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Selections from the Prose Works of Matthew Arnold by Matthew Arnold

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himself passed by anticipation a like sentence on his own work, when he
said: "If a new presentation of the character of Jesus were offered to
me, I would not have it; its very clearness would be, in my opinion, the
best proof of its insufficiency." His friends may with perfect justice
rejoin that at the sight of the Holy Land, and of the actual scene of
the Gospel story, all the current of M. Renan's thoughts may have
naturally changed, and a new casting of that story irresistibly
suggested itself to him; and that this is just a case for applying
Cicero's maxim: Change of mind is not inconsistency--_nemo doctus unquam
mutationem consilii inconstantiam dixit esse_.[57] Nevertheless, for
criticism, M. Renan's first thought must still be the truer one, as long
as his new casting so fails more fully to commend itself, more fully (to
use Coleridge's happy phrase[58] about the Bible) to _find_ us. Still M.
Renan's attempt is, for criticism, of the most real interest and
importance, since, with all its difficulty, a fresh synthesis of the New
Testament _data_--not a making war on them, in Voltaire's fashion, not a
leaving them out of mind, in the world's fashion, but the putting a new
construction upon them, the taking them from under the old, traditional,
conventional point of view and placing them under a new one--is the very
essence of the religious problem, as now presented; and only by efforts
in this direction can it receive a solution.

Again, in the same spirit in which she judges Bishop Colenso, Miss
Cobbe, like so many earnest liberals of our practical race, both here
and in America, herself sets vigorously about a positive reconstruction
of religion, about making a religion of the future out of hand, or at
least setting about making it. We must not rest, she and they are always
thinking and saying, in negative criticism, we must be creative and
constructive; hence we have such works as her recent _Religious Duty_,
and works still more considerable, perhaps, by others, which will be in
every one's mind. These works often have much ability; they often spring
out of sincere convictions, and a sincere wish to do good; and they
sometimes, perhaps, do good. Their fault is (if I may be permitted to
say so) one which they have in common with the British College of
Health, in the New Road. Every one knows the British College of Health;
it is that building with the lion and the statue of the Goddess Hygeia
before it; at least I am sure about the lion, though I am not absolutely
certain about the Goddess Hygeia. This building does credit, perhaps, to
the resources of Dr. Morrison and his disciples; but it falls a good
deal short of one's idea of what a British College of Health ought to
be. In England, where we hate public interference and love individual
enterprise, we have a whole crop of places like the British College of
Health; the grand name without the grand thing. Unluckily, creditable to
individual enterprise as they are, they tend to impair our taste by
making us forget what more grandiose, noble, or beautiful character
properly belongs to a public institution. The same may be said of the
religions of the future of Miss Cobbe and others. Creditable, like the
British College of Health, to the resources of their authors, they yet
tend to make us forget what more grandiose, noble, or beautiful
character properly belongs to religious constructions. The historic
religions, with all their faults, have had this; it certainly belongs to
the religious sentiment, when it truly flowers, to have this; and we
impoverish our spirit if we allow a religion of the future without it.
What then is the duty of criticism here? To take the practical point of
view, to applaud the liberal movement and all its works,--its New Road
religions of the future into the bargain,--for their general utility's
sake? By no means; but to be perpetually dissatisfied with these works,
while they perpetually fall short of a high and perfect ideal. For
criticism, these are elementary laws; but they never can be popular, and
in this country they have been very little followed, and one meets with
immense obstacles in following them. That is a reason for asserting them
again and again. Criticism must maintain its independence of the
practical spirit and its aims. Even with well-meant efforts of the
practical spirit it must express dissatisfaction, if in the sphere of
the ideal they seem impoverishing and limiting. It must not hurry on to
the goal because of its practical importance. It must be patient, and
know how to wait; and flexible, and know how to attach itself to things
and how to withdraw from them. It must be apt to study and praise
elements that for the fulness of spiritual perfection are wanted, even
though they belong to a power which in the practical sphere may be
maleficent. It must be apt to discern the spiritual shortcomings or
illusions of powers that in the practical sphere may be beneficent. And
this without any notion of favoring or injuring, in the practical
sphere, one power or the other; without any notion of playing off, in
this sphere, one power against the other. When one looks, for instance,
at the English Divorce Court--an institution which perhaps has its
practical conveniences, but which in the ideal sphere is so hideous; an
institution which neither makes divorce impossible nor makes it decent,
which allows a man to get rid of his wife, or a wife of her husband, but
makes them drag one another first, for the public edification, through a
mire of unutterable infamy,--when one looks at this charming
institution, I say, with its crowded trials, its newspaper reports, and
its money compensations, this institution in which the gross
unregenerate British Philistine has indeed stamped an image of himself,
--one may be permitted to find the marriage theory of Catholicism
refreshing and elevating. Or when Protestantism, in virtue of its
supposed rational and intellectual origin, gives the law to criticism
too magisterially, criticism may and must remind it that its
pretensions, in this respect, are illusive and do it harm; that the
Reformation was a moral rather than an intellectual event; that Luther's
theory of grace[59] no more exactly reflects the mind of the spirit than
Bossuet's philosophy of history[60] reflects it; and that there is no
more antecedent probability of the Bishop of Durham's stock of ideas
being agreeable to perfect reason than of Pope Pius the Ninth's. But
criticism will not on that account forget the achievements of
Protestantism in the practical and moral sphere; nor that, even in the
intellectual sphere, Protestantism, though in a blind and stumbling
manner, carried forward the Renascence, while Catholicism threw itself
violently across its path.

I lately heard a man of thought and energy contrasting the want of ardor
and movement which he now found amongst young men in this country with
what he remembered in his own youth, twenty years ago. "What reformers
we were then!" he exclaimed; "What a zeal we had! how we canvassed every
institution in Church and State, and were prepared to remodel them all
on first principles!" He was inclined to regret, as a spiritual
flagging, the lull which he saw. I am disposed rather to regard it as a
pause in which the turn to a new mode of spiritual progress is being
accomplished. Everything was long seen, by the young and ardent amongst
us, in inseparable connection with politics and practical life. We have
pretty well exhausted the benefits of seeing things in this connection,
we have got all that can be got by so seeing them. Let us try a more
disinterested mode of seeing them; let us betake ourselves more to the
serener life of the mind and spirit. This life, too, may have its
excesses and dangers; but they are not for us at present. Let us think
of quietly enlarging our stock of true and fresh ideas, and not, as soon
as we get an idea or half an idea, be running out with it into the
street, and trying to make it rule there. Our ideas will, in the end,
shape the world all the better for maturing a little. Perhaps in fifty
years' time it will in the English House of Commons be an objection to
an institution that it is an anomaly, and my friend the Member of
Parliament will shudder in his grave. But let us in the meanwhile rather
endeavor that in twenty years' time it may, in English literature, be an
objection to a proposition that it is absurd. That will be a change so
vast, that the imagination almost fails to grasp it. _Ab Integro
soeclorum nascitur ordo_.[61]

If I have insisted so much on the course which criticism must take where
politics and religion are concerned, it is because, where these burning
matters are in question, it is most likely to go astray. I have wished,
above all, to insist on the attitude which criticism should adopt
towards things in general; on its right tone and temper of mind. But
then comes another question as to the subject-matter which literary
criticism should most seek. Here, in general, its course is determined
for it by the idea which is the law of its being: the idea of a
disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and
thought in the world, and thus to establish a current of fresh and true
ideas. By the very nature of things, as England is not all the world,
much of the best that is known and thought in the world cannot be of
English growth, must be foreign; by the nature of things, again, it is
just this that we are least likely to know, while English thought is
streaming in upon us from all sides, and takes excellent care that we
shall not be ignorant of its existence. The English critic of
literature, therefore, must dwell much on foreign thought, and with
particular heed on any part of it, which, while significant and fruitful
in itself, is for any reason specially likely to escape him. Again,
judging is often spoken of as the critic's one business, and so in some
sense it is; but the judgment which almost insensibly forms itself in a
fair and clear mind, along with fresh knowledge, is the valuable one;
and thus knowledge, and ever fresh knowledge, must be the critic's great
concern for himself. And it is by communicating fresh knowledge, and
letting his own judgment pass along with it,--but insensibly, and in the
second place, not the first, as a sort of companion and clue, not as an
abstract lawgiver,--that the critic will generally do most good to his
readers. Sometimes, no doubt, for the sake of establishing an author's
place in literature, and his relation to a central standard (and if this
is not done, how are we to get at our _best in the world?_) criticism
may have to deal with a subject-matter so familiar that fresh knowledge
is out of the question, and then it must be all judgment; an enunciation
and detailed application of principles. Here the great safeguard is
never to let oneself become abstract, always to retain an intimate and
lively consciousness of the truth of what one is saying, and, the moment
this fails us, to be sure that something is wrong. Still under all
circumstances, this mere judgment and application of principles is, in
itself, not the most satisfactory work to the critic; like mathematics,
it is tautological, and cannot well give us, like fresh learning, the
sense of creative activity.

But stop, some one will say; all this talk is of no practical use to us
whatever; this criticism of yours is not what we have in our minds when
we speak of criticism; when we speak of critics and criticism, we mean
critics and criticism of the current English literature of the day: when
you offer to tell criticism its function, it is to this criticism that
we expect you to address yourself. I am sorry for it, for I am afraid I
must disappoint these expectations. I am bound by my own definition of
criticism; _a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best
that is known and thought in the world._. How much of current English
literature comes into this "best that is known and thought in the
world"? Not very much I fear; certainly less, at this moment, than of
the current literature of France or Germany. Well, then, am I to alter
my definition of criticism, in order to meet the requirements of a
number of practising English critics, who, after all, are free in their
choice of a business? That would be making criticism lend itself just to
one of those alien practical considerations, which, I have said, are so
fatal to it. One may say, indeed, to those who have to deal with the
mass--so much better disregarded--of current English literature, that
they may at all events endeavor, in dealing with this, to try it, so far
as they can, by the standard of the best that is known and thought in
the world; one may say, that to get anywhere near this standard, every
critic should try and possess one great literature, at least, besides
his own; and the more unlike his own, the better. But, after all, the
criticism I am really concerned with,--the criticism which alone can
much help us for the future, the criticism which, throughout Europe, is
at the present day meant, when so much stress is laid on the importance
of criticism and the critical spirit,--is a criticism which regards
Europe as being, for intellectual and spiritual purposes, one great
confederation, bound to a joint action and working to a common result;
and whose members have, for their proper outfit, a knowledge of Greek,
Roman, and Eastern antiquity, and of one another. Special, local, and
temporary advantages being put out of account, that modern nation will
in the intellectual and spiritual sphere make most progress, which most
thoroughly carries out this program. And what is that but saying that we
too, all of us, as individuals, the more thoroughly we carry it out,
shall make the more progress?

There is so much inviting us!--what are we to take? what will nourish us
in growth towards perfection? That is the question which, with the
immense field of life and of literature lying before him, the critic has
to answer; for himself first, and afterwards for others. In this idea of
the critic's business the essays brought together in the following pages
have had their origin; in this idea, widely different as are their
subjects, they have, perhaps, their unity.

I conclude with what I said at the beginning: to have the sense of
creative activity is the great happiness and the great proof of being
alive, and it is not denied to criticism to have it; but then criticism
must be sincere, simple, flexible, ardent, ever widening its knowledge.
Then it may have, in no contemptible measure, a joyful sense of creative
activity; a sense which a man of insight and conscience will prefer to
what he might derive from a poor, starved, fragmentary, inadequate
creation. And at some epochs no other creation is possible.

