Part 3 out of 5
Prince. Yet Shakspere will not contradict history, even in its silence.
What is he to do? He will account for history _not knowing_ the
fact.--Falstaff claiming the honour, the Prince says to him:
"For my part, if a lie may do thee grace,
I'll gild it with the happiest terms I have;"
revealing thus the magnificence of his own character, in his readiness,
for the sake of his friend, to part with his chief renown. But the
Historic Muse could not believe that fat Jack Falstaff had killed
Hotspur, and therefore she would not record the claim.
In the second part of the same play, act i. scene 2, we find Falstaff
toweringly indignant with Mr. Dombledon, the silk mercer, that he will
stand upon security with a gentleman for a short cloak and slops of
satin. In the first scene of the second act, the hostess mentions that
Sir John is going to dine with Master Smooth, the silkman. Foiled with
Mr. Dombledon, he has already made himself so agreeable to Master
Smooth, that he is "indited to dinner" with him. This is, by the bye, as
to the action of the play; but as to the character of Sir John, is it
"Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind"--_kinned--natural_?
The _conceit deceitful_ in the painting, is the imagination that means
more than its says. So the words of the speakers in the play, stand for
more than the speakers mean. They are _Shakspere's_ in their relation to
his whole. To Achilles, his spear is but his spear: to the painter and
his company, the spear of Achilles stands for Achilles himself.
Coleridge remarks upon _James Gurney_, in "King John:" "How individual
and comical he is with the four words allowed to his dramatic life!"
These words are those with which he answers the Bastard's request to
leave the room. He has been lingering with all the inquisitiveness and
privilege of an old servant; when Faulconbridge says: "James Gurney,
wilt thou give us leave a while?" with strained politeness. With marked
condescension to the request of the second son, whom he has known and
served from infancy, James Gurney replies: "Good leave, good Philip;"
giving occasion to Faulconbridge to show his ambition, and scorn of his
present standing, in the contempt with which he treats even the
Christian name he is so soon to exchange with his surname for _Sir
Richard_ and _Plantagenet; Philip_ being the name for a sparrow in those
days, when ladies made pets of them. Surely in these words of the
serving-man, we have an outcome of the same art by which
"A hand, a foot, a face, a leg, a head,
Stood for the whole to be imagined."
In the "Winter's Tale," act iv. scene 3, Perdita, dressed with unwonted
gaiety at the festival of the sheep-shearing, is astonished at finding
herself talking in full strains of poetic verse. She says, half-ashamed:
"Methinks I play as I have seen them do
In Whitsun pastorals: sure, this robe of mine
Does change my disposition!"
She does not mean this seriously. But the robe has more to do with it
than she thinks. Her passion for Florizel is the warmth that sets the
springs of her thoughts free, and they flow with the grace belonging to
a princess-nature; but it is the robe that opens the door of her speech,
and, by elevating her consciousness of herself, betrays her into what is
only natural to her, but seems to her, on reflection, inconsistent with
her low birth and poor education. This instance, however, involves far
higher elements than any of the examples I have given before, and
naturally leads to a much more important class of illustrations.
In "Macbeth," act ii. scene 4, why is the old man, who has nothing to do
with the conduct of the play, introduced?--That, in conversation with
Rosse, he may, as an old man, bear testimony to the exceptionally
terrific nature of that storm, which, we find--from the words of Banquo:
"There's husbandry in heaven:
Their candles are all out,"--
had begun to gather, before supper was over in the castle. This storm is
the sympathetic horror of Nature at the breaking open of the Lord's
anointed temple--horror in which the animal creation partakes, for the
horses of Duncan, "the minions of their race," and therefore the most
sensitive of their sensitive race, tear each other to pieces in the
wildness of their horror. Consider along with this a foregoing portion
of the second scene in the same act. Macbeth, having joined his wife
after the murder, says:
"Who lies i' the second chamber?
"_Lady M._ Donalbain.
* * * * *
"There are two lodged together."
These two, Macbeth says, woke each other--the one laughing, the other
crying _murder_. Then they said their prayers and went to sleep
again.--I used to think that the natural companion of Donalbain would be
Malcolm, his brother; and that the two brothers woke in horror from the
proximity of their father's murderer who was just passing the door. A
friend objected to this, that, had they been together, Malcolm, being
the elder, would have been mentioned rather than Donalbain. Accept this
objection, and we find a yet more delicate significance: the _presence_
operated differently on the two, one bursting out in a laugh, the other
crying _murder_; but both were in terror when they awoke, and dared not
sleep till they had said their prayers. His sons, his horses, the
elements themselves, are shaken by one unconscious sympathy with the
Associate with this the end of the third scene of the fourth act of
"Julius Caesar;" where we find that the attendants of Brutus all cry out
in their sleep, as the ghost of Caesar leaves their master's tent. This
outcry is not given in Plutarch.
To return to "Macbeth:" Why is the doctor of medicine introduced in the
scene at the English court? He has nothing to do with the progress of
the play itself, any more than the old man already alluded to.--He is
introduced for a precisely similar reason.--As a doctor, he is the best
testimony that could be adduced to the fact, that the English King
Edward the Confessor, is a fountain of health to his people, gifted for
his goodness with the sacred privilege of curing _The King's Evil_, by
the touch of his holy hands. The English King himself is thus
introduced, for the sake of contrast with the Scotch King, who is a
raging bear amongst his subjects.
In the "Winter's Tale," to which he gives the name because of the
altogether extraordinary character of the occurrences (referring to it
in the play itself, in the words: "_a sad tale's best for winter: I have
one of sprites and goblins_") Antigonus has a remarkable dream or
vision, in which Hermione appears to him, and commands the exposure of
her child in a place to all appearance the most unsuitable and
dangerous. Convinced of the reality of the vision, Antigonus obeys; and
the whole marvellous result depends upon this obedience. Therefore the
vision must be intended for a genuine one. But how could it be such, if
Hermione was not dead, as, from her appearance to him, Antigonus firmly
believed she was? I should feel this to be an objection to the art of
the play, but for the following answer:--At the time she appeared to
him, she was still lying in that deathlike swoon, into which she fell
when the news of the loss of her son reached her as she stood before the
judgment-seat of her husband, at a time when she ought not to have been
out of her chamber.
Note likewise, in the first scene of the second act of the same play,
the changefulness of Hermione's mood with regard to her boy, as
indicative of her condition at the time. If we do not regard this fact,
we shall think the words introduced only for the sake of filling up the
business of the play.
In "Twelfth Night," both ladies make the first advances in love. Is it
not worthy of notice that one of them has lost her brother, and that the
other believes she has lost hers? In this respect, they may be placed
with Phoebe, in "As You Like It," who, having suddenly lost her love by
the discovery that its object was a woman, immediately and heartily
accepts the devotion of her rejected lover, Silvius. Along with these
may be classed Romeo, who, rejected and, as he believes, inconsolable,
falls in love with Juliet the moment he sees her. That his love for
Rosaline, however, was but a kind of _calf-love_ compared with his love
for Juliet, may be found indicated in the differing tones of his speech
under the differing conditions. Compare what he says in his conversation
with Benvolio, in the first scene of the first act, with any of his many
speeches afterwards, and, while _conceit_ will be found prominent enough
in both, the one will be found to be ruled by the fancy, the other by
In this same play, there is another similar point which I should like to
notice. In Arthur Brook's story, from which Shakspere took his, there is
no mention of any communication from Lady Capulet to Juliet of their
intention of marrying her to Count Paris. Why does Shakspere insert
this?--to explain her falling in love with Romeo so suddenly. Her mother
has set her mind moving in that direction. She has never seen Paris. She
is looking about her, wondering which may be he, and whether she shall
be able to like him, when she meets the love-filled eyes of Romeo fixed
upon her, and is at once overcome. What a significant speech is that
given to Paulina in the "Winter's Tale," act v. scene 1: "How? Not
women?" Paulina is a thorough partisan, siding with women against men,
and strengthened in this by the treatment her mistress has received from
her husband. One has just said to her, that, if Perdita would begin a
sect, she might "make proselytes of who she bid but follow." "How? Not
women?" Paulina rejoins. Having received assurance that "women will love
her," she has no more to say.
I had the following explanation of a line in "Twelfth Night" from a
stranger I met in an old book-shop:--Malvolio, having built his castle
in the air, proceeds to inhabit it. Describing his own behaviour in a
supposed case, he says (act ii. scene 5): "I frown the while; and
perchance, wind up my watch, or play with my some rich jewel"--A dash
ought to come after _my_. Malvolio was about to say _chain_; but
remembering that his chain was the badge of his office of steward, and
therefore of his servitude, he alters the word to "_some rich jewel_"
uttered with pretended carelessness.
In "Hamlet," act iii. scene 1, did not Shakspere intend the passionate
soliloquy of Ophelia--a soliloquy which no maiden knowing that she was
overheard would have uttered,--coupled with the words of her father:
"How now, Ophelia?
You need not tell us what lord Hamlet said,
We heard it all;"--
to indicate that, weak as Ophelia was, she was not false enough to be
accomplice in any plot for betraying Hamlet to her father and the King?
They had remained behind the arras, and had not gone out as she must
Next, let me request my reader to refer once more to the poem; and
having considered the physiognomy of Ajax and Ulysses, as described in
the fifth stanza, to turn then to the play of "Troilus and Cressida,"
and there contemplate that description as metamorphosed into the higher
form of revelation in speech. Then, if he will associate the general
principles in that stanza with the third, especially the last two lines,
I will apply this to the character of Lady Macbeth.
Of course, Shakspere does not mean that one regarding that portion of
the picture alone, could see the eyes looking sad; but that the _sweet
observance_ of the whole so roused the imagination that it supplied what
distance had concealed, keeping the far-off likewise in sweet observance
with the whole: the rest pointed that way.--In a manner something like
this are we conducted to a right understanding of the character of Lady
Macbeth. First put together these her utterances:
"You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things."
"Get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hands."
"The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures."
"A little water clears us of this deed."
"When all's done,
You look but on a stool."
"You lack the season of all natures, sleep."--
Had these passages stood in the play unmodified by others, we might have
judged from them that Shakspere intended to represent Lady Macbeth as an
utter materialist, believing in nothing beyond the immediate
communications of the senses. But when we find them associated with such
passages as these--
"Memory, the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbeck only;"
"Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done't;
"These deeds must not be thought
After these ways; so, it will make us mad;"--
then we find that our former theory will not do, for here are deeper and
broader foundations to build upon. We discover that Lady Macbeth was an
unbeliever _morally_, and so found it necessary to keep down all
imagination, which is the upheaving of that inward world whose very
being she would have annihilated. Yet out of this world arose at last
the phantom of her slain self, and possessing her sleeping frame, sent
it out to wander in the night, and rub its distressed and blood-stained
hands in vain. For, as in this same "Rape of Lucrece,"
"the soul's fair temple is defaced;
To whose weak ruins muster troops of cares,
To ask the spotted princess how she fares."
