Obrázky stránek

be stated that, although I do not always read the best literature-audiences are great choosers-I almost never, for any audience, choose either verse or prose that is not literature. So that, however the collection may be lacking in method, it will seldom be found to lack quality.

With this explanation I had thought to be done. But my invaluable colleague, Dr. Hood, my publisher, Mr. Maxwell Perkins of Scribners, and other friends whose advice is not to be gainsaid, have suggested that certain unpublished addresses and essays of mine would be welcome to many former students who remember them, and especially welcome to teachers. Although I have been cherishing these papers to make a volume, with additions, I gladly offer here some of the briefer and more appropriate. Teachers may like to use such material as I constantly use it, to introduce, explain, and praise authors from whom I am about to read.

"Bacon as an Essayist" was read at the Boston Public Library in observance of the three-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Lord Bacon. Professor R. B. Perry, I remember, on "Bacon as a Philosopher," and Professor R. B. Merriman on "Bacon as an Historian," were among my fellow speakers and readers on a curiously interesting occasion. "Not 'Poor Charles Lamb' " is a fragment from an address in aid of the Radcliffe Fund three years ago. "Hawthorne's Inheritance and His Art" is a part of an anniversary discourse at Concord. "Dickens: His Best Book?" was written for the Harvard Club of New York. "Tennyson and Browning as Religious Poets" is taken from a college lecture, spoken, not written. "As to Margaret Ogilvy" is a bit from a lecture on Sir James Barrie to the Harvard Summer School. Here follow these addresses and other papers, in the order named.


In Bacon's Essay, "Of Discourse," one of the brief original ten, printed in 1597, the author says: "To use too many circumstances ere one come to the matter, is wearisome; to use none at all is blunt.” When a ten-minute speech is the matter in hand, one must be blunt. And so I abruptly inform the few unlettered persons in this great company that Bacon's Essays, like the lion in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," are not what they call themselves. They are not essays at all, in our acceptation of the word. The modern essay, from Addison to Stevenson, derives from Montaigne; the Baconian essay derives from the epigrammatic aphorism of antiquity. "The Tatler" and all its successors, even to this latest day, conform in general to Dr. Johnson's definition,—“A loose sally of the mind; an irregular, indigested piece." So, wherever

and whenever we encounter the typical essayist, he is found to be a tatler, a spectator, a rambler, a lounger, and, in the best sense, a citizen of the world. But Bacon's intention, so richly fulfilled, was "to write certain brief notes, set down rather significantly than curiously, which I have called Essays; the word is late, but the thing is ancient. For Seneca's Epistles to Lucilius, if one mark them well, are but Essays,—that is, dispersed Meditations."

What Bacon intended, that he did. The final result is the wisest book of its size in the world, in its form much closer kin to Pascal than to Montaigne. By it and it alone is Bacon, mighty philosopher and man of science though he was, a part of existing literature. Whatever he may mean to scholars and men of letters, to the general mind of man he is bound up in this one weighty little volume. "Significantly" set down, indeed, are those rounded thoughts, these close-set maxims,-significantly, and far more "curiously" (that is, carefully) than the author was willing to admit. Curiosa felicitas, in truth, is the sign manual of Bacon's Essays, as it is of almost every enduring masterpiece in any art. I do not mean that Bacon's style is external, or niggling, or precious. No, it is the terse finality of a determination to say the thing he meant, and none other, in the fewest, most precise, and most expressive words. Nor is rhetorical intention absent. Bacon was too much the orator celebrated by Ben Jonson not to have his audience in mind; and even a tyro can see that his beginnings, to speak of those alone, were intended to waylay and grip the reader. "Revenge is a kind of wild justice," "men fear death as children fear to go in the dark," "he that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune,”—these and at least a dozen other openings of essays are famous wherever English is spoken. They deserve their fame. Can any man believe that they came by chance?

Thus arresting attention in the sixteenth century, Bacon holds it in the twentieth. That is why you and I are here tonight. The little book is still current. We quote from it, not always knowing whom we quote. And many a golden phrase of Bacon's coinage still rings and shines in our dull, common speech.

How much the priceless volume contains! How much it lacks! There is no moral enthusiasm in the Essays, no passion or emotion of any kind. No laughter; no tears. None of the humor of the age Bacon lived in; none of its strongly marked melancholy. In Bacon's essays there is no imagination, and no religion save that of formal reverence. He quotes scripture for his purpose, to be sure, with all the skill attributed to a certain powerful personage. And yet his purpose is not of hell any more than it is of heaven. His purpose and his teaching are of this immediate world. Although Bacon has been truly called Machiavellian,

he is without the diabolism of Machiavelli. But in reading the Essays we never feel that "God is come into the camp."

Yet how much the great little book contains! The keenest wit, which is often more than wit, keeps us frequently from noting the absence of humor. Better for his aim than the imagination that the essayist lacks, is the inexhaustible fancy that wings his meaning with unforgetable analogies and startling contrasts, drawn often from the life that every man knows. Cool, tolerant, loving nature—especially in Gardens -admiring and envying youth, almost pitying age, searching his own time and the whole past for examples, Bacon urges his seeing mind among the motives, and hopes, and fears of men, with a triumphant skill that makes us suspect him of white magic. Black magic he deals in only at such half-repented moments as when, for extreme exigencies, he excuses simulation. Dissimulation is for him a virtue.

