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in vital relation to it, is that, when writers; and the fallacy is that all great reproduced by that mind, it shall be painting must be done with the big with a modification. But worse than brush, and that even cameos may be the mere incessant reproduction of cut with pickaxes. propositions and particular expressions I have had half a mind to include already worn threadbare, are certain among recent forms of the Trite the larger accompanying forms of the Trite, habit of incessant allusion to a round of which consist in the feeble assumption favourite characters of the past, and of entire modes of thought, already ex- especially to certain magnates of the hausted of their virtue by writers in literary series—Homer, Dante, Shakewhom they were natural. As an in
speare, Milton, Burns, Scott, Goethe, stance, we may cite a certain grandiose and others. But I believe this would habit, common of late in the description be wrong. Although we do often get of character. Men are no longer men in tired of references to these names, and many of our popular biographic sketches, of disquisitions written about them and but prophets, seers, volcanoes, cataracts, about them; although we may somewhirlwinds of passion-vast physical times think that the large amount of entities, seething inwardly with un- our literary activity which is devoted to heard-of confusions, and passing, all such mere stock-taking of what has alike, through a necessary process of been left us by our predecessors is a revolution which converts chaos into bad sign, and that we might push intelcosmos, and brings their roaring energy lectually out on our own account more at last into harmony with the universe. boldly if our eyes were less frequently Now he were a most thankless as well retroverted; although, even in the as a most unintelligent reader who did interest of retrospection itself, we might not recognise the noble power of thought, desire that the objects of our ay, and the exactitude of biographic art, ship were more numerous, and that, exhibited in certain famous specimens to effect this, our historians would of character-painting which have been resuscitate for us a goodly array of the the prototypes in this style—who did Dii minorum gentium, to have their not see that there the writer began turn with the greater gods-yet, in the firmly with the actual man, dark-haired main, the intellectual habit of which we or fair-haired, tall or short, who was speak is one that has had and will have the object of his study; and, only when unusually rich results. For these great he had most accurately figured him men of the past are, as it were, the and his circumstances, passed into that peaks, more or less distant, that surround world of large discourse which each the plain where we have our dwelling; man carries attached to him, as his we cannot lift our eyes without seeing spiritual self, and in the representation them; and no length or repetition of and analysis of which, since it has no gaze can exhaust their aspects. And physical boundaries, all analogies of here we must guard against a possible volcanoes, whirlwinds, and other space- misapprehension of what has been said filling agencies may well be helpful. as to the Trite in general. There are But in the parodies of this style all is notions permanent and elemental in the featureless ; it is not men at all that we very constitution of humanity, simple see, but supposititious beings like the and deep beyond all power of modificaphantoms which are said to career in tion, the same yesterday and to-day, inthe darkness over Scandinavian ice- capable almost of being stated by any plains. Character is the most complex one except as all would state them, and and varied thing extant-consisting not which yet never are and never can be of vague monotonous masses, but of in- trite. How man that is born of woman volutions and subtleties in and in for is of few days and full of trouble, how ever; the art of describing it may well he comes from darkness and disappears employ whole coming generations of in darkness again, how the good that he would he does not and the evil that with the Trite ; when so seldom can one he would not still he does—these and take up a bit of writing and find any other forms of the same conception of stroke of true intellectual action in it; time and death, interwoven with certain when, time after time, one receives even visual conceptions of space, and with periodicals of high repute, and, turning the sense of an inscrutable power be- over their pages, finds half their articles yond, have accompanied the race hither- of a kind the non-existence of which to, as identified with its consciousness. would have left the world not one whit Whether, with one philosophy, we re- the poorer-here an insipid mince of gard these as the largest objects of facts from a popular book, there a thought, or, with another, as the neces- twitter of doctrinal twaddle which sary forms of human sensibility, equally would weary you from your feeblest they are ultimate, and those souls in relative, and again a criticism on