Das Jahr, in dem ich aufhörte, mir Sorgen zu machen, und anfing zu träumen: Roman (German Edition)
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It has never been so noble in aim, so conscientious in labour, so large in view, and withal so modest in tone, as now. In point of fact, philosophy, baffled in its aims, has passed into criticism, and minds that a century back might have been lost in searching into the mystery of knowledge and the roots of being, turn their whole gaze on the products of human thought, and the history of human endeavour.
Fertile in suggestions, and rioting in results, it is a chaos in which the sug- gestions, though original, do not always connect themselves clearly with first principles, and in which the results, though valuable, are reft of half their importance by the lack of scientific arrangement. A fair example oflfers itself in the criticism of Shakespeare.
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In England we are most struck with Shakespeare's knowledge of human nature, and power of embodying it in the characters of the drama. We rank this above all his gifts, even ubove his wondrous gift of speech. Pass over to Germany and note. Instead of the truth of the characters, what has he to show? He shows the doctrine of the Atonement preached in one play, the difference between equity and law set forth in another, and in all the plays a shower of pims that continually remind us of the Original Sin of our nature, the radical antithesis between thought and action, idea and reality, produced by the FaU.
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He is, they declare, the creator of Lear,the creator of Hamlet, the creator of Othello. He has created none of these. Why this conflict of opinion where there ought to be no room for doubt? Why this Babel of voices where all are animated by a common aim? And where the good of criticism if it cannot prevent such misunder- standings?
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We can get prize oxen and prize pigs that come up to our expectations; but prize essays, prize poems, prize monuments, prize de- Prize de- signs of any kind, are notoriously poor in this fenT country, however high we bid. On the other hand, when prizes were offered for the designs of a Foreign Office and an India Office, some admirable drawings were exhibited, but there followed this odd jarring of opinions, that the design to which the judges allotted the. Now, what is the meaning of this? Why are prize essays glittering on the surface, and worthlesB below it?
Why is a prize play so notoriously Kul that mauacers have lontr ceased to offer ivwarxls tor the inevitable damnation? Cor- inna, it will be remembered, won the prize for lyric verse from Pindar himself. Whether it be a fact or not about the poetical contest between Homer and Hesiod, and the prize of a tripod won by the latter, the tradition of such a contest is a voucher for the custom and for the honour in which it was held. To realize such a state of things in our time, we must imagine poete, painters, and musicians assembled on Epsom Downs to contend for the honours of the games with colts, the sons of Touchstone and Stockwell, and fillies, the descendants of Pocahontas and Beeswing.
Why should that be possible in Greece which is impossible now? Why do we draw the line between jockeys who ride racehorses, and poets who ride their Pegasus— offer prizes for the grosser animals and produce results that have made English horses the first in the world, while the most magnificent offers cannot get a fit monument for the greatest Englishman of the present century? If there were any doubtfulness about the test the owners of the best Horses would never allow their favourites to run.
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But in any contest between painters or sculptors, poets or essayists, there is just that dubiety as to the standard of measure- ment which would prevent the best men from competing. It fireeoe. In Greek art, in Greek poems, in Greek prose, there is this uniformity, a uniformity that bespeaks, if not clear science, yet, at any rate, a system of. Not that these laws will ever enable an inferior artist to produce another Parthenon or another Venus to enchant the world, but that like the laws of harmony in music, they ought to keep the artist within the lines of beauty.
Whatever be the practical value of the rules, we see that to every work of Greek art they give the character of a school, iand the imity of aim and of habit produced by a school gives us a standard of measurement about iniiaeoce of which there need be little ambiguity.
On a France! Frenchmen are surprised at the individuality of English art Every artist among us seems to be standing on his own dais, and working out of his own head. CHAPTER in a country where the influence of school is so —1 apparent, the prize system should be more suo- cessful than among us who assert the right of private judgment and our contempt of authority, in no mincing terms.
