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Selections from the Prose Works of Matthew Arnold by Matthew Arnold

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to be discerned by him; and assuredly no one would dream of imputing it
as a fault to Mr. Carlyle that twenty years ago he mistook the central
current in German literature, overlooked the rising Heine, and attached
undue importance to that romantic school which Heine was to destroy; one
may rather note it as a misfortune, sent perhaps as a delicate
chastisement to a critic, who--man of genius as he is, and no one
recognizes his genius more admirably than I do--has, for the functions
of the critic, a little too much of the self-will and eccentricity of a
genuine son of Great Britain.

Heine is noteworthy, because he is the most important German successor
and continuator of Goethe in Goethe's most important line of activity.
And which of Goethe's lines of activity is this?--His line of activity
as "a soldier in the war of liberation of humanity."

Heine himself would hardly have admitted this affiliation, though he was
far too powerful-minded a man to decry, with some of the vulgar German
liberals, Goethe's genius. "The wind of the Paris Revolution," he writes
after the three days of 1830, "blew about the candles a little in the
dark night of Germany, so that the red curtains of a German throne or
two caught fire; but the old watchmen, who do the police of the German
kingdoms, are already bringing out the fire engines, and will keep the
candles closer snuffed for the future. Poor, fast-bound German people,
lose not all heart in thy bonds! The fashionable coating of ice melts
off from my heart, my soul quivers and my eyes burn, and that is a
disadvantageous state of things for a writer, who should control his
subject-matter and keep himself beautifully objective, as the artistic
school would have us, and as Goethe has done; he has come to be eighty
years old doing this, and minister, and in good condition:--poor German
people! that is thy greatest man!"[138]

But hear Goethe himself: "If I were to say what I had really been to the
Germans in general, and to the young German poets in particular, I
should say I had been their _liberator_."

Modern times find themselves with an immense system of institutions,
established facts, accredited dogmas, customs, rules, which have come to
them from times not modern. In this system their life has to be carried
forward; yet they have a sense that this system is not of their own
creation, that it by no means corresponds exactly with the wants of
their actual life, that, for them, it is customary, not rational. The
awakening of this sense is the awakening of the modern spirit. The
modern spirit is now awake almost everywhere; the sense of want of
correspondence between the forms of modern Europe and its spirit,
between the new wine of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the
old bottles of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, or even of the
sixteenth and seventeenth, almost every one now perceives; it is no
longer dangerous to affirm that this want of correspondence exists;
people are even beginning to be shy of denying it. To remove this want
of correspondence is beginning to be the settled endeavor of most
persons of good sense. Dissolvents of the old European system of
dominant ideas and facts we must all be, all of us who have any power of
working; what we have to study is that we may not be acrid dissolvents
of it.

And how did Goethe, that grand dissolvent in his age when there were
fewer of them than at present, proceed in his task of dissolution, of
liberation of the modern European from the old routine? He shall tell us
himself. "Through me the German poets have become aware that, as man
must live from within outwards, so the artist must work from within
outwards, seeing that, make what contortions he will, he can only bring
to light his own individuality. I can clearly mark where this influence
of mine has made itself felt; there arises out of it a kind of poetry of
nature, and only in this way is it possible to be original."

My voice shall never be joined to those which decry Goethe, and if it is
said that the foregoing is a lame and impotent conclusion to Goethe's
declaration that he had been the liberator of the Germans in general,
and of the young German poets in particular, I say it is not. Goethe's
profound, imperturbable naturalism is absolutely fatal to all routine
thinking, he puts the standard, once for all, inside every man instead
of outside him; when he is told, such a thing must be so, there is
immense authority and custom in favor of its being so, it has been held
to be so for a thousand years, he answers with Olympian politeness, "But
_is_ it so? is it so to _me_?" Nothing could be more really subversive
of the foundations on which the old European order rested; and it may be
remarked that no persons are so radically detached from this order, no
persons so thoroughly modern, as those who have felt Goethe's influence
most deeply. If it is said that Goethe professes to have in this way
deeply influenced but a few persons, and those persons poets, one may
answer that he could have taken no better way to secure, in the end, the
ear of the world; for poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive,
and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance.
Nevertheless the process of liberation, as Goethe worked it, though
sure, is undoubtedly slow; he came, as Heine says, to be eighty years
old in thus working it, and at the end of that time the old Middle-Age
machine was still creaking on, the thirty German courts and their
chamberlains subsisted in all their glory; Goethe himself was a
minister, and the visible triumph of the modern spirit over prescription
and routine seemed as far off as ever. It was the year 1830; the German
sovereigns had passed the preceding fifteen years in breaking the
promises of freedom they had made to their subjects when they wanted
their help in the final struggle with Napoleon. Great events were
happening in France; the revolution, defeated in 1815, had arisen from
its defeat, and was wresting from its adversaries the power. Heinrich
Heine, a young man of genius, born at Hamburg,[139] and with all the
culture of Germany, but by race a Jew; with warm sympathies for France,
whose revolution had given to his race the rights of citizenship, and
whose rule had been, as is well known, popular in the Rhine provinces,
where he passed his youth; with a passionate admiration for the great
French Emperor, with a passionate contempt for the sovereigns who had
overthrown him, for their agents, and for their policy,--Heinrich Heine
was in 1830 in no humor for any such gradual process of liberation from
the old order of things as that which Goethe had followed. His counsel
was for open war. Taking that terrible modern weapon, the pen, in his
hand, he passed the remainder of his life in one fierce battle. What was
that battle? the reader will ask. It was a life and death battle with

_Philistinism!_[140]--we have not the expression in English. Perhaps we
have not the word because we have so much of the thing. At Soli, I
imagine, they did not talk of solecisms;[141] and here, at the very
headquarters of Goliath, nobody talks of Philistinism. The French have
adopted the term _epicier_ (grocer), to designate the sort of being whom
the Germans designate by the Philistine; but the French term--besides
that it casts a slur upon a respectable class, composed of living and
susceptible members, while the original Philistines are dead and buried
long ago--is really, I think, in itself much less apt and expressive
than the German term. Efforts have been made to obtain in English some
term equivalent to _Philister_ or _epicier_; Mr. Carlyle has made
several such efforts: "respectability with its thousand gigs,"[142] he
says;--well, the occupant of every one of these gigs is, Mr. Carlyle
means, a Philistine. However, the word _respectable_ is far too valuable
a word to be thus perverted from its proper meaning; if the English are
ever to have a word for the thing we are speaking of,--and so
prodigious are the changes which the modern spirit is introducing, that
even we English shall perhaps one day come to want such a word,--I think
we had much better take the term _Philistine_ itself.

_Philistine_ must have originally meant, in the mind of those who
invented the nickname, a strong, dogged, unenlightened opponent of the
chosen people, of the children of the light. The party of change, the
would-be remodellers of the old traditional European order, the invokers
of reason against custom, the representatives of the modern spirit in
every sphere where it is applicable, regarded themselves, with the
robust self-confidence natural to reformers as a chosen people, as
children of the light. They regarded their adversaries as humdrum
people, slaves to routine, enemies to light; stupid and oppressive, but
at the same time very strong. This explains the love which Heine, that
Paladin of the modern spirit, has for France; it explains the preference
which he gives to France over Germany: "The French," he says, "are the
chosen people of the new religion, its first gospels and dogmas have
been drawn up in their language; Paris is the new Jerusalem, and the
Rhine is the Jordan which divides the consecrated land of freedom from
the land of the Philistines."[143] He means that the French, as a
people, have shown more accessibility to ideas than any other people;
that prescription and routine have had less hold upon them than upon any
other people; that they have shown most readiness to move and to alter
at the bidding (real or supposed) of reason. This explains, too, the
detestation which Heine had for the English: "I might settle in
England," he says, in his exile, "if it were not that I should find
there two things, coal-smoke and Englishmen; I cannot abide either."
What he hated in the English was the "aechtbrittische Beschraenktheit," as
he calls it,--the _genuine British narrowness_. In truth, the English,
profoundly as they have modified the old Middle-Age order, great as is
the liberty which they have secured for themselves, have in all their
changes proceeded, to use a familiar expression, by the rule of thumb;
what was intolerably inconvenient to them they have suppressed, and as
they have suppressed it, not because it was irrational, but because it
was practically inconvenient, they have seldom in suppressing it
appealed to reason, but always, if possible, to some precedent, or form,
or letter, which served as a convenient instrument for their purpose,
and which saved them from the necessity of recurring to general
principles. They have thus become, in a certain sense, of all people the
most inaccessible to ideas and the most impatient of them; inaccessible
to them, because of their want of familiarity with them; and impatient
of them because they have got on so well without them, that they despise
those who, not having got on as well as themselves, still make a fuss
for what they themselves have done so well without. But there has
certainly followed from hence, in this country, somewhat of a general
depression of pure intelligence: Philistia has come to be thought by us
the true Land of Promise, and it is anything but that; the born lover of
ideas, the born hater of commonplaces, must feel in this country, that
the sky over his head is of brass and iron. The enthusiast for the idea,
for reason, values reason, the idea, in and for themselves; he values
them, irrespectively of the practical conveniences which their triumph
may obtain for him; and the man who regards the possession of these
practical conveniences as something sufficient in itself, something
which compensates for the absence or surrender of the idea, of reason,
is, in his eyes, a Philistine. This is why Heine so often and so
mercilessly attacks the liberals; much as he hates conservatism he hates
Philistinism even more, and whoever attacks conservatism itself ignobly,
not as a child of light, not in the name of the idea, is a Philistine.
Our Cobbett[144] is thus for him, much as he disliked our clergy and
aristocracy whom Cobbett attacked, a Philistine with six fingers on
every hand and on every foot six toes, four-and-twenty in number: a
Philistine, the staff of whose spear is like a weaver's beam. Thus he
speaks of him:--

"While I translate Cobbett's words, the man himself comes bodily before
my mind's eye, as I saw him at that uproarious dinner at the Crown and
Anchor Tavern, with his scolding red face and his radical laugh, in
which venomous hate mingles with a mocking exultation at his enemies'
surely approaching downfall. He is a chained cur, who falls with equal
fury on every one whom he does not know, often bites the best friend of
the house in his calves, barks incessantly, and just because of this
incessantness of his barking cannot get listened to, even when he barks
at a real thief. Therefore the distinguished thieves who plunder England
do not think it necessary to throw the growling Cobbett a bone to stop
his mouth. This makes the dog furiously savage, and he shows all his
hungry teeth. Poor old Cobbett! England's dog! I have no love for thee,
for every vulgar nature my soul abhors: but thou touchest me to the
inmost soul with pity, as I see how thou strainest in vain to break
loose and to get at those thieves, who make off with their booty before
thy very eyes, and mock at thy fruitless springs and thine impotent

There is balm in Philistia as well as in Gilead. A chosen circle of
children of the modern spirit, perfectly emancipated from prejudice and
commonplace, regarding the ideal side of things in all its efforts for
change, passionately despising half-measures and condescension to human
folly and obstinacy,--with a bewildered, timid, torpid multitude
behind,--conducts a country to the government of Herr von Bismarck. A
nation regarding the practical side of things in its efforts for change,
attacking not what is irrational, but what is pressingly inconvenient,
and attacking this as one body, "moving altogether if it move at all,"
[146] and treating children of light like the very harshest of
step-mothers, comes to the prosperity and liberty of modern England. For
all that, however, Philistia (let me say it again) is not the true
promised land, as we English commonly imagine it to be; and our
excessive neglect of the idea, and consequent inaptitude for it,
threatens us, at a moment when the idea is beginning to exercise a real
power in human society, with serious future inconvenience, and, in the
meanwhile, cuts us off from the sympathy of other nations, which feel
its power more than we do.

But, in 1830, Heine very soon found that the fire-engines of the German
governments were too much for his direct efforts at incendiarism. "What
demon drove me," he cries, "to write my _Reisebilder_, to edit a
newspaper, to plague myself with our time and its interests, to try and
shake the poor German Hodge out of his thousand years' sleep in his
hole? What good did I get by it? Hodge opened his eyes, only to shut
them again immediately; he yawned, only to begin snoring again the next
minute louder than ever; he stretched his stiff ungainly limbs, only to
sink down again directly afterwards, and lie like a dead man in the old
bed of his accustomed habits. I must have rest; but where am I to find a
resting-place? In Germany I can no longer stay."