Still, in full measure, the sense of creative activity belongs only to
genuine creation; in literature we must never forget that. But what true
man of letters ever can forget it? It is no such common matter for a
gifted nature to come into possession of a current of true and living
ideas, and to produce amidst the inspiration of them, that we are likely
to underrate it. The epochs of AEschylus and Shakespeare make us feel
their preeminence. In an epoch like those is, no doubt, the true life of
literature; there is the promised land, towards which criticism can only
beckon. That promised land it will not be ours to enter, and we shall
die in the wilderness: but to have desired to enter it, to have saluted
it from afar, is already, perhaps, the best distinction among
contemporaries; it will certainly be the best title to esteem with


"The future of poetry is immense, because in poetry, where it is worthy
of its high destinies, our race, as time goes on, will find an ever
surer and surer stay. There is not a creed which is not shaken, not an
accredited dogma which is not shown to be questionable, not a received
tradition which does not threaten to dissolve. Our religion has
materialized itself in the fact, in the supposed fact; it has attached
its emotion to the fact, and how the fact is failing it. But for poetry
the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine
illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea _is_ the
fact. The strongest part of our religion today is its unconscious

Let me be permitted to quote these words of my own, as uttering the
thought which should, in my opinion, go with us and govern us in all our
study of poetry. In the present work it is the course of one great
contributory stream to the world-river of poetry that we are invited to
follow. We are here invited to trace the stream of English poetry. But
whether we set ourselves, as here, to follow only one of the several
streams that make the mighty river of poetry, or whether we seek to know
them all, our governing thought should be the same. We should conceive
of poetry worthily, and more highly than it has been the custom to
conceive of it. We should conceive of it as capable of higher uses, and
called to higher destinies than those which in general men have
assigned to it hitherto. More and more mankind will discover that we
have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to
sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most
of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced
by poetry. Science, I say, will appear incomplete without it. For finely
and truly does Wordsworth call poetry "the impassioned expression which
is in a countenance of all science"[64] and what is a countenance
without its expression? Again, Wordsworth finely and truly calls poetry
"the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge":[64] our religion,
parading evidences such as those on which the popular mind relies now;
our philosophy, pluming itself on its reasonings about causation and
finite and infinite being; what are they but the shadows and dreams and
false shows of knowledge? The day will come when we shall wonder at
ourselves for having trusted to them, for having taken them seriously;
and the more we perceive their hollowness, the more we shall prize "the
breath and finer spirit of knowledge" offered to us by poetry.

But if we conceive thus highly of the destinies of poetry, we must also
set our standard for poetry high, since poetry, to be capable of
fulfilling such high destinies, must be poetry of a high order of
excellence. We must accustom ourselves to a high standard and to a
strict judgment. Sainte-Beuve relates that Napoleon one day said, when
somebody was spoken of in his presence as a charlatan: "Charlatan as
much as you please; but where is there _not_ charlatanism?"--"Yes,"
answers Sainte-Beuve,[65] "in politics, in the art of governing mankind,
that is perhaps true. But in the order of thought, in art, the glory,
the eternal honor is that charlatanism shall find no entrance; herein
lies the inviolableness of that noble portion of man's being." It is
admirably said, and let us hold fast to it. In poetry, which is thought
and art in one, it is the glory, the eternal honor, that charlatanism
shall find no entrance; that this noble sphere be kept inviolate and
inviolable. Charlatanism is for confusing or obliterating the
distinctions between excellent and inferior, sound and unsound or only
half-sound, true and untrue or only half-true. It is charlatanism,
conscious or unconscious, whenever we confuse or obliterate these. And
in poetry, more than anywhere else, it is unpermissible to confuse or
obliterate them. For in poetry the distinction between excellent and
inferior, sound and unsound or only half-sound, true and untrue or only
half-true, is of paramount importance. It is of paramount importance
because of the high destinies of poetry. In poetry, as a criticism of
life[66] under the conditions fixed for such a criticism by the laws of
poetic truth and poetic beauty, the spirit of our race will find, we
have said, as time goes on and as other helps fail, its consolation and
stay. But the consolation and stay will be of power in proportion to the
power of the criticism of life. And the criticism of life will be of
power in proportion as the poetry conveying it is excellent rather than
inferior, sound rather than unsound or half-sound, true rather than
untrue or half-true.

The best poetry is what we want; the best poetry will be found to have a
power of forming, sustaining, and delighting us, as nothing else can. A
clearer, deeper sense of the best[67] is the most precious benefit which
we can gather from a poetical collection such as the present. And yet in
the very nature and conduct of such a collection there is inevitably
something which tends to obscure in us the consciousness of what our
benefit should be, and to distract us from the pursuit of it. We should
therefore steadily set it before our minds at the outset, and should
compel ourselves to revert constantly to the thought of it as we

Yes; constantly in reading poetry, a sense for the best, the really
excellent, and of the strength and joy to be drawn from it, should be
present in our minds and should govern our estimate of what we read. But
this real estimate, the only true one, is liable to be superseded, if we
are not watchful, by two other kinds of estimate, the historic estimate
and the personal estimate, both of which are fallacious. A poet or a
poem may count to us historically, they may count to us on grounds
personal to ourselves, and they may count to us really. They may count
to us historically. The course of development of a nation's language,
thought, and poetry, is profoundly interesting; and by regarding a
poet's work as a stage in this course of development we may easily bring
ourselves to make it of more importance as poetry than in itself it
really is, we may come to use a language of quite exaggerated praise in
criticising it; in short, to over-rate it. So arises in our poetic
judgments the fallacy caused by the estimate which we may call historic.
Then, again, a poet or a poem may count to us on grounds personal to
ourselves. Our personal affinities, likings, and circumstances, have
great power to sway our estimate of this or that poet's work, and to
make us attach more importance to it as poetry than in itself it really
possesses, because to us it is, or has been, of high importance. Here
also we over-rate the object of our interest, and apply to it a language
of praise which is quite exaggerated. And thus we get the source of a
second fallacy in our poetic judgments--the fallacy caused by an
estimate which we may call personal.

Both fallacies are natural. It is evident how naturally the study of the
history and development of a poetry may incline a man to pause over
reputations and works once conspicuous but now obscure, and to quarrel
with a careless public for skipping, in obedience to mere tradition and
habit, from one famous name or work in its national poetry to another,
ignorant of what it misses, and of the reason for keeping what it keeps,
and of the whole process of growth in its poetry. The French have become
diligent students of their own early poetry, which they long neglected;
the study makes many of them dissatisfied with their so-called classical
poetry, the court-tragedy of the seventeenth century, a poetry which
Pellisson[68] long ago reproached with its want of the true poetic
stamp, with its _politesse sterile et rampante?_[69] but which
nevertheless has reigned in France as absolutely as if it had been the
perfection of classical poetry indeed. The dissatisfaction is natural;
yet a lively and accomplished critic, M. Charles d'Hericault,[70] the
editor of Clement Marot, goes too far when he says that "the cloud of
glory playing round a classic is a mist as dangerous to the future of a
literature as it is intolerable for the purposes of history." "It
hinders," he goes on, "it hinders us from seeing more than one single
point, the culminating and exceptional point, the summary, fictitious
and arbitrary, of a thought and of a work. It substitutes a halo for a
physiognomy, it puts a statue where there was once a man, and hiding
from us all trace of the labor, the attempts, the weaknesses, the
failures, it claims not study but veneration; it does not show us how
the thing is done, it imposes upon us a model. Above all, for the
historian this creation of classic personages is inadmissible; for it
withdraws the poet from his time, from his proper life, it breaks
historical relationships, it blinds criticism by conventional
admiration, and renders the investigation of literary origins
unacceptable. It gives us a human personage no longer, but a God seated
immovable amidst His perfect work, like Jupiter on Olympus; and hardly
will it be possible for the young student, to whom such work is
exhibited at such a distance from him, to believe that it did not issue
ready made from that divine head."

All this is brilliantly and tellingly said, but we must plead for a
distinction. Everything depends on the reality of a poet's classic
character. If he is a dubious classic, let us sift him; if he is a false
classic, let us explode him. But if he is a real classic, if his work
belongs to the class of the very best (for this is the true and right
meaning of the word _classic, classical_), then the great thing for us
is to feel and enjoy his work as deeply as ever we can, and to
appreciate the wide difference between it and all work which has not the
same high character. This is what is salutary, this is what is
formative; this is the great benefit to be got from the study of poetry.
Everything which interferes with it, which hinders it, is injurious.
True, we must read our classic with open eyes, and not with eyes blinded
with superstition; we must perceive when his work comes short, when it
drops out of the class of the very best, and we must rate it, in such
cases, at its proper value. But the use of this negative criticism is
not in itself, it is entirely in its enabling us to have a clearer sense
and a deeper enjoyment of what is truly excellent. To trace the labor,
the attempts, the weaknesses, the failures of a genuine classic, to
acquaint oneself with his time and his life and his historical
relationships, is mere literary dilettantism unless it has that clear
sense and deeper enjoyment for its end. It may be said that the more we
know about a classic the better we shall enjoy him; and, if we lived as
long as Methuselah and had all of us heads of perfect clearness and
wills of perfect steadfastness, this might be true in fact as it is
plausible in theory. But the case here is much the same as the case with
the Greek and Latin studies of our schoolboys. The elaborate
philological groundwork which we requite them to lay is in theory an
admirable preparation for appreciating the Greek and Latin authors
worthily. The more thoroughly we lay the groundwork, the better we shall
be able, it may be said, to enjoy the authors. True, if time were not so
short, and schoolboys' wits not so soon tired and their power of
attention exhausted; only, as it is, the elaborate philological
preparation goes on, but the authors are little known and less enjoyed.
So with the investigator of "historic origins" in poetry. He ought to
enjoy the true classic all the better for his investigations; he often
is distracted from the enjoyment of the best, and with the less good he
overbusies himself, and is prone to over-rate it in proportion to the
trouble which it has cost him.

The idea of tracing historic origins and historical relationships cannot
be absent from a compilation like the present. And naturally the poets
to be exhibited in it will be assigned to those persons for exhibition
who are known to prize them highly, rather than to those who have no
special inclination towards them. Moreover the very occupation with an
author, and the business of exhibiting him, disposes us to affirm and
amplify his importance. In the present work, therefore, we are sure of
frequent temptation to adopt the historic estimate, or the personal
estimate, and to forget the real estimate; which latter, nevertheless,
we must employ if we are to make poetry yield us its full benefit. So
high is that benefit, the benefit of clearly feeling and of deeply
enjoying the really excellent, the truly classic in poetry, that we do
well, I say, to set it fixedly before our minds as our object in
studying poets and poetry, and to make the desire of attaining it the
one principle to which, as the _Imitation_ says, whatever we may read or
come to know, we always return. _Cum multa legeris et cognoveris, ad
unum semper oportet redire principium._[71]

The historic estimate is likely in especial to affect our judgment and
our language when we are dealing with ancient poets; the personal
estimate when we are dealing with poets our contemporaries, or at any
rate modern. The exaggerations due to the historic estimate are not in
themselves, perhaps, of very much gravity. Their report hardly enters
the general ear; probably they do not always impose even on the literary
men who adopt them. But they lead to a dangerous abuse of language. So
we hear Caedmon,[72] amongst, our own poets, compared to Milton. I have
already noticed the enthusiasm of one accomplished French critic for
"historic origins." Another eminent French critic, M. Vitet,[73]
comments upon that famous document of the early poetry of his nation,
the _Chanson de Roland._[74] It is indeed a most interesting document.
The _joculator_ or _jongleur_ Taillefer, who was with William the
Conqueror's army at Hastings, marched before the Norman troops, so said
the tradition, singing "of Charlemagne and of Roland and of Oliver, and
of the vassals who died at Roncevaux"; and it is suggested that in the
_Chanson de Roland_ by one Turoldus or Theroulde, a poem preserved in a
manuscript of the twelfth century in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, we
have certainly the matter, perhaps even some of the words, of the chant
which Taillefer sang. The poem has vigor and freshness; it is not
without pathos. But M. Vitet is not satisfied with seeing in it a
document of some poetic value, and of very high historic and linguistic
value; he sees in it a grand and beautiful work, a monument of epic
genius. In its general design he finds the grandiose conception, in its
details he finds the constant union of simplicity with greatness, which
are the marks, he truly says, of the genuine epic, and distinguish it
from the artificial epic of literary ages. One thinks of Homer; this is
the sort of praise which is given to Homer, and justly given. Higher
praise there cannot well be, and it is the praise due to epic poetry of
the highest order only, and to no other. Let us try, then, the _Chanson
de Roland_ at its best. Roland, mortally wounded, lays himself down
under a pine-tree, with his face turned towards Spain and the enemy--

"De plusurs choses a remembrer li prist,
De tantes teres cume li bers cunquist,
De dulce France, des humes de sun lign,
De Carlemagne sun seignor ki l'nurrit."[75]

That is primitive work, I repeat, with an undeniable poetic quality of
its own. It deserves such praise, and such praise is sufficient for it.
But now turn to Homer--

Os phato tous d aedae katecheu phusizoos aia
en Lakedaimoni authi, philm en patridi gaim][76]

We are here in another world, another order of poetry altogether; here
is rightly due such supreme praise as that which M. Vitet gives to the
_Chanson de Roland_. If our words are to have any meaning, if our
judgments are to have any solidity, we must not heap that supreme praise
upon poetry of an order immeasurably inferior.

