Imágenes de páginas


The idea of limiting English literature to a holy trinity of Shakespeare, Milton, and TO AN AUTHOR WHO APPRECIATED CONTEMPO- Bacon, and voluntarily losing all other authors, seems to me the most intense expresMiss Mitford on the selfishness of authors-A suggestion of sion of the spirit of aristocracy in reading. Emerson's-A laconic rule of his-Traces of jealousy-It is as if a man were to decide in his own And of a more subtle feeling-A contradiction-Necessary


to resist the invasion of the present-A certain equilib-mind that society would be the better if all rium-The opposite of a pedant-The best classics not persons except the three Emperors were expedants, but artists.

cluded from it. There is a want of reliance READING the other day a letter by Miss Mit- upon one's own judgment, and an excess of ford, I was reminded of you as the eye is re- faith in the estimates of others, when we reminded of green when it sees scarlet. You, solve to read only those books which come to whose interest in literature has ever kept pace us in the splendor of a recognized intellectual with the time, to whom no new thing is un-royalty. We read either to gain information, welcome if only it is good, are safe from her to have good thinking suggested to us, or to accusations; but how many authors have de- have our imagination stimulated. In the way served them! Miss Mitford is speaking of a of knowledge the best authors are always the certain writer who is at the same time a cler- most recent, so that Bacon could not suffice. gyman, and whom it is not difficult to recog-In the way of thinking, our methods have gained in precision since Milton's time, and we are helped by a larger experience than his. The one thing which Shakespeare and Milton can do for us quite perfectly still, is to fill our imagination richly, and give it a fine stimulus. But modern writers can render us the same service.


"I never," she says, "saw him interested in the slightest degree by the work of any other author, except, indeed, one of his own followers or of his own clique, and then only as admiring or helping him. He has great kindness and great sympathy with working people, or with a dying friend, but I profess to Is there not a little jealousy of contempoyou I am amazed at the utter selfishness of au-raries in the persistence with which some thors. I do not know one single poet who cares authors avoid them, and even engage others for any man's poetry but his own. In general to avoid them? May not there be a shade of they read no books except such as may be necessary to their own writings-that is to the work they happen to be about, and even then I suspect that they only read the bits that they may immediately want. You know the absolute ignorance in which Wordsworth lived of all modern works; and if, out of compliment to a visitor, he thought it needful to seem to read or listen to two or three stanzas, he gave unhes-has handsomely acknowledged them, and we itating praise to the writer himself, but took especial care not to repeat the praise where it might have done him good-utterly fair and false."

another feeling than jealousy, a feeling more subtle in operation, the undefined apprehension that we may find, even amongst our more obscure contemporaries, merit equal to our own? So long as we restrict our reading to old books of great fame we are safe from this apprehension, for if we find admirable qualities, we know beforehand that the world

indulge in the hope that our own admirable qualities will be recognized by posterity with equal liberality. But it creates an unpleasant feeling of uneasiness to see quantities of obThere are touches of this spirit of indiffer- scure contemporary work, done in a plain ence to contemporary literature in several way to earn a living by men of third or fourthwriters and scholars whom we know. There rate reputation, or of no reputation at all, are distinct traces of it even in published which in many respects would fairly sustain writings, though it is much more evident in a comparison with our own. It is clear that private life and habit. Emerson seriously an author ought to be the last person to suggests that "the human mind would per-advise the public not to read contemporary haps be a gainer if all the secondary writers literature, since he is himself a maker of conwere lost say, in England, all but Shakes- temporary literature; and there is a direct peare, Milton, and Bacon, through the pro- contradiction between the invitation to read founder study so drawn to those wonderful his book, which he circulates by the act of minds." In the same spirit we have Emerson's laconic rule, "Never read any but famed books," which suggests the remark that if men had obeyed this rule from the beginning, no book could ever have acquired reputation, and nobody would ever have read anything.

