Зображення сторінки

great, with what is to me a unique greatness. It does not play in the shallows of human nature, but goes down into the depths, speaking not alone to our minds but to our spirits. Those who know anything of a life of inner conflict will read Maggie's history not as a mere history, but as a revelation. One of the main reasons for the indifference to the book which is felt by some who were enthusiastic in their reception of Adam Bede, is that they have not lived enough to bring its almost awful reality home to them. Their lives have been peaceful pools of Siloam, and they cannot understand the mystery of the troubled waters of Bethesda. But there are those to whom Maggie's aspirations, and conflicts, and defeats, and victories are all matters of the most intimate personal experience, and to them her history has a fascination wholly inexplicable to those whose lives are quieter and more shallow. These latter persons cannot be made to feel it, but it is there, nevertheless.

Emerson is a hero-worshipper, and his heroes are ideas. He has only one thought at a time, and he holds it before his eyes, like a piece of coloured glass, and sees everything through it. In one page there is nothing in the universe but sympathy; in another nothing but supply and demand, or ebb and flow. It is fortunate that he can thus change his medium of vision, or his bcoks would be monomaniacal productions.

As it is, they are somewhat perplexing to the student who comes upon them for the first time, for they give two opposite poles of thought, and leave the reader to find out the connecting link between them—the overreaching, reconciling truth which makes them not two but one.

He tells us, for instance, in one chapter of his Conduct of Life that we are nothing without power, and that the secret of power is concentration. From the next chapter we learn that we are equally nothing without culture, and that the secret of culture is diffusion. By thus giving the rein to the thought of the moment, and letting it take him where it will, he makes his books curiously interesting and stimulating ; but he also makes them intellectually dangerous to those who have not his power of turning "right-about-face" to the other truth which he has left far behind but never forgotten. Nothwithstanding all this, I find that my appreciation of Emerson increases instead of diminishing; for as I see deeper into the secret of his method, I feel more strongly its real value. Every truth, he seems to say, is worshipful, but no truth is exclusively to be worshipped :


“ All are needed by each one ;

Nothing is fair or good alone.”

[ocr errors]

He is one of the most suggestive of modern writers, for he is an intellectual explorer who is never afraid. He is always ready and eager to stray from the beaten literary highway, where every visible object has long

ago been analysed and described, into that dimly-lighted region which lies all around, where thoughts seem both too large and too impalpable for language.

People talk of Ruskin's eloquent fluency; but what really distinguishes his style is the preservation of a perfect union of the loftiest eloquence with the most unerring accuracy of word and phrase. His way of saying a thing may be the grandest, but it is the truest as well—perhaps grandest because truest.

Even Tennyson's accuracy and felicity in the choice of language are not more perfect than Ruskin's; but they are more conspicuous, because in his poetry there is less apparent abandonment than there is in Ruskin's prose. They both have a certain mannerism, which in Ruskin's case tends to throw into relief his marvellous eloquence, and to cast into the shade his scientific precision ; while in the case of Tennyson, the exquisite finish blinds the eye of the superficial critic to the poetic spontaneousness which is not less present.

I could give many more of Pelican's miniature criticisms; but I must not extend this chapter to a disproportionate length, and I want to make room for some more of his aims at the Target from another position than that of the critic. They are but fragments, and in most were not written for the magazine, but were, like the humorous contributions, inserted


at the last moment, when all other matter failed him. A few of them appeared in several numbers under the general title of


In thinking of the forces of nature which hem us round with bands of fate, it is some consolation to know that the same law which gives them their power confines their range. The sea can drown, it cannot intoxicate us : the rock may fall and crush our limbs, but it has no power over our consciences. Thus, the resources of nature are limited, while those of man are infinite; and, in a fair conflict, nature will always have the worst of it. The universe was made for man, not man for the universe. This may sound presumptuous, but never incredible to those who believe that in the person of One member of the race the human nature has been absorbed into the Divine.

No man ever does what is really his best : that is, no man ever puts his whole self into any work which he produces; because, if he bring his entire activity to bear upon the matter in hand, the very act of thus bringing it to bear increases the possibilities of activity, so that, in the supreme moment of completion he feels that he possesses a margin of power and insight over and above that which he has used in production. A work of art upon which the entire actual power of the artist has been exerted may be compared to the dial-plate of the machine-generally seen at rural fairs—which registers the strength of the arm by which the buffer has been struck; and, in the case of the artist, the very act of strikingthat is, the act of producing his greatest achievementgives him power to touch a higher number on the register ; or, to drop the metaphor, it enables him to produce something better than that which yesterday was his best.

Thus, the man who puts his thoughts into a visible form is never satisfied, for when his summum bonum is attained, it is his summum bonum no longer. He is constantly ascending a mountain, and the moment he reaches what seems to him the highest peak, a higher one becomes visible, and again a higher. The summit he never reaches, for it is the mountain of perfection, and is as high as heaven. Well may he be dissatisfied ; and yet his dissatisfaction is not only noble, but also in a sense-paradoxical as it may seem--serenely happy.

I think that most people who care anything for nature, when they have left beautiful scenery, have a sense of something like remorse, as if they had only half seen it; and a passionate, almost painful, desire to return, if only for half an hour, that they may do it justice and atone for their wrongful neglect. Why is this? I think it must be that when in the presence of the unveiled loveliness of nature—when taken into one of her holy places,

« НазадПродовжити »