomon is here.’ In quoting these words we do not presume to bring into comparison the two natures, but the two intellects—the two aspects of truth. Solomon described the external world; Christ taught the moral law. Solomon illustrated the aspects of nature; Christ helped the aspirations of the spirit. Solomon left as a legacy the saying that ‘in much wisdom there is much grief;’ and Christ preached to us the lowly wisdom which can consecrate grief; making it lead to the elevation of our whole being and to ultimate happiness. The two majesties—the two kings—how different! Not till we are old, and have suffered, and have laid our experience to heart, do we feel the immeasurable distance between the teaching of Christ and the teaching of Solomon!”
Then returning to the Queen of Sheba, he treated the character as the type of the intellectual woman. He contrasted her rather favourably with Solomon. He described with picturesque felicity, her long and toilsome journey to see, to admire, the man whose wisdom had made him renowned;—the mixture of 186 enthusiasm and humility which prompted her desire to learn, to prove the truth of what rumour had conveyed to her, to commune with him of all that was in her heart. And she returned to her own country rich in wise sayings. But did the final result of all this glory and knowledge reach her there? and did it shake her faith in him she had bowed to as the wisest of kings and men?
He then contrasted the character of the Queen of Sheba with that of Mary, the mother of our Lord, that feminine type of holiness, of tenderness, of long-suffering; of sinless purity in womanhood, wifehood, and motherhood: and rising to more than usual eloquence and power, he prophesied the regeneration of all human communities through the social elevation, the intellect, the purity, and the devotion of Woman.
The ascetics of the old times seem to have had a belief that all sin was in the body; that the spirit belonged to God, and the body to his adversary the devil; and that to contemn, ill-treat, and degrade by every means this frame of ours, so wonderfully, so fearfully, so exquisitely made, was to please the Being who made it; and who, for gracious ends, no doubt, rendered it capable of such admirable development of strength and beauty. Miserable mistake!
To some, this body is as a prison from which we are to rejoice to escape by any permitted means: to others, it is as a palace to be luxuriously kept up and decorated within and without. But what says Paul (Cor. vi. 19.),—“Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God, and which is not your own?”
Surely not less than a temple is that form which the Divine Redeemer took upon him, and deigned, for a season, to inhabit; which he consecrated by his life, sanctified by his death, glorified by his transfiguration, hallowed and beautified by his resurrection!
It is because they do not recognise this body as a temple, built up by God’s intelligence, as a fitting sanctuary for the immortal Spirit, and this life equally with any other form of life as dedicate to Him, that men fall into such opposite extremes of sin:—the spiritual sin which contemns the body, and the sensual sin which misuses it.
When I was at Boston I made the acquaintance of Father Taylor, the founder of the Sailors’ Home in that city. He was considered as the apostle of the seamen, and I was full of veneration for him as the enthusiastic teacher and philanthropist. But it is not of his virtues or his labours that I wish to speak. He struck me in another way, as a poet; he was a born poet. Until he was five-and-twenty he had never learned to read, and his reading afterwards was confined to such books as aided him in his ministry. He remained an illiterate man to the last, but his mind was teeming with spontaneous189 imagery, allusion, metaphor. One might almost say of him,
“He could not ope His mouth, but out there flew a trope!”
These images and allusions had a freshness, an originality, and sometimes an oddity that was quite startling, and they were generally, but not always, borrowed from his former profession—that of a sailor.
One day we met him in the street. He told us in a melancholy voice that he had been burying a child, and alluded almost with emotion to the great number of infants he had buried lately. Then after a pause, striking his stick on the ground and looking upwards, he added, “There must be something wrong somewhere! there’s a storm brewing, when the doves are all flying aloft!”
One evening in conversation with me, he compared the English and the Americans to Jacob’s vine, which, planted on one side of the wall, grew over it and hung its boughs and clusters on the other side,—“but it is still the same vine, nourished from the same root!”
On one occasion when I attended his chapel, the sermon was preceded by a long prayer in behalf of an afflicted family, one of whose members had died190 or been lost in a whaling expedition to the South Seas. In the midst of much that was exquisitely pathetic and poetical, refined ears were startled by such a sentence as this,—“Grant, O Lord! that this rod of chastisement be sanctified, every twig of it, to the edification of their souls!”
Then immediately afterwards he prayed that the Divine Comforter might be near the bereaved father “when his aged heart went forth from his bosom to flutter round the far southern grave of his boy!” Praying for others of the same family who were on the wide ocean, he exclaimed, stretching forth his arms, “O save them! O guard them! thou angel of the deep!”
On another occasion, speaking of the insufficiency of the moral principles without religious feelings, he exclaimed, “Go heat your ovens with snowballs! What! shall I send you to heaven with such an icicle in your pocket? I might as well put a millstone round your neck to teach you to swim!”
He was preaching against violence and cruelty:—“Don’t talk to me,” said he, “of the savages! a ruffian in the midst of Christendom is the savage of savages. He is as a man freezing in the sun’s heat, groping in the sun’s light, a straggler in paradise, an alien in heaven!”
In his chapel all the principal seats in front of the pulpit and down the centre aisle were filled by the sailors. We ladies, and gentlemen, and strangers, whom curiosity had brought to hear him, were ranged on each side; he would on no account allow us to take the best places. On one occasion, as he was denouncing hypocrisy, luxury, and vanity, and other vices of more civilised life, he said emphatically, “I don’t mean you before me here,” looking at the sailors; “I believe you are wicked enough, but honest fellows in some sort, for you profess less, not more, than you practise; but I mean to touch starboard and larboard there!” stretching out both hands with the forefinger extended, and looking at us on either side till we quailed.
He compared the love of God in sending Christ upon earth to that of the father of a seaman who sends his eldest and most beloved son, the hope of the family, to bring back the younger one, lost on his voyage, and missing when his ship returned to port.
Alluding to the carelessness of Christians, he used the figure of a mariner, steering into port through a narrow dangerous channel, “false lights here, rocks there, shifting sand banks on one side, breakers on the other; and who, instead of fixing his attention to keep the head of his vessel right, and to obey the instructions of the pilot as he sings out from the192 wheel, throws the pilot overboard, lashes down the helm, and walks the deck whistling, with his hands in the pockets of his jacket.” Here, suiting the action to the word, he put on a true sailor-like look of defiant jollity;—changed in a moment to an expression of horror as he added, “See! See! she drifts to destruction!”
One Sunday he attempted to give to his sailor congregation an idea of Redemption. He began with an eloquent description of a terrific storm at sea, rising to fury through all its gradations; then, amid the waves, a vessel is seen labouring in distress and driving on a lee shore. The masts bend and break, and go overboard; the sails are rent, the helm unshipped, they spring a leak! the vessel begins to fill, the water gains on them; she sinks deeper, deeper, deeper! deeper! He bent over the pulpit repeating the last words again and again; his voice became low and hollow. The faces of the sailors as they gazed up at him with their mouths wide open, and their eyes fixed, I shall never forget. Suddenly stopping, and looking to the farthest end of the chapel as into space, he exclaimed, with a piercing cry of exultation, “A life boat! a life boat!” Then looking down upon his congregation, most of whom had sprung to their feet in an ecstasy of suspense, he said in a deep impressive tone, and extending his arms, “Christ is that life boat!”
“It is true, that science has not made Nature as expressive of God in the first instance, or to the beginner in religion, as it was in earlier times. Science reveals a rigid, immutable order; and this to common minds looks much like self-subsistence, and does not manifest intelligence, which is full of life, variety, and progressive operation. Men, in the days of their ignorance, saw an immediate Divinity accomplishing an immediate purpose, or expressing an immediate feeling, in every sudden, striking change of nature—in a storm, the flight of a bird, &c.; and Nature, thus interpreted, became the sign of a present, deeply interested Deity. Science undoubtedly brings vast aids, but it is to prepared minds, to those who have begun in another school. The greatest aid it yields consists in the revelation it makes of the Infinite. It aids us not so much by showing us marks of design in this or that particular thing as by showing the Infinite in the finite. Science does this office when it unfolds to us the unity of the universe, 194 which thus becomes the sign, the efflux of one unbounded intelligence, when it reveals to us in every work of Nature infinite connections, the influences of all-pervading laws—when it shows us in each created thing unfathomable, unsearchable depths, to which our intelligence is altogether unequal. Thus Nature explored by science is a witness of the Infinite. It is also a witness to the same truth by its beauty; for what is so undefined, so mysterious as beauty?”—Dr. Channing.
“A great advantage is derived from the occasional practice of reading together, for each person selects different beauties and starts different objections: while the same passage perhaps awakens in each mind a different train of associated ideas, or raises different images for the purposes of illustration.”—Francis Horner.
“C’est ainsi que je poursuis la communication de quelque esprit fameux, non afin qu’il m’enseigne mais afin que je le connaisse, et que le connaissant, s’il le faut, je l’imite.”—Montaigne.
I sat up till half-past two this morning reading Dr. Arnold’s “Life and Letters,” and have my soul full of him to-day.
On the whole I cannot say that the perusal of this admirable book has changed any notion in my mind, or added greatly to my stock of ideas. There was no height of inspiration, or eloquence, or power, to which I looked up; no profound depth of thought or feeling into which I looked down; no new lights; no new guides; no absolutely new aspects of things human or spiritual.
On the other hand, I never read a book of the kind with a more harmonious sense of pleasure and approbation,—if the word be not from me presumptuous. While I read page after page, the mind which was unfolded before me seemed to me a brother’s mind—the spirit, a kindred spirit. It was the improved, the elevated, the enlarged, the enriched, the every-way superior reflection of my own intelligence, but it was certainly that. I felt it so 199 from beginning to end. Exactly the reverse was the feeling with which I laid down the Life and Letters of Southey. I was instructed, amused, interested; I profited and admired; but with the man Southey I had no sympathies: my mind stood off from his; the poetical intellect attracted, the material of the character repelled me. I liked the embroidery, but the texture was disagreeable, repugnant. Now with regard to Dr. Arnold, my entire sympathy with the character, with the material of the character, did not extend to all its manifestations. I liked the texture better than the embroidery;—perhaps, because of my feminine organisation.
Nor did my admiration of the intellect extend to the acceptance of all the opinions which emanated from it; perhaps because from the manner these were enunciated, or merely touched upon (in letters chiefly), I did not comprehend clearly the reasoning on which they may have been founded. Perhaps, if I had done so, I must have respected them more, perhaps have been convinced by them; so large, so candid, so rich in knowledge, and apparently so logical, was the mind which admitted them.
And yet this excellent, admirable man, seems to have feared God, in the common-place sense of the word fear. He considered the Jews as out of the pale of equality; he was against their political emancipation from a hatred of Judaism. He subscribed to the 200 Athanasian Creed, which stuck even in George the Third’s orthodox throat. He believed in what Coleridge could not admit, in the existence of the spirit of evil as a person. He had an idea that the Church of God may be destroyed by an Antichrist; he speaks of such a consummation as possible, as probable, as impending; as if any institution really from God could be destroyed by an adverse power!—and he thought that a lawyer could not be a Christian.
Certain passages filled me with astonishment as coming from a churchman, particularly what he says of the sacraments (vol. ii. pp. 75. 113.); and in another place, where he speaks of “the pestilent distinction between clergy and laity;” and where he says, “I hold that one form of Church government is exactly as much according to Christ’s will as another.” And in another place he speaks of the Anglican Church (with reference to Henry VIII. as its father, and Elizabeth as its foster-mother), as “the child of regal and aristocratical selfishness and unprincipled tyranny, who has never dared to speak boldly to the great, but has contented herself with lecturing the poor;” but he forgot at the moment the trial of the bishops in James’s time, and their noble stand against regal authority.
With regard to conservatism (vol. ii. pp. 19. 62.), he seems to mean—as I understand the whole passage,—that it is a good instinct but a bad principle. Yet as a principle is it, as he says, “always wrong?” Though as the adversary of progress, it must be always wrong, yet as the adversary of change it may be sometimes right.
He remarks that most of those who are above sectarianism are in general indifferent to Christianity, while almost all who profess to value Christianity seem, when they are brought to the test, to care only for their own sect. “Now,” he adds, “it is manifest to me, that all our education must be Christian, and not be sectarian.” Yet the whole aim of education up to this time has been, in this country, eminently sectarian, and every statesman who has attempted to place it on a broader basis has been either wrecked or stranded.
“All sects,” he says in another place, “have had among them marks of Christ’s Catholic Church in the graces of his Spirit and the confession of his name,” and he seems to wish that some one would compile a book showing side by side what professors of all sects have done for the good of Christ’s Church,—the202 martyrdoms, the missionary labours of Catholics, Protestants, Arians, &c.; “a grand field,” he calls it,—and so it were; but it lies fallow up to this time.
“The philosophy of medicine, I imagine, is at zero; our practice is empirical, and seems hardly more than a course of guessing, more or less happy.” In another place (vol. ii. p. 72.), he says, “yet I honour medicine as the most beneficent of all professions.”
He says (vol. ii. p. 42.), “Narrow-mindedness tends to wickedness, because it does not extend its watchfulness to every part of our moral nature.” “Thus, a man may have one or more virtues, such as are according to his favourite ideas, in great perfection; and still be nothing, because these ideas are his idols, and, worshipping them with all his heart, there is a portion of his heart, more or less considerable, left without its proper object, guide, and nourishment; and so this portion is left to the dominion of evil,” &c.
(One might ask how, if a man worship these ideas with all his heart, a portion could be left? but the sense is so excellent, I cannot quarrel with a slight inaccuracy in the expression. I never quite understood 203 before why it is difficult to subscribe to the truth of the phrase “He is a good but a narrow-minded man,” but felt the incompatibility.)
He says “the word useful implies the idea of good robbed of its nobleness.” Is this true? the useful is the good applied to practical purposes; it need not, therefore, be less noble. The nobleness lies in the spirit in which it is so applied.
Benthamism (what is it?), Puritanism, Judaism, how he hates them! I suppose, because he fears God and fears for the Church of God. Hatred of all kinds seems to originate in fear.
What he says of conscience, very remarkable!
“Men get embarrassed by the common cases of a misguided conscience: but a compass may be out of order as well as a conscience; and you can trace the deranging influence on the latter quite as surely as on the former. The needle may point due south if you hold a powerful magnet in that direction; still the compass, generally speaking, is a true and sure guide,” &c.; and then he adds, “he who believes his 204 conscience to be God’s law, by obeying it obeys God.”
I think there would be much to say about all this passage relating to conscience, nor am I sure that I quite understand it. Derangement of the intellect is madness; is not derangement of the conscience also madness? might it not be induced, as we bring on a morbid state of the other faculties, by over use and abuse? by giving it more than its due share of power in the commonwealth of the mind? It should preside, not tyrannise; rule, not exercise a petty cramping despotism. A healthy courageous conscience gives to the powers, instincts, impulses, fair play; and having once settled the order of government with a strong hand, is not always meddling though always watchful.
Then again, how is conscience “God’s law?” Conscience is not the law, but the interpreter of the law; it does not teach the difference between right and wrong, it only impels us to do what we believe to be right, and smites us when we think we have been wrong. How is it that many have done wrong, and every day do wrong for conscience’ sake?—and does that sanctify the wrong in the eyes of God, as well as in those of John Huss?1
“Prayer,” he says, “and kindly intercourse with the poor, are the two great safeguards of spiritual life—its more than food and raiment.”
True; but there is something higher than this fed and clothed spiritual life; something more difficult, yet less conscious.
In allusion to Coleridge, he says very truly, that the power of contemplation becomes diseased and perverted when it is the main employment of life. But to the same great intellect he does beautiful justice in another passage. “Coleridge seemed to me to love truth really, and, therefore, truth presented herself to him, not negatively, as she does to many minds, who can see that the objections against her are unfounded, and therefore that she is to be received; but she filled him, as it were, heart and mind, imbuing him with her very self, so that all his being comprehended her fully, and loved her ardently; and that seems to me to be true wisdom.”
Very fine is a passage wherein he speaks against meeting what is wrong and bad with negatives, with merely proving the wrong to be wrong, and the false to be false, without substituting for either the positively good and true.
He contrasts as the two forms of the present danger to the Church and to society, the prevalent epicurean atheism, and the lying and formal spirit of priestcraft. He seems to have had an impression that the Church of God may be “utterly destroyed”(?), or, he asks, “must we look forward for centuries to come to the mere alternations of infidelity and superstition, scepticism, and Newmanism?” It is very curious to see two such men as Arnold and Carlyle both overwhelmed with a terror of the magnitude of the mischiefs they see impending over us. They are oppressed with the anticipation of evil as with a sense of personal calamity. Something alike, perhaps, in the temperaments of these two extraordinary men;—large conscientiousness, large destructiveness, and small hope: there was great mutual sympathy and admiration.
Very admirable what he says in favour of comprehensive reading, against exclusive reading in one line of study. He says, “Preserve proportion in your reading, keep your view of men and things extensive, and depend upon it a mixed knowledge is not a superficial one; as far as it goes the views that it gives are true; but he who reads deeply in one class of writers only, gets views which are almost 207 sure to be perverted, and which are not only narrow but false.”
All his descriptions of natural scenery and beauty show his intense sensibility to them, but nowhere is there a trace of the love or the comprehension of art, as the reflection from the mind of man of the nature and the beauty he so loved. Thus, after dwelling on a scene of exquisite natural beauty, he says, “Much more beautiful, because made truly after God’s own image, are the forms and colours of kind, and wise, and holy thoughts, words, and actions;” that is to say—although he knew not or made not the application—Art, in the high sense of the word, for that is the embodying in beautiful hues and forms, what is kind, wise, and holy; in one word—good. In fact, he says himself, art, physical science, and natural history, were not included within the reach of his mind; the first for want of taste, the second for want of time, and the third for want of inclination.
He says, “The whole subject of the brute creation is to me one of such painful mystery, that I dare208 not approach it.” This is very striking from such a man. How deep, consciously or unconsciously, does this feeling lie in many minds!
Bayle had already termed the acts, motives, and feelings of the lower order of animals, “un des plus profonds abîmes sur quoi notre raison peut s’exerciser.”
There is nothing, as I have sometimes thought, in which men so blindly sin as in their appreciation and treatment of the whole lower order of creatures. It is affirmed that love and mercy towards animals are not inculcated by any direct precept of Christianity, but surely they are included in its spirit; yet it has been remarked that cruelty towards animals is far more common in Western Christendom than in the East. With the Mahometan and Brahminical races humanity to animals, and the sacredness of life in all its forms, is much more of a religious principle than among ourselves.
Bacon, in his “Advancement of Learning,” does not think it beneath his philosophy to point out as a part of human morals, and a condition of human improvement, justice and mercy to the lower animals—“the extension of a noble and excellent principle of compassion to the creatures subject to man.” “The Turks,” he says, “though a cruel and sanguinary nation both in descent and discipline, give alms to brutes, and suffer them not to be tortured.”
It should seem as if the primitive Christians, by laying so much stress upon a future life in contradistinction to this life, and placing the lower creatures out of the pale of hope, placed them at the same time out of the pale of sympathy, and thus laid the foundation for this utter disregard of animals in the light of our fellow creatures. The definition of virtue among the early Christians was the same as Paley’s—that it was good performed for the sake of ensuring everlasting happiness—which of course excluded all the so-called brute creatures. Kind, loving, submissive, conscientious, much enduring, we know them to be; but because we deprive them of all stake in the future, because they have no selfish calculated aim, these are not virtues; yet if we say “a vicious horse,” why not say a virtuous horse?
The following passage, bearing curiously enough on the most abstruse part of the question, I found in Hallam’s Literature of the Middle Ages:—“Few,” he says, “at present, who believe in the immateriality of the human soul, would deny the same to an elephant; but it must be owned that the discoveries of zoology have pushed this to consequences which some might not readily adopt. The spiritual being of a sponge revolts a little our prejudices; yet there is no resting-place, and we must admit this, or be content to sink ourselves into a mass of medullary fibre. Brutes have been as slowly emancipated in 210 philosophy as some classes of mankind have been in civil polity; their souls, we see, were almost universally disputed to them at the end of the seventeenth century, even by those who did not absolutely bring them down to machinery. Even within the recollection of many, it was common to deny them any kind of reasoning faculty, and to solve their most sagacious actions by the vague word instinct. We have come of late years to think better of our humble companions; and, as usual in similar cases, the preponderant bias seems rather too much of a levelling character.”
