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“On the south east side Lieutenant Sulivan, to whose kindness I am indebted for many interesting observations, found the conglomerate projecting on the reef nearly fifty yards in front of the beach : we may infer from what we see in all other parts of the atoll that the conglomerate was not originally so much exposed, but formed the base of an islet, the front and upper part of which has since been swept away.
The degree to which the conglomerate, round nearly the whole atoll, has been scooped, broken up, and the fragments cast on the beach, is certainly very surprising even on the view that it is the office of occasional gales to pile up fragments, and of the daily tides to wear them away. On the western side also of the atoll, where I have described the bed of sand and fragments, with trees growing out of it, in front of an old beach, it struck both Lieutenant Sulivan and myself, from the manner in which the trees were being washed down, that the surf had lately recommenced an attack on this line of coast. Appearances indicating a slight encroachment of the water on the land are plainer within the lagoon: I noticed in several places, both on its windward and leeward shores, old cocoanut trees falling with their roots undermined, and rotten stumps of others on the beach, where the inhabitants assured us that cocoanuts could not grow. ... In the calm waters of the lagoon, directly connected with a great, and therefore stable, ocean, it seems very improbable that a change in the currents sufficiently great to eat into the land on all sides should have taken place within a limited period.”
Stevenson's description is :
“The islet - the undiscovered, the scarce believed in – now lay before them and close aboard; and Herrick thought that never in his dreams had he beheld anything more strange and delicate. The beach was excellently white, the continuous barriers of trees inimitably green, the land perhaps ten feet high and the trees thirty more. Every here and there, as the schooner coasted northward, the wood was intermitted; and he could see clear over the inconsiderable strip of land (as a man looks over a wall) to the lagoon within; and clear over that, again, to where the far side of the atoll prolonged its pencilling against the morning sky. He tortured himself to find analogies. The isle was like the rim of a great vessel sunken in the waters; it was like the embankment of an annular railway grown upon with wood. So slender it seemed amid the outrageous breakers, so frail and pretty, he would scarce have wondered to see it sink and disappear without a sound, and the waves close smoothly over its descent.”
Here is a very manifest difference of spirit and of purpose, and a difference which was due to no lack of sensitiveness in Darwin; for in the introduction to his book he writes :
“Every one must be struck with astonishment when he first beholds one of these rings of coral rock, often many leagues in diameter, here and there surrounded by a low verdant island, with a dazzling white shore, bathed on the outside by the foaming breakers of the ocean, and on the inside surrounding a calm expanse of water which from reflection has a bright and pale green color."
Nevertheless, his description is quite different from Stevenson's, both in spirit and in the choice of details. When you compare them, you find that both descriptions give you concrete facts; but they give you a different set of concrete facts. Darwin chooses his facts in order to make you understand how the coral island was formed ; Stevenson chooses his facts in order to give you the feeling of its beauty. Darwin is satisfying his instinct to arrange and classify the universe ; Stevenson is satisfying his instinct to set forth his strong emotions.
This difference which, as I have shown, appears at the very beginnings of mental life, makes the broad line of division between the two kinds of literature,
the literature of thought and the literature of feeling. As I have already shown, all literature must be to some extent governed by both these faculties: pure thought without the color of feeling is abstract and dead; pure feeling without the controlling and formative power of thought would be incoherent and chaotic. The preponderance of one or the other, however, determines what kind of literature the product shall be. As all art is the product of the irrepressible instinct of man to tell other people what he feels or thinks about his universe, to make his fellows share his interest, his awe, his delight in his surroundings, or in his insight into the hidden laws of nature; so literature, in so far as it is anything more than a chronicle of heterogeneous facts, must be controlled and ordered by thought and colored by feeling. According to your temperament or your nature, the thought or the feeling will give the character to your work. The difference between Thackeray and George Eliot is a case in point: both had a clear insight into human types and idiosyncracies; both felt the irony of fate in the mingling of tragedy and comedy in daily life, both found the natural expression of their convictions in story-telling: nevertheless, they fall into different classes. Thackeray in his stories puts before you men and women as they actually lived, and — for all his interpolated preaching — he does not stop to explain them; he leaves them to you as they lived, and you may explain for yourself their fates and their fortunes, or, if you are careless, you may look no deeper than the bare story. George Eliot, on the other hand, uses her people as puppets to prove the inextricable interdependence of human fate, the blind rage of Nemesis, or — in the modern phrase — the reaction of the organism on its environment, or the laws of cause and effect. Her attitude towards the life she represents is that of the man of science; she is stirred not so much by her feeling of the poignancy of the life about her as by the irrepressible desire to interpret it. These two tempers, which result from the dominance of one or the other of the great faculties of the human mind, run in various intermingled combinations all through literature. What you write you may write either because you cannot help trying to explain your world as it exists about you, or because you cannot help telling about your delights or your sufferings; and according as in you one or the other of these instincts dominates what you write will fall on the one or the other side of the great undivided field of literature.
4. To come back now, after this long excursion, to the point from which I started, you will remember that a rough analysis of the meaning of this term literature, shows two essentials : that the work shall bear evidence first, of a fusing unity of conception, and, second, of the pervasive personality of the writer; and I have shown that these two elements are the natural products respectively of the two faculties of the mind, thought and feeling. Any untechnical classification of literature, then, will fall back on the relative preponderance of one or other of these elements in any given work. And so in practice: what you write ought to show, naturally and spontaneously, the interest which moves you, whether it be to explain your thought or to show your feelings. The whole material of your experience which you are trying to put on paper is made up of thought and feeling: the product should be such a natural mingling of the two as will most aptly and simply carry out your purpose.
After simplifying the matter so much, it may seem a blind and wanton complication to turn back, as I must now do, from two categories to five. The complication, however, is only apparent. The learning of every art is really simplified by beginning with certain artificial motions : if you are learning even to box or to fence, you begin with stiff and simple movements and strokes which you can hardly recognize in the swift and flexible precision of the accomplished art. Just so when you are learning to write, you will get on much faster if you begin with problems in which your materials and your results are highly