A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. XIV.—SEPTEMBER, 1864.—NO. LXXXIII.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1864, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
Transcriber's Note: Minor typos have been corrected and footnotes moved to the end of the article.
THE CADMEAN MADNESS.
An old English divine fancied that all the world might go mad and nobody know it. The conception suggests a query whether the standard of sanity, as of fashions and prices, be not a purely artificial one, an accident of convention, a law of society, an arbitrary institute, and therefore a possible mistake. A sage and a maniac each thinks the other mad. The decision is a matter of majorities. Should a whole community become insane, it would nevertheless vote itself wise; if the craze of Bedlam were uniform, its inmates could not distinguish it from a Pantheon; and though all human history seemed to the gods only as a continuous series of mediaeval processions des sots et des anes, yet the topsy-turvy intellect of the world would ever worship folly in the name of wisdom. Arts and sciences, ideas and institutions, laws and learning would still abound, transmogrified to suit the reigning madness. And as statistics reveal the late gradual and general increase of insanity, it becomes a provident people to consider what may be the ultimate results, if this increase should happen never to be checked. And if sanity be, indeed, a glory which we might all lose unawares, we may well betake ourselves to very solemn reflection as to whether we are, at the present moment, in our wits and senses, or not.
The peculiar proficiencies of great epochs are as astonishing as the exploits of individual frenzy. The era of the Greek rhapsodists, when a body of matchless epical literature was handed down by memory from generation to generation, and a recitation of the whole "Odyssey" was not too much for a dinner-party,—the era of Periclean culture, when the Athenian populace was wont to pass whole days in the theatre, attending with unfaltering intellectual keenness and aesthetic delight to three or four long dramas, either of which would exhaust a modern audience,—the wild and vast systems of imaginary abstractions, which the Neo-Platonists, as also the German transcendentalists, so strangely devised and became enamored of,—the grotesque views of men and things, the funny universe altogether, which made up both the popular and the learned thought of the Middle Ages,—the Buddhistic Orient, with its subtile metaphysical illusions, its unreal astronomical heavens, its habits of repose and its tornadoes of passion,—such are instances of great diversities of character, which would be hardly accountable to each other on the supposition of mutual sanity. They suggest a difference of ideas, moods, habits, and capacities, which in contemporaries and associates would amply justify either party that happened to be the majority in turning all the rest into insane asylums. It is the demoniac element, the raving of some particular demon, that creates greatness either in men or nations. Power is maniacal. A mysterious fury, a heavenly inspiration, an incomprehensible and irresistible impulse, goads humanity on to achievements. Every age, every person, and every art obeys the wand of the enchanter. History moves by indirections. The first historic tendency is likely to be slightly askew; there follows then an historic triumph, then an historic eccentricity, then an historic folly, then an explosion; and then the series begins again. In the grade of folly, hard upon an explosion, lies modern literature.
The characteristic mania of the last two centuries is reading and writing. Solomon discovered that much study is a weariness of the flesh; Aristophanes complained of the multitude and indignity of authors in his time; and the famed preacher, Geyler von Kaisersberg, in the age of prevalent monkery and Benedictine plodding, mentioned erudition and madness, on equal footing, as the twin results of books: "Libri quosdam ad scientiam, quosdam ad insaniam deduxere." These were successive symptoms of the growing malady. But where there was one writer in the time of Geyler, there are a million now. He saw both health and disease, and could distinguish between them. We see only the latter. Skill in letters, half a decade of centuries ago, was a miraculous attainment, and placed its possessor in the rank of divines and diviners; now, inability to read and write is accounted, with pauperism and crime, a ground for civil disfranchisement. The old feudal merry and hearty ignorance has been everywhere corrupted by books and newspapers, learning and intelligence, the cabalistic words of modern life. Popular poetry and music, ballads and legends, wit and originality have disappeared before the barbaric intellectuality of our Cadmean idolatry. Even the arts of conversation and oratory are waning, and may soon be lost; we live only in second and silent thoughts: for who will waste fame and fortune by giving to his friends the gems which will delight mankind? and how can a statesman grapple eloquently with Fate, when the contest is not to be determined on the spot, but by quiet and remote people coolly reading his speech several hours or days later? Even if we were vagarying into imbecility, like the wildest Neo-Platonic hierophants, like the monkish chroniclers of the Middle Ages, like other romantic and fantastic theorists who have leaped out of human nature into a purely artificial realm, we should not know it, because we are all doing it uniformly.
The universe is a veiled Isis. The human mind from immemorial antiquity has ceased to regard it. A small cohort of alphabets has enrobed it with a wavy texture of letters, beyond which we cannot penetrate. The glamour is upon us, and when we would see the facts of Nature, we behold only tracts of print. The God of the heavens and earth has hidden Himself from us since we gave ourselves up to the worship of the false divinities of Phoenicia. No longer can we admire the cosmos; for the cosmos lies beyond a long perspective of theorems and propositions that cross our eyes, like countless bees, from the alcoves of philosophies and sciences. No longer do we bask in the beauty of things, as in the sunlight; for when we would melt in feeling, we hear nothing but the rattling of gems of verse. No longer does the mind, as sympathetic priest and interpreter, hover amid the phenomena of time and space; for the forms of Nature have given place to volumes, there are no objects but pages, and passions have been supplanted by paragraphs. We no longer see the whirling universe, or feel the pulsing of life. Thought itself has ceased to be a sprite, and flows through the mind only in the leaden shape of printed sentences. The symbolism of letters is over us all. An all-pervading nominalism has completely masked whatsoever there is that is real. More and more it is not the soul and Nature, but the eye and print, whose resultant is thought. Nature disappears and the mind withers. No other faculty has been developed in man but that of the reader, no other possibility but that of the writer. The old-fashioned arts which used to imply human nature, which used to blossom instinctively, which have given joy and beauty to society, are fading from the face of the earth. Where are the ancient and mediaeval popular games, those charming vital symptoms? The people now read Dickens and Longfellow. Where are the old-fashioned instincts of worship and love, consolation and mourning? The people have since found an antidote for these experiences in Blair and Tupper, and other authors of renown. Where are those weird voices of the air and forest and stream, those symptoms of an enchanted Nature, which used to thrill and bless the soul of man? The duller ear of men has failed to hear them in this age of popular science.
Literature, using the word with a benevolent breadth of meaning which excludes no pretenders, is the result of the invasion of letters. It is the fort which they occupy, which with too hasty consideration has usually been regarded as friendly to the human race. Religions, laws, sciences, arts, theories, and histories, instead of passing Ariel-like into the elements when their task is done, are made perpetual prisoners in the alcoves of dreary libraries. They have a fossil immortality, surviving themselves in covers, as poems have survived minstrels. The memory of man is made omni-capacious; its burden increases with every generation; not even the ignorance and stolidity of the past are allowed the final grace of being forgotten; and omniscience is becoming at once more and more impossible and more and more fashionable. Whoever reads only the books of his own time is superficial in proportion to the thickness of the ages. But neither the genius of man, nor his length of days, has had an increase corresponding to that of the realm of knowledge, the requirements of reading, and the conditions of intelligence. The multiplied attractions only crowd and obstruct the necessarily narrow line of duty, possibility, and destiny. Life threatens to be extinguished by its own shadow, by the debris kept in the current by countless tenacious records. Its essence escapes to heaven or into new forms, but its ghosts still walk the earth in print. Like that mythical serpent which advanced only as it grew in length, so knowledge spans the whole length of the ages. Some philosopher conceived of history as the migration and growth of reason throughout time, culminating in successive historical ideas. He, however, supposed that the idea of every age had nothing to do with any preceding age; it had passed through whatsoever previous stages, had been somewhat modified by them, contained in itself all that was best in them, was improved and elevated at every new epoch; but it had no memory, never looked backward, and was an ever rolling sphere, complete in itself, leaving no trail behind. Human life, under the discipline of letters and common schools, is not thus Hegelian, but advances under the boundless retrospection of literature. And yet this is probably divine philosophy. It is probable that the faculty of memory belongs to man only in an immature state of development, and that in some future and happier epoch the past will be known to us only as it lives in the present; and then for the first time will Realism in life take the place of Nominalism.
