Miscellaneous Studies: A Series of Essays by Walter Horatio Pater

www.ajdrake.com/etexts.) 1869. NOTES ON LEONARDO DA VINCI. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in Novermber, 1869. Reprinted 1873 in Studies in the Renaissance. 1870. SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in August, 1870, entitled “A Fragment on Sandro Botticelli.” Reprinted 1873 in Studies in the Renaissance. 1871. PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in October, 1871.
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NOTES ON LEONARDO DA VINCI. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in Novermber, 1869. Reprinted 1873 in Studies in the Renaissance.


SANDRO BOTTICELLI. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in August, 1870, entitled “A Fragment on Sandro Botticelli.” Reprinted 1873 in Studies in the Renaissance.


PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in October, 1871. Reprinted 1873 in Studies in the Renaissance.

POETRY OF MICHELANGELO. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in November, 1871. Reprinted 1873 in Studies in the Renaissance.


STUDIES IN THE HISTORY OF THE RENAISSANCE. Published 1873 by Macmillan. Contents:

Aucassin and Nicolette. Entitled in second and later editions, “Two Early French Stories.”

Pico della Mirandola. See 1871.

Sandro Botticelli. See 1870.

Luca della Robbia.

Poetry of Michelangelo. See 1871.

Leonardo da Vinci. See 1869.

Joachim du Bellay.

Winckelmann. See 1867.



WORDSWORTH. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in April, 1874. Reprinted 1889 in Appreciations.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in November, 1874. Reprinted 1889 in Appreciations.


DEMETER AND PERSEPHONE. Written as two lectures, and delivered in 1875 at the Birmingham and Midland Institute. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in January and February, 1876. Reprinted 1895 in Greek Studies.


ROMANTICISM. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in November, 1876. Reprinted 1889 in Appreciations under the title “Postscript.”

A STUDY OF DIONYSUS. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in December, 1876. Reprinted 1895 in Greek Studies.


THE SCHOOL OF GIORGIONE. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in October, 1877. Reprinted 1888 in third edition of The Renaissance.

THE RENAISSANCE: STUDIES IN ART AND POETRY. Second edition. Macmillan. Contents:

Two Early French Stories.

Pico della Mirandola.

Sandro Botticelli.

Luca della Robbia.

The Poetry of Michelangelo.

Leonardo da Vinci.

Joachim du Bellay.



THE CHILD IN THE HOUSE. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in August, 1878, under the heading, “Imaginary Portrait. The Child in the House.” Reprinted 1895 in Miscellaneous Studies.

CHARLES LAMB. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in October, 1878. Reprinted 1889 in Appreciations.

LOVE’S LABOURS LOST. Written in 1878. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in December, 1885. Reprinted 1889 in Appreciations.

THE BACCHANALS OF EURIPIDES. Written in 1878. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in May, 1889. Reprinted in Tyrrell’s edition of the Bacchae in 1892. Reprinted in 1895 in Greek Studies.


THE BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in February and March, 1880. Reprinted 1895 in Greek Studies.

THE MARBLES OF AEGINA. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in April, 1880. Reprinted 1895 in Greek Studies.


DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI. Written in 1883. Published 1889 in Appreciations.


MARIUS THE EPICUREAN. Published in 1885 by Macmillan. Two volumes.

A PRINCE OF COURT PAINTERS. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in October, 1885. Reprinted 1887 in Imaginary Portraits.


FEUILLET’S “LA MORTE.” Written in 1886. Published 1890 in second edition of Appreciations.

SIR THOMAS BROWNE. Written in 1886. Published 1889 in Appreciations.

SEBASTIAN VAN STORCK. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in March, 1886. Reprinted 1887 in Imaginary Portraits.

DENYS L’AUXERROIS. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in October, 1886. Reprinted 1887 in Imaginary Portraits.


DUKE CARL OF ROSENMOLD. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in May, 1887. Reprinted the same year in Imaginary Portraits.

IMAGINARY PORTRAITS. Published 1887 by Macmillan. Contents:

A Prince of Court Painters. See 1885.

Denys l’Auxerrois. See 1886.

Sebastian van Storck. See 1886.

Duke Carl of Rosenmold. See above.


GASTON DE LATOUR. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine as under: viz.

Chapter I in June.

Chapter II in July.

Chapter III in August.

Chapter IV in September.

Chapter V in October.

STYLE. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in December, 1888. Reprinted 1889 in Appreciations.

THE RENAISSANCE. Third Edition. Macmillan. Contents:

Two Early French Stories.

Pico della Mirandola.

Sandro Botticelli.

Luca della Robbia.

The Poetry of Michelangelo.

Leonardo da Vinci.

The School of Giorgione. See 1877.

Joachim du Bellay.




HIPPOLYTUS VEILED. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in August, 1889. Reprinted 1895 in Greek Studies.

*GIORDANO BRUNO. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in August, 1889. (Not included in the 1910 Macmillan Library Edition, but published APPRECIATIONS, WITH AN ESSAY ON STYLE. Published 1889 by Macmillan. Contents:

Style. See 1888.

Wordsworth. See 1874.

Coleridge. See 1866.

Charles Lamb. See 1878.

Sir Thomas Browne. See 1886.

Love’s Labours Lost. See 1878.

Measure for Measure. See 1874.

Shakespeare’s English Kings.

*Aesthetic Poetry. See 1868.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti. See 1883.

Postscript. See under “Romanticism,” 1876.


ART NOTES IN NORTHERN ITALY. Appeared in New Review in November, 1890. Reprinted 1895 in Miscellaneous Studies.

PROSPER MÉRIMÉE. Delivered as a lecture at Oxford in November, 1890. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in December, 1890. Reprinted 1895 in Miscellaneous Studies.

APPRECIATIONS. Second edition. Macmillan. Contents as in first edition of 1889, but omitting Aesthetic Poetry and including a paper on Feuillet’s “La Morte” (See 1886).


THE GENIUS OF PLATO. Appeared in Contemporary Review in February, 1892. Reprinted 1893 as Chapter VI of Plato and Platonism.

A CHAPTER ON PLATO. Appeared in Macmillan’s Magazine in May, 1892. Reprinted 1893 as Chapter I of Plato and Platonism.

LACEDAEMON. Appeared in Contemporary Review in June, 1892. Reprinted 1893 as Chapter VIII of Plato and Platonism.

EMERALD UTHWART. Appeared in New Review in June and July, 1892. Reprinted 1895 in Miscellaneous Studies.

RAPHAEL. Delivered as a lecture at Oxford in August, 1892. Appeared in Fortnightly Review in October, 1892. Reprinted 1895 in Miscellaneous Studies.


APOLLO IN PICARDY. Appeared in Harper’s Magazine in November, 1893. Reprinted 1895 in Miscellaneous Studies.

PLATO AND PLATONISM. Published 1893 by Macmillan. Included, as Chapters 1, 6, and 8, papers which had already appeared in Magazines in 1892. Contents:

1. Plato and the Doctrine of Motion.

2. Plato and the Doctrine of Rest.

3. Plato and the Doctrine of Number.

4. Plato and Socrates.

5. Plato and the Sophists.

6. The Genius of Plato.

7. The Doctrine of Plato–

I. The Theory of Ideas.

II. Dialectic.

8. Lacedaemon.

9. The Republic.

10. Plato’s Aesthetics.


THE AGE OF ATHLETIC PRIZEMEN. Appeared in Contemporary Review in February, 1894. Reprinted 1895 in Greek Studies.

SOME GREAT CHURCHES IN FRANCE. 1) NOTRE-DAME D’AMIENS; 2) VÉZELAY. Appeared in Nineteenth Century in March and June, 1894. Reprinted 1895 in Miscellaneous Studies as two separate essays.

PASCAL. Written for delivery as a lecture at Oxford in July, 1894. Appeared in Contemporary Review in December, 1894. Reprinted 1895 in Miscellaneous Studies.


GREEK STUDIES. Published 1895 by Macmillan. Contents:

A Study of Dionysus. See 1876.

The Bacchanals of Euripides. See 1878.

The Myth of Demeter and Persephone. See 1875.

Hippolytus Veiled. See 1889.

The Beginnings of Greek Sculpture. See 1880:

1) The Heroic Age of Greek Art.

2) The Age of Graven Images.

The Marbles of Aegina. See 1880.

The Age of Athletic Prizemen. See 1894.


FOR one born in eighteen hundred and three much was recently become incredible that had at least warmed the imagination even of the sceptical eighteenth century. Napoleon, sealing the tomb of the Revolution, had foreclosed many a problem, extinguished many a hope, in the sphere of practice. And the mental parallel was drawn by Heine. In the mental world too a great outlook had lately been cut off. After Kant’s criticism of the mind, its pretensions to pass beyond the limits of individual experience seemed as dead as those of old French royalty. And Kant did but furnish its innermost theoretic force to a more general criticism, which had withdrawn from every department of action, underlying principles once thought eternal. A time of disillusion followed. The typical personality of the day was Obermann, the very genius of ennui, a Frenchman disabused even of patriotism, who has hardly strength enough to die.

[12] More energetic souls, however, would recover themselves, and find some way of making the best of a changed world. Art: the passions, above all, the ecstasy and sorrow of love: a purely empirical knowledge of nature and man: these still remained, at least for pastime, in a world of which it was no longer proposed to calculate the remoter issues:–art, passion, science, however, in a somewhat novel attitude towards the practical interests of life. The désillusionné, who had found in Kant’s negations the last word concerning an unseen world, and is living, on the morrow of the Revolution, under a monarchy made out of hand, might seem cut off from certain ancient natural hopes, and will demand, from what is to interest him at all, something in the way of artificial stimulus. He has lost that sense of large proportion in things, that all-embracing prospect of life as a whole (from end to end of time and space, it had seemed), the utmost expanse of which was afforded from a cathedral tower of the Middle Age: by the church of the thirteenth century, that is to say, with its consequent aptitude for the co-ordination of human effort. Deprived of that exhilarating yet pacific outlook, imprisoned now in the narrow cell of its own subjective experience, the action of a powerful nature will be intense, but exclusive and peculiar. It will come to art, or science, to the experience of life itself, not as to portions of human nature’s daily food, but as to [13] something that must be, by the circumstances of the case, exceptional; almost as men turn in despair to gambling or narcotics, and in a little while the narcotic, the game of chance or skill, is valued for its own sake. The vocation of the artist, of the student of life or books, will be realised with something–say! of fanaticism, as an end in itself, unrelated, unassociated. The science he turns to will be a science of crudest fact; the passion extravagant, a passionate love of passion, varied through all the exotic phases of French fiction as inaugurated by Balzac; the art exaggerated, in matter or form, or both, as in Hugo or Baudelaire. The development of these conditions is the mental story of the nineteenth century, especially as exemplified in France.

