« НазадПродовжити »
THE CLASSIC CHARACTER.
Aulus GELLIUS, in his Noctes Attico was I think the first who used the word classici as descriptive of writers occupying the first or highest class—the class, in fact—all others being below classification. The word, in Augustan Latin, seems to have had no such meaning. I remember well a schoolfellow of mine, a dunce most incorrigible, getting excellently flogged for translating the above words of Ovid, “a horror of the classics' (which the hapless youngster, now a member of Her Majesty's Government, undoubtedly possessed), whereas really it signifies the startling sound of a trumpet : and, as he set up a considerable screeching under the operation, classicus horror came to be the slang phrase for what schoolboys inelegantly term “ blubbing. However, the word classic, in its later and wider sense, is useful, and suits my purpose. I should call not authors only, but all other men, classic, if the work they do, or the way in which they live, is unquestionably first-rate. The classic character involves a harmonious development of power, and a complete freedom from the meannesses of vice and of folly. To be born classic is not usually given to men: and the absurdity of modern education, which drives us all into one groove, and fosters competition, is not at all favourable to becoming classic. Our new School Boards will not agree with me, I know; they will do their utmost to carry further the old methods, to set one young brain against another, to develop certain faculties and leave others inert. Ambition is the ruling power of existent society: the classic character is without ambition. Worthy Mr. Walker, in his Original gives us this aphorism : “If any man possessed every qualification to succeed in life, it is probable that he would remain perfectly stationary. The consciousness of his powers would tempt him to omit opportunity after opportunity to the end of his days. Those who do succeed, ordinarily owe their success to some disadvantage under which they labour, and it is the struggle against a difficulty that brings facilities into play.' Why should not a man remain perfectly stationary’ if the station whereto he is born is perfectly satisfactory? Had I been born to a comfortable country estate, I certainly would not have written three-volume novels. A gentleman should never trouble himself to write anything heavier than a lyric or an epigram. Walker is quite right in his assertion that incomplete men are the most likely
to succeed in life. The very desire of change is a symptom of mental disease; and the sense of essential inferiority stimulates a man to strive for social superiority. Shelley, the poet of normal dissatisfaction, exclaims
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not.
Absolutely essential to the classic character is a complete enjoyment of the present, which altogether shuts out vain regrets for the past and empty imaginings of the future. Felix est qui nihil expectat—though said as a joke—is very seriously true. Perpetual expectation of something which never may arrive weakens the fibre of the mind, destroying that power of dwelling upon ideas which is the main source of vital health. The man who is continually thinking of tomorrow's enjoyment (excitement, more properly, for such men cannot enjoy) is like one who thinks of to-morrow's dinner in the middle of to-day's. Such a proceeding injures digestion. Sit easily at the banquet of life; drink the wine of thought with tranquil enjoyment; talk pleasantly with your neighbours at the table. If a mauvais quart d'heure de Rabelais is inevitable, by no means anticipate it. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof . . . and sometimes more than sufficient.
In the village life which I desire to see, the classic character might possibly be developed. Such a community would give due honour to any man who did his work well: the great ploughman would be appreciated as well as the great orator or poet. In the Odyssey, when the immortal Ithacan disguised in his own palace as a beggar is annoyed by the insolence of Eurymachus, he tells him that he would like either to fight him or to plough against him a whole summer day. The wisest and most patient of Greek heroes did not disdain to hold the plough. But the