But there is a deeper kind of perspective, not so easily manufactured, though the manufacture of this, too, is often attempted, namely, Composition. The true ground of perspective in a picture is not a mechanical arrangement of lines, but a definite vision,—an affection of the painter by the subject, the net result of it in his mind, instantaneous and complete. It is a mistake to suppose that Composition is anything arbitrary,—that in the landscape out-of-doors we see the world as God made it, but in the picture as the painter makes it. Composition is nothing but the logic of vision; an uncomposed view is no more possible than an unlogical sentence. The eyes convey in each case what the mind is able to grasp,—no less, no more. As to any particular work, it is always a question of fact what it amounts to; the composition may be shallow, it may be bad,—the work of the understanding, not of the imagination,—put together, instead of seen together. But a picture without composition would be the mathematical point. Mr. Ruskin thinks any sensible person would exchange his pictures, however good, for windows through which he could see the scenes themselves. This does not quite meet the point, for it may be only a preference of quantity to quality. The window gives an infinitude of pictures; the painter, whatever his merit, but one. A fair comparison would be to place by the side of the Turner drawing a photograph of the scene, which we will suppose taken at the most favorable moment, and complete in color as well as light and shade. Whoever should then prefer the photograph must be either more of a naturalist than an artist, or else a better artist than Turner. The photograph, supposing it to be perfect in its way, gives what is seen at a first glance, only with the optical part of the process expanded over the whole field, instead of being confined to one point, as the eye is. The picture in it is the first glance of the operator, as he selected it; whatever delicacy of detail told in the impression on his mind tells in the impression on the plate; whatever is more than that does not go to increase the richness of the result, as picture, but belongs to another sphere. The landscape-photographs that we have lately had in such admirable perfection, however they may overpower our judgment at first sight, will, I believe, be found not to wear well; they have really less in them than even second-rate drawings, and therefore are sooner exhausted. The most satisfactory results of the photograph are where the subject is professedly a fragment, as in near foliage, tree-trunks, stone-texture; or where the mind's work is already done, and needs only to be reflected, as in buildings, sculpture, and, to a certain extent, portrait,—as far as the character has wrought itself into the clothes, habitual attitude, etc. Is not the popularity of the small full-length portrait-photographs owing to the predominance they give to this passive imprint of the mind's past action upon externals over its momentary and elusive presence? It is to the fillip received from the startling likeness of trivial details, exciting us to supply what is deficient in more important points, that is to be ascribed the leniency to the photograph on the part of near relatives and friends, who are usually hard to please with a painted likeness.
But all comparisons between the photograph and the hand-drawn picture are apt to be vitiated by the confusion of various extraneous interests with a purely artistic satisfaction resting in the thing itself. It is the old fallacy, involved in all the comparisons of Art with Nature. Of course, at bottom the interest is always that of the indwelling idea. But the question is, whether we stop at the outside, the material texture, or pass at once to the other extreme, the thought conveyed, or whether the two sides remain undistinguished. In the latter case only is our enjoyment strictly aesthetic, that is, attached to the bare perception of this particular thing; in the others, it is not this thing that prevails, but the physical or moral qualities, the class to which it belongs. It is true all these qualities play in and influence or even constitute the impression that particular works of Art make upon us. One man admires a picture for its handling, its surface, the way in which the paint is laid on; another, for its illustration of the laws of physiognomy; another, because it reminds him of the spring he spent in Rome, the pleasant people he met there, etc. We do not always care to distinguish the sources of the pleasure we feel; but for any criticism we must quit these accidents and personalities, and attend solely to that in the work which is unique, peculiar to it, that in which it suggests nothing, and associates itself with nothing, but refuses to be classed or distributed. This may not be the most important aspect of the thing represented, nor the deepest interest that a picture can have; but here, strictly speaking, lies all the beauty of it. The photograph has or may have a certain value of this kind, but a little time is needful before we discriminate what is general and what is special. Its extraneous interest, as specimen, as instance only, tends at once to abate from the first view, as the mind classifies and disposes of it. What remains, not thus to be disposed of, is its value as picture. Under this test, the photograph, compared with works of Art of a high order, will prove wanting in substance, thin and spotty, faulty in both ways, too full and too empty. For the result in each case must be proportionate to the impression that it echoes; but this, in the work of the artist, is reinforced by all his previous study and experience, as well as by the force and delicacy which his perception has over that of other men. It is thus really more concrete, has more in it, than the actual scene.
But when Composition is decried as artificial, what is meant is that it is artifice. It must be artificial, in the sense that all is there for the sake of the picture. But it is not to be the contrivance of the painter; the purpose must be in the work, not in his head. Diotima, in Plato's "Banquet," tells Socrates that Eros desires not the beautiful, but to bring forth in the beautiful; the creative impulse itself must be the motive, not anything ulterior. We require of the artist that he shall build better than he knows,—that his work shall not be the statement of his opinions, however correct or respectable, but an infinity, inexhaustible like Nature. He is to paint, as Turner said, only his impressions, and this precisely because they are not his, but stand outside of his will. To further this, to get the direct action of the artist's instinct, clear of the meddling and patching of forethought and afterthought, is no doubt the aim of the seemingly careless, formless handling now in vogue,—the dash which Harding says makes all the difference between what is good and what is intolerable in water-colors,—and the palette-knife-and-finger procedure of the French painters.
The sin of premeditated composition is that it is premeditated; the why and wherefore is of less consequence. If the motive be extraneous to the work, a theory, not an instinct, it does not matter much how high it is. It is fatal to beauty to see in the thing only its uses,—in the tree only the planks, in Niagara only the water-power; but a reverence for the facts themselves, or even for the moral meaning of them, so far as it is consciously present in the artist's mind, is just so far from the true intent of Art. This is the bane of the modern German school, both in landscape and history. They are laborious, learned, accurate, elevated in sentiment; Kaulbach's pictures, for instance, are complete treatises upon the theme, both as to the conception and the drawing, grouping, etc.; but it is mostly as treatises that they have interest. So the allegories in Albert Duerer's "Melancholia" are obstructive to it as a work of Art, and just in proportion to their value as thoughts.
The moral meaning in a picture, and its fidelity to fact, may each serve as measure of its merit after it is done. They must each be there, for its aim is to express after its own fashion the reality that lurks in every particle of matter. But it is for the spectator to see them, not the artist, and it is talking at cross-purposes to make either the motive,—to preach morality to Art, or to require from the artist an inventory of the landscape. That five or ten million pines grow in a Swiss valley is no reason why every one of them should be drawn. No doubt every one of them has its reason for being there, and it is conceivable that an exhaustive final statement might require them all to be shown. But there are no final statements in this world, least of all in Art. There are many things besides pines in the valley, and more important, and they can be drawn meanwhile. Besides, if all the pines, why not every pebble and blade of grass?
The earnestness that attracts us in mediaeval Art, the devout fervor of the earlier time and the veracity of the later, the deference of the painter to his theme, is profoundly interesting as history, but it was conditioned also by the limitations of that age. The mediaeval mind was oppressed by a sense of the foreignness and profaneness of Nature. The world is God's work, and ruled by Him; but it is not His dwelling-place, but only His foot-stool. The Divine spirit penetrates into the world of matter at certain points and to a certain depth, does not possess and inhabit it now and here, but only elsewhere and at a future time, in heaven, and at the final Judgment; and meantime the Church and the State are to maintain His jurisdiction over this outlying province as well as they can. The actual presence of God in the world would seem to drag Him down into questionable limitations, not to be assumed without express warrant, as exception, miracle, and in things consecrated and set apart. Hence the patchwork composition of the early painters; we see in it an extreme diversity of value ascribed to the things about them. It is a world partly divine and partly rubbish; not a universe, but a collection of fragments from various worlds. The figures in their landscapes do not tread the earth as if they belonged there, but like actors upon a stage, tricked up for the occasion. The earth is a desert upon which stones have been laid and herbs stuck into the crevices. The trees are put together out of separate leaves and twigs, and the rocks and mountains inserted like posts. In the earliest specimens the figures themselves have the same piecemeal look: their members are not born together, but put together. We see just how far the soul extends into them,—sometimes only to the eyes, then to the rest of the features, afterwards to the limbs and extremities. Evidently the artist's conception left much outside of it, to be added by way of label or explanation. In the trees, the care is to give the well-known fruit, the acorn or the apple, not the character of the tree; for what is wanted is only an indication what tree is meant. The only tie between man and the material world is the use he makes of it, elaborating and turning it into something it was not. Hence the trim orderliness of the mediaeval landscape. Dante shows no love of the woods or the mountains, but only dread and dislike, and draws his tropes from engineering, from shipyards, moats, embankments.
The mediaeval conception is higher than the antique; it recognizes a reality beyond the immediate, but not yet that it is the reality of the immediate and present also. But Art must dislodge this phantom of a lower, profane reality, and accept its own visions as authentic and sufficient. The modern mind is in this sense less religious than the mediaeval, that the antithesis of phenomenal and real is less present to it. But the pungency of this antithesis comes from an imperfect realization of its meaning. Just so far as the subjection of the finite remains no longer a postulate or an aspiration, but is carried into effect,—its finiteness no longer resisted or deplored, but accepted,—just so far it ceases to be opaque and inert. The present seems trivial and squalid, because it is clutched and held fast,—the fugitive image petrified into an idol or a clod. But taken as it is, it becomes transparent, and reveals the fair lines of the ideal.
The complaints of want of earnestness, devoutness, in modern Art, are as short-sighted as Schiller's lament over the prosaic present, as a world bereft of the gods. It is a loss to which we can well resign ourselves, that we no longer see God throned on Olympus, or anywhere else outside of the world. It is no misfortune that the mind has recognized under these alien forms a spirit akin to itself, and therefore no longer gives bribes to Fate by setting up images to it. The deity it worships is thenceforth no longer powerless to exist, nor is there any existence out of him; it needs not, then, to provide a limbo for him in some sphere of abstraction. What has fled is not the divinity, but its false isolation, its delegation to a corner of the universe. Instead of the god with his whims, we have law universal, the rule of mind, to which matter is not hostile, but allied and affirmative. That the sun is no longer the chariot of Helios, but a gravitating fireball, is only the other side of the perception that it is mind embodied, not some unrelated entity for which a charioteer must be deputed.
We no longer worship groves and fountains, nor Madonnas and saints, and our Art accordingly can no longer have the fervency, since its objects have not the concreteness, that belonged to former times. But it is to be noticed that Art can be devout only in proportion as Religion is artistic,—that is, as matter, and not spirit, is the immediate object of worship. Art and Religion spring from the same root, but coincide only at the outset, as in fetichism, the worship of the Black Stone of the Caaba, or the wonder-working Madonnas of Italy. The fetich is at once image and god; the interest in the appearance is not distinct from the interest in the meaning. It needs neither to be beautiful nor to be understood. But as the sense springs up of a related mind in the idol, the two sides are separated. It is no longer this thing merely, but, on the one hand, spirit, above and beyond matter, and, on the other, the appearance, equally self-sufficing and supreme among earthly things, just because its reality is not here, but elsewhere,—appearance, therefore, as transcendent, or Beauty.
To every age the religion of the foregoing seems artificial, incumbered with forms, and its Art superstitious, over-scrupulous, biased by considerations that have nothing to do with Art. Hence religious reformers are mystics, enthusiasts: this is the look of Luther, even of the hard-headed Calvin, as seen from the Roman-Catholic side. Hence, also, every epoch of revolution in Art seems to the preceding like an irruption of frivolity and profanity. Christian Art would have seemed so to the ancients; the Realism of the fourteenth century must have seemed so to the Giotteschi and the Renaissance, to both. The term Pre-Raphaelitism, though it seems an odd collocation to bring together such men as Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, and Luca Signorelli, has so far an intelligible basis, that all this period, from Giotto to Raphael, amidst all diversities, is characterized throughout by a deference of Art to something extraneous. It is not beauty that Fra Angelico looks for, but holiness, or beauty as expressing this; it is not beauty that draws Filippo Lippi, but homely actuality. It is from this point of view that the Renaissance has been attacked as wanting in faith, earnestness, humility. The Renaissance had swallowed all formulas. Nothing was in itself sacred, but all other considerations were sacrificed to the appeal to the eye. But this, so far from proving any "faithlessness," shows, on the contrary, an entire faith in their Art, that it was able to accomplish what was required of it, and needed not to be bolstered up by anything external. Mr. Ruskin wants language to express his contempt for Claude, because, in a picture entitled "Moses at the Burning Bush," he paints only a graceful landscape, in which the Bush is rather inconspicuous. But Claude might well reply, that what he intended was not a history, nor a homily, but a picture; that the name was added for convenience' sake, as he might name his son, John, without meaning any comparisons with the Evangelist. It is no defect, but a merit, that it requires nothing else than itself to explain it.
Claude depicts "an unutilized earth," whence all traces of care, labor, sorrow, rapine, and want,—all that can suggest the perils and trials of life,—is removed. The buildings are palaces or picturesque ruins; the personages promenade at leisure, or only pretend to be doing something. All action and story, all individuality of persons, objects, and events, is merged in a pervading atmosphere of tranquil, sunny repose,—as of a holiday-afternoon. It may seem to us an idle lubberland, a paradise of do-nothings;—Mr. Ruskin sees in it only a "dim, stupid, serene, leguminous enjoyment." But whoever knows Rome will at least recognize in Claude's pictures some reflex of that enchantment that still hangs over the wondrous city, and draws to it generation after generation of pilgrims. In what does the mysterious charm consist? Is it not that the place seems set apart from the working-day world of selfish and warring interests? that here all manner of men, for once, lay aside their sordid occupations and their vulgar standards, to come together on the ground of a common humanity? It is easy to sneer at the Renaissance, but to understand it we must take it in its connection. The matters that interested that age seem now superfluous, the recreations of a holiday rather than the business of life. But coming from the dust and din of the fifteenth century, it looks differently. It was, in whatever dim or fantastic shape, a recognition of universal brotherhood,—of a common ground whereon all mankind could meet in peace and even sympathy, were it only for a picnic. In this villeggiatura of the human race the immediate aim is no very lofty one,—not truth, not duty, but to please or be pleased. But who is it that is to be pleased? Not the great of the earth, not the consecrated of the Church, not the men merely of this guild or this nation, but Man. It is the festival of the new saint, Humanus,—a joyful announcement that the ancient antagonism is not fundamental, but destined to be overcome.
This dreamy, half-sad, but friendly and soothing influence, that breathes from Claude's landscapes, is not the highest that Nature can inspire, but it is far better than to see in the earth only food, lodging, and a place to fight in, or even mere background and filling-in.
The builders of the Rhine-castles looked down the reaches of the river only to spy out their prey or their enemy; the monks in their quiet valleys looked out for their trout-stream and kitchen-garden, but any interest beyond that would have been heathenish and dangerous. Whilst to the ancients the earth had value only as enjoyable, inhabitable, the earlier Christian ages valued it only as uninhabitable, as a wilderness repelling society. In the earliest mediaeval landscapes, the effort to represent a wilderness that is there only for the sake of the hermits leads to the curious contradiction of a populous hermitage, every part of it occupied by figures resolutely bent on being alone, and sedulously ignoring the others. Humboldt quotes from the early Fathers some glowing descriptions of natural scenery, but they turn always upon the seclusion from mankind, and upon the contrast between the grandeur of God's works and the littleness of ours. But in Claude we have the hint, however crude, of a relation as unsordid as this, but positive and direct,—the soul of the landscape speaking at once to the soul of man,—showing itself cognate, already friendly, and needing only to throw off the husk of opposition. The defect is not that he defers too much to the purely pictorial, that he postpones the facts or the story to beauty, but that he does not defer enough, that he does not sufficiently trust his own eyes, but by way of further assurance drags in architecture, ships, mythological or Scripture stories, not caring for them himself, but supposing the spectator cares, so that they remain unassimilated, a scum floating on the surface and obscuring the work. Here is the "want of faith" with which, if any, he is justly chargeable,—that beauty is not enough for him, but he must make it pleasing. Pleasingness implies a languid acceptance, in which the mind is spared the shock of fresh suggestion or incitement. We call the Venus de' Medici, for instance, a pleasing statue, but the Venus of Milo beautiful; because in the one we find in fuller measure only what was already accepted and agreeable, whilst in the other we feel the presence of an unexplored and formidable personality, provoking the endeavor to follow it out and guess at its range and extent.
This deference to the spectator marks the decline of Art from the supremacy of its position as the interpreter of religion to mankind. The work is no longer a revelation devoutly received by the artist and piously transmitted to a believing world; but he is a cultivated man, who gives what is agreeable to a cultivated society, where the Bible is treated with decorum, but all enthusiasm is reserved for Plato and Cicero. The earlier and greater men brought much of what they were from the fifteenth century, but even Raphael is too academic. It is not a Chinese deference to tradition, nor conformity to a fixed national taste, such as ruled Greek Art as by an organic necessity. One knows not whether to wonder most at the fancied need to attach to the work the stamp of classic authority, or at the levity with which the venerable forms of antiquity are treated. Nothing can be more superficial than this varnish of classicality. The names of Cicero, Brutus, Augustus were in all mouths; but the real character of these men, or of any others, or of the times they lived in, was very slightly realized. The classic architecture, with its cogent adaptation and sequence of parts, is cut up into theatre-scenery: its "members" are members no longer, but scraps to be stuck about at will. The gods and heroes of the ancient world have become the pageant of a holiday; even the sacred legends of the Church receive only an outward respect, and at last not even that. Claude wants a foreground-figure and puts in AEneas, Diana, or Moses, he cares little which, and he would hear, unmoved, Mr. Ruskin's eloquent denunciation of their utter unfitness for the assumed character, and the absurdity of the whole action of the piece.
But the Renaissance had its religion, too,—namely, Culture. The one "virtue," acknowledged on all hands, alike by busy merchants, soldiers, despots, women, the acquaintance with Greek and Roman literature and art, was not quite the idle dilettanteism it seems. Lorenzo de' Medici said, that, without the knowledge of the Platonic philosophy, it was hard to be a good citizen and Christian. Leo X. thought, "Nothing more excellent or more useful has been given by the Creator to mankind, if we except only the knowledge and true worship of Himself, than these studies, which not only lead to the ornament and guidance of human life, but are applicable and useful to every particular situation." That this culture was superficial, that it regarded only show and outside, is no reproach, but means only that it was not a mere galvanizing of dead bones, that a new spirit was masquerading in these garments. Had it been in earnest in its revival of the past, it would have been insignificant; its disregard of the substance, and care for the form alone, showed that the form was used only as a protest against the old forms. A provincial narrowness, even a slight air of vulgarity, was felt to attach to the teachings of the Church. Gentility had come to imply not only heathendom, ("gentilis est qui in Christum non credit,") but liberal breeding. The attraction of the classic culture, "the humanities," as it was well called, was just this cosmopolitan largeness, that it had no prejudices and prescribed no test, but was open to all kinds of merit and every manner of man. Goethe, who belongs in good part to the Renaissance, frequently exemplifies this feeling, perhaps nowhere more strikingly than in the account of his pilgrimage to the temple of Minerva at Assisi, which he lovingly describes, remarking, at the same time, that he passed with only aversion the Church of St. Francis, with its frescos by Cimabue, Giotto, and their followers, which no traveller of our day willingly misses or soon forgets, though the temple may probably occupy but a small space in his memory. "I made no doubt," says Goethe, "that all the heads there bore the same stamp as my Captain's,"—an Italian officer, more orthodox than enlightened, with whom he had been travelling.
In truth, however diverse in its first appearance, the Italian Renaissance was the counterpart of the German Reformation, and, like that, a declaration that God is not shut up in a corner of the universe, nor His revelation restricted in regard of time, place, or persons. The day was long past when the Church was synonymous with civilization. The Church-ideal of holiness had long since been laid aside; a new world had grown up, in which other aims and another spirit prevailed. Macchiavelli thought the Church had nothing to do with worldly affairs, could do nothing for the State or for freedom. And the Church thought so, too. If it was left out of the new order of things, it was because it had left itself out. "The world" was godless, pompa Diaboli; devotion to God implied devotion (of the world) to the Devil. But the world, thus cut adrift, found itself yet alive and vigorous, and began thenceforth to live its own life, leaving the "other world" to take care of itself. Salvation, whether for the State or the individual, it was felt must come from individual effort, and not be conferred as a stamp or visa from the Pope and the College of Cardinals. It was not Religion that was dead, but only the Church. The Church being petrified into a negation, Culture, the religion of the world, was necessarily negative to that, and for a time absorbed in the mere getting rid of obstructions. Sainthood had never been proposed even as an ideal for all mankind, but only as fuga saeculi, the avoidance of all connection with human affairs. Logically, it must lead to the completest isolation, and find its best exponent in Simeon Stylites. The new ideal of Culture must involve first of all the getting rid of isolation, natural and artificial. Its representatives are such men as Leonardo da Vinci and Leon-Battista Alberti, masters of all arts and sciences, travelled, well-bred, at home in the universe,—thoroughly accomplished men of the world, with senses and faculties in complete harmonious development. It is an age full of splendid figures; whatever growth there was in any country came now to its flowering-time.
The drawback is want of purpose. This splendor looks only to show; there is no universal aim, no motive except whim,—the whims of men of talent, or the whim of the crowd. For the approbation of the Church is substituted the applause of cultivated society, a wider convention, but conventional still. This is the frivolous side of the Renaissance, not its holding light the old traditions, but that for the traditions it rejected it had nothing but tradition to substitute. But if this declaration of independence was at first only a claim for license, not for liberty, this is only what was natural, and may be said of Protestantism as well. Protestantism, too, had its orthodoxy, and has not even yet quite realized that the private judgment whose rights it vindicated does not mean personal whim, and therefore is not fortified by the assent of any man or body of men, nor weakened by their dissent, but belongs alone to thought, which is necessarily individual, and at the same time of universal validity; whereas, personality is partial, belongs to the crowd, and to that part of the man which confounds him with the crowd. Were the private judgment indeed private, it would have no rights. Of what consequence the private judgments of a tribe of apes, or of Bushmen? This reference to the bystanders means only an appeal from the Church; it is at bottom a declaration that the truth is not a miraculous exception, a falsehood which for this particular occasion is called truth, but the substance of the universe, apparent everywhere, and to all that seek it. The perception must be its own evidence, it must be true for us, now and here. We have no right to blame the Renaissance painters for their love of show, for Art exists for show, and the due fulfilment of its purpose, bringing to the surface what was dimly indicated, must engage it the more thoroughly in the superficial aspect, and make all reference to a hidden ulterior meaning more and more a mere pretence. What was once Thought has now become form, color, surface; to make a mystery of it would be thoughtlessness or hypocrisy.
The shortcoming is not in the artists, but in Art. Painting shares the same fate as Sculpture: not only is the soul not a thing, it is not wholly an appearance, but combines with its appearing a constant protest against the finality of it. Not only is the body an inadequate manifestation, but what it manifests is itself progressive, and any conception of it restrictive and partial. Henceforth any representation of the human form must either pretend a mystery that is not felt, or, if inspired by a genuine interest, it must be of a lower kind, and must avoid of set purpose any undue exaltation of one part over another, as of the face over the limbs, and dwell rather upon harmony of lines and colors, wherein nothing shall be prominent at the expense of the rest, seeking to make up what is wanting in intensity, in inward meaning, by allusion, by an interest reflected from without, instead of the immediate and intuitive. We often feel, even in Raphael's pictures, that the aim is lower than, for instance, Fra Angelico's. But it is at least genuine, and what that saves us from we may see in some of Perugino's and Pinturicchio's altar-pieces, where spirituality means kicking heels, hollow cheeks, and a deadly-sweet smile. That Raphael, among all his Holy Families, painted only one Madonna di San Sisto, and that hastily, on trifling occasion, shows that it was a chance-hit rather than the normal fruit of his genius. The beauty that shines like celestial flame from the face of the divine child, and the transfigured humanity of the mother, are no denizens of earth, but fugitive radiances that tinge it for a moment and are gone. For once, the impossible is achieved; the figures hover, dreamlike, disconnected from all around, as if the canvas opened and showed, not what is upon it, but beyond it. But it is a casual success, not to be sought or expected. A wise instinct made the painter in general shun such direct, explicit statement, and rather treat the subject somewhat cavalierly than allow it to confront and confound him. The greater he is, and the more complete his development, the more he must dread whatever makes his Art secondary or superfluous. Whatever force we give to the reproach of want of elevation, etc., the only impossible theme is the unartistic.
But before we give heed to any such reproach we must beware of confounding the personality of the artist or the fashion of the time with the moving spirit in both. He works always—as Michel Angelo complained that he was painting the ceiling of the Sistine—over his own head, and blinded by his own paint. The purpose that we speak of is not his petty doings and intentions, but what he unintentionally accomplishes. It is the spiritual alone that interests; and if later Art seem, by comparison, wanting in spirituality, this is partly the effect of its juster appreciation, that rendered direct expression hopeless, but at the same time superfluous, by discovering the same import more accessible elsewhere, as the higher indirect meaning of all material things. Critics tell us that the charm of landscape is incomplete without the presence of man,—that there must always be some hint, at least, of human habitation or influence. Certainly it is always a human interest, it is not the timber and the water, that moves us, but the echo of a kindred mind. But in the "landscape and figures" it is hardly a human interest that we take in the figures. The "dull victims of pipe and mug" serve our turn perhaps better than the noblest mountaineers. It is not to them that we look for the spirit of the landscape,—rather anywhere else. It is the security of the perception that allows it to dispense with pointed demonstration, and to delight rather in obscurer intimations of its meaning.
The modern ideal is the Picturesque,—a beauty not detachable, belonging to the picture, to the composition, not to the component parts. It has no favorites; it is violated alike by the systematic glorification and the systematic depreciation of particular forms. The Apollo Belvedere would make as poor a figure in the foreground of a modern landscape as a fisherman in jack-boots and red nightcap on a pedestal in the Vatican. Claude's or Turner's figures may be absurd, when taken by themselves; but the absurdity consists in taking them by themselves. Turner, it is said, could draw figures well; Claude probably could not; (he is more likely to have tried;) but each must have felt that anything that should call attention to the figures would be worse than any bad drawing. Nicolas Poussin was well called "the learned"; for it is his learning, his study of the antique, of Raphael, of drapery and anatomy, that most appears in his landscapes and gives his figures their plastic emphasis. But this is no praise for a painter.
Of course the boundary-lines cannot be very exactly drawn; the genius of a Delaroche or a Millais will give interest to a figure-piece at whatever epoch. But such pictures as Etty's, or Page's Venus, where the beauty of the human body is the point of attraction, are flat anachronisms, and for this reason, not from any prudishness of the public, can never excite a hearty enthusiasm. From the sixteenth century downwards all pictures become more and more tableaux de genre,—the piece is not described by the nominal subject, but only the class to which it belongs, leaving its special character wholly undetermined. And in proportion as the action and the detail are dwelt upon, the more evident is it that the theme is only a pretence. Martyrdoms, when there was any fervency of faith in the martyrs, were very abstract. A hint of sword or wheel sufficed. The saints and the angels, as long as men believed in them, carried their witness in their faces, with only some conventional indication of their history. As soon as direct representation is aimed at and the event portrayed as an historical fact, it is proof enough that all direct interest is gone and nothing left but the technical problem. The martyrdoms are vulgar execution-scenes,—the angels, men sprawling upon clouds. Michel Angelo was a noble, devout man, but it is clear that the God he prayed to was not the God he painted.
This essential disparity between idea and representation is the weak side of Art, plastic and pictorial; but because it is essential it is not felt by the artist as defect. His genius urges him to all advance that is possible within the limits of his Art, but not to transcend it. It will be in vain to exhort him to unite the ancient piety to the modern knowledge. If he listen to the exhortation, he may be a good critic, but he is no painter. He must be absorbed in what he sees to the exclusion of everything else; impartiality is a virtue to all the world except him. There will always be a onesidedness; either the conception or the embodying of it halts, is only partially realized; some incompleteness, some mystery, some apparent want of coincidence between form and meaning is a necessity to the artist, and if he does not find it, he will invent it. Hence the embarrassment of some of the English Pre-Raphaelitists, particularly in dealing with the human form. They have no hesitation in pursuing into still further minuteness the literal delineation of inanimate objects, draperies, etc.; but they shrink from giving full life to their figures, not from a slavish adherence to their exemplars, but from a dread lest it should seem that what is shown is all that is meant. The early painters were thus naive and distinct because of their limitations; they knew very well what they meant,—as, that the event took place out-of-doors, with the sun shining, the grass under-foot, an oak-tree here, a strawberry-vine there,—mere adjunct and by-play, not to be questioned as to the import of the piece: that the Church took care of. But who can say what a modern landscape means? The significance that in the older picture was as it were outside of it, presupposed, assured elsewhere, has now to be incorporated, verily present in every atom of soil and film of vapor. The realism of the modern picture must be infinitely more extended, for the meaning of it is that nothing is superfluous or insignificant. But with the reality that it lends to every particle of matter, it must introduce, at the same time, the protest that spirit makes against matter,—most distinct, indeed, in the human form and countenance, but nowhere absent. In its utmost explication there must be felt that there is yet more behind; its utmost distinctness must be everywhere indefinable, evanescent,—must proclaim that this parade of surface-appearance is not there for its own sake. This is what Mr. Ruskin calls "the pathetic fallacy": but there is nothing fallacious in it; it is solid truth, only under the guise of mystery. Turner said that Mr. Ruskin had put all sorts of meanings into his pictures that he knew nothing about. Of course, else they would never have got into the pictures. But this does not affect their validity, but means only that it is the imagination, not the intellect, that must apprehend them.
It is not an outward, arbitrary incompleteness that is demanded, but a visible dependence of each part, by its partiality declaring the completeness of the whole. It is often said that the picture must "leave room for the imagination." Yes, and for nothing else; but this does not imply that it should be unfinished, but that, when the painter has set down what the imagination grasped in one view, he shall stop, no matter where, and not attempt to eke out the deficiency by formula or by knack of fingers. Wherever the inspiration leaves him, there is an end of the picture. Beyond that we get only his personalities; no skill, no earnestness of intention, etc., can avail him; he is only mystifying himself or us. At these points we sooner or later come up with him, are as good as he, and the work forthwith begins to tire. What is tiresome is to have thrust upon us the dead surface of matter: this is the prose of the world, which we come to Art to escape. It is prosaic, because it is seen as the understanding sees it, as an aggregate only, apart from its vital connection; it matters little whose the understanding is. The artist must be alive only to the totality of the impression, blind and deaf to all outside of that. He must believe that the idyl he sees in the landscape is there because he sees it, and will appear in the picture without the help of demonstration. The danger is, that from weakness of faith he will fancy or pretend that he sees something else, which may be there, but formed no part of the impression. It is simply a question of natural attraction, magnetism, how much he can take up and carry; all beyond that is hindrance, and any conscious endeavor of his cannot help, but can only thwart.
The picturesque has its root in the mind's craving for totality. It is Nature seen as a whole; all the characteristics and prerequisites of it come back to this,—such as roughness, wildness, ruin, obscurity, the gloom of night or of storm; whatever the outward discrepancy, wherever the effect is produced, it is because in some way there is a gain in completeness. On this condition everything is welcome,—without it, nothing. Thus, a broken, weedy bank is more picturesque than the velvet slope,—the decayed oak than the symmetry of the sapling,—the squalid shanty by the railroad, with its base of dirt, its windows stuffed with old hats, and the red shirts dependent from its eaves, than the neatest brick cottage. They strike a richer accord, while the others drone on a single note. Moonlight is always picturesque, because it substitutes mass and breadth for the obtrusiveness of petty particulars. It is not the pettiness, but the particularity, that makes them unpicturesque. No impressiveness in the object can atone for exclusiveness. Niagara cannot be painted, not because it is too difficult, but because it is no landscape, but like a vast illuminated capital letter filling the whole page, or the sublime monotony of the mosque-inscriptions, declaring in thousandfold repetition that God is great. The soaring sublimity of the Moslem monotheism comes partly from its narrowness and abstractness. Is it because we are a little hard of hearing that it takes such reiteration to move us?
The wholeness which the imagination demands is not quantitative, but qualitative; it has nothing to do with size or with number, except so far as, by confusing the sense, they obscurely intimate infinity, with which all quantities are incommensurable. Mr. Ruskin's encyclopedic anatomizing of the landscape, to the end of showing the closeness of Turner's perception, has great interest, but not the interest merely of a longer list, for it is to be remembered that the longest list would be no nearer to an exhaustive analysis than the shortest. It is not a specious completeness, but a sense of infinity that can never be completed,—greater intensity, not greater extension,—that distinguishes modern landscape-art. Hence there is no incongruity in the seeming license that it takes with the firm order of Nature. It is in no spirit of levity or profanity that the substantial distinctions of things are thus disregarded,—that all absolute rank is denied, and the value of each made contingent and floating. It is only that the mind is somewhat nearer apprehending the sense, and dwells less on the characters.
If Art suffers in its relative rank among human interests by this democratic levelling, it is to the gain of what Art intends. It is true, no picture can henceforth move us as men were once moved by pictures. No Borgo Allegro will ever turn out again in triumph for a Madonna of Cimabue or of any one else; whatever feeling Turner or another may excite comes far short of that. But the splendor that clothed the poor, pale, formal image belonged very little to it, but expressed rather the previous need of utterance, and could reach that pitch only when the age had not yet learned to think and to write, but must put up with these hieroglyphics. Art has no more grown un-religious than Religion has, but only less idolatrous. As fast as religion passes into life,—as the spiritual nature of man begins to be recognized as the ground of legislation and society, and not merely in the miracle of sainthood,—the apparatus and imagery of the Church, its dogmas and ceremonies, grow superfluous, as what they stand for is itself present. It is the dawn that makes these stars grow pale. So in Art, as fast as the dream of the imagination becomes the common sense of mankind, and only so fast, the awe that surrounded the earlier glimpses is lost. Its influence is not lessened, but diffused and domesticated as Culture.
Art is the truly popular philosophy. Our picture-gazing and view-hunting only express the feeling that our science is too abstract, that it does not attach us, but isolates us in the universe. What we are thus inwardly drawn to explore is not the chaff and exuviae of things, not their differences only, but their central connection, in spite of apparent diversity. This, stated, is the Ideal, the abrupt contradiction of the actual, and the creation of a world extraordinary, in which all defect is removed. But the defect cannot be cured by correction, for that admits its right to exist; it is not by exclusion that limitation is overcome,—this is only to establish a new limitation,—but by inclusion, by reaching the point where the superficial antagonism vanishes. Then the ideal is seen no longer in opposition, but everywhere and alone existent. As this point is approached, the impulse to reconstruct the actual—as if the triumph of truth were staked on that venture—dies out. The elaborate contradiction loses interest, earliest where it is most elaborate and circumstantial, and latest where the image has least materiality and fixity, where it is only a reminder of what the actual is securely felt to be, in spite of its stubborn exterior.
The modern mind is therefore less demonstrative; our civilization seeks less to declare and typify itself outwardly in works of Art, manners, dress, etc. Hence it is, perhaps, that the beauty of the race has not kept pace with its culture. It is less beautiful, because it cares less for beauty, since this is no longer the only reconcilement of the actual with the inward demands. The vice of the imagination is its inevitable exaggeration. It is our own weakness and dulness that we try to hide from ourselves by this partiality. Therefore it was said that the images were the Bible of the laity. Bishop Durandus already in the thirteenth century declared that it is only where the truth is not yet revealed that this "Judaizing" is permissible.
The highest of all arts is the art of life. In this the superficial antagonisms of use and beauty, of fact and reality, disappear. A little gain here, or the hint of it, richly repays all the lost magnificence. We need not concern ourselves lest these latter ages should be left bankrupt of the sense of beauty, for that is but a phase of a force that is never absent; nothing can supersede it but itself in a higher power. What we lament as decay only shows its demands fulfilled, and the arts it has left behind are but the landmarks of its accomplished purpose.
F. W. C.
Fast as the rolling seasons bring The hour of fate to those we love, Each pearl that leaves the broken string Is set in Friendship's crown above. As narrower grows the earthly chain, The circle widens in the sky; These are our treasures that remain, But those are stars that beam on high.
We miss—oh, how we miss!—his face,— With trembling accents speak his name. Earth cannot fill his shadowed place From all her rolls of pride and fame. Our song has lost the silvery thread That carolled through his jocund lips; Our laugh is mute, our smile is fled, And all our sunshine in eclipse.
And what and whence the wondrous charm That kept his manhood boy-like still,— That life's hard censors could disarm And lead them captive at his will? His heart was shaped of rosier clay,— His veins were filled with ruddier fire,— Time could not chill him, fortune sway, Nor toil with all its burdens tire.
His speech burst throbbing from its fount And set our colder thoughts aglow, As the hot leaping geysers mount And falling melt the Iceland snow. Some word, perchance, we counted rash,— Some phrase our calmness might disclaim; Yet 't was the sunset lightning's flash, No angry bolt, but harmless flame.
Man judges all, God knoweth each; We read the rule, He sees the law; How oft His laughing children teach The truths His prophets never saw! O friend, whose wisdom flowered in mirth! Our hearts are sad, our eyes are dim; He gave thy smiles to brighten earth,— We trust thy joyous soul to Him!
Alas!—our weakness Heaven forgive! We murmur, even while we trust, "How long earth's breathing burdens live, Whose hearts, before they die, are dust!" But thou!—through grief's untimely tears We ask with half-reproachful sigh, "Couldst thou not watch a few brief years Till Friendship faltered, 'Thou mayst die'?"
Who loved our boyish years so well? Who knew so well their pleasant tales, And all those livelier freaks could tell Whose oft-told story never fails? In vain we turn our aching eyes,— In vain we stretch our eager hands,— Cold in his wintry shroud he lies Beneath the dreary drifting sands!
Ah, speak not thus! He lies not there! We see him, hear him as of old! He comes! he claims his wonted chair; His beaming face we still behold! His voice rings clear in all our songs, And loud his mirthful accents rise; To us our brother's life belongs,— Dear boys, a classmate never dies!
It was some ten years ago that we first met John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet of the moral sentiment and of the heart and faith of the people of America. It chanced that we had then been making notes, with much interest, upon the genius of the Semitic nations. That peculiar simplicity, centrality, and intensity which caused them to originate Monotheism from two independent centres, the only systems of pure Monotheism which have had power in history,—while the same characteristics made their poetry always lyrical, never epic or dramatic, and their most vigorous thought a perpetual sacrifice on the altars of the will,—this had strongly impressed us; and we seemed to find in it a striking contrast to the characteristic genius of the Aryan or Indo-Germanic nations, with their imaginative interpretations of the religious sentiment, with their epic and dramatic expansions, and their taste for breadth and variety. Somewhat warm with these notions, we came to a meeting with our poet, and the first thought, on seeing him, was, "The head of a Hebrew prophet!" It is not Hebrew,—Saracen rather; the Jewish type is heavier, more material; but it corresponded strikingly to the conceptions we had formed of the Southern Semitic crania, and the whole make of the man was of the same character. The high cranium, so lofty especially in the dome,—the slight and symmetrical backward slope of the whole head,—the powerful level brows, and beneath these the dark, deep eyes, so full of shadowed fire,—the Arabian complexion,—the sharp-cut, intense lines of the face,—the light, tall, erect stature,—the quick axial poise of the movement,—all these answered with singular accuracy to the picture of those preacher-races which had been shaping itself in our imagination. Indeed, the impression was so strong as to induce some little feeling of embarrassment. It seemed slightly awkward and insipid to be meeting a prophet here in a parlor and in a spruce masquerade of modern costume, shaking hands, and saying, "Happy to meet you," after the fashion of our feeble civilities.
All this came vividly to remembrance, on taking up, the other day, Whittier's last book of poems, "In War-Time,"—a volume that has been welcomed all over the land with enthusiastic delight. Had it been no more, however, than a mere private reminiscence, it should, at present, have remained private. But have we not here a key to Whittier's genius? Is not this Semitic centrality and simplicity, this prophetic depth, reality, and vigor, without great lateral and intellectual range, its especial characteristic? He has not the liberated, light-winged Greek imagination,—imagination not involved and included in the religious sentiment, but playing in epic freedom and with various interpretation between religion and intellect; he has not the flowing, Protean, imaginative sympathy, the power of instant self-identification with all forms of character and life, which culminated in Shakspeare; but that imaginative vitality which lurks in faith and conscience, producing what we may call ideal force of heart, this he has eminently; and it is this central, invisible, Semitic heat which makes him a poet.
Imagination exists in him, not as a separable faculty, but as a pure vital suffusion. Hence he is an inevitable poet. There is no drop of his blood, there is no fibre of his brain, which does not crave poetic expression. Mr. Carlyle desires to postpone poetry; but as Providence did not postpone Whittier, his wishes can hardly be gratified. Ours is, indeed, one of the plainest of poets. He is intelligible and acceptable to those who have little either of poetic culture or of fancy and imagination. Whoever has common sense and a sound heart has the powers by which he may be appreciated. And yet he is not only a real poet, but he is all poet. The Muses have not merely sprinkled his brow; he was baptized by immersion. His notes are not many; but in them Nature herself sings. He is a sparrow that half sings, half chirps, on a bush, not a lark that floods with orient hilarity the skies of morning; but the bush burns, like that which Moses saw, and the sparrow herself is part of the divine flame.
This, then, is the general statement about Whittier. His genius is Hebrew, Biblical,—more so than that of any other poet now using the English language. In other words, he is organically a poem of the Will. He is a flower of the moral sentiment,—and of the moral sentiment, not in its flexible, feminine, vine-like dependence and play, but in its masculine rigor, climbing in direct, vertical affirmation, like a forest-pine. In this respect he affiliates with Wordsworth, and, going farther back, with Milton, whose tap-root was Hebrew, though in the vast epic flowering of his genius he passed beyond the imaginative range of Semitic mind.
In thus identifying our bard, spiritually, with a broad form of the genius of mankind, we already say with emphasis that his is indeed a Life. Yes, once more, a real Life. He is a nature. He was born, not manufactured. Here, once again, the old, mysterious, miraculous processes of spiritual assimilation. Here, a genuine root-clutch upon the elements of man's experience, and an inevitable, indomitable working-up of them into human shape. To look at him without discerning this vital depth and reality were as good as no looking at all.
Moreover, the man and the poet are one and the same. His verse is no literary Beau-Brummelism, but a re-presentation of that which is presented in his consciousness. First, there is inward vital conversion of the elements of his experience, then verse, or version,—first the soul, then the body. His voice, as such, has little range, nor is it any marvel of organic perfection; on the contrary, there is many a voice with nothing at all in it which far surpasses his in mere vocal excellence; only in this you can hear the deep refrain of Nature, and of Nature chanting her moral ideal.
We shall consider Whittier's poetry in this light,—as a vital effluence, as a product of his being; and citations will be made, not by way of culling "beauties,"—a mode of criticism to which there are grave objections,—but of illustrating total growth, quality, and power. Our endeavor will be to get at, so far as possible, the processes of vital action, of spiritual assimilation, which go on in the poet, and then to trace these in his poetry.
God gave Whittier a deep, hot, simple, strenuous, and yet ripe and spherical, nature, whose twin necessities were, first, that it must lay an intense grasp upon the elements of its experience, and, secondly, that it must work these up into some form of melodious completeness. History and the world gave him Quakerism, America, and Rural Solitude; and through this solitude went winding the sweet, old Merrimac stream, the river that we would not wish to forget, even by the waters of the river of life! And it is into these elements that his genius, with its peculiar vital simplicity and intensity, strikes root. Historic reality, the great facts of his time, are the soil in which he grows, as they are with all natures of depth and energy. "We did not wish," said Goethe, "to learn, but to live."
Quakerism and America—America ideally true to herself—quickly became, in his mind, one and the same. Quakerism means divine democracy. George Fox was the first forerunner, the John Baptist, of the new time,—leather-aproned in the British wilderness. Seeing the whole world dissolving into individualism, he did not try to tie it together, after the fashion of great old Hooker, with new cords of ecclesiasticism; but he did this,—he affirmed a Mount Sinai in the heart of the individual, and gave to the word person an INFINITE depth. To sound that word thus was his function in history. No wonder that England trembled with terror, and then blazed with rage. No wonder that many an ardent James Naylor was crazed with the new wine.
Puritanism meant the same thing at bottom; but, accepting the more legal and learned interpretations of Calvin, it was, to a great degree, involved in the past, and also turned its eye more to political mechanisms. For this very reason it kept up more of fellowship with the broad world, and had the benefit of this in a larger measure of social fructification. Whatever is separated dies. Quakerism uttered a word so profound that the utterance made it insular; and, left to itself, it began to be lost in itself. Nevertheless, Quakerism and Puritanism are the two richest historic soils of modern time.
Our young poet got at the heart of the matter. He learned to utter the word Man so believingly that it sounded down into depths of the divine and infinite. He learned to say, with Novalis, "He touches heaven who touches a human body." And when he uttered this word, "Man," in full, social breadth, lo! it changed, and became AMERICA.
There begins the genesis of the conscious poet. All the depths of his heart rang with the resonance of these imaginations,—Man, America; meaning divine depth of manhood, divine spontaneity and rectitude of social relationship.
But what! what is this? Just as he would raise his voice to chant the new destinies of man, a harsh, heartless, human bark, and therewith a low, despairing stifle of sobbing, came to his ear! It is the bark of the auctioneer, "Going! going!"—it is the sobbing of the slave on the auction-block! And this, too, O Poet, this, too, is America! So you are not secure of your grand believing imaginations yet, but must fight for them. The faith of your heart would perish, if it did not put on armor.
Whittier's poetic life has three principal epochs. The first opens and closes with the "Voices of Freedom." We may use Darwin's phrase, and call it the period of Struggle for Life. His ideal itself is endangered; the atmosphere he would inhale is filled with poison; a desolating moral prosaicism springs up to justify a great social ugliness, and spreads in the air where his young hopes would try their wings; and in the imperfect strength of youth he has so much of dependence upon actual surroundings, that he must either war with their evil or succumb to it. Of surrender his daring and unselfish soul never for a moment thought. Never did a trained falcon stoop upon her quarry with more fearlessness, or a spirit of less question, than that which bore our young hero to the moral fray; yet the choice was such as we have indicated.
The faith for which he fought is uttered with spirit in a stanza from "The Branded Hand."
"In thy lone and long night-watches, sky above and wave below, Thou didst learn a higher wisdom than the babbling schoolmen know: God's stars and silence taught thee, as His angels only can, That the one, sole sacred thing beneath the cope of heaven is Man."
Our poet, too, conversing with God's stars and silence, has come to an understanding with himself, and made up his mind. That Man's being has an ideal or infinite value, and that all consecrated institutions are shams, and their formal consecration a blasphemous mockery, save as they look to that fact,—this in his Merrimac solitudes has come forth clearly to his soul, and, like old Hebrew David, he has said, "My heart is fixed." Make other selections who will, he has concluded to face life and death on this basis.
Did he not choose as a poet MUST? Between a low moral prosaicism and a generous moral ideal was it possible for him to hesitate? Are there those whose real thought is, that man, beyond his estimation as an animal, represents only a civil value,—that he is but the tailor's "dummy" and clothes-horse of institutions? Do they tell our poet that his notion of man as a divine revelation, as a pure spiritual or absolute value, is a mere dream, discountenanced by the truth of the universe? He might answer, "Let the universe look to it, then! In that case, I stand upon my dream as the only worthy reality." What were a mere pot-and-pudding universe to him? Does Mr. Holyoke complain that these hot idealisms make the culinary kettles of the world boil over? Kitchen-prudences are good for kitchens; but the sun kindles his great heart without special regard to them.