publishing, and the advice which the book contains. Emerson is more safe from this obvious rejoinder when he suggests to us to transfer our reading day by day from the newspaper to the standard authors. But are these suggestions anything more than the

tasteful to the love of honesty and reality which is the basis of his character, that by an unhappy association of ideas he has acquired a repugnance to the writers themselves. But such men as Horace, Terence, Shakespeare, Molière, though they have had the misfortune to be praised and commentated upon by pedants, were in their lives the precise opposite of pedants; they were artists whose study was human nature, and who lived without pretension in the common world of men. The pedants have a habit of considering these genial old artists as in some mysterious way their own private property, for do not the pedants live by expounding them? And some of us are frightened away from the fairest realms of poetry by the fences of these grim guardians.

reaction of an intellectual man against the | The shallow pretence to admiration of famous too prevalent customs of the world? The writers which is current in the world is so disreading practised by most people, by all who do not set before themselves intellectual culture as one of the definite aims of life, is remarkable for the regularity with which it neglects all the great authors of the past. The books provided by the circulating library, the reviews and magazines, the daily newspapers, are read whilst they are novelties, but the standard authors are left on their shelves unopened. We require a firm resolution to resist this invasion of what is new, because it flows like an unceasing river, and unless we protect our time against it by some solid embankment of unshakable rule and resolution, every nook and cranny of it will be filled and flooded. An Englishman whose life was devoted to culture, but who lived in an out-of-the-way place on the Continent, told me that he considered it a decided advantage to his mind to live quite outside of the English library system, because if he wanted to read a new book he had to buy it and pay heavily for carriage besides, which made him very



careful in his choice. For the same reason TO AN AUTHOR WHO KEPT VERY IRREGULAR he rejoiced that the nearest English newsroom was two hundred miles from his residence.

But, on the other hand, what would be the condition of a man's mind who never read anything but the classic authors? He would live in an intellectual monastery, and would not even understand the classic authors themselves, for we understand the past only by referring it to what we know in the present.

It is best to preserve our minds in a state of equilibrium, and not to allow our repugnance to what we see as an evil to drive us into an evil of an opposite kind. We are too often like those little toy-fish with a bit of steel in their mouths, which children attract with a magnet. If you present the positive pole of the magnet, the fish rushes at it at once, but if you offer the negative end it retreats continually. Everything relatively to our character has this positive or negative end, and we either rush to things or rush away from them. Some persons are actually driven away from the most entertaining writers because they happen to be what are called classics, because pedants boast of having read them. I know a man who is exactly the opposite of a pedant, who has a horror of the charlatanism which claims social and intellectual position as the reward for having laboriously waded through those authors who are conventionally termed "classical," and this opposition to pedantry has given him an aversion to the classics themselves, which he never opens.

Julian Fane-His late hours-Regularity produced by habitThe time of the principal effort-That the chief work should be done in the best hours-Physicians prefer early to late work-The practice of Goethe and some modera authors-The morning worker ought to live in a tranquil neighborhood-Night-work-The medical objection to it The student's objection to day-work-Time to be kept in masses by adults, but divided into small portions by children--Rapid turning of the mind-Cuvier eminent for this faculty-The Duke of Wellington-The faculty more avai able with some occupations than others--The slavery of a minute obedience to the clock-Broad rules the bestBooks of agenda, good in business, but not in the higher intellectual pursuits.

WHAT you told me of your habits in the employment of your hours reminded me of Julian Fane. Mr. Lytton tells us that "after a long day of professional business, followed by a late evening of social amusement, he would return in the small hours of the night to his books, and sit, unwearied, till sunrise in the study of them. Nor did he then seem to suffer from this habit of late hours. His nightly vigils occasioned no appearance of fatigue the next day. . . . He rarely rose before noon, and generally rose much later."