Indeed there can be no more useful help for discovering what poetry
belongs to the class of the truly excellent, and can therefore do us
most good, than to have always in one's mind lines and expressions of
the great masters, and to apply them as a touchstone to other poetry. Of
course we are not to require this other poetry to resemble them; it may
be very dissimilar. But if we have any tact we shall find them, when we
have lodged them well in our minds, an infallible touchstone for
detecting the presence or absence of high poetic quality, and also the
degree of this quality, in all other poetry which we may place beside
them. Short passages, even single lines, will serve our turn quite
sufficiently. Take the two lines which I have just quoted from Homer,
the poet's comment on Helen's mention of her brothers;--or take his

A delo, to sphoi domen Paelaei anakti
Thnaeta; umeis d eston agaero t athanato te.
ae ina dustaenoiosi met andrasin alge echaeton;[77]

the address of Zeus to the horses of Peleus;--or take finally his

Kai se, geron, to prin men akouomen olbion einar[78]

the words of Achilles to Priam, a suppliant before him. Take that
incomparable line and a half of Dante, Ugolino's tremendous words--

"Io no piangeva; si dentro impietrai.
Piangevan elli ..."[79]

take the lovely words of Beatrice to Virgil--

"Io son fatta da Dio, sua merce, tale,
Che la vostra miseria non mi tange,
Ne fiamma d'esto incendio non m'assale ..."[80]

take the simple, but perfect, single line--

"In la sua volontade e nostra pace."[81]

Take of Shakespeare a line or two of Henry the Fourth's expostulation
with sleep--

"Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge ..."[82]

and take, as well, Hamlet's dying request to Horatio--

"If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story ..."[83]

Take of Milton that Miltonic passage--

"Darken'd so, yet shone
Above them all the archangel; but his face
Deep scars of thunder had intrench'd, and care
Sat on his faded cheek ..."[84]

add two such lines as--

"And courage never to submit or yield
And what is else not to be overcome ..."[85]

and finish with the exquisite close to the loss of Proserpine, the loss

" ... which cost Ceres all that pain
To seek her through the world."[86]

These few lines, if we have tact and can use them, are enough even of
themselves to keep clear and sound our judgments about poetry, to save
us from fallacious estimates of it, to conduct us to a real estimate.

The specimens I have quoted differ widely from one another, but they
have in common this: the possession of the very highest poetical
quality. If we are thoroughly penetrated by their power, we shall find
that we have acquired a sense enabling us, whatever poetry may be laid
before us, to feel the degree in which a high poetical quality is
present or wanting there. Critics give themselves great labor to draw
out what in the abstract constitutes the characters of a high quality of
poetry. It is much better simply to have recourse to concrete examples;
--to take specimens of poetry of the high, the very highest quality, and
to say: The characters of a high quality of poetry are what is expressed
_there_. They are far better recognized by being felt in the verse of
the master, than by being perused in the prose of the critic.
Nevertheless if we are urgently pressed to give some critical account of
them, we may safely, perhaps, venture on laying down, not indeed how and
why the characters arise, but where and in what they arise. They are in
the matter and substance of the poetry, and they are in its manner and
style. Both of these, the substance and matter on the one hand, the
style and manner on the other, have a mark, an accent, of high beauty,
worth, and power. But if we are asked to define this mark and accent in
the abstract, our answer must be: No, for we should thereby be darkening
the question, not clearing it. The mark and accent are as given by the
substance and matter of that poetry, by the style and manner of that
poetry, and of all other poetry which is akin to it in quality.

Only one thing we may add as to the substance and matter of poetry,
guiding ourselves by Aristotle's profound observation[87] that the
superiority of poetry over history consists in its possessing a higher
truth and a higher seriousness ([Greek: philosophoteron kahi
spondaioteron]). Let us add, therefore, to what we have said, this: that
the substance and matter of the best poetry acquire their special
character from possessing, in an eminent degree, truth and seriousness.
We may add yet further, what is in itself evident, that to the style and
manner of the best poetry their special character, their accent, is
given by their diction, and, even yet more, by their movement. And
though we distinguish between the two characters, the two accents, of
superiority, yet they are nevertheless vitally connected one with the
other. The superior character of truth and seriousness, in the matter
and substance of the best poetry, is inseparable from the superiority of
diction and movement marking its style and manner. The two superiorities
are closely related, and are in steadfast proportion one to the other.
So far as high poetic truth and seriousness are wanting to a poet's
matter and substance, so far also, we may be sure, will a high poetic
stamp of diction and movement be wanting to his style and manner. In
proportion as this high stamp of diction and movement, again, is absent
from a poet's style and manner, we shall find, also, that high poetic
truth and seriousness are absent from his substance and matter.

So stated, these are but dry generalities; their whole force lies in
their application. And I could wish every student of poetry to make the
application of them for himself. Made by himself, the application would
impress itself upon his mind far more deeply than made by me. Neither
will my limits allow me to make any full application of the generalities
above propounded; but in the hope of bringing out, at any rate, some
significance in them, and of establishing an important principle more
firmly by their means, I will, in the space which remains to me, follow
rapidly from the commencement the course of our English poetry with them
in my view.

Once more I return to the early poetry of France, with which our own
poetry, in its origins, is indissolubly connected. In the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, that seed-time of all modern language and
literature, the poetry of France had a clear predominance in Europe. Of
the two divisions of that poetry, its productions in the _langue d'oil_
and its productions in the _langue d'oc_, the poetry of the _langue
d'oc_,[88] of southern France, of the troubadours, is of importance
because of its effect on Italian literature;--the first literature of
modern Europe to strike the true and grand note, and to bring forth, as
in Dante and Petrarch it brought forth, classics. But the predominance
of French poetry in Europe, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries,
is due to its poetry of the _langue d'oil_, the poetry of northern
France and of the tongue which is now the French language. In the
twelfth century the bloom of this romance-poetry was earlier and
stronger in England, at the court of our Anglo-Norman kings, than in
France itself. But it was a bloom of French poetry; and as our native
poetry formed itself, it formed itself out of this. The romance-poems
which took possession of the heart and imagination of Europe in the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries are French; "they are," as Southey
justly says, "the pride of French literature, nor have we anything which
can be placed in competition with them." Themes were supplied from all
quarters: but the romance-setting which was common to them all, and
which gained the ear of Europe, was French. This constituted for the
French poetry, literature, and language, at the height of the Middle
Age, an unchallenged predominance. The Italian Brunetto Latini,[89] the
master of Dante, wrote his _Treasure_ in French because, he says, "la
parleure en est plus delitable et plus commune a toutes gens." In the
same century, the thirteenth, the French romance-writer, Christian of
Troyes,[90] formulates the claims, in chivalry and letters, of France,
his native country, as follows:--

"Or vous ert par ce livre apris,
Que Gresse ot de chevalerie
Le premier los et de clergie;
Puis vint chevalerie a Rome,
Et de la clergie la some,
Qui ore est en France venue.
Diex doinst qu'ele i soit retenue
Et que li lius li abelisse
Tant que de France n'isse
L'onor qui s'i est arestee!"

"Now by this book you will learn that first Greece had the renown for
chivalry and letters: then chivalry and the primacy in letters passed to
Rome, and now it is come to France. God grant it may be kept there; and
that the place may please it so well, that the honor which has come to
make stay in France may never depart thence!"

Yet it is now all gone, this French romance-poetry, of which the weight
of substance and the power of style are not unfairly represented by this
extract from Christian of Troyes. Only by means of the historic estimate
can we persuade ourselves now to think that any of it is of poetical

But in the fourteenth century there comes an Englishman nourished on
this poetry; taught his trade by this poetry, getting words, rhyme,
meter from this poetry; for even of that stanza[91] which the Italians
used, and which Chaucer derived immediately from the Italians, the basis
and suggestion was probably given in France. Chaucer (I have already
named him) fascinated his contemporaries, but so too did Christian of
Troyes and Wolfram of Eschenbach.[92] Chaucer's power of fascination,
however, is enduring; his poetical importance does not need the
assistance of the historic estimate; it is real. He is a genuine source
of joy and strength, which is flowing still for us and will flow always.
He will be read, as time goes on, far more generally than he is read
now. His language is a cause of difficulty for us; but so also, and I
think in quite as great a degree, is the language of Burns. In
Chaucer's case, as in that of Burns, it is a difficulty to be
unhesitatingly accepted and overcome.

If we ask ourselves wherein consists the immense superiority of
Chaucer's poetry over the romance-poetry--why it is that in passing from
this to Chaucer we suddenly feel ourselves to be in another world, we
shall find that his superiority is both in the substance of his poetry
and in the style of his poetry. His superiority in substance is given by
his large, free, simple, clear yet kindly view of human life,--so unlike
the total want, in the romance-poets, of all intelligent command of it.
Chaucer has not their helplessness; he has gained the power to survey
the world from a central, a truly human point of view. We have only to
call to mind the Prologue to _The Canterbury Tales_. The right comment
upon it is Dryden's: "It is sufficient to say, according to the proverb,
that _here is God's plenty_."[93] And again: "He is a perpetual fountain
of good sense." It is by a large, free, sound representation of things,
that poetry, this high criticism of life, has truth of substance; and
Chaucer's poetry has truth of substance.

Of his style and manner, if we think first of the romance-poetry and
then of Chaucer's divine liquidness of diction, his divine fluidity of
movement, it is difficult to speak temperately. They are irresistible,
and justify all the rapture with which his successors speak of his "gold
dew-drops of speech." Johnson misses the point entirely when he finds
fault with Dryden for ascribing to Chaucer the first refinement of our
numbers, and says that Gower[94] also can show smooth numbers and easy
rhymes. The refinement of our numbers means something far more than
this. A nation may have versifiers with smooth numbers and easy rhymes,
and yet may have no real poetry at all. Chaucer is the father of our
splendid English poetry; he is our "well of English undefiled," because
by the lovely charm of his diction, the lovely charm of his movement, he
makes an epoch and founds a tradition.

In Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, we can follow the tradition of
the liquid diction, the fluid movement, of Chaucer; at one time it is
his liquid diction of which in these poets we feel the virtue, and at
another time it is his fluid movement. And the virtue is irresistible.

