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The Complete Essays of C. D. Warner by Charles Dudley Warner

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of uniformity; the social aristocracy is mowed down in the name of
equality. For the second time an abstract principle, and with the same
effect, buries its blade in the heart of a living society."

Notwithstanding the world-wide advertisement of the French experiment,
it has taken almost a century for the dogma of equality, at least outside
of France, to filter down from the speculative thinkers into a general
popular acceptance, as an active principle to be used in the shaping of
affairs, and to become more potent in the popular mind than tradition or
habit. The attempt is made to apply it to society with a brutal logic;
and we might despair as to the result, if we did not know that the world
is not ruled by logic. Nothing is so fascinating in the hands of the
half-informed as a neat dogma; it seems the perfect key to all
difficulties. The formula is applied in contempt and ignorance of the
past, as if building up were as easy as pulling down, and as if society
were a machine to be moved by mechanical appliances, and not a living
organism composed of distinct and sensitive beings. Along with the
spread of a belief in the uniformity of natural law has unfortunately
gone a suggestion of parallelism of the moral law to it, and a notion
that if we can discover the right formula, human society and government
can be organized with a mathematical justice to all the parts. By many
the dogma of equality is held to be that formula, and relief from the
greater evils of the social state is expected from its logical extension.

Let us now consider some of the present movements and tendencies that are
related, more or less, to this belief:

I. Absolute equality is seen to depend upon absolute supremacy of the
state. Professor Henry Fawcett says, "Excessive dependence on the state
is the most prominent characteristic of modern socialism." "These
proposals to prohibit inheritance, to abolish private property, and to
make the state the owner of all the capital and the administrator of the
entire industry of the country are put forward as representing socialism
in its ultimate and highest development."--["Socialism in Germany and
the United States," Fortnightly Review, November, 1878.]

Society and government should be recast till they conform to the theory,
or, let us say, to its exaggerations. Men can unmake what they have
made. There is no higher authority anywhere than the will of the
majority, no matter what the majority is in intellect and morals. Fifty-
one ignorant men have a natural right to legislate for the one hundred,
as against forty-nine intelligent men.

All men being equal, one man is as fit to legislate and execute as
another. A recently elected Congressman from Maine vehemently repudiated
in a public address, as a slander, the accusation that he was educated.
The theory was that, uneducated, he was the proper representative of the
average ignorance of his district, and that ignorance ought to be
represented in the legislature in kind. The ignorant know better what
they want than the educated know for them. "Their education [that of
college men] destroys natural perception and judgment; so that cultivated
people are one-sided, and their judgment is often inferior to that of the
working people." "Cultured people have made up their minds, and are hard
to move." "No lawyer should be elected to a place in any legislative
body."--[Opinions of working-men, reported in "The Nationals, their
Origin and their Aims," The Atlantic Monthly, November, 1878.]

Experience is of no account, neither is history, nor tradition, nor the
accumulated wisdom of ages. On all questions of political economy,
finance, morals, the ignorant man stands on a par with the best informed
as a legislator. We might cite any number of the results of these
illusions. A member of a recent House of Representatives declared that
we "can repair the losses of the war by the issue of a sufficient amount
of paper money." An intelligent mechanic of our acquaintance, a leader
among the Nationals, urging the theory of his party, that banks should be
destroyed, and that the government should issue to the people as much
"paper money" as they need, denied the right of banks or of any
individuals to charge interest on money. Yet he would take rent for the
house he owns.

Laws must be the direct expression of the will of the majority, and be
altered solely on its will. It would be well, therefore, to have a
continuous election, so that, any day, the electors can change their
representative for a new man. "If my caprice be the source of law, then
my enjoyment may be the source of the division of the nation's
resources."--[Stahl's Rechtsphilosophie, quoted by Roscher.]

Property is the creator of inequality, and this factor in our artificial
state can be eliminated only by absorption. It is the duty of the
government to provide for all the people, and the sovereign people will
see to it that it does. The election franchise is a natural right--a
man's weapon to protect himself. It may be asked, If it is just this,
and not a sacred trust accorded to be exercised for the benefit of
society, why may not a man sell it, if it is for his interest to do so?

What is there illogical in these positions from the premise given?
"Communism," says Roscher," [Political Economy, bk. i., ch. v., 78.]--
is the logically not inconsistent exaggeration of the principle of
equality. Men who hear themselves designated as the sovereign people,
and their welfare as the supreme law of the state, are more apt than
others to feel more keenly the distance which separates their own misery
from the superabundance of others. And, indeed, to what an extent our
physical wants are determined by our intellectual mold!"

The tendency of the exaggeration of man's will as the foundation of
government is distinctly materialistic; it is a self-sufficiency that
shuts out God and the higher law.--["And, indeed, if the will of man is
all-powerful, if states are to be distinguished from one another only by
their boundaries, if everything may be changed like the scenery in a play
by a flourish of the magic wand of a system, if man may arbitrarily make
the right, if nations can be put through evolutions like regiments of
troops, what a field would the world present for attempts at the
realizations of the wildest dreams, and what a temptation would be
offered to take possession, by main force, of the government of human
affairs, to destroy the rights of property and the rights of capital, to
gratify ardent longings without trouble, and to provide the much-coveted
means of enjoyment! The Titans have tried to scale the heavens, and have
fallen into the most degrading materialism. Purely speculative dogmatism
sinks into materialism." (M. Wolowski's Essay on the Historical Method,
prefixed to his translation of Roscher's Political Economy.)]--We need to
remember that the Creator of man, and not man himself, formed society and
instituted government; that God is always behind human society and
sustains it; that marriage and the family and all social relations are
divinely established; that man's duty, coinciding with his right, is,
by the light of history, by experience, by observation of men, and by the
aid of revelation, to find out and make operative, as well as he can, the
divine law in human affairs. And it may be added that the sovereignty of
the people, as a divine trust, may be as logically deduced from the
divine institution of government as the old divine right of kings.
Government, by whatever name it is called, is a matter of experience and
expediency. If we submit to the will of the majority, it is because it
is more convenient to do so; and if the republic or the democracy
vindicate itself, it is because it works best, on the whole, for a
particular people. But it needs no prophet to say that it will not work
long if God is shut out from it, and man, in a full-blown socialism,
is considered the ultimate authority.

II. Equality of education. In our American system there is, not only
theoretically but practically, an equality of opportunity in the public
schools, which are free to all children, and rise by gradations from the
primaries to the high-schools, in which the curriculum in most respects
equals, and in variety exceeds, that of many third-class "colleges." In
these schools nearly the whole round of learning, in languages, science,
and art, is touched. The system has seemed to be the best that could be
devised for a free society, where all take part in the government, and
where so much depends upon the intelligence of the electors. Certain
objections, however, have been made to it. As this essay is intended
only to be tentative, we shall state some of them, without indulging in
lengthy comments.

( 1. ) The first charge is superficiality--a necessary consequence of
attempting too much--and a want of adequate preparation for special
pursuits in life.

( 2. ) A uniformity in mediocrity is alleged from the use of the same
text-books and methods in all schools, for all grades and capacities.
This is one of the most common criticisms on our social state by a
certain class of writers in England, who take an unflagging interest in
our development. One answer to it is this: There is more reason to
expect variety of development and character in a generally educated than
in an ignorant community; there is no such uniformity as the dull level
of ignorance.

( 3. ) It is said that secular education--and the general schools open to
all in a community of mixed religions must be secular--is training the
rising generation to be materialists and socialists.

( 4. ) Perhaps a better-founded charge is that a system of equal
education, with its superficiality, creates discontent with the condition
in which a majority of men must be--that of labor--a distaste for trades
and for hand-work, an idea that what is called intellectual labor (let us
say, casting up accounts in a shop, or writing trashy stories for a
sensational newspaper) is more honorable than physical labor; and
encourages the false notion that "the elevation of the working classes"
implies the removal of men and women from those classes.

We should hesitate to draw adverse conclusions in regard to a system yet
so young that its results cannot be fairly estimated. Only after two or
three generations can its effects upon the character of a great people be
measured: Observations differ, and testimony is difficult to obtain.
We think it safe to say that those states are most prosperous which have
the best free schools. But if the philosopher inquires as to the general
effect upon the national character in respect to the objections named, he
must wait for a reply.

III. The pursuit of the chimera of social equality, from the belief that
it should logically follow political equality; resulting in extravagance,
misapplication of natural capacities, a notion that physical labor is
dishonorable, or that the state should compel all to labor alike, and in
efforts to remove inequalities of condition by legislation.

IV. The equality of the sexes. The stir in the middle of the eighteenth
century gave a great impetus to the emancipation of woman; though,
curiously enough, Rousseau, in unfolding his plan of education for
Sophie, in Emile, inculcates an almost Oriental subjection of woman--her
education simply that she may please man. The true enfranchisement of
woman--that is, the recognition (by herself as well as by man) of her
real place in the economy of the world, in the full development of her
capacities--is the greatest gain to civilization since the Christian era.
The movement has its excesses, and the gain has not been without loss.
"When we turn to modern literature," writes Mr. Money, "from the pages in
which Fenelon speaks of the education of girls, who does not feel that
the world has lost a sacred accent--that some ineffable essence has
passed out from our hearts?"

How far the expectation has been realized that women, in fiction, for
instance, would be more accurately described, better understood, and
appear as nobler and lovelier beings when women wrote the novels, this is
not the place to inquire. The movement has results which are unavoidable
in a period of transition, and probably only temporary. The education of
woman and the development of her powers hold the greatest promise for the
regeneration of society. But this development, yet in its infancy, and
pursued with much crudeness and misconception of the end, is not enough.
Woman would not only be equal with man, but would be like him; that is,
perform in society the functions he now performs. Here, again, the
notion of equality is pushed towards uniformity. The reformers admit
structural differences in the sexes, though these, they say, are greatly
exaggerated by subjection; but the functional differences are mainly to
be eliminated. Women ought to mingle in all the occupations of men,
as if the physical differences did not exist. The movement goes to
obliterate, as far as possible, the distinction between sexes. Nature
is, no doubt, amused at this attempt. A recent writer--["Biology and
Woman's Rights," Quarterly Journal of Science, November, 1878.]--,
says: "The 'femme libre' [free woman] of the new social order may,
indeed, escape the charge of neglecting her family and her household by
contending that it is not her vocation to become a wife and a mother!
Why, then, we ask, is she constituted a woman at all? Merely that she
may become a sort of second-rate man?"

The truth is that this movement, based always upon a misconception of
equality, so far as it would change the duties of the sexes, is a
retrograde.--["It has been frequently observed that among declining
nations the social differences between the two sexes are first
obliterated, and afterwards even the intellectual differences. The more
masculine the women become, the more effeminate become the men. It is no
good symptom when there are almost as many female writers and female
rulers as there are male. Such was the case, for instance, in the
Hellenistic kingdoms, and in the age of the Caesars. What today is
called by many the emancipation of woman would ultimately end in the
dissolution of the family, and, if carried out, render poor service to
the majority of women. If man and woman were placed entirely on the same
level, and if in the competition between the two sexes nothing but an
actual superiority should decide, it is to be feared that woman would
soon be relegated to a condition as hard as that in which she is found
among all barbarous nations. It is precisely family life and higher
civilization that have emancipated woman. Those theorizers who, led
astray by the dark side of higher civilization, preach a community of
goods, generally contemplate in their simultaneous recommendation of the
emancipation of woman a more or less developed form of a community of
wives. The grounds of the two institutions are very similar."
(Roscher's Political Economy, p. 250.) Note also that difference in
costumes of the sexes is least apparent among lowly civilized peoples.]--
One of the most striking features in our progress from barbarism to
civilization is the proper adjustment of the work for men and women.
One test of a civilization is the difference of this work. This is a
question not merely of division of labor, but of differentiation with
regard to sex. It not only takes into account structural differences and
physiological disadvantages, but it recognizes the finer and higher use
of woman in society.

