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A forlorn and fainting brother, Seeing, may take heart again."
But the question is just in this one point: What is good for the living to read? No man, we believe firmly, was ever the better, morally, for any knowledge gained at the cost of the violation of any real sanctity in the heart of his brother, be that brother still in the flesh or long since gone home to God. We do not accomplish any good for the world by sacrificing either our own or others' secrets in this way. When the things "spoken in the ear" of faithful and tender friendship, or confided to pages never meant but for the writer's eye alone, come to "be proclaimed upon the housetops" of the public press, it is a portent of moral ruin, not a process of reformation, be those things never so good and so profound.
Perhaps we may find some clue to the right principle of biographical reticence, by ascending to some larger generalities of literature. All literature should be guided by truth-a certain kind of artistic and moral truth even in fiction, a more literal and material veracity in history, description, science, and biography. What do we mean by such veracity of the latter class? Surely it is the simple rule of all truth-THE JUST EXPRESSION OF OUR
or else literature would be reduced to a procès verbal, or a catalogue. It is, in fact, the same principle which prevails in art, and makes a portrait by Titian something different from a gigantic painted photograph. What is it which the true artist-the painter or sculptor - really seeks to accomplish? Is it not "the just expression of his impression" of his subject's personality? He is taking the likeness (we will suppose) of a celebrated orator. Does he strive only to give a minute reproduction of his eyes, nose, mouth, and chin as he appeared on Monday at two o'clock in Westminster? Surely, he aims at something much more. He wishes to produce a picture or bust which shall represent him not only on Monday at two o'clock, but on Tuesday, and every day at every hour; and not only at Westminster, but in his house, and the street, and the grouse-moors; not only as an orator, but also as a man of letters, a father, husband, sportsman, wit; the man capable not only of making a good speech, but of being moved by love, wrath, humor, or whatever else of human nature might be in him. This is surely the aim of the true artist-an aim actually fulfilled by the great masters, in whose portraits we seem to read all the man they painted ever was or could have been; nay, in which we seem to possess somewhat which must resemble the corporeal clothing of that soul in a future world, its material expression under all possible vicissitudes of being. The artist seems to have taken up the subject's whole individuality, melted it in the crucible of his own mind, and then given it us cast red hot, and henceforth fixed for ever. Either this, and this alone, must be the supreme aim and achievement of art, or else, if it be not so, a mirror (could its images be made durable) would be better than any portraits of Raphael's or Titian's; and Madame Tussaud's waxworks superior to a statue of Phidias. There is no third excellence conceivable. Art is either mere imitation-and then the meanest imitation, so that it be accurate, is the best art-or else it is something beyond imitation, and is the "just expression" of the artist's fullest and most perfect "impression."*
Our impression may be more or less nearly identical with absolute objective fact, and the faithful rendering of such impression in the manner we conceive best calculated to convey it to another is our truth-that which each of us "troweth." Now, in describing a person, place, or event, in literature as well as in common speech, it is clearly our duty to strive to render our impression of such person, place, or event, thus faithfully or honestly. We are not called upon to tell every thing we know, to describe every detail of feature and character, or of scenery or action; but only so to write as that the whole of our description, be it short or long, shall be the just expression of the sum of impressions the person, place, or event has made upon us. Nothing is implied in the ordinary engagements of the author to the reader, more or less than this. Of course, cases may arise when a further engagement may be formally or tacitly given to insert every detail; but this must always be exceptional,
*Venturing once to urge this doctrine to a celebrated American sculptor resident in Florence, he argued against it by asking, "Suppose two
How does all this apply to literature? | softness of the scene; but would an accuSurely in this way: that the pen no more rate and minute account of each tree and than the pencil should aim at a mere re- clump and shelving bank do any better? production of material fact; but should Ought we to say there are first three hunrender that and something more. A fine dred and sixty-nine orange trees in a garlandscape painter gathers up all the feat- den of half an acre, then a jet d'eau six ures of his scene in his mind, and throws feet high, then five hundred yards of them on his canvas glorified and individ- slope descending at the incline of two ualized-so that as he saw that mountain feet in a hundred on a limestone soil; the or forest, others may see it henceforth grass is unfitted for hay, the trees of no for ever. As we