HotFreeBooks.com
Interludes - being Two Essays, a Story, and Some Verses
by Horace Smith
1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Transcribed from the 1892 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk



INTERLUDES BEING TWO ESSAYS, A STORY, AND SOME VERSES

BY HORACE SMITH

London MACMILLAN AND CO AND NEW YORK 1892



ESSAYS.

I. ON CRITICISM.

Criticism is the art of judging. As reasonable persons we are called upon to be constantly pronouncing judgment, and either acting upon such judgment ourselves or inviting others to do so. I do not know how anything can be more important with respect to any matter than the forming a right judgment about it. We pray that we may have "a right judgment in all things." I am aware that it is an old saying that "people are better than their opinions," and it is a mercy that it is so, for very many persons not only are full of false opinions upon almost every subject, but even think that it is of no consequence what opinions they hold. Whether a particular action is morally right or wrong, or whether a book or a picture is really good or bad, is a matter upon which they form either no judgment or a wrong one with perfect equanimity. The secret of this state of mind is, I think, that it is on the whole too much bother to form a correct judgment; and it is so much easier to let things slide, and to take the good the gods provide you, than to carefully hold the scales until the balance is steady. But can anybody doubt that this abdication of the seat of judgment by large numbers of people is most hurtful to mankind? Does anyone believe that there would be so many bad books, bad pictures, and bad buildings in the world if people were more justly critical? Bad things continue to be produced in profusion, and worse things are born of them, because a vast number of people do not know that the things are bad, and do not care, even if they do know. What sells the endless trash published every day? Not the few purchasers who buy what is vile because they like it, but the many purchasers who do not know that the things are bad, and when they are told so, think there is not much harm in it after all. In short, they think that judging rightly is of no consequence and only a bore.

But I think I shall carry you all with me when I say that this society, almost by its very raison d'etre, desires to form just and proper judgments; and that one of the principal objects which we have in view in meeting together from time to time is to learn what should be thought, and what ought to be known; and by comparing our own judgments of things with those of our neighbours, to arrive at a just modification of our rough and imperfect ideas.

Although criticism is the act of judging in general, and although I shall not strictly limit my subject to any particular branch of criticism, yet naturally I shall be led to speak principally of that branch of which we—probably all of us—think at once when the word is mentioned, viz., literary and artistic criticism. I think if criticism were juster and fairer persons criticized would submit more readily to criticism. It is certain that criticism is generally resented. We—none of us—like to be told our faults.

"Tell Blackwood," said Sir Walter Scott, "that I am one of the Black Hussars of Literature who neither give nor take criticism." Tennyson resented any interference with his muse by writing the now nearly forgotten line about "Musty, crusty Christopher." Byron flew into a rhapsodical passion and wrote English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

"Ode, Epic, Elegy, have at you all."

He says—

"A man must serve his time to every trade Save censure. Critics all are ready made. Take hackney'd jokes from Miller, got by rote, With just enough of learning to misquote; A mind well skilled to find or forge a fault; A turn for punning—call it Attic salt; To Jeffrey go, be silent and discreet,— His pay is just ten sterling pounds per sheet; Fear not to lie, 'twill seem a sharper hit; Shrink not from blasphemy, 'twill pass for wit; Care not for feeling—pass your proper jest,— And stand a critic, hated yet caress'd."

Lowell retorted upon his enemies in the famous Fable for Critics. Swift, in his Battle of the Books, revenges himself upon Criticism by describing her. "She dwelt on the top of a snowy mountain in Nova Zembla. There Momus found her extended in her den upon the spoils of numberless volumes, half devoured. At her right hand sat Ignorance, her father and husband, blind with age; at her left Pride, her mother, dressing her up in the scraps of paper herself had torn. About her played her children Noise and Impudence, Dulness and Vanity, Pedantry and Ill-manners. The goddess herself had claws like a cat. Her head, ears, and voice resembled those of an ass." Bulwer (Lord Lytton) flew out against his critics, and was well laughed at by Thackeray for his pains. Poets are known as the genus irritabile, and I do not know that prose writers, artists, or musicians are less susceptible. Most of us will remember Sheridan's Critic

Sneer: "I think it wants incident."

Sir Fretful: "Good Heavens, you surprise me! Wants incident! I am only apprehensive that the incidents are too crowded."

Dangle: "If I might venture to suggest anything, it is that the interest rather falls off in the fifth act."

Sir Fretful: "Rises, I believe you mean, sir."

Mrs. Dangle: "I did not see a fault in any part of the play from the beginning to the end."

Sir Fretful: "Upon my soul the women are the best judges after all."

In short, no one objects to a favourable criticism, and almost every one objects to an unfavourable one. All men ought, no doubt, to be thankful for a just criticism; but I am afraid they are not. As a result, to criticize is to be unpopular. Nevertheless, it is better to be unpopular than to be untruthful.

"The truth once out,—and wherefore should we lie?— The Queen of Midas slept, and so can I."

I am going to do a rather dreadful thing. I am going to divide criticism into six heads. By the bye, I am not sure that sermons now-a-days are any better than they used to be in the good old times, when there were always three heads at least to every sermon. Criticism should be—1. Appreciative. 2. Proportionate. 3. Appropriate. 4. Strong. 5. Natural. 6. Bona fide.

1. Criticism should be appreciative.

By this I mean, not that critics should always praise, but that they should understand. They should see the thing as it is and comprehend it. This is the rock upon which most criticisms fail—want of knowledge. In reading the lives of great men, how often are we struck with the want of appreciation of their fellows. Who admired Turner's pictures until Turner's death? Who praised Tennyson's poems until Tennyson was quite an old man? Nay, I am afraid some of us have laughed at those who endeavoured to ask our attention to what we called the daubs of the one or the doggerel of the other. {5}This, I think, should teach us not even to attempt to criticize until we are sure that we appreciate. Yet what a vast amount of criticism there is in the world which errs (like Dr. Johnson) from sheer ignorance. When Sir Lucius O'Trigger found fault with Mrs. Malaprop's language she naturally resented such ignorant criticism. "If there is one thing more than another upon which I pride myself, it is the use of my oracular tongue and a nice derangement of epitaphs." It was absurd to have one's English criticized by any Irishman. It is said that "it's a pity when lovely women talk of things that they don't understand"; but I am afraid that men are equally given to the same vice. I have heard men give the most confident opinions upon subjects which they don't in the least understand, which nobody expects them to understand, nor have they had any opportunity for acquiring the requisite knowledge. But I suppose an Englishman is nothing if he is not dictatorial, and has a right to say that the pictures in the Louvre are "orrid" or that the Colosseum is a "himposition." "I don't know what they mean by Lucerne being the Queen of the Lakes," said a Yankee to me, "but I calc'late Lake St. George is a doocid deal bigger." The criticism was true as far as it went, but the man had no conception of beauty.

"Each might his several province well command Would all but stoop to what they understand."

The receipt given for an essay on Chinese Metaphysics was, look out China under the letter C and metaphysics under the letter M, and combine your information. "Would you mind telling me, sir, if the Cambridge boat keeps time or not to-day?" said a man on the banks of the Thames to me. He explained that he was a political-meeting reporter on the staff of a penny paper, and the sporting reporter was ill. Sometimes the want of appreciation appears in a somewhat remarkable manner, as where a really good performance is praised for its blemishes and not for its merits. This may be done from a desire to appear singular or from ignorance. The popular estimate is generally wrong from want of appreciation. The majority of people praise what is not worthy of praise and dislike what is. So that it is almost a test of worthlessness that the multitudes approve. Baron Bramwell, in discharging a prisoner at the Old Bailey, made what he thought some appropriate observations, which were followed by a storm of applause in the crowded court. The learned judge, with that caustic humour which distinguishes him, looked up and said, "Bless me! I'm afraid I must have said something very foolish." An amusing scene occurred outside a barrister's lodgings during the Northampton Assizes. Two painters decorating the exterior of the lodgings were overheard as follows:—"Seen the judge, Bill?" "Ah, I see him. Cheery old swine!" "See the sheriff too?" "Yes, I see him too. I reckon he got that place through interest. Been to church; they tell me the judge preached 'em a long sarmon. Pomp and 'umbug I call that!" This was no doubt genuine criticism, but it was without knowledge. These men were probably voters for Bradlaugh, and the judge and the sheriff were to them the embodiment of a hateful aristocracy. These painters little knew how much the judge would like to be let off even listening to the sermon, and how the sheriff had resorted to every dodge to escape from his onerous and thankless office.

It is recorded in the Life of Lord Houghton that Prince Leopold, being recommended to read Plutarch for Grecian lore, got the British Plutarch by mistake, and laid down the Life of Sir Christopher Wren in great indignation, exclaiming there was hardly anything about Greece in it.