The attainable, not to say the ideal, society requires an increase rather
than a decrease of the differences between the sexes. The differences
may be due to physical organization, but the structural divergence is but
a faint type of deeper separation in mental and spiritual constitution.
That which makes the charm and power of woman, that for which she is
created, is as distinctly feminine as that which makes the charm and
power of men is masculine. Progress requires constant differentiation,
and the line of this is the development of each sex in its special
functions, each being true to the highest ideal for itself, which is not
that the woman should be a man, or the man a woman. The enjoyment of
social life rests very largely upon the encounter and play of the subtle
peculiarities which mark the two sexes; and society, in the limited sense
of the word, not less than the whole structure of our civilization,
requires the development of these peculiarities. It is in diversity, and
not in an equality tending to uniformity, that we are to expect the best
results from the race.

V. Equality of races; or rather a removal of the inequalities, social
and political, arising in the contact of different races by

Perhaps equality is hardly the word to use here, since uniformity is the
thing aimed at; but the root of the proposal is in the dogma we are
considering. The tendency of the age is to uniformity. The facilities
of travel and communication, the new inventions and the use of machinery
in manufacturing, bring men into close and uniform relations, and induce
the disappearance of national characteristics and of race peculiarities.
Men, the world over, are getting to dress alike, eat alike, and
disbelieve in the same things: It is the sentimental complaint of the
traveler that his search for the picturesque is ever more difficult, that
race distinctions and habits are in a way to be improved off the face of
the earth, and that a most uninteresting monotony is supervening.
The complaint is not wholly sentimental, and has a deeper philosophical
reason than the mere pleasure in variety on this planet.

We find a striking illustration of the equalizing, not to say leveling,
tendency of the age in an able paper by Canon George Rawlinson, of the
University of Oxford, contributed recently to an American periodical of a
high class and conservative character.--["Duties of Higher towards
Lower Races." By George Rawlinson. Princeton Re-view. November, 1878.
New York.]--This paper proposes, as a remedy for the social and
political evils caused by the negro element in our population, the
miscegenation of the white and black races, to the end that the black
race may be wholly absorbed in the white--an absorption of four millions
by thirty-six millions, which he thinks might reasonably be expected in
about a century, when the lower type would disappear altogether.

Perhaps the pleasure of being absorbed is not equal to the pleasure of
absorbing, and we cannot say how this proposal will commend itself to the
victims of the euthanasia. The results of miscegenation on this
continent--black with red, and white with black--the results morally,
intellectually, and physically, are not such as to make it attractive to
the American people.

It is not, however, upon sentimental grounds that we oppose this
extension of the exaggerated dogma of equality. Our objection is deeper.
Race distinctions ought to be maintained for the sake of the best
development of the race, and for the continuance of that mutual reaction
and play of peculiar forces between races which promise the highest
development for the whole. It is not for nothing, we may suppose, that
differentiation has gone on in the world; and we doubt that either
benevolence or self-interest requires this age to attempt to restore an
assumed lost uniformity, and fuse the race traits in a tiresome

Life consists in an exchange of relations, and the more varied the
relations interchanged the higher the life. We want not only different
races, but different civilizations in different parts of the globe.

A much more philosophical view of the African problem and the proper
destiny of the negro race than that of Canon Rawlinson is given by a
recent colored writer,--["Africa and the Africans." By Edmund W.
Blyden. Eraser's Magazine, August, 1878.]--an official in the
government of Liberia. We are mistaken, says this excellent observer,
in regarding Africa as a land of a homogeneous population, and in
confounding the tribes in a promiscuous manner. There are negroes and
negroes. "The numerous tribes inhabiting the vast continent of Africa
can no more be regarded as in every respect equal than the numerous
peoples of Asia or Europe can be so regarded;" and we are not to expect
the civilization of Africa to be under one government, but in a great
variety of States, developed according to tribal and race affinities.
A still greater mistake is this:

"The mistake which Europeans often make in considering questions of negro
improvement and the future of Africa is in supposing that the negro is
the European in embryo, in the undeveloped stage, and that when, by-and-
by, he shall enjoy the advantages of civilization and culture, he will
become like the European; in other words, that the negro is on the same
line of progress, in the same groove, with the European, but infinitely
in the rear . . . . This view proceeds upon the assumption that the
two races are called to the same work, and are alike in potentiality and
ultimate development, the negro only needing the element of time, under
certain circumstances, to become European. But to our mind it is not a
question between the two races of inferiority or superiority. There is
no absolute or essential superiority on the one side, or absolute or
essential inferiority on the other side. It is a question of difference
of endowment and difference of destiny. No amount of training or culture
will make the negro a European. On the other hand, no lack of training
or deficiency of culture will make the European a negro. The two races
are not moving in the same groove, with an immeasurable distance between
them, but on parallel lines. They will never meet in the plane of their
activities so as to coincide in capacity or performance. They are not
identical, as some think, but unequal; they are distinct, but equal--an
idea that is in no way incompatible with the Scripture truth that God
hath made of one blood all nations of men."

The writer goes on, in a strain that is not mere fancy, but that involves
one of the truths of inequality, to say that each race is endowed with
peculiar talents; that the negro has aptitudes and capacities which the
world needs, and will lack until he is normally trained. In the grand
symphony of the universe, "there are several sounds not yet brought out,
and the feeblest of all is that hitherto produced by the negro; but he
alone can furnish it."--"When the African shall come forward with his
peculiar gifts, they will fill a place never before occupied." In short,
the African must be civilized in the line of his capacities. "The
present practice of the friends of Africa is to frame laws according to
their own notions for the government and improvement of this people,
whereas God has already enacted the laws for the government of their
affairs, which laws should be carefully ascertained, interpreted, and
applied; for until they are found out and conformed to, all labor will be
ineffective and resultless."

We have thus passed in review some of the tendencies of the age. We have
only touched the edges of a vast subject, and shall be quite satisfied if
we have suggested thought in the direction indicated. But in this
limited view of our complex human problem it is time to ask if we have
not pushed the dogma of equality far enough. Is it not time to look the
facts squarely in the face, and conform to them in our efforts for social
and political amelioration?

Inequality appears to be the divine order; it always has existed;
undoubtedly it will continue; all our theories and 'a priori'
speculations will not change the nature of things. Even inequality of
condition is the basis of progress, the incentive to exertion.
Fortunately, if today we could make every man white, every woman as like
man as nature permits, give to every human being the same opportunity of
education, and divide equally among all the accumulated wealth of the
world, tomorrow differences, unequal possession, and differentiation
would begin again. We are attempting the regeneration of society with a
misleading phrase; we are wasting our time with a theory that does not
fit the facts.

There is an equality, but it is not of outward show; it is independent of
condition; it does not destroy property, nor ignore the difference of
sex, nor obliterate race traits. It is the equality of men before God,
of men before the law; it is the equal honor of all honorable labor.
No more pernicious notion ever obtained lodgment in society than the
common one that to "rise in the world" is necessarily to change the
"condition." Let there be content with condition; discontent with
individual ignorance and imperfection. "We want," says Emerson, "not a
farmer, but a man on a farm." What a mischievous idea is that which has
grown, even in the United States, that manual labor is discreditable!
There is surely some defect in the theory of equality in our society
which makes domestic service to be shunned as if it were a disgrace.

It must be observed, further, that the dogma of equality is not satisfied
by the usual admission that one is in favor of an equality of rights and
opportunities, but is against the sweeping application of the theory made
by the socialists and communists. The obvious reply is that equal rights
and a fair chance are not possible without equality of condition, and
that property and the whole artificial constitution of society
necessitate inequality of condition. The damage from the current
exaggeration of equality is that the attempt to realize the dogma in
fact--and the attempt is everywhere on foot--can lead only to mischief
and disappointment.

It would be considered a humorous suggestion to advocate inequality as a
theory or as a working dogma. Let us recognize it, however, as a fact,
and shape the efforts for the improvement of the race in accordance with
it, encouraging it in some directions, restraining it from injustice in
others. Working by this recognition, we shall save the race from many
failures and bitter disappointments, and spare the world the spectacle of
republics ending in despotism and experiments in government ending in


By Charles Dudley Warner

Delivered before the Alumni of Hamilton College, Clinton, N. Y.,
Wednesday, June 26, 1872

Twenty-one years ago in this house I heard a voice calling me to ascend
the platform, and there to stand and deliver. The voice was the voice of
President North; the language was an excellent imitation of that used by
Cicero and Julius Caesar. I remember the flattering invitation--it is
the classic tag that clings to the graduate long after he has forgotten
the gender of the nouns that end in 'um--orator proximus', the grateful
voice said, 'ascendat, videlicet,' and so forth. To be proclaimed an
orator, and an ascending orator, in such a sonorous tongue, in the face
of a world waiting for orators, stirred one's blood like the herald's
trumpet when the lists are thrown open. Alas! for most of us, who
crowded so eagerly into the arena, it was the last appearance as orators
on any stage.

The facility of the world for swallowing up orators, and company after
company of educated young men, has been remarked. But it is almost
incredible to me now that the class of 1851, with its classic sympathies
and its many revolutionary ideas, disappeared in the flood of the world
so soon and so silently, causing scarcely a ripple in the smoothly
flowing stream. I suppose the phenomenon has been repeated for twenty
years. Do the young gentlemen at Hamilton, I wonder, still carry on
their ordinary conversation in the Latin tongue, and their familiar
vacation correspondence in the language of Aristophanes? I hope so.
I hope they are more proficient in such exercises than the young
gentlemen of twenty years ago were, for I have still great faith in a
culture that is so far from any sordid aspirations as to approach the
ideal; although the young graduate is not long in learning that there is
an indifference in the public mind with regard to the first aorist that
amounts nearly to apathy, and that millions of his fellow-creatures will
probably live and die without the consolations of the second aorist.
It is a melancholy fact that, after a thousand years of missionary
effort, the vast majority of civilized men do not know that gerunds are
found only in the singular number.

I confess that this failure of the annual graduating class to make its
expected impression on the world has its pathetic side. Youth is
credulous--as it always ought to be--and full of hope--else the world
were dead already--and the graduate steps out into life with an ingenuous
self-confidence in his resources. It is to him an event, this turning-
point in the career of what he feels to be an important and immortal
being. His entrance is public and with some dignity of display. For a
day the world stops to see it; the newspapers spread abroad a report of
it, and the modest scholar feels that the eyes of mankind are fixed on
him in expectation and desire. Though modest, he is not insensible to
the responsibility of his position. He has only packed away in his mind
the wisdom of the ages, and he does not intend to be stingy about
communicating it to the world which is awaiting his graduation. Fresh
from the communion with great thoughts in great literatures, he is in
haste to give mankind the benefit of them, and lead it on into new
enthusiasm and new conquests.

The world, however, is not very much excited. The birth of a child is in
itself marvelous, but it is so common. Over and over again, for hundreds
of years, these young gentlemen have been coming forward with their
specimens of learning, tied up in neat little parcels, all ready to
administer, and warranted to be of the purest materials. The world is
not unkind, it is not even indifferent, but it must be confessed that it
does not act any longer as if it expected to be enlightened. It is
generally so busy that it does not even ask the young gentlemen what they
can do, but leaves them standing with their little parcels, wondering
when the person will pass by who requires one of them, and when there
will happen a little opening in the procession into which they can fall.
They expected that way would be made for them with shouts of welcome, but
they find themselves before long struggling to get even a standing-place
in the crowd--it is only kings, and the nobility, and those fortunates
who dwell in the tropics, where bread grows on trees and clothing is
unnecessary, who have reserved seats in this world.

To the majority of men I fancy that literature is very much the same that
history is; and history is presented as a museum of antiquities and
curiosities, classified, arranged, and labeled. One may walk through it
as he does through the Hotel de Cluny; he feels that he ought to be
interested in it, but it is very tiresome. Learning is regarded in like
manner as an accumulation of literature, gathered into great storehouses
called libraries--the thought of which excites great respect in most
minds, but is ineffably tedious. Year after year and age after age it
accumulates--this evidence and monument of intellectual activity--piling
itself up in vast collections, which it needs a lifetime even to
catalogue, and through which the uncultured walk as the idle do through
the British Museum, with no very strong indignation against Omar who
burned the library at Alexandria.

To the popular mind this vast accumulation of learning in libraries,
or in brains that do not visibly apply it, is much the same thing.
The business of the scholar appears to be this sort of accumulation;
and the young student, who comes to the world with a little portion of
this treasure dug out of some classic tomb or mediaeval museum, is
received with little more enthusiasm than is the miraculous handkerchief
of St. Veronica by the crowd of Protestants to whom it is exhibited on
Holy Week in St. Peter's. The historian must make his museum live again;
the scholar must vivify his learning with a present purpose.

