Transcribed from the 1875 Longmans, Green, and Co. edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
LONDON: PRINTED BY SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE AND PARLIAMENT STREET
LECTURES DELIVERED IN AMERICA IN 1874
BY CHARLES KINGSLEY, F.L.S., F.G.S.
RECTOR OF EVERSLEY: CANON OF WESTMINSTER CHAPLAIN IN ORDINARY TO THE QUEEN AND THE PRINCE OF WALES
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LONDON LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO. 1875
All rights reserved
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TO CYRUS FIELD, J. A. C. GRAY, AND ALL THOSE VALUED AMERICAN FRIENDS WHO WELCOMED MY HUSBAND TO THEIR GREAT COUNTRY, AND THROUGH WHOSE GENEROUS KINDNESS HE WAS ENABLED IN THE LAST YEAR OF HIS LIFE TO REALISE THE DREAMS OF HIS YOUTH BY THE SIGHT, NOT ONLY OP THE EASTERN STATES AND CITIES, BUT OF THE FAR WEST, THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, AND THE YO SEMITE VALLEY, I DEDICATE THESE LECTURES WITH DEEPEST GRATITUDE
FANNY E. KINGSLEY.
BYFLEET: August 1875.
LECT. PAGE I. WESTMINSTER ABBEY 1 II. THE STAGE AS IT WAS ONCE 32 III. THE FIRST DISCOVERY OF AMERICA 65 IV. THE SERVANT OF THE LORD 98 V. ANCIENT CIVILISATION 125
LECTURE I. WESTMINSTER ABBEY.
Reverence for age, at least so it has long seemed to me, reverence for age, I say, is a fair test of the vigour of youth; and, conversely, insolence toward the old and the past, whether in individuals or in nations, is a sign rather of weakness than of strength. And the cause, I think, is this. The rich and strong young natures, which feel themselves capable of original thought and work, have a corresponding respect for those who, in the generations gone by, have thought and worked as they hope to do hereafter. And this temper, understand me, so far from being servile, or even merely conservative, usually accompanies true independence of spirit. The young athlete, like the young race-horse, does not despise, but emulate, his sire; even though the old victor be long past his prime. The young soldier admires the old general; the young midshipman the old admiral, just in proportion as he himself is likely to be a daring and able officer hereafter. The son, when grown to man's estate, may say to his father, I look on you still with all respect and admiration. I have learnt, and desire always, to learn from you. But you must be to me now, not a dictator, but an example. You became what you are by following your own line; and you must let me rival you, and do you honour, by following mine.
This, I believe, is true of nations as well as of individuals. I do not hesitate to say that, paradoxical as it may seem, the most original races—those who have succeeded best and left their stamp most broadly and permanently on the human race—have also been the most teachable, provided they were allowed to learn in their own way and to adapt to their own purposes any higher ancient civilisation with which they came in contact. What more striking instances of this truth—for truth it is—than the reverence of the free Republican Greek for the old despotic civilisation of Egypt? and of the free Norseman, our own ancestor, for the old and equally despotic civilisation of Rome?
These—the two most originative and most progressive races of Europe—had a faith in, an awe of, the supposed or real wisdom of the men of old time, which was often exaggerated into a superstition; but never—thanks to their own innate force—degenerated into a bondage.
Pardon me this somewhat dry prooemium; and pardon me, too, if it leads me on to a compliment to the American people, which I trust you will not think impertinent.
For I have seen, and seen with joy, a like spirit in those Americans whom it has been my good fortune to meet in my own land. I mean this:—That I found in them, however self-teaching and self-determining they might be, that genial reverence for antiquity which I hold to be the sign of a truly generous—that is in the right sense of the grand old word—a truly high-bred, nature. I have been touched, and deeply touched, at finding so many of them, on landing for the first time at Liverpool, hurrying off to our quaint old city of Chester to gaze on its old girdle of walls and towers; Roman, Mediaeval, Caroline; its curious 'Rows' of overhanging houses; its fragments of Roman baths and inscriptions; its modest little Cathedral; and the—really very few—relics of English history which it contains. Even two banners of an old Cheshire regiment which had been in the Peninsular war were almost as interesting, to some, as an illuminated Bible of the early Middle Age. More than once have I had to repress the enthusiasm of some charming lady and say, 'But this is nothing. Do not waste your admiration here. Go on. See the British Museum, its marbles and its manuscripts—See the French Cathedrals; the ruins of Provence and Italy; the galleries of Florence, Naples, Rome.'
'Ah, but you must remember,' was the answer, 'these are the first old things I ever saw.'
A mere sentiment? Yes: but as poets know, and statesmen ought to know, it is by sentiment, when well directed—as by sorrow, when well used—by sentiment, I say, great nations live. When sentiment dies out, and mere prosaic calculation of loss and profit takes its place, then comes a Byzantine epoch, a Chinese epoch, decrepitude, and slow decay.
And so the eagerness of those generous young souls was to me a good augury for the future, of them, and of their native land. They seemed to me—and I say again it touched me, often deeply—to be realising to themselves their rightful place in the community of the civilised nations of all lands, and of all times—realising to themselves that they were indeed
Heirs of all the ages, foremost in the ranks of time;
and minded, therefore, like wise and noble heirs, not to despise and squander, but to treasure and to use that inheritance, and the accumulated labours of the mighty dead.
I saw this, I say, at Chester. And therefore I was not surprised to find the pleasant experience repeated, and to even a higher degree, at Westminster. A pleasant experience, I say. I know few more agreeable occupations than showing a party of Americans round our own great Abbey; and sentimentalising, if you will, in sympathy with them, over England's Pantheon.
I pause to confess once more that it is almost an impertinence in me to pay you such a compliment. You have a right to answer me—How could it be otherwise?—Are we not educated people? Has not our taste been trained by native authors, who were at least civilised enough to value the great past, without the need of any European crossing the seas to tell us of its wealth?
If you reprove me thus, I can but say that the reproof is just, and will remain just, as long as your poets are what they are; and as long, above all, as you reverence as much in America as we do in England, the poetry of Mr. Longfellow. He has not, if I recollect aright, ever employed his muse in commemorating our great Abbey; but that muse is instinct with all those lofty and yet tender emotions which the sight of that great Abbey should call out. He knows, as few know on our side of the wide water, the effect, chastening and yet ennobling, of such architecture, consecrated by such associations. He has not only perceived and drank in all that is purest and noblest in the now sleeping last ten centuries: but he has combined it, again and again, with that which is purest and noblest in the waking and yearning present; and combined it organically and livingly, as leaf and stem combines with flower and fruit. Yes; as long as the poet who could write both the Belfry of Bruges and The Village Blacksmith is read among you, there is no need for me to bid you reverence the past; and little need, I trust, for me to tell those whom I leave at home to reverence the present. For it is a fact—of which some Americans may not be as well aware as they should be—that your exquisite poet has exercised an influence in Britain it may be as great as, and certainly more varied than, that which he has exercised in his native land. With us—as, I presume, with you—he has penetrated into thousands of Puritan homes, and awakened tens of thousands of young hearts to the beauty and the nobleness of the old pre-Reformation age, and of that romance and art from which their too exclusive hereditary training had, until his time, shut them out. And he has thus, truly, done a sacred deed in turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. That was enough: but that is not the whole. He has, conversely, turned the hearts of the fathers to the children. The world-wide humanity of his poems, and, to be just, of all your American poets who have studied in his school, has produced throughout Great Britain a just reverence and affection for the American mind which will have—which has had already—large social and political results. Be sure, be sure, that in spite of passing jars, our empire will never be long unjust to yours, while Mr. Longfellow and Mr. Lowell remain not merely the household bards—though that is much—but counsellors, comforters, and trusted friends to hundreds of thousands of gentle and earnest souls; from the palace to the parsonage, from the little village shop to the farm-house on the lonely down.
But there is another American author—who was the delight of my own youth, and who should have been my teacher also, for he was a master of our common tongue, and his prose is as graceful and felicitous as poor Elia's own, and it is certainly more manly—another American author, I say, who, with that high-bred reverence for what is old, has told you already more about Westminster Abbey, and told it better, than I am likely to tell it. Need I say that I mean the lamented Washington Irving? Ah, that our authors had always been as just to you as he was just to us; and indeed more than just; for in his courtesy and geniality he saw us somewhat en beau, and treated old John Bull too much as the poet advises us to treat young and fair ladies—
Be to their faults a little blind, Be to their virtues very kind.
But what a charming book is that old 'Sketch-book.' And what a charming essay that on our great Abbey, set with such gems of prose as these,—
'The sun was pouring down a yellow autumnal ray into the square of the cloisters, beaming upon a scanty spot of grass in the centre, and lighting up an angle of the vaulted passage with a kind of dusty splendour. From between the arcades, the eye glanced up to a bit of blue sky, or a passing cloud, and beheld the sun-gilt pinnacles of the Abbey towering into the azure heaven.'
Or this again, describing the general effect of Henry the Seventh's unrivalled chapel,—'The very walls are wrought into universal ornament; encrusted with tracery, and scooped into niches, crowded with the statues of saints and martyrs. Stone seems, by the cunning labour of the chisel, to have been robbed of its weight and density; suspended aloft as if by magic; and the fretted roof achieved with the wonderful minuteness and airy security of a cobweb.'