In no century would Prosper Mérimée have been a theologian or metaphysician. But that sense of negation, of theoretic insecurity, was in the air, and conspiring with what was of like tendency in himself made of him a central type of disillusion. In him the passive ennui of Obermann became a satiric, aggressive, almost angry conviction of the littleness of the world around; it was as if man’s fatal limitations constituted a kind of stupidity in him, what the French call bêtise. Gossiping friends, indeed, linked what was constitutional in him and in the age with an incident of his earliest years. Corrected for some childish fault, in passionate distress, he overhears a half-pitying laugh at his expense, and has determined, [14] in a moment, never again to give credit–to be for ever on his guard, especially against his own instinctive movements. Quite unreserved, certainly, he never was again. Almost everywhere he could detect the hollow ring of fundamental nothingness under the apparent surface of things. Irony surely, habitual irony, would be the proper complement thereto, on his part. In his infallible self- possession, you might even fancy him a mere man of the world, with a special aptitude for matters of fact. Though indifferent in politics, he rises to social, to political eminence; but all the while he is feeding all his scholarly curiosity, his imagination, the very eye, with the, to him ever delightful, relieving, reassuring spectacle, of those straightforward forces in human nature, which are also matters of fact. There is the formula of Mérimée! the enthusiastic amateur of rude, crude, naked force in men and women wherever it could be found; himself carrying ever, as a mask, the conventional attire of the modern world–carrying it with an infinite, contemptuous grace, as if that, too, were an all-sufficient end in itself. With a natural gift for words, for expression, it will be his literary function to draw back the veil of time from the true greatness of old Roman character; the veil of modern habit from the primitive energy of the creatures of his fancy, as the Lettres à une Inconnue discovered to general gaze, after his death, a certain depth of [15] passionate force which had surprised him in himself. And how forcible will be their outlines in an otherwise insignificant world! Fundamental belief gone, in almost all of us, at least some relics of it remain–queries, echoes, reactions, after-thoughts; and they help to make an atmosphere, a mental atmosphere, hazy perhaps, yet with many secrets of soothing light and shade, associating more definite objects to each other by a perspective pleasant to the inward eye against a hopefully receding background of remoter and ever remoter possibilities. Not so with Mérimée! For him the fundamental criticism has nothing more than it can do; and there are no half-lights. The last traces of hypothesis, of supposition, are evaporated. Sylla, the false Demetrius, Carmen, Colomba, that impassioned self within himself, have no atmosphere. Painfully distinct in outline, inevitable to sight, unrelieved, there they stand, like solitary mountain forms on some hard, perfectly transparent day. What Mérimée gets around his singularly sculpturesque creations is neither more nor less than empty space.

So disparate are his writings that at first sight you might fancy them only the random efforts of a man of pleasure or affairs, who, turning to this or that for the relief of a vacant hour, discovers to his surprise a workable literary gift, of whose scope, however, he is not precisely aware. His sixteen volumes nevertheless range themselves in three compact groups. There are his letters [16] — those Lettres à une Inconnue, and his letters to the librarian Panizzi, revealing him in somewhat close contact with political intrigue. But in this age of novelists, it is as a writer of novels, and of fiction in the form of highly descriptive drama, that he will count for most:–Colomba, for instance, by its intellectual depth of motive, its firmly conceived structure, by the faultlessness of its execution, vindicating the function of the novel as no tawdry light literature, but in very deed a fine art. The Chronique du Règne de Charles IX., an unusually successful specimen of historical romance, links his imaginative work to the third group of Mérimée’s writings, his historical essays. One resource of the disabused soul of our century, as we saw, would be the empirical study of facts, the empirical science of nature and man, surviving all dead metaphysical philosophies. Mérimée, perhaps, may have had in him the making of a master of such science, disinterested, patient, exact: scalpel in hand, we may fancy, he would have penetrated far. But quite certainly he had something of genius for the exact study of history, for the pursuit of exact truth, with a keenness of scent as if that alone existed, in some special area of historic fact, to be determined by his own peculiar mental preferences. Power here too again,–the crude power of men and women which mocks, while it makes its use of, average human nature: it was the magic function of history to put one in living [17] contact with that. To weigh the purely physiognomic import of the memoir, of the pamphlet saved by chance, the letter, the anecdote, the very gossip by which one came face to face with energetic personalities: there lay the true business of the historic student, not in that pretended theoretic interpretation of events by their mechanic causes, with which he dupes others if not invariably himself. In the great hero of the Social War, in Sylla, studied, indeed, through his environment, but only so far as that was in dynamic contact with himself, you saw, without any manner of doubt, on one side, the solitary height of human genius; on the other, though on the seemingly so heroic stage of antique Roman story, the wholly inexpressive level of the humanity of every day, the spectacle of man’s eternal bêtise. Fascinated, like a veritable son of the old pagan Renaissance, by the grandeur, the concentration, the satiric hardness of ancient Roman character, it is to Russia nevertheless that he most readily turns–youthful Russia, whose native force, still unbelittled by our western civilisation, seemed to have in it the promise of a more dignified civilisation to come. It was as if old Rome itself were here again; as, occasionally, a new quarry is laid open of what was thought long since exhausted, ancient marble, cipollino or verde antique. Mérimée, indeed, was not the first to discern the fitness for imaginative service of the career of “the false Demetrius,” pretended [18] son of Ivan the Terrible; but he alone seeks its utmost force in a calm, matter-of-fact carefully ascertained presentment of the naked events. Yes! In the last years of the Valois, when its fierce passions seemed to be bursting France to pieces, you might have seen, far away beyond the rude Polish dominion of which one of those Valois princes had become king, a display more effective still of exceptional courage and cunning, of horror in circumstance, of bêtise, of course, of bêtise and a slavish capacity of being duped, in average mankind: all that under a mask of solemn Muscovite court- ceremonial. And Mérimée’s style, simple and unconcerned, but with the eye ever on its object, lends itself perfectly to such purpose– to an almost phlegmatic discovery of the facts, in all their crude natural colouring, as if he but held up to view, as a piece of evidence, some harshly dyed oriental carpet from the sumptuous floor of the Kremlin, on which blood had fallen.

A lover of ancient Rome, its great character and incident, Mérimée valued, as if it had been personal property of his, every extant relic of it in the art that had been most expressive of its genius– architecture. In that grandiose art of building, the most national, the most tenaciously rooted of all the arts in the stable conditions of life, there were historic documents hardly less clearly legible than the manuscript chronicle. By the mouth of those stately Romanesque [19] churches, scattered in so many strongly characterised varieties over the soil of France, above all in the hot, half-pagan south, the people of empire still protested, as he understood, against what must seem a smaller race. The Gothic enthusiasm indeed was already born, and he shared it–felt intelligently the fascination of the Pointed Style, but only as a further transformation of old Roman structure; the round arch is for him still the great architectural form, la forme noble, because it was to be seen in the monuments of antiquity. Romanesque, Gothic, the manner of the Renaissance, of Lewis the Fourteenth:–they were all, as in a written record, in the old abbey church of Saint-Savin, of which Mérimée was instructed to draw up a report. Again, it was as if to his concentrated attention through many months that deserted sanctuary of Benedict were the only thing on earth. Its beauties, its peculiarities, its odd military features, its faded mural paintings, are no merely picturesque matter for the pencil he could use so well, but the lively record of a human society. With what appetite! with all the animation of George Sand’s Mauprat, he tells the story of romantic violence having its way there, defiant of law, so late as the year 1611; of the family of robber nobles perched, as abbots in commendam, in those sacred places. That grey, pensive old church in the little valley of Poitou, was for a time like Santa Maria del Fiore to [20] Michelangelo, the mistress of his affections- -of a practical affection; for the result of his elaborate report was the Government grant which saved the place from ruin. In architecture, certainly, he had what for that day was nothing less than intuition–an intuitive sense, above all, of its logic, of the necessity which draws into one all minor changes, as elements in a reasonable development. And his care for it, his curiosity about it, were symptomatic of his own genius. Structure, proportion, design, a sort of architectural coherency: that was the aim of his method in the art of literature, in that form of it, especially, which he will live by, in fiction.

As historian and archaeologist, as a man of erudition turned artist, he is well seen in the Chronique du Règne de Charles IX., by which we pass naturally from Mérimée’s critical or scientific work to the products of his imagination. What economy in the use of a large antiquarian knowledge! what an instinct amid a hundred details, for the detail that carries physiognomy in it, that really tells! And again what outline, what absolute clarity of outline! For the historian of that puzzling age which centres in the “Eve of Saint Bartholomew,” outward events themselves seem obscured by the vagueness of motive of the actors in them. But Mérimée, disposing of them as an artist, not in love with half-lights, compels events and actors alike to the clearness he [21] desired; takes his side without hesitation; and makes his hero a Huguenot of pure blood, allowing its charm, in that charming youth, even to Huguenot piety. And as for the incidents–however freely it may be undermined by historic doubt, all reaches a perfectly firm surface, at least for the eye of the reader. The Chronicle of Charles the Ninth is like a series of masterly drawings in illustration of a period–the period in which two other masters of French fiction have found their opportunity, mainly by the development of its actual historic characters. Those characters–Catherine de Medicis and the rest–Mérimée, with significant irony and self-assertion, sets aside, preferring to think of them as essentially commonplace. For him the interest lies in the creatures of his own will, who carry in them, however, so lightly! a learning equal to Balzac’s, greater than that of Dumas. He knows with like completeness the mere fashions of the time–how courtier and soldier dressed themselves, and the large movements of the desperate game which fate or chance was playing with those pretty pieces. Comparing that favourite century of the French Renaissance with our own, he notes a decadence of the more energetic passions in the interest of general tranquillity, and perhaps (only perhaps!) of general happiness. “Assassination,” he observes, as if with regret, “is no longer a part of our manners.” In fact, the duel, and the whole [22] morality of the duel, which does but enforce a certain regularity on assassination, what has been well called le sentiment du fer, the sentiment of deadly steel, had then the disposition of refined existence. It was, indeed, very different, and is, in Mérimée’s romance. In his gallant hero, Bernard de Mergy, all the promptings of the lad’s virile goodness are in natural collusion with that sentiment du fer. Amid his ingenuous blushes, his prayers, and plentiful tears between-while, it is a part of his very sex. With his delightful, fresh-blown air, he is for ever tossing the sheath from the sword, but always as if into bright natural sunshine. A winsome, yet withal serious and even piteous figure, he conveys his pleasantness, in spite of its gloomy theme, into Mérimée’s one quite cheerful book.

Cheerful, because, after all, the gloomy passions it presents are but the accidents of a particular age, and not like the mental conditions in which Mérimée was most apt to look for the spectacle of human power, allied to madness or disease in the individual. For him, at least, it was the office of fiction to carry one into a different if not a better world than that actually around us; and if the Chronicle of Charles the Ninth provided an escape from the tame circumstances of contemporary life into an impassioned past, Colomba is a measure of the resources for mental alteration which may be found even in the modern age. There was a corner of [23] the French Empire, in the manners of which assassination still had a large part.

“The beauty of Corsica,” says Mérimée, “is grave and sad. The aspect of the capital does but augment the impression caused by the solitude that surrounds it. There is no movement in the streets. You hear there none of the laughter, the singing, the loud talking, common in the towns of Italy. Sometimes, under the shadow of a tree on the promenade, a dozen armed peasants will be playing cards, or looking on at the game. The Corsican is naturally silent. Those who walk the pavement are all strangers: the islanders stand at their doors: every one seems to be on the watch, like a falcon on its nest. All around the gulf there is but an expanse of tanglework; beyond it, bleached mountains. Not a habitation! Only, here and there, on the heights about the town, certain white constructions detach themselves from the background of green. They are funeral chapels or family tombs.”

Crude in colour, sombre, taciturn, Corsica, as Mérimée here describes it, is like the national passion of the Corsican–that morbid personal pride, usurping the place even of grief for the dead, which centuries of traditional violence had concentrated into an all- absorbing passion for bloodshed, for bloody revenges, in collusion with the natural wildness, and the wild social condition of the island still unaffected even by the finer [24] ethics of the duel. The supremacy of that passion is well indicated by the cry, put into the mouth of a young man in the presence of the corpse of his father deceased in the course of nature–a young man meant to be commonplace. “Ah! Would thou hadst died malamorte–by violence! We might have avenged thee!”

