« PreviousContinue »
was not the place for such an entertainment as was proposed : 'A ball—attachments-matchmaking-matchmaking in College-most inappropriate.'
As soon as the arrangements of the Term allowed-on June 13-the Hall was prepared to receive the dancers. The old Hall, or Library, was turned into a supper-room, and the two were connected by a covered way, lined with flowers and plants. The undergraduates made the most of the opportunity, dancing till four o'clock. But I do not believe that the youngest person there, boy or girl, however successful in securing the partner most desired, enjoyed the dance more than Jowett himself. He wandered from the Hall to the supper-room, and from the supper-room to the Hall, his face beaming with delight. He had a word for every one and entered fully into the mood of the moment. When some one spoke of going home-it was close on three o'clock—' Go home!' he cried ; 'it is not time to think of going home yet.' The whole night long he never flagged; Sir Roger de Coverley himself could not have done more to promote the gaiety and happiness of all around him.
At the beginning of the Long Vacation, after entertaining his guests at Commemoration-and among them Turguenieff, the Russian novelist, who received the honorary degree of D.C.L.-he retired to Brill, a village about twelve miles from Oxford, to complete the translation of Thucydides. Before he left, at the beginning of July, the last touches were given to the work, and in the following October the printing was finished. The translation was only a third part of the work which Jowett contemplated, but it was his way to print part of a book long before the whole was finished, a plan which sometimes involved himself and his printer in some trouble. He
' hoped to break the neck of the remaining portions in another six months,' but in this he was mistaken. From Brill he wrote to a friend, as follows:
‘June 30, 1879. 'I am at Brill, a village near Oxford, working at Thucydides with Mr. Forbes, but return to Oxford on Thursday.
We were very sorry not to have you at Commemoration. M. de Turguenieff was as pleased as a child at the honour which was conferred on him, not least at the red gown of the D.C.L., which Smith' and others subscribed and bought for him. He gave a terrible account of Russia : twenty-six or twenty-eight thousand of the best of the youth of the country in prison or on their way to Siberia-constitutionalists turning nihilists in their despair. He seemed to see no ray of hope.'
Jowett always spoke of the translation of Thucydides as the most difficult task which he ever undertook. He began it very soon after the publication of the translation of Plato in 1871, and completed the first draft in 1872. He took it up again in 1875 on completing the revision of Plato, and hoped to finish it in a year ; but four years elapsed before he brought it to an end. His progress had been impeded partly by taking up Aristotle's Politics along with Thucydides, and partly by the illness of Matthew Knight, but perhaps more than all by his own increasing fastidiousness. The delay greatly affected the course of his life's work. The translation of Aristotle's Politics was still unfinished when he became involved in the duties of the Vice-Chancellorship, after which his health broke down, and when he recovered, the final revision of Plato absorbed the remainder of his life.
Released for a time from the burden of Thucydides, he felt himself free to wander at will to any subject which attracted him. A note-book is begun at Hurstbourne
1 Professor H. J. S. Smith. See below, p. 238.
July 15, and finished at West Malvern August 3; another is begun August 27 at Balliol ; and a third is begun at Woburn October 14, and finished December 31. In these he records from time to time his thoughts on books, on Oxford life and teaching, and other subjects which were never long absent from his mind.
Among his favourite books was the De Imitatione Christi. It took rank with Baxter's Saints' Rest, St. Augustine's Confessions, and Bunyan's Grace Abounding, among what he sometimes called Sunday books. He now read it once more, making notes, of which I quote a few :
It is doubtful whether exaggerated books of piety, resting upon no knowledge of human life, can really do good. They neither enlarge, nor elevate, nor liberalize men's views of religion. They demand a perpetual strain on the mind. A man is never to say, “ Thank God for guiding me in innocence through the day,” but, “Forgive me for all my best deeds." This tends to obliterate all distinction between right and wrong.
"Would it be possible to combine in a manual of piety religious fervour with perfect good sense and knowledge of the world ? This has never been attempted and would be a work worthy of a great religious genius.
