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A MAGAZINE of geneRAL LITERATURE.
HE next afternoon the Count de Penneville went to the Hôtel Gibbon, hoping to see his uncle there, but he did not find him. He left his card with a few words to express his regret at having taken his drive for naught, and to tell him that Madame Véretz and daughter would be happy to see the Marquis de Miraval at breakfast on the following day. The Marquis sent him his reply in the evening: he said that he was not well, and begged his nephew to excuse him to the ladies, whose kind attention touched him deeply. Uneasy about his uncle's health, Horace went in the morning, contrary to all his habitual custom, to inquire for him. This time also the nest was empty, and the Count had both the regret at having lost his steps for nothing, and the pleasure of concluding that the invalid must be well again.
Urged by Madame Corneuil, he wrote to convey to him another invitation to breakfast. The Marquis replied by special dispatch that he had just decided to return to Paris, and was much grieved that he had not even time enough to bid them good-by.
This sudden and unexpected departure excited the pension Vallaud greatly. They talked of it for a full hour by the clock, and they talked of it on the days following. Monsieur de Penneville was the first to get over his surprise. "Come what may," thought he, "I am firm as a rock," and he would soon have begun to think of something else. The mother and daughter were less philosophical. Madame Véretz was painfully surprised, and keenly disturbed at having been so mistaken, for she prided herself upon VOL. VIII.-7
never having been mistaken. Madame Corneuil said to her triumphantly:
"I congratulate you upon your penetration. You said that Monsieur de Miraval was entirely gained over to our side. It turns out that all his kindness did not even reach the first principles of civility. He came as a spy, and he has gone back at once to report to Madame de Penneville. We shall soon hear from him, and the news will not be very pleasant. I am quite sure that you did not know how to behave with him, and said something which compromises us."
"Is that the way I am in the habit of doing, my dear?" answered Madame Véretz. “I confess that such conduct surprises me. It is contrary to all my notions of the customs of nations. Before going to war, a gentleman should declare it.
This monster has concealed his game well." "You have always been blindly confident." "And yet evil tongues persist that I am a successful manœuvring mother. Do not overwhelm me, my darling; what distresses me is that an inheritance of two hundred thousand livres' income does not grow on every bush."
"You think of nothing but the inheritance. That may well be questioned; but there is some dark plot going on, of which we shall soon see the results. This old fellow is going to play some trick of his own upon us."
"Let us wait awhile," said Madame Véretz; "it needs heavy cannon to take fortresses. Say what you like, we may sleep at our ease in our beds."
Three days after, Madame Véretz, unknown to her daughter, went out very early to do her own marketing, and, on her return, entered stealthily into the apartment of the Count de Penneville,
to this: that poetry is at bottom a criticism of life; that the greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life-to the question, How to live."
At first sight this definition will strike most people as a paradox. It would be scarcely less startling to hear, as indeed we might perhaps hear from a new school of writers upon art, that "criticism is at bottom the poetry of things," inasmuch as it is the critic's function to select the quintessential element of all he touches, and to present that only in choice form to the public he professes to instruct. Yet, when we return to Mr. Arnold, and compare the passage above quoted with the fuller expression of the same view upon a preceding page, the apparent paradox is reduced to the proportions of a sound and valuable generalization: "Long ago, in speaking of Homer, I said that the noble and profound application of ideas to life is the most essential part of poetic greatness, I said that a great poet receives his distinctive character of superiority from his application, under the conditions immutably fixed by the laws of poetic beauty and poetic truth, from his application, I say, whatever it may be, of the ideas,
'On man, on nature, and on human life,' which he has acquired for himself." An important element in this description of poetic greatness is the further determination of the ideas in question as moral: "It is said that to call these ideas moral ideas is to introduce a strong and injurious limitation. I answer that it is to do nothing of the kind, because moral ideas are really so main a part of human life. The question, how to live, is itself a moral idea; and it is the question which most interests every man, and with which, in some way or other, he is perpetually occupied."