Bounded as is my space, I must yet find room for an example of Chaucer's
virtue, as I have given examples to show the virtue of the great
classics. I feel disposed to say that a single line is enough to show
the charm of Chaucer's verse; that merely one line like this--

"O martyr souded[95] in virginitee!"

has a virtue of manner and movement such as we shall not find in all the
verse of romance-poetry;--but this is saying nothing. The virtue is such
as we shall not find, perhaps, in all English poetry, outside the poets
whom I have named as the special inheritors of Chaucer's tradition. A
single line, however, is too little if we have not the strain of
Chaucer's verse well in our memory; let us take a stanza. It is from
_The Prioress's Tale_, the story of the Christian child murdered in a

"My throte is cut unto my nekke-bone
Saide this child, and as by way of kinde
I should have deyd, yea, longe time agone;
But Jesu Christ, as ye in bookes finde,
Will that his glory last and be in minde,
And for the worship of his mother dere
Yet may I sing _O Alma_ loud and clere."

Wordsworth has modernized this Tale, and to feel how delicate and
evanescent is the charm of verse, we have only to read Wordsworth's
first three lines of this stanza after Chaucer's--

"My throat is cut unto the bone, I trow,
Said this young child, and by the law of kind
I should have died, yea, many hours ago."

The charm is departed. It is often said that the power of liquidness and
fluidity in Chaucer's verse was dependent upon a free, a licentious
dealing with language, such as is now impossible; upon a liberty, such
as Burns too enjoyed, of making words like _neck_, _bird_, into a
dissyllable by adding to them, and words like _cause_, _rhyme_, into a
dissyllable by sounding the _e_ mute. It is true that Chaucer's fluidity
is conjoined with this liberty, and is admirably served by it; but we
ought not to say that it was dependent upon it. It was dependent upon
his talent. Other poets with a like liberty do not attain to the
fluidity of Chaucer; Burns himself does not attain to it. Poets, again,
who have a talent akin to Chaucer's, such as Shakespeare or Keats, have
known how to attain to his fluidity without the like liberty.

And yet Chaucer is not one of the great classics. His poetry transcends
and effaces, easily and without effort, all the romance-poetry of
Catholic Christendom; it transcends and effaces all the English poetry
contemporary with it, it transcends and effaces all the English poetry
subsequent to it down to the age of Elizabeth. Of such avail is poetic
truth of substance, in its natural and necessary union with poetic truth
of style. And yet, I say, Chaucer is not one of the great classics. He
has not their accent. What is wanting to him is suggested by the mere
mention of the name of the first great classic of Christendom, the
immortal poet who died eighty years before Chaucer,--Dante. The accent
of such verse as

"In la sua volontade e nostra pace ..."

is altogether beyond Chaucer's reach; we praise him, but we feel that
this accent is out of the question for him. It may be said that it was
necessarily out of the reach of any poet in the England of that stage of
growth. Possibly; but we are to adopt a real, not a historic, estimate
of poetry. However we may account for its absence, something is wanting,
then, to the poetry of Chaucer, which poetry must have before it can be
placed in the glorious class of the best. And there is no doubt what
that something is. It is the[Greek: spoudaiotaes] the high and
excellent seriousness, which Aristotle assigns as one of the grand
virtues of poetry. The substance of Chaucer's poetry, his view of things
and his criticism of life, has largeness, freedom, shrewdness,
benignity; but it has not this high seriousness. Homer's criticism of
life has it, Dante's has it, Shakespeare's has it. It is this chiefly
which gives to our spirits what they can rest upon; and with the
increasing demands of our modern ages upon poetry, this virtue of giving
us what we can rest upon will be more and more highly esteemed. A voice
from the slums of Paris, fifty or sixty years after Chaucer, the voice
of poor Villon[96] out of his life of riot and crime, has at its happy
moments (as, for instance, in the last stanza of _La Belle Heaulmiere_
[97]) more of this important poetic virtue of seriousness than all the
productions of Chaucer. But its apparition in Villon, and in men like
Villon, is fitful; the greatness of the great poets, the power of their
criticism of life, is that their virtue is sustained.

To our praise, therefore, of Chaucer as a poet there must be this
limitation: he lacks the high seriousness of the great classics, and
therewith an important part of their virtue. Still, the main fact for us
to bear in mind about Chaucer is his sterling value according to that
real estimate which we firmly adopt for all poets. He has poetic truth
of substance, though he has not high poetic seriousness, and
corresponding to his truth of substance he has an exquisite virtue of
style and manner. With him is born our real poetry.

For my present purpose I need not dwell on our Elizabethan poetry, or on
the continuation and close of this poetry in Milton. We all of us
profess to be agreed in the estimate of this poetry; we all of us
recognize it as great poetry, our greatest, and Shakespeare and Milton
as our poetical classics. The real estimate, here, has universal
currency. With the next age of our poetry divergency and difficulty
begin. An historic estimate of that poetry has established itself; and
the question is, whether it will be found to coincide with the real

The age of Dryden, together with our whole eighteenth century which
followed it, sincerely believed itself to have produced poetical
classics of its own, and even to have made advance, in poetry, beyond
all its predecessors. Dryden regards as not seriously disputable the
opinion "that the sweetness of English verse was never understood or
practised by our fathers."[98] Cowley could see nothing at all in
Chaucer's poetry.[99] Dryden heartily admired it, and, as we have seen,
praised its matter admirably; but of its exquisite manner and movement
all he can find to say is that "there is the rude sweetness of a Scotch
tune in it, which is natural and pleasing, though not perfect."[100]
Addison, wishing to praise Chaucer's numbers, compares them with
Dryden's own. And all through the eighteenth century, and down even into
our own times, the stereotyped phrase of approbation for good verse
found in our early poetry has been, that it even approached the verse of
Dryden, Addison, Pope, and Johnson.

Are Dryden and Pope poetical classics? Is the historic estimate, which
represents them as such, and which has been so long established that it
cannot easily give way, the real estimate? Wordsworth and Coleridge, as
is well known, denied it;[101] but the authority of Wordsworth and
Coleridge does not weigh much with the young generation, and there are
many signs to show that the eighteenth century and its judgments are
coming into favor again. Are the favorite poets of the eighteenth
century classics?

It is impossible within my present limits to discuss the question fully.
And what man of letters would not shrink from seeming to dispose
dictatorially of the claims of two men who are, at any rate, such
masters in letters as Dryden and Pope; two men of such admirable talent,
both of them, and one of them, Dryden, a man, on all sides, of such
energetic and genial power? And yet, if we are to gain the full benefit
from poetry, we must have the real estimate of it. I cast about for some
mode of arriving, in the present case, at such an estimate without
offence. And perhaps the best way is to begin, as it is easy to begin,
with cordial praise.

When we find Chapman, the Elizabethan translator of Homer, expressing
himself in his preface thus: "Though truth in her very nakedness sits in
so deep a pit, that from Gades to Aurora and Ganges few eyes can sound
her, I hope yet those few here will so discover and confirm that, the
date being out of her darkness in this morning of our poet, he shall now
gird his temples with the sun,"--we pronounce that such a prose is
intolerable. When we find Milton writing: "And long it was not after,
when I was confirmed in this opinion, that he, who would not be
frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought
himself to be a true poem,"[102]--we pronounce that such a prose has its
own grandeur, but that it is obsolete and inconvenient. But when we find
Dryden telling us: "What Virgil wrote in the vigor of his age, in plenty
and at ease, I have undertaken to translate in my declining years;
struggling with wants, oppressed with sickness, curbed in my genius,
liable to be misconstrued in all I write,"[103]--then we exclaim that
here at last we have the true English prose, a prose such as we would
all gladly use if we only knew how. Yet Dryden was Milton's

But after the Restoration the time had come when our nation felt the
imperious need of a fit prose. So, too, the time had likewise come when
our nation felt the imperious need of freeing itself from the absorbing
preoccupation which religion in the Puritan age had exercised. It was
impossible that this freedom should be brought about without some
negative excess, without some neglect and impairment of the religious
life of the soul; and the spiritual history of the eighteenth century
shows us that the freedom was not achieved without them. Still, the
freedom was achieved; the preoccupation, an undoubtedly baneful and
retarding one if it had continued, was got rid of. And as with religion
amongst us at that period, so it was also with letters. A fit prose was
a necessity; but it was impossible that a fit prose should establish
itself amongst us without some touch of frost to the imaginative life of
the soul. The needful qualities for a fit prose are regularity,
uniformity, precision, balance. The men of letters, whose destiny it may
be to bring their nation to the attainment of a fit prose, must of
necessity, whether they work in prose or in verse, give a predominating,
an almost exclusive attention to the qualities of regularity,
uniformity, precision, balance. But an almost exclusive attention to
these qualities involves some repression and silencing of poetry.

We are to regard Dryden as the puissant and glorious founder, Pope as
the splendid high priest, of our age of prose and reason, of our
excellent and indispensable eighteenth century. For the purposes of
their mission and destiny their poetry, like their prose, is admirable.
Do you ask me whether Dryden's verse, take it almost where you will, is
not good?

"A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchanged,
Fed on the lawns and in the forest ranged."[104]

I answer: Admirable for the purposes of the inaugurator of an age of
prose and reason. Do you ask me whether Pope's verse, take it almost
where you will, is not good?

"To Hounslow Heath I point, and Banstead Down;
Thence comes your mutton, and these chicks my own."[105]

I answer: Admirable for the purposes of the high priest of an age of
prose and reason. But do you ask me whether such verse proceeds from men
with an adequate poetic criticism of life, from men whose criticism of
life has a high seriousness, or even, without that high seriousness, has
poetic largeness, freedom, insight, benignity? Do you ask me whether the
application of ideas to life in the verse of these men, often a powerful
application, no doubt, is a powerful _poetic_ application? Do you ask me
whether the poetry of these men has either the matter or the inseparable
manner of such an adequate poetic criticism; whether it has the accent

"Absent thee from felicity awhile ... "

or of

"And what is else not to be overcome ... "

or of

"O martyr sonded in virginitee!"

I answer: It has not and cannot have them; it is the poetry of the
builders of an age of prose and reason.

Though they may write in verse, though they may in a certain sense be
masters of the art of versification, Dryden and Pope are not classics of
our poetry, they are classics of our prose.

Gray is our poetical classic of that literature and age; the position of
Gray is singular, and demands a word of notice here. He has not the
volume or the power of poets who, coming in times more favorable, have
attained to an independent criticism of life. But he lived with the
great poets, he lived, above all, with the Greeks, through perpetually
studying and enjoying them; and he caught their poetic point of view for
regarding life, caught their poetic manner. The point of view and the
manner are not self-sprung in him, he caught them of others; and he had
not the free and abundant use of them. But whereas Addison and Pope
never had the use of them, Gray had the use of them at times. He is the
scantiest and frailest of classics in our poetry, but he is a classic.

And now, after Gray, we are met, as we draw towards the end of the
eighteenth century, we are met by the great name of Burns. We enter now
on times where the personal estimate of poets begins to be rife, and
where the real estimate of them is not reached without difficulty. But
in spite of the disturbing pressures of personal partiality, of national
partiality, let us try to reach a real estimate of the poetry of Burns.
By his English poetry Burns in general belongs to the eighteenth
century, and has little importance for us.

"Mark ruffian Violence, distain'd with crimes,
Rousing elate in these degenerate times;
View unsuspecting Innocence a prey,
As guileful Fraud points out the erring way;
While subtle Litigation's pliant tongue
The life-blood equal sucks of Right and Wrong!"[106]

Evidently this is not the real Burns, or his name and fame would have
disappeared long ago. Nor is Clarinda's[107] love-poet, Sylvander, the
real Burns either. But he tells us himself: "These English songs gravel
me to death. I have not the command of the language that I have of my
native tongue. In fact, I think that my ideas are more barren in English
than in Scotch. I have been at _Duncan Gray_ to dress it in English, but
all I can do is desperately stupid."[108] We English turn naturally, in
Burns, to the poems in our own language, because we can read them
easily; but in those poems we have not the real Burns.