When natural philosophers speak of “the higher reason and more limited instincts of man,” as compared with animals, do they mean savage man or cultivated man? In the savage man the instincts have a power, a range, a certitude, like those of animals. As the mental faculties become expanded and refined the instincts become subordinate. In tame animals are the instincts as strong as in wild animals? Can we not, by a process of training, substitute an entirely different set of motives and habits?
Why, in managing animals, do men in general make brutes of themselves to address what is most brute in the lower creature, as if it had not been demonstrated that in using our higher faculties, our reason and benevolence, we develop sympathetically 211 higher powers in them, and in subduing them through what is best within us, raise them and bring them nearer to ourselves?
In general the more we can gather of facts, the nearer we are to the elucidation of theoretic truth. But with regard to animals, the multiplication of facts only increases our difficulties and puts us to confusion.
“Can we otherwise explain animal instincts than by supposing that the Deity himself is virtually the active and present moving principle within them? If we deny them soul, we must admit that they have some spirit direct from God, what we call unerring instinct, which holds the place of it.” This is the opinion which Newton adopts. Then are we to infer that the reason of man removes him further from God than the animals, since we cannot offend God in our instincts, only in our reason? and that the superiority of the human animal lies in the power of sinning? Terrible power! terrible privilege! out of which we deduce the law of progress and the necessity for a future life.
The following passage bearing on the subject is from Bentham:—
“The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. It may come one day to be recognised 212 that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the caprice of a tormentor. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational as well as a more conversable animal than an infant of a day, a week, or even a month old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, ‘can they reason?’ nor ‘can they speak?’ but ‘can they suffer?’”
I do not remember ever to have heard the kind and just treatment of animals enforced upon Christian principles or made the subject of a sermon.
Once, when I was at Vienna, there was a dread of hydrophobia, and orders were given to massacre all the dogs which were found unclaimed213 or uncollared in the city or suburbs. Men were employed for this purpose, and they generally carried a short heavy stick, which they flung at the poor proscribed animal with such certain aim as either to kill or maim it mortally at one blow. It happened one day that, close to the edge of the river, near the Ferdinand’s-Brücke, one of these men flung his stick at a wretched dog, but with such bad aim that it fell into the river. The poor animal, following his instinct or his teaching, immediately plunged in, redeemed the stick, and laid it down at the feet of its owner, who, snatching it up, dashed out the creature’s brains.
I wonder what the Athenians would have done to such a man? they who banished the judge of the Areopagus because he flung away the bird which had sought shelter in his bosom?
I return to Dr. Arnold. He laments the neglect of our cathedrals and the absurd confusion in so many men’s minds “between what is really214 Popery, and what is but wisdom and beauty adopted by the Roman Catholics and neglected by us.”
He says, “Then, only, can opportunities of evil be taken from us, when we lose also all opportunity of doing or becoming good.” An obvious, even common place thought, well and tersely expressed. The inextricable co-relation and apparent antagonism of good and evil were never more strongly put.
The defeat of Varus by the Germans, and the defeat of the moors by Charles Martel, he ranked as the two most important battles in the history of the world. I see why. The first, because it decided whether the north of Europe was to be completely Latinised; the second, because it decided whether all Europe was to be completely Mahomedanised.
“How can he who labours hard for his daily bread—hardly and with doubtful success—be made wise and good, and therefore how can he be made happy? This question undoubtedly the Church was meant to solve; for Christ’s kingdom was to undo the evil of Adam’s sin; but the Church 215 has not solved it nor attempted to do so, and no one else has gone about it rightly. How shall the poor man find time to be educated?”
This question, which “the Church has not yet solved,” men have now set their wits to solve for themselves.
When in Italy he writes:—“It is almost awful to look at the beauty which surrounds me and then think of moral evil. It seems as if heaven and hell, instead of being separated by a great gulf from us and from each other, were close at hand and on each other’s confines.”
“Might but the sense of moral evil be as strong in me as is my delight in external beauty!”
A prayer I echo, Amen! if by the sense he mean the abhorrence of it; otherwise, to be perpetually haunted with the perception of moral evil were dreadful; yet, on the other hand, I am half ashamed sometimes of a conscious shrinking within myself from the sense of moral evil, merely as I should shrink from external filth and deformity, as hateful to perception and recollection, rather than as hateful to God and subversive of goodness.
Here is a very striking passage. He says, “A great school is very trying; it never can pre216sent images of rest and peace; and when the spring and activity of youth are altogether unsanctified by anything pure and elevated in its desires, it becomes a spectacle that is dizzying and almost more morally distressing than the shouts and gambols of a set of lunatics. It is very startling to see so much of sin combined with so little of sorrow. In a parish, amongst the poor, whatever of sin exists there is sure also to be enough of suffering: poverty, sickness, and old age are mighty tamers and chastisers. But, with boys of the richer classes, one sees nothing but plenty, health, and youth; and these are really awful to behold, when one must feel that they are unblessed. On the other hand, few things are more beautiful than when one does see all holy and noble thoughts and principles, not the forced growth of pain, or infirmity, or privation, but springing up as by God’s immediate planting, in a sort of garden of all that is fresh and beautiful; full of so much hope for this world as well as for heaven.”
To this testimony of a schoolmaster let us add the testimony of a schoolboy. De Quincey thus describes in himself the transition from boyhood to manhood: “Then first and suddenly were brought powerfully before me the change which was worked in the aspects of society by the presence of woman; woman, pure, thoughtful, noble, coming before me as Pandora crowned with perfections. Right over against this217 ennobling spectacle, with equal suddenness, I placed the odious spectacle of schoolboy society—no matter in what region of the earth,—schoolboy society, so frivolous in the matter of its disputes, often so brutal in the manner; so childish and yet so remote from simplicity; so foolishly careless, and yet so revoltingly selfish; dedicated ostensibly to learning, and yet beyond any section of human beings so conspicuously ignorant.”
There is a reverse to this picture, as I hope and believe. If I have met with those who looked back on their school-days with horror, as having first contaminated them with “evil communication,” I have met with others whose remembrances were all of sunshine, of early friendships, of joyous sports.
Nor do I think that a large school composed wholly of girls is in any respect better. In the low languid tone of mind, the petulant tempers, the small spitefulnesses, the cowardly concealments, the compressed or ill-directed energies, the precocious vanities and affectations, many such congregations of Femmelettes would form a worthy pendant to the picture of boyish turbulence and vulgarity drawn by De Quincey.
I am convinced from my own recollections, and from all I have learned from experienced teachers in large schools, that one of the most fatal mistakes in the training of children has been the too early separation 218 of the sexes. I say, has been, because I find that everywhere this most dangerous prejudice has been giving way before the light of truth and a more general acquaintance with that primal law of nature, which ought to teach us that the more we can assimilate on a large scale the public to the domestic training, the better for all. There exists still, the impression—in the higher classes especially—that in early education, the mixture of the two sexes would tend to make the girls masculine and the boys effeminate, but experience shows us that it is all the other way. Boys learn a manly and protecting tenderness, and the girls become at once more feminine and more truthful. Where this association has begun early enough, that is, before five years old, and has been continued till about ten or twelve, it has uniformly worked well; on this point the evidence is unanimous and decisive. So long ago as 1812, Francis Horner, in describing a school he visited at Enmore, near Bridgewater, speaks with approbation of the boys and the girls standing up together in the same class: it is the first mention, I find, of this innovation on the old collegiate, or charity-school plan,—itself a continuation of the monkish discipline. He says, “I liked much the placing the boys and girls together at an early age; it gave the boys a new spur to emulation.” When I have seen a class of girls stand up together, there 219 has been a sort of empty tittering, a vacancy in the faces, an inertness, which made it, as I thought, very up-hill work for the teacher; so when it was a class of boys, there has been often a sluggishness—a tendency to ruffian tricks—requiring perpetual effort on the part of the master. In teaching a class of boys and girls, accustomed to stand up together, there is little or nothing of this. They are brighter, readier, better behaved; there is a kind of mutual influence working for good; and if there be emulation, it is not mingled with envy or jealousy. Mischief, such as might be apprehended, is in this case far less likely to arise than where boys and girls, habitually separated from infancy, are first thrown together, just at the age when the feelings are first awakened and the association has all the excitement of novelty. A very intelligent schoolmaster assured me that he had had more trouble with a class of fifty boys, than with a school of three hundred boys and girls together (in the midst of whom I found him); and that there were no inconveniences resulting which a wise and careful and efficient superintendence could not control. “There is,” said he, “not only more emulation, more quickness of brain, but altogether a superior healthiness of tone, body and mind, where the boys and girls are trained together till about ten years old; and it extends into their after life:—I should say because it is in accordance with the laws 220 of God in forming us with mutual sympathies, moral and intellectual, and mutual dependence for help from the very beginning of life.”
What is curious enough, I find many people—fathers, mothers, teachers,—who are agreed that in the schools for the lower classes, the two sexes may be safely and advantageously associated, yet have a sort of horror of the idea of such an innovation in schools for the higher classes. One would like to know the reason for such a distinction, instead of being encountered, as is usual, by a sneer or a vile innuendo.
In a letter to a young student in philology there are noble passages in which I truly sympathise. He221 says, among other things: “I wish you had less pleasure in satires, not excepting those of Horace. Turn to the works which elevate the heart, in which you contemplate great men and great events, and live in a higher world. Turn away from those which represent the mean and contemptible side of ordinary circumstances and degenerate days: they are not suitable for the young, who in ancient times would not have been suffered to have them in their hands. Homer, Æschylus, Sophocles, Pindar,—these are the poets for youth.” And again: “Do not read the ancient authors in order to make æsthetic reflections on them, but in order to drink in their spirit and to fill your soul with their thoughts; and in order to gain that by reading which you would have gained by reverently listening to the discourses of great men.”
We should turn to works of art with the same feeling.
On the whole, all my own educational experience has shown me the dangerous—in some cases fatal—effects on the childish intellect, where precocious criticism was encouraged, and where caricatures and ugly disproportioned figures, expressing vile or ridiculous emotions, were placed before the eyes of children, as a means of amusement.
If I were a legislator I would forbid travesties and ridiculous burlesques of Shakspeare’s finest and most 222 serious dramas to be acted in our theatres. That this has been done and recently (as in the case of the Merchant of Venice) seems to me a national disgrace.
It is strange, confounding, to hear Niebuhr speak thus of Goethe:—
“I am inclined to think that Goethe is utterly destitute of susceptibility to impressions from the fine arts.”(!!) He afterwards does more justice to Goethe—certainly one of the profoundest critics in art who ever lived; although I am inclined to think that his was an educated perception rather than a natural sensibility. Niebuhr’s criticism on Goethe’s Italian travels,—on Goethe’s want of sympathy with the people,—his regarding the whole country and nation simply as a sort of bazaar of art and antiquities, an exhibition of beauty and a recreation for himself: his habit of surveying all moral and intellectual greatness, all that speaks to the heart, with a kind of patronising superiority, as if created for his use,—and finding amusement in the folly, degeneracy, and corruption of the people;—all this appears to me admirable, and so far I had strong sympathy with Niebuhr; for I well remember that in reading Goethe’s “Italianische Reise,” I had the same perception of the artless and the superficial in point of feeling, in the midst of so much that was fine and223 valuable in criticism. It is well to be artistic in art, but not to walk about the world en artiste, studying humanity, and the deepest human interests, as if they were art.
Niebuhr afterwards says, in speaking of Rome, “I am sickened here of art, as I should be of sweetmeats instead of bread.” So it must be where art is separated wholly from morals.
He speaks of the “wretched superstition,” and the “utter incapacity for piety” in the people of the Roman States.
Superstition and the want of piety go together; and the combination is not peculiar to the Italians, nor to the Roman Catholic faith.
In speaking of the education of his son, he deprecates the learning by rote of hymns. “To a happy child, hymns deploring the misery of human life are without meaning.” (And worse.) “So likewise to a good child are those expressing self-accusation and contrition.” (He might have added, and self-applause.)
I am quite sure, from my own experience of children who have been allowed to learn penitential224 psalms and hymns, that they think of wickedness as a sort of thing which gives them self-importance.
“Only what the mind takes in willingly can it assimilate with itself, and make its own, part of its life.”
A truism of the greatest value in education; but who thinks of it when cramming children’s minds with all sorts of distasteful heterogeneous things?
“When reflection has become too one-sided and too domineering over a deeply feeling heart, it is apt to lead us into errors in our treatment of others.”
And all that follows—very wise! for the want of this reflection leaves us stranded and wrecked through feeling and perception merely.
Very curious and interesting, as a trait of character and feeling, is the passage in which he represents himself, in the dangerous confinement of his second wife, as praying to his first wife for succour. “In my terrible anxiety,” he says, “I prayed most earnestly, and entreated my Milly, too, for help. I comforted Gretchen by telling her that Milly would send help. When she was at the worst,225 she sighed out, ‘Ah, cannot your Amelia send me a blessing?’”
This is curious from a Protestant and a philosopher. It shows that there may be something nearly allied to our common nature in the Roman Catholic invocation to the saints, and to the souls of the dead.
Niebuhr, speaking of a lady (Madame von der Recke, I think,—the “Elise” of Goethe) who had patronised him, says, “I will receive roses and myrtles from female hands, but no laurels.”
This makes one smile; for most of the laurels which Niebuhr will receive in this country will be through female hands—through the admirable translation and arrangement of his life and letters by Susanna Winkworth.
The following I read with cordial agreement:—“While I am ready to adopt any well-grounded opinion” (regarding, I suppose, mere facts, or speculations as to things), “my inmost soul revolts against receiving the judgment of others respecting persons; and whenever I have done so I have bitterly repented of it.”
He says, “I cannot worship the abstraction of Virtue. She only charms me when she ad226dresses herself to my heart, and speaks thus the love from which she springs. I really love nothing but what actually exists.”
What does actually exist to us but that which we believe in? and where we strongly love do we not believe sometimes in the unreal? is it not then the existing and the actual to us?
“A faculty of a quite peculiar kind, and for which we have no word, is the recognition of the incomprehensible. It is something which distinguishes the seer from the ordinary learned man.”
But in religion this is faith. Does Niebuhr admit this kind of faith, “the recognition of the incomprehensible,” in philosophy, and not in religion? for he often complains of the want in himself of any faith but an historic faith.
“In times of good fortune it is easy to appear great—nay, even to act greatly; but in misfortune very difficult. The greatest man will commit blunders in misfortune, because the want of proportion between his means and his ends progressively increases, and his inward strength is exhausted in fruitless efforts.”
This is true; but under all extremes of good or 227 evil fortune we are apt to commit mistakes, because the tide of the mind does not flow equally, but rushes along impetuously in a flood, or brokenly and distractedly in a rocky channel, where its strength is exhausted in conflict and pain. The extreme pressure of circumstances will produce extremes of feeling in minds of a sensitive rather than a firm cast.
This next passage is curious as a scholar’s opinion of “free trade” in the year 1810; though I believe the phrase “free trade” was not even invented at that time—certainly not in use in the statesman’s vocabulary.
“I presume you will admit that commerce is a good thing, and the first requisite in the life of any nation. It appears to me, that this much has now been palpably demonstrated, namely, that an advanced and complicated social condition like this in which we live can only be maintained by establishing mutual relationships between the most remote nations; and that the limitation of commerce would, like the sapping of a main pillar, inevitably occasion the fall of the whole edifice; and also that commerce is so essentially beneficial and in accordance with man’s nature, that the well-being of each nation is an advantage to all the nations that stand in connection with it.”
It is strange how long we have been (forty years, and more) in recognising these simple principles; and in Germany, where they were first enunciated, they are not recognised yet.
“By his wit and his talent, and more especially by his gift as an improvisatore, he rose so high that he exercised a great influence upon the people, and sometimes was more popular even than Demosthenes. With a shamelessness amounting to honesty, he bluntly told the people everything he felt and what all the populace felt with him. When hearing such a man the populace felt at their ease: he gave them the feeling that they might be wicked without being disgraced, and this excites with such people a feeling of gratitude. There is a remarkable passage in Plato, where he shows that those who deliver hollow speeches, without being in earnest, have no power or influence; whereas others, who are devoid of mental culture, but say in a straightforward 229 manner what they think and feel, exercise great power. It was this which in the eighteenth century gave the materialist philosophy in France such enormous influence with the higher classes; for they were told there was no need to be ashamed of the vulgarest sensuality; formerly people had been ashamed, but now a man learned that he might be a brutal sensualist, provided he did not offend against elegant manners and social conventionalism. People rejoiced at hearing a man openly and honestly say what they themselves felt. Demades was a remarkable character. He was not a bad man; and I like him much better than Eschines.”
What an excuse, what a sanction is here for the demagogues who direct the worst passions of men to the worst and the most selfish purposes, and the most debasing consequences! Demades “not a bad man?” then what is a bad man?
“It was not the pure knowledge of nature and universality, but it was the proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to give the law unto himself, which was the form of the first temptation.”
But, in this sense, the first temptation is only the type of the perpetual and ever-present temptation—the temptation into which we are to fall through necessity, that we may rise through love.
Here is an excellent passage—a severe commentary on the unsound, un-christian, unphilosophical distinction between morals and politics in government:231—
“Although men bred in learning are perhaps to seek in points of convenience and reasons of state and accommodations for the present, yet, on the other hand, to recompense this they are perfect in those same plain grounds of religion, justice, honour, and moral virtue which, if they be well and watchfully pursued, there will be seldom use of those other expedients, no more than of physic in a sound, well-directed body.”
“Now (in the time of Lord Bacon, that is,) now sciences are delivered to be believed and accepted, and not to be farther discovered; and therefore, sciences stand at a clog, and have done for many ages.”
In the present time, this is true only, or especially, of theology as an art, and divinity as a science; so made by the schoolmen of former ages, and not yet emancipated.
“Generally he perceived in men of devout simplicity this opinion, that the secrets of nature were the secrets of God, part of that glory into which man is not to press too boldly.”
God has placed no limits to the exercise of the intellect he has given us on this side of the grave. 232 But not the less will he keep his own secrets from us. Has he not proved it? who has opened that door to the knowledge of a future being which it has pleased him to keep shut fast, though watched by hope and by faith?
The Christian philosophy of these latter times appears to be foreshadowed in the following sentence, where he speaks of such as have ventured to deduce and confirm the truth of the Christian religion from the principles and authorities of philosophers: “Thus with great pomp and solemnity celebrating the intermarriage of faith and sense as a lawful conjunction, and soothing the minds of men with a pleasing variety of matter, though, at the same time, rashly and unequally intermixing things divine and things human.”
This last common-place distinction seems to me, however, unworthy of Bacon. It should be banished—utterly set aside. Things which are divine should be human, and things which are human, divine; not as a mixture, “a medley,” in the sense of Bacon’s words, but an interfusion; for nothing that we esteem divine can be anything to us but as we make it ours, i. e. humanise it; and our humanity were a poor thing but for “the divinity that stirs within us.” We do injury to our own nature—we miscon233ceive our relations to the Creator, to his universe, and to each other, so long as we separate and studiously keep wide apart the divine and the human.
“Let no man, upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well studied either in the book of God’s word or the book of God’s works.” Well advised! But then he goes on to warn men that they do not “unwisely mingle or confound their learnings together:” mischievous this contradistinction between God’s word and God’s works; since both, if emanating from him, must be equally true. And if there be one truth, then, to borrow his own words in another place, “the voice of nature will consent, whether the voice of man do so or not.”
Apropos to education—here is a good illustration: “Were it not better for a man in a fair room to set up one great light or branching candlestick of lights, than to go about with a rushlight into every dark corner?”
And here is another: “It is one thing to set forth what ground lieth unmanured, and another to correct ill husbandry in that which is manured.”
“It is without all controversy that learning doth make the minds of men gentle and generous, amiable, and pliant to government, whereas ignorance maketh them churlish, thwarting, and mutinous.”
“An impatience of doubt and an unadvised haste to assertion without due and mature suspension of the judgment, is an error in the conduct of the understanding.”
“In contemplation, if a man begin with certainties he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.” Well said and profoundly true.