all know, this is pro- value as timber, but worth somewhat as duced by no servile copying of every fuel? It is quite clear that the latter class rock or tree, every blade of the grass, of description may be desirable, indeed, every leaf of the wood. When modern if we want to purchase the house and garartists, honestly seeking truth, have labo- den to which it refers; but it is not literariously accomplished such servile copies, ture, but business-a surveyor's or valuthey have missed their aim, and made ator's report, not a piece of literary or something which is no "expression of artistic composition. In like manner, if their impression" at all-something less we should need to go to law about anylike their impression than a few free thing, we may desire a sworn information, touches of a master's brush would have or procès verbal, describing it minutely. produced. All this must apply to the But all these are necessities extraneous to author as to the painter. His business is literature, and true literature should make first to obtain a vivid and true impression, no pretence to fulfill their requirements. and then so to express it as shall best The veracity of the writer is engaged to convey the same to the reader. Is this to this, and this only, that his impression is be done best by a record of sensations reproduced in his work. Of course, acand ideas produced by the scene, or by a cording to the nature of the case, there dry literal catalogue of objects and facts? may be a moral obligation involved in the Shall, for instance, the present writer de- care taken to make that impression coorscribe the view before her eyes, by telling dinate with the facts; but this is another of gardens sloping down through grassy matter to literary veracity. glades to the sea, the deep shadows of the To apply all this to biography. It ilex lying heavy on the ground, and the seems clear (if the principles above stated stone-pines standing out in lovely outlines be true), that the biographer's office is to against the sky and dazzling waters, and render justly his impression of his subpalms and oranges and cypresses blending ject's life and character, in the way of art with the blossoming apricot and almond-not in the way of -not in the way of a report of the one, in masses of glorious coloring; of the or a sworn information of the other. He fountain playing close by, as fountains is then under no obligation to enter upon only play in Italy; the birds singing in details which motives of kindness or of the joy of opening spring, and the calm reverence may induce him to pass over in and soft Mediterranean beating gently, silence, provided always that the impreslike the pulsations of a peaceful heart, sion he has derived from any such details against the low, tideless shore? No words known to him be fairly rendered by his can convey perfectly the richness and the general description of his subject. He must make his hero neither better nor worse than such facts prove him to have been.
statues of Homer were now discovered, the one accurately reproducing his rags and miserable appearance, the other idealizing him in the noblest style of Greek art, as the great poet of the Iliad-which should we desire to behold of the
two statues ?" It is clear we should desire to see
first the merely imitative portrait; but such desire on our part would not argue any thing against the idealized one being alone worthy the name of art. Curiosity would be our motive of choice; but esthetic taste and art certainly aim at something higher than the mere gratification of curiosity-else (as we said before) photography is the
climax of art.
This principle would, we apprehend, relieve biographers of one class of their difficulties-the impression, namely, that they are called upon when they undertake a biography, to share with the public all they know concerning their subject, and reproduce the material facts, in crude literature, on which their judgment has been formed. When all is done, however, it must be avowed that other and great
their teachers inform them) they have no right to claim the sympathy of the good now alive, or to appropriate the experience of the pious of old. How the few books which appeared twenty years ago—ArLife, Sterling's Life, Blanco White's Life-and told us that good and sincere men had felt our doubts, and struggled through our trials-how they poured light and comfort into our hearts! How many men and women, now calm and happy in rational faith, may be thankful for having had the intolerable solitude of their hearts in youth dissipated for ever by books like these! It is quite clear that whatever may be demanded of us, the sacrifice of that which gives its value to books of this class can not be required. Their subjects would be the last to desire it. Here, then, in fact, lies the test of the biographer's capacity for his work. Can he retain what he ought to retain, and exclude what he ought to exclude, with regard at once to the interests of the living and the sacredness of the dead?
difficulties will often remain, with which
Beside these religious sanctities of life, there are the domestic and friendly ones, whose violation is hardly a less offense. Of course the consent of the parties in question is usually the test of justifiable publicity here; but what is to be done when the exculpation of one is the blame of another? There are difficult dilemmas here also.
