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Selections from the Prose Works of Matthew Arnold by Matthew Arnold

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silent halls!--we all owe them a debt of gratitude, and when we are
unjust enough to forget it, may the Muse forget us! Choose any one of
the better passages in Macpherson's _Ossian_ and you can see even at
this time of day what an apparition of newness and power such a strain
must have been to the eighteenth century:--

"I have seen the walls of Balclutha, but they were desolate. The fox
looked out from the windows, the rank grass of the wall waved round her
head. Raise the song of mourning, O bards, over the land of strangers.
They have but fallen before us, for one day we must fall. Why dost thou
build the hall, son of the winged days? Thou lookest from thy towers
today; yet a few years, and the blast of the desert comes; it howls in
thy empty court, and whistles round thy half-worn shield. Let the blast
of the desert come! we shall be renowned in our day."

All Europe felt the power of that melancholy; but what I wish to point
out is, that no nation of Europe so caught in its poetry the passionate
penetrating accent of the Celtic genius, its strain of Titanism, as the
English. Goethe, like Napoleon, felt the spell of Ossian very
powerfully, and he quotes a long passage from him in his _Werther_.[263]
But what is there Celtic, turbulent, and Titanic about the German
Werther, that amiable, cultivated and melancholy young man, having for
his sorrow and suicide the perfectly definite motive that Lotte cannot
be his? Faust, again, has nothing unaccountable, defiant, and Titanic in
him; his knowledge does not bring him the satisfaction he expected from
it, and meanwhile he finds himself poor and growing old, and balked of
the palpable enjoyment of life; and here is the motive for Faust's
discontent. In the most energetic and impetuous of Goethe's creations,--
his _Prometheus_,[264]--it is not Celtic self-will and passion, it is
rather the Germanic sense of justice and reason, which revolts against
the despotism of Zeus. The German _Sehnsucht_ itself is a wistful, soft,
tearful longing, rather than a struggling, fierce, passionate one. But
the Celtic melancholy is struggling, fierce, passionate; to catch its
note, listen to Llywarch Hen in old age, addressing his crutch:--

"O my crutch! is it not autumn, when the fern is red, the water-flag
yellow? Have I not hated that which I love?

O my crutch! is it not winter-time now, when men talk together after
that they have drunken? Is not the side of my bed left desolate?

O my crutch! is it not spring, when the cuckoo passes through the air,
when the foam sparkles on the sea? The young maidens no longer love me.

O my crutch! is it not the first day of May? The furrows, are they not
shining; the young corn, is it not springing? Ah! the sight of thy
handle makes me wroth.

O my crutch! stand straight, thou wilt support me the better; it is very
long since I was Llywarch.

Behold old age, which makes sport of me, from the hair of my head to my
teeth, to my eyes, which women loved.

The four things I have all my life most hated fall upon me together,--
coughing and old age, sickness and sorrow.

I am old, I am alone, shapeliness and warmth are gone from me; the couch
of honor shall be no more mine; I am miserable, I am bent on my crutch.

How evil was the lot allotted to Llywarch, the night when he was brought
forth! sorrows without end, and no deliverance from his burden."[265]

There is the Titanism of the Celt, his passionate, turbulent,
indomitable reaction against the despotism of fact; and of whom does it
remind us so much as of Byron?

"The fire which on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze;
A funeral pile!"[266]

Or, again:--

"Count o'er the joys thine hours have seen,
Count o'er thy days from anguish free,
And know, whatever thou hast been,
'Tis something better not to be."[267]

One has only to let one's memory begin to fetch passages from Byron
striking the same note as that passage from Llywarch Hen, and she will
not soon stop. And all Byron's heroes, not so much in collision with
outward things, as breaking on some rock of revolt and misery in the
depths of their own nature; Manfred, self-consumed, fighting blindly and
passionately with I know not what, having nothing of the consistent
development and intelligible motive of Faust,--Manfred, Lara, Cain,[268]
what are they but Titanic? Where in European poetry are we to find this
Celtic passion of revolt so warm-breathing, puissant, and sincere;
except perhaps in the creation of a yet greater poet than Byron, but an
English poet, too, like Byron,--in the Satan of Milton?

"... What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield,
And what is else not to be overcome."[269]

There, surely, speaks a genius to whose composition the Celtic fibre was
not wholly a stranger!

* * * * *

The Celt's quick feeling for what is noble and distinguished gave his
poetry style; his indomitable personality gave it pride and passion; his
sensibility and nervous exaltation gave it a better gift still, the gift
of rendering with wonderful felicity the magical charm of nature. The
forest solitude, the bubbling spring, the wild flowers, are everywhere
in romance. They have a mysterious life and grace there; they are
Nature's own children, and utter her secret in a way which makes them
something quite different from the woods, waters, and plants of Greek
and Latin poetry. Now of this delicate magic, Celtic romance is so
pre-eminent a mistress, that it seems impossible to believe the power
did not come into romance from the Celts.[270] Magic is just the word
for it,--the magic of nature; not merely the beauty of nature,--that the
Greeks and Latins had; not merely an honest smack of the soil, a
faithful realism,--that the Germans had; but the intimate life of
Nature, her weird power and her fairy charm. As the Saxon names of
places, with the pleasant wholesome smack of the soil in them,--
Weathersfield, Thaxted, Shalford,--are to the Celtic names of places,
with their penetrating, lofty beauty,--Velindra, Tyntagel, Caernarvon,--
so is the homely realism of German and Norse nature to the fairy-like
loveliness of Celtic nature. Gwydion wants a wife for his pupil: "Well,"
says Math, "we will seek, I and thou, by charms and illusions, to form a
wife for him out of flowers. So they took the blossoms of the oak, and
the blossoms of the broom, and the blossoms of the meadow-sweet, and
produced from them a maiden, the fairest and most graceful that
man ever saw. And they baptized her, and gave her the name of
Flower-Aspect."[271] Celtic romance is full of exquisite touches like
that, showing the delicacy of the Celt's feeling in these matters, and
how deeply Nature lets him come into her secrets. The quick dropping of
blood is called "faster than the fall of the dewdrop from the blade of
reed-grass upon the earth, when the dew of June is at the heaviest." And
thus is Olwen described: "More yellow was her hair than the flower of
the broom, and her skin was whiter than the foam of the wave, and fairer
were her hands and her fingers than the blossoms of the wood-anemony
amidst the spray of the meadow fountains."[272] For loveliness it would
be hard to beat that; and for magical clearness and nearness take the

"And in the evening Peredur entered a valley, and at the head of the
valley he came to a hermit's cell, and the hermit welcomed him gladly,
and there he spent the night. And in the morning he arose, and when he
went forth, behold, a shower of snow had fallen the night before, and a
hawk had killed a wild-fowl in front of the cell. And the noise of the
horse scared the hawk away, and a raven alighted upon the bird. And
Peredur stood and compared the blackness of the raven, and the whiteness
of the snow, and the redness of the blood, to the hair of the lady whom
best he loved, which was blacker than the raven, and to her skin, which
was whiter than the snow, and to her two cheeks which were redder than
the blood upon the snow appeared to be."[273]

And this, which is perhaps less striking, is not less beautiful:--

"And early in the day Geraint and Enid left the wood, and they came to
an open country, with meadows on one hand and mowers mowing the meadows.
And there was a river before them, and the horses bent down and drank
the water. And they went up out of the river by a steep bank, and there
they met a slender stripling with a satchel about his neck; and he had a
small blue pitcher in his hand, and a bowl on the mouth of the

And here the landscape, up to this point so Greek in its clear beauty,
is suddenly magicalized by the romance touch,--

"And they saw a tall tree by the side of the river, one-half of which
was in flames from the root to the top, and the other half was green and
in full leaf."

Magic is the word to insist upon,--a magically vivid and near
interpretation of nature; since it is this which constitutes the special
charm and power of the effect I am calling attention to, and it is for
this that the Celt's sensibility gives him a peculiar aptitude. But the
matter needs rather fine handling, and it is easy to make mistakes here
in our criticism. In the first place, Europe tends constantly to become
more and more one community, and we tend to become Europeans instead of
merely Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Italians; so whatever aptitude or
felicity one people imparts into spiritual work, gets imitated by the
others, and thus tends to become the common property of all. Therefore
anything so beautiful and attractive as the natural magic I am speaking
of, is sure, nowadays, if it appears in the productions of the Celts, or
of the English, or of the French, to appear in the productions of the
Germans also, or in the productions of the Italians; but there will be a
stamp of perfectness and inimitableness about it in the literatures
where it is native, which it will not have in the literatures where it
is not native. Novalis[275] or Rueckert,[276] for instance, have their
eye fixed on nature, and have undoubtedly a feeling for natural magic; a
rough-and-ready critic easily credits them and the Germans with the
Celtic fineness of tact, the Celtic nearness to nature and her secret;
but the question is whether the strokes in the German's picture of
nature[277] have ever the indefinable delicacy, charm, and perfection of
the Celt's touch in the pieces I just now quoted, or of Shakespeare's
touch in his daffodil,[278] Wordsworth's in his cuckoo,[279] Keats's in
his Autumn, Obermann's in his mountain birch-tree, or his Easter-daisy
among the Swiss farms.[280] To decide where the gift for natural magic
originally lies, whether it is properly Celtic or Germanic, we must
decide this question.

In the second place, there are many ways of handling nature, and we are
here only concerned with one of them; but a rough-and-ready critic
imagines that it is all the same so long as nature is handled at all,
and fails to draw the needful distinction between modes of handling her.
But these modes are many; I will mention four of them now: there is the
conventional way of handling nature, there is the faithful way of
handling nature, there is the Greek way of handling nature, there is the
magical way of handling nature. In all these three last the eye is on
the object, but with a difference; in the faithful way of handling
nature, the eye is on the object, and that is all you can say; in the
Greek, the eye is on the object, but lightness and brightness are added;
in the magical, the eye is on the object, but charm and magic are added.
In the conventional way of handling nature, the eye is not on the
object; what that means we all know, we have only to think of our
eighteenth-century poetry:--

"As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night--"[281]

to call up any number of instances. Latin poetry supplies plenty of
instances too; if we put this from Propertius's _Hylas_:--

"... manus heroum ...
Mollia composita litora fronde tegit--"[282]

side by side with the line of Theocritus by which it was suggested:--

[Greek: leimon gar sphin ekeito megas, stibadessin oneiar--][283]

we get at the same moment a good specimen both of the conventional and
of the Greek way of handling nature. But from our own poetry we may get
specimens of the Greek way of handling nature, as well as of the
conventional: for instance, Keats's:--

"What little town by river or seashore,
Or mountain-built with quiet citadel,
Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?"[284]

is Greek, as Greek as a thing from Homer or Theocritus; it is composed
with the eye on the object, a radiancy and light clearness being added.
German poetry abounds in specimens of the faithful way of handling
nature; an excellent example is to be found in the stanzas called
_Zueignung_[285], prefixed to Goethe's poems; the morning walk, the
mist, the dew, the sun, are as faithful as they can be, they are given
with the eye on the object, but there the merit of the work, as a
handling of nature, stops; neither Greek radiance nor Celtic magic is
added; the power of these is not what gives the poem in question its
merit, but a power of quite another kind, a power of moral and spiritual
emotion. But the power of Greek radiance Goethe could give to his
handling of nature, and nobly too, as any one who will read his
_Wanderer_,--the poem in which a wanderer falls in with a peasant woman
and her child by their hut, built out of the ruins of a temple near
Cuma,--may see. Only the power of natural magic Goethe does not, I
think, give; whereas Keats passes at will from the Greek power to that
power which is, as I say, Celtic; from his

"What little town, by river or seashore--"

to his

"White hawthorn and the pastoral eglantine,
Fast-fading violets cover'd up in leaves--"[286]

or his

"... magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in fairy lands forlorn--"[287]

in which the very same note is struck as in those extracts which I
quoted from Celtic romance, and struck with authentic and unmistakable

Shakespeare, in handling nature, touches this Celtic note so
exquisitely, that perhaps one is inclined to be always looking for the
Celtic note in him, and not to recognize his Greek note when it comes.
But if one attends well to the difference between the two notes, and
bears in mind, to guide one, such things as Virgil's "moss-grown springs
and grass softer than sleep:"--

"Muscosi fontes et somno mollior herba--"[288]

as his charming flower-gatherer, who--

"Pallentes violas et summa papavera carpens
Narcissum et florem jungit bene olentis anethi--"[289]

as his quinces and chestnuts:--

" ... cana legam tenera lanugine mala
Castaneasque nuces ..."[290]

then, I think, we shall be disposed to say that in Shakespeare's

"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine--"[291]

it is mainly a Greek note which is struck. Then, again in his

" ... look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold!"[292]

we are at the very point of transition from the Greek note to the
Celtic; there is the Greek clearness and brightness, with the Celtic
aerialness and magic coming in. Then we have the sheer, inimitable
Celtic note in passages like this:--

"Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea--"[293]

or this, the last I will quote:--

"The moon shines bright. In such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls--

... in such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o'ertrip the dew--
... in such a night
_Stood Dido, with a willow in her hand,
Upon the wild sea-banks, and waved her love
To come again to Carthage._"[294]

And those last lines of all are so drenched and intoxicated with the
fairy-dew of that natural magic which is our theme, that I cannot do
better than end with them.