'Dusty splendour,' 'airy security,' epithets so unexpected, and yet so felicitous, as to be seemingly accidental. Such are the tokens of that highest art, which is—to conceal its own existence. After such speech as that, what have I to tell you of the great old Abbey?
Yet there are one or two things, I dare to say, which Washington Irving would have written differently had he visited Westminster, not forty years ago, but now.
I think, in the first place, that if he visited the great Abbey now, he would not have noticed that look of dilapidation at which he hints—and perhaps had a right to hint—some forty years ago. Dilapidation, dirt, and negligence are as hateful to us now, as to the builder of the newest house outside. We too, for more than a generation past, have felt, in common with the rest of England and with all the nations of Northern Europe, that awakened reverence for Mediaeval Art and Mediaeval History, which is—for good and for evil—the special social phenomenon of our times; the natural and, on the whole, useful countercheck to that extreme of revolutionary feeling which issues—as it did in Paris but three years ago—in utter hatred and renunciation of the past, and destruction of its monuments.
To preserve, to restore, and, if not, to copy, as a sort of filial duty, the buildings which our forefathers have left us, is now held to be the very mark of cultivation and good taste in Britain. It may be that we carry it too far; that by a servile and Chinese exactness of imitation we are crippling what originality of genius may exist among our draughtsmen, sculptors, architects. But we at least confess thereby that we cannot invent and create as could our ancestors five hundred years ago; and as long as that is the case it is more wise in us—as in any people—to exhaust the signification and power of the past, and to learn all we can from older schools of art and thought ere we attempt novelties of our own which, I confess freely, usually issue in the ugly and the ludicrous.
Be that as it may, we of Westminster Abbey have become, like other Englishmen, repairers and restorers. Had we not so become, the nation would have demanded an account of us, as guardians of its national mausoleum, the building of which our illustrious Dean has so well said—
'Of all the characteristics of Westminster Abbey, that which most endears it to the nation and gives most force to its name—which has, more than anything else, made it the home of the people of England and the most venerated fabric of the English Church—is not so much its glory as the seat of the coronations, or as the sepulchre of the kings; not so much its school, or its monastery, or its chapter, or its sanctuary, as the fact that it is the resting-place of famous Englishmen, from every rank and creed, and every form of genius. It is not only Reims Cathedral and St. Denys both in one; but it is what the Pantheon was intended to be to France—what the Valhalla is to Germany—what Santa Croce is to Italy. . . It is this which inspired the saying of Nelson—Victory or Westminster Abbey. It is this which has intertwined it with so many eloquent passages of Macaulay. It is this which gives point to the allusions of recent Nonconformist statesmen, least inclined to draw illustrations from ecclesiastical buildings. It is this which gives most promise of vitality to the whole institution. Kings are no longer buried within its walls; even the splendour of pageants has ceased to attract. But the desire to be buried in Westminster Abbey is as strong as ever.
'This sprang, in the first instance, as a natural off-shoot from the coronations and interments of the kings. Had they, like those of France, of Spain, of Austria, of Russia—been buried far away in some secluded spot, or had the English nation stood aloof from the English monarchy, it might have been otherwise. The sepulchral chapels built by Henry the Third and Henry the Seventh might have stood alone in their glory. No meaner dust need ever have mingled with the dust of Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, and Guelphs. . . . But it has been the peculiar privilege of the kings of England that neither in life nor in death have they been parted from their people. As the Council of the Nation and the Courts of Law have pressed into the Palace of Westminster, and engirdled the very throne itself, so the ashes of the great citizens of England have pressed into the sepulchre of the kings, and surrounded them as with a guard of honour after their death. We are sometimes inclined bitterly to contrast the placid dignity of our recumbent kings, with Chatham gesticulating from the northern transept, or Pitt from the western door, or Shakspeare leaning on his column in Poet's Corner, or Wolfe expiring by the chapel of St. John. But, in fact, they are, in their different ways, keeping guard over the shrine of our monarchs and our laws; and their very incongruity and variety become symbols of that harmonious diversity in unity which pervades our whole commonwealth.'
Honoured by such a trust, we who serve God daily in the great Abbey are not unmindful of the duty which lies on us to preserve and to restore, to the best of our power, the general fabric; and to call on government and on private persons to preserve and restore those monuments, for which they, not we, are responsible. A stranger will not often enter our Abbey without finding somewhere or other among its vast arcades, skilled workmen busy over mosaic, marble, bronze, or 'storied window richly dight;' and the very cloisters, which to Washington Irving's eye were 'discoloured with damp, crumbling with age, and crusted with a coat of hoary moss,' are being repaired till that 'rich tracery of the arches, and that leafy beauty of the roses which adorn the keystones'—of which he tells—shall be as sharp and bright as they were first, 500 years ago.
One sentiment, again, which was called up in the mind of your charming essayist, at the sight of Westminster Abbey, I have not felt myself: I mean its sadness. 'What,' says he, 'is this vast assembly of sepulchres but a treasury of humiliation? a huge pile of reiterated homilies on the emptiness of renown and the certainty of oblivion.'
So does that 'mournful magnificence' of which he speaks, seem to have weighed on him, that he takes for the motto of his whole essay, that grand Elizabethan epigram—
When I behold, with deep astonishment, To famous Westminster how there resort Living in brasse or stony monument, The Princes and the worthies of all sort; Do I not see re-formed nobilitie, Without contempt, or pride, or ostentation, And look upon offenseless majestie, Naked of pomp or earthly domination? And how a play-game of a painted stone Contents the quiet, now, and silent sprites, Whom all the world, which late they stood upon, Could not content, nor quench their appetites. Life is a frost of cold felicities; And death the thaw of all our vanities.
True, true—who knows it not, who has lived fifty years in such a world as this?—and yet but half the truth.
Were there no after-life, no juster home beyond the grave, where each good deed—so spake the most august of lips—shall in no wise lose its reward—is it nought, virum volitare per ora, to live upon the lips of men, and find an immortality, even for a few centuries, in their hearts? I know what answer healthy souls have made in every age to that question; and what they will make to the end, as long as the respect of their fellow-creatures is, as our Creator meant that it should be, precious to virtuous men. And let none talk of 'the play-game of a painted stone,' of 'the worthless honours of a bust.' The worth of honour lies in that same worthlessness. Fair money wage for fair work done, no wise man will despise. But that is pay, not honour; the very preciousness whereof—like the old victor's parsley crown in the Greek games—is that it had no value, gave no pleasure, save that which is imperishable, spiritual, and not to be represented by gold nor quintessential diamond.
Therefore, to me at least, the Abbey speaks, not of vanity and disappointment, but of content and peace.
The quiet now and silent sprites
of whom old Christolero sings, they are content; and well for them that they should be. They have received their nation's thanks, and ask no more, save to lie there in peace. They have had justice done them; and more than one is there, who had scant justice done him while alive. Even Castlereagh is there, in spite of Byron's and of Shelley's scorn. It may be that they too have found out ere now, that there he ought to be. The nation has been just to him who, in such wild times as the world had not seen for full three hundred years, did his duty according to his light, and died in doing it; and his sad noble face looks down on Englishmen as they go by, not with reproach, but rather with content.
Content, I say, and peace. Peace from their toil, and peace with their fellow-men. They are at least at rest. Obdormierunt in pace. They have fallen asleep in peace. The galled shoulder is freed from the collar at last. The brave old horse has done his stage and lain down in the inn. There are no more mistakes now, no more sores, no more falls; and no more whip, thank God, laid on too often when it was least needed and most felt.
And there are no more quarrels, too. Old personal feuds, old party bickerings, old differences of creed, and hatreds in the name of the God of love—all those are past, in that world of which the Abbey is to me a symbol and a sacrament. Pitt and Fox, Warren Hastings and Macaulay, they can afford to be near to each other in the Abbey; for they understand each other now elsewhere; and the Romish Abbot's bones do not stir in their grave beside the bones of the Protestant Divine whom he, it may be, would have burned alive on earth.
In the south aisle of Henry the VIIth's Chapel lies in royal pomp she who so long was Britain's bane—'the daughter of debate, who discord still did sow'—poor Mary Queen of Scots. But English and Scots alike have forgotten the streams of noble blood she cost their nations; and look sadly and pityingly upon her effigy—why not?
Nothing is left of her Now but pure womanly.
And in the corresponding aisle upon the north, in a like tomb—which the voice of the English people demanded from the son of Mary Stuart—lies even a sadder figure still—poor Queen Elizabeth. To her indeed, in her last days, Vanity of vanities—all was vanity. Tyrone's rebellion killed her. 'This fruit have I of all my labours which I have taken under the sun'—and with a whole book of Ecclesiastes written on her mighty heart, the old crowned lioness of England coiled herself up in her lair, refused food, and died, and took her place henceforth opposite to her 'dear cousin' whom she really tried to save from herself—who would have slain her if she could, and whom she had at last, in obedience to the voice of the people of England, to slay against her will. They have made up that quarrel now.