With the substance of these passages there are few who, after mature reflection on the nature of poetry, will not agree. That the weight of Mr. Arnold's authority should be unhesitatingly given against what he calls the poetry of revolt and the poetry of indifference to morals, is a matter for rejoicing to all who think the dissemination of sound views on literature important. It is good to be reminded at the present moment that Omar Kayam failed of true greatness because he was a reactionary, and that Théophile Gautier took up his abode in what can never be more than a wayside halting-place. From time to time critics arise who attempt to persuade us that it does not so much matter what a poet says as how he says it, and that the highest poetical achievements are those which combine a certain vagueness of meaning with sensuous melody and color of verbal composition. Yet, if one thing is
proved with certainty by the whole history of literature to our time, it is that the self-preservative instinct of humanity rejects such art as does not contribute to its intellectual nutrition and moral sustenance. It can not afford to continue long in contact with ideas that run counter to the principles of its own progress. It can not bestow more than passing notice upon trifles, however exquisitely finished. Poetry will not, indeed, live without style or its equivalent. But style alone will never confer enduring and cosmopolitan fame upon a poet. He must have placed himself in accord with the permanent emotions, the conservative forces of the race; he must have uttered what contributes to the building up of vital structure in the social organism, in order to gain more than a temporary or a partial hearing. Though style is an indispensable condition of success in poetry, it is by matter, and not by form, that a poet has to take his final rank.
Of the two less perfect kinds of poetry, the poetry of revolt and the poetry of indifference, the latter has by far the slighter chance of survival. Powerful negation implies that which it rebels against. The energy of the rebellious spirit is itself a kind of moral greatness. We are braced and hardened by contact with impassioned revolutionaries, with Lucretius, Voltaire, Leopardi. Something necessary to the onward progress of humanity—the vigor of antagonism, the operative force of the antithesis-is communicated by them. They are in a high sense ethical by the exhibition of hardihood, self-reliance, hatred of hypocrisy. Even Omar's secession from the mosque to the tavern symbolizes a necessary and recurring moment of experience. It is, moreover, dignified by the pathos of the poet's view of life. Meleager's sensuality is condoned by the delicacy of his sentiment. Tone counts for much in this poetry of revolt against morals. It is only the Stratons, the Beccadellis, the Baudelaires, who, in spite of their consummate form, are consigned to poetical perdition by vulgarity, perversity, obliquity of vision. But the carving of cherry-stones in verse, the turning of triolets and rondeaux, the seeking after sound or color without heed for sense, is all foredoomed to final failure. The absolute neglect which has fallen on the melodious Italian sonnet-writers of the sixteenth century is due to their cult of art for art's sake, and their indifference to the realities of life. If we ask why Machiavelli's “Mandragora" is inferior to Shakespeare's "Merry Wives of Windsor," in spite of its profound knowledge of human nature, its brilliant wit, its irresistible humor, its biting satire, and its incomparably closer workmanship, we can only answer that Shakespeare's conception of life was healthy, natural, exhilarating, while Machiavelli's, without
displaying the earnestness of revolt, was artificial, morbid, and depressing. The sympathies which every great work of art stimulates tend in the case of Shakespeare's play to foster, in the case of Machiavelli's to stunt, the all-essential elements of social happiness and vigor. In point of form, the "Mandragora" has better right to be a classic comedy than the "Merry Wives of Windsor." But the application of ideas to life in it is so unsound and so perverse that common sense rejects it: we tire of living in so false a world.
