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Table-Talk, Essays on Men and Manners by William Hazlitt

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1. On the Pleasure of Painting
2. The Same Subject Continued
3. On the Past and Future
4. On Genius and Common Sense
5. The Same Subject Continued
6. Character of Cobbett
7. On People With One Idea
8. On the Ignorance of the Learned
9. The Indian Jugglers
10. On Living To One's-Self
11. On Thought and Action
12. On Will-Making
13. On Certain Inconsistencies In Sir Joshua Reynolds's Discourses
14. The Same Subject Continued
15. On Paradox and Common-Place
16. On Vulgarity and Affectation


1. On a Landscape of Nicholas Poussin
2. On Milton's Sonnets
3. On Going a Journey
4. On Coffee-House Politicians
5. On the Aristocracy of Letters
6. On Criticism
7. On Great and Little Things
8. On Familiar Style
9. On Effeminacy of Character
10. Why Distant Objects Please
11. On Corporate Bodies
12. Whether Actors Ought To Sit in the Boxes
13. On the Disadvantages of Intellectual Superiority
14. On Patronage and Puffing
15. On the Knowledge of Character
16. On the Picturesque and Ideal
17. On the Fear of Death




'There is a pleasure in painting which none but painters know.' In
writing, you have to contend with the world; in painting, you have only
to carry on a friendly strife with Nature. You sit down to your task,
and are happy. From the moment that you take up the pencil, and look
Nature in the face, you are at peace with your own heart. No angry
passions rise to disturb the silent progress of the work, to shake the
hand, or dim the brow: no irritable humours are set afloat: you have no
absurd opinions to combat, no point to strain, no adversary to crush, no
fool to annoy--you are actuated by fear or favour to no man. There is
'no juggling here,' no sophistry, no intrigue, no tampering with the
evidence, no attempt to make black white, or white black: but you resign
yourself into the hands of a greater power, that of Nature, with the
simplicity of a child, and the devotion of an enthusiast--'study with
joy her manner, and with rapture taste her style.' The mind is calm,
and full at the same time. The hand and eye are equally employed. In
tracing the commonest object, a plant or the stump of a tree, you learn
something every moment. You perceive unexpected differences, and
discover likenesses where you looked for no such thing. You try to set
down what you see--find out your error, and correct it. You need not
play tricks, or purposely mistake: with all your pains, you are still
far short of the mark. Patience grows out of the endless pursuit, and
turns it into a luxury. A streak in a flower, a wrinkle in a leaf, a
tinge in a cloud, a stain in an old wall or ruin grey, are seized with
avidity as the _spolia opima_ of this sort of mental warfare, and
furnish out labour for another half-day. The hours pass away untold,
without chagrin, and without weariness; nor would you ever wish to pass
them otherwise. Innocence is joined with industry, pleasure with
business; and the mind is satisfied, though it is not engaged in
thinking or in doing any mischief.[1]

I have not much pleasure in writing these _Essays_, or in reading them
afterwards; though I own I now and then meet with a phrase that I like,
or a thought that strikes me as a true one. But after I begin them, I
am only anxious to get to the end of them, which I am not sure I shall
do, for I seldom see my way a page or even a sentence beforehand; and
when I have as by a miracle escaped, I trouble myself little more about
them. I sometimes have to write them twice over: then it is necessary
to read the _proof_, to prevent mistakes by the printer; so that by the
time they appear in a tangible shape, and one can con them over with a
conscious, sidelong glance to the public approbation, they have lost
their gloss and relish, and become 'more tedious than a twice-told
tale.' For a person to read his own works over with any great delight,
he ought first to forget that he ever wrote them. Familiarity naturally
breeds contempt. It is, in fact, like poring fondly over a piece of
blank paper; from repetition, the words convey no distinct meaning to
the mind--are mere idle sounds, except that our vanity claims an
interest and property in them. I have more satisfaction in my own
thoughts than in dictating them to others: words are necessary to
explain the impression of certain things upon me to the reader, but they
rather weaken and draw a veil over than strengthen it to myself.
However I might say with the poet, 'My mind to me a kingdom is,' yet I
have little ambition 'to set a throne or chair of state in the
understandings of other men.' The ideas we cherish most exist best in a
kind of shadowy abstraction,

Pure in the last recesses of the mind,

and derive neither force nor interest from being exposed to public view.
They are old familiar acquaintance, and any change in them, arising from
the adventitious ornaments of style or dress, is little to their
advantage. After I have once written on a subject, it goes out of my
mind: my feelings about it have been melted down into words, and _then_
I forget. I have, as it were, discharged my memory of its old habitual
reckoning, and rubbed out the score of real sentiment. For the future
it exists only for the sake of others. But I cannot say, from my own
experience, that the same process takes place in transferring our ideas
to canvas; they gain more than they lose in the mechanical
transformation. One is never tired of painting, because you have to set
down not what you knew already, but what you have just discovered. In
the former case you translate feelings into words; in the latter, names
into things. There is a continual creation out of nothing going on.
With every stroke of the brush a new field of inquiry is laid open; new
difficulties arise, and new triumphs are prepared over them. By
comparing the imitation with the original, you see what you have done,
and how much you have still to do. The test of the senses is severer
than that of fancy, and an over-match even for the delusions of our
self-love. One part of a picture shames another, and you determine to
paint up to yourself, if you cannot come up to Nature. Every object
becomes lustrous from the light thrown back upon it by the mirror of
art: and by the aid of the pencil we may be said to touch and handle the
objects of sight. The air-drawn visions that hover on the verge of
existence have a bodily presence given them on the canvas: the form of
beauty is changed into a substance: the dream and the glory of the
universe is made 'palpable to feeling as well as sight.'--And see! a
rainbow starts from the canvas, with its humid train of glory, as if it
were drawn from its cloudy arch in heaven. The spangled landscape
glitters with drops of dew after the shower. The 'fleecy fools' show
their coats in the gleams of the setting sun. The shepherds pipe their
farewell notes in the fresh evening air. And is this bright vision made
from a dead, dull blank, like a bubble reflecting the mighty fabric of
the universe? Who would think this miracle of Rubens' pencil possible
to be performed? Who, having seen it, would not spend his life to do
the like? See how the rich fallows, the bare stubble-field, the scanty
harvest-home, drag in Rembrandt's landscapes! How often have I looked
at them and nature, and tried to do the same, till the very 'light
thickened,' and there was an earthiness in the feeling of the air!
There is no end of the refinements of art and nature in this respect.
One may look at the misty glimmering horizon till the eye dazzles and
the imagination is lost, in hopes to transfer the whole interminable
expanse at one blow upon the canvas. Wilson said, he used to try to
paint the effect of the motes dancing in the setting sun. At another
time, a friend, coming into his painting-room when he was sitting on the
ground in a melancholy posture, observed that his picture looked like a
landscape after a shower: he started up with the greatest delight, and
said, 'That is the effect I intended to produce, but thought I had
failed.' Wilson was neglected; and, by degrees, neglected his art to
apply himself to brandy. His hand became unsteady, so that it was only
by repeated attempts that he could reach the place or produce the effect
he aimed at; and when he had done a little to a picture, he would say to
any acquaintance who chanced to drop in, 'I have painted enough for one
day: come, let us go somewhere.' It was not so Claude left his
pictures, or his studies on the banks of the Tiber, to go in search of
other enjoyments, or ceased to gaze upon the glittering sunny vales and
distant hills; and while his eye drank in the clear sparkling hues and
lovely forms of nature, his hand stamped them on the lucid canvas to
last there for ever! One of the most delightful parts of my life was
one fine summer, when I used to walk out of an evening to catch the last
light of the sun, gemming the green slopes or russet lawns, and gilding
tower or tree, while the blue sky, gradually turning to purple and gold,
or skirted with dusky grey, hung its broad marble pavement over all, as
we see it in the great master of Italian landscape. But to come to a
more particular explanation of the subject:--

The first head I ever tried to paint was an old woman with the upper
part of the face shaded by her bonnet, and I certainly laboured [at] it
with great perseverance. It took me numberless sittings to do it. I
have it by me still, and sometimes look at it with surprise, to think
how much pains were thrown away to little purpose,--yet not altogether
in vain if it taught me to see good in everything, and to know that
there is nothing vulgar in Nature seen with the eye of science or of
true art. Refinement creates beauty everywhere: it is the grossness of
the spectator that discovers nothing but grossness in the object. Be
this as it may, I spared no pains to do my best. If art was long, I
thought that life was so too at that moment. I got in the general
effect the first day; and pleased and surprised enough I was at my
success. The rest was a work of time--of weeks and months (if need
were), of patient toil and careful finishing. I had seen an old head by
Rembrandt at Burleigh House, and if I could produce a head at all like
Rembrandt in a year, in my lifetime, it would be glory and felicity and
wealth and fame enough for me! The head l had seen at Burleigh was an
exact and wonderful facsimile of nature, and I resolved to make mine (as
nearly as I could) an exact facsimile of nature. I did not then, nor do
I now believe, with Sir Joshua, that the perfection of art consists in
giving general appearances without individual details, but in giving
general appearances with individual details. Otherwise, I had done my
work the first day. But I saw something more in nature than general
effect, and I thought it worth my while to give it in the picture.
There was a gorgeous effect of light and shade; but there was a delicacy
as well as depth in the chiaroscuro which I was bound to follow into its
dim and scarce perceptible variety of tone and shadow. Then I had to
make the transition from a strong light to as dark a shade, preserving
the masses, but gradually softening off the intermediate parts. It was
so in nature; the difficulty was to make it so in the copy. I tried,
and failed again and again; I strove harder, and succeeded as I thought.
The wrinkles in Rembrandt were not hard lines, but broken and
irregular. I saw the same appearance in nature, and strained every
nerve to give it. If I could hit off this edgy appearance, and insert
the reflected light in the furrows of old age in half a morning, I did
not think I had lost a day. Beneath the shrivelled yellow parchment
look of the skin, there was here and there a streak of the blood-colour
tinging the face; this I made a point of conveying, and did not cease to
compare what I saw with what I did (with jealous, lynx-eyed
watchfulness) till I succeeded to the best of my ability and judgment.
How many revisions were there! How many attempts to catch an expression
which I had seen the day before! How often did we try to get the old
position, and wait for the return of the same light! There was a
puckering up of the lips, a cautious introversion of the eye under the
shadow of the bonnet, indicative of the feebleness and suspicion of old
age, which at last we managed, after many trials and some quarrels, to a
tolerable nicety. The picture was never finished, and I might have gone
on with it to the present hour.[2] I used to sit it on the ground when
my day's work was done, and saw revealed to me with swimming eyes the
birth of new hopes and of a new world of objects. The painter thus
learns to look at Nature with different eyes. He before saw her 'as in
a glass darkly, but now face to face.' He understands the texture and
meaning of the visible universe, and 'sees into the life of things,' not
by the help of mechanical instruments, but of the improved exercise of
his faculties, and an intimate sympathy with Nature. The meanest thing
is not lost upon him, for he looks at it with an eye to itself, not
merely to his own vanity or interest, or the opinion of the world. Even
where there is neither beauty nor use--if that ever were--still there is
truth, and a sufficient source of gratification in the indulgence of
curiosity and activity of mind. The humblest printer is a true scholar;
and the best of scholars--the scholar of Nature. For myself, and for
the real comfort and satisfaction of the thing, I had rather have been
Jan Steen, or Gerard Dow, than the greatest casuist or philologer that
ever lived. The painter does not view things in clouds or 'mist, the
common gloss of theologians,' but applies the same standard of truth and
disinterested spirit of inquiry, that influence his daily practice, to
other subjects. He perceives form, he distinguishes character. He
reads men and books with an intuitive eye. He is a critic as well as a
connoisseur. The conclusions he draws are clear and convincing, because
they are taken from the things themselves. He is not a fanatic, a dupe,
or a slave; for the habit of seeing for himself also disposes him to
judge for himself. The most sensible men I know (taken as a class) are
painters; that is, they are the most lively observers of what passes in
the world about them, and the closest observers of what passes in their
own minds. From their profession they in general mix more with the
world than authors; and if they have not the same fund of acquired
knowledge, are obliged to rely more on individual sagacity. I might
mention the names of Opie, Fuseli, Northcote, as persons distinguished
for striking description and acquaintance with the subtle traits of
character.[3] Painters in ordinary society, or in obscure situations
where their value is not known, and they are treated with neglect and
indifference, have sometimes a forward self-sufficiency of manner; but
this is not so much their fault as that of others. Perhaps their want
of regular education may also be in fault in such cases. Richardson,
who is very tenacious of the respect in which the profession ought to be
held, tells a story of Michael Angelo, that after a quarrel between him
and Pope Julius II., 'upon account of a slight the artist conceived the
pontiff had put upon him, Michael Angelo was introduced by a bishop,
who, thinking to serve the artist by it, made it an argument that the
Pope should be reconciled to him, because men of his profession were
commonly ignorant, and of no consequence otherwise; his holiness,
enraged at the bishop, struck him with his staff, and told him, it was
he that was the blockhead, and affronted the man himself would not
offend: the prelate was driven out of the chamber, and Michael Angelo
had the Pope's benediction, accompanied with presents. This bishop had
fallen into the vulgar error, and was rebuked accordingly.'