And now, with the pieces of evidence in our hand, let us go to those who
say it is vain to look for Celtic elements in any Englishman, and let us
ask them, first, if they seize what we mean by the power of natural
magic in Celtic poetry: secondly, if English poetry does not eminently
exhibit this power; and, thirdly, where they suppose English poetry got
it from?


The months go round, and anniversaries return; on the ninth of June
George Sand will have been dead just one year. She was born in 1804; she
was almost seventy-two years old when she died. She came to Paris after
the revolution of 1830, with her _Indiana_[296] written, and began her
life of independence, her life of authorship, her life as _George Sand_.
She continued at work till she died. For forty-five years she was
writing and publishing, and filled Europe with her name.

It seems to me but the other day that I saw her, yet it was in the
August of 1846, more than thirty years ago. I saw her in her own Berry,
at Nohant,[297] where her childhood and youth were passed, where she
returned to live after she became famous, where she died and has now her
grave. There must be many who, after reading her books, have felt the
same desire which in those days of my youth, in 1846, took me to Nohant,
--the desire to see the country and the places of which the books that
so charmed us were full. Those old provinces of the centre of France,
primitive and slumbering,--Berry, La Marche, Bourbonnais; those sites
and streams in them, of name once so indifferent to us, but to which
George Sand gave such a music for our ear,--La Chatre, Ste. Severe, the
_Vallee Noire_, the Indre, the Creuse; how many a reader of George Sand
must have desired, as I did, after frequenting them so much in thought,
fairly to set eyes upon them!

I had been reading _Jeanne_.[298] I made up my mind to go and see Toulx
Ste. Croix, Boussac, and the Druidical stones on Mont Barlot, the
_Pierres Jaunatres_.[299]

I remember looking out Toulx in Cassini's great map[300] at the
Bodleian Library. The railway through the centre of France went in those
days no farther than Vierzon. From Vierzon to Chateauroux one travelled
by an ordinary diligence, from Chateauroux to La Chatre by a humbler
diligence, from La Chatre to Boussac by the humblest diligence of all.
At Boussac diligence ended, and _patache_[301] began. Between
Chateauroux and La Chatre, a mile or two before reaching the latter
place, the road passes by the village of Nohant. The Chateau of Nohant,
in which Madame Sand lived, is a plain house by the road-side, with a
walled garden. Down in the meadows, not far off, flows the Indre,
bordered by trees. I passed Nohant without stopping, at La Chatre I
dined and changed diligence, and went on by night up the valley of the
Indre, the _Vallee Noire_, past Ste. Severe to Boussac. At Ste. Severe
the Indre is quite a small stream. In the darkness we quitted its
valley, and when day broke we were in the wilder and barer country of La
Marche, with Boussac before us, and its high castle on a precipitous
rock over the Little Creuse.

That day and the next I wandered through a silent country of heathy and
ferny _landes_,[302] a region of granite boulders, holly, and broom, of
copsewood and great chestnut trees; a region of broad light, and fresh
breezes and wide horizons. I visited the _Pierres Jaunatres._ I stood at
sunset on the platform of Toulx Ste. Croix, by the scrawled and almost
effaced stone lions,--a relic, it is said, of the English rule,--and
gazed on the blue mountains of Auvergne filling the distance, and
southeastward of them, in a still further and fainter distance, on what
seemed to be the mountains over Le Puy and the high valley of the Loire.

From Boussac I addressed to Madame Sand the sort of letter of which she
must in her lifetime have had scores, a letter conveying to her, in bad
French, the homage of a youthful and enthusiastic foreigner who had read
her works with delight. She received the infliction good-naturedly, for
on my return to La Chatre I found a message left at the inn by a servant
from Nohant that Madame Sand would be glad to see me if I called. The
mid-day breakfast at Nohant was not yet over when I reached the house,
and I found a large party assembled. I entered with some trepidation, as
well I might, considering how I had got there; but the simplicity of
Madame Sand's manner put me at ease in a moment. She named some of those
present; amongst them were her son and daughter, the Maurice and Solange
[303] so familiar to us from her books, and Chopin[304] with his
wonderful eyes. There was at that time nothing astonishing in Madame
Sand's appearance. She was not in man's clothes, she wore a sort of
costume not impossible, I should think (although on these matters I
speak with hesitation), to members of the fair sex at this hour amongst
ourselves, as an outdoor dress for the country or for Scotland. She made
me sit by her and poured out for me the insipid and depressing beverage,
_boisson fade et melancolique_, as Balzac called it, for which English
people are thought abroad to be always thirsting,--tea. She conversed of
the country through which I had been wandering, of the Berry peasants
and their mode of life, of Switzerland, whither I was going; she touched
politely, by a few questions and remarks, upon England and things and
persons English,--upon Oxford and Cambridge, Byron, Bulwer. As she
spoke, her eyes, head, bearing, were all of them striking; but the main
impression she made was an impression of what I have already mentioned,
--of _simplicity_, frank, cordial simplicity. After breakfast she led
the way into the garden, asked me a few kind questions about myself and
my plans, gathered a flower or two and gave them to me, shook hands
heartily at the gate, and I saw her no more. In 1859 M. Michelet[305]
gave me a letter to her, which would have enabled me to present myself
in more regular fashion. Madame Sand was then in Paris. But a day or two
passed before I could call, and when I called, Madame Sand had left
Paris and had gone back to Nohant. The impression of 1846 has remained
my single impression of her.

Of her gaze, form, and speech, that one impression is enough; better
perhaps than a mixed impression from seeing her at sundry times and
after successive changes. But as the first anniversary of her death
[306] draws near, there arises again a desire which I felt when she
died, the desire, not indeed to take a critical survey of her,--very far
from it. I feel no inclination at all to go regularly through her
productions, to classify and value them one by one, to pick out from
them what the English public may most like, or to present to that
public, for the most part ignorant of George Sand and for the most part
indifferent to her, a full history and a judicial estimate of the woman
and of her writings. But I desire to recall to my own mind, before the
occasion offered by her death passes quite away,--to recall and collect
the elements of that powerful total-impression which, as a writer, she
made upon me; to recall and collect them, to bring them distinctly into
view, to feel them in all their depth and power once more. What I here
attempt is not for the benefit of the indifferent; it is for my own
satisfaction, it is for myself. But perhaps those for whom George Sand
has been a friend and a power will find an interest in following me.

_Le sentiment de la vie ideale, qui n'est autre que la vie normale telle
que nous sommes appeles a la connaitre_;[307]--"the sentiment of the
ideal life, which is none other than man's normal life as we shall some
day know it,"--those words from one of her last publications give the
ruling thought of George Sand, the ground-_motive_, as they say in
music, of all her strain. It is as a personage inspired by this motive
that she interests us.

The English public conceives of her as of a novel-writer who wrote
stories more or less interesting; the earlier ones objectionable and
dangerous, the later ones, some of them, unexceptionable and fit to be
put into the hands of the youth of both sexes. With such a conception of
George Sand, a story of hers like _Consuelo_[308] comes to be elevated
in England into quite an undue relative importance, and to pass with
very many people for her typical work, displaying all that is really
valuable and significant in the author. _Consuelo_ is a charming story.
But George Sand is something more than a maker of charming stories, and
only a portion of her is shown in _Consuelo_. She is more, likewise,
than a creator of characters. She has created, with admirable truth to
nature, characters most attractive and attaching, such as Edmee,
Genevieve, Germain.[309] But she is not adequately expressed by them.
We do not know her unless we feel the spirit which goes through her work
as a whole.

In order to feel this spirit it is not, indeed, necessary to read all
that she ever produced. Even three or four only out of her many books
might suffice to show her to us, if they were well chosen; let us say,
the _Lettres d'un Voyageur, Mauprat, Francois le Champi_,[310] and a
story which I was glad to see Mr. Myers,[311] in his appreciative
notice of Madame Sand, single out for praise,--_Valvedre_.[312] In these
may be found all the principal elements of their author's strain: the
cry of agony and revolt, the trust in nature and beauty, the aspiration
towards a purged and renewed human society.

Of George Sand's strain, during forty years, these are the grand
elements. Now it is one of them which appears most prominently, now it
is another. The cry of agony and revolt is in her earlier work only, and
passes away in her later. But in the evolution of these three elements,
--the passion of agony and revolt, the consolation from nature and from
beauty, the ideas of social renewal,--in the evolution of these is
George Sand and George Sand's life and power. Through their evolution
her constant motive declares and unfolds itself, that motive which we
have set forth above: "the sentiment of the ideal life, which is none
other than man's normal life as we shall one day know it." This is the
motive, and through these elements is its evolution: an evolution
pursued, moreover, with the most unfailing resolve, the most absolute

The hour of agony and revolt passed away for George Sand, as it passed
away for Goethe, as it passes away for their readers likewise. It passes
away and does not return; yet those who, amid the agitations, more or
less stormy, of their youth, betook themselves to the early works of
George Sand, may in later life cease to read them, indeed, but they can
no more forget them than they can forget _Werther_[313]. George Sand
speaks somewhere of her "days of _Corinne_."[314] Days of _Valentine_,
many of us may in like manner say,--days of _Valentine_, days of
_Lelia_[315], days never to return! They are gone, we shall read the
books no more, and yet how ineffaceable is their impression! How the
sentences from George Sand's works of that period still linger in our
memory and haunt the ear with their cadences! Grandiose and moving, they
come, those cadences, like the sighing of the wind through the forest,
like the breaking of the waves on the seashore. Lelia in her cell on the
mountain of the Camaldoli--

"Sibyl, Sibyl forsaken; spirit of the days of old, joined to a brain
which rebels against the divine inspiration; broken lyre, mute
instrument, whose tones the world of to-day, if it heard them, could not
understand, but yet in whose depth the eternal harmony murmurs
imprisoned; priestess of death, I, I who feel and know that before now I
have been Pythia, have wept before now, before now have spoken, but who
cannot recollect, alas, cannot utter the word of healing! Yes, yes! I
remember the cavern of truth and the access of revelation; but the word
of human destiny, I have forgotten it; but the talisman of deliverance,
it is lost from my hand. And yet, indeed, much, much have I seen! and
when suffering presses me sore, when indignation takes hold of me, when
I feel Prometheus wake up in my heart and beat his puissant wings
against the stone which confines him,--oh! then, in prey to a frenzy
without a name, to a despair without bounds, I invoke the unknown master
and friend who might illumine my spirit and set free my tongue; but I
grope in darkness, and my tired arms grasp nothing save delusive
shadows. And for ten thousand years, as the sole answer to my cries, as
the sole comfort in my agony, I hear astir, over this earth accurst, the
despairing sob of impotent agony. For ten thousand years I have cried in
infinite space: _Truth! Truth!_ For ten thousand years infinite space
keeps answering me: _Desire, Desire_. O Sibyl forsaken! O mute Pythia!
dash then thy head against the rocks of thy cavern, and mingle thy
raging blood with the foam of the sea; for thou deemest thyself to have
possessed the almighty Word, and these ten thousand years thou art
seeking him in vain."[316]

Or Sylvia's cry over Jacques[317] by his glacier in the Tyrol--

"When such a man as thou art is born into a world where he can do no
true service; when, with the soul of an apostle and the courage of a
martyr, he has simply to push his way among the heartless and aimless
crowds which vegetate without living; the atmosphere suffocates him and
he dies. Hated by sinners, the mock of fools, disliked by the envious,
abandoned by the weak, what can he do but return to God, weary with
having labored in vain, in sorrow at having accomplished nothing? The
world remains in all its vileness and in all its hatefulness; this is
what men call, 'the triumph of good sense over enthusiasm.'"[318]

Or Jacques himself, and his doctrine--

"Life is arid and terrible, repose is a dream, prudence is useless; mere
reason alone serves simply to dry up the heart; there is but one virtue,
the eternal sacrifice of oneself."