Without multiplying instances, it can be affirmed, with no dread of opposition, that all art, to be truly great art, to be permanent and fresh and satisfying through a hundred generations, to yield the bread and wine of daily sustenance to men and women in successive ages, must be moralized-must be in harmony with those principles of conduct, that tone of feeling, which it is the self-preservative instinct of civilized humanity to strengthen. This does not mean that the artist should be consciously didactic or obtrusively ethical. The objects of ethics and of art are distinct. The one analyzes and instructs; the other embodies and delights. But, since all the arts give form to thought and feeling, it follows that the greatest art is that which includes in its synthesis the fullest complex of thoughts and feelings. The more complete the poet's grasp of human nature as a whole, the more complete his presentation of life in organized complexity, the greater he will be. Now the whole struggle of the human race from barbarism to civilization is one continuous effort to maintain and to extend its moral dignity. It is by the conservation and alimentation of moral qualities that we advance. The organization of our faculties into a perfect whole is moral harmony. Therefore artists who aspire to greatness can neither be adverse nor indifferent to ethics. In each case they proclaim their own inadequacy to the subject-matter of their art, humanity. In each case they present a maimed and partial portrait of their hero, man. In each case they must submit, however exquisite their style, however acute their insight, to be excluded from the supreme company of the immortals. We need do no more than name the chiefs of European poetry-Homer, Pindar, Eschylus, Sophocles, Virgil, Horace, Dante, Shakespeare, Molière-in order to recognize the fact that they owe their superiority to the completeness of their representation, to their firm grasp upon the harmony of human faculties in large morality. It is this which makes classical and humane literature convertible terms. It is this which has led all classes and ages of men back and back to these great poets as to their familiar friends and teachers, "the everlasting solace of mankind."
While substantially agreeing with Mr. Arnold, it may be possible to take exception to the form of his definition. He lays too great stress, perhaps, on the phrases, application of ideas, and criticism. The first might be qualified as misleading, because it seems to attribute an ulterior purpose to the poet; the second as tending to confound two separate faculties, the creative and the judicial. Plato's conception of poetry as an inspiration, a divine instinct, may be nearer to the truth. The application of ideas should not be too conscious, else the poet sinks into the preacher. The criticism of life should not be too much his object, else the poet might as well have written essays. What is wanted is that, however spontaneous his utterance may be, however he may aim at only beauty in his work, or "sing but as the linnet sings," his message should be adequate to healthy and mature humanity. His intelligence of what is noble and enduring, his expression of a full, harmonious personality, is enough to moralize his work. It is even better that he should not turn aside to comment. That is the function of the homilist. We must learn how to live from him less by his precepts than by his examples and by being in his company. It would no doubt be misunderstanding Mr. Arnold to suppose that he estimates poetry by the gnomic sentences conveyed in it, or that he intends to say that the greatest poets have deliberately used their art as the vehicle of moral teaching. Yet there is a double danger in the wording of his definitions. On the one hand, if we accept them too literally, we run the risk of encouraging that false view of poetry which led the Byzantines to prefer Euripides to Sophocles, because he contained a greater number of quotable maxims; which brought the humanists of the sixteenth century to the incomprehensible conclusion that Seneca had improved upon the Greek drama by infusing greater gravity into his speeches; which caused Tasso to invent an ex post facto allegory for the "Gerusalemme," and Spenser to describe Ariosto's mad Orlando, the triumphant climax of that poet's irony, as “a good governor and a virtuous man." On the other hand, there is the peril of forgetting that the prime aim of all art is at bottom only presentation. That, and that alone, distinguishes the arts, including poetry, from every other operation of the intellect, and justifies Hegel's general definition of Art as "Die sinnliche Erscheinung der Idee." Poetry is not so much a criticism of life as a revelation of life, a presentment of life according to the poet's capacity for observing and displaying it in forms that reproduce it for his readers. The poet is less a judge than a seer and reporter. If he judges, it is as light, falling upon an object, showing its inequalities, discov
ering its loveliness, may be said to judge. The greatest poet is not the poet who has said the best things about life, but he whose work most fully and faithfully reflects life in its breadth and largeness, eliminating what is accidental, trivial, temporary, local, or rendering insignificant details the mirror of the universal by his treatment. He teaches less by what he inculcates than by what he shows; and the truth of Plato's above-mentioned theory is that he may himself be unaware of the far-reaching lessons he communicates. From Shakespeare we could better afford to lose the profound remarks on life in "Timon" or "Troilus and Cressida " than the delineation of Othello's passion. The speeches of Nestor in the “Iliad" are less valuable than the portrait of Achilles; and what Achilles says about fame, heroism, death, and friendship, could be sooner spared than the presentment of his action.