The real Burns is of course in his Scotch poems. Let us boldly say that
of much of this poetry, a poetry dealing perpetually with Scotch drink,
Scotch religion, and Scotch manners, a Scotchman's estimate is apt to be
personal. A Scotchman is used to this world of Scotch drink, Scotch
religion, and Scotch manners; he has a tenderness for it; he meets its
poet half way. In this tender mood he reads pieces like the _Holy Fair
or Halloween_. But this world of Scotch drink, Scotch religion, and
Scotch manners is against a poet, not for him, when it is not a partial
countryman who reads him; for in itself it is not a beautiful world, and
no one can deny that it is of advantage to a poet to deal with a
beautiful world. Burns's world of Scotch drink, Scotch religion, and
Scotch manners, is often a harsh, a sordid, a repulsive world; even the
world of his _Cotter's Saturday Night_ is not a beautiful world. No
doubt a poet's criticism of life may have such truth and power that it
triumphs over its world and delights us. Burns may triumph over his
world, often he does triumph over his world, but let us observe how and
where. Burns is the first case we have had where the bias of the
personal estimate tends to mislead; let us look at him closely, he can
bear it.

Many of his admirers will tell us that we have Burns, convivial,
genuine, delightful, here--

"Leeze me on drink! it gies us mair
Than either school or college;
It kindles wit, it waukens lair,
It pangs us fou o' knowledge.
Be't whisky gill or penny wheep
Or ony stronger potion,
It never fails, on drinking deep,
To kittle up our notion
By night or day."[109]

There is a great deal of that sort of thing in Burns, and it is
unsatisfactory, not because it is bacchanalian poetry, but because it
has not that accent of sincerity which bacchanalian poetry, to do it
justice, very often has. There is something in it of bravado, something
which makes us feel that we have not the man speaking to us with his
real voice: something, therefore, poetically unsound.

With still more confidence will his admirers tell us that we have the
genuine Burns, the great poet, when his strain asserts the independence,
equality, dignity, of men, as in the famous song _For a' that and a'

"A prince can mak' a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, and a' that;
But an honest man's a boon his might,
Guid faith he manna fa' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
Their dignities, and a' that,
The pith o' sense, and pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that."

Here they find his grand, genuine touches; and still more, when this
puissant genius, who so often set morality at defiance, falls

"The sacred lowe o' weel placed love
Luxuriantly indulge it;
But never tempt th' illicit rove,
Tho' naething should divulge it.
I waive the quantum o' the sin,
The hazard o' concealing,
But och! it hardens a' within,
And petrifies the feeling."[110]

Or in a higher strain--

"Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone;
Each spring, its various bias.
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's _done_ we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted."[111]

Or in a better strain yet, a strain, his admirers will say,

"To make a happy fire-side clime
To weans and wife,
That's the true pathos and sublime
Of human life."[112]

There is criticism of life for you, the admirers of Burns will say to
us; there is the application of ideas to life! There is, undoubtedly.
The doctrine of the last-quoted lines coincides almost exactly with what
was the aim and end, Xenophon tells us, of all the teaching of Socrates.
And the application is a powerful one; made by a man of vigorous
understanding, and (need I say?) a master of language.

But for supreme poetical success more is required than the powerful
application of ideas to life; it must be an application under the
conditions fixed by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty. Those
laws fix as an essential condition, in the poet's treatment of such
matters as are here in question, high seriousness;--the high seriousness
which comes from absolute sincerity. The accent of high seriousness,
born of absolute sincerity, is what gives to such verse as

"In la sua volontade e nostra pace..."

to such criticism of life as Dante's, its power. Is this accent felt in
the passages which I have been quoting from Burns? Surely not; surely,
if our sense is quick, we must perceive that we have not in those
passages a voice from the very inmost soul of the genuine Burns; he is
not speaking to us from these depths, he is more or less preaching. And
the compensation for admiring such passages less, for missing the
perfect poetic accent in them, will be that we shall admire more the
poetry where that accent is found.

No; Burns, like Chaucer, comes short of the high seriousness of the
great classics, and the virtue of matter and manner which goes with that
high seriousness is wanting to his work. At moments he touches it in a
profound and passionate melancholy, as in those four immortal lines
taken by Byron as a motto for _The Bride of Abydos_, but which have in
them a depth of poetic quality such as resides in no verse of Byron's

"Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met, or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted."

But a whole poem of that quality Burns cannot make; the rest, in the
_Farewell to Nancy_, is verbiage.

We arrive best at the real estimate of Burns, I think, by conceiving his
work as having truth of matter and truth of manner, but not the accent
or the poetic virtue of the highest masters. His genuine criticism of
life, when the sheer poet in him speaks, is ironic; it is not--

"Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest, they must be best
Because they are Thy will!"[113]

It is far rather: _Whistle owre the lave o't!_ Yet we may say of him as
of Chaucer, that of life and the world, as they come before him, his
view is large, free, shrewd, benignant,--truly poetic, therefore; and
his manner of rendering what he sees is to match. But we must note, at
the same time, his great difference from Chaucer. The freedom of Chaucer
is heightened, in Burns, by a fiery, reckless energy; the benignity of
Chaucer deepens, in Burns, into an overwhelming sense of the pathos of
things;--of the pathos of human nature, the pathos, also, of non-human
nature. Instead of the fluidity of Chaucer's manner, the manner of Burns
has spring, bounding swiftness. Burns is by far the greater force,
though he has perhaps less charm. The world of Chaucer is fairer,
richer, more significant than that of Burns; but when the largeness and
freedom of Burns get full sweep, as in _Tam o' Shanter_, or still more
in that puissant and splendid production, _The Jolly Beggars_, his world
may be what it will, his poetic genius triumphs over it. In the world of
_The Jolly Beggars_ there is more than hideousness and squalor, there is
bestiality; yet the piece is a superb poetic success. It has a breadth,
truth, and power which make the famous scene in Auerbach's Cellar, of
Goethe's _Faust_, seem artificial and tame beside it, and which are only
matched by Shakespeare and Aristophanes.

Here, where his largeness and freedom serve him so admirably, and also
in those poems and songs where to shrewdness he adds infinite archness
and, wit, and to benignity infinite pathos, where his manner is
flawless, and a perfect poetic whole is the result,--in things like the
address to the mouse whose home he had ruined, in things like _Duncan
Gray, Tarn Glen, Whistle and I'll come to you my Lad, Auld Lang Syne_
(this list might be made much longer),--here we have the genuine Burns,
of whom the real estimate must be high indeed. Not a classic, nor with
the excellent[Greek: spoudaihotaes] of the great classics, nor with a
verse rising to a criticism of life and a virtue like theirs; but a poet
with thorough truth of substance and an answering truth of style, giving
us a poetry sound to the core. We all of us have a leaning towards the
pathetic, and may be inclined perhaps to prize Burns most for his
touches of piercing, sometimes almost intolerable, pathos; for verse

"We twa hae paidl't i' the burn
From mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne ..."

where he is as lovely as he is sound. But perhaps it is by the
perfection of soundness of his lighter and archer masterpieces that he
is poetically most wholesome for us. For the votary misled by a personal
estimate of Shelley, as so many of us have been, are, and will be,--of
that beautiful spirit building his many-colored haze of words and images

"Pinnacled dim in the intense inane"--[114]

no contact can be wholesomer than the contact with Burns at his archest
and soundest. Side by side with the

"On the brink of the night and the morning
My coursers are wont to respire,
But the Earth has just whispered a warning
That their flight must be swifter than fire ..."[115]

of _Prometheus Unbound_, how salutary, how very salutary, to place this
from _Tam Glen_--

"My minnie does constantly deave me
and bids me beware o' young men;
They flatter, she says, to deceive me;
But wha can think sae o' Tam Glen?"

But we enter on burning ground as we approach the poetry of times so
near to us--poetry like that of Byron, Shelley, and Wordsworth--of which
the estimates are so often not only personal, but personal with passion.
For my purpose, it is enough to have taken the single case of Burns, the
first poet we come to of whose work the estimate formed is evidently apt
to be personal, and to have suggested how we may proceed, using the
poetry of the great classics as a sort of touchstone, to correct this
estimate, as we had previously corrected by the same means the historic
estimate where we met with it. A collection like the present, with its
succession of celebrated names and celebrated poems, offers a good
opportunity to us for resolutely endeavoring to make our estimates of
poetry real. I have sought to point out a method which will help us in
making them so, and to exhibit it in use so far as to put any one who
likes in a way of applying it for himself.

At any rate the end to which the method and the estimate are designed to
lead, and from leading to which, if they do lead to it, they get their
whole value,--the benefit of being able clearly to feel and deeply to
enjoy the best, the truly classic, in poetry,--is an end, let me say it
once more at parting, of supreme importance. We are often told that an
era is opening in which we are to see multitudes of a common sort of
readers, and masses of a common sort of literature; that such readers do
not want and could not relish anything better than such literature, and
that to provide it is becoming a vast and profitable industry. Even if
good literature entirely lost currency with the world, it would still be
abundantly worth while to continue to enjoy it by oneself. But it never
will lose currency with the world, in spite of momentary appearances; it
never will lose supremacy. Currency and supremacy are insured to it, not
indeed by the world's deliberate and conscious choice, but by something
far deeper,--by the instinct of self-preservation in humanity.


Practical people talk with a smile of Plato and of his absolute ideas;
and it is impossible to deny that Plato's ideas do often seem
unpractical and impracticable, and especially when one views them in
connection with the life of a great work-a-day world like the United
States. The necessary staple of the life of such a world Plato regards
with disdain; handicraft and trade and the working professions he
regards with disdain; but what becomes of the life of an industrial
modern community if you take handicraft and trade and the working
professions out of it? The base mechanic arts and handicrafts, says
Plato, bring about a natural weakness in the principle of excellence in
a man, so that he cannot govern the ignoble growths in him, but nurses
them, and cannot understand fostering any other. Those who exercise such
arts and trades, as they have their bodies, he says, marred by their
vulgar businesses, so they have their souls, too, bowed and broken by
them. And if one of these uncomely people has a mind to seek
self-culture and philosophy, Plato compares him to a bald little
tinker,[117] who has scraped together money, and has got his release
from service, and has had a bath, and bought a new coat, and is rigged
out like a bridegroom about to marry the daughter of his master who has
fallen into poor and helpless estate.

Nor do the working professions fare any better than trade at the hands
of Plato. He draws for us an inimitable picture of the working
lawyer,[118] and of his life of bondage; he shows how this bondage from
his youth up has stunted and warped him, and made him small and crooked
of soul, encompassing him with difficulties which he is not man enough
to rely on justice and truth as means to encounter, but has recourse,
for help out of them, to falsehood and wrong. And so, says Plato, this
poor creature is bent and broken, and grows up from boy to man without a
particle of soundness in him, although exceedingly smart and clever in
his own esteem.

One cannot refuse to admire the artist who draws these pictures. But we
say to ourselves that his ideas show the influence of a primitive and
obsolete order of things, when the warrior caste and the priestly caste
were alone in honor, and the humble work of the world was done by
slaves. We have now changed all that; the modern majesty[119] consists
in work, as Emerson declares; and in work, we may add, principally of
such plain and dusty kind as the work of cultivators of the ground,
handicraftsmen, men of trade and business, men of the working
professions. Above all is this true in a great industrious community
such as that of the United States.