Besides the exercise of the mind, painting exercises the body. It is a
mechanical as well as a liberal art. To do anything, to dig a hole in
the ground, to plant a cabbage, to hit a mark, to move a shuttle, to
work a pattern,--in a word, to attempt to produce any effect, and to
_succeed,_ has something in it that gratifies the love of power, and
carries off the restless activity of the mind of man. Indolence is a
delightful but distressing state; we must be doing something to be
happy. Action is no less necessary than thought to the instinctive
tendencies of the human frame; and painting combines them both
incessantly.[4] The hand is furnished a practical test of the
correctness of the eye; and the eye, thus admonished, imposes fresh
tasks of skill and industry upon the hand. Every stroke tells as the
verifying of a new truth; and every new observation, the instant it is
made, passes into an act and emanation of the will. Every step is
nearer what we wish, and yet there is always more to do. In spite of
the facility, the fluttering grace, the evanescent hues, that play round
the pencil of Rubens and Van-dyke, however I may admire, I do not envy
them this power so much as I do the slow, patient, laborious execution
of Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Andrea del Sarto, where every touch
appears conscious of its charge, emulous of truth, and where the painful
artist has so distinctly wrought,

That you might almost say his picture thought.

In the one case the colours seem breathed on the canvas as if by magic,
the work and the wonder of a moment; in the other they seem inlaid in
the body of the work, and as if it took the artist years of unremitting
labour, and of delightful never-ending progress to perfection.[5] Who
would wish ever to come to the close of such works,--not to dwell on
them, to return to them, to be wedded to them to the last? Rubens, with
his florid, rapid style, complains that when he had just learned his
art, he should be forced to die. Leonardo, in the slow advances of his,
had lived long enough!

Painting is not, like writing, what is properly understood by a
sedentary employment. It requires not indeed a strong, but a continued
and steady exertion of muscular power. The precision and delicacy of
the manual operation, makes up for the want of vehemence,--as to balance
himself for any time in the same position the rope-dancer must strain
every nerve. Painting for a whole morning gives one as excellent an
appetite for one's dinner as old Abraham Tucker acquired for his by
riding over Banstead Downs. It is related of Sir Joshua Reynolds, that
'he took no other exercise than what he used in his painting-room,'--the
writer means, in walking backwards and forwards to look at his picture;
but the act of painting itself, of laying on the colours in the proper
place and proper quantity, was a much harder exercise than this
alternate receding from and returning to the picture. This last would
be rather a relaxation and relief than an effort. It is not to be
wondered at, that an artist like Sir Joshua, who delighted so much in
the sensual and practical part of his art, should have found himself at
a considerable loss when the decay of his sight precluded him, for the
last year or two of his life, from the following up of his
profession,--'the source,' according to his own remark, 'of thirty
years' uninterrupted enjoyment and prosperity to him.' It is only those
who never think at all, or else who have accustomed themselves to brood
incessantly on abstract ideas, that never feel ennui.

To give one instance more, and then I will have done with this rambling
discourse. One of my first attempts was a picture of my father, who was
then in a green old age, with strong-marked features, and scarred with
the smallpox. I drew it out with a broad light crossing the face,
looking down, with spectacles on, reading. The book was Shaftesbury's
_Characteristics_, in a fine old binding, with Gribelin's etchings. My
father would as lieve it had been any other book; but for him to read
was to be content, was 'riches fineless.' The sketch promised well; and
I set to work to finish it, determined to spare no time nor pains. My
father was willing to sit as long as I pleased; for there is a natural
desire in the mind of man to sit for one's picture, to be the object of
continued attention, to have one's likeness multiplied; and besides his
satisfaction in the picture, he had some pride in the artist, though he
would rather I should have written a sermon than painted like Rembrandt
or like Raphael. Those winter days, with the gleams of sunshine coming
through the chapel-windows, and cheered by the notes of the
robin-redbreast in our garden (that 'ever in the haunch of winter
sings'),--as my afternoon's work drew to a close,--were among the
happiest of my life. When I gave the effect I intended to any part of
the picture for which I had prepared my colours; when I imitated the
roughness of the skin by a lucky stroke of the pencil; when I hit the
clear, pearly tone of a vein; when I gave the ruddy complexion of
health, the blood circulating under the broad shadows of one side of the
face, I thought my fortune made; or rather it was already more than
made, I might one day be able to say with Correggio, '_I also am a
painter!_' It was an idle thought, a boy's conceit; but it did not make
me less happy at the time. I used regularly to set my work in the chair
to look at it through the long evenings; and many a time did I return to
take leave of it before I could go to bed at night. I remember sending
it with a throbbing heart to the Exhibition, and seeing it hung up there
by the side of one of the Honourable Mr. Skeffington (now Sir George).
There was nothing in common between them, but that they were the
portraits of two very good-natured men. I think, but am not sure, that
I finished this portrait (or another afterwards) on the same day that
the news of the battle of Austerlitz came; I walked out in the
afternoon, and, as I returned, saw the evening star set over a poor
man's cottage with other thoughts and feelings than I shall ever have
again. Oh for the revolution of the great Platonic year, that those
times might come over again! I could sleep out the three hundred and
sixty-five thousand intervening years very contentedly!--The picture is
left: the table, the chair, the window where I learned to construe Livy,
the chapel where my father preached, remain where they were; but he
himself is gone to rest, full of years, of faith, of hope, and charity!


[1] There is a passage in Werter which contains a very pleasing
illustration of this doctrine, and is as follows:-

'About a league from the town is a place called Walheim. It is very
agreeably situated on the side of a hill: from one of the paths which
leads out of the village, you have a view of the whole country; and
there to a good old woman who sells wine, coffee, and tea there: but
better than all this are two lime-trees before the church, which spread
their branches over a little green, surrounded by barns and cottages. I
have seen few places more retired and peaceful. I send for a chair and
table from the old woman's, and there I drink my coffee and read Homer.
It was by accident that I discovered this place one fine afternoon: all
was perfect stillness; everybody was in the fields, except a little boy
about four years old, who was sitting on the ground, and holding between
his knees a child of about six months; he pressed it to his bosom with
his little arms, which made a sort of great chair for it; and
notwithstanding the vivacity which sparkled in his eyes, he sat
perfectly still. Quite delighted with the scene, I sat down on a plough
opposite, and had great pleasure in drawing this little picture of
brotherly tenderness. I added a bit of the hedge, the barn-door, and
some broken cart-wheels, without any order, just as they happened to
lie; and in about an hour I found I had made a drawing of great
expression and very correct design without having put in anything of my
own. This confirmed me in the resolution I had made before, only to
copy Nature for the future. Nature is inexhaustible, and alone forms
the greatest masters. Say what you will of rules, they alter the true
features and the natural expression.'

[2] It is at present covered with a thick slough of oil and varnish (the
perishable vehicle of the English school), like an envelope of
goldbeaters' skin, so as to be hardly visible.

[3] Men in business, who are answerable with their fortunes for the
consequences of their opinions, and are therefore accustomed to
ascertain pretty accurately the grounds on which they act, before they
commit themselves on the event, are often men of remarkably quick and
sound judgements. Artists in like manner must know tolerably well what
they are about, before they can bring the result of their observations
to the test of ocular demonstration.

[4] The famous Schiller used to say, that he found the great happiness
of life, after all, to consist in the discharge of some mechanical duty.

[5] The rich _impasting_ of Titian and Giorgione combines something of
the advantages of both these styles, the felicity of the one with the
carefulness of the other, and is perhaps to be preferred to either.



The painter not only takes a delight in nature, he has a new and
exquisite source of pleasure opened to him in the study and
contemplation of works of art--

Whate'er Lorraine light touch'd with soft'ning hue,
Or savage Rosa dash'd, or learned Poussin drew.

He turns aside to view a country gentleman's seat with eager looks,
thinking it may contain some of the rich products of art. There is an
air round Lord Radnor's park, for there hang the two Claudes, the
Morning and Evening of the Roman Empire--round Wilton House, for there
is Vandyke's picture of the Pembroke family--round Blenheim, for there
is his picture of the Duke of Buckingham's children, and the most
magnificent collection of Rubenses in the world--at Knowsley, for there
is Rembrandt's Handwriting on the Wall--and at Burleigh, for there are
some of Guido's angelic heads. The young artist makes a pilgrimage to
each of these places, eyes them wistfully at a distance, 'bosomed high
in tufted trees,' and feels an interest in them of which the owner is
scarce conscious: he enters the well-swept walks and echoing archways,
passes the threshold, is led through wainscoted rooms, is shown the
furniture, the rich hangings, the tapestry, the massy services of
plate--and, at last, is ushered into the room where his treasure is, the
idol of his vows--some speaking face or bright landscape! It is stamped
on his brain, and lives there thenceforward, a tally for nature, and a
test of art. He furnishes out the chambers of the mind from the spoils
of time, picks and chooses which shall have the best places--nearest his
heart. He goes away richer than he came, richer than the possessor; and
thinks that he may one day return, when he perhaps shall have done
something like them, or even from failure shall have learned to admire
truth and genius more.

My first initiation in the mysteries of the art was at the Orleans
Gallery: it was there I formed my taste, such as it is; so that I am
irreclaimably of the old school in painting. I was staggered when I saw
the works there collected, and looked at them with wondering and with
longing eyes. A mist passed away from my sight: the scales fell off. A
new sense came upon me, a new heaven and a new earth stood before me. I
saw the soul speaking in the face--'hands that the rod of empire had
swayed' in mighty ages past--'a forked mountain or blue promontory,'

--with trees upon't
That nod unto the world, and mock our eyes with air.

Old Time had unlocked his treasures, and Fame stood portress at the
door. We had all heard of the names of Titian, Raphael, Guido,
Domenichino, the Caracci--but to see them face to face, to be in the
same room with their deathless productions, was like breaking some
mighty spell--was almost an effect of necromancy! From that time I
lived in a world of pictures. Battles, sieges, speeches in parliament
seemed mere idle noise and fury, 'signifying nothing,' compared with
those mighty works and dreaded names that spoke to me in the eternal
silence of thought. This was the more remarkable, as it was but a short
time before that I was not only totally ignorant of, but insensible to
the beauties of art. As an instance, I remember that one afternoon I
was reading _The Provoked Husband_ with the highest relish, with a green
woody landscape of Ruysdael or Hobbima just before me, at which I looked
off the book now and then, and wondered what there could be in that sort
of work to satisfy or delight the mind--at the same time asking myself,
as a speculative question, whether I should ever feel an interest in it
like what I took in reading Vanbrugh and Cibber?