The main thing to keep in mind is this, that the world will very willingly let die in poetry what does not contribute to its intellectual strength and moral vigor. In the long run, therefore, poetry full of matter and moralized wins the day. But it must, before all else, be poetry. The application of the soundest moral ideas, the finest criticism of life, will not save it from oblivion, if it fails in the essential qualities that constitute a work of art. Imagination, or the power to see clearly and to project forcibly; fancy, or the power to flash new light on things familiar, and by their combination to delight the mind with novelty; creative genius, or the power of giving form and substance, life and beauty to the figments of the brain; style, or the power to sustain a flawless and unwavering distinction of utterance; dramatic energy, or the power to make men and women move before us with self-evident reality in fiction; passion, sympathy, enthusiasm, or the power of feeling and communicating feeling, of understanding and arousing emotion; lyrical inspiration, or the power of spontaneous singing these are among the many elements that go to make up poetry. These, no doubt, are alluded to by Mr. Arnold in the clause referring to "poetic beauty and poetic truth." But it is needful to insist upon them, after having dwelt so long upon the matter and the moral tone of poetry. No sane critic can deny that the possession of one or more of these qualities in any very eminent degree will save a poet from the neglect to which moral revolt or indifference might otherwise condemn him. Ariosto's vulgarity of feeling, Shelley's crude and discordant opinions, Leopardi's overwhelming pessimism, Heine's morbid sentimentality, Byron's superficiality and cynicism, sink to nothing beneath the saving virtues of imagination, lyrical inspiration, poetic style, humor, intensity, and sweep of pas
sion. The very greatest poets of the world have combined all these qualities, together with that grand humanity which confers upon them immortal freshness. Of Homer, Pindar, Sophocles, Eschylus, Dante, Virgil, Shakespeare, Molière, Goethe, it is only possible to say that one or other element of poetic achievement has been displayed more eminently than the rest, that one or other has been held more obviously in abeyance, when we come to distinguish each great master from his peers. But lesser men may rest their claims to immortality upon slighter merits; and among these merits it will be found impossible to exclude what we call form, style, and the several poetic qualities above enumerated.
The final test of greatness in a poet is his adequacy to human nature at its best; his feeling for the balance of sense, emotion, will, intellect in moral harmony; his faculty for regarding the whole of life, and representing it in all its largeness. If this be true, dramatic and epical poetry must be the most enduring, the most instructive monuments of creative genius in verse. These forms bring into quickest play and present in fullest activity the many-sided motives of our life on earth. Yet the lyrist has a sphere scarcely second in importance to that of the epic and dramatic poets. The thought and feeling he expresses may, if his nature be adequate, embrace the whole gamut of humanity; and if his expression be sufficient, he may give the form of universality to his experience, creating magic mirrors wherein all men shall see their own hearts reflected and glorified without violation of reality or truth.