The largest library in the world, the Bibliotheque Imperiale of Paris, (it has been successively, like the adventurous and versatile throne of France, Royale, Nationale, and Imperiale,) contains very nearly one million of books, the collected fruits of all time. Consider an average book in that collection: how much human labor does it stand for? How much capital was invested originally in its production, and how much tribute of time and toil does it receive per annum? Regarding books as intellectual estate, how much does it cost mankind to procure and keep up an average specimen? What quantity of human resources has been originally and consecutively sunk in the Parisian library? How much of human time, which is but a span, and of human emotion and thought, which are sacred and not to be carelessly thrown away, lie latent therein?
The estimate must be highly speculative. Some books have cost a lifetime and a heartbreak; others have been written at leisure in a week, and without an emotion. Some are born from the martyrdom of a thinker to fire the genius of a populace; others are the coruscations of joy, and have a smile for their immortal heir. Some have made but the slightest momentary ripple in human affairs; others, first gathering eddies about themselves, have swept forward in grand currents, engrossing for centuries whole departments of human energy. Thousands publish and are forgotten before they die. Spinoza published after his death and is not yet understood.
We will begin with the destined bibliomacher at the time of his assumption of short clothes. The alphabet is his first professional torture, and that only ushers him upon the gigantic task of learning to read and write his own language. Experience shows that this miracle of memory and associative reason may be in the main accomplished by the time he is eight years old. Thus far in his progress towards book-making he has simply got his fingers hold of the pen. He has next to run the gauntlet of the languages, sciences, and arts, to pass through the epoch of the scholar, with satchel under his arm, with pale cheek, an eremite and ascetic in the religion of Cadmus. At length, at about twenty years of age, he leaves the university, not a master, but a bachelor of liberal studies. But thus far he has laid only the foundation, has acquired only rudiments and generalities, has only served his apprenticeship to letters. God gave mind and nature, but art has furnished him a new capacity and a new world,—the capacity to read, and the world of books. He has simply acquired a new nature, a psychological texture of letters, but the artificial tabula rasa has yet to be filled. Twenty obstetrical years have at last made him a literary animal, have furnished him the abstract conditions of authorship; but he has yet his life to save, and his fortune to make in literature. He is born into the mystic fraternity of readers and writers, but the special studies and experiences which fit him for anything, which make a book possible, are still in the future. He will be fortunate, if he gets through with them, and gets his first volume off his hands by the age of thirty. Authors are the shortest-lived of men. Their average years are less than fifty. Our bibliomacher has therefore twenty years left to him. Taking all time together, since formerly authors wrote less abundantly than now, he will not produce more than one work in five years, that is, five works in his lifetime of fifty years. The conclusion to which this rather precarious investigation thus brings us is, that the original cost of an average book is ten years of a human life. And yet these ten years make but the mere suggestion of the book. The suggestion must be developed by an army of printers, sellers, and librarians. What other institution in the world is there but the Bibliotheque Imperiale, to the mere suggestion of which ten millions of laborious years have been devoted?
Startling considerations present themselves. If there were no other argumentum ad absurdum to demonstrate some fundamental perversity and absurdity in literature, it might be suspected from the fact that Nature herself gives so little encouragement to it. Nobody is born an author. The art of writing, common as it is, is not indigenous in man, but is acquired by a nearly universal martyrdom of youth. If it had been providentially designed that the function of any considerable portion of mankind should have been to write books, we cannot suppose that an economical Deity would have failed to create them with innate skill in language, general knowledge, and penmanship. These accomplishments have to be learned by every writer, yet writers are numberless. They are mysteries which must be painfully encountered by every one at the vestibule of the temple of literature, which nevertheless is thronged. Surely, had this importance and prevalence been attached to them in the Divine scheme, they would have been born in us like the senses, or would blossom spontaneously in us, like the corollal growths of Faith and Conscience. We should have been created in a condition of literary capacity, and thus have been spared the alphabetical torture of childhood, and the academic depths of philological despair. Twenty-five years of preliminaries might have been avoided by changing the peg in the scale of creation, and the studies of the boy might have begun where now they end. Twenty-five years in the span of life would thus have been saved, had what must be a universal acquirement been incorporated into the original programme of human nature.
Or had the Deity appreciated literature as we do, He would probably have written out the universe in some snug little volume, some miniature series, or some boundless Bodleian, instead of unfolding it through infinite space and time, as an actual, concrete, unwritten reality. Be creation a single act or an eternal process, it would have been all a thing of books. The Divine Mind would have revealed itself in a library, instead of in the universe. As for men, they would have existed only in treatises on the mammalia. There are some specimens which we hardly think are according to any anticipation of heavenly reason, and therefore they would not have existed at all. Nothing would have been but God and literature. Possibly a responsible creation like ours might have been formed, nevertheless, by making each letter a living, thinking, moral agent; and the alphabet might thus have written out the Divine ideas, as men now work them out. If the conception seem to any one chilly, if it have a dreary look, if it appear to leave only a frosty metallic base, instead of the grand oceanic effervescence of life, let him remember how often earthly authors have renounced living realities, all personal sympathies and pleasures, communing only with books, their minds dwelling apart from men. Remember Tasso and Southey; ay, if you have yourself written a book that commands admiration, remember what it cost you. Why hesitate to transfer to the skies a type of life which we admire here below? But God having wrought out instead of written out His thoughts, does it not appear that He designed for men to do likewise?
And thus a new consideration is presented. The exhibit of the original cost of the Bibliotheque Imperiale was the smallest item in our budget. Mark the history of a book. How variously it engrosses the efforts of the world, from the time when it first rushes into the arena of life! The industry of printing embodies it, the energy of commerce disperses it, the army of critics announce it, the world of readers give their days and nights to it generation after generation, and its echoes uninterruptedly repeat themselves along the infinite procession of writers. The process reverts with every new edition, and eddies mingle with eddies in the motley march of history. Its story may be traced in martyrdoms of the flesh, in weary hours, strange experiences, unhappy tempers, restless struggles, unrequited triumphs,—in the glare of midnight lamps, and of wild, haggard eyes,—in sorrow, want, desolation, despair, and madness. Born in sorrow, the book trails a pathway of sorrow through the ages. And each book in the Parisian library stands for all this,—some that were produced with tears having been always read for jest,—some that were lightly written being now severe tasks for historians, antiquaries, and source-mongers.
Suppose an old Egyptian, who in primaeval Hierapolis incased his thought in papyrus, to be able now to take a stroll into the Bibliotheque, and to see what has become of his thought so far as there represented. He would find that it had haunted mankind ever since. An alcove would be filled with commentaries on it, and discussions as to where it came from and what it meant. He would find it modifying and modified by the Greeks, and reproduced by them with divers variations,—extinguished by Christianity,—revived, with a new face, among the theurgies and cabala of Alexandria; he would catch the merest glimpse of it amid the Christian legends and credulities of the Middle Ages,—but the Arabs would have kept a stronger hold on it; he would see it in the background after the revival of learning, till, gradually, as modern commerce opened the East, scholars, also, discovered that there were wonders behind the classic nations; and finally he would see how modern research, rushing back through comparison of language-roots, through geological data, through ethnological indications, through antiquarian discoveries, has rooted out of the layers of ages all the history attendant upon its original production. He would find the records of this long history in the library around him. In every age, the thought, born of pain, has been reproduced with travail. It did not do its mission at once, penetrate like a ray of light into the heart of the race, and leave a chemical effect which should last forever. No, the blood of man's spirit was not purified,—only an external application was made, and that application must be repeated with torture upon every generation. Was this designed to be the function of thought, the mission of heavenly ideas?
