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Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin

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To her, for her the willow bend;
Nor shall she fail to see,
Even in the motions of the storm,
Grace that shall mould the maiden's form
By silent sympathy.'

Shall rear her form to stately height, -
Her virgin bosom swell.
Such thoughts to Lucy I will give,
While she and I together live,
Here in this happy dell.'" {25}

"VITAL feelings of delight," observe. There are deadly feelings of
delight; but the natural ones are vital, necessary to very life.

And they must be feelings of delight, if they are to be vital. Do
not think you can make a girl lovely, if you do not make her happy.
There is not one restraint you put on a good girl's nature--there is
not one check you give to her instincts of affection or of effort--
which will not be indelibly written on her features, with a hardness
which is all the more painful because it takes away the brightness
from the eyes of innocence, and the charm from the brow of virtue.

This for the means: now note the end.

Take from the same poet, in two lines, a perfect description of
womanly beauty -

"A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet."

The perfect loveliness of a woman's countenance can only consist in
that majestic peace, which is founded in the memory of happy and
useful years,--full of sweet records; and from the joining of this
with that yet more majestic childishness, which is still full of
change and promise;--opening always--modest at once, and bright,
with hope of better things to be won, and to be bestowed. There is
no old age where there is still that promise.

Thus, then, you have first to mould her physical frame, and then, as
the strength she gains will permit you, to fill and temper her mind
with all knowledge and thoughts which tend to confirm its natural
instincts of justice, and refine its natural tact of love.

All such knowledge should be given her as may enable her to
understand, and even to aid, the work of men: and yet it should be
given, not as knowledge,--not as if it were, or could be, for her an
object to know; but only to feel, and to judge. It is of no moment,
as a matter of pride or perfectness in herself, whether she knows
many languages or one; but it is of the utmost, that she should be
able to show kindness to a stranger, and to understand the sweetness
of a stranger's tongue. It is of no moment to her own worth or
dignity that she should be acquainted with this science or that; but
it is of the highest that she should be trained in habits of
accurate thought; that she should understand the meaning, the
inevitableness, and the loveliness of natural laws; and follow at
least some one path of scientific attainment, as far as to the
threshold of that bitter Valley of Humiliation, into which only the
wisest and bravest of men can descend, owning themselves for ever
children, gathering pebbles on a boundless shore. It is of little
consequence how many positions of cities she knows, or how many
dates of events, or names of celebrated persons--it is not the
object of education to turn the woman into a dictionary; but it is
deeply necessary that she should be taught to enter with her whole
personality into the history she reads; to picture the passages of
it vitally in her own bright imagination; to apprehend, with her
fine instincts, the pathetic circumstances and dramatic relations,
which the historian too often only eclipses by his reasoning, and
disconnects by his arrangement: it is for her to trace the hidden
equities of divine reward, and catch sight, through the darkness, of
the fateful threads of woven fire that connect error with
retribution. But, chiefly of all, she is to be taught to extend the
limits of her sympathy with respect to that history which is being
for ever determined as the moments pass in which she draws her
peaceful breath; and to the contemporary calamity, which, were it
but rightly mourned by her, would recur no more hereafter. She is
to exercise herself in imagining what would be the effects upon her
mind and conduct, if she were daily brought into the presence of the
suffering which is not the less real because shut from her sight.
She is to be taught somewhat to understand the nothingness of the
proportion which that little world in which she lives and loves,
bears to the world in which God lives and loves;--and solemnly she
is to be taught to strive that her thoughts of piety may not be
feeble in proportion to the number they embrace, nor her prayer more
languid than it is for the momentary relief from pain of her husband
or her child, when it is uttered for the multitudes of those who
have none to love them,--and is "for all who are desolate and

Thus far, I think, I have had your concurrence; perhaps you will not
be with me in what I believe is most needful for me to say. There
IS one dangerous science for women--one which they must indeed
beware how they profanely touch--that of theology. Strange, and
miserably strange, that while they are modest enough to doubt their
powers, and pause at the threshold of sciences where every step is
demonstrable and sure, they will plunge headlong, and without one
thought of incompetency, into that science in which the greatest men
have trembled, and the wisest erred. Strange, that they will
complacently and pridefully bind up whatever vice or folly there is
in them, whatever arrogance, petulance, or blind
incomprehensiveness, into one bitter bundle of consecrated myrrh.
Strange, in creatures born to be Love visible, that where they can
know least, they will condemn, first, and think to recommend
themselves to their Master, by crawling up the steps of His
judgment-throne to divide it with Him. Strangest of all that they
should think they were led by the Spirit of the Comforter into
habits of mind which have become in them the unmixed elements of
home discomfort; and that they dare to turn the Household Gods of
Christianity into ugly idols of their own;--spiritual dolls, for
them to dress according to their caprice; and from which their
husbands must turn away in grieved contempt, lest they should be
shrieked at for breaking them.

I believe, then, with this exception, that a girl's education should
be nearly, in its course and material of study, the same as a boy's;
but quite differently directed. A woman, in any rank of life, ought
to know whatever her husband is likely to know, but to know it in a
different way. His command of it should be foundational and
progressive; hers, general and accomplished for daily and helpful
use. Not but that it would often be wiser in men to learn things in
a womanly sort of way, for present use, and to seek for the
discipline and training of their mental powers in such branches of
study as will be afterwards fittest for social service; but,
speaking broadly, a man ought to know any language or science he
learns, thoroughly--while a woman ought to know the same language,
or science, only so far as may enable her to sympathise in her
husband's pleasures, and in those of his best friends.

Yet, observe, with exquisite accuracy as far as she reaches. There
is a wide difference between elementary knowledge and superficial
knowledge--between a firm beginning, and an infirm attempt at
compassing. A woman may always help her husband by what she knows,
however little; by what she half-knows, or mis-knows, she will only
tease him.

And indeed, if there were to be any difference between a girl's
education and a boy's, I should say that of the two the girl should
be earlier led, as her intellect ripens faster, into deep and
serious subjects: and that her range of literature should be, not
more, but less frivolous; calculated to add the qualities of
patience and seriousness to her natural poignancy of thought and
quickness of wit; and also to keep her in a lofty and pure element
of thought. I enter not now into any question of choice of books;
only let us be sure that her books are not heaped up in her lap as
they fall out of the package of the circulating library, wet with
the last and lightest spray of the fountain of folly.

Or even of the fountain of wit; for with respect to the sore
temptation of novel reading, it is not the badness of a novel that
we should dread, so much as its over-wrought interest. The weakest
romance is not so stupefying as the lower forms of religious
exciting literature, and the worst romance is not so corrupting as
false history, false philosophy, or false political essays. But the
best romance becomes dangerous, if, by its excitement, it renders
the ordinary course of life uninteresting, and increases the morbid
thirst for useless acquaintance with scenes in which we shall never
be called upon to act.

I speak therefore of good novels only; and our modern literature is
particularly rich in types of such. Well read, indeed, these books
have serious use, being nothing less than treatises on moral anatomy
and chemistry; studies of human nature in the elements of it. But I
attach little weight to this function: they are hardly ever read
with earnestness enough to permit them to fulfil it. The utmost
they usually do is to enlarge somewhat the charity of a kind reader,
or the bitterness of a malicious one; for each will gather, from the
novel, food for her own disposition. Those who are naturally proud
and envious will learn from Thackeray to despise humanity; those who
are naturally gentle, to pity it; those who are naturally shallow,
to laugh at it. So, also, there might be a serviceable power in
novels to bring before us, in vividness, a human truth which we had
before dimly conceived; but the temptation to picturesqueness of
statement is so great, that often the best writers of fiction cannot
resist it; and our views are rendered so violent and one-sided, that
their vitality is rather a harm than good.

Without, however, venturing here on any attempt at decision how much
novel reading should be allowed, let me at least clearly assert
this,--that whether novels, or poetry, or history be read, they
should be chosen, not for their freedom from evil, but for their
possession of good. The chance and scattered evil that may here and
there haunt, or hide itself in, a powerful book, never does any harm
to a noble girl; but the emptiness of an author oppresses her, and
his amiable folly degrades her. And if she can have access to a
good library of old and classical books, there need be no choosing
at all. Keep the modern magazine and novel out of your girl's way:
turn her loose into the old library every wet day, and let her
alone. She will find what is good for her; you cannot: for there
is just this difference between the making of a girl's character and
a boy's--you may chisel a boy into shape, as you would a rock, or
hammer him into it, if he be of a better kind, as you would a piece
of bronze. But you cannot hammer a girl into anything. She grows
as a flower does,--she will wither without sun; she will decay in
her sheath, as a narcissus will, if you do not give her air enough;
she may fall, and defile her head in dust, if you leave her without
help at some moments of her life; but you cannot fetter her; she
must take her own fair form and way, if she take any, and in mind as
in body, must have always

"Her household motions light and free
And steps of virgin liberty."

Let her loose in the library, I say, as you do a fawn in a field.
It knows the bad weeds twenty times better than you; and the good
ones too, and will eat some bitter and prickly ones, good for it,
which you had not the slightest thought would have been so.

Then, in art, keep the finest models before her, and let her
practice in all accomplishments be accurate and thorough, so as to
enable her to understand more than she accomplishes. I say the
finest models--that is to say, the truest, simplest, usefullest.
Note those epithets: they will range through all the arts. Try
them in music, where you might think them the least applicable. I
say the truest, that in which the notes most closely and faithfully
express the meaning of the words, or the character of intended
emotion; again, the simplest, that in which the meaning and melody
are attained with the fewest and most significant notes possible;
and, finally, the usefullest, that music which makes the best words
most beautiful, which enchants them in our memories each with its
own glory of sound, and which applies them closest to the heart at
the moment we need them.

And not only in the material and in the course, but yet more
earnestly in the spirit of it, let a girl's education be as serious
as a boy's. You bring up your girls as if they were meant for
sideboard ornaments, and then complain of their frivolity. Give
them the same advantages that you give their brothers--appeal to the
same grand instincts of virtue in them; teach THEM, also, that
courage and truth are the pillars of their being:- do you think that
they would not answer that appeal, brave and true as they are even
now, when you know that there is hardly a girls' school in this
Christian kingdom where the children's courage or sincerity would be
thought of half so much importance as their way of coming in at a
door; and when the whole system of society, as respects the mode of
establishing them in life, is one rotten plague of cowardice and
imposture--cowardice, in not daring to let them live, or love,
except as their neighbours choose; and imposture, in bringing, for
the purposes of our own pride, the full glow of the world's worst
vanity upon a girl's eyes, at the very period when the whole
happiness of her future existence depends upon her remaining

And give them, lastly, not only noble teachings, but noble teachers.
You consider somewhat before you send your boy to school, what kind
of a man the master is;--whatsoever kind of a man he is, you at
least give him full authority over your son, and show some respect
to him yourself;--if he comes to dine with you, you do not put him
at a side table: you know also that, at college, your child's
immediate tutor will be under the direction of some still higher
tutor,--for whom you have absolute reverence. You do not treat the
Dean of Christ Church or the Master of Trinity as your inferiors.

But what teachers do you give your girls, and what reverence do you
show to the teachers you have chosen? Is a girl likely to think her
own conduct, or her own intellect, of much importance, when you
trust the entire formation of her character, moral and intellectual,
to a person whom you let your servants treat with less respect than
they do your housekeeper (as if the soul of your child were a less
charge than jams and groceries), and whom you yourself think you
confer an honour upon by letting her sometimes sit in the drawing-
room in the evening?

