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APRIL, 1898

Studies in Literary Interpretation

N the first of these papers it was shown that in what is called poetry there are many prose-poetic lines along with others that address imagination and exhibit genuine poetic quality. On inquiry into the nature of the latter, and the reason of their influence, it was found that they were of two generic kinds, equally potent, but quite differentiated in their effect upon imagination. The one class proved to be connected with manifestations of Ultimate Character and Natural Law in the universe at large, and to be distinguished by the experiences of High Seriousness which they occasion. The other class was æsthetic, purely, taking cognizance of all aspects of beauty, and echoing or occasioning various experiences of delight.

Thus it was established that poetry, so far as its grosser aspects are concerned, is made up of Facts, and interpretations or evincements of Truth or "Spiritual Law," and of Beauty. Interpretations or evincements of Truth and of Beauty, if genuine, will address imagination, and be hence "poetic." Facts, cast uninterpretatively, will yield but prose-poetic lines or passages, or if there be attempt to exalt them by use of exquisite terms, will be only "phrasing." But if facts are expressed by appeal to the ultimate principles involved in them, the result will be interpretative diction, and, according to the degree of spiritualizing achieved, will be raised to poetry.

It was then noted that we have the same varieties of diction, so far as inner meanings are concerned, in every-day, unconsidered parlance. Men say simple facts, sometimes, and sometimes express themselves in the one interpreta tive way or in the other. The thing most sig nificant is, they will use these interpretative modes, in preference, if possible, to statements of fact.

No. 9

The type-forces in the mind compel attention to the spiritual aspects of things just as quickly and as completely as they can. If we were to watch, for an hour or two, the unconsidered better realize the significance of this truth. conversation going on around us, we should There is a rumor abroad,-let us suppose, that some townsman has made a business

failure. Certain acquaintances of his walking down town together, the morning after, as they pass in front of his closed warehouse, exchange comments, "What does this mean?" asks one. "Blankson made an assignment last night," is the answer. That is surely as straightforward and prosaic as one could wish. But a moment later the chief speaker in another knot of advancing talkers, being asked the same question, and aiming to make the same response, remarks "A man cannot make bricks without clay or straw." Here the real significance of the ambitious tradesman's attempt to do business on insufficient capital is set forth as including potentially the facts of his present distress. In other words, the ultimate principle that has brought about the result in question is made to do duty for the result itself. The next man whose words we overhear will be probably facetious. He puts it that sheriff so and so has gone into partnership with the house, in fact, has become business manager, and so forth. This statement, of course, carries not so much as one syllable of literalness, yet is acceptable and pleasing enough, not because it is an evasion, but because, like the myth of Santa Claus, it is truth allegorized. And although though the inquirer is answered in this case, not by a fact, but an enigma, he will catch the sense intended as effectually, and almost as immediately as if, like the first man, he had been replied to, with all soberness and literalness, in the matter-of-fact-way.

There are thus two generic modes of saying

common things; we may assert them in literal and individual utterances, or merge them in the respective principles which they illustrate or evince. It has been customary to consider the longer and more indirect locutions as mere variants, and as indulged in to avoid triteness. We shall soon discover that this is not all true nor all the truth. There are forces in the mind that cannot be kept in exercise by facts, but must often, if not prevailingly, recognize the principles that make the facts significant. We see some friend fail of success because of inconstancy, and remark upon the case. One of the persons present affirms that the man has never stayed by anything long enough to allow himself a chance. Another of us, feeling that the vital meaning has been left unsaid, ventures a trial of his own. "We must stick to a thing," he says, "till we can control the conditions of success." "This is the theory," he adds, after a moment of further thought, "of what we call specialization." A third member of the group extends the discussion by quoting the aphorism, "A rolling stone gathers no moss." The interpretation of the ultimate meaning implied in our friend's unsuccess is now completely evolved. The first speaker treated the case as an individual happening, and recognized the cause as operating in it alone. The second contributor brought to view a wider application of the principle. The last man universalized the law, and covered it with a formula long since approved by the general spiritual sense of mankind, and similarly ap plied to myriads of instances throughout the English-speaking world.

