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BARVARD COLLEGE ÇORARY)
Royal Society of Literature.
VOL. XX.-PART I.
FEB 27 1899
CAMBRIDGE, MASS RACIAL AND INDIVIDUAL TEMPERA
BY PERCY W. AMES, F.S.A., SECRETARY R.S.L.
[Read March 9th, 1898.]
An interesting feature to be observed in the history of literature is the change from time to time of the generally accepted ideal of supreme merit. To the Romans prior to the age of Virgil and Cicero the Greeks were the sole classics, and were admired, as we admire them still, for the beauty of their language and for its artistic employment. Men in the Middle Ages, when not ignorant or indifferent, showed little discrimination in their appreciation. With the development of good taste and the sense of proportion accompanying the Renaissance, admiration was graduated, and then, as Sainte-Beuve says,
“the real classic authors of the twofold antiquity stood out for the future on a luminous background, and formed two harmonious groups on their two eminences."* With the birth of modern literature, Italy, England, Spain, France, and Germany, in turn, developed their own classics with an inevitable modification in the conception of the qualities of genius. At one time the highest genius, as we should regard it, was passed by in favour of an
* Qu'est ce qu'un classique P' VOL. XX.
ornate and restrained style, purity of diction, and nicety of meaning. Subordination of imagination and feeling to reason, and conformity to accepted models, were the qualities that commanded admiration. In our own day it appears to be the general opinion that the great writer is he who reveals the most profound knowledge of human nature. That the tendency of taste is in this direction is shown not only in the popularity of the so-called psychological novel, but in the new criticism applied to the authors of the past, who now rank according to their insight into the laws of the human mind; mere brilliancy in thought and expression being regarded as infra classem. Whether the problem plays and realistic novels that supply the need of the “ bourgeoisie that carry the purse and control the literary market” will form the classics of the future, or be regarded as morbid phenomena of the nineteenth century, is a delicate question which we may leave to posterity to decide. For our immediate purpose it suffices to notice the reflection in literary criticism and in current literature of this deepened interest in the new psychology, and this forms the excuse, if not the justification, for inflicting upon you a few of the results of the study of human temperament. It is possible that the matters dealt with, or rather their treatment, may be new to some of my hearers, but time will not allow of every statement being established by a chain of reasoning, and doctrines like heredity, with all its difficulties and complexities and oblique transmissions, will be merely mentioned as something well known and generally understood and accepted. Whatever of value there
may be will be accepted by those who are in sympathy with it as needing no argument beyond their own feelings and experience; it will glide out of one life into another with the silent conviction of truth.
By the temperament of a man or woman is meant a certain quality of organisation which is manifested by well-defined peculiarities in the physical, intellectual, and moral natures, which it is assumed possess an interdependence and close correspondence throughout. The temperament of a community, a nation or a race, is denoted by the prevailing characteristic which controls and directs united action. It is important at the outset to distinguish between temperament and disposition. The disposition may be temporary, variable, different towards different persons and under different circumstances; comparatively easy to change. Temperament, on the other hand, is habitual, permanent, dependent on the organisation, exceedingly difficult to modify. Disposition is often moulded by temperament; the latter cannot be affected by disposition. Temperament is most intimately connected with organic formation; disposition is the outcome partly of temperament, and partly of acquired habits, environment, education, &c. When in religious conversion a change of character is noted, it is the disposition and not the temperament that has been affected. Paul possessed the same ardent temperament as Saul; the change was in the disposition from a cruel fanaticism to an equally intense sympathy and love.
It may be well here to give a little consideration