This is Heine's jesting account of his own efforts to rouse Germany: now
for his pathetic account of them; it is because he unites so much wit
with so much pathos that he is so effective a writer:--

"The Emperor Charles the Fifth[147] sate in sore straits, in the Tyrol,
encompassed by his enemies. All his knights and courtiers had forsaken
him; not one came to his help. I know not if he had at that time the
cheese face with which Holbein has painted him for us. But I am sure
that under lip of his, with its contempt for mankind, stuck out even
more than it does in his portraits. How could he but contemn the tribe
which in the sunshine of his prosperity had fawned on him so devotedly,
and now, in his dark distress, left him all alone? Then suddenly his
door opened, and there came in a man in disguise, and, as he threw back
his cloak, the Kaiser recognized in him his faithful Conrad von der
Rosen, the court jester. This man brought him comfort and counsel, and
he was the court jester!

"'O German fatherland! dear German people! I am thy Conrad von der
Rosen. The man whose proper business was to amuse thee, and who in good
times should have catered only for thy mirth, makes his way into thy
prison in time of need; here, under my cloak, I bring thee thy sceptre
and crown; dost thou not recognize me, my Kaiser? If I cannot free thee,
I will at least comfort thee, and thou shalt at least have one with thee
who will prattle with thee about thy sorest affliction, and whisper
courage to thee, and love thee, and whose best joke and best blood shall
be at thy service. For thou, my people, art the true Kaiser, the true
lord of the land; thy will is sovereign, and more legitimate far than
that purple _Tel est notre plaisir_, which invokes a divine right with
no better warrant than the anointings of shaven and shorn jugglers; thy
will, my people, is the sole rightful source of power. Though now thou
liest down in thy bonds, yet in the end will thy rightful cause prevail;
the day of deliverance is at hand, a new time is beginning. My Kaiser,
the night is over, and out there glows the ruddy dawn.'

"'Conrad von der Rosen, my fool, thou art mistaken; perhaps thou takest
a headsman's gleaming axe for the sun, and the red of dawn is only

"'No, my Kaiser, it is the sun, though it is rising in the west; these
six thousand years it has always risen in the east; it is high time
there should come a change.'

"'Conrad von der Rosen, my fool, thou hast lost the bells out of thy red
cap, and it has now such an odd look, that red cap of thine!'

"'Ah, my Kaiser, thy distress has made me shake my head so hard and
fierce, that the fool's bells have dropped off my cap; the cap is none
the worse for that.'

"'Conrad von der Rosen, my fool, what is that noise of breaking and
cracking outside there?'

"'Hush! that is the saw and the carpenter's axe, and soon the doors of
thy prison will be burst open, and thou wilt be free, my Kaiser!'

"'Am I then really Kaiser? Ah, I forgot, it is the fool who tells me

"'Oh, sigh not, my dear master, the air of thy prison makes thee so
desponding! when once thou hast got thy rights again, thou wilt feel
once more the bold imperial blood in thy veins, and thou wilt be proud
like a Kaiser, and violent, and gracious, and unjust, and smiling, and
ungrateful, as princes are.'

"'Conrad von der Rosen, my fool, when I am free, what wilt thou do

"'I will then sew new bells on to my cap.'

"'And how shall I recompense thy fidelity?'

"'Ah, dear master, by not leaving me to die in a ditch!'"[148]

I wish to mark Heine's place in modern European literature, the scope of
his activity, and his value. I cannot attempt to give here a detailed
account of his life, or a description of his separate works. In May 1831
he went over his Jordan, the Rhine, and fixed himself in his new
Jerusalem, Paris. There, henceforward, he lived, going in general to
some French watering-place in the summer, but making only one or two
short visits to Germany during the rest of his life. His works, in verse
and prose, succeeded each other without stopping; a collected edition of
them, filling seven closely-printed octavo volumes, has been published
in America;[149] in the collected editions of few people's works is
there so little to skip. Those who wish for a single good specimen of
him should read his first important work, the work which made his
reputation, the _Reisebilder_, or "Travelling Sketches": prose and
verse, wit and seriousness, are mingled in it, and the mingling of these
is characteristic of Heine, and is nowhere to be seen practised more
naturally and happily than in his _Reisebilder_. In 1847 his health,
which till then had always been perfectly good, gave way. He had a kind
of paralytic stroke. His malady proved to be a softening of the spinal
marrow: it was incurable; it made rapid progress. In May 1848, not a
year after his first attack, he went out of doors for the last time; but
his disease took more than eight years to kill him. For nearly eight
years he lay helpless on a couch, with the use of his limbs gone, wasted
almost to the proportions of a child, wasted so that a woman could carry
him about; the sight of one eye lost, that of the other greatly dimmed,
and requiring, that it might be exercised, to have the palsied eyelid
lifted and held up by the finger; all this, and besides this, suffering
at short intervals paroxysms of nervous agony. I have said he was not
preeminently brave; but in the astonishing force of spirit with which he
retained his activity of mind, even his gayety, amid all his suffering,
and went on composing with undiminished fire to the last, he was truly
brave. Nothing could clog that aerial lightness. "Pouvez-vous siffler?"
his doctor asked him one day, when he was almost at his last gasp;--
"siffler," as every one knows, has the double meaning of _to whistle_
and _to hiss_:--"Helas! non," was his whispered answer; "pas meme une
comedie de M. Scribe!" M. Scribe[150] is, or was, the favorite
dramatist of the French Philistine. "My nerves," he said to some one who
asked him about them in 1855, the year of the great Exhibition in Paris,
"my nerves are of that quite singularly remarkable miserableness of
nature, that I am convinced they would get at the Exhibition the grand
medal for pain and misery." He read all the medical books which treated
of his complaint. "But," said he to some one who found him thus engaged,
"what good this reading is to do me I don't know, except that it will
qualify me to give lectures in heaven on the ignorance of doctors on
earth about diseases of the spinal marrow." What a matter of grim
seriousness are our own ailments to most of us! yet with this gayety
Heine treated his to the end. That end, so long in coming, came at last.
Heine died on the 17th of February, 1856, at the age of fifty-eight. By
his will he forbade that his remains should be transported to Germany.
He lies buried in the cemetery of Montmartre, at Paris.

His direct political action was null, and this is neither to be wondered
at nor regretted; direct political action is not the true function of
literature, and Heine was a born man of letters. Even in his favorite
France the turn taken by public affairs was not at all what he wished,
though he read French politics by no means as we in England, most of us,
read them. He thought things were tending there to the triumph of
communism; and to a champion of the idea like Heine, what there is gross
and narrow in communism was very repulsive. "It is all of no use," he
cried on his death-bed, "the future belongs to our enemies, the
Communists, and Louis Napoleon[151] is their John the Baptist." "And
yet,"--he added with all his old love for that remarkable entity, so
full of attraction for him, so profoundly unknown in England, the French
people,--"do not believe that God lets all this go forward merely as a
grand comedy. Even though the Communists deny him to-day, he knows
better than they do, that a time will come when they will learn to
believe in him." After 1831, his hopes of soon upsetting the German
Governments had died away, and his propagandism took another, a more
truly literary, character.

It took the character of an intrepid application of the modern spirit to
literature. To the ideas with which the burning questions of modern life
filled him, he made all his subject-matter minister. He touched all the
great points in the career of the human race, and here he but followed
the tendency of the wide culture of Germany; but he touched them with a
wand which brought them all under a light where the modern eye cares
most to see them, and here he gave a lesson to the culture of Germany,--
so wide, so impartial, that it is apt to become slack and powerless, and
to lose itself in its materials for want of a strong central idea round
which to group all its other ideas. So the mystic and romantic school of
Germany lost itself in the Middle Ages, was overpowered by their
influence, came to ruin by its vain dreams of renewing them. Heine, with
a far profounder sense of the mystic and romantic charm of the Middle
Age than Goerres, or Brentano, or Arnim,[152] Heine the chief romantic
poet of Germany, is yet also much more than a romantic poet: he is a
great modern poet, he is not conquered by the Middle Age, he has a
talisman by which he can feel--along with but above the power of the
fascinating Middle Age itself--the power of modern ideas.

A French critic of Heine thinks he has said enough in saying that Heine
proclaimed in German countries, with beat of drum, the ideas of 1789,
and that at the cheerful noise of his drum the ghosts of the Middle Age
took to flight. But this is rather too French an account of the matter.
Germany, that vast mine of ideas, had no need to import ideas, as such,
from any foreign country; and if Heine had carried ideas, as such, from
France into Germany, he would but have been carrying coals to Newcastle.
But that for which, France, far less meditative than Germany, is
eminent, is the prompt, ardent, and practical application of an idea,
when she seizes it, in all departments of human activity which admit it.
And that in which Germany most fails, and by failing in which she
appears so helpless and impotent, is just the practical application of
her innumerable ideas. "When Candide," says Heine himself, "came to
Eldorado, he saw in the streets a number of boys who were playing with
gold-nuggets instead of marbles. This degree of luxury made him imagine
that they must be the king's children, and he was not a little
astonished when he found that in Eldorado gold-nuggets are of no more
value than marbles are with us, and that the schoolboys play with them.
A similar thing happened to a friend of mine, a foreigner, when he came
to Germany and first read German books. He was perfectly astounded at
the wealth of ideas which he found in them; but he soon remarked that
ideas in Germany are as plentiful as gold-nuggets in Eldorado, and that
those writers whom he had taken for intellectual princes, were in
reality only common schoolboys."[153] Heine was, as he calls himself,
a "Child of the French Revolution," an "Initiator," because he
vigorously assured the Germans that ideas were not counters or marbles,
to be played with for their own sake; because he exhibited in literature
modern ideas applied with the utmost freedom, clearness, and
originality. And therefore he declared that the great task of his life
had been the endeavor to establish a cordial relation between France and
Germany. It is because he thus operates a junction between the French
spirit and German ideas and German culture, that he founds something
new, opens a fresh period, and deserves the attention of criticism far
more than the German poets his contemporaries, who merely continue an
old period till it expires. It may be predicted that in the literature
of other countries, too, the French spirit is destined to make its
influence felt,--as an element, in alliance with the native spirit, of
novelty and movement,--as it has made its influence felt in German
literature; fifty years hence a critic will be demonstrating to our
grandchildren how this phenomenon has come to pass.

We in England, in our great burst of literature during the first thirty
years of the present century, had no manifestation of the modern spirit,
as this spirit manifests itself in Goethe's works or Heine's. And the
reason is not far to seek. We had neither the German wealth of ideas,
nor the French enthusiasm for applying ideas. There reigned in the mass
of the nation that inveterate inaccessibility to ideas, that
Philistinism,--to use the German nickname,--which reacts even on the
individual genius that is exempt from it. In our greatest literary
epoch, that of the Elizabethan age,[154] English society at large was
accessible to ideas, was permeated by them, was vivified by them, to a
degree which has never been reached in England since. Hence the unique
greatness in English literature of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
They were powerfully upheld by the intellectual life of their nation;
they applied freely in literature the then modern ideas,--the ideas of
the Renascence and the Reformation. A few years afterwards the great
English middle class, the kernel of the nation, the class whose
intelligent sympathy had upheld a Shakespeare, entered the prison of
Puritanism, and had the key turned on its spirit there for two hundred
years. _He enlargeth a nation_, says Job, _and straiteneth it again._