I had made some progress in painting when I went to the Louvre to study,
and I never did anything afterwards. I never shall forget conning over
the Catalogue which a friend lent me just before I set out. The
pictures, the names of the painters, seemed to relish in the mouth.
There was one of Titian's Mistress at her toilette. Even the colours
with which the painter had adorned her hair were not more golden, more
amiable to sight, than those which played round and tantalised my fancy
ere I saw the picture. There were two portraits by the same hand--'A
young Nobleman with a glove'--Another, 'a companion to it.' I read the
description over and over with fond expectancy, and filled up the
imaginary outline with whatever I could conceive of grace, and dignity,
and an antique gusto--all but equal to the original. There was the
Transfiguration too. With what awe I saw it in my mind's eye, and was
overshadowed with the spirit of the artist! Not to have been
disappointed with these works afterwards, was the highest compliment I
can pay to their transcendent merits. Indeed, it was from seeing other
works of the same great masters that I had formed a vague, but no
disparaging idea of these. The first day I got there, I was kept for
some time in the French Exhibition Room, and thought I should not be
able to get a sight of the old masters. I just caught a peep at them
through the door (vile hindrance!) like looking out of purgatory into
paradise--from Poussin's noble, mellow-looking landscapes to where
Rubens hung out his gaudy banner, and down the glimmering vista to the
rich jewels of Titian and the Italian school. At last, by much
importunity, I was admitted, and lost not an instant in making use of my
new privilege. It was _un beau jour_ to me. I marched delighted
through a quarter of a mile of the proudest efforts of the mind of man,
a whole creation of genius, a universe of art! I ran the gauntlet of all
the schools from the bottom to the top; and in the end got admitted into
the inner room, where they had been repairing some of their greatest
works. Here the Transfiguration, the St. Peter Martyr, and the St.
Jerome of Domenichino stood on the floor, as if they had bent their
knees, like camels stooping, to unlade their riches to the spectator.
On one side, on an easel, stood Hippolito de Medici (a portrait by
Titian), with a boar-spear in his hand, looking through those he saw,
till you turned away from the keen glance; and thrown together in heaps
were landscapes of the same hand, green pastoral hills and vales, and
shepherds piping to their mild mistresses underneath the flowering
shade. Reader, 'if thou hast not seen the Louvre thou art damned!'--for
thou hast not seen the choicest remains of the works of art; or thou
hast not seen all these together with their mutually reflected glories.
I say nothing of the statues; for I know but little of sculpture, and
never liked any till I saw the Elgin Marbles. . . . Here, for four
months together, I strolled and studied, and daily heard the warning
sound--'Quatres heures passees, il faut fermer, Citoyens'--(Ah! why did
they ever change their style?) muttered in coarse provincial French; and
brought away with me some loose draughts and fragments, which I have
been forced to part with, like drops of life-blood, for 'hard money.'
How often, thou tenantless mansion of godlike magnificence--how often
has my heart since gone a pilgrimage to thee!

It has been made a question, whether the artist, or the mere man of
taste and natural sensibility, receives most pleasure from the
contemplation of works of art; and I think this question might be
answered by another as a sort of _experimentum crucis_, namely, whether
any one out of that 'number numberless' of mere gentlemen and amateurs,
who visited Paris at the period here spoken of, felt as much interest,
as much pride or pleasure in this display of the most striking monuments
of art as the humblest student would? The first entrance into the
Louvre would be only one of the events of his journey, not an event in
his life, remembered ever after with thankfulness and regret. He would
explore it with the same unmeaning curiosity and idle wonder as he would
the Regalia in the Tower, or the Botanic Garden in the Tuileries, but
not with the fond enthusiasm of an artist. How should he? His is
'casual fruition, joyless, unendeared.' But the painter is wedded to
his art--the mistress, queen, and idol of his soul. He has embarked his
all in it, fame, time, fortune, peace of mind--his hopes in youth, his
consolation in age: and shall he not feel a more intense interest in
whatever relates to it than the mere indolent trifler? Natural
sensibility alone, without the entire application of the mind to that
one object, will not enable the possessor to sympathise with all the
degrees of beauty and power in the conceptions of a Titian or a
Correggio; but it is he only who does this, who follows them into all
their force and matchless race, that does or can feel their full value.
Knowledge is pleasure as well as power. No one but the artist who has
studied nature and contended with the difficulties of art, can be aware
of the beauties, or intoxicated with a passion for painting. No one who
has not devoted his life and soul to the pursuit of art can feel the
same exultation in its brightest ornaments and loftiest triumphs which
an artist does. Where the treasure is, there the heart is also. It is
now seventeen years since I was studying in the Louvre (and I have on
since given up all thoughts of the art as a profession), but long after
I returned, and even still, I sometimes dream of being there again--of
asking for the old pictures--and not finding them, or finding them
changed or faded from what they were, I cry myself awake! What
gentleman-amateur ever does this at such a distance of time,--that is,
ever received pleasure or took interest enough in them to produce so
lasting an impression?

But it is said that if a person had the same natural taste, and the same
acquired knowledge as an artist, without the petty interests and
technical notions, he would derive a purer pleasure from seeing a fine
portrait, a fine landscape, and so on. This, however, is not so much
begging the question as asking an impossibility: he cannot have the same
insight into the end without having studied the means; nor the same love
of art without the same habitual and exclusive attachment to it.
Painters are, no doubt, often actuated by jealousy to that only which
they find useful to themselves in painting. Wilson has been seen poring
over the texture of a Dutch cabinet-picture, so that he could not see
the picture itself. But this is the perversion and pedantry of the
profession, not its true or genuine spirit. If Wilson had never looked
at anything but megilps and handling, he never would have put the soul
of life and manners into his pictures, as he has done. Another
objection is, that the instrumental parts of the art, the means, the
first rudiments, paints, oils, and brushes, are painful and disgusting;
and that the consciousness of the difficulty and anxiety with which
perfection has been attained must take away from the pleasure of the
finest performance. This, however, is only an additional proof of the
greater pleasure derived by the artist from his profession; for these
things which are said to interfere with and destroy the common interest
in works of art do not disturb him; he never once thinks of them, he is
absorbed in the pursuit of a higher object; he is intent, not on the
means, but the end; he is taken up, not with the difficulties, but with
the triumph over them. As in the case of the anatomist, who overlooks
many things in the eagerness of his search after abstract truth; or the
alchemist who, while he is raking into his soot and furnaces, lives in a
golden dream; a lesser gives way to a greater object. But it is
pretended that the painter may be supposed to submit to the unpleasant
part of the process only for the sake of the fame or profit in view. So
far is this from being a true state of the case, that I will venture to
say, in the instance of a friend of mine who has lately succeeded in an
important undertaking in his art, that not all the fame he has acquired,
not all the money he has received from thousands of admiring spectators,
not all the newspaper puffs,--nor even the praise of the _Edinburgh
Review_,--not all these put together ever gave him at any time the same
genuine, undoubted satisfaction as any one half-hour employed in the
ardent and propitious pursuit of his art--in finishing to his heart's
content a foot, a hand, or even a piece of drapery. What is the state
of mind of an artist while he is at work? He is then in the act of
realising the highest idea he can form of beauty or grandeur: he
conceives, he embodies that which he understands and loves best: that
is, he is in full and perfect possession of that which is to him the
source of the highest happiness and intellectual excitement which he can

In short, as a conclusion to this argument, I will mention a
circumstance which fell under my knowledge the other day. A friend had
bought a print of Titian's Mistress, the same to which I have alluded
above. He was anxious to show it me on this account. I told him it was
a spirited engraving, but it had not the look of the original. I
believe he thought this fastidious, till I offered to show him a rough
sketch of it, which I had by me. Having seen this, he said he perceived
exactly what I meant, and could not bear to look at the print
afterwards. He had good sense enough to see the difference in the
individual instance; but a person better acquainted with Titian's manner
and with art in general--that is, of a more cultivated and refined
taste--would know that it was a bad print, without having any immediate
model to compare it with. He would perceive with a glance of the eye,
with a sort of instinctive feeling, that it was hard, and without that
bland, expansive, and nameless expression which always distinguished
Titian's most famous works. Any one who is accustomed to a head in a
picture can never reconcile himself to a print from it; but to the
ignorant they are both the same. To a vulgar eye there is no difference
between a Guido and a daub--between a penny print, or the vilest scrawl,
and the most finished performance. In other words, all that excellence
which lies between these two extremes,--all, at least, that marks the
excess above mediocrity,--all that constitutes true beauty, harmony,
refinement, grandeur, is lost upon the common observer. But it is from
this point that the delight, the glowing raptures of the true adept
commence. An uninformed spectator may like an ordinary drawing better
than the ablest connoisseur; but for that very reason he cannot like the
highest specimens of art so well. The refinements not only of execution
but of truth and nature are inaccessible to unpractised eyes. The
exquisite gradations in a sky of Claude's are not perceived by such
persons, and consequently the harmony cannot be felt. Where there is no
conscious apprehension, there can be no conscious pleasure. Wonder at
the first sights of works of art may be the effect of ignorance and
novelty; but real admiration and permanent delight in them are the
growth of taste and knowledge. 'I would not wish to have your eyes,'
said a good-natured man to a critic who was finding fault with a picture
in which the other saw no blemish. Why so? The idea which prevented
him from admiring this inferior production was a higher idea of truth
and beauty which was ever present with him, and a continual source of
pleasing and lofty contemplations. It may be different in a taste for
outward luxuries and the privations of mere sense; but the idea of
perfection, which acts as an intellectual foil, is always an addition, a
support, and a proud consolation!

Richardson, in his _Essays_, which ought to be better known, has left
some striking examples of the felicity and infelicity of artists, both
as it relates to their external fortune and to the practice of their
art. In speaking of _the knowledge of hands_, he exclaims: 'When one is
considering a picture or a drawing, one at the same time thinks this was
done by him[1] who had many extraordinary endowments of body and mind,
but was withal very capricious; who was honoured in life and death,
expiring in the arms of one of the greatest princes of that age, Francis
I., King of France, who loved him as a friend. Another is of him[2] who
lived a long and happy life, beloved of Charles V. emperor; and many
others of the first princes of Europe. When one has another in hand, we
think this was done by one[3] who so excelled in three arts as that any
of them in that degree had rendered him worthy of immortality; and one
moreover that durst contend with his sovereign (one of the haughtiest
popes that ever was) upon a slight offered to him, and extricated
himself with honour. Another is the work of him[4] who, without any one
exterior advantage but mere strength of genius, had the most sublime
imaginations, and executed them accordingly, yet lived and died
obscurely. Another we shall consider as the work of him[5] who restored
Painting when it had almost sunk; of him whom art made honourable, but
who, neglecting and despising greatness with a sort of cynical pride,
was treated suitably to the figure he gave himself, not his intrinsic
worth; which, [he] not having philosophy enough to bear it, broke his
heart. Another is done by one[6] who (on the contrary) was a fine
gentleman and lived in great magnificence, and was much honoured by his
own and foreign princes; who was a courtier, a statesman, and a painter;
and so much all these, that when he acted in either character, _that_
seemed to be his business, and the others his diversion. I say when one
thus reflects, besides the pleasure arising from the beauties and
excellences of the work, the fine ideas it gives us of natural things,
the noble way of thinking it suggest to us, an additional pleasure
results from the above considerations. But, oh! the pleasure, when a
connoisseur and lover of art has before him a picture or drawing of
which he can say this is the hand, these are the thoughts of him[7] who
was one of the politest, best-natured gentlemen that ever was; and
beloved and assisted by the greatest wits and the greatest men then in
Rome: of him who lived in great fame, honour, and magnificence, and died
extremely lamented; and missed a Cardinal's hat only by dying a few
months too soon; but was particularly esteemed and favoured by two
Popes, the only ones who filled the chair of St. Peter in his time, and
as great men as ever sat there since that apostle, if at least he ever
did: one, in short, who could have been a Leonardo, a Michael Angelo, a
Titian, a Correggio, a Parmegiano, an Annibal, a Rubens, or any other
whom he pleased, but none of them could ever have been a Raffaelle.'

The same writer speaks feelingly of the change in the style of different
artists from their change of fortune, and as the circumstances are
little known I will quote the passage relating to two of them:--

'Guido Reni, from a prince-like affluence of fortune (the just reward of
his angelic works), fell to a condition like that of a hired servant to
one who supplied him with money for what he did at a fixed rate; and
that by his being bewitched by a passion for gaming, whereby he lost
vast sums of money; and even what he got in his state of servitude by
day, he commonly lost at night: nor could he ever be cured of this
cursed madness. Those of his works, therefore, which he did in this
unhappy part of his life may easily be conceived to be in a different
style to what he did before, which in some things, that is, in the airs
of his heads (in the gracious kind) had a delicacy in them peculiar to
himself, and almost more than human. But I must not multiply instances.
Parmegiano is one that alone takes in all the several kinds of
variation, and all the degrees of goodness, from the lowest of the
indifferent up to the sublime. I can produce evident proofs of this in
so easy a gradation, that one cannot deny but that he that did this
might do that, and very probably did so; and thus one may ascend and
descend, like the angels on Jacob's ladder, whose foot was upon the
earth, but its top reached to Heaven.