2. Fiction has a veracity of its own to preserve. How far is it lawful, for instance, in fiction, to introduce real persons known to the writer, draw the portrait sufficiently exact to make them recognizable, and then add purely imaginary features of character or actions or opinions, which the reader shall henceforth inextricably associate with the real person ? We are all ready to condemn such a practice utterly, when plainly described; but it is done every day, in fact, and that by writers of high reputation. In what the Germans call Tendenz novels (novels with a purpose), it is, in fact, the regular custom to take for the type of some opinion to be preached up or preached down, somebody who may be fairly identified therewith, and then having duly labeled and ticketed his unhappy specimen, the novelist, inasmuch as he is a novelist, and not a biographer, proceeds to draw from his imagination facts and adventures and ideas, to be attributed to the specimen in
his story, and woven in as neatly as may second supplies our needs, and aids our be with the description drawn from actual prosperity as merchants, soldiers, sailors, life. We have seen one of these, wherein bricklayers, and seamstresses, wanting it was intended to demolish a certain too food, clothing, shelter, wealth, health, hardy thinker, and wherein he was accord- pleasure, power, fame, or any other ingly first identified unmistakably with earthly good." Of course, that which a certain character in the book, and then aids the higher and moral part of us, also that character was made responsible for in a certain way elevates and aids the the opinions of a totally different and an- lower; and of course, all which aids the tagonistic thinker, and, in that capaci- lower to its natural and true well-being, ty, easily and triumphantly annihilated. serves to afford a sounder basis for the These things remind us continually of higher. But the classification is a real Archbishop Whately's excellent simile and most valuable one, affording us a clue between the practices of ancient heathens to many labyrinthine problems of social toward Christian martyrs, and those of science, and reconciling the eternal quarmodern theological critics to their sub-rel between the thinkers and the workers, jects-"they both dress their victims in the Aurora Leighs of the world and the the skins of wild beasts, so as completely practical philanthropists. In like manner to disguise them, and then set the dogs in art (the arts of writing, painting, to tear them to pieces." sculpture, architecture), there are two Again: Fiction may avoid the sin of utilities-the lower utility of giving exthus misrepresenting individuals, but is it pression to the thought, and the higher justified in maligning human nature itself? utility which lies in the thought itself. Reading certain classes of literature, very The first is very needful-just as the suppopular in England just now, it would port of our animal life, and supply of our seem as if nobody were offended at pic-lower wants, is needful for all higher purtures of life which would make us all a poses. The body must be cared for first, set of crawling worms unfit to be suffered and then the soul. But the reason why to exist, much less to be made subjects of the body itself exists is, we humbly bea work of art. If men be all mean and lieve, to afford a basis and scaffolding for interested and worldly-minded, then it is the higher life of the soul; and assuredly no more proper to make them subjects of art exists only to afford expression to fiction than wasps, toads, and maggots. thought. Thus, then, in every work of It is a marvelous thing how the admira- art there are two things to be measured: tion for the mere savoir faire of the clever the expression, which may be good, bad, writer, painter, sculptor, blinds men to or indifferent; and the thought expressed, the question whether their art is exercised which also may be good, bad, or indifon a fitting or an unfitting subject-that ferent. Clearly the best art is the best is, whether it is worth something or noth- thought best expressed; but when this ing at all. The more people become can not be attained, what is the next best amateurs of style-cognoscenti-or even thing? Is it a bad or indifferent thought practical artists themselves, so much well expressed, or a good thought badly greater seems the danger of their forget- or indifferently expressed? Benson says, ting the whole scope and meaning of art"The good, beautiful, noble thought, in their criticism of the more or less suc- however imperfectly expressed." Popucessful way in which the effort is made to lar judgment would seem to say the bad, render any meaning whatever. vulgar, commonplace thought well expressed. Thus, in painting and sculpture, we continually hear cried up as marvels the clever representation of subjects essentially base, and even gross; and in literature we find enormous value attached to the sharp delineation of meanness, or the bold portraiture of vice. Surely the sound estimate of such works would rather lead us to deplore that the power of forcible expression had been attained by those who have no thoughts which ought to be expressed at all, All power mis