But when so many lines of delineation meet, and run into, and correct
one another, assuming such a natural and vital form, that there is no
_making of a point_ anywhere; and the woman is shown after no theory,
but according to the natural laws of human declension, we feel that the
only way to account for the perfection of the representation is to say
that, given a shadow, Shakspere had the power to place himself so, that
that shadow became his own--was the correct representation as shadow, of
his form coming between it and the sunlight. And this is the highest
dramatic gift that a man can possess. But we feel at the same time, that
this is, in the main, not so much art as inspiration. There would be, in
all probability, a great mingling of conscious art with the inspiration;
but the lines of the former being lost in the general glow of the
latter, we may be left where we were as to any certainty about the
artistic consciousness of Shakspere. I will now therefore attempt to
give a few plainer instances of such _sweet observance_ in his own work
as he would have admired in a painting.
First, then, I would request my reader to think how comparatively seldom
Shakspere uses poetry in his plays. The whole play is a poem in the
highest sense; but truth forbids him to make it the rule for his
characters to speak poetically. Their speech is poetic in relation to
the whole and the end, not in relation to the speaker, or in the
immediate utterance. And even although their speech is immediately
poetic, in this sense, that every character is idealized; yet it is
idealized _after its kind_; and poetry certainly would not be the ideal
speech of most of the characters. This granted, let us look at the
exceptions: we shall find that such passages not only glow with poetic
loveliness and fervour, but are very jewels of _sweet observance_, whose
setting allows them their force as lawful, and their prominence as
natural. I will mention a few of such.
In "Julius Caesar," act i. scene 3, we are inclined to think the way
_Casca_ speaks, quite inconsistent with the "sour fashion" which
_Cassius_ very justly attributes to him; till we remember that he is
speaking in the midst of an almost supernatural thunder-storm: the
hidden electricity of the man's nature comes out in poetic forms and
words, in response to the wild outburst of the overcharged heavens and
Shakspere invariably makes the dying speak poetically, and generally
prophetically, recognizing the identity of the poetic and prophetic
moods, in their highest development, and the justice that gives them the
same name. Even _Sir John_, poor ruined gentleman, _babbles of green
fields_. Every one knows that the passage is disputed: I believe that if
this be not the restoration of the original reading, Shakspere himself
would justify it, and wish that he had so written it.
_Romeo_ and _Juliet_ talk poetry as a matter of course.
In "King John," act v. scenes 4 and 5, see how differently the dying
_Melun_ and the living and victorious _Lewis_ regard the same sunset:
. . . . . this night, whose black contagious breath
Already smokes about the burning crest
Of the old, feeble, and day-wearied sun.
The sun in heaven, methought, was loath to set;
But stayed, and made the western welkin blush,
When the English measured backward their own ground.
The exquisite duet between _Lorenzo_ and _Jessica_, in the opening of
the fifth act of "The Merchant of Venice," finds for its subject the
circumstances that produce the mood--the lovely night and the crescent
moon--which first make them talk poetry, then call for music, and next
speculate upon its nature.
Let us turn now to some instances of sweet observance in other kinds.
There is observance, more true than sweet, in the character of
_Jacques_, in "As You Like It:" the fault-finder in age was the
fault-doer in youth and manhood. _Jacques_ patronizing the fool, is one
of the rarest shows of self-ignorance.
In the same play, when _Rosalind_ hears that _Orlando_ is in the wood,
she cries out, "Alas the day! what shall I do with my doublet and hose?"
And when _Orlando_ asks her, "Where dwell you, pretty youth?" she
answers, tripping in her role, "Here in the skirts of the forest, like
fringe upon a petticoat."
In the second part of "King Henry IV.," act iv. scene 3, _Falstaff_ says
of _Prince John_: "Good faith, this same young sober-blooded boy doth
not love me; nor a man cannot make him laugh;--but that's no marvel: he
drinks no wine." This is the _Prince John_ who betrays the insurgents
afterwards by the falsest of quibbles, and gains his revenge through
their good faith.
In "King Henry IV," act i. scene 2, _Poins_ does not say _Falstaff_ is a
coward like the other two; but only--"If he fight longer than he sees
reason, I'll forswear arms." Associate this with _Falstaff's_ soliloquy
about _honour_ in the same play, act v. scene 1, and the true character
of his courage or cowardice--for it may bear either name--comes out.
Is there not conscious art in representing the hospitable face of the
castle of _Macbeth_, bearing on it a homely welcome in the multitude of
the nests of _the temple-haunting martlet_ (Psalm lxxxiv. 3), just as
_Lady Macbeth_, the fiend-soul of the house, steps from the door, like
the speech of the building, with her falsely smiled welcome? Is there
not _observance_ in it?
But the production of such instances might be endless, as the work of
Shakspere is infinite. I confine myself to two more, taken from "The
Merchant of Venice."
Shakspere requires a character capable of the magnificent devotion of
friendship which the old story attributes to _Antonio_. He therefore
introduces us to a man sober even to sadness, thoughtful even to
melancholy. The first words of the play unveil this characteristic. He
holds "the world but as the world,"--
"A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one."
The cause of this sadness we are left to conjecture. _Antonio_ himself
professes not to know. But such a disposition, even if it be not
occasioned by any definite event or object, will generally associate
itself with one; and when _Antonio_ is accused of being in love, he
repels the accusation with only a sad "Fie! fie!" This, and his whole
character, seem to me to point to an old but ever cherished grief.
Into the original story upon which this play is founded, Shakspere has,
among other variations, introduced the story of _Jessica_ and _Lorenzo_,
apparently altogether of his own invention. What was his object in doing
so? Surely there were characters and interests enough already!--It seems
to me that Shakspere doubted whether the Jew would have actually
proceeded to carry out his fell design against _Antonio_, upon the
original ground of his hatred, without the further incitement to revenge
afforded by another passion, second only to his love of gold--his
affection for his daughter; for in the Jew having reference to his own
property, it had risen to a passion. Shakspere therefore invents her,
that he may send a dog of a Christian to steal her, and, yet worse, to
tempt her to steal her father's stones and ducats. I suspect Shakspere
sends the old villain off the stage at the last with more of the pity of
the audience than any of the other dramatists of the time would have
ventured to rouse, had they been capable of doing so. I suspect he is
the only human Jew of the English drama up to that time.
I have now arrived at the last and most important stage of my argument.
It is this: If Shakspere was so well aware of the artistic relations of
the parts of his drama, is it likely that the grand meanings involved in
the whole were unperceived by him, and conveyed to us without any
intention on his part--had their origin only in the fact that he dealt
with human nature so truly, that his representations must involve
whatever lessons human life itself involves?
Is there no intention, for instance, in placing _Prospero_, who forsook
the duties of his dukedom for the study of magic, in a desert island,
with just three subjects; one, a monster below humanity; the second, a
creature etherealized beyond it; and the third a complete embodiment of
human perfection? Is it not that he may learn how to rule, and, having
learned, return, by the aid of his magic wisely directed, to the home
and duties from which exclusive devotion to that magic had driven him?
In "Julius Caesar," the death of _Brutus_, while following as the
consequence of his murder of _Caesar_, is yet as much distinguished in
character from that death, as the character of _Brutus_ is different
from that of _Caesar_. _Caesar's_ last words were _Et tu Brute? Brutus_,
when resolved to lay violent hands on himself, takes leave of his
friends with these words:
My heart doth joy, that yet, in all my life,
I found no man, but he was true to me."
Here Shakspere did not invent. He found both speeches in Plutarch. But
how unerring his choice!
Is the final catastrophe in "Hamlet" such, because Shakspere could do no
better?--It is: he could do no better than the best. Where but in the
regions beyond could such questionings as _Hamlet's_ be put to rest? It
would have been a fine thing indeed for the most nobly perplexed of
thinkers to be left--his love in the grave; the memory of his father a
torment, of his mother a blot; with innocent blood on his innocent
hands, and but half understood by his best friend--to ascend in desolate
dreariness the contemptible height of the degraded throne, and shine the
first in a drunken court!
Before bringing forward my last instance, I will direct the attention of
my readers to a passage, in another play, in which the lesson of the
play I am about to speak of, is _directly_ taught: the first speech in
the second act of "As You Like It," might be made a text for the
exposition of the whole play of "King Lear."
The banished duke is seeking to bring his courtiers to regard their
exile as a part of their moral training. I am aware that I point the
passage differently, while I revert to the old text.
"Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam--
The season's difference, as the icy fang,
And churlish chiding of the winter's wind?
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say--
This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.
Sweet are the uses of adversity."
The line _Here feel we not the penalty of Adam?_ has given rise to much
perplexity. The expounders of Shakspere do not believe he can mean that
the uses of adversity are really sweet. But the duke sees that _the
penalty_ of Adam is what makes the _woods more free from peril than the
envious court;_ that this penalty is in fact the best blessing, for it
_feelingly persuades_ man _what_ he is; and to know what we are, to have
no false judgments of ourselves, he considers so sweet, that to be thus
taught, the _churlish chiding of the winter's wind_ is well endured.
Now let us turn to _Lear_. We find in him an old man with a large
heart, hungry for love, and yet not knowing what love is; an old man as
ignorant as a child in all matters of high import; with a temper so
unsubdued, and therefore so unkingly, that he storms because his dinner
is not ready by the clock of his hunger; a child, in short, in
everything but his grey hairs and wrinkled face, but his failing,
instead of growing, strength. If a life end so, let the success of that
life be otherwise what it may, it is a wretched and unworthy end. But
let _Lear_ be blown by the winds and beaten by the rains of heaven, till
he pities "poor naked wretches;" till he feels that he has "ta'en too
little care of" such; till pomp no longer conceals from him what "a
poor, bare, forked animal" he is; and the old king has risen higher in
the real social scale--the scale of that country to which he is
bound--far higher than he stood while he still held his kingdom
undivided to his thankless daughters. Then let him learn at last that
"love is the only good in the world;" let him find his _Cordelia_, and
plot with her how they will in their dungeon _singing like birds i' the
cage_, and, dwelling in the secret place of peace, look abroad on the
world like _God's spies_; and then let the generous great old heart
swell till it breaks at last--not with rage and hate and vengeance, but
with love; and all is well: it is time the man should go to overtake his
daughter; henceforth to dwell with her in the home of the true, the
eternal, the unchangeable. All his suffering came from his own fault;
but from the suffering has sprung another crop, not of evil but of good;
the seeds of which had lain unfruitful in the soil, but were brought
within the blessed influences of the air of heaven by the sharp tortures
of the ploughshare of ill.
