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Walter Scott such a multitude of minor literary sins; as Stevenson has pointed out in his "Gossip on Romance," 1 this power, amounting in Sir Walter to genius, of seeing or feeling his story as a whole in spite of separate groups of characters saved what in the hands of a lesser man would have been formless and chaotic. And, in the case of the second element, such a passage 2 as the account of the physical configuration of Greece in Grote's "History of Greece," would sink to the indistinguishable levels of a school geography if it were not infused with the impalpable distinction of Grote's powerful and cultivated mind. The equipment of a good writer consists of these two faculties, one the feeling for the organic unity of his subject, the other the subtle sense of style which unconsciously suffuses his writing with his personality.
Still I seem a good way from my purpose of finding principles of any practical use to a beginner, for the standards set by genius seem pretty remote from writing in school or college. As a matter of fact, however, these two faculties of the skilled writer are merely a development of two of the most primitive and fundamental instincts of mankind. In the old example used in books of psychology the child sees a candle, and shows its delight in inarticulate gurglings; or it puts its finger in the flame, and cries: already it is expressing its feelings about its experience. Here is the embryo of the faculty by which such a great man as Thackeray colored all his works
1 Memories and Portraits.
2 p. 211.
by his own lively and sympathetic temperament. When, a little later, the child gets old enough to say "Candle burns," then it has begun to express its thought about experience: here is the embryo of the faculty by which Darwin brought order out of the chaos of the old natural history. In the one case the baby is satisfying its irrepressible instinct to show its pleasure or its pain; in the other case it is satisfying the equally irrepressible instinct to generalize and rationalize its experience, to find the common term of likeness which binds together many separate events. Between these embryonic expressions and Shakspere's" Blow, blow, thou Winter wind," on the one hand, or Mill's "Political Economy," on the other, there is no break: in spite of their distance apart they differ only in degree of development. In so far as man is a gregarious animal dependent on sensations and moved by his emotions, he will strive to tell other men of the vividness and poignancy of these emotions; and inasmuch as he is man, and not only animal, he will strive to get the illogical welter of existence into a form in which it is intelligible to his thought. These two instincts in their highest development are the two necessary faculties of a writer.
Moreover, these faculties are all the time at work in your mind whether you notice them or not, for your experience is always being crystallized into episodes, and each of those episodes has its own special emotional coloring. When I look into my memory I do not find there my experiences as they actually ran
in the stream of consciousness. If I did, my memory of the present moment would include the rattle of horses' hoofs on the pavement, the glare of the sun, the wind blowing the elm branches, the passing of a furniture wagon outside my windows, all pervaded by the roar and bumping of electric cars, and mingled in with scraps of thought of what I did yesterday, of the man who is going to lunch with me, besides this theory at which I am working and my memory of the examples in Professor James's "Psychology" or those which I have used in my classes in the past. In short, it would be an unmanageable, unmeaning welter of impressions, important and trivial, perfectly unlike anything I shall remember of this particular moment to-morrow. Then, if I remember it at all, it will only be a memory of a fleeting moment in a morning of work; and according as the memory is recalled to me by association with the noise or the glare of the sun or with some likeness in the train of thought, that memory will take on different aspects in my mind. Whatever its extent, however, and whatever its aspect, whether the memory be of a single moment or of half an hour or of the whole morning, it will surely be crystallized into a single episode to me, whether I can name it in a single word or not.
Very much the same thing happens in the case of what I know about the Constitution of the United States, or the theory of evolution, or the Elizabethan drama: no matter how imperfect it may be as absolute knowledge, yet it stands in my mind as a single complete subject; and this subject, whenever I choose to
think of it, will have the same kind of unity as the episode which my memory will make of this morning or of this whole day. Independent of my power of expressing it, it will stand by itself in my mind, as a single and complete thing. This faculty of unconscious crystallization, which is the basis of all thought, a man of letters consciously exercises when he composes; the inexpressible fitness of proportion which is its result makes the pleasure one takes in it analogous to that which one finds in a neat mathematical demonstration. This perfect proportion of form, which the pedantry of a post-classical criticism perhaps stiffens into such rigid formulæ as those of the three unities in the drama, appears in one way in the intangible unity of sentiment in "Henry Esmond" or in "Hamlet," and in another way in the completeness of Mr. Bryce's" American Commonwealth," or the masterful summing up of the "Origin of Species." In both cases it is the result of the same faculty — the faculty which crystallizes the raw material of experience.
In the second place, since this crystallization is the work of an individual mind, which cannot help having feelings, it follows that the result must be personal. Nobody else can think my thoughts, still less have my feelings about my experience. In many cases the expression of the thought by many men will fall into the same words; this normally happens when the subject is highly abstract and still more often from laziness or incompetence in writing: but where the power of expression is adequate each man's phrasing of his thoughts and feelings will be different from
every other man's. Mr. La Farge in his "Considerations on Painting" tells of going out with two other men to sketch for half an hour; they sat down together, chose the same subject, a simple landscape with a hill and some clouds rolling over it,— and as they painted, they talked back and forth continually, "asking each other all the time, how to do this and how to do that." Yet when they came to compare their pictures they found all three different in every way. Just so it should be in writing: the words in which you set forth your thought should reveal the individuality of your mind just as clearly as the pane of glass lets me see the individual men, women, and boys going by across the street. Here again this second necessity of actual writing, that it shall be individual, that it shall be suffused with the personal feeling of the writer, is the result of one of the most commonplace and persistent traits of human nature.
3. The difference between the parts which these two faculties of the mind play in good writing goes so deep to the foundations of literature that it will be no waste of time to look at them from another point of view, by means of the following descriptions of a coral island: the first is from Darwin's "Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs," the other from Stevenson's "Ebb Tide." The first, from the description of Keeling Atoll, runs: 2-—
1 New York, 1895, p. 71.
2 Darwin, "Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs," New York, 1889, p. 24.