But however irregular a man's distribution of his time may be in the sense of wanting the government of fixed rules, there always comes in time a certain regularity by the mere operation of habit. People who get up very late hardly ever do so in obedience to a rule; many get up early by rule, and many more are told that they ought to get up early. and believe it, and aspire to that virtue, but

fail to carry it into practice. The late-risers | stimulant. I could mention several living are rebels and sinners-in this respect-to a authors of eminence who pursue the same man, and so persistently have the wise, from plan, and find it favorable alike to health Solomon downwards, harped upon the moral and to production. The rule which they folloveliness of early rising and the degrada- low is never to write after lunch, leavtion which follows the opposite practice, that ing the rest of their time free for study one can hardly get up after eight without and society, both of which are absolutely either an uncomfortable sense of guilt or an ex- necessary to authors. According to this traordinary callousness. Yet the late-risers, system it is presumed that the hours bethough obeying no rule, for the abandoned tween breakfast and lunch are the best sinner recognizes none, become regular in hours. In many cases they are so. A pertheir late rising from the gradual fixing pow-son in fair health, after taking a light er of habit. Even Julian Fane, though he early breakfast without any heavier stimuregretted his desultory ways, "and dwelt lant than tea or coffee, finds himself in a with great earnestness on the importance state of freshness highly favorable to sound of regular habits of work," was perhaps and agreeable thinking. His brain will be in less irregular than he himself believed. We still finer order if the breakfast has been preare sure to acquire habits; what is impor- ceded by a cold bath, with friction and a littant is not so much that the habits should tle exercise. The feeling of freshness, cleanlibe regular, as that their regularity should ness, and moderate exhilaration, will last for be of the kind most favorable in the long run several hours, and during those hours the into the accomplishment of our designs, and tellectual work will probably be both lively this never comes by chance, it is the result of and reasonable. It is difficult for a man who an effort of the will in obedience to govern- feels cheerful and refreshed, and whose task ing wisdom. seems easy and light, to write anything morbid or perverse.

The first question which every one who has the choice of his hours must settle for himBut for the morning to be so good as I have self is at what time of day he will make his just described it, the workman must be quite principal effort; for the day of every intellect favorably situated. He ought to live in a ual workman ought to be marked by a kind very tranquil neighborhood, and to be as free of artistic composition; there ought to be as possible from anxiety as to what the postsome one labor distinctly recognized as dom- man may have in reserve for him. If his inant, with others in subordination, and sub-study-window looks out on a noisy street, and ordination of various degrees. Now for the if the day is sure, as it wears on, to bring hours at which the principal effort ought to be made, it is not possible to fix them by the clock so as to be suitable for everybody, but a broad rule may be arrived at which is applicable to all imaginable cases. The rule is this-to do the chief work in the best hours; to give it the pick of your day; and by the day I do not mean only the solar day, but the whole of the twenty-four hours. There is an important physiological reason for giving the best hours to the most important work. The better the condition of the brain and the body, and the more favorable the surrounding cirrumstances, the smaller will be the cost to the organization of the labor that has to be done.

It is always the safest way to do the heaviest (or most important) work at the time and under the conditions which make it the least costly.

Physicians are unanimous in their preference of early to late work; and no doubt, if the question were not complicated by other considerations, we could not do better than to follow their advice in its simplicity. Goethe wrote in the morning, with his faculties refreshed by sleep and not yet excited by any

anxious business of its own, then the increasing noise and the apprehension (even though it be almost entirely unconscious) of impending business, will be quite sufficient to interfere with the work of any man who is the least in the world nervous, and almost all intellectual laborers are nervous, more or less. Men who have the inestimable advantage of absolute tranquillity, at all times, do well to work in the morning, but those who can only get tranquillity at times independent of their own choice have a strong reason for working at those times, whether they happen to be in the morning or not.