It is unnecessary for me to say that all this is only from the
unsympathetic and worldly side. I should think myself a criminal if I
said anything to chill the enthusiasm of the young scholar, or to dash
with any skepticism his longing and his hope. He has chosen the highest.
His beautiful faith and his aspiration are the light of life. Without
his fresh enthusiasm and his gallant devotion to learning, to art, to
culture, the world would be dreary enough. Through him comes the ever-
springing inspiration in affairs. Baffled at every turn and driven
defeated from a hundred fields, he carries victory in himself. He
belongs to a great and immortal army. Let him not be discouraged at his
apparent little influence, even though every sally of every young life
may seem like a forlorn hope. No man can see the whole of the battle.
It must needs be that regiment after regiment, trained, accomplished,
gay, and high with hope, shall be sent into the field, marching on, into
the smoke, into the fire, and be swept away. The battle swallows them,
one after the other, and the foe is yet unyielding, and the ever-
remorseless trumpet calls for more and more. But not in vain, for some
day, and every day, along the line, there is a cry, "They fly! they fly!"
and the whole army advances, and the flag is planted on an ancient
fortress where it never waved before. And, even if you never see this,
better than inglorious camp-following is it to go in with the wasting
regiment; to carry the colors up the slope of the enemy's works, though
the next moment you fall and find a grave at the foot of the glacis.

What are the relations of culture to common life, of the scholar to the
day-laborer? What is the value of this vast accumulation of higher
learning, what is its point of contact with the mass of humanity, that
toils and eats and sleeps and reproduces itself and dies, generation
after generation, in an unvarying round, on an unvarying level? We have
had discussed lately the relation of culture to religion. Mr. Froude,
with a singular, reactionary ingenuity, has sought to prove that the
progress of the century, so-called, with all its material alleviations,
has done little in regard to a happy life, to the pleasure of existence,
for the average individual Englishman. Into neither of these inquiries
do I purpose to enter; but we may not unprofitably turn our attention to
a subject closely connected with both of them.

It has not escaped your attention that there are indications everywhere
of what may be called a ground-swell. There is not simply an inquiry as
to the value of classic culture, a certain jealousy of the schools where
it is obtained, a rough popular contempt for the graces of learning, a
failure to see any connection between the first aorist and the rolling of
steel rails, but there is arising an angry protest against the conditions
of a life which make one free of the serene heights of thought and give
him range of all intellectual countries, and keep another at the spade
and the loom, year after year, that he may earn food for the day and
lodging for the night. In our day the demand here hinted at has taken
more definite form and determinate aim, and goes on, visible to all men,
to unsettle society and change social and political relations. The great
movement of labor, extravagant and preposterous as are some of its
demands, demagogic as are most of its leaders, fantastic as are many of
its theories, is nevertheless real, and gigantic, and full of a certain
primeval force, and with a certain justice in it that never sleeps in
human affairs, but moves on, blindly often and destructively often, a
movement cruel at once and credulous, deceived and betrayed, and
revenging itself on friends and foes alike. Its strength is in the fact
that it is natural and human; it might have been predicted from a mere
knowledge of human nature, which is always restless in any relations it
is possible to establish, which is always like the sea, seeking a level,
and never so discontented as when anything like a level is approximated.

What is the relation of the scholar to the present phase of this
movement? What is the relation of culture to it? By scholar I mean the
man who has had the advantages of such an institution as this. By
culture I mean that fine product of opportunity and scholarship which is
to mere knowledge what manners are to the gentleman. The world has a
growing belief in the profit of knowledge, of information, but it has a
suspicion of culture. There is a lingering notion in matters religious
that something is lost by refinement--at least, that there is danger that
the plain, blunt, essential truths will be lost in aesthetic graces. The
laborer is getting to consent that his son shall go to school, and learn
how to build an undershot wheel or to assay metals; but why plant in his
mind those principles of taste which will make him as sensitive to beauty
as to pain, why open to him those realms of imagination with the
illimitable horizons, the contours and colors of which can but fill him
with indefinite longing?

It is not necessary for me in this presence to dwell upon the value of
culture. I wish rather to have you notice the gulf that exists between
what the majority want to know and that fine fruit of knowledge
concerning which there is so widespread an infidelity. Will culture aid
a minister in a "protracted meeting"? Will the ability to read Chaucer
assist a shop-keeper? Will the politician add to the "sweetness and
light" of his lovely career if he can read the "Battle of the Frogs and
the Mice" in the original? What has the farmer to do with the "Rose
Garden of Saadi"?

I suppose it is not altogether the fault of the majority that the true
relation of culture to common life is so misunderstood. The scholar is
largely responsible for it; he is largely responsible for the isolation
of his position, and the want of sympathy it begets. No man can
influence his fellows with any power who retires into his own
selfishness, and gives himself to a self-culture which has no further
object. What is he that he should absorb the sweets of the universe,
that he should hold all the claims of humanity second to the perfecting
of himself? This effort to save his own soul was common to Goethe and
Francis of Assisi; under different manifestations it was the same regard
for self. And where it is an intellectual and not a spiritual
greediness, I suppose it is what an old writer calls "laying up treasures
in hell."

It is not an unreasonable demand of the majority that the few who have
the advantages of the training of college and university should exhibit
the breadth and sweetness of a generous culture, and should shed
everywhere that light which ennobles common things, and without which
life is like one of the old landscapes in which the artist forgot to put
sunlight. One of the reasons why the college-bred man does not meet this
reasonable expectation is that his training, too often, has not been
thorough and conscientious, it has not been of himself; he has acquired,
but he is not educated. Another is that, if he is educated, he is not
impressed with the intimacy of his relation to that which is below him as
well as that which is above him, and his culture is out of sympathy with
the great mass that needs it, and must have it, or it will remain a blind
force in the world, the lever of demagogues who preach social anarchy and
misname it progress. There is no culture so high, no taste so
fastidious, no grace of learning so delicate, no refinement of art so
exquisite, that it cannot at this hour find full play for itself in the
broadest fields of humanity; since it is all needed to soften the
attritions of common life, and guide to nobler aspirations the strong
materialistic influences of our restless society.

One reason, as I said, for the gulf between the majority and the select
few to be educated is, that the college does not seldom disappoint the
reasonable expectation concerning it. The graduate of the carpenter's
shop knows how to use his tools--or used to in days before superficial
training in trades became the rule. Does the college graduate know how
to use his tools? Or has he to set about fitting himself for some
employment, and gaining that culture, that training of himself, that
utilization of his information which will make him necessary in the
world? There has been a great deal of discussion whether a boy should be
trained in the classics or mathematics or sciences or modern languages.
I feel like saying "yes" to all the various propositions. For Heaven's
sake train him in something, so that he can handle himself, and have free
and confident use of his powers. There isn't a more helpless creature in
the universe than a scholar with a vast amount of information over which
he has no control. He is like a man with a load of hay so badly put upon
his cart that it all slides off before he can get to market. The
influence of a man on the world is generally proportioned to his ability
to do something. When Abraham Lincoln was running for the Legislature
the first time, on the platform of the improvement of the navigation of
the Sangamon River, he went to secure the votes of thirty men who were
cradling a wheat field. They asked no questions about internal
improvements, but only seemed curious whether Abraham had muscle enough
to represent them in the Legislature. The obliging man took up a cradle
and led the gang round the field. The whole thirty voted for him.

What is scholarship? The learned Hindu can repeat I do not know how many
thousands of lines from the Vedas, and perhaps backwards as well as
forwards. I heard of an excellent old lady who had counted how many
times the letter A occurs in the Holy Scriptures. The Chinese students
who aspire to honors spend years in verbally memorizing the classics--
Confucius and Mencius--and receive degrees and public advancement upon
ability to transcribe from memory without the error of a point, or
misplacement of a single tea-chest character, the whole of some books of
morals. You do not wonder that China is today more like an herbarium
than anything else. Learning is a kind of fetish, and it has no
influence whatever upon the great inert mass of Chinese humanity.

I suppose it is possible for a young gentleman to be able to read--just
think of it, after ten years of grammar and lexicon, not to know Greek
literature and have flexible command of all its richness and beauty, but
to read it!--it is possible, I suppose, for the graduate of college to be
able to read all the Greek authors, and yet to have gone, in regard to
his own culture, very little deeper than a surface reading of them;
to know very little of that perfect architecture and what it expressed;
nor of that marvelous sculpture and the conditions of its immortal
beauty; nor of that artistic development which made the Acropolis to bud
and bloom under the blue sky like the final flower of a perfect nature;
nor of that philosophy, that politics, that society, nor of the life of
that polished, crafty, joyous race, the springs of it and the far-
reaching, still unexpended effects of it.

Yet as surely as that nothing perishes, that the Providence of God is not
a patchwork of uncontinued efforts, but a plan and a progress, as surely
as the Pilgrim embarkation at Delfshaven has a relation to the battle of
Gettysburg, and to the civil rights bill giving the colored man
permission to ride in a public conveyance and to be buried in a public
cemetery, so surely has the Parthenon some connection with your new State
capitol at Albany, and the daily life of the vine-dresser of the
Peloponnesus some lesson for the American day-laborer. The scholar is
said to be the torch-bearer, transmitting the increasing light from
generation to generation, so that the feet of all, the humblest and the
loveliest, may walk in the radiance and not stumble. But he very often
carries a dark lantern.

Not what is the use of Greek, of any culture in art or literature, but
what is the good to me of your knowing Greek, is the latest question of
the ditch-digger to the scholar--what better off am I for your learning?
And the question, in view of the interdependence of all members of
society, is one that cannot be put away as idle. One reason why the
scholar does not make the world of the past, the world of books, real to
his fellows and serviceable to them, is that it is not real to himself,
but a mere unsubstantial place of intellectual idleness, where he dallies
some years before he begins his task in life. And another reason is
that, while it may be real to him, while he is actually cultured and
trained, he fails to see or to feel that his culture is not a thing
apart, and that all the world has a right to share its blessed influence.
Failing to see this, he is isolated, and, wanting his sympathy, the
untutored world mocks at his super-fineness and takes its own rough way
to rougher ends. Greek art was for the people, Greek poetry was for the
people; Raphael painted his immortal frescoes where throngs could be
lifted in thought and feeling by them; Michael Angelo hung the dome over
St. Peter's so that the far-off peasant on the Campagna could see it, and
the maiden kneeling by the shrine in the Alban hills. Do we often stop
to think what influence, direct or other, the scholar, the man of high
culture, has today upon the great mass of our people? Why do they ask,
what is the use of your learning and your art?

The artist, in the retirement of his studio, finishes a charming,
suggestive, historical picture. The rich man buys it and hangs it in his
library, where the privileged few can see it. I do not deny that the
average rich man needs all the refining influence the picture can exert
on him, and that the picture is doing missionary work in his house; but
it is nevertheless an example of an educating influence withdrawn and
appropriated to narrow uses. But the engraver comes, and, by his
mediating art, transfers it to a thousand sheets, and scatters its sweet
influence far abroad. All the world, in its toil, its hunger, its
sordidness, pauses a moment to look on it--that gray seacoast, the
receding Mayflower, the two young Pilgrims in the foreground regarding
it, with tender thoughts of the far home--all the world looks on it
perhaps for a moment thoughtfully, perhaps tearfully, and is touched with
the sentiment of it, is kindled into a glow of nobleness by the sight of
that faith and love and resolute devotion which have tinged our early
history with the faint light of romance. So art is no longer the
enjoyment of the few, but the help and solace of the many.