Or George Sand speaking in her own person, in the _Lettres d'un

"Ah, no, I was not born to be a poet, I was born to love. It is the
misfortune of my destiny, it is the enmity of others, which have made me
a wanderer and an artist. What I wanted was to live a human life; I had
a heart, it has been torn violently from my breast. All that has been
left me is a head, a head full of noise and pain, of horrible memories,
of images of woe, of scenes of outrage. And because in writing stories
to earn my bread I could not help remembering my sorrows, because I had
the audacity to say that in married life there were to be found
miserable beings, by reason of the weakness which is enjoined upon the
woman, by reason of the brutality which is permitted to the man, by
reason of the turpitudes which society covers and protects with a veil,
I am pronounced immoral, I am treated as if I were the enemy of the
human race."[319]

If only, alas, together with her honesty and her courage, she could feel
within herself that she had also light and hope and power; that she was
able to lead those whom she loved, and who looked to her for guidance!
But no; her very own children, witnesses of her suffering, her
uncertainty, her struggles, her evil report, may come to doubt her:--

"My poor children, my own flesh and blood, will perhaps turn upon me and
say: 'You are leading us wrong, you mean to ruin us as well as yourself.
Are you not unhappy, reprobated, evil spoken of? What have you gained by
these unequal struggles, by these much trumpeted duels of yours with
custom and belief? Let us do as others do; let us get what is to be got
out of this easy and tolerant world.'

"This is what they will say to me. Or at best, if, out of tenderness for
me, or from their own natural disposition, they give ear to my words and
believe me, whither shall I guide them? Into what abysses shall we go
and plunge ourselves, we three?--for we shall be our own three upon
earth, and not one soul with us. What shall I reply to them if they come
and say to me; 'Yes, life is unbearable in a world like this. Let us die
together. Show us the path of Bernica, or the lake of Stenio, or the
glaciers of Jacques.'"[320]

Nevertheless the failure of the impassioned seekers of a new and better
world proves nothing, George Sand maintains, for the world as it is.
Ineffectual they may be, but the world is still more ineffectual, and it
is the world's course which is doomed to ruin, not theirs. "What has it
done," exclaims George Sand in her preface to Guerin's _Centaure_, "what
has it done for our moral education, and what is it doing for our
children, this society shielded with such care?" Nothing. Those whom it
calls vain complainers and rebels and madmen, may reply:--

"Suffer us to bewail our martyrs, poets without a country that we are,
forlorn singers, well versed in the causes of their misery and of our
own. You do not comprehend the malady which killed them; they themselves
did not comprehend it. If one or two of us at the present day open our
eyes to a new light, is it not by a strange and unaccountable good
Providence; and have we not to seek our grain of faith in storm and
darkness, combated by doubt, irony, the absence of all sympathy, all
example, all brotherly aid, all protection and countenance in high
places? Try yourselves to speak to your brethren heart to heart,
conscience to conscience! Try it!--but you cannot, busied as you are
with watching and patching up in all directions your dykes which the
flood is invading. The material existence of this society of yours
absorbs all your care, and requires more than all your efforts.
Meanwhile the powers of human thought are growing into strength, and
rise on all sides around you. Amongst these threatening apparitions,
there are some which fade away and reenter the darkness, because the
hour of life has not yet struck, and the fiery spirit which quickened
them could strive no longer with the horrors of this present chaos; but
there are others that can wait, and you will find them confronting you,
up and alive, to say: 'You have allowed the death of our brethren, and
we, we do not mean to die.'"

She did not, indeed. How should she faint and fail before her time,
because of a world out of joint, because of the reign of stupidity,
because of the passions of youth, because of the difficulties and
disgusts of married life in the native seats of the _homme sensuel
moyen_, the average sensual man, she who could feel so well the power of
those eternal consolers, nature and beauty? From the very first they
introduce a note of suavity in her strain of grief and passion. Who can
forget the lanes and meadows of _Valentine_?

George Sand is one of the few French writers who keep us closely and
truly intimate with rural nature. She gives us the wild-flowers by their
actual names,--snowdrop, primrose, columbine, iris, scabious. Nowhere
has she touched her native Berry and its little-known landscape, its
_campagnes ignorees_, with a lovelier charm than in _Valentine_. The
winding and deep lanes running out of the high road on either side, the
fresh and calm spots they take us to, "meadows of a tender green,
plaintive brooks, clumps of alder and mountain ash, a whole world of
suave and pastoral nature,"--how delicious it all is! The grave and
silent peasant whose very dog will hardly deign to bark at you, the
great white ox, "the unfailing dean of these pastures," staring solemnly
at you from the thicket; the farmhouse "with its avenue of maples, and
the Indre, here hardly more than a bright rivulet, stealing along
through rushes and yellow iris, in the field below,"--who, I say, can
forget them? And that one lane in especial, the lane where Athenais puts
her arm out of the side window of the rustic carriage and gathers May
from the overarching hedge,--that lane with its startled blackbirds, and
humming insects, and limpid water, and swaying water-plants, and
shelving gravel, and yellow wagtails hopping, half-pert,
half-frightened, on the sand,--that lane with its rushes, cresses, and
mint below, its honeysuckle and traveller's-joy above,--how gladly might
one give all that strangely English picture in English, if the charm of
Madame Sand's language did not here defy translation! Let us try
something less difficult, and yet something where we may still have her
in this her beloved world of "simplicity, and sky, and fields and trees,
and peasant life,--peasant life looked at, by preference, on its good
and sound side." _Voyez donc la simplicite, vous autres, voyez le ciel
et les champs, et les arbres, et les paysans, surtout dans ce qu'ils ont
de bon et de vrai._

The introduction to _La Mare au Diable_ will give us what we want.
George Sand has been looking at an engraving of Holbein's _Laborer._
[321] An old thick-set peasant, in rags, is driving his plough in the
midst of a field. All around spreads a wild landscape, dotted with a few
poor huts. The sun is setting behind a hill; the day of toil is nearly
over. It has been a hard one; the ground is rugged and stony, the
laborer's horses are but skin and bone, weak and exhausted. There is but
one alert figure, the skeleton Death, who with a whip skips nimbly along
at the horses' side and urges the team. Under the picture is a quotation
in old French, to the effect that after the laborer's life of travail
and service, in which he has to gain his bread by the sweat of his brow,
here comes Death to fetch him away. And from so rude a life does Death
take him, says George Sand, that Death is hardly unwelcome; and in
another composition by Holbein, where men of almost every condition,--
popes, sovereigns, lovers, gamblers, monks, soldiers,--are taunted with
their fear of Death and do indeed see his approach with terror, Lazarus
alone is easy and composed, and sitting on his dunghill at the rich
man's door, tells Death that he does not dread him.

With her thoughts full of Holbein's mournful picture, George Sand goes
out into the fields of her own Berry:--

"My walk was by the border of a field which some peasants were getting
ready for being sown presently. The space to be ploughed was wide, as in
Holbein's picture. The landscape was vast also; the great lines of green
which it contained were just touched with russet by the approach of
autumn; on the rich brown soil recent rain had left, in a good many
furrows, lines of water, which shone in the sun like silver threads. The
day was clear and soft, and the earth gave out a light smoke where it
had been freshly laid open by the ploughshare. At the top of the field
an old man, whose broad back and severe face were like those of the old
peasant of Holbein, but whose clothes told no tale of poverty, was
gravely driving his plough of an antique shape, drawn by two tranquil
oxen, with coats of a pale buff, real patriarchs of the fallow, tall of
make, somewhat thin, with long and backward-sloping horns, the kind of
old workmen who by habit have got to be _brothers_ to one another, as
throughout our country-side they are called, and who, if one loses the
other, refuse to work with a new comrade, and fret themselves to death.
People unacquainted with the country will not believe in this affection
of the ox for his yoke-fellow. They should come and see one of the poor
beasts in a corner of his stable, thin, wasted, lashing with his
restless tail his lean flanks, blowing uneasily and fastidiously on the
provender offered to him, his eyes forever turned towards the stable
door, scratching with his foot the empty place left at his side,
sniffing the yokes and bands which his companion has worn, and
incessantly calling for him with piteous lowings. The ox-herd will tell
you: There is a pair of oxen done for! his _brother_ is dead, and this
one will work no more. He ought to be fattened for killing; but we
cannot get him to eat, and in a short time he will have starved himself
to death."[322]

How faithful and close it is, this contact of George Sand with country
things, with the life of nature in its vast plenitude and pathos! And
always in the end the human interest, as is right, emerges and
predominates. What is the central figure in the fresh and calm rural
world of George Sand? It is the peasant. And what is the peasant? He is
France, life, the future. And this is the strength of George Sand, and
of her second movement, after the first movement of energy and revolt
was over, towards nature and beauty, towards the country, towards
primitive life, the peasant. She regarded nature and beauty, not with
the selfish and solitary joy of the artist who but seeks to appropriate
them for his own purposes, she regarded them as a treasure of immense
and hitherto unknown application, as a vast power of healing and delight
for all, and for the peasant first and foremost. Yes she cries, the
simple life is the true one! but the peasant, the great organ of that
life, "the minister in that vast temple which only the sky is vast
enough to embrace," the peasant is not doomed to toil and moil in it
forever, overdone and unawakened, like Holbein's laborer, and to have
for his best comfort the thought that death will set him free. _Non,
nous n'avons plus affaire a la mort, mais a la vie._[323] "Our business
henceforth is not with death, but with life."

Joy is the great lifter of men, the great unfolder. _Il faut que la vie
soit bonne afin qu'elle soit feconde._ "For life to be fruitful, life
must be felt as a blessing":--

"Nature is eternally young, beautiful, bountiful. She pours out beauty
and poetry for all that live, she pours it out on all plants, and the
plants are permitted to expand in it freely. She possesses the secret of
happiness, and no man has been able to take it away from her. The
happiest of men would be he who possessing the science of his labor and
working with his hands, earning his comfort and his freedom by the
exercise of his intelligent force, found time to live by the heart and
by the brain, to understand his own work and to love the work of God.
The artist has satisfactions of this kind in the contemplation and
reproduction of nature's beauty; but when he sees the affliction of
those who people this paradise of earth, the upright and human-hearted
artist feels a trouble in the midst of his enjoyment. The happy day will
be when mind, heart, and hands shall be alive together, shall work in
concert; when there shall be a harmony between God's munificence and
man's delight in it. Then, instead of the piteous and frightful figure
of Death, skipping along whip in hand by the peasant's side in the
field, the allegorical painter will place there a radiant angel, sowing
with full hands the blessed grain in the smoking furrow.