'And this great man had his unlucky circumstance. He became mad after
the philosopher's stone, and did but very little in painting or drawing
afterwards. Judge what that was, and whether there was not an
alteration of style from what he had done before this devil possessed
him. His creditors endeavoured to exorcise him, and did him some good,
for be set himself to work again in his own way; but if a drawing I have
of a Lucretia be that he made for his last picture, as it probably is
(Vasari says that was the subject of it), it is an evident proof of his
decay; it is good indeed, but it wants much of the delicacy which is
commonly seen in his works; and so I always thought before I knew or
imagined it to be done in this his ebb of genius.'

We have had two artists of our own country whose fate has been as
singular as it was hard: Gandy was a portrait-painter in the beginning
of the last century, whose heads were said to have come near to
Rembrandt's, and he was the undoubted prototype of Sir Joshua Reynolds's
style. Yet his name has scarcely been heard of; and his reputation,
like his works, never extended beyond his own country. What did he
think of himself and of a fame so bounded? Did he ever dream he was
indeed an artist? Or how did this feeling in him differ from the vulgar
conceit of the lowest pretender? The best known of his works is a
portrait of an alderman of Exeter, in some public building in that city.

Poor Dan. Stringer! Forty years ago he had the finest hand and the
clearest eye of any artist of his time, and produced heads and drawings
that would not have disgraced a brighter period in the art. But he fell
a martyr (like Burns) to the society of country gentlemen, and then of
those whom they would consider as more his equals. I saw him many years
ago when he treated the masterly sketches he had by him (one in
particular of the group of citizens in Shakespeare 'swallowing the
tailor's news') as 'bastards of his genius, not his children,' and
seemed to have given up all thoughts of his art. Whether he is since
dead, I cannot say; the world do not so much as know that he ever lived!


[1] Leonardo da Vinci.

[2] Titian.

[3] Michael Angelo.

[4] Correggio.

[5] Annibal Caracci.

[6] Rubens.

[7] Raffaelle.



I have naturally but little imagination, and am not of a very sanguine
turn of mind. I have some desire to enjoy the present good, and some
fondness for the past; but I am not at all given to build castles in the
air, nor to look forward with much confidence or hope to the brilliant
illusions held out by the future. Hence I have perhaps been led to form
a theory, which is very contrary to the common notions and feelings on
the subject, and which I will here try to explain as well as I can.
When Sterne in the _Sentimental Journey_ told the French Minister, that
if the French people had a fault, it was that they were too serious, the
latter replied that if that was his opinion, he must defend it with all
his might, for he would have all the world against him; so I shall have
enough to do to get well through the present argument.

I cannot see, then, any rational or logical ground for that mighty
difference in the value which mankind generally set upon the past and
future, as if the one was everything, and the other nothing--of no
consequence whatever. On the other hand, I conceive that the past is as
real and substantial a part of our being, that it is as much a _bona
fide_, undeniable consideration in the estimate of human life, as the
future can possibly be. To say that the past is of no importance,
unworthy of a moment's regard, because it has gone by, and is no longer
anything, is an argument that cannot be held to any purpose; for if the
past has ceased to be, and is therefore to be accounted nothing in the
scale of good or evil, the future is yet to come, and has never been
anything. Should any one choose to assert that the present only is of
any value in a strict and positive sense, because that alone has a real
existence, that we should seize the instant good, and give all else to
the winds, I can understand what he means (though perhaps he does not
himself);[1] but I cannot comprehend how this distinction between that
which has a downright and sensible, and that which has only a remote and
airy existence, can be applied to establish the preference of the future
over the past; for both are in this point of view equally ideal,
absolutely nothing, except as they are conceived of by the mind's eye,
and are thus rendered present to the thoughts and feelings. Nay, the
one is even more imaginary, a more fantastic creature of the brain than
the other, and the interest we take in it more shadowy and gratuitous;
for the future, on which we lay so much stress, may never come to pass
at all, that is, may never be embodied into actual existence in the
whole course of events, whereas the past has certainly existed once, has
received the stamp of truth, and left an image of itself behind. It is
so far then placed beyond the possibility of doubt, or as the poet has

Those joys are lodg'd beyond the reach of fate.

It is not, however, attempted to be denied that though the future is
nothing at present, and has no immediate interest while we are speaking,
yet it is of the utmost consequence in itself, and of the utmost
interest to the individual, because it will have a real existence, and
we have an idea of it as existing in time to come. Well, then, the past
also has no real existence; the actual sensation and the interest
belonging to it are both fled; but it _has had_ a real existence, and we
can still call up a vivid recollection of it as having once been; and
therefore, by parity of reasoning, it is not a thing perfectly
insignificant in itself, nor wholly indifferent to the mind whether it
ever was or not. Oh no! Far from it! Let us not rashly quit our hold
upon the past, when perhaps there may be little else left to bind us to
existence. Is it nothing to have been, and to have been happy or
miserable? Or is it a matter of no moment to think whether I have been
one or the other? Do I delude myself, do I build upon a shadow or a
dream, do I dress up in the gaudy garb of idleness and folly a pure
fiction, with nothing answering to it in the universe of things and the
records of truth, when I look back with fond delight or with tender
regret to that which was at one time to me my all, when I revive the
glowing image of some bright reality,

The thoughts of which can never from my heart?

Do I then muse on nothing, do I bend my eyes on nothing, when I turn
back in fancy to 'those suns and skies so pure' that lighted up my early
path? Is it to think of nothing, to set an idle value upon nothing, to
think of all that has happened to me, an of all that can ever interest
me? Or, to use the language of a fine poet (who is himself among my
earliest and not least painful recollections)--

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever vanish'd from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of glory in the grass, of splendour in the flow'r--

yet am I mocked with a lie when I venture to think of it? Or do I not
drink in and breathe again the air of heavenly truth when I but 'retrace
its footsteps, and its skirts far off adore'? I cannot say with the same

And see how dark the backward stream,
A little moment past so smiling--

for it is the past that gives me most delight and most assurance of
reality. What to me constitutes the great charm of the _Confessions_ of
Rousseau is their turning so much upon this feeling. He seems to gather
up the past moments of his being like drops of honey-dew to distil a
precious liquor from them; his alternate pleasures and pains are the
bead-roll that he tells over and piously worships; he makes a rosary of
the flowers of hope and fancy that strewed his earliest years. When he
begins the last of the _Reveries of a Solitary Walker_, 'Il y a
aujourd'hui, jour des Paques Fleuris, cinquante ans depuis que j'ai
premier vu Madame Warens,' what a yearning of the soul is implied in
that short sentence! Was all that had happened to him, all that he had
thought and felt in that sad interval of time, to be accounted nothing?
Was that long, dim, faded retrospect of years happy or miserable--a
blank that was not to make his eyes fail and his heart faint within him
in trying to grasp all that had once filled it and that had since
vanished, because it was not a prospect into futurity? Was he wrong in
finding more to interest him in it than in the next fifty years--which
he did not live to see? Or if he had, what then? Would they have been
worth thinking of, compared with the times of his youth, of his first
meeting with Madame Warens, with those times which he has traced with
such truth and pure delight 'in our heart's tables'? When 'all the life
of life was flown,' was he not to live the first and best part of it
over again, and once more be all that he then was?--Ye woods that crown
the clear lone brow of Norman Court, why do I revisit ye so oft, and
feel a soothing consciousness of your presence, but that your high tops
waving in the wind recall to me the hours and years that are for ever
fled; that ye renew in ceaseless murmurs the story of long-cherished
hopes and bitter disappointment; that in your solitudes and tangled
wilds I can wander and lose myself as I wander on and am lost in the
solitude of my own heart; and that as your rustling branches give the
loud blast to the waste below--borne on the thoughts of other years, I
can look down with patient anguish at the cheerless desolation which I
feel within! Without that face pale as the primrose with hyacinthine
locks, for ever shunning and for ever haunting me, mocking my waking
thoughts as in a dream; without that smile which my heart could never
turn to scorn; without those eyes dark with their own lustre, still bent
on mine, and drawing the soul into their liquid mazes like a sea of
love; without that name trembling in fancy's ear; without that form
gliding before me like Oread or Dryad in fabled groves, what should I
do? how pass away the listless, leaden-footed hours? Then wave, wave
on, ye woods of Tuderley, and lift your high tops in the air; my sighs
and vows uttered by our mystic voice breathe into me my former being,
and enable me to bear the thing I am!--The objects that we have known in
better days are the main props that sustain the weight of our
affections, and give us strength to await our future lot. The future is
like a dead wall or a thick mist hiding all objects from our view; the
past is alive and stirring with objects, bright or solemn, and of
unfading interest. What is it in fact that we recur to oftenest? What
subjects do we think or talk of? Not the ignorant future, but the
well-stored past. Othello, the Moor of Venice, amused himself and his
hearers at the house of Signor Brabantio by 'running through the story
of his life even from his boyish days'; and oft 'beguiled them of their
tears, when he did speak of some disastrous stroke which his youth
suffered.' This plan of ingratiating himself would not have answered if
the past had been, like the contents of an old almanac, of no use but to
be thrown aside and forgotten. What a blank, for instance, does the
history of the world for the next six thousand years present to the
mind, compared with that of the last! All that strikes the imagination
or excites any interest in the mighty scene is _what has been_![2]


Neither in itself, then, nor as a subject of general contemplation, has
the future any advantage over the past. But with respect to our grosser
passions and pursuits it has. As far as regards the appeal to the
understanding or the imagination, the past is just as good, as real, of
as much intrinsic and ostensible value as the future; but there is
another principle in the human mind, the principle of action or will;
and of this the past has no hold, the future engrosses it entirely to
itself. It is this strong lever of the affections that gives so
powerful a bias to our sentiments on this subject, and violently
transposes the natural order of our associations. We regret the
pleasures we have lost, and eagerly anticipate those which are to come:
we dwell with satisfaction on the evils from which we have escaped
(_Posthaec meminisse iuvabit_)--and dread future pain. The good that is
past is in this sense like money that is spent, which is of no further
use, and about which we give ourselves little concern. The good we
expect is like a store yet untouched, and in the enjoyment of which we
promise ourselves infinite gratification. What has happened to us we
think of no consequence: what is to happen to us, of the greatest. Why
so? Simply because the one is still in our power, and the other
not--because the efforts of the will to bring any object to pass or to
prevent it strengthen our attachment or aversion to that object--because
the pains and attention bestowed upon anything add to our interest in
it--and because the habitual and earnest pursuit of any end redoubles
the ardour of our expectations, and converts the speculative and
indolent satisfaction we might otherwise feel in it into real passion.
Our regrets, anxiety, and wishes are thrown away upon the past; but the
insisting on the importance of the future is of the utmost use in aiding
our resolutions and stimulating our exertions. If the future were no
more amenable to our wills than the past; if our precautions, our
sanguine schemes, our hopes and fears were of as little avail in the one
case as the other; if we could neither soften our minds to pleasure, nor
steel our fortitude to the resistance of pain beforehand; if all objects
drifted along by us like straws or pieces of wood in a river, the will
being purely passive, and as little able to avert the future as to
arrest the past, we should in that case be equally indifferent to both;
that is, we should consider each as they affected the thoughts and
imagination with certain sentiments of approbation or regret, but
without the importunity of action, the irritation of the will, throwing
the whole weight of passion and prejudice into one scale, and leaving
the other quite empty. While the blow is coming, we prepare to meet it,
we think to ward off or break its force, we arm ourselves with patience
to endure what cannot be avoided, we agitate ourselves with fifty
needless alarms about it; but when the blow is struck, the pang is over,
the struggle is no longer necessary, and we cease to harass or torment
ourselves about it more than we can help. It is not that the one
belongs to the future and the other to time past; but that the one is a
subject of action, of uneasy apprehension, of strong passion, and that
the other has passed wholly out of the sphere of action into the region

Calm contemplation and majestic pains.[3]

It would not give a man more concern to know that he should be put to
the rack a year hence, than to recollect that he had been put to it a
year ago, but that he hopes to avoid the one, whereas he must sit down
patiently under the consciousness of the other. In this hope he wears
himself out in vain struggles with fate, and puts himself to the rack of
his imagination every day he has to live in the meanwhile. When the
event is so remote or so independent of the will as to set aside the
necessity of immediate action, or to baffle all attempts to defeat it,
it gives us little more disturbance or emotion than if it had already
taken place, or were something to happen in another state of being, or
to an indifferent person. Criminals are observed to grow more anxious
as their trial approaches; but after their sentence is passed, they
become tolerably resigned, and generally sleep sound the night before
its execution.

