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Essays AEsthetical by George Calvert

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"To love and openly to prefer Corneille, as certain minds do, is no
doubt a fine thing, and, in one sense, a very legitimate thing; it is,
to dwell in, and to mark one's rank in, the world of great souls: but
is it not to run the risk of loving together with the grand
and sublime, false glory a little, to go so far as not to detest
inflation and magniloquence, an air of heroism on all occasions? He
who passionately loves Corneille cannot be an enemy to a little

"On the other hand, to love and prefer Racine, ah! that is, no doubt,
to love above all things, elegance, grace, what is natural and true
(at least relatively), sensibility, touching and charming passion; but
at the same time is it not also, to allow your taste and your mind to
be too much taken with certain conventional and over-smooth beauties,
a certain tameness and petted languidness, with certain excessive and
exclusive refinements? In a word, to love Racine so much, it is to run
the risk of having too much of what in France is called taste, and
which brings so much distaste.

"To love Boileau--but no, one does not love Boileau, one esteems him,
one respects him; we admire his uprightness, his understanding, at
times his animation, and if we are tempted to love him, it is solely
for that sovereign equity which made him do such unshaken justice to
the great poets his contemporaries, and especially to him whom he
proclaims the first of all, Moliere.

"To love La Fontaine, is almost the same thing as to love
Moliere; it is, to love nature, the whole of nature, humanity
ingenuously depicted, a representation of the grand comedy "of a
hundred different acts," unrolling itself, cutting itself up before
our eyes into a thousand little scenes with the graces and freedoms
that are so becoming, with weaknesses also, and liberties which are
never found in the simple, manly genius of the master of masters. But
why separate them? La Fontaine and Moliere--we must not part them, we
love them united."

* * * * *

The number of "Putnam's Magazine," containing this paper, was sent to
M. Sainte-Beuve accompanied by a note. In due time I received an
answer to the note, saying that the Magazine had not reached him.
Hereupon I sent the article by itself. On receiving it he wrote the
following acknowledgment.

In my note I referred to a rumor of his illness. His disease was, by
_post-mortem_ examination, discovered to be as the newspapers had
reported, the stone. But a consultation of physicians declared that it
was what he states it to be in his letter. Had they not made so gross
a mistake, his life might have been prolonged.

"PARIS, 6 _Decembre_, 1868, No. 11 Rue Mont Parnasse.


"Oh! Cette fois je recois bien decidement le tres aimable et si bien
etudie portrait du _critique_. Comment exprimer comme je le
sens ma gratitude pour tant de soin, d'attention penetrante, de desir
d'etre agreable tout en restant juste? Il y avait certes moyen
d'insister bien plus sur les variations, les disparates et les
defaillances momentanees de la pensee et du jugement a travers cette
suite de volumes. C'est toujours un sujet d'etonnement pour moi, et
cette fois autant que jamais, de voir comment un lecteur ami et un
juge de gout parvient a tirer une figure une et consistante de ce qui
ne me parait a moi meme dans mon souvenir que le cours d'un long
fleuve qui va s'epandant un pen au hazard des pentes et desertant
continuellement ses rives. De tels portraits comme celui que vous
voulez bien m'offrir me rendent un point d'appui et me feraient
veritablement croire a moi-meme. Et quand je songe a l'immense
quantite d'esprits auxquels vous me presentez sous un aspect si
favorable et si magistral dans ce nouveau monde de tant de jeunesse et
d'avenir, je me prends d'une sorte de fierte et de courageuse
confiance comme en presence deja de la posterite.

"Le mal auquel vous voulez bien vous interesser est tout simplement
une hypertrophie de la prostate. Les souffrances ne sont pas vives,
mais l'incommodite est grande, ne pouvant supporter a aucun degre le
mouvement de la voiture, ce qui restreint ma vie sociale a un bien
court rayon.

"Veuillez agreeer, cher Monsieur, l'assurance de ma cordiale
gratitude, et de mes sentiments les plus distingues.




A brain ever aglow with self-kindled fire--a cerebral battery
bristling with magnetic life--such is Thomas Carlyle. Exceptional
fervor of temperament, rare intellectual vivacity, manful
earnestness--these are the primary qualifications of the man. He has
an uncommon soul-power. Hence his attractiveness, hence his influence.
Every page, every paragraph, every sentence, throbs with his own
being. Themselves all authors put, of course, more or less, into what
they write: few, very few, can make their sentences quiver with
themselves. This Mr. Carlyle does by the intenseness of a warm
individuality, by the nimble vigor of his mental life, and, be it
added, by the rapture of his spirituality. The self, in his case, is a
large, deep self, and it sends an audible pulse through his pen into
his page.

To all sane men is allotted a complete endowment of mental faculties,
of capacities of intellect and feeling; the degree to which
these are energized, are injected with nervous flame, makes the
difference between a genius and a blockhead. There being high vital
pressure at a full, rich, interior source, and thence, strong mental
currents, through what channels the currents shall flow depends on
individual aptitudes, these aptitudes shaping, in the one case, a
Dante, in another, a Newton, in another, a Mirabeau. And Nature, with
all her generosity, being jealous of her rights, allows no interchange
of gifts. Even the many-sided Goethe could not, by whatever force of
will and practice, have written a bar in a symphony of Beethoven. In
his dominant aptitudes, Mr. Carlyle is not more one-sided than many
other intellectual potentates; but, like some others, his activity and
ambition have at times led him into paths where great deficiencies
disclose themselves by the side of great superiorities. His mind is
biographical, not historical; stronger in details than in
generalization; more intuitive than scientific; critical, not
constructive; literary, not philosophical. Mr. Carlyle is great at a
picture, very great; he can fail in a survey or an induction. Wealth
of thought, strokes of tenderness, clean insight into life, satire,
irony, humor, make his least successful volumes to teem with
passages noteworthy, beautiful, wise, as do his "Cromwell" and his
"Frederick." Such giants carrying nations on their broad fronts, Mr.
Carlyle, in writing their lives with duteous particularity, has
embraced the full story of the epoch in which each was the leader. To
him they are more than leaders. Herein he and Mr. Buckle stand at
opposite poles; Mr. Buckle underrating the protagonists of history,
them and their share of agency; Mr. Carlyle overrating them,--a
prejudicial one-sidedness in both cases. Leader and led are the
complements the one of the other.

History is a growth, and a slow growth. Evils in one age painfully sow
the seed that is to come up good in another. The historian, and still
more the critical commentator on his own times, needs to be patient,
calm, judicial, hopeful. Mr. Carlyle is impatient, fervid, willful,
nay, despotic, and he is not hopeful, not hopeful enough. One
healthily hopeful, and genuinely faithful, would not be ever betaking
him to the past as a refuge from the present; would not tauntingly
throw into the face of contemporaries an Abbot Sampson of the twelfth
century as a model. A judicial expounder would not cite one
single example as a characteristic of that age in contrast with this.
A patient, impartial elucidator, would not deride "ballot-boxes,
reform bills, winnowing machines:" he would make the best of these and
other tools within reach; or, if his part be to write and not to act,
would animate, not dishearten, those who are earnestly doing, and who,
by boldly striking at abuses, by steadily striving for more justice,
by aiming to lift up the down-trodden, prepare, through such means as
are at hand, a better ground for the next generation. If to such
workers, instead of God-speed, a writer of force and influence gives
jeers and gibes, and ever-repeated shrieks about "semblance and
quackery, and cant and speciosity, and dilettantism," and deems
himself profound and original, as well as hopeful, when he exclaims:
"Dim all souls of men to the divine, the high and awful meaning of
human worth and truth, we shall never by all the machinery in
Birmingham discover the true and worthy:" in that case, does he not
expose him to the taunt of being himself very like a mouthing quack,
and his words, which should be cordial, brotherly, do they not partake
of the hollow quality of what Mr. Carlyle holds in such abhorrence,
namely, of cant? The sick lion crouches growling in his lair;
he cannot eat, and he will not let others eat.

Many grateful and admiring readers Mr. Carlyle wearies with his
ever-recurrent fallacy that might is right. In Heaven's name, what are
all the shams whose presence he so persistently bemoans,--worldly
bishops, phantasm-aristocracies, presumptuous upstarts, shallow
sway-wielding dukes,--what are all these, and much else, but so many
exemplications of might that is not right? When might shall cease to
bully, to trample on right, we shall be nearing Utopia. Utopia may be
at infinite distance, not attainable by finite men; but as surely as
our hearts beat, we are gradually getting further from its opposite,
the coarse rule of force and brutality, such rule as in the twelfth
century was rife all around "Abbot Sampson."