The scholar who is cultured by books, reflection, travel, by a refined
society, consorts with his kind, and more and more removes himself from
the sympathies of common life. I know how almost inevitable this is, how
almost impossible it is to resist the segregation of classes according to
the affinities of taste. But by what mediation shall the culture that is
now the possession of the few be made to leaven the world and to elevate
and sweeten ordinary life? By books? Yes. By the newspaper? Yes.
By the diffusion of works of art? Yes. But when all is done that can be
done by such letters-missive from one class to another, there remains the
need of more personal contact, of a human sympathy, diffused and living.
The world has had enough of charities. It wants respect and
consideration. We desire no longer to be legislated for, it says; we
want to be legislated with. Why do you never come to see me but you
bring me something? asks the sensitive and poor seamstress. Do you
always give some charity to your friends? I want companionship, and not
cold pieces; I want to be treated like a human being who has nerves and
feelings, and tears too, and as much interest in the sunset, and in the
birth of Christ, perhaps as you. And the mass of uncared-for ignorance
and brutality, finding a voice at length, bitterly repels the
condescensions of charity; you have your culture, your libraries, your
fine houses, your church, your religion, and your God, too; let us alone,
we want none of them. In the bear-pit at Berne, the occupants, who are
the wards of the city, have had meat thrown to them daily for I know not
how long, but they are not tamed by this charity, and would probably eat
up any careless person who fell into their clutches, without apology.

Do not impute to me quixotic notions with regard to the duties of men and
women of culture, or think that I undervalue the difficulties in the way,
the fastidiousness on the one side, or the jealousies on the other.
It is by no means easy to an active participant to define the drift of
his own age; but I seem to see plainly that unless the culture of the age
finds means to diffuse itself, working downward and reconciling
antagonisms by a commonness of thought and feeling and aim in life,
society must more and more separate itself into jarring classes, with
mutual misunderstandings and hatred and war. To suggest remedies is much
more difficult than to see evils; but the comprehension of dangers is the
first step towards mastering them. The problem of our own time--the
reconciliation of the interests of classes--is as yet very ill defined.
This great movement of labor, for instance, does not know definitely what
it wants, and those who are spectators do not know what their relations
are to it. The first thing to be done is for them to try to understand
each other. One class sees that the other has lighter or at least
different labor, opportunities of travel, a more liberal supply of the
luxuries of life, a higher enjoyment and a keener relish of the
beautiful, the immaterial. Looking only at external conditions, it
concludes that all it needs to come into this better place is wealth,
and so it organizes war upon the rich, and it makes demands of freedom
from toil and of compensation which it is in no man's power to give it,
and which would not, if granted over and over again, lift it into that
condition it desires. It is a tale in the Gulistan, that a king placed
his son with a preceptor, and said, "This is your son; educate him in the
same manner as your own." The preceptor took pains with him for a year,
but without success, whilst his own sons were completed in learning and
accomplishments. The king reproved the preceptor, and said, "You have
broken your promise, and not acted faithfully."

He replied, "O king, the education was the same, but the capacities are
different. Although silver and gold are produced from a stone, yet these
metals are not to be found in every stone. The star Canopus shines all
over the world, but the scented leather comes only from Yemen." "'Tis an
absolute, and, as it were, a divine perfection," says Montaigne, "for a
man to know how loyally to enjoy his being. We seek other conditions, by
reason we do not understand the use of our own; and go out of ourselves,
because we know not how there to reside."

But nevertheless it becomes a necessity for us to understand the wishes
of those who demand a change of condition, and it is necessary that they
should understand the compensations as well as the limitations of every
condition. The dervish congratulated himself that although the only
monument of his grave would be a brick, he should at the last day arrive
at and enter the gate of Paradise before the king had got from under the
heavy stones of his costly tomb. Nothing will bring us into this
desirable mutual understanding except sympathy and personal contact.
Laws will not do it; institutions of charity and relief will not do it.

We must believe, for one thing, that the graces of culture will not be
thrown away if exercised among the humblest and the least cultured; it is
found out that flowers are often more welcome in the squalid tenement-
houses of Boston than loaves of bread. It is difficult to say exactly
how culture can extend its influence into places uncongenial and to
people indifferent to it, but I will try and illustrate what I mean by an
example or two.

Criminals in this country, when the law took hold of them, used to be
turned over to the care of men who often had more sympathy with the crime
than with the criminal, or at least to those who were almost as coarse in
feeling and as brutal in speech as their charges. There have been some
changes of late years in the care of criminals, but does public opinion
yet everywhere demand that jailers and prison-keepers and executioners of
the penal law should be men of refinement, of high character, of any
degree of culture? I do not know any class more needing the best direct
personal influence of the best civilization than the criminal.
The problem of its proper treatment and reformation is one of the most
pressing, and it needs practically the aid of our best men and women.
I should have great hope of any prison establishment at the head of which
was a gentleman of fine education, the purest tastes, the most elevated
morality and lively sympathy with men as such, provided he had also will
and the power of command. I do not know what might not be done for the
viciously inclined and the transgressors, if they could come under the
influence of refined men and women. And yet you know that a boy or a
girl may be arrested for crime, and pass from officer to keeper, and
jailer to warden, and spend years in a career of vice and imprisonment,
and never once see any man or woman, officially, who has tastes, or
sympathies, or aspirations much above that vulgar level whence the
criminals came. Anybody who is honest and vigilant is considered good
enough to take charge of prison birds.

The age is merciful and abounds in charities-houses of refuge for poor
women, societies for the conservation of the exposed and the reclamation
of the lost. It is willing to pay liberally for their support, and to
hire ministers and distributors of its benefactions. But it is beginning
to see that it cannot hire the distribution of love, nor buy brotherly
feeling. The most encouraging thing I have seen lately is an experiment
in one of our cities. In the thick of the town the ladies of the city
have furnished and opened a reading-room, sewing-room, conversation-room,
or what not, where young girls, who work for a living and have no
opportunity for any culture, at home or elsewhere, may spend their
evenings. They meet there always some of the ladies I have spoken of,
whose unostentatious duty and pleasure it is to pass the evening with
them, in reading or music or the use of the needle, and the exchange of
the courtesies of life in conversation. Whatever grace and kindness and
refinement of manner they carry there, I do not suppose are wasted.
These are some of the ways in which culture can serve men. And I take it
that one of the chief evidences of our progress in this century is the
recognition of the truth that there is no selfishness so supreme--not
even that in the possession of wealth--as that which retires into itself
with all the accomplishments of liberal learning and rare opportunities,
and looks upon the intellectual poverty of the world without a wish to
relieve it. "As often as I have been among men," says Seneca, "I have
returned less a man." And Thomas a Kempis declared that "the greatest
saints avoided the company of men as much as they could, and chose to
live to God in secret." The Christian philosophy was no improvement upon
the pagan in this respect, and was exactly at variance with the teaching
and practice of Jesus of Nazareth.

The American scholar cannot afford to live for himself, nor merely for
scholarship and the delights of learning. He must make himself more felt
in the material life of this country. I am aware that it is said that
the culture of the age is itself materialistic, and that its refinements
are sensual; that there is little to choose between the coarse excesses
of poverty and the polished and more decorous animality of the more
fortunate. Without entering directly upon the consideration of this
much-talked-of tendency, I should like to notice the influence upon our
present and probable future of the bounty, fertility, and extraordinary
opportunities of this still new land.

The American grows and develops himself with few restraints. Foreigners
used to describe him as a lean, hungry, nervous animal, gaunt,
inquisitive, inventive, restless, and certain to shrivel into physical
inferiority in his dry and highly oxygenated atmosphere. This
apprehension is not well founded. It is quieted by his achievements the
continent over, his virile enterprises, his endurance in war and in the
most difficult explorations, his resistance of the influence of great
cities towards effeminacy and loss of physical vigor. If ever man took
large and eager hold of earthly things and appropriated them to his own
use, it is the American. We are gross eaters, we are great drinkers.
We shall excel the English when we have as long practice as they. I am
filled with a kind of dismay when I see the great stock-yards of Chicago
and Cincinnati, through which flow the vast herds and droves of the
prairies, marching straight down the throats of Eastern people.
Thousands are always sowing and reaping and brewing and distilling, to
slake the immortal thirst of the country. We take, indeed, strong hold
of the earth; we absorb its fatness. When Leicester entertained
Elizabeth at Kenilworth, the clock in the great tower was set perpetually
at twelve, the hour of feasting. It is always dinner-time in America.
I do not know how much land it takes to raise an average citizen, but I
should say a quarter section. He spreads himself abroad, he riots in
abundance; above all things he must have profusion, and he wants things
that are solid and strong. On the Sorrentine promontory, and on the
island of Capri, the hardy husbandman and fisherman draws his subsistence
from the sea and from a scant patch of ground. One may feast on a fish
and a handful of olives. The dinner of the laborer is a dish of polenta,
a few figs, some cheese, a glass of thin wine. His wants are few and
easily supplied. He is not overfed, his diet is not stimulating;
I should say that he would pay little to the physician, that familiar of
other countries whose family office is to counteract the effects of over-
eating. He is temperate, frugal, content, and apparently draws not more
of his life from the earth or the sea than from the genial sky. He would
never build a Pacific Railway, nor write a hundred volumes of commentary
on the Scriptures; but he is an example of how little a man actually
needs of the gross products of the earth.

I suppose that life was never fuller in certain ways than it is here in
America. If a civilization is judged by its wants, we are certainly
highly civilized. We cannot get land enough, nor clothes enough, nor
houses enough, nor food enough. A Bedouin tribe would fare sumptuously
on what one American family consumes and wastes. The revenue required
for the wardrobe of one woman of fashion would suffice to convert the
inhabitants of I know not how many square miles in Africa. It absorbs
the income of a province to bring up a baby. We riot in prodigality, we
vie with each other in material accumulation and expense. Our thoughts
are mainly on how to increase the products of the world; and get them
into our own possession.

I think this gross material tendency is strong in America, and more
likely to get the mastery over the spiritual and the intellectual here
than elsewhere, because of our exhaustless resources. Let us not mistake
the nature of a real civilization, nor suppose we have it because we can
convert crude iron into the most delicate mechanism, or transport
ourselves sixty miles an hour, or even if we shall refine our carnal
tastes so as to be satisfied at dinner with the tongues of ortolans and
the breasts of singing-birds.

Plato banished the musicians from his feasts because he would not have
the charms of conversation interfered with. By comparison, music was to
him a sensuous enjoyment. In any society the ideal must be the
banishment of the more sensuous; the refinement of it will only repeat
the continued experiment of history--the end of a civilization in a
polished materialism, and its speedy fall from that into grossness.

I am sure that the scholar, trained to "plain living and high thinking,"
knows that the prosperous life consists in the culture of the man, and
not in the refinement and accumulation of the material. The word culture
is often used to signify that dainty intellectualism which is merely a
sensuous pampering of the mind, as distinguishable from the healthy
training of the mind as is the education of the body in athletic
exercises from the petting of it by luxurious baths and unguents.
Culture is the blossom of knowledge, but it is a fruit blossom, the
ornament of the age but the seed of the future. The so-called culture,
a mere fastidiousness of taste, is a barren flower.

You would expect spurious culture to stand aloof from common life, as it
does, to extend its charities at the end of a pole, to make of religion a
mere 'cultus,' to construct for its heaven a sort of Paris, where all the
inhabitants dress becomingly, and where there are no Communists.
Culture, like fine manners, is not always the result of wealth or
position. When monseigneur the archbishop makes his rare tour through
the Swiss mountains, the simple peasants do not crowd upon him with
boorish impudence, but strew his stony path with flowers, and receive him
with joyous but modest sincerity. When the Russian prince made his
landing in America the determined staring of a bevy of accomplished
American women nearly swept the young man off the deck of the vessel.
One cannot but respect that tremulous sensitiveness which caused the
maiden lady to shrink from staring at the moon when she heard there was a
man in it.

The materialistic drift of this age--that is, its devotion to material
development--is frequently deplored. I suppose it is like all other ages
in that respect, but there appears to be a more determined demand for
change of condition than ever before, and a deeper movement for
equalization. Here in America this is, in great part, a movement for
merely physical or material equalization. The idea seems to be well-nigh
universal that the millennium is to come by a great deal less work and a
great deal more pay. It seems to me that the millennium is to come by an
infusion into all society of a truer culture, which is neither of poverty
nor of wealth, but is the beautiful fruit of the development of the
higher part of man's nature.

And the thought I wish to leave with you, as scholars and men who can
command the best culture, is that it is all needed to shape and control
the strong growth of material development here, to guide the blind
instincts of the mass of men who are struggling for a freer place and a
breath of fresh air; that you cannot stand aloof in a class isolation;
that your power is in a personal sympathy with the humanity which is
ignorant but discontented; and that the question which the man with the
spade asks about the use of your culture to him is a menace.