Thus, then, of literature as her help, and thus of art. There is
one more help which she cannot do without--one which, alone, has
sometimes done more than all other influences besides,--the help of
wild and fair nature. Hear this of the education of Joan of Arc:-

"The education of this poor girl was mean, according to the present
standard; was ineffably grand, according to a purer philosophic
standard; and only not good for our age, because for us it would be

" Next after her spiritual advantages, she owed most to the
advantages of her situation. The fountain of Domremy was on the
brink of a boundless forest; and it was haunted to that degree by
fairies, that the parish priest (cure) was obliged to read mass
there once a year, in order to keep them in decent bounds.

"But the forests of Domremy--those were the glories of the land; for
in them abode mysterious powers and ancient secrets that towered
into tragic strength. Abbeys there were, and abbey windows,--'like
Moorish temples of the Hindoos,' that exercised even princely power
both in Touraine and in the German Diets. These had their sweet
bells that pierced the forests for many a league at matins or
vespers, and each its own dreamy legend. Few enough, and scattered
enough, were these abbeys, so as in no degree to disturb the deep
solitude of the region; yet many enough to spread a network or
awning of Christian sanctity over what else might have seemed a
heathen wilderness." {26}

Now, you cannot, indeed, have here in England, woods eighteen miles
deep to the centre; but you can, perhaps, keep a fairy or two for
your children yet, if you wish to keep them. But DO you wish it?
Suppose you had each, at the back of your houses, a garden, large
enough for your children to play in, with just as much lawn as would
give them room to run,--no more--and that you could not change your
abode; but that, if you chose, you could double your income, or
quadruple it, by digging a coal shaft in the middle of the lawn, and
turning the flower-beds into heaps of coke. Would you do it? I
hope not. I can tell you, you would be wrong if you did, though it
gave you income sixty-fold instead of four-fold.

Yet this is what you are doing with all England. The whole country
is but a little garden, not more than enough for your children to
run on the lawns of, if you would let them all run there. And this
little garden you will turn into furnace ground, and fill with heaps
of cinders, if you can; and those children of yours, not you, will
suffer for it. For the fairies will not be all banished; there are
fairies of the furnace as of the wood, and their first gifts seem to
be "sharp arrows of the mighty;" but their last gifts are "coals of

And yet I cannot--though there is no part of my subject that I feel
more--press this upon you; for we made so little use of the power of
nature while we had it that we shall hardly feel what we have lost.
Just on the other side of the Mersey you have your Snowdon, and your
Menai Straits, and that mighty granite rock beyond the moors of
Anglesea, splendid in its heathery crest, and foot planted in the
deep sea, once thought of as sacred--a divine promontory, looking
westward; the Holy Head or Headland, still not without awe when its
red light glares first through storm. These are the hills, and
these the bays and blue inlets, which, among the Greeks, would have
been always loved, always fateful in influence on the national mind.
That Snowdon is your Parnassus; but where are its Muses? That
Holyhead mountain is your Island of AEgina; but where is its Temple
to Minerva?

Shall I read you what the Christian Minerva had achieved under the
shadow of our Parnassus up to the year 1848?--Here is a little
account of a Welsh school, from page 261 of the Report on Wales,
published by the Committee of Council on Education. This is a
school close to a town containing 5,000 persons:-

"I then called up a larger class, most of whom had recently come to
the school. Three girls repeatedly declared they had never heard of
Christ, and two that they had never heard of God. Two out of six
thought Christ was on earth now" (they might have had a worse
thought perhaps), "three knew nothing about the Crucifixion. Four
out of seven did not know the names of the months nor the number of
days in a year. They had no notion of addition beyond two and two,
or three and three; their minds were perfect blanks."

Oh, ye women of England! from the Princess of that Wales to the
simplest of you, do not think your own children can be brought into
their true fold of rest, while these are scattered on the hills, as
sheep having no shepherd. And do not think your daughters can be
trained to the truth of their own human beauty, while the pleasant
places, which God made at once for their schoolroom and their
playground, lie desolate and defiled. You cannot baptize them
rightly in those inch-deep fonts of yours, unless you baptize them
also in the sweet waters which the great Lawgiver strikes forth for
ever from the rocks of your native land--waters which a Pagan would
have worshipped in their purity, and you worship only with
pollution. You cannot lead your children faithfully to those narrow
axe-hewn church altars of yours, while the dark azure altars in
heaven--the mountains that sustain your island throne,--mountains on
which a Pagan would have seen the powers of heaven rest in every
wreathed cloud--remain for you without inscription; altars built,
not to, but by an Unknown God.

(III.) Thus far, then, of the nature, thus far of the teaching, of
woman, and thus of her household office, and queenliness. We now
come to our last, our widest question.--What is her queenly office
with respect to the state?

Generally, we are under an impression that a man's duties are
public, and a woman's private. But this is not altogether so. A
man has a personal work or duty, relating to his own home, and a
public work or duty, which is the expansion of the other, relating
to the state. So a woman has a personal work or duty, relating to
her own home, and a public work or duty, which is also the expansion
of that.

Now the man's work for his own home is, as has been said, to secure
its maintenance, progress, and defence; the woman's to secure its
order, comfort, and loveliness.

Expand both these functions. The man's duty as a member of a
commonwealth, is to assist in the maintenance, in the advance, in
the defence of the state. The woman's duty, as a member of the
commonwealth, is to assist in the ordering, in the comforting, and
in the beautiful adornment of the state.

What the man is at his own gate, defending it, if need be, against
insult and spoil, that also, not in a less, but in a more devoted
measure, he is to be at the gate of his country, leaving his home,
if need be, even to the spoiler, to do his more incumbent work

And, in like manner, what the woman is to be within her gates, as
the centre of order, the balm of distress, and the mirror of beauty:
that she is also to be without her gates, where order is more
difficult, distress more imminent, loveliness more rare.

And as within the human heart there is always set an instinct for
all its real duties,--an instinct which you cannot quench, but only
warp and corrupt if you withdraw it from its true purpose:- as there
is the intense instinct of love, which, rightly disciplined,
maintains all the sanctities of life, and, misdirected, undermines
them; and MUST do either the one or the other;--so there is in the
human heart an inextinguishable instinct, the love of power, which,
rightly directed, maintains all the majesty of law and life, and,
misdirected, wrecks them.

Deep rooted in the innermost life of the heart of man, and of the
heart of woman, God set it there, and God keeps it there.--Vainly,
as falsely, you blame or rebuke the desire of power!--For Heaven's
sake, and for Man's sake, desire it all you can. But WHAT power?
That is all the question. Power to destroy? the lion's limb, and
the dragon's breath? Not so. Power to heal, to redeem, to guide,
and to guard. Power of the sceptre and shield; the power of the
royal hand that heals in touching,--that binds the fiend, and looses
the captive; the throne that is founded on the rock of Justice, and
descended from only by steps of Mercy. Will you not covet such
power as this, and seek such throne as this, and be no more
housewives, but queens?

It is now long since the women of England arrogated, universally, a
title which once belonged to nobility only; and, having once been in
the habit of accepting the simple title of gentlewoman as
correspondent to that of gentleman, insisted on the privilege of
assuming the title of "Lady," {27} which properly corresponds only
to the title of "Lord."

I do not blame them for this; but only for their narrow motive in
this. I would have them desire and claim the title of Lady,
provided they claim, not merely the title, but the office and duty
signified by it. Lady means "bread-giver" or "loaf-giver," and Lord
means "maintainer of laws," and both titles have reference, not to
the law which is maintained in the house, nor to the bread which is
given to the household; but to law maintained for the multitude, and
to bread broken among the multitude. So that a Lord has legal claim
only to his title in so far as he is the maintainer of the justice
of the Lord of lords; and a Lady has legal claim to her title only
so far as she communicates that help to the poor representatives of
her Master, which women once, ministering to Him of their substance,
were permitted to extend to that Master Himself; and when she is
known, as He Himself once was, in breaking of bread.

And this beneficent and legal dominion, this power of the Dominus,
or House-Lord, and of the Domina, or House-Lady, is great and
venerable, not in the number of those through whom it has lineally
descended, but in the number of those whom it grasps within its
sway; it is always regarded with reverent worship wherever its
dynasty is founded on its duty, and its ambition correlative with
its beneficence. Your fancy is pleased with the thought of being
noble ladies, with a train of vassals. Be it so; you cannot be too
noble, and your train cannot be too great; but see to it that your
train is of vassals whom you serve and feed, not merely of slaves
who serve and feed you; and that the multitude which obeys you is of
those whom you have comforted, not oppressed,--whom you have
redeemed, not led into captivity.

And this, which is true of the lower or household dominion, is
equally true of the queenly dominion; that highest dignity is open
to you, if you will also accept that highest duty. Rex et Regina--
Roi et Reine--"RIGHT-doers;" they differ but from the Lady and Lord,
in that their power is supreme over the mind as over the person--
that they not only feed and clothe, but direct and teach. And
whether consciously or not, you must be, in many a heart, enthroned:
there is no putting by that crown; queens you must always be:
queens to your lovers; queens to your husbands and your sons; queens
of higher mystery to the world beyond, which bows itself, and will
for ever bow, before the myrtle crown and the stainless sceptre of
womanhood. But, alas! you are too often idle and careless queens,
grasping at majesty in the least things, while you abdicate it in
the greatest; and leaving misrule and violence to work their will
among men, in defiance of the power which, holding straight in gift
from the Prince of all Peace, the wicked among you betray, and the
good forget.

"Prince of Peace." Note that name. When kings rule in that name,
and nobles, and the judges of the earth, they also, in their narrow
place, and mortal measure, receive the power of it. There are no
other rulers than they; other rule than theirs is but MISrule; they
who govern verily "Dei Gratia" are all princes, yes, or princesses
of Peace. There is not a war in the world, no, nor an injustice,
but you women are answerable for it; not in that you have provoked,
but in that you have not hindered. Men, by their nature, are prone
to fight; they will fight for any cause, or for none. It is for you
to choose their cause for them, and to forbid them when there is no
cause. There is no suffering, no injustice, no misery, in the
earth, but the guilt of it lies with you. Men can bear the sight of
it, but you should not be able to bear it. Men may tread it down
without sympathy in their own struggle; but men are feeble in
sympathy, and contracted in hope; it is you only who can feel the
depths of pain, and conceive the way of its healing. Instead of
trying to do this, you turn away from it; you shut yourselves within
your park walls and garden gates; and you are content to know that
there is beyond them a whole world in wilderness--a world of secrets
which you dare not penetrate; and of suffering which you dare not

I tell you that this is to me quite the most amazing among the
phenomena of humanity. I am surprised at no depths to which, when
once warped from its honour, that humanity can be degraded. I do
not wonder at the miser's death, with his hands, as they relax,
dropping gold. I do not wonder at the sensualist's life, with the
shroud wrapped about his feet. I do not wonder at the single-handed
murder of a single victim, done by the assassin in the darkness of
the railway, or reed shadow of the marsh. I do not even wonder at
the myriad-handed murder of multitudes, done boastfully in the
daylight, by the frenzy of nations, and the immeasurable,
unimaginable guilt heaped up from hell to heaven, of their priests,
and kings. But this is wonderful to me--oh, how wonderful!--to see
the tender and delicate woman among you, with her child at her
breast, and a power, if she would wield it, over it, and over its
father, purer than the air of heaven, and stronger than the seas of
earth--nay, a magnitude of blessing which her husband would not part
with for all that earth itself, though it were made of one entire
and perfect chrysolite:- to see her abdicate this majesty to play at
precedence with her next-door neighbour! This is wonderful--oh,
wonderful!--to see her, with every innocent feeling fresh within
her, go out in the morning into her garden to play with the fringes
of its guarded flowers, and lift their heads when they are drooping,
with her happy smile upon her face, and no cloud upon her brow,
because there is a little wall around her place of peace: and yet
she knows, in her heart, if she would only look for its knowledge,
that, outside of that little rose-covered wall, the wild grass, to
the horizon, is torn up by the agony of men, and beat level by the
drift of their life-blood.