Like unto this moral fallacy is an aesthetic fallacy which, through
bright pages of criticism, strikes up at times to vitiate a judgment.
"I confess," says Mr. Carlyle, "I have no notion of a truly great man
that could not be all sorts of men." Could Newton have written the
"Fairy Queen?" Could Spenser have discovered the law of gravitation?
Could Columbus have given birth to "Don Quixote?" One of Mr.
Carlyle's military heroes tried hard to be a poet. Over Frederick's
verses, how his friend Voltaire must have grinned. "I cannot
understand how a Mirabeau, with that great glowing heart, with the
fire that was in it, with the bursting tears that were in it, could
not have written verses, tragedies, poems, and touched all hearts in
that way, had his course of life and education led him thitherward."
Thus Mr. Carlyle writes in "Heroes and Hero-Worship." If Mirabeau, why
not Savonarola, or Marcus Aurelius. In that case a "Twelfth Night," or
an "Othello," might have come from Luther. Nature does not work so
loosely. Rich is she, unspeakably rich, and as artful as she is
profuse in the use of her riches. She delights in variety, thence her
ineffable radiance, and much of her immeasurable efficiency.
Diverseness in unity is a source of her power as well as of her
beauty. Her wealth of material being infinite, her specifications are
endless, countless, superfinely minute. Even no two of the commonest
men does she make alike; her men of genius she diversifies at once
grandly and delicately, broadly and subtly. "Petrarch and Boccaccio
did diplomatic messages," says Mr. Carlyle. We hope they did,
or could have done, in the prosaic field, much better than that. We
Americans know with what moderate equipment diplomatic messages may be

On poetry and poets Mr. Carlyle has written many of his best pages,
pages penetrating, discriminative, because so sympathetic, and
executed with the scholar's care and the critic's culture. His early
papers on Goethe and Burns, published more than forty years ago, made
something like an epoch in English criticism. Seizing the value and
significance of genuine poetry, he exclaims in "Past and
Present,"--"Genius, Poet! do we know what these words mean? An
inspired soul once more vouchsafed us, direct from Nature's own great
fire-heart, to see the truth, and speak it and do it." On the same
page he thus taunts his countrymen: "We English find a poet, as brave
a man as has been made for a hundred years or so anywhere under the
sun; and do we kindle bonfires, thank the gods? Not at all. We, taking
due counsel of it, set the man to gauge ale-barrels in the Burgh of
Dumfries, and pique ourselves on our 'patronage of genius.'" "George
the Third is Defender of something we call 'the Faith' in
those years. George the Third is head charioteer of the destinies of
England, to guide them through the gulf of French Revolutions,
American Independences; and Robert Burns is gauger of ale in
Dumfries." Poor George the Third! One needs not be a craniologist to
know that the eyes which looked out from beneath that retreating
pyramidal forehead could see but part even of the commonest men and
things before them. How could they see a Robert Burns? To be sure, had
Dundas, or whoever got Burns the place of gauger, given him one of the
many sinecures of two or three hundred pounds a year that were wasted
on idle scions of titled families, an aureole of glory would now shine
through the darkness that environs the memory of George III. So much
for George Guelf. Now for Thomas Carlyle.

If, for not recognizing Burns, _poor_ George is to be blamed,
what terms of stricture will be too harsh for _rich_ Thomas, that
by him were not recognized poets greater than Burns, at a time when
for England's good, full, sympathetic recognition of them was just
what was literarily most wanted? Here was a man, for the fine function
of poetic criticism how rarely gifted is visible in those
thorough papers on Burns and Goethe, written so early as 1828,
wherein, besides a masterly setting forth of their great subjects, are
notable passages on other poets. On Byron is passed the following
sentence, which will, we think, be ever confirmed by sound criticism.
"Generally speaking, we should say that Byron's poetry is not true. He
refreshes us, not with the divine fountain, but too often with vulgar
strong waters, stimulating indeed to the taste, but soon ending in
dislike, or even nausea. Are his Harolds and Giaours, we would ask,
real men; we mean, poetically consistent and conceivable men? Do not
these characters, does not the character of their author, which more
or less shines through them all, rather appear a thing put on for the
occasion; no natural or possible mode of being, but something intended
to look much grander than nature? Surely, all these stormful agonies,
this volcanic heroism, superhuman contempt, and moody desperation,
with so much scowling and teeth-gnashing, and other sulphurous humor,
is more like the brawling of a player in some paltry tragedy, which is
to last three hours, than the bearing of a man in the business of
life, which is to last threescore and ten years. To our minds,
there is a taint of this sort, something which we should call
theatrical, false, affected, in every one of these otherwise so
powerful pieces."

In the same paper, that on Burns, Mr. Carlyle thus opened the ears of
that generation,--partially opened, for the general aesthetic ear is
not fully opened yet,--to a hollowness which was musical to the many:
"Our Grays and Glovers seemed to write almost as if _in vacuo_;
the thing written bears no mark of place; it is not written so much
for Englishmen as for men; or rather, which is the inevitable result
of this, for certain generalizations which philosophy termed men." And
in the paper on Goethe, he calls Gray's poetry, "a laborious mosaic,
through the hard, stiff lineaments of which, little life or true grace
could be expected to look." Thus choicely endowed was Mr. Carlyle to
be, what is the critic's noblest office, an interpreter between new
poets and the public. Such an interpreter England grievously needed,
to help and teach her educated and scholarly classes to prize the
treasures just lavished upon them by Wordsworth, and Coleridge, and
Shelley, and Keats. The interpreter was there, but he spoke not.
Better than any man in England Mr. Carlyle could, if he would,
have taught the generation that was growing up with him, whose ear he
had already gained, what truth and fresh beauty and deep humanity
there was in the strains of this composite chorus of superlative
singers. Of such teaching, that generation stood in especial need, to
disabuse its ear of the hollowness which had been mistaken for
harmony; to refresh, with clear streams from "the divine fountain,"
hearts that were fevered by the stimulus of Byronic "strong waters;"
to wave before half-awakened eyes the torch which lights the way to
that higher plane where breathe great poets, whose incomparable
function it is, to impart to their fellow-men some of the enlargement
and the purification of consciousness in which themselves exult
through the influx of fresh ideas and the upspringing of prolific
sentiment. The gifted interpreter was dumb. Nay, he made diversions
into Scotland and Germany, to bring Burns and Scott more distinctly
before Englishmen, and to make Schiller and Goethe and Richter better
known to them. And it pleased him to write about "Corn-law rhymes."
That he did these tasks so well, proves how well he could have done,
by the side of them, the then more urgent task. In 1828, Mr.
Carlyle wrote for one of the quarterly reviews an exposition of
"Goethe's Helena," which is a kind of episode in the second part of
"Faust," and was first published as a fragment. This takes up more
than sixty pages in the first volume of the "Miscellanies," about the
half being translations from "Helena," which by no means stands in the
front rank of Goethe's poetic creations, which is indeed rather a high
artistic composition than a creation. At that time there lay, almost
uncalled for, on the publisher's shelf, where it had lain for five
years, ever since its issue, a poem of fifty-five Spenserian stanzas,
flushed with a subtler beauty, more divinely dyed in pathos, than any
in English literature of its rare kind, or of any kind out of
Shakespeare,--a poem in which all the inward harvests of a tender,
deep, capacious, loving, and religious life, all the heaped hoards of
feeling and imagination in a life most visionary and most real, are
gathered into one sheaf of poetic affluence, to dazzle and subdue with
excess of light,--or gathered rather into a bundle of sheaves, stanza
rising on stanza, each like a flame fresh shooting from a hidden bed
of Nature's most precious perfumes, each shedding a new and
a richer fragrance; I mean the "Adonais" of Shelley. For this
glittering masterpiece,--a congenial commentary on which would have
illuminated the literary atmosphere of England,--Mr. Carlyle had no
word; no word for Shelley, no word for Coleridge, no word for
Wordsworth. For Keats he had a word in the paper on Burns, and here it
is: "Poetry, except in such cases as that of Keats, where the whole
consists in a weak-eyed, maudlin sensibility and a certain vague,
random timefulness of nature, is no separate faculty." A parenthesis,
short and contemptuous, is all he gives to one of whom it has been
truly said, that of no poet who has lived, not of Shakespeare, is the
poetry written before the twenty-fifth year so good as his; and of
whom it may as truly be said, that his best poems need no apology in
the youthfulness of their author; but that for originality, power,
variety, feeling, thoughtfulness, melody, they take rank in the first
class of the poetry of the world. Is not Thomas Carlyle justly
chargeable with having committed a high literary misdemeanor? Nay,
considering his gift of poetic insight, and with it his persistent
ignoring of the great English poets of his age, considering the warm
solicitation on the one side, and the duty on the other, his
offense may be termed a literary crime. He knew better.