the which they are strongest, which can old “beauty and blemish ” plan of a least tear themselves away from them, poem long ago judged by everybody for are the most truly and grandly human. himself; when, worse still, the Trite Add the primary affections, the feelings passes into Cant, and one is offended that belong to the most common and by knobs and gobbets of a spurious enduring facts of human experience. theology, sent floating, for purposes halfIn recollections of these are the touches hypocritical, down a stream of what else that make the whole world kin ; these would be simple silliness,-little wonder give the melodies to which intellect can that men of honest minds find it sound but construct the harmonies; it is from economy to assume habitually a sour a soil of such simple and deep concep- mood towards all literature whatever, tions that all genius must spring. While allowing the opposite mood to develop the branches and extreme twigs are itself rarely and on occasion. As it may putting forth those fresh sprouts of new be noted of bank-cashiers that, by long truth and new phantasy that we spoke of, practice, they have learnt to survey the nay, in order that this green wealth and crowd outside the courters rather reperpetual proof of life may not fail, the pellingly than responsively, saving their roots must be there. And so, in litera- recognitions for personal friends, and ture, return as we may to those oldest any respect or curiosity that may be left facts and feelings, we need never doubt in them for the bearers of very big their novelty. Hear how one rude warrants, so, and by a similar training, Scottish rhymer found out for himself have some of the best of our profesall over again the fact that life has its sional critics become case-hardened to sorrows, and, to secure his copyright, the sight of the daily world of writers, registered the date of his discovery :- each with his little bit of paper, be
sieging their bar. It is not, however, of “ Upon the saxteen hundred year this natural callousness that we speak, Of God and thretty-three
but of a habit of mind sometimes beFrae Christ was born, wha bought us ginning in this, but requiring worse dear,
elements for its formation. No one can As writings testifie,
look about him without marking the On January the sixteenth day,
extent to which a blasé spirit is infecting As I did lie alone,
the British literary mind. The thing I thus unto myself did say,
is complained of everywhere under a *Ah! man was made to moan. variety of phrases—want of faith, want
of earnest purpose, scepticism, poco3. There is the vice of the Blasé. In curantism.
For our purpose none of its origin the mental habit which we so these names seems so suitable as the one name is often healthy enough—a natural we have chosen. On the one hand, the reaction against the Trite. When the charges of “want of faith” and the like whole field of literature is so overrun are often urged against men who have a
hundred times more of real faith and of is becoming a mere trick whereby a few active energy directed by that faith than impudent minds may exercise an inthose who bring the charges, and, when fluence to which they have no natural interpreted, they often mean nothing right, and abase all the more timid inmore than an intellect too conscientious telligence in their neighbourhood down to surround itself with mystifications to their own level. For against this and popular deceits of colour when it trick of nicknames as practised by some may walk in white light. On the other of our pert gentry, what thought or fact hand, by the term Blasé we preserve a or interest of man, from the world's besense of the fact that those to whom the ginning till now, so solemn as to be vice is attributed, are frequently, if not safe? The "Hear, O heaven, and give generally, men of cultivated and even ear, 0 earth, business," “ the Hamlet's fastidious minds, writing very carefully soliloquy dodge,” “The death of Socrates, and pertinently, but ruled throughout martyrdom for truth, and all that sort by a deplorable disposition ruinous to of thing”—where lies our security that their own strength, restricting them to impudence, growing omnipotent, may a petty service in the sarcastic and the not reach even to heights like these ? small, and making them the enemies of Already that intermediate height seems everything within their range that mani- to be attained, where systems of thought fests the height or the depth of the that have occupied generations of the unjaded human spirit. There are, in- world's intelligence, and swayed for deed, two classes of critics in whom this better or worse vast lengths of human vice appears—the light and trivial, to action, are disposed of with a whom everything is but matter for witty Calvinism figures, we dare say, as sparkle ; and the grave and acrimonious, brimstone business ;” German philowho fly more seriously, and carry venom sophy as “the unconditioned, and all in their stings. But, in both, the forms that sort of thing;" and we may hear in which the spirit presents itself are ere long of one momentous direction of singularly alike.
