Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Johnson, Burns, Rousseau, three great figures from a prior time, from a far inferior state of circumstances, will suit us better here. Three men of the Eighteenth Century; the conditions of their life far more resemble what those of ours still are in England, than what Goethe's in Germany were. Alas, these men did not conquer like him; they fought bravely, and fell. They were not heroic bringers of the light, but heroic seekers of it. They lived under galling conditions; struggling as under mountains of impediment, and could not unfold themselves into clearness, or victorious interpretation of that “Divine Idea.' It is rather the Tombs of three Literary Herces that I have to show you. There are the monumental heaps, under which three spiritual giants lie buried. Very mournful, but also great and full of interest for us. We will linger by them for a while.

Complaint is often made, in these times, of what we call the disorganised condition of society : how ill many arranged forces of society fulfil their work; how many powerful forces are seen working in a wasteful, chaotic, altogether unarranged manner. It is too just a complaint, as we all know. But perhaps if we look at this of Books and the Writers of Books, we shall find here, as it were, the summary of all other disorganisation ;-a sort of heart, from which, and to which, all other confusion circulates in the world ! Considering what Book-writers do in the world, and what the world does with Book-writers, I should say, It is the most anomalous thing the world at present has to show. -We should get into a sea far beyond sounding, did we attempt to give account of this : but we must glance at it for the sake of our subject. The worst element in the life of these three Literary Heroes was, that they found their business and position such a chaos. On the beaten road there is tolerable travelling ; but it is sore work, and many have to perish, fashioning a path through the impassable !

Our pious Fathers, feeling well what importance lay in the speaking of man to men, founded churches, made endowments, regulations ; everywhere in the civilised world there is a Pulpit, environed with all manner of complex. dignified appurtenances and furtherances, that therefrom a man with the tongue may, to beșt advantage, address his fellow-men. They felt that this was the most important thing ; that without this there was no good thing. It is a right pious work, that of theirs ; beautiful to behold! But now with the art of Writing, with the art of Printing, a total change has come over that business. The Writer of a Book, is not he a Preacher preaching not to this parish or that, on this day or that, but to all men in all times and places ? Surely it is of the last importance that he do his work right, whoever do it wrong ;—that the eye report not falsely, for then all the other members are astray! Well ; how he may do his work, whether he do it right or wrong, or do it at all, is a point which no man in the world has taken the pains to think of. To a certain shopkeeper, trying to get some money for his books, if lucky, he is of some importance; to no other man o? any. Whence he came, whither he is bound, by what ways he arrived, by what he might be furthered on his course, no one asks. He is an accident in society. He wanders like a wild Ishmaelite, in a world of which he is as the spiritual light, either the guidance or the misguidance !

Certainly the Art of Writing is the most miraculous of all things man has devised. Odin's Runes were the first form of the work of a Hero ; Books, written words, are still miraculous Runes, the latest form ! In Books lies the soul of the whole Past Time ; the articulate audible voice of the Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream. Mighty fleets and armies, harbours and arsenals, vast cities, high-domed, many-engined, — they are precious, great : but what do they become ? Agamemnon, the many Agamemnons, Pericleses, and their Greece; all is gone now to some ruined fragments, dumb mournful wrecks and blocks : but the Books of Greece ! There Greece, to every thinker, still very literally lives ; can be called-up again into life. No magic Rune is stranger than a Book. All that Mankind has done, thought, gained or been : it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of Books. They are the chosen possession of men.

Do not Books still accomplish miracles, as Runes were fabled to do? They persuade men. Not the wretchedest circulating-library novel, which foolish girls thumb and con in remote villages, but will help to regulate the actual practical weddings and households of those foolish girls. So • Celia' felt, so “Clifford acted : the foolish Theorem of Life, stamped into those young brains, comes out as a solid Practice one day. Consider whether any Rune in the wildest imagination of Mythologist ever did such wonders as, on the actual firm Earth, some Books have done! What built St. Paul's Cathedral ? Look at the heart of the matter, it was that divine Hebrew Book,—the word partly of the man Moses, an outlaw tending his Midianitish herds, four-thousand years ago, in the wildernesses of Sinai! It is the strangest of things, yet nothing is truer. With the art of Writing, of which Printing is a simple, an inevitable and comparatively insignificant corollary, the true reign of miracles for mankind commenced. It related, with a wondrous new contiguity and perpetual closeness, the Past and Distant with the Present in time and place; all times and all places with this our actual Here and Now. All things were altered for men; all modes of important work of men : teaching, preaching, governing, and all else.