THE ELDER HAMLET. [Footnote: 1875]
'Tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
The ghost in "Hamlet" is as faithfully treated as any character in the
play. Next to Hamlet himself, he is to me the most interesting person of
the drama. The rumour of his appearance is wrapped in the larger rumour
of war. Loud preparations for uncertain attack fill the ears of "the
subject of the land." The state is troubled. The new king has hardly
compassed his election before his marriage with his brother's widow
swathes the court in the dust-cloud of shame, which the merriment of its
forced revelry can do little to dispel. A feeling is in the moral air to
which the words of Francisco, the only words of significance he utters,
give the key: "'Tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart." Into the
frosty air, the pallid moonlight, the drunken shouts of Claudius and his
court, the bellowing of the cannon from the rampart for the enlargement
of the insane clamour that it may beat the drum of its own disgrace at
the portals of heaven, glides the silent prisoner of hell, no longer a
king of the day walking about his halls, "the observed of all
observers," but a thrall of the night, wandering between the bell and
the cock, like a jailer on each side of him. A poet tells the tale of
the king who lost his garments and ceased to be a king: here is the king
who has lost his body, and in the eyes of his court has ceased to be a
man. Is the cold of the earth's night pleasant to him after the purging
fire? What crimes had the honest ghost committed in his days of nature?
He calls them foul crimes! Could such be his? Only who can tell how a
ghost, with his doubled experience, may think of this thing or that? The
ghost and the fire may between them distinctly recognize that as a foul
crime which the man and the court regarded as a weakness at worst, and
indeed in a king laudable.
Alas, poor ghost! Around the house he flits, shifting and shadowy, over
the ground he once paced in ringing armour--armed still, but his very
armour a shadow! It cannot keep out the arrow of the cock's cry, and the
heart that pierces is no shadow. Where now is the loaded axe with which,
in angry dispute, he smote the ice at his feet that cracked to the blow?
Where is the arm that heaved the axe? Wasting in the marble maw of the
sepulchre, and the arm he carries now--I know not what it can do, but it
cannot slay his murderer. For that he seeks his son's. Doubtless his new
ethereal form has its capacities and privileges. It can shift its garb
at will; can appear in mail or night-gown, unaided of armourer or
tailor; can pass through Hades-gates or chamber-door with equal ease;
can work in the ground like mole or pioneer, and let its voice be heard
from the cellarage. But there is one to whom it cannot appear, one whom
the ghost can see, but to whom he cannot show himself. She has built a
doorless, windowless wall between them, and sees the husband of her
youth no more. Outside her heart--that is the night in which he wanders,
while the palace-windows are flaring, and the low wind throbs to the
wassail shouts: within, his murderer sits by the wife of his bosom, and
in the orchard the spilt poison is yet gnawing at the roots of the
Twice has the ghost grown out of the night upon the eyes of the
sentinels. With solemn march, slow and stately, three times each night,
has he walked by them; they, jellied with fear, have uttered no
challenge. They seek Horatio, who the third night speaks to him as a
scholar can. To the first challenge he makes no answer, but stalks away;
to the second,
It lifted up its head, and did address
Itself to motion, like as it would speak;
but the gaoler cock calls him, and the kingly shape
started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons;
shrunk in haste away,
And vanished from our sight.
Ah, that summons! at which majesty welks and shrivels, the king and
soldier starts and cowers, and, armour and all, withers from the air!
But why has he not spoken before? why not now ere the cock could claim
him? He cannot trust the men. His court has forsaken his memory--crowds
with as eager discontent about the mildewed ear as ever about his
wholesome brother, and how should he trust mere sentinels? There is but
one who will heed his tale. A word to any other would but defeat his
intent. Out of the multitude of courtiers and subjects, in all the land
of Denmark, there is but one whom he can trust--his student-son. Him he
has not yet found--the condition of a ghost involving strange
Or did the horror of the men at the sight of him wound and repel him?
Does the sense of regal dignity, not yet exhausted for all the fasting
in fires, unite with that of grievous humiliation to make him shun their
But Horatio--why does the ghost not answer him ere the time of the cock
is come? Does he fold the cloak of indignation around him because his
son's friend has addressed him as an intruder on the night, an usurper
of the form that is his own? The companions of the speaker take note
that he is offended and stalks away.
Much has the kingly ghost to endure in his attempt to re-open relations
with the world he has left: when he has overcome his wrath and returns,
that moment Horatio again insults him, calling him an illusion. But this
time he will bear it, and opens his mouth to speak. It is too late; the
cock is awake, and he must go. Then alas for the buried majesty of
Denmark! with upheaved halberts they strike at the shadow, and would
stop it if they might--usage so grossly unfitting that they are
instantly ashamed of it themselves, recognizing the offence in the
majesty of the offended. But he is already gone. The proud, angry king
has found himself but a thing of nothing to his body-guard--for he has
lost the body which was their guard. Still, not even yet has he learned
how little it lies in the power of an honest ghost to gain credit for
himself or his tale! His very privileges are against him.
All this time his son is consuming his heart in the knowledge of a
mother capable of so soon and so utterly forgetting such a husband, and
in pity and sorrow for the dead father who has had such a wife. He is
thirty years of age, an obedient, honourable son--a man of thought, of
faith, of aspiration. Him now the ghost seeks, his heart burning like a
coal with the sense of unendurable wrong. He is seeking the one drop
that can fall cooling on that heart--the sympathy, the answering rage
and grief of his boy. But when at length he finds him, the generous,
loving father has to see that son tremble like an aspen-leaf in his
doubtful presence. He has exposed himself to the shame of eyes and the
indignities of dullness, that he may pour the pent torrent of his wrongs
into his ears, but his disfranchisement from the flesh tells against him
even with his son: the young Hamlet is doubtful of the identity of the
apparition with his father. After all the burning words of the phantom,
the spirit he has seen may yet be a devil; the devil has power to assume
a pleasing shape, and is perhaps taking advantage of his melancholy to
Armed in the complete steel of a suit well known to the eyes of the
sentinels, visionary none the less, with useless truncheon in hand,
resuming the memory of old martial habits, but with quiet countenance,
more in sorrow than in anger, troubled--not now with the thought of the
hell-day to which he must sleepless return, but with that unceasing ache
at the heart, which ever, as often as he is released into the cooling
air of the upper world, draws him back to the region of his
wrongs--where having fallen asleep in his orchard, in sacred security
and old custom, suddenly, by cruel assault, he was flung into Hades,
where horror upon horror awaited him--worst horror of all, the knowledge
of his wife!--armed he comes, in shadowy armour but how real sorrow!
Still it is not pity he seeks from his son: he needs it not--he can
endure. There is no weakness in the ghost. It is but to the imperfect
human sense that he is shadowy. To himself he knows his doom his
deliverance; that the hell in which he finds himself shall endure but
until it has burnt up the hell he has found within him--until the evil
he was and is capable of shall have dropped from him into the lake of
fire; he nerves himself to bear. And the cry of revenge that comes from
the sorrowful lips is the cry of a king and a Dane rather than of a
wronged man. It is for public justice and not individual vengeance he
calls. He cannot endure that the royal bed of Denmark should be a couch
for luxury and damned incest. To stay this he would bring the murderer
to justice. There is a worse wrong, for which he seeks no revenge: it
involves his wife; and there comes in love, and love knows no amends but
amendment, seeks only the repentance tenfold more needful to the wronger
than the wronged. It is not alone the father's care for the human nature
of his son that warns him to take no measures against his mother; it is
the husband's tenderness also for her who once lay in his bosom. The
murdered brother, the dethroned king, the dishonoured husband, the
tormented sinner, is yet a gentle ghost. Has suffering already begun to
make him, like Prometheus, wise?
But to measure the gentleness, the forgiveness, the tenderness of the
ghost, we must well understand his wrongs. The murder is plain; but
there is that which went before and is worse, yet is not so plain to
every eye that reads the story. There is that without which the murder
had never been, and which, therefore, is a cause of all the wrong. For
listen to what the ghost reveals when at length he has withdrawn his son
that he may speak with him alone, and Hamlet has forestalled the
disclosure of the murderer:
"Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts,
(O wicked wit and gifts that have the power
So to seduce!) won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming virtuous queen:
Oh, Hamlet, what a falling off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch, whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine!
But virtue--as it never will be moved
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage."
Reading this passage, can any one doubt that the ghost charges his late
wife with adultery, as the root of all his woes? It is true that,
obedient to the ghost's injunctions, as well as his own filial
instincts, Hamlet accuses his mother of no more than was patent to all
the world; but unless we suppose the ghost misinformed or mistaken, we
must accept this charge. And had Gertrude not yielded to the witchcraft
of Claudius' wit, Claudius would never have murdered Hamlet. Through her
his life was dishonoured, and his death violent and premature: unhuzled,
disappointed, unaneled, he woke to the air--not of his orchard-blossoms,
but of a prison-house, the lightest word of whose terrors would freeze
the blood of the listener. What few men can say, he could--that his love
to his wife had kept even step with the vow he made to her in marriage;
and his son says of him--
"so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly;"
and this was her return! Yet is it thus he charges his son concerning
"But howsoever thou pursu'st this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught; leave her to heaven,
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her."
And may we not suppose it to be for her sake in part that the ghost
insists, with fourfold repetition, upon a sword-sworn oath to silence
from Horatio and Marcellus?
Only once again does he show himself--not now in armour upon the walls,
but in his gown and in his wife's closet.
Ever since his first appearance, that is, all the time filling the
interval between the first and second acts, we may presume him to have
haunted the palace unseen, waiting what his son would do. But the task
has been more difficult than either had supposed. The ambassadors have
gone to Norway and returned; but Hamlet has done nothing. Probably he
has had no opportunity; certainly he has had no clear vision of duty.
But now all through the second and third acts, together occupying, it
must be remembered, only one day, something seems imminent. The play has
been acted, and Hamlet has gained some assurance, yet the one chance
presented of killing the king--at his prayers--he has refused. He is now
in his mother's closet, whose eyes he has turned into her very soul.
There, and then, the ghost once more appears--come, he says, to whet his
son's almost blunted purpose. But, as I have said, he does not know all
the disadvantages of one who, having forsaken the world, has yet
business therein to which he would persuade; he does not know how hard
it is for a man to give credence to a ghost; how thoroughly he is
justified in delay, and the demand for more perfect proof. He does not
know what good reasons his son has had for uncertainty, or how much
natural and righteous doubt has had to do with what he takes for the
blunting of his purpose. Neither does he know how much more tender his
son's conscience is than his own, or how necessary it is to him to be
sure before he acts. As little perhaps does he understand how hateful to
Hamlet is the task laid upon him--the killing of one wretched villain in
the midst of a corrupt and contemptible court, one of a world of whose
women his mother may be the type!
Whatever the main object of the ghost's appearance, he has spoken but a
few words concerning the matter between him and Hamlet, when he turns
abruptly from it to plead with his son for his wife. The ghost sees and
mistakes the terror of her looks; imagines that, either from some
feeling of his presence, or from the power of Hamlet's words, her
conscience is thoroughly roused, and that her vision, her conception of
the facts, is now more than she can bear. She and her fighting soul are
at odds. She is a kingdom divided against itself. He fears the
consequences. He would not have her go mad. He would not have her die
yet. Even while ready to start at the summons of that hell to which she
has sold him, he forgets his vengeance on her seducer in his desire to
comfort her. He dares not, if he could, manifest himself to her: what
word of consolation could she hear from his lips? Is not the thought of
him her one despair? He turns to his son for help: he cannot console his
wife; his son must take his place. Alas! even now he thinks better of
her than she deserves; for it is only the fancy of her son's madness
that is terrifying her: he gazes on the apparition of which she sees
nothing, and from his looks she anticipates an ungovernable outbreak.