This is a celebrated and often-cited passage; an admitted principle in theory. I wish it were oftener applied in practice,—more especially in education. For it seems to me that in teaching children we ought not to be perpetually dogmatising. We ought not to be ever placing before them only the known and the definite; but to allow the unknown, the uncertain, the indefinite, to be suggested to their minds: it would do more for the growth of a truly religious feeling than all the catechisms of scientific facts and creeds of theological definitions that ever were taught in cut and dried question and 235 answer. Why should not the young candid mind be allowed to reflect on the unknown, as such? on the doubtful, as such—open to inquiry and liable to discussion? Why will teachers suppose that in confessing their own ignorance or admitting uncertainties they must diminish the respect of their pupils, or their faith in truth? I should say from my own experience that the effect is just the reverse. I remember, when a child, hearing a very celebrated man profess his ignorance on some particular subject, and I felt awe-struck—it gave me a perception of the infinite,—as when looking up at the starry sky. What we unadvisedly cram into a child’s mind in the same form it has taken in our own, does not always healthily or immediately assimilate; it dissolves away in doubts, or it hardens into prejudice, instead of mingling with the life as truth ought to do. It is the early and habitual surrendering of the mind to authority, which makes it afterwards so ready for deception of all kinds.
He speaks of “legends and narrations of miracles wrought by martyrs, hermits, monks, which, though they have had passage for a time by the ignorance of the people, the superstitious simplicity of some, and the politic toleration of others, holding them but as divine poesies; yet after a time they 236 grew up to be esteemed but as old wives’ fables, to the great scandal and detriment of religion.”
Very ambiguous, surely. Does he mean that it was to the great scandal and detriment of religion that they existed at all? or that they came to be regarded as old wives’ fables?
He says, farther on, “though truth and error are carefully to be separated, yet rarities and reports that seem incredible are not to be suppressed or denied to the memory of men.”
“For it is not yet known in what cases and how far effects attributed to superstition do participate of natural causes.”
“To be speculative with another man to the end to know how to work him or wind him, proceedeth from a heart that is double and cloven, and not entire and ingenuous; which, as in friendship, it is a want of integrity, so towards princes or superiors it is a want of duty.” (No occasion, surely, for the distinction here drawn; inasmuch as the want of integrity involves the want of every duty.)
Then he speaks of “the stooping to points of necessity and convenience and outward basenesses,” as to be accounted “submission to the occasion, not to the237 person.” Vile distinction! an excuse to himself for his dedication to the King, and his flattery of Carr and Villiers.
Our English Universities are only now beginning to show some sign (reluctant sign) of submitting to that re-examination which the great philosopher recommended two hundred and fifty years ago, when he says: “Inasmuch as most of the usages and orders of the universities were derived from more obscure times, it is the more requisite they be reexamined”—and more to the same purpose.
“If that great Workmaster (God) had been of a human disposition, he would have cast the stars into some pleasant and beautiful works and orders like the frets in the roofs of houses; whereas, one can scarce find a posture in square or triangle or straight line amongst such an infinite number, so differing an harmony there is between the spirit of man and the spirit of nature.”
Perhaps if our human vision could be removed to a sufficient distance to contemplate the whole of what we now see in part, what appears disorder might appear beautiful order. The stars which now appear as if flung about at random, would perhaps be 238 resolved into some exquisitely beautiful and regular edifice. The fly on the cornice, “whose feeble ray scarce spreads an inch around,” might as well discuss the proportions of the Parthenon as we the true figure and frame of God’s universe.
I remember seeing, through Lord Rosse’s telescope, one of those nebulæ which have hitherto appeared like small masses of vapour floating about in space. I saw it composed of thousands upon thousands of brilliant stars, and the effect to the eye—to mine at least—was as if I had had my hand full of diamonds, and suddenly unclosing it, and flinging them forth, they were dispersed as from a centre, in a kind of partly irregular, partly fan-like form; and I had a strange feeling of suspense and amazement while I looked, because they did not change their relative position, did not fall—though in act to fall—but seemed fixed in the very attitude of being flung forth into space;—it was most wondrous and beautiful to see!
It is pleasant to me to think that Bacon’s stupendous intellect believed in the moral progress of human societies, because it is my own belief, and one that I would not for worlds resign. I indeed believe that each human being must here (or hereafter?) work out his own peculiar moral life: but also that the whole race has a progressive moral life: just as in our solar system every individual planet moves in its own orbit, while the whole system moves on together; we know not whither, we know not round what centre—“ma pur si muove!”
Yet he says in another place, with equal wit and sublimity, “Every obtaining of a desire hath a show of advancement, as motion in a circle hath a show of progression.” Perhaps our movement may be spiral? and every revolution may bring us nearer and nearer to some divine centre in which we may be absorbed at last?
He refers in this following passage to that theory of the angelic existences which we see expressed in ancient symbolic Art, first by variation of colour only, and later, by variety of expression and 240 form. He says,—“We find, as far as credit is to be given to the celestial hierarchy of that supposed Dionysius, the senator of Athens, that the first place or degree is given to the Angels of Love, which are called Seraphim; the second to the Angels of Light, which are termed Cherubim; and the third, and so following, to Thrones, Principalities, and the rest (which are all angels of power and ministry); so as the angels of knowledge and illumination are placed before the angels of office and domination.”
—But the Angels of Love are first and over all. In other words, we have here in due order of precedence, 1. Love, 2. Knowledge, 3. Power,—the angelic Trinity, which, in unity, is our idea of God.
Chateaubriand tells us that when his mother and sisters urged him to marry, he resisted strongly—he241 thought it too early; he says, with a peculiar naïveté, “Je ne me sentais aucune qualité de mari: toutes mes illusions étaient vivantes, rien n’était épuisé en moi, l’énergie même de mon existence avait doublé par mes courses,” &c.
So then the “existence épuisé” is to be kept for the wife! “la vie usée”—“la jeunesse abusée,” is good enough to make a husband! Chateaubriand, who in many passages of his book piques himself on his morality, seems quite unconscious that he has here given utterance to a sentiment the most profoundly immoral, the most fatal to both sexes, that even his immoral age had ever the effrontery to set forth.
“Il paraît qu’on n’apprend pas à mourir en tuant les autres.”
Nor do we learn to suffer by inflicting pain: nothing so patient as pity.
“Le cynisme des mœurs ramène dans la société, en annihilant le sens moral, une sorte de barbares; ces barbares de la civilisation, propres à détruire comme les Goths, n’ont pas la puissance de fonder comme eux; ceux-ci étaient les énormes enfants d’une nature vierge; ceux-là sont les avortons monstrueux d’une nature dépravée.”
We too often make the vulgar mistake that undisciplined or overgrown passions are a sign of strength; they are the signs of immaturity, of “enormous childhood.”—And the distinction (above) is well drawn and true. The real savage is that monstrous, malignant, abject thing, generated out of the rottenness and ferment of civilisation. And yet extremes meet: I remember seeing on the shores of Lake Huron some Indians of a distant tribe of Chippawas, who in appearance were just like those fearful abortions of humanity which crawl out of the darkness, filth, and ignorance of our great towns, just so miserable, so stupid, so cruel,—only, perhaps, less wicked.
Chateaubriand was always comparing himself with Lord Byron—he hints more than once, that Lord Byron owed some of his inspiration to the perusal of his works—more especially to Renée. In this he was altogether mistaken.
“Une intelligence supérieure n’enfante pas le mal sans douleur, parceque ce n’est pas son fruit naturel, et qu’elle ne devait pas le porter.”
Madame de Coeslin (whom he describes as an impersonation of aristocratic morgue and all243 the pretension and prejudices of the ancien régime), “lisant dans un journal la mort de plusieurs rois, elle ôta ses lunettes et dit en se mouchant, ‘Il y a donc une épizootie sur ces bêtes à couronne!”
I once counted among my friends an elderly lady of high rank, who had spent the whole of a long life in intimacy with royal and princely personages. In three different courts she had filled offices of trust and offices of dignity. In referring to her experience she never either moralised or generalised; but her scorn of “ces bêtes à couronne,” was habitually expressed with just such a cool epigrammatic bluntness as that of Madame de Coeslin.
“L’aristocratie a trois âges successifs; l’âge des supériorités, l’âge des priviléges, l’âge des vanités; sortie du premier, elle dégénère dans le second et s’éteint dans le dernier.”
In Germany they are still in the first epoch. In England we seem to have arrived at the second. In France they are verging on the third.
Chateaubriand says of himself:—
“Dans le premier moment d’une offense je la sens à peine; mais elle se grave dans ma mémoire; son souvenir au lieu de décroître, s’augmente avec le244 temps. Il dort dans mon cœur des mois, des années entières, puis il se réveille à la moindre circonstance avec une force nouvelle, et ma blessure devient plus vive que le prémier jour: mais si je ne pardonne point à mes ennemis je ne leur fais aucun mal; je suis rancunier et ne suis point vindicatif.”
A very nice and true distinction in point of feeling and character, yet hardly to be expressed in English. We always attach the idea of malignity to the word rancour, whereas the French words rancune, rancunier, express the relentless without the vengeful or malignant spirit.
Such characters make me turn pale, as I have done at sight of a tomb in which an offending wretch had been buried alive. There is in them always something acute and deep and indomitable in the internal and exciting emotion; slow, scrupulous, and timid in the external demonstration. Cordelia is such a character.
Chateaubriand says of his friend Pelletrie,—“Il n’avait pas précisément des vices, mais il était rongé d’une vermine de petits défauts dont on ne pouvait l’épurer.” I know such a man; and if he had committed a murder every morning, and a highway robbery every night,—if he had killed his father and eaten him with any possible sauce, he245 could not be more intolerable, more detestable than he is!
“Un homme nous protège par ce qu’il vaut; une femme par ce que vous valez: voilà pourquoi de ces deux empires l’un est si odieux, l’autre si doux.”
He says of Madame Roland, “Elle avait du caractère plutôt que du génie; le premier peut donner le second, le second ne peut donner le premier.” What does the man mean? this is a mistake surely. What the French call caractère never could give genius, nor genius, caractère. Au reste, I am not sure that Madame Roland—admirable creature!—had genius; but for talent, and caractère—first rate.
“Soyons doux si nous voulons être regrettés. La hauteur du génie et les qualités supérieures ne sont pleurées que des anges.”
“Veillons bien sur notre caractère. Songeons que nous pouvons avec un attachement profond n’en pas moins empoisonner des jours que nous rachéterions au prix de tout notre sang. Quand nos amis sont descendus dans la tombe, quels moyens avons246 nous de réparer nos torts? nos inutiles regrets, nos vains repentirs, sont ils un remède aux peines que nous leurs avons faites? Ils auraient mieux aimé de nous un sourire pendant leur vie que toutes nos larmes après leur mort.”
“L’amour est si bien la félicité qu’il est poursuivi de la chimère d’être toujours; il ne veut prononcer que des serments irrévocables; au défaut de ses joies, il cherche à éterniser ses douleurs; ange tombé, il parle encore le langage qu’il parlait au séjour incorruptible; son espérance est de ne cesser jamais. Dans sa double nature et dans sa double illusion, ici-bas il prétend se perpétuer par d’immortelles pensées et par des générations intarissables.”
Madame d’Houdetot, after the death of Saint Lambert, always before she went to bed used to rap three times with her slipper on the floor, saying,—“Bon soir, mon ami; bon soir, bon soir!”
So then, she thought of her lover as gone down—not up?
Bishop Cumberland founds the law of God, as revealed in the Scriptures, upon the general law of nature. He does not attempt to found the laws of nature upon the Bible. “We believe,” he says, “in the truth of Scripture, because it promotes and illustrates the fundamental laws of nature in the government of the world.”
Then does the Bishop mean here that the Bible is not the WORD nor the WILL of God, but the exposition of the WORD and the record of the WILL, so far as either could be rendered communicable to human comprehension through the medium of human language and intelligence?
There is a striking passage in Bunsen’s Hippolytus, which may be considered with reference to this opinion of the Bishop.
He (Bunsen) says, that “what relates the history248 of ‘the word of God’ in his humanity, and in this world, and what records its teachings, and warnings, and promises (that is, the Bible?) was mistaken for ‘the word of God’ itself, in its proper sense.”
Does he mean that we deem erroneously the collection of writings we call the Bible to be “the word of God;” whereas, in fact, it is “the history, the record of the word of God?” that is, of all that God has spoken to man—in various revelations—through human life—by human deeds?—because this is surely a most important and momentous distinction.
According to Bishop Cumberland, benevolence, in its large sense,—that is, a regard for all GOOD, universal and particular,—is the primary law of nature; and justice is one form, and a secondary form, of this law: a moral virtue, not a law of nature,—if I understand his meaning rightly.
Then which would he place highest, the law of nature or the moral law?
If you place them in contradistinction, then are we to conclude that the law of nature precedes the moral law, but that the moral law supersedes the law of nature? Yet no law of nature (as I understand the word) can be superseded, though the moral law may be based upon it, and in that sense may be above it.
In this following passage the Bishop seems to have anticipated what in more modern times has been called the “greatest happiness principle.” He says:—
“The good of all rational beings is a complex whole, being nothing but the aggregate of good enjoyed by each.” “We can only act in our proper spheres, labouring to do good, but this labour will be fruitless, or rather mischievous, if we do not keep in mind the higher gradations which terminate in universal benevolence. Thus, no man must seek his own pleasure or advantage otherwise than as his family permits; or provide for his family to the detriment of his country; or promote the good of his country at the expense of mankind; or serve mankind, if it were possible, without regard to the majesty of God.”
Paley deems the recognition of a future state so essential that he even makes the definition of virtue to consist in this, that it is good performed for the sake of everlasting happiness. That is to say, he makes it a sort of bargain between God and man, a contract, or a covenant, instead of that obedience to a primal law, from which if we stray in will, we do 250 so at the necessary expense of our happiness. Bishop Cumberland has no reference to this doctrine of Paley’s;—seems, indeed, to set it aside altogether, as contrary to the essence of virtue.
On the whole, this good Bishop appears to have treated ethics not as an ecclesiastic, but as Bacon treated natural philosophy;—the pervading spirit is the perpetual appeal to experience, and not to authority.
Comte makes out three elements of progress, “les philosophes, les prolétaires, et les femmes;”—types of intellect, material activity, and sentiment.
From Woman, he says, is to proceed the preponderance of the social duties and affections over egotism and ambition. (La prépondérance de la sociabilité sur la personalité.) He adds:—“Ce sexe est certainement supérieure au notre quant à l’attribut le251 plus fondamentale de l’espèce humaine, la tendence de faire prévaloir la sociabilité sur la personalité.”
“S’il ne fallait qu’aimer comme dans l’Utopie Chrétienne, sur une vie future affranchie de toute égoïste necessité matérielle, la femme régnerait; mais il faut surtout agir et penser pour combattre contre les rigueurs de notre vraie destinée: dès-lors l’homme doit commander malgré sa moindre moralité.”
“Malgré?” Sometimes man commands because of the “moindre moralité:”—it spares much time in scruples.
“L’influence feminine devient l’auxiliaire indispensable de tout pouvoir spirituel, comme le moyen âge l’a tant montré.”
“Au moyen âge la Catholicisme occidentale ébaucha la systématisation de la puissance morale en superposant à l’ordre pratique une libre autorité spirituelle, habituellement secondée par les femmes.”
“La Force, proprement dite, c’est ce qui régit les actes, sans régler les volontés.”
Herein lies a distinction between Force and Power; for Power, properly so called, does both.
He insists throughout on the predominance of sociabilité over personalité—and what is that but the Christian law philosophised? and again, “Il n’y a de directement morale dans notre nature que l’amour.” Where did he get this, if not in the Epistle of St. John?
“Celui qui se croirait indépendant des autres dans ses affections, ses pensées, ou ses actes, ne pourrait même formuler un tel blasphème sans une contradiction immédiate—puisque son langage même ne lui appartient pas.”
He says that if the women regret the age of chivalry, it is not for the external homage then paid to them, but because “l’élément le plus moral de l’humanité” (woman, to wit), “doit préférer à tout autre le seul régime qui érigea directement en principe la préponderance de la morale sur la politique. Si elles regrettent leur douce influence antérieure, c’est surtout comme s’effaçant aujourd’hui sous un grossier égoïsme.
“Leurs vœux spontanés seconderont toujours les efforts directes des philosophes et des prolétaires pour transformer enfin les débats politiques en transactions sociales en faisant prévaloir les dévoirs sur les droits.”
This is admirable; for we are all inclined to think more about our rights (and our wrongs too) than about our duties.
“Si donc aimer nous satisfait mieux que d’être aimé, cela constate la supériorité naturelle des affections désintéressées.”
Meaning—what is true—that the love we bear to another, much more fills the whole soul and is more a possession of an actuating principle, than the love of another for us:—but both are necessary to the complement of our moral life. The first is as the air we breathe; the last is as our daily bread.
He says that the only true and firm friendship is that between man and woman, because it is the only affection “exempte de toute concurrence actuelle ou possible.”
In this I am inclined to agree with him, and to regret that our conventional morality or immorality, and the too early severance of the two sexes in education, place men and women in such a relation to each other, socially, as to render such friendships difficult and rare.
“En vérité l’amour ne saurait être profond, s’il n’est pas pur.”
Christianity, he says, “a favorisé l’essor de la véritable passion, tandisque le polythéisme consacrait surtout les appétits.”
He is speaking here as teacher, philosopher, and legislator, not as poet or sentimentalist. Perhaps it will come to be recognised sooner or later, that what people are pleased to call the romance of life is founded on the deepest and most immutable laws of our being, and that any system of ecclesiastical polity, or civil legislation, or moral philosophy, which takes no account of the primal instincts and affections, which are the springs of life and on which God made the continuation of his world to depend, must of necessity fail.
I have just read a volume of Psychological Essays by one of the most celebrated of living surgeons, and closed the book with a feeling of amazement: a long life spent in physiological experiences, dissecting dead bodies, and mending broken bones, has then led him, at last, to some of the most obvious, most commonly known facts in mental philosophy? So some of our profound politicians, after a long life spent in governing and reforming men, may arrive, at last, at some of the commonest facts in social morals.
He contends for the indissolubility of marriage, and against divorce; and he thinks that education255 should be in the hands of women to the age of ten or twelve, “Afin que le cœur y prévale toujours sur l’esprit:” all very excellent principles, but supposing a hypothetical social and moral state, from which we are as yet far removed. What he says, however, of the indissolubility of the marriage bond is so beautiful and eloquent, and so in accordance with my own moral theories, that I cannot help extracting it from a mass of heavy and sometimes unintelligible matter. He begins by laying it down as a principle that the “amélioration morale de l’homme constitue la principale mission de la femme,” and that “une telle destination indique aussitôt que le lien conjugal doit être unique et indissoluble, afin que les relations domestiques puissent acquérir la plénitude et la fixité qu’exige leur efficacité morale.” This, however, supposes the holiest and completest of all bonds to be sealed on terms of equality, not that the latter end of a man’s life, la vie usée et la jeunesse épuisée, are to be tacked on to the beginning of a woman’s fresh and innocent existence; for then influences are reversed, and instead of the amelioration of the masculine, we have the demoralisation of the feminine, nature. He supposes the possibility of circumstances which demand a personal separation, but even then sans permettre un nouveau mariage. In such a case his religion imposes on the innocent victim256 (whether man or woman) “une chasteté compatible d’ailleurs avec la plus profonde tendresse. Si cette condition lui semble rigoureuse, il doit l’accepter, d’abord, en vue de l’ordre général; puis, comme une juste conséquence de son erreur primitive.”
There would be much to say upon all this, if it were worth while to discuss a theory which it is not possible to reduce to general practice. We cannot imagine the possibility of a second marriage where the first, though perhaps unhappy or early ruptured, has been, not a personal relation only, but an interfusion of our moral being,—of the deepest impulses of life—with those of another; these we cannot have a second time to surrender to a second object;—but this might be left to Nature and her holy instincts to settle. However, he goes on in a strain of eloquence and dignity, quite unusual with him, to this effect:—“Ce n’est que par l’assurance d’une inaltérable perpetuité que les liens intimes peuvent acquérir la consistance et la plénitude indispensable à leur efficacité morale. La plus méprisable des sectes éphémères que suscita l’anarchie moderne (the Mormons, for instance?) me parait être celle qui voulut ériger l’inconstance en condition de bonheur.”.... “Entre deux êtres aussi complexes et aussi divers que l’homme et la femme, ce n’est pas trop de toute la vie pour se bien connaître et s’aimer dignement. Loin de taxer d’illusion la haute idée que deux vrais époux se257 forment souvent l’un de l’autre, je l’ai presque toujours attribuée à l’appréciation plus profonde que procure seule une pleine intimité, que d’ailleurs développe des qualités inconnues aux indifférents. On doit même regarder comme très-honorable pour notre espèce, cette grande estime que ses membres s’inspirent mutuellement quand ils s’étudient beaucoup. Car la haine et l’indifférence mériteraient seules le reproche d’aveuglement qu’une appréciation superficielle applique à l’amour. Il faut donc juger pleinement conforme à la nature humaine l’institution qui prolonge au-delà du tombeau l’indentification de deux dignes époux.”