This is the history of his thought in books. But let us conceive what might have been its history but for the books;—how it might have been written in the fibres of the soul, and lived in eternal reason, instead of having been written on papyrus and involved in the realm of dead matter. His idea, thrilling his own soul, would have revealed itself in every particle and movement of his body; for "soul is form, and doth the body make." Its first product would have been his own quivering, animated, and animating personality. He would have impressed every one of his associates, every one of whom would in turn have impressed a new crowd, and thus the immortal array of influences would have gone on. Not impressions on parchment, but impressions on the soul, not letters, but thrills, would have been its result. Thus the magic of personal influence of all kinds would have radiated from it in omnipresent and colliding circlets forever, as the mighty imponderable agents are believed to radiate from some hidden focal force. He would trace his idea in the massive architecture and groping science of Egypt,—in the elegant forms of worship, thought, institutes, and life among the Greeks,—in the martial and systematizing genius of Rome,—and so on through the ecclesiastical life of the Middle Ages, and the political and scientific ambitions of modern times. Its operations have everywhere been chemical, not mechanical. It has lived, not in the letter, but in the spirit. Never dropping to the earth, it has been maintained as a shuttlecock in spiritual regions by the dynamics of the soul. It has wrought itself into the soul, the only living and immortal thing, and so the proper place for ideas. Its mode of transmission has been by the suffusion of the eye, the cheek, the lip, the manner, not by dead and unsymbolical letters. It has had life, and not merely duration. It has been perpetuated in cordate, not in dactylate characters. Its history must not be sought away from the circle of life, but may be seen in the current generation of men. The man whom you should meet on the street would be the product of all the ideas and influences from the foundation of the world, and his slightest act would reveal them all vital within him. The libraries, which form dead recesses in the river of life, would thus be swept into and dissolved in the current, and the waters would have been deepened and colored by their dissolution. Libraries are a sort of debris of the world, but the spiritual substance of them would thus enter into the organism of history. All the last results of time would come to us, not through books, but through the impressions of daily life. Whatsoever was unworthy to be woven into the fibres of the soul would be overwhelmed by that oblivion which chases humanity; all the time wasted in the wrong-headedness of archaeology would be saved; for there would be nothing of the past except its influence on the immediate present, and nothing but the pure human ingot would finally be left of the long whirlings in the crucible of history. Some one has said that all recent literature is one gigantic plagiarism from the past. Why plagiarize with toil the toils of the past, when all that is good in them lives, necessarily and of its own tendency, in the winged and growing spirit of man? The stream flows in a channel, and is colored by all the ores of its banks, but it would be absurd for it to attempt to take the channel up and carry it along with itself out into the sea. Why should the tinted water of life attempt to carry along with it not only the tint, but also the bank, ages back, from which the tint proceeds?
As the world goes on, the multitude of books increases. They grow as grows the human race,—but, unlike the human race, they have a material immortality here below. Fossil books, unlike fossil rocks, have a power of reproduction. Every new year leaves not only a new inheritance, but generally a larger one than ever before. What is to be the result? The ultimate prospect is portentous. If England has produced ten thousand volumes of fiction (about three thousand new novels) during the last forty years, how many books of all kinds has Christendom to answer for in the same period? If the British Museum makes it a point to preserve a copy of everything that is published, how long will it be before the whole world will not be sufficient to contain the multitude thereof? At present all the collections of the Museum, books, etc., occupy only forty acres on the soil, and an average of two hundred feet towards the sky. But even these outlines indicate a block of space which under geometrical increase would in the shortest of geological periods make a more complete conquest of the earth than has ever been made by fire or water. To say nothing of the sorrows of the composition of these new literary stores, how is man, whose years are threescore-and-ten, going to read them? Surely the green earth will be transformed into a wilderness of books, and man, reduced from the priest and interpreter of Nature to a bookworm, will be like the beasts which perish.
The eye of fancy lately witnessed in a dream the vision of an age far in the future. The surface of the earth was covered with lofty rectangles, built up coral-like from small rectangles. There was neither tree nor herb nor living creature. Walled paths, excavated ruts, alone broke the desert-like prospect, as the burrows of life. Penetrating into these, the eye saw men walking beneath the striated piles, with heads bent forward and nervous fingering of brow. There the whole world, such as we have known it, was buried beneath volumes, past all enumeration. There was neither fauna nor flora, neither wilderness, tempest, nor any familiar look of Nature, but only one boundless contiguity of books. There was only man and space and one unceasing library, and the men neither ate nor slept nor spoke. Nature was transformed into the processes and products of writing, and man was now no longer lover, friend, peasant, merchant, naturalist, traveller, gourmet, mechanic, warrior, worshipper, but only an author. All other faculties had been lost to him, and all resources for anything else had fled from his universe. Anon some wrinkled, fidgety, cogitative being in human form would add a new volume to some slope or tower of the monstrous omni-patulent mass, or some sharp-glancing youth, with teeth set unevenly on edge, would pull out a volume, look greedily and half-believingly for a few moments, return it, and slink away. "What is this world, and what means this life?" cried I, addressing an old man, who had just tossed a volume aloft. "Where are we, and what about this? Tell me, for I have not before seen and do not know." He glanced a moment, then spoke, like a shade in hell, as follows:—"This is the world, and here is human life. Man long enjoyed it, with wonderful fulness and freshness of being. But a madness seized him; everybody wrote books; the evil grew more and more; nought else was an object of pursuit; till at last the earth was covered with tomes, and for long ages now it has been buried beyond the reach of mortal. All forms of life were exterminated. Man himself survives only as a literary shadow. Each one writes a book, or a few books, and dies, vanishing into thin air. Such is life,—a hecatomb!"
But even if it be supposed that mind could survive the toil, and the earth the quantity of our accumulating books, there are other difficulties. There are other imperative limitations, beyond which the art of writing cannot go. Letters themselves limit the possibilities of literature. For there is only a certain number of letters. These letters are capable of only a certain number of combinations into words. This limited number of possible words is capable only of a certain number of arrangements. Conceive the effect when all these capabilities shall be exhausted! It will no longer be possible for a new thing to be said or written. We shall have only to select and repeat from the past. Writing shall be reduced to the making of extracts, and speaking to the making of quotations. Yet the condition of things would certainly be improved. As there is now a great deal of writing without thinking, so then thinking could go on without writing. A man would be obliged to think out and up to his result, as we do now; but whether his processes and conclusions were wise or foolish, he would find them written out for him in advance. The process of selection would be all. The immense amount of writing would cease. Authors would be extinct. Thinkers could find their ideas stated in the best possible way, and the most effective arguments in their favor. If this event seems at all unlikely to any one, let him only reflect on the long geological ages, and on the innumerable writings, short and long, now published daily,—from Mr. Buckle to the newspapers. Estimate everything in type daily throughout Christendom. If so much is done in a day, how much in a few decades of centuries? Surely, at our present rate, in a very conceivable length of time, the resources of two alphabets would be exhausted. And this may be the reason and providence in the amount of writing now going on,—to get human language written up. The earth is as yet not half explored, and its cultivation and development, in comparison with what shall some time be, have scarcely begun. Will not the race be blessed, when its two mortal foes, Nature and the alphabet, have been finally and forever subdued?
This necessary finiteness of literature may be illustrated in another way. An English mathematician of the seventeenth century applied the resources of his art to an enumeration of human ideas. He believed that he could calculate with rigorous exactness the number of ideas of which the human mind is susceptible. This number, according to him, (and he has never been disputed,) was 3,155,760,000. Even if we allowed a million of words to one idea, according to our present practice,—instead of a single word to an idea, which would seem reasonable,—still, all the possible combinations of words and ideas would finally be exhausted. The ideas would give out, to be sure, a million of times before the words; but the latter would meet their doom at last. All possible ideas would then be served up in all possible ways for all men, who could order them according to their appetites, and we could dispense with cooks ever after. The written word would be the finished record of all possible worlds, in gross and in detail.