"But look; amazement on thy mother sits!
Oh; step between her and her fighting soul
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works.
Speak to her, Hamlet."
The call to his son to soothe his wicked mother is the ghost's last
utterance. For a few moments, sadly regardful of the two, he
stands--while his son seeks in vain to reveal to his mother the presence
of his father--a few moments of piteous action, all but ruining the
remnant of his son's sorely-harassed self-possession--his whole concern
his wife's distress, and neither his own doom nor his son's duty; then,
as if lost in despair at the impassable gulf betwixt them, revealed by
her utter incapacity for even the imagination of his proximity, he turns
away, and steals out at the portal. Or perhaps he has heard the black
cock crow, and is wanted beneath: his turn has come.
Will the fires ever cleanse _her_? Will his love ever lift him above the
pain of its loss? Will eternity ever be bliss, ever be endurable to poor
Alas! even the memory of the poor ghost is insulted. Night after night
on the stage his effigy appears--cadaverous, sepulchral--no longer as
Shakspere must have represented him, aerial, shadowy, gracious, the thin
corporeal husk of an eternal--shall I say ineffaceable?--sorrow! It is
no hollow monotone that can rightly upbear such words as his, but a
sound mingled of distance and wind in the pine-tops, of agony and love,
of horror and hope and loss and judgment--a voice of endless and
sweetest inflection, yet with a shuddering echo in it as from the caves
of memory, on whose walls, are written the eternal blazon that must not
be to ears of flesh and blood. The spirit that can assume form at will
must surely be able to bend that form to completest and most delicate
expression, and the part of the ghost in the play offers work worthy of
the highest artist. The would-be actor takes from it vitality and
motion, endowing it instead with the rigidity of death, as if the soul
had resumed its cast-off garment, the stiffened and mouldy corpse--whose
frozen deadness it could ill model to the utterance of its lively will!
ON POLISH. [Footnote: 1865]
By Polish I mean a certain well-known and immediately recognizable
condition of surface. But I must request my reader to consider well what
this condition really is. For the definition of it appears to us to be,
that condition of surface which allows the inner structure of the
material to manifest itself. Polish is, as it were, a translucent skin,
in which the life of the inorganic comes to the surface, as in the
animal skin the animal life. Once clothed in this, the inner glories of
the marble rock, of the jasper, of the porphyry, leave the darkness
behind, and glow into the day. From the heart of the agate the mossy
landscape comes dreaming out. From the depth of the green chrysolite
looks up the eye of its gold. The "goings on of life" hidden for ages
under the rough bark of the patient forest-trees, are brought to light;
the rings of lovely shadow which the creature went on making in the
dark, as the oyster its opaline laminations, and its tree-pearls of
beautiful knots, where a beneficent disease has broken the geometrical
perfection of its structure, gloom out in their infinite variousness.
Nor are the revelations of polish confined to things having variety in
their internal construction; they operate equally in things of
homogeneous structure. It is the polished ebony or jet which gives the
true blank, the material darkness. It is the polished steel that shines
keen and remorseless and cold, like that human justice whose symbol it
is. And in the polished diamond the distinctive purity is most evident;
while from it, I presume, will the light absorbed from the sun gleam
forth on the dark most plentifully.
But the mere fact that the end of polish is revelation, can hardly be
worth setting forth except for some ulterior object, some further
revelation in the fact itself.--I wish to show that in the symbolic use
of the word the same truth is involved, or, if not involved, at least
suggested. But let me first make another remark on the preceding
definition of the word.
There is no denying that the first notion suggested by the word polish
is that of smoothness, which will indeed be the sole idea associated
with it before we begin to contemplate the matter. But when we consider
what things are chosen to be "clothed upon" with this smoothness, then
we find that the smoothness is scarcely desired for its own sake, and
remember besides that in many materials and situations it is elaborately
avoided. We find that here it is sought because of its faculty of
enabling other things to show themselves--to come to the surface.
I proceed then to examine how far my pregnant interpretation of the word
will apply to its figurative use in two cases--_Polish of Style_, and
_Polish of Manners_. The two might be treated together, seeing that
_Style_ may be called the manners of intellectual utterance, and
_Manners_ the style of social utterance; but it is more convenient to
treat them separately.
I will begin with the Polish of Style.
It will be seen at once that if the notion of polish be limited to that
of smoothness, there can be little to say on the matter, and nothing
worthy of being said. For mere smoothness is no more a desirable quality
in a style than it is in a country or a countenance; and its pursuit
will result at length in the gain of the monotonous and the loss of the
melodious and harmonious. But it is only upon worthless material that
polish can be _mere_ smoothness; and where the material is not valuable,
polish can be nothing but smoothness. No amount of polish in a style can
render the production of value, except there be in it embodied thought
thereby revealed; and the labour of the polish is lost. Let us then take
the fuller meaning of polish, and see how it will apply to style.
If it applies, then Polish of Style will imply the approximately
complete revelation of the thought. It will be the removal of everything
that can interfere between the thought of the speaker and the mind of
the hearer. True polish in marble or in speech reveals inlying
realities, and, in the latter at least, mere smoothness, either of sound
or of meaning, is not worthy of the name. The most polished style will
be that which most immediately and most truly flashes the meaning
embodied in the utterance upon the mind of the listener or reader.
"Will you then," I imagine a reader objecting, "admit of no ornament in
"Assuredly," I answer, "I would admit of no ornament whatever."
But let me explain what I mean by ornament. I mean anything stuck in or
on, like a spangle, because it is pretty in itself, although it reveals
nothing. Not one such ornament can belong to a polished style. It is
paint, not polish. And if this is not what my questioner means by
_ornament_, my answer must then be read according to the differences in
his definition of the word. What I have said has not the least
application to the natural forms of beauty which thought assumes in
speech. Between such beauty and such ornament there lies the same
difference as between the overflow of life in the hair, and the dressing
of that loveliest of utterances in grease and gold.
For, when I say that polish is the removal of everything that comes
between thought and thinking, it must not be supposed that in my idea
thought is only of the intellect, and therefore that all forms but bare
intellectual forms are of the nature of ornament. As well might one say
that the only essential portion of the human form is the bones. And
every human thought is in a sense a human being, has as necessarily its
muscles of motion, its skin of beauty, its blood of feeling, as its
skeleton of logic. For complete utterance, music itself in its right
proportions, sometimes clear and strong, as in rhymed harmonies,
sometimes veiled and dim, as in the prose compositions of the masters of
speech, is as necessary as correctness of logic, and common sense in
construction. I should have said _conveyance_ rather than utterance; for
there may be utterance such as to relieve the mind of the speaker with
more or less of fancied communication, while the conveyance of thought
may be little or none; as in the speaking with tongues of the infant
Church, to which the lovely babblement of our children has probably more
than a figurative resemblance, relieving their own minds, but, the
interpreter not yet at his post, neither instructing nor misleading any
one. But as the object of grown-up speech must in the main be the
conveyance of thought, and not the mere utterance, everything in the
style of that speech which interposes between the mental eyes and the
thought embodied in the speech, must be polished away, that the
indwelling life may manifest itself.
What, then (for now we must come to the practical), is the kind of thing
to be polished away in order that the hidden may be revealed?
All words that can be dismissed without loss; for all such more or less
obscure the meaning upon which they gather. The first step towards the
polishing of most styles is to strike out--polish off--the useless words
and phrases. It is wonderful with how many fewer words most things could
be said that are said; while the degree of certainty and rapidity with
which an idea is conveyed would generally be found to be in an inverse
ratio to the number of words employed.
All ornaments so called--the nose and lip jewels of style--the tattooing
of the speech; all similes that, although true, give no additional
insight into the meaning; everything that is only pretty and not
beautiful; all mere sparkle as of jewels that lose their own beauty by
being set in the grandeur of statues or the dignity of monumental stone,
must be ruthlessly polished away.
All utterances which, however they may add to the amount of thought,
distract the mind, and confuse its observation of the main idea, the
essence or life of the book or paper, must be diligently refused. In the
manuscript of _Comus_ there exists, cancelled but legible, a passage of
which I have the best authority for saying that it would have made the
poetic fame of any writer. But the grand old self-denier struck it out
of the opening speech because that would be more polished without
it--because the _Attendant Spirit_ would say more immediately and
exclusively, and therefore more completely, what he had to say, without
it.--All this applies much more widely and deeply in the region of art;
but I am at present dealing with the surface of style, not with the
round of result.
I have one instance at hand, however, belonging to this region, than
which I could scarcely produce a more apt illustration of my thesis. One
of the greatest of living painters, walking with a friend through the
late Exhibition of Art-Treasures at Manchester, came upon Albert Duerer's
_Melancholia_. After looking at it for a moment, he told his friend that
now for the first time he understood it, and proceeded to set forth what
he saw in it. It was a very early impression, and the delicacy of the
lines was so much the greater. He had never seen such a perfect
impression before, and had never perceived the intent and scope of the
engraving. The mere removal of accidental thickness and furriness in the
lines of the drawing enabled him to see into the meaning of that
wonderful production. The polish brought it to the surface. Or, what
amounts to the same thing for my argument, the dulling of the surface
had concealed it even from his experienced eyes.
In fine, and more generally, all cause whatever of obscurity must be
polished away. There may lie in the matter itself a darkness of colour
and texture which no amount of polishing can render clear or even vivid;
the thoughts themselves may be hard to think, and difficulty must not be
confounded with obscurity. The former belongs to the thoughts
themselves; the latter to the mode of their embodiment. All cause of
obscurity in this must, I say, be removed. Such may lie even in the
region of grammar, or in the mere arrangement of a sentence. And while,
as I have said, no ornament is to be allowed, so all roughnesses, which
irritate the mental ear, and so far incapacitate it for receiving a true
impression of the meaning from the words, must be carefully reduced. For
the true music of a sentence, belonging as it does to the essence of the
thought itself, is the herald which goes before to prepare the mind for
the following thought, calming the surface of the intellect to a
mirror-like reflection of the image about to fall upon it. But syllables
that hang heavy on the tongue and grate harsh upon the ear are the
trumpet of discord rousing to unconscious opposition and conscious
And now the consideration of the Polish of Manners will lead us to some
yet more important reflections. Here again I must admit that the
ordinary use of the phrase is analogous to that of the preceding; but
its relations lead us deep into realities. For as diamond alone can
polish diamond, so men alone can polish men; and hence it is that it was
first by living in a city ([Greek: polis], _polis_) that men--
"rubbed each other's angles down,"
and became _polished_. And while a certain amount of ease with regard to
ourselves and of consideration with regard to others is everywhere
necessary to a man's passing as a gentleman--all unevenness of behaviour
resulting either from shyness or self-consciousness (in the shape of
awkwardness), or from overweening or selfishness (in the shape of
rudeness), having to be polished away--true human polish must go further
than this. Its respects are not confined to the manners of the ball-room
or the dinner-table, of the club or the exchange, but wherever a man may
rejoice with them that rejoice or weep with them that weep, he must
remain one and the same, as polished to the tiller of the soil as to the
leader of the fashion.
