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A SCORNER’S FRUITLESS QUEST OF WISDOM.
PROVERBS xiv. 6. “A SCORNER seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not.” Pre
A sumably because of his scornful spirit. He institutes his search on a wrong principle. The starting point of his quest is a mistake, and nothing comes of it. Wisdom is not open to all comers who come from his quarter, and come in his spirit. Wisdom is justified of all her children; but of these he is not one.
Rather is his portion with those who, ever learning, are never able to come to a knowledge of the truth; to a real knowledge of real, vital, saving truth. “A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not; but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.” How can an habitual scorner understand ? Sympathy is essential to insight; and between sympathy and scorn there is a great gulf fixed, to cross which is practically beyond the resources of either nature or art.
Discussing the proposition, or rather affirming and enforcing it, that the first duty of a poet who aims at immortality is to compose for men as they are men, not as they chance to be philosophers by trade, or shopkeepers by trade; not as they are individually crotchety or self contained, but as they are endued with common feelings and susceptibilities, Hartley Coleridge remarks that the duty alleged will be almost always neglected by him who sets out with a despair or a contempt of general sympathy. “He feels that his own mind is not in accord with that of his fellow creatures ; he therefore is afraid, not without cause, of being unintelligible ; for sympathy is the ground of all mutual understanding." As with the poet, so with his critics. Sympathy is the conditio sine quâ non of insight. It is by studying Shakspeare in a reve
When the German in Hyperion submits that a foreigner, like Paul Flemming must find it exceedingly difficult to understand Jean Paul Richter, so far from easy is it to his own countrymen, “I have always observed,” replies Flemming, “that the true understanding and appreciation of a poet depend more upon individual, than upon national, character.
rential and admiring spirit, and, as Professor Moir puts it, “bringing the inward light of a warm sympathy and poetic feeling to bear upon his darker passages," that real advance has been made in intelligent Shakspearian criticism. Of Shakspeare himself Mr. Bagehot is writing when he says, that however strong in any poet may be the higher qualities of abstract thought or conceiving fancy, unless he can actually sympathise with those around him, he can never describe those around him. “Any attempt to produce a likeness of what is not really liked by the person who is describing it will end in the creation of what may be correct, but is not living —of what may be artistic, but is also artificial.” This critic singles out Goethe as eminently wanting in Shakspeare's and Scott's gift of sympathy ; describing him as a man of universal culture, who mixed with all classes, but became absorbed in none, and remained the cold artist throughout. Mr. Lewes, on the other hand, representing Goethe as eminently qualified to become the friend of those who held opposite convictions to his own, says of his intimacy with Jung Stilling that, “ sympathising with Stilling, listening to him, and dexterously avoiding any interference with his religious faith, he was not only enabled to be his friend, but also to learn quietly and surely the inner nature of such men.” What Canon Kingsley finds wanting in an otherwise satisfactory expositor of the ways of the Mystics is, that the author in question had not respect and trust enough for the men and women of whom he wrote, and was too much inclined to laugh at them, and treat them de haut en bas; that he trusted too much to his own great power of logical analysis, and was apt to mistake the being able to put a man's thoughts into words for him, for the being really able to understand him. “To understand any man we must have sympathy for him, even affection. 1 No
If there be a sympathy between the minds of writer and reader, the bounds and barriers of a foreign tongue are soon overleaped. If you once understand an author's character, the comprehension of his writings becomes easy.”—Hyperion, chap. v. 1 Apply what Madame de Staël says in Corinne, and of that sympa
intellectual acuteness, no amount even of mere pity for his errors, will enable us to see the man from within, and put our own souls into the place of his soul.”
“The enemies of a religion,” says Gibbon in his Essay on the Study of Literature, “are never well acquainted with it, because they detest it, and often detest it because they are not acquainted with it.” “ To attempt,” as Mr. Caldwell Roscoe somewhere says, “to grasp in its fulness the real case of your adversary, to pierce to the real ground on which he supports his convictions, to find the elements of truth which are embraced in it, and to follow the edge of that delicate boundary along which it melts into error, is a mode eligible only to a powerful mind, and not a narrow one."
A painting is conceived by the artist in a certain predetermined order of ideas; and it cannot, argue all sound art critics, be understood at all unless the spectator can get himself into a condition of feeling in sympathy with that of the painter.
