« PreviousContinue »
"Few his words, but strong,
Xenophon, Thucydides, and Cæsar enacted what they therefore so well describe. “The most accomplished condition of humanity," says Reed, “is that in which habits of contemplation and of action exist in harmony. The noblest eulogy was pronounced on the celebrated Sir Philip Sydney by his philosophic friend and biographer, when he said of him, 'He was the exact image of quiet and action, happily united in him, and seldom well divided in any.'” The charge of carelessness, or inaction, where brought against men of genius with any shadow of justice, must be ascribed to other causes which operate in every class of society, although recorded scrutiny is the certain penalty of eminence in any department. Moral deficiency, in any case, of necessity brings its own punishment. Such a charge, then, is a foul calumny against the truly great.
‘Happy,” says Pliny the younger, in his letter to Tacitus, "I esteem those to be whom Providence has distinguished with the abilities either of doing such actions as are worthy of being related, or of relating them in a manner worthy of being read; but doubly happy are they who are blessed with both these uncommon talents.”
The teaching of the artist ought to be an influence for good, supplementary and only secondary to the higher teaching of direct revelation, leading men to regard the beauty of the universe as symbolical of a higher moral beauty, the mens divinior after which all should strive. “And now observe," says Ruskin, in the conclusion of The Stones of Venice, “the first important consequence of our fully understanding this pre-eminence of the soul, will be the due understanding of that subordination of knowledge respecting which so much has already been said. For it must be felt at once, that the increase of knowledge, merely as such, does not make the soul larger or smaller ; that, in the sight of God, all the knowledge man can gain is as nothing: but that the soul, for which the great scheme of redemption was laid, be it ignorant or be it wise, is all in all; and in the activity, strength, health, and well-being of this soul, lies the main difference, in His sight, between one man and another. And that which is all in all in God's estimate, is also, be assured, all in all in man's labour; and to have the heart open, and the eyes clear, and the emotions and thoughts warm and quick, and not the knowing of this or the other fact, is the state needed for all mighty doing in this world. And, therefore, finally, for this, the weightiest of all reasons, let us take no pride in our knowledge. We may, in a certain sense, be proud of being immortal; we may be proud of being God's children ; we may be proud of loving, thinking, seeing, and of all that we are by no human teaching; but not of what we have been taught by rote; not of the ballast and freight of the ship of the spirit, but only of its pilotage, without which all the freight will only sink it faster, and strew the sea more richly with its ruin. There is not at this moment a youth of twenty, having received what we moderns ridiculously call education, but he knows more of everything, except the soul, than Plato or St. Paul did ; but he is not for that reason a greater man, or fitter for his work, or more fit to be heard by. others, than Plato or St. Paul. There is not at this moment a junior student in our schools of painting, who does not know. fifty times as much about the art as Giotto did; but he is not for that reason greater than Giotto; no, nor his work better, nor fitter for our beholding. Let him go on to know all that the human intellect can discover and contain in the term of a long life, and he will not be one inch, one line, nearer to Giotto's feet. But let him leave his academy benches, and, innocently, as one knowing nothing, go out into the highways and hedges, and there rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep; and in the next world, among the companies of the great and good, Giotto will give his hand to him, and lead him into their white circle, and say, 'This is our brother.'”
The man who in any department is thus true to himself will neither be over-elated with praise nor cast down by neglect, for he' accounts each at its true value. “Praise,” Lord Bacon observes, “is the reflection of virtue, but it is as the glass, or body, which giveth the reflection; if it be from the common people, it is commonly false and nought, and rather followeth vain persons than virtuous: for the common people understand not many excellent virtues: the lowest virtues draw praise from them, the middle virtues work in them astonishment or admiration; but of the highest virtues they have no sense or perceiving at all;1 but shows and 'species virtutibus similes'2 serve best with them. Certainly, fame is like
1 In our day, the blessings of education are more widely and equally diffused. Intelligence is now more a personal distinction than one found pertaining to any outward rank or condition of men.
2 Appearances like to virtues.
a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid; but if persons of quality and judgment concur, then it is (as the Scripture saith), “Nomen bonum instar unguenti fragrantis;'1 it filleth all round about, and will not easily away; for the odours of ointments are more durable than those of flowers.”
Lithgow, the old Scottish traveller, smarting under the remembrance of cruel tortures endured by him in the Inquisition at Malaga, and anticipating, for his honest exposure of these, “the deadly poison of sharpedged calumnies," thus concludes his manly Prologue to the Reader, after quaintly recommending the use of a flaxen rope to "the scelerate companion, be he Villian, Carper, Critic, or gnawing Worm with envious lips:” “I neither," says he, “will respect thy love, nor regard thy malice. And shall always and ever remain, To the Courteous still observant, and to The Critical Knave as he deserveth, WILLIAM LITHGOW."
A modern writer 2 has said, “High abstract thought is very often termed mystical; but to a high, clear, fine quality of intellect, it is not so. If thought be high and abstract, it is evident that it will require a high level of soul to be even with, or fully to appreciate it. The ability to comprehend a pure and original imagination is not given to all souls.” Hence, he who seeking excellence rather than commendation, is found worthy by the few, ultimately sways the many, and the thought of the poet at length becomes embodied in acts of parliament. Such a man's ear is but little affected by ill
A good name is like sweet smelling ointment.
natured ephemeral criticism, much less will it turn him aside. “Curs," said Archdeacon Hare, “bark at a gentleman on horseback; but who, except a hypochondriac, ever gave up riding on that account?" and Shakspere, in “Henry VIII.," as philosophically as cheeringly writes:
"If I am
State statues only."
"The adder hisses where the sweet birds sing;"' nor is it much to be wondered that such should be the case; for a yet higher authority, going to the root of the matter, has said, “The wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he.” 1
If a man's work, then, be truly worthy, the consciousness that it is so, nullifies present detraction, so that if he think at all on the subject it will be with pity, and more in sorrow than in anger. As Bishop Hall has
Hab. i. 13.