But how will the figure of material polish aid us any further? How can
it be said that Polish of Manners is a revelation of that which is
within, a calling up to the surface of the hidden loveliness of the
material? For do we not know that courtesy may cover contempt; that
smiles themselves may hide hate; that one who will place you at his
right hand when in want of your inferior aid, may scarce acknowledge
your presence when his necessity has gone by? And how then can polished
manners be a revelation of what is within? Are they not the result of
putting on rather than of taking off? Are they not paint and varnish
rather than polish?
I must yield the answer to each of these questions; protesting, however,
that with such polish I have nothing to do; for these manners are
confessedly false. But even where least able to mislead, they are, with
corresponding courtesy, accepted as outward signs of an inward grace.
Hence even such, by the nature of their falsehood, support my position.
For in what forms are the colours of the paint laid upon the surface of
the material? Is it not in as near imitations of the real right human
feelings about oneself and others as the necessarily imperfect knowledge
of such an artist can produce? He will not encounter the labour of
polishing, for he does not believe in the divine depths of his own
nature: he paints, and calls the varnish polish.
"But why talk of polish with reference to such a character, seeing that
no amount of polishing can bring to the surface what is not there? No
polishing of sandstone will reveal the mottling of marble. For it is
sandstone, crumbling and gritty--not noble in any way."
Is it so then? Can such be the real nature of the man? And can polish
reach nothing deeper in him than such? May not this selfishness be
polished away, revealing true colour and harmony beneath? Was not the
man made in the image of God? Or, if you say that man lost that image,
did not a new process of creation begin from the point of that loss, a
process of re-creation in him in whom all shall be made alive, which,
although so far from being completed yet, can never be checked? If we
cut away deep enough at the rough block of our nature, shall we not
arrive at some likeness of that true man who, the apostle says, dwells
in us--the hope of glory? He informs us--that is, forms us from within.
Dr. Donne (who knew less than any other writer in the English language
what Polish of Style means) recognizes this divine polishing to the
full. He says in a poem called "The Cross:"--
As perchance carvers do not faces make,
But that away, which hid them there, do take,
Let Crosses so take what hid Christ in thee,
And be his Image, or not his, but He.
This is no doubt a higher figure than that of _polish_, but it is of the
same kind, revealing the same truth. It recognizes the fact that the
divine nature lies at the root of the human nature, and that the polish
which lets that spiritual nature shine out in the simplicity of heavenly
childhood, is the true Polish of Manners of which all merely social
refinements are a poor imitation.--Whence Coleridge says that nothing
but religion can make a man a gentleman.--And when these harmonies of
our nature come to the surface, we shall be indeed "lively stones," fit
for building into the great temple of the universe, and echoing the
music of creation. Dr. Donne recognizes, besides, the notable fact that
_crosses_ or afflictions are the polishing powers by means of which the
beautiful realities of human nature are brought to the surface. One can
tell at once by the peculiar loveliness of certain persons that they
But, to look for a moment less profoundly into the matter, have we not
known those whose best never could get to the surface just from the lack
of polish?--persons who, if they could only reveal the kindness of
their nature, would make men believe in human nature, but in whom some
roughness of awkwardness or of shyness prevents the true self from
appearing? Even the dread of seeming to claim a good deed or to
patronize a fellow-man will sometimes spoil the last touch of tenderness
which would have been the final polish of the act of giving, and would
have revealed infinite depths of human devotion. For let the truth out,
and it will be seen to be true.
Simplicity is the end of all Polish, as of all Art, Culture, Morals,
Religion, and Life. The Lord our God is one Lord, and we and our
brothers and sisters are one Humanity, one Body of the Head.
Now to the practical: what are we to do for the polish of our manners?
Just what I have said we must do for the polish of our style. Take off;
do not put on. Polish away this rudeness, that awkwardness. Correct
everything self-assertive, which includes nine tenths of all vulgarity.
Imitate no one's behaviour; that is to paint. Do not think about
yourself; that is to varnish. Put what is wrong right, and what is in
you will show itself in harmonious behaviour.
But no one can go far in this track without discovering that true polish
reaches much deeper; that the outward exists but for the sake of the
inward; and that the manners, as they depend on the morals, must be
forgotten in the morals of which they are but the revelation. Look at
the high-shouldered, ungainly child in the corner: his mother tells him
to go to his book, and he wants to go to his play. Regard the swollen
lips, the skin tightened over the nose, the distortion of his shape, the
angularity of his whole appearance. Yet he is not an awkward child by
nature. Look at him again the moment after he has given in and kissed
his mother. His shoulders have dropped to their place; his limbs are
free from the fetters that bound them; his motions are graceful, and the
one blends harmoniously with the other. He is no longer thinking of
himself. He has given up his own way. The true childhood comes to the
surface, and you see what the boy is meant to be always. Look at the
jerkiness of the conceited man. Look at the quiet _fluency_ of motion in
the modest man. Look how anger itself which forgets self, which is
unhating and righteous, will elevate the carriage and ennoble the
But how far can the same rule of _omission_ or _rejection_ be applied
with safety to this deeper character--the manners of the spirit?
It seems to me that in morals too the main thing is to avoid doing
wrong; for then the active spirit of life in us will drive us on to the
right. But on such a momentous question I would not be dogmatic. Only as
far as regards the feelings I would say: it is of no use to try to make
ourselves feel thus or thus. Let us fight with our wrong feelings; let
us polish away the rough ugly distortions of feeling. Then the real and
the good will come of themselves. Or rather, to keep to my figure, they
will then show themselves of themselves as the natural home-produce, the
indwelling facts of our deepest--that is, our divine nature.
Here I find that I am sinking through my subject into another and
deeper--a truth, namely, which should, however, be the foundation of all
our building, the background of all our representations: that Life is at
work in us--the sacred Spirit of God travailing in us. That Spirit has
gained one end of his labour--at which he can begin to do yet more for
us--when he has brought us to beg for the help which he has been giving
us all the time.
I have been regarding infinite things through the medium of one limited
figure, knowing that figures with all their suggestions and relations
could not reveal them utterly. But so far as they go, these thoughts
raised by the word Polish and its figurative uses appear to me to be
BROWNING'S "CHRISTMAS EVE" [Footnote: 1853.]
"Poems are painted window panes.
If one looks from the square into the church,
Dusk and dimness are his gains--
Sir Philistine is left in the lurch!
The sight, so seen, may well enrage him,
Nor anything henceforth assuage him.
"But come just inside what conceals;
Cross the holy threshold quite--
All at once 'tis rainbow-bright,
Device and story flash to light,
A gracious splendour truth reveals.
This to God's children is full measure,
It edifies and gives you pleasure!"
This is true concerning every form in which truth is embodied, whether
it be sight or sound, geometric diagram or scientific formula.
Unintelligible, it may be dismal enough, regarded from the outside;
prismatic in its revelation of truth from within. Such is the world
itself, as beheld by the speculative eye; a thing of disorder,
obscurity, and sadness: only the child-like heart, to which the door
into the divine idea is thrown open, can understand somewhat the secret
of the Almighty. In human things it is particularly true of art, in
which the fundamental idea seems to be the revelation of the true
through the beautiful. But of all the arts it is most applicable to
poetry; for the others have more that is beautiful on the outside; can
give pleasure to the senses by the form of the marble, the hues of the
painting, or the sweet sounds of the music, although the heart may never
perceive the meaning that lies within. But poetry, except its rhythmic
melody, and its scattered gleams of material imagery, for which few care
that love it not for its own sake, has no attraction on the outside to
entice the passer to enter and partake of its truth. It is inwards that
its colours shine, within that its forms move, and the sound of its holy
organ cannot be heard from without.
Now, if one has been able to reach the heart of a poem, answering to
Goethe's parabolic description; or even to discover a loop-hole, through
which, from an opposite point, the glories of its stained windows are
visible; it is well that he should seek to make others partakers in his
pleasure and profit. Some who might not find out for themselves, would
yet be evermore grateful to him who led them to the point of vision.
Surely if a man would help his fellow-men, he can do so far more
effectually by exhibiting truth than exposing error, by unveiling beauty
than by a critical dissection of deformity. From the very nature of the
things it must be so. Let the true and good destroy their opposites. It
is only by the good and beautiful that the evil and ugly are known. It
is the light that makes manifest.
The poem "Christmas Eve," by Robert Browning, with the accompanying poem
"Easter Day," seems not to have attracted much notice from the readers
of poetry, although highly prized by a few. This is, perhaps, to be
attributed, in a great measure, to what many would call a considerable
degree of obscurity. But obscurity is the appearance which to a first
glance may be presented either by profundity or carelessness of thought.
To some, obscurity itself is attractive, from the hope that worthiness
is the cause of it. To apply a test similar to that by which Pascal
tries the Koran and the Scriptures: what is the character of those
portions, the meaning of which is plain? Are they wise or foolish? If
the former, the presumption is that the obscurity of other parts is
caused not by opacity, but profundity. But some will object,
notwithstanding, that a writer ought to make himself plain to his
readers; nay, that if he has a clear idea himself, he must be able to
express that idea clearly. But for communion of thought, two minds, not
one, are necessary. The fault may lie in him that receives or in him
that gives, or it may be in neither. For how can the result of much
thought, the idea which for mouths has been shaping itself in the mind
of one man, be at once received by another mind to which it comes a
stranger and unexpected? The reader has no right to complain of so
caused obscurity. Nor is that form of expression, which is most easily
understood at first sight, necessarily the best. It will not, therefore,
continue to move; nor will it gather force and influence with more
intimate acquaintance. Here Goethe's little parable, as he calls it, is
peculiarly applicable. But, indeed, if after all a writer is obscure,
the man who has spent most labour in seeking to enter into his thoughts,
will be the least likely to complain of his obscurity; and they who have
the least difficulty in understanding a writer, are frequently those who
understand him the least.
To those to whom the religion of Christ has been the law of liberty; who
by that door have entered into the universe of God, and have begun to
feel a growing delight in all the manifestations of God, it is cause of
much joy to find that, whatever may be the position taken by men of
science, or by those in whom the intellect predominates, with regard to
the Christian religion, men of genius, at least, in virtue of what is
child-like in their nature, are, in the present time, plainly
manifesting deep devotion to Christ. There are exceptions, certainly;
but even in those, there are symptoms of feelings which, one can hardly
help thinking, tend towards him, and will one day flame forth in
conscious worship. A mind that recognizes any of the multitudinous
meanings of the revelation of God, in the world of sounds, and forms,
and colours, cannot be blind to the higher manifestation of God in
common humanity; nor to him in whom is hid the key to the whole, the
First-born of the creation of God, in whose heart lies, as yet but
partially developed, the kingdom of heaven, which is the redemption of
the earth. The mind that delights in that which is lofty and great,
which feels there is something higher than self, will undoubtedly be
drawn towards Christ; and they, who at first looked on him as a great
prophet, came at length to perceive that he was the radiation of the
Father's glory, the likeness of his unseen being.