"And the dream of a kindly, free, poetic, laborious, simple existence
for the tiller of the field is not so hard to realize that it must be
banished into the world of chimaeras. Virgil's sweet and sad cry: 'O
happy peasants, if they but knew their own blessings!' is a regret; but
like all regrets, it is at the same time a prediction. The day will come
when the laborer may be also an artist;--not in the sense of rendering
nature's beauty, a matter which will be then of much less importance,
but in the sense of feeling it. Does not this mysterious intuition of
poetic beauty exist in him already in the form of instinct and of vague

It exists in him, too, adds Madame Sand, in the form of that
_nostalgia_, that homesickness, which forever pursues the genuine French
peasant if you transplant him. The peasant has here, then, the elements
of the poetic sense, and of its high and pure satisfactions.

"But one part of the enjoyment which we possess is wanting to him, a
pure and lofty pleasure which is surely his due, minister that he is in
that vast temple which only the sky is vast enough to embrace. He has
not the conscious knowledge of his sentiment. Those who have sentenced
him to servitude from his mother's womb, not being able to debar him
from reverie, have debarred him from reflection.

"Well, for all that, taking the peasant as he is, incomplete and
seemingly condemned to an eternal childhood, I yet find him a more
beautiful object than the man in whom his acquisition of knowledge has
stifled sentiment. Do not rate yourselves so high above him, many of you
who imagine that you have an imprescriptible right to his obedience; for
you yourselves are the most incomplete and the least seeing of men. That
simplicity of his soul is more to be loved than the false lights of

In all this we are passing from the second element in George Sand to the
third,--her aspiration for a social new-birth, a _renaissance sociale_.
It is eminently the ideal of France; it was hers. Her religion connected
itself with this ideal. In the convent where she was brought up, she had
in youth had an awakening of fervent mystical piety in the Catholic
form. That form she could not keep. Popular religion of all kinds, with
its deep internal impossibilities, its "heaven and hell serving to cover
the illogical manifestations of the Divinity's apparent designs
respecting us," its "God made in our image, silly and malicious, vain
and puerile, irritable or tender, after our fashion," lost all sort of
hold upon her:--

"Communion with such a God is impossible to me, I confess it. He is
wiped out from my memory: there is no corner where I can find him any
more. Nor do I find such a God out of doors either; he is not in the
fields and waters, he is not in the starry sky. No, nor yet in the
churches where men bow themselves; it is an extinct message, a dead
letter, a thought that has done its day. Nothing of this belief, nothing
of this God, subsists in me any longer."[326]

She refused to lament over the loss, to esteem it other than a

"It is an addition to our stock of light, this detachment from the
idolatrous conception of religion. It is no loss of the religious sense,
as the persisters in idolatry maintain. It is quite the contrary, it is
a restitution of allegiance to the true Divinity. It is a step made in
the direction of this Divinity, it is an abjuration of the dogmas which
did him dishonor."[327]

She does not attempt to give of this Divinity an account much more
precise than that which we have in Wordsworth,--"_a presence that
disturbs me with the joy of animating thoughts_."[328]

"Everything is divine (she says), even matter; everything is superhuman,
even man. God is everywhere; he is in me in a measure proportioned to
the little that I am. My present life separates me from him just in the
degree determined by the actual state of childhood of our race. Let me
content myself, in all my seeking, to feel after him, and to possess of
him as much as this imperfect soul can take in with the intellectual
sense I have."[329]

And she concludes:--

"The day will come when we shall no longer talk about God idly, nay,
when we shall talk about him as little as possible. We shall cease to
set him forth dogmatically, to dispute about his nature. We shall put
compulsion on no one to pray to him, we shall leave the whole business
of worship within the sanctuary of each man's conscience. And this will
happen when we are really religious."[330]

Meanwhile the sense of this spirit or presence which animates us, the
sense of the divine, is our stronghold and our consolation. A man may
say of it: "It comes not by my desert, but the atom of divine sense
given to me nothing can rob me of." _Divine sense_,--the phrase is a
vague one; but it stands to Madame Sand for that to which are to be
referred "all the best thoughts and the best actions of life, suffering
endured, duty achieved, whatever purifies our existence, whatever
vivifies our love."

Madame Sand is a Frenchwoman, and her religion is therefore, as we might
expect, with peculiar fervency social. Always she has before her mind
"the natural law which _will have it_ (the italics are her own) that the
species _man_ cannot subsist and prosper but by _association_." Whatever
else we may be in creation, we are, first and foremost, "at the head of
the species which are called by instinct, and led by necessity, to the
life of _association_." The word _love_--the great word, as she justly
says, of the New Testament--acquires from her social enthusiasm a
peculiar significance to her:--

"The word is a great one, because it involves infinite consequences. To
love means to help one another, to have joint aspirations, to act in
concert, to labor for the same end, to develop to its ideal consummation
the fraternal instinct, thanks to which mankind have brought the earth
under their dominion. Every time that he has been false to this instinct
which is his law of life, his natural destiny, man has seen his temples
crumble, his societies dissolve, his intellectual sense go wrong, his
moral sense die out. The future is founded on love."[331]

So long as love is thus spoken of in the general, the ordinary serious
Englishman will have no difficulty in inclining himself with respect
while Madame Sand speaks of it. But when he finds that love implies,
with her, social equality, he will begin to be staggered. And in truth
for almost every Englishman Madame Sand's strong language about
equality, and about France as the chosen vessel for exhibiting it, will
sound exaggerated. "The human ideal," she says, "as well as the social
ideal, is to achieve equality."[332] France, which has made equality its
rallying cry, is therefore "the nation which loves and is loved," _la
nation qui aime et qu'on aime_. The republic of equality is in her eyes
"an ideal, a philosophy, a religion." She invokes the "holy doctrine of
social liberty and fraternal equality, ever reappearing as a ray of love
and truth amidst the storm." She calls it "the goal of man and the law
of the future." She thinks it the secret of the civilization of France,
the most civilized of nations. Amid the disasters of the late war she
cannot forbear a cry of astonishment at the neutral nations,
_insensibles a l'egorgement d'une civilisation comme la notre_, "looking
on with insensibility while a civilization such as ours has its throat
cut." Germany, with its stupid ideal of corporalism and _Kruppism_, is
contrasted with France, full of social dreams, too civilized for war,
incapable of planning and preparing war for twenty years, she is so
incapable of hatred;--_nous sommes si incapables de hair!_ We seem to be
listening, not to George Sand, but to M. Victor Hugo, half genius, half
charlatan; to M. Victor Hugo, or even to one of those French declaimers
in whom we come down to no genius and all charlatan.

The form of such outbursts as we have quoted will always be distasteful
to an Englishman. It is to be remembered that they came from Madame Sand
under the pressure and anguish of the terrible calamities of 1870. But
what we are most concerned with, and what Englishmen in general regard
too little, is the degree of truth contained in these allegations that
France is the most civilized of nations, and that she is so, above all,
by her "holy doctrine of equality." How comes the idea to be so current;
and to be passionately believed in, as we have seen, by such a woman as
George Sand? It was so passionately believed in by her, that when one
seeks, as I am now seeking, to recall her image, the image is incomplete
if the passionate belief is kept from appearing.

I will not, with my scanty space, now discuss the belief; but I will
seek to indicate how it must have commended itself, I think, to George
Sand. I have somewhere called France "the country of Europe where _the
people_ is most alive."[333] _The people_ is what interested George
Sand. And in France _the people_ is, above all, the peasant. The workman
in Paris or in other great towns of France may afford material for such
pictures as those which M. Zola[334] has lately given us in
_L'Assommoir_--pictures of a kind long ago labelled by Madame Sand as
"_the literature of mysteries of iniquity_, which men of talent and
imagination try to bring into fashion." But the real _people_ in France,
the foundation of things there, both in George Sand's eyes and in
reality, is the peasant. The peasant was the object of Madame Sand's
fondest predilections in the present, and happiest hopes in the future.
The Revolution and its doctrine of equality had made the French peasant.
What wonder, then, if she saluted the doctrine as a holy and paramount

And the French peasant is really, so far as I can see, the largest and
strongest element of soundness which the body social of any European
nation possesses. To him is due that astonishing recovery which France
has made since her defeat, and which George Sand predicted in the very
hour of ruin. Yes, in 1870 she predicted _ce reveil general qui va
suivre, a la grande surprise des autres nations, l'espece d'agonie ou
elles nous voient tombes_,[335] "the general re-arising which, to the
astonishment of other nations, is about to follow the sort of agony in
which they now see us lying." To the condition, character, and qualities
of the French peasant this recovery is in the main due. His material
well-being is known to all of us. M. de Laveleye,[336] the well-known
economist, a Belgian and a Protestant, says that France, being the
country of Europe where the soil is more divided than anywhere except in
Switzerland and Norway, is at the same time the country where well-being
is most widely spread, where wealth has of late years increased most,
and where population is least outrunning the limits which, for the
comfort and progress of the working classes themselves, seem necessary.
George Sand could see, of course, the well-being of the French peasant,
for we can all see it.

But there is more. George Sand was a woman, with a woman's ideal of
gentleness, of "the charm of good manners," as essential to
civilization. She has somewhere spoken admirably of the variety and
balance of forces which go to make up true civilization; "certain forces
of weakness, docility, attractiveness, suavity, are here just as real
forces as forces of vigor, encroachment, violence, or brutality." Yes,
as real _forces_, although Prince Bismarck cannot see it; because human
nature requires them, and, often as they may be baffled, and slow as may
be the process of their asserting themselves, mankind is not satisfied
with its own civilization, and keeps fidgeting at it and altering it
again and again, until room is made for them. George Sand thought the
French people,--meaning principally, again, by the French people the
_people_ properly so called, the peasant,--she thought it "the most
kindly, the most amiable, of all peoples." Nothing is more touching than
to read in her _Journal_, written in 1870, while she was witnessing what
seemed to be "the agony of the Latin races," and undergoing what seemed
to be the process of "dying in a general death of one's family, one's
country, and one's nation," how constant is her defence of the people,
the peasant, against her Republican friends. Her Republican friends were
furious with the peasant; accused him of stolidity, cowardice, want of
patriotism; accused him of having given them the Empire, with all its
vileness; wanted to take away from him the suffrage. Again and again
does George Sand take up his defence, and warn her friends of the folly
and danger of their false estimate of him. "The contempt of the masses,
there," she cries, "is the misfortune and crime of the present
moment!"[337] "To execrate the people," she exclaims again, "is real
blasphemy; the people is worth more than we are."

If the peasant gave us the Empire, says Madame Sand, it was because he
saw the parties of liberals disputing, gesticulating, and threatening to
tear one another asunder and France too; he was told _the Empire is
peace_, and he accepted the Empire. The peasant was deceived, he is
uninstructed, he moves slowly; but he moves, he has admirable virtues,
and in him, says George Sand, is our life:--

"Poor Jacques Bonhomme! accuse thee and despise thee who will; for my
part I pity thee, and in spite of thy faults I shall always love thee.
Never will I forget how, a child, I was carried asleep on thy shoulders,
how I was given over to thy care and followed thee everywhere, to the
field, the stall, the cottage. They are all dead, those good old people
who have borne me in their arms; but I remember them well, and I
appreciate at this hour, to the minutest detail, the pureness, the
kindness, the patience, the good humor, the poetry, which presided over
that rustic education amidst disasters of like kind with those which we
are undergoing now. Why should I quarrel with the peasant because on
certain points he feels and thinks differently from what I do? There are
other essential points on which we may feel eternally at one with him,--
probity and charity."[338]

Another generation of peasants had grown up since that first
revolutionary generation of her youth, and equality, as its reign
proceeded, had not deteriorated but improved them.

