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Cambridge fares no worse at the hands of his universal helter-skelter mockery than every place he ever lived in, with the possible exceptions of Newstead and Harrow. And as to Wordsworth, was it not at Cambridge that he got drunk, and did he ever pay the same honour to any other place ?
No one, then, who comes to speak of English literature, and particularly of English poetry, in this place can forget that Cambridge can claim to number among her sons the greatest English poet who was ever at a university at all ; and the poet most loved of poets, loved of Milton, loved of Pope, loved of Wordsworth, loved of Keats ; and the poet of the best-known poem in our language ; and the poet who, far more than any other English poet, has changed the lives and characters of his readers so that he has become a kind of religion (we do not speak of Miltonians or Keatsians, but we do speak of Wordsworthians, almost as we speak of Wesleyans or Franciscans); and the poet who has as easily surpassed all our poets in the splendour of his contemporary and still surviving European fame as in the heroic beauty of his death. And these are only five in a long and glorious line. The function of the Clark Lecturer is to lecture on English literature. He is in a very free position, as I understand, his duties having, wisely as it seems to me, been left very vague and undefined. He is the swallow of a single summer ; and no one has cared to try to control the casual flights of so brief a visitor. But I suppose that part, and a principal part, of the idea of the lectureship was, and is, that its passing holders should give their hearers, not so much their learning, if they have it, as their experiences in literature—what was Jules Lemaître's phrase ?—their adventures in that perpetual voyage of discovery across the ocean of literature which is the life of a lover of letters : to tell their tale and recount their memories of the storms and calms they have encountered; the barren islands and the fruitful; the friendly people and the savages—perhaps we
should rather say the congenial and the uncongenial; to go over again some of the incidents of a ten years' or perhaps thirty years' voyage, in which at one moment they were holding their breath as they huddled in dread under the thunder and lightning of Lear or Agamemnon, and at another feasting or lying at ease in the sun as they rested for a while in such happy Phaeacian islands as the Odes of Horace, the Fables of La Fontaine, or the Autumn, the Maia, the Hymn to Pan, of our own wonderful Keats.
I believe that custom, and I think not an unwise custom, prescribes that a stranger should devote his first appearance, not to any special subject or anything of detail, but to what may be called general conversation, as in social life we expect a new acquaintance to talk first at large before he presumes on intimacy or speaks much of his own special subject or interests. The first thing is to get to know each other, and there is only one topic we are certain to have in common, and that is human life. Indeed, human life is the proper preliminary subject of any book or course of lectures about literature. The varieties of metre, the relations of one writer to another, the comparison of the Greek language with the Latin or of English with French, all these and scores of other subjects like them are well enough and, indeed, important enough. But they come after, not before : they are not the great first subject of all which is the relation of literature to life. All the arts deal with life : but none draws so closely from it, as none so intimately and powerfully affects it, as literature, and especially poetry, the highest and most excellent form of literature. Literature is life: the life of a man: of the man who makes it; but not only of him, because also of his race : and not only of his race, but also of his age : and not only of his age or of his race, but also, if it be great literature, of all the races and all the ages of humanity. It must be at once individual life and universal. If Homer contained nothing but what was abstractedly or
universally true he would be dull. He must have, as he has, many things which surprise, amuse, even, perhaps, disgust us who live in so different an age and country. He must have things which are peculiar to the Greeks of his day, and even things peculiar to himself alone among the Greeks. Without that he would not have individuality or even nationality: and without individuality and nationality there is no life in literature, whatever some people may think there can be in politics. But if he were only Homer or only Greek he would be something worse than dull : he would be dead : dead for us because there would be no link between us ; dead because the life of poetry needs an immortal and universal element without which its lease of life is a very short one. A poet cannot carry himself and his own age and their idiosyncrasies and peculiarities down the centuries unless he provides them with the elixir of immortality which is universal human truth. One touch of nature as it was once in Greece, is to-day in England, and will be a thousand years hence in both, and we know at once that are at home. I wonder whether we could endure the tediousness, inconsistencies, and unrealities of the Homeric gods, or, say, if you like, the impossibility for a plain man of arriving at the geography of the Homeric house, or understanding the affair of the shooting competition in the 21st Odyssey, if we never came upon such things as these words of Odysseus to Nausicaa :
σοι δε θεοι τόσα δοθεν όσα φρεσί σησι μενoινάς,
ανήρ ήδε γυνή. . for which we may find a kind of translation—how many centuries after 1-in our own Chaucer :
Who coulde telle, but he had wedded be,
How like it is and how unlike : somehow a little more in it and a great deal less, with the differences between Greece and England, the ancient world and the mediaeval, and, one must add, between ripeness, the assured certainty of maturity, and a certain naivety as of a charming child : and yet with the essential likeness that belongs to all men, especially sane and healthy men, as belonging to one family.
These things in an instant take away all strangeness : while we listen to Homer we are in England : rather we know ourselves to be of a larger country than either Greece or England : and the sense of largeness sends through us a flow of happiness and sympathy which together are perfect content. I said it took away all strangeness. But I think when you look into it I was wrong. Rather such a revelation of likeness, such parallels between poets so different, stir us with wonder, not only at the beauty of human thought and feeling and speech : not only at the intimacy of the union between truth and beauty: but also, and perhaps above all, at the discovery that their perfect utterance at once witnesses to a universal kinship of men which defies time and place.
I said that literature was life. Yes—but it is life dealt with in a particular way. It is life and art: life as art handles it, re-shapes it, re-creates it into new birth. A mere statement of fact, such as Men have generally greater bodily strength than women': or 'The oak lives longer than the elm ', is not literature ; it is just science : which is fact as it is in itself, untouched by imagination or emotion, unaffected by the human element. But literature is the fact, not as it is in itself, but as it is seen and coloured by human eyes, felt by human feeling, re-shaped by human imagination. That is because literature is art. For art which is content with a statement of fact is not art at all. Literature, then, is a marriage of life and art: it is art acting on life and life on art in a union which is so intimate that the elements cannot be separated except in thought. But both must always be present, and the absence of either, even such weakness of either as prevents it from playing its full part, is at once felt. Or, to put it the other way, the over-preponderance of either is fatal to the balance or harmony which is of the essence of literature, and therefore fatal to itself. The truth is that each element in the union—art and life alike—is only saved in the way of that tremendous saying of the Gospel, by being lost, by losing itself. Each is lost by being too carefully and lovingly saved. If literature concentrates exclusively on life, if it forgets everything in the desire to reform life, if it gives to conduct, not three-fourths, but the whole of its attention—as sometimes in Wordsworth, Arnold, and even Shelley : or if it makes the fact, not an instrument, but an end in itself, and the only end, as in Zola's descriptive encyclopaedias of money and labour and religion ; it ceases in each case to be literature and defeats its own end : we neither listen to its sermons nor remember its descriptions. Its exaggerated interest in life has prevented it from having any influence on life. If, on the other hand, it be so intent on art, and so divorced from life, that it gives all its energies to turning phrases, concocting conceits, or accomplishing curious and difficult metrical feats, as in so many Italian canzoni and French ballades of the Renascence, so many English sonnet sequences and pretty but empty lyrics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so many vers de société of all periods and countries, then it only shows how dead is that art which exercises itself upon a vacuum in which there is neither the truth nor the feeling which make up life.
Yet among people who are ignorant of the arts there is no delusion so common as that which supposes art to be an affair of ornament and fiction, unconcerned and unconnected with use and life. Simple people suppose that an unadorned house cannot be a fine one ; and that a plain piece of writing cannot be literature. They are even rather apt, when they read writers of perfect simplicity like Cervantes, Bunyan, or