It in some measure confirms this theory, that men attach more or less
importance to past and future events according as they are more or less
engaged in action and the busy scenes of life. Those who have a fortune
to make, or are in pursuit of rank and power, think little of the past,
for it does not contribute greatly to their views: those who have
nothing to do but to think, take nearly the same interest in the past as
in the future. The contemplation of the one is as delightful and real
as that of the other. The season of hope has an end; but the
remembrance of it is left. The past still lives in the memory of those
who have leisure to look back upon the way that they have trod, and can
from it 'catch-glimpses that may make them less forlorn.' The
turbulence of action, and uneasiness of desire, must point to the
future: it is only in the quiet innocence of shepherds, in the
simplicity of pastoral ages, that a tomb was found with this
inscription--'I ALSO WAS AN ARCADIAN!'

Though I by no means think that our habitual attachment to life is in
exact proportion to the value of the gift, yet I am not one of those
splenetic persons who affect to think it of no value at all. _Que peu
de chose est la vie humaine_, is an exclamation in the mouths of
moralists and philosophers, to which I cannot agree. It is little, it
is short, it is not worth having, if we take the last hour, and leave
out all that has gone before, which has been one way of looking at the
subject. Such calculators seem to say that life is nothing when it is
over, and that may in their sense be true. If the old rule--_Respice
finem_--were to be made absolute, and no one could be pronounced
fortunate till the day of his death, there are few among us whose
existence would, upon those conditions, be much to be envied. But this
is not a fair view of the case. A man's life is his whole life, not the
last glimmering snuff of the candle; and this, I say, is considerable,
and not a _little matter_, whether we regard its pleasures or its pains.
To draw a peevish conclusion to the contrary from our own superannuated
desires or forgetful indifference is about as reasonable as to say, a
man never was young because he has grown old, or never lived because he
is now dead. The length or agreeableness of a journey does not depend
on the few last steps of it, nor is the size of a building to be judged
of from the last stone that is added to it. It is neither the first nor
last hour of our existence, but the space that parts these two--not our
exit nor our entrance upon the stage, but what we do, feel, and think
while there--that we are to attend to in pronouncing sentence upon it.
Indeed it would be easy to show that it is the very extent of human
life, the infinite number of things contained in it, its contradictory
and fluctuating interests, the transition from one situation to another,
the hours, months, years spent in one fond pursuit after another; that
it is, in a word, the length of our common journey and the quantity of
events crowded into it, that, baffling the grasp of our actual
perception, make it slide from our memory, and dwindle into nothing in
its own perspective. It is too mighty for us, and we say it is nothing!
It is a speck in our fancy, and yet what canvas would be big enough to
hold its striking groups, its endless subjects! It is light as vanity,
and yet if all its weary moments, if all its head and heart aches were
compressed into one, what fortitude would not be overwhelmed with the
blow! What a huge heap, a 'huge, dumb heap,' of wishes, thoughts,
feelings, anxious cares, soothing hopes, loves, joys, friendships, it is
composed of! How many ideas and trains of sentiment, long and deep and
intense, often pass through the mind in only one day's thinking or
reading, for instance! How many such days are there in a year, how many
years in a long life, still occupied with something interesting, still
recalling some old impression, still recurring to some difficult
question and making progress in it, every step accompanied with a sense
of power, and every moment conscious of 'the high endeavour or the glad
success'; for the mind seizes only on that which keeps it employed, and
is wound up to a certain pitch of pleasurable excitement or lively
solicitude, by the necessity of its own nature. The division of the map
of life into its component parts is beautifully made by King Henry

Oh God! methinks it were a happy life
To be no better than a homely swain,
To sit upon a hill as I do now,
To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,
Thereby to see the minutes how they run
How many make the hour full complete,
How many hours bring about the day,
How many days will finish up the year,
How many years a mortal man may live:
When this is known, then to divide the times;
So many hours must I tend my flock,
So many hours must I take my rest,
So many hours must I contemplate,
So many hours must I sport myself;
So many days my ewes have been with young,
So many weeks ere the poor fools will yean,
So many months ere I shall shear the fleece:
So many minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years
Past over to the end they were created,
Would bring grey hairs unto a quiet grave.

I myself am neither a king nor a shepherd: books have been my fleecy
charge, and my thoughts have been my subjects. But these have found me
sufficient employment at the time, and enough to think of for the time
to come.

The passions contract and warp the natural progress of life. They
paralyse all of it that is not devoted to their tyranny and caprice.
This makes the difference between the laughing innocence of childhood,
the pleasantness of youth, and the crabbedness of age. A load of cares
lies like a weight of guilt upon the mind: so that a man of business
often has all the air, the distraction and restlessness and hurry of
feeling of a criminal. A knowledge of the world takes away the freedom
and simplicity of thought as effectually as the contagion of its
example. The artlessness and candour of our early years are open to all
impressions alike, because the mind is not clogged and preoccupied with
other objects. Our pleasures and our pains come single, make room for
one another, and the spring of the mind is fresh and unbroken, its
aspect clear and unsullied. Hence 'the tear forgot as soon as shed, the
sunshine of the breast.' But as we advance farther, the will gets
greater head. We form violent antipathies and indulge exclusive
preferences. We make up our minds to some one thing, and if we cannot
have that, will have nothing. We are wedded to opinion, to fancy, to
prejudice; which destroys the soundness of our judgments, and the
serenity and buoyancy of our feelings. The chain of habit coils itself
round the heart, like a serpent, to gnaw and stifle it. It grows rigid
and callous; and for the softness and elasticity of childhood, full of
proud flesh and obstinate tumours. The violence and perversity of our
passions come in more and more to overlay our natural sensibility and
well-grounded affections; and we screw ourselves up to aim only at those
things which are neither desirable nor practicable. Thus life passes
away in the feverish irritation of pursuit and the certainty of
disappointment. By degrees, nothing but this morbid state of feeling
satisfies us: and all common pleasures and cheap amusements are
sacrificed to the demon of ambition, avarice, or dissipation. The
machine is overwrought: the parching heat of the veins dries up and
withers the flowers of Love, Hope, and Joy; and any pause, any release
from the rack of ecstasy on which we are stretched, seems more
insupportable than the pangs which we endure. We are suspended between
tormenting desires and the horrors of _ennui_. The impulse of the will,
like the wheels of a carriage going down hill, becomes too strong for
the driver, Reason, and cannot be stopped nor kept within bounds. Some
idea, some fancy, takes possession of the brain; and however ridiculous,
however distressing, however ruinous, haunts us by a sort of fascination
through life.

Not only is this principle of excessive irritability to be seen at work
in our more turbulent passions and pursuits, but even in the formal
study of arts and sciences, the same thing takes place, and undermines
the repose and happiness of life. The eagerness of pursuit overcomes
the satisfaction to result from the accomplishment. The mind is
overstrained to attain its purpose; and when it is attained, the ease
and alacrity necessary to enjoy it are gone. The irritation of action
does not cease and go down with the occasion for it; but we are first
uneasy to get to the end of our work, and then uneasy for want of
something to do. The ferment of the brain does not of itself subside
into pleasure and soft repose. Hence the disposition to strong stimuli
observable in persons of much intellectual exertion to allay and carry
off the over-excitement. The _improvisatori_ poets (it is recorded by
Spence in his _Anecdotes of Pope_) cannot sleep after an evening's
continued display of their singular and difficult art. The rhymes keep
running in their head in spite of themselves, and will not let them
rest. Mechanics and labouring people never know what to do with
themselves on a Sunday, though they return to their work with greater
spirit for the relief, and look forward to it with pleasure all the
week. Sir Joshua Reynolds was never comfortable out of his
painting-room, and died of chagrin and regret because he could not paint
on to the last moment of his life. He used to say that he could go on
retouching a picture for ever, as long as it stood on his easel; but as
soon as it was once fairly out of the house, he never wished to see it
again. An ingenious artist of our own time has been heard to declare,
that if ever the Devil got him into his clutches, he would set him to
copy his own pictures. Thus secure, self-complacent retrospect to what
is done is nothing, while the anxious, uneasy looking forward to what is
to come is everything. We are afraid to dwell upon the past, lest it
should retard our future progress; the indulgence of ease is fatal to
excellence; and to succeed in life, we lose the ends of being!


[1] If we take away from the _present_ the moment that Is just by and
the moment that is next to come, how much of it will be left for this
plain, practical theory to rest upon? Their solid basis of sense and
reality will reduce itself to a pin's point, a hair line, on which our
moral balance-masters will have some difficulty to maintain their
footing without falling over on either side.

[2] A treatise on the Millennium is dull; but who was ever weary of
reading the fables of the Golden Age? On my once observing I should
like to have been Claude, a person said, 'they should not, for that then
by this time it would have been all over with them.' As if it could
possibly signify when we live (save and excepting the present minute),
or as if the value of human life decreased or increased with successive
centuries. At that rate, we had better have our life still to come at
some future period, and so postpone our existence century after century
_ad infinitum_.

[3] In like manner, though we know that an event must have taken place
at a distance, long before we can hear the result, yet as long as we
remain in Ignorance of it, we irritate ourselves about it, and suffer
all the agonies of suspense, as if it was still to come; but as soon as
our uncertainty is removed, our fretful impatience vanishes, we resign
ourselves to fate, and make up our minds to what has happened as well as
we can.



We hear it maintained by people of more gravity than understanding, that
genius and taste are strictly reducible to rules, and that there is a
rule for everything. So far is it from being true that the finest
breath of fancy is a definable thing, that the plainest common sense is
only what Mr. Locke would have called a _mixed mode_, subject to a
particular sort of acquired and undefinable tact. It is asked, "If you
do not know the rule by which a thing is done, how can you be sure of
doing it a second time?" And the answer is, "If you do not know the
muscles by the help of which you walk, how is it you do not fall down at
every step you take?" In art, in taste, in life, in speech, you decide
from feeling, and not from reason; that is, from the impression of a
number of things on the mind, from which impression is true and well
founded, though you may not be able to analyse or account for it in the
several particulars. In a gesture you use, in a look you see, in a tone
you hear, you judge of the expression, propriety, and meaning from
habit, not from reason or rules; that is to say, from innumerable
instances of like gestures, looks, and tones, in innumerable other
circumstances, variously modified, which are too many and too refined to
be all distinctly recollected, but which do not therefore operate the
less powerfully upon the mind and eye of taste. Shall we say that these
impressions (the immediate stamp of nature) do not operate in a given
manner till they are classified and reduced to rules, or is not the rule
itself grounded, upon the truth and certainty of that natural operation?

How then can the distinction of the understanding as to the manner in
which they operate be necessary to their producing their due and uniform
effect upon the mind? If certain effects did not regularly arise out of
certain causes in mind as well as matter, there could be no rule given
for them: nature does not follow the rule, but suggests it. Reason is
the interpreter and critic of nature and genius, not their law-giver and
judge. He must be a poor creature indeed whose practical convictions do
not in almost all cases outrun his deliberate understanding, or who does
not feel and know much more than he can give a reason for. Hence the
distinction between eloquence and wisdom, between ingenuity and common
sense. A man may be dexterous and able in explaining the grounds of his
opinions, and yet may be a mere sophist, because he only sees one-half
of a subject. Another may feel the whole weight of a question, nothing
relating to it may be lost upon him, and yet he may be able to give no
account of the manner in which it affects him, or to drag his reasons
from their silent lurking-places. This last will be a wise man, though
neither a logician nor rhetorician. Goldsmith was a fool to Dr. Johnson
in argument; that is, in assigning the specific grounds of his opinions:
Dr. Johnson was a fool to Goldsmith in the fine tact, the airy,
intuitive faculty with which he skimmed the surfaces of things, and
unconsciously formed his Opinions. Common sense is the just result of
the sum total of such unconscious impressions in the ordinary
occurrences of life, as they are treasured up in the memory, and called
out by the occasion. Genius and taste depend much upon the same
principle exercised on loftier ground and in more unusual combinations.