In the literary movement of the beginning of the nineteenth century the
signal attempt to apply freely the modern spirit was made in England by
two members of the aristocratic class, Byron and Shelley. Aristocracies
are, as such, naturally impenetrable by ideas; but their individual
members have a high courage and a turn for breaking bounds; and a man of
genius, who is the born child of the idea, happening to be born in the
aristocratic ranks, chafes against the obstacles which prevent him from
freely developing it. But Byron and Shelley did not succeed in their
attempt freely to apply the modern spirit in English literature; they
could not succeed in it; the resistance to baffle them, the want of
intelligent sympathy to guide and uphold them, were too great. Their
literary creation, compared with the literary creation of Shakespeare
and Spenser, compared with the literary creation of Goethe and Heine, is
a failure. The best literary creation of that time in England proceeded
from men who did not make the same bold attempt as Byron and Shelley.
What, in fact, was the career of the chief English men of letters, their
contemporaries? The gravest of them, Wordsworth, retired (in Middle-Age
phrase) into a monastery. I mean, he plunged himself in the inward life,
he voluntarily cut himself off from the modern spirit. Coleridge took to
opium. Scott became the historiographer-royal of feudalism. Keats
passionately gave himself up to a sensuous genius, to his faculty for
interpreting nature; and he died of consumption at twenty-five.
Wordsworth, Scott, and Keats have left admirable works; far more solid
and complete works than those which Byron and Shelley have left. But
their works have this defect,--they do not belong to that which is the
main current of the literature of modern epochs, they do not apply
modern ideas to life; they constitute, therefore, _minor currents_, and
all other literary work of our day, however popular, which has the same
defect, also constitutes but a minor current. Byron and Shelley will
long be remembered, long after the inadequacy of their actual work is
clearly recognized, for their passionate, their Titanic effort to flow
in the main stream of modern literature; their names will be greater
than their writings; _stat magni nominis umbra_.[156] Heine's literary
good fortune was superior to that of Byron and Shelley. His theatre of
operations was Germany, whose Philistinism does not consist in her want
of ideas, or in her inaccessibility to ideas, for she teems with them
and loves them, but, as I have said, in her feeble and hesitating
application of modern ideas to life. Heine's intense modernism, his
absolute freedom, his utter rejection of stock classicism and stock
romanticism, his bringing all things under the point of view of the
nineteenth century, were understood and laid to heart by Germany,
through virtue of her immense, tolerant intellectualism, much as there
was in all Heine said to affront and wound Germany. The wit and ardent
modern spirit of France Heine joined to the culture, the sentiment, the
thought of Germany. This is what makes him so remarkable: his wonderful
clearness, lightness, and freedom, united with such power of feeling,
and width of range. Is there anywhere keener wit than in his story of
the French abbe who was his tutor, and who wanted to get from him that
_la religion_ is French for _der Glaube_: "Six times did he ask me the
question: 'Henry, what is _der Glaube_ in French?' and six times, and
each time with a greater burst of tears, did I answer him--'It is _le
credit_' And at the seventh time, his face purple with rage, the
infuriated questioner screamed out: 'It is _la religion_'; and a rain of
cuffs descended upon me, and all the other boys burst out laughing.
Since that day I have never been able to hear _la religion_ mentioned,
without feeling a tremor run through my back, and my cheeks grow red
with shame."[157] Or in that comment on the fate of Professor Saalfeld,
who had been addicted to writing furious pamphlets against Napoleon, and
who was a professor at Goettingen, a great seat, according to Heine, of
pedantry and Philistinism. "It is curious," says Heine, "the three
greatest adversaries of Napoleon have all of them ended miserably.
Castlereagh[158] cut his own throat; Louis the Eighteenth rotted upon
his throne; and Professor Saalfeld is still a professor at Goettingen."
[159] It is impossible to go beyond that.

What wit, again, in that saying which every one has heard: "The
Englishman loves liberty like his lawful wife, the Frenchman loves her
like his mistress, the German loves her like his old grandmother." But
the turn Heine gives to this incomparable saying is not so well known;
and it is by that turn he shows himself the born poet he is,--full of
delicacy and tenderness, of inexhaustible resource, infinitely new and

"And yet, after all, no one can ever tell how things may turn out. The
grumpy Englishman, in an ill-temper with his wife, is capable of some
day putting a rope round her neck, and taking her to be sold at
Smithfield. The inconstant Frenchman may become unfaithful to his adored
mistress, and be seen fluttering about the Palais Royal after another.
_But the German will never quite abandon his old grandmother_; he will
always keep for her a nook by the chimney-corner, where she can tell her
fairy stories to the listening children."[160]

Is it possible to touch more delicately and happily both the weakness
and the strength of Germany; pedantic, simple, enslaved, free,
ridiculous, admirable Germany?

And Heine's verse,--his _Lieder?_ Oh, the comfort, after dealing with
French people of genius, irresistibly impelled to try and express
themselves in verse, launching out into a deep which destiny has sown
with so many rocks for them,--the comfort of coming to a man of genius,
who finds in verse his freest and most perfect expression, whose voyage
over the deep of poetry destiny makes smooth! After the rhythm, to us,
at any rate, with the German paste in our composition, so deeply
unsatisfying, of--

"Ah! que me dites-vous, et qne vous dit mon ame?
Que dit le ciel a l'aube et la flamme a la flamme?"

what a blessing to arrive at rhythms like--

"Take, oh, take those lips away,
That so sweetly were forsworn--"[161]


"Siehst sehr sterbeblaesslich aus,
Doch getrost! du bist zu Haus--"[162]

in which one's soul can take pleasure! The magic of Heine's poetical
form is incomparable; he chiefly uses a form of old German popular
poetry, a ballad-form which has more rapidity and grace than any
ballad-form of ours; he employs this form with the most exquisite
lightness and ease, and yet it has at the same time the inborn fulness,
pathos, and old-world charm of all true forms of popular poetry. Thus in
Heine's poetry, too, one perpetually blends the impression of French
modernism and clearness, with that of German sentiment and fulness; and
to give this blended impression is, as I have said, Heine's great
characteristic. To feel it, one must read him; he gives it in his form
as well as in his contents, and by translation I can only reproduce it
so far as his contents give it. But even the contents of many of his
poems are capable of giving a certain sense of it. Here, for instance,
is a poem in which he makes his profession of faith to an innocent
beautiful soul, a sort of Gretchen, the child of some simple mining
people having their hut among the pines at the foot of the Hartz
Mountains, who reproaches him with not holding the old articles of the
Christian creed:--

"Ah, my child, while I was yet a little boy, while I yet sate upon my
mother's knee, I believed in God the Father, who rules up there in
Heaven, good and great;

"Who created the beautiful earth, and the beautiful men and women
thereon; who ordained for sun, moon, and stars their courses.

"When I got bigger, my child, I comprehended yet a great deal more than
this, and comprehended, and grew intelligent; and I believe on the Son

"On the beloved Son, who loved us, and revealed love to us; and, for his
reward, as always happens, was crucified by the people.

"Now, when I am grown up, have read much, have travelled much, my heart
swells within me, and with my whole heart I believe on the Holy Ghost.

"The greatest miracles were of his working, and still greater miracles
doth he even now work; he burst in sunder the oppressor's stronghold,
and he burst in sunder the bondsman's yoke.

"He heals old death-wounds, and renews the old right; all mankind are
one race of noble equals before him.

"He chases away the evil clouds and the dark cobwebs of the brain, which
have spoilt love and joy for us, which day and night have loured on us.

"A thousand knights, well harnessed, has the Holy Ghost chosen out to
fulfil his will, and he has put courage into their souls.

"Their good swords flash, their bright banners wave; what, thou wouldst
give much, my child, to look upon such gallant knights?

"Well, on me, my child, look! kiss me, and look boldly upon me! one of
those knights of the Holy Ghost am I."[163]

One has only to turn over the pages of his _Romancero_,[164]--a
collection of poems written in the first years of his illness, with his
whole power and charm still in them, and not, like his latest poems of
all, painfully touched by the air of his _Matrazzen-gruft_, his
"mattress-grave,"--to see Heine's width of range; the most varied
figures succeed one another,--Rhampsinitus,[165] Edith with the Swan
Neck,[166] Charles the First, Marie Antoinette, King David, a heroine of
_Mabille_, Melisanda of Tripoli,[167] Richard Coeur de Lion, Pedro the
Cruel[168], Firdusi[169], Cortes, Dr. Doellinger[170];--but never does
Heine attempt to be _hubsch objectiv_, "beautifully objective," to
become in spirit an old Egyptian, or an old Hebrew, or a Middle-Age
knight, or a Spanish adventurer, or an English royalist; he always
remains Heinrich Heine, a son of the nineteenth century. To give a
notion of his tone, I will quote a few stanzas at the end of the
_Spanish Atridae_[171] in which he describes, in the character of a
visitor at the court of Henry of Transtamare[172] at Segovia, Henry's
treatment of the children of his brother, Pedro the Cruel. Don Diego
Albuquerque, his neighbor, strolls after dinner through the castle with

"In the cloister-passage, which leads to the kennels where are kept the
king's hounds, that with their growling and yelping let you know a long
way off where they are,

"There I saw, built into the wall, and with a strong iron grating for
its outer face, a cell like a cage.

"Two human figures sate therein, two young boys; chained by the leg,
they crouched in the dirty straw.

"Hardly twelve years old seemed the one, the other not much older; their
faces fair and noble, but pale and wan with sickness.

"They were all in rags, almost naked; and their lean bodies showed
wounds, the marks of ill-usage; both of them shivered with fever.

"They looked up at me out of the depth of their misery; 'Who,' I cried
in horror to Don Diego, 'are these pictures of wretchedness?'

"Don Diego seemed embarrassed; he looked round to see that no one was
listening; then he gave a deep sigh; and at last, putting on the easy
tone of a man of the world, he said:--

"'These are a pair of king's sons, who were early left orphans; the name
of their father was King Pedro, the name of their mother, Maria de

"'After the great battle of Navarette, when Henry of Transtamare had
relieved his brother, King Pedro, of the troublesome burden of the

"'And likewise of that still more troublesome burden, which is called
life, then Don Henry's victorious magnanimity had to deal with his
brother's children.

"'He has adopted them, as an uncle should; and he has given them free
quarters in his own castle.

"'The room which he has assigned to them is certainly rather small, but
then it is cool in summer, and not intolerably cold in winter.

"'Their fare is rye-bread, which tastes as sweet as if the goddess Ceres
had baked it express for her beloved Proserpine.

"'Not unfrequently, too, he sends a scullion to them with
garbanzos,[173]and then the young gentlemen know that it is Sunday in

"'But it is not Sunday every day, and garbanzos do not come every day;
and the master of the hounds gives them the treat of his whip.

"'For the master of the hounds, who has under his superintendence the
kennels and the pack, and the nephews' cage also,

"'Is the unfortunate husband of that lemon-faced woman with the white
ruff, whom we remarked to-day at dinner.

"'And she scolds so sharp, that often her husband snatches his whip, and
rushes down here, and gives it to the dogs and to the poor little boys.

"'But his majesty has expressed his disapproval of such proceedings, and
has given orders that for the future his nephews are to be treated
differently from the dogs.

"'He has determined no longer to entrust the disciplining of his nephews
to a mercenary stranger, but to carry it out with his own hands.'

"Don Diego stopped abruptly; for the seneschal of the castle joined us,
and politely expressed his hope that we had dined to our satisfaction."

Observe how the irony of the whole of that, finishing with the grim
innuendo of the last stanza but one, is at once truly masterly and truly

No account of Heine is complete which does not notice the Jewish element
in him. His race he treated with the same freedom with which he treated
everything else, but he derived a great force from it, and no one knew
this better than he himself. He has excellently pointed out how in the
sixteenth century there was a double renascence,--a Hellenic renascence
and a Hebrew renascence--and how both have been great powers ever since.
He himself had in him both the spirit of Greece and the spirit of Judaea;
both these spirits reach the infinite, which is the true goal of all
poetry and all art,--the Greek spirit by beauty, the Hebrew spirit by
sublimity. By his perfection of literary form, by his love of clearness,
by his love of beauty, Heine is Greek; by his intensity, by his
untamableness, by his "longing which cannot be uttered,"[174] he is
Hebrew. Yet what Hebrew ever treated the things of the Hebrews like
this?--"There lives at Hamburg, in a one-roomed lodging in the Baker's
Broad Walk, a man whose name is Moses Lump; all the week he goes about
in wind and rain, with his pack on his back, to earn his few shillings;
but when on Friday evening he comes home, he finds the candlestick with
seven candles lighted, and the table covered with a fair white cloth,
and he puts away from him his pack and his cares, and he sits down to
table with his squinting wife and yet more squinting daughter, and eats
fish with them, fish which has been dressed in beautiful white garlic
sauce, sings therewith the grandest psalms of King David, rejoices with
his whole heart over the deliverance of the children of Israel out of
Egypt, rejoices, too, that all the wicked ones who have done the
children of Israel hurt, have ended by taking themselves off; that King
Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Haman, Antiochus, Titus, and all such people,
are well dead, while he, Moses Lump, is yet alive, and eating fish with
wife and daughter; and I can tell you, Doctor, the fish is delicate and
the man is happy, he has no call to torment himself about culture, he
sits contented in his religion and in his green bedgown, like Diogenes
in his tub, he contemplates with satisfaction his candles, which he on
no account will snuff for himself; and I can tell you, if the candles
burn a little dim, and the snuffers-woman, whose business it is to snuff
them, is not at hand, and Rothschild the Great were at that moment to
come in, with all his brokers, bill discounters, agents, and chief
clerks, with whom he conquers the world, and Rothschild were to say:
'Moses Lump, ask of me what favor you will, and it shall be granted
you';--Doctor, I am convinced, Moses Lump would quietly answer: 'Snuff
me those candles!' and Rothschild the Great would exclaim with
admiration: 'If I were not Rothschild, I would be Moses Lump.'"[175]

There Heine shows us his own people by its comic side; in the poem of
the _Princess Sabbath_[176] he shows it to us by a more serious side.
The Princess Sabbath, "the _tranquil Princess_, pearl and flower of all
beauty, fair as the Queen of Sheba, Solomon's bosom friend, that blue
stocking from Ethiopia, who wanted to shine by her _esprit_, and with
her wise riddles made herself in the long run a bore" (with Heine the
sarcastic turn is never far off), this princess has for her betrothed a
prince whom sorcery has transformed into an animal of lower race, the
Prince Israel.