He lays down as one of the primal instincts of human kind “l’homme doit nourrir la femme.” This may have been, as he says, a universal instinct; perhaps it ought to be one of our social ordinations; perhaps it may be so at some future time; but we know that it is not a present fact; that the woman must in many cases maintain herself or perish, and she asks nothing more than to be allowed to do so.
However, I agree with Comte that the position of a woman, enriched and independent by her own labour, is anomalous and seldom happy. It is a remark I have heard somewhere, and it appears to me true, that there exists no being so hard, so keen, so calculating, so unscrupulous, so merciless258 in money matters as the wife of a Parisian shopkeeper, where she holds the purse and manages the concern, as is generally the case.
Here is a passage wherein he attacks that egotism which with many good people enters so largely into the notion of another world:—which Paley inculcated, and which Coleridge ridiculed, when he spoke of “this worldliness,” and the “other worldliness.”
“La sagesse sacerdotale, digne organe de l’instinct public, y avait intimement rattaché les principales obligations sociales à titre de condition indispensable du salut personnel: mais la récompense infinie promise ainsi à tous les sacrifices ne pouvait jamais permettre une affection pleinement désinteressée.”
This perpetual iteration of a system of future reward and punishment, as a principle of our religion and a motive of action, has in some sort demoralised Christianity; especially in minds where love is not a chief element, and which do not love Christ for his love’s sake, but for his power’s sake, and because judgment and punishment are supposed to be in his hand.
Putting the test of revelation out of the question, and dealing with the philosopher philosophically,259 the best refutation of Comte’s system is contained in the following criticism: it seems to me final.
“In limiting religion to the relations in which we stand to each other, and towards Humanity, Comte omits one very important consideration. Even upon his own showing, this Humanity can only be the supreme being of our planet, it cannot be the Supreme Being of the Universe. Now, although in this our terrestrial sojourn, all we can distinctly know must be limited to the sphere of our planet; yet, standing on this ball and looking forth into infinitude, we know that it is but an atom of the infinitude, and that the humanity we worship here, cannot extend its dominion there. If our relations to humanity may be systematised into a cultus, and made a religion as they have formerly been made a morality, and if the whole of our practical priesthood be limited to this religion, there will, nevertheless remain for us, outlying this terrestrial sphere,—the sphere of the infinite, in which our thoughts must wander, and our emotions will follow our thoughts; so that besides the religion of humanity there must ever be a religion of the Universe. Or, to bring this conception within ordinary language, there must ever remain the old distinctions between religion and morality, our relations to God, and our relations towards man. The only difference being, that in the old theology moral precepts were inculcated with260 a view to a celestial habitat; in the new, the moral precepts are inculcated with a view to the general progress of the race.”—Westminster Review.
In fact the doctrine of the non-plurality of worlds as recently set forth by an eminent professor and D. D. would exactly harmonise with Comte’s “Culte du Positif,” as not merely limiting our sympathies to this one form of intellectual being, but our religious notions to this one habitable orb.
But to those who take other views, the argument above contains the philosophical objection to Comte’s system, as such; and I repeat, that it seems to me unanswerable; but there are excellent things in his theory, notwithstanding;—things that make us pause and think. In some parts it is like Christianity with Christ, as a personalité, omitted. For Christ the humanised divine, he substitutes an abstract deified humanity. 1854.
“As a man embraces the determination to become a soldier and go to the wars, bravely resolved to bear dangers, and difficulties, and wounds, and death itself, but at the same time never anticipating the particular form in which those evils may surprise us in an extremely unpleasant manner;—just so we rush into authorship!”
Goethe says of Lavater, “that the conception of humanity which had been formed in himself, and in his own humanity, was so akin to the living image of Christ, that it was impossible for him to conceive how a man could live and breathe without being a Christian. He had, so to speak, a physical262 affinity with Christianity; it was to him a necessity, not only morally, but from organisation.”
Lavater’s individual feeling was, perhaps, but an anticipation of that which may become general, universal. As we rise in the scale of being, as we become more gentle, spiritualised, refined, and intelligent, will not our “physical affinity” with the religion of Christ become more and more apparent, till it is less a doctrine than a principle of life? So its Divine Author knew, who prepared it for us, and is preparing and moulding us through progressive improvement to comprehend and receive it.
Goethe speaks of “polishing up life with the varnish of fiction;” the artistic turn of the man’s mind showed itself in this love of creating an effect in his own eyes and in the eyes of others. But what can fiction—what can poetry do for life, but present some one or two out of the multitudinous aspects of that grand, beautiful, terrible, and infinite mystery? or by life, does he mean here the mere external forms of society?—for it is not clear.
Is love, like faith, ennobled through its own depth and fervour and sincerity? or is it ennobled through the nobility, and degraded through the degradation of its object? Is it with love as with worship? Is it a religion, and holy when the object is pure and good? Is it a superstition, and unholy when the object is impure and unworthy?
Of all the histories I have read of the aberrations of human passion, nothing ever so struck me with a sort of amazed and painful pity as Hazlitt’s “Liber Amoris.” The man was in love with a servant girl, who in the eyes of others possessed no particular charms of mind or person, yet did the mighty love of264 this strong, masculine, and gifted being, lift her into a sort of goddess-ship; and make his idolatry in its intense earnestness and reality assume something of the sublimity of an act of faith, and in its expression take a flight equal to anything that poetry or fiction have left us. It was all so terribly real, he sued with such a vehemence, he suffered with such resistance, that the powerful intellect reeled, tempest-tost, and might have foundered but for the gift of expression. He might have said like Tasso—like Goethe rather—“Gab mir ein Gott zu sagen was ich leide!” And this faculty of utterance, eloquent utterance, was perhaps the only thing which saved life, or reason, or both. In such moods of passion, the poor uneducated man, dumb in the midst of the strife and the storm, unable to comprehend his intolerable pain or make it comprehended, throws himself in a blind fury on the cause of his torture, or hangs himself in his neckcloth.
Hazlitt takes up his pen, dips it in fire and thus he writes:—
“Perfect love has this advantage in it, that it leaves the possessor of it nothing farther to desire. There is one object (at least), in which the soul finds absolute content;—for which it seeks to live or dares to die. The heart has, as it were, filled up the moulds 265 of the imagination; the truth of passion keeps pace with, and outvies, the extravagance of mere language. There are no words so fine, no flattery so soft, that there is not a sentiment beyond them that it is impossible to express, at the bottom of the heart where true love is. What idle sounds the common phrases adorable creature, divinity, angel, are! What a proud reflection it is to have a feeling answering to all these, rooted in the breast, unalterable, unutterable, to which all other feelings are light and vain! Perfect love reposes on the object of its choice, like the halcyon on the wave, and the air of heaven is around it!”
“She stood (while I pleaded my cause before her with all the earnestness and fondness in the world) with the tears trickling from her eye-lashes, her head drooping, her attitude fixed, with the finest expression that ever was seen of mixed regret, pity, and stubborn resolution, but without speaking a word—without altering a feature. It was like a petrifaction of a human face in the softest moment of passion.”
“Shall I not love her,” he exclaims, “for herself alone, in spite of fickleness and folly? to love her for her regard for me, is not to love her but266 myself. She has robbed me of herself, shall she also rob me of my love of her? did I not live on her smile? is it less sweet because it is withdrawn from me? Did I not adore her every grace? and does she bend less enchantingly because she has turned from me to another? Is my love then in the power of fortune or of her caprice? No, I will have it lasting as it is pure; and I will make a goddess of her, and build a temple to her in my heart, and worship her on indestructible altars, and raise statues to her, and my homage shall be unblemished as her unrivalled symmetry of form. And when that fails, the memory of it shall survive, and my bosom shall be proof to scorn as hers has been to pity; and I will pursue her with an unrelenting love, and sue to be her slave and tend her steps without notice, and without reward; and serve her living, and mourn for her when dead; and thus my love will have shown itself superior to her hate, and I shall triumph and then die. This is my idea of the only true and heroic love, and such is mine for her.”
Hazlitt, when he wrote all this, seemed to himself full of high and calm resolve. The hand did not fail, the pen did not stagger over the paper in a formless scrawl, yet the brain was reeling like a tower in an earthquake. “Passion,” as it has been well said, “when in a state of solemn and omni267potent vehemence, always appears to be calmness to him whom it domineers;” not unfrequently to others also, as the tide at its highest flood looks tranquil, and “neither way inclines.”
Reading the Life and Letters of Francis Horner, in the midst of a correspondence about Statistics and Bullion, and Political Economy, and the Balance of Parties, I came upon the following exquisite passage in a letter to his friend Mrs. Spencer:—
“I was amused by your interrogatory to me about the Nightingale’s note. You meant to put me in a dilemma with my politics on one side and my gallantry on the other. Of course you consider it as a plaintive note, and you were in hopes that no idolater of Charles Fox would venture to agree with that opinion. In this difficulty I must make the best escape I can by saying, that it seems to me neither cheerful nor melancholy,—but always according to the circumstances in which you hear it, the scenery,268 your own temper of mind, and so on. I settled it so with myself early in this month, when I heard them every night and all day long at Wells. In daylight, when all the other birds are in active concert, the Nightingale only strikes you as the most active, emulous, and successful of the whole band. At night, especially if it is a calm one, with light enough to give you a wide indistinct view, the solitary music of this bird takes quite another character, from all the associations of the scene, from the languor one feels at the close of the day, and from the stillness of spirits and elevation of mind which comes upon one when walking out at that time. But it is not always so—different circumstances will vary in every possible way the effect. Will the Nightingale’s note sound alike to the man who is going on an adventure to meet his mistress (supposing he heeds it at all), and when he loiters along upon his return? The last time I heard the Nightingale it was an experiment of another sort. It was after a thunderstorm in a mild night, while there was silent lightning opening every few minutes, first on one side of the heavens then on the other. The careless little fellow was piping away in the midst of all this terror. To me, there was no melancholy in his note, but a sort of sublimity; yet it was the same song which I had heard in the morning, and which then seemed nothing but bustle.”
And in the same spirit Portia moralises:—
The nightingale, if she should sing by day, When every goose is cackling, would be thought No better a musician than the wren. How many things by season, seasoned are To their right praise and true perfection!
Nor will Coleridge allow the song of the nightingale to be always plaintive,—“most musical, most melancholy;” he defies the epithet though it be Milton’s.
’Tis the merry nightingale, That crowds and hurries and precipitates With thick fast warble his delicious notes, As he were fearful that an April night Would be too short for him to utter forth His love-chaunt, and disburthen his full soul Of all its music.
As a poetical commentary on these beautiful passages, every reader of Joanna Baillie will remember the night scene in De Montfort, where the cry of the Owl suggests such different feelings and associations to the two men who listen to it, under such different circumstances. To De Montfort it is the screech-owl, foreboding death and horror,—and he stands and shudders at the “instinctive wailing.” To Rezenvelt it is the sound which recalls his boyish days, when he merrily mimicked the night-bird till it returned him cry for cry,—and he pauses to listen with a fanciful delight.
A lecture should not read like an essay; and, therefore, it surprises me that these lectures so carefully prepared, so skilfully adapted to meet the requirements of oral delivery, should be such agreeable reading. As lectures, they wanted only a little more point, and emphasis and animation on the part of the speaker: as essays, they atone in eloquence and earnestness for what they want in finish and purity of style.
Genius and sunshine have this in common that they are the two most precious gifts of heaven to earth, and are dispensed equally to the just and the unjust. What struck me most in these lectures, when I heard them, (and it strikes me now in turning over the written pages,) is this: we deal here with writers271 and artists, yet the purpose, from beginning to end, is not artistic nor critical, but moral. Thackeray tells us himself that he has not assembled his hearers to bring them better acquainted with the writings of these writers, or to illustrate the wit of these wits, or to enhance the humour of these humourists;—no; but to deal justice on the men as men—to tell us how they lived, and loved, suffered and made suffer, who still have power to pain or to please; to settle their claims to our praise or blame, our love or hate, whose right to fame was settled long ago, and remains undisputed. This is his purpose. Thus then he has laid down and acted on the principle that “morals have something to do with art;” that there is a moral account to be settled with men of genius; that the power and the right remains with us to do justice on those who being dead yet rule our spirits from their urns; to try them by a standard which perhaps neither themselves, nor those around them, would have admitted. Did Swift when he bullied men, lampooned women, trampled over decency and humanity, flung round him filth and fire, did he anticipate the time when before a company of intellectual men, and thinking, feeling women, in both hemispheres, he should be called up to judgment, hands bound, tongue-tied? Where be now his gibes? and where his terrors? Thackeray turns him forth, a spectacle, a lesson, a272 warning; probes the lacerated self-love, holds up to scorn, or pity more intolerable, the miserable egotism, the half-distempered brain. O Stella! O Vanessa! are you not avenged?
Then Sterne—how he takes to pieces his feigned originality, his feigned benevolence, his feigned misanthropy—all feigned!—the licentious parson, the trader in sentiment, the fashionable lion of his day, the man without a heart for those who loved him, without a conscience for those who trusted him! yet the same man who gave us the pathos of “Le Fevre,” and the humours of “Uncle Toby!” Sad is it? ungrateful is it? ungracious is it?—well, it cannot be helped; you cannot stifle the conscience of humanity. You might as well exclaim against any natural result of any natural law. Fancy a hundred years hence some brave, honest, human-hearted Thackeray standing up to discourse before our great-great-grandchildren in the same spirit, with the same stern truth, on the wits, and the poets and the artists of the present time! Hard is your fate, O ye men and women of genius! very hard and pitiful, if ye must be subjected to the scalpel of such a dissector! You, gifted sinner, whoever you may be, walking among us now in all the impunity of conventional forbearance, dealing in oracles and sentimentalisms, performing great things, teaching good things, you are set up as one of the lights of the273 world:—Lo! another time comes; the torch is taken out of your hand, and held up to your face. What! is it a mask, and not a face? “Off, off ye lendings!” O God! how much wiser, as well as better, not to study how to seem, but how to be! How much wiser and better, not to have to shudder before the truth as it oozes out from a thousand unguessed, unguarded apertures, staining your lawn or your ermine; not to have to tremble at the thought of that future Thackeray, who “shall pluck out the heart of your mystery,” and shall anatomise you, and deliver lectures upon you, to illustrate the standard of morals and manners in Queen Victoria’s reign!
In these lectures, some fine and feeling and discriminative passages on character, make amends for certain offences and inconsistencies in the novels; I mean especially in regard to the female portraits. No woman resents his Rebecca—inimitable Becky!—no woman but feels and acknowledges with a shiver the completeness of that wonderful and finished artistic creation; but every woman resents the selfish inane Amelia, and would be inclined to quote and to apply the author’s own words when speaking of ‘Tom Jones:’—“I can’t say that I think Amelia a virtuous character. I can’t say but I think Mr. Thackeray’s evident liking and admiration for his Amelia shows that the great humourist’s moral sense was blunted by his life, and that here in art and274 ethics there is a great error. If it be right to have a heroine whom we are to admire, let us take care at least that she is admirable.”
Laura, in ‘Pendennis,’ is a yet more fatal mistake. She is drawn with every generous feeling, every good gift. We do not complain that she loves that poor creature Pendennis, for she loved him in her childhood. She grew up with that love in her heart; it came between her and the perception of his faults; it is a necessity indivisible from her nature. Hallowed, through its constancy, therein alone would lie its best excuse, its beauty and its truth. But Laura, faithless to that first affection; Laura, waked up to the appreciation of a far more manly and noble nature, in love with Warrington, and then going back to Pendennis, and marrying him! Such infirmity might be true of some women, but not of such a woman as Laura; we resent the inconsistency, the indelicacy of the portrait.
And then Lady Castlewood,—so evidently a favourite of the author, what shall we say of her? The virtuous woman, par excellence, who “never sins and never forgives,” who never resents, nor relents, nor repents; the mother, who is the rival of her daughter; the mother, who for years is the confidante of a man’s delirious passion for her own child, and then consoles him by marrying him herself! O Mr. Thackeray! this will never do! such women may275 exist, but to hold them up as examples of excellence, and fit objects of our best sympathies, is a fault, and proves a low standard in ethics and in art. “When an author presents to us a heroine whom we are called upon to admire, let him at least take care that she is admirable.” If in these, and in some other instances, Thackeray has given us cause of offence, in the lectures we may thank him for some amends: he has shown us what he conceives true womanhood and true manliness ought to be; so with this expression of gratitude, and a far deeper debt of gratitude left unexpressed, I close his book, and say, good night!
Sometimes, in thoughtful moments, I am struck by those beautiful analogies between things apparently dissimilar—those awful approximations between things apparently far asunder—which many people would call fanciful and imaginary, but they seem to bring all God’s creation, spiritual and material, into one comprehensive whole; they give me, thus associated, a glimpse, a perception of that over277whelming unity which we call the universe, the multitudinous ONE.
Thus the principle of the highest ideal in art, as conceived by the Greeks, and unsurpassed in its purity and beauty, lay in considering well the characteristics which distinguish the human form from the brute form; and then, in rendering the human form, the first aim was to soften down, or, if possible, throw out wholly, those characteristics which belong to the brute nature, or are common to the brute and the man; and the next, to bring into prominence and even enlarge the proportions of those manifestations of forms which distinguish humanity; till, at last, the human merged into the divine, and the God in look, in limb, in feature, stood revealed.
Let us now suppose this broad principle which the Greeks applied to form, ethically carried out, and made the basis of all education—the training of men as a race. Suppose we started with the general axiom that all propensities which we have in common with the lower animals are to be kept subordinate, and so far as is consistent with the truth of nature refined away; and that all the qualities which elevate, all the aspirations which ally us with the spiritual, are to be cultivated and rendered more and more prominent, till at last the human being, in faculties as well as form, approaches the God-like—I only say—suppose?—278—
Again: it has been said of natural philosophy (Zoology) that in order to make any real progress in the science, as such, we must more and more disregard differences, and more and more attend to the obscured but essential conditions which are revealed in resemblances, in the constant and similar relations of primitive structure. Now if the same principle were carried out in theology, in morals, in art, as well as in science, should we not come nearer to the essential truth in all?
“There is an instinctive sense of propriety and reality in every mind; and it is not true, as some great authority has said, that in art we are satisfied with contemplating the work without thinking of the artist. On the contrary, the artist himself is one great object in the work. It is as embodying the energies and excellences of the human mind, as exhibiting the efforts of genius, as symbolising high feeling, that we most value the creations of art; without design the representations of art are merely fantastical, and without the thought of a design act279ing upon fixed principles in accordance with a high standard of goodness and truth, half the charm of design is lost.”
“Art, used collectively for painting, sculpture, architecture, and music, is the mediatress between, and reconciler of, nature and man. It is, therefore, the power of humanising nature, of infusing the thoughts and passions of man into everything which is the object of his contemplation. Colour, form, motion, sound, are the elements which it combines, and it stamps them into unity in the mould of a moral idea.”
This is Coleridge’s definition:—Art then is nature, humanised; and in proportion as humanity is elevated by the interfusion into our life of noble aims and pure affections will art be spiritualised and moralised.
If faith has elevated art, superstition has everywhere debased it.
Goethe observes that there is no patriotic art and no patriotic science—that both are universal.
There is, however, national art, but not national science: we say “national art,” “natural science.”
“Verse is in itself music, and the natural symbol of that union of passion with thought and pleasure, which constitutes the essence of all poetry as contradistinguished from history civil or natural.”—Coleridge.
In the arts of design, colour is to form what verse is to prose—a more harmonious and luminous vehicle of the thought.
Subjects and representations in art not elevated nor interesting in themselves, become instructive and interesting to higher minds from the manner in which they have been treated; perhaps because they have passed through the medium of a higher mind in taking form.