Mr. Carlyle somewhere contrasts his age with that of Elizabeth, after
this fashion; "For Raleighs and Shakespeares we have Beau Brummell and
Sheridan Knowles." Only on the surmise that Mr. Carlyle owed poor
Knowles some desperate grudge, can such an outburst be accounted for.
Otherwise it is sheer fatuity, or an impotent explosion of literary
spite. For the breadth and brilliancy of the poetic day shed upon it,
no period in the history of any nation, not that of Pericles or of
Elizabeth, is more resplendent than that which had not yet faded for
England when Mr. Carlyle began his career; nor in the field of public
action can the most prolific era of Greece or of England hold up, for
the admiration of the world and the pride of fellow-countrymen, two
agents more deservedly crowned with honor and gratitude than Nelson
and Wellington. Here are two leaders, who, besides exhibiting rare
personal prowess and quick-eyed military genius on fields of vast
breadth, and in performances of unwonted magnitude and momentousness,
were, moreover, by their great, brave deeds, most palpably
saving England, saving Europe, from the grasp of an inexorable despot.
Surely these were heroes of a stature to have strained to its utmost
the reverence and the love of a genuine hero-worshipper. On the ten
thousand luminous pages of Mr. Carlyle they find no place. Not only
are their doings not celebrated, that they lived is scarce

Even when its objects are the loftiest and the most honored, jealousy
is not a noble form of

"The last infirmity of noble mind."

Does Mr. Carlyle feel that Nelson and Wellington, Coleridge, Shelley,
Keats, and Wordsworth, stand already so broad and high that they chill
him with their shadow, and that therefore he will not, by eulogy, or
even notice, add to their altitude? Is he repeating the littleness of
Byron, who was jealous not only of his contemporaries, Napoleon, and
Wellington, and Wordsworth, but was jealous of Shakespeare? That a pen
which, with zestful animation, embraces all contemporaneous things,
should be studiously silent about almost every one of the dozen men of
genius who illustrate his era, is a fact so monstrous, that one is
driven to monstrous devices to divulge its motive. In such a case it
is impossible to premise to what clouds of self-delusion an
imaginative man will not rise.

Writing of Thomas Carlyle, the last words must not be censorious
comments on a weakness; we all owe too much to his strength; he is too
large a benefactor. Despite over-fondness for Frederick and the like,
and what may be termed a pathological drift towards political
despotism, how many quickening chapters has he not added to the
"gospel of freedom"? Flushed are his volumes with generous pulses,
with delicate sympathies. From many a page what cordialities step
forth to console and to fortify us; what divine depths we come upon;
what sudden vistas of sunshine through tempest-shaken shadows; what
bursts of splendor through nebulous mutterings. Much has he helped the
enfranchisement of the spirit. Well do I remember the thirst
wherewith, more than thirty years ago, I seized the monthly "Frazer,"
to drink of the spiritual waters of "Sartor Resartus." Here was a new
spring; with what stimulating, exhilarating, purifying draughts, did
it bubble and sparkle! That picture, in the beginning, of the "doing
and driving (_Thun und Treiben_)" of a city as beheld by
Professor Teufelsdroeckh from his attic--would one have been surprised
to read that on a page of Shakespeare?

A marvelous faculty of speech has Mr. Carlyle; a gift of saying what
he has to say with a ring in the words that makes the thought tingle
through your ears. His diction surrounds itself with a magnetic
_aura_, which seems to float it, to part it from the paper, it
stands out in such transparent chiar-oscuro. Common phrases he
refreshes by making them the vehicle for new meanings, and in the
ordering of words he has command of a magical logic. The marrowy vigor
in his mind it is that lends such expressiveness, such nimbleness,
such accent to his sentences, to his style.

Mr. Carlyle's power comes mainly from his sensibilities. Through them
he is poetical; through them there is so much light in his pages. More
often from his than from any others, except those of the major poets,
breaks the sudden, joyful beam that flames around a thought when it
knows itself embraced by a feeling. Of humor and of wit, what an added
fund does our language now possess through his pen. The body of
criticism, inclosed in the five volumes of Miscellanies, were
enough to give their author a lasting name. When one of these papers
appeared in the Edinburgh, or other review, it shone, amid the
contributions of the Jeffreys and Broughams, like a guinea in a
handful of shillings.

The masterpiece of Mr. Carlyle, and the masterpiece of English prose
literature, is his "French Revolution," a rhythmic Epic without verse.
To write those three volumes a man needs have in him a big, glowing
heart, thus to flood with passionate life all the men and scenes of a
momentous volcanic epoch; a lively, strong, intellectual vision he
must have, to grasp in their full reality the multitudinous and
diverse facts and incidents so swiftly begotten under the pulsation of
millions of contentious brains; he needs a literary faculty finely
artistic, creatively imaginative, to enrank the figures of such vast
tumultuous scenes, to depict the actors in each, to present vividly in
clear relief the rapid succession of eventful convulsions. Outside of
the choice achievements of verse, is there a literary task of breadth
and difficulty that has been done so well? A theme of unusual grandeur
and significance is here greatly treated.

The foremost literary gift,--nay, the test whereby to try
whether there be any genuine literary gift,--is the power in a writer
to impart so much of himself, that his subject shall stand invested,
or rather, imbued, with a life which renews it; it becomes warmed with
a fire from the writer's soul. Of this, the most perfect exhibition is
in poetry, wherein, by the intensity and fullness of inflammation, of
passion, is born a something new, which, through the strong
creativeness of the poet, has henceforth a rounded being of its own.
With this power Mr. Carlyle is highly endowed. Not only, as already
said, does his page quiver with himself; through the warmth and
healthiness of his sympathies, and his intellectual mastery, he makes
each scene and person in his gorgeous representation of the French
Revolution to shine with its own life, the more brilliantly and truly
that this life has been lighted up by his. Where in history is there a
picture greater than that of the execution of Louis XVI.? With a few
strokes how many a vivid portrait does he paint, and each one vivid
chiefly from its faithfulness to personality and to history. And then
his full-length, more elaborated likenesses, of the king, of the
queen, of the Duke of Orleans, of Lafayette, of Camille
Desmoulins, of Danton, of Robespierre: it seems now that only on his
throbbing page do these personages live and move and have their true
being. The giant Mirabeau, 'twas thought at first he had drawn too
gigantic. But intimate documents, historical and biographical, that
have come to light since, confirm the insight of Mr. Carlyle, and
swell his hero out to the large proportions he has given him.

For a conclusion we will let Mr. Carlyle depict himself. Making
allowance for some humorous play in describing a fellow-man so
eccentric as his friend, Professor Teufelsdroeckh, this we think he
does consciously and designedly in the fourth chapter of "Sartor
Resartus," wherein, under the head of "Characteristics," he comments
on the professor's Work on Clothes, and its effect on himself. From
this chapter we extract some of the most pertinent sentences. It opens

"It were a piece of vain flattery to pretend that this Work on Clothes
entirely contents us; that it is not, like all works of genius, like
the very sun, which, though the highest published creation, or work of
genius, has nevertheless black spots and troubled nebulosities amid
its effulgence,--a mixture of insight, inspiration, with dullness'
double-vision, and even utter blindness.

"Without committing ourselves to those enthusiastic praises and
prophesyings of the "Weissnichtwo'sche Anzeiger," we admitted that the
book had in a high degree excited us to self-activity, which is the
best effect of any book; that it had even operated changes in our way
of thought; nay, that it promised to prove, as it were, the opening of
a new mine-shaft, wherein the whole world of _Speculation_ might
henceforth dig to unknown depths. More especially it may now be
declared that Professor Teufelsdroeckh's acquirements, patience of
research, philosophic, and even poetic vigor, are here made
indisputably manifest; and unhappily no less his prolixity and
tortuosity and manifold inaptitude....

"Many a deep glance, and often with unspeakable precision, has he cast
into mysterious Nature, and the still more mysterious Life of man.
Wonderful it is with what cutting words, now and then, he severs
asunder the confusion; sheers down, were it furlongs deep, into the
true center of the matter; and there not only hits the nail on the
head, but with crushing force smites it home and buries it....

"Occasionally, as above hinted, we find consummate vigor, a
true inspiration; his burning thoughts step forth in fit burning
words, like so many full-formed Minervas, issuing amid flame and
splendor from Jove's head; a rich idiomatic diction, picturesque
allusions, fiery poetic emphasis, or quaint tricksy twins; all the
graces and terrors of a wild imagination, wedded to the clearest
intellect, alternate in beautiful vicissitude. Were it not that sheer
sleeping and soporific passages, circumlocutions, repetitions, touches
even of pure doting jargon so often intervene.... A wild tone pervades
the whole utterance of the man, like its key-note and regulator; now
screwing itself aloft as into the Song of Spirits, or else the shrill
mockery of fiends; now sinking in cadences, not without melodious
heartiness, though sometimes abrupt enough, into the common pitch,
when we hear it only as a monotonous hum; of which hum the true
character is extremely difficult to fix....