"A dog with the desires of a dog, he wallows all the week long in the
filth and refuse of life, amidst the jeers of the boys in the street.

"But every Friday evening, at the twilight hour, suddenly the magic
passes off, and the dog becomes once more a human being.

"A man with the feelings of a man, with head and heart raised aloft, in
festal garb, in almost clean garb he enters the halls of his Father.

"Hail, beloved halls of my royal Father! Ye tents of Jacob, I kiss with
my lips your holy door-posts!"

Still more he shows us this serious side in his beautiful poem on Jehuda
ben Halevy,[176] a poet belonging to "the great golden age of the
Arabian, Old-Spanish, Jewish school of poets," a contemporary of the

"He, too,--the hero whom we sing,--Jehuda ben Halevy, too, had his
lady-love; but she was of a special sort.

"She was no Laura,[177] whose eyes, mortal stars, in the cathedral on
Good Friday kindled that world-renowned flame.

"She was no chatelaine, who in the blooming glory of her youth presided
at tourneys, and awarded the victor's crown.

"No casuistess in the Gay Science was she, no lady _doctrinaire_, who
delivered her oracles in the judgment-chamber of a Court of Love.[178]

"She, whom the Rabbi loved, was a woe-begone poor darling, a mourning
picture of desolation ... and her name was Jerusalem."

Jehuda ben Halevy, like the Crusaders, makes his pilgrimage to
Jerusalem; and there, amid the ruins, sings a song of Sion which has
become famous among his people:--

"That lay of pearled tears is the wide-famed Lament, which is sung in
all the scattered tents of Jacob throughout the world.

"On the ninth day of the month which is called Ab, on the anniversary of
Jerusalem's destruction by Titus Vespasianus.

"Yes, that is the song of Sion, which Jehuda ben Halevy sang with his
dying breath amid the holy ruins of Jerusalem.

"Barefoot, and in penitential weeds, he sat there upon the fragment of a
fallen column; down to his breast fell,

"Like a gray forest, his hair; and cast a weird shadow on the face which
looked out through it,--his troubled pale face, with the spiritual

"So he sat and sang, like unto a seer out of the foretime to look upon;
Jeremiah, the Ancient, seemed to have risen out of his grave.

"But a bold Saracen came riding that way, aloft on his barb, lolling in
his saddle, and brandishing a naked javelin;

"Into the breast of the poor singer he plunged his deadly shaft, and
shot away like a winged shadow.

"Quietly flowed the Rabbi's life-blood, quietly he sang his song to an
end; and his last dying sigh was Jerusalem!"

But, most of all, Heine shows us this side in a strange poem describing
a public dispute, before King Pedro and his Court, between a Jewish and
a Christian champion, on the merits of their respective faiths. In the
strain of the Jew all the fierceness of the old Hebrew genius, all its
rigid defiant Monotheism, appear:--

"Our God has not died like a poor innocent lamb for mankind; he is no
gushing philanthropist, no declaimer.

"Our God is not love, caressing is not his line; but he is a God of
thunder, and he is a God of revenge.

"The lightnings of his wrath strike inexorably every sinner, and the
sins of the fathers are often visited upon their remote posterity.

"Our God, he is alive, and in his hall of heaven he goes on existing
away, throughout all the eternities.

"Our God, too, is a God in robust health, no myth, pale and thin as
sacrificial wafers, or as shadows by Cocytus.

"Our God is strong. In his hand he upholds sun, moon, and stars; thrones
break, nations reel to and fro, when he knits his forehead.

"Our God loves music, the voice of the harp and the song of feasting;
but the sound of church-bells he hates, as he hates the grunting of

Nor must Heine's sweetest note be unheard,--his plaintive note, his note
of melancholy. Here is a strain which came from him as he lay, in the
winter night, on his "mattress-grave" at Paris, and let his thoughts
wander home to Germany, "the great child, entertaining herself with her
Christmas-tree." "Thou tookest,"--he cries to the German exile,--

"Thou tookest thy flight towards sunshine and happiness; naked and poor
returnest thou back. German truth, German shirts,--one gets them worn to
tatters in foreign parts.

"Deadly pale are thy looks, but take comfort, thou art at home! one lies
warm in German earth, warm as by the old pleasant fireside.

"Many a one, alas, became crippled, and could get home no more!
longingly he stretches out his arms; God have mercy upon him!"[180]

God have mercy upon him! for what remain of the days of the years of his
life are few and evil. "Can it be that I still actually exist? My body
is so shrunk that there is hardly anything of me left but my voice, and
my bed makes me think of the melodious grave of the enchanter Merlin,
which is in the forest of Broceliand in Brittany, under high oaks whose
tops shine like green flames to heaven. Ah, I envy thee those trees,
brother Merlin, and their fresh waving! for over my mattress-grave here
in Paris no green leaves rustle; and early and late I hear nothing but
the rattle of carriages, hammering, scolding, and the jingle of the
piano. A grave without rest, death without the privileges of the
departed, who have no longer any need to spend money, or to write
letters, or to compose books What a melancholy situation!"[181]

He died, and has left a blemished name; with his crying faults,--his
intemperate susceptibility, his unscrupulousness in passion, his
inconceivable attacks on his enemies, his still more inconceivable
attacks on his friends, his want of generosity, his sensuality, his
incessant mocking,--how could it be otherwise? Not only was he not one
of Mr. Carlyle's "respectable" people, he was profoundly
_dis_respectable; and not even the merit of not being a Philistine can
make up for a man's being that. To his intellectual deliverance there
was an addition of something else wanting, and that something else was
something immense: the old-fashioned, laborious, eternally needful moral
deliverance. Goethe says that he was deficient in _love_; to me his
weakness seems to be not so much a deficiency in love as a deficiency in
self-respect, in true dignity of character. But on this negative side of
one's criticism of a man of great genius, I for my part, when I have
once clearly marked that this negative side is and must be there, have
no pleasure in dwelling. I prefer to say of Heine something positive. He
is not an adequate interpreter of the modern world. He is only a
brilliant soldier in the Liberation War of humanity. But, such as he is,
he is (and posterity too, I am quite sure, will say this), in the
European poetry of that quarter of a century which follows the death of
Goethe, incomparably the most important figure.

What a spendthrift, one is tempted to cry, is Nature! With what
prodigality, in the march of generations, she employs human power,
content to gather almost always little result from it, sometimes none!
Look at Byron, that Byron whom the present generation of Englishmen are
forgetting; Byron, the greatest natural force, the greatest elementary
power, I cannot but think, which has appeared in our literature since
Shakespeare. And what became of this wonderful production of nature? He
shattered himself, he inevitably shattered himself to pieces against the
huge, black, cloud-topped, interminable precipice of British
Philistinism. But Byron, it may be said, was eminent only by his genius,
only by his inborn force and fire; he had not the intellectual equipment
of a supreme modern poet; except for his genius he was an ordinary
nineteenth-century English gentleman, with little culture and with no
ideas. Well, then, look at Heine. Heine had all the culture of Germany;
in his head fermented all the ideas of modern Europe. And what have we
got from Heine? A half-result, for want of moral balance, and of
nobleness of soul and character. That is what I say; there is so much
power, so many seem able to run well, so many give promise of running
well;--so few reach the goal, so few are chosen. _Many are called, few


Mr. Mill[183] says, in his book on Liberty, that "Christian morality is
in great part merely a protest against paganism; its ideal is negative
rather than positive, passive rather than active." He says, that, in
certain most important respects, "it falls far below the best morality
of the ancients." Now, the object of systems of morality is to take
possession of human life, to save it from being abandoned to passion or
allowed to drift at hazard, to give it happiness by establishing it in
the practice of virtue; and this object they seek to attain by
prescribing to human life fixed principles of action, fixed rules of
conduct. In its uninspired as well as in its inspired moments, in its
days of languor and gloom as well as in its days of sunshine and energy,
human life has thus always a clue to follow, and may always be making
way towards its goal. Christian morality has not failed to supply to
human life aids of this sort. It has supplied them far more abundantly
than many of its critics imagine. The most exquisite document after
those of the New Testament, of all the documents the Christian spirit
has ever inspired,--the _Imitation_,[184]--by no means contains the
whole of Christian morality; nay, the disparagers of this morality would
think themselves sure of triumphing if one agreed to look for it in the
_Imitation_ only. But even the _Imitation_ is full of passages like
these: "Vita sine proposito languida et vaga est";--"Omni die renovare
debemus propositum nostrum, dicentes: nunc hodie perfecte incipiamus,
quia nihil est quod hactenus fecimus";--"Secundum propositum nostrum
est cursus profectus nostri";--"Raro etiam unum vitium perfecte
vincimus, et ad _quotidianum_ profectum non accendimur"; "Semper aliquid
certi proponendum est"; "Tibi ipsi violentiam frequenter fac." (_A life
without a purpose is a languid, drifting thing;--Every day we ought to
renew our purpose, saying to ourselves: This day let us make a sound
beginning, for what we have hitherto done is nought;--Our improvement is
in proportion to our purpose;--We hardly ever manage to get completely
rid even of one fault, and do not set our hearts on _daily_
improvement;--Always place a definite purpose before thee;--Get the
habit of mastering thine inclination._) These are moral precepts, and
moral precepts of the best kind. As rules to hold possession of our
conduct, and to keep us in the right course through outward troubles and
inward perplexity, they are equal to the best ever furnished by the
great masters of morals--Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.