I am glad to shelter myself from the charge of affectation or
singularity in this view of an often debated but ill-understood point,
by quoting a passage from Sir Joshua Reynolds's _Discourses_, which is
full, and, I think, conclusive to the purpose. He says:--

'I observe, as a fundamental ground common to all the Arts with which we
have any concern in this Discourse, that they address themselves only to
two faculties of the mind, its imagination and its sensibility.

'All theories which attempt to direct or to control the Art, upon any
principles falsely called rational, which we form to ourselves upon a
supposition of what ought in reason to be the end or means of Art,
independent of the known first effect produced by objects on the
imagination, must be false and delusive. For though it may appear bold
to say it, the imagination is here the residence of truth. If the
imagination be affected, the conclusion is fairly drawn; if it be not
affected, the reasoning is erroneous, because the end is not obtained;
the effect itself being the test, and the only test, of the truth and
efficacy of the means.

'There is in the commerce of life, as in Art, a sagacity which is far
from being contradictory to right reason, and is superior to any
occasional exercise of that faculty which supersedes it and does not
wait for the slow progress of deduction, but goes at once, by what
appears a kind of intuition, to the conclusion. A man endowed with this
faculty feels and acknowledges the truth, though it is not always in his
power, perhaps, to give a reason for it; because he cannot recollect and
bring before him all the materials that gave birth to his opinion; for
very many and very intricate considerations may unite to form the
principle, even of small and minute parts, involved in, or dependent on,
a great many things:--though these in process of time are forgotten, the
right impression still remains fixed in his mind.

'This impression is the result of the accumulated experience of our
whole life, and has been collected, we do not always know how or when.
But this mass of collective observation, however acquired, ought to
prevail over that reason, which, however powerfully exerted on any
particular occasion, will probably comprehend but a partial view of the
subject; and our conduct in life, as well as in the arts, is or ought to
be generally governed by this habitual reason: it is our happiness that
we are enabled to draw on such funds. If we were obliged to enter into
a theoretical deliberation on every occasion before we act, life would
be at a stand, and Art would be impracticable.

'It appears to me therefore' (continues Sir Joshua) 'that our first
thoughts, that is, the effect which any thing produces on our minds on
its first appearance, is never to be forgotten; and it demands for that
reason, because it is the first, to be laid up with care. If this be
not done, the artist may happen to impose on himself by partial
reasoning; by a cold consideration of those animated thoughts which
proceed, not perhaps from caprice or rashness (as he may afterwards
conceit), but from the fulness of his mind, enriched with the copious
stores of all the various inventions which he had ever seen, or had ever
passed in his mind. These ideas are infused into his design, without
any conscious effort; but if he be not on his guard, he may reconsider
and correct them, till the whole matter is reduced to a commonplace

'This is sometimes the effect of what I mean to caution you against;
that is to say, an unfounded distrust of the imagination and feeling, in
favour of narrow, partial, confined, argumentative theories, and of
principles that seem to apply to the design in hand, without considering
those general impressions on the fancy in which real principles of
_sound reason_, and of much more weight and importance, are involved,
and, as it were, lie hid under the appearance of a sort of vulgar
sentiment. Reason, without doubt, must ultimately determine everything;
at this minute it is required to inform us when that very reason is to
give way to feeling.'[1]

Mr. Burke, by whom the foregoing train of thinking was probably
suggested, has insisted on the same thing, and made rather a perverse
use of it in several parts of his _Reflections on the French
Revolution_; and Windham in one of his _Speeches_ has clenched it into
an aphorism--'There is nothing so true as habit.' Once more I would
say, common sense is tacit reason. Conscience is the same tacit sense
of right and wrong, or the impression of our moral experience and moral
apprehensions on the mind, which, because it works unseen, yet
certainly, we suppose to be an instinct, implanted in the mind; as we
sometimes attribute the violent operations of our passions, of which we
can neither trace the source nor assign the reason, to the instigation
of the Devil!

I shall here try to go more at large into this subject, and to give such
instances and illustrations of it as occur to me.

One of the persons who had rendered themselves obnoxious to Government
and been included in a charge for high treason in the year 1794, had
retired soon after into Wales to write an epic poem and enjoy the
luxuries of a rural life. In his peregrinations through that beautiful
scenery, he had arrived one fine morning at the inn at Llangollen, in
the romantic valley of that name. He had ordered his breakfast, and was
sitting at the window in all the dalliance of expectation when a face
passed, of which he took no notice at the instant--but when his
breakfast was brought in presently after, he found his appetite for it
gone--the day had lost its freshness in his eye--he was uneasy and
spiritless; and without any cause that he could discover, a total change
had taken place in his feelings. While he was trying to account for
this odd circumstance, the same face passed again--it was the face of
Taylor the spy; and he was longer at a loss to explain the difficulty.
He had before caught only a transient glimpse, a passing side-view of
the face; but though this was not sufficient to awaken a distinct idea
in his memory, his feelings, quicker and surer, had taken the alarm; a
string had been touched that gave a jar to his whole frame, and would
not let him rest, though he could not at all tell what was the matter
with him. To the flitting, shadowy, half-distinguished profile that had
glided by his window was linked unconsciously and mysteriously, but
inseparably, the impression of the trains that had been laid for him by
this person;--in this brief moment, in this dim, illegible short-hand of
the mind he had just escaped the speeches of the Attorney and
Solicitor-General over again; the gaunt figure of Mr. Pitt glared by
him; the walls of a prison enclosed him; and he felt the hands of the
executioner near him, without knowing it till the tremor and disorder of
his nerves gave information to his reasoning faculties that all was not
well within. That is, the same state of mind was recalled by one
circumstance in the series of association that had been produced by the
whole set of circumstances at the time, though the manner in which this
was done was not immediately perceptible. In other words, the feeling
of pleasure or pain, of good or evil, is revived, and acts
instantaneously upon the mind, before we have time to recollect the
precise objects which have originally given birth to it.[2] The
incident here mentioned was merely, then, one case of what the learned
understand by the _association of ideas_: but all that is meant by
feeling or common sense is nothing but the different cases of the
association of ideas, more or less true to the impression of the
original circumstances, as reason begins with the more formal
development of those circumstances, or pretends to account for the
different cases of the association of ideas. But it does not follow
that the dumb and silent pleading of the former (though sometimes, nay
often, mistaken) is less true than that of its babbling interpreter, or
that we are never to trust its dictates without consulting the express
authority of reason. Both are imperfect, both are useful in their way,
and therefore both are best together, to correct or to confirm one
another. It does not appear that in the singular instance above
mentioned, the sudden impression on the mind was superstition or fancy,
though it might have been thought so, had it not been proved by the
event to have a real physical and moral cause. Had not the same face
returned again, the doubt would never have been properly cleared up, but
would have remained a puzzle ever after, or perhaps have been soon
forgot.--By the law of association as laid down by physiologists, any
impression in a series can recall any other impression in that series
without going through the whole in order; so that the mind drops the
intermediate links, and passes on rapidly and by stealth to the more
striking effects of pleasure or pain which have naturally taken the
strongest hold of it. By doing this habitually and skillfully with
respect to the various impressions and circumstances with which our
experience makes us acquainted, it forms a series of unpremeditated
conclusions on almost all subjects that can be brought before it, as
just as they are of ready application to human life; and common sense is
the name of this body of unassuming but practical wisdom. Common sense,
however, is an impartial, instinctive result of truth and nature, and
will therefore bear the test and abide the scrutiny of the most severe
and patient reasoning. It is indeed incomplete without it. By
ingrafting reason on feeling, we 'make assurance double sure.'

'Tis the last key-stone that makes up the arch...
Then stands it a triumphal mark! Then men
Observe the strength, the height, the why and when
It was erected; and still walking under,
Meet some new matter to look up, and wonder.

But reason, not employed to interpret nature, and to improve and perfect
common sense and experience, is, for the most part, a building without a
foundation. The criticism exercised by reason, then, on common sense
may be as severe as it pleases, but it must be as patient as it is
severe. Hasty, dogmatical, self-satisfied reason is worse than idle
fancy or bigoted prejudice. It is systematic, ostentatious in error,
closes up the avenues of knowledge, and 'shuts the gates of wisdom on
mankind.' It is not enough to show that there is no reason for a thing
that we do not see the reason of it: if the common feeling, if the
involuntary prejudice sets in strong in favour of it, if, in spite of
all we can do, there is a lurking suspicion on the side of our first
impressions, we must try again, and believe that truth is mightier than
we. So, in ordering a definition of any subject, if we feel a misgiving
that there is any fact or circumstance emitted, but of which we have
only a vague apprehension, like a name we cannot recollect, we must ask
for more time, and not cut the matter short by an arrogant assumption of
the point in dispute. Common sense thus acts as a check-weight on
sophistry, and suspends our rash and superficial judgments. On the
other hand, if not only no reason can be given for a thing, but every
reason is clear against it, and we can account from ignorance, from
authority, from interest, from different causes, for the prevalence of
an opinion or sentiment, then we have a right to conclude that we have
mistaken a prejudice for an instinct, or have confounded a false and
partial impression with the fair and unavoidable inference from general
observation. Mr. Burke said that we ought not to reject every
prejudice, but should separate the husk of prejudice from the truth it
encloses, and so try to get at the kernel within; and thus far he was
right. But he was wrong in insisting that we are to cherish our
prejudices 'because they are prejudices': for if all are well founded,
there is no occasion to inquire into their origin or use; and he who
sets out to philosophise upon them, or make the separation Mr. Burke
talks of in this spirit and with this previous determination, will be
very likely to mistake a maggot or a rotten canker for the precious
kernel of truth, as was indeed the case with our Political sophist.

There is nothing more distinct than common sense and vulgar opinion.
Common sense is only a judge of things that fall under common
observation, or immediately come home to the business and bosoms of men.
This is of the very essence of its principle, the basis of its
pretensions. It rests upon the simple process of feeling,--it anchors
in experience. It is not, nor it cannot be, the test of abstract,
speculative opinions. But half the opinions and prejudices of mankind,
those which they hold in the most unqualified approbation and which have
been instilled into them under the strongest sanctions, are of this
latter kind, that is, opinions not which they have ever thought, known,
or felt one tittle about, but which they have taken up on trust from
others, which have been palmed on their understandings by fraud or
force, and which they continue to hold at the peril of life, limb,
property, and character, with as little warrant from common sense in the
first instance as appeal to reason in the last. The _ultima ratio
regum_ proceeds upon a very different plea. Common sense is neither
priestcraft nor state-policy. Yet 'there's the rub that makes absurdity
of so long life,' and, at the same time, gives the sceptical
philosophers the advantage over us. Till nature has fair play allowed
it, and is not adulterated by political and polemical quacks (as it so
often has been), it is impossible to appeal to it as a defence against
the errors and extravagances of mere reason. If we talk of common
sense, we are twitted with vulgar prejudice, and asked how we
distinguish the one from the other; but common and received opinion is
indeed 'a compost heap' of crude notions, got together by the pride and
passions of individuals, and reason is itself the thrall or manumitted
slave of the same lordly and besotted masters, dragging its servile
chain, or committing all sorts of Saturnalian licenses, the moment it
feels itself freed from it.--If ten millions of Englishmen are furious
in thinking themselves right in making war upon thirty millions of
Frenchmen, and if the last are equally bent upon thinking the others
always in the wrong, though it is a common and national prejudice, both
opinions cannot be the dictate of good sense; but it may be the
infatuated policy of one or both governments to keep their subjects
always at variance. If a few centuries ago all Europe believed in the
infallibility of the Pope, this was not an opinion derived from the
proper exercise or erroneous direction of the common sense of the
people; common sense had nothing to do with it--they believed whatever
their priests told them. England at present is divided into Whigs and
Tories, Churchmen and Dissenters; both parties have numbers on their
side; but common sense and party spirit are two different things. Sects
and heresies are upheld partly by sympathy, and partly by the love of
contradiction; if there was nobody of a different way of thinking, they
would fall to pieces of themselves. If a whole court say the same
thing, this is no proof that they think it, but that the individual at
the head of the court has said it; if a mob agree for a while in
shouting the same watchword, this is not to me an example of the _sensus
communis_, they only repeat what they have heard repeated by others. If
indeed a large proportion of the people are in want of food, of
clothing, of shelter--if they are sick, miserable, scorned,
oppressed--an d if each feeling it in himself, they all say so with one
voice and one heart, and lift up their hands to second their appeal,
this I should say was but the dictate of common sense, the cry of
nature. But to waive this part of the argument, which it is needless to
push farther,--l believe that the best way to instruct mankind is not by
pointing out to them their mutual errors, but by teaching them to think
rightly on indifferent matters, where they will listen with patience in
order to be amused, and where they do not consider a definition or a
syllogism as the greatest injury you can offer them.