In Colomba, Mérimée’s best known creation, it is united to a singularly wholesome type of personal beauty, a natural grace of manner which is irresistible, a cunning intellect patiently diverting every circumstance to its design; and presents itself as a kind of genius, allied to fatal disease of mind. The interest of Mérimée’s book is that it allows us to watch the action of this malignant power on Colomba’s brother, Orso della Robbia, as it discovers, rouses, concentrates to the leaping-point, in the somewhat weakly diffused nature of the youth, the dormant elements of a dark humour akin to her own. Two years after his father’s murder, presumably at the instigation of his ancestral enemies, the young lieutenant is returning home in the company of two humorously conventional English people, himself now half Parisianised, with an immense natural cheerfulness, and willing to believe an account of the crime which relieves those hated Barricini of all complicity in its guilt. But from the first, Colomba, with “voice soft and musical,” is at his side, gathering every accident and echo and circumstance, the very lightest circumstance, [25] into the chain of necessity which draws him to the action every one at home expects of him as the head of his race. He is not unaware. Her very silence on the matter speaks so plainly. “You are forming me!” he admits. “Well! ‘Hot shot, or cold steel!’–you see I have not forgotten my Corsican.” More and more, as he goes on his way with her, he finds himself accessible to the damning thoughts he has so long combated. In horror, he tries to disperse them by the memory of his comrades in the regiment, the drawing-rooms of Paris, the English lady who has promised to be his bride, and will shortly visit him in the humble manoir of his ancestors. From his first step among them the villagers of Pietranera, divided already into two rival camps, are watching him in suspense–Pietranera, perched among those deep forests where the stifled sense of violent death is everywhere. Colomba places in his hands the little chest which contains the father’s shirt covered with great spots of blood. “Behold the lead that struck him!” and she laid on the shirt two rusted bullets. “Orso! you will avenge him!” She embraces him with a kind of madness, kisses wildly the bullets and the shirt, leaves him with the terrible relics already exerting their mystic power upon him. It is as if in the nineteenth century a girl, amid Christian habits, had gone back to that primitive old pagan version of the story of the Grail, which [26] identifies it not with the Most Precious Blood, but only with the blood of a murdered relation crying for vengeance. Awake at last in his old chamber at Pietranera, the house of the Barricini at the other end of the square, with its rival tower and rudely carved escutcheons, stares him in the face. His ancestral enemy is there, an aged man now, but with two well-grown sons, like two stupid dumb animals, whose innocent blood will soon be on his so oddly lighted conscience. At times, his better hope seemed to lie in picking a quarrel and killing at least in fair fight, one of these two stupid dumb animals; with rude ill-suppressed laughter one day, as they overhear Colomba’s violent utterances at a funeral feast, for she is a renowned improvisatrice. “Your father is an old man,” he finds himself saying, “I could crush with my hands. ‘Tis for you I am destined, for you and your brother!” And if it is by course of nature that the old man dies not long after the murder of these sons (self-provoked after all), dies a fugitive at Pisa, as it happens, by an odd accident, in the presence of Colomba, no violent death by Orso’s own hand could have been more to her mind. In that last hard page of Mérimée’s story, mere dramatic propriety itself for a moment seems to plead for the forgiveness, which from Joseph and his brethren to the present day, as we know, has been as winning in story as in actual life. Such dramatic propriety, however, was by no means [27] in Mérimée’s way. “What I must have is the hand that fired the shot,” she had sung, “the eye that guided it; aye! and the mind moreover– the mind, which had conceived the deed!” And now, it is in idiotic terror, a fugitive from Orso’s vengeance, that the last of the Barricini is dying.

Exaggerated art! you think. But it was precisely such exaggerated art, intense, unrelieved, an art of fierce colours, that is needed by those who are seeking in art, as I said of Mérimée, a kind of artificial stimulus. And if his style is still impeccably correct, cold-blooded, impersonal, as impersonal as that of Scott himself, it does but conduce the better to his one exclusive aim. It is like the polish of the stiletto Colomba carried always under her mantle, or the beauty of the fire-arms, that beauty coming of nice adaptation to purpose, which she understood so well–a task characteristic also of Mérimée himself, a sort of fanatic joy in the perfect pistol-shot, at its height in the singular story he has translated from the Russian of Pouchkine. Those raw colours he preferred; Spanish, Oriental, African, perhaps, irritant certainly to cisalpine eyes, he undoubtedly attained the colouring you associate with sun-stroke, only possible under a sun in which dead things rot quickly.

Pity and terror, we know, go to the making of the essential tragic sense. In Mérimée, certainly, we have all its terror, but without the [28] pity. Saint-Clair, the consent of his mistress barely attained at last, rushes madly on self-destruction, that he may die with the taste of his great love fresh on his lips. All the grotesque accidents of violent death he records with visual exactness, and no pains to relieve them; the ironic indifference, for instance, with which, on the scaffold or the battle-field, a man will seem to grin foolishly at the ugly rents through which his life has passed. Seldom or never has the mere pen of a writer taken us so close to the cannon’s mouth as in the Taking of the Redoubt, while Matteo Falcone–twenty-five short pages–is perhaps the cruellest story in the world.

Colomba, that strange, fanatic being, who has a code of action, of self-respect, a conscience, all to herself, who with all her virginal charm only does not make you hate her, is, in truth, the type of a sort of humanity Mérimée found it pleasant to dream of–a humanity as alien as the animals, with whose moral affinities to man his imaginative work is often directly concerned. Were they so alien, after all? Were there not survivals of the old wild creatures in the gentlest, the politest of us? Stories that told of sudden freaks of gentle, polite natures, straight back, not into Paradise, were always welcome to men’s fancies; and that could only be because they found a psychologic truth in them. With much success, with a credibility insured by his literary tact, Mérimée tried his own hand at such stories: unfrocked the [29] bear in the amorous young Lithuanian noble, the wolf in the revolting peasant of the Middle Age. There were survivals surely in himself, in that stealthy presentment of his favourite themes, in his own art. You seem to find your hand on a serpent, in reading him.

In such survivals, indeed, you see the operation of his favourite motive, the sense of wild power, under a sort of mask, or assumed habit, realised as the very genius of nature itself; and that interest, with some superstitions closely allied to it, the belief in the vampire, for instance, is evidenced especially in certain pretended Illyrian compositions–prose translations, the reader was to understand, of more or less ancient popular ballads; La Guzla, he called the volume, The Lyre, as we might say; only that the instrument of the Illyrian minstrel had but one string. Artistic deception, a trick of which there is something in the historic romance as such, in a book like his own Chronicle of Charles the Ninth, was always welcome to Mérimée; it was part of the machinery of his rooted habit of intellectual reserve. A master of irony also, in Madame Lucrezia he seems to wish to expose his own method cynically; to explain his art–how he takes you in–as a clever, confident conjuror might do. So properly were the readers of La Guzla taken in that he followed up his success in that line by the Theatre of Clara Gazul, purporting to be from a rare Spanish original, the work [30] of a nun, who, under tame, conventual reading, had felt the touch of mundane, of physical passions; had become a dramatic poet, and herself a powerful actress. It may dawn on you in reading her that Mérimée was a kind of Webster, but with the superficial mildness of our nineteenth century. At the bottom of the true drama there is ever, logically at least, the ballad: the ballad dealing in a kind of short-hand (or, say! in grand, simple, universal outlines) with those passions, crimes, mistakes, which have a kind of fatality in them, a kind of necessity to come to the surface of the human mind, if not to the surface of our experience, as in the case of some frankly supernatural incidents which Mérimée re-handled. Whether human love or hatred has had most to do in shaping the universal fancy that the dead come back, I cannot say. Certainly that old ballad literature has instances in plenty, in which the voice, the hand, the brief visit from the grave, is a natural response to the cry of the human creature. That ghosts should return, as they do so often in Mérimée’s fiction, is but a sort of natural justice. Only, in Mérimée’s prose ballads, in those admirable, short, ballad-like stories, where every word tells, of which he was a master, almost the inventor, they are a kind of half-material ghosts–a vampire tribe– and never come to do people good; congruously with the mental constitution of the writer, which, alike in fact and fiction, [31] could hardly have horror enough–theme after theme. Mérimée himself emphasises this almost constant motive of his fiction when he adds to one of his volumes of short stories some letters on a matter of fact- -a Spanish bull-fight, in which those old Romans, he regretted, might seem, decadently, to have survived. It is as if you saw it. In truth, Mérimée was the unconscious parent of much we may think of dubious significance in later French literature. It is as if there were nothing to tell of in this world but various forms of hatred, and a love that is like lunacy; and the only other world, a world of maliciously active, hideous, dead bodies.

Mérimée, a literary artist, was not a man who used two words where one would do better, and he shines especially in those brief compositions which, like a minute intaglio, reveal at a glance his wonderful faculty of design and proportion in the treatment of his work, in which there is not a touch but counts. That is an art of which there are few examples in English; our somewhat diffuse, or slipshod, literary language hardly lending itself to the concentration of thought and expression, which are of the essence of such writing. It is otherwise in French, and if you wish to know what art of that kind can come to, read Mérimée’s little romances; best of all, perhaps, La Vénus d’Ille and Arsène Guillot. The former is a modern version of the beautiful old story of the Ring given to Venus, given to her, in [32] this case, by a somewhat sordid creature of the nineteenth century, whom she looks on with more than disdain. The strange outline of the Canigou, one of the most imposing outlying heights of the Pyrenees, down the mysterious slopes of which the traveller has made his way towards nightfall into the great plain of Toulouse, forms an impressive background, congruous with the many relics of irrepressible old paganism there, but in entire contrast to the bourgeois comfort of the place where his journey is to end, the abode of an aged antiquary, loud and bright just now with the celebration of a vulgar worldly marriage. In the midst of this well- being, prosaic in spite of the neighbourhood, in spite of the pretty old wedding customs, morsels of that local colour in which Mérimée delights, the old pagan powers are supposed to reveal themselves once more (malignantly, of course), in the person of a magnificent bronze statue of Venus recently unearthed in the antiquary’s garden. On her finger, by ill-luck, the coarse young bridegroom on the morning of his marriage places for a moment the bridal ring only too effectually (the bronze hand closes, like a wilful living one, upon it), and dies, you are to understand, in her angry metallic embraces on his marriage night. From the first, indeed, she had seemed bent on crushing out men’s degenerate bodies and souls, though the supernatural horror of the tale is adroitly made credible by a certain vagueness in the [33] events, which covers a quite natural account of the bridegroom’s mysterious death.