Have you ever considered what a deep under meaning there lies, or at
least may be read, if we choose, in our custom of strewing flowers
before those whom we think most happy? Do you suppose it is merely
to deceive them into the hope that happiness is always to fall thus
in showers at their feet?--that wherever they pass they will tread
on herbs of sweet scent, and that the rough ground will be made
smooth for them by depths of roses? So surely as they believe that,
they will have, instead, to walk on bitter herbs and thorns; and the
only softness to their feet will be of snow. But it is not thus
intended they should believe; there is a better meaning in that old
custom. The path of a good woman is indeed strewn with flowers; but
they rise behind her steps, not before them. "Her feet have touched
the meadows, and left the daisies rosy."

You think that only a lover's fancy;--false and vain! How if it
could be true? You think this also, perhaps, only a poet's fancy -

"Even the light harebell raised its head
Elastic from her airy tread."

But it is little to say of a woman, that she only does not destroy
where she passes. She should revive; the harebells should bloom,
not stoop, as she passes. You think I am rushing into wild
hyperbole! Pardon me, not a whit--I mean what I say in calm
English, spoken in resolute truth. You have heard it said--(and I
believe there is more than fancy even in that saying, but let it
pass for a fanciful one)--that flowers only flourish rightly in the
garden of some one who loves them. I know you would like that to be
true; you would think it a pleasant magic if you could flush your
flowers into brighter bloom by a kind look upon them: nay, more, if
your look had the power, not only to cheer, but to guard;--if you
could bid the black blight turn away, and the knotted caterpillar
spare--if you could bid the dew fall upon them in the drought, and
say to the south wind, in frost--"Come, thou south, and breathe upon
my garden, that the spices of it may flow out." This you would
think a great thing? And do you think it not a greater thing, that
all this, (and how much more than this!) you CAN do, for fairer
flowers than these--flowers that could bless you for having blessed
them, and will love you for having loved them; flowers that have
thoughts like yours, and lives like yours; and which, once saved,
you save for ever? Is this only a little power? Far among the
moorlands and the rocks,--far in the darkness of the terrible
streets,--these feeble florets are lying, with all their fresh
leaves torn, and their stems broken: will you never go down to
them, nor set them in order in their little fragrant beds, nor fence
them in their trembling, from the fierce wind? Shall morning follow
morning, for you, but not for them; and the dawn rise to watch, far
away, those frantic Dances of Death; {28} but no dawn rise to
breathe upon these living banks of wild violet, and woodbine, and
rose; nor call to you, through your casement--call (not giving you
the name of the English poet's lady, but the name of Dante's great
Matilda, who, on the edge of happy Lethe, stood, wreathing flowers
with flowers), saying:-

"Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the roses blown"?

Will you not go down among them?--among those sweet living things,
whose new courage, sprung from the earth with the deep colour of
heaven upon it, is starting up in strength of goodly spire; and
whose purity, washed from the dust, is opening, bud by bud, into the
flower of promise;--and still they turn to you, and for you, "The
Larkspur listens--I hear, I hear! And the Lily whispers--I wait."

Did you notice that I missed two lines when I read you that first
stanza; and think that I had forgotten them? Hear them now:-

"Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate, alone."

Who is it, think you, who stands at the gate of this sweeter garden
alone, waiting for you? Did you ever hear, not of a Maud, but a
Madeleine, who went down to her garden in the dawn, and found One
waiting at the gate, whom she supposed to be the gardener? Have you
not sought Him often;--sought Him in vain, all through the night;--
sought Him in vain at the gate of that old garden where the fiery
sword is set? He is never there; but at the gate of THIS garden He
is waiting always--waiting to take your hand--ready to go down to
see the fruits of the valley, to see whether the vine has
flourished, and the pomegranate budded. There you shall see with
Him the little tendrils of the vines that His hand is guiding--there
you shall see the pomegranate springing where His hand cast the
sanguine seed;--more: you shall see the troops of the angel keepers
that, with their wings, wave away the hungry birds from the path-
sides where He has sown, and call to each other between the vineyard
rows, "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines,
for our vines have tender grapes." Oh--you queens--you queens!
among the hills and happy greenwood of this land of yours, shall the
foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; and in your
cities, shall the stones cry out against you, that they are the only
pillows where the Son of Man can lay His head?


Being now fifty-one years old, and little likely to change my mind
hereafter on any important subject of thought (unless through
weakness of age), I wish to publish a connected series of such parts
of my works as now seem to me right, and likely to be of permanent
use. In doing so I shall omit much, but not attempt to mend what I
think worth reprinting. A young man necessarily writes otherwise
than an old one, and it would be worse than wasted time to try to
recast the juvenile language: nor is it to be thought that I am
ashamed even of what I cancel; for great part of my earlier work was
rapidly written for temporary purposes, and is now unnecessary,
though true, even to truism. What I wrote about religion, was, on
the contrary, painstaking, and, I think, forcible, as compared with
most religious writing; especially in its frankness and
fearlessness: but it was wholly mistaken: for I had been educated
in the doctrines of a narrow sect, and had read history as obliquely
as sectarians necessarily must.

Mingled among these either unnecessary or erroneous statements, I
find, indeed, some that might be still of value; but these, in my
earlier books, disfigured by affected language, partly through the
desire to be thought a fine writer, and partly, as in the second
volume of 'Modern Painters,' in the notion of returning as far as I
could to what I thought the better style of old English literature,
especially to that of my then favourite, in prose, Richard Hooker.

For these reasons,--though, as respects either art, policy, or
morality, as distinct from religion, I not only still hold, but
would even wish strongly to re-affirm the substance of what I said
in my earliest books,--I shall reprint scarcely anything in this
series out of the first and second volumes of 'Modern Painters'; and
shall omit much of the 'Seven Lamps' and 'Stones of Venice'; but all
my books written within the last fifteen years will be republished
without change, as new editions of them are called for, with here
and there perhaps an additional note, and having their text divided,
for convenient reference, into paragraphs, consecutive through each
volume. I shall also throw together the shorter fragments that bear
on each other, and fill in with such unprinted lectures or studies
as seem to me worth preserving, so as to keep the volumes, on an
average, composed of about a hundred leaves each.

The first book of which a new edition is required chances to be
'Sesame and Lilies,' from which I now detach the whole preface,
about the Alps, for use elsewhere; and to I which I add a lecture
given in Ireland on a subject closely connected with that of the
book itself. I am glad that it should be the first of the complete
series, for many reasons; though in now looking over these two
lectures, I am painfully struck by the waste of good work in them.
They cost me much thought, and much strong emotion; but it was
foolish to suppose that I could rouse my audiences in a little while
to any sympathy with the temper into which I had brought myself by
years of thinking over subjects full of pain; while, if I missed my
purpose at the time, it was little to be hoped I could attain it
afterwards; since phrases written for oral delivery become
ineffective when quietly read. Yet I should only take away what
good is in them if I tried to translate them into the language of
books; nor, indeed, could I at all have done so at the time of their
delivery, my thoughts then habitually and impatiently putting
themselves into forms fit only for emphatic speech; and thus I am
startled, in my review of them, to find that, though there is much,
(forgive me the impertinence) which seems to me accurately and
energetically said, there is scarcely anything put in a form to be
generally convincing, or even easily intelligible: and I can well
imagine a reader laying down the book without being at all moved by
it, still less guided, to any definite course of action.

I think, however, if I now say briefly and clearly what I meant my
hearers to understand, and what I wanted, and still would fain have,
them to do, there may afterwards be found some better service in the
passionately written text.

The first lecture says, or tries to say, that, life being very
short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them
in reading valueless books; and that valuable books should, in a
civilized country, be within the reach of every one, printed in
excellent form, for a just price; but not in any vile, vulgar, or,
by reason of smallness of type, physically injurious form, at a vile
price. For we none of us need many books, and those which we need
ought to be clearly printed, on the best paper, and strongly bound.
And though we are, indeed, now, a wretched and poverty-struck
nation, and hardly able to keep soul and body together, still, as no
person in decent circumstances would put on his table confessedly
bad wine, or bad meat, without being ashamed, so he need not have on
his shelves ill-printed or loosely and wretchedly-stitched books;
for though few can be rich, yet every man who honestly exerts
himself may, I think, still provide, for himself and his family,
good shoes, good gloves, strong harness for his cart or carriage
horses, and stout leather binding for his books. And I would urge
upon every young man, as the beginning of his due and wise provision
for his household, to obtain as soon as he can, by the severest
economy, a restricted, serviceable, and steadily--however slowly--
increasing, series of books for use through life; making his little
library, of all the furniture in his room, the most studied and
decorative piece; every volume having its assigned place, like a
little statue in its niche, and one of the earliest and strictest
lessons to the children of the house being how to turn the pages of
their own literary possessions lightly and deliberately, with no
chance of tearing or dog's ears.

That is my notion of the founding of Kings' Treasuries; and the
first lecture is intended to show somewhat the use and preciousness
of their treasures: but the two following ones have wider scope,
being written in the hope of awakening the youth of England, so far
as my poor words might have any power with them, to take some
thought of the purposes of the life into which they are entering,
and the nature of the world they have to conquer.

These two lectures are fragmentary and ill-arranged, but not, I
think, diffuse or much compressible. The entire gist and conclusion
of them, however, is in the last six paragraphs of the third
lecture, which I would beg the reader to look over not once nor
twice, (rather than any other part of the book,) for they contain
the best expression I have yet been able to put in words of what, so
far as is within my power, I mean henceforward both to do myself,
and to plead with all over whom I have any influence, to do also
according to their means: the letters begun on the first day of
this year, to the workmen of England, having the object of
originating, if possible, this movement among them, in true alliance
with whatever trustworthy element of help they can find in the
higher classes. After these paragraphs, let me ask you to read, by
the fiery light of recent events, the fable at p. 170 {1}, and then
paragraphs 129-131 {2}; and observe, my statement respecting the
famine at Orissa is not rhetorical, but certified by official
documents as within the truth. Five hundred thousand persons, AT
LEAST, died by starvation in our British dominions, wholly in
consequence of carelessness and want of forethought. Keep that well
in your memory; and note it as the best possible illustration of
modern political economy in true practice, and of the relations it
has accomplished between Supply and Demand. Then begin the second
lecture, and all will read clear enough, I think, to the end; only,
since that second lecture was written, questions have arisen
respecting the education and claims of women which have greatly
troubled simple minds and excited restless ones. I am sometimes
asked my thoughts on this matter, and I suppose that some girl
readers of the second lecture may at the end of it desire to be told
summarily what I would have them do and desire in the present state
of things. This, then, is what I would say to any girl who had
confidence enough in me to believe what I told her, or to do what I
asked her.