By Charles Dudley Warner

One of the worst characteristics of modern fiction is its so-called truth
to nature. For fiction is an art, as painting is, as sculpture is, as
acting is. A photograph of a natural object is not art; nor is the
plaster cast of a man's face, nor is the bare setting on the stage of an
actual occurrence. Art requires an idealization of nature. The amateur,
though she may be a lady, who attempts to represent upon the stage the
lady of the drawing-room, usually fails to convey to the spectators the
impression of a lady. She lacks the art by which the trained actress,
who may not be a lady, succeeds. The actual transfer to the stage of the
drawing-room and its occupants, with the behavior common in well-bred
society, would no doubt fail of the intended dramatic effect, and the
spectators would declare the representation unnatural.

However our jargon of criticism may confound terms, we do not need to be
reminded that art and nature are distinct; that art, though dependent on
nature, is a separate creation; that art is selection and idealization,
with a view to impressing the mind with human, or even higher than human,
sentiments and ideas. We may not agree whether the perfect man and woman
ever existed, but we do know that the highest representations of them in
form--that in the old Greek sculptures--were the result of artistic
selection of parts of many living figures.

When we praise our recent fiction for its photographic fidelity to nature
we condemn it, for we deny to it the art which would give it value.
We forget that the creation of the novel should be, to a certain extent,
a synthetic process, and impart to human actions that ideal quality which
we demand in painting. Heine regards Cervantes as the originator of the
modern novel. The older novels sprang from the poetry of the Middle
Ages; their themes were knightly adventure, their personages were the
nobility; the common people did not figure in them. These romances,
which had degenerated into absurdities, Cervantes overthrew by "Don
Quixote." But in putting an end to the old romances he created a new
school of fiction, called the modern novel, by introducing into his
romance of pseudo-knighthood a faithful description of the lower classes,
and intermingling the phases of popular life. But he had no one-sided
tendency to portray the vulgar only; he brought together the higher and
the lower in society, to serve as light and shade, and the aristocratic
element was as prominent as the popular. This noble and chivalrous
element disappears in the novels of the English who imitated Cervantes.
"These English novelists since Richardson's reign," says Heine, "are
prosaic natures; to the prudish spirit of their time even pithy
descriptions of the life of the common people are repugnant, and we see
on yonder side of the Channel those bourgeoisie novels arise, wherein the
petty humdrum life of the middle classes is depicted." But Scott
appeared, and effected a restoration of the balance in fiction. As
Cervantes had introduced the democratic element into romances, so Scott
replaced the aristocratic element, when it had disappeared, and only a
prosaic, bourgeoisie fiction existed. He restored to romances the
symmetry which we admire in "Don Quixote." The characteristic feature of
Scott's historical romances, in the opinion of the great German critic,
is the harmony between the artistocratic and democratic elements.

This is true, but is it the last analysis of the subject? Is it a
sufficient account of the genius of Cervantes and Scott that they
combined in their romances a representation of the higher and lower
classes? Is it not of more importance how they represented them? It is
only a part of the achievement of Cervantes that he introduced the common
people into fiction; it is his higher glory that he idealized his
material; and it is Scott's distinction also that he elevated into
artistic creations both nobility and commonalty. In short, the essential
of fiction is not diversity of social life, but artistic treatment of
whatever is depicted. The novel may deal wholly with an aristocracy,
or wholly with another class, but it must idealize the nature it touches
into art. The fault of the bourgeoisie novels, of which Heine complains,
is not that they treated of one class only, and excluded a higher social
range, but that they treated it without art and without ideality. In
nature there is nothing vulgar to the poet, and in human life there is
nothing uninteresting to the artist; but nature and human life, for the
purposes of fiction, need a creative genius. The importation into the
novel of the vulgar, sordid, and ignoble in life is always unbearable,
unless genius first fuses the raw material in its alembic.

When, therefore, we say that one of the worst characteristics of modern
fiction is its so-called truth to nature, we mean that it disregards the
higher laws of art, and attempts to give us unidealized pictures of life.
The failure is not that vulgar themes are treated, but that the treatment
is vulgar; not that common life is treated, but that the treatment is
common; not that care is taken with details, but that no selection is
made, and everything is photographed regardless of its artistic value.
I am sure that no one ever felt any repugnance on being introduced by
Cervantes to the muleteers, contrabandistas, servants and serving-maids,
and idle vagabonds of Spain, any more than to an acquaintance with the
beggar-boys and street gamins on the canvases of Murillo. And I believe
that the philosophic reason of the disgust of Heine and of every critic
with the English bourgeoisie novels, describing the petty, humdrum life
of the middle classes, was simply the want of art in the writers; the
failure on their part to see that a literal transcript of nature is poor
stuff in literature. We do not need to go back to Richardson's time for
illustrations of that truth. Every week the English press--which is even
a greater sinner in this respect than the American--turns out a score of
novels which are mediocre, not from their subjects, but from their utter
lack of the artistic quality. It matters not whether they treat of
middle-class life, of low, slum life, or of drawing-room life and lords
and ladies; they are equally flat and dreary. Perhaps the most inane
thing ever put forth in the name of literature is the so-called domestic
novel, an indigestible, culinary sort of product, that might be named the
doughnut of fiction. The usual apology for it is that it depicts family
life with fidelity. Its characters are supposed to act and talk as
people act and talk at home and in society. I trust this is a libel,
but, for the sake of the argument, suppose they do. Was ever produced so
insipid a result? They are called moral; in the higher sense they are
immoral, for they tend to lower the moral tone and stamina of every
reader. It needs genius to import into literature ordinary conversation,
petty domestic details, and the commonplace and vulgar phases of life.
A report of ordinary talk, which appears as dialogue in domestic novels,
may be true to nature; if it is, it is not worth writing or worth
reading. I cannot see that it serves any good purpose whatever.
Fortunately, we have in our day illustrations of a different treatment of
the vulgar. I do not know any more truly realistic pictures of certain
aspects of New England life than are to be found in Judd's "Margaret,"
wherein are depicted exceedingly pinched and ignoble social conditions.
Yet the characters and the life are drawn with the artistic purity of
Flaxman's illustrations of Homer. Another example is Thomas Hardy's "Far
from the Madding Crowd." Every character in it is of the lower class in
England. But what an exquisite creation it is! You have to turn back to
Shakespeare for any talk of peasants and clowns and shepherds to compare
with the conversations in this novel, so racy are they of the soil, and
yet so touched with the finest art, the enduring art. Here is not the
realism of the photograph, but of the artist; that is to say, it is
nature idealized.

When we criticise our recent fiction it is obvious that we ought to
remember that it only conforms to the tendencies of our social life, our
prevailing ethics, and to the art conditions of our time. Literature is
never in any age an isolated product. It is closely related to the
development or retrogression of the time in all departments of life.
The literary production of our day seems, and no doubt is, more various
than that of any other, and it is not easy to fix upon its leading
tendency. It is claimed for its fiction, however, that it is analytic
and realistic, and that much of it has certain other qualities that make
it a new school in art. These aspects of it I wish to consider in this

It is scarcely possible to touch upon our recent fiction, any more than
upon our recent poetry, without taking into account what is called the
Esthetic movement--a movement more prominent in England than elsewhere.
A slight contemplation of this reveals its resemblance to the Romantic
movement in Germany, of which the brothers Schlegel were apostles, in the
latter part of the last century. The movements are alike in this: that
they both sought inspiration in mediaevalism, in feudalism, in the
symbols of a Christianity that ran to mysticism, in the quaint, strictly
pre-Raphael art which was supposed to be the result of a simple faith.
In the one case, the artless and childlike remains of old German pictures
and statuary were exhumed and set up as worthy of imitation; in the
other, we have carried out in art, in costume, and in domestic life,
so far as possible, what has been wittily and accurately described as
"stained-glass attitudes." With all its peculiar vagaries, the English
school is essentially a copy of the German, in its return to
mediaevalism. The two movements have a further likeness, in that they
are found accompanied by a highly symbolized religious revival. English
aestheticism would probably disown any religious intention, although it
has been accused of a refined interest in Pan and Venus; but in all its
feudal sympathies it goes along with the religious art and vestment
revival, the return to symbolic ceremonies, monastic vigils, and
sisterhoods. Years ago, an acute writer in the Catholic World claimed
Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a Catholic writer, from the internal evidence
of his poems. The German Romanticism, which was fostered by the Romish
priesthood, ended, or its disciples ended, in the bosom of the Roman
Catholic Church. It will be interesting to note in what ritualistic
harbor the aestheticism of our day will finally moor. That two similar
revivals should come so near together in time makes us feel that the
world moves onward--if it does move onward--in circular figures of very
short radii. There seems to be only one thing certain in our Christian
era, and that is a periodic return to classic models; the only stable
standards of resort seem to be Greek art and literature.

The characteristics which are prominent, when we think of our recent
fiction, are a wholly unidealized view of human society, which has got
the name of realism; a delight in representing the worst phases of social
life; an extreme analysis of persons and motives; the sacrifice of action
to psychological study; the substitution of studies of character for
anything like a story; a notion that it is not artistic, and that it is
untrue to nature, to bring any novel to a definite consummation, and
especially to end it happily; and a despondent tone about society,
politics, and the whole drift of modern life. Judged by our fiction, we
are in an irredeemably bad way. There is little beauty, joy, or light-
heartedness in living; the spontaneity and charm of life are analyzed out
of existence; sweet girls, made to love and be loved, are extinct;
melancholy Jaques never meets a Rosalind in the forest of Arden, and if
he sees her in the drawing-room he poisons his pleasure with the thought
that she is scheming and artificial; there are no happy marriages--
indeed, marriage itself is almost too inartistic to be permitted by our
novelists, unless it can be supplemented by a divorce, and art is
supposed to deny any happy consummation of true love. In short, modern
society is going to the dogs, notwithstanding money is only three and a
half per cent. It is a gloomy business life, at the best. Two learned
but despondent university professors met, not long ago, at an afternoon
"coffee," and drew sympathetically together in a corner. "What a world
this would be," said one, "without coffee!" "Yes," replied the other,
stirring the fragrant cup in a dejected aspect "yes; but what a hell of a
world it is with coffee!"

The analytic method in fiction is interesting, when used by a master of
dissection, but it has this fatal defect in a novel--it destroys
illusion. We want to think that the characters in a story are real
persons. We cannot do this if we see the author set them up as if they
were marionettes, and take them to pieces every few pages, and show their
interior structure, and the machinery by which they are moved. Not only
is the illusion gone, but the movement of the story, if there is a story,
is retarded, till the reader loses all enjoyment in impatience and
weariness. You find yourself saying, perhaps, What a very clever fellow
the author is! What an ingenious creation this character is! How
brightly the author makes his people talk! This is high praise, but by
no means the highest, and when we reflect we see how immeasurably
inferior, in fiction, the analytic method is to the dramatic. In the
dramatic method the characters appear, and show what they are by what
they do and say; the reader studies their motives, and a part of his
enjoyment is in analyzing them, and his vanity is flattered by the trust
reposed in his perspicacity. We realize how unnecessary minute analysis
of character and long descriptions are in reading a drama by Shakespeare,
in which the characters are so vividly presented to us in action and
speech, without the least interference of the author in description, that
we regard them as persons with whom we might have real relations, and not
as bundles of traits and qualities. True, the conditions of dramatic art
and the art of the novel are different, in that the drama can dispense
with delineations, for its characters are intended to be presented to the
eye; but all the same, a good drama will explain itself without the aid
of actors, and there is no doubt that it is the higher art in the novel,
when once the characters are introduced, to treat them dramatically, and
let them work out their own destiny according to their characters. It is
a truism to say that when the reader perceives that the author can compel
his characters to do what he pleases all interest in them as real persons
is gone. In a novel of mere action and adventure, a lower order of
fiction, where all the interest centres in the unraveling of a plot, of
course this does not so much matter.