The intellectual charm of literary work so thoroughly designed as Mérimée’s depends in part on the sense as you read, hastily perhaps, perhaps in need of patience, that you are dealing with a composition, the full secret of which is only to be attained in the last paragraph, that with the last word in mind you will retrace your steps, more than once (it may be) noting then the minuter structure, also the natural or wrought flowers by the way. Nowhere is such method better illustrated than by another of Mérimée’s quintessential pieces, Arsène Guillotand here for once with a conclusion ethically acceptable also. Mérimée loved surprises in human nature, but it is not often that he surprises us by tenderness or generosity of character, as another master of French fiction, M. Octave Feuillet, is apt to do; and the simple pathos of Arsène Guillot gives it a unique place in Mérimée’s writings. It may be said, indeed, that only an essentially pitiful nature could have told the exquisitely cruel story of Matteo Falcone precisely as Mérimée has told it; and those who knew him testify abundantly to his own capacity for generous friendship. He was no more wanting than others in those natural sympathies (sending tears to the eyes at the sight of suffering age or childhood) which happily are no extraordinary component in men’s natures. It was, perhaps, no fitting return for a [34] friendship of over thirty years to publish posthumously those Lettres à une Inconnue, which reveal that reserved, sensitive, self- centred nature, a little pusillanimously in the power, at the disposition of another. For just there lies the interest, the psychological interest, of those letters. An amateur of power, of the spectacle of power and force, followed minutely but without sensibility on his part, with a kind of cynic pride rather for the mainspring of his method, both of thought and expression, you find him here taken by surprise at last, and somewhat humbled, by an unsuspected force of affection in himself. His correspondent, unknown but for these letters except just by name, figures in them as, in truth, a being only too much like himself, seen from one side; reflects his taciturnity, his touchiness, his incredulity except for self-torment. Agitated, dissatisfied, he is wrestling in her with himself, his own difficult qualities. He demands from her a freedom, a frankness, he would have been the last to grant. It is by first thoughts, of course, that what is forcible and effective in human nature, the force, therefore, of carnal love, discovers itself; and for her first thoughts Mérimée is always pleading, but always complaining that he gets only her second thoughts; the thoughts, that is, of a reserved, self-limiting nature, well under the yoke of convention, like his own. Strange conjunction! At the beginning of the correspondence he seems to have been [35] seeking only a fine intellectual companionship; the lady, perhaps, looking for something warmer. Towards such companionship that likeness to himself in her might have been helpful, but was not enough of a complement to his own nature to be anything but an obstruction in love; and it is to that, little by little, that his humour turns. He–the Megalopsychus, as Aristotle defines him–acquires all the lover’s humble habits: himself displays all the tricks of love, its casuistries, its exigency, its superstitions, aye! even its vulgarities; involves with the significance of his own genius the mere hazards and inconsequence of a perhaps average nature; but too late in the day–the years. After the attractions and repulsions of half a lifetime, they are but friends, and might forget to be that, but for his death, clearly presaged in his last weak, touching letter, just two hours before. There, too, had been the blind and naked force of nature and circumstance, surprising him in the uncontrollable movements of his own so carefully guarded heart.

The intimacy, the effusion, the so freely exposed personality of those letters does but emphasise the fact that impersonality was, in literary art, Mérimée’s central aim. Personality versus impersonality in art:–how much or how little of one’s self one may put into one’s work: whether anything at all of it: whether one can put there anything else:–is clearly a far-reaching and complex question. Serviceable as [36] the basis of a precautionary maxim towards the conduct of our work, self-effacement, or impersonality, in literary or artistic creation, is, perhaps, after all, as little possible as a strict realism. “It has always been my rule to put nothing of myself into my works,” says another great master of French prose, Gustave Flaubert; but, luckily as we may think, he often failed in thus effacing himself, as he too was aware. “It has always been my rule to put nothing of myself into my works” (to be disinterested in his literary creations, so to speak), “yet I have put much of myself into them”: and where he failed Mérimée succeeded. There they stand–Carmen, Colomba, the “False” Demetrius–as detached from him as from each other, with no more filial likeness to their maker than if they were the work of another person. And to his method of conception, Mérimée’s much-praised literary style, his method of expression, is strictly conformable–impersonal in its beauty, the perfection of nobody’s style–thus vindicating anew by its very impersonality that much worn, but not untrue saying, that the style is the man:–a man, impassible, unfamiliar, impeccable, veiling a deep sense of what is forcible, nay, terrible, in things, under the sort of personal pride that makes a man a nice observer of all that is most conventional. Essentially unlike other people, he is always fastidiously in the fashion–an expert in all the little, half- [37] contemptuous elegances of which it is capable. Mérimée’s superb self-effacement, his impersonality, is itself but an effective personal trait, and, transferred to art, becomes a markedly peculiar quality of literary beauty. For, in truth, this creature of disillusion who had no care for half-lights, and, like his creations, had no atmosphere about him, gifted as he was with pure mind, with the quality which secures flawless literary structure, had, on the other hand, nothing of what we call soul in literature:–hence, also, that singular harshness in his ideal, as if, in theological language, he were incapable of grace. He has none of those subjectivities, colourings, peculiarities of mental refraction, which necessitate varieties of style–could we spare such?–and render the perfections of it no merely negative qualities. There are masters of French prose whose art has begun where the art of Mérimée leaves off.


11. *A lecture delivered at the Taylor Institution, Oxford, and at the London Institution. Published in the Fortnightly Review, Dec. 1890, and now reprinted by the kind permission of the proprietors.


[38] By his immense productiveness, by the even perfection of what he produced, its fitness to its own day, its hold on posterity, in the suavity of his life, some would add in the “opportunity” of his early death, Raphael may seem a signal instance of the luckiness, of the good fortune, of genius. Yet, if we follow the actual growth of his powers, within their proper framework, the age of the Renaissance–an age of which we may say, summarily, that it enjoyed itself, and found perhaps its chief enjoyment in the attitude of the scholar, in the enthusiastic acquisition of knowledge for its own sake:–if we thus view Raphael and his works in their environment we shall find even his seemingly mechanical good fortune hardly distinguishable from his own patient disposal of the means at hand. Facile master as he may seem, as indeed he is, he is also one of the world’s typical scholars, with [39] Plato, and Cicero, and Virgil, and Milton. The formula of his genius, if we must have one, is this: genius by accumulation; the transformation of meek scholarship into genius– triumphant power of genius.

Urbino, where this prince of the Renaissance was born in 1483, year also of the birth of Luther, leader of the other great movement of that age, the Reformation–Urbino, under its dukes of the house of Montefeltro, had wherewithal just then to make a boy of native artistic faculty from the first a willing learner. The gloomy old fortress of the feudal masters of the town had been replaced, in those later years of the Quattro-cento, by a consummate monument of Quattro-cento taste, a museum of ancient and modern art, the owners of which lived there, gallantly at home, amid the choicer flowers of living humanity. The ducal palace was, in fact, become nothing less than a school of ambitious youth in all the accomplishments alike of war and peace. Raphael’s connexion with it seems to have become intimate, and from the first its influence must have overflowed so small a place. In the case of the lucky Raphael, for once, the actual conditions of early life had been suitable, propitious, accordant to what one’s imagination would have required for the childhood of the man. He was born amid the art he was, not to transform, but to perfect, by a thousand reverential retouchings. In no palace, however, but [40] in a modest abode, still shown, containing the workshop of his father, Giovanni Santi. But here, too, though in frugal form, art, the arts, were present. A store of artistic objects was, or had recently been, made there, and now especially, for fitting patrons, religious pictures in the old Umbrian manner. In quiet nooks of the Apennines Giovanni’s works remain; and there is one of them, worth study, in spite of what critics say of its crudity, in the National Gallery. Concede its immaturity, at least, though an immaturity visibly susceptible of a delicate grace, it wins you nevertheless to return again and again, and ponder, by a sincere expression of sorrow, profound, yet resigned, be the cause what it may, among all the many causes of sorrow inherent in the ideal of maternity, human or divine. But if you keep in mind when looking at it the facts of Raphael’s childhood, you will recognise in his father’s picture, not the anticipated sorrow of the “Mater Dolorosa” over the dead son, but the grief of a simple household over the mother herself taken early from it. That may have been the first picture the eyes of the world’s great painter of Madonnas rested on; and if he stood diligently before it to copy, and so copying, quite unconsciously, and with no disloyalty to his original, refined, improved, substituted,–substituted himself, in fact, his finer self–he had already struck the persistent note of his career. As with his age, it is [41] his vocation, ardent worker as he is, to enjoy himself–to enjoy himself amiably, and to find his chief enjoyment in the attitude of a scholar. And one by one, one after another, his masters, the very greatest of them, go to school to him.

It was so especially with the artist of whom Raphael first became certainly a learner–Perugino. Giovanni Santi had died in Raphael’s childhood, too early to have been in any direct sense his teacher. The lad, however, from one and another, had learned much, when, with his share of the patrimony in hand, enough to keep him, but not to tempt him from scholarly ways, he came to Perugia, hoping still further to improve himself. He was in his eighteenth year, and how he looked just then you may see in a drawing of his own in the University Galleries, of somewhat stronger mould than less genuine likenesses may lead you to expect. There is something of a fighter in the way in which the nose springs from the brow between the wide- set, meditative eyes. A strenuous lad! capable of plodding, if you dare apply that word to labour so impassioned as his–to any labour whatever done at Perugia, centre of the dreamiest Apennine scenery. Its various elements (one hardly knows whether one is thinking of Italian nature or of Raphael’s art in recounting them), the richly- planted lowlands, the sensitive mountain lines in flight one beyond the other into clear distance, the cool yet glowing atmosphere, [42] the romantic morsels of architecture, which lend to the entire scene I know not what expression of reposeful antiquity, arrange themselves here as for set purpose of pictorial effect, and have gone with little change into his painted backgrounds. In the midst of it, on titanic old Roman and Etruscan foundations, the later Gothic town had piled itself along the lines of a gigantic land of rock, stretched out from the last slope of the Apennines into the plain. Between its fingers steep dark lanes wind down into the olive gardens; on the finger-tips military and monastic builders had perched their towns. A place as fantastic in its attractiveness as the human life which then surged up and down in it in contrast to the peaceful scene around. The Baglioni who ruled there had brought certain tendencies of that age to a typical completeness of expression, veiling crime– crime, it might seem, for its own sake, a whole octave of fantastic crime–not merely under brilliant fashions and comely persons, but under fashions and persons, an outward presentment of life and of themselves, which had a kind of immaculate grace and discretion about them, as if Raphael himself had already brought his unerring gift of selection to bear upon it all for motives of art. With life in those streets of Perugia, as with nature, with the work of his masters, with the mere exercises of his fellow-students, his hand rearranges, refines, renews, as if by simple contact; [43] but it is met here half-way in its renewing office by some special aptitude for such grace in the subject itself. Seemingly innocent, full of natural gaiety, eternally youthful, those seven and more deadly sins, embodied and attired in just the jaunty dress then worn, enter now and afterwards as spectators, or assistants, into many a sacred foreground and background among the friends and kinsmen of the Holy Family, among the very angels, gazing, conversing, standing firmly and unashamed. During his apprenticeship at Perugia Raphael visited and left his work in more modest places round about, along those seductive mountain or lowland roads, and copied for one of them Perugino’s “Marriage of the Virgin” significantly, did it by many degrees better, with a very novel effect of motion everywhere, and with that grace which natural motion evokes, introducing for a temple in the background a lovely bit of his friend Bramante’s sort of architecture, the true Renaissance or perfected Quattro-cento architecture. He goes on building a whole lordly new city of the like as he paints to the end of his life. The subject, we may note, as we leave Perugia in Raphael’s company, had been suggested by the famous mystic treasure of its cathedral church, the marriage ring of the Blessed Virgin herself.