But the problem whose solution has thus been attempted by desperate suggestions has, by changing its elements, nullified our calculation. We have been plotting to cast out the demon of books; and, lo! three other kindred demons of quarterlies, monthlies, and newspapers have joined fellowship with it, and our latter estate is worse than our first. Indeed, we may anticipate the speedy fossilization and extinction of books, while these younger broods alone shall occupy the earth. Our libraries are already hardly more than museums, they will soon be mausoleums, while all our reading is of the winged words of the hurried contributor. Some of the most intelligent and influential men in large cities do not read a book once a year. The Cadmean magic has passed from the hands of hierophants into those of the people. Literature has fallen from the domain of immortal thought to that of ephemeral speech, from the conditions of a fine to those of a mechanical art. The order of genius has been abolished by an all-prevailing popular opinion. The elegance and taste of patient culture have been vulgarized by forced contact with the unpresentable facts thrust upon us by the ready writer. Everybody now sighs for the new periodical, while nobody has read the literature of any single age in any single country.
How like mountain-billows of barbarism do the morning journals, reeking with unkempt facts, roll in upon the peaceful thought of the soul! How like savage hordes from some remote star, some nebulous chaos, that has never yet been recognized in the cosmical world, do they trample upon the organic and divine growths of culture, laying waste the well-ordered and fairly adorned fields of the mind, demolishing the intellectual highways which great engineering thinkers have constructed within us, and reducing a domain in which poetry and philosophy, with their sacred broods, dwelt gloriously together, to an undistinguishable level of ruin! How helpless are we before a newspaper! We sit down to it a highly developed and highly civilized being; we leave it a barbarian. Step by step, blow by blow, has everything that was nobly formed within us been knocked down, and we are made illustrations of the atomic theory of the soul, every atom being a separate savage, after the social theory of Hobbes. We are crazed by a multitudinousness of details, till the eye sees no picture, the ear hears no music, the taste finds no beauty, and the reason grasps no system. The only wonder is that the diabolical invention of Faust or Gutenberg has not already transformed the growths of the mind into a fauna and flora of perdition.
It was a sad barbarism when men ran wild with their own impulses, unable to control the fierceness of instinct. It is a sadder barbarism when men yield to every impulse from without, with no imperial dignity in the soul, which closes the apartments against the violence of the world and frowns away unseemly intruders. We have no spontaneous enthusiasm, no spiritual independence, no inner being, obedient only to its own law. We do not plough the billows of time with true beak and steady weight, but float, a tossed cork, now one side up and now the other. We live the life of an insect accidentally caught within a drum. Every steamer that comes hits the drum a beat; every telegram taps it; it echoes with every representative's speech, reverberates with every senator's more portly effort, screams at every accident. Everything that is done in the universe seems to be done only to make a noise upon it. Every morning, whatsoever thing has been changed, and whatsoever thing has been unchanged, during the night, comes up to batter its report on the omni-audient tympanum of the universe, the drum-head of the press. And then we are inside of it. It may be music to the gods who dwell beyond the blue ether, but it is terrible confusion to us.
Virgil exhausted the resources of his genius in his portraiture of Fame:—
"Fama, malum, quo non aliud velocius ullum: Mobilitate viget, viresque acquirit eundo: Parva metu primo; mox sese attollit in auras, Ingrediturque solo, et caput inter nubila condit.
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Tot linguae, totidem ora sonant, tot subrigit aures. Nocte volat coeli medio terraeque per umbram Stridens, nec dulci declinat lumina somno."
What would he have done, had he known our modern monster, the alphabet-tongued, steel-sinewed, kettle-lunged Rumor? It is a sevenfold horror. The Virgilian Fame was not a mechanical, but a living thing; it grew as it ran; it at least gave a poetical impression. Its story grew as legends grow, full to the brim of the instincts of the popular genius. It left its traces as it passed, and the minds of all who saw and heard rested in delightful wonder till something new happened. But the fact which printed Rumor throws through the atmosphere is coupled not with, the beauty of poetry, but with the madness of dissertation. Everybody is not only informed that the Jackats defeated the Magnats on the banks of the Kaiger on the last day of last week, but this news is conveyed to them in connection with a series of revelations about the relations of said fact to the universe. The primordial germ is not poetical, but dissertational. It tends to no organic creation, but to any abnormal and multitudinous display of suggestions, hypotheses, and prophecies. The item is shaped as it passes, not by the hopes and fears of the soul, but grows by accumulation of the dull details of prose. We have neither the splendid bewilderments of the twelfth, nor the cold illumination of the eighteenth century, but bewilderments without splendor, and coldness without illumination. The world is too wide-awake for thought,—the atmosphere is too bright for intellectual achievements. We have the wonders and sensations of a day; but where are the fathomless profundities, the long contemplations, and the silent solemnities of life? The newspapers are marvels of mental industry. They show how much work can be done in a day, but they never last more than a day. Sad will it be when the genius of ephemerality has invaded all departments of human actions and human motives! Farewell then to deep thoughts, to sublime self-sacrifice, to heroic labors for lasting results! Time is turned into a day, the mind knows only momentary impressions, the weary way of art is made as short as a turnpike, and the products of genius last only about as long as any mood of the weather. Bleak and changeable March will rule the year in the intellectual heavens.
What symbol could represent this matchless embodiment of all the activities, this tremendous success, this frenzied public interest? A monster so large, and yet so quick,—so much bulk combined with so much readiness,—reaching so far, and yet striking so often! Who can conceive that productive state of mind in which some current fact is all the time whirling the universe about it? Who can understand the mania of the leader-writer, who never thinks of a subject without discovering the possibility of a column concerning it,—who never looks upon his plate of soup without mentally reviewing in elaborate periods the whole vegetable, animal, and mineral kingdoms?
But what is the advantage of newspapers? Forsooth, popular intelligence. The newspaper is, in the first place, the legitimate and improved successor of the fiery cross, beacon-light, signal-smoking summit, hieroglyphic mark, and bulletin-board. It is, in addition to this, a popular daily edition and application of the works of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Lord Bacon, Vattel, and Thomas Jefferson. On one page it records items, on the other it shows the relations between those items and the highest thought. Yet the whole circle is accomplished daily. The journal is thus the synopticized, personified, incarnate madness of the day,—for to-day is always mad, and becomes a thing of reason only when it becomes yesterday. A proper historical fact is one of the rarest shots in the journalist's bag, as time is sure to prove. If we had newspaper-accounts of the age of Augustus, the chances are that no other epoch in history would be so absolutely problematical, and Augustus himself would be lucky, if he were not resolved into a myth, and the journal into sibylline oracles. The dissertational department is equally faulty; for to first impressions everything on earth is chameleon-like. The Scandinavian Divinities, the Past, the Present, and the Future, could look upon each other, but neither of them upon herself. But in the journal the Present is trying to behold itself; the same priestess utters and explains the oracle. Thus the journal is the immortal reproduction of the jour des dupes. The editors are like the newsboys, shouting the news which they do not understand.
The public mind has given itself up to it. It claims the right to pronounce all the newspapers very bad, but has renounced the privilege of not reading them. Every one is made particeps criminis in the course of events. Nothing takes place in any quarter of the globe without our assistance. We have to connive at omne scibile. About everything natural and human, infernal and divine, there is a general consultation of mankind, and we are all made responsible for the result. Yet this constant interruption of our private intellectual habits and interests is both an impertinence and a nuisance. Why send us all the crudities? Why call upon us till you know what you want? Why speak till you have got your brain and your mouth clear? Why may we not take the universe for granted when we get up in the morning, instead of proceeding directly to measure it over again? Once a year is often enough for anybody but the government to hear anything about India, China, Patagonia, and the other flaps and coat-tails of the world. Let the North Pole never be mentioned again till we can melt the icebergs by a burning mirror before we start. Don't report another asteroid till the number reaches a thousand; that will be time enough for us to change our peg. Let us hear nothing of the small speeches, but Congress may publish once a week a bulletin of what it has done. The President and Cabinet may publish a bulletin, not to exceed five lines, twice a week, or on rare occasions and in a public emergency once a day. The right, however, shall be reserved to the people to prohibit the Cabinet from saying anything more aloud on a particular public question, till they have settled it. Let no mail-steamer pass between here and Europe oftener than once a month,—let all other steamers be forbidden to bring news, and the utterance of news by passengers be treated either as a public libel or nuisance, or as high treason. Leave the awful accidents to the parties whom they concern, and don't trouble us, unless they have the merit of novelty as well as of horror. Tell us only the highest facts, the boldest strokes, the critical moments of daily chaos, and save us from multitudinous nonsense.