A thinker, Bacon is also the occasion of thought in others. And although the remark has probably been made-I should give you the authority if I knew it-I should like, in closing, to remind you that for most of us, only two men equal Bacon as breeders of thought. These two are Socrates and Emerson. Far nobler than Bacon, the essayist, they are less acute and not more homely or plain. His worldliness is a complement to their other-worldliness. The dignity of his manner is an education for any world. It is a piece of good fortune for ours that he still lives and teaches.


Carlyle speaks of Lamb's "proclivity to gin." People used to try to get away from it, smooth it over. It is wiser now to admit not only that he drank gin but a great many other things, and that he drank too much. Therefore many persons refer to him as "Poor Charles Lamb." Call Byron poor, if you will, who ruined his own happiness and that of many other people; call Keats poor, who died of consumption before he could do what his genius meant him to do; call Coleridge poor, stupefied and befogged as he was with opium, content to live on charity and have his family supported by his friends; but never call Lamb poor. To begin with, he saved two thousand pounds out of his small salary and innumerable benevolences, to take care of his sister after he should be gone. He helped everybody about him. Fielding's earliest biographer says that Fielding's table was always open to those who had been his friends in youth and had impaired their fortunes. Lamb's table during the later years in the Inner Temple and afterwards in other lodgings,

was open to those who had impaired their fortunes, whether or not they had been his friends in youth.

He allowed fifty pounds a year for years to an old schoolmistress of his; he helped not only with money, of which he had little, but with care and thought and painstaking, of which you may find a hundred traces in his letters. You won't find in his letters more than necessary mention of the money he gave and lent. Therefore not poor Charles Lamb, but rich Charles Lamb, saint Charles Lamb, as Thackeray called him, and none the less a saint upon earth because he could not help drinking too much. The failing never kept him from his life-long duty. We may be sorry for it. We must be endlessly sorry because it grieved him and his sister for years. But to blame him were absurd; to pity were profane. Lamb himself resented even a hint of patronage. Coleridge called him "gentle-hearted," in print. Lamb wrote to him in one of the best passages in all his letters: "Substitute drunken-dog; ragged-head; seld-shaven; odd-eyed; stuttering; or any other epithet which truly and properly belongs to the gentleman in question.”

But Lamb was important not merely to the needy. His letters, virtually an autobiography, are a record of great friendships and friendships with great men. The fame of his talk with them will never die. "No one," says Hazlitt, "ever stammered out such fine, piquant, deep, eloquent things in half a dozen half-sentences as he does. His jests scald like tears; and he probes a question with a play upon words."

Moreover, one cannot well condescend to a man who, although he was full of whims and pranks, of melancholy, and wild gaiety, was in essence as sensible as Ben Franklin. And his letters run the whole gamut.


Honest, hearty, external romance is not for Hawthorne. His heart is not with Nathan Hale, or with Paul Revere on his ride, or with Wolfe taking the Heights of Abraham, and conquering the foe who courted death with the high chivalry of Sidney. Incident is not unimportant with Hawthorne, but it is important chiefly as the outward, bodily sign of the inward and moral drama. And if young readers (and all other readers) of Hawthorne would grasp this cardinal fact of his genius, they would cease demanding from him "action," in the conventional sense, and several other elements, to be noted anon, which, though in themselves admirable and to be desired, the author of "The Scarlet Letter" has not found indispensable to his unique endeavor,

In apparent contradiction to what has just been said, Hawthorne is often spoken of as if he were the historical novelist of New England, annalist-in-ordinary to "the old thirteen." In letter, nothing could be more false: in spirit, nothing more true. All that most of us know of the life of our ancestors resolves itself into a kind of tableau, intermittently present to the inward eye, and moralized by what we remember of "The Scarlet Letter," and "Legends of the Province House," and certain portions of "The House of the Seven Gables." Our not too graphic historians coöperate with the word of mouth, spoken on from generation to generation, to outline a sketch of the bleak past.

A few legends soberly color this sketch. Old portraits, old teaspoons, old chairs, and beautiful old brass candlesticks, document and certify the partial portrait; and even the average young New Englander, incurious of his country's past, is always able to draw aside the curtain from some such latent tableau or series of tableaux as this. He sees a long, narrow, wind-swept strip of land between forest and shore,— between the Indian and the deep sea. If it is muster day in any village of the strip, all the ancestors above sixteen years old are marching about in armor. The officers wear swords, the men carry "match-locks" or tenfoot pikes. If it is town-meeting, the ancestors, clad now in the smallclothes, jerkins, ruffs, and steeple-crown hats of peace, discuss even the least affairs with the patience of their constitutional breeding, and gravely cast the affirmative corn or the negative bean. If it is no day in particular, the young New Englander may look through the leaded panes of a log house and see the ancestor—his ancestor, perhaps-reading the Bible aloud, or dozing before a mighty fire, or making ready his guns against the Indian enemy who neither slumbered nor slept. Winter, Sunday, the little fortified meeting-house, and the rote of a few doleful hymns, probably appear often indeed to our contemporary's vision of those strenuous beginnings. If the conception he has, the conception most of us have, of the intellectual and moral life of the people is as grim as the physical conditions under which they thought, prayed, worked, and fought, Hawthorne is probably responsible for it. Those brave, intelligent fanatics—always brave, and always intelligent where superstition was not concerned-were no doubt morbidly sensitive in both religion and morals. The early government of Massachusetts has rightly been called a theocracy. Although the church-members probably felt themselves nearer the Unseen than any like body of modern men except the Scottish Covenanters, yet the gist of all their praying was, in the words of the hymn, "for a closer walk with God."

The truth of this general statement cannot be denied. But it is an

« PředchozíPokračovat »