Raphael’s copy had been made for the little old Apennine town of Città di Castello; and another place he visits at this time is still more [44] effective in the development of his genius. About his twentieth year he comes to Siena–that other rocky Titan’s hand, just lifted out of the surface of the plain. It is the most grandiose place he has yet seen; it has not forgotten that it was once the rival of Florence; and here the patient scholar passes under an influence of somewhat larger scope than Perugino’s. Perugino’s pictures are for the most part religious contemplations, painted and made visible, to accompany the action of divine service–a visible pattern to priests, attendants, worshippers, of what the course of their invisible thoughts should be at those holy functions. Learning in the workshop of Perugino to produce the like–such works as the Ansidei Madonna–to produce them very much better than his master, Raphael was already become a freeman of the most strictly religious school of Italian art, the so devout Umbrian soul finding there its purest expression, still untroubled by the naturalism, the intellectualism, the antique paganism, then astir in the artistic soul everywhere else in Italy. The lovely work of Perugino, very lovely at its best, of the early Raphael also, is in fact “conservative,” and at various points slightly behind its day, though not unpleasantly. In Perugino’s allegoric frescoes of the Cambio, the Hall of the Money-changers, for instance, under the mystic rule of the Planets in person, pagan personages take their place indeed side by side with the figures of the New [45] Testament, but are no Romans or Greeks, neither are the Jews Jews, nor is any one of them, warrior, sage, king, precisely of Perugino’s own time and place, but still contemplations only, after the manner of the personages in his church-work; or, say, dreams–monastic dreams–thin, do-nothing creatures, conjured from sky and cloud. Perugino clearly never broke through the meditative circle of the Middle Age.

Now Raphael, on the other hand, in his final period at Rome, exhibits a wonderful narrative power in painting; and the secret of that power–the power of developing a story in a picture, or series of pictures–may be traced back from him to Pinturicchio, as that painter worked on those vast, well-lighted walls of the cathedral library at Siena, at the great series of frescoes illustrative of the life of Pope Pius the Second. It had been a brilliant personal history, in contact now and again with certain remarkable public events–a career religious yet mundane, you scarcely know which, so natural is the blending of lights, of interest in it. How unlike the Peruginesque conception of life in its almost perverse other- worldliness, which Raphael now leaves behind him, but, like a true scholar, will not forget. Pinturicchio then had invited his remarkable young friend hither, “to assist him by his counsels,” who, however, pupil-wise, after his habit also learns much as he thus assists. He stands depicted there in person in the scene [46] of the canonisation of Saint Catherine; and though his actual share in the work is not to be defined, connoisseurs have felt his intellectual presence, not at one place only, in touches at once finer and more forcible than were usual in the steady-going, somewhat Teutonic, Pinturicchio, Raphael’s elder by thirty years. The meek scholar you see again, with his tentative sketches and suggestions, had more than learned his lesson; through all its changes that flexible intelligence loses nothing; does but add continually to its store. Henceforward Raphael will be able to tell a story in a picture, better, with a truer economy, with surer judgment, more naturally and easily than any one else.

And here at Siena, of all Italian towns perhaps most deeply impressed with medieval character–an impress it still retains–grotesque, parti-coloured–parti-coloured, so to speak, in its genius–Satanic, yet devout of humour, as depicted in its old chronicles, and beautiful withal, dignified; it is here that Raphael becomes for the first time aware of that old pagan world, which had already come to be so much for the art-schools of Italy. There were points, as we saw, at which the school of Perugia was behind its day. Amid those intensely Gothic surroundings in the cathedral library where Pinturicchio worked, stood, as it remained till recently, unashamed there, a marble group of the three Graces–an average Roman work in [47] effect–the sort of thing we are used to. That, perhaps, is the only reason why for our part, except with an effort, we find it conventional or even tame. For the youthful Raphael, on the other hand, at that moment, antiquity, as with “the dew of herbs,” seemed therein “to awake and sing” out of the dust, in all its sincerity, its cheerfulness and natural charm. He has turned it into a picture; has helped to make his original only too familiar, perhaps, placing the three sisters against his own favourite, so unclassic, Umbrian background indeed, but with no trace of the Peruginesque ascetic, Gothic meagreness in themselves; emphasising rather, with a hearty acceptance, the nude, the flesh; making the limbs, in fact, a little heavy. It was but one gleam he had caught just there in medieval Siena of that large pagan world he was, not so long afterwards, more completely than others to make his own. And when somewhat later he painted the exquisite, still Peruginesque, Apollo and Marsyas, semi-medieval habits again asserted themselves with delightfully blent effects. It might almost pass for a parable–that little picture in the Louvre–of the contention between classic art and the romantic, superseded in the person of Marsyas, a homely, quaintly poetical young monk, surely! Only, Apollo himself also is clearly of the same brotherhood; has a touch, in truth, of Heine’s fancied Apollo “in exile,” who, Christianity now triumphing, has served as [48] a hired shepherd, or hidden himself under the cowl in a cloister; and Raphael, as if at work on choir-book or missal, still applies symbolical gilding for natural sunlight. It is as if he wished to proclaim amid newer lights–this scholar who never forgot a lesson–his loyal pupilage to Perugino, and retained still something of medieval stiffness, of the monastic thoughts also, that were born and lingered in places like Borgo San Sepolcro or Città di Castello. Chef-d’oeuvre! you might exclaim, of the peculiar, tremulous, half- convinced, monkish treatment of that after all damnable pagan world. And our own generation certainly, with kindred tastes, loving or wishing to love pagan art as sincerely as did the people of the Renaissance, and medieval art as well, would accept, of course, of work conceived in that so seductively mixed manner, ten per cent of even Raphael’s later, purely classical presentments.

That picture was suggested by a fine old intaglio in the Medicean collection at Florence, was painted, therefore, after Raphael’s coming thither, and therefore also a survival with him of a style limited, immature, literally provincial; for in the phase on which he had now entered he is under the influence of style in its most fully determined sense, of what might be called the thorough-bass of the pictorial art, of a fully realised intellectual system in regard to its processes, well tested by experiment, upon a survey [49] of all the conditions and various applications of it–of style as understood by Da Vinci, then at work in Florence. Raphael’s sojourn there extends from his twenty-first to his twenty-fifth year. He came with flattering recommendations from the Court of Urbino; was admitted as an equal by the masters of his craft, being already in demand for work, then and ever since duly prized; was, in fact, already famous, though he alone is unaware–is in his own opinion still but a learner, and as a learner yields himself meekly, systematically to influence; would learn from Francia, whom he visits at Bologna; from the earlier naturalistic works of Masolino and Masaccio; from the solemn prophetic work of the venerable dominican, Bartolommeo, disciple of Savonarola. And he has already habitually this strange effect, not only on the whole body of his juniors, but on those whose manner had been long since formed; they lose something of themselves by contact with him, as if they went to school again.

Bartolommeo, Da Vinci, were masters certainly of what we call “the ideal” in art. Yet for Raphael, so loyal hitherto to the traditions of Umbrian art, to its heavy weight of hieratic tradition, dealing still somewhat conventionally with a limited, non-natural matter–for Raphael to come from Siena, Perugia, Urbino, to sharp-witted, practical, masterful Florence was in immediate effect a transition from reverie to [50] realities–to a world of facts. Those masters of the ideal were for him, in the first instance, masters also of realism, as we say. Henceforth, to the end, he will be the analyst, the faithful reporter, in his work, of what he sees. He will realise the function of style as exemplified in the practice of Da Vinci, face to face with the world of nature and man as they are; selecting from, asserting one’s self in a transcript of its veritable data; like drawing to like there, in obedience to the master’s preference for the embodiment of the creative form within him. Portrait-art had been nowhere in the school of Perugino, but it was the triumph of the school of Florence. And here a faithful analyst of what he sees, yet lifting it withal, unconsciously, inevitably, recomposing, glorifying, Raphael too becomes, of course, a painter of portraits. We may foresee them already in masterly series, from Maddalena Doni, a kind of younger, more virginal sister of La Gioconda, to cardinals and popes–to that most sensitive of all portraits, the “Violin- player,” if it be really his. But then, on the other hand, the influence of such portraiture will be felt also in his inventive work, in a certain reality there, a certain convincing loyalty to experience and observation. In his most elevated religious work he will still keep, for security at least, close to nature, and the truth of nature. His modelling of the visible surface is lovely because he understands, can see the hidden causes [51] of momentary action in the face, the hands–how men and animals are really made and kept alive. Set side by side, then, with that portrait of Maddalena Doni, as forming together a measure of what he has learned at Florence, the “Madonna del Gran Duca,” which still remains there. Call it on revision, and without hesitation, the loveliest of his Madonnas, perhaps of all Madonnas; and let it stand as representative of as many as fifty or sixty types of that subject, onwards to the Sixtine Madonna, in all the triumphancy of his later days at Rome. Observe the veritable atmosphere about it, the grand composition of the drapery, the magic relief, the sweetness and dignity of the human hands and faces, the noble tenderness of Mary’s gesture, the unity of the thing with itself, the faultless exclusion of all that does not belong to its main purpose; it is like a single, simple axiomatic thought. Note withal the novelty of its effect on the mind, and you will see that this master of style (that’s a consummate example of what is meant by style) has been still a willing scholar in the hands of Da Vinci. But then, with what ease also, and simplicity, and a sort of natural success not his!

It was in his twenty-fifth year that Raphael came to the city of the popes, Michelangelo being already in high favour there. For the remaining years of his life he paces the same streets with that grim artist, who was so great a [52] contrast with himself, and for the first time his attitude towards a gift different from his own is not that of a scholar, but that of a rival. If he did not become the scholar of Michelangelo, it would be difficult, on the other hand, to trace anywhere in Michelangelo’s work the counter influence usual with those who had influenced him. It was as if he desired to add to the strength of Michelangelo that sweetness which at first sight seems to be wanting there. Ex forti dulcedo: and in the study of Michelangelo certainly it is enjoyable to detect, if we may, sweet savours amid the wonderful strength, the strangeness and potency of what he pours forth for us: with Raphael, conversely, something of a relief to find in the suavity of that so softly moving, tuneful existence, an assertion of strength. There was the promise of it, as you remember, in his very look as he saw himself at eighteen; and you know that the lesson, the prophecy of those holy women and children he has made his own, is that “the meek shall possess.” So, when we see him at Rome at last, in that atmosphere of greatness, of the strong, he too is found putting forth strength, adding that element in due proportion to the mere sweetness and charm of his genius; yet a sort of strength, after all, still congruous with the line of development that genius has hitherto taken, the special strength of the scholar and his proper reward, a purely cerebral strength [53] the strength, the power of an immense understanding.

Now the life of Raphael at Rome seems as we read of it hasty and perplexed, full of undertakings, of vast works not always to be completed, of almost impossible demands on his industry, in a world of breathless competition, amid a great company of spectators, for great rewards. You seem to lose him, feel he may have lost himself, in the multiplicity of his engagements; might fancy that, wealthy, variously decorated, a courtier, cardinal in petto, he was “serving tables.” But, you know, he was forcing into this brief space of years (he died at thirty-seven) more than the natural business of the larger part of a long life; and one way of getting some kind of clearness into it, is to distinguish the various divergent outlooks or applications, and group the results of that immense intelligence, that still untroubled, flawlessly operating, completely informed understanding, that purely cerebral power, acting through his executive, inventive or creative gifts, through the eye and the hand with its command of visible colour and form. In that way you may follow him along many various roads till brain and eye and hand suddenly fail in the very midst of his work–along many various roads, but you can follow him along each of them distinctly.

At the end of one of them is the Galatea, and in quite a different form of industry, the datum [54] for the beginnings of a great literary work of pure erudition. Coming to the capital of Christendom, he comes also for the first time under the full influence of the antique world, pagan art, pagan life, and is henceforth an enthusiastic archaeologist. On his first coming to Rome a papal bull had authorised him to inspect all ancient marbles, inscriptions, and the like, with a view to their adaptation in new buildings then proposed. A consequent close acquaintance with antiquity, with the very touch of it, blossomed literally in his brain, and, under his facile hand, in artistic creations, of which the Galatea is indeed the consummation. But the frescoes of the Farnese palace, with a hundred minor designs, find their place along that line of his artistic activity; they do not exhaust his knowledge of antiquity, his interest in and control of it. The mere fragments of it that still cling to his memory would have composed, had he lived longer, a monumental illustrated survey of the monuments of ancient Rome.

