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in vital relation to it, is that, when reproduced by that mind, it shall be with a modification. But worse than the mere incessant reproduction of propositions and particular expressions already worn threadbare, are certain larger accompanying forms of the Trite, which consist in the feeble assumption of entire modes of thought, already exhausted of their virtue by writers in whom they were natural. As an instance, we may cite a certain grandiose habit, common of late in the description of character. Men are no longer men in many of our popular biographic sketches, but prophets, seers, volcanoes, cataracts, whirlwinds of passion-vast physical entities, seething inwardly with unheard-of confusions, and passing, all alike, through a necessary process of revolution which converts chaos into cosmos, and brings their roaring energy at last into harmony with the universe. Now he were a most thankless as well as a most unintelligent reader who did not recognise the noble power of thought, ay, and the exactitude of biographic art, exhibited in certain famous specimens of character-painting which have been the prototypes in this style—who did not see that there the writer began firmly with the actual man, dark-haired or fair-haired, tall or short, who was the object of his study; and, only when he had most accurately figured him and his circumstances, passed into that world of large discourse which each man carries attached to him, as his spiritual self, and in the representation and analysis of which, since it has no physical boundaries, all analogies of volcanoes, whirlwinds, and other spacefilling agencies may well be helpful But in the parodies of this style all is featureless ; it is not men at all that we see, but supposititious beings like the phantoms which are said to career in the darkness over Scandinavian iceplains. Character is the most complex and varied thing extant-consisting not of vague monotonous masses, but of involutions and subtleties in and in for ever; the art of describing it may well employ whole coming generations of
writers; and the fallacy is that all great painting must be done with the big brush, and that even cameos may be cut with pickaxes.
I have had half a mind to include among recent forms of the Trite the habit of incessant allusion to a round of favourite characters of the past, and especially to certain magnates of the literary series—Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Scott, Goethe, and others. But I believe this would be wrong. Although we do often get tired of references to these names, and of disquisitions written about them and about them; although we may sometimes think that the large amount of our literary activity which is devoted to such mere stock-taking of what has been left us by our predecessors is a bad sign, and that we might push intellectually out on our own account more boldly if our eyes were less frequently retroverted; although, even in the interest of retrospection itself, we might desire that the objects of our worship were more numerous, and that, to effect this, our historians would resuscitate for us a goodly array of the Dii minorum gentium, to have their turn with the greater gods—yet, in the main, the intellectual habit of which we speak is one that has had and will have unusually rich results. For these great men of the past are, as it were, the peaks, more or less distant, that surround the plain where we have our dwelling; we cannot lift our eyes without seeing them; and no length or repetition of gaze can exhaust their aspects. And here we must guard against a possible misapprehension of what has been said as to the Trite in general. There are notions permanent and elemental in the very constitution of humanity, simple and deep beyond all power of modification, the same yesterday and to-day, incapable almost of being stated by any one except as all would state them, and which yet never are and never can be trite. How man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble, how he comes from darkness and disappears in darkness again, how the good that he
would he does not and the evil that he would not still he does—these and other forms of the same conception of time and death, interwoven with certain visual conceptions of space, and with the sense of an inscrutable power beyond, have accompanied the race hitherto, as identified with its consciousness. Whether, with one philosophy, we regard these as the largest objects of thought, or, with another, as the necessary forms of human sensibility, equally they are ultimate, and those souls in which they are strongest, which can least tear themselves away from them, are the most truly and grandly human Add the primary affections, the feelings that belong to the most common and enduring facts of human experience. In recollections of these are the touches that make the whole world kin ; these give the melodies to which intellect can but construct the harmonies; it is from a soil of such simple and deep conceptions that all genius must spring. While the branches and extreme twigs are putting forth those fresh sprouts of new truth and new phantasy that we spoke of, nay, in order that this green wealth and perpetual proof of life may not fail, the roots must be there. And so, in literature, return as we may to those oldest facts and feelings, we need never doubt their novelty. Hear how one rude Scottish rhymer found out for himself all over again the fact that life has its sorrows, and, to secure his copyright, registered the date of his discovery :
with the Trite; when so seldom can one take up a bit of writing and find any stroke of true intellectual action in it; when, time after time, one receives even periodicals of high repute, and, turning over their pages, finds half their articles of a kind the non-existence of which would have left the world not one whit the poorer-here an insipid mince of facts from a popular book, there a twitter of doctrinal twaddle which would weary you from your feeblest relative, and again a criticism on the old “beauty and blemish” plan of a poem long ago judged by everybody for himself; when, worse still, the Trite passes into Cant, and one is offended by knobs and gobbets of a spurious theology, sent floating, for purposes halfhypocritical, down a stream of what else would be simple silliness,-little wonder that men of honest minds find it sound economy to assume habitually a sour mood towards all literature whatever, allowing the opposite mood to develop itself rarely and on occasion. As it may be noted of bank-cashiers that, by long practice, they have learnt to survey the crowd outside the counters rather repellingly than responsively, saving their recognitions for personal friends, and any respect or curiosity that may be left in them for the bearers of very big warrants, so, and by a similar training, have some of the best of our professional critics become case-hardened to the sight of the daily world of writers. each with his little bit of paper, besieging their bar. It is not, however, of this natural callousness that we speak, but of a habit of mind sometimes beginning in this, but requiring worse elements for its formation. No one can look about him without marking the extent to which a blasé spirit is infecting the British literary mind. The thing is complained of everywhere under a variety of phrases—want of faith, want of earnest purpose, scepticism, pococurantism. For our purpose none of these names seems so suitable as the one we have chosen. On the one hand, the charges of " want of faith” and the like are often urged against men who have a
“ Upon the saxteen hundred year
Of God and thretty-three Frae Christ was born, wha bought us
As I did lie alone,
"Ah! man was made to moan.'”
3. There is the vice of the Blasé. In its origin the mental habit which we so name is often healthy enough—a natural reaction against the Trite. When the whole field of literature is so overrun
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, () 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 sneer. whom everything is but matter for witty Calvinism figures, we dare say, as “the 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 the whole mind will be shrivelled into philanthropic dodge,” “The transcen- that one mood, till all distinction of dental business”-s0 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 a 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 funda but from the common-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 by for 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 philosojarish 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 ball. raries 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