First, be quite sure of one thing, that, however much you may know,
and whatever advantages you may possess, and however good you may
be, you have not been singled out, by the God who made you, from all
the other girls in the world, to be especially informed respecting
His own nature and character. You have not been born in a luminous
point upon the surface of the globe, where a perfect theology might
be expounded to you from your youth up, and where everything you
were taught would be true, and everything that was enforced upon
you, right. Of all the insolent, all the foolish persuasions that
by any chance could enter and hold your empty little heart, this is
the proudest and foolishest,--that you have been so much the darling
of the Heavens, and favourite of the Fates, as to be born in the
very nick of time, and in the punctual place, when and where pure
Divine truth had been sifted from the errors of the Nations; and
that your papa had been providentially disposed to buy a house in
the convenient neighbourhood of the steeple under which that
Immaculate and final verity would be beautifully proclaimed. Do not
think it, child; it is not so. This, on the contrary, is the fact,-
-unpleasant you may think it; pleasant, it seems to ME,--that you,
with all your pretty dresses, and dainty looks, and kindly thoughts,
and saintly aspirations, are not one whit more thought of or loved
by the great Maker and Master than any poor little red, black, or
blue savage, running wild in the pestilent woods, or naked on the
hot sands of the earth: and that, of the two, you probably know
less about God than she does; the only difference being that she
thinks little of Him that is right, and you much that is wrong.

That, then, is the first thing to make sure of;--that you are not
yet perfectly well informed on the most abstruse of all possible
subjects, and that if you care to behave with modesty or propriety,
you had better be silent about it.

The second thing which you may make sure of is, that however good
you may be, you have faults; that however dull you may be, you can
find out what some of them are; and that however slight they may be,
you had better make some--not too painful, but patient--effort to
get quit of them. And so far as you have confidence in me at all,
trust me for this, that how many soever you may find or fancy your
faults to be, there are only two that are of real consequence,--
Idleness and Cruelty. Perhaps you may be proud. Well, we can get
much good out of pride, if only it be not religious. Perhaps you
may be vain; it is highly probable; and very pleasant for the people
who like to praise you. Perhaps you are a little envious: that is
really very shocking; but then--so is everybody else. Perhaps,
also, you are a little malicious, which I am truly concerned to
hear, but should probably only the more, if I knew you, enjoy your
conversation. But whatever else you may be, you must not be
useless, and you must not be cruel. If there is any one point
which, in six thousand years of thinking about right and wrong, wise
and good men have agreed upon, or successively by experience
discovered, it is that God dislikes idle and cruel people more than
any others:- that His first order is, "Work while you have light;"
and His second, "Be merciful while you have mercy."

"Work while you have light," especially while you have the light of
morning. There are few things more wonderful to me than that old
people never tell young ones how precious their youth is. They
sometimes sentimentally regret their own earlier days; sometimes
prudently forget them; often foolishly rebuke the young, often more
foolishly indulge, often most foolishly thwart and restrain; but
scarcely ever warn or watch them. Remember, then, that I, at least,
have warned YOU, that the happiness of your life, and its power, and
its part and rank in earth or in heaven, depend on the way you pass
your days now. They are not to be sad days: far from that, the
first duty of young people is to be delighted and delightful; but
they are to be in the deepest sense solemn days. There is no
solemnity so deep, to a rightly-thinking creature, as that of dawn.
But not only in that beautiful sense, but in all their character and
method, they are to be solemn days. Take your Latin dictionary, and
look out "solennis," and fix the sense of the word well in your
mind, and remember that every day of your early life is ordaining
irrevocably, for good or evil, the custom and practice of your soul;
ordaining either sacred customs of dear and lovely recurrence, or
trenching deeper and deeper the furrows for seed of sorrow. Now,
therefore, see that no day passes in which you do not make yourself
a somewhat better creature: and in order to do that, find out,
first, what you are now. Do not think vaguely about it; take pen
and paper, and write down as accurate a description of yourself as
you can, with the date to it. If you dare not do so, find out why
you dare not, and try to get strength of heart enough to look
yourself fairly in the face in mind as well as body. I do not doubt
but that the mind is a less pleasant thing to look at than the face,
and for that very reason it needs more looking at; so always have
two mirrors on your toilet table, and see that with proper care you
dress body and mind before them daily. After the dressing is once
over for the day, think no more about it: as your hair will blow
about your ears, so your temper and thoughts will get ruffled with
the day's work, and may need, sometimes, twice dressing; but I don't
want you to carry about a mental pocket-comb; only to be smooth
braided always in the morning.

Write down then, frankly, what you are, or, at least, what you think
yourself, not dwelling upon those inevitable faults which I have
just told you are of little consequence, and which the action of a
right life will shake or smooth away; but that you may determine to
the best of your intelligence what you are good for and can be made
into. You will find that the mere resolve not to be useless, and
the honest desire to help other people, will, in the quickest and
delicatest ways, improve yourself. Thus, from the beginning,
consider all your accomplishments as means of assistance to others;
read attentively, in this volume, paragraphs 74, 75, 19, and 79, {3}
and you will understand what I mean, with respect to languages and
music. In music especially you will soon find what personal benefit
there is in being serviceable: it is probable that, however limited
your powers, you have voice and ear enough to sustain a note of
moderate compass in a concerted piece;--that, then, is the first
thing to make sure you can do. Get your voice disciplined and
clear, and think only of accuracy; never of effect or expression:
if you have any soul worth expressing, it will show itself in your
singing; but most likely there are very few feelings in you, at
present, needing any particular expression; and the one thing you
have to do is to make a clear-voiced little instrument of yourself,
which other people can entirely depend upon for the note wanted.
So, in drawing, as soon as you can set down the right shape of
anything, and thereby explain its character to another person, or
make the look of it clear and interesting to a child, you will begin
to enjoy the art vividly for its own sake, and all your habits of
mind and powers of memory will gain precision: but if you only try
to make showy drawings for praise, or pretty ones for amusement,
your drawing will have little of real interest for you, and no
educational power whatever.

Then, besides this more delicate work, resolve to do every day some
that is useful in the vulgar sense. Learn first thoroughly the
economy of the kitchen; the good and bad qualities of every common
article of food, and the simplest and best modes of their
preparation: when you have time, go and help in the cooking of
poorer families, and show them how to make as much of everything as
possible, and how to make little, nice; coaxing and tempting them
into tidy and pretty ways, and pleading for well-folded table-
cloths, however coarse, and for a flower or two out of the garden to
strew on them. If you manage to get a clean table-cloth, bright
plates on it, and a good dish in the middle, of your own cooking,
you may ask leave to say a short grace; and let your religious
ministries be confined to that much for the present.

Again, let a certain part of your day (as little as you choose, but
not to be broken in upon) be set apart for making strong and pretty
dresses for the poor. Learn the sound qualities of all useful
stuffs, and make everything of the best you can get, whatever its
price. I have many reasons for desiring you to do this,--too many
to be told just now,--trust me, and be sure you get everything as
good as can be: and if, in the villainous state of modern trade,
you cannot get it good at any price, buy its raw material, and set
some of the poor women about you to spin and weave, till you have
got stuff that can be trusted: and then, every day, make some
little piece of useful clothing, sewn with your own fingers as
strongly as it can be stitched; and embroider it or otherwise
beautify it moderately with fine needlework, such as a girl may be
proud of having done. And accumulate these things by you until you
hear of some honest persons in need of clothing, which may often too
sorrowfully be; and, even though you should be deceived, and give
them to the dishonest, and hear of their being at once taken to the
pawnbroker's, never mind that, for the pawnbroker must sell them to
some one who has need of them. That is no business of yours; what
concerns you is only that when you see a half-naked child, you
should have good and fresh clothes to give it, if its parents will
let it be taught to wear them. If they will not, consider how they
came to be of such a mind, which it will be wholesome for you beyond
most subjects of inquiry to ascertain. And after you have gone on
doing this a little while, you will begin to understand the meaning
of at least one chapter of your Bible, Proverbs xxxi., without need
of any laboured comment, sermon, or meditation.

In these, then (and of course in all minor ways besides, that you
can discover in your own household), you must be to the best of your
strength usefully employed during the greater part of the day, so
that you may be able at the end of it to say, as proudly as any
peasant, that you have not eaten the bread of idleness.

Then, secondly, I said, you are not to be cruel. Perhaps you think
there is no chance of your being so; and indeed I hope it is not
likely that you should be deliberately unkind to any creature; but
unless you are deliberately kind to every creature, you will often
be cruel to many. Cruel, partly through want of imagination, (a far
rarer and weaker faculty in women than men,) and yet more, at the
present day, through the subtle encouragement of your selfishness by
the religious doctrine that all which we now suppose to be evil will
be brought to a good end; doctrine practically issuing, not in less
earnest efforts that the immediate unpleasantness may be averted
from ourselves, but in our remaining satisfied in the contemplation
of its ultimate objects, when it is inflicted on others.

It is not likely that the more accurate methods of recent mental
education will now long permit young people to grow up in the
persuasion that, in any danger or distress, they may expect to be
themselves saved by the Providence of God, while those around them
are lost by His improvidence: but they may be yet long restrained
from rightly kind action, and long accustomed to endure both their
own pain occasionally, and the pain of others always, with an unwise
patience, by misconception of the eternal and incurable nature of
real evil. Observe, therefore, carefully in this matter; there are
degrees of pain, as degrees of faultfulness, which are altogether
conquerable, and which seem to be merely forms of wholesome trial or
discipline. Your fingers tingle when you go out on a frosty
morning, and are all the warmer afterwards; your limbs are weary
with wholesome work, and lie down in the pleasanter rest; you are
tried for a little while by having to wait for some promised good,
and it is all the sweeter when it comes. But you cannot carry the
trial past a certain point. Let the cold fasten on your hand in an
extreme degree, and your fingers will moulder from their sockets.
Fatigue yourself, but once, to utter exhaustion, and to the end of
life you shall not recover the former vigour of your frame. Let
heart-sickness pass beyond a certain bitter point, and the heart
loses its life for ever.