"Under a like difficulty, in spite even of our personal intercourse,
do we still lie with regard to the professor's moral feeling. Gleams
of an ethereal love burst forth from him, soft wailings of infinite
pity; he could clasp the whole universe into his bosom, and
keep it warm; it seems as if under that rude exterior there dwelt a
very seraph. Then, again, he is so sly, and still so imperturbably
saturnine; shows such indifference, malign coolness, towards all that
men strive after; and ever with some half-visible wrinkle of a bitter,
sardonic humor, if indeed it be not mere stolid callousness,--that you
look on him almost with a shudder, as on some incarnate
Mephistopheles, to whom this great terrestrial and celestial Round,
after all, were but some huge foolish whirligig, where kings and
beggars, and angels and demons, and stars and street-sweepings, were
chaotically whirled, in which only children could take interest."



[7] From Lippincott's Magazine, 1870.

Words are the counters of thought; speech is the vocalization of the
soul; style is the luminous incarnation of reason and emotion. Thence
it behooves scholars, the wardens of language, to keep over words a
watch as keen and sleepless as a dutiful guardian keeps over his
pupils. A prime office of this guardianship is to take care lest
language fall into loose ways; for words being the final elements into
which all speech resolves itself, if they grow weak by negligence or
abuse, speech loses its firmness, veracity, and expressiveness. Style
may be likened to a close Tyrian garment woven by poets and thinkers
out of words and phrases for the clothing and adornment of the mind;
and the strength and fineness of the tissue, together with its
beauties of color, depend on the purity and precision, the
transparency and directness of its threads, which are words.

A humble freeman of the guild of scholars would here use his
privilege to call attention to some abuses in words and
phrases,--abuses which are not only prevalent in the spoken and
written speech of the many, but which disfigure, occasionally, the
pages, even of good writers. These are not errors that betoken or lead
to general final corruption, and the great Anglo-Saxo-Norman race is
many centuries distant from the period when it may be expected to show
signs of that decadence which, visible at first in the waning moral
and intellectual energies of a people, soon spots its speech.

Nevertheless, as inaccuracies, laxities, vulgarisms--transgressions
more or less superficial--such errors take from the correctness, from
the efficacy, from the force as well as the grace, of written or
spoken speech.

The high level of strength, suppleness and beauty occupied by our
English tongue has been reached, and can only be maintained, by
strenuous, varied, and continuous mental action. Offenses against the
laws and proprieties of language--like so many other of our
lapses--are in most cases effects of the tendency in human nature to
relax its tone. None save the most resolute and rigorous but have
their moods of unwatchfulness, of indolence. Moreover, men are
prone to resist mental refinement and intellectual subdivisions.
Discrimination requires close attention and sustained effort; and
without habitual discrimination there can be no linguistic precision
or excellence. In this, as in other provinces, people like to take
things easily. Now, every capable man of business knows that to take
things easily is an easy way to ruin. Language is in a certain sense
every one's business; but it is especially the business, as their
appellation denotes, of men of letters; and a primary duty of their
high vocation is to be jealous of any careless or impertinent meddling
with, or mishandling of, those little glistening, marvelous tools
wherewith such amazing structures and temples have been built and are
ever a-building. Culture, demanding and creating diversity and
subtlety of mental processes, is at once a cause and an effect of
infinite multiplication in the relations the mind is capable of
establishing between itself and the objects of its action, and between
its own processes; and language, being a chief instrument of culture,
has to follow and subserve these multiplied and diversified demands,
Any fall, therefore, on its part from the obedient fineness of
its modes and modulations back into barbaric singleness and crudeness,
any slide into looseness or vagueness, any unweaving of the complex
tissue, psychical and metaphysical, into which it has been wrought by
the exquisite wants of the mind, will have a relaxing, debilitating
influence on thought itself. To use the clear, wise words of Mr.
Whewell; "Language is often called an instrument of thought, but it is
also the nutriment of thought; or, rather, it is the atmosphere on
which thought lives--a medium essential to the activity of our
speculative powers, although invisible and imperceptible in its
operation; and an element modifying, by its changes and qualities, the
growth and complexion of the faculties which it feeds."

Our enumeration of _errata_ being made alphabetically, the first to be
cited is one of the chief of sinners--the particle.

As. The misuse of _as_ for _so_ is, in certain cases, almost
universal. If authority could justify error and convert the faulty
into the faultless, it were idle to expose a misuse in justification
of which can be cited most of the best names in recent English

"_As_ far as doth concern my single self,"

is a line in Wordsworth ("Prelude," p. 70) which, by a change
of the first _as_ into _so_, would gain not only in sound (which is
not our affair at present), but, likewise in grammar. The seventh line
of the twenty-first stanza in that most tender of elegies and most
beautiful of poems, Shelley's "Adonais," begins, "_As_ long as skies
are blue," where also there would be a double gain by writing "_So_
long as skies are blue." On page 242 of the first volume of De
Quincey's "Literary Remains" occurs this sentence; "Even by _as_
philosophic a politician _as_ Edmund Burke," in which the critical
blunder of calling Burke a philosophic politician furnishes no excuse
for the grammatical blunder. The rule (derived, like all good rules,
from principle) which determines the use of this small particle is, I
conceive, that the double _as_ should only be employed when there is
direct comparison. In the first part of the following sentence there
is no direct comparative relation--in the second, the negative
destroys it; "_So_ far as geographical measurement goes, Philadelphia
is not _so_ far from New York as from Baltimore." Five writers out of
six would commit the error of using _as_ in both members of the
sentence. The most prevalent misuse of _as_ is in connection with
_soon_; and this general misuse, having moreover the countenance of
good writers, is so inwoven into our speech that it will be hard to
unravel it. But principle is higher than the authority derived from
custom. Judges are bound to give sentence according to the statute;
and if the highest writers, whose influence is deservedly judicial,
violate the laws of language, their decisions ought to be, and will
be, reversed, or language will be undermined, and, slipping into
shallow, illogical habits, into anarchical conditions, will forfeit
much of its manliness, of its subtlety, of its truthfulness. Language
is a living organism, and to substitute authority, or even long usage,
for its innate genius and wisdom, and the requirements and practices
that result from these, were to strike at its life, and to expose it
to become subject to upstart usurpation, to deadening despotism.
Worcester quotes from the Psalms the phrase, "They go astray _as_ soon
as they be born." We ask, Were not the translators of the Bible as
liable to err in grammar as De Quincey, or Wordsworth, or Shelley? A
writer in the English "National Review" for January, 1862, in an
admirable paper on the "Italian Clergy and the Pope," begins a
sentence with the same phrase: "_As_ soon as the law was passed." And
we ourselves, sure though we be that the use of _as_ in this and every
similar position is an error, need to brace both pen and tongue
against running into it, so strong to overcome principle and
conviction is the habit of the senses, accustomed daily to see and to
hear the wrong.

AT THAT. We should not have noticed this squat vulgarism, had not the
pen blazoned its own depravity by lifting it out of newspapers into
bound volumes. The speech and page of every one, who would not be
italicized for lingual looseness, should be forever closed against a
phrase so shocking to taste, a phrase, we are sorry to say, of
American mintage, coined in one of those frolicksome exuberant moods,
when a young people, like a loosed horse full of youth and oats, kicks
up and scatters mud with the unharnessed license of his heels.

ANOTHER. Before passing to the letter B on our alphabetical docket, we
will call up a minor criminal in A, viz. _another_, often incorrectly
used for _other_; as in "on one ground or another," "from one
cause or another." Now, _another_, the prefix _an_ making it
singular,--embraces but one ground or cause, and therefore, contrary
to the purpose of the writer, the words mean that there are
but two grounds or causes. Write "on one ground or other," and the
words are in harmony with the meaning of the writer, the word _other_
implying several or many grounds.

BOQUET. The sensibility that gives the desire to preserve a present
sparkling so long as is possible with all the qualities that made it
materially acceptable, should rule us where the gift is something so
precious as a word; and when we receive one from another people,
gratitude, as well as sense of grace in the form of the gift itself,
should make us watchful that it be not dimmed by the boorish breath of
ignorance or cacophanized by unmusical voices. We therefore protest
against a useful and tuneful noun-substantive, a native of France, the
word _bouquet_, being maimed into _boquet_, a corruption as dissonant
to the ear as were to the eye plucking a rose from a variegated
nosegay, and leaving only its thorny stem. _Boquet_ is heard at times
in well-upholstered drawing-rooms, and may even be seen in print.
Offensive in its mutilated shape, it smells sweet again when restored
to its native orthography.