A description of the poem may, perhaps, both induce to the reading of
it, and contribute to its easier comprehension while being perused. On a
stormy Christmas Eve, the poet, or rather the seer (for the whole must
be regarded as a poetic vision), is compelled to take refuge in the
"lath and plaster entry" of a little chapel, belonging to a congregation
of Calvinistic Methodists, who are at the time assembling for worship.
Wonderful in its reality is the description of various of the flock that
pass him as they enter the chapel, from
Little old-faced, peaking sister-turned-mother
Of the sickly babe she tried to smother
Somehow up, with its spotted face,
From the cold, on her breast, the one warm place:"
to the "shoemaker's lad;" whom he follows, determined not to endure the
inquisition of their looks any longer, into the chapel. The humour of
the whole scene within is excellent. The stifling closeness, both of the
atmosphere and of the sermon, the wonderful content of the audience, the
"old fat woman," who
"purred with pleasure,
And thumb round thumb went twirling faster,
While she, to his periods keeping measure,
Maternally devoured the pastor;"
are represented by a few rapid touches that bring certain points of the
reality almost unpleasantly near. At length, unable to endure it longer,
he rushes out into the air. Objection may, probably, be made to the
mingling of the humorous, even the ridiculous, with the serious; at
least, in a work of art like this, where they must be brought into such
close proximity. But are not these things as closely connected in the
world as they can be in any representation of it? Surely there are few
who have never had occasion to attempt to reconcile the thought of the
two in their own minds. Nor can there be anything human that is not, in
some connexion or other, admissible into art. The widest idea of art
must comprehend all things. A work of this kind must, like God's world,
in which he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, be taken as a
whole and in regard to its design. The requisition is, that everything
introduced have a relation to the adjacent parts and to the whole
suitable to the design. Here the thing is real, is true, is human; a
thing to be thought about. It has its place amongst other phenomena,
with which, however apparently incongruous, it is yet vitally connected
A coolness and delight visit us, on turning over the page and commencing
to read the description of sky, and moon, and clouds, which greet him
outside the chapel. It is as a vision of the vision-bearing world
itself, in one of its fine, though not, at first, one of its rarest
moods. And here a short digression to notice like feelings in unlike
dresses, one thought differently expressed will, perhaps, be pardoned.
The moon is prevented from shining out by the "blocks" of cloud "built
up in the west:"--
"And the empty other half of the sky
Seemed in its silence as if it knew
What, any moment, might look through
A chance-gap in that fortress massy."
Old Henry Vaughan says of the "Dawning:"--
"The whole Creation shakes off night,
And for thy shadow looks the Light;
Stars now vanish without number,
Sleepie Planets set and slumber,
The pursie Clouds disband and scatter,
_All expect some sudden matter_."
Calmness settles down on his mind. He walks on, thinking of the scene he
had left, and the sermon he had heard. In the latter he sees the good
and the bad intimately mingled; and is convinced that the chief benefit
derived from it is a reproducing of former impressions. The thought
crosses him, in how many places and how many different forms the same
thing takes place, "a convincing" of the "convinced;" and he rejoices in
the contrast which his church presents to these; for in the church of
Nature his love to God, assurance of God's love to him, and confidence
in the design of God regarding him, commenced. While exulting in God and
the knowledge of Him to be attained hereafter, he is favoured with a
sight of a glorious moon-rainbow, which elevates his worship to ecstasy.
"All at once I looked up with terror--
He was there.
He himself with His human air,
On the narrow pathway, just before:
I saw the back of Him, no more--
He had left the chapel, then, as I.
I forgot all about the sky.
No face: only the sight
Of a sweepy garment, vast and white,
With a hem that I could recognize.
I felt terror, no surprise:
My mind filled with the cataract,
At one bound, of the mighty fact.
I remembered, He did say
Doubtless, that, to this world's end,
Where two or three should meet and pray,
He would be in the midst, their friend:
Certainly He was there with them.
And my pulses leaped for joy
Of the golden thought without alloy,
That I saw His very vesture's hem.
Then rushed the blood back, cold and clear,
With a fresh enhancing shiver of fear."
Praying for forgiveness wherein he has sinned, and prostrate in
adoration before the form of Christ, he is "caught up in the whirl and
drift" of his vesture, and carried along with him over the earth.
Stopping at length at the entrance of St. Peter's in Rome, he remains
outside, while the form disappears within. He is able, however, to see
all that goes on, in the crowded, hushed interior. It is high mass. He
has been carried at once from the little chapel to the opposite
aesthetic pole. From the entry, where--
"The flame of the single tallow candle
In the cracked square lanthorn I stood under
Shot its blue lip at me,"
"This miraculous dome of God--
With arms wide open to embrace
The entry of the human race
To the breast of.... what is it, yon building,
Ablaze in front, all paint and gilding,
With marble for brick, and stones of price
For garniture of the edifice?"
to "those fountains"--
"Growing up eternally
Each to a musical water-tree,
Whose blossoms drop, a glittering boon,
Before my eyes, in the light of the moon,
To the granite lavers underneath;"
from the singing of the chapel to the organ self-restrained, that "holds
his breath and grovels latent," while expecting the elevation of the
Host. Christ is within; he is left without. Reflecting on the matter, he
thinks his Lord would not require him to go in, though he himself
entered, because there was a way to reach him there. By-and-by, however,
his heart awakes and declares that Love goes beyond error with them, and
if the Intellect be kept down, yet Love is the oppressor; so next time
he resolves to enter and praise along with them. The passage commencing,
"Oh, love of those first Christian days!" describing Love's victory over
Intellect, is very fine.
Again he is caught up and carried along as before. This time halt is
made at the door of a college in a German town, in which the class-room
of one of the professors is open for lecture this Christmas Eve. It is,
intellectually considered, the opposite pole to both the Methodist
chapel and the Roman Basilica. The poet enters, fearful of losing the
society of "any that call themselves his friends." He describes the
assembled company, and the entrance of "the hawk-nosed, high-cheek-boned
professor," of part of whose Christmas Eve's discourse he proceeds to
give the substance. The professor takes it for granted that "plainly no
such life was liveable," and goes on to inquire what explanation of the
phenomena of the life of Christ it were best to adopt. Not that it
mattered much, "so the idea be left the same." Taking the popular story,
for convenience sake, and separating all extraneous matter from it, he
found that Christ was simply a good man, with an honest, true heart;
whose disciples thought him divine; and whose doctrine, though quite
mistaken by those who received and published it, "had yet a meaning
quite as respectable." Here the poet takes advantage of a pause to leave
him; reflecting that though the air may be poisoned by the sects, yet
here "the critic leaves no air to poison." His meditations and arguments
following, are among the most valuable passages in the book. The
professor, notwithstanding the idea of Christ has by him been exhausted
of all that is peculiar to it, yet recommends him to the veneration and
worship of his hearers, "rather than all who went before him, and all
who ever followed after." But why? says the poet. For his intellect,
"Which tells me simply what was told
(If mere morality, bereft
Of the God in Christ, be all that's left)
Elsewhere by voices manifold?"
with which must be combined the fact that this intellect of his did not
save him from making the "important stumble," of saying that he and God
were one. "But his followers misunderstood him," says the objector.
Perhaps so; but "the stumbling-block, his speech, who laid it?" Well
then, is it on the score of his goodness that he should rule his race?
Your fealty to such rule? What, all--
From Heavenly John and Attic Paul,
And that brave weather-battered Peter,
Whose stout faith only stood completer
For buffets, sinning to be pardoned,
As the more his hands hauled nets, they hardened--
All, down to you, the man of men,
Professing here at Goettingen,
Compose Christ's flock! So, you and I
Are sheep of a good man! And why?"
Did Christ _invent_ goodness? or did he only demonstrate that of which
the common conscience was judge?
"I would decree
Worship for such mere demonstration
And simple work of nomenclature,
Only the day I praised, not Nature,
But Harvey, for the circulation."
The worst man, says the poet, _knows_ more than the best man _does_. God
in Christ appeared to men to help them to _do_, to awaken the life
"Morality to the uttermost,
Supreme in Christ as we all confess,
Why need _we_ prove would avail no jot
To make Him God, if God he were not?
What is the point where Himself lays stress?
Does the precept run, 'Believe in good,
In justice, truth, now understood
For the first time?'--or, 'Believe in ME,
Who lived and died, yet essentially
Am Lord of life'? Whoever can take
The same to his heart, and for mere love's sake
Conceive of the love,--that man obtains
A new truth; no conviction gains
Of an old one only, made intense
By a fresh appeal to his faded sense."
In this lies the most direct practical argument with regard to what is
commonly called the Divinity of Christ. Here is a man whom those that
magnify him the least confess to be a good man, the best of men. He
_says_, "I and the Father are one." Will an earnest heart, knowing this,
be likely to draw back, or will it draw nearer to behold the great
sight? Will not such a heart feel: "A good man like this would not have
said so, were it not so. In all probability the great truth of God lies
behind this veil." The reality of Christ's nature is not to be proved by
argument. He must be beheld. The manifestation of Him must "gravitate
inwards" on the soul. It is by looking that one can know. As a
mathematical theorem is to be proved only by the demonstration of that
theorem itself, not by talking _about_ it; so Christ must prove himself
to the human soul through being beheld. The only proof of Christ's
divinity is his humanity. Because his humanity is not comprehended, his
divinity is doubted; and while the former is uncomprehended, an assent
to the latter is of little avail. For a man to theorize theologically in
any form, while he has not so apprehended Christ, or to neglect the
gazing on him for the attempt to substantiate to himself any form of
belief respecting him, is to bring on himself, in a matter of divine
import, such errors as the expounders of nature in old time brought on
themselves, when they speculated on what a thing must be, instead of
observing what it was; this _must be_ having for its foundation not
self-evident truth, but notions whose chief strength lay in their
preconception. There are thoughts and feelings that cannot be called up
in the mind by any power of will or force of imagination; which, being
spiritual, must arise in the soul when in its highest spiritual
condition; when the mind, indeed, like a smooth lake, reflects only
heavenly images. A steadfast regarding of Him will produce this calm,
and His will be the heavenly form reflected from the mental depth.
But to return to the poem. The fact that Christ remains inside, leads
the poet to reflect, in the spirit of Him who found all the good in men
he could, neglecting no point of contact which presented itself, whether
there was anything at this lecture with which he could sympathize; and
he finds that the heart of the professor does something to rescue him
from the error of his brain. In his brain, even, "if Love's dead there,
it has left a ghost." For when the natural deduction from his argument
would be that our faith
"Be swept forthwith to its natural dust-hole,--
He bids us, when we least expect it,
Take back our faith--if it be not just whole,
Yet a pearl indeed, as his tests affect it,
Which fact pays the damage done rewardingly,
So, prize we our dust and ashes accordingly!"