Now, the very definition of evil is in this irremediableness. It
means sorrow, or sin, which ends in death; and assuredly, as far as
we know, or can conceive, there are many conditions both of pain and
sin which cannot but so end. Of course we are ignorant and blind
creatures, and we cannot know what seeds of good may be in present
suffering, or present crime; but with what we cannot know we are not
concerned. It is conceivable that murderers and liars may in some
distant world be exalted into a higher humanity than they could have
reached without homicide or falsehood; but the contingency is not
one by which our actions should be guided. There is, indeed, a
better hope that the beggar, who lies at our gates in misery, may,
within gates of pearl, be comforted; but the Master, whose words are
our only authority for thinking so, never Himself inflicted disease
as a blessing, nor sent away the hungry unfed, or the wounded

Believe me then, the only right principle of action here, is to
consider good and evil as defined by our natural sense of both; and
to strive to promote the one, and to conquer the other, with as
hearty endeavour as if there were, indeed, no other world than this.
Above all, get quit of the absurd idea that Heaven will interfere to
correct great errors, while allowing its laws to take their course
in punishing small ones. If you prepare a dish of food carelessly,
you do not expect Providence to make it palatable; neither if,
through years of folly, you misguide your own life, need you expect
Divine interference to bring round everything at last for the best.
I tell you, positively, the world is not so constituted: the
consequences of great mistakes are just as sure as those of small
ones, and the happiness of your whole life, and of all the lives
over which you have power, depend as literally on your own common
sense and discretion as the excellence and order of the feast of a

Think carefully and bravely over these things, and you will find
them true: having found them so, think also carefully over your own
position in life. I assume that you belong to the middle or upper
classes, and that you would shrink from descending into a lower
sphere. You may fancy you would not: nay, if you are very good,
strong-hearted, and romantic, perhaps you really would not; but it
is not wrong that you should. You have, then, I suppose, good food,
pretty rooms to live in, pretty dresses to wear, power of obtaining
every rational and wholesome pleasure; you are, moreover, probably
gentle and grateful, and in the habit of every day thanking God for
these things. But why do you thank Him? Is it because, in these
matters, as well as in your religious knowledge, you think He has
made a favourite of you? Is the essential meaning of your
thanksgiving, "Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other girls are,
not in that I fast twice in the week while they feast, but in that I
feast seven times a week while they fast," and are you quite sure
this is a pleasing form of thanksgiving to your Heavenly Father?
Suppose you saw one of your own true earthly sisters, Lucy or Emily,
cast out of your mortal father's house, starving, helpless,
heartbroken; and that every morning when you went into your father's
room, you said to him, "How good you are, father, to give me what
you don't give Lucy," are you sure that, whatever anger your parent
might have just cause for, against your sister, he would be pleased
by that thanksgiving, or flattered by that praise? Nay, are you
even sure that you ARE so much the favourite?--suppose that, all
this while, he loves poor Lucy just as well as you, and is only
trying you through her pain, and perhaps not angry with her in
anywise, but deeply angry with you, and all the more for your
thanksgivings? Would it not be well that you should think, and
earnestly too, over this standing of yours; and all the more if you
wish to believe that text, which clergymen so much dislike preaching
on, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom
of God"? You do not believe it now, or you would be less complacent
in your state; and you cannot believe it at all, until you know that
the Kingdom of God means,--"not meat and drink, but justice, peace,
and joy in the Holy Ghost," nor until you know also that such joy is
not by any means, necessarily, in going to church, or in singing
hymns; but may be joy in a dance, or joy in a jest, or joy in
anything you have deserved to possess, or that you are willing to
give; but joy in nothing that separates you, as by any strange
favour, from your fellow-creatures, that exalts you through their
degradation--exempts you from their toil--or indulges you in time of
their distress.

Think, then, and some day, I believe, you will feel also,--no morbid
passion of pity such as would turn you into a black Sister of
Charity, but the steady fire of perpetual kindness which will make
you a bright one. I speak in no disparagement of them; I know well
how good the Sisters of Charity are, and how much we owe to them;
but all these professional pieties (except so far as distinction or
association may be necessary for effectiveness of work) are in their
spirit wrong, and in practice merely plaster the sores of disease
that ought never to have been permitted to exist; encouraging at the
same time the herd of less excellent women in frivolity, by leading
them to think that they must either be good up to the black
standard, or cannot be good for anything. Wear a costume, by all
means, if you like; but let it be a cheerful and becoming one; and
be in your heart a Sister of Charity always, without either veiled
or voluble declaration of it.

As I pause, before ending my preface--thinking of one or two more
points that are difficult to write of--I find a letter in 'The
Times,' from a French lady, which says all I want so beautifully,
that I will print it just as it stands:-

SIR,--It is often said that one example is worth many sermons.
Shall I be judged presumptuous if I point out one, which seems to me
so striking just now, that, however painful, I cannot help dwelling
upon it?

It is the share, the sad and large share, that French society and
its recent habits of luxury, of expenses, of dress, of indulgence in
every kind of extravagant dissipation, has to lay to its own door in
its actual crisis of ruin, misery, and humiliation. If our
MENAGERES can be cited as an example to English housewives, so,
alas! can other classes of our society be set up as an example--NOT
to be followed.

Bitter must be the feelings of many a French woman whose days of
luxury and expensive habits are at an end, and whose bills of bygone
splendour lie with a heavy weight on her conscience, if not on her

With us the evil has spread high and low. Everywhere have the
examples given by the highest ladies in the land been followed but
too successfully.

Every year did dress become more extravagant, entertainments more
costly, expenses of every kind more considerable. Lower and lower
became the tone of society, its good breeding, its delicacy. More
and more were MONDE and DEMI-MONDE associated in newspaper accounts
of fashionable doings, in scandalous gossip, on racecourses, in
PREMIERES REPRESENTATIONS, in imitation of each other's costumes,
MOBILIERS and slang.

Living beyond one's means became habitual--almost necessary--for
every one to keep up with, if not to go beyond, every one else.

What the result of all this has been we now see in the wreck of our
prosperity, in the downfall of all that seemed brightest and

Deeply and fearfully impressed by what my own country has incurred
and is suffering, I cannot help feeling sorrowful when I see in
England signs of our besetting sins appearing also. Paint and
chignons, slang and vaudevilles, knowing "Anonymas" by name, and
reading doubtfully moral novels, are in themselves small offences,
although not many years ago they would have appeared very heinous
ones, yet they are quick and tempting conveyances on a very
dangerous high-road.

I would that all Englishwomen knew how they are looked up to from
abroad--what a high opinion, what honour and reverence we foreigners
have for their principles, their truthfulness, the fresh and pure
innocence of their daughters, the healthy youthfulness of their
lovely children.

May I illustrate this by a short example which happened very near
me? During the days of the EMEUTES of 1848, all the houses in Paris
were being searched for firearms by the mob. The one I was living
in contained none, as the master of the house repeatedly assured the
furious and incredulous Republicans. They were going to lay violent
hands on him when his wife, an English lady, hearing the loud
discussion, came bravely forward and assured them that no arms were
concealed. "Vous etes anglaise, nous vous croyons; les anglaises
disent toujours la verite," was the immediate answer, and the
rioters quietly left.

Now, Sir, shall I be accused of unjustified criticism if, loving and
admiring your country, as these lines will prove, certain new
features strike me as painful discrepancies in English life?

Far be it from me to preach the contempt of all that can make life
lovable and wholesomely pleasant. I love nothing better than to see
a woman nice, neat, elegant, looking her best in the prettiest dress
that her taste and purse can afford, or your bright, fresh young
girls fearlessly and perfectly sitting their horses, or adorning
their houses as pretty [sic; it is not quite grammar, but it is
better than if it were;] as care, trouble, and refinement can make

It is the degree BEYOND that which to us has proved so fatal, and
that I would our example could warn you from as a small repayment
for your hospitality and friendliness to us in our days of trouble.

May Englishwomen accept this in a kindly spirit as a New-year's wish


That, then, is the substance of what I would fain say convincingly,
if it might be, to my girl friends; at all events with certainty in
my own mind that I was thus far a safe guide to them.

For other and older readers it is needful I should write a few words
more, respecting what opportunity I have had to judge, or right I
have to speak, of such things; for, indeed, too much of what I have
said about women has been said in faith only. A wise and lovely
English lady told me, when 'Sesame and Lilies' first appeared, that
she was sure the 'Sesame' would be useful, but that in the 'Lilies'
I had been writing of what I knew nothing about. Which was in a
measure too true, and also that it is more partial than my writings
are usually: for as Ellesmere spoke his speech on the--
intervention, not, indeed, otherwise than he felt, but yet
altogether for the sake of Gretchen, so I wrote the 'Lilies' to
please one girl; and were it not for what I remember of her, and of
few besides, should now perhaps recast some of the sentences in the
'Lilies' in a very different tone: for as years have gone by, it
has chanced to me, untowardly in some respects, fortunately in
others (because it enables me to read history more clearly), to see
the utmost evil that is in women, while I have had but to believe
the utmost good. The best women are indeed necessarily the most
difficult to know; they are recognized chiefly in the happiness of
their husbands and the nobleness of their children; they are only to
be divined, not discerned, by the stranger; and, sometimes, seem
almost helpless except in their homes; yet without the help of one
of them, {4} to whom this book is dedicated, the day would probably
have come before now, when I should have written and thought no

On the other hand, the fashion of the time renders whatever is
forward, coarse, or senseless, in feminine nature, too palpable to
all men:- the weak picturesqueness of my earlier writings brought me
acquainted with much of their emptiest enthusiasm; and the chances
of later life gave me opportunities of watching women in states of
degradation and vindictiveness which opened to me the gloomiest
secrets of Greek and Syrian tragedy. I have seen them betray their
household charities to lust, their pledged love to devotion; I have
seen mothers dutiful to their children, as Medea; and children
dutiful to their parents, as the daughter of Herodias: but my trust
is still unmoved in the preciousness of the natures that are so
fatal in their error, and I leave the words of the 'Lilies'
unchanged; believing, yet, that no man ever lived a right life who
had not been chastened by a woman's love, strengthened by her
courage, and guided by her discretion.

What I might myself have been, so helped, I rarely indulge in the
idleness of thinking; but what I am, since I take on me the function
of a teacher, it is well that the reader should know, as far as I
can tell him.

Not an unjust person; not an unkind one; not a false one; a lover of
order, labour, and peace. That, it seems to me, is enough to give
me right to say all I care to say on ethical subjects; more, I could
only tell definitely through details of autobiography such as none
but prosperous and (in the simple sense of the word) faultless lives
could justify;--and mine has been neither. Yet, if any one, skilled
in reading the torn manuscripts of the human soul, cares for more
intimate knowledge of me, he may have it by knowing with what
persons in past history I have most sympathy.

I will name three.

In all that is strongest and deepest in me,--that fits me for my
work, and gives light or shadow to my being, I have sympathy with
Guido Guinicelli.

In my constant natural temper, and thoughts of things and of people,
with Marmontel.

In my enforced and accidental temper, and thoughts of things and of
people, with Dean Swift.

Any one who can understand the natures of those three men, can
understand mine; and having said so much, I am content to leave both
life and work to be remembered or forgotten, as their uses may


1st January, 1871.


Lecture delivered in the theatre of the Royal College of Science,
Dublin, 1868.

When I accepted the privilege of addressing you to-day, I was not
aware of a restriction with respect to the topics of discussion
which may be brought before this Society {29}--a restriction which,
though entirely wise and right under the circumstances contemplated
in its introduction, would necessarily have disabled me, thinking as
I think, from preparing any lecture for you on the subject of art in
a form which might be permanently useful. Pardon me, therefore, in
so far as I must transgress such limitation; for indeed my
infringement will be of the letter--not of the spirit--of your
commands. In whatever I may say touching the religion which has
been the foundation of art, or the policy which has contributed to
its power, if I offend one, I shall offend all; for I shall take no
note of any separations in creeds, or antagonisms in parties:
neither do I fear that ultimately I shall offend any, by proving--or
at least stating as capable of positive proof--the connection of all
that is best in the crafts and arts of man, with the simplicity of
his faith, and the sincerity of his patriotism.