To revive something of the proportionable spirit at least of antique building in the architecture of the present, came naturally to Raphael as the son of his age; and at the end of another of those roads of diverse activity stands Saint Peter’s, though unfinished. What a proof again of that immense intelligence, by which, as I said, the element of strength supplemented the element of mere sweetness and charm in his [55] work, that at the age of thirty, known hitherto only as a painter, at the dying request of the venerable Bramante himself, he should have been chosen to succeed him as the director of that vast enterprise! And if little in the great church, as we see it, is directly due to him, yet we must not forget that his work in the Vatican also was partly that of an architect. In the Loggie, or open galleries of the Vatican, the last and most delicate effects of Quattro-cento taste come from his hand, in that peculiar arabesque decoration which goes by his name.

Saint Peter’s, as you know, had an indirect connexion with the Teutonic reformation. When Leo X. pushed so far the sale of indulgences to the overthrow of Luther’s Catholicism, it was done after all for the not entirely selfish purpose of providing funds to build the metropolitan church of Christendom with the assistance of Raphael; and yet, upon another of those diverse outways of his so versatile intelligence, at the close of which we behold his unfinished picture of the Transfiguration, what has been called Raphael’s Bible finds its place–that series of biblical scenes in the Loggie of the Vatican. And here, while he has shown that he could do something of Michelangelo’s work a little more soothingly than he, this graceful Roman Catholic rivals also what is perhaps best in the work of the rude German reformer–of Luther, who came to Rome about this very [56] time, to find nothing admirable there. Place along with them the Cartoons, and observe that in this phase of his artistic labour, as Luther printed his vernacular German version of the Scriptures, so Raphael is popularising them for an even larger world; he brings the simple, to their great delight, face to face with the Bible as it is, in all its variety of incident, after they had so long had to content themselves with but fragments of it, as presented in the symbolism and in the brief lections of the Liturgy:- -Biblia Pauperum, in a hundred forms of reproduction, though designed for popes and princes.

But then, for the wise, at the end of yet another of those divergent ways, glows his painted philosophy in the Parnassus and the School of Athens, with their numerous accessories. In the execution of those works, of course, his antiquarian knowledge stood him in good stead; and here, above all, is the pledge of his immense understanding, at work on its own natural ground on a purely intellectual deposit, the apprehension, the transmission to others of complex and difficult ideas. We have here, in fact, the sort of intelligence to be found in Lessing, in Herder, in Hegel, in those who, by the instrumentality of an organised philosophic system, have comprehended in one view or vision what poetry has been, or what Greek philosophy, as great complex dynamic facts in the world. But then, with the artist of the sixteenth century, [57] this synoptic intellectual power worked in perfect identity with the pictorial imagination and a magic hand. By him large theoretic conceptions are addressed, so to speak, to the intelligence of the eye. There had been efforts at such abstract or theoretic painting before, or say rather, leagues behind him. Modern efforts, again, we know, and not in Germany alone, to do the like for that larger survey of such matters which belongs to the philosophy of our own century; but for one or many reasons they have seemed only to prove the incapacity of philosophy to be expressed in terms of art. They have seemed, in short, so far, not fit to be seen literally– those ideas of culture, religion, and the like. Yet Plato, as you know, supposed a kind of visible loveliness about ideas. Well! in Raphael, painted ideas, painted and visible philosophy, are for once as beautiful as Plato thought they must be, if one truly apprehended them. For note, above all, that with all his wealth of antiquarian knowledge in detail, and with a perfect technique, it is after all the beauty, the grace of poetry, of pagan philosophy, of religious faith that he thus records.

Of religious faith also. The Disputa, in which, under the form of a council representative of all ages, he embodies the idea of theology, divinarum rerum notitia, as constantly resident in the Catholic Church, ranks with the “Parnassus” and the “School of Athens,” if it does not rather [58] close another of his long lines of intellectual travail–a series of compositions, partly symbolic, partly historical, in which the “Deliverance of St. Peter from Prison,” the “Expulsion of the Huns,” and the “Coronation of Charlemagne,” find their places; and by which, painting in the great official chambers of the Vatican, Raphael asserts, interprets the power and charm of the Catholic ideal as realised in history. A scholar, a student of the visible world, of the natural man, yet even more ardently of the books, the art, the life of the old pagan world, the age of the Renaissance, through all its varied activity, had, in spite of the weakened hold of Catholicism on the critical intellect, been still under its influence, the glow of it, as a religious ideal, and in the presence of Raphael you cannot think it a mere after-glow. Independently, that is, of less or more evidence for it, the whole creed of the Middle Age, as a scheme of the world as it should be, as we should be glad to find it, was still welcome to the heart, the imagination. Now, in Raphael, all the various conditions of that age discover themselves as characteristics of a vivid personal genius, which may be said therefore to be conterminous with the genius of the Renaissance itself. For him, then, in the breadth of his immense cosmopolitan intelligence, for Raphael, who had done in part the work of Luther also, the Catholic Church–through all its phases, as reflected in its visible local centre, [59] the papacy–is alive still as of old, one and continuous, and still true to itself. Ah! what is local and visible, as you know, counts for so much with the artistic temper!

Old friends, or old foes with but new faces, events repeating themselves, as his large, clear, synoptic vision can detect, the invading King of France, Louis XII., appears as Attila: Leo X. as Leo I.: and he thinks of, he sees, at one and the same moment, the coronation of Charlemagne and the interview of Pope Leo with Francis I., as a dutiful son of the Church: of the deliverance of Leo X. from prison, and the deliverance of St. Peter.

I have abstained from anything like description of Raphael’s pictures in speaking of him and his work, have aimed rather at preparing you to look at his work for yourselves, by a sketch of his life, and therein especially, as most appropriate to this place, of Raphael as a scholar. And now if, in closing, I commend one of his pictures in particular to your imagination or memory,, your purpose to see it, or see it again, it will not be the Transfiguration nor the Sixtine Madonna, nor even the “Madonna del Gran Duca,” but the picture we have in London–the Ansidei, or Blenheim, Madonna. I find there, at first sight, with something of the pleasure one has in a proposition of Euclid, a sense of the power of the understanding, in the economy with which he has reduced his material to the [60] simplest terms, has disentangled and detached its various elements. He is painting in Florence, but for Perugia, and sends it a specimen of its own old art–Mary and the babe enthroned, with St. Nicolas and the Baptist in attendance on either side. The kind of thing people there had already seen so many times, but done better, in a sense not to be measured by degrees, with a wholly original freedom and life and grace, though he perhaps is unaware, done better as a whole, because better in every minute particular, than ever before. The scrupulous scholar, aged twenty-three, is now indeed a master; but still goes carefully. Note, therefore, how much mere exclusion counts for in the positive effect of his work. There is a saying that the true artist is known best by what he omits. Yes, because the whole question of good taste is involved precisely in such jealous omission. Note this, for instance, in the familiar Apennine background, with its blue hills and brown towns, faultless, for once- -for once only–and observe, in the Umbrian pictures around, how often such background is marred by grotesque, natural, or architectural detail, by incongruous or childish incident. In this cool, pearl-grey, quiet place, where colour tells for double–the jewelled cope, the painted book in the hand of Mary, the chaplet of red coral–one is reminded that among all classical writers Raphael’s preference was for the faultless Virgil. How orderly, how divinely [61] clean and sweet the flesh, the vesture, the floor, the earth and sky! Ah, say rather the hand, the method of the painter! There is an unmistakeable pledge of strength, of movement and animation in the cast of the Baptist’s countenance, but reserved, repressed. Strange, Raphael has given him a staff of transparent crystal. Keep then to that picture as the embodied formula of Raphael’s genius. Amid all he has here already achieved, full, we may think, of the quiet assurance of what is to come, his attitude is still that of the scholar; he seems still to be saying, before all things, from first to last, “I am utterly purposed that I will not offend.”


38. *A lecture delivered to the University Extension Students, Oxford, 2 August, 1892. Published in the Fortnightly Review, Oct. 1892, and now reprinted by the kind permission of the proprietors.


[62] ABOUT the middle of the seventeenth century, two opposite views of a question, upon which neither Scripture, nor Council, nor Pope, had spoken with authority–the question as to the amount of freedom left to man by the overpowering work of divine grace upon him–had seemed likely for a moment to divide the Roman Church into two rival sects. In the diocese of Paris, however, the controversy narrowed itself into a mere personal quarrel between the Jesuit Fathers and the religious community of Port-Royal, and might have been forgotten but for the intervention of a new writer in whom French literature made more than a new step. It became at once, as if by a new creation, what it has remained–a pattern of absolutely unencumbered expressiveness.

In 1656 Pascal, then thirty-three years old, under the form of “Letters to a Provincial by one of his Friends,” put forth a series of [63] pamphlets in which all that was vulnerable in the Jesuit Fathers was laid bare to the profit of their opponents. At the moment the quarrel turned on the proposed censure of Antoine Arnauld by the Sorbonne, by the University of Paris as a religious body. Pascal, intimate, like many another fine intellect of the day, with the Port-Royalists, was Arnauld’s friend, and it belonged to the ardour of his genius, at least as he was then, to be a very active friend. He took up the pen as other chivalrous gentlemen of the day took up the sword, and showed himself a master of the art of fence therewith. His delicate exercise of himself with that weapon was nothing less than a revelation to all the world of the capabilities, the true genius of the French language in prose.

Those who think of Pascal in his final sanctity, his detachment of soul from all but the greatest matters, may be surprised, when they turn to the “Letters,” to find him treating questions, as serious for the friends he was defending as for their adversaries, ironically, with a but half-veiled disdain for them, or an affected humility at being unskilled in them and no theologian. He does not allow us to forget that he is, after all, a layman; while he introduces us, almost avowedly, into a world of unmeaning terms, and unreal distinctions and suppositions that can never be verified. The world in general, indeed, se paye des paroles. That saying belongs to Pascal, and [64] he uses it with reference to the Jesuits and their favourite expression of “sufficient grace.” In the earliest “Letters” he creates in us a feeling that, however orthodox one’s intention, it is scarcely possible to speak of the matters then so abundantly discussed by religious people without heresy at some unguarded point. The suspected proposition of Arnauld, it is admitted by one of his foes, “would be Catholic in the mouth of any one but M. Arnauld.” “The truth,” as it lay between Arnauld and his opponents, is a thing so delicate that “pour peu qu’on s’en retire, on tombe dans l’erreur; mais cette erreur est si déliée, que, pour peu qu’on s’en éloigne, on se trouve dans la vérité.”

Some, indeed, may find in the very delicacy, the curiosity, with which such distinctions are drawn, by Pascal’s friends as well as by their foes, only the impertinence, the profanities, of the theologian by profession, all too intimate in laying down the law of the things he deals with–the things “which eye hath not seen” pressing into the secrets of God’s sublime commerce with men, in which, it may be, He differs with every single human soul, by forms of thought adapted from the poorest sort of men’s dealings with each other, from the trader, or the attorney. Pascal notes too the “impious buffooneries” of his opponents. The good Fathers, perhaps, only meant them to promote geniality of temper in the debate. But of such failures– failures of taste, of respect towards one’s [65] own point of view– the world is ever unamiably aware; and in the “Letters” there is much to move the self-complacent smile of the worldling, as Pascal describes his experiences, while he went from one authority to another to find out what was really meant by the distinction between grace “sufficient,” grace “efficacious,” grace “active,” grace “victorious.” He heard, for instance, that all men have sufficient grace to do God’s will; but it is not always prochain, not always at hand, at the moment of temptation to do otherwise. So far, then, Pascal’s charges are those which may seem to lie ready to hand against all who study theology, a looseness of thought and language, that would pass nowhere else, in making what are professedly very fine distinctions; the insincerity with which terms are carefully chosen to cover opposite meanings; the fatuity with which opposite meanings revolve into one another, in the strange vacuous atmosphere generated by professional divines.