I am sure, too, that in order to understand the work of another we must have something more than knowledge; we must have some sympathy with the work. I do not mean that we must necessarily praise the execution of it; but we must be in such a frame of mind that the success of the work would give us pleasure. I am sure someone says somewhere that a man whose first emotion upon seeing anything good is to undervalue it will never do anything good of his own. It argues a want of genius in ourselves if we fail to see it in others; unless, indeed, we do really see it, and only say we don't out of envy. This is very shameful. I had rather do like some amiable people I have known, disparage the work of a friend in order to set others praising it.

Criticism should therefore be appreciative in two ways. The critic should bring the requisite amount and kind of knowledge and the proper frame of mind and temper.

2. Criticism should be proportionate.

By this I mean that the language in which we speak of anything should be proportioned to the thing spoken of. If you speak of St. Paul's Church, Beckenham, as vast, grand, magnificent, you have no language left wherewith to describe St. Paul's, London. If you call Millais' Huguenots sublime or divine, what becomes of the Madonna St. Sisto of Raphael? If you describe Longfellow's poetry as the feeblest possible trash, the coarsest and most unparliamentary language could alone express your contempt of Martin Tupper.

"What's the good of calling a woman a Wenus, Samivel?" asked the elder Weller. What indeed! The elder Weller probably perceived that the language would be out of all proportion to the object of Samivel's affections. Of course, something may be allowed to a generous enthusiasm, and, with regard to this fault in criticism, it should perhaps be said that exaggerated praise is not so base in its beginning or so harmful in the end as exaggerated blame. From the use of the former Dr. Johnson defended himself with his usual vigour. Boswell presumed to find fault with him for saying that the death of Garrick had eclipsed the gaiety of nations. Johnson: "I could not have said more, nor less. It is the truth. His death did eclipse, it was like a storm." Boswell: "But why nations? Did his gaiety extend further than his own nation?" Johnson: "Why, sir, some exaggeration must be allowed. Besides, 'nations' may be said—if we allow the Scotch to be a nation, and to have gaiety,—which they have not."

But there is more in this matter of proportion than at first meets the eye. How often do we converse with a man whose language we wonder at and cannot quite make out. It is somehow unsatisfactory. We do not quite like it, yet there is nothing particular to dislike. Suddenly we perceive that there is a want of perspective, or perhaps a want of what artists call value. His mountains are mole-hills, and his mole-hills are mountains. His colouring is so badly managed that the effect of distance, light, and shade are lost. Thus a man will so insist upon the use of difficult words by George Elliot that a person unacquainted with her writings would think that the whole merit or demerit of that author lay in her vocabulary. A man will so exalt the pathos of Dickens or Thackeray that he will throw their wit and humour into the background. Some person's only remark on seeing Turner's Modern Italy will be that the colours are cracked, or, upon reading Sterne, that he always wrote "you was" instead of "you were." "Did it ever strike you," said a friend of mine, "that whenever you hear of a young woman found drowned she always is described as having worn elastic boots?" Such persons look at all things through a distorting medium. Important things become unimportant and vice versa. The foreground is thrust back, the distance brought forward, and the middle distance is nowhere. The effect of an exaggerated praise generally is that an unfair reaction sets in. Mr. Justin M'Carthy, in his History of Our Own Times, points out how much the character of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe has suffered from the absurd devotion of Kinglake. Kinglake writes (he says) of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe "as if he were describing the all-compelling movements of some divinity or providence." What nonsense has been talked about Millais' landscapes, Whistler's nocturnes, Swinburne poetry—all excellent enough in their way, and requiring to be praised according to their merits, with a reserve as to their faults. The practice of puffing tends to destroy all sort of proportion in criticism. When single sentences or portions of sentences of apparently unqualified praise are detached from context, and heaped together so as to induce the public to think that all praise and no blame has been awarded, of course all proportion is lost. Macaulay lashed this vice in his celebrated essay on Robert Montgomery's poems. "We expect some reserve," he says, "some decent pride in our hatter and our bootmaker. But no artifice by which notoriety can be obtained is thought too abject for a man of letters. Extreme poverty may indeed in some degree be an excuse for employing these shifts as it may be an excuse for stealing a leg of mutton."

Upon the other hand, how unfair is exaggerated blame. I am not speaking here of that which is intentionally unfair, but of blame fairly meant and in some degree deserved, but where the language is out of all proportion to the offence.

Ruskin so belaboured the poor ancients about their landscapes that when I was a youth he had taught me to believe that Claude and Ruisdael were mere duffers. So when he speaks of Whistler, as we shall presently see, his blame is so exaggerated that it produces a revulsion in the mind of the reader. He said Whistler's painting consisted in throwing a pot of paint in the public's face. Well! we may say Whistler is somewhat sketchy and careless or wanting in colour, but it is quite possible to keep our tempers over it.

"This salad is very gritty," said a gentleman to Douglas Jerrold at a dinner party. "Gritty," said Jerrold, "it's a mere gravel path with a few weeds in it." That was very unfair on the salad.

3. Criticism should be appropriate.

I mean by this something different from proportionate. Sometimes the language of criticism is not that of exaggeration, but yet it is quite as inappropriate. The critic may have taken his seat too high or too low for a proper survey, or he may, by want of education or by carelessness, use quite the wrong words to express his meaning. You will hear a man say, "I was enchanted with the Biglow Papers," or "I was charmed with the hyenas at the Zoological Gardens." I think one of the distinguishing characteristics of a gentleman, and what makes the society of educated gentlemen so pleasant, is that their language is appropriate without effort. "'What a delicious shiver is creeping over those limes!' said Lancelot, half to himself. The expression struck Argemone; it was the right one." This is what makes some people's conversation so interesting. It is full of appropriate language. This is perhaps even more the case with educated ladies. I think it is Macaulay who says that the ordinary letter of an English lady is the best English style to be found anywhere.

"It would be bad grammar," said Cobbett, "to say of the House of Commons, 'It is a sink of iniquity, and they are a set of rascally swindlers.'" Of course, the bad grammar is almost immaterial. The expression is either a gross libel or a lamentable fact. "If a man," said Sydney Smith, "were to kill the minister and churchwardens of his parish nobody would accuse him of want of taste. The Scythians always ate their grandfathers; they behaved very respectfully to them for a long time, but as soon as their grandfathers became old and troublesome, and began to tell long stories, they immediately ate them; nothing could be more improper and even disrespectful than dining off such near and venerable relations, yet we could not with any propriety accuse them of bad taste." This is very humorous. To say that it is improper or disrespectful is as absurd as to say that it is bad taste. It is properly described as cruel, revolting, and abominable.

Not being at all a French scholar, and coming suddenly in view of Mont Blanc, I ventured to say to my guide, "C'est tres joli." "Non, Monsieur," said he, "ce n'est pas joli, mais c'est curieux a voir." I think we were both of us rather out of it that time.

I remember an old lady of my acquaintance pointing to her new chintz of peonies and sunflowers, and asking me if I did not think it was very "chaste." I should like to have said, "Oh, yes, very, quite rococo," but I daren't.

The wife of a clergyman, writing to the papers about the "Penge Mystery," said that certain of the parties (whom most right-minded people thought had committed most atrocious crimes, if not actual murder) had been guilty of a breach of "les convenances de societe." This is almost equal to De Quincey's friend, who committed a murder, which at the time he thought little about. Keble said to Froude, "Froude, you said you thought Law's Serious Call was a clever book; it seemed to me as if you had said the Day of Judgment will be a pretty sight."

I ought here to mention the use, or rather misuse, of words which are often called "slang," such as "awfully jolly," "fearfully tedious," "horribly dull," or the expression "quite alarming," which young ladies, I think, have now happily forgotten, and the equally silly use of the word "howling" by young men. Such expressions mean absolutely nothing, and are destructive of intelligent conversation. A man was being tried for a serious assault, and had used a violent and coarse expression towards the prosecutor. "You must be careful not to be misled by the bad language reported to have been used by the prisoner," said the judge. "You will find from the evidence that he has applied the same expression to his best friend, to a glass of beer, to his grandmother, his boots, and his own eyes."

4. Criticism should be strong.

I hope from the remarks I have previously made it will not be supposed that I think all criticism should be of a flat, neutral tint, or what may be called the washy order. On the contrary, if criticism is not strong it cannot lift a young genius out of the struggling crowd, and it cannot beat down some bumptious impostor. If the critic really believes that a new poet writes like Milton, or a new artist paints like Sir Joshua, let him say so; or if he thinks any work vile or contemptible, let him say so; but let him say so well. Mere exaggerated language, as we have seen, is not strength; but if there is real strength in the criticism, and it is proportionate and appropriate, it will effect its purpose. It will free the genius, or it will crush the humbug. A good critic should be feared:

"Good Lord, I wouldn't have that man Attack me in the Times,"

was said of Jacob Omnium.