But I speak to you under another disadvantage, by which I am checked
in frankness of utterance, not here only, but everywhere: namely,
that I am never fully aware how far my audiences are disposed to
give me credit for real knowledge of my subject, or how far they
grant me attention only because I have been sometimes thought an
ingenious or pleasant essayist upon it. For I have had what, in
many respects, I boldly call the misfortune, to set my words
sometimes prettily together; not without a foolish vanity in the
poor knack that I had of doing so: until I was heavily punished for
this pride, by finding that many people thought of the words only,
and cared nothing for their meaning. Happily, therefore, the power
of using such pleasant language--if indeed it ever were mine--is
passing away from me; and whatever I am now able to say at all, I
find myself forced to say with great plainness. For my thoughts
have changed also, as my words have; and whereas in earlier life,
what little influence I obtained was due perhaps chiefly to the
enthusiasm with which I was able to dwell on the beauty of the
physical clouds, and of their colours in the sky; so all the
influence I now desire to retain must be due to the earnestness with
which I am endeavouring to trace the form and beauty of another kind
of cloud than those; the bright cloud of which it is written--"What
is your life? It is even as a vapour that appeareth for a little
time, and then vanisheth away."

I suppose few people reach the middle or latter period of their age,
without having, at some moment of change or disappointment, felt the
truth of those bitter words; and been startled by the fading of the
sunshine from the cloud of their life into the sudden agony of the
knowledge that the fabric of it was as fragile as a dream, and the
endurance of it as transient as the dew. But it is not always that,
even at such times of melancholy surprise, we can enter into any
true perception that this human life shares in the nature of it, not
only the evanescence, but the mystery of the cloud; that its avenues
are wreathed in darkness, and its forms and courses no less
fantastic, than spectral and obscure; so that not only in the vanity
which we cannot grasp, but in the shadow which we cannot pierce, it
is true of this cloudy life of ours, that "man walketh in a vain
shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain."

And least of all, whatever may have been the eagerness of our
passions, or the height of our pride, are we able to understand in
its depth the third and most solemn character in which our life is
like those clouds of heaven; that to it belongs not only their
transcience, not only their mystery, but also their power; that in
the cloud of the human soul there is a fire stronger than the
lightning, and a grace more precious than the rain; and that though
of the good and evil it shall one day be said alike, that the place
that knew them knows them no more, there is an infinite separation
between those whose brief presence had there been a blessing, like
the mist of Eden that went up from the earth to water the garden,
and those whose place knew them only as a drifting and changeful
shade, of whom the heavenly sentence is, that they are "wells
without water; clouds that are carried with a tempest, to whom the
mist of darkness is reserved for ever."

To those among us, however, who have lived long enough to form some
just estimate of the rate of the changes which are, hour by hour in
accelerating catastrophe, manifesting themselves in the laws, the
arts, and the creeds of men, it seems to me, that now at least, if
never at any former time, the thoughts of the true nature of our
life, and of its powers and responsibilities, should present
themselves with absolute sadness and sternness. And although I know
that this feeling is much deepened in my own mind by disappointment,
which, by chance, has attended the greater number of my cherished
purposes, I do not for that reason distrust the feeling itself,
though I am on my guard against an exaggerated degree of it: nay, I
rather believe that in periods of new effort and violent change,
disappointment is a wholesome medicine; and that in the secret of
it, as in the twilight so beloved by Titian, we may see the colours
of things with deeper truth than in the most dazzling sunshine. And
because these truths about the works of men, which I want to bring
to-day before you, are most of them sad ones, though at the same
time helpful; and because also I believe that your kind Irish hearts
will answer more gladly to the truthful expression of a personal
feeling, than to the exposition of an abstract principle, I will
permit myself so much unreserved speaking of my own causes of
regret, as may enable you to make just allowance for what, according
to your sympathies, you will call either the bitterness, or the
insight, of a mind which has surrendered its best hopes, and been
foiled in its favourite aims.

I spent the ten strongest years of my life, (from twenty to thirty,)
in endeavouring to show the excellence of the work of the man whom I
believed, and rightly believed, to be the greatest painter of the
schools of England since Reynolds. I had then perfect faith in the
power of every great truth of beauty to prevail ultimately, and take
its right place in usefulness and honour; and I strove to bring the
painter's work into this due place, while the painter was yet alive.
But he knew, better than I, the uselessness of talking about what
people could not see for themselves. He always discouraged me
scornfully, even when he thanked me--and he died before even the
superficial effect of my work was visible. I went on, however,
thinking I could at least be of use to the public, if not to him, in
proving his power. My books got talked about a little. The prices
of modern pictures, generally, rose, and I was beginning to take
some pleasure in a sense of gradual victory, when, fortunately or
unfortunately, an opportunity of perfect trial undeceived me at
once, and for ever. The Trustees of the National Gallery
commissioned me to arrange the Turner drawings there, and permitted
me to prepare three hundred examples of his studies from nature, for
exhibition at Kensington. At Kensington they were, and are, placed
for exhibition; but they are not exhibited, for the room in which
they hang is always empty.

Well--this showed me at once, that those ten years of my life had
been, in their chief purpose, lost. For that, I did not so much
care; I had, at least, learned my own business thoroughly, and
should be able, as I fondly supposed, after such a lesson, now to
use my knowledge with better effect. But what I did care for was
the--to me frightful--discovery, that the most splendid genius in
the arts might be permitted by Providence to labour and perish
uselessly; that in the very fineness of it there might be something
rendering it invisible to ordinary eyes; but that, with this strange
excellence, faults might be mingled which would be as deadly as its
virtues were vain; that the glory of it was perishable, as well as
invisible, and the gift and grace of it might be to us as snow in
summer and as rain in harvest.

That was the first mystery of life to me. But, while my best energy
was given to the study of painting, I had put collateral effort,
more prudent if less enthusiastic, into that of architecture; and in
this I could not complain of meeting with no sympathy. Among
several personal reasons which caused me to desire that I might give
this, my closing lecture on the subject of art here, in Ireland, one
of the chief was, that in reading it, I should stand near the
beautiful building,--the engineer's school of your college,--which
was the first realization I had the joy to see, of the principles I
had, until then, been endeavouring to teach! but which, alas, is
now, to me, no more than the richly canopied monument of one of the
most earnest souls that ever gave itself to the arts, and one of my
truest and most loving friends, Benjamin Woodward. Nor was it here
in Ireland only that I received the help of Irish sympathy and
genius. When to another friend, Sir Thomas Deane, with Mr.
Woodward, was entrusted the building of the museum at Oxford, the
best details of the work were executed by sculptors who had been
born and trained here; and the first window of the facade of the
building, in which was inaugurated the study of natural science in
England, in true fellowship with literature, was carved from my
design by an Irish sculptor.

You may perhaps think that no man ought to speak of disappointment,
to whom, even in one branch of labour, so much success was granted.
Had Mr. Woodward now been beside me, I had not so spoken; but his
gentle and passionate spirit was cut off from the fulfilment of its
purposes, and the work we did together is now become vain. It may
not be so in future; but the architecture we endeavoured to
introduce is inconsistent alike with the reckless luxury, the
deforming mechanism, and the squalid misery of modern cities; among
the formative fashions of the day, aided, especially in England, by
ecclesiastical sentiment, it indeed obtained notoriety; and
sometimes behind an engine furnace, or a railroad bank, you may
detect the pathetic discord of its momentary grace, and, with toil,
decipher its floral carvings choked with soot. I felt answerable to
the schools I loved, only for their injury. I perceived that this
new portion of my strength had also been spent in vain; and from
amidst streets of iron, and palaces of crystal, shrank back at last
to the carving of the mountain and colour of the flower.

And still I could tell of failure, and failure repeated, as years
went on; but I have trespassed enough on your patience to show you,
in part, the causes of my discouragement. Now let me more
deliberately tell you its results. You know there is a tendency in
the minds of many men, when they are heavily disappointed in the
main purposes of their life, to feel, and perhaps in warning,
perhaps in mockery, to declare, that life itself is a vanity.
Because it has disappointed them, they think its nature is of
disappointment always, or at best, of pleasure that can be grasped
by imagination only; that the cloud of it has no strength nor fire
within; but is a painted cloud only, to be delighted in, yet
despised. You know how beautifully Pope has expressed this
particular phase of thought:-

"Meanwhile opinion gilds, with varying rays,
These painted clouds that beautify our days;
Each want of happiness by hope supplied,
And each vacuity of sense, by pride.
Hope builds as fast as Knowledge can destroy;
In Folly's cup, still laughs the bubble joy.
One pleasure past, another still we gain,
And not a vanity is given in vain."

But the effect of failure upon my own mind has been just the reverse
of this. The more that my life disappointed me, the more solemn and
wonderful it became to me. It seemed, contrarily to Pope's saying,
that the vanity of it WAS indeed given in vain; but that there was
something behind the veil of it, which was not vanity. It became to
me not a painted cloud, but a terrible and impenetrable one: not a
mirage, which vanished as I drew near, but a pillar of darkness, to
which I was forbidden to draw near. For I saw that both my own
failure, and such success in petty things as in its poor triumph
seemed to me worse than failure, came from the want of sufficiently
earnest effort to understand the whole law and meaning of existence,
and to bring it to noble and due end; as, on the other hand, I saw
more and more clearly that all enduring success in the arts, or in
any other occupation, had come from the ruling of lower purposes,
not by a conviction of their nothingness, but by a solemn faith in
the advancing power of human nature, or in the promise, however
dimly apprehended, that the mortal part of it would one day be
swallowed up in immortality; and that, indeed, the arts themselves
never had reached any vital strength or honour, but in the effort to
proclaim this immortality, and in the service either of great and
just religion, or of some unselfish patriotism, and law of such
national life as must be the foundation of religion.

Nothing that I have ever said is more true or necessary--nothing has
been more misunderstood or misapplied--than my strong assertion that
the arts can never be right themselves, unless their motive is
right. It is misunderstood this way: weak painters, who have never
learned their business, and cannot lay a true line, continually come
to me, crying out--"Look at this picture of mine; it MUST be good, I
had such a lovely motive. I have put my whole heart into it, and
taken years to think over its treatment." Well, the only answer for
these people is--if one had the cruelty to make it--"Sir, you cannot
think over ANYthing in any number of years,--you haven't the head to
do it; and though you had fine motives, strong enough to make you
burn yourself in a slow fire, if only first you could paint a
picture, you can't paint one, nor half an inch of one; you haven't
the hand to do it."

But, far more decisively we have to say to the men who DO know their
business, or may know it if they choose--"Sir, you have this gift,
and a mighty one; see that you serve your nation faithfully with it.
It is a greater trust than ships and armies: you might cast THEM
away, if you were their captain, with less treason to your people
than in casting your own glorious power away, and serving the devil
with it instead of men. Ships and armies you may replace if they
are lost, but a great intellect, once abused, is a curse to the
earth for ever."