"They have advanced greatly in self-respect and well-being, these
peasants from twenty years old to forty: they never ask for anything.
When one meets them they no longer take off their hat. If they know you
they come up to you and hold out their hand. All foreigners who stay
with us are struck with their good bearing, with their amenity, and the
simple, friendly, and polite ease of their behavior. In presence of
people whom they esteem they are, like their fathers, models of tact and
politeness; but they have more than that mere _sentiment_ of equality
which was all that their fathers had,--they have the _idea_ of equality,
and the determination to maintain it. This step upwards they owe to
their having the franchise. Those who would fain treat them as creatures
of a lower order dare not now show this disposition to their face; it
would not be pleasant."[339]

Mr. Hamerton's[340] interesting book about French life has much, I
think, to confirm this account of the French peasant. What I have seen
of France myself (and I have seen something) is fully in agreement with
it. Of a civilization and an equality which makes the peasant thus
_human_, gives to the bulk of the people well-being, probity, charity,
self-respect, tact, and good manners, let us pardon Madame Sand if she
feels and speaks enthusiastically. Some little variation on our own
eternal trio of Barbarians, Philistines, Populace,[341] or on the
eternal solo of Philistinism among our brethren of the United States and
the Colonies, is surely permissible.

Where one is more inclined to differ from Madame Sand is in her estimate
of her Republican friends of the educated classes. They may stand, she
says, for the genius and the soul of France; they represent its "exalted
imagination and profound sensibility," while the peasant represents its
humble, sound, indispensable body. Her protege, the peasant, is much
ruder with those eloquent gentlemen, and has his own name for one and
all of them, _l'avocat_, by which he means to convey his belief that
words are more to be looked for from that quarter than seriousness and
profit. It seems to me by no means certain but that the peasant is in
the right.

George Sand herself has said admirable things of these friends of hers;
of their want of patience, temper, wisdom; of their "vague and violent
way of talking"; of their interminable flow of "stimulating phrases,
cold as death." Her own place is of course with the party and propaganda
of organic change. But George Sand felt the poetry of the past; she had
no hatreds; the furies, the follies, the self-deceptions of secularist
and revolutionist fanatics filled her with dismay. They are, indeed, the
great danger of France, and it is amongst the educated and articulate
classes of France that they prevail. If the educated and articulate
classes in France were as sound in their way as the inarticulate peasant
is in his, France would present a different spectacle. Not "imagination
and sensibility" are so much required from the educated classes of
France, as simpler, more serious views of life; a knowledge how great a
part _conduct_ (if M. Challemel-Lacour[342] will allow me to say so)
fills in it; a better example. The few who see this, such as Madame Sand
among the dead, and M. Renan[343] among the living, perhaps awaken on
that account, amongst quiet observers at a distance, all the more
sympathy; but in France they are isolated.

All the later work of George Sand, however, all her hope of genuine
social renovation, take the simple and serious ground so necessary. "The
cure for us is far more simple than we will believe. All the better
natures amongst us see it and feel it. It is a good direction given by
ourselves to our hearts and consciences;--_une bonne direction donnee
par nous-memes a nos coeurs et a nos consciences_."[344] These are among
the last words of her _Journal_ of 1870.

* * * * *

Whether or not the number of George Sand's works--always fresh, always
attractive, but poured out too lavishly and rapidly--is likely to prove
a hindrance to her fame, I do not care to consider. Posterity, alarmed
at the way in which its literary baggage grows upon it, always seeks to
leave behind it as much as it can, as much as it dares,--everything but
masterpieces. But the immense vibration of George Sand's voice upon the
ear of Europe will not soon die away. Her passions and her errors have
been abundantly talked of. She left them behind her, and men's memory of
her will leave them behind also. There will remain of her to mankind the
sense of benefit and stimulus from the passage upon earth of that large
and frank nature, of that large and pure utterance,--the _the large
utterance of the early gods_. There will remain an admiring and ever
widening report of that great and ingenuous soul, simple, affectionate,
without vanity, without pedantry, human, equitable, patient, kind. She
believed herself, she said, "to be in sympathy, across time and space,
with a multitude of honest wills which interrogate their conscience and
try to put themselves in accord with it." This chain of sympathy will
extend more and more.

It is silent, that eloquent voice! it is sunk, that noble, that speaking
head! we sum up, as we best can, what she said to us, and we bid her
adieu. From many hearts in many lands a troop of tender and grateful
regrets converge towards her humble churchyard in Berry. Let them be
joined by these words of sad homage from one of a nation which she
esteemed, and which knew her very little and very ill. Her guiding
thought, the guiding thought which she did her best to make ours too,
"the sentiment of the ideal life, which is none other than man's normal
life as we shall one day know it," is in harmony with words and promises
familiar to that sacred place where she lies. _Exspectat resurrectionem
mortuorum, et vitam venturi saeculi._[345]


I remember hearing Lord Macaulay say, after Wordsworth's death, when
subscriptions were being collected to found a memorial of him, that ten
years earlier more money could have been raised in Cambridge alone, to
do honor to Wordsworth, than was now raised all through the country.
Lord Macaulay had, as we know, his own heightened and telling way of
putting things, and we must always make allowance for it. But probably
it is true that Wordsworth has never, either before or since, been so
accepted and popular, so established in possession of the minds of all
who profess to care for poetry, as he was between the years 1830 and
1840, and at Cambridge. From the very first, no doubt, he had his
believers and witnesses. But I have myself heard him declare that, for
he knew not how many years, his poetry had never brought him in enough
to buy his shoe-strings. The poetry-reading public was very slow to
recognize him, and was very easily drawn away from him. Scott effaced
him with this public. Byron effaced him.

The death of Byron seemed, however, to make an opening for Wordsworth.
Scott, who had for some time ceased to produce poetry himself, and stood
before the public as a great novelist; Scott, too genuine himself not to
feel the profound genuineness of Wordsworth, and with an instinctive
recognition of his firm hold on nature and of his local truth, always
admired him sincerely, and praised him generously. The influence of
Coleridge upon young men of ability was then powerful, and was still
gathering strength; this influence told entirely in favor of
Wordsworth's poetry. Cambridge was a place where Coleridge's influence
had great action, and where Wordsworth's poetry, therefore, flourished
especially. But even amongst the general public its sale grew large, the
eminence of its author was widely recognized, and Rydal Mount[347]
became an object of pilgrimage. I remember Wordsworth relating how one
of the pilgrims, a clergyman, asked him if he had ever written anything
besides the _Guide to the Lakes_. Yes, he answered modestly, he had
written verses. Not every pilgrim was a reader, but the vogue was
established, and the stream of pilgrims came.

Mr. Tennyson's decisive appearance dates from 1842.[348] One cannot say
that he effaced Wordsworth as Scott and Byron had effaced him. The
poetry of Wordsworth had been so long before the public, the suffrage of
good judges was so steady and so strong in its favor, that by 1842 the
verdict of posterity, one may almost say, had been already pronounced,
and Wordsworth's English fame was secure. But the vogue, the ear and
applause of the great body of poetry-readers, never quite thoroughly
perhaps his, he gradually lost more and more, and Mr. Tennyson gained
them. Mr. Tennyson drew to himself, and away from Wordsworth, the
poetry-reading public, and the new generations. Even in 1850, when
Wordsworth died, this diminution of popularity was visible, and
occasioned the remark of Lord Macaulay which I quoted at starting.

The diminution has continued. The influence of Coleridge has waned, and
Wordsworth's poetry can no longer draw succor from this ally. The poetry
has not, however, wanted eulogists; and it may be said to have brought
its eulogists luck, for almost every one who has praised Wordsworth's
poetry has praised it well. But the public has remained cold, or, at
least, undetermined. Even the abundance of Mr. Palgrave's fine and
skilfully chosen specimens of Wordsworth, in the _Golden Treasury_,
surprised many readers, and gave offense to not a few. To tenth-rate
critics and compilers, for whom any violent shock to the public taste
would be a temerity not to be risked, it is still quite permissible to
speak of Wordsworth's poetry, not only with ignorance, but with
impertinence. On the Continent he is almost unknown.

I cannot think, then, that Wordsworth has, up to this time, at all
obtained his deserts. "Glory," said M. Renan the other day, "glory after
all is the thing which has the best chance of not being altogether
vanity." Wordsworth was a homely man, and himself would certainly never
have thought of talking of glory as that which, after all, has the best
chance of not being altogether vanity. Yet we may well allow that few
things are less vain than _real_ glory. Let us conceive of the whole
group of civilized nations as being, for intellectual and spiritual
purposes, one great confederation, bound to a joint action and working
towards a common result; a confederation whose members have a due
knowledge both of the past, out of which they all proceed, and of one
another. This was the ideal of Goethe, and it is an ideal which will
impose itself upon the thoughts of our modern societies more and more.
Then to be recognized by the verdict of such a confederation as a
master, or even as a seriously and eminently worthy workman, in one's
own line of intellectual or spiritual activity, is indeed glory; a glory
which it would be difficult to rate too highly. For what could be more
beneficent, more salutary? The world is forwarded by having its
attention fixed on the best things; and here is a tribunal, free from
all suspicion of national and provincial partiality, putting a stamp on
the best things, and recommending them for general honor and acceptance.
A nation, again, is furthered by recognition of its real gifts and
successes; it is encouraged to develop them further. And here is an
honest verdict, telling us which of our supposed successes are really,
in the judgment of the great impartial world, and not in our private
judgment only, successes, and which are not.

It is so easy to feel pride and satisfaction in one's own things, so
hard to make sure that one is right in feeling it! We have a great
empire. But so had Nebuchadnezzar. We extol the "unrivalled happiness"
of our national civilization. But then comes a candid friend,[349] and
remarks that our upper class is materialized, our middle class
vulgarized, and our lower class brutalized. We are proud of our
painting, our music. But we find that in the judgment of other people
our painting is questionable, and our music non-existent. We are proud
of our men of science. And here it turns out that the world is with us;
we find that in the judgment of other people, too, Newton among the
dead, and Mr. Darwin among the living, hold as high a place as they hold
in our national opinion.

Finally, we are proud of our poets and poetry. Now poetry is nothing
less than the most perfect speech of man, that in which he comes nearest
to being able to utter the truth. It is no small thing, therefore, to
succeed eminently in poetry. And so much is required for duly estimating
success here, that about poetry it is perhaps hardest to arrive at a
sure general verdict, and takes longest. Meanwhile, our own conviction
of the superiority of our national poets is not decisive, is almost
certain to be mingled, as we see constantly in English eulogy of
Shakespeare, with much of provincial infatuation. And we know what was
the opinion current amongst our neighbors the French--people of taste,
acuteness, and quick literary tact--not a hundred years ago, about our
great poets. The old _Biographie Universelle_[350] notices the
pretension of the English to a place for their poets among the chief
poets of the world, and says that this is a pretension which to no one
but an Englishman can ever seem admissible. And the scornful,
disparaging things said by foreigners about Shakespeare and Milton, and
about our national over-estimate of them, have been often quoted, and
will be in every one's remembrance.

A great change has taken place, and Shakespeare is now generally
recognized, even in France, as one of the greatest of poets. Yes, some
anti-Gallican cynic will say, the French rank him with Corneille and
with Victor Hugo! But let me have the pleasure of quoting a sentence
about Shakespeare, which I met with by accident not long ago in the
_Correspondant_, a French review which not a dozen English people, I
suppose, look at. The writer is praising Shakespeare's prose. With
Shakespeare, he says, "prose comes in whenever the subject, being more
familiar, is unsuited to the majestic English iambic." And he goes on:
"Shakespeare is the king of poetic rhythm and style, as well as the king
of the realm of thought: along with his dazzling prose, Shakespeare has
succeeded in giving us the most varied, the most harmonious verse which
has ever sounded upon the human ear since the verse of the Greeks." M.
Henry Cochin,[351] the writer of this sentence, deserves our gratitude
for it; it would not be easy to praise Shakespeare, in a single
sentence, more justly. And when a foreigner and a Frenchman writes thus
of Shakespeare, and when Goethe says of Milton, in whom there was so
much to repel Goethe rather than to attract him, that "nothing has been
ever done so entirely in the sense of the Greeks as _Samson Agonistes_,"
and that "Milton is in very truth a poet whom we must treat with all
reverence," then we understand what constitutes a European recognition
of poets and poetry as contradistinguished from a merely national
recognition, and that in favor both of Milton and of Shakespeare the
judgment of the high court of appeal has finally gone.