There are some things which we like to keep out of the newspapers,—whose dignity is rather increased by being saved from them. There are certain momentary and local interests which have become shy of the horn of the reporter. The leading movements in politics, the advanced guard of scientific and artistic achievement, the most interesting social phenomena rather increase than diminish their importance by currency in certain circles instead of in the press. The prestige of some events in metropolitan cities, a marriage or a party, depends on their social repute, and they are ambitiously kept out of the journalist's range. Moreover, in politics, a few leading men meet together for consultation, and——but the mysteries of political strategy are unknown here. Certainly the journalist has great influence in them, but the clubs are centres of information and discussions of a character and interest to which all that newspapers do is second-rate. Science has never been popularized directly by the newspapers, but the erudition of a savant reaches to the people by creating an atmospheric change, in which task the journals may have their influence. Rightly or wrongly, the administration in civil affairs at Washington has not listened to the press much, but it may be different when a new election approaches. The social, political, scientific, and military Dii Majores all depend on the journal for a part of their daily breakfast, but all soar above it.
A well-known and rather startling story describes a being, which seems to have been neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, which a man made out of the elements, by the use of his hands, and by the processes of chemistry, and which at the last galvanic touch rushed forth from the laboratory, and from the horrified eyes of its creator, an independent, scoffing, remorseless, and inevitable enemy of him to whose rash ingenuity it owed its origin.
Such a creature symbolizes some of our human arts and initiations. Once organized by genius and consecrated by precedent, they become mighty elements in history, revelling amid the wealthy energy of life, exhausting the forces of the intellect, clipping the tendrils of affection, becoming colossal in the architecture of society and dorsal in its traditions, and tyrannizing with the heedless power of an element, to the horror of the pious soul which called it into existence, over all departments of human activity. Such an art, having passed a period of tameless and extravagant dominance, at length becomes a fossil, and is regarded only as an evidence of social upheaving in a remote and unaccountable age.
To charge such a creature with monstrosity during the period of its power is simply to expose one's self to popular jeers. Having immense respect for majorities in this country, we only venture obscurely to hint, that, of all arts, none before has ever been so threatening, curious, and fascinating a monster as that of printing. We merely suggest the hypothesis, novel since some centuries, that old Faustus and Gutenberg were as much inspired by the Evil One as they have been fabled to be, when they carved out of a mountain of ore the instrument yclept type, to completely exhaust the possibilities of which is of late announced as the sum of human destiny. They lived under the hallucination of dawning literature, when printed books implied sacred and classical perfection; and they could by no means have foreseen the royal folios of the "New York Herald" and "Tribune," or the marvellous inanities about the past, present, and future, which figure in an indescribable list of duodecimo fiction, theology, and popular science.
But there is nothing so useless as to protest against a universal fashion. Every epoch must work out its own problem in its own way; and it may be that it is appointed unto mankind to work through all possible mistakes as the condition of finally attaining the truth. The only way is, to encourage the spirit of every age, to hurry on the climax. The practical reductio ad absurdum and consequent explosion will soon accomplish themselves.
But a more palpable reason against protesting is, that literature in its different branches, now as ever, commands the services of the finest minds. It is the literary character, of which the elder Disraeli has written the natural history, which now as ever creates the books, the magazines, the newspapers. That sanctified bookworm was the first to codify the laws, customs, habits, and idiosyncrasies of literary men. He was the Justinian of the life of genius. He wandered in abstraction through the deserted alcoves of libraries, studying and creating the political economy of thought. What long diversities of character, what mysterious realms of experience, what wild waywardness of heavenly endowments, what heroism of inward struggle, what shyness towards society, what devotion to the beckoning ideal of art, what defeats and what triumphs, what sufferings and joys, both in excess, were revealed by him, the great political economist of genius! In his apostolic view, genius alone consecrated literature, and made a literary life sacred. Genius was to him that peculiar and spontaneous devotion to letters which made its possessor indifferent to everything else. For a man without this heavenly stamp to engage in literature was simply for him to rush upon his fate, and become a public nuisance. Literature in its very nature is precarious, and must be plucked from the brink of fate, from the mouth of the dragon. The literary man runs the risk of being destroyed in a thousand ways. He has no track laid, no instituted aids, no specified course of action. The machineries of life are not for him. He enters into no one of the departments of human routine. He has no relations with the course of the dull world; he is not quite a man, as the world goes, and not at all an angel, as the celestials see. He must be his own motive, path, and guide, his own priest, king, and law. The world may be his footstool, and may be his slough of despond, but is never his final end. His aims are transcendental, his realm is art, his interests ideal, his life divine, his destiny immortal. All the old theories of saintship are revived in him. He is in the world, but not of it. Shadows of infinitude are his realities. He sees only the starry universe, and the radiant depths of the soul. Martyrdom may desolate, but cannot terrify him. If he be a genius, if his soul crave only his idea, and his body fare unconsciously well on bread and water, then his lot is happy, and fortune can present no ills which will not shrink before his burning eye. But if he be less than this, he is lost, the sport of devouring elements. As he fights fate on the border of ruin, so much the more should he be animated by courage, ambition, pride, purpose, and faith. To him literature is a high adventure, and impossible as a profession. A profession is an instituted department of action, resting upon universal and constant needs, and paying regular dividends. But the fine arts must in their nature be lawless. Appointments cannot be made for them any more than for the thunder-storms which sweep the sky. They die when they cease to be wild. Literary life, at its best, is a desperate play, but it is with guineas, and not with coppers, to all who truly play it. Its elements would not be finer, were they the golden and potent stars of alchemistic and astrological dreams.
Such was genius, and such was literature, in the representation of their first great lawgiver. But the world has changed. The sad story of the calamities of authors need not be repeated. We live in the age of authors triumphant. By swiftly succeeding and countless publications they occupy the eye of the world, and achieve happiness before their death. The stratagems of literature mark no longer a struggle between genius and the bailiffs. What was once a desperate venture is now a lucrative business. What was once a martyrdom is now its own reward. What once had saintly unearthliness is now a powerful motor among worldly interests. What was once the fatality of genius is now the aspiration of fools. The people have turned to reading, and have become a more liberal patron than even the Athenian State, monastic order, or noble lord. No longer does the literary class wander about the streets, gingerbread in its coat-pockets, and rhymes written on scraps of paper from the gutter in its waistcoat-pockets. No longer does it unequally compete with clowns and jockeys for lordly recognition. No longer are the poet and the fool court-rivals. No longer does it look forward to the jail as an occasional natural resting-place and paradise. No longer must the author renounce the rank and robe of a gentleman to fall from airy regions far below the mechanical artists to the level of clodhoppers, even whose leaden existence was a less precarious matter. The order of scholars has ceased to be mendicant, vagabond, and eremite. It no longer cultivates blossoms of the soul, but manufactures objects of barter. Now is the happy literary epoch, when to be intellectual and omniscient is the public and private duty of every man. To read newspapers by the billion and books by the million is now the common law. We can conceive of Disraeli moaning that the Titan interests of the earth have overthrown the celestial hierarchy,—that the realm of genius has been stormed by worldly workers,—that literature, like the angels, has fallen from its first estate,—and that authors, no longer the disinterested and suffering apostles, of art, have chosen rather to bear the wand of power and luxury than to be inspired. We can imagine his horror at the sacrilegious vulgarization of print, that people without taste rush into angelic metre, that dunces and sages thrive together on the public indiscrimination. How would he marvel to see literary reputations born, grow old, and die within a season, the owners thereof content to be damned or forgotten eternally for a moment's incense or an equally fugitive shilling. Nectar and ambrosia mean to them only meanness, larceny, sacrilege, and bread and butter.