But moral rules, apprehended as ideas first, and then rigorously
followed as laws, are, and must be, for the sage only. The mass of
mankind have neither force of intellect enough to apprehend them clearly
as ideas, nor force of character enough to follow them strictly as laws.
The mass of mankind can be carried along a course full of hardship for
the natural man, can be borne over the thousand impediments of the
narrow way, only by the tide of a joyful and bounding emotion. It is
impossible to rise from reading Epictetus[185]or Marcus Aurelius
without a sense of constraint and melancholy, without feeling that the
burden laid upon man is well-nigh greater than he can bear. Honor to the
sages who have felt this, and yet have borne it! Yet, even for the sage,
this sense of labor and sorrow in his march towards the goal constitutes
a relative inferiority; the noblest souls of whatever creed, the pagan
Empedocles[186] as well as the Christian Paul, have insisted on the
necessity of an inspiration, a joyful emotion, to make moral action
perfect; an obscure indication of this necessity is the one drop of
truth in the ocean of verbiage with which the controversy on
justification by faith has flooded the world. But, for the ordinary man,
this sense of labor and sorrow constitutes an absolute disqualification;
it paralyzes him; under the weight of it, he cannot make way towards the
goal at all. The paramount virtue of religion is, that it has _lighted
up_ morality; that it has supplied the emotion and inspiration needful
for carrying the sage along the narrow way perfectly, for carrying the
ordinary man along it at all. Even the religions with most dross in them
have had something of this virtue; but the Christian religion manifests
it with unexampled splendor. "Lead me, Zeus and Destiny!" says the
prayer of Epictetus, "whithersoever I am appointed to go; I will follow
without wavering; even though I turn coward and shrink, I shall have to
follow all the same."[187] The fortitude of that is for the strong, for
the few; even for them the spiritual atmosphere with which it surrounds
them is bleak and gray. But, "Let thy loving spirit lead me forth into
the land of righteousness";[188]--"The Lord shall be unto thee an
everlasting light, and thy God thy glory";[189]--"Unto you that fear my
name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings,"
[190] says the Old Testament; "Born, not of blood, nor of the will of
the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God";[191]--"Except a man be
born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God";[192]--"Whatsoever is
born of God, overcometh the world,"[193] says the New. The ray of
sunshine is there, the glow of a divine warmth;--the austerity of the
sage melts away under it, the paralysis of the weak is healed; he who is
vivified by it renews his strength; "all things are possible to him
";[194] "he is a new creature."[195]

Epictetus says: "Every matter has two handles, one of which will bear
taking hold of, the other not. If thy brother sin against thee, lay not
hold of the matter by this, that he sins against thee; for by this
handle the matter will not bear taking hold of. But rather lay hold of
it by this, that he is thy brother, thy born mate; and thou wilt take
hold of it by what will bear handling."[196] Jesus, being asked whether
a man is bound to forgive his brother as often as seven times, answers:
"I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven."
[197] Epictetus here suggests to the reason grounds for forgiveness of
injuries which Jesus does not; but it is vain to say that Epictetus is
on that account a better moralist than Jesus, if the warmth, the
emotion, of Jesus's answer fires his hearer to the practice of
forgiveness of injuries, while the thought in Epictetus's leaves him
cold. So with Christian morality in general: its distinction is not that
it propounds the maxim, "Thou shalt love God and thy neighbor,"[198]
with more development, closer reasoning, truer sincerity, than other
moral systems; it is that it propounds this maxim with an inspiration
which wonderfully catches the hearer and makes him act upon it. It is
because Mr. Mill has attained to the perception of truths of this
nature, that he is,--instead of being, like the school from which he
proceeds, doomed to sterility,--a writer of distinguished mark and
influence, a writer deserving all attention and respect; it is (I must
be pardoned for saying) because he is not sufficiently leavened with
them, that he falls just short of being a great writer.

That which gives to the moral writings of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius
their peculiar character and charm, is their being suffused and softened
by something of this very sentiment whence Christian morality draws its
best power. Mr. Long[199] has recently published in a convenient form a
translation of these writings, and has thus enabled English readers to
judge Marcus Aurelius for themselves; he has rendered his countrymen a
real service by so doing. Mr. Long's reputation as a scholar is a
sufficient guarantee of the general fidelity and accuracy of his
translation; on these matters, besides, I am hardly entitled to speak,
and my praise is of no value. But that for which I and the rest of the
unlearned may venture to praise Mr. Long is this: that he treats Marcus
Aurelius's writings, as he treats all the other remains of Greek and
Roman antiquity which he touches, not as a dead and dry matter of
learning, but as documents with a side of modern applicability and
living interest, and valuable mainly so far as this side in them can be
made clear; that as in his notes on Plutarch's Roman Lives he deals with
the modern epoch of Caesar and Cicero, not as food for schoolboys, but as
food for men, and men engaged in the current of contemporary life and
action, so in his remarks and essays on Marcus Aurelius he treats this
truly modern striver and thinker not as a Classical Dictionary hero, but
as a present source from which to draw "example of life, and instruction
of manners." Why may not a son of Dr. Arnold[200] say, what might
naturally here be said by any other critic, that in this lively and
fruitful way of considering the men and affairs of ancient Greece and
Rome, Mr. Long resembles Dr. Arnold?

One or two little complaints, however, I have against Mr. Long, and I
will get them off my mind at once. In the first place, why could he not
have found gentler and juster terms to describe the translation of his
predecessor, Jeremy Collier,[201]--the redoubtable enemy of stage
plays,--than these: "a most coarse and vulgar copy of the original?" As
a matter of taste, a translator should deal leniently with his
predecessor; but putting that out of the question, Mr. Long's language
is a great deal too hard. Most English people who knew Marcus Aurelius
before Mr. Long appeared as his introducer, knew him through Jeremy
Collier. And the acquaintance of a man like Marcus Aurelius is such an
imperishable benefit, that one can never lose a peculiar sense of
obligation towards the man who confers it. Apart from this claim upon
one's tenderness, however, Jeremy Collier's version deserves respect for
its genuine spirit and vigor, the spirit and vigor of the age of Dryden.
Jeremy Collier too, like Mr. Long, regarded in Marcus Aurelius the
living moralist, and not the dead classic; and his warmth of feeling
gave to his style an impetuosity and rhythm which from Mr. Long's style
(I do not blame it on that account) are absent. Let us place the two
side by side. The impressive opening of Marcus Aurelius's fifth book,
Mr. Long translates thus:--

"In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be
present: I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I
dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for
which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie
in the bed clothes and keep myself warm?--But this is more pleasant.--
Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or

Jeremy Collier has:--

"When you find an unwillingness to rise early in the morning, make this
short speech to yourself: 'I am getting up now to do the business of a
man; and am I out of humor for going about that which I was made for,
and for the sake of which I was sent into the world? Was I then designed
for nothing but to doze and batten beneath the counterpane? I thought
action had been the end of your being.'"

In another striking passage, again, Mr. Long has:--

"No longer wonder at hazard; for neither wilt thou read thy own memoirs,
nor the acts of the ancient Romans and Hellenes, and the selections from
books which thou wast reserving for thy old age. Hasten then to the end
which thou hast before thee, and, throwing away idle hopes, come to
thine own aid, if thou carest at all for thyself, while it is in thy

Here his despised predecessor has:--

"Don't go too far in your books and overgrasp yourself. Alas, you have
no time left to peruse your diary, to read over the Greek and Roman
history: come, don't flatter and deceive yourself; look to the main
chance, to the end and design of reading, and mind life more than
notion: I say, if you have a kindness for your person, drive at the
practice and help yourself, for that is in your own power."

It seems to me that here for style and force Jeremy Collier can (to say
the least) perfectly stand comparison with Mr. Long. Jeremy Collier's
real defect as a translator is not his coarseness and vulgarity, but his
imperfect acquaintance with Greek; this is a serious defect, a fatal
one; it rendered a translation like Mr. Long's necessary. Jeremy
Collier's work will now be forgotten, and Mr. Long stands master of the
field, but he may be content, at any rate, to leave his predecessor's
grave unharmed, even if he will not throw upon it, in passing, a handful
of kindly earth.

Another complaint I have against Mr. Long is, that he is not quite
idiomatic and simple enough. It is a little formal, at least, if not
pedantic, to say _Ethic_ and _Dialectic_, instead of _Ethics_ and
_Dialectics_, and to say "_Hellenes_ and Romans" instead of "_Greeks_
and Romans." And why, too,--the name of Antoninus being preoccupied by
Antoninus Pius,[203]--will Mr. Long call his author Marcus _Antoninus_
instead of Marcus _Aurelius?_ Small as these matters appear, they are
important when one has to deal with the general public, and not with a
small circle of scholars; and it is the general public that the
translator of a short masterpiece on morals, such as is the book of
Marcus Aurelius, should have in view; his aim should be to make Marcus
Aurelius's work as popular as the _Imitation_, and Marcus Aurelius's
name as familiar as Socrates's. In rendering or naming him, therefore,
punctilious accuracy of phrase is not so much to be sought as
accessibility and currency; everything which may best enable the Emperor
and his precepts _volitare per ora virum_[204] It is essential to
render him in language perfectly plain and unprofessional, and to call
him by the name by which he is best and most distinctly known. The
translators of the Bible talk of _pence_ and not _denarii_, and the
admirers of Voltaire do not celebrate him under the name of Arouet.[205]

But, after these trifling complaints are made, one must end, as one
began, in unfeigned gratitude to Mr. Long for his excellent and
substantial reproduction in English of an invaluable work. In general
the substantiality, soundness, and precision of Mr. Long's rendering are
(I will venture, after all, to give my opinion about them) as
conspicuous as the living spirit with which he treats antiquity; and
these qualities are particularly desirable in the translator of a work
like that of Marcus Aurelius, of which the language is often corrupt,
almost always hard and obscure. Any one who wants to appreciate Mr.
Long's merits as a translator may read, in the original and in Mr.
Long's translation, the seventh chapter of the tenth book; he will see
how, through all the dubiousness and involved manner of the Greek, Mr.
Long has firmly seized upon the clear thought which is certainly at the
bottom of that troubled wording, and, in distinctly rendering this
thought, has at the same time thrown round its expression a
characteristic shade of painfulness and difficulty which just suits it.
And Marcus Aurelius's book is one which, when it is rendered so
accurately as Mr. Long renders it, even those who know Greek tolerably
well may choose to read rather in the translation than in the original.
For not only are the contents here incomparably more valuable than the
external form, but this form, the Greek of a Roman, is not exactly one
of those styles which have a physiognomy, which are an essential part of
their author, which stamp an indelible impression of him on the reader's
mind. An old Lyons commentator finds, indeed, in Marcus Aurelius's
Greek, something characteristic, something specially firm and imperial;
but I think an ordinary mortal will hardly find this: he will find
crabbed Greek, without any great charm of distinct physiognomy. The
Greek of Thucydides and Plato has this charm, and he who reads them in a
translation, however accurate, loses it, and loses much in losing it;
but the Greek of Marcus Aurelius, like the Greek of the New Testament,
and even more than the Greek of the New Testament, is wanting in it. If
one could be assured that the English Testament were made perfectly
accurate, one might be almost content never to open a Greek Testament
again; and, Mr. Long's version of Marcus Aurelius being what it is, an
Englishman who reads to live, and does not live to read, may henceforth
let the Greek original repose upon its shelf.

The man whose thoughts Mr. Long has thus faithfully reproduced, is
perhaps the most beautiful figure in history. He is one of those
consoling and hope-inspiring marks, which stand forever to remind our
weak and easily discouraged race how high human goodness and
perseverance have once been carried, and may be carried again. The
interest of mankind is peculiarly attracted by examples of signal
goodness in high places; for that testimony to the worth of goodness is
the most striking which is borne by those to whom all the means of
pleasure and self-indulgence lay open, by those who had at their command
the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Marcus Aurelius was the
ruler of the grandest of empires; and he was one of the best of men.
Besides him, history presents one or two sovereigns eminent for their
goodness, such as Saint Louis or Alfred. But Marcus Aurelius has, for us
moderns, this great superiority in interest over Saint Louis or Alfred,
that he lived and acted in a state of society modern by its essential
characteristics, in an epoch akin to our own, in a brilliant centre of
civilization. Trajan talks of "our enlightened age" just as glibly as
the _Times_[206] talks of it. Marcus Aurelius thus becomes for us a man
like ourselves, a man in all things tempted as we are. Saint Louis[207]
inhabits an atmosphere of mediaeval Catholicism, which the man of the
nineteenth century may admire, indeed, may even passionately wish to
inhabit, but which, strive as he will, he cannot really inhabit. Alfred
belongs to a state of society (I say it with all deference to the
_Saturday Review_[208] critic who keeps such jealous watch over the
honor of our Saxon ancestors) half barbarous. Neither Alfred nor Saint
Louis can be morally and intellectually as near to us as Marcus