Ay, and that tomb is the sacred symbol of a reconciliation even more pathetic and more strange. Elizabeth lies—seemingly by her own desire—in the same vault as her own sister, Mary Tudor. 'Bloody Mary,' now, no more. James the First, who had no love for either of them, has placed at the head of the monument 'two lines,' as has been well said, 'full of a far deeper feeling than we should naturally have ascribed to him'—
'Fellows in the kingdom, and in the tomb, Here we sleep; Mary and Elizabeth the sisters; in hope of the resurrection.'
I make no comment on those words; or on that double sepulchre. But did I not say well, that the great Abbey was a place of peace—a place to remind hardworked, purblind, and often, alas! embittered souls—
For Mother Earth she gathers all Into her bosom, great and small. Ah! could we look into her face, We should not shrink from her embrace.
Yes, all old misunderstandings are cleared up by now in that just world wherein all live to God. They live to God; and therefore the great Abbey is to me awful indeed, but never sad. Awful it ought to be, for it is a symbol of both worlds, the seen and the unseen; and of the veil, as thin as cobweb, yet opaque as night, which parts the two. Awful it is; and ought to be—like that with which it grew—the life of a great nation, growing slowly to manhood, as all great nations grow, through ignorance and waywardness, often through sin and sorrow; hewing onward a devious track through unknown wildernesses; and struggling, victorious, though with bleeding feet, athwart the tangled woods and thorny brakes of stern experience.
Awful it is; and should be. And, therefore, I at least do not regret that its very form, outside, should want those heaven-pointing spires, that delicate lightness, that airy joyousness, of many a foreign cathedral—even of our own Salisbury and Lichfield. You will see in its outer shape little, if any, of that type of architecture which was, as I believe, copied from scenery with which you, as Americans, must be even more familiar than were the mediaeval architects who travelled through the German forests and across the Alps to Rome. True, we have our noble high-pitched snow-roof. Our architect, like the rest, had seen the mountain ranges jut black and bare above the snows of winter. He had seen those snows slip down in sheets, rush down in torrents from the sun, off the steep slabs of rock which coped the hill-side; and he, like the rest, has copied in that roof, for use as well as beauty, the mountain rocks.
But he has not, as many another mediaeval architect has done, decked his roofs as Nature has decked hers, with the spruce and fir-tree spires, which cling to the hill-side of the crag, old above young, pinnacle above pinnacle, whorl above whorl; and clothed with them the sides and summit of the stone mountain which he had raised, till, like a group of firs upon an isolated rock, every point of the building should seem in act to grow toward heaven, and the grey leads of the Minster roof stand out amid peaks and turrets rich with carven foliage, as the grey rocks stand out of the primaeval woods.
That part of the mediaeval builder's task was left unfinished, and indeed hardly attempted, by our Westminster architects, either under Henry III., Edward I., or Henry V.
Their Minster is grand enough by grave height and severe proportion; and he who enters stooping under that low-browed arch of the north door, beneath the beetling crag of weatherworn and crumbling stone, may feel like one who, in some old northern fairy tale, enters a cave in some lone mountain side where trolls and dragons guard the hoards of buried kings.
And awful it is, and should be still, inside; under that vaulted roof a hundred feet above, all more mysterious and more huge, and yet more soft, beneath the murky London air.
But sad I cannot call it. Nor, I think, would you feel it sad, when you perceive how richly successive architects have squandered on it the treasures of their fancy; and made it, so they say, perhaps the most splendid specimen in the world of one of those stone forests, in which the men of old delighted to reproduce those leafy minsters which God, not man, has built; where they sent the columns aloft like the boles of giant trees, and wreathed their capitals, sometimes their very shafts, with vines and flowers; and decked with foliage and with fruit the bosses above and the corbels below; and sent up out of those corbels upright shafts along the walls, in likeness of the trees which sprang out of the rocks above their head; and raised those walls into great cliffs; and pierced those cliffs with the arches of the triforium, as with wild creatures' caves or hermits' cells; and represented in the horizontal string-courses and window-sills the strata of the rocks; and opened the windows into wide and lofty glades, broken, as in the forest, by the tracery of stems and boughs, through which were seen, not only the outer, but the upper world. For they craved—as all true artists crave—for light and colour; and had the sky above been one perpetual blue, they might have been content with it, and left their glass transparent. But in our dark dank northern clime, rain and snowstorm, black cloud and grey mist, were all that they were like to see outside for six months in the year. So they took such light and colour as nature gave in her few gayer moods, and set aloft in their stained glass windows the hues of the noonday and of the sunset, and the purple of the heather, and the gold of the gorse, and the azure of the bugloss, and the crimson of the poppy; and among them, in gorgeous robes, the angels and the saints of heaven, and the memories of heroic virtues and heroic sufferings, that they might lift up the eyes and hearts of men for ever out of the dark sad world of the cold north, with all its coarsenesses and its crimes, towards a realm of perpetual holiness, amid a perpetual summer of beauty and of light: as one who, from between the black jaws of a narrow glen, or from beneath the black shade of gigantic trees, catches a glimpse of far lands gay with gardens and cottages; and purple mountain ranges; and the far-off sea; and the hazy horizon melting into the hazy sky; and finds his soul led forth into an infinite, at once of freedom and repose.
Awful, and yet not sad; at least to one who is reminded by it, even in its darkest winter's gloom, of the primaeval tropic forest at its two most exquisite moments—its too brief twilight, and its too swift dawn.
Awful, and yet not sad; at least to an Englishman, while right and left are ranged the statues, the busts, the names, the deeds, of men who have helped, each in his place, to make my country, and your country too, that which they are.
For am I not in goodly company? Am I not in very deed upon my best behaviour? among my betters? and at court? Among men before whom I should have been ashamed to say or do a base or foolish thing? Among men who have taught me, have ennobled me, though they lived centuries since? Men whom I should have loved had I met them on earth? Men whom I may meet yet, and tell them how I love them, in some other world? Men, too, whom I might have hated, and who might have hated me, had we met on this poor piecemeal earth; but whom I may learn to regard with justice and with charity in the world where all shall know, even as they are known? Men, too—alas! how fast their number grows—whom I have known, have loved, and lost too soon; and all gleaming out of the gloom, as every image of the dead should do, in pure white marble, as if purged from earthly taint? To them, too—
Nothing is left of them Now but pure manly.
Yes, while their monuments remind me that they are not dead, but living—for all live to God—then awed I am, and humbled; better so: but sad I cannot be in such grand company.
I said, the men who helped to make my country, and yours too. It would be an impertinence in me to remind most of you of that. You know as well as I that you are represented just as much as the English people, by every monument in that Abbey earlier than the Civil Wars, and by most monuments of later date, especially by those of all our literary men. You know that, and you value the old Abbey accordingly. But a day may come—a generation may come, in a nation so rapidly increasing by foreign immigration, as well as by home-born citizenship—a generation may come who will forget that fact; and orators arise who will be glad that it should be forgotten—for awhile. But if you would not that that evil day should come then teach your children—That the history and the freedom of America began neither with the War of Independence, nor with the sailing of the Pilgrim Fathers, nor with the settlement of Virginia; but 1500 years and more before, in the days when our common Teutonic ancestors, as free then as this day, knew how
In den Deutschen Forsten Wie der Aar zu horsten,
when Herman smote the Romans in the Teutoburger-Wald, and the great Caesar wailed in vain to his slain general, 'Varus, give me back my legions!' Teach your children that the Congress which sits at Washington is as much the child of Magna Charta as the Parliament which sits at Westminster; and that when you resisted the unjust demands of an English king and council, you did but that which the free commons of England held the right to do, and did, not only after, but before, the temporary tyranny of the Norman kings.
Show them the tombs of English kings; not of those Norman kings—no Norman king lies buried in our Abbey—there is no royal interment between Edward the Confessor, the last English prince of Cerdic's house, and Henry the Third, the first of the new English line of kings. Tell them, in justice to our common forefathers, that those men were no tyrants, but kings, who swore to keep, and for the most part did keep, like loyal gentlemen, the ancient English laws, which they had sworn in Westminster Abbey to maintain; and that the few of them who persisted in outraging the rights or the conscience of the free people of England, paid for their perjury with their crowns, or with their lives. And tell them, too, in justice to our common ancestors, that there were never wanting to the kings, the nobles, or the commons of England, since the days when Simon de Montfort organised the House of Commons in Westminster Hall, on the 2nd of May, 1258—there were never wanting, I say, to the kings, the nobles, or the commons of England, counsellors who dared speak the truth and defend the right, even at the risk of their own goods and their own lives.
Remind them, too—or let our monuments remind them—that even in the worst times of the War of Independence, there were not wanting, here in England, statesmen who dared to speak out for justice and humanity; and that they were not only confessed to be the leading men of their own day, but the very men whom England delighted to honour by places in her Pantheon. Show them the monuments of Chatham, Pitt, and Fox—Burke sleeps in peace elsewhere—and remind them that the great earl, who literally died as much in your service as in ours, whose fiery invectives against the cruelties of that old war are, I am proud to say, still common-places for declamation among our English schoolboys, dared, even when all was at the worst, to tell the English House of Lords—'If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I never would lay down my arms—never, never, never!'
Yes—an American as well as an Englishman may find himself in the old Abbey in right good company.