And yet, notwithstanding the imaginary reproaches of our great literary church-father, the most preciously endowed minds are still toiling in letters. The sad and tortured devotion of genius still works itself out in them. Writing is now a marvellous craft and industry. The books which last, the books of a season, the quarterlies, monthlies, weeklies, dailies, and even the hourlies, are among the institutions of its fostering. Nor should that vehicle, partly of intelligence, but chiefly of sentiment, the postal system, be unmentioned, which men and women both patronize, each after their kind. Altogether, perhaps, in some way or other, seven-eighths of the life of man is taken up by the Cadmean Art. The whole fair domain of learning belongs to it; for nowhere now, in garden, grove, or Stoical Porch, with only the living voices of man and Nature, do students acquaint themselves with the joyous solemnities, the mysterious certainties of thought. The mind lives in a universe of type. There is no other art in which so desperate adventures are made. Indeed, the normal mental state of the abundant writer is a marvellous phenomenon. The literary faculty is born of the marriage of chronic desperation with chronic trust. This may account in part for that peculiar condition of mind which is both engendered and required by abundant writing. A bold abandon, a desperate guidance, a thoughtless ratiocination, a mechanical swaying of rhetoric, are the grounds of dissertation. A pause for a few days, a visit to the country, anything that would seem designed to restore the mind to its normal state, destroys the faculty. The weary penman, who wishes his chaotic head could be relieved by being transformed even as by Puck, knows that very whirling chaos is the condition of his multitudinous periods. It seems as if some special sluices of the soul must be opened to force the pen. One man, on returning to his desk from a four weeks' vacation, took up an unfinished article which he had left, and marvelled that such writing should ever have proceeded from him. He could hardly understand it, still less could he conceive of the mental process by which he had once created it. That process was a sort of madness, and the discipline of newspapers is inflicting it alike upon writers and readers. Demoralization is the result of a life-long devotion to the maddening rumors of the day. It takes many a day to recall that fierce caprice, as of an Oriental despot, with which he watches the tiger-fights of ideas, and strikes off periods, as the tyrant strikes off heads.
And while no other art commands so universal homage, no other is so purely artificial, so absolutely unsymbolical. The untutored mind sees nothing in a printed column. A library has no natural impressiveness. It is not in the shape of anything in this world of infinite beauty. The barbarians of Omri destroyed one without a qualm. They have occupied apartments in seraglios, but the beauties have never feared them as rivals. Of all human employments, writing is the farthest removed from any touch of Nature. It is at most a symbolism twice dead and buried. The poetry in it lies back of a double hypothesis. Supposing the original sounds to have once been imitations of the voices of Nature, those sounds have now run completely away from what they once represented; and supposing that letters were once imitations of natural signs, they have long since lost the resemblance, and have become independent entities. Whatever else is done by human artifice has in it some relic of Nature, some touch of life. Painting copies to the eye, music charms the ear, and all the useful arts have something of the aboriginal way of doing things about them. Even speech has a living grace and power, by the play of the voice and eye, and by the billowy flushes of the countenance. Mental energy culminates in its modulations, while the finest physical features combine to make them a consummate work of art. But all the musical, ocular, and facial beauties are absent from writing. The savage knows, or could quickly guess, the use of the brush or chisel, the shuttle or locomotive, but not of the pen. Writing is the only dead art, the only institute of either gods or men so artificial that the natural mind can discover nothing significant in it.
For instance, take one of the disputed statements of the Nicene Creed, examine it by the nicest powers of the senses, study it upwards, downwards, and crosswise, experiment to learn if it has any mysterious chemical forces in it, consider its figures in relation to any astrological positions, to any natural signs of whirlwinds, tempests, plagues, famine, or earthquakes, try long to discover some hidden symbolism in it, and confess finally that no man unregenerate to letters, by any a priori or empirical knowledge, could have at all suspected that a bit of dirty parchment, with an ecclesiastical scrawl upon it, would have power to drive the currents of history, inspire great national passions, and impel the wars and direct the ideas of an epoch. The conflicts of the iconoclasts can be understood even by a child in its first meditations over a picture-book; hieroglyphics may represent or suggest their objects by some natural association; but the literary scrawl has a meaning only to the initiated. A book is the prince of witch-work. Everything is contained in it; but even a superior intelligence would have to go to school to get the key to its mysterious treasures.
And as the art is thus removed from Nature, so its devotees withdraw themselves from life. Of no other class so truly as of writers can it be said that they sacrifice the real to the ideal, life to fame. They conquer the world by renouncing it. Its fleeting pleasures, its enchantment of business or listlessness, its social enjoyments, the vexations and health-giving bliss of domestic life, and all wandering tastes, must be forsaken. A power which pierces, and an ambition which enjoys the future, accepts the martyrdom of the present. They feel loneliness in their own age, while with universal survey viewing the beacon-lights of history across the peaks of generations. Their seat of life is the literary faculty, and they prune and torture themselves only to maintain in this the highest intensity and capacity. They are in some sort rebels battling against time, not the humble well-doer content simply to live and bless God. Between them and living men there is the difference which exists between analytical and geometrical mathematics: the former has to do with signs, the latter with realities. The former contains the laws of the physical world, but a man may know and use them like an adept, and yet be ignorant of physics. He may know all there is of algebra, without seeing that the universe is masked in it. The signs would be not means, but ultimates to it. So a writer may never penetrate through the veil of language to the realities behind,—may know only the mechanism, and not the spirit of learning and literature. His mind is then skeleton-like,—his thought is the shadow of a shade.
And yet is not life greater than art? Why transform real ideas and sentiments into typographical fossils? Why have we forgotten the theory of human life as a divine vegetation? Why not make our hearts the focus of the lights which we strive to catch in books? Why should the wealthy passivity of the Oriental genius be so little known among us? Why conceive of success only as an outward fruit plucked by conscious struggle? Banish books, banish reading, and how much time and strength would be improvised in which to benefit each other! We might become ourselves embodiments of all the truth and beauty and goodness now stagnant in libraries, and might spread their aroma through the social atmosphere. The dynamics would supplant the mechanics of the soul. In the volume of life the literary man knows only the indexes; but he would then be introduced to the radiant, fragrant, and buoyant contents, to the beauty and the mystery, to the great passions and long contemplations. The eternal spicy breeze would transform the leaden atmosphere of his thought. An outlaw of the universe for his sins, he would then be restored to the realities of the heart and mind. He would then for the first time discover the difference between skill and knowledge. Readers and writers would then be succeeded by human beings. The golden ante-Cadmean age would come again. Literary sanctity having become a tradition, there would be an end of its pretentious counterfeits. The alphabet, decrepit with its long and vast labors, would at last be released. The whole army of writers would take their place among the curiosities of history. The Alexandrian thaumaturgists, the Byzantine historians, the scholastic dialecticians, the serial novelists, and the daily dissertationists, strung together, would make a glittering chain of monomaniacs. Social life is a mutual joy; reading may be rarely indulged without danger to sanity; but writing, unless the man have genius, is but creating new rubbish, the nucleus of new deltas of obstruction, till the river of life shall lose its way to the ocean, and the Infinite be shut out altogether. The old bibliopole De Bury flattered himself that he admired wisdom because it purchaseth such vast delight. He had in mind the luxury of reading, and did not think that in this world wisdom always hides its head or goes to the stake. Even if literature were not to be abolished altogether, it is safe to think that the world would be better off, if there were less writing. There should be a division of labor; some should read and write, as some ordain laws, create philosophies, tend shops, make chairs,—but why should everybody dabble with literature?
In all hypotheses as to the more remote destiny of literature, we can but be struck by the precariousness of its existence. It is art imperishable and ever-changing material. A fire once extinguished perhaps half the world's literature, and struck thousands from the list of authors. The forgetfulness of mankind in the mysterious mediaeval age; diminished by more than half the world of books. There are many books which surely, and either rapidly or slowly, resolve themselves into the elements, but the process cannot be seen. A whole army of books perishes with every revolution of taste. And yet the amount of current writing surpasses the strength of man's intellect or the length of his years. Surely, the press is very much of a nuisance as well as a blessing. Its products are getting very much in the way, and the impulse of the world is too strong to allow itself to be clogged by them. Something must be done.