The record of the outward life of this admirable man has in it little of
striking incident. He was born at Rome on the 26th of April, in the year
121 of the Christian era. He was nephew and son-in-law to his
predecessor on the throne, Antoninus Pius. When Antoninus died, he was
forty years old, but from the time of his earliest manhood he had
assisted in administering public affairs. Then, after his uncle's death
in 161, for nineteen years he reigned as emperor. The barbarians were
pressing on the Roman frontier, and a great part of Marcus Aurelius's
nineteen years of reign was passed in campaigning. His absences from
Rome were numerous and long. We hear of him in Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt,
Greece; but, above all, in the countries on the Danube, where the war
with the barbarians was going on,--in Austria, Moravia, Hungary. In
these countries much of his Journal seems to have been written; parts of
it are dated from them; and there, a few weeks before his fifty-ninth
birthday, he fell sick and died.[209] The record of him on which his
fame chiefly rests is the record of his inward life,--his _Journal_, or
_Commentaries_, or _Meditations_, or _Thoughts_, for by all these names
has the work been called. Perhaps the most interesting of the records of
his outward life is that which the first book of this work supplies,
where he gives an account of his education, recites the names of those
to whom he is indebted for it, and enumerates his obligations to each of
them. It is a refreshing and consoling picture, a priceless treasure for
those, who, sick of the "wild and dreamlike trade of blood and guile,"
which seems to be nearly the whole of what history has to offer to our
view, seek eagerly for that substratum of right thinking and well-doing
which in all ages must surely have somewhere existed, for without it the
continued life of humanity would have been impossible. "From my mother I
learnt piety and beneficence, and abstinence not only from evil deeds
but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of
living, far removed from the habits of the rich." Let us remember that,
the next time we are reading the sixth satire of Juvenal.[210] "From my
tutor I learnt" (hear it, ye tutors of princes!) "endurance of labor,
and to want little and to work with my own hands, and not to meddle with
other people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander." The
vices and foibles of the Greek sophist or rhetorician--the _Graeculus
esuriens_[211]--are in everybody's mind; but he who reads Marcus
Aurelius's account of his Greek teachers and masters, will understand
how it is that, in spite of the vices and foibles of individual
_Graeculi_, the education of the human race owes to Greece a debt which
can never be overrated. The vague and colorless praise of history leaves
on the mind hardly any impression of Antoninus Pius: it is only from the
private memoranda of his nephew that we learn what a disciplined,
hard-working, gentle, wise, virtuous man he was; a man who, perhaps,
interests mankind less than his immortal nephew only because he has left
in writing no record of his inner life,--_caret quia vate sacro_.[212]

Of the outward life and circumstances of Marcus Aurelius, beyond these
notices which he has himself supplied, there are few of much interest
and importance. There is the fine anecdote of his speech when he heard
of the assassination of the revolted Avidius Cassius,[213] against whom
he was marching; _he was sorry_, he said, _to be deprived of the
pleasure of pardoning him_. And there are one or two more anecdotes of
him which show the same spirit. But the great record for the outward
life of a man who has left such a record of his lofty inward aspirations
as that which Marcus Aurelius has left, is the clear consenting voice of
all his contemporaries,--high and low, friend and enemy, pagan and
Christian,--in praise of his sincerity, justice, and goodness. The
world's charity does not err on the side of excess, and here was a man
occupying the most conspicuous station in the world, and professing the
highest possible standard of conduct;--yet the world was obliged to
declare that he walked worthily of his profession. Long after his death,
his bust was to be seen in the houses of private men through the wide
Roman empire. It may be the vulgar part of human nature which busies
itself with the semblance and doings of living sovereigns, it is its
nobler part which busies itself with those of the dead; these busts of
Marcus Aurelius, in the homes of Gaul, Britain, and Italy, bear witness,
not to the inmates' frivolous curiosity about princes and palaces, but
to their reverential memory of the passage of a great man upon the

Two things, however, before one turns from the outward to the inward
life of Marcus Aurelius, force themselves upon one's notice, and demand
a word of comment; he persecuted the Christians, and he had for his son
the vicious and brutal Commodus.[214] The persecution at Lyons, in which
Attalus[215] and Pothinus suffered, the persecution at Smyrna, in which
Polycarp[216] suffered, took place in his reign. Of his humanity, of his
tolerance, of his horror of cruelty and violence, of his wish to refrain
from severe measures against the Christians, of his anxiety to temper
the severity of these measures when they appeared to him indispensable,
there is no doubt: but, on the one hand, it is certain that the letter,
attributed to him, directing that no Christian should be punished for
being a Christian, is spurious; it is almost certain that his alleged
answer to the authorities of Lyons, in which he directs that Christians
persisting in their profession shall be dealt with according to law, is
genuine. Mr. Long seems inclined to try and throw doubt over the
persecution at Lyons, by pointing out that the letter of the Lyons
Christians relating it, alleges it to have been attended by miraculous
and incredible incidents. "A man," he says, "can only act consistently
by accepting all this letter or rejecting it all, and we cannot blame
him for either." But it is contrary to all experience to say that
because a fact is related with incorrect additions, and embellishments,
therefore it probably never happened at all; or that it is not, in
general, easy for an impartial mind to distinguish between the fact and
the embellishments. I cannot doubt that the Lyons persecution took
place, and that the punishment of Christians for being Christians was
sanctioned by Marcus Aurelius. But then I must add that nine modern
readers out of ten, when they read this, will, I believe, have a
perfectly false notion of what the moral action of Marcus Aurelius, in
sanctioning that punishment, really was. They imagine Trajan, or
Antoninus Pius, or Marcus Aurelius, fresh from the perusal of the
Gospel, fully aware of the spirit and holiness of the Christian saints,
ordering their extermination because he loved darkness rather than
light. Far from this, the Christianity which these emperors aimed at
repressing was, in their conception of it, something philosophically
contemptible, politically subversive, and morally abominable. As men,
they sincerely regarded it much as well-conditioned people, with us,
regard Mormonism; as rulers, they regarded it much as Liberal statesmen,
with us, regard the Jesuits. A kind of Mormonism, constituted as a vast
secret society, with obscure aims of political and social subversion,
was what Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius believed themselves to be
repressing when they punished Christians. The early Christian apologists
again and again declare to us under what odious imputations the
Christians lay, how general was the belief that these imputations were
well-grounded, how sincere was the horror which the belief inspired. The
multitude, convinced that the Christians were atheists who ate human
flesh and thought incest no crime, displayed against them a fury so
passionate as to embarrass and alarm their rulers. The severe
expressions of Tacitus, _exitiabilis superstitio--odio humani generis
convicti_,[217] show how deeply the prejudices of the multitude imbued
the educated class also. One asks oneself with astonishment how a
doctrine so benign as that of Jesus Christ can have incurred
misrepresentation so monstrous. The inner and moving cause of the
misrepresentation lay, no doubt, in this,--that Christianity was a new
spirit in the Roman world, destined to act in that world as its
dissolvent; and it was inevitable that Christianity in the Roman world,
like democracy in the modern world, like every new spirit with a similar
mission assigned to it, should at its first appearance occasion an
instinctive shrinking and repugnance in the world which it was to
dissolve. The outer and palpable causes of the misrepresentation were,
for the Roman public at large, the confounding of the Christians with
the Jews, that isolated, fierce, and stubborn race, whose stubbornness,
fierceness, and isolation, real as they were, the fancy of a civilized
Roman yet further exaggerated; the atmosphere of mystery and novelty
which surrounded the Christian rites; the very simplicity of Christian
theism. For the Roman statesman, the cause of mistake lay in that
character of secret assemblages which the meetings of the Christian
community wore, under a State-system as jealous of unauthorized
associations as is the State-system of modern France.

A Roman of Marcus Aurelius's time and position could not well see the
Christians except through the mist of these prejudices. Seen through
such a mist, the Christians appeared with a thousand faults not their
own; but it has not been sufficiently remarked that faults really their
own many of them assuredly appeared with besides, faults especially
likely to strike such an observer as Marcus Aurelius, and to confirm him
in the prejudices of his race, station, and rearing. We look back upon
Christianity after it has proved what a future it bore within it, and
for us the sole representatives of its early struggles are the pure and
devoted spirits through whom it proved this; Marcus Aurelius saw it with
its future yet unshown, and with the tares among its professed progeny
not less conspicuous than the wheat. Who can doubt that among the
professing Christians of the second century, as among the professing
Christians of the nineteenth, there was plenty of folly, plenty of rabid
nonsense, plenty of gross fanaticism? who will even venture to affirm
that, separated in great measure from the intellect and civilization of
the world for one or two centuries, Christianity, wonderful as have been
its fruits, had the development perfectly worthy of its inestimable
germ? Who will venture to affirm that, by the alliance of Christianity
with the virtue and intelligence of men like the Antonines,--of the best
product of Greek and Roman civilization, while Greek and Roman
civilization had yet life and power,--Christianity and the world, as
well as the Antonines themselves, would not have been gainers? That
alliance was not to be. The Antonines lived and died with an utter
misconception of Christianity; Christianity grew up in the Catacombs,
not on the Palatine. And Marcus Aurelius incurs no moral reproach by
having authorized the punishment of the Christians; he does not thereby
become in the least what we mean by a _persecutor_. One may concede that
it was impossible for him to see Christianity as it really was;--as
impossible as for even the moderate and sensible Fleury[218] to see the
Antonines as they really were;--one may concede that the point of view
from which Christianity appeared something anti-civil and anti-social,
which the State had the faculty to judge and the duty to suppress, was
inevitably his. Still, however, it remains true that this sage, who made
perfection his aim and reason his law, did Christianity an immense
injustice and rested in an idea of State-attributes which was illusive.
And this is, in truth, characteristic of Marcus Aurelius, that he is
blameless, yet, in a certain sense, unfortunate; in his character,
beautiful as it is, there is something melancholy, circumscribed, and

For of his having such a son as Commodus, too, one must say that he is
not to be blamed on that account, but that he is unfortunate.
Disposition and temperament are inexplicable things; there are natures
on which the best education and example are thrown away; excellent
fathers may have, without any fault of theirs, incurably vicious sons.
It is to be remembered, also, that Commodus was left, at the perilous
age of nineteen, master of the world; while his father, at that age, was
but beginning a twenty years' apprenticeship to wisdom, labor, and
self-command, under the sheltering teachership of his uncle Antoninus.
Commodus was a prince apt to be led by favorites; and if the story is
true which says that he left, all through his reign, the Christians
untroubled, and ascribes this lenity to the influence of his mistress
Marcia, it shows that he could be led to good as well as to evil. But
for such a nature to be left at a critical age with absolute power, and
wholly without good counsel and direction, was the more fatal. Still one
cannot help wishing that the example of Marcus Aurelius could have
availed more with his own only son. One cannot but think that with such
virtue as his there should go, too, the ardor which removes mountains,
and that the ardor which removes mountains might have even won Commodus.
The word _ineffectual_ again rises to one's mind; Marcus Aurelius saved
his own soul by his righteousness, and he could do no more. Happy they
who can do this! but still happier, who can do more!

Yet, when one passes from his outward to his inward life, when one turns
over the pages of his _Meditations_,--entries jotted down from day to
day, amid the business of the city or the fatigues of the camp, for his
own guidance and support, meant for no eye but his own, without the
slightest attempt at style, with no care, even, for correct writing, not
to be surpassed for naturalness and sincerity,--all disposition to carp
and cavil dies away, and one is overpowered by the charm of a character
of such purity, delicacy, and virtue. He fails neither in small things
nor in great; he keeps watch over himself both that the great springs of
action may be right in him, and that the minute details of action may be
right also. How admirable in a hard-tasked ruler, and a ruler too, with
a passion for thinking and reading, is such a memorandum as the

"Not frequently nor without necessity to say to any one, or to write in
a letter, that I have no leisure; nor continually to excuse the neglect
of duties required by our relation to those with whom we live, by
alleging urgent occupation."[219]

And, when that ruler is a Roman emperor, what an "idea" is this to be
written down and meditated by him:--

"The idea of a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity
administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech,
and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the
freedom of the governed."[220] And, for all men who "drive at
practice," what practical rules may not one accumulate out of these

"The greatest part of what we say or do being unnecessary, if a man
takes this away, he will have more leisure and less uneasiness.
Accordingly, on every occasion a man should ask himself: 'Is this one of
the unnecessary things?' Now a man should take away not only unnecessary
acts, but also unnecessary thoughts, for thus superfluous acts will not
follow after."[221]

And again:--

"We ought to check in the series of our thoughts everything that is
without a purpose and useless, but most of all the over curious feeling
and the malignant; and a man should use himself to think of those things
only about which if one should suddenly ask, 'What hast thou now in thy
thoughts?' with perfect openness thou mightest immediately answer, 'This
or That'; so that from thy words it should be plain that everything in
thee is simple and benevolent, and such as befits a social animal, and
one that cares not for thoughts about sensual enjoyments, or any rivalry
or envy and suspicion, or anything else for which thou wouldst blush if
thou shouldst say thou hadst it in thy mind."[222]