recent scientific thought under the conOne form is that of appending to venient name of “the Darwin dodge." what is meant to be satirized certain It would be unjust to say that the words signifying that the critic has blasé spirit, wherever it is most respectlooked into it and found it mere im- ably represented, has yet become so imposture. “All that sort of thing” is a pertinent as this; and it would be favourite phrase for the purpose. “Civil peevish to suppose that a spurt of fun and religious liberty and all that sort may not ascend occasionally as high as of thing,
High art and all that sort Orion himself without disrespect done of thing, Young love and all that or intended. But the danger is that, sort of thing; is there anything where this sarcastic mood towards conmore common than such combinations ? temporary efforts of thought or moveThen, to give scope for verbal variety, ments of social zeal is long kept up there are such words as “Dodge” and without some counteracting discipline, “Business” equally suitable.
the whole mind will be shrivelled into philanthropic dodge,” “The transcen- that one mood, till all distinction of dental business"- -so and otherwise are noble and mean is lost sight of, and the modes of thought and action fitted with passing history of the human mind nicknames. Now, nicknames are legiti- seems but an evolution of roguery. A mate; the power of sneering was given Mephistopheles going about with a to man to be used ; and nothing is more Faust, whistling down his grandilogratifying than to see an idea which is
quence and turning his enthusiasms proving a nuisance, sent clattering away into jest, is but the type perhaps of a with a hue and cry after it and a tin- conjunction proper to no age in partikettle tied to its tail. But the practice cular ; but, necessary as the conjunction we speak of is passing all bounds, and may be, who is there that would not
rather have his own being merged in depends on the discretion exercised by the corporate Faust of his time than be those who award the punishment. Where à part of the being of its corporate a Regan and a Cornwall are the justices, Mephistopheles ?
it may be a Kent, a King's Earl and A more refined manifestation of the
messenger, that is put in the stocks ; blasé spirit in literature occurs in a and, after his first protest, he may bear certain cunning use of quotation-marks the indignity philosophically and suffer for the purpose of discrediting maxims not a whit in the regard of the rightand beliefs in popular circulation. A minded. And so the office of deciding word or a phrase is put within inverted what are and what are not good-forcommas in a way to signify that it is nothing ideas is one in which there may quoted not from any author in particular, be fatal mistakes. After all, the fundabut from the cominon-place book of that mental and hereditary articles in the great blatant beast, the public. Thus I creed of the blatant beast are pretty may say “Civil and Religious Liberty," sure to have a considerable deal of truth or “Patriotism,” or “Toleration," or in them; and, though it may do the old "The Oppressed Nationalities,"or"Phil- fellow good to poke him up a bit, there is anthropy," hedging the words in with a point beyond which it may be dangerous quotation-marks, so as to hint that I, to provoke him, and sophisms had better original-minded person that I am, don't keep out of his way. In other words, mean to vouch for the ideas correspond though there may be notions or feelings ing, and indeed, in the mighty voyage of whose tenure is provisional, there are my private intellect, have left them far others which humanity has set store byfor behind. Now here again there is a fair and ages, and shows no need or inclination to a foul side of the practice. Frequently part with yet. It is the habit of heartlessly by such a use of quotation-marks all pecking at these that shows a soul that that is meant is that a writer, having no is blasé. Of late, for example, it has time to adjust his own exact relations to been a fashion with a small minority of an idea, begs the use of it in a general British writers to assert their culture by way for what it seems worth. Farther, a very supercilious demeanour towards when more of scepticism or sarcasm is an idea which ought, beyond all others, intended, the practice may still be as to be sacred in this island-the idea of fair as it is convenient. When an idea Liberty. Listen to them when this has been long in circulation, ten to one, notion or any of its equivalents turns by the very movement of the collective up for their notice or comment, and the mind through so much of varied subse- impression they give by their language quent circumstance, it has ceased to
is that in their private opinion it is little have that amount of vital relationship better than clap-trap. By all that is to the rest of present fact and present British, it is time that this whey-faced aspiration, which would make it fully intellectualism should be put to the a truth. No harm, in such a case, in blush ! Like any other thought or indicating the predicament in which it phrase of man, Liberty itself may stand stands by quotation-marks; no harm if in need of re-definition and re-explicaby such a device it is meant even to ex- tion from time to time; but woe to any press more of dissent from the idea
time in which the vague old sound shall than of remaining respect for it. The cease to correspond, in the actual feelings visible inclosure within quotation-marks of men, with the measureless reality of is, as it were, a mechanical arrangement half their being! From the depths of for keeping a good-for-nothing idea an the past the sound has come down to hour or so in the stocks. The crowd
us; after we are in our graves, it will point their fingers at him; the constables
be ringing along the avenues of the will know him again ; if he has any future; and, in the end, it will be shame left, he will be off from that the test of the worth of all our philosoparish as soon as he is released. But all phy whether this sound has been intercepted or deadened by it, or only trans- poultry, outrage all principles of correct mitted the clearer.