Among possibilities, let the following be suggested. The world may perhaps return from unsymbolical to symbolical writing. There is a science older than anything but shadowy traditions, and immemorially linked with religion, poetry, and art. It is the almost forgotten science of symbolism. Symbols, as compared with letters, are a higher and more potent style of expression. They are the earthly shadows of eternal truth. It is the language of the fine arts, of painting, sculpture, the stage,—it will be the language of life, when, rising in the scale of being, we shall return from the dead sea of literature to the more energetic algebra of symbolical meanings. In these, the forms of the reason and of Nature come into visible harmony; the hopes of man find their shadows in the struggles of the universe, and the lights of the spirit cluster myriad-fold around the objects of Nature. Let Phoenician language be vivified into the universal poetry of symbolism, and thought would then become life, instead of the ghost of life. Current literature would give way to a new and true mythology; authors and editors would suffer a transformation similar to that of type-setters into artists, and of newsboys into connoisseurs; and the figures of a noble humanity would fill the public mind, no longer confused and degraded by the perpetual vision of leaden and unsuggestive letters. From that time prose would be extinct, and poetry would be all in all. History would renew its youth,—would find, after the struggles, attainments, and developments of its manhood, that there is after all nothing wiser in thought, no truer law, than the instincts of childhood.
Or, again: improvements have already been made which promise as an ultimate result to transform the largest library into a miniature for the pocket. Stenography may yet reach to a degree that it will be able to write folios on the thumb-nail, and dispose all the literature of the world comfortably in a gentleman's pocket, before he sets out on his summer excursion. The contents of vast tomes, bodies of history and of science, may be so reduced that the eye can cover them at a glance, and the process of reading be as rapid as that of thought The mind, instead of wearying of slow perusal, would have to spur its lightning to keep pace with the eye. Many books are born of mere vagueness and cloudiness of thought. All such, when thus compressed into their reality, would go out in eternal night. There is something overpowering in the conception of the high pressure to which life in all its departments may some time be brought. The mechanism of reading and writing would be slight. The mental labor of comprehending would be immense. The mind, instead of being subdued, would be spurred, by what it works in. We are now cramped and checked by the overwhelming amount of linguistic red-tape in which we have to operate; but then men, freed from these bonds, the husks of thought almost all thrown away, would be purer, live faster, do greater, die younger. What magnificent physical improvements, we may suppose, will then aid the powers of the soul! The old world would then be subdued, nevermore to strike a blow at its lithe conqueror, man. The department of the newspaper, with inconceivable photographic and telegraphic resources, may then be extended to the solar or the stellar systems, and the turmoils of all creation would be reported at our breakfast-tables. Men would rise every morning to take an intelligible account of the aspects and the prospects of the universe.
Or, once more: shall we venture into the speculative domain of the philosophy of history, and give the rationale of our times? What is the divine mission of the great marvel of our age, namely, its periodical and fugitive literature? The intellectual and moral world of mankind reforms itself at the outset of new civilizations, as Nature reforms itself at every new geological epoch. The first step toward a reform, as toward a crystallization, is a solution. There was a solvent period between the unknown Orient and the greatness of Greece, between the Classic and the Middle Ages,—and now humanity is again solvent, in the transition from the traditions which issued out of feudalism to the novelty of democratic crystallization. But as the youth of all animals is prolonged in proportion to their dignity in the scale of being, so is it with the children of history. Destiny is the longest-lived of all things. We are not going to accomplish it all at once. We have got to fight for it, to endure the newspapers in behalf of it. We are in a place where gravitation changing goes the other way. For the first time, all reigning ideas now find their focus in the popular mind. The giant touches the earth to recover his strength. History returns to the people. After two thousand years, popular intelligence is again to be revived. And under what new conditions? We live in a telescopic, microscopic, telegraphic universe, all the elements of which are brought together under the combined operation of fire and water, as erst, in primitive Nature, vulcanic and plutonic forces struggled together in the face of heaven and hell to form the earth. The long ranges of history have left with us one definite idea: it is that of progress, the intellectual passion of our time. All our science demonstrates it, all our poetry sings it. Democracy is the last term of political progress. Popular intelligence and virtue are the conditions of democracy. To produce these is the mission of periodical literature. The vast complexities of the world, all knowledge and all purpose, are being reduced in the crucible of the popular mind to a common product. Knowledge lives neither in libraries nor in rare minds, but in the general heart. Great men are already mythical, and great ideas are admitted only so far as we, the people, can see something in them. By no great books or long treatises, but by a ceaseless flow of brevities and repetitions, is the pulverized thought of the world wrought into the soul. It is amazing how many significant passages in history and in literature are reproduced in the essays of magazines and the leaders of newspapers by allusion and illustration, and by constant iteration beaten into the heads of the people. The popular mind is now feeding upon and deriving tone from the best things that literary commerce can produce from the whole world, past and present. There is no finer example of the popularization of science than Agassiz addressing the American people through the columns of a monthly magazine. Of the popular heart which used to rumble only about once in a century the newspapers are now the daily organs. They are creating an organic general mind, the soil for future grand ideas and institutes. As the soul reaches a higher stage in its destiny than ever before, the scaffolding by which it has risen is to be thrown aside. The quality of libraries is to be transferred to the soul. Spiritual life is now to exert its influence directly, without the mechanism of letters,—is going to exert itself through the social atmosphere,—and all history and thought are to be perpetuated and to grow, not in books, but in minds.
And yet, though we thus justify contemporary writing, we can but think, that, after long ages of piecemeal and bon-mot literature, we shall at length return to serious studies, vast syntheses, great works. The nebulous world of letters shall be again concentred into stars. The epoch of the printing-press has run itself nearly through; but a new epoch and a new art shall arise, by which the achievements and the succession of genius shall be perpetuated.
THE BRIDGE OF CLOUD.
Burn, O evening hearth, and waken Pleasant visions, as of old! Though the house by winds be shaken, Safe I keep this room of gold!
Ah, no longer wizard Fancy Builds its castles in the air, Luring me by necromancy Up the never-ending stair!
But, instead, it builds me bridges Over many a dark ravine, Where beneath the gusty ridges Cataracts dash and roar unseen.
And I cross them, little heeding Blast of wind or torrent's roar, As I follow the receding Footsteps that have gone before.
Nought avails the imploring gesture, Nought avails the cry of pain! When I touch the flying vesture, 'Tis the gray robe of the rain.
Baffled I return, and, leaning O'er the parapets of cloud, Watch the mist that intervening Wraps the valley in its shroud.
And the sounds of life ascending Faintly, vaguely, meet the ear, Murmur of bells and voices blending With the rush of waters near.
Well I know what there lies hidden, Every tower and town and farm, And again the land forbidden Reassumes its vanished charm.
Well I know the secret places, And the nests in hedge and tree; At what doors are friendly faces, In what hearts a thought of me.
Through the mist and darkness sinking, Blown by wind and beaten by shower, Down I fling the thought I'm thinking, Down I toss this Alpine flower.
THE ELECTRIC GIRL OF LA PERRIERE.
Eighteen years ago there occurred in one of the provinces of France a case of an abnormal character, marked by extraordinary phenomena,—interesting to the scientific, and especially to the medical world. The authentic documents in this case are rare; and though the case itself is often alluded to, its details have never, so far as I know, been reproduced from these documents in an English dress, or presented in trustworthy form to the American public. It occurred in the Commune of La Perriere, situated in the Department of Orne, in January, 1846.
It was critically observed, at the time, by Dr. Verger, an intelligent physician of Bellesme, a neighboring town. He details the result of his observations in two letters addressed to the "Journal du Magnetisme,"—one dated January 29, the other February 2, 1846. The editor of that journal, M. Hebert, (de Garny,) himself repaired to the spot, made the most minute researches into the matter, and gives us the result of his observations and inquiries in a report, also published in the "Journal du Magnetisme." A neighboring proprietor, M. Jules de Faremont, followed up the case with care, from its very commencement, and has left on record a detailed report of his observations. Finally, after the girl's arrival in Paris, Dr. Tanchon carefully studied the phenomena, and has given the results in a pamphlet published at the time. He it was, also, who addressed to M. Arago a note on the subject, which was laid before the Academy by that distinguished man, at their session of February 16, 1846. Arago himself had then seen the girl only a few minutes, but even in that brief time had verified a portion of the phenomena.