"Yes, I am proud, I own it, when I see Men not afraid of God afraid of me,"

Pope said, and I can fancy with what a stern joy an honest critic would arise and slay what he believed to be false and vicious. In no time was the need of strong criticism greater than it is at present. The press is teeming with rubbish and something worse. Everybody reads anything that is published with sufficient flourish and advertisement, and those who read have mostly no power of judging for themselves, nor would they be turned from the garbage which seems to delight them by any gentle persuasion. It is therefore most necessary that the critic should speak out plainly and boldly, though with temper and discretion. I suppose we have all of us read Lord Macaulay's criticism upon Robert Montgomery's poems. The poems are, of course, forgotten; but the essay still lives as a specimen of the terribly slashing style. This is the way one couplet is dealt with—

"The soul aspiring pants its source to mount, As streams meander level with their fount."

"We take this on the whole to be the worst similitude in the world. In the first place, no stream meanders, or can possibly meander, level with its fount. In the next place, if streams did meander level with their founts, no two motions can be less like each other than that of meandering level and that of mounting upwards. After saying that lightning is designless and self-created, he says, a few lines further on, that it is the Deity who bids

'the thunder rattle from the skiey deep.'

His theory is therefore this, that God made the thunder but the lightning made itself." Of course, poor Robert Montgomery was crushed flat, and rightly. Yet before this essay was written his poems had a larger circulation than Southey or Coleridge, just as in our own time Martin Tupper had a larger sale than Tennyson or Browning. Fancy if Tupper had been treated in the same vein how the following lines would have fared:—

"Weep, relentless eye of Nature, Drop some pity on the soil, Every plant and every creature Droops and faints in dusty toil."

What do the plants toil at? I thought we knew they toil not, neither do they spin. It goes on—

"Then the cattle and the flowers Yet shall raise their drooping heads, And, refreshed by plenteous showers, Lie down joyful in their beds."

Whether the flowers are to lie down in the cattle beds or the cattle are to lie down in the flower beds does not perhaps distinctly appear, but I venture to think that either catastrophe is not so much to be desired as the poet seems to imagine.

In the Diary of Jeames yellowplush a couplet of Lord Lytton's Sea Captain is thus dealt with—

"Girl, beware, The love that trifles round the charms it gilds Oft ruins while it shines."

"Igsplane this men and angels! I've tried everyway, back'ards, for'ards, and in all sorts of tranceposishons as thus—

The love that ruins round the charms it shines Gilds while it trifles oft,

or

The charm that gilds around the love it ruins Oft trifles while it shines,

or

The ruin that love gilds and shines around Oft trifles while it charms,

or

Love while it charms, shines round and ruins oft The trifles that it gilds,

or

The love that trifles, gilds, and ruins oft While round the charms it shines.

All which are as sensable as the fust passidge."

Dryden added coarseness to strength in his remarks when he wrote of one of Settle's plays:—"To conclude this act with the most rumbling piece of nonsense spoken yet—

'To flattering lightning our feigned smiles conform, Which, backed with thunder, do but gild a storm.'

Conform a smile to lightning, make a smile imitate lightning; lightning sure is a threatening thing. And this lightning must gild a storm; and gild a storm by being backed by thunder. So that here is gilding by conforming, smiling lightning, backing and thundering. I am mistaken if nonsense is not here pretty thick sown. Sure the poet writ these two lines aboard some smack in a storm, and, being sea-sick, spewed up a good lump of clotted nonsense at once." Dryden wrote in a fit of rage and spite, and it is not necessary to be vulgar in order to be strong; but it is really a good thing to expose in plain language the meandering nonsense which, unless detected, is apt to impose upon careless readers, and so to encourage writers in their bad habits.

A young friend of mine imagined that he could make his fame as a painter. Holding one of his pictures before his father, and his father saying it was roughly and carelessly done, he said, "No, but, father, look; it looks better if I hold it further off." "Yes, Charlie, the further you hold it off the better it looks." That was severe, but strong and just. The young man had no real genius for painting, and his father knew it.

It must be remembered that criticism cannot be strong unless it be the real opinion of the writer. If the critic is hampered by endeavouring to make his own views square with those of the writer, or the publisher, or the public, he cannot speak out his mind, but is half-hearted in his work.

5. Natural.

Criticism should be natural, that is, not too artificial. This is a somewhat difficult matter upon which to lay down any rules; but one often feels what a terrible thing it is when one wants to admire something to be told, "Oh, but the unities are not preserved," or this or that is quite inadmissible by all the rules of art.

"Hallo! you chairman, here's sixpence; do step into that bookseller's shop, and call me a day-tall critic. I am very willing to give any of them a crown to help me with his tackling to get my father and my uncle Toby off the stairs, and to put them to bed."

"And how did Garrick speak the soliloquy last night?" "Oh, against all rule, my lord, most ungrammatically! Betwixt the substantive and the adjective, which should agree together in number, case, and gender, he made a breach thus—stopping as if the point wanted settling; and betwixt the nominative case, which your lordship knows should govern the verb, he suspended his voice a dozen times, three seconds, and three fifths, by a stop watch, my lord, each time." Admirable grammarian! "But, in suspending his voice, was the sense suspended likewise? Did no expression of attitude or countenance fill up the chasm? Was the eye silent? Did you narrowly look?" "I looked only at the stop watch, my lord." Excellent observer!" And what about this new book that the whole world makes such a rout about?" "Oh, it is out of all plumb, my lord, quite an irregular thing! Not one of the angles at the four corners was a right angle. I had my rule and compasses, my lord, in my pocket." Excellent critic! "And for the epic poem your lordship bid me look at; upon taking the length, breadth, height, and depth of it, and trying them at home upon an exact scale of Bossu's, 'tis out, my lord, in every one of its dimensions." Admirable connoisseur! "And did you step in to take a look at the grand picture on your way back." "It is a melancholy daub! my lord, not one principle of the pyramid in any one group; there is nothing of the colouring of Titian, the expression of Rubens, the grace of Raphael, the purity of Domenichino, the corregiescity of Corregio, the learning of Poussin, the airs of Guido, the taste of the Caraccis, or the grand contour of Angelo." "Grant me patience, just heaven! Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world, though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst—the cant of criticism is the most tormenting! I would go fifty miles on foot, for I have not a horse worth riding on, to kiss the hand of that man whose generous heart will give up the reins of his imaginations into his author's hands; be pleased, he knows not why, and cares not wherefore. Great Apollo! if thou art in a giving humour, give me—I ask no more—but one stroke of native humour with a single spark of thy own fire along with it, and send Mercury with the rules and compasses if he can be spared, with my compliments, to—no matter."

This is all very amusing, and I don't know that the case upon that side could be better stated, except that it is overstated; for, if this be true, there ought to be no such thing as criticism at all, and all rules are worse than useless. Everybody may do as he pleases. And yet we know that not only is there a right way and a wrong of painting a picture, writing a book, making a building, or composing a symphony, but there are rules which, if disobeyed, will destroy the work. These rules, apparently artificial, have their foundation in nature, and were first dictated by her. Only we must be careful still to appeal constantly to her as the source and fountain of our rules.

"First follow nature, and your judgment frame By her just standard, which is still the same, Unerring nature, still divinely blight, One clear, unchanged, and universal light, Life, force, and beauty must to all impart, At once the source, and end, and test of art."

By too much attention to theory, by too close a study of books, we may become narrow-minded and pedantic, and gradually may become unable to appreciate natural beauties, our whole attention being concentrated on the defects in art. We want to listen to the call of the poet,

"Come forth into the light of things, Let nature be your teacher."

It is nature that mellows and softens the distance, and brings out sharply the lights and shadows of the foreground, and the artist must follow her if he would succeed. It is nature who warbles softly in the love notes of the bird, and who elevates the soul by the roar of the cataract and the pealing of the thunder. To her the musician and the poet listen, and imitate the great teacher. It is nature who, in the structure of the leaf or in the avenue of the lofty limes, teaches the architect how to adorn his designs with the most graceful of embellishments, to rear the lofty column or display the lengthening vista of the cathedral aisle. It is nature who is teaching us all to be tender, loving, and true, and to love and worship God, and to admire all His works. Let us then in our criticism refer everything first of all to nature. Is the work natural? Does it follow nature? Secondly, does it follow the rules of art? If it passes the first test, it is well worth the courteous attention of the critic. If it passes both tests, it is perfect. But if only the second test is passed, it may please a few pedants, but it is worthless, and cannot live.

