Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/283
CRITICISM AND THE ESSAY
acter, and finally the way in which those causes distribute their effects. Thus is our progress through unknown fields made easy: we are not asked to leap from point to point, or to retrace our way; our guide takes us step by step along the path of his discovery.
The sustained and methodically expounded idea which is the basis of every great critical essay would, however, like all abstractions, seem dull or unintelligible if it were not constantly and vividly illustrated. The logical must flower in the picturesque. This even the great critics occasionally forget: one or two passages in Mazzini's essay would be more convincing if more fully illustrated by references to Goethe's works; and the only pages of Hugo where our interest flags a little are those in which he describes, without examples, the character of romantic verse. But such lapses are highly exceptional. Taine, the most intellectual and least emotional of these men, makes it a rule to clothe the skeleton of his theory in flesh and blood. To show what he means by "the visible man," he clearly portrays a modern poet, a seventeenth-century dramatist, a Greek citizen, and an Indian Purana. Renan, to exhibit the Celtic love of animals and nature, tells the story of Kilhwch and Olwen; and to explain Celtic Christianity, recounts the legend of St. Brandan. Sainte-Beuve states his definition of classicism in a few lines, and devotes the rest of his essay to applying it to particular authors.
All these masters have the gift of happy quotation. Montaigne's "I commend a gliding, solitary, and silent life," quoted by Sainte-Beuve,and Goethe's "I allow objects to act tranquilly upon me," quoted by Mazzini, clarify and confirm out of the authors' own mouths those impressions which the critics wish to impart. The astonishing effectiveness of the close of Hugo's essay is due to his apt quotations from Aristotle and Boileau, which seem to bring over those great classicists to Hugo's romantic party.
The illustrations are not derived only from literary works. Taine, insisting upon the delicacy with which a literature records changes in national character, likens it to the sensitive instrument of a physicist. The similes of Hugo are exceptionally frequent and elaborate. "To make clear by a metaphor the ideas that we have