So, with a stringent practicalness worthy of Franklin, he discourses on
his favorite text, _Let nothing be done without a purpose_. But it is
when he enters the region where Franklin cannot follow him, when he
utters his thoughts on the ground-motives of human action, that he is
most interesting; that he becomes the unique, the incomparable Marcus
Aurelius. Christianity uses language very liable to be misunderstood
when it seems to tell men to do good, not, certainly, from the vulgar
motives of worldly interest, or vanity, or love of human praise, but
"that their Father which, seeth in secret may reward them openly." The
motives of reward and punishment have come, from the misconception of
language of this kind, to be strangely overpressed by many Christian
moralists, to the deterioration and disfigurement of Christianity.
Marcus Aurelius says, truly and nobly:--

"One man, when he has done a service to another, is ready to set it down
to his account as a favor conferred. Another is not ready to do this,
but still in his own mind he thinks of the man as his debtor, and he
knows what he has done. A third in a manner does not even know what he
has done, _but he is like a vine which has produced grapes, and seeks
for nothing more after it has once produced its proper fruit_. As a
horse when he has run, a dog when he has caught the game, a bee when it
has made its honey, so a man when he has done a good act, does not call
out for others to come and see, but he goes on to another act, as a vine
goes on to produce again the grapes in season. Must a man, then, be one
of these, who in a manner acts thus without observing it? Yes."[223]

And again:--

"What more dost thou want when thou hast done a man a service? Art thou
not content that thou hast done something conformable to thy nature, and
dost thou seek to be paid for it, _just as if the eye demanded a
recompense for seeing, or the feet for walking_?"[224]

Christianity, in order to match morality of this strain, has to correct
its apparent offers of external reward, and to say: _The kingdom of God
is within you._

I have said that it is by its accent of emotion that the morality of
Marcus Aurelius acquires a special character, and reminds one of
Christian morality. The sentences of Seneca[225] are stimulating to the
intellect; the sentences of Epictetus are fortifying to the character;
the sentences of Marcus Aurelius find their way to the soul. I have said
that religious emotion has the power to _light up_ morality: the emotion
of Marcus Aurelius does not quite light up his morality, but it suffuses
it; it has not power to melt the clouds of effort and austerity quite
away, but it shines through them and glorifies them; it is a spirit, not
so much of gladness and elation, as of gentleness and sweetness; a
delicate and tender sentiment, which is less than joy and more than
resignation. He says that in his youth he learned from Maximus, one of
his teachers, "cheerfulness in all circumstances as well as in illness;
_and a just admixture in the moral character of sweetness and dignity_":
and it is this very admixture of sweetness with his dignity which makes
him so beautiful a moralist. It enables him to carry even into his
observation of nature, a delicate penetration, a sympathetic tenderness,
worthy of Wordsworth; the spirit of such a remark as the following has
hardly a parallel, so far as my knowledge goes, in the whole range of
Greek and Roman literature:--

"Figs, when they are quite ripe, gape open; and in the ripe olives the
very circumstance of their being near to rottenness adds a peculiar
beauty to the fruit. And the ears of corn bending down, and the lion's
eyebrows, and the foam which flows from the mouth of wild boars, and
many other things,--though they are far from being beautiful, in a
certain sense,--still, because they come in the course of nature, have a
beauty in them, and they please the mind; so that if a man should have a
feeling and a deeper insight with respect to the things which are
produced in the universe, there is hardly anything which comes in the
course of nature which will not seem to him to be in a manner disposed
so as to give pleasure."[226]

But it is when his strain passes to directly moral subjects that his
delicacy and sweetness lend to it the greatest charm. Let those who can
feel the beauty of spiritual refinement read this, the reflection of an
emperor who prized mental superiority highly:--

"Thou sayest, 'Men cannot admire the sharpness of thy wits.' Be it so;
but there are many other things of which thou canst not say, 'I am not
formed for them by nature.' Show those qualities, then, which are
altogether in thy power,--sincerity, gravity, endurance of labor,
aversion to pleasure, contentment with thy portion and with few things,
benevolence, frankness, no love of superfluity, freedom from trifling,
magnanimity. Dost thou not see how many qualities thou art at once able
to exhibit, as to which there is no excuse of natural incapacity and
unfitness, and yet thou still remainest voluntarily below the mark? Or
art thou compelled, through being defectively furnished by nature, to
murmur, and to be mean, and to flatter, and to find fault with thy poor
body, and to try to please men, and to make great display, and to be so
restless in thy mind? No, indeed; but thou mightest have been delivered
from these things long ago. Only, if in truth thou canst be charged with
being rather slow and dull of comprehension, thou must exert thyself
about this also, not neglecting nor yet taking pleasure in thy dulness."

The same sweetness enables him to fix his mind, when he sees the
isolation and moral death caused by sin, not on the cheerless thought of
the misery of this condition, but on the inspiriting thought that man is
blest with the power to escape from it:--

"Suppose that thou hast detached thyself from the natural unity,--for
thou wast made by nature a part, but thou hast cut thyself off,--yet
here is this beautiful provision, that it is in thy power again to unite
thyself. God has allowed this to no other part,--after it has been
separated and cut asunder, to come together again. But consider the
goodness with which he has privileged man; for he has put it in his
power, when he has been separated, to return and to be united and to
resume his place."[228]

It enables him to control even the passion for retreat and solitude, so
strong in a soul like his, to which the world could offer no abiding

"Men seek retreat for themselves, houses in the country, seashores, and
mountains; and thou, too, art wont to desire such things very much. But
this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in
thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere
either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire
than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such
thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect
tranquillity. Constantly, then, give to thyself this retreat, and renew
thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which as soon
as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul
completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the
things to which thou returnest."[229]

Against this feeling of discontent and weariness, so natural to the
great for whom there seems nothing left to desire or to strive after,
but so enfeebling to them, so deteriorating, Marcus Aurelius never
ceased to struggle. With resolute thankfulness he kept in remembrance
the blessings of his lot; the true blessings of it, not the false:--

"I have to thank Heaven that I was subjected to a ruler and a father
(Antoninus Pius) who was able to take away all pride from me, and to
bring me to the knowledge that it is possible for a man to live in a
palace without either guards, or embroidered dresses, or any show of
this kind; but that it is in such a man's power to bring himself very
near to the fashion of a private person, without being for this reason
either meaner in thought or more remiss in action with respect to the
things which must be done for public interest.... I have to be thankful
that my children have not been stupid nor deformed in body; that I did
not make more proficiency in rhetoric, poetry, and the other studies, by
which I should perhaps have been completely engrossed, if I had seen
that I was making great progress in them; ... that I knew Apollonius,
Rusticus, Maximus; ... that I received clear and frequent impressions
about living according to nature, and what kind of a life that is, so
that, so far as depended on Heaven, and its gifts, help, and
inspiration, nothing hindered me from forthwith living according to
nature, though I still fall short of it through my own fault, and
through not observing the admonitions of Heaven, and, I may almost say,
its direct instructions; that my body has held out so long in such a
kind of life as mine; that though it was my mother's lot to die young,
she spent the last years of her life with me; that whenever I wished to
help any man in his need, I was never told that I had not the means of
doing it; that, when I had an inclination to philosophy, I did not fall
into the hands of a sophist."[230]

And, as he dwelt with gratitude on these helps and blessings vouchsafed
to him, his mind (so, at least, it seems to me) would sometimes revert
with awe to the perils and temptations of the lonely height where he
stood, to the lives of Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Domitian,[231] in their
hideous blackness and ruin; and then he wrote down for himself such a
warning entry as this, significant and terrible in its abruptness:--

"A black character, a womanish character, a stubborn character, bestial,
childish, animal, stupid, counterfeit, scurrilous, fraudulent,

Or this:--

"About what am I now employing my soul? On every occasion I must ask
myself this question, and inquire, What have I now in this part of me
which they call the ruling principle, and whose soul have I now?--that
of a child, or of a young man, or of a weak woman, or of a tyrant, or of
one of the lower animals in the service of man, or of a wild

The character he wished to attain he knew well, and beautifully he has
marked it, and marked, too, his sense of shortcoming:--

"When thou hast assumed these names,--good, modest, true, rational,
equal-minded, magnanimous,--take care that thou dost not change these
names; and, if thou shouldst lose them, quickly return to them. If thou
maintainest thyself in possession of these names without desiring that
others should call thee by them, thou wilt be another being, and wilt
enter on another life. For to continue to be such as thou hast hitherto
been, and to be torn in pieces and defiled in such a life, is the
character of a very stupid man, and one overfond of his life, and like
those half-devoured fighters with wild beasts, who though covered with
wounds and gore still entreat to be kept to the following day, though
they will be exposed in the same state to the same claws and bites.
Therefore fix thyself in the possession of these few names: and if thou
art able to abide in them, abide as if thou wast removed to the Happy

For all his sweetness and serenity, however, man's point of life
"between two infinities" (of that expression Marcus Aurelius is the real
owner) was to him anything but a Happy Island, and the performances on
it he saw through no veils of illusion. Nothing is in general more
gloomy and monotonous than declamations on the hollowness and
transitoriness of human life and grandeur: but here, too, the great
charm of Marcus Aurelius, his emotion, comes in to relieve the monotony
and to break through the gloom; and even on this eternally used topic he
is imaginative, fresh, and striking:--

"Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. Thou wilt see all these
things, people marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying, warring,
feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering, obstinately
arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for somebody to die, grumbling
about the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring to be consuls
or kings. Well then that life of these people no longer exists at all.
Again, go to the times of Trajan. All is again the same. Their life too
is gone. But chiefly thou shouldst think of those whom thou hast thyself
known distracting themselves about idle things, neglecting to do what
was in accordance with their proper constitution, and to hold firmly to
this and to be content with it."[235]


"The things which are much valued in life are empty, and rotten, and
trifling; and people are like little dogs, biting one another, and
little children quarrelling, crying, and then straightway laughing. But
fidelity, and modesty, and justice, and truth, are fled

'Up to Olympus from the wide-spread earth.'

What then is there which still detains thee here?"[236]

And once more:--

"Look down from above on the countless herds of men, and their countless
solemnities, and the infinitely varied voyagings in storms and calms,
and the differences among those who are born, who live together, and
die. And consider too the life lived by others in olden time, and the
life now lived among barbarous nations, and how many know not even thy
name, and how many will soon forget it, and how they who perhaps now are
praising thee will very soon blame thee and that neither a posthumous
name is of any value, nor reputation, nor anything else."[237]

He recognized, indeed, that (to use his own words) "the prime principle
in man's constitution is the social";[238] and he labored sincerely to
make not only his acts towards his fellow-men, but his thoughts also,
suitable to this conviction:--

"When thou wishest to delight thyself, think of the virtues of those who
live with thee; for instance, the activity of one, and the modesty of
another, and the liberality of a third, and some other good quality of a

Still, it is hard for a pure and thoughtful man to live in a state of
rapture at the spectacle afforded to him by his fellow-creatures; above
all it is hard, when such a man is placed as Marcus Aurelius was placed,
and has had the meanness and perversity of his fellow-creatures thrust,
in no common measure, upon his notice,--has had, time after time, to
experience how "within ten days thou wilt seem a god to those to whom
thou art now a beast and an ape." His true strain of thought as to his
relations with his fellow-men is rather the following. He has been
enumerating the higher consolations which may support a man at the
approach of death, and he goes on:--

"But if thou requirest also a vulgar kind of comfort which shall reach
thy heart, thou wilt be made best reconciled to death by observing the
objects from which thou art going to be removed, and the morals of those
with whom thy soul will no longer be mingled. For it is no way right to
be offended with men, but it is thy duty to care for them and to bear
with them gently; and yet to remember that thy departure will not be
from men who have the same principles as thyself. For this is the only
thing, if there be any, which could draw us the contrary way and attach
us to life, to be permitted to live with those who have the same
principles as ourselves. But now thou seest how great is the distress
caused by the difference of those who live together, so that thou mayest
say: 'Come quick, O death, lest perchance I too should forget

_O faithless and perverse generation! how long shall I be with you? how
long shall I suffer you?_[241] Sometimes this strain rises even to