I come back to M. Renan's praise of glory, from which I started. Yes,
real glory is a most serious thing, glory authenticated by the
Amphictyonic Court[352] of final appeal, definite glory. And even for
poets and poetry, long and difficult as may be the process of arriving
at the right award, the right award comes at last, the definitive glory
rests where it is deserved. Every establishment of such a real glory is
good and wholesome for mankind at large, good and wholesome for the
nation which produced the poet crowned with it. To the poet himself it
can seldom do harm; for he, poor man, is in his grave, probably, long
before his glory crowns him.

Wordsworth has been in his grave for some thirty years, and certainly
his lovers and admirers cannot flatter themselves that this great and
steady light of glory as yet shines over him. He is not fully recognized
at home; he is not recognized at all abroad. Yet I firmly believe that
the poetical performance of Wordsworth is, after that of Shakespeare and
Milton, of which all the world now recognizes the worth, undoubtedly the
most considerable in our language from the Elizabethan age to the
present time. Chaucer is anterior; and on other grounds, too, he cannot
well be brought into the comparison. But taking the roll of our chief
poetical names, besides Shakespeare and Milton, from the age of
Elizabeth downwards, and going through it,--Spenser, Dryden, Pope, Gray,
Goldsmith, Cowper, Burns, Coleridge, Scott, Campbell, Moore, Byron,
Shelley, Keats (I mention those only who are dead),--I think it certain
that Wordsworth's name deserves to stand, and will finally stand, above
them all. Several of the poets named have gifts and excellences which
Wordsworth has not. But taking the performance of each as a whole, I say
that Wordsworth seems to me to have left a body of poetical work
superior in power, in interest, in the qualities which give enduring
freshness, to that which any one of the others has left.

But this is not enough to say. I think it certain, further, that if we
take the chief poetical names of the Continent since the death of
Moliere, and, omitting Goethe, confront the remaining names with that of
Wordsworth, the result is the same. Let us take Klopstock,[353]
Lessing,[354] Schiller, Uhland,[355] Ruckert,[356] and Heine[357] for
Germany; Filicaja,[358] Alfieri,[359] Manzoni,[360] and Leopardi[361]
for Italy; Racine,[362] Boileau,[363] Voltaire, Andre Chenier,[364]
Beranger,[365] Lamartine,[366] Musset,[367] M. Victor Hugo (he has been
so long celebrated that although he still lives I may be permitted to
name him) for France. Several of these, again, have evidently gifts and
excellences to which Wordsworth can make no pretension. But in real
poetical achievement it seems to me indubitable that to Wordsworth, here
again, belongs the palm. It seems to me that Wordsworth has left behind
him a body of poetical work which wears, and will wear, better on the
whole than the performance of any one of these personages, so far more
brilliant and celebrated, most of them, than the homely poet of Rydal.
Wordsworth's performance in poetry is on the whole, in power, in
interest, in the qualities which give enduring freshness, superior to

This is a high claim to make for Wordsworth. But if it is a just claim,
if Wordsworth's place among the poets who have appeared in the last two
or three centuries is after Shakespeare, Moliere, Milton, Goethe,
indeed, but before all the rest, then in time Wordsworth will have his
due. We shall recognize him in his place, as we recognize Shakespeare
and Milton; and not only we ourselves shall recognize him, but he will
be recognized by Europe also. Meanwhile, those who recognize him already
may do well, perhaps, to ask themselves whether there are not in the
case of Wordsworth certain special obstacles which hinder or delay his
due recognition by others, and whether these obstacles are not in some
measure removable.

The _Excursion_ and the _Prelude_, his poems of greatest bulk, are by no
means Wordsworth's best work. His best work is in his shorter pieces,
and many indeed are there of these which are of first-rate excellence.
But in his seven volumes the pieces of high merit are mingled with a
mass of pieces very inferior to them; so inferior to them that it seems
wonderful how the same poet should have produced both. Shakespeare
frequently has lines and passages in a strain quite false, and which are
entirely unworthy of him. But one can imagine him smiling if one could
meet him in the Elysian Fields and tell him so; smiling and replying
that he knew it perfectly well himself, and what did it matter? But with
Wordsworth the case is different. Work altogether inferior, work quite
uninspired, flat and dull, is produced by him with evident
unconsciousness of its defects, and he presents it to us with the same
faith and seriousness as his best work. Now a drama or an epic fill the
mind, and one does not look beyond them; but in a collection of short
pieces the impression made by one piece requires to be continued and
sustained by the piece following. In reading Wordsworth the impression
made by one of his fine pieces is too often dulled and spoiled by a very
inferior piece coming after it.

Wordsworth composed verses during a space of some sixty years; and it is
no exaggeration to say that within one single decade of those years,
between 1798 and 1808, almost all his really first-rate work was
produced. A mass of inferior work remains, work done before and after
this golden prime, imbedding the first-rate work and clogging it,
obstructing our approach to it, chilling, not unfrequently, the
high-wrought mood with which we leave it. To be recognized far and wide
as a great poet, to be possible and receivable as a classic, Wordsworth
needs to be relieved of a great deal of the poetical baggage which now
encumbers him. To administer this relief is indispensable, unless he is
to continue to be a poet for the few only,--a poet valued far below his
real worth by the world.

There is another thing. Wordsworth classified his poems not according to
any commonly received plan of arrangement, but according to a scheme of
mental physiology. He has poems of the fancy, poems of the imagination,
poems of sentiment and reflection, and so on. His categories are
ingenious but far-fetched, and the result of his employment of them is
unsatisfactory. Poems are separated one from another which possess a
kinship of subject or of treatment far more vital and deep than the
supposed unity of mental origin, which was Wordsworth's reason for
joining them with others.

The tact of the Greeks in matters of this kind was infallible. We may
rely upon it that we shall not improve upon the classification adopted
by the Greeks for kinds of poetry; that their categories of epic,
dramatic, lyric, and so forth, have a natural propriety, and should be
adhered to. It may sometimes seem doubtful to which of two categories a
poem belongs; whether this or that poem is to be called, for instance,
narrative or lyric, lyric or elegiac. But there is to be found in every
good poem a strain, a predominant note, which determines the poem as
belonging to one of these kinds rather than the other; and here is the
best proof of the value of the classification, and of the advantage of
adhering to it. Wordsworth's poems will never produce their due effect
until they are freed from their present artificial arrangement, and
grouped more naturally.

Disengaged from the quantity of inferior work which now obscures them,
the best poems of Wordsworth, I hear many people say, would indeed stand
out in great beauty, but they would prove to be very few in number,
scarcely more than a half a dozen. I maintain, on the other hand, that
what strikes me with admiration, what establishes in my opinion
Wordsworth's superiority, is the great and ample body of powerful work
which remains to him, even after all his inferior work has been cleared
away. He gives us so much to rest upon, so much which communicates his
spirit and engages ours!

This is of very great importance. If it were a comparison of single
pieces, or of three or four pieces, by each poet, I do not say that
Wordsworth would stand decisively above Gray, or Burns, or Coleridge, or
Keats, or Manzoni, or Heine. It is in his ampler body of powerful work
that I find his superiority. His good work itself, his work which
counts, is not all of it, of course, of equal value. Some kinds of
poetry are in themselves lower kinds than others. The ballad kind is a
lower kind; the didactic kind, still more, is a lower kind. Poetry of
this latter sort counts, too, sometimes, by its biographical interest
partly, not by its poetical interest pure and simple; but then this can
only be when the poet producing it has the power and importance of
Wordsworth, a power and importance which he assuredly did not establish
by such didactic poetry alone. Altogether, it is, I say, by the great
body of powerful and significant work which remains to him, after every
reduction and deduction has been made, that Wordsworth's superiority is

To exhibit this body of Wordsworth's best work, to clear away
obstructions from around it, and to let it speak for itself, is what
every lover of Wordsworth should desire. Until this has been done,
Wordsworth, whom we, to whom he is dear, all of us know and feel to be
so great a poet, has not had a fair chance before the world. When once
it has been done, he will make his way best, not by our advocacy of him,
but by his own worth and power. We may safely leave him to make his way
thus, we who believe that a superior worth and power in poetry finds in
mankind a sense responsive to it and disposed at last to recognize it.
Yet at the outset, before he has been duly known and recognized, we may
do Wordsworth a service, perhaps, by indicating in what his superior
power and worth will be found to consist, and in what it will not.

Long ago, in speaking of Homer, I said that the noble and profound
application of ideas to life is the most essential part of poetic
greatness[Transcriber's note: no punctuation here] I said that a great
poet receives his distinctive character of superiority from his
application, under the conditions immutably fixed by the laws of poetic
beauty and poetic truth, from his application, I say, to his subject,
whatever it may be, of the ideas

"On man, on nature, and on human life,"[368]

which he has acquired for himself. The line quoted is Wordsworth's own;
and his superiority arises from his powerful use, in his best pieces, his
powerful application to his subject, of ideas "on man, on nature, and on
human life."

Voltaire, with his signal acuteness, most truly remarked that "no nation
has treated in poetry moral ideas with more energy and depth than the
English nation." And he adds; "There, it seems to me, is the great merit
of the English poets." Voltaire does not mean by treating in poetry
moral ideas, the composing moral and didactic poems;--that brings us
but a very little way in poetry. He means just the same thing as was
meant when I spoke above "of the noble and profound application of ideas
to life"; and he means the application of these ideas under the
conditions fixed for us by the laws of poetic beauty and poetic truth.
If it is said that to call these ideas _moral_ ideas is to introduce a
strong and injurious limitation, I answer that it is to do nothing of
the kind, because moral ideas are really so main a part of human life.
The question, _how to live_, is itself a moral idea; and it is the
question which most interests every man, and with which, in some way or
other, he is perpetually occupied. A large sense is of course to be
given to the term _moral_. Whatever bears upon the question, "how to
live," comes under it.

"Nor love thy life, nor hate; but, what thou liv'st, Live well; how long
or short, permit to heaven."[369]

In those fine lines Milton utters, as every one at once perceives, a
moral idea. Yes, but so too, when Keats consoles the forward-bending
lover on the Grecian Urn, the lover arrested and presented in immortal
relief by the sculptor's hand before he can kiss, with the line,

"Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair--"

he utters a moral idea. When Shakespeare says, that

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep,"[370]

he utters a moral idea.