This is one reason, though we are not always conscious of it, that the Dutch pictures of common and vulgar life give us a pleasure apart from their wonderful finish and truth of detail. In the mind of the artist there must have been the power to throw himself into a sphere above what he represents. Adrian Brouwer, for instance, must have been something far better than a sot; Ostade something higher than a boor; though the habits of both led them into companionship with sots and boors. In the most farcical pictures of Jan Steen there is a depth of feeling and observation which remind me of the humour of Goldsmith; and Teniers, we know, was in his habits a refined gentleman; the brilliant elegance of his pencil contrasting with the grotesque vulgarity of his subjects. To a thinking mind, some of these Dutch pictures of character are full of material for thought, pathetic even where least sympathetic: no doubt, because of a latent sympathy with the artist, apart from his subject.
Coleridge says,—“Every human feeling is greater and larger than the exciting cause.” (A philosophical way of putting Rochefoucauld’s neatly expressed apophthegm: “Nous ne sommes jamais ni si heureux ni si malheureux que nous l’imaginons.”) “A proof,” he proceeds, “that man is designed for a higher state of existence; and this is deeply implied in music, in which there is always something more and beyond the immediate expression.”
But not music only, every production of art ought to excite emotions greater and thoughts larger than itself. Thoughts and emotions which never perhaps were in the mind of the artist, never were anticipated, never were intended by him—may be strongly suggested by his work. This is an important part of the morals of art, which we must never lose sight of. Art is not only for pleasure and profit, but for good and for evil.
Goethe (in the Dichtung und Wahrheit) describes the reception of Marie Antoinette at Strasbourg, where she passed the frontier to enter her new kingdom. She was then a lovely girl of sixteen. He283 relates that on visiting before her arrival the reception room on the bridge over the Rhine, where her German attendants were to deliver her into the hands of the French authorities, he found the walls hung with tapestries representing the ominous story of Jason and Medea—of all the marriages on record the most fearful, the most tragic in its consequences. “What!” he exclaims, his poetical imagination struck with the want of moral harmony, “was there among these French architects and decorators no man who could perceive that pictures represent things,—that they have a meaning in themselves,—that they can impress sense and feeling,—that they can awaken presentiments of good or evil?” But, as he tells us, his exclamations of horror were met by the mockery of his French companions, who assured him that it was not everybody’s concern to look for significance in pictures.
These self-same tapestries of the story of Jason and Medea were after the Restoration presented by Louis XVIII. to George IV., and at present they line the walls of the Ball-room in Windsor Castle. We might repeat, with some reason, the question of Goethe; for if pictures have a significance, and speak to the imagination, what has the tragedy of Jason and Medea to do in a ball-room?
Goethe, who thus laid down the principle that works284 of art speak to the feelings and the conscience, and can awaken associations tending to good and evil, by some strange inconsistency places art and artists out of the sphere of morals. He speaks somewhere with contempt and ridicule of those who take their conscience and their morality with them to an opera or a picture gallery. Yet surely he is wrong. Why should we not? Are our conscience and our morals like articles of dress which we can take off and put on again as we fancy it convenient or expedient?—shut up in a drawer and leave behind us when we visit a theatre or a gallery of art? or are they not rather a part of ourselves—our very life—to graduate the worth, to fix the standard of all that mingles with our life? The idea that what we call taste in art has something quite distinctive from conscience, is one cause that the popular notions concerning the productions of art are abandoned to such confusion and uncertainty; that simple people regard taste as something forensic, something to be learned, as they would learn a language, and mastered by a study of rules and a dictionary of epithets; and they look up to a professor of taste, just as they would look up to a professor of Greek or of Hebrew. Either they listen to judgments lightly and confidently promulgated with a sort of puzzled faith and a surrender of their own moral sense, which are pitiable; 285 as if art also had its infallible church and its hierarchy of dictators!—or they fly into the opposite extreme, and seeing themselves deceived and misled, fall away into strange heresies. All from ignorance of a few laws simple in their form, yet infinite in their application;—natural laws we must call them, though here applied to art.
In my younger days I have known men conspicuous for their want of elevated principle, and for their dissipated habits, held up as arbiters and judges of art; but it was to them only another form of epicurism and self-indulgence; and I have seen them led into such absurd and fatal mistakes for want of the power to distinguish and to generalise, that I have despised their judgment, and have come to the conclusion that a really high standard of taste and a low standard of morals are incompatible with each other.
“The fact of the highest artistic genius having manifested itself in a polytheistic age, and among a people whose moral views were essentially degraded, has, we think, fostered the erroneous notion286 that the sphere of art has no connection with that of morality. The Greeks, with penetrative insight, dilated the essential characteristics of man’s organism as a vehicle of superior intelligence, while their intense sympathy with physical beauty made them alive to its most subtle manifestations; and reproducing their impressions through the medium of art, they have given birth to models of the human form, which reveal its highest possibilities, and the excellence of which depends upon their being individual expressions of ideal truth. Thus, too, in their descriptions of nature, instead of multiplying insignificant details, they seized instinctively upon the characteristic features of her varying aspects, and not unfrequently embodied a finished picture in one comprehensive and harmonious word. In association with their marvellous genius, however, we find a cruelty, a treachery, and a licence which would be revolting if it were not for the historical interest which attaches to every genuine record of a bygone age. Their low moral standard cannot excite surprise when we consider the debasing tendency of their worship, the objects of their adoration being nothing more than their own degraded passions invested with some of the attributes of deity. Now, among the modifications of thought introduced by Christianity, there is perhaps none more pregnant with important results than the harmony which it287 has established between religion and morality. The great law of right and wrong has acquired a sacred character, when viewed as an expression of the divine will; it takes its rank among the eternal verities, and to ignore it in our delineations of life, or to represent sin otherwise than as treason against the supreme ruler, is to retain in modern civilisation one of the degrading elements of heathenism. Conscience is as great a fact of our inner life as the sense of beauty, and the harmonious action of both these instinctive principles is essential to the highest enjoyment of art, for any internal dissonance disturbs the repose of the mind, and thereby shatters the image mirrored in its depths.”—A. S.
“Mais vous autres artistes, vous ne considerez pour la plupart dans les œuvres que la beauté ou la singularité de l’exécution, sans vous pénétrer de l’idée dont cet œuvre est la forme; ainsi votre intelligence adore souvent l’expression d’un sentiment que votre cœur repousserait s’il en avait la conscience.”—George Sand.
Lavater told Goethe that on a certain occasion when he held the velvet bag in the church as collector of the offerings, he tried to observe only the hands; and he satisfied himself that in every individual, the shape of the hand and of the fingers, the action and sentiment in dropping the gift into the bag, were distinctly different and individually characteristic.
What then shall we say of Van Dyck, who painted the hands of his men and women, not from individual nature, but from a model hand—his own very often?—and every one who considers for a moment will see in Van Dyck’s portraits, that, however well painted and elegant the hands, they in very few instances harmonise with the personalité;—that the position is often affected, and as if intended for display,—the display of what is in itself a positive fault, and from which some little knowledge of comparative physiology would have saved him.
There are hands of various character; the hand to catch, and the hand to hold; the hand to clasp, and289 the hand to grasp. The hand that has worked or could work, and the hand that has never done anything but hold itself out to be kissed, like that of Joanna of Arragon in Raphael’s picture.
Let any one look at the hands in Titian’s portrait of old Paul IV.: though exquisitely modelled, they have an expression which reminds us of claws; they belong to the face of that grasping old man, and could belong to no other.
Mozart and Chopin, though their genius was differently developed, were alike in some things: in nothing more than this, that the artistic element in both minds wholly dominated over the social and practical, and that their art was the element in which they moved and lived, through which they felt and thought. I doubt whether either of them could have said, “D’abord je suis homme et puis je suis artiste;” whereas this could have been said with truth by Mendelsohn and by Litzst. In Mendelsohn the enormous creative power was modified by the intellect 290 and the conscience. Litzst has no creative power.
Liszt has thus drawn the character of Chopin:—“Rien n’était plus pur et plus exalté en même temps que ses pensées; rien n’était plus tenace, plus exclusif, et plus minutieusement dévoué que ses affections. Mais cet être ne comprenait que ce qui était identique à lui-même:—le reste n’existait pour lui que comme une sorte de rêve fâcheux, auquel il essayait de se soustraire en vivant au milieu du monde. Toujours perdu dans ses rêveries, la réalité lui deplaisait. Enfant il ne pouvait toucher à un instrument tranchant sans se blesser; homme il ne pouvait se trouver en face d’un homme différent de lui, sans se heurter contre cette contradiction vivante.”
“Ce qui le préservait d’un antagonisme perpétuel c’était l’habitude volontaire et bientôt invétérée de ne point voir, de ne pas entendre ce qui lui deplaisait: en général sans toucher à ses affections personelles, les êtres qui ne pensaient pas comme lui devenaient à ses yeux comme des espèces de fantômes; et comme il était d’une politesse charmante, on pouvait prendre pour une bienveillance courtoise ce qui n’était chez lui qu’un froid dédain—une aversion insurmontable.”
The father of Mozart was a man of high and strict religious principle. He had a conviction—in his291 case more truly founded than is usual—that he was the father of a great, a surpassing genius, and consequently of a being unfortunate in this, that he must be in advance of his age, exposed to error, to envy, to injustice, to strife; and to do his duty to his son demanded large faith and large firmness. But because he did estimate this sacred trust as a duty to be discharged, not only with respect to his gifted son, but to the God who had so endowed him; so, in spite of many mistakes, the earnest straightforward endeavour to do right in the parent seems to have saved Mozart’s moral life, and to have given that completeness to the productions of his genius, which the harmony of the moral and creative faculties alone can bestow.
“The modifying power of circumstances on Mozart’s style, is an interesting consideration. Whatever of striking, of new or beautiful he met with in the works of others left its impression on him; and he often reproduced these efforts, not servilely, but mingling his own nature and feelings with them in a manner not less surprising than delightful.”
This is true equally of Shakespeare and of Raphael, both of whom adapted or rather adopted much from their precursors in the way of material to work upon; and whose incomparable originality consisted in the interfusion of their own great individual genius292 with every subject they touched, so that it became theirs, and could belong to no other.
The Figaro was composed at Vienna. The Don Juan and Clemenza di Tito at Prague;—which I note because the localities are so characteristic of the operas. Cimarosa’s Matrimonio Segreto was composed at Prague; it was on the fortification of the Hradschin one morning at sun-rise that he composed the Pria che spunti in ciel l’aurora.
When called upon to describe his method of composing, what Mozart said of himself was very striking from its naïveté and truth. “I do not,” he said, “aim at originality. I do not know in what my originality consists. Why my productions take from my hand that particular form or style which makes them Mozartish, and different from the works of other composers is probably owing to the same cause which makes my nose this or that particular shape; makes it, in short, Mozart’s nose, and different from other people’s.”
Yet, as a composer, Mozart was as objective, as dramatic, as Shakspeare and Raphael; Chopin, in comparison, was wholly subjective,—the Byron of Music.
Talking once with Adelaide Kemble, after she had been singing in the “Figaro,” she compared the music to the bosom of a full blown rose in its voluptuous, intoxicating richness. I said that some of Mozart’s melodies seemed to me not so much composed, but found—found on some sunshiny day in Arcadia, among nymphs and flowers. “Yes,” she replied, with ready and felicitous expression, “not inventions, but existences.”
Old George the Third, in his blindness and madness, once insisted on making the selection of pieces for the concert of ancient music (May, 1811),—it was soon after the death of the Princess Amelia.294 “The programme included some of the finest passages in Handel’s ‘Samson,’ descriptive of blindness; the ‘Lamentation of Jephthah,’ for his daughter; Purcel’s ‘Mad Tom,’ and closed with ‘God save the King,’ to make sure the application of all that went before.”
Every one who remembers what Madlle. Rachel was seven or eight years ago, and who sees her now (1853), will allow that she has made no progress in any of the essential excellences of her art:—a certain proof that she is not a great artist in the true sense of the word. She is a finished actress, but she is nothing more, and nothing better; not enough the artist ever to forget or conceal her art; consequently there is a want somewhere, which a mind highly toned and of quick perceptions feels from beginning to end. The parts in which she once excelled—the Phêdre and the Hermione, for instance—have become formalised and hard, like studies cast in bronze; and when she plays a new part it has no295 freshness. I always go to see her whenever I can. I admire her as what she is—the Parisian actress, practised in every trick of her métier. I admire what she does, I think how well it is all done, and am inclined to clap and applaud her drapery, perfect and ostentatiously studied in every fold, just with the same feeling that I applaud herself.
As to the last scene of Adrienne Lecouvreur, (which those who are avides de sensation, athirst for painful emotion, go to see as they would drink a dram, and critics laud as a miracle of art,) it is altogether a mistake and a failure; it is beyond the just limits of terror and pity—beyond the legitimate sphere of art. It reminds us of the story of Gentil Bellini and the Sultan. The Sultan much admired Bellini’s picture of the decollation of John the Baptist, but informed him that it was inaccurate—surgically—for the tendons and muscles ought to shrink where divided; and then calling for one of his slaves, he drew his scimitar, and striking off the head of the wretch, gave the horror-struck artist a lesson in practical anatomy. So we might possibly learn from Rachel’s imitative representation, (studied in an hospital as they say,) how poison acts on the frame, and how the limbs and features writhe into death; but if she were a great moral artist she would feel that what is allowed to be true in painting, is true in art generally; that mere imitation, such as the vulgar296 delight in, and hold up their hands to see, is the vulgarest and easiest aim of the imitative arts, and that between the true interpretation of poetry in art and such base mechanical means to the lowest ends, there lies an immeasurable distance.
I am disposed to think that Rachel has not genius, but talent, and that her talent, from what I see year after year, has a downward tendency,—there is not sufficient moral seasoning to save it from corruption. I remember that when I first saw her in Hermione she reminded me of a serpent, and the same impression continues. The long meagre form with its graceful undulating movements, the long narrow face and features, the contracted jaw, the high brow, the brilliant supernatural eyes which seem to glance every way at once; the sinister smile; the painted red lips, which look as though they had lapped, or could lap, blood; all these bring before me the idea of a Lamia, the serpent nature in the woman’s form. In Lydia, and in Athalie, she touches the extremes of vice and wickedness with such a masterly lightness and precision, that I am full of wondering admiration for the actress. There is not a turn of her figure, not an expression in her face, not a fold in her gorgeous drapery, that is not a study; but withal such a consciousness of her art, and such an ostentation of the means she employs, that the power remains297 always extraneous, as it were, and exciting only to the senses and the intellect.
Latterly she has become a hard mannerist. Her face, once so flexible, has lost the power of expressing the nicer shades and softer gradations of feeling; so much so, that they write dramas for her with supernaturally wicked and depraved heroines to suit her especial powers. I conceive that an artist could not sink lower in degradation. Yet to satisfy the taste of a Parisian audience and the ambition of a Parisian actress this was not enough, and wickedness required the piquancy of immediate approximation with innocence. In the Valeria she played two characters, and appeared on the stage alternately as a miracle of vice and a miracle of virtue: an abandoned prostitute and a chaste matron. There was something in this contrasted impersonation, considered simply in relation to the aims and objects of art, so revolting, that I sat in silent and deep disgust, which was partly deserved by the audience which could endure the exhibition.
It is the entire absence of the high poetic and moral element which distinguishes Rachel as an actress, and places her at such an immeasurable distance from Mrs. Siddons, that it shocks me to hear them named together.
It is no reproach to a capital actress to play effectively a very wicked character. Mrs. Siddons played the abandoned Milwood as carefully, as completely as she played Hermoine and Constance; but if it had required a perpetual succession of Calistas and Milwoods to call forth her highest powers, what should we think of the woman and the artist?
When dramas and characters are invented to suit the particular talent of a particular actor or actress, it argues rather a limited range of the artistic power; though within that limit the power may be great and the talent genuine.
Thus for Liston and for Miss O’Neil, so distinguished in their respective lines of Comedy and Tragedy, characters were especially constructed and plays written, which have not been acted since their time.
A celebrated German actress (who has quitted the stage for many years) speaking of Rachel, said that the reason she must always stop short of the highest place in art, is because she is nothing but an actress—that only; and has no aims in life, has299 no duties, feelings, employments, sympathies, but those which centre in herself in the interests of her art;—which thus ceases to be art and becomes a métier.
This reminded me of what Pauline Viardot once said to me:—“D’abord je suis femme, avec les dévoirs, les affections, les sentiments d’une femme; et puis je suis artiste.”
The same German actress whose opinion I have quoted, told me that the Leonora and the Iphigenia of Goethe were the parts she preferred to play. The Thekla and the Beatrice of Schiller next. (In all these she excelled.) The parts easiest to her, requiring no effort scarcely, were Jerta (in Houwald’s Tragedy, “Die Schuld”), and Clärchen in Egmont; of the character of Jerta, she said beautifully:—“Ich habe es nicht gespielt, Ich habe es gesagt!” (I did not play it, I uttered it.) This was extremely characteristic of the woman.
I once asked Mrs. Siddons, which of her great characters she preferred to play? She replied, after a moment’s consideration, and in her rich deliberate emphatic tones:—“Lady Macbeth is the character I have most studied.” She afterwards said that she had played the character during thirty years, and scarcely acted it once, without carefully reading over300 the part and generally the whole play in the morning; and that she never read over the play without finding something new in it; “something,” she said, “which had not struck me so much as it ought to have struck me.”
Of Mrs. Pritchard, who preceded Mrs. Siddons in the part of Lady Macbeth, it was well known that she had never read the play. She merely studied her own part as written out by the stage-copyist; of the other parts she knew nothing but the cues.
When I asked Mrs. Henry Siddons, which of her characters she preferred playing? she said at once “Imogen, in Cymbeline, was the character I played with most ease to myself, and most success as regarded the public; it cost no effort.”
This was confirmed by others. A very good judge said of her—“In some of her best parts, as Juliet, Rosalind, and Lady Townley, she may have been approached or equalled. In Viola and Imogen she was never equalled. In the grace and simplicity of the first, in the refinement and shy but impassioned tenderness of the last, I at least have never seen any one to be compared to her. She hardly seemed to act these parts; they came naturally to her.”
This reminds me of another anecdote of the same accomplished actress and admirable woman. The people of Edinburgh, among whom she lived, had so identified her with all that was gentle, refined and noble, that they did not like to see her play wicked parts. It happened that Godwin went down to Edinburgh with a tragedy in his pocket, which had been accepted by the theatre there, and in which Mrs. Henry Siddons was to play the principal part—that of a very wicked woman (I forget the name of the piece). He was warned that it risked the success of his play, but her conception of the part was so just and spirited, that he persisted. At the rehearsal she stopped in the midst of one of her speeches and said, with great naïveté, “I am afraid, Mr. Godwin, the people will not endure to hear me say this!” He replied coolly, “My dear, you cannot be always young and pretty—you must come to this at last,—go on.” He mistook her meaning and the feeling of “the people.” The play failed; and the audience took care to discriminate between their disapprobation of the piece and their admiration for the actress.
Madame Schrœder Devrient told me that she sung with most pleasure to herself in the “Fidelio;” and in this part I have never seen her equalled.
Fanny Kemble told me the part she had played with most pleasure to herself, was Camiola, in Massinger’s “Maid of Honour.” It was an exquisite impersonation, but the play itself ineffective and not successful, because of the weak and worthless character of the hero.
Mrs. Charles Kean told me that she had played with great ease and pleasure to herself, the part of Ginevra, in Leigh Hunt’s “Legend of Florence.” She made the part (as it is technically termed), and it was a very complete and beautiful impersonation.
These answers appear to me psychologically, as well as artistically, interesting, and worth preserving.
Mrs. Siddons, when looking over the statues in Lord Lansdowne’s gallery, told him that one mode of expressing intensity of feeling was suggested303 to her by the position of some of the Egyptian statues with the arms close down at the sides and the hands clenched. This is curious, for the attitude in the Egyptian gods is intended to express repose. As the expression of intense passion self-controlled, it might be appropriate to some characters and not to others. Rachel, as I recollect, uses it in the Phêdre:—Madame Rettich uses it in the Medea. It would not be characteristic in Constance.
On a certain occasion when Fanny Kemble was reading Cymbeline, a lady next to me remarked that Imogen ought not to utter the words “Senseless linen!—happier therein than I!” aloud, and to Pisanio,—that it detracted from the strength of the feeling, and that they should have been uttered aside, and in a low, intense whisper. “Iachimo,” she added, “might easily have won a woman who could have laid her heart so bare to a mere attendant!”