Love as well as learning being necessary to the understanding of the New
Testament, it is to the poet matter of regret that "loveless learning"
should leave its proper work, and make such havoc in that which belongs
not to it. But while he sits "talking with his mind," his mood begins to
degenerate from sympathy with that which is good to indifference towards
all forms, and he feels inclined to rest quietly in the enjoyment of his
own religious confidence, and trouble himself in no wise about the faith
of his neighbours; for doubtless all are partakers of the central light,
though variously refracted by the varied translucency of the mental
"'Twas the horrible storm began afresh!
The black night caught me in his mesh,
Whirled me up, and flung me prone!
I was left on the college-step alone.
I looked, and far there, ever fleeting
Far, far away, the receding gesture,
And looming of the lessening vesture,
Swept forward from my stupid hand,
While I watched my foolish heart expand
In the lazy glow of benevolence
O'er the various modes of man's belief.
I sprang up with fear's vehemence.
--Needs must there be one way, our chief
Best way of worship: let me strive
To find it, and when found, contrive
My fellows also take their share.
This constitutes my earthly care:
God's is above it and distinct!"
The symbolism in the former part of this extract is grand. As soon as he
ceases to look practically on the phenomena with which he is surrounded,
he is enveloped in storm and darkness, and sees only in the far distance
the disappearing skirt of his Lord's garment. God's care is over all, he
goes on to say; I must do _my part_. If I look speculatively on the
world, there is nothing but dimness and mystery. If I look practically
"No mere mote's-breadth, but teems immense
With witnessings of Providence."
And whether the world which I seek to help censures or praises me--that
is nothing to me. My life--how is it with me?
"Soul of mine, hadst thou caught and held
By the hem of the vesture....
And I caught
At the flying robe, and, unrepelled,
Was lapped again in its folds full-fraught
With warmth and wonder and delight,
God's mercy being infinite.
And scarce had the words escaped my tongue,
When, at a passionate bound, I sprung
Out of the wandering world of rain,
Into the little chapel again."
Had he dreamed? how then could he report of the sermon and the preacher?
of which and of whom he proceeds to give a very external account. But
"Ha! Is God mocked, as He asks?
Shall I take on me to change his tasks,
And dare, despatched to a river-head
For a simple draught of the element,
Neglect the thing for which He sent,
And return with another thing instead!
Saying .... 'Because the water found
Welling up from underground,
Is mingled with the taints of earth,
While Thou, I know, dost laugh at dearth,
And couldest, at a word, convulse
The world with the leap of its river-pulse,--
Therefore I turned from the oozings muddy,
And bring thee a chalice I found, instead.
See the brave veins in the breccia ruddy!
One would suppose that the marble bled.
What matters the water? A hope I have nursed,
That the waterless cup will quench my thirst.'
--Better have knelt at the poorest stream
That trickles in pain from the straitest rift!
For the less or the more is all God's gift,
Who blocks up or breaks wide the granite seam.
And here, is there water or not, to drink?"
He comes to the conclusion, that the best for him is that mode of
worship which partakes the least of human forms, and brings him nearest
to the spiritual; and, while expressing good wishes for the Pope and the
"Meantime, in the still recurring fear
Lest myself, at unawares, be found,
While attacking the choice of my neighbours round,
Without my own made--I choose here!"
He therefore joins heartily in the hymn which is sung by the
congregation of the little chapel at the close of their worship. And
this concludes the poem.
What is the central point from which this poem can be regarded? It does
not seem to be very hard to find. Novalis has said: "Die Philosophie ist
eigentlich Heimweh, ein Trieb ueberall zu Hause zu sein." (Philosophy is
really home-sickness, an impulse to be at home everywhere.) The life of
a man here, if life it be, and not the vain image of what might be a
life, is a continual attempt to find his place, his centre of
recipiency, and active agency. He wants to know where he is, and where
he ought to be and can be; for, rightly considered, the position a man
ought to occupy is the only one he truly _can_ occupy. It is a climbing
and striving to reach that point of vision where the multiplex crossings
and apparent intertwistings of the lines of fact and feeling and duty
shall manifest themselves as a regular and symmetrical design. A
contradiction, or a thing unrelated, is foreign and painful to him, even
as the rocky particle in the gelatinous substance of the oyster; and,
like the latter, he can only rid himself of it by encasing it in the
pearl-like enclosure of faith; believing that hidden there lies the
necessity for a higher theory of the universe than has yet been
generated in his soul. The quest for this home-centre, in the man who
has faith, is calm and ceaseless; in the man whose faith is weak, it is
stormy and intermittent. Unhappy is that man, of necessity, whose
perceptions are keener than his faith is strong. Everywhere Nature
herself is putting strange questions to him; the human world is full of
dismay and confusion; his own conscience is bewildered by contradictory
appearances; all which may well happen to the man whose eye is not yet
single, whose heart is not yet pure. He is not at home; his soul is
astray amid people of a strange speech and a stammering tongue. But the
faithful man is led onward; in the stillness that his confidence
produces arise the bright images of truth; and visions of God, which are
only beheld in solitary places, are granted to his soul.
"O struggling with the darkness all the night,
And visited all night by troops of stars!"
What is true of the whole, is true of its parts. In all the relations of
life, in all the parts of the great whole of existence, the true man is
ever seeking his home. This poem seems to show us such a quest. "Here I
am in the midst of many who belong to the same family. They differ in
education, in habits, in forms of thought; but they are called by the
same name. What position with regard to them am I to assume? I am a
Christian; how am I to live in relation to Christians?" Such seems to be
something like the poet's thought. What central position can he gain,
which, while it answers best the necessities of his own soul with regard
to God, will enable him to feel himself connected with the whole
Christian world, and to sympathize with all; so that he may not be
alone, but one of the whole. Certainly the position necessary for both
requirements is one and the same. He that is isolated from his brethren,
loses one of the greatest helps to draw near to God. Now, in this time,
which is so peculiarly transitional, this is a question of no little
import for all who, while they gladly forsake old, or rather _modern_,
theories, for what is to them a more full development of Christianity as
well as a return to the fountain-head, yet seek to be saved from the
danger of losing sympathy with those who are content with what they are
compelled to abandon. Seeing much in the common modes of thought and
belief that is inconsistent with Christianity, and even opposed to it,
they yet cannot but see likewise in many of them a power of spiritual
good; which, though not dependent on the peculiar mode, is yet
enveloped, if not embodied, in that mode.
"Ask, else, these ruins of humanity,
This flesh worn out to rags and tatters,
This soul at struggle with insanity,
Who thence take comfort, can I doubt,
Which an empire gained, were a loss without."
The love of God is the soul of Christianity. Christ is the body of that
truth. The love of God is the creating and redeeming, the forming and
satisfying power of the universe. The love of God is that which kills
evil and glorifies goodness. It is the safety of the great whole. It is
the home-atmosphere of all life. Well does the poet of the "Christmas
"The loving worm within its clod,
Were diviner than a loveless God
Amid his worlds, I will dare to say."
Surely then, inasmuch as man is made in the image of God nothing less
than a love in the image of God's love, all-embracing, quietly excusing,
heartily commending, can constitute the blessedness of man; a love not
insensible to that which is foreign to it, but overcoming it with good.
Where man loves in his kind, even as God loves in His kind, then man is
saved, then he has reached the unseen and eternal. But if, besides the
necessity to love that lies in a man, there be likewise in the man whom
he ought to love something in common with him, then the law of love has
increased force. If that point of sympathy lies at the centre of the
being of each, and if these centres are brought into contact, then the
circles of their being will be, if not coincident, yet concentric. We
must wait patiently for the completion of God's great harmony, and
meantime love everywhere and as we can.
But the great lesson which this poem teaches, and which is taught more
directly in the "Easter Day" (forming part of the same volume), is that
the business of a man's life is to be a Christian. A man has to do with
God first; in Him only can he find the unity and harmony he seeks. To be
one with Him is to be at the centre of things. If one acknowledges that
God has revealed himself in Christ; that God has recognized man as his
family, by appearing among them in their form; surely that very
acknowledgment carries with it the admission that man's chief concern is
with this revelation. What does God say and mean, teach and manifest,
herein? If this world is God's making, and he is present in all nature;
if he rules all things and is present in all history; if the soul of man
is in his image, with all its circles of thought and multiplicity of
forms; and if for man it be not enough to be rooted in God, but he must
likewise lay hold on God; then surely no question, in whatever
direction, can be truly answered, save by him who stands at the side of
Christ. The doings of God cannot be understood, save by him who has the
mind of Christ, which is the mind of God. All things must be strange to
one who sympathizes not with the thought of the Maker, who understands
not the design of the Artist. Where is he to begin? What light has he by
which to classify? How will he bring order out of this apparent
confusion, when the order is higher than his thought; when the confusion
to him is _caused_ by the order's being greater than he can comprehend?
Because he stands outside and not within, he sees an entangled maze of
forces, where there is in truth an intertwining dance of harmony. There
is for no one any solution of the world's mystery, or of any part of its
mystery, except he be able to say with our poet:--
"I have looked to Thee from the beginning,
Straight up to Thee through all the world,
Which, like an idle scroll, lay furled
To nothingness on either side:
And since the time Thou wast descried,
Spite of the weak heart, so have I
Lived ever, and so fain would die,
Living and dying, Thee before!"
Christianity is not the ornament, or even complement, of life; it is its
necessity; it is life itself glorified into God's ideal.
Dr. Chalmers, from considering the minuteness of the directions given to
Moses for the making of the tabernacle, was led to think that he himself
was wrong in attending too little to the "_petite morale_" of dress.
Will this be excuse enough for occupying a few sentences with the
rhyming of this poem? Certainly the rhymes of a poem form no small part
of its artistic existence. Probably there is a deeper meaning in this
part of the poetic art than has yet been made clear to poet's mind. In
this poem the rhymes have their share in its humorous charm. The
writer's power of using double and triple rhymes is remarkable, and the
effect is often pleasing, even where they are used in the more solemn
parts of the poem. Take the lines:--
"No! love which, on earth, amid all the shows of it,
Has ever been seen the sole good of life in it,
The love, ever growing there, spite of the strife in it,
Shall arise, made perfect, from death's repose of it."
A poem is a thing not for the understanding or heart only, but likewise
for the ear; or, rather, for the understanding and heart through the
ear. The best poem is best set forth when best read. If, then, there be
rhymes which, when read aloud, do, by their composition of words,
prevent the understanding from laying hold on the separate words, while
the ear lays hold on the rhymes, the perfection of the art must here be
lost sight of, notwithstanding the completeness which the rhyming
manifests on close examination. For instance, in "_equipt yours,"
"Scriptures;" "Manchester," "haunches stir_;" or "_affirm any,"
"Germany_;" where two words rhyme with one word. But there are very few
of them that are objectionable on account of this difficulty and
necessity of rapid analysis.
One of the most wonderful things in the poem is, that so much of
argument is expressed in a species of verse, which one might be
inclined, at first sight, to think the least fitted for embodying it.
But, in fact, the same amount of argument in any other kind of verse
would, in all likelihood, have been intolerably dull as a work of art.