In Sidney's Essay in Defense of Poetry there is a profound observation concerning the different sorts of utility. "There is," he says, "an utility of the higher and of the lower mind; an ultimate and absolute utility, and a secondary and subordinate utility. The first concerns the great final ends of our existence, the second the temporary purposes of our present condition. The first utility promotes our welfare as men and women, immortal and rational moral agents; the
used is a sorrowful sight; the greater the power the more sorrowful. Lucifer is only the ideal of archangelic genius and might, applying his strength to work evil, and by his insight luring all human woe and sin into the sport of his Mephistophilic sneers. Great art, applied to degrade and libel humanity, is not divine, but devilish. If we regard mankind with specially illumined eyes, we must do so either more like God, with a greater than human pity and tenderness and sympathy, or more like a demon, with greater than human scorn and cruelty and contempt. Viewed calmly there is something infinitely horrible in this latter character. We have a right to judge the man whose genius raises him above us, but whose lovelessness sinks him below the humblest affectionate child, as men may hereafter judge some giant creature born of human race, but yet no human being-a creature stronger and wiser than we, as we are stronger and wiser than our unknown progenitors, half men, half brutes, who roamed the forest of the primeval world with the cave bear and the mastadon-a creature whose power and skill should be guided by no justice, tempered by no pity; who should vivisect our living hearts as wretches now vivisect the noble horse and loving dog-for mere scientific curiosity-and should pride himself in the art wherewith he laid bare every quivering nerve and throbbing vein. Such a creature would strike us with horror and hate. Why are we to regard a great writer with adoring admiration, because he can with his pen tear open all the wounds, expose all the diseases of humanity-not only untouched by compassion, unmoved to any effort to heal or save, but glorying in his own mighty gifts, and busy only to "build up the pyramid" of his own self-worshiped personality? Genius so employed is not human, far less is it divine.
"Is is not then competent to art to seize on every subject, every phase of existence, and bring it out into the light under its magic glasses?"
Of course, so long as nature is in question-inanimate nature, brute nature, or human nature, which is really nature at all there can be nothing unfit or beneath art. It is the distortion of the natural into the artificial which makes a thing or a person an unfit subject for art, whether of the pen or the pencil.
Writing down individuals is pretty generally admitted to be wrong; writing down classes or nations, though less condemned, is yet hardly defended; but writing down the human race generally seems to escape all blame. To describe society as nothing better than a massmeeting of knaves and fools-of corrupters and corrupted-this is considered as witty and profound as it would be thought silly and wicked to describe the inhabitants of a special village in such a way. To paint human life without its background of immortality, or its sunlight of religion, is deemed as just and proper as it would be said to be profane and false to assert that a single individual had died beyond hope of heaven, or lived without a ray of God's love. What result can authors expect from books written with such views of existence as these? Surely, at best, to call forth a few bitter and joyless laughs and then to leave behind them that sense of distrust and contempt for our brother men which is about the greatest curse any unfortunate heart can carry through the world.
3. In Criticism. What is the duty of the critic toward the author he reviews? Is he at liberty to make a book a mere peg, which he may cut and fit at his discretion, to enable him to hang thereon more conveniently his own ideas?
No, we answer fearlessly, it is not competent to art to choose subjects base or gross. The office of art is to express thought; but it must be good and noble thought, or the art is prostituted. Men first fall into the delusion that all that is real is a subject of art, and then that nothing is real except the ugly and the mean.
It would seem that the critic bears to the author very much the relation which the merchant bears to the farmer or the manufacturer. He is the medium between the producer and the consumer, and is bound to act fairly to both parties. Of course, when he is a gifted man, the critic does more than this, and himself produces a high branch literature; but he is bound never to do less. The task for which he makes himself responsible is to do justice to both sides; to give the reader a really fair idea of what the writer says. It is a simple question of honesty, whether he fulfills this duty or not. He is a juryman, sworn to bring in a true verdict; and if he say "guilty," when in his conscience he thinks the author not guilty, or vice