6. Criticisms should be bona fide.

You will be rather alarmed at a lawyer beginning this topic, and will expect to hear pages of "Starkie on Libel," or to have all the perorations of Erskine's speeches recited to you. For one terrible moment I feel I have you in my power; but I scorn to take advantage of the position. I don't mean to talk about libel at all, or, at least, not more than I can help. I have been endeavouring to show what good criticism should be like. If criticism is so base that there is a question to be left to a jury as to what damages ought to be paid for the speaking or writing of it, one may say at once that it is unworthy of the name of criticism at all. Slander is not criticism. But there is a great deal of criticism which may be called not bona fide, which is yet not malicious. It is biassed perhaps, even from some charitable motive, perhaps from some sordid motive, perhaps from indolence, from a desire to be thought learned or clever, or what not—in fact, from one or other of those thousand things which prevent persons from speaking fairly and straightforwardly. When you take up the Athenaeum or the Spectator, and read from those very able reviews an account of the last new novel, do you think the writer has written simply what he truly thinks and feels about the matter? No! he has been told he has been dull of late. He feels he must write a spicy review. He has a cold in his head, he is savage accordingly. A friend of his tells him he knows the author, or he recognizes the name of a college friend—he will be lenient. The book is on a subject which he meant to take up himself; and, without knowing it, he is jealous. I need not multiply further these suggestions which will occur to anyone. We all remember the dinner in Paternoster Row given by Mrs. Bungay, the publisher's wife. Bungay and Bacon are at daggers drawn; each married the sister of the other, and they were for some time the closest friends and partners. Since they have separated it is a furious war between the two publishers, and no sooner does one bring out a book of travels or poems, but the rival is in the field with something similar. We all remember the delight of Mrs. Bungay when the Hon. Percy Popjoy drives up in a private hansom with an enormous grey cab horse and a tiger behind, and Mrs. Bacon is looking out grimly from the window on the opposite side of the street. "In the name of commonsense, Mr. Pendennis," Shandon asked, "what have you been doing—praising one of Mr. Bacon's books? Bungay has been with me in a fury this morning at seeing a laudatory article upon one of the works of the odious firm over the way." Pen's eyes opened wide with astonishment. "Do you mean to say," he asked, "that we are to praise no books that Bacon publishes; or that if the books are good we are to say that they are bad?" Pen says, "I would rather starve, by Jove, and never earn another penny by my pen, than strike an opponent an unfair blow, or if called upon to place him, rank him below his honest desert."

There was a trial in London in December, 1878, which illustrates the subject I am upon. It was an action for libel by the well-known artist, Mr. Whistler, against Mr. Ruskin, the most distinguished art critic of the age. The passage in the writing of Mr. Ruskin, of which Mr. Whistler complained, contains, I think, almost every fault which, according to my divisions, a criticism can contain. The passage is as follows:—"For Mr. Whistler's own sake no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsey ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen and heard much of cockney impudence before now, but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask 200 guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."

The Attorney-General of the day, as counsel for Mr. Ruskin, said that this was a severe and slashing criticism, but perfectly fair and bona fide.

Now, let us see. First, there is the expression, "the ill-educated conceit of the artist nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture." That may be severe and slashing, but is it fair? If there was a wilful imposition, why not say so; but, of course, there was not, and could not be; but it is most unfair to insinuate that there nearly was. The truth is, the words "wilful imposture" are a gross exaggeration. The jury, after retiring, came into court and asked the judge what was the meaning of wilful imposture, and, being told that it meant nothing in particular, they returned a verdict of damages one farthing, which meant to say that they thought equally little of Whistler's picture and of Ruskin's criticism. Next we come to "Cockney impudence" and "coxcomb." Surely these terms must be grossly inappropriate to the subject in hand, which is Whistler's painting, and not his personal qualities. Next, it seems that Mr. Ruskin thinks it is an offence to ask 200 guineas for a picture, but where the offence lies we are not told. It might be folly to give 200 guineas for one of Whistler's pictures, but why should he be abused for asking it? The insinuation is that it is a false pretence, and such an insinuation is not bona fide. Lastly, we are told that Mr. Whistler has been flinging a pot of paint in the public's face. In the first place, this is vulgar. In the next place, it is absurd. When Sydney Smith said that someone's writing was like a spider having escaped from the inkstand and wandered over the paper, it was an exaggerated criticism, but it was appropriate. But if Mr. Whistler flung a pot of paint anywhere, it was upon his own canvas, and not into the face of the public. Now, let anybody think what is the effect of such criticism. Is one enabled by the light of it to see the merits or faults of Whistler's painting? And yet this was written by the greatest art critic in this country, by the man who has done more to reveal the secrets of Nature and of Art to us all than any man living, and, I had almost said, than any living or dead. But passion and arrogance are not criticism; and, in the sense in which I have used the term, such criticism is not bona fide. Well may Mr. Matthew Arnold say, speaking of Mr. Ruskin's criticism upon another subject, that he forgets all moderation and proportion, and loses the balance of his mind. This, he says, "is to show in one's criticism to the highest excess the note of provinciality."

There was, once upon a time, a very strong Court of Appeal. It was universally acknowledged to be so, and the memory of it still remains, and very old lawyers still love to recall its glories. It was composed of Lord Chancellor Campbell and the Lords Justices Knight-Bruce and Turner. Bethell (afterwards Lord Westbury) was an ambitious and aspiring man, and was always most caustic in his criticisms. He had been arguing before the above Court one day, and upon his turning round after finishing his argument, some counsel in the row behind him asked, "Well, Bethell, how will their judgment go?" Bethell replied, in his softest but most cutting tones, "I do not know. Knight-Bruce is a jack-pudding. Turner is an old woman. And no human being can by any possibility predict what will fall from the lips of that inexpressibly fatuous individual who sits in the middle." This is funny, but it is vulgar, and it is not given in good faith. It is the offspring of anger and spite mixed with a desire to be clever and antithetical.

I gather from Mr. Matthew Arnold's essays on criticism that the endeavour of the critic should be to see the object criticized "as in itself it really is," or as in another passage he says, "Real criticism obeys an instinct prompting it to know the best that is known and thought in the world." "In order to do or to be this, criticism," he says, in italics, "ought to be disinterested." He points out how much English criticism is not disinterested. He says, "We have the Edinburgh Review, existing as an organ of the old Whigs, and for as much play of mind as may suit its being that; we have the Quarterly Review, existing as an organ of the Tories, and for as much play of mind as may suit its being that; we have the British Quarterly Review, existing as an organ of the political Dissenters, and for as much play of mind as may suit its being that; we have the Times existing as an organ of the common satisfied well-to-do Englishman, and for as much play of mind as may suit its being that. . . . Directly this play of mind wants to have more scope, and to forget the pressure of practical considerations a little, it is checked, it is made to feel the chain. We saw this the other day in the extinction so much to be regretted of the Home and Foreign Review; perhaps in no organ of criticism was there so much knowledge, so much play of mind; but these could not save it. It must needs be that men should act in sects and parties, that each of these sects and parties should have its organ, and should make this organ subserve the interest of its action; but it would be well too that there should be a criticism, not the minister of those interests, nor their enemy, but absolutely and entirely independent of them. No other criticism will ever attain any real authority, or make any real way towards its end,—the creating a current of true and fresh ideas."

This, it must be remembered, was written in 1865. Would Mr. Matthew Arnold be happier now with the Fortnightly and the Nineteenth Century and others? There is, I think, a good deal of truth in the passage I have just quoted. I think he might have allowed that, among so many writers, each advocating his own view or the view of his party or sect, we ought to have some chance of forming a judgment. A question seems to get a fair chance of being

"Set in all lights by many minds To close the interests of all."

But, as I said, there is a good deal in what the writer says. The Daily News says the Government is all wrong, and the Daily Telegraph says it is all right; and if any paper ventured to be moderate it would go to the wall in a week. I think what he says is true, but there is no occasion to be so angry about it. We really are very thankful for such men as Carlyle, Ruskin, and Matthew Arnold, and I can't help thinking they have had their proper share of praise, and have had their share of influence upon their age. The air of neglected superiority, which they assume, detracts not a little from the pleasure with which one always reads them.

Perhaps some of my conservative friends will regret the good old times in which criticism was really criticism, when a book had to run the gauntlet of a few well established critics of the club, or a play was applauded or damned by a select few in the front row of the pit. I agree to lament a past which can never return, but, on the whole, I think we are the gainers. Also, I very much incline to think that the standard of criticism is higher now than in the very palmy days when Addison wrote; or when the Edinburgh or Quarterly were first started. I incline to agree with Leslie Stephen in his Hours in a Library, that, if most of the critical articles of even Jeffrey and Mackintosh were submitted to a modern editor, he would reject them as inadequate; but I think that perhaps they excel our modern efforts in a certain reserve and dignity, and in a more matured thoughtfulness.

