Imágenes de página

oar or a sail. The first speaks to the mere discursive understanding; the second speaks ultimately, it may happen, to the higher understanding or reason, but always through affections of pleasure and sympathy. Remotely, it may travel towards an object seated in what Lord Bacon calls dry light; but, proximately, it does and must operate, else it ceases to be a literature of power, on and through that humid light which clothes itself in the mists and glittering iris of human passions, desires, and genial emotions. Men have so little reflected on the higher functions of literature, as to find it a paradox if one should describe it as a mean or subordinate purpose of books to give information. But this is a paradox only in the sense which makes it honourable to be paradoxical. Whenever we talk in ordinary language of seeking information, or gaining knowledge, we understand the words as connected with something of absolute novelty. But it is the grandeur of all truth, which can occupy a very high place in human interests, that it is never absolutely novel in the meanest minds : it exists eternally by way of germ or latent principle in the lowest as in the

[ocr errors]

highest, needing to be developed, but never planted. To be capable of transplantation is the immediate criterion of a truth that ranges on a lower scale. Besides which, there is a rarer thing than truth, namely, power, or deep sympathy with truth. What is the effect, for instance, upon society, of children? By the pity, by the tenderness, and by the peculiar modes of admiration, which connect themselves with the helplessness, with the innocence, and with the simplicity of children, not only are the primal affections strengthened and continually renewed, but the qualities which are dearest in the sight of heaventhe frailty, for instance, which appeals to forbearance, the innocence which symbolises the heavenly, and the simplicity which is most alien from the worldly, are kept up in perpetual remembrance, and their ideals are continually refreshed. A purpose of the same nature is answered by the higher literature, viz., the literature of power. What do you learn from “ Paradise Lost?” Nothing at all. What do you learn from a cookery-book ? Something new-something that you did not know before, in every paragraph. But would you therefore put the wretched cookery-book on a higher level of estimation than the divine poem ? What you owe to Milton is not any knowledge, of which a million separate items are still but a million of advancing steps on the same earthly level ; what you owe is

power, that is, exercise and expansion to your own latent capacity of sympathy with the infinite, where every pulse and each separate influx is a step upwards—a step ascending as upon a Jacob's ladder from earth to mysterious altitudes above the earth. All the steps of knowledge, from first to last, carry you further on the same plane, but could never raise you one foot above your ancient level of earth: whereas, the very first step in power is a flight—is an ascending movement into another element where earth is forgotten.

(On Pope, v. 9, pp. 5 and 6).


:- The commonest novel, by moving in alliance with human fears and hopes, with human instincts of wrong and right, sustains and quickens those affections. Calling them into action, it rescues them from torpor.

And hence the pre-eminency over


all authors that merely teach, of the meanest that moves ; or that teaches, if at all, indirectly by moving The very highest work that has ever existed in the literature of knowledge is but a provisional work: a book upon trial and sufferance, and quamdiu bene se gesserit. Let its teaching be even partially revised, let it be but expanded, nay, even let its teaching be but placed in a better order, and instantly it is superseded. Whereas, the feeblest works in the literature of power, surviving at all, survive as finished and unalterable amongst

For instance, the “Principia” of Sir Isaac Newton was a book militant on earth from the first. In all stages of its progress it would have to fight for its existence : 1st, as regards absolute truth; 2ndly, when the combat was over, as regards its form or mode of presenting the truth.

soon as a La Place, or anybody else, builds higher upon the foundations laid by this book, effectually he throws it out of the sunshine into decay and darkness ; by weapons won from this book he superannuates and destroys this book, so that soon the name of Newton remains as a mere nominis umbra, but his

And as

[ocr errors]

book, as a living power, has transmigrated into other forms. Now, on the contrary, the “Iliad,” the “ Prometheus” of Æschylus, the “Othello” or “King Lear," the “Hamlet” or “Macbeth,” and the “ Paradise Lost,” are not militant, but triumphant for ever as long as the languages exist in which they speak, or can be taught to speak. They never can transmigrate into new incarnations. To reproduce these in new forms, or varieties, even if in some things they should be improved, would be to plagiarise. A good steam-engine is properly superseded by a better. But one lovely pastoral valley is not superseded by another, nor a statue of Praxiteles by a statue of Michael Angelo. These things are separated not by imparity, but by disparity. They are not thought of as unequal under the same standard, but as different in kind, and if otherwise equal, as equal under a different standard. Human works of immortal beauty and works of nature in one respect stand on the same footing : they never absolutely repeat each other; never approach so near as not to differ; and they differ not as better and worse, or simply by more and less: they differ by undecipherable and incom

« AnteriorContinuar »