Yes—and I do not hesitate to say, that if you will look through the monuments erected in that Abbey, since those of Pitt and Fox—you will find that the great majority commemorate the children, not of obstruction, but of progress; not of darkness, but of light.
Holland, Tierney, Mackintosh, Grattan, Peel, Canning, Palmerston, Isaac Watts, Bell, Wilberforce, Sharp, the Macaulays, Fowell Buxton, Francis Horner, Charles Buller, Cobden, Watt, Rennell, Telford, Locke, Brunel, Grote, Thackeray, Dickens, Maurice—men who, each in his own way, toiled for freedom of some kind; freedom of race, of laws, of commerce, of locomotion, of production, of speech, of thought, of education, of human charity, and of sympathy—these are the men whom England still delights to honour; whose busts around our walls show that the ancient spirit is not dead, and that we, as you, are still, as 1500 years ago, the sons of freedom and of light.
But, beside these statesmen who were just and true to you, and therefore to their native land, there lie men before whose monuments I would ask thoughtful Americans to pause—I mean those of our old fighters, by land and sea. I do not speak merely of those who lived before our Civil Wars, though they are indeed our common heritage. And when you look at the noble monuments of De Vere and Norris, the fathers of the English infantry, you should remember that your ancestors and mine, or that of any other Englishman, may have trailed pike and handled sword side by side under those very men, in those old wars of the Netherlands, which your own great historian, Mr. Motley, has so well described; or have sailed together to Cadiz fight, and to the Spanish Main, with Raleigh or with Drake.
There are those, again, who did their duty two and three generations later—though one of the noblest of them all, old Admiral Blake, alas! lies we know not where—cast out, with Cromwell and his heroes, by the fanatics and sycophants of the Restoration—whom not only we, but Royalty itself, would now restore, could we recover their noble ashes, to their rightful resting-place.
And these, if not always our common ancestors, were, often enough, our common cousins, as in the case of my own family, in which one brother was settling in New England, to found there a whole new family of Kingsleys while the other brother was fighting in the Parliamentary army, and helping to defeat Charles at Rowton Moor.
But there is another class of warriors' tombs, which I ask you, if ever you visit the Abbey, to look on with respect, and let me say, affection too. I mean the men who did their duty, by land and sea, in that long series of wars which, commencing in 1739, ended in 1783, with our recognition of your right and power to be a free and independent people. Of those who fought against you I say nought. But I must speak of those who fought for you—who brought to naught, by sheer hard blows, that family compact of the House of Bourbon, which would have been as dangerous to you upon this side of the ocean as to us upon the other; who smote with a continual stroke the trans-Atlantic power of Spain, till they placed her once vast and rich possessions at your mercy to this day; and who—even more important still—prevented the French from seizing at last the whole valley of the Mississippi, and girdling your nascent dominion with a hostile frontier, from Louisiana round to the mouth of the St. Lawrence.
When you see Wolfe's huge cenotaph, with its curious bronze bas-relief of the taking of the heights of Abraham, think, I pray you, that not only for England, but for you, the 'little red-haired corporal' conquered and died.
Remember, too, that while your ancestors were fighting well by land, and Washington and such as he were learning their lesson at Fort Duquesne and elsewhere better than we could teach them, we were fighting well where we knew how to fight—at sea. And when, near to Wolfe's monument, or in the Nave, you see such names as Cornwallis, Saumarez, Wager, Vernon—the conqueror of Portobello—Lord Aubrey Beauclerk, and so forth—bethink you that every French or Spanish ship which these men took, and every convoy they cut off, from Toulon to Carthagena, and from Carthagena to Halifax, made more and more possible the safe severance from England of the very Colonies which you were then helping us to defend. And then agree, like the generous-hearted people which you are, that if, in after years, we sinned against you—and how heavy were our sins, I know too well—there was a time, before those evil days, when we fought for you, and by your side, as the old lion by the young; even though, like the old lion and the young, we began, only too soon, tearing each other to pieces over the division of the prey.
Nay, I will go further, and say this, paradoxical as it may seem:—When you enter the North Transept from St. Margaret's Churchyard you see on your right hand a huge but not ungraceful naval monument of white marble, inscribed with the names of Bayne, Blair, Lord Robert Manners—three commanders of Rodney's, in the crowning victory of April 12, 1782—fought upon Tropic waters, over which I have sailed, flushed with the thought that my own grandfather was that day on board of Rodney's ship.
Now do you all know what that day's great fight meant for you,—fought though it was, while you, alas! were still at war with us? It meant this. That that day—followed up, six months after, by Lord Howe's relief of Gibraltar—settled, I hold, the fate of the New World for many a year. True, in one sense, it was settled already. Cornwallis had already capitulated at York Town. But even then the old lion, disgraced, bleeding, fainting, ready to yield—but only to you, of his own kin and blood—struck, though with failing paw, two such tremendous blows at his old enemies, as deprived them thenceforth of any real power in the New World; precipitated that bankruptcy and ruin which issued in the French and Spanish revolutions; and made certain, as I believe, the coming day when the Anglo-Saxon race shall be the real masters of the whole New World.
Of poets and of men of letters I say nought. They are the heritage, neither of us, nor you, but of the human race. The mere man of letters may well sleep in the very centre of that busy civilisation from which he drew his inspiration: but not the poet—not, at least, the poet of these days. He goes not to the town, but nature, for his inspirations, and to nature when he dies he should return. Such men—artificial, and town-bred—however brilliant, or even grand at times—as Davenant, Dryden, Cowley, Congreve, Prior, Gay—sleep fitly in our care here. Yet even Pope—though one of such in style and heart—preferred the parish church of the then rural Twickenham, and Gray the lonely graveyard of Stoke Pogis. Ben Jonson has a right to lie with us. He was a townsman to the very heart, and a court-poet too. But Chaucer, Spenser, Drayton—such are, to my mind, out of place. Chaucer lies here, because he lived hard by. Spenser through bitter need and woe. But I should have rather buried Chaucer in some trim garden, Spenser beneath the forest aisles, and Drayton by some silver stream—each man's dust resting where his heart was set. Happier, it seems to me, are those who like Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Southey, Scott and Burns, lie far away, in scenes they knew and loved; fulfilling Burke's wise choice: 'After all I had sooner sleep in the southern corner of a country churchyard than in the tomb of all the Capulets.'
Yes—these worthies, one and all, are a token that the Great Abbey, and all its memories of 800 years, does not belong to us alone, nor even to the British Empire alone and all its Colonies, but to America likewise! That when an American enters beneath that mighty shade, he treads on common and ancestral ground, as sacred to him as it is to us; the symbol of common descent, common development, common speech, common creed, common laws, common literature, common national interests, and I trust, of a common respect and affection, such as the wise can only feel toward the wise, and the strong toward the strong.
Is all this sentiment? Remember what I said just now: by well-used sentiment, and well-used sorrow, great nations live.
LECTURE II. THE STAGE AS IT WAS ONCE.
What the Stage is now, I presume, all know. I am not myself a playgoer, but I am informed that, in Europe at least, it is not in a state to arouse any deep interest or respect in any cultivated or virtuous person. Meanwhile, keeping fast to my intention of talking to you only about things worthy of your interest and respect, because they are good, true, and beautiful, I wish to tell you what the Stage was once, in a republic of the past—what it may be again, I sometimes dream, in some republic of the future.
Let me take you back in fancy some 2314 years—440 years before the Christian era, and try to sketch for you—alas! how clumsily—a great, though tiny people, in one of their greatest moments—in one of the greatest moments, it may be, of the human race. For surely it is a great and a rare moment for humanity, when all that is loftiest in it—when reverence for the Unseen powers, reverence for the heroic dead, reverence for the father-land; and that reverence, too, for self, which is expressed in stateliness and self-restraint, in grace and courtesy; when all these, I say, can lend themselves, even for a day, to the richest enjoyment of life—to the enjoyment of beauty in form and sound, and of relaxation, not brutalizing, but ennobling.
Rare, alas! have such seasons been in the history of poor humanity. But when they have come, they have lifted it up one stage higher thenceforth. Men, having been such once, may become such again; and the work which such times have left behind them becomes immortal.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.
Let me take you to the then still unfinished theatre of Athens, hewn out of the limestone rock on the south-east slope of the Acropolis.
Above are the new marble buildings of the Parthenon, rich with the statues and bas-reliefs of Phidias and his scholars, gleaming white against the blue sky, with the huge bronze statue of Athene Promachos, fifty feet in height, towering up among the temples and colonnades. In front, and far below, gleams the blue sea, and Salamis beyond.
And there are gathered the people of Athens—50,000 of them, possibly, when the theatre was complete and full. If it be fine, they all wear garlands on their heads. If the sun be too hot, they wear wide-brimmed straw hats. And if a storm comes on, they will take refuge in the porticos beneath; not without wine and cakes, for what they have come to see will last for many an hour, and they intend to feast their eyes and ears from sunrise to sunset. On the highest seats are slaves and freedmen, below them the free citizens; and on the lowest seats of all are the dignitaries of the republic—the priests, the magistrates, and the other [Greek text]—the fair and good men—as the citizens of the highest rank were called, and with them foreign ambassadors and distinguished strangers. What an audience—the rapidest, subtlest, wittiest, down to the very cobblers and tinkers, the world has ever seen. And what noble figures on those front seats; Pericles, with Aspasia beside him, and all his friends—Anaxagoras the sage, Phidias the sculptor, and many another immortal artist; and somewhere among the free citizens, perhaps beside his father Sophroniscus the sculptor, a short, square, pugnosed boy of ten years old, looking at it all with strange eyes—'who will be one day,' so said the Pythoness at Delphi, 'the wisest man in Greece'—sage, metaphysician, humourist, warrior, patriot, martyr—for his name is Socrates.
