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moment of either your time or mine in discussing any such question as that. It is, however, proper to consider, by way of introduction, somt of those aims and principles of literature which, though least generally appreciated, give it its highest value_noticing, in the first place, some of the difficulties which present themselves to a mind willing, at least, if not zealous, for such culture.
The first inquiry that presents itself is, “What books does it behove me to know ?" The locile question is, “What am I to read?” A world of volumes is before us. Poetry, science, history, biography, fiction, the multiform divisions of miscellaneous literature, each and all rise up in their vast proportions to assert their claims. Secular literature, in its various departments, and sacred literature, casting its lights into the life beyond, both are at hand with the boundless exuberance of their stores. There is the great multitude of books in our own English words; there is the host as large, which, in the kindred dialects of the North, the mind of Germany has given to mankind. The literature or France and of Italy, of Spain, the South of Europe, have their respective clairns and attractions. Beside the modern mind, there is all that, venerable with the age of thousands of centuries, has come down to us from Greece and Rome, and Palestine. Then, too, in the whole extent of modern literature, there is the daily addition of the illimitable issues. from the press in our day: so that when the student's thoughts turn to the accumulation of the printed thoughts of past ages, and to the never-ending and superadded accumulation which is poured forth from day to day, and from year to year; and when these vast stores are seen to have been made part of the scholarship of men and become a portion of their intellectual and moral nature, one is appalled at the first approach, and may shrink from all effort, in despondency or hopeless
It is a bewildering thing to stand in the presence of a vast concourse of books—in the midst of them, but feeble, or uncertain, or helpless in the using of them. It is sad to know that in each one of these volumes there is a spiritual power which might stir some kindred power in our own souls, which might guide, and inform, and elevate; and yet that it should be a power all hidden from us. It is oppressive to conceive what a world of human thought and human passion is dwelling on the silent and senseless paper, how much of wisdom is ready to make its entrance into the mind that is prepared to give it welcome. It is mournful to think that the multitudinous oracles should be dumb to us.
Furthermore, there is this difficulty, that, in the multitude, mingled in the ndiscriminate throng, are evil books; or, if not evil, negative and worthless books. Thus the companionship is not only difficult but
be dangerous; the difficulty of making wise and happy choice, and the perilous presence of what is vicious in the guise of books.
Such are some of the difficulties which beset us, when we would bring the influence of books into the culture of our spiritual nature. These lectures are intended to present some thoughts and suggestions with a view to the surmounting of these difficulties, and to guidance into the department of English literature. I propose now to consider the general principles of literature, and in the next lecture to trace some of the applications of these principles in the formation of our habits of reading.
The discouraging effect which is produced by the present and perpetually increasing multitude of books is, in some degree, lessened by the thought that all are not literature. A vast deal of paper is printed and folded and shaped into the outward fashion of a book, that never er ters into the literature of the language. What (it may be asked) is Literature? This is a question not enough thought of; the answer to it is important, but by no means, I think, difficult, when once we see the necessity of making the discrimination. Books that are technical, that are professional, that are sectarian, are not literature in the proper sense of the term. The great characteristic of literature, its essential principle, is that it is addressed to man as man; it speaks to our common human nature; it deals with every element in our being that makes fellowship between man and man through all ages of man's history and through all the habitable regions of this planet. According to this view, literature excludes from its appropriate province whatever is addressed to men as they are parted into trades, and professions, and sects—parted, it may be, in the division for mutual good; or, it be by vicious and unchristian alienation. It is the relation to universal humanity which constitutes literature; it matters not how elevated, whether it be history, philosophy, or poetry, in its highest aspirations; or how humble, it may be the simplest rhyme or story that is level to the unquestioning faith and untutored intellect of childhood: let it but be addressed to our common human nature, it is literature in the true sense of the term. No man can put it aside and say, “ It concerns not me:" no woman can put it aside and say, “ It concerns not me." The books which do not enter into the literature of a language are limitec in their uses, for they hold their intercourse with something narrower than human nature, while that which is literature has an audiencechamber capacious as the soul of man-enduring as his immortality. It has a voice whose rhythm is in harmony with the pulses of tho human heart. It is this
, and this alone—this universality—which places a book in a Nation's literature. It matters not what the subjects
or what the modes of treating—be there but one touch of nature to make the whole world kin—it is enough to lift it into the region of literature. A London linen-draper writes a treatise on Angling, with no other thought, perhaps, than to teach an angler's subtle craft, but infusing into his art so much of Christian meekness, so deep a feeling for the beauties of earth and sky, such rational loyalty to womanhood, and such simple, child-like love of song, the songs of bird, of milk-maid, and of minstrel, that this little book on fishing has earned its life of two hundred years already, outliving many a more ambitious book, and Izaak Walton has a place of honour amid British authors, and has the love even of those who have learned the poet-moralist's truer wisdom,
“Never to blend our pleasure or our pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.”- Wordsworth. I speak of this instance to show how a subject which is indifferent to many, and even repulsive to not a few, may be redeemed and animated by the author's true human-heartedness. How much deeper then must be the interest of all the subjects, in the vast variety, with which there is universal sympathy! How much mightier must be the agency of literature as it passes beyond and above that which is local and limited, temporary or conventional, into the region of the spiritual and the eternal, when it enters into the very soul of man, admonishing it of its weakness, and of its strength, and of its immortality!
