Page images
PDF
EPUB

reproach. Let us be silent as to each other's weakness, helpful, tolerant, nay, tender towards each other ! Or, if we cannot feel tenderness, may we at least feel pity! May we put away from us the satire which scourges and the anger which brands: the oil and wine of the good Samaritan are of more avail. make the ideal a reason for contempt; but it is more beautiful to make it a reason for tenderness.

We may

9th December 1877. — The modern haunters of Parnassus 19 carve urns of agate and of onyx, but inside the urns what is there? - ashes. Their work lacks feeling, seriousness, sincerity, and pathos — in a word, soul and moral life. I cannot bring myself to sy athise with such a way of understanding poetry. The talent shown is astonishing, but stuff and matter are wanting. It is an effort of the imagination to stand alone a substitute for everything else. We find metaphors, rhymes, music, colour, but not man, not humanity. Poetry of this factitious kind may beguile one at twenty, but what can one make of it at fifty ? It reminds me of Pergamos, of Alexandria, of all the epochs of decadence when beauty of form hid poverty of thought and exhaustion of feeling. I strongly share the repugnance which this poetical school arouses in simple people. It is as though it only cared to please the world-worn, the over-subtle, the corrupted, while it ignores all normal healthy life, virtuous habits, pure affections, steady labour, honesty, and duty. It is an affectation, and because it is an affectation the school is struck with sterility. The reader desires in the poet something better than a juggler in rhyme, or a conjuror in verse ; he looks to find in him a painter of life, a being who thinks, loves, and has a conscience, who feels passion and repent

ance.

Composition is a process of combination, in which thought puts together complementary truths, and talent fuses into harmony the most contrary qualities of style. So that there is no composition without effort, without pain even, as in all bringing forth. The reward is the giving birth to something living — something, that is to say, which, by a kind of magic, makes a living unity out of such opposed attributes as orderliness and spontaneity, thought and imagina. tion, solidity and charm.

The true critic strives for a clear vision of things as they are for justice and fairness; his effort is to get free from himself, so that he may in no way disfigure that which he wishes to understand or reproduce. His superiority to the common herd lies in this effort, even when its success is only partial. He distrusts his own senses, he sifts his own impressions, by returning upon them from different sides and at different times, by comparing, moderating, shading, distinguishing, and so endeavouring to approach more and more nearly to the formula which represents the maximum of truth.

Is it not the sad natures who are most tolerant of gaiety? They know that gaiety means impulse and vigour, that generally speaking it is disguised kindliness, and that if it were a mere affair of temperament and mood, still it is a blessing.

The art which is grand and yet simple is that which presupposes the greatest elevation both in artist and in public.

How much folly is compatible with ultimate wisdom and prudence? It is difficult

to say.

The cleverest folk are those who discover soonest how to utilise their neighbour's experience, and so get rid in good time of their natural presumption.

We must try to grasp the spirit of things, to see correctly, to speak to the point, to give practicable advice, to act on the spot, to arrive at the proper moment, to stop in time. Tact, measure, occasion — all these deserve our cultivation and respect.

220 April 1878. — Letter from my cousin Julia. These kind old relations find it very difficult to understand a man's life, especially a student's life. The hermits of reverie are scared by the busy world, and feel themselves out of place in action. But after all, we do not change at seventy, and a good, pious old lady, half-blind and living in a village, can no longer extend her point of view, nor form any idea of existences which have no relation with her own.

What is the link by which these souls, shut in and encompassed as they are by the details of daily life, lay hold on the ideal ? The link of religious aspiration. Faith is the plank which saves them. They know the meaning of the higher life; their soul

is athirst for Heaven. Their opinions are defective, but their moral experience is great; their intellect is full of darkness, but their soul is full of light. We scarcely know how to talk to them about the things of earth, but they are ripe and mature in the things of the heart. If they cannot understand us, it is for us make advances to them, to speak their language, to enter into their range of ideas, their modes of feeling. We must approach them on their noble side, and, that we may show them the more respect, induce them to open to us the casket of their most treasured thoughts. There is always some grain of gold at the bottom of every honourable old age. Let it be our business to give it an opportunity of showing itself to affectionate eyes.

10th May 1878. — I have just come back from a solitary walk. I heard nightingales, saw white lilac and orchard trees in bloom. My heart is full of impressions showered upon it by the chaffinches, the golden orioles, the grasshoppers, the hawthorns, and the primroses. A dull, gray, fleecy sky brooded with a certain melancholy over the nuptial splendours of vegetation. Many painful memories stirred afresh in

« PreviousContinue »