• Is it possible to feel a personal attachment to Christ such as is prescribed by Thomas à Kempis ? I think that it is impossible and contrary to human nature that we should be able to concentrate our thoughts on a person scarcely known to us, who lived 1,800 years ago. But there might be such a passionate longing and yearning for goodness and truth. The personal Christ might become the ideal Christ, and this would easily pass into the idea of goodness.
“The debasement of the individual before the Divine Being is really a sort of Pantheism, so far that in the moral world God is everything and man nothing. But man thus debased before God is no proper or rational worshipper of Him. There is a want of proportion in this sort of religion. God who is everything is not really so much as if He allowed the most exalted free agencies to exist side by side with Him. The greater the beings under Him, the greater He is.
* Is it possible for me, perhaps ten years hence, to write a new Thomas à Kempis, going as deeply into the foundations of human life, and yet not revolting the common sense of the nineteenth century by his violent contrast between this world and another ?'
From the De Imitatione Christi he went on to Wordsworth, of whose poems he had a very high opinion. I once asked him whether Wordsworth's merits were not being exaggerated. No,' he replied, at his best he is so extraordinarily good.'
Have begun reading Wordsworth of an evening,' he notes, October, 1879. The Lyrical poems—"We are Seven," “Lesson to Fathers," ” “Star Gazers ”—are many of them poor. Grey” and “The Pet Lamb” better, but the subject is inadequate : too ordinary.
“The narratives of “The Brothers,' Ruth," “ Michael " are wonderfully touching, though taken from ordinary life. Wordsworth's great merit is that he deepens and simplifies the affections-that every word is right and true in feeling, if sometimes childish and exaggerated. Yet he seems to me not to see that idealism must rise into a higher and greater world.
'He is not artistic in the sense in which Tennyson is artistic. He does not make the different parts of a poem all bear upon the whole.
"“ Michael ” really affects me with a desire to persevere in old age, when perhaps the brain will be as feeble as the old man's arms.
Yet the story is disappointing. Why is the son to be a felon ?
‘No poet has done so much as Wordsworth for the instruction of mankind.
'I doubt whether nature can really supply all the comfort which he supposes. The constant reflection on nature is forced, like the constant thought about art. Nature has its proper place in Shakespeare because a subordinate place. You cannot be constantly watching clouds, or listening to winds, or catching
the song of birds. For a moment they give us repose. But the animal enjoyment of the air and light has a great deal to do with the refreshment of our spirits. It is not merely being in the air, but being also alone which for a time comforts us.'
What he conceived to be the poet's true mission he has told us in a beautiful passage in the introduction to the Gorgias
* True poetry is the remembrance of youth, of love, the embodiment in words of the happiest and holiest moments of life, of the noblest thoughts of man, of the greatest deeds of the past. The poet of the future may return to his greater calling of the prophet or teacher ; indeed we hardly know what may not be effected for the human race by a better use of the poetical and imaginative faculty. The reconciliation of poetry, as of religion, with truth, may still be possible. Neither is the element of pleasure to be excluded. For when we substitute a higher pleasure for a lower we raise men in the scale of existence.'
It was for this reason that Jowett placed so great a value on the best poetry, on the works of Aeschylusthe 'godlike Aeschylus 'as he called him--and Sophocles, of Goethe and Wordsworth. Of poetry which falls short of this high vocation he speaks with strong condemnation:
* It is, in Plato's language, a flattery, a sophistry, a strain, in which, without any serious purpose, the poet lends wings to his fancy and exhibits his gifts of language and metre. Such an one ministers to the weaker side of human nature; he idealizes the sensual : he sings the strain of love in the latest fashion ; instead of raising men above themselves he brings them back to the “ tyranny of the many masters ” from which all his life long a good man has been praying to be delivered. Though we are not going to banish the poets, how can we suppose that such utterances have any healing or life-giving influence on the minds of men'?'