ornithology. Let any one who wishes to What in the blasé habit of mind understand more particularly what is renders it so hurtful to the interests of meant, read the speeches of the Grecian literature is that it introduces into all chiefs in council in Shakespeare's Troilus departments a contentedness with the and Cressida, and then fancy how such proximate-i.e. with the nearest thing a bit of writing would fare at the hands that will do. For real power, for really of many literary critics now-a-days, if great achievement in any department of it came before them anonymously. But intellect, a certain fervour of feeling, a it is, perhaps, as an influence tending to certain avidity as for conquest, a certain arrest the development of speculative disdain of the petty circle within the thought, specially so called, that the horizon as already one's own and pos- distaste of so many literary men for all sessed, or, at the least, a certain quiet but the proximate operates most detrihopefulness, is absolutely necessary, mentally. The habit of sneering at But let even a naturally strong mind Speculative Philosophy, both name and catch the contagion of the Blasé, and this thing, is a world too common among men spur is gone. The near then satisfies- who ought to know better. Sneer as the near in fact, which makes History they will, it has been true from the poor and beggarly; the near in doctrine, beginning of time, and will be true to which annuls Speculative Philosophy, the end, that the precise measure of the and provides instead a miscellany of total intellectual worth of any man, or little tenets more or less shrewd ; the of any age, is the measure of the specunear in imagination, which checks in lative energy lodged in him, or in it. Poetry all force of wing. I believe that Take our politics of the last twelve this defect may be observed very exten- years for an example. How much of sively in our current literature, appear- British political writing during these ing in a double form. In the first place, years has consisted in vilification of it may be seen affecting the personal lite- certain men, basing their theories on rary practice of many men of ability and elementary principles, and styled visionculture far beyond the average, making aries or fanatics accordingly. And yet, them contented on all subjects with that if matters are well looked at, these very degree of intellectual exertion which men are now seen to be the only men simply clears them of the Trite and who apprehended tendencies rightly ; brings them to the first remove from they alone have not had to recant; and it commonplace, and thus gradually un- is the others—the from-hand-to-mouth fitting them for the larger efforts for men in politics—that have turned out which nature may have intended them. to be the fools. There are not a few such men-the Besides other partial remedies that cochin-chinas of literature, as one might there may be for the wide-spread and call them ; sturdy in the legs, but with still spreading vice of the Blasé among degenerate power of flight. In the our men of intellect, there may be in second place, the same cause produces reserve, for aught we know, some form in these men and in others, when they of that wholesale remedy by which act as critics, a sense of irritation and Providence in many an instance hitherto of offended taste (not the less mean
has revived the jaded organisms of nathat it is perfectly honest), when they tions. Those fops in uniform, those contemplate in any of their contempo- loungers of London clubs and ballraries the gestures and evolutions of an rooms, who a few years ago used to be intellect more natural than their own. the types to our wits of manhood grown The feeling is that which we might sup- useless, from whose lips even their pose in honest poultry, regarding the mother-speech came minced and clipped movements of unintelligible birds over- for very languor of life,-how in that head: such movements do, to the Russian peninsula they straightened