In an excellent article on "Work" (evidently written by an experienced intellectual workman), which appeared in one of the early numbers of the Cornhill Magazine, and was remarkable alike for practical wisdom and the entire absence of traditional dogmatism, the writer speaks frankly in favor of nightwork, "If you can work at all at night, one hour at that time is worth any two in the morning. The house is hushed, the brain is clear, the distracting influences of the day are at an end. You have not to disturb your

self with thoughts of what you are about to do, or what you are about to suffer. You know that there is a gulf between you and the affairs of the outside world, almost like the chasm of death; and that you need not take thought of the morrow until the morrow has come. There are few really great thoughts, such as the world will not willingly let die, that have not been conceived under the quiet stars."

able to change their attention from one subject to another much more easily than we can. whilst at the same time they cannot fix their minds for very long without cerebral fatigue leading to temporary incapacity. The custom prevalent in schools, of making the boys learn several different things in the course of the day, is therefore founded upon the necessities of the boy-nature, though most grown men would find that changes so frequent would, The medical objection to night-work in the for them, have all the inconveniences of intercase of literary men would probably be that ruption. To boys they come as relief, to men the night is too favorable to literary produc- as interruption. The reason is that the phystion. The author of the Essay just quoted ical condition of the brain is different in the says that at night "you only drift into deep-two cases; but in our loose way of talking er silence and quicker inspiration. If the about these things we may say that the boy's right mood is upon you, you write on; if not, ideas are superficial, like the plates and dishes your pillow awaits you." Exactly so; that is on the surface of a dinner-table, which may to say, the brain, owing to the complete ex- be rapidly changed without inconvenience. ternal tranquillity, can so concentrate its ef- whereas the man's ideas, having all struck forts on the subject in hand as to work itself root down to the very depths of his nature, are up into a luminous condition which is fed by more like the plants in a garden, which canthe most rapid destruction of the nervous not be removed without a temporary loss both substance that ever takes place within the of vigor and of beauty, and the loss cannot be walls of a human skull. "If the right mood instantaneously repaired. For a man to do his is upon you, you write on;" in other words, work thoroughly well, it is necessary that he if you have once well lighted your spirit-lamp, should dwell in it long enough at a time to get it will go on burning so long as any spirit is all the powers of his mind fully under comleft in it, for the air is so tranquil that noth-mand with reference to the particular work ing comes to blow it out. You drift into in hand, and he cannot do this without tuning deeper silence and "quicker inspiration." It his whole mind to the given diapason, as a is just this quicker inspiration that the phy-tuner tunes a piano. Some men can tune sician dreads.

their minds more rapidly, as violins are tuned. Against this objection may be placed the and this faculty may to a certain extent be ac equally serious objection to day-work, that quired by efforts of the will very frequently every interruption, when you are particularly repeated. Cuvier had this faculty in the most anxious not to be interrupted, causes a defi- eminent degree. One of his biographers says: nite loss and injury to the nervous system." His extreme facility for study, and of directThe choice must therefore be made between ing all the powers of his mind to diverse occutwo dangers, and if they are equally balanced there can be no hesitation, because all the literary interests of an author are on the side of the most tranquil time. Literary work is always sure to be much better done when there is no fear of disturbance than under the apprehension of it; and precisely the same amount of cerebral effort will produce, when the work is uninterrupted, not only better writing, but a much greater quantity of writing. The knowledge that he is working well and productively is an element of health to every workman because it encourages cheer-which are not incompatible with a fragmenful habits of mind.

In the division of time it is an excellent rule for adults to keep it as much as possible in large masses, not giving a quarter of an hour to one occupation and a quarter to another, but giving three, four, or five hours to one thing at a time. In the case of children an opposite practice should be followed; they are

pations of study, from one quarter of an hour to another, was one of the most extraordinary qualities of his mind." The Duke of Wellington also cultivated the habit (inestimably valuable to a public man) of directing the whole of his attention to the subject under consideration, however frequently that subject might happen to be changed. But although men of exceptional power and very exceptional flexibility may do this with apparent impunity. that still depends very much on the nature of the occupation. There are some occupations

tary division of time, because these occupations are themselves fragmentary. For ex ample, you may study languages in phrase books during very small spaces of time, be cause the complete phrase is in itself a very small thing, but you could not so easily break and resume the thread of an elaborate argument. I suspect that though Cuvier appeared