Voltaire was right in thinking that the energetic and profound treatment
of moral ideas, in this large sense, is what distinguishes the English
poetry. He sincerely meant praise, no dispraise or hint of limitation;
and they err who suppose that poetic limitation is a necessary
consequence of the fact, the fact being granted as Voltaire states it.
If what distinguishes the greatest poets is their powerful and profound
application of ideas to life, which surely no good critic will deny,
then to prefix to the term ideas here the term moral makes hardly any
difference, because human life itself is in so preponderating a degree

It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: that poetry is at
bottom a criticism of life;[371] that the greatness of a poet lies in
his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life,--to the
question: How to live. Morals are often treated in a narrow and false
fashion; they are bound up with systems of thought and belief which have
had their day; they are fallen into the hands of pedants and
professional dealers; they grow tiresome to some of us. We find
attraction, at times, even in a poetry of revolt against them; in a
poetry which might take for its motto Omar Khayyam's words: "Let us make
up in the tavern for the time which we have wasted in the mosque." Or we
find attractions in a poetry indifferent to them; in a poetry where the
contents may be what they will, but where the form is studied and
exquisite. We delude ourselves in either case; and the best cure for our
delusion is to let our minds rest upon that great and inexhaustible word
_life_, until we learn to enter into its meaning. A poetry of revolt
against moral ideas is a poetry of revolt against _life_; a poetry of
indifference towards moral ideas is a poetry of indifference towards

Epictetus had a happy figure for things like the play of the senses, or
literary form and finish, or argumentative ingenuity, in comparison with
"the best and master thing" for us, as he called it, the concern, how to
live. Some people were afraid of them, he said, or they disliked and
undervalued them. Such people were wrong; they were unthankful or
cowardly. But the things might also be over-prized, and treated as final
when they are not. They bear to life the relation which inns bear to
home. "As if a man, journeying home, and finding a nice inn on the road,
and liking it, were to stay forever at the inn! Man, thou hast
forgotten thine object; thy journey was not _to_ this, but _through_
this. 'But this inn is taking.' And how many other inns, too, are
taking, and how many fields and meadows! but as places of passage
merely, you have an object, which is this: to get home, to do your duty
to your family, friends, and fellow-countrymen, to attain inward
freedom, serenity, happiness, contentment. Style takes your fancy,
arguing takes your fancy, and you forget your home and want to make your
abode with them and to stay with them, on the plea that they are taking.
Who denies that they are taking? but as places of passage, as inns. And
when I say this, you suppose me to be attacking the care for style, the
care for argument. I am not; I attack the resting in them, the not
looking to the end which is beyond them."[372]

Now, when we come across a poet like Theophile Gautier,[373] we have a
poet who has taken up his abode at an inn, and never got farther. There
may be inducements to this or that one of us, at this or that moment, to
find delight in him, to cleave to him; but after all, we do not change
the truth about him,--we only stay ourselves in his inn along with him.
And when we come across a poet like Wordsworth, who sings

"Of truth, of grandeur, beauty, love and hope,
And melancholy fear subdued by faith,
Of blessed consolations in distress,
OF moral strength and intellectual power,
Of joy in widest commonalty spread--"[374]

then we have a poet intent on "the best and master thing," and who
prosecutes his journey home. We say, for brevity's sake, that he deals
with _life_, because he deals with that in which life really consists.
This is what Voltaire means to praise in the English poets,--this
dealing with what is really life. But always it is the mark of the
greatest poets that they deal with it; and to say that the English poets
are remarkable for dealing with it, is only another way of saying, what
is true, that in poetry the English genius has especially shown its

Wordsworth deals with it, and his greatness lies in his dealing with it
so powerfully. I have named a number of celebrated poets above all of
whom he, in my opinion, deserves to be placed. He is to be placed above
poets like Voltaire, Dryden, Pope, Lessing, Schiller, because these
famous personages, with a thousand gifts and merits, never, or scarcely
ever, attain the distinctive accent and utterance of the high and
genuine poets--

"Quique pii vates et Phoebo digna locuti,"[375]

at all. Burns, Keats, Heine, not to speak of others in our list, have
this accent;--who can doubt it? And at the same time they have treasures
of humor, felicity, passion, for which in Wordsworth we shall look in
vain. Where, then, is Wordsworth's superiority? It is here; he deals
with more of _life_ than they do; he deals with _life_ as a whole, more

No Wordsworthian will doubt this. Nay, the fervent Wordsworthian will
add, as Mr. Leslie Stephen[376] does, that Wordsworth's poetry is
precious because his philosophy is sound; that his "ethical system is as
distinctive and capable of exposition as Bishop Butler's"; that his
poetry is informed by ideas which "fall spontaneously into a scientific
system of thought." But we must be on our guard against the
Wordsworthians, if we want to secure for Wordsworth his due rank as a
poet. The Wordsworthians are apt to praise him for the wrong things, and
to lay far too much stress upon what they call his philosophy. His
poetry is the reality, his philosophy--so far, at least, as it may put
on the form and habit of "a scientific system of thought," and the more
that it puts them on--is the illusion. Perhaps we shall one day learn to
make this proposition general, and to say: Poetry is the reality,
philosophy the illusion. But in Wordsworth's case, at any rate, we
cannot do him justice until we dismiss his formal philosophy.

The _Excursion_ abounds with philosophy and therefore the _Excursion_ is
to the Wordsworthian what it never can be to the disinterested lover of
poetry,--a satisfactory work. "Duty exists," says Wordsworth, in the
_Excursion_; and then he proceeds thus--

" ... Immutably survive,
For our support, the measures and the forms,
Which an abstract Intelligence supplies,
Whose kingdom is, where time and space are not."[377]

And the Wordsworthian is delighted, and thinks that here is a sweet
union of philosophy and poetry. But the disinterested lover of poetry
will feel that the lines carry us really not a step farther than the
proposition which they would interpret; that they are a tissue of
elevated but abstract verbiage, alien to the very nature of poetry.

Or let us come direct to the centre of Wordsworth's philosophy, as "an
ethical system, as distinctive and capable of systematical exposition as
Bishop Butler's"--

"... One adequate support
For the calamities of mortal life
Exists, one only;--an assured belief
That the procession of our fate, howe'er
Sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being
Of infinite benevolence and power;
Whose everlasting purposes embrace
All accidents, converting them to good."[378]

That is doctrine such as we hear in church too, religious and
philosophic doctrine; and the attached Wordsworthian loves passages of
such doctrine, and brings them forward in proof of his poet's
excellence. But however true the doctrine may be, it has, as here
presented, none of the characters of _poetic_ truth, the kind of truth
which we require from a poet, and in which Wordsworth is really strong.

Even the "intimations" of the famous Ode,[379] those corner-stones of
the supposed philosophic system of Wordsworth,--the idea of the high
instincts and affections coming out in childhood, testifying of a divine
home recently left, and fading away as our life proceeds,--this idea, of
undeniable beauty as a play of fancy, has itself not the character of
poetic truth of the best kind; it has no real solidity. The instinct of
delight in Nature and her beauty had no doubt extraordinary strength in
Wordsworth himself as a child.

But to say that universally this instinct is mighty in childhood, and
tends to die away afterwards, is to say what is extremely doubtful. In
many people, perhaps with the majority of educated persons, the love of
nature is nearly imperceptible at ten years old, but strong and
operative at thirty. In general we may say of these high instincts of
early childhood, the base of the alleged systematic philosophy of
Wordsworth, what Thucydides says of the early achievements of the Greek
race: "It is impossible to speak with certainty of what is so remote;
but from all that we can really investigate, I should say that they were
no very great things."

Finally, the "scientific system of thought" in Wordsworth gives us at
least such poetry as this, which the devout Wordsworthian accepts--

"O for the coming of that glorious time
When, prizing knowledge as her noblest wealth
And best protection, this Imperial Realm,
While she exacts allegiance, shall admit
An obligation, on her part, to _teach_
Them who are born to serve her and obey;
Binding herself by statute to secure,
For all the children whom her soil maintains,
The rudiments of letters, and inform
The mind with moral and religious truth."[380]

Wordsworth calls Voltaire dull, and surely the production of these
un-Voltairian lines must have been imposed on him as a judgment! One can
hear them being quoted at a Social Science Congress; one can call up the
whole scene. A great room in one of our dismal provincial towns; dusty
air and jaded afternoon daylight; benches full of men with bald heads
and women in spectacles; an orator lifting up his face from a manuscript
written within and without to declaim these lines of Wordsworth; and in
the soul of any poor child of nature who may have wandered in thither,
an unutterable sense of lamentation, and mourning, and woe!

"But turn we," as Wordsworth says, "from these bold, bad men," the
haunters of Social Science Congresses. And let us be on our guard, too,
against the exhibitors and extollers of a "scientific system of thought"
in Wordsworth's poetry. The poetry will never be seen aright while they
thus exhibit it. The cause of its greatness is simple, and may be told
quite simply. Wordsworth's poetry is great because of the extraordinary
power with which Wordsworth feels the joy offered to us in nature, the
joy offered to us in the simple primary affections and duties; and
because of the extraordinary power with which, in case after case, he
shows us this joy, and renders it so as to make us share it.

The source of joy from which he thus draws is the truest and most
unfailing source of joy accessible to man. It is also accessible
universally. Wordsworth brings us word, therefore, according to his own
strong and characteristic line, he brings us word

"Of joy in widest commonalty spread."[381]

Here is an immense advantage for a poet. Wordsworth tells of what all
seek, and tells of it at its truest and best source, and yet a source
where all may go and draw for it.

Nevertheless, we are not to suppose that everything is precious which
Wordsworth, standing even at this perennial and beautiful source, may
give us. Wordsworthians are apt to talk as if it must be. They will
speak with the same reverence of _The Sailor's Mother_, for example, as
of _Lucy Gray_. They do their master harm by such lack of
discrimination. _Lucy Gray_ is a beautiful success; _The Sailor's
Mother_ is a failure. To give aright what he wishes to give, to
interpret and render successfully, is not always within Wordsworth's own
command. It is within no poet's command; here is the part of the Muse,
the inspiration, the God, the "not ourselves."[382] In Wordsworth's
case, the accident, for so it may almost be called, of inspiration, is
of peculiar importance. No poet, perhaps, is so evidently filled with a
new and sacred energy when the inspiration is upon him; no poet, when it
fails him, is so left "weak as is a breaking wave." I remember hearing
him say that "Goethe's poetry was not inevitable enough." The remark is
striking and true; no line in Goethe, as Goethe said himself, but its
maker knew well how it came there. Wordsworth is right, Goethe's poetry
is not inevitable; not inevitable enough. But Wordsworth's poetry, when
he is at his best, is inevitable, as inevitable as Nature herself. It
might seem that Nature not only gave him the matter for his poem, but
wrote his poem for him. He has no style. He was too conversant with
Milton not to catch at times his master's manner, and he has fine
Miltonic lines; but he has no assured poetic style of his own, like
Milton. When he seeks to have a style he falls into ponderosity and
pomposity. In the _Excursion_ we have his style, as an artistic product
of his own creation; and although Jeffrey completely failed to recognize
Wordsworth's real greatness, he was yet not wrong in saying of the
_Excursion_, as a work of poetic style: "This will never do."[383]. And
yet magical as is that power, which Wordsworth has not, of assured and
possessed poetic style, he has something which is an equivalent for it.

Every one who has any sense for these things feels the subtle turn, the
heightening, which is given to a poet's verse by his genius for style.
We can feel it in the

"After life's fitful fever, he sleeps well"--[384]

of Shakespeare; in the

"... though fall'n on evil days,
On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues"--[385]

of Milton. It is the incomparable charm of Milton's power of poetic
style which gives such worth to _Paradise Regained_, and makes a great
poem of a work in which Milton's imagination does not soar high.
Wordsworth has in constant possession, and at command, no style of this
kind; but he had too poetic a nature, and had read the great poets too
well, not to catch, as I have already remarked, something of it
occasionally. We find it not only in his Miltonic lines; we find it in
such a phrase as this, where the manner is his own, not Milton's--

"the fierce confederate storm
Of sorrow barricadoed evermore
Within the walls of cities;"[386]

although even here, perhaps, the power of style which is undeniable, is
more properly that of eloquent prose than the subtle heightening and
change wrought by genuine poetic style. It is style, again, and the
elevation given by style, which chiefly makes the effectiveness of
_Laodameia_. Still, the right sort of verse to choose from Wordsworth,
if we are to seize his true and most characteristic form of expression,
is a line like this from _Michael_--

"And never lifted up a single stone."

There is nothing subtle in it, no heightening, no study of poetic style,
strictly so called, at all; yet it is expression of the highest and most
truly expressive kind.

Wordsworth owed much to Burns, and a style of perfect plainness, relying
for effect solely on the weight and force of that which with entire
fidelity it utters, Burns could show him.