J. A. SYMONDS (Fortnightly Review).
THAT no artist has so much actual enjoyment of success as the actor, and that no fame is so evanescent as his, has been generally accepted as a truth. But only the first part of the saying is altogether true; the last part will, at least, bear modification. Were it entirely and unfailingly true, neither actors nor spectators would be beset by traditions, no fulfilled renown would interpose its laurels between the student-artist and the dramatist's creation, or stir the air about his audience with the distant echo of its trumpets. On the contrary, the traditions of the great actors of the past are always with us—and, although we can not point to handiwork of theirs in stone or on canvas, they are the most interesting of memories, because the aiguillon of curiosity and question pricks all discussion of them. Did Garrick give this passage so? Did the Siddons make
justifies his plain mistrust of her, an odious, immodest, dishonest creature, than whom Shakespeare drew no more unpleasant character, and to whom one always grudges the loveliest love-lines that ever were spoken, especially when it is borne in mind that the speaker, Lorenzo, was at best a receiver of stolen goods. Mr. Irving's Shylock is a being quite apart from his surroundings. When he hesitates and questions with himself why he should go forth to sup with those who would scorn him if they could, but can only ridicule him, while the very stealthy intensity of scorn of them is in him, we ask, too, why should he? He would hardly be more out of place in the “wilderness of monkeys," of which he makes his sad and quaint comparison, when Tubal tells him of that last coarse proof of the heartlessness of his daughter "wedded with a Christian "—the bartering of his Leah's ring. What mean, pitiful beings they all are, poetical as is their language, and fine as are the situations of the play, in comparison with the forlorn, resolute, undone, baited, betrayed, implacable old man, who, having personified his hatred of the race of Christians in Antonio, whose odiousness to him, in the treble character of a Christian, a sentimentalist, and a reckless speculator, is less of a mere caprice than he explains it to be! He reasons calmly with the dullards in the court concerning this costly whim of his, yet with a disdainful doubt of the justice that will be done him; standing almost motionless, his hands hanging by his sides—they are an old man's hands, feeble, except when passion turns them into griping claws, and then that passion subsides into the quivering of age, which is like palsy-his gray, worn face, lined and hollow, mostly averted from the speakers who move him not, except when a gleam of murderous hate, sudden and deadly, like the flash from a pistol, goes over it, and burns for a moment in the tired, melancholy eyes! Such a gleam there came when Shylock answered Bassanio's palliative commonplace with—
that point? And what was Edmund Kean's reading? They come to the play with us, when it is a great play, and the actors are great actors, or approaching greatness, and is not that the survival of fame? Of all plays, "The Merchant of Venice" is that one which the spectator would, we fancy, go to see with the “historical association most strongly in his mind, and also that one in which the actors of the great parts would be most pressed and overshadowed by the tradition of their predecessors. That was, however, no "historical" Shylock which Mr. Irving set before the closely-packed audience assembled on last Saturday evening to see Shakespeare's finest comedy put upon the stage of the Lyceum as it has certainly never previously been put upon any stage, and acted as it has not often been acted. Probably, to every mind, except that of Shakespeare himself—in which all potential interpretations of his Shylock, as all potential interpretations of his Hamlet, must have had a place the complex image which Mr. Irving presented to a crowd more or less impressed with notions of their own concerning the Jew whom Shakespeare drew, was entirely novel and unexpected; for here is a man whom none can despise, who can raise emotions both of pity and of fear, and make us Christians thrill with a retrospective sense of shame. Here is a usurer indeed, but no more like the customary modern rendering of that extortionate lender of whom Bassanio borrowed "moneys", than the merchants dei Medici were like pawnbrokers down Whitechapel way; a usurer indeed, and full of "thrift," which is rather the protest of his disdain and disgust for the sensuality and frivolity of the ribald crew, out of whom he makes his “Christian ducats," than of his own sordidness; a usurer indeed, but, above all, a Jew! One of the race accursed in the evil days in which he lives, but chosen of Jehovah in the olden time wherein lie his pride, and belief, and hope-the best of that hope being revenge on the enemies of himself and all his tribe, now wearing the badge of sufferance, revenge, rendered by the stern tenets of a faith which teaches that "the Lord, his God, is a jealous God, taking vengeance," not only lawful, but holy. A Jew, in intellectual faculties, in spiritual discipline, far in advance of the time and the country in which he lives, shaken with strong passion sometimes, but for the most part fixed in a deep and weary disdain.
He is an old man, but not very aged, so that the epithet "old" used to him is not to be mistaken for anything but the insolence it means; a widower - his one pathetic mention of his "Leah" was as beautiful a touch as ever has been laid upon the many-stringed lyre of human feeling the father of a daughter who amply
'Hates any man the thing he would not kill?" At the wretched gibes of Gratiano, and the amiable maundering of the Duke, the slow, cold smile, just parting the lips and touching their curves as light touches polished metal, passes over the lower part of the face, but does not touch the eyes or lift the brow. This is one of Mr. Irving's most remarkable facial effects, for he can pass it through all the phases of a smile, up to surpassing sweetness. Is it a fault of the actors or of ours that this Shylock is a being so absolutely apart that it is impossible to picture him as a part of the life of Venice, that we can not think of him "on the Rialto" before Bassanio wanted "moneys,” and Antonio had “plunged,"