More frequently, however, in unconsidered parlance, there is no such contributory evolution of the interpretative aspects of common things. Generally the one or the other of two most ordinary minds will go straight to the hid den principle, especially when some stupid or matter-of-fact remark precedes; for while dull ness, like a whetstone, scorns to carry or take an edge, nothing helps produce one quite so quickly. Once a certain lady, conspicuous for plainness of face and manners, and always unpretentiously dressed, appeared in public very much arrayed. The circumstance elicited many comments, two of which I heard. One bystander exclaimed, "There's a transformation; did you ever see anything to equal it?" The person to whom this was said remarked simply

in reply, "Fine feathers make fine birds." Both of these women gave expression to a fact which, as they felt, needed to be said, one by way of the fact itself as such, the other by way of the principle included in it. We get a more complete experience from the second utterance, because we secure through it not only an effect but its ultimate reason brought to mind in a single view. Constituted as we are, we cannot help preferring the longer and the larger look. Our minds could not be held to factmeanings solely for so long a period as a day, scarcely indeed an hour. Half the comfort of living comes from the contemplation, along with ordinary mundane aspects and hap penings, of higher knowings. The philosophic mind thinks of the principle always, and will prevailingly employ the principle to express the fact. The mind least awakened to the hid den verities will use the principle for the fact least often, but all kinds and conditions of intellect will do it more or less. In its jocular moments the mind will go through the same serious movements unseriously. I went down town the other morning in a driving rain. It was the third day of the storm, and the city was all agog over its continuance and severity. A dozen of my friends, encountered at one point or another on the way, hazarded remarks. One said, "well, this is a storm," a proposition to which I assented heartily. The next man averred, as his belief, that the lake would be soon enlarged to its old limits. Another's reason was that the tank overhead had certainly sprung a leak, or the bottom dropped out; and another had it that it was a pity the ark had been allowed to get out of repair. I remained the respondent interlocutor throughout these bits of dialogue, that I might watch the tenor of the comments. Nine out of eleven were express statements of principles or causes, five of these mock-philosophic or make-believe, like the last three utterances quoted, yet betraying unmistakably the insistence of the type-forces within; while but two were plain observations of the fact kind.

That the considered utterances of the best minds, both in literature and out of it, abound in interpretative presentations of plain meaning, we are slow to realize. Even when this is recognized or alluded to, there is generally such vague and insufficient reference to reasons as leaves us not only unedified, but perplexed and

even tantalized. Mr. Henry D. Sedgwick, Jr., in the opening paper of the March Atlantic, thus discourses upon this point:

The heart of all literature is poetry. The vitality of play, story, sermon, essay, of whatever there is best in prose, is the poetic essence in it. English prose is better than French prose, because of the poetry in it. We do not mean prose as a vehicle for * useful information, but prose put to use in literature. English prose gets emotional capacity from English

poetry, not only from the spirit of it, but also by

adopting its words. English prose has thus a great poetical vocabulary open to it, and a large and generous freedom from conventional grammar. It draws its nourishment from English blank verse, and thus strengthened strides onward like a bridegroom. If you are a physician inditing a prescription, or a lawyer drawing a will, or a civil engineer putting down logarithmic matter, write in French prose; your patient will die, his testament be sustained, or an Eiffel Tower be erected to his memory in the correctest and clearest manner possible. But when you write a prayer, or exhort a forlorn hope, or put into words any of these emotions that give life its dignity, let your speech be English, that your reader shall feel emotional elevation, his heart lifted up within him, while his intellect peers at what is beyond his reach.

Later (11. 28-33) wishing to ask, rhetorically, why Eve and Adam yielded, and fell, he says,

What cause

Moved our grand parents, in that happy state,
Favor'd of Heaven so highly, to fall off
From their Creator, and transgress his will
For one restraint, lords of the world besides?
Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?