This, then, I meant by saying that the arts must have noble motive.
This also I said respecting them, that they never had prospered, nor
could prosper, but when they had such true purpose, and were devoted
to the proclamation of divine truth or law. And yet I saw also that
they had always failed in this proclamation--that poetry, and
sculpture, and painting, though only great when they strove to teach
us something about the gods, never had taught us anything
trustworthy about the gods, but had always betrayed their trust in
the crisis of it, and, with their powers at the full reach, became
ministers to pride and to lust. And I felt also, with increasing
amazement, the unconquerable apathy in ourselves and hearers, no
less than in these the teachers; and that while the wisdom and
rightness of every act and art of life could only be consistent with
a right understanding of the ends of life, we were all plunged as in
a languid dream--our hearts fat, and our eyes heavy, and our ears
closed, lest the inspiration of hand or voice should reach us--lest
we should see with our eyes, and understand with our hearts, and be

This intense apathy in all of us is the first great mystery of life;
it stands in the way of every perception, every virtue. There is no
making ourselves feel enough astonishment at it. That the
occupations or pastimes of life should have no motive, is
understandable; but--That life itself should have no motive--that we
neither care to find out what it may lead to, nor to guard against
its being for ever taken away from us--here is a mystery indeed.
For just suppose I were able to call at this moment to any one in
this audience by name, and to tell him positively that I knew a
large estate had been lately left to him on some curious conditions;
but that though I knew it was large, I did not know how large, nor
even where it was--whether in the East Indies or the West, or in
England, or at the Antipodes. I only knew it was a vast estate, and
that there was a chance of his losing it altogether if he did not
soon find out on what terms it had been left to him. Suppose I were
able to say this positively to any single man in this audience, and
he knew that I did not speak without warrant, do you think that he
would rest content with that vague knowledge, if it were anywise
possible to obtain more? Would he not give every energy to find
some trace of the facts, and never rest till he had ascertained
where this place was, and what it was like? And suppose he were a
young man, and all he could discover by his best endeavour was that
the estate was never to be his at all, unless he persevered, during
certain years of probation, in an orderly and industrious life; but
that, according to the rightness of his conduct, the portion of the
estate assigned to him would be greater or less, so that it
literally depended on his behaviour from day to day whether he got
ten thousand a year, or thirty thousand a year, or nothing whatever-
-would you not think it strange if the youth never troubled himself
to satisfy the conditions in any way, nor even to know what was
required of him, but lived exactly as he chose, and never inquired
whether his chances of the estate were increasing or passing away?
Well, you know that this is actually and literally so with the
greater number of the educated persons now living in Christian
countries. Nearly every man and woman in any company such as this,
outwardly professes to believe--and a large number unquestionably
think they believe--much more than this; not only that a quite
unlimited estate is in prospect for them if they please the Holder
of it, but that the infinite contrary of such a possession--an
estate of perpetual misery--is in store for them if they displease
this great Land-Holder, this great Heaven-Holder. And yet there is
not one in a thousand of these human souls that cares to think, for
ten minutes of the day, where this estate is or how beautiful it is,
or what kind of life they are to lead in it, or what kind of life
they must lead to obtain it.

You fancy that you care to know this: so little do you care that,
probably, at this moment many of you are displeased with me for
talking of the matter! You came to hear about the Art of this
world, not about the Life of the next, and you are provoked with me
for talking of what you can hear any Sunday in church. But do not
be afraid. I will tell you something before you go about pictures,
and carvings, and pottery, and what else you would like better to
hear of than the other world. Nay, perhaps you say, "We want you to
talk of pictures and pottery, because we are sure that you know
something of them, and you know nothing of the other world." Well--
I don't. That is quite true. But the very strangeness and mystery
of which I urge you to take notice, is in this--that I do not;--nor
you either. Can you answer a single bold question unflinchingly
about that other world?--Are you sure there is a heaven? Sure there
is a hell? Sure that men are dropping before your faces through the
pavements of these streets into eternal fire, or sure that they are
not? Sure that at your own death you are going to be delivered from
all sorrow, to be endowed with all virtue, to be gifted with all
felicity, and raised into perpetual companionship with a King,
compared to whom the kings of the earth are as grass-hoppers, and
the nations as the dust of His feet? Are you sure of this? or, if
not sure, do any of us so much as care to make it sure? and, if not,
how can anything that we do be right--how can anything we think be
wise? what honour can there be in the arts that amuse us, or what
profit in the possessions that please?

Is not this a mystery of life?

But farther, you may, perhaps, think it a beneficent ordinance for
the generality of men that they do not, with earnestness or anxiety,
dwell on such questions of the future because the business of the
day could not be done if this kind of thought were taken by all of
us for the morrow. Be it so: but at least we might anticipate that
the greatest and wisest of us, who were evidently the appointed
teachers of the rest, would set themselves apart to seek out
whatever could be surely known of the future destinies of their
race; and to teach this in no rhetorical or ambiguous manner, but in
the plainest and most severely earnest words.

Now, the highest representatives of men who have thus endeavoured,
during the Christian era, to search out these deep things, and
relate them, are Dante and Milton. There are none who for
earnestness of thought, for mastery of word, can be classed with
these. I am not at present, mind you, speaking of persons set apart
in any priestly or pastoral office, to deliver creeds to us, or
doctrines; but of men who try to discover and set forth, as far as
by human intellect is possible, the facts of the other world.
Divines may perhaps teach us how to arrive there, but only these two
poets have in any powerful manner striven to discover, or in any
definite words professed to tell, what we shall see and become
there; or how those upper and nether worlds are, and have been,

And what have they told us? Milton's account of the most important
event in his whole system of the universe, the fall of the angels,
is evidently unbelievable to himself; and the more so, that it is
wholly founded on, and in a great part spoiled and degraded from,
Hesiod's account of the decisive war of the younger gods with the
Titans. The rest of his poem is a picturesque drama, in which every
artifice of invention is visibly and consciously employed; not a
single fact being, for an instant, conceived as tenable by any
living faith. Dante's conception is far more intense, and, by
himself, for the time, not to be escaped from; it is indeed a
vision, but a vision only, and that one of the wildest that ever
entranced a soul--a dream in which every grotesque type or phantasy
of heathen tradition is renewed, and adorned; and the destinies of
the Christian Church, under their most sacred symbols, become
literally subordinate to the praise, and are only to be understood
by the aid, of one dear Florentine maiden.

I tell you truly that, as I strive more with this strange lethargy
and trance in myself, and awake to the meaning and power of life, it
seems daily more amazing to me that men such as these should dare to
play with the most precious truths, (or the most deadly untruths,)
by which the whole human race listening to them could be informed,
or deceived;--all the world their audiences for ever, with pleased
ear, and passionate heart;--and yet, to this submissive infinitude
of souls, and evermore succeeding and succeeding multitude, hungry
for bread of life, they do but play upon sweetly modulated pipes;
with pompous nomenclature adorn the councils of hell; touch a
troubadour's guitar to the courses of the suns; and fill the
openings of eternity, before which prophets have veiled their faces,
and which angels desire to look into, with idle puppets of their
scholastic imagination, and melancholy lights of frantic faith in
their lost mortal love.

Is not this a mystery of life?

But more. We have to remember that these two great teachers were
both of them warped in their temper, and thwarted in their search
for truth. They were men of intellectual war, unable, through
darkness of controversy, or stress of personal grief, to discern
where their own ambition modified their utterances of the moral law;
or their own agony mingled with their anger at its violation. But
greater men than these have been--innocent-hearted--too great for
contest. Men, like Homer and Shakespeare, of so unrecognised
personality, that it disappears in future ages, and becomes ghostly,
like the tradition of a lost heathen god. Men, therefore, to whose
unoffended, uncondemning sight, the whole of human nature reveals
itself in a pathetic weakness, with which they will not strive; or
in mournful and transitory strength, which they dare not praise.
And all Pagan and Christian Civilization thus becomes subject to
them. It does not matter how little, or how much, any of us have
read, either of Homer or Shakespeare; everything round us, in
substance, or in thought, has been moulded by them. All Greek
gentlemen were educated under Homer. All Roman gentlemen, by Greek
literature. All Italian, and French, and English gentlemen, by
Roman literature, and by its principles. Of the scope of
Shakespeare, I will say only, that the intellectual measure of every
man since born, in the domains of creative thought, may be assigned
to him, according to the degree in which he has been taught by
Shakespeare. Well, what do these two men, centres of mortal
intelligence, deliver to us of conviction respecting what it most
behoves that intelligence to grasp? What is their hope--their crown
of rejoicing? what manner of exhortation have they for us, or of
rebuke? what lies next their own hearts, and dictates their undying
words? Have they any peace to promise to our unrest--any redemption
to our misery?

Take Homer first, and think if there is any sadder image of human
fate than the great Homeric story. The main features in the
character of Achilles are its intense desire of justice, and its
tenderness of affection. And in that bitter song of the Iliad, this
man, though aided continually by the wisest of the gods, and burning
with the desire of justice in his heart, becomes yet, through ill-
governed passion, the most unjust of men: and, full of the deepest
tenderness in his heart, becomes yet, through ill-governed passion,
the most cruel of men. Intense alike in love and in friendship, he
loses, first his mistress, and then his friend; for the sake of the
one, he surrenders to death the armies of his own land; for the sake
of the other, he surrenders all. Will a man lay down his life for
his friend? Yea--even for his DEAD friend, this Achilles, though
goddess-born, and goddess-taught, gives up his kingdom, his country,
and his life--casts alike the innocent and guilty, with himself,
into one gulf of slaughter, and dies at last by the hand of the
basest of his adversaries.

Is not this a mystery of life?

But what, then, is the message to us of our own poet, and searcher
of hearts, after fifteen hundred years of Christian faith have been
numbered over the graves of men? Are his words more cheerful than
the Heathen's--is his hope more near--his trust more sure--his
reading of fate more happy? Ah, no! He differs from the Heathen
poet chiefly in this--that he recognizes, for deliverance, no gods
nigh at hand; and that, by petty chance--by momentary folly--by
broken message--by fool's tyranny--or traitor's snare, the strongest
and most righteous are brought to their ruin, and perish without
word of hope. He indeed, as part of his rendering of character,
ascribes the power and modesty of habitual devotion to the gentle
and the just. The death-bed of Katharine is bright with visions of
angels; and the great soldier-king, standing by his few dead,
acknowledges the presence of the Hand that can save alike by many or
by few. But observe that from those who with deepest spirit,
meditate, and with deepest passion, mourn, there are no such words
as these; nor in their hearts are any such consolations. Instead of
the perpetual sense of the helpful presence of the Deity, which,
through all heathen tradition, is the source of heroic strength, in
battle, in exile, and in the valley of the shadow of death, we find
only in the great Christian poet, the consciousness of a moral law,
through which "the gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make
instruments to scourge us;" and of the resolved arbitration of the
destinies, that conclude into precision of doom what we feebly and
blindly began; and force us, when our indiscretion serves us, and
our deepest plots do pall, to the confession, that "there's a
divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will."

Is not this a mystery of life?

Be it so, then. About this human life that is to be, or that is,
the wise religious men tell us nothing that we can trust; and the
wise contemplative men, nothing that can give us peace. But there
is yet a third class, to whom we may turn--the wise practical men.
We have sat at the feet of the poets who sang of heaven, and they
have told us their dreams. We have listened to the poets who sang
of earth, and they have chanted to us dirges and words of despair.
But there is one class of men more:- men, not capable of vision, nor
sensitive to sorrow, but firm of purpose--practised in business;
learned in all that can be, (by handling,) known. Men, whose hearts
and hopes are wholly in this present world, from whom, therefore, we
may surely learn, at least, how, at present, conveniently to live in
it. What will THEY say to us, or show us by example? These kings--
these councillors--these statesmen and builders of kingdoms--these
capitalists and men of business, who weigh the earth, and the dust
of it, in a balance. They know the world, surely; and what is the
mystery of life to us, is none to them. They can surely show us how
to live, while we live, and to gather out of the present world what
is best.