Now education, many people go on to say, is still mainly governed by the
ideas of men like Plato, who lived when the warrior caste and the
priestly or philosophical class were alone in honor, and the really
useful part of the community were slaves. It is an education fitted for
persons of leisure in such a community. This education passed from
Greece and Rome to the feudal communities of Europe, where also the
warrior caste and the priestly caste were alone held in honor, and where
the really useful and working part of the community, though not
nominally slaves as in the pagan world, were practically not much better
off than slaves, and not more seriously regarded. And how absurd it is,
people end by saying, to inflict this education upon an industrious
modern community, where very few indeed are persons of leisure, and the
mass to be considered has not leisure, but is bound, for its own great
good, and for the great good of the world at large, to plain labor and
to industrial pursuits, and the education in question tends necessarily
to make men dissatisfied with these pursuits and unfitted for them!

That is what is said. So far I must defend Plato, as to plead that his
view of education and studies is in the general, as it seems to me,
sound enough, and fitted for all sorts and conditions of men, whatever
their pursuits may be. "An intelligent man," says Plato, "will prize
those studies, which result in his soul getting soberness,
righteousness, and wisdom, and will less value the others."[120] I
cannot consider _that_ a bad description of the aim of education, and of
the motives which should govern us in the choice of studies, whether we
are preparing ourselves for a hereditary seat in the English House of
Lords or for the pork trade in Chicago.

Still I admit that Plato's world was not ours, that his scorn of trade
and handicraft is fantastic, that he had no conception of a great
industrial community such as that of the United States, and that such a
community must and will shape its education to suit its own needs. If
the usual education handed down to it from the past does not suit it, it
will certainly before long drop this and try another. The usual
education in the past has been mainly literary. The question is whether
the studies which were long supposed to be the best for all of us are
practically the best now; whether others are not better. The tyranny of
the past, many think, weighs on us injuriously in the predominance given
to letters in education. The question is raised whether, to meet the
needs of our modern life, the predominance ought not now to pass from
letters to science; and naturally the question is nowhere raised with
more energy than here in the United States. The design of abasing what
is called "mere literary instruction and education," and of exalting
what is called "sound, extensive, and practical scientific knowledge,"
is, in this intensely modern world of the United States, even more
perhaps than in Europe, a very popular design, and makes great and rapid

I am going to ask whether the present movement for ousting letters from
their old predominance in education, and for transferring the
predominance in education to the natural sciences, whether this brisk
and flourishing movement ought to prevail, and whether it is likely that
in the end it really will prevail. An objection may be raised which I
will anticipate. My own studies have been almost wholly in letters, and
my visits to the field of the natural sciences have been very slight and
inadequate, although those sciences have always strongly moved my
curiosity. A man of letters, it will perhaps be said, is not competent
to discuss the comparative merits of letters and natural science as
means of education. To this objection I reply, first of all, that his
incompetence, if he attempts the discussion but is really incompetent
for it, will be abundantly visible; nobody will be taken in; he will
have plenty of sharp observers and critics to save mankind from that
danger. But the line I am going to follow is, as you will soon discover,
so extremely simple, that perhaps it may be followed without failure
even by one who for a more ambitious line of discussion would be quite

Some of you may possibly remember a phrase of mine which has been the
object of a good deal of comment; an observation to the effect that in
our culture, the aim being _to know ourselves and the world_, we have,
as the means to this end, _to know the best which has been thought and
said in the world_.[121] A man of science, who is also an excellent
writer and the very prince of debaters, Professor Huxley, in a discourse
[122] at the opening of Sir Josiah Mason's college at Birmingham, laying
hold of this phrase, expanded it by quoting some more words of mine,
which are these: "The civilized world is to be regarded as now being,
for intellectual and spiritual purposes, one great confederation, bound
to a joint action and working to a common result; and whose members have
for their proper outfit a knowledge of Greek, Roman, and Eastern
antiquity, and of one another. Special local and temporary advantages
being put out of account, that modern nation will in the intellectual
and spiritual sphere make most progress, which most thoroughly carries
out this programme."[123]

Now on my phrase, thus enlarged, Professor Huxley remarks that when I
speak of the above-mentioned knowledge as enabling us to know ourselves
and the world, I assert _literature_ to contain the materials which
suffice for thus making us know ourselves and the world. But it is not
by any means clear, says he, that after having learnt all which ancient
and modern literatures have to tell us, we have laid a sufficiently
broad and deep foundation for that criticism of life, that knowledge of
ourselves and the world, which constitutes culture. On the contrary,
Professor Huxley declares that he finds himself "wholly unable to admit
that either nations or individuals will really advance, if their outfit
draws nothing from the stores of physical science. An army without
weapons of precision, and with no particular base of operations, might
more hopefully enter upon a campaign on the Rhine, than a man, devoid of
a knowledge of what physical science has done in the last century, upon
a criticism of life."

This shows how needful it is for those who are to discuss any matter
together, to have a common understanding as to the sense of the terms
they employ,--how needful, and how difficult. What Professor Huxley
says, implies just the reproach which is so often brought against the
study of _belles lettres_, as they are called: that the study is an
elegant one, but slight and ineffectual; a smattering of Greek and Latin
and other ornamental things, of little use for any one whose object is
to get at truth, and to be a practical man. So, too, M. Renan[124]
talks of the "superficial humanism" of a school-course which treats us
as if we were all going to be poets, writers, preachers, orators, and he
opposes this humanism to positive science, or the critical search after
truth. And there is always a tendency in those who are remonstrating
against the predominance of letters in education, to understand by
letters _belles lettres_, and by _belles lettres_ a superficial humanism
the opposite of science or true knowledge.

But when we talk of knowing Greek and Roman antiquity, for instance,
which is the knowledge people have called the humanities, I for my part
mean a knowledge which is something more than a superficial humanism,
mainly decorative. "I call all teaching _scientific_" says Wolf, the
critic of Homer, "which is systematically laid out and followed up to
its original sources. For example: a knowledge of classical antiquity is
scientific when the remains of classical antiquity are correctly studied
in the original languages." There can be no doubt that Wolf[125] is
perfectly right; that all learning is scientific which is systematically
laid out and followed up to its original sources, and that a genuine
humanism is scientific.

When I speak of knowing Greek and Roman antiquity, therefore, as a help
to knowing ourselves and the world, I mean more than a knowledge of so
much vocabulary, so much grammar, so many portions of authors in the
Greek and Latin languages, I mean knowing the Greeks and Romans, and
their life and genius, and what they were and did in the world; what we
get from them, and what is its value. That, at least, is the ideal; and
when we talk of endeavoring to know Greek and Roman antiquity, as a help
to knowing ourselves and the world, we mean endeavoring so to know them
as to satisfy this ideal, however much we may still fall short of it.

The same also as to knowing our own and other modern nations, with the
like aim of getting to understand ourselves and the world. To know the
best that has been thought and said by the modern nations, is to know,
says Professor Huxley, "only what modern _literatures_ have to tell us;
it is the criticism of life contained in modern literature." And yet
"the distinctive character of our times," he urges, "lies in the vast
and constantly increasing part which is played by natural knowledge."
And how, therefore, can a man, devoid of knowledge of what physical
science has done in the last century, enter hopefully upon a criticism
of modern life?

Let us, I say, be agreed about the meaning of the terms we are using. I
talk of knowing the best which has been thought and uttered in the
world; Professor Huxley says this means knowing _literature_. Literature
is a large word; it may mean everything written with letters or printed
in a book. Euclid's _Elements_ and Newton's _Principia_ are thus
literature. All knowledge that reaches us through books is literature.
But by literature Professor Huxley means _belles lettres_. He means to
make me say, that knowing the best which has been thought and said by
the modern nations is knowing their _belles lettres_ and no more. And
this is no sufficient equipment, he argues, for a criticism of modern
life. But as I do not mean, by knowing ancient Rome, knowing merely more
or less of Latin _belles lettres_, and taking no account of Rome's
military, and political, and legal, and administrative work in the
world; and as, by knowing ancient Greece, I understand knowing her as
the giver of Greek art, and the guide to a free and right use of reason
and to scientific method, and the founder of our mathematics and physics
and astronomy and biology,--I understand knowing her as all this, and
not merely knowing certain Greek poems, and histories, and treatises,
and speeches,--so as to the knowledge of modern nations also. By knowing
modern nations, I mean not merely knowing their _belles lettres_, but
knowing also what has been done by such men as Copernicus, Galileo,
Newton, Darwin. "Our ancestors learned," says Professor Huxley, "that
the earth is the centre of the visible universe, and that man is the
cynosure of things terrestrial; and more especially was it inculcated
that the course of nature had no fixed order, but that it could be, and
constantly was, altered." But for us now, continues Professor Huxley,
"the notions of the beginning and the end of the world entertained by
our forefathers are no longer credible. It is very certain that the
earth is not the chief body in the material universe, and that the world
is not subordinated to man's use. It is even more certain that nature is
the expression of a definite order, with which nothing interferes." "And
yet," he cries, "the purely classical education advocated by the
representatives of the humanists in our day gives no inkling of all

In due place and time I will just touch upon that vexed question of
classical education; but at present the question is as to what is meant
by knowing the best which modern nations have thought and said. It is
not knowing their _belles lettres_ merely which is meant. To know
Italian _belles lettres_, is not to know Italy, and to know English
_belles lettres_ is not to know England. Into knowing Italy and England
there comes a great deal more, Galileo and Newton amongst it. The
reproach of being a superficial humanism, a tincture of _belles
lettres_, may attach rightly enough to some other disciplines; but to
the particular discipline recommended when I proposed knowing the best
that has been thought and said in the world, it does not apply. In that
best I certainly include what in modern times has been thought and said
by the great observers and knowers of nature.

There is, therefore, really no question between Professor Huxley and me
as to whether knowing the great results of the modern scientific study
of nature is not required as a part of our culture, as well as knowing
the products of literature and art. But to follow the processes by which
those results are reached, ought, say the friends of physical science,
to be made the staple of education for the bulk of mankind. And here
there does arise a question between those whom Professor Huxley calls
with playful sarcasm "the Levites of culture," and those whom the poor
humanist is sometimes apt to regard as its Nebuchadnezzars.

The great results of the scientific investigation of nature we are
agreed upon knowing, but how much of our study are we bound to give to
the processes by which those results are reached? The results have their
visible bearing on human life. But all the processes, too, all the items
of fact, by which those results are reached and established, are
interesting. All knowledge is interesting to a wise man, and the
knowledge of nature is interesting to all men. It is very interesting to
know, that, from the albuminous white of the egg, the chick in the egg
gets the materials for its flesh, bones, blood, and feathers; while from
the fatty yolk of the egg, it gets the heat and energy which enable it
at length to break its shell and begin the world. It is less
interesting, perhaps, but still it is interesting, to know that when a
taper burns, the wax is converted into carbonic acid and water.
Moreover, it is quite true that the habit of dealing with facts, which
is given by the study of nature, is, as the friends of physical science
praise it for being, an excellent discipline. The appeal, in the study
of nature, is constantly to observation and experiment; not only is it
said that the thing is so, but we can be made to see that it is so. Not
only does a man tell us that when a taper burns the wax is converted
into carbonic acid and water, as a man may tell us, if he likes, that
Charon is punting his ferry-boat on the river Styx, or that Victor Hugo
is a sublime poet, or Mr. Gladstone the most admirable of statesmen; but
we are made to see that the conversion into carbonic acid and water does
actually happen. This reality of natural knowledge it is, which makes
the friends of physical science contrast it, as a knowledge of things,
with the humanist's knowledge, which is, say they, a knowledge of words.
And hence Professor Huxley is moved to lay it down that, "for the
purpose of attaining real culture, an exclusively scientific education
is at least as effectual as an exclusively literary education." And a
certain President of the Section for Mechanical Science in the British
Association is, in Scripture phrase, "very bold," and declares that if a
man, in his mental training, "has substituted literature and history for
natural science, he has chosen the less useful alternative." But whether
we go these lengths or not, we must all admit that in natural science
the habit gained of dealing with facts is a most valuable discipline,
and that every one should have some experience of it.