All are in their dresses of office; for this is not merely a day of amusement, but of religious ceremony; sacred to Dionysos—Bacchus, the inspiring god, who raises men above themselves, for good—or for evil.
The evil, or at least the mere animal aspect of that inspiration, was to be seen in forms grotesque and sensuous enough in those very festivals, when the gayer and coarser part of the population, in town and country, broke out into frantic masquerade, of which that silly carnival of Rome is perhaps the last paltry and unmeaning relic. 'When,' as the learned O. Muller says, 'the desire of escaping from self into something new and strange, of living in an imaginary world, broke forth in a thousand ways; not merely in revelry and solemn, though fantastic songs, but in a hundred disguises, imitating the subordinate beings—satyrs, pans, and nymphs, by whom the god was surrounded, and through whom life seemed to pass from him into vegetation, and branch off into a variety of beautiful or grotesque forms—beings who were ever present to the fancy of the Greeks, as a convenient step by which they could approach more nearly to the presence of the Divinity.' But even out of that seemingly bare chaos, Athenian genius was learning how to construct, under Eupolis, Cratinus and Aristophanes, that elder school of comedy, which remains not only unsurpassed, but unapproachable, save by Rabelais alone, as the ideal cloudland of masquerading wisdom, in which the whole universe goes mad—but with a subtle method in its madness.
Yes, so it has been, under some form or other, in every race and clime—ever since Eve ate of the magic fruit, that she might be as a god, knowing good and evil, and found, poor thing, as most have since, that it was far easier and more pleasant to know the evil than to know the good. But that theatre was built that men might know therein the good as well as the evil. To learn the evil, indeed, according to their light, and the sure vengeance of Ate and the Furies which tracks up the evil-doer. But to learn also the good—lessons of piety, patriotism, heroism, justice, mercy, self-sacrifice, and all that comes out of the hearts of men and women not dragged below, but raised above themselves; and behind all—at least in the nobler and earlier tragedies of AEschylus and Sophocles, before Euripides had introduced the tragedy of mere human passion; that sensation tragedy, which is the only one the world knows now, and of which the world is growing rapidly tired—behind all, I say, lessons of the awful and unfathomable mystery of human existence, of unseen destiny; of that seemingly capricious distribution of weal and woe, to which we can find no solution on this side the grave, for which the old Greek could find no solution whatsoever.
Therefore there was a central object in the old Greek theatre, most important to it, but which does not exist in our theatres, and did not in the old Roman; because our tragedies, like the Roman, are mere plays concerning love, murder, and so forth, while the Greek were concerning the deepest relations of man to the Unseen.
The almost circular orchestra, or pit, between the benches and the stage, was empty of what we call spectators—because it was destined for the true and ideal spectators—the representatives of humanity; in its centre was a round platform, the [Greek text]—originally the altar of Bacchus—from which the leader of these representatives, the leader of the Chorus, could converse with the actors on the stage and take his part in the drama; and round this thymele the Chorus ranged, with measured dance and song, chanting, to the sound of a simple flute, odes such as the world had never heard before or since, save perhaps in the temple-worship at Jerusalem. A chorus now, as you know, means merely any number of persons singing in full harmony on any subject. The Chorus was then in tragedy, and indeed in the higher comedy, what Schlegel well calls 'the ideal spectator,'—a personified reflection on the action going on, the incorporation into the representation itself of the sentiments of the poet, as the spokesman of the whole human race. He goes on to say (and I think truly), 'that the Chorus always retained among the Greeks a peculiar national signification, publicity being, according to their republican notions, essential to the completeness of every important transaction.' Thus the Chorus represented idealised public opinion: not of course, the shifting, hasty public opinion of the moment—to that it was a conservative check, and it calmed to soberness and charity—for it was the matured public opinion of centuries; the experience, and usually the sad experience, of many generations; the very spirit of the Greek race.
The Chorus might be composed of what the poet would. Of ancient citizens, waiting for their sons to come back from the war, as in the Agamemnon of AEschylus; of sea-nymphs, as in his Prometheus Bound; even of the very Furies who hunt the matricide, as in his Eumenides; of Senators as in the Antigone of Sophocles; or of village farmers as in his OEdipus at Colonos—and now I have named five of the greatest poems, as I hold, written by mortal man till Dante rose. Or it may be the Chorus was composed—as in the comedies of Aristophanes, the greatest humourist the world has ever seen—of birds, or of frogs, or even of clouds. It may rise to the level of Don Quixote, or sink to that of Sancho Panza; for it is always the incarnation of such wisdom, heavenly or earthly, as the poet wishes the people to bring to bear on the subject-matter!
But let the poets themselves, rather than me, speak awhile. Allow me to give you a few specimens of these choruses—the first as an example of that practical, and yet surely not un-divine wisdom, by which they supplied the place of our modern preacher, or essayist, or didactic poet.
Listen to this of the old men's chorus in the Agamemnon, in the spirited translation of my friend Professor Blackie:—
'Twas said of old, and 'tis said to-day, That wealth to prosperous stature grown Begets a birth of its own: That a surfeit of evil by good is prepared, And sons must bear what allotment of woe Their sires were spared. But this I refuse to believe: I know That impious deeds conspire To beget an offspring of impious deeds Too like their ugly sire. But whoso is just, though his wealth like a river Flow down, shall be scathless: his house shall rejoice In an offspring of beauty for ever.
The heart of the haughty delights to beget A haughty heart. From time to time In children's children recurrent appears The ancestral crime. When the dark hour comes that the gods have decreed And the Fury burns with wrathful fires, A demon unholy, with ire unabated, Lies like black night on the halls of the fated; And the recreant Son plunges guiltily on To perfect the guilt of his Sires.
But Justice shines in a lowly cell; In the homes of poverty, smoke-begrimed, With the sober-minded she loves to dwell. But she turns aside From the rich man's house with averted eye, The golden-fretted halls of pride Where hands with lucre are foul, and the praise Of counterfeit goodness smoothly sways; And wisely she guides in the strong man's despite All things to an issue of RIGHT.
Let me now give you another passage from the Eumenides—or Furies, of AEschylus.
Orestes, prince of Argos, you must remember, has avenged on his mother Clytemnestra the murder of his father, king Agamemnon, on his return from Troy. Pursued by the Furies, he takes refuge in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and then, still Fury-haunted, goes to Athens, where Pallas Athene the warrior-maiden, the tutelary goddess of Athens, bids him refer his cause to the Areopagus, the highest court of Athens, Apollo acting as his advocate, and she sitting as umpire in the midst. The white and black balls are thrown into the urn, and are equal; and Orestes is only delivered by the decision of Athene—as the representative of the nearer race of gods, the Olympians, the friends of man, in whose likeness man is made. The Furies are the representatives of the older and darker creed—which yet has a depth of truth in it—of the irreversible dooms which underlie all nature; and which represent the Law, and not the Gospel, the consequence of the mere act, independent of the spirit which has prompted it.
They break out in fury against the overbearing arrogance of these younger gods. Athene bears their rage with equanimity, addresses them in the language of kindness, even of veneration, till these so indomitable beings are unable to withstand the charm of her mild eloquence. They are to have a sanctuary in the Athenian land, and to be called no more Furies (Erinnys), but Eumenides—the well-conditioned—the kindly goddesses. And all ends with a solemn procession round the orchestra, with hymns of blessing, while the terrible Chorus of the Furies, clothed in black, with blood-stained girdles, and serpents in their hair, in masks having perhaps somewhat of the terrific beauty of Medusa-masks, are convoyed to their new sanctuary by a procession of children, women, and old men in purple robes and torches in their hands, after Athene and the Furies have sung, in response to each other, a chorus from which I must beg leave to give you an extract or two.
Eldest Fury (Leader of the Chorus).
Far from thy dwelling, and far from thy border, By the grace of my godhead benignant I order The blight which may blacken the bloom of the trees. Far from thy border, and far from thy dwelling, Be the hot blast which shrivels the bud in its swelling, The seed-rotting taint, and the creeping disease. Thy flocks be still doubled, thy seasons be steady, And when Hermes is near thee, thy hand be still ready The Heaven-dropt bounty to seize.
Hear her words, my city's warders— Fraught with blessings, she prevaileth With Olympians and Infernals, Dread Erinnys much revered. Mortal faith she guideth plainly To what goal she pleaseth, sending Songs to some, to others days With tearful sorrows dulled.
Far from thy border The lawless disorder That sateless of evil shall reign; Far from thy dwelling, The dear blood welling, That taints thine own hearth with the slain. When slaughter from slaughter Shall flow like the water, And rancour from rancour shall grow. But joy with joy blending, Live, each to all lending; And hating one-hearted the foe. When bliss hath departed; From love single-hearted, A fountain of healing shall flow.