to his contemporaries a man remarkably able | known a man of genius who could be perto leave off and resume his work at will, he fectly regular in his habits, whilst he had must have taken care to do work that would known many blockheads who could. It is bear interruption at those times when he knew easy to see that a minute obedience to the himself to be most liable to it. And although, clock is unintellectual in its very nature, for when a man's time is unavoidably broken up the intellect is not a piece of mechanism as a into fragments, no talent of a merely auxil- clock is, and cannot easily be made to act iary kind can be more precious than that of like one. There may be perfect correspondturning each of those fragments to advan-ence between the locomotives and the clocks tage, it is still true that he whose time is at on a railway, for if the clocks are pieces of his own disposal will do his work most calmly, most deliberately, and therefore on the whole most thoroughly and perfectly, when he keeps it in fine masses. The mere knowledge that you have three or four clear hours before you is in itself a great help to the spirit of thoroughness, both in study and in production. It is agreeable too, when the sitting has come to an end, to perceive that a definite advance is the result of it, and advance in anything is scarcely perceptible in less than three or four hours.

mechanism the locomotives are so likewise, but the intellect always needs a certain looseness and latitude as to time. Very broad rules are the best, such as "Write in the morning, read in the afternoon, see friends in the evening," or else "Study one day and produce another, alternately," or even "Work one week and see the world another week, alternately."

There is a fretting habit, much recommended by men of business and of great use to them, of writing the evening before the duties of the day in a book of agenda. If this is done at all by intellectual men with reference to their pursuits, it ought to be done in a very broad, loose way, never minutely. An intellectual worker ought never to make it a matter of conscience (in intellectual labor) to do a predetermined quantity of little things. This sort of conscientiousness frets and worries, and is the enemy of all serenity of thought.

There are several pursuits which cannot be followed in fragments of time, on account of the necessary preparations. It is useless to begin oil-painting unless you have full time to set your palette properly, to get your canvas into a proper state for working upon, to pose the model as you wish, and settle down to work with everything as it ought to be. In landscape-painting from nature you require the time to go to the selected place, and after your arrival to arrange your materials and shelter yourself from the sun. In scientific pursuits the preparations are usually at least equally elaborate, and often much more so. To prepare for an experiment, or for a dissection, takes time which we feel to be disproportionate when it leaves too little for the scientific work itself. It is for this reason more frequently than for any other that amateurs who begin in enthusiasm, so commonly, after awhile, abandon the objects of their TO A YOUNG GENTLEMAN OF ABILITY AND CULTpursuit.

There is a kind of slavery to which no really intellectual man would ever voluntarily submit, a minute obedience to the clock. Very conscientious people often impose upon themselves this sort of slavery. A person who has hampered himself with rules of this kind will take up a certain book, for instance, when the clock strikes nine, and begin at yesterday's mark, perhaps in the middle of ap paragraph. Then he will read with great steadiness till a quarter-past nine, and exactly on the instant when the minute-hand gets opposite the dot, he will shut his book, however much the passage may happen to interest him. It was in allusion to good people of this kind that Sir Walter Scott said he had never





The Church-Felicities and advantages of the clerical profes

sion-Its elevated ideal-That it is favorable to noble studies-French priests and English Clergymen-The professional point of view-Difficulty of disinterested thinkingColored light-Want of strict accuracy--Quotation from a sermon--The drawback to the clerical life-Provisional nature of intellectual conclusions--The legal professionThat it affords gratification to the intellectual powers-Want of intellectual disinterestedness in lawyers-Their absorption in professional life-Anecdote of a London lawyer-Superiority of lawyers in their sense of affairsMedicine-The study of it a fine preparation for the intellectual life-Social rise of medical men coincident with the mental progress of communities-Their probable future influence on education-The heroic side of their profession-The military and naval professions-Bad effect of the privation of solitude-Interruption-Anecdote of Cuvier-The fine arts-In what way they are favorable to thought-Intellectual leisure of artists-Reasoning artists -Sciences included in the fine arts.

« AnteriorContinuar »