BY NO MANNER OF MEANS. The most vigorous writers are liable, in
unguarded moments, to lapse into verbal weakness, and so you
meet with this vulgar pleonasm in Ruskin.

BY REASON OF. An ill-assorted, ugly phrase, used by accomplished
reviewers and others, who ought to set a purer example.

COME OFF. Were a harp to give out the nasal whine of the bagpipe, or
the throat of a nightingale to emit the caw of a raven, the aesthetic
sense would not be more startled and offended than to hear from
feminine lips, rosily wreathed by beauty and youth, issue the words,
"The concert will _come off_ on Wednesday." This vulgarism should
never be heard beyond the "ring" and the cock-pit, and should be
banished from resorts so respectable as an oyster-cellar.

CONSIDER. Neither weight of authority nor universality of use can
purify or justify a linguistic corruption, and make the intrinsically
wrong in language right; and therefore such phrases as, "I consider
him an honest man," "Do you consider the dispute settled?" will ever
be bad English, however generally sanctioned. In his dedication of the
"Diversions of Purley" to the University of Cambridge, Horne Tooke
uses it wrongly when he says, "who always _considers_ acts of
voluntary justice toward himself as favors." The original
signification and only proper use of _consider_ are in phrases like
these: "If you consider the matter carefully;" "Consider the lilies of
the field."

CONDUCT. It seems to us that it were as allowable to say of a man, "He
carries well," as "He conducts well." We say of a gun that it carries
well, and we might say of a pipe that it conducts well. The gun and
pipe are passive instruments, not living organisms, and thence the
verbs are used properly in the neuter form. Perhaps, strictly
speaking, even here _its charge_ and _water_ are understood.

CONTEMPLATE. "Do you contemplate going to Washington to-morrow?" "No:
I contemplate moving into the country." This is more than exaggeration
and inflation: it is desecration of a noble word, born of man's higher
being; for contemplation is an exercise of the very highest faculties,
a calm collecting of them for silent meditation--an act, or rather a
mood, which implies even more than concentrated reflection, and
involves themes dependent on large, pure sentiment. An able lawyer has
to reflect much upon a broad, difficult case in order to master it;
but when in the solitude of his study he is drawn, by the conflicts
and wrongs he has witnessed during the day, to think on the
purposes and destiny of human life, he more than reflects--he is
lifted into a contemplative mood. Archbishop Trench, in his valuable
volume on the "Study of Words," opens a paragraph with this sentence:
"Let us now proceed to _contemplate_ some of the attestations for
God's truth, and some of the playings into the hands of the devil's
falsehood, which may be found to lurk in words." Here we suggest that
the proper word were _consider_; for there is activity, and a
progressive activity, in the mental operation on which he enters,
which disqualifies the verb _contemplate_.

Habitual showiness in language, as in dress and manners, denotes lack
of discipline or lack of refinement. Our American magniloquence--the
tendency to which is getting more and more subdued--comes partly from
national youthfulness, partly from license, that bastard of liberty,
and partly from the geographical and the present, and still more the
prospective, political grandeur of the country, which Coleridge
somewhere says is to be "England in glorious magnification."

I AM FREE TO CONFESS. An irredeemable vulgarism.


INDEBTEDNESS. "The amount of my _engagedness_" sounds as well
and is as proper as "the amount of my _indebtedness_." We have already
_hard-heartedness_, _wickedness_, _composedness_, and others.
Nevertheless, this making of nouns out of adjectives with the
participial form is an irruption over the boundaries of the parts of
speech which should not be encouraged.

Archbishop Whately, in a passage of his shortcoming comments on
Bacon's "Essays," uses _preparedness_. Albeit that brevity is a
cardinal virtue in writing, a circumlocution would, we think, be
better than a gawky word like this, so unsteady on its long legs. In
favor of _indebtedness_ over others of like coinage, this is to be
said--that it imports that which in one form or other comes home to
the bosom of all humanity.

INTELLECTS. That man's intellectual power is not one and indivisible,
but consists of many separate, independent faculties, is a momentous
truth, revealed by the insight of Gall. One of the results of this
great discovery may at times underlie the plural use of the important
word _intellect_ when applied to one individual. If so, it were still
indefensible. It has, we suspect, a much less philosophic origin, and
proceeds from the unsafe practice of overcharging the verbal
gun in order to make more noise in the ear of the listener. The plural
is correctly used when we speak of two or more different men.

LEFT. "I left at ten o'clock." This use of _leave_ as a neuter verb,
however attractive from its brevity, is not defensible. _To leave off_
is the only proper neuter form. "We left off at six, and left (the
hall) at a quarter past six." The place should be inserted after the
second _left_. Even the first is essentially active, some form of
action being understood after _off_: we left off _work_ or _play_.

MIDST. "In our midst" is a common but incorrect phrase.

OUR AUTHOR. A vulgarism, which, by its seeming convenience, gets the
countenance of critical writers. We say _seeming_ convenience; for in
this seeming lies the vulgarity, the writer expressing, unconsciously
often, by the _our_, a feeling of patronage. With his _our_ he pats
the author on the back.

PERIODICAL is an adjective, and its use as a substantive is an
unwarrantable gain of brevity at the expense of grammar.

PROPOSE. Hardly any word that we have cited is so frequently
misused, and by so many good writers, as _propose_, when the meaning
is to design, to intend to propose. It should always be followed by a
personal accusative--I propose to you, to him, to myself. In the
preface to Hawthorne's "Marble Faun" occurs the following sentence;
"The author _proposed_ to himself merely to write a fanciful story,
evolving a thoughtful moral, and did not _purpose_ attempting a
portraiture of Italian manners and character"--a sentence than which a
fitter could not be written to illustrate the proper use of _propose_
and _purpose_.

PREDICATED UPON. This abomination is paraded by persons who lose no
chance of uttering "dictionary words," hit or miss; and is sometimes
heard from others from whom the educated world has a right to look for
more correctness.

RELIABLE. A counterfeit, which no stamping by good writers or
universality of circulation will ever be able to introduce into the
family circle of honest English as a substitute for the robust Saxon
word whose place it would usurp--_trustworthy_. _Reliable_ is,
however, good English when used to signify that one is liable again.
When you have lost a receipt, and cannot otherwise prove that
a bill rendered has been paid, you are _re-liable_ for the amount.

RELIGION. Even by scholars this word is often used with looseness. In
strictness it expresses exclusively our relation to the Infinite, the
_bond_ between man and God. You will sometimes read that he is the
truly religious man who most faithfully performs his duties of
neighbor, father, son, husband, citizen. However much a religious man
may find himself strengthened by his faith and inspirited for the
performance of all his duties, this strength is an indirect, and not a
uniform or necessary, effect of religious convictions. Some men who
are sincere in such convictions fail in these duties conspicuously;
while, on the other hand, they are performed, at times, with more than
common fidelity by men who do not carry within them any very lively
religious belief or impressions. "And now abideth faith, hope, and
charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity." Nor can
the greatest do the work of the others any more than faith that of
hope or charity. Each one of "these three" is different from and
independent of the other, however each one be aided by cooperation
from the others. The deep, unique feeling which lifts up and
binds the creature to the Creator is elementarily one in the human
mind, and the word used to denote it should be kept solely for this
high office, and not weakened or perverted by other uses. Worcester
quotes from Dr. Watts the following sound definition: "In a proper
sense, _virtue_ signifies duty toward men, and _religion_ duty to

SALOON. That eminent pioneer of American sculpture, brilliant talker,
and accomplished gentleman, the lamented Horatio Greenough, was
indignantly eloquent against the American abuse of this graceful
importation from France, applied as it is in the United States to
public billiard-rooms, oyster-cellars and grog-shops.

SUBJECT-MATTER. A tautological humpback.