Now, whether we look at the simpler and humbler aims of literature-healthful, innocent, recreation—the recuperative influences which blend so happily with the severer functions of life, or whether we contemplate its elevating and chastening power on the minds of men, we cannot mistake that its just and great attribute is its universality. It speaks to every ear that is not deaf to it. It asks admission into every heart. The books that are not a literature have the professional, the technical, but not the human stamp: some, the law-books for instance, put on an outward garb of their own, as if to warn all but one class of readers away from them. But observe the books which are Literazure, how they speak to a people—to a whole nation—to scattered nations over the earth linked together by community of speech, above all such glorious community as our English speech; nay, more, so far as the Babel barriers which make the partitions of the earth are overeaped, a literature addresses itself to all mankind. This is true of even the light and more perishable literature, recreating and gladdening the hearts of men, if but for a season; and it is more lastingly true of the higher literature—for instance, our abundant and varied English essay
literature, philosophy, history with all its kindred themes, and poetry. Is it not for every fellow-being speaking the English tongue, that Addison and Charles Lamb, the “Spectator” and “ Elia” have written? Is it not for every one who is willing to be lifted up to the high places of philosophy, that Bacon's words of wisdom were recorded ? It is for all, that Clarendon's pictured page displays its great gallery of historic portraits: it is for all, that Arnold, in our own day, has shown how a mighty historian can throw a sacred light over profane history, by tracing God's providence in the annals of a pagan people. It is every man and every woman whom Spenser leads into the sunny and the shadowy spaces of his marvellous allegory; and Shakspeare into that more wondrous region, the soul of man, with its depths of goodutss and of evil, brighter and darker than aught in the region of romance. In our own times, it was for all his race that Byron gave utterance to his passionate poetry: it was for all Christian readers that Southey, in his “ Eastern Epics,” interwove, with the heathen fable, bright threads of the glory of the Christian faith; and it is for every one who takes thought of the deep things of his nature, the mysteries of his being, memories of early innocence and yearnings for eternity, that Wordsworth struck his lofty lyric, the most sublime ode in this and, perhaps, any language, on the birth-the life-the undying destiny of the soul of man.
I have dwelt upon this prime quality of literature, its universality, because simple as it is, it is practically lost sight of, in the propensity to identify all things in the shape of books with literature. Whatever is meant to minister to our universal human nature, either in the nature of the subject or the handling of it, takes its place, in some range or other, of literature: and nothing else is so entitled. And here let me step aside for a moment to notice an unworthy and very inadequate term, which, in its day has had sone currency as a substitute for the term “ literature." I refer to that vapid, half-naturalized term “belleslettres,” which was more in vogue formerly than now, getting currency,
I suppose, during a period of shallow criticism not very remote from our day, when Doctor Blair and Lord Kames were great authorities. I have never met with anybody who could tell me what precise meaning it is meant to convey. The term had an appropriateness for much in the literature of France, but translate the words and transfer them to English literature, and how inane is such a title, so applied ! Doctor Johnson has given it a place in the English vocabulary, and tells us it means “polite literature,” which does not help the matter much. I should not have thought it worth while to stop to comment on this term if I did not neneve it to oe not onay vague and inadequate, but
also mischievous ; and it is well known what power of mischief there may be in a word. “ Belles lettres”-fine letters—polite literature what thought do these terms convey but of luxuries of the mind, a. refined amusement, but no more than amusement, confectionaries (as it were) of the mind, rather than needful, solid, healthy, life-sustaining food. If the term “belles-lettres” exclude the weighty and sublime productions of the mind, then is it a miserable substitute for what should be comprehended in such a term as "literature :” if it include them, then it is a pitifully inapposite title. Now the mischief is just here: this dainty, feeble term leads people to suppose that literature is an easy, ndolent cultivation, a sort of passive, patrician pleasure, instead of cemanding dutiful and studious and strenuous energy. It lowers the great works of genius, as if they could be approached indolently, thoughtlessly, and without preparatory discipline. When the term was most in use, it was meant for that which is essential literature, and yet how meanly inadequate and injurious is it now in the department of poetry, if applied to the Faery Queen, Paradise Lost, The Excursion ! We might call the fanciful things in The Rape of the Lock, creations; but who will so speak of Milton's ruined Archangel, or Lear, or Hamlet ? It is to be noticed that as the term “belles-lettres" was introduced in a feeble age of the British mind, so it has been in a great measure cast out by the deeper philosophy of criticism which has arisen in this century.
I have adverted to this subject, because the term detracts from that which is the prime characteristic of literature-its universality--it appeal to man as man. In this simple, elementary principle, we may unfold some of the manifold powers and uses of a literature: it would not thus address itself to all human beings, whose minds can be open to it, unless it had some great purpose—some worthier end than pastime. It is one of the countless and varied influences under which man's spiritual being passes through this mortal life. It is one agency amid many, only one among many, for we must not exaggerate its importance. We are dwelling amid the things of sight and sound in this inanimate woris and that has its influences on the soul of man: we are dwelling in the social world of kindred human beings, giving and receiving from one another impressions to last, it may be, through eternity; we are living amid the spiritual agencies which are vouchsafed to redeemed man: and our life is also in the world of books.
Ard buoks, we know,