Up to this point, you see, Pascal is the countryman of Rabelais and Montaigne, smiling with the fine malice of the one, laughing outright with the gaiety of the other, all the world joining in the laugh– well, at the silliness of the clergy, who seem indeed not to know their own business. It is we, the laity, he would urge, who are serious, and disinterested, because sincerely interested, in these great questionings. Jalousie de métier, the reader may suspect, has something to do with [66] the Professional leaders on both sides of the controversy; but at the actual turn controversy took just then, it was against the Jesuit Fathers that Pascal’s charges came home in full force. And their sin is above all that sin, unpardonable with men of the world sans peur et sans reproche, of a lack of self- respect, sins against pride, if the paradox may be allowed, all the undignified faults, in a word, of essentially little people when they interfere in great matters–faults promoted in the direction of the consciences of women and children, weak concessions to weak people who want to be saved in some easy way quite other than Pascal’s high, fine, chivalrous way of gaining salvation, an incapacity to say what one thinks with the glove thrown down. He supposes a Jansenist to turn upon his opponent who uses the term “sufficient” grace, while really meaning, as he alleges, insufficient, with the words:–“Your explanation would be odious to men of the world. They speak more sincerely than you on matters of far less importance than this.” With the world, Pascal, in the “Provincial Letters,” had immediate success. “All the world,” we read in his friend’s supposed reply to the second “Letter,” “sees them; all the world understands them. Men of the world find them agreeable, and even women intelligible.” A century later Voltaire found them very agreeable. The spirit in which Pascal deals with his opponents, his irony, may remind us of the “Apology” of [67] Socrates; the style which secured them immediate access to people who, as a rule, find the subjects there treated hopelessly dry, reminds us of the “Apologia” of Newman.

The essence of all good style, whatever its accidents may be, is expressiveness. It is mastered in proportion to the justice, the nicety with which words balance or match their meaning, and their writer succeeds in saying what he wills, grave or gay, severe or florid, simple or complex. Pascal was a master of style because, as his sister tells us, recording his earliest years, he had a wonderful natural facility à dire ce qu’il voulait en la manière qu’il voulait.

Facit indignatio versus. The indignation which caused Pascal to write the “Letters” was of a supercilious kind, and what he willed to say in them led to the development of all those qualities that are summed up in the French term l’esprit. Voltaire declared that the best comedies of Molière n’ont pas plus de sel que les premières lettres. “Vos maximes,” Pascal assures the Jesuit Fathers, “ont je ne sais quoi de divertissant, qui réjouit toujours le monde,” and they lose nothing of that character in his handling of them, so much so that it was clear from the first that the world in general would never ask whether Pascal had been quite fair to his opponents: “N’êtes-vous donc pas ridicules, mes Pères? Qu’on satisfait au précepte d’ouïr la messe en entendant quatre quarts de messe à la fois de différents prêtres!” When [68] you have the like of that it is impossible not to laugh, parce que rien n’y porte davantage qu’une disproportion surprenante entre ce qu’on attend et ce qu’on voit.

He has “salt” also, of another kind. He drives straight at the Jesuits, for instance, rather than at those who do but copy them, because, as he tells us: Les choses valent toujours mieux dans leur source. What equity of expression, how brief, how untranslateable! And the “Letters” abound in such things.

But to his comparison of Pascal with Molière, Voltaire added that Bossuet n’a rien de plus sublime que les dernières. And in truth the more serious note of the impassioned servant of religion whose lips have been touched with altar-fire, whose seriousness came to be like some incurable malady, a visitation of God, as people used to say, is presently struck when, in the natural course of his argument, his thoughts are carried, from a mere passage of arms between one man or one class of men and another, deep down to those awful encounters of the individual soul with itself which are formulated in the eternal problem of predestination.

In their doctrine of “sufficient grace” the Jesuits had presented a view of the conflict of good and evil in the soul, which is honourable to God and encouraging to man, and which has catholicity on its face. All to whom entrance into the Church, through its formal ministries, [69] lies open are truly called of God, while beyond it stretches the ocean of “His uncovenanted mercies.” That is a doctrine for the many, for those whose position in the religious life is mediocrity, who so far as themselves or others can discern have nothing about them of eternal or necessary or irresistible reprobation, or of the eternal condition opposite to that.

The so-called Jansenist doctrine, on the other hand, of [ ]+ but irresistible grace was the appropriate view of the Port-Royalists, high-pitched, eager souls as they were, and of their friend Pascal himself, however much in his turn he might refine upon it. Whether or not, as a matter of fact, upon which, as distinct from matters of faith, an infallible pope can be mistaken, the dreary old Dutch bishop Jansenius had really taught Jansenism, the Port-Royalists had found in his “Augustinus” an incentive to devotion, and were avowedly his adherents. In that somewhat gloomy, that too deeply impressed, that fanatical age, they were the Calvinists of the Roman Catholic Church, maintaining, emphasising in it a view, a tradition, really constant in it from St. Augustin, from St. Paul himself. It is a merit of Pascal, his literary merit, to have given a very fine-toned expression to that doctrine, though mainly in the way of a criticism of its opponents, to one side or aspect of an eternal controversy, eternally suspended, as representing two opposite aspects of experience [70] itself. Calvin and Arminius, Jansen and Molina sum up, in fact, respectively, like the respective adherents of the freedom or of the necessity of the human will, in the more general question of moral philosophy, two opposed, two counter trains of phenomena actually observable by us in human action, too large and complex a matter, as it is, to be embodied or summed up in any one single proposition or idea.

There are moments of one’s own life, aspects of the life of others, of which the conclusion that the will is free seems to be the only– is the natural or reasonable–account. Yet those very moments on reflexion, on second thoughts, present themselves again, as but links in a chain, in an all-embracing network of chains. In all education we assume, in some inexplicable combination, at once the freedom and the necessity of the subject of it. And who on a survey of life from outside would willingly lose the dramatic contrasts, the alternating interests, for which the opposed ideas of freedom and necessity are our respective points of view? How significant become the details we might otherwise pass by almost unobserved, but to which we are put on the alert by the abstract query whether a man be indeed a freeman or a slave, as we watch from aside his devious course, his struggles, his final tragedy or triumph. So much value at least there may be in problems insoluble in themselves, such as that great controversy of Pascal’s day [71] between Jesuit and Jansenist. And here again who would forego, in the spectacle of the religious history of the human soul, the aspects, the details which the doctrines of universal and particular grace respectively embody? The Jesuit doctrine of sufficient grace is certainly, to use the familiar expression, a very pleasant doctrine conducive to the due feeding of the whole flock of Christ, as being, as assuming them to be, what they really are, at the worst, God’s silly sheep. It has something in it congruous with the rising of the physical sun on the evil and on the good, while the wheat and the tares grow naturally, peacefully together. But how pleasant also the opposite doctrine, how true, how truly descriptive of certain distinguished, magnifical, or elect souls, vessels of election, épris des hauteurs, as we see them pass across the world’s stage, as if led on by a kind of thirst for God! Its necessary counterpart, of course, we may find, at least dramatically true of some; we can name them in history, perhaps from our own experience; souls of whom it seems but an obvious story to tell that they seemed to be in love with eternal death, to have borne on them from the first signs of reprobation. Of certain quite visibly elect souls, at all events, the theory of irresistible grace might seem the almost necessary explanation. Most reasonable, most natural, most truly is it descriptive of Pascal himself.

[72] So far, indeed, up to the year 1656, Pascal’s annus mirabilis, the year of the “Letters,” the world had been allowed to see only one side of him. Early in life he had achieved brilliant overtures in the abstract sciences, and, inheriting much of the quality of a fine gentleman, he figures, with his trenchant manner, never at a loss, as a quite secular person, stirred on occasion to take part in a religious debate. But it is after the grand fashion of the mundane quarrels of that day, the age of the sentiment of personal honour, in which it was so natural for the good-natured Jesuits, stirring all Pascal’s satiric power, to excuse as well as they could the act de tuer pour un simple médisance. The Church was still an estate of the realm with all the obligations of the noblesse, and it was still something worse than bad taste, it was dangerous to express religious doubts. About the Catholic religion, as he conceived it, Pascal displays the assured attitude of an ancient Crusader. He has the full courage of his opinions, and by his elegant easy gallantry in speaking for it he gives to religion then and now a kind of dignity it had lost with other controversialists in the eyes of the world. There is abundant gaiety also in the “Letters.” He quotes from Tertullian to the effect that c’est proprement à la vérité qu’il appartient de rire parce qu’elle est gaie, et de se jouer de ses ennemis parce qu’elle est assurée de sa victoire. For he could find quotations to his purpose from recondite writers, [73] though he was not a man of erudition; like a man of the world again, he read little, but that absorbingly, was the master of two authors, Epictetus and Montaigne, and, as appeared afterwards, of the Scriptures in the Vulgate.

So far, his imposing carriage of himself intellectually might lead us to suspect that the forced humilities of his later years are indirectly a discovery of what seems one leading quality of the natural man in him, a pride that could be quite fierce on occasion. And, like another rich young man whom Jesus loved, he lacked nothing to make the world also love and confide in, as it already flattered, him. He turned from it, decided to live a single life. Was it the mere oddity of genius? Or its last fine dainty touch of difference from ordinary people and their motives? Or that sanctity of which, in some cases, the world itself instinctively feels the distinction, though it shrinks from the true explanation of it? Certainly, all things considered, on the morrow of the “Letters,” Blaise Pascal, at the age of thirty-three, had a brilliant worldly future before him, had he cared duly to wait upon, to serve it. To develop the already considerable position of his family among the gentry of Auvergne would have been to follow the way of his time, in which so many noble names had been founded on professional talents. Increasingly, however, from early youth, he had been the subject of a malady so hopeless [74] and inexplicable that in that superstitious age some fancied it the result of a malign spell in infancy. Gradually, the world almost loses sight of him, hears at last, some time after it had looked for that event, that he had died, of course very piously, among those sombre people, his friends and relations of Port-Royal, with whom he had taken refuge, and seemed already to have been buried alive. And in the year 1670, not till eight years after his death, the “Pensées” appeared–“Pensées de M. Pascal sur la Religion et sur quelques autres sujets”–or rather a selection from those “Thoughts” by the Port-Royalists, still in fear of consequences to the struggling Jansenist party, anxious to present Pascal’s doctrine as far as possible in conformity with the Jesuit sense, as also to divert the vaguer parts of it more entirely into their own. The incomparable words were altered, the order changed or lost, the thoughts themselves omitted or retrenched. Written in short intervals of relief from suffering, they were contributions to a large and methodical work–“Pensées de M. Pascal sur la Religion et sur quelques autres sujets”–on a good many things besides, as the reader finds, on many of the great things of this world which seemed to him to come in contact or competition with religion. In the true version of the “Thoughts,” edited at last by Faugère, in 1844, from Pascal’s own MSS., in the National Library, they group themselves into certain definite trains [75] of speculation and study. But it is still, nevertheless, as isolated thoughts, as inspirations, so to call them, penetrating what seemed hopelessly dark, summarising what seemed hopelessly confused, sticking fast in men’s memories, floating lightly, or going far, that they have left so deep a mark in literature. For again the manner, also, their style precisely becomes them. The merits of Pascal’s style, indeed, as of the French language itself, still is to say beaucoup de choses en peu de mots; and the brevity, the discerning edge, the impassioned concentration of the language are here one with the ardent immediate apprehensions of his spirit.