TO VENTILATE, applied to a subject or person. The scholar who should
use this vilest of vulgarisms deserves to have his right thumb taken

We have here noted a score of the errors prevalent in written and
spoken speech--some of them perversions or corruptions, countenanced
even by eminent writers; some, misapplications that weaken and
disfigure the style of him who adopts them; and some, downright
vulgarisms--that is, phrases that come from below, and are
thrust into clean company with the odors of slang about them. These
last are often a device for giving piquancy to style. Against such
abuses we should be the more heedful, because, from the convenience of
some of them, they get so incorporated into daily speech as not to be
readily distinguishable from their healthy neighbors, clinging for
generations to tongues and pens. Of this tenacity there is a notable
exemplification in a passage of Boswell, written nearly a hundred
years ago. Dr. Johnson found fault with Boswell for using the phrase
to _make_ money: "Don't you see the impropriety of it? To _make_ money
is to _coin_ it: you should say _get_ money." Johnson, adds Boswell,
"was jealous of infractions upon the genuine English language, and
prompt to repress colloquial barbarisms; such as _pledging_ myself,
for _undertaking_; _line_ for _department_ or _branch_, as the _civil
line_, the _banking line_. He was particularly indignant against the
almost universal use of the word _idea_ in the sense of _notion_ or
_opinion_, when it is clear that _idea_ can only signify something of
which an image can be formed in the mind. We may have an _idea_ or
_image_ of a mountain, a tree, a building, but we surely cannot have
an idea or image of an _argument_ or _proposition_. Yet we
hear the sages of the law 'delivering their _ideas_ upon the question
under consideration;' and the first speakers of Parliament 'entirely
coinciding in the _idea_ which has been ably stated by an honorable

Whether or not the word _idea_ may be properly used in a deeper or
grander sense than that stated by Dr. Johnson, there is no doubt that
he justly condemned its use in the cases cited by him, and in similar
ones. All the four phrases _make money_, _pledge_, _line_, and _idea_,
whereupon sentence of guilty was passed by the great lexicographer,
are still at large, and, if it be not a bull to say so, more at large
to-day than in the last century, since the area of their currency has
been extended to America, Australia, and the Pacific Islands.



[8] From _Putnam's Monthly_, 1857.

We are eminently a people of action; we are fond of shows,
processions, and organized spectacles; we are so much more imitative
than our British cousins, that, without limiting its appeals to the
mimetic files of fashion, the ungentlemanly theory of a Simian descent
for man might find support in the features of our general life. To
complete the large compound of qualities that are required, in order
that an emulous people give birth to a drama, one is yet wanting; but
that one is not merely the most important of all, but is the one which
lifts the others into dramatic importance. Are we poetical? Ask any
number of continental Europeans, whether the English are a poetical
people. A loud, unanimous, derisive _no_ would be the answer. And
yet, there is Shakespeare! and around him, back to Chaucer and forward
to Tennyson, a band of such poets, that this prosaic nation has the
richest poetic literature in Christendom. Especially in this matter
are appearances delusive, and hasty inferences liable to be illogical.
From the prosers that one hears in pulpits, legislatures,
lecture-rooms, at morning calls and well-appointed dinner-tables in
Anglo-America, let no man infer against our poetic endowment.
Shakespeare, and Milton, and Burns, and Wordsworth, are of our stock;
and what we have already done in poetry and the plastic arts, while
yet, as a nation, hardly out of swaddling-clothes, is an earnest of a
creative future. We are to have a national literature and a national
drama. What is a national drama? Premising that as little in their
depth as in their length will our remarks be commensurate with the
dimensions of this great theme, we would say a few words.

A literature is the expression of what is warmest and deepest in the
heart of a people. Good books are the crystallization of thoughts and
feelings. To have a literature--that is, a body of enduring
books--implies vigor and depth. Such books are the measure of the
mental vitality in a people. Those peoples that have the best books
will be found to be at the top of the scale of humanity; those that
have none, at the bottom. Good books, once brought forth,
exhale ever after both fragrance and nourishment. They educate while
they delight many generations.

Good books are the best thoughts of the best men. They issue out of
deep hearts and strong heads; and where there are deep hearts and
strong heads such books are sure to come to life. The mind, like the
body, will reproduce itself: the mind, too, is procreative,
transmitting itself to a remote posterity.

The best books are the highest products of human effort. Themselves
the evidence of creative power, they kindle and nourish power.
Consider what a spring of life to European people have been the books
of the Hebrews. What so precious treasure has England as Shakespeare?

To be good, books must be generic. They may be, in subject, in tone,
and in color, national; but in substance they must be so universally
human, that other cognate nations can imbibe and be nourished by them.
Not that, in their fashioning, this fitness for foreign minds is to be
a conscious aim; but to be thus attractive and assimilative, is a
proof of their breadth and depth--of their high humanity.

The peoples who earliest reached the state of culture which is
needed to bring forth books, each standing by itself, each necessarily
sang and wrote merely of itself. Thus did the Hebrews and the Greeks.
But already the Romans went out of themselves, and Virgil takes a
Trojan for his hero. This appropriation of foreign material shows that
the aim of high books is, to ascend to the sphere of ideas and
feelings that are independent of time and place. Thence, when, by
multiplication of Christian nations our mental world had become vastly
enlarged, embracing in one bond of culture, not only all modern
civilized peoples, but also the three great ancient ones, the
poets--especially the dramatic, for reasons that will be presently
stated--looked abroad and afar for the frame-work and corporeal stuff
of their writings.

The most universal of all writers, ancient or modern, he who is most
generic in his thought, Shakespeare, embodied his transcendent
conceptions for the most part in foreign personages. Of Shakespeare's
fourteen comedies, the scene of only one is laid in England; and that
one, "The Merry Wives of Windsor"--the only one not written chiefly or
largely in verse--is a Shakespearean farce. Of the tragedies
(except the series of the ten historical ones) only two, "Lear" and
"Macbeth," stand on British ground. Is "Hamlet" on that score less
English than "Lear," or "Othello" than "Macbeth"? Does Italy count
Juliet among her trophies, or Desdemona?

Of Milton's two dramas---to confine myself here to the dramatic
domain--the tragedy ("Samson Agonistes,") like his epics, is Biblical;
the comedy ("Comus") has its home in a sphere

"Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot
Which men call earth."

Of the numerous athletic corps of dramatists, contemporary with
Shakespeare and Milton, few have left works pithy enough and so
poetically complete as to withstand the wear of time and keep fresh to
each successive generation. But if you inspect the long list from
which Charles Lamb took his "Specimens," you will find few British

Casting our eyes on the dramatic efforts of the recent English poetic
celebrities, we perceive that Byron, Coleridge, and Shelley, all
abandoned, in every instance, native ground. The only dramatic work of
a great modern, the scene of which is laid within the British limits,
is "The Borderers," of Wordsworth, which, though having the
poetic advantage of remoteness in time--being thrown back to the reign
of Henry III.--is, in strictness, neither a drama nor a poem,
Wordsworth's deficiency in dramatic gifts being so signal as to cause,
by the impotent struggle in an uncongenial element, a partial
paralysis even of his high poetic genius.

Glance now across the Channel. French poetic tragedy is in its
subjects almost exclusively ancient--Greek, Roman, and Biblical. In
the works of the great comic genius of France, Moliere, we have a
salient exception to the practice of all other eminent dramatists. The
scene of his plays is Paris; the time is the year in which each was

Let us look for the cause of this remarkable isolation.

Moliere was the manager of a theatrical company in the reign of Louis
XIV., and he wrote, as he himself declares, to please the king and
amuse the Parisians. But deeper than this; Moliere was by nature a
great satirist. I call him a _great_ satirist, because of the
affluence of inward substance that fed his satiric appetite--namely, a
clear, moral sensibility, distinguishing by instinct the true from the
false, rare intellectual nimbleness, homely common sense,
shrewd insight into men, a keen wit, with vivid perception of the
comic and absurd. For a satirist so variously endowed, the stage was
the best field, and for Moliere especially, gifted as he was with
histrionic genius. The vices and abuses, the follies and absurdities,
the hypocrisies and superficialities of civilized life, these were the
game for his faculties. The interior of Paris households he
transferred to the stage with biting wit, doubling the attractiveness
of his pictures by comic hyperbole. His portraits are caricatures, not
because they exaggerate vices or foibles, but because they so bloat
out a single personage with one vice or one folly as to make him a
lop-sided deformity. Characters he did not seek to draw, but he made a
personage the medium of incarnating a quality. Harpagon is not a
miser; he is Avarice speaking and doing. Alceste is not a person; he
is Misanthropy personified.

This fundamental exaggeration led to and facilitated the caricature of
relations and juxtapositions. With laughable unscrupulousness Moliere
multiplies improbable blunders and conjunctions. All verisimilitude is
sacrificed to scenic vivacity. Hence, the very highest of his comedies
are farce-like; even "Tartuffe" is so.

In Moliere little dramatic growth goes on before the
spectator's eye. His personages are not gradually built up by
successive touches, broad or fine; they do not evolve themselves
chiefly by collision with others; in the first act they come on the
stage unfolded. The action and plot advance rapidly, but not through
the unrolling of the persons represented. Hence, his most important
personages are prosaic and finite. They interest you more as agents
for the purpose in hand than as men and women. They are subordinate
rather to the action than creative of action.