There is no rule for expression. It is got at solely by _feeling_, that
is, on the principle of the association of ideas, and by transferring
what has been found to hold good in one case (with the necessary
modifications) to others. A certain look has been remarked strongly
indicative of a certain passion or trait of character, and we attach the
same meaning to it or are affected in the same pleasurable or painful
manner by it, where it exists in a less degree, though we can define
neither the look itself nor the modification of it. Having got the
general clue, the exact result may be left to the imagination to vary,
to extenuate or aggravate it according to circumstances. In the
admirable profile of Oliver Cromwell after ----, the drooping eyelids,
as if drawing a veil over the fixed, penetrating glance, the nostrils
somewhat distended, and lips compressed so as hardly to let the breath
escape him, denote the character of the man for high-reaching policy and
deep designs as plainly as they can be written. How is it that we
decipher this expression in the face? First, by feeling it. And how is
it that we feel it? Not by re-established rules, but by the instinct of
analogy, by the principle of association, which is subtle and sure in
proportion as it is variable and indefinite. A circumstance, apparently
of no value, shall alter the whole interpretation to be put upon an
expression or action and it shall alter it thus powerfully because in
proportion to its very insignificance it shows a strong general
principle at work that extends in its ramifications to the smallest
things. This in fact will make all the difference between minuteness
and subtlety or refinement; for a small or trivial effect may in given
circumstances imply the operation of a great power. Stillness may be
the result of a blow too powerful to be resisted; silence may be imposed
by feelings too agonising for utterance. The minute, the trifling and
insipid is that which is little in itself, in its causes and its
consequences; the subtle and refined is that which is slight and
evanescent at first sight, but which mounts up to a mighty sum in the
end, which is an essential part of an important whole, which has
consequences greater than itself, and where more is meant than meets the
eye or ear. We complain sometimes of littleness in a Dutch picture,
where there are a vast number of distinct parts and objects, each small
in itself, and leading to nothing else. A sky of Claude's cannot fall
under this censure, where one imperceptible gradation is as it were the
scale to another, where the broad arch of heaven is piled up of
endlessly intermediate gold and azure tints, and where an infinite
number of minute, scarce noticed particulars blend and melt into
universal harmony. The subtlety in Shakespear, of which there is an
immense deal scattered everywhere up and down, is always the instrument
of passion, the vehicle of character. The action of a man pulling his
hat over his forehead is indifferent enough in itself, and generally
speaking, may mean anything or nothing; but in the circumstances in
which Macduff is placed, it is neither insignificant nor equivocal.

What! man, ne'er pull your hat upon your brows, etc.

It admits but of one interpretation or inference, that which follows

Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak,
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break.

The passage in the same play, in which Duncan and his attendants are
introduced, commenting on the beauty and situation of Macbeth's castle,
though familiar in itself, has been often praised for the striking
contrast it presents to the scenes which follow.--The same look in
different circumstances may convey a totally different expression. Thus
the eye turned round to look at you without turning the head indicates
generally slyness or suspicion; but if this is combined with large
expanded eyelids or fixed eyebrows, as we see it in Titian's pictures,
it will denote calm contemplation or piercing sagacity, without anything
of meanness or fear of being observed. In other cases it may imply
merely indolent, enticing voluptuousness, as in Lely's portraits of
women. The languor and weakness of the eyelids give the amorous turn to
the expression. How should there be a rule for all this beforehand,
seeing it depends on circumstances ever varying, and scarce discernible
but by their effect on the mind? Rules are applicable to abstractions,
but expression is concrete and individual. We know the meaning of
certain looks, and we feel how they modify one another in conjunction.
But we cannot have a separate rule to judge of all their combinations in
different degrees and circumstances, without foreseeing all those
combinations, which is impossible; or if we did foresee them, we should
only be where we are, that is, we could only make the rule as we now
judge without it, from imagination and the feeling of the moment. The
absurdity of reducing expression to a preconcerted system was perhaps
never more evidently shown than in a picture of the Judgment of Solomon
by so great a man as N. Poussin, which I once heard admired for the
skill and discrimination of the artist in making all the women, who are
ranged on one side, in the greatest alarm at the sentence of the judge,
while all the men on the opposite side see through the design of it.
Nature does not go to work or cast things in a regular mould in this
sort of way. I once heard a person remark of another, 'He has an eye
like a vicious horse.' This was a fair analogy. We all, I believe,
have noticed the look of a horse's eye just before he is going to bite
or kick. But will any one, therefore, describe to me exactly what that
look is? It was the same acute observer that said of a
self-sufficient., prating music-master, 'He talks on all subjects _at
sight_'--which expressed the man at once by an allusion to his
profession. the coincidence was indeed perfect. Nothing else could
compare with the easy assurance with which this gentleman would
volunteer an explanation of things of which he was most ignorant, but
the _nonchalance_ with which a musician sits down to a harpsichord to
play a piece he has never seen before. My physiognomical friend would
not have hit on this mode of illustration without knowing the profession
of the subject of his criticism; but having this hint given him, it
instantly suggested itself to his 'sure trailing.' The manner of the
speaker was evident; and the association of the music-master sitting
down to play at sight, lurking in his mind, was immediately called out
by the strength of his impression of the character. The feeling of
character and the felicity of invention in explaining it were nearly
allied to each other. The first was so wrought up and running over that
the transition to the last was very easy and unavoidable. When Mr. Kean
was so much praised for the action of Richard in his last struggle with
his triumphant antagonist, where he stands, after his sword is wrested
from him, with his hands stretched out, 'as if his will could not be
disarmed, and the very phantoms of his despair had a withering power,'
he said that he borrowed it from seeing the last efforts of Painter in
his fight with Oliver. This assuredly did not lessen the merit of it.
Thus it ever is with the man of real genius. He has the feeling of
truth already shrined in his own breast, and his eye is still bent on
Nature to see how she expresses herself. When we thoroughly understand
the subject it is easy to translate from one language into another.
Raphael, in muffling up the figure of Elymas the Sorcerer in his
garments, appears to have extended the idea of blindness even to his
clothes. Was this design? Probably not; but merely the feeling of
analogy thoughtlessly suggesting this device, which being so suggested
was retained and carried on, because it flattered or fell in with the
original feeling. The tide of passion, when strong, overflows and
gradually insinuates itself into all nooks and corners of the mind.
Invention (of the best kind) I therefore do not think so distinct a
thing from feeling as some are apt to imagine. The springs of pure
feeling will rise and fill the moulds of fancy that are fit to receive
it. There are some striking coincidences of colour in well-composed
pictures, as in a straggling weed in the foreground streaked with blue
or red to answer to a blue or red drapery, to the tone of the flesh or
an opening in the sky:--not that this was intended, or done by the rule
(for then it would presently become affected and ridiculous), but the
eye, being imbued with a certain colour, repeats and varies it from a
natural sense of harmony, a secret craving and appetite for beauty,
which in the same manner soothes and gratifies the eye of taste, though
the cause is not understood. _Tact, finesse_, is nothing but the being
completely aware of the feeling belonging to certain situations,
passions, etc., and the being consequently sensible to their slightest
indications or movements in others. One of the most remarkable
instances of this sort of faculty is the following story, told of Lord
Shaftesbury, the grandfather of the author of the _Characteristics_. He
had been to dine with Lady Clarendon and her daughter, who was at that
time privately married to the Duke of York (afterwards James II.), and
as he returned home with another nobleman who had accompanied him, he
suddenly turned to him, and said, 'Depend upon it, the Duke has married
Hyde's daughter.' His companion could not comprehend what he meant; but
on explaining himself, he said, 'Her mother behaved to her with an
attention and a marked respect that it is impossible to account for in
any other way; and I am sure of it.' His conjecture shortly afterwards
proved to be the truth. This was carrying the prophetic spirit of
common sense as far as it could go.


[1] Discourse XIII. vol. ii. pp. 113-117.

[2] Sentiment has the same source as that here pointed out. Thus the
_Ranz des Vaches_, which has such an effect on the minds of the Swiss
peasantry, when its well-known sound is heard, does not merely recall to
them the idea of their country, but has associated with it a thousand
nameless ideas, numberless touches of private affection, of early hope,
romantic adventure and national pride, all which rush in (with mingled
currents) to swell the tide of fond remembrance, and make them languish
or die for home. What a fine instrument the human heart is! Who shall
touch it? Who shall fathom it? Who shall 'sound it from Its lowest
note to the top of its compass?' Who shall put his hand among the
strings, and explain their wayward music? The heart alone, when touched
by sympathy, trembles and responds to their hidden meaning!



Genius or originality is, for the most part, _some strong quality in the
mind, answering to and bringing out some new and striking quality in

Imagination is, more properly, the power of carrying on a given feeling
into other situations, which must be done best according to the hold
which the feeling itself has taken of the mind.[1] In new and unknown
combinations the impression must act by sympathy, and not by rule, but
there can be no sympathy where there is no passion, no original
interest. The personal interest may in some cases oppress and
circumscribe the imaginative faculty, as in the instance of Rousseau:
but in general the strength and consistency of the imagination will be
in proportion to the strength and depth of feeling; and it is rarely
that a man even of lofty genius will be able to do more than carry on
his own feelings and character, or some prominent and ruling passion,
into fictitious and uncommon situations. Milton has by allusion
embodied a great part of his political and personal history in the chief
characters and incidents of _Paradise Lost_. He has, no doubt,
wonderfully adapted and heightened them, but the elements are the same;
you trace the bias and opinions of the man in the creations of the poet.
Shakespear (almost alone) seems to have been a man of genius raised
above the definition of genius. 'Born universal heir to all humanity,'
he was 'as one, in suffering all who suffered nothing'; with a perfect
sympathy with all things, yet alike indifferent to all: who did not
tamper with Nature or warp her to his own purposes; who 'knew all
qualities with a learned spirit,' instead of judging of them by his own
predilections; and was rather 'a pipe for the Muse's finger to play what
stop she pleasd,' than anxious to set up any character or pretensions of
his own. His genius consisted in the faculty of transforming himself at
will into whatever he chose: his originality was the power of seeing
every object from the exact point of view in which others would see it.
He was the Proteus of human intellect. Genius in ordinary is a more
obstinate and less versatile thing. It is sufficiently exclusive and
self-willed, quaint and peculiar. It does some one thing by virtue of
doing nothing else: it excels in some one pursuit by being blind to all
excellence but its own. It is just the reverse of the cameleon; for it
does not borrow, but lends its colour to all about it; or like the
glow-worm, discloses a little circle of gorgeous light in the twilight
of obscurity, in the night of intellect that surrounds it. So did
Rembrandt. If ever there was a man of genius, he was one, in the proper
sense of the term. He lived in and revealed to otters a world of his
own, and might be said to have invented a new view of nature. He did
not discover things _out of_ nature, in fiction or fairy land, or make a
voyage to the moon 'to descry new lands, rivers or mountains in her
spotty globe,' but saw things _in_ nature that every one had missed
before him and gave others eyes to see them with. This is the test and
triumph of originality, not to show us what has never been, and what we
may therefore very easily never have dreamt of, but to point out to us
what is before our eyes and under our feet, though we have had no
suspicion of its existence, for want of sufficient strength of
intuition, of determined grasp of mind, to seize and retain it.
Rembrandt's conquests were not over the _ideal_, but the real. He did
not contrive a new story or character, but we nearly owe to him a fifth
part of painting, the knowledge of _chiaroscuro_--a distinct power and
element in art and nature. He had a steadiness, a firm keeping of mind
and eye, that first stood the shock of 'fierce extremes' in light and
shade, or reconciled the greatest obscurity and the greatest brilliancy
into perfect harmony; and he therefore was the first to hazard this
appearance upon canvas, and give full effect to what he saw and
delighted in. He was led to adopt this style of broad and startling
contrast from its congeniality to his own feelings: his mind grappled
with that which afforded the best exercise to its master-powers: he was
bold in act, because he was urged on by a strong native impulse.
Originality is then nothing but nature and feeling working in the mind.
A man does not affect to be original: he is so, because he cannot help
it, and often without knowing it. This extraordinary artist indeed
might be said to have had a particular organ for colour. His eye seemed
to come in contact with it as a feeling, to lay hold of it as a
substance, rather than to contemplate it as a visual object. The
texture of his landscapes is 'of the earth, earthy'--his clouds are
humid, heavy, slow; his shadows are 'darkness that may be felt,' a
'palpable obscure'; his lights are lumps of liquid splendour! There is
something more in this than can be accounted for from design or
accident: Rembrandt was not a man made up of two or three rules and
directions for acquiring genius.