Similarly, a few lines further on, trying to say that Satan and his champions lay stunned nine days, Milton cannot help expatiating, in the interpretative vein, after this fashion,

Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquish'd, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded, though immortal.

The difference between French prose and English prose is not in the language, but the mind. that uses it. Take from Bacon, or Emerson, or Carlyle the sense of Law, of Ultimate Character in the universe, and the knack of diction would go with it. Take the same from our poets, and much of Paradise Lost, of In Memoriam, and The Passing of Arthur, would disappear. There is something in poetry besides metric presentation of facts, and the interpretations of Beauty, and that something is what Mr. Sedgwick is trying to identify to us.

What Mr. Sedgwick means is not that our great prosaists achieve their power by use of terms borrowed from the vocabulary of poetry, for this is palpably incorrect. The college student who poaches upon poetic preserves in shaping the diction of his "theme," gets roundly completely. It will not be possible for him to

scored for it. Nor does this writer mean that our best prose-writers use the poetic-sentence structure. He alludes really to our modes of thrusting emotional meanings forward in place of the uninterpretative prose sense at bottom. When this is done completely, the result is poetry whether poetic terms and poetic-sentence structure are used or not. We know Milton is hard to read, but we seem not to have suspected that the difficulty is due to his emotional or interpretative way of saying common things. The first sentence of the Paradise Lost is a case in point. Here the yielding to temptation, its consequences, redemption, and the seership that produced the account of the creation, are all referred to in a way that would seem to the unprepared reader dark and unintelligible.

The ambitious and self-respecting reader or teacher will wish to know these matters more

depend upon another; for a whole volume would be necessary if all his work were to be done for him. Let him take some poem like The Princess, or Mrs. Browning's Aurora Leigh, and reduce daily some strikingly poetic portion to bald prose, noting what is lost from it when this is done. He will find the instances gather themselves about the one or the other of two generic principles, the Sublime, and the Beautiful. He will thus learn that beginning in the lower plane of facts he has reached inductively the same principles as Burke, and Sir William Hamilton, and Kant, and Hegel, who begin in their treatment at the top. It is of the utmost importance that all students of poetry should distinguish all cases and experiences of either sort, and be able to analyze unerringly in the lowest units of either mode. L. A. SHERMAN,

American History Studies*



IN the last two numbers an attempt was made to trace the development of the slavery question in American history. In this number the culmination is reached; the greatest of civil wars opens before us; and finally the Union appears,-or shall we say reappears, reconstructed, with slavery as a remi

However, it must not be thought that the problem is ended. The American people are too much inclined to accept first settlements as if they were finals. Citizenship was conferred on the negro when he was unprepared for it. He must now be fitted for his duties. Education in its broadest terms must be extended to him. The whole country is interested in, and affected by, the solution. The South has to bear the burden, in the main, as she had to bear that of slavery. In this connection, the most important question of the present and of the immediate future, at least, is that the North and the South do not become estranged over the solution of this question as they did in regard to the original cause. Its difficulties should be recognized by the North, and sympathy and aid, not criticism, should be given.

This number opens with the election of Lincoln, and the consequent secession of the Southern States. The winter of 1860-'61 was perhaps the most momentous and deeply interesting of any that has passed over the history of our country. There may have been other moments of more outward excitement, but none, perhaps, of the same intensity. There was a general feeling as the months passed that the crisis had come. The North could hardly be brought to realize that the Southern States intended to act in accordance with their words; the Southern people were possessed with the idea that the North was purely materialistic and would not fight for an ideal. How little the people of the two sections really did or could understand each other the four years from 1861 to 1865 witness!

However, when the end came, and the greater resources, but only the same, not greater courage and devotion-had given the victory to the

free states, and in giving them their triumph had made all free states, the settlement of the terms of reconstruction, was scarcely less difficult and taxing than had been the details of the struggle itself.