Moliere is a most thorough realist, and herein is his strength. In him
the comic is a vehicle for satire; and the satire gives pungency and
body to the comic. He was primarily a satirist, secondarily a poet.
Such being his powers and his aims, helpful to him, nay, needful, was
a present Parisian actuality of story and agents. A poetic comedy
ought to be, and will necessarily be, a chapter of very high life.
Moliere's comedies, dealing unctuously with vice and folly, are,
philosophically speaking, low life. His are comedies not of character
and sentiment, but of manners and morals, and therefore cannot be
highly poetical; and thence he felt no want of a remote
ground, clean of all local coloring and association, such as is
essential to the dramatist whose inspiration is poetical, and who
therefore must reconcile the ideal with the real, by which
reconciliation only can be produced the purest truth. That,
notwithstanding they belong not to the highest poetic sphere, his
comedies continue to live and to be enjoyed, this testifies of the
breadth and truthfulness of his humanity, the piercing insight of his
rich mind, and his superlative comic genius.

Of Alfieri's twenty-two tragedies, three only are modern, and of these
three the scene of one is in Spain.

Of the nine or ten tragedies of the foremost German dramatic poet,
Schiller, three are German, "The Robbers," "Intrigue and Love," and

Goethe's highest dramas, "Iphigenia," "Egmont," "Torquato Tasso," are
all foreign in clothing. "The Natural Daughter" has no local
habitation, no dependence on time or place. "Goetz von Berlichingen,"
written in Goethe's earliest days of authorship, is German and in
prose, "Faust"--the greatest poem of these latter times, and rivaling
the greatest poems of all time--"Faust" is not strictly a drama: its
wonderful successive scenes are not bound together by dramatic

The drama of Spain, like the comedies of Moliere, is an exception to
the rule we deduce from the practice of other dramatists; but it is an
exception which, like that of Moliere, confirms the rule. Unlike the
ancient Greek and the French tragic poets, unlike Schiller,
Shakespeare, Goethe, Alfieri, the Spanish dramatists do not aim at
ideal humanity. The best of them, Calderon, is so intensely Spanish
and Romish, as to be, in comparison with the breadth and universality
of his eminent compeers above named, almost provincial. His personages
are not large and deep enough to be representative. The manifold
recesses of great minds he does not unveil; he gets no deeper than the
semi-barbarous exaggerations of selfish, passionate love; of revenge,
honor, and jealousy. His characterization is weak. His highest
characters lack intellectual calibre, and are exhibited in lyrical
one-sidedness rather than dramatic many-sidedness. He is mostly
content with Spanish cavaliers of the seventeenth century, ruled by
the conventionalisms in manners, morals, and superstition, which have
already passed away even in Spain. He is a marvelously fertile,
skillful, poetic playwright.

Thus we perceive that, with poetic dramatists, the prevailing
practice is, to look abroad for fables. Moreover, in the cases where
these were drawn from the bosom of the poet's own people, he shuns the
present, and hies as far back as he can into the dark abysms of time,
as Shakespeare does in Macbeth and Lear. The Greek tragic poets,
having no outward resource, took possession of the fabulous era of
Greece. The poetic dramatist seeks mostly a double remoteness, that of
place as well as that of time; and he must have one or the other.

The law lying behind this phenomenon is transparent. The higher poetry
is, the more generic it is. Its universality is a chief constituent of
its excellence. The drama is the most generically human, and,
therefore, the highest of the great forms of poetry. The epic deals
with the material, the outward--humanity concreted into events; the
lyric with the inward, when that is so individual and intense as to
gush out in ode or song. The dramatic is the union of the epic and
lyric--the inward moulding the outward, predominant over the outward
while co-working with it. In the dramatic, the action is more made by
the personality; in the epic, the personality is more merged in the
strong, full stream of events. The lyric is the utterance of
one-sided, partial (however deep and earnest) feeling, the which must
be linked to other feelings to give wholeness to the man and his
actions. The dramatic combines several lyrics with the epic. Out of
humanity and human action it extracts the essence. It presents men in
their completest form, in warm activity, impelled thereto by strongest
feelings. Hence, it must be condensed and compact, and must, for its
highest display, get rid of local coloring, personal associations, and
all prosaic circumscriptions. The poetic dramatist needs the highest
poetic freedom, and only through this can he attain to that breadth
and largeness whereof the superiority of his form admits, and which
are such in Shakespeare, that in his greatest plays the whole world
seems to be present as spectators and listeners.

Observe that the highest dramatic literatures belong to the two freest
peoples--the Greeks and the English. A people, possessing already a
large political freedom, must be capable of, and must be in the act
of, vigorous, rich development, through deep inward passion and
faculty, in order that its spirit shall issue in the perennial flowers
of the poetic drama. The dramatic especially implies and
demands variety and fullness and elevation of _personality_; and
this is only possible through freedom, the attainment of which freedom
implies on its side the innate fertility of nature which results in
fullness and elevation.

Now in the subjective elevation of the individual, and therewith the
unprecedented relative number of individuals thus elevated, herein do
we exceed all other peoples. By subjective elevation I mean,
liberation from the outward, downward pressure of dogmatic
prescription, of imperious custom, of blindfolded tradition, of
irresponsible authority. The despotic objectivity of Asia--where
religion is submissiveness, and manhood is crushed by obedience--has
been partially withstood in Europe. The emancipation therefrom of the
Indo-Germanic race is completed in Anglo-America. Through this
manifold emancipation we are to be, in all the high departments of
human achievement, preeminently creative, because, while equipped with
the best of the past, we are at the same time preeminently subjective;
and, therefore, high literature will, with us, necessarily take the
lyrical, and especially the dramatic, form.

More than our European ancestors, we mold, each one of us, our
own destiny; we have a stronger inward sense of power to unfold and
elevate ourselves; we are more ready and more capable to withstand the
assaults of circumstance. Here is more thoroughly embodied the true
Christian principle, that out of himself is to come every man's
redemption; that the favor and help of God are only to be obtained
through resolute self-help, and honest, earnest struggle. In
Christendom we stand alone as having above us neither the objectivity
of politics nor that of the church. The light of the past we have,
without its darkness. We carry little weight from the exacting past.
Hence, our unexampled freedom and ease of movement which, wanting the
old conventional ballast, to Europeans seems lawless and reckless.
Even among ourselves, many tremble for our future, because they have
little faith in humanity, and because they cannot grasp the new, grand
historic phenomenon of a people possessing all the principles,
practices, and trophies of civilization without its paralyzing

But think not, because we are less passive to destiny, we are
rebellious against Deity; because we are boldly self-reliant, we are,
therefore, irreligiously defiant. The freer a people is, the
nearer it is to God. The more subjective it is, through acquired
self-rule, the more will it harmonize with the high objectivity of
absolute truth and justice. For having thrown off the capricious
secondary rule of man, we shall not be the less, but the more, under
the steadfast, primary rule of God; for having broken the force of
human, fallible prescription, we shall the more feel and acknowledge
the supremacy of flawless, divine law; for having rejected the tyranny
of man's willfulness, we shall submit the more fully to the beneficent
power of principle.

Our birth, growth, and continued weal, depending on large, deep
principles--principles deliberately elaborated and adopted by reason,
and generously embracing the whole--our life must be interpenetrated
by principle, and thence our literature must embrace the widest and
most human wants and aspirations of man. And thus, it will be our
privilege and our glory to be then the most national in our books when
we are the most universal.




_Gentlemen of the Rhode Island Art Association:_--

We are met to inaugurate an Association whose aim and end shall be the
encouragement and culture of Art. A most high end--among the highest
that men can attempt; an end that never can be entertained except by
men of the best breed. There is no art among savages, none among
barbarians. Barbarism and art are adversary terms. When men capable of
civilization ascend into it, art manifests itself an inevitable
accompaniment, an indispensable aid to human development. I will say
further, that in a people the capacity to be cultivated involves the
capacity, nay, the necessity of art. And still further, that those
nations that have been or are preeminent on the earth, are preeminent
in art. Nay, more, that a nation cannot attain to and maintain
eminence without being proficient in art; and that to abstract from a
people its artists were not merely to pluck the flowers from its
branches; it were to cut off its-deep roots.

Who is the artist?

He who embodies, in whatever mode,--so that they be visible or
audible, and thus find entrance to the mind,--conceptions of the
beautiful, is an artist. The test and characteristic of the artistic
nature are superior sensibility to the beautiful. Unite to this the
faculties and the will to give form to the impressions and emotions
that are the fruit of this susceptibility, and you have the artist.
Whether he shall embody his conception in written verse, in marble, in
stone, in sound, on the canvas, that will depend on each one's
individual aptitudes. Generic, common, indispensable to all is the
superior sensibility to the beautiful. In this lies the essence of the

The beautiful and the perfect being, if not identical, in closest
consanguinity, the artist's is an important, a great function. The
artist must receive into his mind, or engender in his mind's native
richness, conceptions of what is most high, most perfect, most
beautiful in shape or sound, in thought or feeling; and producing it
before his fellow-men, appeal to their sensibility to the beautiful,
to their deepest sympathies, to their capacity of being moved by the
grandest and the noblest there is in man and nature. Truly, a mighty
part is that of the artist.