If criticism is an art, such as I have described it, and is subject to certain rules and conditions; if good criticism is appreciative, proportionate, appropriate, strong, natural, and bona fide, and bad criticism is the reverse of all this, why, you will ask, cannot the art be taught by some School or Academy; and if criticism is so important a matter as you say, surely the State might see to it? I must own I am against it. Mr. Matthew Arnold, who is much in favour of founding an academy, which is not only to judge of original works but of the criticisms of others upon them, states the matter very fairly. He says, "So far as routine and authority tend to embarrass energy and inventive genius, academies may be said to be obstructive to energy and inventive genius; and, to this extent, to the human spirit's general advance. But then this evil is so much compensated by the propagation on a large scale of the mental aptitudes and demands, which an open mind and a flexible intelligence naturally engender; genius itself in the long run so greatly finds its account in this propagation, and bodies like the French Academy have such power for promoting it, that the general advance of the human spirit is perhaps, on the whole, rather furthered than impeded by their existence."

But I do not accede to this opinion. It is under the free open air of heaven, in the wild woods and the meadows that the loveliest and sweetest flowers bloom, and not in the trim gardens or the hot-houses, and even in our gardens in England we strive to preserve some lingering traits of the open country. I believe that just as the gift of freedom to the masses of our countrymen teaches them to use that freedom with care and intelligence, just as the abolition of tests and oaths makes men loyal and trustworthy, so it is well to have freedom in literature and criticism. Mistakes will be made and mischief done, but in the long run the effect of a keen competition, and an advancing public taste will tell. I don't hesitate to assert, without fear of contradiction, that critical art has improved rapidly during the last twenty years in this country, where a man is free to start a critical review, and to write about anybody, or anything, and in any manner, provided he keeps within the law. He is only restrained by the competition of others, and by the public taste, which are both constantly increasing. No doubt an author will write with greater spirit, and with greater decorum, if he knows that his merits are sure to be fairly acknowledged, and his faults certain to be accurately noted. But this object may be attained, I believe, without an academy. On the other hand, what danger there is in an academy becoming cliquey, nay even corrupt. We have an academy here in the painting art, but except that it collects within its walls every year a vaster number of daubs than it is possible for any one ever to see with any degree of comfort, I don't know what particular use it is of. As a school or college it may be of use, but as a critical academy it does very little.

I have thus endeavoured to show what I mean by my six divisions of criticism, and I have no doubt you will all of you have divined that my six divisions are capable of being expressed in one word, Criticism must be true. To be true, it must be appreciative, or understanding, it must be in due proportion, it must be appropriate, it must be strong, it must be natural, it must be bona fide. There is nothing which an Englishman hates so much as being false. Our great modern poet, in one of his strongest lines, says—

"This is a shameful thing for men to lie."

And he speaks of Wellington—

"Truth teller was our England's Alfred named, Truth lover was our English Duke."

Emerson notices that many of our phrases turn upon this love of truth, such as "The English of this is," "Honour bright," "His word is as good as his bond."

"'Tis not enough taste, learning, judgment join; In all you speak let truth, and candour shine."

I am certain that if men and women would believe that it is important that they should form a true judgment upon things, and that they should speak or write it when required, we should get rid of a great deal of bad art, bad books, bad pictures, bad buildings, bad music, and bad morals. I am further certain that by constantly uttering false criticisms we perpetuate such things. And what harm we are doing to our own selves in the meantime! How habitually warped, how unsteady, how feeble, the judgment becomes, which is not kept bright and vigorous through right use. How insensibly we become callous or indolent about forming a correct judgment. "It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore and see the ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded and where the air is always clear and serene) and to see the errors and wanderings and mists and tempests in the vale below, so always that this prospect be with pity and not with swelling or pride. Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in Providence, and turn upon the poles of truth."

In conclusion, I am aware that I have treated the subject most inadequately, and that others have treated the same subject with much more power; but I am satisfied of the great importance of a right use of the critical faculty, and I think it may be that my mode of treatment may arrest the attention of some minds which are apt to be frightened at a learned method, and may induce them to take more heed of the judgments which they are hourly passing on a great variety of subjects. If we still persist in saying when some one jingles some jig upon the piano that it is "charming," if we say of every daub in the Academy that it is "lovely," if every new building or statue is pronounced "awfully jolly," if the fastidious rubbish of the last volume of poetry is "grand," if the slip-shod grammar of the last new novel is "quite sweet," when shall we see an end of these bad things? And observe further, these bad things live on and affect the human mind for ever. Bad things are born of bad. Who can tell what may be the effect of seeing day by day an hideous building, of hearing day by day indifferent music, of constantly reading a lot of feeble twaddle? Surely one effect will be that we shall gradually lose our appreciation of what is good and beautiful. "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever." Ah! but we must have eyes to see it. This springtime is lovely, if we have the eyes to see it; but, if we have not, its loveliness is nothing to us, and if we miss seeing it we shall have dimmer eyes to see it next year and the next; and if we cannot now see beauty and truth through the glass darkly, we shall be unable to gaze on them when we come to see them face to face.



II. ON LUXURY.

An eminent lawyer of my acquaintance had a Socratic habit of interrupting the conversation by saying, "Let us understand one another: when you say so-and-so, do you mean so-and-so, or something quite different?" Now, although it is intolerable that the natural flow of social intercourse should be thus impeded, yet in writing a paper to be laid before a learned and fastidious society one is bound to let one's hearers a little into the secret, and to state fairly what the subject of the essay really is. I suppose we shall all admit that bad luxury is bad, and good luxury is good, unless the phrase good luxury is a contradiction in terms. We must try to avoid disputing about words. The word luxury, according to its derivation, signifies an extravagant and outrageous indulgence of the appetites or desires. If we take this as the meaning of the word, we shall agree that luxury is bad; but if we take luxury to be only another name for the refinements of civilization, we shall all approve of it. But the real and substantial question is not what the word means, but, what is that thing which we all agree is bad or good; where does the bad begin and the good end; how are we to discern the difference; and how are we to avoid the one and embrace the other. In this essay, therefore, I intend to use the word luxury to denote that indulgence which interferes with the full and proper exercise of all the faculties, powers, tastes, and whatever is good and worthy in a man. Enjoyments, relaxations, delights, indulgences which are beneficial, I do not denominate "luxury." All indulgences which fit us for our duties are good; all which tend to unfit us for them are bad; and these latter I call luxuries. Some one will say, perhaps, that some indulgences are merely indifferent, and produce no appreciable effect upon body or mind; and it might be enough to dismiss such things with the maxim, "de minimis non curat lex." But the doctrine is dangerous, and I doubt if anything in this world is absolutely immaterial. De Quincey mentions the case of a man who committed a murder, which at the time he thought little about, but he was led on from that to gambling and Sabbath breaking. Probably in this weary world any indulgence or pleasure which is not bad is not indifferent, but absolutely good. The world is not so bright, so comfortable, so pleasant, that we can afford to scorn the good the gods provide us. In Mr. Reade's book on Study and Stimulants, Matthew Arnold says, a moderate use of wine adds to the agreeableness of life, and whatever adds to the agreeableness of life, adds to its resources and powers. There cannot be a doubt that the bodily frame is capable of being wearied, and that it needs repose and refreshment, and this is a law which a man trifles with at his peril. The same is true of the intellectual and moral faculties. They claim rest and refreshment; they must have comfort and pleasure or they will begin to flag. It must also be always remembered that in the every-day work of this world the body and the mind have to go through a great deal which is depressing and taxing to the energy, and a certain amount of "set off" is required to keep the balance even. We must remember this especially with respect to the poor. Pipes and cigars may be a luxury to the idle and rich, but we ought not to grudge a pipe to a poor man who is overworked and miserable. Some degree of comfort we all feel to be at times essential when we have a comfortless task to perform. With good food and sleep, for instance, we can get through the roughest work; with the relaxation of pleasant society we can do the most tedious daily work. If, on the other hand, we are worried and uncomfortable, we become unfitted for our business. We all have our troubles to contend against, and we require comfort, relaxation, stimulation of some sort to help us in the battle. There are certain duties which most of us have to perform, and which, to use a common expression, "take it out of us." Thus most of us are compelled to travel more or less. An old gentleman travelling by coach on a long journey wished to sleep off the tediousness of the night, but his travelling companion woke him up every ten minutes with the inquiry, "Well, sir, how are you by this." At last the old gentleman's patience was fairly tired out. "I was very well when I got into the coach, and I'm very well now, and if any change takes place I'll let you know." I was coming from London to Beckenham, and in the carriage with me was a gentleman quietly and attentively reading the newspaper. A lady opposite to him, whenever we came to a station, cried out, "Oh, what station's this, what station's this?" Being told, she subsided, more or less, till the next station. The gentleman's patience was at last exhausted. "If there is any particular station at which you wish to alight I will inform you when we arrive."