Dr. Tanchon's pamphlet contains fourteen letters, chiefly from medical men and persons holding official positions in Bellesme, Mortagne, and other neighboring towns, given at length and signed by the writers, all of whom examined the girl, while yet in the country. Their testimony is so circumstantial, so strictly concurrent in regard to all the main phenomena, and so clearly indicative of the care and discrimination with which the various observations were made, that there seems no good reason, unless we find such in the nature of the phenomena themselves, for refusing to give it credence. Several of the writers expressly affirm the accuracy of M. Hebert's narrative, and all of them, by the details they furnish, corroborate it. Mainly from that narrative, aided by some of the observations of M. de Faremont, I compile the following brief statement of the chief facts in this remarkable case.
Angelique Cottin, a peasant-girl fourteen years of age, robust and in good health, but very imperfectly educated and of limited intelligence, lived with her aunt, the widow Loisnard, in a cottage with an earthen floor, close to the Chateau of Monti-Mer, inhabited by its proprietor, already mentioned, M. de Faremont.
The weather, for eight days previous to the fifteenth of January, 1846, had been heavy and tempestuous, with constantly recurring storms of thunder and lightning. The atmosphere was charged with electricity.
On the evening of that fifteenth of January, at eight o'clock, while Angelique, in company with three other young girls, was at work, as usual, in her aunt's cottage, weaving ladies' silk-net gloves, the frame, made of rough oak and weighing about twenty-five pounds, to which was attached the end of the warp, was upset, and the candlestick on it thrown to the ground. The girls, blaming each other as having caused the accident, replaced the frame, relighted the candle, and went to work again. A second time the frame was thrown down. Thereupon the children ran away, afraid of a thing so strange, and, with the superstition common to their class, dreaming of witchcraft. The neighbors, attracted by their cries, refused to credit their story. So, returning, but with fear and trembling, two of them at first, afterwards a third, resumed their occupation, without the recurrence of the alarming phenomenon. But as soon as the girl Cottin, imitating her companions, had touched her warp, the frame was agitated again, moved about, was upset, and then thrown violently back. The girl was drawn irresistibly after it; but as soon as she touched it, it moved still farther away.
Upon this the aunt, thinking, like the children, that there must be sorcery in the case, took her niece to the parsonage of La Perriere, demanding exorcism. The curate, an enlightened man, at first laughed at her story; but the girl had brought her glove with her, and fixing it to a kitchen-chair, the chair, like the frame, was repulsed and upset, without being touched by Angelique. The curate then sat down on the chair; but both chair and he were thrown to the ground in like manner. Thus practically convinced of the reality of a phenomenon which he could not explain, the good man reassured the terrified aunt by telling her it was some bodily disease, and, very sensibly, referred the matter to the physicians.
The next day the aunt related the above particulars to M. de Faremont; but for the time the effects had ceased. Three days later, at nine o'clock, that gentleman was summoned to the cottage, where he verified the fact that the frame was at intervals thrown back from Angelique with such force, that, when exerting his utmost strength and holding it with both hands, he was unable to prevent its motion. He observed that the motion was partly rotary, from left to right. He particularly noticed that the girl's feet did not touch the frame, and that, when it was repulsed, she seemed drawn irresistibly after it, stretching out her hands, as if instinctively, towards it. It was afterwards remarked, that, when a piece of furniture or other object, thus acted upon by Angelique, was too heavy to be moved, she herself was thrown back, as if by the reaction of the force upon her person.
By this time the cry of witchcraft was raised in the neighborhood, and public opinion had even designated by name the sorcerer who had cast the spell. On the twenty-first of January the phenomena increased in violence and in variety. A chair on which the girl attempted to sit down, though held by three strong men, was thrown off, in spite of their efforts, to several yards' distance. Shovels, tongs, lighted firewood, brushes, books, were all set in motion when the girl approached them. A pair of scissors fastened to her girdle was detached, and thrown into the air.
On the twenty-fourth of January, M. de Faremont took the child and her aunt in his carriage to the small neighboring town of Mamers. There, before two physicians and several ladies and gentlemen, articles of furniture moved about on her approach. And there, also, the following conclusive experiment was tried by M. de Faremont.
Into one end of a ponderous wooden block, weighing upwards of a hundred and fifty pounds, he caused a small hook to be driven. To this he made Angelique fix her silk. As soon as she sat down and her frock touched the block, the latter was instantly raised three or four inches from the ground; and this was repeated as much as forty times in a minute. Then, after suffering the girl to rest, M. de Faremont seated himself on the block, and was elevated in the same way. Then three men placed themselves upon it, and were raised also, only not quite so high. "It is certain," says M. de Faremont, "that I and one of the most athletic porters of the Halle could not have lifted that block with the three persons seated on it."
Dr. Verger came to Mamers to see Angelique, whom, as well as her family, he had previously known. On the twenty-eighth of January, in the presence of the curate of Saint Martin and of the chaplain of the Bellesme hospital, the following incident occurred. As the child could not sew without pricking herself with the needle, nor use scissors without wounding her hands, they set her to shelling peas, placing a large basket before her. As soon as her dress touched the basket, and she reached her hand to begin work, the basket was violently repulsed, and the peas projected upwards and scattered over the room. This was twice repeated, under the same circumstances. Dr. Lemonnier, of Saint Maurice, testifies to the same phenomenon, as occurring in his presence and in that of the Procurator Royal of Mortagne; he noticed that the left hand produced the greater effect. He adds, that, he and another, gentleman having endeavored, with all their strength, to hold a chair on which Angelique sat down, it was violently forced from them, and one of its legs broken.
On the thirtieth of January, M. de Faremont tried the effect of isolation. When, by means of dry glass, he isolated the child's feet and the chair on which she sat, the chair ceased to move, and she remained perfectly quiet. M. Olivier, government engineer, tried a similar experiment, with the same results. A week later, M. Hebert, repeating this experiment, discovered that isolation of the chair was unnecessary; it sufficed to isolate the girl. Dr. Beaumont, vicar of Pin-la-Garenne, noticed a fact, insignificant in appearance, yet quite as conclusive as were the more violent manifestations, as to the reality of the phenomena. Having moistened with saliva the scattered hairs on his own arm, so that they lay flattened, attached to the epidermis, when he approached his arm to the left arm of the girl, the hairs instantly erected themselves. M. Hebert repeated the same experiment several times, always with a similar result.
M. Olivier also tried the following. With a stick of sealing-wax, which he had subjected to friction, he touched the girl's arm, and it gave her a considerable shock; but touching her with another similar stick, that had not been rubbed, she experienced no effect whatever. Yet when M. de Faremont, on the nineteenth of January, tried the same experiment with a stick of sealing-wax and a glass tube, well prepared by rubbing, he obtained no effect whatever. So also a pendulum of light pith, brought into close proximity to her person at various points, was neither attracted nor repulsed, in the slightest degree.
Towards the beginning of February, Angelique was obliged, for several days, to eat standing; she could not sit down on a chair. This fact Dr. Verger repeatedly verified. Holding her by the arm to prevent accident, the moment she touched the chair it was projected from under her, and she would have fallen but for his support. At such times, to take rest, she had to seat herself on the floor, or on a stone provided for the purpose.
On one such occasion, "she approached," says M. de Faremont, "one of those rough, heavy bedsteads used by the peasantry, weighing, with the coarse bedclothes, some three hundred pounds, and sought to lie down on it. The bed shook and oscillated in an incredible manner; no force that I know of is capable of communicating to it such a movement. Then she went to another bed, which was raised from the ground on wooden rollers, six inches in diameter; and it was immediately thrown off the rollers." All this M. de Faremont personally witnessed.