Wisely now the tongue of kindness Thou hast found, the way of love. And these terror-speaking faces Now look wealth to me and mine. Her so willing, ye more willing, Now receive. This land and city, On ancient right securely throned, Shall shine for evermore.
Hail, and all hail, mighty people, be greeted, On the sons of Athena shines sunshine the clearest. Blest people, near Jove the Olympian seated. And dear to the maiden his daughter the dearest. Timely wise 'neath the wings of the daughter ye gather, And mildly looks down on her children the Father.
Those of you here who love your country as well as the old Athenians loved theirs, will feel at once the grand political significance of such a scene, in which patriotism and religion become one—and feel, too, the exquisite dramatic effect of the innocent, the weak, the unwarlike, welcoming among them, without fear, because without guilt, those ancient snaky-haired sisters, emblems of all that is most terrible and most inscrutable, in the destiny of nations, of families, and of men:
To their hallowed habitations 'Neath Ogygian earth's foundations In that darksome hall Sacrifice and supplication Shall not fail. In adoration Silent worship all.
Listen again, to the gentler patriotism of a gentler poet, Sophocles himself. The village of Colonos, a mile from Athens, was his birthplace; and in his OEdipus Coloneus, he makes his Chorus of village officials sing thus of their consecrated olive grove:
In good hap, stranger, to these rural seats Thou comest, to this region's blest retreats, Where white Colonos lifts his head, And glories in the bounding steed. Where sadly sweet the frequent nightingale Impassioned pours his evening song, And charms with varied notes each verdant vale, The ivy's dark-green boughs among, Or sheltered 'neath the clustering vine Which, high above him form a bower, Safe from the sun or stormy shower, Where frolic Bacchus often roves, And visits with his fostering nymphs the groves.
Bathed in the dew of heaven each morn, Fresh is the fair Narcissus born, Of those great gods the crown of old; The crocus glitters, robed in gold. Here restless fountains ever murmuring glide, And as their crisped streamlets play, To feed, Cephisus, thine unfailing tide, Fresh verdure marks their winding way. Here oft to raise the tuneful song The virgin band of Muses deigns, And car-borne Aphrodite guides her golden reins.
Then they go on, this band of village elders, to praise the gods for their special gifts to that small Athenian land. They praise Pallas Athene, who gave their forefathers the olive; then Poseidon—Neptune, as the Romans call him—who gave their forefathers the horse; and something more—the ship,—the horse of the sea, as they, like the old Norse Vikings after them, delighted to call it.—
Our highest vaunt is this—Thy grace, Poseidon, we behold. The ruling curb, embossed with gold, Controls the courser's managed pace. Though loud, oh king, thy billows roar, Our strong hands grasp the labouring oar, And while the Nereids round it play, Light cuts our bounding bark its way.
What a combination of fine humanities! Dance and song, patriotism and religion, so often parted among us, have flowed together into one in these stately villagers; each a small farmer; each a trained soldier, and probably a trained seaman also; each a self-governed citizen; and each a cultured gentleman, if ever there were gentlemen on earth.
But what drama, doing, or action—for such is the meaning of the word—is going on upon the stage, to be commented on by the sympathizing Chorus?
One drama, at least, was acted in Athens in that year—440 B.C.—which you, I doubt not, know well—that Antigone of Sophocles, which Mendelssohn has resuscitated, in our own generation, by setting it to music, divine indeed, though very different from the music to which it was set, probably by Sophocles himself, at its first, and for ought we know, its only representation. For pieces had not then, as now, a run of a hundred nights and more. The Athenian genius was so fertile, and the Athenian audience so eager for novelty, that new pieces were demanded, and were forthcoming, for each of the great festivals, and if a piece was represented a second time it was usually after an interval of some years. They did not, moreover, like the moderns, run every night to some theatre or other, as a part of the day's amusement. Tragedy, and even comedy, were serious subjects, calling out, not a passing sigh, or passing laugh, but all the higher faculties and emotions. And as serious subjects were to be expressed in verse and music, which gave stateliness, doubtless, even to the richest burlesques of Aristophanes, and lifted them out of mere street-buffoonery into an ideal fairy land of the grotesque, how much more stateliness must verse and music have added to their tragedy! And how much have we lost, toward a true appreciation of their dramatic art, by losing almost utterly not only the laws of their melody and harmony, but even the true metric time of their odes! music and metre, which must have surely been as noble as their poetry, their sculpture, their architecture, possessed by the same exquisite sense of form and of proportion. One thing we can understand—how this musical form of the drama, which still remains to us in lower shapes, in the oratorio, in the opera, must have helped to raise their tragedies into that ideal sphere in which they all, like the Antigone, live and move. So ideal and yet so human; nay rather, truly ideal, because truly human. The gods, the heroes, the kings, the princesses of Greek tragedy were dear to the hearts of Greek republicans, not merely as the founders of their states, not merely as the tutelary deities, many of them, of their country: but as men and women like themselves, only more vast; with mightier wills, mightier virtues, mightier sorrows, and often mightier crimes; their inward free-will battling, as Schlegel has well seen, against outward circumstance and overruling fate, as every man should battle, unless he sink to be a brute. 'In tragedy,' says Schlegel—uttering thus a deep and momentous truth—'the gods themselves either come forward as the servants of destiny and mediate executors of its decrees, or approve themselves godlike only by asserting their liberty of action and entering upon the same struggles with fate which man himself has to encounter.' And I believe this, that this Greek tragedy, with its godlike men and manlike gods, and heroes who had become gods by the very vastness of their humanity, was a preparation, and it may be a necessary preparation, for the true Christian faith in a Son of man, who is at once utterly human and utterly divine. Man is made in the likeness of God—is the root-idea, only half-conscious, only half-expressed, but instinctive, without which neither the Greek Tragedies, nor the Homeric Poems, six hundred years before them, could have been composed. Doubtless the idea that man was like a god degenerated too often into the idea that the gods were like men, and as wicked. But that travestie of a great truth is not confined to those old Greeks. Some so-called Christian theories—as I hold—have sinned in that direction as deeply as the Athenians of old.
Meanwhile, I say, that this long acquiescence in the conception of godlike struggle, godlike daring, godlike suffering, godlike martyrdom; the very conception which was so foreign to the mythologies of any other race—save that of the Jews, and perhaps of our own Teutonic forefathers—did prepare, must have prepared, men to receive as most rational and probable, as the satisfaction of their highest instincts, the idea of a Being in whom all those partial rays culminated in clear, pure light; of a Being at once utterly human and utterly divine; who by struggle, suffering, self-sacrifice, without a parallel, achieved a victory over circumstance and all the dark powers which beleaguer man without a parallel likewise.
Take, as an example, the figure which you know best—the figure of Antigone herself—devoting herself to be entombed alone, for the sake of love and duty. Love of a brother, which she can only prove, alas! by burying his corpse. Duty to the dead, an instinct depending on no written law, but springing out of the very depths of those blind and yet sacred monitions which prove that the true man is not an animal, but a spirit; fulfilling her holy purpose, unchecked by fear, unswayed by her sisters' entreaties. Hardening her heart magnificently till her fate is sealed; and then after proving her godlike courage, proving the tenderness of her womanhood by that melodious wail over her own untimely death and the loss of marriage joys, which some of you must know from the music of Mendelssohn, and which the late Dean Milman has put into English thus—
Come, fellow-citizens, and see The desolate Antigone. On the last path her steps shall tread, Set forth, the journey of the dead, Watching, with vainly lingering gaze, Her last, last sun's expiring rays,
Never to see it, never more, For down to Acheron's dread shore, A living victim am I led To Hades' universal bed. To my dark lot no bridal joys Belong, nor e'er the jocund noise Of hymeneal chant shall sound for me, But death, cold death, my only spouse shall be.
Oh tomb! Oh bridal chamber! Oh deep-delved And strongly-guarded mansion! I descend To meet in your dread chambers all my kindred, Who in dark multitudes have crowded down Where Proserpine received the dead. But I, The last, and oh how few more miserable, Go down, or ere my sands of life are run.
And let me ask you whether the contemplation of such a self-sacrifice should draw you, should have drawn those who heard the tale nearer to, or further from, a certain cross which stood on Calvary some 1800 years ago? May not the tale of Antigone heard from mother or from nurse have nerved ere now some martyr-maiden to dare and suffer in an even holier cause?
But to return. This set purpose of the Athenian dramatists of the best school to set before men a magnified humanity, explains much in their dramas which seem to us at first not only strange but faulty. The masks which gave one grand but unvarying type of countenance to each well-known historic personage, and thus excluded the play of feature, animated gesture, and almost all which we now consider as 'acting' proper; the thicksoled cothurni which gave the actor a more than human stature; the poverty (according to our notions) of the scenery, which usually represented merely the front of a palace or other public place, and was often though not always unchanged during the whole performance; the total absence in fact, of anything like that scenic illusion which most managers of theatres seem now to consider as their highest achievement; the small number of the actors, two, or at most three only, being present on the stage at once,—the simplicity of the action, in which intrigue (in the play-house sense) and any complication of plot are utterly absent; all this must have concentrated not the eye of the spectator on the scene, but his ear upon the voice, and his emotions on the personages who stood out before him without a background, sharp-cut and clear as a group of statuary which is the same, place it where you will, complete in itself—a world of beauty, independent of all other things and beings save on the ground on which it needs must stand. It was the personage rather than his surroundings, which was to be impressed by every word on the spectator's heart and intellect; and the very essence of Greek tragedy is expressed in the still famous words of Medea—
Che resta? Io.