One of the literary merits of the “Provincial Letters” is that they are really like letters; they are essentially a conversation by writing with other persons. What we have in the “Thoughts” is the conversation of the writer with himself, with himself and with God, or rather concerning Him, for He is, in Pascal’s favourite phrase from the Vulgate, Deus absconditus, He who never directly shows Himself. Choses de coeur the “Thoughts” are, indeed those of an individual, though they seem to have determined the very outlines of a great subject for all other persons. In Pascal, at the summit of the Puy de Dôme in his native Auvergne, experimenting on the weight of the invisible air, proving it to be ever all around by its effects, we are presented with one of the more pleasing [76] aspects of his earlier, more wholesome, open-air life. In the great work of which the “Thoughts” are the first head, Pascal conceived himself to be doing something of the same kind in the spiritual order by a demonstration of this other invisible world all around us, with its really ponderable forces, its movement, its attractions and repulsions, the world of grace, unseen, but, as he thinks, the one only hypothesis that can explain the experienced, admitted facts. Whether or not he was fixing permanently in the “Pensées” the outlines, the principles, of a great system of assent, of conviction, for acceptance by the intellect, he was certainly fixing these with all the imaginative depth and sufficiency of Shakespeare himself, the fancied opposites, the attitudes, the necessary forms of pathos,+ of a great tragedy in the heart, the soul, the essential human tragedy, as typical and central in its expression here, as Hamlet–what the soul passes, and must pass, through, aux abois with nothingness, or with those offended mysterious powers that may really occupy it–or when confronted with the thought of what are called the “four last things” it yields this way or that. What might have passed with all its fiery ways for an esprit de secte et de cabale is now revealed amid the disputes not of a single generation but of eternal ones, by the light of a phenomenal storm of blinding and blasting inspirations.

[77] Observe, he is not a sceptic converted, a returned infidel, but is seen there as if at the very centre of a perpetually maintained tragic crisis holding the faith steadfastly, but amid the well-poised points of essential doubt all around him and it. It is no mere calm supersession of a state of doubt by a state of faith; the doubts never die, they are only just kept down in a perpetual agonia. Everywhere in the “Letters” he had seemed so great a master–a master of himself–never at a loss, taking the conflict so lightly, with so light a heart: in the great Atlantean travail of the “Thoughts” his feet sometimes “are almost gone.” In his soul’s agony, theological abstractions seem to become personal powers. It was as if just below the surface of the green undulations, the stately woods, of his own strange country of Auvergne, the volcanic fires had suddenly discovered themselves anew. In truth into his typical diagnosis, as it may seem, of the tragedy of the human soul, there have passed not merely the personal feelings, the temperament of an individual, but his malady also, a physical malady. Great genius, we know, has the power of elevating, transmuting, serving itself by the accidental conditions about it, however unpromising–poverty, and the like. It was certainly so with Pascal’s long-continued physical sufferings. That aigreur, which is part of the native colour of Pascal’s genius, is reinforced in the [78] “Pensées” by insupportable languor, alternating with supportable pain, as he died little by little through the eight years of their composition. They are essentially the utterance of a soul malade–a soul of great genius, whose malady became a new quality of that genius, perfecting it thus, by its very defect, as a type on the intellectual stage, and thereby guiding, reassuring sympathetically, manning by a sense of good company that large class of persons who are malade in the same way. “La maladie est l’état naturel des Chrétiens,” says Pascal himself. And we concede that every one of us more or less is ailing thus, as another has told us that life itself is a disease of the spirit.

From Port-Royal also came, about the year 1670, a painful book, the “Life of Pascal,” a portrait painted slowly from the life or living death, but with an almost exclusive preference for traits expressive of disease. The post-mortem examination of Pascal’s brain revealed, we are now told, the secret, not merely of that long prostration, those sudden passing torments, but of something analogous to them in Pascal’s genius and work. Well! the light cast indirectly on the literary work of Pascal by Mme. Périer’s “Life” is of a similar kind. It is a veritable chapter in morbid pathology, though it may have truly a beauty for experts, the beauty which belongs to all refined cases even of cerebral disturbance. That he should [79] have sought relief from his singular wretchedness, in that sombre company, is like the second stroke of tragedy upon him. At moments Pascal becomes almost a sectarian, and seems to pass out of the genial broad heaven of the Catholic Church. He had lent himself in those last years to a kind of pieties which do not make a winning picture, which always have about them, even when they show themselves in men physically strong, something of the small compass of the sick- chamber. His medieval or oriental self-tortures, all the painful efforts at absolute detachment, a perverse asceticism taking all there still was to spare from the denuded and suffering body, might well, you may think, have died with him, but are here recorded, chiefly by way of showing the world, the Jesuits, that the Jansenists, too, had a saint quite after their mind.

But though, at first sight, you may find a pettiness in those minute pieties, they have their signification as a testimony to the wholeness of Pascal’s assent, the entirety of his submission, his immense sincerity, the heroic grandeur of his achieved faith. The seventeenth century presents survivals of the gloomy mental habits of the Middle Age, but for the most part of a somewhat theatrical kind, imitations of Francis and Dominic or of their earlier imitators. In Pascal they are original, and have all their seriousness. Que je n’en sois [80] jamais séparé–pas séparé éternellement, he repeats, or makes that strange sort of MS. amulet, of which his sister tells us, repeat for him. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. It is table rase he is trying to make of himself, that He might reign there absolutely alone, who, however, as he was bound to think, had made and blest all those things he declined to accept. Deeper and deeper, then, he retreated into the renuncient life. He could not, had he wished, deprive himself of that his greatest gift–literally a gift he might have thought it not to be buried but accounted for–the gift of le beau dire, of writing beautifully. “Il avoit renoncé depuis longtemps aux sciences purement humains.” To him who had known them so well, and as if by intuition, those abstract and perdurable forms of service might well have seemed a part of “the Lord’s doing, marvellous in our eyes,” as his favourite Psalm cxix., the psalm des petites heures, the cxviii. of the Vulgate, says.* These, too, he counts now as but a variety of le néant and vanity of things. He no longer records, therefore, the mathematical aperçus that may visit him; and in his scruples, his suspicions of’ visible beauty, he interests us as precisely an inversion of what is called the aesthetic life.

[81] Yet his faith, as in the days of the Middle Age, had been supported, rewarded, by what he believed to be visible miracle among the strange lights and shades of that retired place. Pascal’s niece, the daughter of Madame Périer, a girl ten years of age, suffered from a disease of the eyes pronounced to be incurable. The disease was a peculiarly distressing one, the sort of affliction which, falling on a young child, may lead one to question the presence of divine justice in the world, makes one long that miracles were possible. Well! Pascal, for one, believed that on occasion that profound aspiration had been followed up by the power desired. A thorn from the crown of Jesus, as was believed, had been lately brought to the Port-Royal du Faubourg S. Jacques in Paris, and was one day applied devoutly to the eye of the suffering child. What followed was an immediate and complete cure, fully attested by experts. Ah! Thou hast given him his heart’s desire: and hast not denied him the request of his lips. Pascal, and the young girl herself, faithfully to the end of a long life, believed the circumstances to have been miraculous. Otherwise, we do not see that Pascal was ever permitted to enjoy (so to speak) the religion for which he had exchanged so much; that the sense of acceptance, of assurance, had come to him; that for him the Spouse had ever penetrated the veil of the ordinary routine of the means of grace; [82] nothing that corresponded as a matter of clear personal intercourse of the very senses to the greatness of his surrender–who had emptied himself of all other things. Besides, there was some not wholly-explained delay in his reception, in those his last days, of the Sacrament. It was brought to him just in time–“Voici celui que vous avez tant désiré!”–the ministrant says to the dying man. Pascal was then aged thirty-nine– an age you may remember fancifully noted as fatal to genius.

Pascal’s “Thoughts,” then, we shall not rightly measure but as the outcome, the utterance, of a soul diseased, a soul permanently ill at ease. We find in their constant tension something of insomnia, of that sleeplessness which can never be a quite healthful condition of mind in a human body. Sometimes they are cries, cries of obscure pain rather than thoughts–those great fine sayings which seem to betray by their depth of sound the vast unseen hollow places of nature, of humanity, just beneath one’s feet or at one’s side. Reading them, so modern still are those thoughts, so rich and various in suggestion, that one seems to witness the mental seed-sowing of the next two centuries, and perhaps more, as to those matters with which he concerns himself. Intuitions of a religious genius, they may well be taken also as the final considerations of the natural man, as a religious inquirer on doubt and faith, and their place in [83] things. Listen now to some of these “Thoughts” taken at random: taken at first for their brevity. Peu de chose nous console, parce que peu de chose nous afflige. Par l’espace l’univers me comprend et m’engloutit comme un point: par la pensée je le comprends. Things like these put us en route with Pascal. Toutes les bonnes maximes sont dans le monde: on ne manque que de les appliquer. The great ascetic was always hard on amusements, on mere pastimes: Le divertissement nous amuse, one and all of us, et nous fait arriver insensiblement à la mort. Nous perdons encore la vie avec joie, pourvu qu’on en parle. On ne peut faire une bonne physionomie (in a portrait) qu’en accordant toutes nos contrariétés. L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus foible de la nature, mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser. Une vapeur, une goutte d’eau, suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l’univers l’écraseroit, l’homme seroit encore plus noble que se qui le tue, parce qu’il sait qu’il meurt, et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui, l’univers n’en sait rien. It is not thought by which that excels, but the convincing force of imagination which sublimates its very triteness. Toute notre dignité consiste donc en la pensée.

There, then, you have at random the sort of stuff of which the “Pensees” are made. Let me now briefly indicate, also by quotation again, some of the main leading tendencies in them. La chose la plus importante à toute la vie c’est la [84] choix du métier: le hasard en dispose. There we recognise the manner of thought of Montaigne. Now one of the leading interests in the study of Pascal is to trace the influence upon him of the typical sceptic of the preceding century. Pascal’s “Thoughts” we shall never understand unless we realise the under-texture in them of Montaigne’s very phrases, the fascination the “Essays” had for Pascal in his capacity of one of the children of light, as giving a veritable compte rendu of the Satanic course of this world since the Fall, set forth with all the persuasiveness, the power and charm, all the gifts of Satan, the veritable light on things he has at his disposal.

Pascal re-echoes Montaigne then in asserting the paradoxical character of man and his experience. The old headings under which the Port-Royalist editors grouped the “Thoughts” recall the titles of Montaigne’s “Essays”–“Of the Disproportion of Man,” and the like. As strongly as Montaigne he delights in asserting the relative, local, ephemeral and merely provisional character of our ideas of law, vice, virtue, happiness, and so forth. Comme la mode fait l’agrément aussi fait-elle la justice. La justice et la vérité sont deux pointes si subtiles, que nos instruments sont trop mousses pour y toucher exactement. Bien suivant la seule raison n’est juste de soi: tout branle avec le temps. Sometimes he strikes the express accent of Montaigne: Ceux qui sont dans un vaisseau croient que ceux qui sont [85] au bord fuient. Le langage est pareil de tous côtés. Il faut