I am afraid I shall hardly write so satisfactory a character of Mr.
Wordsworth, though he too, like Rembrandt, has a faculty of making
something out of nothing, that is, out of himself, by the medium through
which he sees and with which he clothes the barrenest subject. Mr.
Wordsworth is the last man to 'look abroad into universality,' if that
alone constituted genius: he looks at home into himself, and is 'content
with riches fineless.' He would in the other case be 'poor as winter,'
if he had nothing but general capacity to trust to. He is the greatest,
that is, the most original poet of the present day, only because he is
the greatest egotist. He is 'self-involved, not dark.' He sits in the
centre of his own being, and there 'enjoys bright day.' He does not
waste a thought on others. Whatever does not relate exclusively and
wholly to himself is foreign to his views. He contemplates a
whole-length figure of himself, he looks along the unbroken line of his
personal identity. He thrusts aside all other objects, all other
interests, with scorn and impatience, that he may repose on his own
being, that he may dig out the treasures of thought contained in it,
that he may unfold the precious stores of a mind for ever brooding over
itself. His genius is the effect of his individual character. He
stamps that character, that deep individual interest, on whatever he
meets. The object is nothing but as it furnishes food for internal
meditation, for old associations. If there had been no other being in
the universe, Mr. Wordsworth's poetry would have been just what it is.
If there had been neither love nor friendship, neither ambition nor
pleasure nor business in the World, the author of the _Lyrical Ballads_
need not have been greatly changed from what he is--might still have
'kept the noiseless tenour of his way,' retired in the sanctuary of his
own heart, hallowing the Sabbath of his own thoughts. With the
passions, the pursuits, and imaginations of other men he does not
profess to sympathise, but 'finds tongues in the trees, books in the
running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.' With a mind
averse from outward objects, but ever intent upon its own workings, he
hangs a weight of thought and feeling upon every trifling circumstance
connected with his past history. The note of the cuckoo sounds in his
ear like the voice of other years; the daisy spreads its leaves in the
rays of boyish delight that stream from his thoughtful eyes; the rainbow
lifts its proud arch in heaven but to mark his progress from infancy to
manhood; an old thorn is buried, bowed down under the mass of
associations he has wound about it; and to him, as he himself
beautifully says,

The meanest flow'r that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

It is this power of habitual sentiment, or of transferring the interest
of our conscious existence to whatever gently solicits attention, and is
a link in the chain of association without rousing our passions or
hurting our pride, that is the striking feature in Mr. Wordsworth's mind
and poetry. Others have left and shown this power before, as Wither,
Burns, etc., but none have felt it so intensely and absolutely as to
lend to it the voice of inspiration, as to make it the foundation of a
new style and school in poetry. His strength, as it so often happens,
arises from the excess of his weakness. But he has opened a new avenue
to the human heart, has explored another secret haunt and nook of
nature, 'sacred to verse, and sure of everlasting fame.' Compared with
his lines, Lord Byron's stanzas are but exaggerated common-place, and
Walter Scott's poetry (not his prose) old wives' fables.[2] There is no
one in whom I have been more disappointed than in the writer here spoken
of, nor with whom I am more disposed on certain points to quarrel; but
the love of truth and justice which obliges me to do this, will not
suffer me to blench his merits. Do what he can, he cannot help being an
original-minded man. His poetry is not servile. While the cuckoo
returns in the spring, while the daisy looks bright in the sun, while
the rainbow lifts its head above the storm--

Yet I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
And all that thou hast done for me!

Sir Joshua Reynolds, in endeavouring to show that there is no such thing
as proper originality, a spirit emanating from the mind of the artist
and shining through his works, has traced Raphael through a number of
figures which he has borrowed from Masaccio and others. This is a bad
calculation. If Raphael had only borrowed those figures from others,
would he, even in Sir Joshua's sense, have been entitled to the praise
of originality? Plagiarism, in so far as it is plagiarism, is not
originality. Salvator is considered by many as a great genius. He is
what they call an irregular genius. My notion of genius is not exactly
the same as theirs. It has also been made a question; whether there is
not more genius in Rembrandt's Three Trees than in all Claude Lorraine's
landscapes. I do not know how that may be; but it was enough for Claude
to have been a perfect landscape-painter.

Capacity is not the same thing as genius. Capacity may be described to
relate to the quantity of knowledge, however acquired; genius, to its
quality and the mode of acquiring it. Capacity is power over given
ideas combinations of ideas; genius is the power over those which are
not given, and for which no obvious or precise rule can be laid down.
Or capacity is power of any sort; genius is power of a different sort
from what has yet been shown. A retentive memory, a clear
understanding, is capacity, but it is not genius. The admirable
Crichton was a person of prodigious capacity; but there is no proof
(that I know) that he had an atom of genius. His verses that remain are
dull and sterile. He could learn all that was known of any subject; he
could do anything if others could show him the way to do it. This was
very wonderful; but that is all you can say of it. It requires a good
capacity to play well at chess; but, after all, it is a game of skill,
and not of genius. Know what you will of it, the understanding still
moves in certain tracks in which others have trod it before, quicker or
slower, with more or less comprehension and presence of mind. The
greatest skill strikes out nothing for itself, from its own peculiar
resources; the nature of the game is a thing determinate and fixed:
there is no royal or poetical road to checkmate your adversary. There
is no place for genius but in the indefinite and unknown. The discovery
of the binomial theorem was an effort of genius; but there was none
shown in Jedediah Buxton's being able to multiply 9 figures by 9 in his
head. If he could have multiplied 90 figures by 90 instead of 9, it
would have been equally useless toil and trouble.[3] He is a man of
capacity who possesses considerable intellectual riches: he is a man of
genius who finds out a vein of new ore. Originality is the seeing
nature differently from others, and yet as it is in itself. It is not
singularity or affectation, but the discovery of new and valuable truth.
All the world do not see the whole meaning of any object they have been
looking at. Habit blinds them to some things; short-sightedness to
others. Every mind is not a gauge and measure of truth. Nature has her
surface and her dark recesses. She is deep, obscure, and infinite. It
is only minds on whom she makes her fullest impressions that can
penetrate her shrine or unveil her _Holy of Holies_. It is only those
whom she has filled with her spirit that have the boldness or the power
to reveal her mysteries to others. But Nature has a thousand aspects,
and one man can only draw out one of them. Whoever does this is a man
of genius. One displays her force, another her refinement; one her
power of harmony, another her suddenness of contrast; one her beauty of
form, another her splendour of colour. Each does that for which he is
bast fitted by his particular genius, that is to say, by some quality of
mind into which the quality of the object sinks deepest, where it finds
the most cordial welcome, is perceived to its utmost extent, and where
again it forces its way out from the fulness with which it has taken
possession of the mind of the student. The imagination gives out what
it has first absorbed by congeniality of temperament, what it has
attracted and moulded into itself by elective affinity, as the loadstone
draws and impregnates iron. A little originality is more esteemed and
sought for than the greatest acquired talent, because it throws a new
light upon things, and is peculiar to the individual. The other is
common; and may be had for the asking, to any amount.

The value of any work is to be judged of by the quantity of originality
contained in it. A very little of this will go a great way. If
Goldsmith had never written anything but the two or three first chapters
of the _Vicar of Wakefield_ or the character of a Village Schoolmaster,
they would have stamped him a man of genius. The editors of
Encyclopedias are not usually reckoned the first literary characters of
the age. The works of which they have the management contain a great
deal of knowledge, like chests or warehouses, but the goods are not
their own. We should as soon think of admiring the shelves of a
library; but the shelves of a library are useful and respectable. I was
once applied to, in a delicate emergency, to write an article on a
difficult subject for an Encyclopedia, and was advised to take time and
give it a systematic and scientific form, to avail myself of all the
knowledge that was to be obtained on the subject, and arrange it with
clearness and method. I made answer that as to the first, I had taken
time to do all that I ever pretended to do, as I had thought incessantly
on different matters for twenty years of my life;[4] that I had no
particular knowledge of the subject in question, and no head for
arrangement; and that the utmost I could do in such a case would be,
when a systematic and scientific article was prepared, to write marginal
notes upon it, to insert a remark or illustration of my own (not to be
found in former Encyclopedias), or to suggest a better definition than
had been offered in the text. There are two sorts of writing. The
first is compilation; and consists in collecting and stating all that is
already known of any question in the best possible manner, for the
benefit of the uninformed reader. An author of this class is a very
learned amanuensis of other people's thoughts. The second sort proceeds
on an entirely different principle: instead of bringing down the account
of knowledge to the point at which it has already arrived, it professes
to start from that point on the strength of the writer's individual
reflections; and supposing the reader in possession of what is already
known, supplies deficiencies, fills up certain blanks, and quits the
beaten road in search of new tracts of observation or sources of
feeling. It is in vain to object to this last style that it is
disjointed, disproportioned, and irregular. It is merely a set of
additions and corrections to other men's works, or to the common stock
of human knowledge, printed separately. You might as well expect a
continued chain of reasoning in the notes to a book. It skips all the
trite, intermediate, level common-places of the subject, and only stops
at the difficult passages of the human mind, or touches on some striking
point that has been overlooked in previous editions. A view of a
subject, to be connected and regular, cannot be all new. A writer will
always be liable to be charged either with paradox or common-place,
either with dulness or affectation. But we have no right to demand from
any one more than he pretends to. There is indeed a medium in all
things, but to unite opposite excellencies is a task ordinarily too hard
for mortality. He who succeeds in what he aims at, or who takes the
lead in any one mode or path of excellence, may think himself very well
off. It would not be fair to complain of the style of an Encyclopedia
as dull, as wanting volatile salt; nor of the style of an Essay because
it is too light and sparkling, because it is not a _caput mortuum_. So
it is rather an odd objection to a work that it is made up entirely of
'brilliant passages'--at least it is a fault that can be found with few
works, and the book might be pardoned for its singularity. The censure
might indeed seem like adroit flattery, if it were not passed on an
author whom any objection is sufficient to render unpopular and
ridiculous. I grant it is best to unite solidity with show, general
information with particular ingenuity. This is the pattern of a perfect
style; but I myself do not pretend to be a perfect writer. In fine, we
do not banish light French wines from our tables, or refuse to taste
sparkling Champagne when we can get it because it has not the body of
Old Port. Besides, I do not know that dulness is strength, or that an
observation is slight because it is striking. Mediocrity, insipidity,
want of character is the great fault.

Mediocribus esse poetis
Non Dii, non homines, non concessere columnae.

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