Such are some of the annoying circumstances of travel. Then, at the end of the journey, are we sure of a comfortable night's rest? It was a rule upon circuit that the barristers arriving at an inn had the choice of bedrooms according to seniority, and woe betide the junior who dared to infringe the rule and endeavour to secure by force or fraud the best bedroom. The leaders, who had the hardest work to do, required the best night's rest. A party of barristers arrived late one night at their accustomed inn, a half-way house to the next assize town, and found one of the best bedrooms already occupied. They were told by some wag that it was occupied by a young man just joined the circuit. There was a rush to the bedroom. The culprit was dragged out of bed and deposited on the floor. A venerable old gentleman in a nightcap and gown addressed the ringleader of his assailants, Serjeant Golbourne, "Brother Golbourne, brother Golbourne, is this the way to treat a Christian judge?" I should not have liked to have been one of those who had to conduct a cause before him next day. Who can be generous, benevolent, kindly, and even- tempered if one is to be subjected to such harassing details as I have above narrated? and I have no doubt that a fair amount of comfort is necessary to the exercise of the Christian virtues. I am not at all sure that pilgrims prayed any better because they had peas in their shoes, and it is well known that soldiers fight best when they are well fed. A certain amount of comfort and pleasure is good for us, and is refreshing to body and spirit. Such things, for instance, as the bath in the morning; the cup of warm tea or coffee for breakfast; the glass of beer or wine and variety of food at dinner; the rest or nap in the arm-chair or sofa; an occasional novel; the pipe before going to bed; the change of dress; music or light reading in the evening; even the night-cap recommended by Mr. Banting; games of chance or skill; dancing;—surely such things may renovate, soothe, and render more elastic and vigorous both body and mind.

While, therefore, I have admitted fully that we all require "sweetness and light," that some indulgence is necessary for the renovation of our wearied souls and bodies; yet it very often will happen that the thing in which we desire to indulge does not tend at all in this direction, or it may be that, although a moderate indulgence does so tend, an immoderate use has precisely the reverse effect. My subject, therefore, divides itself, firstly, into a consideration of those luxuries which are per se deleterious, and those which are so only by excessive use.

I suppose you will not be surprised to hear that I think we are in danger, in the upper and middle classes at all events, of going far beyond the point where pleasures and indulgences tend to the improvement of body and mind. Surely there are many of us who can remember when the habits of our fathers were less luxurious than they are now. In a leading article in a newspaper not long ago the writer said, "All classes without exception spend too much on what may be called luxuries. A very marked change in this respect has been noticed by every one who studies the movements of society. Among people whose fathers regarded champagne as a devout Aryan might have regarded the Soma juice—viz., as a beverage reserved for the gods and for millionaires—the foaming grape of Eastern France is now habitually consumed. . . ." He goes on, "The luxuries of the poor are few, and chiefly consist of too much beer, and of little occasional dainties. What pleasures but the grossest does the State provide for the artisan's leisure?" "It does not do," says the writer, "to be hard upon them, but it is undeniable that this excess of expenditure on what in no sense profits them is enormous in the mass."

Not long ago a great outcry was heard about the extravagance and luxury of the working man. It was stated often, and certainly not without foundation, that the best of everything in the markets in the way of food was bought at the highest prices by workmen or their wives; and although the champagne was not perhaps so very freely indulged in, nor so pure as might be wished, yet, that the working men indulged themselves in more drink than was good for their stomachs, and in more expensive drinks than was good for their purses, no man can doubt.

If this increase of luxury is observable in the lower classes, how much more easily can it be discerned in the middle classes. Take for instance the pleasures of the table. I do not speak of great entertainments or life in palaces or great houses, which do not so much vary from one age to another, but of the ordinary life of people like ourselves. Spenser says:—

"The antique world excess and pryde did hate, Such proud luxurious pomp is swollen up of late."

How many more dishes and how many more wines do we put on the table than our ancestors afforded. Pope writes of Balaam's housekeeping:—

"A single dish the week day meal affords, An added pudding solemnized the Lord's."

Then when he became rich:—

"Live like yourself was soon my lady's word, And lo, two puddings smoked upon the board!"

Then his description of his own table is worth noting:—

"Content with little, I can manage here On brocoli and mutton round the year, 'Tis true no turbots dignify my boards, But gudgeons, flounders, what my Thames affords.

To Hounslow Heath I point, and Banstead Down; Thence comes your mutton, and these chicks my own, From yon old walnut tree a show'r shall fall, And grapes, long lingering on my only wall, And figs from standard and espalier join— The deuce is in you if you cannot dine."

Now, however, the whole world is put under contribution to supply our daily meals, and the palate is being constantly stimulated, and in some degree impaired by a variety of food and wine. And I am sure that the effect of this is to produce a distaste for wholesome food. I daresay we have all heard of the Scotchman who had drunk too much whisky. He said, "I can't drink water; it turns sae acid on the stomach." This increase of the luxuries of the table, beyond what was the habit of our fathers, is shown chiefly, I think, when we are at home and alone; but if one is visiting or entertaining others, how often is one perfectly bored by the quantity of food and drink which is handed round. Things in season and out of season, perhaps ill assorted, ill cooked, cold, and calculated to make one extremely ill, but no doubt costing a great deal of money, time, and anxiety to the givers of the feast. Then we fall to grumbling, and are discontented with having too much, but having acquired a habit of expecting it we grumble still more if there is not as much as usual provided.

"He knows to live, who keeps the middle state, And neither leans on this side or on that; Nor stops, for one bad cork, his butler's pay; Swears, like Albutius, a good cook away; Nor lets, like Nevius, every error pass— The musty wine, foul cloth, or greasy glass."

But what is the modern idea of a dinner?—

"After oysters Sauterne; then sherry, champagne, E'er one bottle goes comes another again; Fly up, thou bold cork, to the ceiling above, And tell to our ears in the sounds that they love, How pleasant it is to have money, Heigh ho; How pleasant it is to have money!

Your Chablis is acid, away with the hock; Give me the pure juice of the purple Medoc; St. Peray is exquisite; but, if you please, Some Burgundy just before tasting the cheese. So pleasant it is to have money, Heigh ho; So pleasant it is to have money!

Fish and soup and omelette and all that—but the deuce— There were to be woodcocks and not Charlotte Russe, And so suppose now, while the things go away, By way of a grace, we all stand up and say— How pleasant it is to have money, Heigh ho; How pleasant it is to have money!

This, of course, is meant to be satirical; but no doubt many persons regard the question of "good living" as much more important than "high thinking." "My dear fellow," said Thackeray, when a dish was served at the Rocher de Cancalle, "don't let us speak a word till we have finished this dish."

"'Mercy!' cries Helluo. 'Mercy on my soul! Is there no hope? Alas!—then bring the jowl.'"

A great peer, who had expended a large fortune, summoned his heir to his death-bed, and told him that he had a secret of great importance to impart to him, which might be some compensation for the injury he had done him. The secret was that crab sauce was better than lobster sauce.

"Persicos odi," "I hate all your Frenchified fuss."

"But a nice leg of mutton, my Lucy, I prithee get ready by three; Have it smoking, and tender, and juicy, And, what better meat can there be? And when it has served for the master, 'Twill amply suffice for the maid; Meanwhile I will smoke my canaster, And tipple my ale in the shade."

Can anything be more awful than a public dinner—the waste, the extravagance, the outrageous superfluity of everything, the enormous waste of time, the solemn gorging, as if the whole end and aim of life were turtle and venison. I do not know whether to dignify such proceedings by the name of luxury. But what shall I say of gentlemen's clubs. They are the very hotbed of luxury. By merely asking for it you obtain almost anything you require in the way of luxury. I am aware that many men at clubs live more carefully and frugally, but I am aware also that a great many acquire habits of self-indulgence which produce idleness and selfish indifference to the wants of others. In a still more pernicious fashion, I think that refreshment bars at railway stations minister to luxury; at least I am sure they foster a habit of drinking more than is necessary, or desirable; and that is one form of luxury, and a very bad one. The fellows of a Camford college are reported to have met on one occasion and voted that we do sell our chapel organ; and the next motion, carried nem. con., was that we do have a dinner. As to ornaments for the dinner table what affectation and expense do we see. But in the days of Walpole it was not amiss. "The last branch of our fashion into which the close observation of nature has been introduced is our desserts. Jellies, biscuits, sugar plums, and creams have long since given way to harlequins, gondoliers, Turks, Chinese, and shepherdesses of Saxon china. Meadows of cattle spread themselves over the table. Cottages in sugar, and temples in barley sugar, pigmy Neptunes in cars of cockle shells trampling over oceans of looking glass or seas of silver tissue. Gigantic figures succeed to pigmies; and it is known that a celebrated confectioner complained that, after having prepared a middle dish of gods and goddesses eighteen feet high, his lord would not cause the ceiling of his parlour to be demolished to facilitate their entree. "Imaginez-vous," said he, "que milord n'a pas vouler faire oter le plafond!"