More than this, however, is demanded by the reformers. It is proposed to
make the training in natural science the main part of education, for the
great majority of mankind at any rate. And here, I confess, I part
company with the friends of physical science, with whom up to this point
I have been agreeing. In differing from them, however, I wish to proceed
with the utmost caution and diffidence. The smallness of my own
acquaintance with the disciplines of natural science is ever before my
mind, and I am fearful of doing these disciplines an injustice. The
ability and pugnacity of the partisans of natural science make them
formidable persons to contradict. The tone of tentative inquiry, which
befits a being of dim faculties and bounded knowledge, is the tone I
would wish to take and not to depart from. At present it seems to me,
that those who are for giving to natural knowledge, as they call it, the
chief place in the education of the majority of mankind, leave one
important thing out of their account: the constitution of human nature.
But I put this forward on the strength of some facts not at all
recondite, very far from it; facts capable of being stated in the
simplest possible fashion, and to which, if I so state them, the man of
science will, I am sure, be willing to allow their due weight.

Deny the facts altogether, I think, he hardly can. He can hardly deny,
that when we set ourselves to enumerate the powers which go to the
building up of human life, and say that they are the power of conduct,
the power of intellect and knowledge, the power of beauty, and the power
of social life and manners,--he can hardly deny that this scheme,
though drawn in rough and plain lines enough, and not pretending to
scientific exactness, does yet give a fairly true representation of the
matter. Human nature is built up by these powers; we have the need for
them all. When we have rightly met and adjusted the claims of them all,
we shall then be in a fair way for getting soberness, and righteousness
with wisdom. This is evident enough, and the friends of physical science
would admit it.

But perhaps they may not have sufficiently observed another thing:
namely, that the several powers just mentioned are not isolated, but
there is, in the generality of mankind, a perpetual tendency to relate
them one to another in divers ways. With one such way of relating them I
am particularly concerned now. Following our instinct for intellect and
knowledge, we acquire pieces of knowledge; and presently in the
generality of men, there arises the desire to relate these pieces of
knowledge to our sense for conduct, to our sense for beauty,--and there
is weariness and dissatisfaction if the desire is balked. Now in this
desire lies, I think, the strength of that hold which letters have upon

All knowledge is, as I said just now, interesting; and even items of
knowledge which from the nature of the case cannot well be related, but
must stand isolated in our thoughts, have their interest. Even lists of
exceptions have their interest. If we are studying Greek accents it is
interesting to know that _pais_ and _pas_, and some other monosyllables
of the same form of declension, do not take the circumflex upon the last
syllable of the genitive plural, but vary, in this respect, from the
common rule. If we are studying physiology, it is interesting to know
that the pulmonary artery carries dark blood and the pulmonary vein
carries bright blood, departing in this respect from the common rule for
the division of labor between the veins and the arteries. But every one
knows how we seek naturally to combine the pieces of our knowledge
together, to bring them under general rules, to relate them to
principles; and how unsatisfactory and tiresome it would be to go on
forever learning lists of exceptions, or accumulating items of fact
which must stand isolated.

Well, that same need of relating our knowledge, which operates here
within the sphere of our knowledge itself, we shall find operating,
also, outside that sphere. We experience, as we go on learning and
knowing,--the vast majority of us experience,--the need of relating what
we have learnt and known to the sense which we have in us for conduct,
to the sense which we have in us for beauty.

A certain Greek prophetess of Mantineia in Arcadia, Diotima[126] by
name, once explained to the philosopher Socrates that love, and impulse,
and bent of all kinds, is, in fact, nothing else but the desire in men
that good should forever be present to them. This desire for good,
Diotima assured Socrates, is our fundamental desire, of which
fundamental desire every impulse in us is only some one particular form.
And therefore this fundamental desire it is, I suppose,--this desire in
men that good should be forever present to them,--which acts in us when
we feel the impulse for relating our knowledge to our sense for conduct
and to our sense for beauty. At any rate, with men in general the
instinct exists. Such is human nature. And the instinct, it will be
admitted, is innocent, and human nature is preserved by our following
the lead of its innocent instincts. Therefore, in seeking to gratify
this instinct in question, we are following the instinct of
self-preservation in humanity.

But, no doubt, some kinds of knowledge cannot be made to directly serve
the instinct in question, cannot be directly related to the sense for
beauty, to the sense for conduct. These are instrument-knowledges; they
lead on to other knowledges, which can. A man who passes his life in
instrument-knowledges is a specialist. They may be invaluable as
instruments to something beyond, for those who have the gift thus to
employ them; and they may be disciplines in themselves wherein it is
useful for every one to have some schooling. But it is inconceivable
that the generality of men should pass all their mental life with Greek
accents or with formal logic. My friend Professor Sylvester,[127] who is
one of the first mathematicians in the world, holds transcendental
doctrines as to the virtue of mathematics, but those doctrines are not
for common men. In the very Senate House and heart of our English
Cambridge I once ventured, though not without an apology for my
profaneness, to hazard the opinion that for the majority of mankind a
little of mathematics, even, goes a long way. Of course this is quite
consistent with their being of immense importance as an instrument to
something else; but it is the few who have the aptitude for thus using
them, not the bulk of mankind.

The natural sciences do not, however, stand on the same footing with
these instrument-knowledges. Experience shows us that the generality of
men will find more interest in learning that, when a taper burns, the
wax is converted into carbonic acid and water, or in learning the
explanation of the phenomenon of dew, or in learning how the circulation
of the blood is carried on, than they find in learning that the genitive
plural of _pais_ and _pas_ does not take the circumflex on the
termination. And one piece of natural knowledge is added to another, and
others are added to that, and at last we come to propositions so
interesting as Mr. Darwin's famous proposition[128] that "our ancestor
was a hairy quadruped furnished with a tail and pointed ears, probably
arboreal in his habits." Or we come to propositions of such reach and
magnitude as those which Professor Huxley delivers, when he says that
the notions of our forefathers about the beginning and the end of the
world were all wrong, and that nature is the expression of a definite
order with which nothing interferes.

Interesting, indeed, these results of science are, important they are,
and we should all of us be acquainted with them. But what I now wish you
to mark is, that we are still, when they are propounded to us and we
receive them, we are still in the sphere of intellect and knowledge. And
for the generality of men there will be found, I say, to arise, when
they have duly taken in the proposition that their ancestor was "a hairy
quadruped furnished with a tail and pointed ears, probably arboreal in
his habits," there will be found to arise an invincible desire to relate
this proposition to the sense in us for conduct, and to the sense in us
for beauty. But this the men of science will not do for us, and will
hardly even profess to do. They will give us other pieces of knowledge,
other facts, about other animals and their ancestors, or about plants,
or about stones, or about stars; and they may finally bring us to those
great "general conceptions of the universe, which are forced upon us
all," says Professor Huxley, "by the progress of physical science." But
still it will be _knowledge_, only which they give us; knowledge not put
for us into relation with our sense for conduct, our sense for beauty,
and touched with emotion by being so put; not thus put for us, and
therefore, to the majority of mankind, after a certain while,
unsatisfying, wearying.

Not to the born naturalist, I admit. But what do we mean by a born
naturalist? We mean a man in whom the zeal for observing nature is so
uncommonly strong and eminent, that it marks him off from the bulk of
mankind. Such a man will pass his life happily in collecting natural
knowledge and reasoning upon it, and will ask for nothing, or hardly
anything, more. I have heard it said that the sagacious and admirable
naturalist whom we lost not very long ago, Mr. Darwin, once owned to a
friend that for his part he did not experience the necessity for two
things which most men find so necessary to them,--religion and poetry;
science and the domestic affections, he thought, were enough. To a born
naturalist, I can well understand that this should seem so. So absorbing
is his occupation with nature, so strong his love for his occupation,
that he goes on acquiring natural knowledge and reasoning upon it, and
has little time or inclination for thinking about getting it related to
the desire in man for conduct, the desire in man for beauty. He relates
it to them for himself as he goes along, so far as he feels the need;
and he draws from the domestic affections all the additional solace
necessary. But then Darwins are extremely rare. Another great and
admirable master of natural knowledge, Faraday, was a Sandemanian.[129].
That is to say, he related his knowledge to his instinct for conduct and
to his instinct for beauty, by the aid of that respectable Scottish
sectary, Robert Sandeman. And so strong, in general, is the demand of
religion and poetry to have their share in a man, to associate
themselves with his knowing, and to relieve and rejoice it, that,
probably, for one man amongst us with the disposition to do as Darwin
did in this respect, there are at least fifty with the disposition to do
as Faraday.

Education lays hold upon us, in fact, by satisfying this demand.
Professor Huxley holds up to scorn mediaeval education, with its neglect
of the knowledge of nature, its poverty even of literary studies, its
formal logic devoted to "showing how and why that which the Church said
was true must be true." But the great mediaeval Universities were not
brought into being, we may be sure, by the zeal for giving a jejune and
contemptible education. Kings have been their nursing fathers, and
queens have been their nursing mothers, but not for this. The mediaeval
Universities came into being, because the supposed knowledge, delivered
by Scripture and the Church, so deeply engaged men's hearts, by so
simply, easily, and powerfully relating itself to their desire for
conduct, their desire for beauty. All other knowledge was dominated by
this supposed knowledge and was subordinated to it, because of the
surpassing strength of the hold which it gained upon the affections of
men, by allying itself profoundly with their sense for conduct, their
sense for beauty.

But now, says Professor Huxley, conceptions of the universe fatal to the
notions held by our forefathers have been forced upon us by physical
science. Grant to him that they are thus fatal, that the new conceptions
must and will soon become current everywhere, and that every one will
finally perceive them to be fatal to the beliefs of our forefathers. The
need of humane letters, as they are truly called, because they serve the
paramount desire in men that good should be forever present to them,--
the need of humane letters, to establish a relation between the new
conceptions, and our instinct for beauty, our instinct for conduct, is
only the more visible. The Middle Age could do without humane letters,
as it could do without the study of nature, because its supposed
knowledge was made to engage its emotions so powerfully. Grant that the
supposed knowledge disappears, its power of being made to engage the
emotions will of course disappear along with it,--but the emotions
themselves, and their claim to be engaged and satisfied, will remain.
Now if we find by experience that humane letters have an undeniable
power of engaging the emotions, the importance of humane letters in a
man's training becomes not less, but greater, in proportion to the
success of modern science in extirpating what it calls "mediaeval

Have humane letters, then, have poetry and eloquence, the power here
attributed to them of engaging the emotions, and do they exercise it?
And if they have it and exercise it, _how_ do they exercise it, so as to
exert an influence upon man's sense for conduct, his sense for beauty?
Finally, even if they both can and do exert an influence upon the senses
in question, how are they to relate to them the results--the modern
results--of natural science? All these questions may be asked. First,
have poetry and eloquence the power of calling out the emotions? The
appeal is to experience. Experience shows that for the vast majority of
men, for mankind in general, they have the power. Next, do they exercise
it? They do. But then, _how_ do they exercise it so as to affect man's
sense for conduct, his sense for beauty? And this is perhaps a case for
applying the Preacher's words: "Though a man labor to seek it out, yet
he shall not find it; yea, farther, though a wise man think to know it,
yet shall he not be able to find it."[130] Why should it be one thing,
in its effect upon the emotions, to say, "Patience is a virtue," and
quite another thing, in its effect upon the emotions, to say with Homer,