Not long ago, in Edinburgh, I amused myself in looking up some of the
localities made famous in Scott's romances, which are as real in the mind
as any historical places. Afterwards I read "The Heart of Midlothian."
I was surprised to find that, as a work of art, it was inferior to my
recollection of it. Its style is open to the charge of prolixity, and
even of slovenliness in some parts; and it does not move on with
increasing momentum and concentration to a climax, as many of Scott's
novels do; the story drags along in the disposition of one character
after another. Yet, when I had finished the book and put it away, a
singular thing happened. It suddenly came to me that in reading it I had
not once thought of Scott as the maker; it had never occurred to me that
he had created the people in whose fortunes I had been so intensely
absorbed; and I never once had felt how clever the novelist was in the
naturally dramatic dialogues of the characters. In short, it had not
entered my mind to doubt the existence of Jeanie and Effie Deans, and
their father, and Reuben Butler, and the others, who seem as real as
historical persons in Scotch history. And when I came to think of it
afterwards, reflecting upon the assumptions of the modern realistic
school, I found that some scenes, notably the night attack on the old
Tolbooth, were as real to me as if I had read them in a police report of
a newspaper of the day. Was Scott, then, only a reporter? Far from it,
as you would speedily see if he had thrown into the novel a police report
of the occurrences at the Tolbooth before art had shorn it of its
irrelevancies, magnified its effective and salient points, given events
their proper perspective, and the whole picture due light and shade.

The sacrifice of action to some extent to psychological evolution in
modern fiction may be an advance in the art as an intellectual
entertainment, if the writer does not make that evolution his end, and
does not forget that the indispensable thing in a novel is the story.
The novel of mere adventure or mere plot, it need not be urged, is of a
lower order than that in which the evolution of characters and their
interaction make the story. The highest fiction is that which embodies
both; that is, the story in which action is the result of mental and
spiritual forces in play. And we protest against the notion that the
novel of the future is to be, or should be, merely a study of, or an
essay or a series of analytic essays on, certain phases of social life.

It is not true that civilization or cultivation has bred out of the world
the liking for a story. In this the most highly educated Londoner and
the Egyptian fellah meet on common human ground. The passion for a story
has no more died out than curiosity, or than the passion of love. The
truth is not that stories are not demanded, but that the born raconteur
and story-teller is a rare person. The faculty of telling a story is a
much rarer gift than the ability to analyze character and even than the
ability truly to draw character. It may be a higher or a lower power,
but it is rarer. It is a natural gift, and it seems that no amount of
culture can attain it, any more than learning can make a poet. Nor is
the complaint well founded that the stories have all been told, the
possible plots all been used, and the combinations of circumstances
exhausted. It is no doubt our individual experience that we hear almost
every day--and we hear nothing so eagerly--some new story, better or
worse, but new in its exhibition of human character, and in the
combination of events. And the strange, eventful histories of human life
will no more be exhausted than the possible arrangements of mathematical
numbers. We might as well say that there are no more good pictures to be
painted as that there are no more good stories to be told.

Equally baseless is the assumption that it is inartistic and untrue to
nature to bring a novel to a definite consummation, and especially to end
it happily. Life, we are told, is full of incompletion, of broken
destinies, of failures, of romances that begin but do not end, of
ambitions and purposes frustrated, of love crossed, of unhappy issues, or
a resultless play of influences. Well, but life is full, also, of
endings, of the results in concrete action of character, of completed
dramas. And we expect and give, in the stories we hear and tell in
ordinary intercourse, some point, some outcome, an end of some sort.
If you interest me in the preparations of two persons who are starting on
a journey, and expend all your ingenuity in describing their outfit and
their characters, and do not tell me where they went or what befell them
afterwards, I do not call that a story. Nor am I any better satisfied
when yon describe two persons whom you know, whose characters are
interesting, and who become involved in all manner of entanglements, and
then stop your narration; and when I ask, say you have not the least idea
whether they got out of their difficulties, or what became of them.
In real life we do not call that a story where everything is left
unconcluded and in the air. In point of fact, romances are daily
beginning and daily ending, well or otherwise, under our observation.

Should they always end well in the novel? I am very far from saying
that. Tragedy and the pathos of failure have their places in literature
as well as in life. I only say that, artistically, a good ending is as
proper as a bad ending. Yet the main object of the novel is to
entertain, and the best entertainment is that which lifts the imagination
and quickens the spirit; to lighten the burdens of life by taking us for
a time out of our humdrum and perhaps sordid conditions, so that we can
see familiar life somewhat idealized, and probably see it all the more
truly from an artistic point of view. For the majority of the race, in
its hard lines, fiction is an inestimable boon. Incidentally the novel
may teach, encourage, refine, elevate. Even for these purposes, that
novel is the best which shows us the best possibilities of our lives--the
novel which gives hope and cheer instead of discouragement and gloom.
Familiarity with vice and sordidness in fiction is a low entertainment,
and of doubtful moral value, and their introduction is unbearable if it
is not done with the idealizing touch of the artist.

Do not misunderstand me to mean that common and low life are not fit
subjects of fiction, or that vice is not to be lashed by the satirist,
or that the evils of a social state are never to be exposed in the novel.
For this, also, is an office of the novel, as it is of the drama, to hold
the mirror up to nature, and to human nature as it exhibits itself. But
when the mirror shows nothing but vice and social disorder, leaving out
the saving qualities that keep society on the whole, and family life as a
rule, as sweet and good as they are, the mirror is not held up to nature,
but more likely reflects a morbid mind. Still it must be added that the
study of unfortunate social conditions is a legitimate one for the author
to make; and that we may be in no state to judge justly of his exposure
while the punishment is being inflicted, or while the irritation is
fresh. For, no doubt, the reader winces often because the novel reveals
to himself certain possible baseness, selfishness, and meanness. Of
this, however, I (speaking for myself) may be sure: that the artist who
so represents vulgar life that I am more in love with my kind, the
satirist who so depicts vice and villainy that I am strengthened in my
moral fibre, has vindicated his choice of material. On the contrary,
those novelists are not justified whose forte it seems to be to so set
forth goodness as to make it unattractive.

But we come back to the general proposition that the indispensable
condition of the novel is that it shall entertain. And for this purpose
the world is not ashamed to own that it wants, and always will want,
a story--a story that has an ending; and if not a good ending, then one
that in noble tragedy lifts up our nature into a high plane of sacrifice
and pathos. In proof of this we have only to refer to the masterpieces
of fiction which the world cherishes and loves to recur to.

I confess that I am harassed with the incomplete romances, that leave me,
when the book is closed, as one might be on a waste plain at midnight,
abandoned by his conductor, and without a lantern. I am tired of
accompanying people for hours through disaster and perplexity and
misunderstanding, only to see them lost in a thick mist at last. I am
weary of going to funerals, which are not my funerals, however chatty and
amusing the undertaker may be. I confess that I should like to see again
the lovely heroine, the sweet woman, capable of a great passion and a
great sacrifice; and I do not object if the novelist tries her to the
verge of endurance, in agonies of mind and in perils, subjecting her to
wasting sicknesses even, if he only brings her out at the end in a
blissful compensation of her troubles, and endued with a new and sweeter
charm. No doubt it is better for us all, and better art, that in the
novel of society the destiny should be decided by character. What an
artistic and righteous consummation it is when we meet the shrewd and
wicked old Baroness Bernstein at Continental gaming-tables, and feel that
there was no other logical end for the worldly and fascinating Beatrix of
Henry Esmond! It is one of the great privileges of fiction to right the
wrongs of life, to do justice to the deserving and the vicious. It is
wholesome for us to contemplate the justice, even if we do not often see
it in society. It is true that hypocrisy and vulgar self-seeking often
succeed in life, occupying high places, and make their exit in the
pageantry of honored obsequies. Yet always the man is conscious of the
hollowness of his triumph, and the world takes a pretty accurate measure
of it. It is the privilege of the novelist, without introducing into
such a career what is called disaster, to satisfy our innate love of
justice by letting us see the true nature of such prosperity. The
unscrupulous man amasses wealth, lives in luxury and splendor, and dies
in the odor of respectability. His poor and honest neighbor, whom he has
wronged and defrauded, lives in misery, and dies in disappointment and
penury. The novelist cannot reverse the facts without such a shock to
our experience as shall destroy for us the artistic value of his fiction,
and bring upon his work the deserved reproach of indiscriminately
"rewarding the good and punishing the bad." But we have a right to ask
that he shall reveal the real heart and character of this passing show of
life; for not to do this, to content himself merely with exterior
appearances, is for the majority of his readers to efface the lines
between virtue and vice. And we ask this not for the sake of the moral
lesson, but because not to do it is, to our deep consciousness,
inartistic and untrue to our judgment of life as it goes on. Thackeray
used to say that all his talent was in his eyes; meaning that he was only
an observer and reporter of what he saw, and not a Providence to rectify
human affairs. The great artist undervalued his genius. He reported
what he saw as Raphael and Murillo reported what they saw. With his
touch of genius he assigned to everything its true value, moving us to
tenderness, to pity, to scorn, to righteous indignation, to sympathy with
humanity. I find in him the highest art, and not that indifference to
the great facts and deep currents and destinies of human life, that want
of enthusiasm and sympathy, which has got the name of "art for art's
sake." Literary fiction is a barren product if it wants sympathy and
love for men. "Art for art's sake" is a good and defensible phrase, if
our definition of art includes the ideal, and not otherwise.

I do not know how it has come about that in so large a proportion of
recent fiction it is held to be artistic to look almost altogether upon
the shady and the seamy side of life, giving to this view the name of
"realism"; to select the disagreeable, the vicious, the unwholesome;
to give us for our companions, in our hours of leisure and relaxation,
only the silly and the weak-minded woman, the fast and slangy girl, the
intrigante and the "shady"--to borrow the language of the society she
seeks--the hero of irresolution, the prig, the vulgar, and the vicious;
to serve us only with the foibles of the fashionable, the low tone of the
gay, the gilded riffraff of our social state; to drag us forever along
the. dizzy, half-fractured precipice of the seventh commandment; to
bring us into relations only with the sordid and the common; to force us
to sup with unwholesome company on misery and sensuousness, in tales so
utterly unpleasant that we are ready to welcome any disaster as a relief;
and then--the latest and finest touch of modern art--to leave the whole
weltering mass in a chaos, without conclusion and without possible issue.
And this is called a picture of real life! Heavens! Is it true that in
England, where a great proportion of the fiction we describe and loathe
is produced; is it true that in our New England society there is nothing
but frivolity, sordidness, decay of purity and faith, ignoble ambition
and ignoble living? Is there no charm in social life--no self-sacrifice,
devotion, courage to stem materialistic conditions, and live above them?
Are there no noble women, sensible, beautiful, winning, with the grace
that all the world loves, albeit with the feminine weaknesses that make
all the world hope? Is there no manliness left? Are there no homes
where the tempter does not live with the tempted in a mush of sentimental
affinity? Or is it, in fact, more artistic to ignore all these, and
paint only the feeble and the repulsive in our social state? The feeble,
the sordid, and the repulsive in our social state nobody denies, nor does
anybody deny the exceeding cleverness with which our social disorders are
reproduced in fiction by a few masters of their art; but is it not time
that it should be considered good art to show something of the clean and
bright side?

This is pre-eminently the age of the novel. The development of variety
of fiction since the days of Scott and Cooper is prodigious. The
prejudice against novel-reading is quite broken down, since fiction has
taken all fields for its province; everybody reads novels. Three-
quarters of the books taken from the circulating library are stories;
they make up half the library of the Sunday-schools. If a writer has
anything to say, or thinks he has, he knows that he can most certainly
reach the ear of the public by the medium of a story. So we have novels
for children; novels religious, scientific, historical, archaeological,
psychological, pathological, total-abstinence; novels of travel, of
adventure and exploration; novels domestic, and the perpetual spawn of
books called novels of society. Not only is everything turned into a
story, real or so called, but there must be a story in everything. The
stump-speaker holds his audience by well-worn stories; the preacher wakes
up his congregation by a graphic narrative; and the Sunday-school teacher
leads his children into all goodness by the entertaining path of romance;
we even had a President who governed the country nearly by anecdotes.
The result of this universal demand for fiction is necessarily an
enormous supply, and as everybody writes, without reference to gifts, the
product is mainly trash, and trash of a deleterious sort; for bad art in
literature is bad morals. I am not sure but the so-called domestic, the
diluted, the "goody," namby-pamby, unrobust stories, which are so largely
read by school-girls, young ladies, and women, do more harm than the
"knowing," audacious, wicked ones,--also, it is reported, read by them,
and written largely by their own sex. For minds enfeebled and relaxed by
stories lacking even intellectual fibre are in a poor condition to meet
the perils of life. This is not the place for discussing the stories
written for the young and for the Sunday-school. It seems impossible to
check the flow of them, now that so much capital is invested in this
industry; but I think that healthy public sentiment is beginning to
recognize the truth that the excessive reading of this class of
literature by the young is weakening to the mind, besides being a serious
hindrance to study and to attention to the literature that has substance.