Here the verse is full of life and vigour, flagging never. Where, in
several parts, the exact meaning is difficult to reach, this results
chiefly from the dramatic rapidity and condensation of the thoughts. The
argumentative power is indeed wonderful; the arguments themselves
powerful in their simplicity, and embodied in words of admirable force.
The poem is full of pathos and humour; full of beauty and grandeur,
earnestness and truth.
ESSAYS ON SOME OF THE FORMS OF LITERATURE [Footnote: "Essays on some of
the Forms of Literature." By T.T. Lynch, Author of "Theophilus Trinal."
Schoppe, the satiric chorus of Jean Paul's romance of Titan, makes his
appearance at a certain masked ball, carrying in front of him a glass
case, in which the ball is remasked, repeated, and again reflected in a
mirror behind, by a set of puppets, ludicrously aping the apery of the
courtiers, whose whole life and outward manifestation was but a
body-mask mechanically moved with the semblance of real life and action.
The court simulates reality. The masks are a multiform mockery at their
own unreality, and as such are regarded by Schoppe, who takes them off
with the utmost ridicule in his masked puppet-show, which, with its
reflection in the mirror, is again indefinitely multiplied in the
many-sided reflector of Schoppe's, or of Richter's, or of the reader's
own imagination. The successive retreating and beholding in this scene
is suggested to the reviewer by the fact that the last of these essays
by Mr. Lynch is devoted in part to reviews. So that the reviews review
books,--Mr. Lynch reviews the reviews, and the present Reviewer finds
himself (somewhat presumptuously, it may be) attempting to review Mr.
Lynch. In this, however, his office must be very different from that of
Schoppe (for there is a deeper and more real correspondence between the
position of the showman and the reviewer than that outward resemblance
which first caused the one to suggest the other). The latter's office,
in the present instance, was, by mockery, to destroy the false, the very
involution of the satire adding to the strength of the ridicule. His
glass case was simply a review uttered by shapes and wires instead of
words and handwriting. And the work of the true critic must sometimes be
to condemn, and, as far as his strength can reach, utterly to destroy
the false,--scorching and withering its seeming beauty, till it is
reduced to its essence and original groundwork of dust and ashes. It is
only, however, when it wears the form of beauty which is the garment of
truth, and so, like the Erl-maidens, has power to bewitch, that it is
worth the notice and attack of the critic. Many forms of error, perhaps
most, are better left alone to die of their own weakness, for the
galvanic battery of criticism only helps to perpetuate their ghastly
life. The highest work of the critic, however, must surely be to direct
attention to the true, in whatever form it may have found utterance. But
on this let us hear Mr. Lynch himself in the last of these four lectures
which were delivered by him at the Royal Institution, Manchester, and
are now before us in the form of a book:--
"The kritikos, the discerner, if he is ever saying to us, This is not
gold; and never, This is; is either very humbly useful, or very
perverse, or very unfortunate. This is not gold, he says. Thank you, we
reply, we perceived as much. And this is not, he adds. True, we answer,
but we see gold grains glittering out of its rude, dark mass. Well, at
least, this is not, he proceeds. Perverse man! we retort, are you
seeking what is not gold? We are inquiring for what is, and unfortunate
indeed are we if, born into a world of Nature, and of Spirit once so
rich, we are born but to find that it has spent or has lost all its
wealth. Unhappy man would he be, who, walking his garden, should scent
only the earthy savour of leaves dead or dying, never perceiving, and
that afar off, the heavenly odour of roses fresh to-day from the Maker's
hands. The discerning by spiritual aroma may lead to discernment by the
eye, and to that careful scrutiny, and thence greater knowledge, of
which the eye is instrument and minister."
"The critic criticized, if dealt with in the worst fashion of his own
class, must be pronounced a mere monster, 'seeking whom he may devour;'
and, therefore, to be hunted and slain as speedily as possible, and
stuffed for the museum, where he may be regarded with due horror, but in
safety. But if dealt with after the best fashion of his class, a very
honourable and beneficent office is assigned him, and he is warned
only--though zealously--against its perversions. A judicial chair in the
kingdom of human thought, filled by a man of true integrity,
comprehensiveness, and delicacy of spirit, is a seat of terror and
praise, whose powers are at once most fostering to whatever is good,
most repressive of whatever is evil.... The critic, in his office of
censurer, has need so much to controvert, expose, and punish, because of
the abundance of literary faults; and as there is a right and a wrong
side in warfare, so there will be in criticism. And as when soldiers are
numerous, there will be not a few who are only tolerable, if even that,
so of critics. But then the critic is more than the censurer; and in his
higher and happier aspect appears before us and serves us, as the
discoverer, the vindicator, and the eulogist of excellence."
But resisting the temptation to quote further from Mr. Lynch's book on
this matter of Criticism, which seemed the natural point of contact by
which the Reviewer could lay hold on the book, he would pass on with the
remark that his duty in the present instance is of the nobler and better
sort--nobler and better, that is, with regard to the object, for duty in
the man remains ever the same--namely, the exposition of excellence, and
not of its opposite. Mr. Lynch is a man of true insight and large heart,
who has already done good in the world, and will do more; although,
possibly, he belongs rather to the last class of writers described by
himself, in the extract I am about to give from this same essay, than to
any of the preceding:--
"Some of the best books are written avowedly, or with evident
consciousness of the fact, for the select public that is constituted by
minds of the deeper class, or minds the more advanced of their time.
Such books may have but a restricted circulation and limited esteem in
their own day, and may afterwards extend both their fame and the circle
of their readers. Others of the best books, written with a pathos and a
power that may be universally felt, appeal at once to the common
humanity of the world, and get a response marvellously strong and
immediate. An ordinary human eye and heart, whose glances are true,
whose pulses healthy, will fit us to say of much that we read--This is
good, that is poor. But only the educated eye and the experienced heart
will fit us to judge of what relates to matters veiled from ordinary
observation, and belonging to the profounder region of human thought and
emotion. Powers, however, that the few only possess, may be required to
paint what everybody can see, so that everybody shall say, How
beautiful! how like! And powers adequate to do this in the finest manner
will be often adequate to do much more--may produce, indeed, books or
pictures, whose singular merit only the few shall perceive, and the many
for awhile deny, and books or pictures which, while they give an
immediate and pure pleasure to the common eye, shall give a far fuller
and finer pleasure to that eye that is the organ of a deeper and more
cultivated soul. There are, too, men of _peculiar_ powers, rare and
fine, who can never hope to please the large public, at least of their
own age, but whose writings are a heart's ease and heart's joy to the
select few, and serve such as a cup of heavenly comfort for the earth's
journey, and a lamp of heavenly light for the shadows of the way."
One other extract from the general remarks on Books in this essay, and
we will turn to another:--
"In all our estimation of the various qualities of books, if it be true
that our reading assists our life, it is true also that our life assists
our reading. If we let our spirit talk to us in undistracted moments--if
we commune with friendly, serious Nature, face to face, often--if we
pursue honourable aims in a steady progress--if we learn how a man's
best work falls below his thought, yet how still his failure prompts a
tenderer love of his thought--if we live in sincere, frank relations
with some few friends, joying in their joy, hearing the tale and sharing
the pain of their grief, and in frequent interchange of honest,
household sensibility--if we look about us on character, marking
distinctly what we can see, and feeling the prompting of a hundred
questions concerning what is out of our ken:--if we live thus, we shall
be good readers and critics of books, and improving ones."
The second and third of these essays are on Biography and Fiction
respectively and principally; treating, however, of collateral subjects
as well. Deep is the relation between the life shadowed forth in a
biography, and the life in a man's brain which he shadows forth in a
fiction--when that fiction is of the highest order, and written in love,
is beheld even by the writer himself with reverence. Delightful, surely,
it must be; yes, awful too, to read to-day the embodiment of a man's
noblest thought, to follow the hero of his creation through his
temptations, contests, and victories, in a world which likewise is--
"All made out of the carver's brain;"
and to-morrow to read the biography of this same writer. What of his own
ideal has he realized? Where can the life-fountain be detected within
him which found issue to the world's light and air, in this ideal self?
Shall God's fiction, which is man's reality, fall short of man's
fiction? Shall a man be less than what he can conceive and utter? Surely
it will not, cannot end thus. If a man live at all in harmony with the
great laws of being--if he will permit the working out of God's idea in
him, he must one day arrive at something greater than what now he can
project and behold. Yet, in biography, we do not so often find traces of
those struggles depicted in the loftier fiction. One reason may be that
the contest is often entirely within, and so a man may have won his
spiritual freedom without any outward token directly significant of the
victory; except, if he be an artist, such expression as it finds in
fiction, whether the fiction be in marble, or in sweet harmonies, or in
ink. Nor can we determine the true significance of any living act; for
being ourselves within the compass of the life-mystery, we cannot hold
it at arm's length from us and look at its lines of configuration. Nor
of a life can we in any measure determine the success by what we behold
of it. It is to us at best but a truncated spire, whose want of
completion may be the greater because of the breadth of its base, and
its slow taper, indicating the lofty height to which it is intended to
aspire. The idea of our own life is more than we can embrace. It is not
ours, but God's, and fades away into the infinite. Our comprehension is
finite; we ourselves infinite. We can only trust in God and do the
truth; then, and then only, is our life safe, and sure both of
continuance and development.
But the reviewer perhaps too often merely steals his author's text and
writes upon it; or, like a man who lies in bed thinking about a dream
till its folds enwrap him and he sinks into the midst of its visions, he
forgets his position of beholding, and passes from observation into
spontaneous utterance. What says our author about "biography,
autobiography, and history?" This lecture has pleased the reviewer most
of the four. Reading it in a lonely place, under a tree, with wide
fields and slopes around, it produced on his mind the two effects which
perhaps Mr. Lynch would most wish it should produce--namely, first, a
longing to lead a more true and noble life; and, secondly, a desire to
read more biography. Nor can he but hope that it must produce the same
effect on every earnest reader, on every one whose own biography would
not be altogether a blank in what regards the individual will and
"In meditative hours, when we blend despair of ourself with complaint of
the world, the biography of a man successful in this great business of
living is as the visit of an angel sent to strengthen us. Give the
soldier his sword, the farmer his plough, the carpenter his hammer and
nails, the manufacturer his machines, the merchant his stores, and the
scholar his books; these are but implements; the man is more than his
work or tools. How far has he fulfilled the law of his being, and
attained its desire? Is his life a whole; the days as threads and as
touches; the life, the well-woven garment, the well-painted picture?
Which of two sacrifices has he offered--the one so acceptable to the
powers of dark worlds, the other so acceptable to powers of bright
ones--that of soul to body, or that of body to soul? Has he slain what
was holiest in him to obtain gifts from Fashion or Mammon? Or has he, in
days so arduous, so assiduous, that they are like a noble army of
martyrs, made burnt-offering of what was secondary, throwing into the
flames the salt of true moral energy and the incense of cordial
affections? We want the work to show us by its parts, its mass, its
form, the qualities of the man, and to see that the man is perfected
through his work as well as the work finished by his effort."