To show how much luxurious living has increased during the present century I propose to quote a portion of that wonderfully brilliant third chapter of Macaulay's England which we all know. Speaking of the squire of former days, he says, "His chief serious employment was the care of his property. He examined samples of grain, handled pigs, and, on market days, made bargains over a tankard with drovers and hop merchants. His chief pleasures were commonly derived from field sports and from an unrefined sensuality. His language and pronunciation were such as we should now expect to hear only from the most ignorant clowns. His oaths, coarse jests, and scurrilous terms of abuse were uttered with the broadest accent of his province. It was easy to discern from the first words which he spoke whether he came from Somersetshire or Yorkshire. He troubled himself little about decorating his abode, and, if he attempted decoration, seldom produced anything but deformity. The litter of a farm-yard gathered under the windows of his bed-chamber, and the cabbages and gooseberry bushes grew close to his hall door. His table was loaded with coarse plenty; and guests were cordially welcomed to it. But as the habit of drinking to excess was general in the class to which he belonged, and as his fortune did not enable him to intoxicate large assemblies daily with claret or canary, strong beer was the ordinary beverage. The quantity of beer consumed in those days was indeed enormous. For beer was then to the middle and lower classes not only what beer is now, but all that wine, tea, and ardent spirits now are. It was only at great houses or on great occasions that foreign drink was placed on the board. The ladies of the house, whose business it had commonly been to cook the repast, retired as soon as the dishes were devoured, and left the gentlemen to their ale and tobacco. The coarse jollity of the afternoon was often prolonged till the revellers were laid under the table."

I quote again from another portion of the same chapter in Macaulay:—"Slate has succeeded to thatch, and brick to timber. The pavements and the lamps, the display of wealth in the principal shops, and the luxurious neatness of the dwellings occupied by the gentry, would, in the seventeenth century, have seemed miraculous." Speaking of watering-places he says:—"The gentry of Derbyshire and of the neighbouring counties repaired to Buxton, where they were crowded into low wooden sheds and regaled with oatcake, and with a viand which the hosts called mutton, but which the guests strongly suspected to be dog." Of Tunbridge Wells he says—"At present we see there a town which would, a hundred and sixty years ago, have ranked in population fourth or fifth among the towns in England. The brilliancy of the shops and the luxury of the private dwellings far surpasses anything that England could then show." At Bath "the poor patients to whom the waters had been recommended, lay on straw in a place which, to use the language of a contemporary physician, was a covert rather than a lodging. As to the comforts and luxuries to be found in the interior of the houses at Bath by the fashionable visitors who resorted thither in search of health and amusement, we possess information more complete and minute than generally can be obtained on such subjects. A writer assures us that in his younger days the gentlemen who visited the springs slept in rooms hardly as good as the garrets which he lived to see occupied by footmen. The floors of the dining-room were uncarpeted, and were coloured brown with a wash made of soot and small beer in order to hide the dirt. Not a wainscot was painted. Not a hearth or chimney piece was of marble. A slab of common freestone, and fire-irons which had cost from three to four shillings, were thought sufficient for any fireplace. The best apartments were hung with coarse woollen stuff, and were furnished with rush-bottomed chairs."

Of London Macaulay says:—"The town did not, as now, fade by imperceptible degrees into the country. No long avenues of villas, embowered in lilacs and laburnum, extended from the great source of wealth and civilization almost to the boundaries of Middlesex, and far into the heart of Kent and Surrey." In short, there was nothing like the Avenue and the Fox Grove, Beckenham, in old times, and we who live there ought to be immensely grateful for our undeserved blessings. "At present," he says, "the bankers, the merchants, and the chief shopkeepers repair to the city on six mornings of every week for the transaction of business; but they reside in other quarters of the metropolis or suburban country seats, surrounded by shrubberies and flower gardens." Again, "If the most fashionable parts of the capital could be placed before us, such as they then were, we should be disgusted by their squalid appearance, and poisoned by their noisome atmosphere. In Covent Garden a filthy and noisy market was held close to the dwellings of the great. Fruit women screamed, carters fought, cabbage stalks and rotten apples accumulated in heaps at the thresholds of the Countess of Berkshire and of the Bishop of Durham."

Well, you will say, all this proves what a vast improvement we have achieved. Yes; but we must remember that Macaulay was writing on that side of the question. Are we not more self-indulgent, more fond of our flowers, villas, carriages, etc., than we need be; less hard working and industrious; more desirous of getting the means of indulgence by some short and ready way—by speculation, gambling, and shady, if not dishonest dealing—than our fathers were? I need not follow at further length Macaulay's description of these earlier times—of the black rivulets roaring down Ludgate Hill, filled with the animal and vegetable filth from the stalls of butchers and greengrocers, profusely thrown to right and left upon the foot-passengers upon the narrow pavements; the garret windows opened and pails emptied upon the heads below; thieves prowling about the dark streets at night, amid constant rioting and drunkenness; the difficulties and discomforts of travelling, when the carriages stuck fast in the quagmires; the travellers attacked by highwaymen. He narrates how it took Prince George of Denmark, who visited Petworth in wet weather, six hours to go nine miles. Compare this to a journey in a first-class carriage or Pullman car upon the Midland Railway, and think of the luxuries demanded by the traveller on his journey if he is going to travel for more than two or three hours: the dinner, the coffee, the cigar, the newspaper and magazine, etc., etc.

There is a passage in the beginning of Tom Brown's School Days in which the author ridicules the quantity of great coats, wrappers, and rugs which a modern schoolboy takes with him, though he is going to travel first class, with foot-warmers. Then, in our houses, what stoves and hot- water pipes and baths do we not require! How many soaps and powders, rough towels and soft towels! Sir Charles Napier, I think, said that all an officer wanted to take with him on a campaign was a towel, a tooth- brush, and a piece of yellow soap. The great excuse for the bath is that if it is warm it is cleansing; if it is cold, it is invigorating; but what shall we say to Turkish Baths? Surely there is more time wasted than enough, and, unless as a medical cure, it may become an idle habit. I have seen private Turkish Baths in private houses. What are we coming to? We used to be proud of our ordinary wash-hand basins, and make fun of the little saucers that we found provided for our ablutions upon the Continent. At the time of the great Exhibition of 1851 Punch had a picture of two very grimy Frenchmen regarding with wonder an ordinary English wash-stand. "Comment appelle-t'on cette machine la," says one; to which the other replies, "Je ne sais pas, mais c'est drole." A great advance has been made in the furniture of our houses. We fill our rooms, especially our drawing-rooms or boudoirs, with endless arm-chairs and sofas of various shapes—all designed to give repose to the limbs; but I am sure they tend towards lazy habits, and very often interfere with work. Surely there has lately risen a custom of overdoing the embellishment and ornamentation of our houses. We fill our rooms too full of all sorts of knick-knacks, so much so that we can hardly move about for fear of upsetting something. "I have a fire [in my bedroom] all day," writes Carlyle. "The bed seems to be about eight feet wide. Of my paces the room measures fifteen from end to end, forty-five feet long, height and width proportionate, with ancient, dead-looking portraits of queens, kings, Straffords and principalities, etc., really the uncomfortablest acme of luxurious comfort that any Diogenes was set into in these late years." Thoreau's furniture at Walden consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs, a kettle, a frying-pan, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp. There were no ornaments. He writes, "I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, and I threw them out of the window in disgust."

"Our cottage is quite large enough for us, though very small," wrote Miss Wordsworth, "and we have made it neat and comfortable within doors; and it looks very nice on the outside, for though the roses and honeysuckle which we have planted against it are only of this year's growth, yet it is covered all over with green leaves and scarlet flowers, for we have trained scarlet beans upon threads, which are not only exceedingly beautiful, but very useful, as their produce is immense. We have made a lodging room of the parlour below stairs, which has a stone floor, therefore we have covered it all over with matting. We sit in a room above stairs, and we have one lodging room with two single beds, a sort of lumber room, and a small, low, unceiled room, which I have papered with newspapers, and in which we have put a small bed. Our servant is an old woman of 60 years of age, whom we took partly out of charity." Here Miss Wordsworth and her brother, the great poet, lived on the simplest fare and drank cold water, and hence issued those noble poems which more than any others teach us the higher life.

"Blush, grandeur, blush; proud courts, withdraw your blaze; Ye little stars, hide your diminished rays."

"I turned schoolmaster," says Sydney Smith, "to educate my son, as I could not afford to send him to school. Mrs. Sydney turned schoolmistress to educate my girls as I could not afford a governess. I turned farmer as I could not let my land. A man servant was too expensive, so I caught up a little garden girl, made like a milestone, christened her Bunch, put a napkin in her hand, and made her my butler. The girls taught her to read, Mrs. Sydney to wait, and I undertook her morals. Bunch became the best butler in the country. I had little furniture, so I bought a cartload of deals; took a carpenter (who came to me for parish relief) called Jack Robinson, with a face like a full moon, into my service, established him in a barn, and said, 'Jack, furnish my house.' You see the result."