In his account of the Romantic School in Germany, Heine says, "In the
breast of a nation's authors there always lies the image of its future,
and the critic who, with a knife of sufficient keenness, dissects a new
poet can easily prophesy, as from the entrails of a sacrificial animal,
what shape matters will assume in Germany." Now if all the poets and
novelists of England and America today were cut up into little pieces
(and we might sacrifice a few for the sake of the experiment), there is
no inspecting augur who could divine therefrom our literary future.
The diverse indications would puzzle the most acute dissector. Lost in
the variety, the multiplicity of minute details, the refinements of
analysis and introspection, he would miss any leading indications. For
with all its variety, it seems to me that one characteristic of recent
fiction is its narrowness--narrowness of vision and of treatment. It
deals with lives rather than with life. Lacking ideality, it fails of
broad perception. We are accustomed to think that with the advent of the
genuine novel of society, in the first part of this century, a great step
forward was taken in fiction. And so there was. If the artist did not
use a big canvas, he adopted a broad treatment. But the tendency now is
to push analysis of individual peculiarities to an extreme, and to
substitute a study of traits for a representation of human life.

It scarcely need be said that it is not multitude of figures on a
literary canvas that secures breadth of treatment. The novel may be
narrow, though it swarms with a hundred personages. It may be as wide as
life, as high as imagination can lift itself; it may image to us a whole
social state, though it pats in motion no more persons than we made the
acquaintance of in one of the romances of Hawthorne. Consider for a
moment how Thackeray produced his marvelous results. We follow with him,
in one of his novels of society, the fortunes of a very few people. They
are so vividly portrayed that we are convinced the author must have known
them in that great world with which he was so familiar; we should not be
surprised to meet any of them in the streets of London. When we visit
the Charterhouse School, and see the old forms where the boys sat nearly
a century ago, we have in our minds Colonel Newcome as really as we have
Charles Lamb and Coleridge and De Quincey. We are absorbed, as we read,
in the evolution of the characters of perhaps only half a dozen people;
and yet all the world, all great, roaring, struggling London, is in the
story, and Clive, and Philip, and Ethel, and Becky Sharpe, and Captain
Costigan are a part of life. It is the flowery month of May; the scent
of the hawthorn is in the air, and the tender flush of the new spring
suffuses the Park, where the tide of fashion and pleasure and idleness
surges up and down-the sauntering throng, the splendid equipages, the
endless cavalcade in Rotten Row, in which Clive descries afar off the
white plume of his ladylove dancing on the waves of an unattainable
society; the club windows are all occupied; Parliament is in session,
with its nightly echoes of imperial politics; the thronged streets roar
with life from morn till nearly morn again; the drawing-rooms hum and
sparkle in the crush of a London season; as you walk the midnight
pavement, through the swinging doors of the cider-cellars comes the burst
of bacchanalian song. Here is the world of the press and of letters;
here are institutions, an army, a navy, commerce, glimpses of great ships
going to and fro on distant seas, of India, of Australia. This one book
is an epitome of English life, almost of the empire itself. We are
conscious of all this, so much breadth and atmosphere has the artist
given his little history of half a dozen people in this struggling world.

But this background of a great city, of an empire, is not essential to
the breadth of treatment upon which we insist in fiction, to broad
characterization, to the play of imagination about common things which
transfigures them into the immortal beauty of artistic creations. What a
simple idyl in itself is Goethe's "Hermann and Dorothea"! It is the
creation of a few master-touches, using only common material. Yet it has
in it the breadth of life itself, the depth and passion of all our human
struggle in the world-a little story with a vast horizon.

It is constantly said that the conditions in America are unfavorable to
the higher fiction; that our society is unformed, without centre, without
the definition of classes, which give the light and shade that Heine
speaks of in "Don Quixote"; that it lacks types and customs that can be
widely recognized and accepted as national and characteristic; that we
have no past; that we want both romantic and historic background; that we
are in a shifting, flowing, forming period which fiction cannot seize on;
that we are in diversity and confusion that baffle artistic treatment; in
short, that American life is too vast, varied, and crude for the purpose
of the novelist.

These excuses might be accepted as fully accounting for our failure--or
shall we say our delay?--if it were not for two or three of our literary
performances. It is true that no novel has been written, and we dare say
no novel will be written, that is, or will be, an epitome of the manifold
diversities of American life, unless it be in the form of one of Walt
Whitman's catalogues. But we are not without peculiar types; not without
characters, not without incidents, stories, heroisms, inequalities; not
without the charms of nature in infinite variety; and human nature is the
same here that it is in Spain, France, and England. Out of these
materials Cooper wrote romances, narratives stamped with the distinct
characteristics of American life and scenery, that were and are eagerly
read by all civilized peoples, and which secured the universal verdict
which only breadth of treatment commands. Out of these materials, also,
Hawthorne, child-endowed with a creative imagination, wove those
tragedies of interior life, those novels of our provincial New England,
which rank among the great masterpieces of the novelist's art. The
master artist can idealize even our crude material, and make it serve.
These exceptions to a rule do not go to prove the general assertion of a
poverty of material for fiction here; the simple truth probably is that,
for reasons incident to the development of a new region of the earth,
creative genius has been turned in other directions than that of
fictitious literature. Nor do I think that we need to take shelter
behind the wellworn and convenient observation, the truth of which stands
in much doubt, that literature is the final flower of a nation's

However, this is somewhat a digression. We are speaking of the tendency
of recent fiction, very much the same everywhere that novels are written,
which we have imperfectly sketched. It is probably of no more use to
protest against it than it is to protest against the vulgar realism in
pictorial art, which holds ugliness and beauty in equal esteem; or
against aestheticism gone to seed in languid affectations; or against the
enthusiasm of a social life which wreaks its religion on the color of a
vestment, or sighs out its divine soul over an ancient pewter mug. Most
of our fiction, in its extreme analysis, introspection and self-
consciousness, in its devotion to details, in its disregard of the ideal,
in its selection as well as in its treatment of nature, is simply of a
piece with a good deal else that passes for genuine art. Much of it is
admirable in workmanship, and exhibits a cleverness in details and a
subtlety in the observation of traits which many great novels lack. But
I should be sorry to think that the historian will judge our social life
by it, and I doubt not that most of us are ready for a more ideal, that
is to say, a more artistic, view of our performances in this bright and
pathetic world.


By Charles Dudley Warner

To revisit this earth, some ages after their departure from it, is a
common wish among men. We frequently hear men say that they would give
so many months or years of their lives in exchange for a less number on
the globe one or two or three centuries from now. Merely to see the
world from some remote sphere, like the distant spectator of a play which
passes in dumb show, would not suffice. They would like to be of the
world again, and enter into its feelings, passions, hopes; to feel the
sweep of its current, and so to comprehend what it has become.

I suppose that we all who are thoroughly interested in this world have
this desire. There are some select souls who sit apart in calm
endurance, waiting to be translated out of a world they are almost tired
of patronizing, to whom the whole thing seems, doubtless, like a cheap
performance. They sit on the fence of criticism, and cannot for the life
of them see what the vulgar crowd make such a toil and sweat about. The
prizes are the same dreary, old, fading bay wreaths. As for the soldiers
marching past, their uniforms are torn, their hats are shocking, their
shoes are dusty, they do not appear (to a man sitting on the fence) to
march with any kind of spirit, their flags are old and tattered, the
drums they beat are barbarous; and, besides, it is not probable that they
are going anywhere; they will merely come round again, the same people,
like the marching chorus in the "Beggar's Opera." Such critics, of
course, would not care to see the vulgar show over again; it is enough
for them to put on record their protest against it in the weekly
"Judgment Days" which they edit, and by-and-by withdraw out of their
private boxes, with pity for a world in the creation of which they were
not consulted.

The desire to revisit this earth is, I think, based upon a belief, well-
nigh universal, that the world is to make some progress, and that it will
be more interesting in the future than it is now. I believe that the
human mind, whenever it is developed enough to comprehend its own action,
rests, and has always rested, in this expectation. I do not know any
period of time in which the civilized mind has not had expectation of
something better for the race in the future. This expectation is
sometimes stronger than it is at others; and, again, there are always
those who say that the Golden Age is behind them. It is always behind or
before us; the poor present alone has no friends; the present, in the
minds of many, is only the car that is carrying us away from an age of
virtue and of happiness, or that is perhaps bearing us on to a time of
ease and comfort and security.

Perhaps it is worth while, in view of certain recent discussions, and
especially of some free criticisms of this country, to consider whether
there is any intention of progress in this world, and whether that
intention is discoverable in the age in which we live.

If it is an old question, it is not a settled one; the practical
disbelief in any such progress is widely entertained. Not long ago Mr.
James Anthony Froude published an essay on Progress, in which he examined
some of the evidences upon which we rely to prove that we live in an "era
of progress." It is a melancholy essay, for its tone is that of profound
skepticism as to certain influences and means of progress upon which we
in this country most rely. With the illustrative arguments of Mr.
Froude's essay I do not purpose specially to meddle; I recall it to the
attention of the reader as a representative type of skepticism regarding
progress which is somewhat common among intellectual men, and is not
confined to England. It is not exactly an acceptance of Rousseau's
notion that civilization is a mistake, and that it would be better for us
all to return to a state of nature--though in John Ruskin's case it
nearly amounts to this; but it is a hostility in its last analysis to
what we understand by the education of the people, and to the government
of the people by themselves. If Mr. Froude's essay is anything but an
exhibition of the scholarly weapons of criticism, it is the expression of
a profound disbelief in the intellectual education of the masses of the
people. Mr. Ruskin goes further. He makes his open proclamation against
any emancipation from hand-toil. Steam is the devil himself let loose
from the pit, and all labor-saving machinery is his own invention.
Mr. Ruskin is the bull that stands upon the track and threatens with
annihilation the on-coming locomotive; and I think that any spectator who
sees his menacing attitude and hears his roaring cannot but have fears
for the locomotive.

There are two sorts of infidelity concerning humanity, and I do not know
which is the more withering in its effects. One is that which regards
this world as only a waste and a desert, across the sands of which we are
merely fugitives, fleeing from the wrath to come. The other is that
doubt of any divine intention in development, in history, which we call
progress from age to age.

In the eyes of this latter infidelity history is not a procession or a
progression, but only a series of disconnected pictures, each little era
rounded with its own growth, fruitage, and decay, a series of incidents
or experiments, without even the string of a far-reaching purpose to
connect them. There is no intention of progress in it all. The race is
barbarous, and then it changes to civilized; in the one case the strong
rob the weak by brute force; in the other the crafty rob the unwary by
finesse. The latter is a more agreeable state of things; but it comes to
about the same. The robber used to knock us down and take away our
sheepskins; he now administers chloroform and relieves us of our watches.
It is a gentlemanly proceeding, and scientific, and we call it
civilization. Meantime human nature remains the same, and the whole
thing is a weary round that has no advance in it.

If this is true the succession of men and of races is no better than a
vegetable succession; and Mr. Froude is quite right in doubting if
education of the brain will do the English agricultural laborer any good;
and Mr. Ruskin ought to be aided in his crusade against machinery, which
turns the world upside down. The best that can be done with a man is the
best that can be done with a plant-set him out in some favorable
locality, or leave him where he happened to strike root, and there let
him grow and mature in measure and quiet--especially quiet--as he may in
God's sun and rain. If he happens to be a cabbage, in Heaven's name
don't try to make a rose of him, and do not disturb the vegetable
maturing of his head by grafting ideas upon his stock.