The nation that has three dozen religions and only one sauce, is not likely to have common standards in philosophy, in literature, or in art. Wanting these standards, what faith can we have in our judges? And what wonder that criticism, no matter how deep it goes, should be a byword? Matthew Arnold, who has come forward to denounce our criticism -as folly, and to call upon the critics to mend their ways.
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In many most important points it is impossible to agree with this delightful writer. Especially when he attempts to reason and to generalize, he rouses in his readers the instincts of war, and makes them wish to break a lance with him. He is a suggestive writer, but not a convincing one.
He starts many ideas, but does not carry out his conclusions.
It would be unjust so to charac- terize his robust scholarship, and his keen bio- graphical insight. But when he comes to what is more especially called an idea, then his merits and his defects alike are those of youthfulness. We learn as we read him to have so much sympathy with the fine purpose, the fine taste, the fine temper of his writing, that we forget, or we are loth to express, how much we diflfer with him whenever he attempts to generalize.
In the next chapter I shall have occasion to mention some of his errors. Here the great point to be noticed is, that his outcry against English criticism for its want of science though that is not the phrase by which Tie would describe its deficiency has been received with the greatest favour. All alike fall short of science. Arnold would have been much nearer. We may take it for a sure proof that the tide is on the turn, and that a change is working. Arnold is too sympathetic for a solitary thinker. When such a man complains of the lack of idea in English criti- cism, we may be satisfied that he is giving form to an opinion which, if it has not before been expressed with equal force, has been widely felt, and has often been at the point of utterance.
We may be satisfied also that things are mend- ing. There is not one of these lines of comparison which criticism can afford to neglect. It must. Accordingly that is the main course of inquiry which, in the present instal- ment of this work, an attempt will be made to follow. We want, first of all, to know what a watchmaker would call the movement in art — the movement of the mind, the movement of ideas.
Why does the mind move in that way? Some of these questions are among the most abstruse in philosophy, and so well known to be abstruse, that the mere suggestion of them may be a terror to many readers. I may seem to be calmly inviting them to cross with me the arid sands of a On thfi dui- Sahara, and to meet the hot blasts of a simoom.
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There is a curious picture in the Arabian Nights of a little turbaned fellow sitting cross- legged on the ground, with pistachio nuts and dates in his lap. He cracks the nuts, munches the kernels and throws the shells to the left, while by a judicious alternation he sucks the delicate pulp of the dates and throws the stones to his right. The philosopher looks on with a mild interest and speculates on the moral that sometimes the insides of things are best and sometimes the outsides. Now, most of the dis- cussions on mind with which we are familiar are like the pistachio nuts of the gentleman of Bag- dad: the shell is uninviting, and the kernel, which is hard to get at, and most frequently is rotten, is the only part that is palatable.
That is quite fair and natural. The doubt is, whether the science be approachable by any son of man. It is a doubt that cleaves just now to any science which baa the mind and will of man for its theme. I therefore desire, in this chapter, to make a few. John Greorge. Kingsley, who has written one book to show that a science of history is impossible, has written another to show the great and religious advantage at water- ing-places of studying science in the works of God — that is, in sea-jellies and cockle-shells. Tlie AftUthefcfa popular science of the day makes an antithesis worknof between God and man.
Animals, vegetables, and minerals — these are the works of God. Kingsley, " one more thought of the divine mind from Hela and the realms of the unknown.
Or if he goes to some quiet inland village, plucks flowers, dries them in blotting-paper, and writes a name of twenty syllables under each — that is studying the works of God. Or if he analyzes a quantity of earthy can tell what are its ingredients, whether it is better for turnips or for wheat, and whether it should be manured with lime or with guano — that is studying the works of God.
As though He, whose glory it is to conceal a thing, left finger-marks on his work, the exponents of popular science are always finding the fcager of God' and by so doing extol their favourite pursuit, while they tacitly rebut the maxim of Pope, that the proper study of The proper mankind is man. Amid all this cant of finding God in the mate- rial and not in the moral world, and of thence.