Contrast this with the European drama—especially with the highest form of it—our own Elizabethan. It resembles, as has been often said in better words than mine, not statuary but painting. These dramas affect colour, light, and shadow, background whether of town or country, description of scenery where scenic machinery is inadequate, all in fact, which can blend the action and the actors with the surrounding circumstances, without letting them altogether melt into the circumstances; which can show them a part of the great whole, by harmony or discord with the whole universe, down to the flowers beneath their feet. This, too, had to be done: how it became possible for even the genius of a Shakespeare to get it done, I may with your leave hint to you hereafter. Why it was not given to the Greeks to do it, I know not.
Let us at least thank them for what they did. One work was given them, and that one they fulfilled as it had never been fulfilled before; as it will never need to be fulfilled again; for the Greeks' work was done not for themselves alone but for all races in all times; and Greek Art is the heirloom of the whole human race; and that work was to assert in drama, lyric, sculpture, music, gymnastic, the dignity of man—the dignity of man which they perceived for the most part with their intense aesthetic sense, through the beautiful in man. Man with them was divine, inasmuch as he could perceive beauty and be beautiful himself. Beauty might be physical, aesthetic, intellectual, moral. But in proportion as a thing was perfect it revealed its own perfection by its beauty. Goodness itself was a form—though the highest form—of beauty. [Greek text] meant both the physically beautiful and the morally good; [Greek text] both the ugly and the bad.
Out of this root-idea sprang the whole of that Greek sculpture, which is still, and perhaps ever will be, one of the unrivalled wonders of the world.
Their first statues, remember, were statues of the gods. This is an historic fact. Before B.C. 580 there were probably no statues in Greece save those of deities. But of what form? We all know that the usual tendency of man has been to represent his gods as more or less monstrous. Their monstrosity may have been meant, as it was certainly with the Mexican idols, and probably those of the Semitic races of Syria and Palestine, to symbolise the ferocious passions which they attributed to those objects of their dread, appeasable alone by human sacrifice. Or the monstrosity, as with the hawk-headed or cat-headed Egyptian idols, the winged bulls of Nineveh and Babylon, the many-handed deities of Hindostan—merely symbolised powers which could not, so the priest and the sculptor held, belong to mere humanity. Now, of such monstrous forms of idols, the records in Greece are very few and very ancient—relics of an older worship, and most probably of an older race. From the earliest historic period, the Greek was discerning more and more that the divine could be best represented by the human; the tendency of his statuary was more and more to honour that divine, by embodying it in the highest human beauty.
In lonely mountain shrines there still might linger, feared and honoured, dolls like those black virgins, of unknown antiquity, which still work wonders on the European continent. In the mysterious cavern of Phigalia, for instance, on the Eleatic shore of Peloponnese, there may have been in remote times—so the legend ran—an old black wooden image, a woman with a horse's head and mane, and serpents growing round her head, who held a dolphin in one hand and a dove in the other. And this image may have been connected with old nature-myths about the marriage of Demeter and Poseidon—that is, of encroachments of the sea upon the land; and the other myths of Demeter, the earth-mother, may have clustered round the place, till the Phigalians were glad—for it was profitable as well as honourable—to believe that in their cavern Demeter sat mourning for the loss of Proserpine, whom Pluto had carried down to Hades, and all the earth was barren till Zeus sent the Fates, or Iris, to call her forth, and restore fertility to the world. And it may be true—the legend as Pausanias tells it 600 years after—that the old wooden idol having been burnt, and the worship of Demeter neglected till a famine ensued, the Phigalians, warned by the Oracle of Delphi, hired Onatas, a contemporary of Polygnotus and Phidias, to make them a bronze replica of the old idol, from some old copy and from a dream of his own. The story may be true. When Pausanias went thither, in the second century after Christ, the cave and the fountain, and the sacred grove of oaks, and the altar outside, which was to be polluted with the blood of no victim—the only offerings being fruits and honey, and undressed wool—were still there. The statue was gone. Some said it had been destroyed by the fall of the cliff; some were not sure that it had ever been there at all. And meanwhile Praxiteles had already brought to perfection (Paus. 1, 2, sec. 4) the ideal of Demeter, mother-like, as Here—whom we still call Juno now—but softer-featured, and her eyes more closed.
And so for mother earth, as for the rest, the best representation of the divine was the human. Now, conceive such an idea taking hold, however slowly, of a people of rare physical beauty, of acutest eye for proportion and grace, with opportunities of studying the human figure such as exist nowhere now, save among tropic savages, and gifted, moreover, in that as in all other matters, with that innate diligence, of which Mr. Carlyle has said, 'that genius is only an infinite capacity of taking pains,' and we can understand somewhat of the causes which produced those statues, human and divine, which awe and shame the artificiality and degeneracy of our modern so-called civilisation—we can understand somewhat of the reverence for the human form, of the careful study of every line, the storing up for use each scattered fragment of beauty of which the artist caught sight, even in his daily walks, and consecrating it in his memory to the service of him or her whom he was trying to embody in marble or in bronze. And when the fashion came in of making statues of victors in the games, and other distinguished persons, a new element was introduced, which had large social as well as artistic results. The sculptor carried his usual reverence into his careful delineation of the victor's form, while he obtained in him a model, usually of the very highest type, for perfecting his idea of some divinity. The possibility of gaining the right to a statue gave a fresh impulse to all competitors in the public games, and through them to the gymnastic training throughout all the states of Greece, which made the Greeks the most physically able and graceful, as well as the most beautiful people known to the history of the human race. A people who, reverencing beauty, reverenced likewise grace or acted beauty, so utterly and honestly, that nothing was too humble for a free man to do, if it were not done awkwardly and ill. As an instance, Sophocles himself—over and above his poetic genius, one of the most cultivated gentlemen, as well as one of the most exquisite musicians, dancers, and gymnasts, and one of the most just, pious, and gentle of all Greece—could not, by reason of the weakness of his voice, act in his own plays, as poets were wont to do, and had to perform only the office of stage-manager. Twice he took part in the action, once as the blind old Thamyris playing on the harp, and once in his own lost tragedy, the 'Nausicaa.' There in the scene in which the Princess, as she does in Homer's 'Odyssey,' comes down to the sea-shore with her maidens to wash the household clothes, and then to play at ball—Sophocles himself, a man then of middle age, did the one thing he could do better than any there—and, dressed in women's clothes, among the lads who represented the maidens, played at ball before the Athenian people.
Yes: just 60 years after the representation of the Antigone, 10,000 Greeks, far on the plains of Babylon, cut through the whole Persian army, as the railway train cuts through a herd of buffalo, and then losing all their generals by treacherous warfare, fought their way north from Babylon to Trebizond on the Black Sea, under the guidance of a young Athenian, a pupil of Socrates, who had never served in the army before. The retreat of Xenophon and his 10,000 will remain for ever as one of the grandest triumphs of civilisation over brute force: but what made it possible? That these men, and their ancestors before them, had been for at least 100 years in training, physical, intellectual, and moral, which made their bodies and their minds able to dare and suffer like those old heroes of whom their tragedy had taught them, and whose spirits they still believed would help the valiant Greek. And yet that feat, which looks to us so splendid, attracted, as far as I am aware, no special admiration at the time. So was the cultivated Greek expected to behave whenever he came in contact with the uncultivated barbarian.
But from what had sprung in that little state, this exuberance of splendid life, physical, aesthetic, intellectual, which made, and will make the name of Athens and of the whole cluster of Greek republics for ever admirable to civilised man? Had it sprung from long years of peaceful prosperity? From infinite making of money and comfort, according to the laws of so-called political economy, and the dictates of enlightened selfishness? Not so. But rather out of terror and agony, and all but utter ruin—and out of a magnificent want of economy—and the divine daring and folly—of self-sacrifice.