Then what shall I say of the luxury of endless daily papers, leading articles, short paragraphs, reviews, illustrated papers,—are not these luxuries? Are they not inventions for making thought easy, or rather for the purpose of relieving us from the trouble of thinking for ourselves. May I also, without raising a religious controversy, observe that in religious worship we are prone to relieve ourselves from the trouble of deep and consecutive thought by surrounding our minds with a sort of mist of feeling and sentiment; by providing beautiful music, pictures, and ornaments, and so resting satisfied in a somewhat indolent feeling of goodness, and not troubling ourselves with too much effort of reason. A love of the beautiful undoubtedly tends to elevate and refine the mind, but the follies of the false love and the dangers of an inordinate love are numerous and deadly. It is absurd that a man should either be or pretend to be absolutely absorbed in the worship of a dado or a China tea cup so as to care for nothing else, and to be unable to do anything else but stare at it with his head on one side. With most people the whole thing is the mere affectation of affected people, who, if they were not affected in one way, would be so in another. Boswell was a very affected man. He says, "I remember it distressed me to think of going into another world where Shakespeare's poetry did not exist; but a lady relieved me by saying, 'The first thing you will meet in the other world will be an elegant copy of Shakespeare's works presented to you.'" Boswell says he felt much comforted, but I suspect the lady was laughing at him. I like the "elegant copy" very much. It is certain that in this world there is a deal of rough work to be done, and I feel that, attractive and beautiful as so many things are, too much absorption of them has a weakening and enervating effect.

I have spoken of the luxuries of the table, of the house, of travel, and of a love of ease and beautiful surroundings. There are, however, some people who are very luxurious without caring much for any of these things. Their main desire appears to be to live a long time, and to preserve their youth and beauty to the last. For this purpose they surround themselves with comfort, they decline to see or hear of anything which they don't like for fear it should make their hair grey and their faces wrinkled, and their whole talk is of ailments and German waters. Swift somewhere or other expresses his contempt for this sort of person. "A well preserved man is," he says, "a man with no heart and who has done nothing all his life." Old ruins look beautiful by reason of the rain and the wind, the heat of August and the frost of January, and I am sure I have often seen in men—aye, and in women too—far more beauty where the tempests have passed over the face and brow, than where the life has been more sheltered and less interesting.

But I must notice before I conclude this part of my subject one of the principal causes of a fatal indulgence in luxury, and that is a despairing sense of the futility of attempting to do anything worth doing, and of inability to strive against what is going on wrong. This is the meaning of that rather vulgar phrase, "Anything for a quiet life"; and this is the reason why with many people everything and everybody is always a "bore." Here, too, is the secret of that suave, polished, soft- voiced manner so much affected nowadays by highly-educated young men, and that somewhat chilly reserve in which they wrap themselves up. "Pray don't ask us to give an opinion, or show an interest, or discuss any serious view of things."

"For not to desire or admire, if a man could learn it, were more Than to walk all day, like the Sultan of old, in a garden of spice."

"Let us surround ourselves with every luxury; let us cease to strive or fret; let us be elegant, refined, gentle, harmless, and, above all, undisturbed in mind and body." "We have had enough of motion and of action we." "Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil." "Let us get through life the best way we can, and though there is not much that can delight us, let us achieve as much amelioration of our lot as is possible for us."

These, then, are some of the forms which luxury takes in the present century, and these are some of the outcomes of an advanced, and still rapidly advancing, civilization. These, too, seem to be the invariable accompaniments of such an advance. A very similar picture of Rome in the days of Cicero and Caesar is drawn by Mr. Froude in his Caesar. He says: "With such vividness, with such transparent clearness, the age stands before us of Cato and Pompey, of Cicero and Julius Caesar; the more distinctly because it was an age in so many ways the counterpart of our own, the blossoming period of the old civilization. It was an age of material progress and material civilization; an age of civil liberty and intellectual culture; an age of pamphlets and epigrams, of salons and of dinner parties, of sensational majorities and electoral corruption. The rich were extravagant, for life had ceased to have practical interest, except for its material pleasures; the occupation of the higher classes was to obtain money without labour, and to spend it in idle enjoyment. Patriotism survived on the lips, but patriotism meant the ascendancy of the party which would maintain the existing order of things, or would overthrow it for a more equal distribution of the good things, which alone were valued. Religion, once the foundation of the laws and rule of personal conduct, had subsided into opinion. The educated, in their hearts, disbelieved it. Temples were still built with increasing splendour; the established forms were scrupulously observed. Public men spoke conventionally of Providence, that they might throw on their opponents the odium of impiety; but of genuine belief that life had any serious meaning, there was none remaining beyond the circle of the silent, patient, ignorant multitude. The whole spiritual atmosphere was saturated with cant—cant moral, cant political, cant religious; an affectation of high principle which had ceased to touch the conduct and flowed on in an increasing volume of insincere and unreal speech. The truest thinkers were those who, like Lucretius, spoke frankly out their real convictions, declared that Providence was a dream, and that man and the world he lived in were material phenomena, generated by natural forces out of cosmic atoms, and into atoms to be again resolved."

Next I am going, as I promised, to consider those indulgences which become luxuries by excessive use, and in this I shall be led also to consider the effects of luxury. It has become a very trite saying that riches do not bring happiness; and certainly luxury, which riches can command, does not bring content, which is the greatest of all pleasures. On the contrary, the moment the body or mind is over-indulged in any way, it immediately demands more of the same indulgence, and even in stronger doses. Who does not know that too much wine makes one desire more? Who, after reading a novel, does not feel a longing for another?

The rich and poor dog, as we all know, meet and discourse of these things in Burns's poem—

"Frae morn to e'en it's naught but toiling At baking, roasting, frying, boiling, An', tho' the gentry first are stechin, Yet e'en the hall folk fill their pechan With sauce, ragouts, and sic like trashtrie, That's little short of downright wastrie. An' what poor cot-folk pit their painch in I own it's past my comprehension."

To which Luath replies—

"They're maistly wonderful contented."

Caesar afterwards describes the weariness and ennui which pursue the luxurious—

"But human bodies are sic fools, For all their colleges and schools, That, when nae real ills perplex 'em, They make enow themselves to vex 'em. They loiter, lounging lank and lazy, Though nothing ails them, yet uneasy. Their days insipid, dull, and tasteless; Their nights unquiet, lang, and restless, An' e'en their sports, their balls and races, Their gallopin' through public places, There's sic parade, sic pomp, an' art, The joy can scarcely reach the heart."

After this description the two friends

"Rejoiced they were not men, but dogs."

An Italian wit has defined man to be "an animal which troubles himself with things which don't concern him"; and, when one thinks of the indefatigable way in which people pursue pleasure, all the while deriving no pleasure from it, one is filled with amazement. "Life would be very tolerable if it were not for its pleasures," said Sir Cornewall Lewis, and I am satisfied that half the weariness of life comes from the vain attempts which are made to satisfy a jaded appetite.

There are many things which are not luxuries per se, but become so if indulged in to excess. Take, for instance, smoking and drinking. One pipe a day and one glass of wine a day are not luxuries, but a great many a day are luxuries. So lying in bed five minutes after you wake is not a luxury, but so lying for an hour is. The man who is fond precociously of stirring may be a spoon, but the man who lies in bed half the day is something worse. Then it must be remembered that a single indulgence in one luxury produces scarcely any effect on the mind or body, but a habit of indulging in that luxury has a great effect.

"The sins which practice burns into the blood, And not the one dark hour which brings remorse Will brand us after of whose fold we be."

I am surely right in noticing that the rich man is said to have fared sumptuously every day, as though faring sumptuously might have no significance, but the constantly faring sumptuously was what had degraded and debased the man below the level of the beggar at his gate. I feel that to be luxurious occasionally is no bad thing, if we can keep our self-control, and return constantly to simple habits. There is something very natural in the prayer which a little child was overheard to make—"God, make me a good little girl, but"—after a pause—"naughty sometimes." It is the habit of being naughty which is pernicious. Can anyone doubt that the man who, on the whole, leads a hardy and not over- indulgent life will be more capable of performing any duty which may devolve upon him than a man who "had but fed on the roses and lain in the lilies of life."

Sydney Smith, in his sketches of Moral Philosophy, notices that habits of indulgence grow on us so much that we go through the act of indulgence without noticing it or feeling the pleasure of it; yet, if some accident occurs to rob us of our accustomed pleasure, we feel the want of it most keenly. Speaking of Hobbes, the philosopher, he says that he had twelve pipes of tobacco laid by him every night before he began to write. Without this luxury "he could have done nothing; all his speculations would have been at an end, and without his twelve pipes he might have been a friend to devotion or to freedom, which in the customary tenour of his thoughts he certainly was not."

In Fielding's Life of Jonathan Wild Mr. Wild plays at cards with the Count. "Such was the power of habit over the minds of these illustrious persons that Mr. Wild could not keep his hands out of the Count's pockets though he knew they were empty, nor could the Count abstain from palming a card though he was well aware Mr. Wild had no money to pay him."

1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse