The Relation of Art to Morals
66. You probably recollect that, in the beginning of my last lecture, it was stated that fine art had, and could have, but three functions: the enforcing of the religious sentiments of men, the perfecting their ethical state, and the doing them material service. We have to-day to examine, the mode of its action in the second power--that of perfecting the morality, or ethical state, of men.
Perfecting, observe--not producing.
You must have the right moral state first, or you cannot have the art. But when the art is once obtained, its reflected action enhances and completes the moral state out of which it arose, and, above all, communicates the exultation to other minds which are already morally capable of the like.
67. For instance, take the art of singing, and the simplest perfect master of it (up to the limits of his nature) whom you can find;--a skylark. From him you may learn what it is to "sing for joy." You must get the moral state first, the pure gladness, then give it finished expression; and it is perfected in itself, and made communicable to other creatures capable of such joy. But it is incommunicable to those who are not prepared to receive it.
Now, all right human song is, similarly, the finished expression, by art, of the joy or grief of noble persons, for right causes. And accurately in proportion to the rightness of the cause, and purity of the emotion, is the possibility of the fine art. A maiden may sing of her lost love, but a miser cannot sing of his lost money. And with absolute precision, from highest to lowest, _the fineness of the possible art is an index of the moral purity and majesty of the emotion it expresses_. You may test it practically at any instant. Question with yourselves respecting any feeling that has taken strong possession of your mind, "Could this be sung by a master, and sung nobly, with a true melody and art?" Then it is a right feeling. Could it not be sung at all, or only sung ludicrously? It is a base one. And that is so in all the arts; so that with mathematical precision, subject to no error or exception, the art of a nation, so far as it exists, is an exponent of its ethical state.
68. An exponent, observe, and exalting influence; but not the root or cause. You cannot paint or sing yourselves into being good men; you must be good men before you can either paint or sing, and then the colour and sound will complete in you all that is best.
And this it was that I called upon you to hear, saying, "listen to me at least now," in the first lecture, namely, that no art-teaching could be of use to you, but would rather be harmful, unless it was grafted on something deeper than all art. For indeed not only with this, of which it is my function to show you the laws, but much more with the art of all men, which you came here chiefly to learn, that of language, the chief vices of education have arisen from the one great fallacy of supposing that noble language is a communicable trick of grammar and accent, instead of simply the careful expression of right thought. All the virtues of language are, in their roots, moral; it becomes accurate if the speaker desires to be true; clear, if he speaks with sympathy and a desire to be intelligible; powerful, if he has earnestness; pleasant, if he has sense of rhythm and order. There are no other virtues of language producible by art than these: but let me mark more deeply for an instant the significance of one of them. Language, I said, is only clear when it is sympathetic. You can, in truth, understand a man's word only by understanding his temper. Your own word is also as of an unknown tongue to him unless he understands yours. And it is this which makes the art of language, if any one is to be chosen separately from the rest, that which is fittest for the instrument of a gentleman's education. To teach the meaning of a word thoroughly, is to teach the nature of the spirit that coined it; the secret of language is the secret of sympathy, and its full charm is possible only to the gentle. And thus the principles of beautiful speech have all been fixed by sincere and kindly speech. On the laws which have been determined by sincerity, false speech, apparently beautiful, may afterwards be constructed; but all such utterance, whether in oration or poetry, is not only without permanent power, but it is destructive of the principles it has usurped. So long as no words are uttered but in faithfulness, so long the art of language goes on exalting itself; but the moment it is shaped and chiselled on external principles, it falls into frivolity, and perishes. And this truth would have been long ago manifest, had it not been that in periods of advanced academical science there is always a tendency to deny the sincerity of the first masters of language. Once learn to write gracefully in the manner of an ancient author, and we are apt to think that he also wrote in the manner of some one else. But no noble nor right style was ever yet founded but out of a sincere heart.
No man is worth reading to form your style, who does not mean what he says; nor was any great style ever invented but by some man who meant what he said. Find out the beginner of a great manner of writing, and you have also found the declarer of some true facts or sincere passions: and your whole method of reading will thus be quickened, for, being sure that your author really meant what he said, you will be much more careful to ascertain what it is that he means.
69. And of yet greater importance is it deeply to know that every beauty possessed by the language of a nation is significant of the innermost laws of its being. Keep the temper of the people stern and manly; make their associations grave, courteous, and for worthy objects; occupy them in just deeds; and their tongue must needs be a grand one. Nor is it possible, therefore--observe the necessary reflected action--that any tongue should be a noble one, of which the words are not so many trumpet-calls to action. All great languages invariably utter great things, and command them; they cannot be mimicked but by obedience; the breath of them is inspiration because it is not only vocal, but vital; and you can only learn to speak as these men spoke, by becoming what these men were.
70. Now for direct confirmation of this, I want you to think over the relation of expression to character in two great masters of the absolute art of language, Virgil and Pope. You are perhaps surprised at the last name; and indeed you have in English much higher grasp and melody of language from more passionate minds, but you have nothing else, in its range, so perfect. I name, therefore, these two men, because they are the two most accomplished _Artists_, merely as such, whom I know in literature; and because I think you will be afterwards interested in investigating how the infinite grace in the words of the one, and the severity in those of the other, and the precision in those of both, arise wholly out of the moral elements of their minds:--out of the deep tenderness in Virgil which enabled him to write the stories of Nisus and Lausus; and the serene and just benevolence which placed Pope, in his theology, two centuries in advance of his time, and enabled him to sum the law of noble life in two lines which, so far as I know, are the most complete, the most concise, and the most lofty expression of moral temper existing in English words:--
_"Never elated, while one man's oppress'd;_ _Never dejected, while another's bless'd."_
I wish you also to remember these lines of Pope, and to make yourselves entirely masters of his system of ethics; because, putting Shakespeare aside as rather the world's than ours, I hold Pope to be the most perfect representative we have, since Chaucer, of the true English mind; and I think the Dunciad is the most absolutely chiselled and monumental work "exacted" in our country. You will find, as you study Pope, that he has expressed for you, in the strictest language and within the briefest limits, every law of art, of criticism, of economy, of policy, and, finally, of a benevolence, humble, rational, and resigned, contented with its allotted share of life, and trusting the problem of its salvation to Him in whose hand lies that of the universe.
71. And now I pass to the arts with which I have special concern, in which, though the facts are exactly the same, I shall have more difficulty in proving my assertion, because very few of us are as cognizant of the merit of painting as we are of that of language; and I can only show you whence that merit springs, after having thoroughly shown you in what it consists. But, in the meantime, I have simply to tell you, that the manual arts are as accurate exponents of ethical state, as other modes of expression; first, with absolute precision, of that of the workman; and then with precision, disguised by many distorting influences, of that of the nation to which it belongs.
And, first, they are a perfect exponent of the mind of the workman: but, being so, remember, if the mind be great or complex, the art is not an easy book to read; for we must ourselves possess all the mental characters of which we are to read the signs. No man can read the evidence of labour who is not himself laborious, for he does not know what the work cost: nor can he read the evidence of true passion if he is not passionate; nor of gentleness if he is not gentle: and the most subtle signs of fault and weakness of character he can only judge by having had the same faults to fight with. I myself, for instance, know impatient work, and tired work, better than most critics, because I am myself always impatient, and often tired:--so also, the patient and indefatigable touch of a mighty master becomes more wonderful to me than to others. Yet, wonderful in no mean measure it will be to you all, when I make it manifest,--and as soon as we begin our real work, and you have learned what it is to draw a true line, I shall be able to make manifest to you,--and indisputably so,--that the day's work of a man like Mantegna or Paul Veronese consists of an unfaltering, uninterrupted succession of movements of the hand more precise than those of the finest fencer: the pencil leaving one point and arriving at another, not only with unerring precision at the extremity of the line, but with an unerring and yet varied course--sometimes over spaces a foot or more in extent--yet a course so determined everywhere, that either of these men could, and Veronese often does, draw a finished profile, or any other portion of the contour of the face, with one line, not afterwards changed. Try, first, to realise to yourselves the muscular precision of that action, and the intellectual strain of it; for the movement of a fencer is perfect in practised monotony; but the movement of the hand of a great painter is at every instant governed by a direct and new intention. Then imagine that muscular firmness and subtlety, and the instantaneously selective and ordinant energy of the brain, sustained all day long, not only without fatigue, but with a visible joy in the exertion, like that which an eagle seems to take in the wave of his wings; and this all life long, and through long life, not only without failure of power, but with visible increase of it, until the actually organic changes of old age. And then consider, so far as you know anything of physiology, what sort of an ethical state of body and mind that means! ethic through ages past! what fineness of race there must be to get it, what exquisite balance and symmetry of the vital powers! And then, finally, determine for yourselves whether a manhood like that is consistent with any viciousness of soul, with any mean anxiety, any gnawing lust, any wretchedness of spite or remorse, any consciousness of rebellion against law of God or man, or any actual, though unconscious violation of even the least law to which obedience is essential for the glory of life and the pleasing of its Giver.
72. It is, of course, true that many of the strong masters had deep faults of character, but their faults always show in their work. It is true that some could not govern their passions; if so, they died young, or they painted ill when old. But the greater part of our misapprehension in the whole matter is from our not having well known who the great painters were, and taking delight in the petty skill that was bred in the fumes of the taverns of the North, instead of theirs who breathed empyreal air, sons of the morning, under the woods of Assisi and the crags of Cadore.
73. It is true however also, as I have pointed out long ago, that the strong masters fall into two great divisions, one leading simple and natural lives, the other restrained in a Puritanism of the worship of beauty; and these two manners of life you may recognise in a moment by their work. Generally the naturalists are the strongest; but there are two of the Puritans, whose work if I can succeed in making clearly understandable to you during my three years here, it is all I need care to do. But of these two Puritans one I cannot name to you, and the other I at present will not. One I cannot, for no one knows his name, except the baptismal one, Bernard, or "dear little Bernard"--Bernardino, called from his birthplace, (Luino, on the Lago Maggiore,) Bernard of Luino. The other is a Venetian, of whom many of you probably have never heard, and of whom, through me, you shall not hear, until I have tried to get some picture by him over to England.
74. Observe then, this Puritanism in the worship of beauty, though sometimes weak, is always honourable and amiable, and the exact reverse of the false Puritanism, which consists in the dread or disdain of beauty. And in order to treat my subject rightly, I ought to proceed from the skill of art to the choice of its subject, and show you how the moral temper of the workman is shown by his seeking lovely forms and thoughts to express, as well as by the force of his hand in expression. But I need not now urge this part of the proof on you, because you are already, I believe, sufficiently conscious of the truth in this matter, and also I have already said enough of it in my writings; whereas I have not at all said enough of the infallibleness of fine technical work as a proof of every other good power. And indeed it was long before I myself understood the true meaning of the pride of the greatest men in their mere execution, shown for a permanent lesson to us, in the stories which, whether true or not, indicate with absolute accuracy the general conviction of great artists;--the stories of the contest of Apelles and Protogenes in a line only, (of which I can promise you, you shall know the meaning to some purpose in a little while),--the story of the circle of Giotto, and especially, which you may perhaps not have observed, the expression of Duerer in his inscription on the drawings sent him by Raphael. These figures, he says, "Raphael drew and sent to Albert Duerer in Nuernberg, to show him"--What? Not his invention, nor his beauty of expression, but "sein Hand zu weisen," "To show him his _hand_." And you will find, as you examine farther, that all inferior artists are continually trying to escape from the necessity of sound work, and either indulging themselves in their delights in subject, or pluming themselves on their noble motives for attempting what they cannot perform; (and observe, by the way, that a great deal of what is mistaken for conscientious motive is nothing but a very pestilent, because very subtle, condition of vanity); whereas the great men always understand at once that the first morality of a painter, as of everybody else, is to know his business; and so earnest are they in this, that many, whose lives you would think, by the results of their work, had been passed in strong emotion, have in reality subdued themselves, though capable of the very strongest passions, into a calm as absolute as that of a deeply sheltered mountain lake, which reflects every agitation of the clouds in the sky, and every change of the shadows on the hills, but is itself motionless.
75. Finally, you must remember that great obscurity has been brought upon the truth in this matter by the want of integrity and simplicity in our modern life. I mean integrity in the Latin sense, wholeness. Everything is broken up, and mingled in confusion, both in our habits and thoughts; besides being in great part imitative: so that you not only cannot tell what a man is, but sometimes you cannot tell whether he is, at all!--whether you have indeed to do with a spirit, or only with an echo. And thus the same inconsistencies appear now, between the work of artists of merit and their personal characters, as those which you find continually disappointing expectation in the lives of men of modern literary power; the same conditions of society having obscured or misdirected the best qualities of the imagination, both in our literature and art. Thus there is no serious question with any of us as to the personal character of Dante and Giotto, of Shakespeare and Holbein; but we pause timidly in the attempt to analyse the moral laws of the art skill in recent poets, novelists, and painters.
76. Let me assure you once for all, that as you grow older, if you enable yourselves to distinguish, by the truth of your own lives, what is true in those of other men, you will gradually perceive that all good has its origin in good, never in evil; that the fact of either literature or painting being truly fine of their kind, whatever their mistaken aim, or partial error, is proof of their noble origin: and that, if there is indeed sterling value in the thing done, it has come of a sterling worth in the soul that did it, however alloyed or defiled by conditions of sin which are sometimes more appalling or more strange than those which all may detect in their own hearts, because they are part of a personality altogether larger than ours, and as far beyond our judgment in its darkness as beyond our following in its light. And it is sufficient warning against what some might dread as the probable effect of such a conviction on your own minds, namely, that you might permit yourselves in the weaknesses which you imagined to be allied to genius, when they took the form of personal temptations;--it is surely, I say, sufficient warning against so mean a folly, to discern, as you may with little pains, that, of all human existences, the lives of men of that distorted and tainted nobility of intellect are probably the most miserable.
77. I pass to the second, and for us the more practically important question, What is the effect of noble art upon other men; what has it done for national morality in time past: and what effect is the extended knowledge or possession of it likely to have upon us now? And here we are at once met by the facts, which are as gloomy as indisputable, that, while many peasant populations, among whom scarcely the rudest practice of art has ever been attempted, have lived in comparative innocence, honour and happiness, the worst foulness and cruelty of savage tribes have been frequently associated with fine ingenuities of decorative design; also, that no people has ever attained the higher stages of art skill, except at a period of its civilisation which was sullied by frequent, violent and even monstrous crime; and, lastly, that the attaining of perfection in art power has been hitherto, in every nation, the accurate signal of the beginning of its ruin.
78. Respecting which phenomena, observe first, that although good never springs out of evil, it is developed to its highest by contention with evil. There are some groups of peasantry, in far-away nooks of Christian countries, who are nearly as innocent as lambs; but the morality which gives power to art is the morality of men, not of cattle.
Secondly, the virtues of the inhabitants of many country districts are apparent, not real; their lives are indeed artless, but not innocent; and it is only the monotony of circumstances, and the absence of temptation, which prevent the exhibition of evil passions not less real because often dormant, nor less foul because shown only in petty faults, or inactive malignities.
79. But you will observe also that _absolute_ artlessness, to men in any kind of moral health, is impossible; they have always, at least, the art by which they live--agriculture or seamanship; and in these industries, skilfully practised, you will find the law of their moral training; while, whatever the adversity of circumstances, every rightly-minded peasantry, such as that of Sweden, Denmark, Bavaria, or Switzerland, has associated with its needful industry a quite studied school of pleasurable art in dress; and generally also in song, and simple domestic architecture.
80. Again, I need not repeat to you here what I endeavoured to explain in the first lecture in the book I called "The Two Paths," respecting the arts of savage races: but I may now note briefly that such arts are the result of an intellectual activity which has found no room to expand, and which the tyranny of nature or of man has condemned to disease through arrested growth. And where neither Christianity, nor any other religion conveying some moral help, has reached, the animal energy of such races necessarily flames into ghastly conditions of evil, and the grotesque or frightful forms assumed by their art are precisely indicative of their distorted moral nature.
81. But the truly great nations nearly always begin from a race possessing this imaginative power; and for some time their progress is very slow, and their state not one of innocence, but of feverish and faultful animal energy. This is gradually subdued and exalted into bright human life; the art instinct purifying itself with the rest of the nature, until social perfectness is nearly reached; and then comes the period when conscience and intellect are so highly developed, that new forms of error begin in the inability to fulfil the demands of the one, or to answer the doubts of the other. Then the wholeness of the people is lost; all kinds of hypocrisies and oppositions of science develop themselves; their faith is questioned on one side, and compromised with on the other; wealth commonly increases at the same period to a destructive extent; luxury follows; and the ruin of the nation is then certain: while the arts, all this time, are simply, as I said at first, the exponents of each phase of its moral state, and no more control it in its political career than the gleam of the firefly guides its oscillation. It is true that their most splendid results are usually obtained in the swiftness of the power which is hurrying to the precipice; but to lay the charge of the catastrophe to the art by which it is illumined, is to find a cause for the cataract in the hues of its iris. It is true that the colossal vices belonging to periods of great national wealth (for wealth, you will find, is the real root of all evil) can turn every good gift and skill of nature or of man to evil purpose. If, in such times, fair pictures have been misused, how much more fair realities? And if Miranda is immoral to Caliban, is that Miranda's fault?
82. And I could easily go on to trace for you what at the moment I speak, is signified, in our own national character, by the forms of art, and unhappily also by the forms of what is not art, but [Greek: atechnia], that exist among us. But the more important question is, What _will_ be signified by them; what is there in us now of worth and strength, which under our new and partly accidental impulse towards formative labour, may be by that expressed, and by that fortified?
Would it not be well to know this? Nay, irrespective of all future work, is it not the first thing we should want to know, what stuff we are made of--how far we are +agathoi+ or +kakoi+--good, or good for nothing? We may all know that, each of ourselves, easily enough, if we like to put one grave question well home.
83. Supposing it were told any of you by a physician whose word you could not but trust, that you had not more than seven days to live. And suppose also that, by the manner of your education it had happened to you, as it has happened to many, never to have heard of any future state, or not to have credited what you heard; and therefore that you had to face this fact of the approach of death in its simplicity: fearing no punishment for any sin that you might have before committed, or in the coming days might determine to commit; and having similarly no hope of reward for past, or yet possible, virtue; nor even of any consciousness whatever to be left to you, after the seventh day had ended, either of the results of your acts to those whom you loved, or of the feelings of any survivors towards you. Then the manner in which you would spend the seven days is an exact measure of the morality of your nature.
84. I know that some of you, and I believe the greater number of you, would, in such a case, spend the granted days entirely as you ought. Neither in numbering the errors, or deploring the pleasures of the past; nor in grasping at vile good in the present, nor vainly lamenting the darkness of the future; but in an instant and earnest execution of whatever it might be possible for you to accomplish in the time, in setting your affairs in order, and in providing for the future comfort, and--so far as you might by any message or record of yourself,--for the consolation, of those whom you loved, and by whom you desired to be remembered, not for your good, but for theirs. How far you might fail through human weakness, in shame for the past, despair at the little that could in the remnant of life be accomplished, or the intolerable pain of broken affection, would depend wholly on the degree in which your nature had been depressed or fortified by the manner of your past life. But I think there are few of you who would not spend those last days better than all that had preceded them.
85. If you look accurately through the records of the lives that have been most useful to humanity, you will find that all that has been done best, has been done so;--that to the clearest intellects and highest souls,--to the true children of the Father, with whom a thousand years are as one day, their poor seventy years are but as seven days. The removal of the shadow of death from them to an uncertain, but always narrow, distance, never takes away from them their intuition of its approach; the extending to them of a few hours more or less of light abates not their acknowledgment of the infinitude that must remain to be known beyond their knowledge,--done beyond their deeds: the unprofitableness of their momentary service is wrought in a magnificent despair, and their very honour is bequeathed by them for the joy of others, as they lie down to their rest, regarding for themselves the voice of men no more.
86. The best things, I repeat to you, have been done thus, and therefore, sorrowfully. But the greatest part of the good work of the world is done either in pure and unvexed instinct of duty, "I have stubbed Thornaby waste," or else, and better, it is cheerful and helpful doing of what the hand finds to do, in surety that at evening time, whatsoever is right the Master will give. And that it be worthily done, depends wholly on that ultimate quantity of worth which you can measure, each in himself, by the test I have just given you. For that test, observe, will mark to you the precise force, first of your absolute courage, and then of the energy in you for the right ordering of things, and the kindly dealing with persons. You have cut away from these two instincts every selfish or common motive, and left nothing but the energies of Order and of Love.
87. Now, where those two roots are set, all the other powers and desires find right nourishment, and become to their own utmost, helpful to others and pleasurable to ourselves. And so far as those two springs of action are not in us, all other powers become corrupt or dead; even the love of truth, apart from these, hardens into an insolent and cold avarice of knowledge, which unused, is more vain than unused gold.
88. These, then, are the two essential instincts of humanity: the love of Order and the love of Kindness. By the love of order the moral energy is to deal with the earth, and to dress it, and keep it; and with all rebellious and dissolute forces in lower creatures, or in ourselves. By the love of doing kindness it is to deal rightly with all surrounding life. And then, grafted on these, we are to make every other passion perfect; so that they may every one have full strength and yet be absolutely under control.
89. Every one must be strong, every one perfect, every one obedient as a war horse. And it is among the most beautiful pieces of mysticism to which eternal truth is attached, that the chariot race, which Plato uses as an image of moral government, and which is indeed the most perfect type of it in any visible skill of men, should have been made by the Greeks the continual subject of their best poetry and best art. Nevertheless Plato's use of it is not altogether true. There is no black horse in the chariot of the soul. One of the driver's worst faults is in starving his horses; another, in not breaking them early enough; but they are all good. Take, for example, one usually thought of as wholly evil--that of Anger, leading to vengeance. I believe it to be quite one of the crowning wickednesses of this age that we have starved and chilled our faculty of indignation, and neither desire nor dare to punish crimes justly. We have taken up the benevolent idea, forsooth, that justice is to be preventive instead of vindictive; and we imagine that we are to punish, not in anger, but in expediency; not that we may give deserved pain to the person in fault, but that we may frighten other people from committing the same fault. The beautiful theory of this non-vindictive justice is, that having convicted a man of a crime worthy of death, we entirely pardon the criminal, restore him to his place in our affection and esteem, and then hang him, not as a malefactor, but as a scarecrow. That is the theory. And the practice is, that we send a child to prison for a month for stealing a handful of walnuts, for fear that other children should come to steal more of our walnuts. And we do not punish a swindler for ruining a thousand families, because we think swindling is a wholesome excitement to trade.
90. But all true justice is vindictive to vice, as it is rewarding to virtue. Only--and herein it is distinguished from personal revenge--it is vindictive of the wrong done;--not of the wrong done _to us_. It is the national expression of deliberate anger, as of deliberate gratitude; it is not exemplary, or even corrective, but essentially retributive; it is the absolute art of measured recompense, giving honour where honour is due, and shame where shame is due, and joy where joy is due, and pain where pain is due. It is neither educational, for men are to be educated by wholesome habit, not by rewards and punishments; nor is it preventive, for it is to be executed without regard to any consequences; but only for righteousness' sake, a righteous nation does judgment and justice. But in this, as in all other instances, the rightness of the secondary passion depends on its being grafted on those two primary instincts, the love of order and of kindness, so that indignation itself is against the wounding of love. Do you think the +menis Achileos+ came of a hard heart in Achilles, or the "Pallas te hoc vulnere, Pallas," of a hard heart in Anchises' son?
91. And now, if with this clue through the labyrinth of them, you remember the course of the arts of great nations, you will perceive that whatever has prospered, and become lovely, had its beginning--for no other was possible--in the love of order in material things associated with true +dikaiosune+: and the desire of beauty in material things, which is associated with true affection, _charitas_, and with the innumerable conditions of gentleness expressed by the different uses of the words +charis+ and _gratia_. You will find that this love of beauty is an essential part of all healthy human nature, and though it can long co-exist with states of life in many other respects unvirtuous, it is itself wholly good;--the direct adversary of envy, avarice, mean worldly care, and especially of cruelty. It entirely perishes when these are wilfully indulged; and the men in whom it has been most strong have always been compassionate, and lovers of justice, and the earliest discerners and declarers of things conducive to the happiness of mankind.
92. Nearly every important truth respecting the love of beauty in its familiar relations to human life was mythically expressed by the Greeks in their various accounts of the parentage and offices of the Graces. But one fact, the most vital of all, they could not in its fulness perceive, namely, that the intensity of other perceptions of beauty is exactly commensurate with the imaginative purity of the passion of love, and with the singleness of its devotion. They were not fully conscious of, and could not therefore either mythically or philosophically express, the deep relation within themselves between their power of perceiving beauty, and the honour of domestic affection which found their sternest themes of tragedy in the infringement of its laws;--which made the rape of Helen the chief subject of their epic poetry, and which fastened their clearest symbolism of resurrection on the story of Alcestis. Unhappily, the subordinate position of their most revered women, and the partial corruption of feeling towards them by the presence of certain other singular states of inferior passion which it is as difficult as grievous to analyse, arrested the ethical as well as the formative progress of the Greek mind; and it was not until after an interval of nearly two thousand years of various error and pain, that, partly as the true reward of Christian warfare nobly sustained through centuries of trial, and partly as the visionary culmination of the faith which saw in a maiden's purity the link between God and her race, the highest and holiest strength of mortal love was reached; and, together with it, in the song of Dante, and the painting of Bernard of Luino and his fellows, the perception, and embodiment for ever of whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;--that, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, men might think on those things.