During the year 1860-'61 almost the entire history of the United States may be studied by tracing backward to their beginnings the principles that were then in controversy. The nature of the Constitution: were the States sovereignties? Under this heading we might trace the development of the idea back through the Nullification struggle, the Hartford convention, the Virginia and Kentucky resolu tions to the Convention of 1787, and then beyond to the forces that were foundational. The position of slavery under the Constitution: its entire history would be necessary to estimate at their true worth the various arguments that were advocated by the many groups into which the people were at the time divided. The powers of the executive: what were their limits in time of war? But it is impossible to attempt an enumeration of the interesting ques tions that are found in these years of American history. Their settlement distinctly modified the world's history, and was of the greatest moment in determining the character and future of the United States.

Lincoln, in his great Cooper Institute speech of February 27, 1860, discussed the subject of slavery as he saw it from the standpoint of the South and of the North. In the concluding portion he said:

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace and in harmony one with another.

.. Even though the Southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can. . . . What will satisfy them? Simply this: we must not only let them alone, but we must somehow convince them that we do let them alone. What will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. . . . Their thinking it right and our thinking it wrong is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Think

* These studies are reprinted monthly and issued on the tenth of the month following issue of magazine. See advertisement.

ing it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition as being right; but thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them?-Works, I, pp. 611-12.

December 22, 1860, Lincoln wrote to A. H. Stephens in reply to a letter from Mr. Stephens in these words:

I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me. Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with the slaves, or with them about the slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears. The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended, while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. -Ibid, p. 660.


On the way to Washington, in February, 1861, Lincoln made a series of speeches. A few extracts from these will give us an insight into Lincoln's views at the last moment before he assumed office.

At Indianapolis he said:

The words "coercion" and "invasion" are much used in these days. What, then, is "coercion"? What is "invasion"? Would the marching of an army into South Carolina without the consent of her people, and with hostile intent toward them, be "invasion"? I certainly think it would. ... But if the United States should merely hold and retake its own forts and other property, etc., would any or all of these be "invasion" or "coercion"?-Ibid, p. 673.

In Cincinnati he repeated and reaffirmed the words he had used in a speech there the year before. In part he spoke, addressing the people of Kentucky, as follows:

We mean to treat you, as near as we possibly can, as Washington, Jefferson, and Madison treated you. We mean to leave you alone, and in no way interfere with your institutions; to abide by all and every compromise of the Constitution. . . Ibid, p. 675.

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At Columbus he used these words in concluding his address:

I have not maintained silence from any want of real anxiety. It is a good thing that there is no more than anxiety, for there is nothing going wrong. It is a consoling circumstance that when we look out there is nothing that really hurts anybody. We entertain different views upon political questions, but nobody is suffering anything. This is a most consoling circumstance, and from it we may conclude that all we want is time, patience, and a reliance on that Cod who has never forsaken this people.-Works, I, p. 677.


At Pittsburgh, on the same idea, he said: Notwithstanding the troubles across the river [pointing south] there is no crisis but an artificial one. I repeat, then, there is no crisis excepting such a one as may be gotten up at any time by turbulent men aided by designing politicians. My advice to them, under such circumstances, is to keep cool. If the great American people only keep their temper on both sides of the line, the troubles will come to an end, and the question which now distracts the country will be settled, just as surely as all other difficulties of a like character which have originated in this government have been adjusted.-Works, I, p. 678.

Lincoln urges the same thought at Cleveland; but it is to be noticed that he did not repeat it again. A deeper and graver tone was manifest as he approached Washington.

The foregoing extracts give an insight into the ideas, and, to some extent, the plans of Lincoln and the Republicans. Buchanan's Annual Message states his thoughts fully, if not clearly. The following excerpts will afford something of an idea of his point of view:

Why is it, then, that discontent now so extensively prevails, and the Union of the States, which is the source of all these blessings, is threatened with destruction?

The long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern states has at length produced its natural effects. The different sections of the Union are now arrayed against each other and the time has arrived, so much dreaded by the Father of his Country, when hostile geographical parties have been formed.

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