"Short is the little which remains to thee of life. Live as on a
mountain. Let men see, let them know, a real man, who lives as he was
meant to live. If they cannot endure him, let them kill him. For that is
better than to live as men do."[242]

It is remarkable how little of a merely local and temporary character,
how little of those _scoriae_ which a reader has to clear away before he
gets to the precious ore, how little that even admits of doubt or
question, the morality of Marcus Aurelius exhibits. Perhaps as to one
point we must make an exception. Marcus Aurelius is fond of urging as a
motive for man's cheerful acquiescence in whatever befalls him, that
"whatever happens to every man _is for the interest of the
universal_";[243] that the whole contains nothing _which is not for its
advantage_; that everything which happens to a man is to be accepted,
"even if it seems disagreeable, _because it leads to the health of the
universe_."[244] And the whole course of the universe, he adds, has a
providential reference to man's welfare: "_all other things have been
made for the sake of rational beings_."[245] Religion has in all ages
freely used this language, and it is not religion which will object to
Marcus Aurelius's use of it; but science can hardly accept as severely
accurate this employment of the terms _interest_ and _advantage_. To a
sound nature and a clear reason the proposition that things happen "for
the interest of the universal," as men conceive of interest, may seem to
have no meaning at all, and the proposition that "all things have been
made for the sake of rational beings" may seem to be false. Yet even to
this language, not irresistibly cogent when it is thus absolutely used,
Marcus Aurelius gives a turn which makes it true and useful, when he
says: "The ruling part of man can make a material for itself out of that
which opposes it, as fire lays hold of what falls into it, and rises
higher by means of this very material";[246]--when he says: "What else
are all things except exercises for the reason? Persevere then until
thou shalt have made all things thine own, as the stomach which is
strengthened makes all things its own, as the blazing fire makes flame
and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it";[247]--when he
says: "Thou wilt not cease to be miserable till thy mind is in such a
condition, that, what luxury is to those who enjoy pleasure, such shall
be to thee, in every matter which presents itself, the doing of the
things which are conformable to man's constitution; for a man ought to
consider as an enjoyment everything which it is in his power to do
according to his own nature,--and it is in his power everywhere."[248]
In this sense it is, indeed, most true that "all things have been made
for the sake of rational beings"; that "all things work together for

In general, however, the action Marcus Aurelius prescribes is action
which every sound nature must recognize as right, and the motives he
assigns are motives which every clear reason must recognize as valid.
And so he remains the especial friend and comforter of all clear-headed
and scrupulous, yet pure-hearted and upward striving men, in those ages
most especially that walk by sight, not by faith, but yet have no open
vision. He cannot give such souls, perhaps, all they yearn for, but he
gives them much; and what he gives them, they can receive.

Yet no, it is not for what he thus gives them that such souls love him
most! it is rather because of the emotion which lends to his voice so
touching an accent, it is because he too yearns as they do for something
unattained by him. What an affinity for Christianity had this persecutor
of the Christians! The effusion of Christianity, its relieving tears,
its happy self-sacrifice, were the very element, one feels, for which
his soul longed; they were near him, they brushed him, he touched them,
he passed them by. One feels, too, that the Marcus Aurelius one reads
must still have remained, even had Christianity been fully known to him,
in a great measure himself; he would have been no Justin;--but how would
Christianity have affected him? in what measure would it have changed
him? Granted that he might have found, like the _Alogi_[249] of modern
times, in the most beautiful of the Gospels, the Gospel which has
leavened Christendom most powerfully, the Gospel of St. John, too much
Greek metaphysics, too much _gnosis_;[250] granted that this Gospel
might have looked too like what he knew already to be a total surprise
to him: what, then, would he have said to the Sermon on the Mount, to
the twenty-sixth chapter of St. Matthew? What would have become of his
notions of the _exitiabilis superstitio_, of the "obstinacy of the
Christians"? Vain question! yet the greatest charm of Marcus Aurelius is
that he makes us ask it. We see him wise, just, self-governed, tender,
thankful, blameless; yet, with all this, agitated, stretching out his
arms for something beyond,--_tendentemque manus ripae ulterioris


If I were asked where English poetry got these three things, its turn
for style, its turn for melancholy, and its turn for natural magic, for
catching and rendering the charm of nature in a wonderfully near and
vivid way,--I should answer, with some doubt, that it got much of its
turn for style from a Celtic source; with less doubt, that it got much
of its melancholy from a Celtic source; with no doubt at all, that from
a Celtic source it got nearly all its natural magic.

Any German with penetration and tact in matters of literary criticism
will own that the principal deficiency of German poetry is in style;
that for style, in the highest sense, it shows but little feeling. Take
the eminent masters of style, the poets who best give the idea of what
the peculiar power which lies in style is--Pindar, Virgil, Dante,
Milton. An example of the peculiar effect which these poets produce, you
can hardly give from German poetry. Examples enough you can give from
German poetry of the effect produced by genius, thought, and feeling
expressing themselves in clear language, simple language, passionate
language, eloquent language, with harmony and melody: but not of the
peculiar effect exercised by eminent power of style. Every reader of
Dante can at once call to mind what the peculiar effect I mean is; I
spoke of it in my lectures on translating Homer, and there I took an
example of it from Dante, who perhaps manifests it more eminently than
any other poet.

But from Milton, too, one may take examples of it abundantly; compare
this from Milton:--

"... nor sometimes forget
Those other two equal with me in fate,
So were I equall'd with them in renown,
Blind Thamyris and blind Maeonides--"[253]

with this from Goethe:--

"Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille,
Sich ein Character in dem Strom der Welt."[254]

Nothing can be better in its way than the style in which Goethe there
presents his thought, but it is the style of prose as much as of poetry;
it is lucid, harmonious, earnest, eloquent, but it has not received that
peculiar kneading, heightening, and recasting which is observable in the
style of the passage from Milton--a style which seems to have for its
cause a certain pressure of emotion, and an ever-surging, yet bridled,
excitement in the poet, giving a special intensity to his way of
delivering himself. In poetical races and epochs this turn for style is
peculiarly observable; and perhaps it is only on condition of having
this somewhat heightened and difficult manner, so different from the
plain manner of prose, that poetry gets the privilege of being loosed,
at its best moments, into that perfectly simple, limpid style, which is
the supreme style of all, but the simplicity of which is still not the
simplicity of prose. The simplicity of Menander's[255] style is the
simplicity of prose, and is the same kind of simplicity as that which
Goethe's style, in the passage I have quoted, exhibits; but Menander
does not belong to a great poetical moment, he comes too late for it; it
is the simple passages in poets like Pindar or Dante which are perfect,
being masterpieces of _poetical_ simplicity. One may say the same of the
simple passages in Shakespeare; they are perfect, their simplicity being
a _poetical_ simplicity. They are the golden, easeful, crowning moments
of a manner which is always pitched in another key from that of prose, a
manner changed and heightened; the Elizabethan style, regnant in most of
our dramatic poetry to this day, is mainly the continuation of this
manner of Shakespeare's. It was a manner much more turbid and strewn
with blemishes than the manner of Pindar, Dante, or Milton; often it was
detestable; but it owed its existence to Shakespeare's instinctive
impulse towards _style_ in poetry, to his native sense of the necessity
for it; and without the basis of style everywhere, faulty though it may
in some places be, we should not have had the beauty of expression,
unsurpassable for effectiveness and charm, which is reached in
Shakespeare's best passages. The turn for style is perceptible all
through English poetry, proving, to my mind, the genuine poetical gift
of the race; this turn imparts to our poetry a stamp of high
distinction, and sometimes it doubles the force of a poet not by nature
of the very highest order, such as Gray, and raises him to a rank beyond
what his natural richness and power seem to promise. Goethe, with his
fine critical perception, saw clearly enough both the power of style in
itself, and the lack of style in the literature of his own country; and
perhaps if we regard him solely as a German, not as a European, his
great work was that he labored all his life to impart style into German
literature, and firmly to establish it there. Hence the immense
importance to him of the world of classical art, and of the productions
of Greek or Latin genius, where style so eminently manifests its power.
Had he found in the German genius and literature an element of style
existing by nature and ready to his hand, half his work, one may say,
would have been saved him, and he might have done much more in poetry.
But as it was, he had to try and create, out of his own powers, a style
for German poetry, as well as to provide contents for this style to
carry; and thus his labor as a poet was doubled.

It is to be observed that power of style, in the sense in which I am
here speaking of style, is something quite different from the power of
idiomatic, simple, nervous, racy expression, such as the expression of
healthy, robust natures so often is, such as Luther's was in a striking
degree. Style, in my sense of the word, is a peculiar recasting and
heightening, under a certain condition of spiritual excitement, of what
a man has to say, in such a manner as to add dignity and distinction to
it; and dignity and distinction are not terms which suit many acts or
words of Luther. Deeply touched with the _Gemeinheit_[256] which is the
bane of his nation, as he is at the same time a grand example of the
honesty which is his nation's excellence, he can seldom even show
himself brave, resolute, and truthful, without showing a strong dash of
coarseness and commonness all the while; the right definition of Luther,
as of our own Bunyan, is that he is a Philistine of genius. So Luther's
sincere idiomatic German,--such language as this: "Hilf, lieber Gott,
wie manchen Jammer habe ich gesehen, dass der gemeine Mann doch so gar
nichts weiss von der christlichen Lehre!"--no more proves a power of
style in German literature, than Cobbett's[257] sinewy idiomatic English
proves it in English literature. Power of style, properly so-called, as
manifested in masters of style like Dante or Milton in poetry, Cicero,
Bossuet[258] or Bolingbroke[259] in prose, is something quite different,
and has, as I have said, for its characteristic effect, this: to add
dignity and distinction.

* * * * *

This something is _style_, and the Celts certainly have it in a
wonderful measure. Style is the most striking quality of their poetry.
Celtic poetry seems to make up to itself for being unable to master the
world and give an adequate interpretation of it, by throwing all its
force into style, by bending language at any rate to its will, and
expressing the ideas it has with unsurpassable intensity, elevation, and
effect. It has all through it a sort of intoxication of style--a
_Pindarism_, to use a word formed from the name of the poet, on whom,
above all other poets, the power of style seems to have exercised an
inspiring and intoxicating effect; and not in its great poets only, in
Taliesin, or Llywarch Hen, or Ossian,[260] does the Celtic genius show
this Pindarism, but in all its productions:--

"The grave of March is this, and this the grave of Gwythyr;
Here is the grave of Gwgawn Gleddyfreidd;
But unknown is the grave of Arthur."[261]

That comes from the _Welsh Memorials of the Graves of the Warriors_, and
if we compare it with the familiar memorial inscriptions of an English
churchyard (for we English have so much Germanism in us that our
productions offer abundant examples of German want of style as well as
of its opposite):--

"Afflictions sore long time I bore,
Physicians were in vain,
Till God did please Death should me seize
And ease me of my pain--"

if, I say, we compare the Welsh memorial lines with the English, which
in their _Gemeinheit_ of style are truly Germanic, we shall get a clear
sense of what that Celtic talent for style I have been speaking of is.

* * * * *

Its chord of penetrating passion and melancholy, again, its _Titanism_
as we see it in Byron,--what other European poetry possesses that like
the English, and where do we get it from? The Celts, with their vehement
reaction against the despotism of fact, with their sensuous nature,
their manifold striving, their adverse destiny, their immense
calamities, the Celts are the prime authors of this vein of piercing
regret and passion,--of this Titanism in poetry. A famous book,
Macpherson's _Ossian_,[262] carried in the last century this vein like a
flood of lava through Europe. I am not going to criticize Macpherson's
_Ossian_ here. Make the part of what is forged, modern, tawdry,
spurious, in the book, as large as you please; strip Scotland, if you
like, of every feather of borrowed plumes which on the strength of
Macpherson's _Ossian_ she may have stolen from that _vetus et major
Scotia_, the true home of the Ossianic poetry, Ireland; I make no
objection. But there will still be left in the book a residue with the
very soul of the Celtic genius in it, and which has the proud
distinction of having brought this soul of the Celtic genius into
contact with the genius of the nations of modern Europe, and enriched
all our poetry by it. Woody Morven, and echoing Sora, and Selma with its

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