The accomplished penman of the voluminous Causeries de Lundi professes in one of them to have always thought and felt that a critic should go to his author's own inkstand for the ink wherewith to criticise him. To M, Sainte-Beuve has been assigned, with justice, the rare talent of knowing, in all its bearings, the subject he discusses : he studies it psychologically, so to speak; that is to say, he understands how the particular temper and character of any given writer leads him to regard the theme under reviewal, and he judges him
thetic heroine : “Perhaps a countenance so apparently cold as Nevil's can never be read, save by those to whom it is dearest. Impartiality guesses nothing, judges only by what is displayed.” —Corinne, livre xv., chap. ii. There is deep significance in those lines of Wordsworth's, “And you must love him ere to you he will seem worthy of your love." So profoundly humane a poet as Wordsworth, in the fullest sense of the phrase, could not but be rich in varied illustrations of sympathetic insight. Here is one pointing in quite another direction,-his portraiture of one who could afford to suffer
“With those whom he saw suffer. Hence it came
That in our best experience he was rich,
accordingly. “Ordinary critics," this English critic on the great French critic goes on to say, pass sentence upon a work merely from the impression they have derived from it; but M. Sainte-Beuve does more ; "he enters into the author's feelings, shares his idiosyncrasies, and thus gives him the intense pleasure of knowing that he has found at last, for an Aristarchus, a man who has taken the trouble of studying him accurately and patiently." We shall see what the Frenchman himself says of his method, further on.
Of Professor Max Müller, again, it has been said that, although never shrinking from showing that he has distinct convictions of his own, no man was ever farther from misrepresenting or depreciating any other system, that he does full justice to everything that is good and true in each of the systems which he comes across. “Indeed, he does more than justice to it. He evidently takes a hearty delight in tracing out the original elements of truth in each system, and showing how later changes commonly corrupted them. This is the spirit in which all theologians should approach all theological questions; but it is exactly the spirit in which they hardly ever are approached.” It is affirmed to be the task of a man who really wishes to know the truth for himself, and truly to judge his neighbours, to penetrate beneath that outward mask which words throw over thought, and to discern the identity which lies hid below. “He must assume, even when appearances seem most to contradict it, that he is not alien from those who most deeply offend him. There is a fundamental rationality in man; and though it is hard, amid the confused skein of words, to disentangle that which is the clue to the whole, ... yet the endeavour must be persistently made.” This sympathy with men, which a masterly essayist on Independence of Thought shows to be so valuable,—this indentification of ourselves with others, and “abnegation of our own individuality in favour of the common spirit of mankind," is truly said to be not attainable by logical power, though logical power may be a great aid towards perfecting it. It is shown to be far more closely allied to the imagination ; and,“ like all
imaginative excellence, it demands, as its condition, tenderness, delicacy, and the absence of self sufficiency.”
Cowper writes of the treatment of Henry and Emma in his great contemporary's Lives of the Poets : “I admire Johnson as a man of great erudition and sense, but when he sets himself up for a judge of writers upon the subject of love, a passion which I suppose he never felt in his life, he might as well think himself qualified to pronounce upon a treatise on horsemanship, or the art of fortification.”
It has been said of one of the most recent, and certainly not the least capable or least distinguished, of the many biographers of Columbus, that he is wanting in precisely that sympathy which is required for the understanding of the class of men of whom Columbus 1 is one. As a signal instance of the biographic results which follow from any attempt to sketch such characters without the sympathy in question, George Fox is singled out for distinctive mention, the portrait of him by Lord Macaulay being designated “a simple caricature,” which only leaves its victim more unintelligible than he was before. “We quite see why those parish constables should have dieted this noisy brawler in leathern breeches on bread and water; but Lord Macaulay does not help us to see just the one point which we wanted to see—why this noisy ranter became the spiritual regenerator of his time, and how it was that men like Penn and Barclay licked all this portentous nonsense into shape.” Michelet's treatment of Joan of Arc, on the other hand, is cited as one of the finest instances which history has
1 His most popular biographer, Washington Irving, had long ago said, that to appreciate Columbus and his voyages we must transport ourselves to the time, and identify ourselves with the great voyager; must enter into his very thoughts and fancies, find out the data that assisted his judgment and the hints that excited his conjectures, and for a time clothe the regions through which we are accompanying him with the gorgeous colouring of his own imagination. “In this way we may delude ourselves into participation of the delight of exploring unknown and magnificent lands, where new wonders and beauties break upon us at every step ; and we may ultimately be able, as it were from our own familiar acquaintance, to form an opinion of the character of this extraordinary man and of the nature of his enterprises.”-Irving, Life of Columbus, bk. vii., chap. i.