Artists are the educators of humanity. Tutors and professors instruct
princes and kings, but poets (and all genuine artists are poets)
educate nations. Take from Greece Homer and Phidias, and Sophocles and
Scopas, and the planner of the Parthenon, and you efface Greece from
history. Wanting them, she would not have been the great Greece that
we know; she would not have had the vigor of sap, the nervous
vitality, to have continued to live in a remote posterity, immortal in
the culture, the memories, and the gratitude of men.

So great, so far-stretching, so undying is the power of this exalted
class of men, that it were hardly too much to say that had Homer and
Phidias never lived, we should not be here today. If this be deemed
extravagant, with confidence I affirm that but for the existence of
the greatest artist the world has ever known,--of him who may
be called the chief educator of England,--but for Shakespeare, we
assuredly should not be here to-day doing the good work we are doing.

There are probably some of this company who, like myself, having had
the good fortune to be in London at the time of the world's fair,
stood under that magnificent, transparent roof, trod that immense area
whereon fifty thousand people moved at ease. It was a privilege,--the
memory of which will last a life-time, to have been admitted into that
gigantic temple of industry, there to behold in unimaginable profusion
and variety the product of man's labor, intellect, and genius,
gathered from the four corners of the earth into one vast, gorgeous
pile,--a spectacle peerless from its mere material splendor, and from
its moral significance absolutely sublime.

On entering by the chief portal into the transept,--covering in the
huge oaks of Hyde Park,--the American, after wondering for a moment in
the glare of the first aspect, will, with the eagerness and perhaps
the vanity of his nation,--have hastened through the compartments of
France, Belgium, Germany, gorgeous with color, glistening with gold.
He will have hastened, hard as it was to hurry through such a
show, in order to reach at once the far eastern end of the palace
where a broad area had been allotted to the United States,--Jonathan,
as is his wont, having helped himself largely. Great was the
American's disappointment, cutting was the rebuke to his vanity; his
country made no _show_ at all. The samples of her industry were
not outwardly brilliant. Their excellence lay in their inward power,
in their wide usefulness. They were not ornaments and luxuries for the
dwellings of the few, they were inventions that diffuse comforts and
blessings among the many,--labor-saving machines and cheap newspapers.
By the thoughtful visitor the merit of these was appreciated, as it
was acknowledged in the final awards of the judges. And even in this
high department where we are so eminent, owing to distance and
misunderstandings, we were not adequately represented. But even if we
had been, the European would have said, "This has a high value and
interest; but still I find not here enough to justify the expectations
entertained by this people, and by many in Europe, of the future
greatness of the American Republic. These things, significant as they
are, are yet not an alphabet that can be so compounded as to
write the richest page of man's history. In this present display I
find not prefigured that splendid future the Americans are fond of
predicting for themselves." And the American, acknowledging the force
of the comment, would have turned away mortified, humbled. But he was
saved any such humiliation. In the midst of that area, under that
beautiful flag, day after day, week after week, month after month,
from morn till night, go when he would, he beheld there a circle ever
full, its vacancies supplied as soon as they were made, a circle
silent with admiration, hushed by emotion, gazing at a master-piece of
American art, the Greek Slave of Powers. And from that contemplation
hundreds of thousands of Europeans carried away an impression of
American capacity, a conviction that truly a great page is to be
written by the young republic in the book of history,--a sense of
American power which they could have gotten from no other source.

Our Association, gentlemen, owes its origin to the wants of industry.
The moving power which has been strongest in bringing so many of us
together to found an institution for the encouragement of art in Rhode
Island, is the desire hereby more thoroughly to inweave the
beautiful into cotton and woolen fabrics, into calicoes and delaines;
to melt the beautiful into iron and brass, and copper, as well as into
silver and gold; so that our manufacturers and artisans may hold their
own against the competition of England and France and Germany, whereof
in the two latter countries especially, schools of design have long
existed, and high artists find their account in furnishing the
beautiful to manufacturers.

"A low origin this for such a society, and the fruits will be without
flavor. Art will not submit to be so lowered," will say some travelled
dilettante, who, with book in hand, has looked by rote on the wonders
of the Louvre and the Vatican; but the Creator of the universe teaches
a different lesson from this observer. Not the rare lightning merely,
but the daily sunlight, too; not merely the distant star-studded
canopy of the earth, but also our near earth itself, has He made
beautiful. He surrounds us with beauty; He envelops us in beauty.
Beauty is spread out on the familiar grass, glows in the daily flower,
glistens in the dew, waves in the commonest leafy branch. All about
us, in infinite variety, beauty is lavished by God in sights
and sounds, and odors. Now, in using the countless and multifarious
substances that are put within our reach, to be by our ingenuity and
contrivance wrought into materials for our protection and comfort, and
pleasure, it becomes us to--it is part of his design that we
shall--follow the divine example, so that in all our handiwork, as in
his, there shall be beauty, so much as the nature of each product is
susceptible of. That it is the final purpose of Providence that our
whole life, inward and outward, shall be beautiful, and be steeped in
beauty, we have evidence, in the yearnings of the best natures for the
perfect, in the delight we take in the most resplendent objects of art
and nature, in the ennobling thrill we feel on witnessing a beautiful

By culture we can so create and multiply beauty, that all our
surroundings shall be beautiful.

Can you not imagine a city of the size of this, or vastly larger, the
structure of whose streets and buildings shall be made under the
control of the best architectural ideas, being of various stones and
marbles, and various in style and color, so that each and every one
shall be either light, or graceful, or simple, or ornate, or solid,
or grand, according to its purpose, and the conception of the
builder; and in the midst and on the borders of the city, squares, and
parks, planted with trees and flowers and freshened by streams and
fountains. And when you recall the agreeable, the elevating sensation
you have experienced in front of a perfect piece of architecture
(still so rare), will you not readily concede that where every edifice
should be beautiful, and you never walked or drove out but through
streets of palaces and artistic parks, the effect on the whole
population of this ever-present beauty and grandeur, would be to
refine, to expand, to elevate. When we look at the architectural
improvements made within a generation, in London, in Paris, in New
York, we may, without being Utopians, hope for this transformation.
But the full consummation of such a hope can only be brought about in
unison with improvements in all the conditions and relations of life,
and the diffusion of such improvements among the masses.

It is to further-such diffusion that this Association has been
founded. Our purpose is to meet the growing demand for beauty in all
things; to bring into closer cooperation the artisan and the artist;
to make universally visible and active the harmony,--I almost might
say the identity,--there is between the useful and the beautiful.

Gentlemen, ever in the heart of the practical, in the very core of the
useful, there is enclosed a seed of beauty; and upon the
fructification, growth, and expansion of that seed depends,--aye,
absolutely depends,--the development of the practical. But for the
expansion of that seed, we should have neither the plough nor the
printing-press, neither shoes nor the steam engine. To that we owe
silver forks as well as the electric telegraph. In no province of work
or human endeavor is improvement made, is improvement possible, but by
the action of that noble faculty through which we are uplifted when
standing before a masterpiece of Raphael. This ceaseless seeking for a
better, this unresting impulse towards the perfect, has brought the
English race through a thousand years of gradual upward movement, from
the narrow heptarchy, with its rude simplicity of life, up to this
wide cultivated confederacy of states with its multiform opulence of
life; and will yet carry us to a condition as much superior to our
present as that is to the times of Alfred.

In the works of the Almighty this principle is so alive that they are
radiant with beauty; and the degree of the radiance of each is often
the measure of its usefulness. How beautiful is a field of
golden wheat--whereby our bodies live--and the more beautiful the
closer it stands and the fuller are its heads. The oak and the pine
owe their majestic beauty to that which is the index of their
usefulness, the solid magnitude of their trunks. The proportions which
give the horse his highest symmetry of form, give him his fleetness
and endurance and strength. And thus, too, with man,--his works, when
best, sparkle most with this fire of the beautiful. We profit by
history in proportion as it registers beautiful sayings and beautiful
doings. We profit one another in everyday life in proportion as our
acts, the minor as well as the greater, are vitalized by this divine
essence of beauty. To the speeches of Webster, even to the most
technical, this essence gives their completeness and their grandeur of
proportion; while it is this which illuminates with undying splendor
the creations of Allston. Thus, gentlemen, the aim of our Association
is most noble and useful, drawing its nobleness from its high
usefulness. May it so prosper, that a generation hence, thousands and
tens of thousands shall look back to this the day of its inauguration
with praise and thankfulness.

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