On my repeating this criticism to Fanny Kemble, she replied just as I had anticipated: “Such criticism304 is the mere expression of the natural emotions or character of the critic. She would have spoken the words in a whisper; I should have made the exclamation aloud. If there had been a thousand people by, I should not have cared for them—I should not have been conscious of their presence. I should have exclaimed before them all, ‘Senseless linen!—happier therein than I!’”
And thus the artist fell into the same mistake of which she accused her critic—she made Imogen utter the words aloud, because she would have done so herself. This sort of subjective criticism in both was quite feminine; but the question was not how either A. B. or F. K. would have spoken the words, but what would have been most natural in such a woman as Imogen?
And most undoubtedly the first criticism was as exquisitely true and just as it was delicate. Such a woman as Imogen would not have uttered those words aloud. She would have uttered them in a whisper, and turning her face from her attendant. With such a woman, the more intense the passion, the more conscious and the more veiled the expression.
I read in the life of Garrick that, “about 1741, a taste for Shakespeare had lately been revived by the encouragement of some distinguished persons of taste of both sexes; but more especially by the ladies who formed themselves into a society, called the ‘Shakespeare Club.’” There exists a Shakespeare Society at this present time, but I do not know that any ladies are members of it, or allowed to be so.
The “Maria Maddalena” of Friedrich Hebbel is a domestic tragedy. It represents the position of a young girl in the lower class of society—a character of quiet goodness and feeling, in a position the most usual, circumstances the most common-place. The representation is from the life, and set forth with a truth which in its naked simplicity, almost hardness, becomes most tragic and terrible. Around this girl,306 portrayed with consummate delicacy, is a group of men. First her father, an honest artisan, coarse, harsh, despotic. Then a light-minded, good-natured, dissipated brother, and two suitors. All these love her according to their masculine individuality. To the men of her own family she is as a part of the furniture—something they are accustomed to see—necessary to the daily well-being of the house, without whom the fire would not be on the hearth, nor the soup on the table; and they are proud of her charms and good qualities as belonging to them. By her lovers she is loved as an object they desire to possess—and dispute with each other. But no one of all these thinks of her—of what she thinks, feels, desires, suffers, is, or may be. Nor does she seem to think of it herself, until the storm falls upon her, enwraps her, overwhelms her. Then she stands in the midst of the beings around her, and who are one and all in a kind of external relation to her, completely alone. In her grief, in her misery, in her amazement, her perplexity, her terror, there is no one to take thought for her, no one to help, no one to sympathise. Each is self-occupied, self-satisfied. And so she sinks down and perishes, and they stand wondering at what they had not the sense to see, wringing their hands over the irremediable. It is the Lucy Ashton of vulgar life.
The manners and characters of this play are essen307tially German; but the stuff—the material of the piece—the relative position of the personages, might be true of any place in this christian, civilised Europe. The whole is wonderfully, painfully natural, and strikes home to the heart, like Hood’s “Bridge of Sighs.” It was a surprise to me that such a piece should have been acted, and with applause, at the Court Theatre at Vienna; but I believe it has not been given since 1849.
Here is a very good analysis of the artistic nature: “Il ressent une véritable émotion, mais il s’arrange pour la montrer. Il fait un peu ce que faisait cet acteur de l’antiquité qui, venant de perdre son fils unique et jouant quelque temps après le rôle d’Electre embrassant l’urne d’Oreste, prit entre ses mains l’urne qui contenait les cendres de son enfant, et joua sa propre douleur, dit Aulus Gellius, au lieu de jouer celle de son rôle. Ce melange de l’émotion naturelle et de l’émotion théatrale est plus fréquent qu’on ne croit, surtout à certaines époques quand le raffinement de l’Education fait que l’homme ne sent308 pas seulement ses émotions, mais qu’il sent aussi l’effet qu’elles peuvent produire. Beaucoup de gens alors, sont naturellement comédiens; c’est à dire qu’ils donnent un rôle à leurs passions: ils sentent en dehors au lieu de sentir en dedans; leurs émotions sont en relief au lieu d’être en profondeur.”—St. Marc Girardin.
I think Margaret Fuller must have had the above passage in her mind when she worked out this happy illustration into a more finished form. She says:—“The difference between the artistic nature and the unartistic nature in the hour of emotion, is this: in the first the feeling is a cameo, in the last an intaglio. Raised in relief and shaped out of the heart in the first; cut into the heart, and hardly perceptible till you take the impression, in the last.”
And to complete this fanciful and beautiful analogy, we might add, that because the artistic nature is demonstrative, it is sometimes thought insincere; and insincere it is where the form is hollow in proportion as it is cast outward, as in the casts and electrotype copies of the solid sculpture. And because the unartistic nature is undemonstrative, it is sometimes thought cold, unreal; for of this also there are imitations; and in passing the touch over certain intaglios, we feel by contact that they are not so deep as we supposed.
God defend us from both! from the hollowness309 that imitates solidity, and the shallowness that imitates depth!
Goethe said of some woman, “She knew something of devotion and love, but of the pure admiration for a glorious piece of man’s handiwork—of a mere sympathetic veneration for the creation of the human intellect—she could form no idea.”
This may have been true of the individual woman referred to; but that female critics look for something in a production of art beyond the mere handiwork, and that “our sympathetic veneration for a creation of human intellect,” is often dependent on our moral associations, is not a reproach to us. Nor, if I may presume to say so, does it lessen the value of our criticism, where it can be referred to principles. Women have a sort of unconscious logic in these matters.
“When fiction,” says Sir James Mackintosh, “represents a degree of ideal excellence superior to any virtue which is observed in real life, the effect is perfectly analogous to that of a model of ideal beauty in the fine arts.”
That is to say—As the Apollo exalts our idea of possible beauty, in form, so the moral ideal of man or woman exalts our idea of possible virtue, provided it be consistent as a whole. If we gave the Apollo a god-like head and face and left a part of his frame below perfection, the elevating effect of the whole would be immediately destroyed, though the figure might be more according to the standard of actual nature.
“In Dante, as in Shakespeare, every man selects by instinct that which assimilates with the course of his own previous occupations and interests.” (Merivale.) True, not of Dante and Shakespeare only, but of all books worth reading; and not merely of books and authors, but of all productions of mind in whatever form which speak to mind; all works of art, from which we imbibe, as it were, what is sympathetic with our individuality. The more universal the311 sympathies of the writer or the artist, the more of such individualities will be included in his domain of power.
The distinction so cleverly and beautifully drawn by the Germans (by Lessing first I believe) between “Bildende” and “Redende Kunst” is not to be rendered into English without a lengthy paraphrase. It places in immediate contradistinction the art which is evolved in words, and the art which is evolved in forms.
Venus, or rather the Greek Aphrodite, in the sublime fragment of Eschylus (the Danaïdes) is a grand, severe, and pure conception; the principle eternal of beauty, of love, and of fecundity—or the law of the continuation of being through beauty and312 through love. Such a conception is no more like the Ovidean Roman Venus than the Venus of Milo is like the Venus de Medicis.
In the Greek tragedy, love figures as one of the laws of nature—not as a power, or a passion; these are the aspects given to it by the Christian imagination.
Yet this higher idea of love did exist among the ancients—only we must not seek it in their poetry, but in their philosophy. Thus we find it in Plato, set forth as a beautiful philosophical theory; not as a passion, to influence life, nor as a poetic feeling, to adorn and exalt it. Nor do we moderns owe this idea of a mystic, elevated, and elevating love to the Greek philosophy. I rather agree with those who trace it to the mingling of Christianity with the manners of the old Germans, and their (almost) superstitious reverence for womanhood. In the Middle Ages, where morals were most depraved, and women most helpless and oppressed, there still survived the theory formed out of the combination of the Christian spirit, and the Germanic customs; and when in the 15th313 century Plato became the fashion, then the theory became a science, and what had been religion became again philosophy. This sort of speculative love became to real love what theology became to religion; it was a thesis to be talked about and argued in universities, sung in sonnets, set forth in art; and so being kept as far as possible from all bearings on our moral life, it ceased to find consideration either as a primæval law of God, or as a moral motive influencing the duties and habits of our existence; and thus we find the social code in regard to it diverging into all the vagaries of celibacy on one hand, and all the vilenesses of profligacy on the other.
Wilkie’s “Life and Letters” have not helped me much. His opinions and criticisms on his own art are sensible, not suggestive. I find, however, one or two passages strongly illustrative of the value of truth as a principle in art, and the sort of vitality it gives to scenery and objects.
He writes, when travelling in Holland, to his friend, Sir George Beaumont;—
“One of the first circumstances that struck me wherever I went was what you had prepared me for; the resemblance that everything bore to the Dutch and Flemish pictures. On leaving Ostend, not only the people, houses, trees, but whole tracks of country reminded me of Teniers, and on getting further into the country this was only relieved by the pictures of Rubens and Wouvermans, or some other masters taking his place.
“I thought I could trace the particular districts in Holland where Ostade, Cuyp, and Rembrandt had studied, and could almost fancy the spot where the pictures of other masters had been painted. Indeed nothing seemed new to me in the whole country; and what one could not help wondering at, was, that these old masters should have been able to draw the materials of so beautiful a variety of art, from so contracted and monotonous a theme.”
Their variety arose out of their truthfulness. I had the same feeling when travelling in Holland and Belgium. It was to me a perpetual succession of reminiscences, and so it has been with others. Rubens and Rembrandt (as landscape painters)—Cuyp, Hobbima, were continually in my mind; occasionally the yet more poetical Ruysdaal; but who ever thinks of Wouvermans, or Bergham, or315 Karel du Jardin, as national or natural painters? their scenery is all got up like the scenery in a ballet, and I can conceive nothing more tiresome than a room full of their pictures, elegant as they are.
Again, writing from Jerusalem, Wilkie says, “Nothing here requires revolution in our opinions of the finest works of art: with all their discrepancies of detail, they are yet constantly recalled by what is here before us. The background of the Heliodorus of Raphael is a Syrian building; the figures in the Lazarus of Sebastian del Piombo are a Syrian people; and the indescribable tone of Rembrandt is brought to mind at every turn, whether in the street, the Synagogue, or the Sepulchre.” And again: “The painter we are always referring to, as one who has most truly given the eastern people, is Rembrandt.”
He partly contradicts this afterwards, but says, that Venetian art reminds him of Syria. Now, the Venetians were in constant communication with the East; all their art has a tinge of orientalism. As to Rembrandt, he must have been in familiar intercourse with the Jew merchants and Jewish families settled in the Dutch commercial towns; he painted them frequently as portraits, and they perpetually appear in his compositions.
In the following passage Wilkie seems unconsciously to have anticipated the invention (or rather the discovery) of the Daguerreotype, and some of its results. He says:—“If by an operation of mechanism, animated nature could be copied with the accuracy of a cast in plaster, a tracing on a wall, or a reflection in a glass, without modification, and without the proprieties and graces of art, all that utility could desire would be perfectly attained, but it would be at the expense of almost every quality which renders art delightful.”
One reason why the Daguerreotype portraits are in general so unsatisfactory may perhaps be traced to a natural law, though I have not heard it suggested. It is this: every object that we behold we see not with the eye only, but with the soul; and this is especially true of the human countenance, which in so far as it is the expression of mind we see through the medium of our own individual mind. Thus a portrait is satisfactory in so far as the painter has sympathy with his subject, and delightful to us in proportion as the resemblance reflected through his sympathies is in accordance with our own. Now in the Daguerreotype there is no such medium, and the face comes before us without passing through the human mind and brain to our apprehension. This may be317 the reason why a Daguerreotype, however beautiful and accurate, is seldom satisfactory or agreeable, and that while we acknowledge its truth as to fact, it always leaves something for the sympathies to desire.
He says, “One thing alone seems common in all the stages of early art; the desire of making all other excellences tributary to the expression of thought and sentiment.”
The early painters had no other excellences except those of thought and expression; therefore could not sacrifice what they did not possess. They drew incorrectly, coloured ineffectively, and were ignorant of perspective.
When at Dusseldorf, I found the President of the Academy, Wilhelm Schadow, employed on a church picture in three compartments; Paradise in318 the centre; on the right side, Purgatory; on the left side, Hell. He explained to me that he had not attempted to paint the interior of Paradise as the sojourn of the blessed, because he could imagine no kind of occupation or delight which, prolonged to eternity, would not be wearisome. He had therefore represented the exterior of Paradise, where Christ, standing on the threshold with outstretched arms, receives and welcomes those who enter. (This was better and in finer taste than the more common allegory of St. Peter and his keys.) On one side of the door, the Virgin Mary and a group of guardian angels encourage those who approach. Among these we distinguish a martyr who has died for the truth, and a warrior who has fought for it. A care-worn, penitent mother is presented by her innocent daughter. Those who were “in the world and the world knew them not,” are here acknowledged—and eyes dim with weeping, and heads bowed with shame, are here uplifted, and bright with the rapturous gleam which shone through the portals of Paradise.
The idea of Purgatory, he told me, was suggested by a vision or dream related by St. Catherine of Genoa, in which she beheld a great number of men and women shut up in a dark cavern; angels descending from heaven, liberate them from time to time, and they are borne away one after another from darkness, pain, and penance, into life and light—again 319 to behold the face of their Maker—reconciled and healed. In his picture, Schadow has represented two angels bearing away a liberated soul. Below in the fore-ground groups of sinners are waiting, sadly, humbly, but not unhopefully, the term of their bitter penance. Among these he had placed a group of artists and poets who, led away by temptation, had abused their glorious gifts to wicked or worldly purposes;—Titian, Ariosto, and, rather to my surprise, the beautiful, lamenting spirit of Byron. Then, what was curious enough, as types of ambition, Lady Macbeth and her husband, who, it seems, were to be ultimately saved, I do not know why—unless for the love of Shakespeare.
Hell, like all the hells I ever saw, was a failure. There was the usual amount of fire and flames, dragons and serpents, ghastly, despairing spirits, but nothing of original or powerful conception. When I looked in Schadow’s face, so beautiful with benevolence, I wondered how he could—but in truth he could not—realise to himself the idea of a hell; all the materials he had used were borrowed and common-place.
But among his cartoons for pictures already painted, there was one charming idea of quite a different kind. It was for an altar, and he called it “The Fountain of Life.” Above, the sacrificed Redeemer lies extended in his mother’s arms. The320 pure abundant Waters of Salvation, gushing from the rock beneath their feet, are received into a great cistern. Saints, martyrs, teachers of the truth, are standing round, drinking or filling their vases, which they present to each other. From the cistern flows a stream, at which a family of poor peasants are drinking with humble, joyful looks; and as the stream divides and flows away through flowery meadows, little sportive children stoop to drink of it, scooping up the water in their tiny hands, or sipping it with their rosy smiling lips. A beautiful and significant allegory beautifully expressed, and as intelligible to the people as any in the “Pilgrim’s Progress.”
Haydon discussed “High Art” as if it depended solely on the knowledge and the appreciation of form. In this lay his great mistake. Form is but the vehicle of the highest art.
Southey says that the Franciscan Order “excluded all art, all science;—no pictures might321 profane their churches.” This is a most extraordinary instance of ignorance in a man of Southey’s universal learning. Did he forget Friar Bacon? had he not heard of that museum of divine pictures, the Franciscan church and convent at Assisi? And that some of the greatest mathematicians, architects, mosaic workers, carvers, and painters, of the 13th and 14th centuries were Franciscan friars?
Wordsworth’s remark on Sir Joshua Reynolds as a painter, that “he lived too much for the age and the people among whom he lived,” is hardly just; as a portrait-painter he could not well do otherwise; his profession was to represent the people among whom he lived. An artist who takes the higher, the creative and imaginative walks of art, and who thinks he can, at the same time, live for and with the age, and for the passing and clashing interests of the world, and the frivolities of society, does so at a great risk: there must be perilous discord between the inner and the outer life—such discord as wears and irritates the whole physical and moral being. Where the original material of the character is not strong, the artistic genius will be322 gradually enfeebled and conventionalised, through flattery, through sympathy, through misuse. If the material be strong, the result may perhaps be worse; the genius may be demoralised and the mind lose its balance. I have seen in my time instances of both.
“The man,” says Coleridge, “who reads a work meant for immediate effect on one age, with the notions and feelings of another, may be a refined gentleman but a very sorry critic.”
This is especially true with regard to art: but Coleridge should have put in the word, only, (“only the notions and feelings of another age,”) for a very great pleasure lies in the power of throwing ourselves into the sentiments and notions of one age, while feeling with them, and reflecting upon them, with the riper critical experience which belongs to another age.
A good taste in art feels the presence or the absence of merit; a just taste discriminates the degree,—the poco-più and the poco-meno. A good taste rejects faults; a just taste selects excellences. A good taste is often unconscious; a just taste is always conscious. A good taste may be lowered or spoilt; a just taste can only go on refining more and more.
Artists are interesting to me as men. Their work, as the product of mind, should lead us to a knowledge of their own being; else, as I have often said and written, our admiration of art is a species of atheism. To forget the soul in its highest manifestation is like forgetting God in his creation.
“Les images peints du corps humain, dans les figures où domine par trop le savoir anatomique, en révèlant trop clairement à l’homme les secrets de sa324 structure, lui en découvrent aussi par trop ce qu’on pourrait appeler le point de vue matériel, ou, si l’on veut, animal.”
This is the fault of Michal-Angelo; yet I have sometimes thought that his very materialism, so grand, and so peculiar in character, may have arisen out of his profound religious feeling, his stern morality, his lofty conceptions of our mortal, as well as immortal destinies. He appears to have beheld the human form only in a pure and sublime point of view; not as the animal man, but as the habitation, fearfully and wondrously constructed, for the spirit of man,—
“The outward shape, And unpolluted temple of the mind.”
This is the reason that Michal-Angelo’s materialism affects us so differently from that of Rubens. In the first, the predominance of form attains almost a moral sublimity. In the latter, the predominance of flesh and blood is debased into physical grossness. Michal-Angelo believed in the resurrection of THE BODY, emphatically; and in his Last Judgment the dead rise like Titans, strong to contend and mighty to suffer. It is the apotheosis of form. In Ruben’s picture of the same subject (at Munich) the bodily presence of resuscitated life is revolting, reminding us of the text of St. Paul—“Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Both pictures are325 æsthetically false, but artistically miracles, and should thus be considered and appreciated.
I have never looked on those awful figures in the Medici Chapel without thinking what stupendous intellects must inhabit such stupendous forms—terrible in their quietude; but they are supernatural, rather than divine.
“Heidnische Ruhe und Christliche Milde, sie bleiben Dir fremde; Alt-testamentisch bist Du, Zürnender, wie ist Dein Gott!”
John Edward Taylor, in his profound and beautiful essay “Michael-Angelo, a Poet,” says truly that “Dante worshipped the philosophy of religion, and Michael-Angelo adored the philosophy of art.” The religion of the one and the art of the other were evolved in a strange combination of mysticism, materialism, and moral grandeur. The two men were congenial in character and in genius.
I Should begin by admitting the position laid down by Frederick Schlegel, that art and nature are not identical. “Men,” he says, “traduce nature, who falsely give her the epithet of artistic;” for though nature comprehends all art, art cannot comprehend all nature. Nature, in her sources of pleasures and contemplation is infinite; and art, as her reflection in human works, finite. Nature is boundless in her powers, exhaustless in her variety; the powers of art and its capabilities of variety in production are bounded on every side. Nature herself, the infinite,327 has circumscribed the bounds of finite art; the one is the divinity; the other, the priestess. And if poetic art in the interpreting of nature share in her infinitude, yet in representing nature through material, form, and colour, she is,—oh, how limited!
If each of the forms of poetic art has its law of limitation as determined as the musical scale, narrowest of all are the limitations of sculpture, to which, notwithstanding, we give the highest place; and it is in regard to sculpture, we find most frequently those mistakes which arise from a want of knowledge of the true principles of art.
Admitting, then, as necessary and immutable, the limitations of the art of sculpture as to the management of the material in giving form and expression; its primal laws of repose and simplicity; its rejection of the complex and conventional; its bounded capabilities as to choice of subject; must we also admit, with some of the most celebrated critics of art, that there is but one style of sculpture, the Greek? And that every deviation from pure Greek art must be regarded as a depravation and perversion of the powers and subjects of sculpture? I do not see that this follows.