These "Voices of Freedom" are no bad reading at the present day. They are of that strenuous quality, that the light of battle brings to view a finer print, which lay unseen between the lines. They are themselves battles, and stir the blood like the blast of a trumpet. What a beat in them of fiery pulses! What a heat, as of molten metal, or coal-mines burning underground! What anger! What desire! And yet we have in vain searched these poems to find one trace of base wrath, or of any degenerate and selfish passion. He is angry, and sins not. The sun goes down and again rises upon his wrath; and neither sets nor rises upon aught freer from meanness and egoism. All the fires of his heart burn for justice and mercy, for God and humanity; and they who are most scathed by them owe him no hatred in return, whether they pay him any or not.
Not a few of these verses seem written for the present day. Take the following from the poem entitled, "Texas"; they might be deemed a call for volunteers.
"Up the hill-side, down the glen, Rouse the sleeping citizen, Summon forth the might of men!
* * * * *
"Oh! for God and duty stand, Heart to heart and hand to hand, Round the old graves of the land.
"Whoso shrinks or falters now, Whoso to the yoke would bow,— Brand the craven on his brow!
"Perish party, perish clan! Strike together, while ye can, Like the arm of one strong man."
The Administration might have gone to these poems for a policy: he had fought the battle before them.
"Have they wronged us? Let us, then, Render back nor threats nor prayers; Have they chained our freeborn men? LET US UNCHAIN THEIRS!"
Or look at these concluding stanzas of "The Crisis," which is the last of the "Voices." Has not our prophet written them for this very day?
"The crisis presses on us; face to face with us it stands, With solemn lips of question, like the Sphinx in Egypt's sands! This day we fashion Destiny, our web of Fate we spin; This day for all hereafter choose we holiness or sin; Even now from starry Gerizim, or Ebal's cloudy crown, We call the dews of blessing or the bolts of cursing down.
"By all for which the Martyrs bore their agony and shame, By all the warning words of truth with which the Prophets came, By the Future which awaits us, by all the hopes which cast Their faint and trembling beams across the darkness of the Past, And by the blessed thought of Him who for Earth's freedom died, O my people! O my brothers! let us choose the righteous side.
"So shall the Northern pioneer go joyful on his way, To wed Penobscot's waters to San Francisco's bay, To make the rugged places smooth, and sow the vales with grain, And bear, with Liberty and Law, the Bible in his train; The mighty West shall bless the East, and sea shall answer sea, And mountain unto mountain call, 'PRAISE GOD, FOR WE ARE FREE!'"
These are less to be named poems than pieces of rhythmic oratory,—oratory crystallized into poetic form, and carrying that deeper significance and force which from all vitalized form are inseparable. A poem, every work of Art, must rest in itself; oratory is a means toward a specific effect. The man who writes poems may have aims which underlie and suffuse his work; but they must not be partial, they must be coextensive with the whole spirit of man, and must enter his work as the air enters his nostrils. The moment a definite, partial effect is sought, the attitude of poetry begins to be lost. These battle-pieces are therefore a warfare for the possession of the poet's ideal, not the joyous life-breath of that ideal already victorious in him. And the other poems of this first great epoch in his poetical life, though always powerful, often beautiful, yet never, we think, show a perfect resting upon his own poetic heart.
In the year 1850 appeared the "Songs of Labor, and other Poems"; and in these we reach the transition to his second epoch. Here he has already recognized the pure ground of the poem,—
"Art's perfect forms no moral need, And beauty is its own excuse,"—
but his modesty declines attempting that perfection, and assigns him a lower place. He must still seek definite uses, though this use be to lend imagination or poetic depth to daily labor:—
"But for the dull and flowerless weed Some healing virtue still must plead, And the rough ore must find its honors in its use.
"So haply these my simple lays Of homely toil may serve to show The orchard-bloom and tasselled maize That skirt and gladden duty's ways, The unsung beauty hid life's common things below."
Not pure gold as yet, but genuine silver. The aim at a definite use is still apparent, as he himself perceives; but there is nevertheless a constant native play into them of ideal feeling. It is no longer a struggle for room to draw poetic breath in, but only the absence of a perfectly free and unconscious poetic respiration. Yet they are sterling poems, with the stamp of the mint upon them. And some of the strains are such as no living man but Whittier has proven his power to produce. "Ichabod," for example, is the purest and profoundest moral lament, to the best of our knowledge, in modern literature, whether American or European. It is the grief of angels in arms over a traitor brother slain on the battle-fields of heaven.
Two years later comes the "Chapel of the Hermits," and with it the second epoch in Whittier's poetic career. The epoch of Culture we name it. The poet has now passed the period of outward warfare. All the arrows in the quiver of his noble wrath are spent. Now on the wrong and shame of the land he looks down with deep, calm, superior eyes, sorrowful, indeed, and reproving, but no longer perturbed. His hot, eloquent, prophetic spirit now breathes freely, lurk in the winds of the moment what poison may; for he has attained to those finer airs of eternity which hide ever, like the luminiferous ether, in this atmosphere of time; so that, like the scholar-hero of Schiller, he is indeed "in the time, but not of it." Still his chant of high encouragement shall fly forth on wings of music to foster the nobilities of the land; still over the graves of the faithful dead he shall murmur a requiem, whose chastened depth and truth relate it to other and better worlds than this; still his lips utter brave rebuke, but it is a rebuke that falls, like the song of an unseen bird, out of the sky, so purely moral, so remote from earthly and egoistic passion, so sure and reposeful, that verse is its natural embodiment. The home-elements of his intellectual and moral life he has fairly assimilated; and his verse in its mellowness and rhythmical excellence reflects this achievement of his spirit.
But now, after the warfare, begins questioning. For modern culture has come to him, as it comes to all, with its criticism, its science, its wide conversation through books, its intellectual unrest; it has looked him in the eye, and said, "Are you sure? The dear old traditions,—they are indeed traditions. The sweet customs which have housed our spiritual and social life,—these are customs. Of what are you SURE?" Matthew Arnold has recently said well (we cannot quote the words) that the opening of the modern epoch consists in the discovery that institutions and habitudes of the earlier centuries, in which we have grown, are not absolute, and do not adjust themselves perfectly to our mental wants. Thus are we thrown back upon our own souls. We have to ask the first questions, and get such answer as we may. The meaning of the modern world is this,—an epoch which, in the midst of established institutions, of old consecrated habitudes of thought and feeling, of populous nations which cannot cast loose from ancient anchorage without peril of horrible wreck and disaster, has got to take up man's life again from the beginning. Of modern life this is the immediate key.
Our poet's is one of those deep and clinging natures which hold hard by the heart of bygone times; but also he is of a nature so deep and sensitive that the spiritual endeavor of the period must needs utter itself in him. "ART THOU SURE?"—the voice went sounding keenly, terribly, through the profound of his soul. And to this his spirit, not without struggle and agony, but at length clearly, made the faithful Hebrew response, "I TRUST." Bravely said, O deep-hearted poet! Rest there! Rest there and thus on your own believing filial heart, and on the Eternal, who in it accomplishes the miracle of that confiding!
Not eminently endowed with discursive intellect,—not gifted with that power, Homeric in kind and more than Homeric in degree, which might meet the old mythic imaginations on, or rather above, their own level, and out of them, together with the material which modern time supplies, build in the skies new architectures, wherein not only the feeling, but the imagination also, of future ages might house,—our poet comes with Semitic directness to the heart of the matter: he takes the divine Yea, though it be but a simple Yea, and no syllable more, in his own soul, and holds childlike by that. And he who has asked the questions of the time and reached this conclusion,—he who has stood alone with his unclothed soul, and out of that nakedness before the Eternities said, "I trust,"—he is victorious; he has entered the modern epoch, and has not lost the spiritual crown from his brows.
The central poem of this epoch is "Questions of Life."
"I am: how little more I know! Whence came I? Whither do I go? A centred self, which feels and is; A cry between the silences; A shadow-birth of clouds at strife With sunshine on the hills of life; A shaft from Nature's quiver cast Into the Future from the Past; Between the cradle and the shroud A meteor's flight from cloud to cloud."
Then to outward Nature, to mythic tradition, to the thought, faith, sanctity of old time he goes in quest of certitude, but returns to God in the heart, and to the simple heroic act by which he that believes BELIEVES.
"To Him, from wanderings long and wild, I come, an over-wearied child, In cool and shade His peace to find, Like dew-fall settling on the mind. Assured that all I know is best, And humbly trusting for the rest, I turn.... From Nature and her mockery, Art, And book and speech of men apart, To the still witness in my heart; With reverence waiting to behold His Avatar of love unfold, The Eternal Beauty new and old!"
"The Panorama and other Poems," together with "Later Poems," having the dates of 1856 and 1857, constitute the transition to his third and consummate epoch. Much in them deserves notice, but we must hasten. And yet, instead of hastening, we will pause, and take this opportunity to pick a small critical quarrel with Mr. Whittier. We charge him, in the first place, with sundry felonious assaults upon the good letter r. In the "Panorama," for example, we find law rhyming with for! You, Mr. Poet, you, who indulge fastidious objections to the whipping of women, to outrage that innocent preposition thus! And to select the word law itself, with which to force it into this lawless connection! Secondly, romance and allies are constantly written by him with the accent on the first syllable. These be heinous offences! A poet, of all men, should cherish the liquid consonants, and should resist the tendency of the populace to make trochees of all dissyllables. In a graver tone we might complain that he sometimes—rarely—writes, not by vocation of the ancient Muses, who were daughters of Memory and immortal Zeus, but of those Muses in drab and scoop-bonnets who are daughters of Memory and George Fox. Some lines of the "Brown of Ossawatomie" we are thinking of now. We can regard them only as a reminiscence of his special Quaker culture.