In Salamis across the strait a trophy stood, and round that trophy, forty years before, Sophocles the author of Antigone, then sixteen years of age, the loveliest and most cultivated lad in Athens, undraped like a faun, with lyre in hand, was leading the Chorus of Athenian youths, and singing to Athene, the tutelary goddess, a hymn of triumph for a glorious victory,—the very symbol of Greece and Athens, springing up into a joyous second youth after invasion and desolation, as the grass springs up after the prairie fire has passed. But the fire had been terrible. It had burnt Athens at least, down to the very roots. True, while Sophocles was dancing, Xerxes, the great king of the East, foiled at Salamis, as his father Darius had been foiled at Marathon ten years before, was fleeing back to Persia, leaving his innumerable hosts of slaves and mercenaries to be destroyed piecemeal, by land at Platea, by sea at Mycale. The bold hope was over, in which the Persian, ever since the days of Cyrus, had indulged—that he, the despot of the East, should be the despot of the West likewise. It seemed to them as possible, though not as easy, to subdue the Aryan Greek, as it had been to subdue the Semite and the Turanian, the Babylonian, and the Syrian; to rifle his temples, to destroy his idols, carry off his women and children as colonists into distant lands, as they had been doing with all the nations of the East. And they had succeeded with isolated colonies, isolated islands of Greeks, and the shores of Asia Minor. But when they dared, at last, to attack the Greek in his own sacred land of Hellas, they found they had bearded a lion in his den. Nay rather—as those old Greeks would have said—they had dared to attack Pallas Athene, the eldest daughter of Zeus—emblem of that serene and pure divine wisdom, of whom Solomon sang of old: 'The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. When He prepared the heavens, I was there, when He appointed the foundation of the earth, then was I by Him, as one brought up with Him, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before him: rejoicing in the habitable part of His earth; and my delight was with the sons of men,'—to attack her and her brother Apollo, Lord of light, and beauty, and culture, and grace, and inspiration,—to attack them, not in the name of Ormuzd, nor of any other deity, but in the name of mere brute force and lust of conquest. The old Persian spirit was gone out of them. They were the symbols now of nothing save despotism and self-will, wealth and self-indulgence. They, once the children of Ormuzd or light, had become the children of Ahriman or darkness; and therefore it was, as I believe, that Xerxes' 1,000 ships, and the two million (or, as some have it, five million) human beings availed naught against the little fleets and little battalions of men who believed with a living belief in Athene and Apollo, and therefore—ponder it well, for it is true—with a living belief, under whatsoever confusions and divisions of personality, in a God who loved, taught, inspired men, a just God who befriended the righteous cause, the cause of freedom and patriotism, a Deity, the echo of whose mind and will to man was the song of Athene on Olympus, when she
Chanted of order and right, and of foresight, and order of peoples; Chanted of labour and craft, wealth in the port and the garner; Chanted of valour and fame, and the man who can fall with the foremost, Fighting for children and wife, and the field which his father bequeathed him. Sweetly and cunningly sang she, and planned new lessons for mortals. Happy who hearing obey her, the wise unsullied Athene.
Ah, that they had always obeyed her, those old Greeks. But meanwhile, as I said, the agony had been extreme. If Athens had sinned, she had been purged as by fire; and the fire—surely of God—had been terrible. Northern Greece had either been laid waste with fire and sword, or had gone over to the Persian, traitors in their despair. Attica, almost the only loyal state, had been overrun; the old men, women, and children had fled to the neighbouring islands, or to the Peloponnese. Athens itself had been destroyed; and while young Sophocles was dancing round the trophy at Salamis, the Acropolis was still a heap of blackened ruins.
But over and above their valour, over and above their loyalty, over and above their exquisite aesthetic faculty, these Athenians had a resilience of self-reliant energy, like that of the French—like that, to do you but justice, of your Americans after your Chicago fire; and Athens rose from her ashes to be awhile, not only, as she had nobly earned by suffering and endurance, the leading state in Greece, but a mighty fortress, a rich commercial port, a living centre of art, poetry, philosophy, such as this earth has never seen before or since.
On the plateau of that little crag of the Acropolis some 800 feet in length, by 400 in breadth—about the size and shape of the Castle Rock at Edinburgh—was gathered, within forty years of the battle of Salamis, more and more noble beauty than ever stood together on any other spot of like size.
The sudden relief from crushing pressure, and the joyous consciousness of well-earned honours, made the whole spirit-nature of the people blossom out, as it were, into manifold forms of activity, beauty, research, and raised, in raising Greece, the whole human race thenceforth.
What might they not have done—looking at what they actually did—for the whole race of man?
But no—they fell, even more rapidly than they rose, till their grace and their cultivation, for them they could not lose, made them the willing ministers to the luxury, the frivolity, the sentimentality, the vice of the whole old world—the Scapia or Figaro of the old world—infinitely able, but with all his ability consecrated to the service of his own base self. The Greekling—as Juvenal has it—in want of a dinner, would climb somehow to heaven itself, at the bidding of his Roman master.
Ah, what a fall! And what was the inherent weakness which caused that fall?
I say at once—want of honesty. The Greek was not to be depended on; if it suited him, he would lie, betray, overreach, change sides, and think it no sin. He was the sharpest of men. Sharp practice, in our modern sense of the word, was the very element in which he floated. Any scholar knows it. In the grand times of Marathon and Salamis, down to the disastrous times of the Peloponnesian war and the thirty tyrants, no public man's hands were clean, with the exception, perhaps, of that Aristides, who was banished because men were tired of hearing him called the Just. The exciting cause of the Peloponnesian war, and the consequent downfall of Athens, was not merely the tyranny she exercised over the states allied to her, it was the sharp practice of the Athenians, in misappropriating the tribute paid by the allies to the decoration of Athens. And in laying the foundations of the Parthenon was sown, by a just judgment, the seed of ruin for the state which gloried in it. And if the rulers were such, what were the people? If the free were such, what were the slaves?
Hence, weakness at home and abroad, mistrust of generals and admirals, paralysing all bold and clear action, peculations and corruptions at home, internecine wars between factions inside states, and between states or groups of states, revolutions followed by despotism, and final exhaustion and slavery,— slavery to a people who were coming across the western sea, hard-headed, hard-hearted, caring nothing for art, or science, whose pleasures were coarse and cruel, but with a certain rough honesty, reverence for country, for law, and for the ties of a family—men of a somewhat old English type, who had over and above, like the English, the inspiring belief that they could conquer the whole world, and who very nearly succeeded in that—as we have, to our great blessing, not succeeded—I mean, of course, the Romans.
LECTURE III. THE FIRST DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.
Let me begin this lecture with a scene in the North Atlantic 863 years since.
'Bjarne Grimolfson was blown with his ship into the Irish Ocean; and there came worms and the ship began to sink under them. They had a boat which they had payed with seals' blubber, for that the sea-worms will not hurt. But when they got into the boat they saw that it would not hold them all. Then said Bjarne, "As the boat will only hold the half of us, my advice is that we should draw lots who shall go in her; for that will not be unworthy of our manhood." This advice seemed so good that none gainsaid it; and they drew lots. And the lot fell to Bjarne that he should go in the boat with half his crew. But as he got into the boat, there spake an Icelander who was in the ship and had followed Bjarne from Iceland, "Art thou going to leave me here, Bjarne?" Quoth Bjarne, "So it must be." Then said the man, "Another thing didst thou promise my father, when I sailed with thee from Iceland, than to desert me thus. For thou saidst that we both should share the same lot." Bjarne said, "And that we will not do. Get thou down into the boat, and I will get up into the ship, now I see that thou art so greedy after life." So Bjarne went up into the ship, and the man down into the boat; and the boat went on its voyage till they came to Dublin in Ireland. But most men say that Bjarne and his comrades perished among the worms; for they were never heard of after.'
This story may serve as a text for my whole lecture. Not only does it smack of the sea-breeze and the salt water like all the finest old Norse sagas: but it gives a glimpse at least, of the nobleness which underlay the grim and often cruel nature of the Norseman. It belongs, too, to the culminating epoch, to the beginning of that era when the Scandinavian peoples had their great times; when the old fierceness of the worshippers of Thor and Odin was tempered, without being effeminated by the Faith of the 'White Christ,' till the very men who had been the destroyers of Western Europe became its civilisers.
It should have, moreover, a special interest to Americans. For—as American antiquaries are well aware—Bjarne was on his voyage home from the coast of New England; possibly from that very Mount Hope Bay, which seems to have borne the same name in the time of those old Norsemen, as afterwards in the days of King Philip the last sachem of the Wampanong Indians. He was going back to Greenland, perhaps for reinforcements, finding, he and his fellow-captain, Thorfinn, the Esquimaux who then dwelt in that land too strong for them. For the Norsemen were then on the very edge of a discovery, which might have changed the history not only of this continent but of Europe likewise. They had found and colonised Iceland and Greenland. They had found Labrador, and called it Helluland, from its ice-polished rocks. They had found Nova Scotia seemingly and called it Markland from its woods. They had found New England and called it Vinland the Good. A fair land they found it, well wooded, with good pasturage; so that they had already imported cows, and a bull whose lowings terrified the Esquimaux. They had found self-sown corn too, probably maize. The streams were full of salmon. But they had called the land Vinland, by reason of its grapes. Quaint enough, and bearing in its very quaintness the stamp of truth, is the story of the first finding of the wild fox-grapes. How Leif the Fortunate, almost as soon as he first landed, missed a little wizened old German servant of his father's, Tyrker by name, and was much vexed thereat, for he had been brought up on the old man's knee, and hurrying off to find him met Tyrker coming back twisting his eyes about—a trick of his—smacking his lips and talking German to himself in high excitement. And when they get him to talk Norse again, he says, 'I have not been far, but I have news for you. I have found vines and grapes!' 'Is that true, foster-father?' says Leif. 'True it is,' says the old German, 'for I was brought up where there was never any lack of them.' The saga—as given by Rafn—has a detailed description of this quaint personage's appearance; and it would not be amiss if American wine-growers should employ an American sculptor—and there are great American sculptors—to render that description into marble, and set up little Tyrker in some public place, as the Silenus of the New World.