93. You probably observed the expression I used a moment ago, the _imaginative_ purity of the passion of love. I have not yet spoken, nor is it possible for me to-day, to speak adequately, of the moral power of the imagination: but you may for yourselves enough discern its nature merely by comparing the dignity of the relations between the sexes, from their lowest level in moths or mollusca, through the higher creatures in whom they become a domestic influence and law, up to the love of pure men and women; and, finally, to the ideal love which animated chivalry. Throughout this vast ascent it is the gradual increase of the imaginative faculty which exalts and enlarges the authority of the passion, until, at its height, it is the bulwark of patience, the tutor of honour, and the perfectness of praise.
94. You will find farther, that as of love, so of all the other passions, the right government and exaltation begins in that of the Imagination, which is lord over them. For to _subdue_ the passions, which is thought so often to be the sum of duty respecting them, is possible enough to a proud dulness; but to _excite_ them rightly, and make them strong for good, is the work of the unselfish imagination. It is constantly said that human nature is heartless. Do not believe it. Human nature is kind and generous; but it is narrow and blind; and can only with difficulty conceive anything but what it immediately sees and feels. People would instantly care for others as well as themselves if only they could _imagine_ others as well as themselves. Let a child fall into the river before the roughest man's eyes;--he will usually do what he can to get it out, even at some risk to himself; and all the town will triumph in the saving of one little life. Let the same man be shown that hundreds of children are dying of fever for want of some sanitary measure which it will cost him trouble to urge, and he will make no effort; and probably all the town would resist him if he did. So, also, the lives of many deserving women are passed in a succession of petty anxieties about themselves, and gleaning of minute interests and mean pleasures in their immediate circle, because they are never taught to make any effort to look beyond it; or to know anything about the mighty world in which their lives are fading, like blades of bitter grass in fruitless fields.
95. I had intended to enlarge on this--and yet more on the kingdom which every man holds in his conceptive faculty, to be peopled with active thoughts and lovely presences, or left waste for the springing up of those dark desires and dreams of which it is written that "every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart is evil continually." True, and a thousand times true it is, that, here at least, "greater is he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city." But this you can partly follow out for yourselves without help, partly we must leave it for future enquiry. I press to the conclusion which I wish to leave with you, that all you can rightly do, or honourably become, depends on the government of these two instincts of order and kindness, by this great Imaginative faculty, which gives you inheritance of the past, grasp of the present, authority over the future. Map out the spaces of your possible lives by its help; measure the range of their possible agency! On the walls and towers of this your fair city, there is not an ornament of which the first origin may not be traced back to the thoughts of men who died two thousand years ago. Whom will _you_ be governing by your thoughts, two thousand years hence? Think of it, and you will find that so far from art being immoral, little else except art is moral; that life without industry is guilt, and industry without art is brutality: and for the words "good" and "wicked," used of men, you may almost substitute the words "Makers" and "Destroyers." Far the greater part of the seeming prosperity of the world is, so far as our present knowledge extends, vain: wholly useless for any kind of good, but having assigned to it a certain inevitable sequence of destruction and of sorrow. Its stress is only the stress of wandering storm; its beauty the hectic of plague: and what is called the history of mankind is too often the record of the whirlwind, and the map of the spreading of the leprosy. But underneath all that, or in narrow spaces of dominion in the midst of it, the work of every man, "qui non accepit in vanitatem animam suam," endures and prospers; a small remnant or green bud of it prevailing at last over evil. And though faint with sickness, and encumbered in ruin, the true workers redeem inch by inch the wilderness into garden ground; by the help of their joined hands the order of all things is surely sustained and vitally expanded, and although with strange vacillation, in the eyes of the watcher, the morning cometh, and also the night, there is no hour of human existence that does not draw on towards the perfect day.
96. And perfect the day shall be, when it is of all men understood that the beauty of Holiness must be in labour as well as in rest. Nay! _more_, if it may be, in labour; in our strength, rather than in our weakness; and in the choice of what we shall work for through the six days, and may know to be good at their evening time, than in the choice of what we pray for on the seventh, of reward or repose. With the multitude that keep holiday, we may perhaps sometimes vainly have gone up to the house of the Lord, and vainly there asked for what we fancied would be mercy; but for the few who labour as their Lord would have them, the mercy needs no seeking, and their wide home no hallowing. Surely goodness and mercy shall _follow_ them, _all_ the days of their life; and they shall dwell in the house of the Lord--FOR EVER.
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|