"The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn and wise to know,
And keenly felt the friendly glow
And softer flame;
But thoughtless follies laid him low
And stain'd his name."[387]

Every one will be conscious of a likeness here to Wordsworth; and if
Wordsworth did great things with this nobly plain manner, we must
remember, what indeed he himself would always have been forward to
acknowledge, that Burns used it before him.

Still Wordsworth's use of it has something unique and unmatchable.
Nature herself seems, I say, to take the pen out of his hand, and to
write for him with her own bare, sheer, penetrating power. This arises
from two causes; from the profound sincereness with which Wordsworth
feels his subject, and also from the profoundly sincere and natural
character of his subject itself. He can and will treat such a subject
with nothing But the most plain, first-hand, almost austere naturalness.
His expression may often be called bald, as, for instance, in the poem
of _Resolution and Independence_; but it is bald as the bare mountain
tops are bald, with a baldness which is full of grandeur.

Wherever we meet with the successful balance, in Wordsworth, of profound
truth of subject with profound truth of execution, he is unique. His
best poems are those which most perfectly exhibit this balance. I have a
warm admiration for _Laodameia_ and for the great _Ode_; but if I am to
tell the very truth, I find _Laodameia_ not wholly free from something
artificial, and the great _Ode_ not wholly free from something
declamatory. If I had to pick out poems of a kind most perfectly to show
Wordsworth's unique power, I should rather choose poems such as
_Michael, The Fountain, The Highland Reaper_.[388] And poems with the
peculiar and unique beauty which distinguishes these, Wordsworth
produced in considerable number; besides very many other poems of which
the worth, although not so rare as the worth of these, is still
exceedingly high.

On the whole, then, as I said at the beginning, not only is Wordsworth
eminent by reason of the goodness of his best work, but he is eminent
also by reason of the great body of good work which he has left to us.
With the ancients I will not compare him. In many respects the ancients
are far above us, and yet there is something that we demand which they
can never give. Leaving the ancients, let us come to the poets and
poetry of Christendom. Dante, Shakespeare, Moliere, Milton, Goethe, are
altogether larger and more splendid luminaries in the poetical heaven
than Wordsworth. But I know not where else, among the moderns, we are to
find his superiors.

To disengage the poems which show his power, and to present them to the
English-speaking public and to the world, is the object of this volume.
I by no means say that it contains all which in Wordsworth's poems is
interesting. Except in the case of _Margaret_, a story composed
separately from the rest of the _Excursion_, and which belongs to a
different part of England, I have not ventured on detaching portions of
poems, or on giving any piece otherwise than as Wordsworth himself gave
it. But under the conditions imposed by this reserve, the volume
contains, I think, everything, or nearly everything, which may best
serve him with the majority of lovers of poetry, nothing which may
disserve him.

I have spoken lightly of Wordsworthians; and if we are to get Wordsworth
recognized by the public and by the world, we must recommend him not in
the spirit of a clique, but in the spirit of disinterested lovers of
poetry. But I am a Wordsworthian myself. I can read with pleasure and
edification _Peter Bell_, and the whole series of _Ecclesiastical
Sonnets_, and the address to Mr. Wilkinson's spade, and even the
_Thanksgiving Ode_;--everything of Wordsworth, I think, except
_Vaudracour and Julia_. It is not for nothing that one has been brought
up in the veneration of a man so truly worthy of homage; that one has
seen him and heard him, lived in his neighborhood, and been familiar
with his country. No Wordsworthian has a tenderer affection for this
pure and sage master than I, or is less really offended by his defects.
But Wordsworth is something more than the pure and sage master of a
small band of devoted followers, and we ought not to rest satisfied
until he is seen to be what he is. He is one of the very chief glories
of English Poetry; and by nothing is England so glorious as by her
poetry. Let us lay aside every weight which hinders our getting him
recognized as this, and let our one study be to bring to pass, as widely
as possible and as truly as possible, his own word concerning his poems:
"They will cooeoperate with the benign tendencies in human nature and
society, and will, in their degree, be efficacious in making men wiser,
better, and happier."



The disparagers of culture make its motive curiosity;
sometimes, indeed, they make its motive mere exclusiveness
and vanity. The culture which is supposed to plume itself on a
smattering of Greek and Latin is a culture which is begotten by nothing
so intellectual as curiosity; it is valued either out of sheer vanity
and ignorance or else as an engine of social and class distinction,
separating its holder, like a badge or title, from other people who have
not got it. No serious man would call this _culture_, or attach any
value to it, as culture, at all. To find the real ground for the very
differing estimate which serious people will set upon culture, we must
find some motive for culture in the terms of which may lie a real
ambiguity; and such a motive the word _curiosity_ gives us.

I have before now pointed out that we English do not, like the
foreigners, use this word in a good sense as well as in a bad sense.
With us the word is always used in a somewhat disapproving sense. A
liberal and intelligent eagerness about the things of the mind may be
meant by a foreigner when he speaks of curiosity, but with us the word
always conveys a certain notion of frivolous and unedifying activity. In
the _Quarterly Review_, some little time ago, was an estimate of the
celebrated French critic, M. Sainte-Beuve,[390] and a very inadequate
estimate it in my judgment was. And its inadequacy consisted chiefly in
this: that in our English way it left out of sight the double sense
really involved in the word _curiosity_, thinking enough was said to
stamp M. Sainte-Beuve with blame if it was said that he was impelled in
his operations as a critic by curiosity, and omitting either to perceive
that M. Sainte-Beuve himself, and many other people with him, would
consider that this was praiseworthy and not blameworthy, or to point out
why it ought really to be accounted worthy of blame and not of praise.
For as there is a curiosity about intellectual matters which is futile,
and merely a disease, so there is certainly a curiosity,--a desire after
the things of the mind simply for their own sakes and for the pleasure
of seeing them as they are,--which is, in an intelligent being, natural
and laudable. Nay, and the very desire to see things as they are,
implies a balance and regulation of mind which is not often attained
without fruitful effort, and which is the very opposite of the blind and
diseased impulse of mind which is what we mean to blame when we blame
curiosity. Montesquieu says: "The first motive which ought to impel us
to study is the desire to augment the excellence of our nature, and to
render an intelligent being yet more intelligent."[391] This is the true
ground to assign for the genuine scientific passion, however manifested,
and for culture, viewed simply as a fruit of this passion; and it is a
worthy ground, even though we let the term _curiosity_ stand to describe
it. But there is of culture another view, in which not solely the
scientific passion, the sheer desire to see things as they are, natural
and proper in an intelligent being, appears as the ground of it. There
is a view in which all the love of our neighbor, the impulses towards
action, help, and beneficence, the desire for removing human error,
clearing human confusion, and diminishing human misery, the noble
aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it,--
motives eminently such as are called social,--come in as part of the
grounds of culture, and the main and preeminent part. Culture is then
properly described not as having its origin in curiosity, but as having
its origin in the love of perfection; it is _a study of perfection_. It
moves by the force, not merely or primarily of the scientific passion
for pure knowledge, but also of the moral and social passion for doing
good. As, in the first view of it, we took for its worthy motto
Montesquieu's words: "To render an intelligent being yet more
intelligent!" so, in the second view of it, there is no better motto
which it can have than these words of Bishop Wilson:[392] "To make
reason and the will of God prevail!"[393]

Only, whereas the passion for doing good is apt to be overhasty in
determining what reason and the will of God say, because its turn is for
acting rather than thinking and it wants to be beginning to act; and
whereas it is apt to take its own conceptions, which proceed from its
own state of development and share in all the imperfections and
immaturities of this, for a basis of action; what distinguishes culture
is, that it is possessed by the scientific passion as well as by the
passion of doing good; that it demands worthy notions of reason and the
will of God, and does not readily suffer its own crude conceptions to
substitute themselves for them. And knowing that no action or
institution can be salutary and stable which is not based on reason and
the will of God, it is not so bent on acting and instituting, even with
the great aim of diminishing human error and misery ever before its
thoughts, but that it can remember that acting and instituting are of
little use, unless we know how and what we ought to act and to

This culture is more interesting and more far-reaching than that other,
which is founded solely on the scientific passion for knowing. But it
needs times of faith and ardor, times when the intellectual horizon is
opening and widening all around us, to flourish in. And is not the close
and bounded intellectual horizon within which we have long lived and
moved now lifting up, and are not new lights finding free passage to
shine in upon us? For a long time there was no passage for them to make
their way in upon us, and then it was of no use to think of adapting the
world's action to them. Where was the hope of making reason and the will
of God prevail among people who had a routine which they had christened
reason and the will of God, in which they were inextricably bound, and
beyond which they had no power of looking? But now, the iron force of
adhesion to the old routine,--social, political, religious,--has
wonderfully yielded; the iron force of exclusion of all which is new has
wonderfully yielded. The danger now is, not that people should
obstinately refuse to allow anything but their old routine to pass for
reason and the will of God, but either that they should allow some
novelty or other to pass for these too easily, or else that they should
underrate the importance of them altogether, and think it enough to
follow action for its own sake, without troubling themselves to make
reason and the will of God prevail therein. Now, then, is the moment for
culture to be of service, culture which believes in making reason and
the will of God prevail, believes in perfection, is the study and
pursuit of perfection, and is no longer debarred, by a rigid invincible
exclusion of whatever is new, from getting acceptance for its ideas,
simply because they are new.

The moment this view of culture is seized, the moment it is regarded not
solely as the endeavor to see things as they are, to draw towards a
knowledge of the universal order which seems to be intended and aimed at
in the world, and which it is a man's happiness to go along with or his
misery to go counter to,--to learn, in short, the will of God,--the
moment, I say, culture is considered not merely as the endeavor to _see_
and _learn_ this, but as the endeavor, also, to make it _prevail_, the
moral, social, and beneficent character of culture becomes manifest. The
mere endeavor to see and learn the truth for our own personal
satisfaction is indeed a commencement for making it prevail, a preparing
the way for this, which always serves this, and is wrongly, therefore,
stamped with blame absolutely in itself and not only in its caricature
and degeneration. But perhaps it has got stamped with blame, and
disparaged with the dubious title of curiosity, because in comparison
with this wider endeavor of such great and plain utility it looks
selfish, petty, and unprofitable.

And religion, the greatest and most important of the efforts by which
the human race has manifested its impulse to perfect itself,--religion,
that voice of the deepest human experience,--does not only enjoin and
sanction the aim which is the great aim of culture, the aim of setting
ourselves to ascertain what perfection is and to make it prevail; but
also, in determining generally in what human perfection consists,
religion comes to a conclusion identical with that which culture,--
culture seeking the determination of this question through _all_ the
voices of human experience which have been heard upon it, of art,
science, poetry, philosophy, history, as well as of religion, in order
to give a greater fulness and certainty to its solution,--likewise
reaches. Religion says: _The kingdom of God_ _is within you_; and
culture, in like manner, places human perfection in an _internal_
condition, in the growth and predominance of our humanity proper, as
distinguished from our animality. It places it in the ever-increasing
efficacy and in the general harmonious expansion of those gifts of
thought and feeling, which make the peculiar dignity, wealth, and
happiness of human nature. As I have said on a former occasion: "It is
in making endless additions to itself, in the endless expansion of its
powers, in endless growth in wisdom and beauty, that the spirit of the
human race finds its ideal. To reach this ideal, culture is an
indispensable aid, and that is the true value of culture." Not a having
and a resting, but a growing and a becoming, is the character of
perfection as culture conceives it; and here, too, it coincides with

And because men are all members of one great whole, and the sympathy
which is in human nature will not allow one member to be indifferent to
the rest or to have a perfect welfare independent of the rest, the
expansion of our humanity, to suit the idea of perfection which culture
forms, must be a _general_ expansion. Perfection, as culture conceives
it, is not possible while the individual remains isolated. The
individual is required, under pain of being stunted and enfeebled in his
own development if he disobeys, to carry others along with him in his
march towards perfection, to be continually doing all he can to enlarge
and increase the volume of the human stream sweeping thitherward. And,
here, once more, culture lays on us the same obligation as religion,

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