With the "Home Ballads," published in 1863, dawns fully his final period,—long may it last! This is the epoch of Poetic Realism. Not that he abandons or falls away from his moral ideal. The fact is quite contrary. He has so entirely established himself in that ideal that he no longer needs strivingly to assert it,—any more than Nature needs to pin upon oak-trees an affirmation that the idea of an oak dwells in her formative thought. Nature affirms the oak-idea by oaks; the consummate poet exhibits the same realism. He embodies. He lends a soul to forms. The real and ideal in Art are indeed often opposed to each other as contraries, but it is a false opposition. Let the artist represent reality, and all that is in him, though it were the faith of seraphs, will go into the representation. The sole condition is that he shall select his subject from native, spontaneous choice,—that is, leave his genius to make its own elections. Let one, whose genius so invites him, paint but a thistle, and paint it as faithfully as Nature grows it; yet, if the Ten Commandments are meantime uttering themselves in his thought, he will make the thistle-top a Sinai.
It is this poetic realism that Whittier has now, in a high degree, attained. Calm and sure, lofty in humility, strong in childlikeness,—renewing the play-instinct of the true poet in his heart,—younger now than when he sat on his mother's knee,—chastened, not darkened, by trial, and toil, and time,—illumined, poet-like, even by sorrow,—he lives and loves, and chants the deep, homely beauty of his lays. He is as genuine, as wholesome and real as sweet-flag and clover. Even when he utters pure sentiment, as in that perfect lyric, "My Psalm," or in the intrepid, exquisite humility—healthful and sound as the odor of new-mown hay or balsam-firs—of "Andrew Rykman's Prayer," he maintains the same attitude of realism. He states God and inward experience as he would state sunshine and the growth of grass. This, with the devout depth of his nature, makes the rare beauty of his hymns and poems of piety and trust. He does not try to make the facts by stating them; he does not try to embellish them; he only seeks to utter, to state them; and even in his most perfect verse they are not half so melodious as they were in his soul.
All perfect poetry is simple statement of facts,—facts of history or of imagination. Whoever thinks to create poetry by words, and inclose in the verse a beauty which did not exist in his consciousness, has got hopelessly astray.
This attitude of simple divine abiding in the present is beautifully expressed in the opening stanzas of "My Psalm."
"I mourn no more my vanished years: Beneath a tender rain, An April rain of smiles and tears, My heart is young again.
"The west winds blow, and, singing low, I hear the glad streams run; The windows of my soul I throw Wide open to the sun.
"No longer forward nor behind I look in hope and fear; But, grateful, take the good I find, The best of now and here.
"I plough no more a desert land, To harvest weed and tare; The manna dropping from God's hand Rebukes my painful care.
"I break my pilgrim-staff, I lay Aside the toiling oar; The angel sought so far away I welcome at the door."
It is, however, in his ballads that Whittier exhibits, not, perhaps, a higher, yet a rarer, power than elsewhere,—a power, in truth, which is very rare indeed. Already in the "Panorama" volume he had brought forth three of these,—all good, and the tender pathos of that fine ballad of sentiment, "Maud Muller," went to the heart of the nation. In how many an imagination does the innocent maiden, with her delicate brown ankles,
"Rake the meadow sweet with hay,"
"The judge ride slowly down the lane"!
But though sentiment so simple and unconscious is rare, our poet has yet better in store for us. He has developed of late years the precious power of creating homely beauty,—one of the rarest powers shown in modern literature. Homely life-scenes, homely old sanctities and heroisms, he takes up, delineates them with intrepid fidelity to their homeliness, and, lo! there they are, beautiful as Indian corn, or as ploughed land under an October sun! He has thus opened an inexhaustible mine right here under our New-England feet. What will come of it no one knows.
These poems of his are natural growths; they have their own circulation of vital juices, their own peculiar properties; they smack of the soil, are racy and strong and aromatic, like ground-juniper, sweet-fern, and the arbor vitae. Set them out in the earth, and would they not sprout and grow?—nor would need vine-shields to shelter them from the weather! They are living and local, and lean toward the west from the pressure of east winds that blow on our coast. "Skipper Ireson's Ride,"—can any one tell what makes that poetry? This uncertainty is the highest praise. This power of telling a plain matter in a plain way, and leaving it there a symbol and harmony forever,—it is the power of Nature herself. And again we repeat, that almost anything may be found in literature more frequently than this pure creative simplicity. As a special instance of it, take three lines which occur in an exquisite picture of natural scenery,—and which we quote the more readily as it affords opportunity for saying that Whittier's landscape-pictures alone make his books worthy of study,—not so much those which he sets himself deliberately to draw as those that are incidental to some other purpose or effect.
"I see far southward, this quiet day, The hills of Newbury rolling away, With the many tints of the season gay, Dreamily blending in autumn mist Crimson and gold and amethyst. Long and low, with dwarf trees crowned, Plum Island lies, like a whale aground, A stone's toss over the narrow sound. Inland, as far as the eye can go, The hills curve round, like a bended bow; A silver arrow from out them sprung, I see the shine of the Quasycung; And, round and round, over valley and hill, Old roads winding, as old roads will, Here to a ferry, and there to a mill."
Can any one tell what magic it is that is in these concluding lines, so that they even eclipse the rhetorical brilliancy of those immediately preceding?
Our deep-hearted poet has fairly arrived at his poetic youth. Never was he so strong, so ruddy and rich as to-day. Time has treated him as, according to Swedenborg, she does the angels,—chastened indeed, but vivified. Let him hold steadily to his true vocation as a poet, and never fear to be thought idle, or untrue to his land. To give imaginative and ideal depth to the life of the people,—what truer service than that? And as for war-time,—does he know that "Barbara Frietche" is the true sequel to the Battle of Gettysburg, is that other victory which the nation asked of Meade the soldier and obtained from Whittier the poet?
THE CONVULSIONISTS OF ST. MEDARD.
Having, in a previous number, furnished a brief sketch of the phenomena, purely physical, which characterized the epidemic of St. Medard, it remains to notice those of a mental and psychological character.
One of the most common incidents connected with the convulsions of that period was the appearance of a mental condition, called, in the language of the day, a state of ecstasy, bearing unmistakable analogy to the artificial somnambulism produced by magnetic influence, and to the trance of modern spiritualism.
During this condition, there was a sudden exaltation of the mental faculties, often a wonderful command of language, sometimes the power of thought-reading, at other times, as was alleged, the gift of prophecy. While it lasted, the insensibility of the patients was occasionally so complete, that, as Montgeron says, "they have been pierced in an inhuman manner, without evincing the slightest sensation"; and when it passed off, they frequently did not recollect anything they had said or done during its continuance.
At times, like somnambulism, it seemed to assume something of a cataleptic character, though I cannot find any record of that most characteristic symptom of catalepsy, the rigid persistence of a limb in any position in which it may be placed. What was called the "state of death," is thus described by Montgeron:—
"The state of death is a species of ecstasy, in which the convulsionist, whose soul seems entirely absorbed by some vision, loses the use of his senses, wholly or in part. Some convulsionists have remained in this state two or even three days at a time, the eyes open, without any movement, the face very pale, the whole body insensible, immovable, and stiff as a corpse. During all this time, they give little sign of life, other than a feeble, scarcely perceptible respiration. Most of the convulsionists, however, have not these ecstasies so strongly marked. Some, though remaining immovable an entire day or longer, do not continue during all that time deprived of sight and hearing, nor are they totally devoid of sensibility; though their members, at certain intervals, become so stiff that they lose almost entirely the use of them."
The "state of death," however, was much more rare than other forms of this abnormal condition. The Abbe d'Asfeld, in his work against the convulsionists, alluding to the state of ecstasy, defines it as a state "in which the soul, carried away by a superior force, and, as it were, out of itself, becomes unconscious of surrounding objects, and occupies itself with those which imagination presents"; and he adds,—"It is marked by alienation of the senses, proceeding, however, from some cause other than sleep. This alienation of the senses is sometimes complete, sometimes incomplete."
Montgeron, commenting on the above, says,—"This last phase, during which the alienation of the senses is imperfect, is precisely the condition of most of the convulsionists, when in the state of ecstasy. They usually see the persons present; they speak to them; sometimes they hear what is said to them; but as to the rest, their souls seem absorbed in the contemplation of objects which a superior power discloses to their vision."
And a little farther on he adds,—"In these ecstasies the convulsionists are struck all of a sudden with the unexpected aspect of some object, the sight of which enchants them with joy. Their eyes beam; their heads are raised toward heaven; they appear as if they would fly thither. To see them afterwards absorbed in profound contemplation, with an air of inexpressible satisfaction, one would say that they are admiring the divine beauty. Their countenances are animated with a lively and brilliant fire; and their eyes, which cannot be made to close during the entire duration of the ecstasy, remain completely motionless, open, and fixed, as on the object which seems to interest them. They are in some sort transfigured; they appear quite changed. Even those who, out of this state, have in their physiognomy something mean or repulsive, alter so that they can scarcely be recognized.... It is during these ecstasies that many of the convulsionists deliver their finest discourses and their chief predictions,—that they speak in unknown tongues,—that they read the secret thoughts of others,—and even sometimes that they give their representations."
A provincial ecclesiastic, quoted by Montgeron, and who, it should be remarked, found fault with many of the doings of the convulsionists, admits the exalted character of these declamations. He says,—"Their discourses on religion are spirited, touching, profound,—delivered with an eloquence and a dignity which our greatest masters cannot approach, and with a grace and appropriateness of gesture rivalling that of our best actors.... One of the girls who pronounced such discourses was but thirteen years and a half old; and most of them were utterly incompetent, in their natural state, thus to treat subjects far beyond their capacity."
Colbert, already quoted, bears testimony to the same effect. Writing to Madame de Coetquen, he says,—"I have read extracts from these discourses, and have been greatly struck with them. The expressions are noble, the views grand, the theology exact. It is impossible that the imagination, and especially the imagination of a child, should originate such beautiful things. Sublimity full of eloquence reigns throughout these productions."