I think I can best tell you their answer, by telling you a dream I
had once. For though I am no poet, I have dreams sometimes:- I
dreamed I was at a child's Mayday party, in which every means of
entertainment had been provided for them, by a wise and kind host.
It was in a stately house, with beautiful gardens attached to it;
and the children had been set free in the rooms and gardens, with no
care whatever but how to pass their afternoon rejoicingly. They did
not, indeed, know much about what was to happen next day; and some
of them, I thought, were a little frightened, because there was a
chance of their being sent to a new school where there were
examinations; but they kept the thoughts of that out of their heads
as well as they could, and resolved to enjoy themselves. The house,
I said, was in a beautiful garden, and in the garden were all kinds
of flowers; sweet, grassy banks for rest; and smooth lawns for play;
and pleasant streams and woods; and rocky places for climbing. And
the children were happy for a little while, but presently they
separated themselves into parties; and then each party declared it
would have a piece of the garden for its own, and that none of the
others should have anything to do with that piece. Next, they
quarrelled violently which pieces they would have; and at last the
boys took up the thing, as boys should do, "practically," and fought
in the flower-beds till there was hardly a flower left standing;
then they trampled down each other's bits of the garden out of
spite; and the girls cried till they could cry no more; and so they
all lay down at last breathless in the ruin, and waited for the time
when they were to be taken home in the evening. {30}

Meanwhile, the children in the house had been making themselves
happy also in their manner. For them, there had been provided every
kind of indoor pleasure: there was music for them to dance to; and
the library was open, with all manner of amusing books; and there
was a museum full of the most curious shells, and animals, and
birds; and there was a workshop, with lathes and carpenter's tools,
for the ingenious boys; and there were pretty fantastic dresses, for
the girls to dress in; and there were microscopes, and
kaleidoscopes; and whatever toys a child could fancy; and a table,
in the dining-room, loaded with everything nice to eat.

But, in the midst of all this, it struck two or three of the more
"practical" children, that they would like some of the brass-headed
nails that studded the chairs; and so they set to work to pull them
out. Presently, the others, who were reading, or looking at shells,
took a fancy to do the like; and, in a little while, all the
children, nearly, were spraining their fingers, in pulling out
brass-headed nails. With all that they could pull out, they were
not satisfied; and then, everybody wanted some of somebody else's.
And at last, the really practical and sensible ones declared, that
nothing was of any real consequence, that afternoon, except to get
plenty of brass-headed nails; and that the books, and the cakes, and
the microscopes were of no use at all in themselves, but only, if
they could be exchanged for nail-heads. And at last they began to
fight for nail-heads, as the others fought for the bits of garden.
Only here and there, a despised one shrank away into a corner, and
tried to get a little quiet with a book, in the midst of the noise;
but all the practical ones thought of nothing else but counting
nail-heads all the afternoon--even though they knew they would not
be allowed to carry so much as one brass knob away with them. But
no--it was--"Who has most nails? I have a hundred, and you have
fifty; or, I have a thousand, and you have two. I must have as many
as you before I leave the house, or I cannot possibly go home in
peace." At last, they made so much noise that I awoke, and thought
to myself, "What a false dream that is, of CHILDREN!" The child is
the father of the man; and wiser. Children never do such foolish
things. Only men do.

But there is yet one last class of persons to be interrogated. The
wise religious men we have asked in vain; the wise contemplative
men, in vain; the wise worldly men, in vain. But there is another
group yet. In the midst of this vanity of empty religion--of tragic
contemplation--of wrathful and wretched ambition, and dispute for
dust, there is yet one great group of persons, by whom all these
disputers live--the persons who have determined, or have had it by a
beneficent Providence determined for them, that they will do
something useful; that whatever may be prepared for them hereafter,
or happen to them here, they will, at least, deserve the food that
God gives them by winning it honourably: and that, however fallen
from the purity, or far from the peace, of Eden, they will carry out
the duty of human dominion, though they have lost its felicity; and
dress and keep the wilderness, though they no more can dress or keep
the garden.

These,--hewers of wood, and drawers of water,--these, bent under
burdens, or torn of scourges--these, that dig and weave--that plant
and build; workers in wood, and in marble, and in iron--by whom all
food, clothing, habitation, furniture, and means of delight are
produced, for themselves, and for all men beside; men, whose deeds
are good, though their words may be few; men, whose lives are
serviceable, be they never so short, and worthy of honour, be they
never so humble;--from these, surely, at least, we may receive some
clear message of teaching; and pierce, for an instant, into the
mystery of life, and of its arts.

Yes; from these, at last, we do receive a lesson. But I grieve to
say, or rather--for that is the deeper truth of the matter--I
rejoice to say--this message of theirs can only be received by
joining them--not by thinking about them.

You sent for me to talk to you of art; and I have obeyed you in
coming. But the main thing I have to tell you is,--that art must
not be talked about. The fact that there is talk about it at all,
signifies that it is ill done, or cannot be done. No true painter
ever speaks, or ever has spoken, much of his art. The greatest
speak nothing. Even Reynolds is no exception, for he wrote of all
that he could not himself do, and was utterly silent respecting all
that he himself did.

The moment a man can really do his work he becomes speechless about
it. All words become idle to him--all theories.

Does a bird need to theorize about building its nest, or boast of it
when built? All good work is essentially done that way--without
hesitation, without difficulty, without boasting; and in the doers
of the best, there is an inner and involuntary power which
approximates literally to the instinct of an animal--nay, I am
certain that in the most perfect human artists, reason does NOT
supersede instinct, but is added to an instinct as much more divine
than that of the lower animals as the human body is more beautiful
than theirs; that a great singer sings not with less instinct than
the nightingale, but with more--only more various, applicable, and
governable; that a great architect does not build with less instinct
than the beaver or the bee, but with more--with an innate cunning of
proportion that embraces all beauty, and a divine ingenuity of skill
that improvises all construction. But be that as it may--be the
instinct less or more than that of inferior animals--like or unlike
theirs, still the human art is dependent on that first, and then
upon an amount of practice, of science,--and of imagination
disciplined by thought, which the true possessor of it knows to be
incommunicable, and the true critic of it, inexplicable, except
through long process of laborious' years. That journey of life's
conquest, in which hills over hills, and Alps on Alps arose, and
sank,--do you think you can make another trace it painlessly, by
talking? Why, you cannot even carry us up an Alp, by talking. You
can guide us up it, step by step, no otherwise--even so, best
silently. You girls, who have been among the hills, know how the
bad guide chatters and gesticulates, and it is "Put your foot here;"
and "Mind how you balance yourself there;" but the good guide walks
on quietly, without a word, only with his eyes on you when need is,
and his arm like an iron bar, if need be.

In that slow way, also, art can be taught--if you have faith in your
guide, and will let his arm be to you as an iron bar when need is.
But in what teacher of art have you such faith? Certainly not in
me; for, as I told you at first, I know well enough it is only
because you think I can talk, not because you think I know my
business, that you let me speak to you at all. If I were to tell
you anything that seemed to you strange you would not believe it,
and yet it would only be in telling you strange things that I could
be of use to you. I could be of great use to you--infinite use--
with brief saying, if you would believe it; but you would not, just
because the thing that would be of real use would displease you.
You are all wild, for instance, with admiration of Gustave Dore.
Well, suppose I were to tell you, in the strongest terms I could
use, that Gustave Dore's art was bad--bad, not in weakness,--not in
failure,--but bad with dreadful power--the power of the Furies and
the Harpies mingled, enraging, and polluting; that so long as you
looked at it, no perception of pure or beautiful art was possible
for you. Suppose I were to tell you that! What would be the use?
Would you look at Gustave Dore less? Rather, more, I fancy. On the
other hand, I could soon put you into good humour with me, if I
chose. I know well enough what you like, and how to praise it to
your better liking. I could talk to you about moonlight, and
twilight, and spring flowers, and autumn leaves, and the Madonnas of
Raphael--how motherly! and the Sibyls of Michael Angelo--how
majestic! and the Saints of Angelico--how pious! and the Cherubs of
Correggio--how delicious! Old as I am, I could play you a tune on
the harp yet, that you would dance to. But neither you nor I should
be a bit the better or wiser; or, if we were, our increased wisdom
could be of no practical effect. For, indeed, the arts, as regards
teachableness, differ from the sciences also in this, that their
power is founded not merely on facts which can be communicated, but
on dispositions which require to be created. Art is neither to be
achieved by effort of thinking, nor explained by accuracy of
speaking. It is the instinctive and necessary result of power,
which can only be developed through the mind of successive
generations, and which finally burst into life under social
conditions as slow of growth as the faculties they regulate. Whole
aeras of mighty history are summed, and the passions of dead myriads
are concentrated, in the existence of a noble art, and if that noble
art were among us, we should feel it and rejoice; not caring in the
least to hear lectures on it; and since it is not among us, be
assured we have to go back to the root of it, or, at least, to the
place where the stock of it is yet alive, and the branches began to

And now, may I have your pardon for pointing out, partly with
reference to matters which are at this time of greater moment than
the arts--that if we undertook such recession to the vital germ of
national arts that have decayed, we should find a more singular
arrest of their power in Ireland than in any other European country?
For in the eighth century Ireland possessed a school of art in her
manuscripts and sculpture, which, in many of its qualities--
apparently in all essential qualities of decorative invention--was
quite without rival; seeming as if it might have advanced to the
highest triumphs in architecture and in painting. But there was one
fatal flaw in its nature, by which it was stayed, and stayed with a
conspicuousness of pause to which there is no parallel: so that,
long ago, in tracing the progress of European schools from infancy
to strength, I chose for the students of Kensington, in a lecture
since published, two characteristic examples of early art, of equal
skill; but in the one case, skill which was progressive--in the
other, skill which was at pause. In the one case, it was work
receptive of correction--hungry for correction; and in the other,
work which inherently rejected correction. I chose for them a
corrigible Eve, and an incorrigible Angel, and I grieve to say that
the incorrigible Angel was also an Irish Angel! {31}

And the fatal difference lay wholly in this. In both pieces of art
there was an equal falling short of the needs of fact; but the
Lombardic Eve knew she was in the wrong, and the Irish Angel thought
himself all right. The eager Lombardic sculptor, though firmly
insisting on his childish idea, yet showed in the irregular broken
touches of the features, and the imperfect struggle for softer lines
in the form, a perception of beauty and law that he could not
render; there was the strain of effort, under conscious
imperfection, in every line. But the Irish missal-painter had drawn
his angel with no sense of failure, in happy complacency, and put
red dots into the palm of each hand, and rounded the eyes into
perfect circles, and, I regret to say, left the mouth out
altogether, with perfect satisfaction to himself.

May I without offence ask you to consider whether this mode of
arrest in ancient Irish art may not be indicative of points of
character which even yet, in some measure, arrest your national
power? I have seen much of Irish character, and have watched it
closely, for I have also much loved it. And I think the form of
failure to which it is most liable is this,--that being generous-
hearted, and wholly intending always to do right, it does not attend
to the external laws of right, but thinks it must necessarily do
right because it means to do so, and therefore does wrong without
finding it out; and then, when the consequences of its wrong come
upon it, or upon others connected with it, it cannot conceive that
the wrong is in anywise of its causing or of its doing, but flies
into wrath, and a strange agony of desire for justice, as feeling
itself wholly innocent, which leads it farther astray, until there
is nothing that it is not capable of doing with a good conscience.

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