[Greek: tlaeton gar Moirai thnmontheoan anthropoisin]--[131]

"for an enduring heart have the destinies appointed to the children of
men"? Why should it be one thing, in its effect upon the emotions, to
say with the philosopher Spinoza, _Felicitas in ea consistit quod homo
suum esse conservare potest_--"Man's happiness consists in his being
able to preserve his own essence," and quite another thing, in its
effect upon the emotions, to say with the Gospel, "What is a man
advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, forfeit
himself?"[132] How does this difference of effect arise? I cannot tell,
and I am not much concerned to know; the important thing is that it does
arise, and that we can profit by it. But how, finally, are poetry and
eloquence to exercise the power of relating the modern results of
natural science to man's instinct for conduct, his instinct for beauty?
And here again I answer that I do not know _how_ they will exercise it,
but that they can and will exercise it I am sure. I do not mean that
modern philosophical poets and modern philosophical moralists are to
come and relate for us, in express terms, the results of modern
scientific research to our instinct for conduct, our instinct for
beauty. But I mean that we shall find, as a matter of experience, if we
know the best that has been thought and uttered in the world, we shall
find that the art and poetry and eloquence of men who lived, perhaps,
long ago, who had the most limited natural knowledge, who had the most
erroneous conceptions about many important matters, we shall find that
this art, and poetry, and eloquence, have in fact not only the power of
refreshing and delighting us, they have also the power,--such is the
strength and worth, in essentials, of their authors' criticism of life,
--they have a fortifying, and elevating, and quickening, and suggestive
power, capable of wonderfully helping us to relate the results of modern
science to our need for conduct, our need for beauty. Homer's
conceptions of the physical universe were, I imagine, grotesque; but
really, under the shock of hearing from modern science that "the world
is not subordinated to man's use, and that man is not the cynosure of
things terrestrial," I could, for my own part, desire no better comfort
than Homer's line which I quoted just now,

[Greek: tlaeton gar Moirai thnmontheoan anthropoisin--]

"for an enduring heart have the destinies appointed to the children of

And the more that men's minds are cleared, the more that the results of
science are frankly accepted, the more that poetry and eloquence come to
be received and studied as what in truth they really are,--the
criticism of life by gifted men, alive and active with extraordinary
power at an unusual number of points;--so much the more will the value
of humane letters, and of art also, which is an utterance having a like
kind of power with theirs, be felt and acknowledged, and their place in
education be secured.

Let us, therefore, all of us, avoid indeed as much as possible any
invidious comparison between the merits of humane letters, as means of
education, and the merits of the natural sciences. But when some
President of a Section for Mechanical Science insists on making the
comparison, and tells us that "he who in his training has substituted
literature and history for natural science has chosen the less useful
alternative," let us make answer to him that the student of humane
letters only, will, at least, know also the great general conceptions
brought in by modern physical science: for science, as Professor Huxley
says, forces them upon us all. But the student of the natural sciences
only, will, by our very hypothesis, know nothing of humane letters; not
to mention that in setting himself to be perpetually accumulating
natural knowledge, he sets himself to do what only specialists have in
general the gift for doing genially. And so he will probably be
unsatisfied, or at any rate incomplete, and even more incomplete than
the student of humane letters only.

I once mentioned in a school-report, how a young man in one of our
English training colleges having to paraphrase the passage in _Macbeth_

"Can'st thou not minister to a mind diseased?"[133]

turned this line into, "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" And I
remarked what a curious state of things it would be, if every pupil of
our national schools knew, let us say, that the moon is two thousand one
hundred and sixty miles in diameter, and thought at the same time that a
good paraphrase for

"Can'st thou not minister to a mind diseased?"

was, "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" If one is driven to choose, I
think I would rather have a young person ignorant about the moon's
diameter, but aware that "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" is bad,
than a young person whose education had been such as to manage things
the other way.

Or to go higher than the pupils of our national schools. I have in my
mind's eye a member of our British Parliament who comes to travel here
in America, who afterwards relates his travels, and who shows a really
masterly knowledge of the geology of this great country and of its
mining capabilities, but who ends by gravely suggesting that the United
States should borrow a prince from our Royal Family, and should make him
their king, and should create a House of Lords of great landed
proprietors after the pattern of ours; and then America, he thinks,
would have her future happily and perfectly secured. Surely, in this
case, the President of the Section for Mechanical Science would himself
hardly say that our member of Parliament, by concentrating himself upon
geology and mineralogy, and so on, and not attending to literature and
history, had "chosen the more useful alternative."

If then there is to be separation and option between humane letters on
the one hand, and the natural sciences on the other, the great majority
of mankind, all who have not exceptional and overpowering aptitudes for
the study of nature, would do well, I cannot but think, to choose to be
educated in humane letters rather than in the natural sciences. Letters
will call out their being at more points, will make them live more.

I said that before I ended I would just touch on the question of
classical education, and I will keep my word. Even if literature is to
retain a large place in our education, yet Latin and Greek, say the
friends of progress, will certainly have to go. Greek is the grand
offender in the eyes of these gentlemen. The attackers of the
established course of study think that against Greek, at any rate, they
have irresistible arguments. Literature may perhaps be needed in
education, they say; but why on earth should it be Greek literature? Why
not French or German? Nay, "has not an Englishman models in his own
literature of every kind of excellence?" As before, it is not on any
weak pleadings of my own that I rely for convincing the gainsayers; it
is on the constitution of human nature itself, and on the instinct of
self-preservation in humanity. The instinct for beauty is set in human
nature, as surely as the instinct for knowledge is set there, or the
instinct for conduct. If the instinct for beauty is served by Greek
literature and art as it is served by no other literature and art, we
may trust to the instinct of self-preservation in humanity for keeping
Greek as part of our culture. We may trust to it for even making the
study of Greek more prevalent than it is now. Greek will come, I hope,
some day to be studied more rationally than at present; but it will be
increasingly studied as men increasingly feel the need in them for
beauty, and how powerfully Greek art and Greek literature can serve this
need. Women will again study Greek, as Lady Jane Grey[134] did; I
believe that in that chain of forts, with which the fair host of the
Amazons are now engirdling our English universities, I find that here in
America, in colleges like Smith College in Massachusetts, and Vassar
College in the State of New York, and in the happy families of the mixed
universities out West, they are studying it already.

_Defuit una mihi symmetria prisca_,--"The antique symmetry was the one
thing wanting to me," said Leonardo da Vinci; and he was an Italian. I
will not presume to speak for the Americans, but I am sure that, in the
Englishman, the want of this admirable symmetry of the Greeks is a
thousand times more great and crying than in any Italian. The results of
the want show themselves most glaringly, perhaps, in our architecture,
but they show themselves, also, in all our art. _Fit details strictly
combined, in view of a large general result nobly conceived_; that is
just the beautiful _symmetria prisca_ of the Greeks, and it is just
where we English fail, where all our art fails. Striking ideas we have,
and well executed details we have; but that high symmetry which, with
satisfying and delightful effect, combines them, we seldom or never
have. The glorious beauty of the Acropolis at Athens did not come from
single fine things stuck about on that hill, a statue here, a gateway
there;--no, it arose from all things being perfectly combined for a
supreme total effect. What must not an Englishman feel about our
deficiencies in this respect, as the sense for beauty, whereof this
symmetry is an essential element, awakens and strengthens within him!
what will not one day be his respect and desire for Greece and its
_symmetria prisca_, when the scales drop from his eyes as he walks the
London streets, and he sees such a lesson in meanness, as the Strand,
for instance, in its true deformity! But here we are coming to our
friend Mr. Ruskin's province, and I will not intrude upon it, for he is
its very sufficient guardian.

And so we at last find, it seems, we find flowing in favor of the
humanities the natural and necessary stream of things, which seemed
against them when we started. The "hairy quadruped furnished with a tail
and pointed ears, probably arboreal in his habits," this good fellow
carried hidden in his nature, apparently, something destined to develop
into a necessity for humane letters. Nay, more; we seem finally to be
even led to the further conclusion that our hairy ancestor carried in
his nature, also, a necessity for Greek.

And, therefore, to say the truth, I cannot really think that humane
letters are in much actual danger of being thrust out from their leading
place in education, in spite of the array of authorities against them at
this moment. So long as human nature is what it is, their attractions
will remain irresistible. As with Greek, so with letters generally: they
will some day come, we may hope, to be studied more rationally but they
will not lose their place. What will happen will rather be that there
will be crowded into education other matters besides, far too many;
there will be, perhaps, a period of unsettlement and confusion and false
tendency; but letters will not in the end lose their leading place. If
they lose it for a time, they will get it back again. We shall be
brought back to them by our wants and aspirations. And a poor humanist
may possess his soul in patience, neither strive nor cry, admit the
energy and brilliancy of the partisans of physical science, and their
present favor with the public, to be far greater than his own, and still
have a happy faith that the nature of things works silently on behalf of
the studies which he loves, and that, while we shall all have to
acquaint ourselves with the great results reached by modern science, and
to give ourselves as much training in its disciplines as we can
conveniently carry, yet the majority of men will always require humane
letters; and so much the more, as they have the more and the greater
results of science to relate to the need in man for conduct, and to the
need in him for beauty.



"I know not if I deserve that a laurel-wreath should one day be laid on
my coffin. Poetry, dearly as I have loved it, has always been to me but
a divine plaything. I have never attached any great value to poetical
fame; and I trouble myself very little whether people praise my verses
or blame them. But lay on my coffin a _sword_; for I was a brave soldier
in the Liberation War of humanity."[136]

Heine had his full share of love of fame, and cared quite as much as his
brethren of the _genus irritabile_ whether people praised his verses or
blamed them. And he was very little of a hero. Posterity will certainly
decorate his tomb with the emblem of the laurel rather than with the
emblem of the sword. Still, for his contemporaries, for us, for the
Europe of the present century, he is significant chiefly for the reason
which he himself in the words just quoted assigns. He is significant
because he was, if not pre-eminently a brave, yet a brilliant, a most
effective soldier in the Liberation War of humanity.

To ascertain the master-current in the literature of an epoch, and to
distinguish this from all minor currents, is one of the critic's highest
functions; in discharging it he shows how far he possesses the most
indispensable quality of his office,--justness of spirit. The living
writer who has done most to make England acquainted with German authors,
a man of genius, but to whom precisely this one quality of justness of
spirit is perhaps wanting,--I mean Mr. Carlyle,--seems to me in the
result of his labors on German literature to afford a proof how very
necessary to the critic this quality is. Mr. Carlyle has spoken
admirably of Goethe; but then Goethe stands before all men's eyes, the
manifest centre of German literature; and from this central source many
rivers flow. Which of these rivers is the main stream? which of the
courses of spirit which we see active in Goethe is the course which will
most influence the future, and attract and be continued by the most
powerful of Goethe's successors?--that is the question. Mr. Carlyle
attaches, it seems to me, far too much importance to the romantic school
of Germany,--Tieck, Novalis, Jean Paul Richter,[137]--and gives to these
writers, really gifted as two, at any rate, of them are, an undue
prominence. These writers, and others with aims and a general tendency
the same as theirs, are not the real inheritors and continuators of
Goethe's power; the current of their activity is not the main current of
German literature after Goethe. Far more in Heine's works flows this
main current; Heine, far more than Tieck or Jean Paul Richter, is the
continuator of that which, in Goethe's varied activity, is the most
powerful and vital; on Heine, of all German authors who survived Goethe,
incomparably the largest portion of Goethe's mantle fell. I do not
forget that when Mr. Carlyle was dealing with German literature, Heine,
though he was clearly risen above the horizon, had not shone forth with
all his strength; I do not forget, too, that after ten or twenty years
many things may come out plain before the critic which before were hard

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