It is absolute that Greek art reached long ago the term of its development. In so far as regards the328 principles of beauty and execution, it can go no farther. We may stand and look at the relics of the Parthenon in awe and in despair; we can do neither more, nor better. But we have not done with Greek sculpture. What in it is purely ideal, is eternal; what is conventional, is in accordance with the primal conditions of all imitative art. Therefore though it may have reached the point at which development stops, and though its capability of adaptation be limited by necessary laws; still its all-beautiful, its immortal imagery is ever near us and around us; still “doth the old feeling bring back the old names,” and with the old names, the forms; still, in those old familiar forms we continue to clothe all that is loveliest in visible nature; still, in all our associations with Greek art—
“’Tis Jupiter who brings whate’er is great, And Venus who brings every thing that’s fair.”
That the supreme beauty of Greek art—that the majestic significance of the classical myths—will ever be to the educated mind and eye as things indifferent and worn out, I cannot believe.
But on the other hand it may well be doubted whether the impersonation of the Greek allegories in the purest forms of Greek art will ever give intense pleasure to the people, or ever speak home329 to the hearts of the men and women of these times. And this not from the want of an innate taste and capacity in the minds of the masses—not because ignorance has “frozen the genial current in their souls”—not merely through a vulgar preference for mechanical imitation of common and familiar forms; but from other causes not transient—not accidental. A classical education is not now, as heretofore, the only education given; and through an honest and intense sympathy with the life of their own experience, and through a dislike to vicious associations, though clothed in classical language and classical forms, thence is it that the people have turned with a sense of relief from gods and goddesses, Ledas and Antiopes, to shepherds and shepherdesses, groups of Charity, and young ladies in the character of Innocence,—harmless, picturesque inanities, bearing the same relation to classical sculpture that Watts’s hymns bear to Homer and Sophocles.
Classical attainments of any kind are rare in our English sculptors; therefore it is, that we find them often quite familiar with the conventional treatment and outward forms of the usual subjects of Greek art, without much knowledge of the original poetical conception, its derivation, or its significance; and equally without any real appreciation of the idea of which the form is but the vehicle. Hence they do330 not seem to be aware how far this original conception is capable of being varied, modified, animated as it were, with an infusion of fresh life, without deviating from its essential truth, or transgressing those narrow limits, within which all sculpture must be bounded in respect to action and attitude. To express character within these limits is the grand difficulty. We must remember that too much value given to the head as the seat of mind, too much expression given to the features as the exponents of character, must diminish the importance of those parts of the form on which sculpture mainly depends for its effect on the imagination. To convey the idea of a complete individuality in a single figure, and under these restrictions, is the problem to be solved by the sculptor who aims at originality, yet feels his aspirations restrained by a fine taste and circumscribed by certain inevitable associations.
It is therefore a question open to argument and involving considerations of infinite delicacy and moment, in morals and in art, whether the old Greek legends, endued as they are with an imperishable vitality derived from their abstract youth, may not be susceptible of a treatment in modern art analogous to that which they have received in modern poetry, where the significant myth, or the ideal character, without losing its classic grace, has been331 animated with a purer sentiment, and developed into a higher expressiveness. Wordsworth’s Dion and Laodomia; Shelley’s version of the Hymn to Mercury; Goethe’s Iphigenia; Lord Byron’s Prometheus; Keats’s Hyperion; Barry Cornwall’s Proserpina; are instances of what I mean in poetry. To do the same thing in art, requires that our sculptors should stand in the same relation to Phidias and Praxiteles, that our greatest poets bear to Homer or Euripides; that they should be themselves poets and interpreters, not mere translators and imitators.
Further, we all know, that there is often a necessity for conveying abstract ideas in the forms of art. We have then recourse to allegory; yet allegorical statues are generally cold and conventional and addressed to the intellect merely. Now there are occasions, in which an abstract quality or thought is far more impressively and intelligibly conveyed by an impersonation than by a personification. I mean, that Aristides might express the idea of justice; Penelope, that of conjugal faith; Jonathan and David (or Pylades and Orestes), friendship; Rizpah, devotion to the memory of the dead; Iphigenia, the voluntary sacrifice for a good cause; and so of many others; and such figures would have this advantage, that with the significance of a symbol they would combine all the powers of a sympathetic reality.
I have never seen any statue of Helen, ancient or modern. Treated in the right spirit, I can hardly conceive a diviner subject for a sculptor. It would be a great mistake to represent the Greek Helen merely as a beautiful and alluring woman. This, at least, is not the Homeric conception of the character, which has a wonderful and fascinating individuality, requiring the utmost delicacy and poetic feeling to comprehend, and rare artistic skill to realise. The oft-told story of the Grecian painter, who, to create a Helen, assembled some twenty of the fairest models he could find, and took from each a limb or a feature, in order to compose from their separate beauties an ideal of perfection,—this story, if it were true, would only prove that even Zeuxis could make a great mistake. Such a combination of heterogeneous elements would be psychologically and artistically false, and would never give us a Helen.
She has become the ideal type of a fatal, faithless, dissolute woman; but according to the Greek myth,333 she is predestined,—at once the instrument and the victim of that fiat of the gods which had long before decreed the destruction of Troy, and her to be the cause. She must not only be supremely beautiful,—“a daughter of the gods, divinely tall, and most divinely fair!”—but as the offspring of Zeus (the title by which she is so often designated in the Iliad), as the sister of the great twin demi-gods Castor and Pollux, she should have the heroic lineaments proper to her Olympian descent, touched with a pensive shade; for she laments the calamities which her fatal charms have brought on all who have loved her, all whom she has loved:—
“Ah! had I died ere to these shores I fled, False to my country and my nuptial bed!”
She shrinks from the reproachful glances of those whom she has injured; and yet, as it is finely intimated, wherever she appears her resistless loveliness vanquishes every heart, and changes curses into blessings. Priam treats her with paternal tenderness; Hector with a sort of chivalrous respect.
“If some proud brother eyed me with disdain, Or scornful sister with her sweeping train, Thy gentle accents softened all my pain; Nor was it e’er my fate from thee to find A deed ungentle or a word unkind.”
Helen, standing on the walls of Troy, and looking sadly over the battle plain, where the heroes of her334 forfeited country, her kindred and her friends, are assembled to fight and bleed for her sake, brings before us an image full of melancholy sweetness as well as of consummate beauty. Another passage in which she upbraids Venus as the cause of her fault—not as a mortal might humbly expostulate with an immortal, but almost on terms of equality, and even with bitterness,—is yet more characteristic. “For what,” she asks, tauntingly, “am I reserved? To what new countries am I destined to carry war and desolation? For what new lover must I break a second vow? Let me go hence! and if Paris lament my absence, let Venus console him, and for his sake ascend the skies no more!” A regretful pathos should mingle with her conscious beauty and her half-celestial dignity; and, to render her truly, her Greek elegance should be combined with a deeper and more complex sentiment than Greek art has usually sought to express.
I am speaking here of Homer’s Helen—the Helen of the Iliad, not the Helen of the tragedians—not the Helen who for two thousand years has merely served “to point a moral;” and an artist who should think to realise the true Homeric conception, should beware of counterfeits, for such are abroad.2
There is a wild Greek myth that it was not the real Helen, but the phantom of Helen, who fled with Paris, and who caused the destruction of Troy; while Helen herself was leading, like Penelope, a pattern life at Memphis. I must confess I prefer the proud humility, the pathetic elegance of Homer’s Helen, to such jugglery.
It may flatter the pride of virtue, or it may move our religious sympathies, to look on the forlorn abasement of the Magdalene as the emblem of penitence; but there are associations connected with Helen—“sad Helen,” as she calls herself, and as I conceive the character,—which have a deep tragic significance; and surely there are localities for which the impersonation of classical art would be better fitted than that of sacred art.
I do not know of any existing statue of Helen. Nicetas mentions among the relics of ancient art destroyed when Constantinople was sacked by the Latins in 1202, a bronze statue of Helen, with long hair flowing to the waist; and there is mention of an Etruscan figure of her, with wings (expressive of her celestial origin, for the Etruscans gave all their gods and demi-gods wings): in Müller I find these two only. There are likewise busts; and the story of Helen, and the various events of her life, occur perpetually on the antique gems, bas-reliefs, and painted vases. The most frequent subject is her336 abduction by Paris. A beautiful subject for a bas-relief, and one I believe not yet treated, would be Helen and Priam mourning over the lifeless form of Hector; yet the difficulty of preserving the simple sculptural treatment, and at the same time discriminating between this and other similar funereal groups, would render it perhaps a better subject for a picture, as admitting then of such scenery and accessories as would at once determine the signification.
Statues of Penelope and Helen might stand in beautiful and expressive contrast; but it is a contrast which no profane or prosaic hand should attempt to realise. Penelope is all woman in her tenderness and her truth; Helen, half a goddess in the midst of error and remorse.
Nor is Penelope the only character which might stand as a type of conjugal fidelity in contrasted companionship with Helen: Alcestis, who died for337 her husband; or, better still, Laodamia, whose intense love and longing recalled hers from the shades below, are susceptible of the most beautiful statuesque treatment; only we must bear in mind that the leading motif in the Alcestis is duty, in the Laodamia, love.
I remember a bas-relief in the Vatican, which represents Hermes restoring Protesilaus to his mourning wife. The interview was granted for three hours only; and when the hero was taken from her a second time, she died on the threshhold of her palace. This is a frequent and appropriate subject for sarcophagi and funereal vases. But there exists, I believe, no single statue commemorative of the wife’s passionate devotion.
The modern sculptor should penetrate his fancy with the sentiment of Wordsworth’s Laodamia.
While the pen is in my hand I may remark that two of the stanzas in the Laodamia have been altered, and, as it seems to me, not improved, since the first edition. Originally the poem opened thus:
“With sacrifice, before the rising morn Perform’d, my slaughter’d lord have I required; And in thick darkness, amid shades forlorn, Him of the infernal Gods have I desired: Celestial pity I again implore; Restore him to my sight—great Jove, restore!”
Altered thus, and comparatively flat:—
“With sacrifice before the rising morn Vows have I made, by fruitless hope inspired; And from the infernal Gods, mid shades forlorn Of night, my slaughtered lord have I required: Celestial pity I again implore; Restore him to my sight—great Jove, restore!”
In the early edition the last stanza but one stood thus:—
“Ah! judge her gently who so deeply loved! Her who, in reason’s spite, yet without crime, Was in a trance of passion thus removed; Delivered from the galling yoke of time, And these frail elements,—to gather flowers Of blissful quiet ’mid unfading bowers!”
In the later editions thus altered, and, to my taste, spoiled:—
“By no weak pity might the Gods be moved; She who thus perish’d not without the crime Of lovers that in Reason’s spite have loved, Was doomed to wander in a grosser clime Apart from happy ghosts, that gather flowers Of blissful quiet ’mid unfading bowers.”
Altered, probably, because Virgil has introduced the shade of Laodamia among the criminal and unhappy lovers,—an instance of extraordinary bad taste in the Roman poet; whatever may have been her faults, she surely deserved to be placed in better company than Phædra and Pasiphäe. Wordsworth’s339 intuitive feeling and taste were true in the first instance, and he might have trusted to them. In my own copy of Wordsworth I have been careful to mark the original reading in justice to the original Laodamia.
I have never met with a statue, ancient or modern, of Hippolytus; the finest possible ideal of a Greek youth, touched with some individual characteristics which are peculiarly fitted for sculpture. He is a hunter, not a warrior; a tamer of horses, not a combatant with spear and shield. He should have the slight, agile build of a young Apollo, but nothing of the God’s effeminacy; on the contrary, there should be an infusion of the severe beauty of his Amazonian mother, with that sedateness and modesty which should express the votary and companion of Diana;340 while, as the fated victim of Venus, whom he had contemned, and of his stepmother Phædra, whom he had repulsed, there should be a kind of melancholy in his averted features. A hound and implements of the chase would be the proper accessories, and the figure should be undraped, or nearly so.
A sculptor who should be tempted to undertake this fine, and, as I think, untried subject—at least as a single figure—must begin by putting Racine out of his mind, whose “Seigneur Hippolyte” makes sentimental love to the “Princesse Aricie,” and must penetrate his fancy with the conception of Euripides.
I find in Schlegel’s “Essais littéraires,” a few lines which will assist the fancy of the artist, in representing the person and character of Hippolytus.
“Quant à l’Hippolyte d’Euripide il a une teinte si divine que pour le sentir dignement il faut, pour ainsi dire, être initié dans les mystères de la beauté, avoir respiré l’air de la Grèce. Rappelez vous ce que l’antiquité nous a transmis de plus accompli parmi les images d’une jeunesse héroïque, les Dioscures de Monte-Cavallo, le Méléagre et l’Apollon du Vatican. Le caractère d’Hippolyte occupe dans la poësie à peu près la même place que ces statues dans la sculpture.” “On peut remarquer dans plusieurs beautés idéales de l’antique que les anciens 341 voulant créer une image perfectionnée de la nature humaine ont fondu les nuances du caractère d’un sexe avec celui de l’autre; que Junon, Pallas, Diane, out une majesté, une sévérité mâle; qu’ Apollon, Mercure, Bacchus, au contraire, ont quelque chose de la grace et de la douceur des femmes. De même nous voyons dans la beauté héroïque et vierge d’Hippolyte l’image de sa mère l’Amazone et le reflet de Diane dans un mortel.”
(The last lines are especially remarkable, and are an artistic commentary on what I have ventured to touch upon ethically at page 85.)
The story of Hippolytus is to be found in bas-reliefs and gems; it occurs on a particularly fine sarcophagus now preserved in the cathedral at Agrigentum, of which there is a cast in the British Museum.
Under the heroic and classical form, Hippolytus conveys the same idea of manly chastity and self-control which in sacred art would be suggested by the figure of Joseph, the son of Jacob.
A noble companion to the Hippolytus would be Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. He is the young Greek warrior, strong and bold and brave; a fine342 ideal type of generosity and truth. The conception, as I imagine it, should be taken from the Philoctetes of Sophocles, where Neoptolemus, indignant at the craft of Ulysses, discloses the trick of which he had been made the unwilling instrument, and restores the fatal, envenomed arrows to Philoctetes. The celebrated lines in the Iliad spoken by Achilles—
“Who dares think one thing and another tell My soul detests him as the gates of hell!”
should give the leading characteristic motif in the figure of his son. There should be something of remorseful pity in the very youthful features; the form ought to be heroically treated, that is, undraped, and he should hold the arrows in his hand.
Neoptolemus, as the savage avenger of his father’s death, slaying the grey-haired Priam at the foot of the altar, and carrying off Andromache, is, of course, quite a different version of the character. He then figures as Pyrrhus—
“The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms, Black as his purpose, did the night resemble.”
The fine moral story of Neoptolemus and Philoctetes is figured on the Etruscan vases. Of the young, truth-telling, Greek hero I find no single statue.
I have often been surprised that we have no statue of this eminently beautiful subject. We have the story of Iphigenia constantly repeated in gems and bas-reliefs; the most celebrated example extant being the Medici Vase. But no single figure of Iphigenia, as the Greek ideal of heroic maidenhood and self-devotion, exists, I believe, in antique sculpture. The small and rather feebly elegant statuette by Christian Tieck is the only modern example I have seen.
Iphigenia may be represented under two very different aspects, both beautiful.
First, as the Iphigenia in Aulis; the victim sacrificed to obtain a fair wind for the Grecian fleet detained on its way to Troy. Extreme youth and grace, with a tender resignation not devoid of dignity, should be the leading characteristics; for we must bear in mind that Iphigenia, while regretting life and the “lamp-bearing day,” and “the344 beloved light,” and her Argive home and her “Mycenian handmaids,” dies willingly, as the Greek girl ought to die, for the good of her country. She begins, indeed, with a prayer for pity, with lamentations for her untimely end, but she resumes her nobler self; and all her sentiments, when she is brought forth, crowned for sacrifice, are worthy of the daughter of Agamemnon. She even exults that she is called upon to perish for the good of Greece, and to avenge the cause of right on the Spartan Helen. “I give,” she exclaims, “my life for Greece! sacrifice me—and let Troy perish!” When her mother weeps, she reproves those tears: “It is not well, O my mother! that I should love life too much. Think that thou hast brought me forth for the common good of Greece, not for thyself only!” She glories in her anticipated renown, not vainly, since, while the world endures, and far as the influences of literature and art extend, her story and her name shall live. The scene in Euripides should be taken as the basis of the character—the finest scene in his finest drama. The tradition that Iphigenia was not really sacrificed, but snatched away from the altar by Diana, and a hind substituted in her place, should be present to the fancy of the artist, when he sets himself to represent the majestic resignation of the consecrated virgin; as adding a touch of the marvellous and ideal to the Greek elegance and simplicity of the conception.
The picture of Iphigenia as drawn by Tennyson is wonderfully vivid; but it wants the Greek dignity and statuesque feeling; it is emphatically a picture, all over colour and light, and crowded with accessories. He represents her as encountering Helen in the land of Shadows, and, turning from her “with sick and scornful looks averse,” for she remembers the tragedy at Aulis.
“My youth (she said) was blasted with a curse: This woman was the cause! I was cut off from hope in that sad place Which yet to name my spirit loathes and fears. My father held his hand upon his face; I, blinded with my tears, Essayed to speak; my voice came thick with sighs As in a dream; dimly I could descry The stern black-bearded kings with wolfish eyes Waiting to see me die. The tall masts quiver’d as they lay afloat, The temples and the people and the shore; One drew a sharp knife thro’ my tender throat Slowly—and nothing more.”
The famous picture of the sacrifice of Iphigenia by Timanthes, the theme of admiration and criticism for the last two thousand years, which every writer on art deems it proper to mention in praise or in blame, could hardly have been more vivid or more terrible than this.
The analogous idea, that of heroic resignation and self-devotion in a great cause, would be conveyed in sacred art by the figure of Jephtha’s daughter; she too regrets the promises of life, but dies not the less346 willingly. “My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.” And for a single statue, Jephtha’s daughter would be a fine subject—one to task the powers of our best sculptors; the sentiment would be the same as the Iphigenia, but the treatment altogether different.
For the Iphigenia in Tauris I think the modern sculptor would do well to set aside the character as represented by Euripides, and rather keep in view the conception of Goethe.3 In his hand it has lost nothing of its statuesque elegance and simplicity, and has gained immeasurably in moral dignity and feminine tenderness. The Iphigenia in Tauris is no longer young, but she is still the consecrated virgin; no more the victim, but herself the priestess of those very rites by which she was once fated to perish. While Euripides has depicted her as stern and astute, Goethe has made her the impersonation of female devotedness, and mild, but unflinching integrity. She is like the young Neoptolemus when she disdains to use the stratagem which Pylades had suggested, when
she dares to speak the truth, and trust to it alone for help and safety. The scene in which she is haunted by the recollection of her doomed ancestry, and mutters over the song of the Parcæ on that far-off sullen shore, is sublime, but incapable of representation in plastic art. It should, however, be well studied, as helping the artist to the abstract conception of the character as a whole.
Carstens made a design, suggested by this tragedy, of the Three Parcæ singing their fatal mysterious song. A model of one of the figures (that of Atropos) used to stand in Goethe’s library, and a cast from this is before me while I write: every one who sees it takes it for an antique.
I have but a few words to say of Eve. As she is the only undraped figure which is allowable in sacred art, the sculptors have multiplied representations of348 her, more or less finely imagined; but what I conceive to be the true type has seldom, very seldom, been attained. The remarks which follow are, however, suggestive, not critical.
It appears to me—and I speak it with reverence—that the Miltonic type is not the highest conceivable, nor the best fitted for sculptural treatment. Milton has evidently lavished all his power on this fairest of created beings; but he makes her too nymph-like—too goddess-like. In one place he compares her to a Wood-nymph, Oread, or Dryad of the groves; in another to Diana’s self, “though not, as she, with bow and quiver armed.” The scriptural conception of our first parent is not like this; it is ampler, grander, nobler far. I fancy her the sublime ideal of maternity. It may be said that this idea of her predestined motherhood should not predominate in the conception of Eve before the Fall: but I think it should.
It is most beautifully imagined by Milton that Eve, separated from her mate, her Adam, is weak, and given over to the merely womanish nature, for only when linked together and supplying the complement to each other’s moral being, can man or woman be strong; but we must also remember that the “spirited sly snake,” in tempting Eve, even when he finds her alone, uses no vulgar allurements. “Ye shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.349” Milton, indeed, seasons his harangue with flattery: but for this he has no warrant in Scripture.