The most serious difficulty in the way of those who maintain that there
is an intention of progress in this world from century to century, from
age to age--a discernible growth, a universal development--is the fact
that all nations do not make progress at the same time or in the same
ratio; that nations reach a certain development, and then fall away and
even retrograde; that while one may be advancing into high civilization,
another is lapsing into deeper barbarism, and that nations appear to have
a limit of growth. If there were a law of progress, an intention of it
in all the world, ought not all peoples and tribes to advance pari passu,
or at least ought there not to be discernible a general movement,
historical and contemporary? There is no such general movement which can
be computed, the law of which can be discovered--therefore it does not
exist. In a kind of despair, we are apt to run over in our minds empires
and pre-eminent civilizations that have existed, and then to doubt
whether life in this world is intended to be anything more than a series
of experiments. There is the German nation of our day, the most
aggressive in various fields of intellectual activity, a Hercules of
scholarship, the most thoroughly trained and powerful--though its
civilization marches to the noise of the hateful and barbarous drum.
In what points is it better than the Greek nation of the age of its
superlative artists, philosophers, poets--the age of the most joyous,
elastic human souls in the most perfect human bodies?

Again, it is perhaps a fanciful notion that the Atlantis of Plato was the
northern part of the South American continent, projecting out towards
Africa, and that the Antilles are the peaks and headlands of its sunken
bulk. But there are evidences enough that the shores of the Gulf of
Mexico and the Caribbean Sea were within historic periods the seat of a
very considerable civilization--the seat of cities, of commerce, of
trade, of palaces and pleasure--gardens--faint images, perhaps, of the
luxurious civilization of Baia! and Pozzuoli and Capri in the most
profligate period of the Roman empire. It is not more difficult to
believe that there was a great material development here than to believe
it of the African shore of the Mediterranean. Not to multiply instances
that will occur to all, we see as many retrograde as advance movements,
and we see, also, that while one spot of the earth at one time seems to
be the chosen theatre of progress, other portions of the globe are
absolutely dead and without the least leaven of advancing life, and we
cannot understand how this can be if there is any such thing as an all-
pervading and animating intention or law of progress. And then we are
reminded that the individual human mind long ago attained its height of
power and capacity. It is enough to recall the names of Moses, Buddha,
Confucius, Socrates, Paul, Homer, David.

No doubt it has seemed to other periods and other nations, as it now does
to the present civilized races, that they were the chosen times and
peoples of an extraordinary and limitless development. It must have
seemed so to the Jews who overran Palestine and set their shining cities
on all the hills of heathendom. It must have seemed so to the Babylonish
conquerors who swept over Palestine in turn, on their way to greater
conquests in Egypt. It must have seemed so to Greece when the Acropolis
was to the outlying world what the imperial calla is to the marsh in
which it lifts its superb flower. It must have seemed so to Rome when
its solid roads of stone ran to all parts of a tributary world--the
highways of the legions, her ministers, and of the wealth that poured
into her treasury. It must have seemed so to followers of Mahomet, when
the crescent knew no pause in its march up the Arabian peninsula to the
Bosporus, to India, along the Mediterranean shores to Spain, where in the
eighth century it flowered into a culture, a learning, a refinement in
art and manners, to which the Christian world of that day was a stranger.
It must have seemed so in the awakening of the sixteenth century, when
Europe, Spain leading, began that great movement of discovery and
aggrandizement which has, in the end, been profitable only to a portion
of the adventurers. And what shall we say of a nation as old, if not
older than any of these we have mentioned, slowly building up meantime a
civilization and perfecting a system of government and a social economy
which should outlast them all, and remain to our day almost the sole
monument of permanence and stability in a shifting world?

How many times has the face of Europe been changed--and parts of Africa,
and Asia Minor too, for that matter--by conquests and crusades, and the
rise and fall of civilizations as well as dynasties? while China has
endured, almost undisturbed, under a system of law, administration,
morality, as old as the Pyramids probably--existed a coherent nation,
highly developed in certain essentials, meeting and mastering, so far as
we can see, the great problem of an over-populated territory, living in a
good degree of peace and social order, of respect for age and law, and
making a continuous history, the mere record of which is printed in a
thousand bulky volumes. Yet we speak of the Chinese empire as an
instance of arrested growth, for which there is no salvation, except it
shall catch the spirit of progress abroad in the world. What is this
progress, and where does it come from?

Think for a moment of this significant situation. For thousands of
years, empires, systems of society, systems of civilization--Egyptian,
Jewish, Greek, Roman, Moslem, Feudal--have flourished and fallen, grown
to a certain height and passed away; great organized fabrics have gone
down, and, if there has been any progress, it has been as often defeated
as renewed. And here is an empire, apart from this scene of alternate
success and disaster, which has existed in a certain continuity and
stability, and yet, now that it is uncovered and stands face to face with
the rest of the world, it finds that it has little to teach us, and
almost everything to learn from us. The old empire sends its students to
learn of us, the newest child of civilization; and through us they learn
all the great past, its literature, law, science, out of which we sprang.
It appears, then, that progress has, after all, been with the shifting
world, that has been all this time going to pieces, rather than with the
world that has been permanent and unshaken.

When we speak of progress we may mean two things. We may mean a lifting
of the races as a whole by reason of more power over the material world,
by reason of what we call the conquest of nature and a practical use of
its forces; or we may mean a higher development of the individual man,
so that he shall be better and happier. If from age to age it is
discoverable that the earth is better adapted to man as a dwelling-place,
and he is on the whole fitted to get more out of it for his own growth,
is not that progress, and is it not evidence of an intention of progress?

Now, it is sometimes said that Providence, in the economy of this world,
cares nothing for the individual, but works out its ideas and purposes
through the races, and in certain periods, slowly bringing in, by great
agencies and by processes destructive to individuals and to millions of
helpless human beings, truths and principles; so laying stepping-stones
onward to a great consummation. I do not care to dwell upon this
thought, but let us see if we can find any evidence in history of the
presence in this world of an intention of progress.

It is common to say that, if the world makes progress at all, it is by
its great men, and when anything important for the race is to be done,
a great man is raised up to do it. Yet another way to look at it is,
that the doing of something at the appointed time makes the man who does
it great, or at least celebrated. The man often appears to be only a
favored instrument of communication. As we glance back we recognize the
truth that, at this and that period, the time had come for certain
discoveries. Intelligence seemed pressing in from the invisible. Many
minds were on the alert to apprehend it. We believe, for instance, that
if Gutenberg had not invented movable types, somebody else would have
given them to the world about that time. Ideas, at certain times, throng
for admission into the world; and we are all familiar with the fact that
the same important idea (never before revealed in all the ages) occurs to
separate and widely distinct minds at about the same time. The invention
of the electric telegraph seemed to burst upon the world simultaneously
from many quarters--not perfect, perhaps, but the time for the idea had
come--and happy was it for the man who entertained it. We have agreed to
call Columbus the discoverer of America, but I suppose there is no doubt
that America had been visited by European, and probably Asiatic, people
ages before Columbus; that four or five centuries before him people from
northern Europe had settlements here; he was fortunate, however, in
"discovering" it in the fullness of time, when the world, in its
progress, was ready for it. If the Greeks had had gunpowder, electro-
magnetism, the printing press, history would need to be rewritten.
Why the inquisitive Greek mind did not find out these things is a mystery
upon any other theory than the one we are considering.

And it is as mysterious that China, having gunpowder and the art of
printing, is not today like Germany.

There seems to me to be a progress, or an intention of progress, in the
world, independent of individual men. Things get on by all sorts of
instruments, and sometimes by very poor ones. There are times when new
thoughts or applications of known principles seem to throng from the
invisible for expression through human media, and there is hardly ever an
important invention set free in the world that men do not appear to be
ready cordially to receive it. Often we should be justified in saying
that there was a widespread expectation of it. Almost all the great
inventions and the ingenious application of principles have many
claimants for the honor of priority.

On any other theory than this, that there is present in the world an
intention of progress which outlasts individuals, and even races,
I cannot account for the fact that, while civilizations decay and pass
away, and human systems go to pieces, ideas remain and accumulate.
We, the latest age, are the inheritors of all the foregoing ages.
I do not believe that anything of importance has been lost to the world.
The Jewish civilization was torn up root and branch, but whatever was
valuable in the Jewish polity is ours now. We may say the same of the
civilizations of Athens and of Rome; though the entire organization of
the ancient world, to use Mr. Froude's figure, collapsed into a heap of
incoherent sand, the ideas remained, and Greek art and Roman law are part
of the world's solid possessions.

Even those who question the value to the individual of what we call
progress, admit, I suppose, the increase of knowledge in the world from
age to age, and not only its increase, but its diffusion. The
intelligent schoolboy today knows more than the ancient sages knew--more
about the visible heavens, more of the secrets of the earth, more of the
human body. The rudiments of his education, the common experiences of
his everyday life, were, at the best, the guesses and speculations of a
remote age. There is certainly an accumulation of facts, ideas,
knowledge. Whether this makes men better, wiser, happier, is indeed

In order to maintain the notion of a general and intended progress, it is
not necessary to show that no preceding age has excelled ours in some
special, development. Phidias has had no rival in sculpture, we may
admit. It is possible that glass was once made as flexible as leather,
and that copper could be hardened like steel. But I do not take much
stock in the "lost arts," the wondering theme of the lyceums. The
knowledge of the natural world, and of materials, was never, I believe,
so extensive and exact as it is today. It is possible that there are
tricks of chemistry, ingenious processes, secrets of color, of which we
are ignorant; but I do not believe there was ever an ancient alchemist
who could not be taught something in a modern laboratory. The vast
engineering works of the ancient Egyptians, the remains of their temples
and pyramids, excite our wonder; but I have no doubt that President
Grant, if he becomes the tyrant they say he is becoming, and commands the
labor of forty millions of slaves--a large proportion of them office--
holders--could build a Karnak, or erect a string of pyramids across New

Mr. Froude runs lightly over a list of subjects upon which the believer
in progress relies for his belief, and then says of them that the world
calls this progress--he calls it only change. I suppose he means by this
two things: that these great movements of our modern life are not any
evidence of a permanent advance, and that our whole structure may tumble
into a heap of incoherent sand, as systems of society have done before;
and, again, that it is questionable if, in what we call a stride in
civilization, the individual citizen is becoming any purer or more just,
or if his intelligence is directed towards learning and doing what is
right, or only to the means of more extended pleasures.

It is, perhaps, idle to speculate upon the first of these points--the
permanence of our advance, if it is an advance. But we may be encouraged
by one thing that distinguishes this period--say from the middle of the
eighteenth century--from any that has preceded it. I mean the
introduction of machinery, applied to the multiplication of man's power
in a hundred directions--to manufacturing, to locomotion, to the
diffusion of thought and of knowledge. I need not dwell upon this
familiar topic. Since this period began there has been, so far as I
know, no retrograde movement anywhere, but, besides the material, an
intellectual and spiritual kindling the world over, for which history has
no sort of parallel. Truth is always the same, and will make its way,
but this subject might be illustrated by a study of the relation of
Christianity and of the brotherhood of men to machinery. The theme would
demand an essay by itself. I leave it with the one remark, that this
great change now being wrought in the world by the multiplicity of
machinery is not more a material than it is an intellectual one, and that
we have no instance in history of a catastrophe widespread enough and
adequate to sweep away its results. That is to say, none of the
catastrophes, not even the corruptions, which brought to ruin the ancient
civilizations, would work anything like the same disaster in an age which
has the use of machinery that this age has.

For instance: Gibbon selects the period between the accession of Trajan
and the death of Marcus Aurelius as the time in which the human race
enjoyed more general happiness than they had ever known before, or had
since known. Yet, says Mr. Froude, in the midst of this prosperity the
heart of the empire was dying out of it; luxury and selfishness were
eating away the principle that held society together, and the ancient
world was on the point of collapsing into a heap of incoherent sand.
Now, it is impossible to conceive that the catastrophe which did happen
to that civilization could have happened if the world had then possessed
the steam-engine, the printing-press, and the electric telegraph. The
Roman power might have gone down, and the face of the world been recast;
but such universal chaos and such a relapse for the individual people
would seem impossible.

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