To judge fairly of this phenomenon, we must consider the previous condition and acquirements of those who pronounced such discourses. Montgeron, while declaring that among the convulsionists there were occasionally to be found persons of respectable standing, adds,—"But it must be confessed that in general God has chosen the convulsionists among the common people; that they were chiefly young children, especially girls; that almost all of them had lived till then in ignorance and obscurity; that several of them were deformed, and some, in their natural state, even exhibited imbecility. Of such, for the most part, it was that God made choice, to show forth to us His power."
The staple of these discourses—wild and fantastic enough—may be gathered from the following:—
"The Almighty thus raised up all of a sudden a number of persons, the greater part without any instruction; He opened the mouths of a number of young girls, some of whom could not read; and He caused them to announce, in terms the most magnificent, that the times had now arrived,—that in a few years the Prophet Elias would appear,—that he would be despised and treated with outrage by the Catholics,—that he would even be put to death, together with several of those who had expected his coming and had become his disciples and followers,—that God would employ this Prophet to convert all the Jews,—that they, when thus converted, would immediately carry the light unto all nations,—that they would reestablish Christianity throughout the world,—and that they would preach the morality of the gospel in all its purity, and cause it to spread over the whole earth."
Montgeron, commenting (as he expresses it) upon "the manner in which the convulsionists are supernaturally enlightened, and in which they deliver their discourses and their predictions," says,—
"Ordinarily, the words are not dictated to them; it is only the ideas that are presented to their minds by a supernatural instinct, and they are left to express these thoughts in terms of their own selection. Hence it happens that occasionally their most beautiful discourses are marred by ill-chosen and incorrect expressions, and by phrases obscure and badly turned; so that the beauty of some of these consists rather in the depth of thought, the grandeur of the subjects treated, and the magnificence of the images presented, than in the language in which the whole is rendered.
"It is evident, that, when they are thus left to clothe in their own language the ideas given them, they are also at liberty to add to them, if they will. And, in fact, most of them declare that they perceive within themselves the power to mix in their own ideas with those supernaturally communicated, which suddenly seize their minds; and they are obliged to be extremely careful not to confound their own thoughts with those which they receive from a superior intelligence. This is sometimes the more difficult, inasmuch as the ideas thus coming to them do not always come with equal clearness.
"Sometimes, however, the terms are dictated to them internally, but without their being forced to pronounce them, nor hindered from adding to them, if they choose to do so.
"Finally, in regard to certain subjects,—for example, the lights which illumine their minds, and oblige them to announce the second coming of the Prophet Elias, and all that has reference to that great event,—their lips pronounce a succession of words wholly independently of their will; so that they themselves listen like the auditors, having no knowledge of what they say, except only as, word for word, it is pronounced."
Montgeron appears, however, to admit that the exaltation of intelligence which is apparent during the state of ecstasy may, to some extent, be accounted for on natural principles. Starting from the fact, that, during the convulsions, external objects produce much less effect upon the senses than in the natural state, he argues that "the more the soul is disembarrassed of external impressions, the greater is its activity, the greater its power to frame thoughts, and the greater its lucidity." He admits, further,—"Although most of the convulsionists have, when in convulsion, much more intelligence than in their ordinary state, that intelligence is not always supernatural, but may be the mere effect of the mental activity which results when soul is disengaged from sense. Nay, there are examples of convulsionists availing themselves of the superior intelligence which they have in convulsion to make out dissertations on mere temporal affairs. This intelligence, also, may at times fail to subjugate their passions; and I am convinced that they may occasionally make a bad use of it."
In another place, Montgeron says plainly, that "persons accustomed to receive revelations, but not raised to the state of the Prophets, may readily imagine things to be revealed to them which are but the promptings of their own minds,"—and that this has happened, not only to the convulsionists, but (by the confession of many of the ancient fathers) also to the greatest saints. But he protests against the conclusion, as illogical, that the convulsionists never speak by the spirit of God, because they do not always do so.
He admits, however, that it is extremely difficult to distinguish between what ought to be received as divinely revealed and what ought to be rejected as originating in the convulsionist's own mind; nor does he give any rule by which this may be done. The knowledge necessary to the "discerning of spirits" he thinks can be obtained only by humble prayer.
The power of prophecy is one of the gifts claimed by Montgeron as having been bestowed on various convulsionists during their ecstatic state. Yet he gives no detailed proofs of prophecies touching temporal matters having been literally fulfilled, unless it be prophecies by convulsionist-patients in regard to the future crises of their diseases. And he admits that false predictions were not infrequent, and that false interpretations of visions touching the future were of common occurrence. He says,—
"It is sometimes revealed to a convulsionist, for example, that there is to happen to some person not named a certain accident, every detail of which is minutely given; and the convulsionist is ordered to declare what has been communicated to him, that the hand of God may be recognized in its fulfilment.... But, at the same time, the convulsionist receiving this vision believes it to apply to a certain person, whom he designates by name. The prediction, however, is not verified in the case of the person named, so that those who heard it delivered conclude that it is false; but it is verified in the case of another person, to whom the accident happens, attended by all the minutely detailed particulars."
If this be correctly given, it is what animal magnetizers would call a case of imperfect lucidity.
The case as to the gift of tongues is still less satisfactorily made out. A few, Montgeron says, translate, after the ecstasy, what they have declaimed, during its continuance, in an unknown tongue; but for this, of course, we have their word only. The greater part know nothing of what they have said, when the ecstasy has passed. As to these, he admits,—
"The only proof we have that they understand the words at the time they pronounce them is that they often express, in the most lively manner, the various sentiments contained in their discourse, not only by their gestures, but also by the attitudes the body assumes, and by the expression of the countenance, on which the different sentiments are painted, by turns, in a manner the most expressive, so that one is able, up to a certain point, to detect the feelings by which they are moved; and it has been easy for the attentive observer to perceive that most of these discourses were detailed predictions as to the coming of the Prophet Elias," etc.
If it be presumptuous, considering the marvels which modern observations disclose, to pronounce that the alleged unknown languages were unmeaning sounds only, it is evident, at least, that the above is inconclusive as to their true character.
Much more trustworthy appears to be the evidence touching the phenomenon of thought-reading.
The fact that many of the convulsionists were able "to discover the secrets of the heart" is admitted by their principal opponents. The Abbe d'Asfeld himself adduces examples of it. M. Poncet admits its reality. The provincial ecclesiastic whom I have already quoted says that he "found examples without number of convulsionists who discovered the secrets of the heart in the most minute detail: for example, to disclose to a person that at such a period of his life he did such or such a thing; to another, that he had done so and so before coming hither," etc. The author of the "Recherche de la Verite," a pamphlet on the phenomena of the convulsions, which seems very candidly written, acknowledges as one of these "the manifestation of the thoughts and the discovery of secret things."
Montgeron testifies to the fact, from repeated personal observation, that they revealed to him things known to himself alone; and after adducing the admissions above alluded to, and some others, he adds,—"But it would be superfluous further to multiply testimony in proof of a fact admitted by all the world, even by the avowed adversaries of the convulsions, who have found no other method of explaining it than by doing Satan the honor to proclaim him the author of these revelations."
Besides these gifts, real or alleged, there was occasionally observed, during ecstasy, an extraordinary development of the musical faculty. Montgeron tells us,—"Mademoiselle Dancogne, who, as was well known, had no voice whatever in her natural state, sings in the most perfect manner canticles in an unknown tongue, and that to the admiration of all those who hear her."
As to the general character of these psychological phenomena, the theologians of that day were, with few exceptions, agreed that they were of a supernatural character,—the usual question mooted between them being, whether they were due to a Divine or to a Satanic influence. The medical opponents of the movement sometimes took the ground that the state of ecstasy was allied to delirium or insanity,—and that it was a degraded condition, inasmuch as the patient abandoned the exercise of his free will: an argument similar to that which has been made in our day against somewhat analogous phenomena, by a Bostonian.
In concluding a sketch, in which, though it be necessarily a brief one, I have taken pains to set forth with strict accuracy all the essential features which mark the character of this extraordinary epidemic, it is proper I should state that the opponents of Jansenism concur in bringing against the convulsionists the charge that many of them were not only ignorant and illiterate girls, but persons of bad character, occasionally of notoriously immoral habits; nay, that some of them justified the vicious courses in which they indulged by declaring these to be a representation of a religious tendency, emblematic of that degradation through which the Church must pass, before, recalled by the voice of Elias, it regained its pristine purity.
Montgeron, while admitting that such charges may justly be brought against some of the convulsionists, denies the general truth of the allegation, yet after such a fashion that one sees plainly he considers it necessary, in establishing the character and divine source of the discourses and predictions delivered in the state of ecstasy, to do so without reference to the moral standing of the ecstatics. When one of his opponents (the physician who addressed to him the satirical letter already referred to) ascribes to him the position, that one must decide the divine or diabolical state of a person alleged to be inspired by reference to that person's morals and conduct, he replies,—"God forbid that I should advance so false a proposition!" And he proceeds to argue that the Deity often avails Himself, as a medium for expressing His will, of unworthy subjects. He says,—
"Who does not know that the Holy Spirit, whose divine rays are never stained, let them shine where they will, 'bloweth where it listeth,' and distributes its gifts to whom best it seems, without always causing these to be accompanied by internal virtues? Does not Scripture inform us that God caused miracles to be wrought and great prophecies to be delivered by very vicious persons, as Judas, Caiaphas, Balaam, and others? Jesus Christ himself teaches us that there will be workers of iniquity among the number of those who prophesy and of those who will work miracles in his name, declaring that on the Day of Judgment many will say unto him, 'Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works?' and that he will reply to them, 'Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.'"