To look at Teaching, for instance. Universities are a notable, respectable product of the modern ages. Their existence too is modified, to the very basis of it, by the existence of Books. Universities arose while there were yet no Books procurable ; while a man, for a single Book, had to give an estate of land. That, in those circumstances, when a man had some knowledge to communicate, he should do it by gathering the learners round him, face to face, was a necessity for him. wanted to know what Abelard knew, you must go and listen to Abelard. Thousands, as many as thirty-thousand, went to hear Abelard and that metaphysical theology of his. And now for any other teacher who had also something of his own to teach, there was a great convenience opened : so many thousands eager to learn were already assembled yonder ; of all places the best place for him was that. For any third teacher it was better still ; and grew ever the better, the more teachers

It only needed now that the King took notice of this new phenomenon; combined or agglomerated the various schools into one school; gave it edifices, privileges, encouragements, and named it Universitas, or School of all Sciences : the University of Paris, in its essential characters, was there.

If you

there came.

The model of all subsequent Universities; which down even to these days, for six centuries now, have gone on to found themselves. Such, I conceive, was the origin of Universities.

It is clear, however, that with this simple circumstance, facility of getting Books, the whole conditions of the business from top to bottom were changed. Once invent Printing, you metamorphosed all Universities, or superseded them! The Teacher needed not now to gather men personally round him, that he might speak to them what he knew : print it in a Book, and all learners far and wide, for a trifle, had it each at his own fireside, much more effectually to learn it !— Doubtless there is still peculiar virtue in Speech ; even writers of Books may still, in some circumstances, find it convenient to speak also, -witness our present meeting here! There is, one would say, and must ever remain while man has a tongue, a distinct province for Speech as well as for Writing and Printing. In regard to all things this must remain ; to Universities among others. But the limits of the two have nowhere yet been pointed out, ascertained ; much less put in practice : the University which would completely take-in that great new fact, of the existence of Printed Books, and stand on a clear footing for the Nineteenth Century as the Paris one did for the Thirteenth, has not yet come into existence. If we think of it, all that a University, or final highest School can do for us, is still but what the first School began doing,—teach us to read. We learn to read, in various languages, in various sciences; we learn the alphabet and letters of all manner of Books. But the place where we are to get knowledge, even theoretic knowledge, is the Books themselves! It depends on what we read, after all manner of Professors have done their best for us. The true University of these days is a Collection of Books.

But to the Church itself, as I hinted already, all is changed, in its preaching, in its working, by the introduction of Books. The Church is the working recognised Union of our Priests or Prophets, of those who by wise teaching guide the souls of

While there was no Writing, even while there was no Easy-writing or Printing, the preaching of the voice was the natural sole method of performing this. But now with Books ! He that can write a true Book, to persuade England, is not he the Bishop and Archbishop, the Primate of England and of All England ? I many a time say, the writers of Newspapers, Pamphlets, Poems, Books, these are the real working effective Church of a modern country. Nay not only our preaching, but even our worship, is not it too accomplished by means of Printed Books ? The noble sentiment which a gifted soul has clothed for us in melodious words, which brings melody into our hearts,—is not this essentially, if we will understand it, of the nature of worship ? There are many, in all countries, who, in this confused time, have no other method of worship. He who, in any way, shows us better than we knew before that a lily of the fields is beautiful, does he not show it us as an effluence of the Fountain of all Beauty; as the handwriting, made visible there, of the great Maker of the Universe ? He has sung for us, made us sing with him, a little verse of a sacred Psalm. Essentially so. How much more he who sings, who says, or in any way brings home to our heart the noble doings, feelings, darings and endurances of a brother man ! He has verily touched our hearts as with a live coal from the altar. Perhaps there is no worship more authentic.

men.

Literature, so far as it is Literature, is an apocalypse of Nature,' a revealing of the 'open secret.' It may well enough be named, in Fichte's style, a continuous revelation' of the Godlike in the Terrestrial and Common. The Godlike does ever, in very truth, endure there ; is brought out, now in this dialect, now in that, with various degrees of clearness : all true gifted Singers and Speakers are, consciously or unconsciously, doing so. The dark stormful indignation of a Byron, so wayward and perverse, may have touches of it; nay the withered mockery of a French sceptic,—his mockery of the False, a love and worship of the True. How much more the sphere-harmony of a Shakspeare, of a Goethe ; the cathedralmusic of a Milton! They are something too, those humble genuine lark-notes of a Burns,—skylark, starting from the humble furrow, far overhead into the blue depths, and singing to us so genuinely there! For all true singing is of the nature of worship; as indeed all true working may be said to be, whereof such singing is but the record, and fit melodious re

« AnteriorContinuar »