As the Eve of Paradise should be majestically sinless, so after the Fall she should not cower and wail like a disappointed girl. Her infinite fault, her infinite woe, her infinite penitence, should have a touch of grandeur. She has paid the inevitable price for that mighty knowledge of good and evil she so coveted; that terrible predestined experience—she has found it, or it has found her;—and she wears her crown of grief as erst her crown of innocence.
I think the noble picture of Eve in Mrs. Browning’s Drama of Exile, as that of the Mother of our redemption not less than the Mother of suffering humanity, might be read and considered with advantage by a modern sculptor.
“Rise, woman, rise To thy peculiar and best altitudes Of doing good and of resisting ill! Something thou hast to bear through womanhood; Peculiar suffering answering to the sin, Some pang paid down for each new human life; Some weariness in guarding such a life, Some coldness from the guarded; some mistrust From those thou hast too well served; from those beloved Too loyally, some treason. But go, thy love Shall chant to itself its own beatitudes After its own life-working! I bless thee to the desert and the thorns, 350 To the elemental change and turbulence, And to the solemn dignities of grief; To each one of these ends, and to this end Of Death and the hereafter! Eve. I accept, For me and for my daughters, this high part Which lowly shall be counted!”
The figure of Eve in Raphael’s design (the one engraved by Marc Antonio) is exquisitely statuesque as well as exquisitely beautiful. In the moment that she presents the apple to Adam she looks—perhaps she ought to look—like the Venus Vincitrice of the antique time; but I am not sure; and, at all events, the less of the classical sentiment the better.
I have seen no statue of Adam; but surely he is a fine subject, either alone or as the companion of Eve; and the Miltonic type is here all-sufficient, combining the heroic ideal of Greek art with something higher still—
“Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure,”
whence true authority in men—in fact, essential manliness.
Goethe had the idea that Adam ought to be represented with a spade, as the progenitor of all who till the ground, and partially draped with a deerskin, that is, after the Fall; which would be well: but he adds that Adam should have a child at his feet in the act of strangling a serpent. This appears to me objectionable and ambiguous; if admissible at all, the accessory figure would be a fitter accompaniment for Eve.
Angels, properly speaking, are neither winged men nor winged children. Wings, in ancient art, were the symbols of a divine nature; and the early Greeks, who humanised their gods and goddesses, and deified humanity through the perfection of the forms, at first distinguished the divine and the human by giving wings to all the celestial beings; thus lifting them above the earth. Our religious idea of angels is altogether different. Give to the child-form wings, in other words, give to the child-nature, innocent, and pure, the adjuncts of wisdom and power, and thus you realise the idea of the352 angel as Raphael conceived it. It is so difficult to imagine in the adult form the union of perfect purity and perfect wisdom, the absence of experience and suffering, and the capacity of thinking and feeling, a condition of being in which all conscious motive is lost in the impulse to good, that it remains a problem in art. The angels of Angelico da Fiesole, who are not only winged, but convey the idea of movement only by the wings, not by the limbs, are exquisite, as fitted to minister to us in heaven, but hardly as fitted to keep watch and ward for us on earth—
“Against foul fiends to aid us militant.”
The feminine element always predominates in the conception of angels, though they are supposed to be masculine: I doubt whether it ought to be so.
While these sheets are going through the press, I find the following beautiful passage relative to angels in the last number of “Fraser’s Magazine”:—
“It is safer, even, and perhaps more orthodox and scriptural, to ‘impersonate’ time and space, strength and love, and even the laws of nature, than to give us any more angel worlds, which are but dead skeletons of Dante’s creations without that awful and living reality which they had in his mind; or to fill children’s books, as the High Church party are doing353 now, with pictures and tales of certain winged hermaphrodites, in whom one cannot think (even by the extremest stretch of charity) that the writers or draughtsmen really believe, while one sees them servilely copying mediæval forms, and intermingling them with the ornaments of an extinct architecture; thus confessing naïvely to every one but themselves, that they accept the whole notion as an integral portion of a creed, to which, if they be members of the Church of England, they cannot well belong, seeing that it was, happily for us, expelled both by law and by conscience at the Reformation.”
This is eloquent and true; but not the less true it is, that if we have to represent in art those “spiritual beings who walk this earth unseen, both when we sleep and when we wake”—beings, who (as the author of the above passage seems to believe) may be intimately connected with the phenomena of the universe—we must have a type, a bodily type, under which to represent them; and as we cannot do this from knowledge, we must do it symbolically. Angels, as we figure them, are symbols of moral and spiritual existences elevated above ourselves—we do not believe in the forms, we only accept their significance. I should be glad to see a better impersonation than the impossible creatures represented in art; but till some artist-poet, or poet-artist, has invented such an impersonation, we must employ that which354 is already familiarised to the eye and hallowed to the fancy without imposing on the understanding.
Both the Old and the New Testament abound in sculptural subjects; but fitly to deal with the Old Testament required a Michal-Angelo. Beautiful as are the gates of Ghiberti they are hardly what the Germans would call “alt-testamentische,” they are so essentially elegant and graceful, and the old Hebrew legends and personages are so tremendous. Even Miriam and Ruth dilate into a sort of grandeur. In representation I always fancy them above life-size.
I doubt whether the same artist who could conceive the Prophets would be able to represent the Apostles, or that the same hand which gave us Moses could give us Christ. Michal-Angelo’s idea of Christ, both in painting and sculpture is, to me, revolting.
I do not like the idea of Moses and Christ placed together. Much finer in artistic and moral contrast would be the two teachers,—Christ as the divine and spiritual law-giver, Solomon as the type of worldly wisdom. They should stand side by side, or be seated each on his throne, a crowned King, with book and sceptre—but how different in character!
We have multiplied statues of David. I have never seen one which realised the finest conception of his character, either as Hero, King, Prophet, or Poet. In general he figures as the slayer of Goliath, and is always too feeble and boyish. David, singing to his lute before Saul; David as the musician and poet, young, beautiful, half-draped, heaven-inspired, exorcising by his art the dark spirit of evil which possessed the jealous King:—this would be a theme for an artist, and would as finely represent the power of sacred song as a figure of St. Cecilia. But the sentiment should not be that of a young Apollo, or an Orpheus; therein would lie the chief difficulty.
I remember to have seen fine statues of Hagar holding her pitcher, of Rebekah contemplating her bracelet, and of Rachel as the shepherdess. But I would have a different version; Hagar as the poor cast-away, driven forth with her boy into the wilderness; Rebekah as the exulting bride; and Rachel as the mild, pensive wife. They would represent, in a very complete manner, contrasted phases of the destiny of Woman, connected together by our religious associations, and appealing to our deepest human sympathies.
The Queen of Sheba would be a fine subject for a357 single statue, as the religious type of the queenly, intellectual woman, the treatment being kept as far as possible from that of a Pallas or a Muse.
The journey of the Queen of the South to visit Solomon would be a capital subject for a processional bas-relief, and as a pendant to the journey of “the Wise Men of the East,” to visit a greater than Solomon. The latter has been perpetually treated from the fourth century. Of the journey of the Queen of Sheba I have seen, as yet, no example.
With regard to statuesque subjects from modern history and poetry,—Romantic Sculpture, as it is styled,—the taste both of the public and the artist evidently sets in this direction. That the treatment of such subjects should not be classical is admitted; but in the development of this romantic tendency there is cause to fear that we may be inundated358 with all kinds of picturesque vagaries and violations of the just laws and limits of art.
I remember, however, a circumstance which makes me hopeful as to the progress of feeling; knowledge may come hereafter. I remember about twenty years ago proposing the figure and story of Lady Godiva as beautiful subjects for sculpture and painting. There were present on that occasion, among others, two artists and a poet. The two artists laughed outright, and the poet extemporised an epigram upon Peeping Tom. If I were to propose Lady Godiva as a subject now4, I believe it would be received with a far different feeling even by those very men. If I were Queen of England I would have it painted in Fresco in my council chamber. There should be seen the palfrey with its rich housings, and near it, as preparing to mount, the noble lady should stand, timid, but resolved: her veil should lie on the ground; the drapery just falling from her fair limbs and partly sustained by one hand, while with the other she loosens her golden tresses. A bevy of waiting-maids, with averted faces, disappear hurriedly beneath the massive porch of the Saxon
palace, which forms the background, with sky and trees seen through openings in the heavy architecture. This is the picturesque version of the story; but there are many others. As a single statue, the figure of Lady Godiva affords an opportunity for the legitimate treatment of the undraped female form, sanctified by the purest, the most elevated associations;—by woman’s tearful pride and man’s respect and gratitude.
Shakspeare, who is so horribly unjust to Joan of Arc, has put a sublime speech into her mouth where she answers Burgundy who had accused her of sorcery,—
“Because you want the grace that others have. You judge it straight a thing impossible To compass wonders but by help of devils!”
The whole theory of popular superstition comprised in three lines!
But Joan herself—how at her name the whole360 heart seems to rise up in resentment, not so much against her cowardly executioners as against those who have so wronged her memory! Never was a character, historically pure, bright, definite, and perfect in every feature and outline, so abominably treated in poetry and fiction,—perhaps for this reason, that she was in herself so exquisitely wrought, so complete a specimen of the heroic, the poetic, the romantic, that she could not be touched by art or modified by fancy, without being in some degree profaned. As to art, I never saw yet any representation of “Jeanne la grande Pastoure,” (except, perhaps, the lovely statue by the Princess of Wurtemburg,) which I could endure to look at—and even that gives us the contemplative simplicity, but not the power, intellect, and energy, which must have formed so large a part of the character. Then as to the poets, what shall be said of them? First Shakspeare, writing for the English stage, took up the popular idea of the character as it prevailed in England in his own time. Into the hypothesis that the greater part of Henry VI. is not by Shakspeare, there is no occasion to enter here; the original conception of the character of Joan of Arc may not be his, but he has left it untouched in its principal features. The English hated the memory of the French Heroine because she had caused the loss of France and had humiliated us as a nation; and our361 chroniclers revenged themselves and healed their wounded self-love by imputing her victories to witchcraft. Shakspeare, giving her the attributes which the historians of his time assigned to her, represents her as a warlike, arrogant sorceress—a “monstrous woman”—attended and assisted by demons. I pass over the depraved and perverse spirit in which Voltaire profaned this divine character. A theme which a patriot poet would have approached as he would have approached an altar, he has made a vehicle for the most licentious parody that ever disgraced a national literature. Schiller comes next, and hardly seems to me more excusable. Not only has he missed the character, he has deliberately falsified both character and fact. His “Johanna” might have been called by any other name; and the scene of his tragedy might have been placed anywhere in the wide world with just the same probability and truth. Schiller and Goethe held a principle that all considerations were to yield before the proprieties of art. But Milton speaks somewhere of those “faultless proprieties of nature” which never can be violated with impunity: and Art can never move freely but in the domain of nature and of truth. All the fine writing in Schiller’s “Maid of Orleans” can never reconcile me to its absolute and revolting falsehood. The sublime, simple-hearted girl who to the last moment regarded herself as set362 apart by God to do His work, he makes the victim of an insane passion for a young Englishman. In the love-sick classical heroines of Corneille and Racine there is nothing more Frenchified, more absurd, more revolting. Then he makes her die victorious on the field of battle defending the oriflamme;—far, far more glorious as well as more pathetic her real death—but it offended against Schiller’s æsthetic conception of the dignity of tragedy.
Lastly, we have Southey’s epic: what shall be said of it?—even what he said of the Lusiad of Camoens, “that it is read with little emotion, and remembered with little pleasure.” No. I do not wish to see Joan turned into a heroine of tragedy or tale, because, as it seems to me, the whole life and death of this martyred girl is too near us, and too historically distinct, and, I will add, too sacred, to be dressed out in romantic prose or verse. What Walter Scott might have made of her I do not know—something marvellously picturesque and life-like, no doubt—and yet I am glad he did not try his hand on her. But she remains a legitimate and most admirable subject for representative art; and as yet nothing has been done in sculpture to fix the ideal and heroic in her character, nor in painting, worthy of her exploits. There exists no contemporary portrait of her except in the brief description of her in the old French Chronicle of the Siege of Orleans,363 where it is said that her figure was tall and slender, her bust fine, her hair and eyes black; that she wore her hair short, and could never be persuaded to put on a head-piece, and farther (and in this respect both Schiller and Southey have wronged her), that she had never slain a man, using her consecrated sword merely to defend herself. I should like to see a fine equestrian statue of her by one of our best English sculptors, set up in a conspicuous place among us, as a national expiation.
Southey mentions that in the beginning of the last war, about 1795, when popular feeling, excited almost to frenzy, raged against France, a pantomime, or ballet, was performed at Covent Garden, from the story of Joan of Arc, at the conclusion of which she is carried away by demons, like a female Don Juan. This denouement caused such a storm of indignation, that the author—one James Cross—was obliged, after the first two or three representations, to change the demons into angels, and send her straight into Heaven:—an anecdote pleasant to record as illustrating the sure ultimate triumph of truth over falsehood; of all the better sympathies over prejudice and wrong;—in spite of history, and, what is more, in spite of Shakspeare!
Joan of Arc is not, however, a Shakspearian character; and, in fact, there are very few of his personages susceptible of sculptural treatment. They are too dramatic, too profound, too complex in their essential nature where they are tragic; too many-sided and picturesque where they are comic.
For instance, the attempt to condense into marble such light, evanescent, quaint creations as those in “The Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” is better avoided; we feel that a marble fairy must be a heavy absurdity. Oberon and Titania might perhaps float along in a bas-relief; but we cannot put away the thought that they have reality without substantiality, and we do not like to see them, or Ariel, or Caliban fixed in the definite forms of sculpture.
There are, however, a few of Shakspeare’s characters which appear to me beautifully adapted for statuesque treatment: Perdita holding her flowers; Miranda lingering on the shore; might well replace365 the innumerable “Floras” and “Nymphs preparing to bathe,” which people the atéliers of our sculptors. Cordelia has something of marble quietude about her; and Hermione is a statue ready made. And, by the way, it is observable that Shakspeare represents Hermione as a coloured statue. Paulina will not allow it to be touched, because “the colour is not yet dry.” Again,—
“Would you not deem those veins Did verily bear blood? “The very life seems warm upon her lips, The fixture of her eye hath motion in’t, And we are mocked by Art! The ruddiness upon her lip is wet, “You’ll mar it if you kiss it, stain your own With oily painting.”
I think it possible to model small ornamental statuettes and groups from some few of the scenes in Shakspeare’s plays; but this is quite different from life-size figures of Hamlet, Othello, Shylock, Macbeth, which must either have the look of real individual portraiture, or become mere idealisations of certain qualities; and Shakspeare’s creations are neither the one nor the other.
Spenser is so essentially a picturesque poet, he depends for his rich effects so much on the combination of colour and imagery, and multiplied accessories, that one feels—at least I feel, on laying down a volume of the “Fairie Queene” dazzled as if I had been walking in a gallery of pictures. His “Masque of Cupid,” for instance, although a procession of poetical creations, could not be transferred to a bas-relief without completely losing its Spenserian character—its wondrous glow of colour. Thus Cupid “uprears himself exulting from the back of the ravenous lion;” removes the bandage from his eyes, that he may look round on his victims; “shakes the darts which his right hand doth strain full dreadfully,” and “claps on high his coloured wings twain.” This certainly is not the Greek Cupid, nor the Cupid of sculpture; it is the Spenserian Cupid. So of his Una, so of his Britomart, and the Red Cross Knight and Sir Guyon: one might make elegant statuesque impersonations of the allegories they involve, as of Truth, Chastity, Faith, Temperance; but then they would lose immediately their Spenserian367 character and sentiment, and must become something altogether different.
It is not so with Milton. The “Lady” in Comus, whether she stands listening to the echos of her own sweet voice, or motionless as marble under the spell of the “false enchanter,” looking that divine reproof which in the poem she speaks,—
“I hate when vice can bolt her arguments, And virtue has no tongue to check her pride”—
is a subject perfectly fitted for sculpture, and never, so far as I know, executed. It would be a far more appropriate ornament for a lady’s boudoir than French statues of Modesty, which generally have the effect of making one feel very much ashamed.5
Sabrina has been beautifully treated by Marshall.
It is difficult to render Comus without making him too like a Bacchus or an Apollo. He is neither.
He represents not the beneficent, but the intoxicating and brutifying power of wine. His joviality should not be that of a God, but with something mischievous, bestial, Faun-like; and he should have, with the Dionysian grace, a dash of the cunning and malignity of his Mother Circe. These characteristics should be in the mind of the artist. The panther’s skin, the coronal of vine leaves, and, instead of the Thyrsus, the magician’s wand, are the proper accessories. It is also worth notice, that in the antique representations Comus has wings as a demigod, and in a picture described by Philostratus (a night scene) he lies crouched in a drunken sleep. Little use, however, is made of him in the antique myths, and the Miltonic conception is that which should be embodied by the modern sculptor.
Il Penseroso and L’Allegro, if embodied in sculpture as poetical abstractions (either masculine or feminine) of Melancholy and Mirth, would cease to be Miltonic, for the conceptions of the poet are essentially picturesque, and expressed in both cases by a luxuriant accumulation of images and accessories, not to be brought within the limits of plastic art without the most tasteless confusion and inconsistency.
The religious idea of a Satan—the impersonation of that mixture of the bestial, the malignant, the impious, and the hopeless, which constitute the Fiend, the enemy of all that is human and divine—I conceive to be quite unfitted for the purpose of sculpture. Danton’s attempt degenerates into grim caricature. Milton’s Satan—“the archangel ruined,”—is however a strictly poetical creation, and capable of the most poetical statuesque treatment. But we must remember that, if it be a gross mistake, religious and artistic, to conceive the Messiah under the form of a larger, stronger humanity, with a physique like that of a wrestler, (as M. Angelo has done in the Last Judgement) it is equally a mistake to conceive the lost angel, our spiritual adversary, under any such coarse Herculean lineaments. There can be no image of the Miltonic Satan without the elements of beauty, “though changed by pale ire, envy, and despair!” Colossal he may be, vast as Mount Athos; but it is not necessary to express this that he should be hewn out of Mount Athos, or look like the giant Polypheme! His proportions, his figure, his features—like his power—are angelic. As the Hero—for he is so—of the “Paradise Lost,” the subject is open370 to poetic treatment; but I am not aware that as yet it has been poetically treated.
Of the Italian poetry and history, and all the wondrous and lovely shapes which come thronging out of that Elysian land,—I can say nothing now,—or only this,—that after all I am not quite sure that I am right about Spenser. For, at first view, what poet seems less amenable to statuesque treatment than Dante? One would have imagined that only a preternatural fusion of Michal-Angelo and Rembrandt could fitly render the murky recesses and ghastly and monstrous inhabitants of the Inferno, or attempt to shadow forth the dazzling mysteries of the Paradiso. Yet see what Flaxman has achieved! His designs are legitimate bas-reliefs, not pictures in outline. He has been true to his own art, and all that could be done within the limitations of his art he has accomplished. It is a translation of Dante’s ideas into sculpture, with every thing peculiarly Dantesque in the treatment, set aside.
Now as to our more modern poets.—From amid the long array of beautiful subjects which seem to move in succession before the fancy, there are two which stand out prominent in their beauty. First, Lord Byron’s “Myrrha,” who with her Ionian elegance is susceptible of the purest classical treatment. She should hold a torch; but not with the air of a Mænad, nor of a Thais about to fire Persepolis. The sentiment should be deeper and quieter.
“Dost thou think A Greek girl dare not do for love that which An Indian widow does for custom?”
Ion in Talfourd’s Tragedy—the boy-hero, in all the tenderness of extreme youth, already self-devoted and touched with a melancholy grace and an elevation beyond his years—is so essentially statuesque, that I am surprised that no sculptor has attempted it; perhaps because, in this instance, as in that of Myrrha, the popular realisation of both characters as subjects of formative art has been spoiled by theatrical trappings and associations.
1 “Sancta Simplicitas!” was the exclamation of Huss to the woman who, when he was burned at the stake, in her religious zeal brought a faggot to light the pile.
2 Canova’s bust of Helen is such a counterfeit; whereas the Helen of Gibson is, for a mere head, singularly characteristic.
3 There is a fine translation of the German Iphigenia by Miss Swanwick. (Dramatic Works of Goethe. Bohn, 1850.)
4 1848. At the moment I transcribe this (1854), a very charming statue of the Lady Godiva (suggested, I believe, by Tennyson’s poem) stands in the Exhibition of the Royal Academy.
5 For example, the statue of Modesty executed for Josephine’s boudoir.