Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

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more important matter of the thought of the discourse, I
think you will be aware of a certain undefinable shallow-
ness and crudity. Your growing experience has borne
you beyond it. Somehow you feel it does not come home
to you, and suit you as you would wish it should. It will
not do. That old sermon you cannot preach now, till you
have entirely recast and rewritten it. But you had no
such notion when you wrote the sermon. You were
satisfied with it. You thought it even better than the
discourses of men as clever as yourself, and ten or fifteen
years older. Your case was as though the youthful calf
should walk beside the sturdy ox, and think itself rather

Let no clever young reader fancy from what has been
said, that I am about to make an onslaught upon clever
young men. I remember too distinctly how bitter and
indeed ferocious I used to feel, about eleven or twelve
years ago, when I have heard men of more than middle


age and less than middling ability speak with contemptu-
ous depreciation of the productions and doings of men
considerably their juniors, and vastly their superiors;
describing them as boys, and as clever lads, with looks
of dark malignity. There are few more disgusting sights,
than the envy and jealousy of their juniors, which may
be seen in vai'ious malicious, commonplace old men ; as
there is hardly a more beautiful and pleasing sight than
the old man hailing, and counselling, and encouraging the
youthful genius which he knows far surpasses his own.
And I, my young friend of two-and-twenty, who relatively
to you, may be regarded as old, am going to assume no
preposterous airs of superiority. I do not claim to be a
bit wiser than you ; all I claim is to be older. I have
outgrown your stage ; but I was once such as you, and
all my sympathies are with you yet. But it is a difficulty
in the way of the essayist, and, indeed, of all who set out
opinions which they wish to be received and acted on by
their fellow-creatures, that they seem, by the very act of
offering advice to others, to claim to be wiser and better
than those whom they advise. But in reality it is not so.
The opinions of the essayist or of the preacher, if deserv-
ing of notice at all, are so because of their inherent truth,
and not because he expresses them. Estimate them for
youi'self, and give them the weight which you think their
due. And be sure of this, that the writer, if earnest and
sincere, addressed all he said to himself as much as to any
one else. Tliis is the thing which redeems all didactic
writing or speaking from the charge of offensive assump-
tion and self-assertion. It is not for the preacher,
whether of moral or religious truth, to address his fel-
lows as outside sinners, worse than himself, and needing
to be reminded of that of which he does not need to be re-


minded. No, the earnest preacher preaches to himself as
much as to any in the congregation ; it is from the picture
ever before him in his own weak and w^ayward heart, that
he learns to reach and describe the hearts of othei-s, if in-
deed he do so at all. And it is the same with lesser things.

It is curious and it is instructive to remark how
heartily men, as they grow towards middle age, despise'
themselves as they were a few years since. It is a bitter
thing for a man to confess that he is a fool ; but it costs
little eifort to declare that he ivas a fool, a good while
ago. Indeed, a tacit compliment to his present self is
involved in the latter confession ; it suggests the reflec-
tion what progress he has made, and how vastly he has
improved, since then. When a man informs us that he
was a very silly fellow in the year 1851, it is assumed
that he is not a very silly fellow in tlie year 1861. It is
as when the merchant with ten thousand a year, sitting
at his sumptuous table, and sipping his '41 claret, tells
you how, when he came as a raw lad from the country,
he used often to have to go without his dinner. He
knows that the plate, the wine, the massively elegant
apartment, the silent servants so alert yet so impassive,
will appear to join in chorus with the obvious suggestion,
" You see he has not to go without his dinner now ! " Did
you ever, when twenty years old, look back at the diary
you kept when you were sixteen ; or when twenty-five
at the diary you kept when twenty ; or at thirty, at the
diary you kept when twenty-five ? Was not your feeling
a singular mixture of humiliation and self-complacency ?
What extravagant, silly stufl" it seemed that you had thus
written five years before ! What Veal ; and oh what a
calf he must have been who wrote it ! It is a difficult


question, to which the answer cannot be elicited, Who is
the greatest fool in this world ? But every candid and
sensible man of middle age, knows thoroughly well the
answer to the question, Who was the greatest fool that
he himself ever knew ? And after all, it is your diary
especially if you were wont to introduce into it poetical
remarks and moral reflections, that will mainly help you
to the humiliating conclusion. Other things, some of
which I have already named, will point in the same
direction. Look at the pi'ize essays you wrote when
you were a boy at school ; look even at your earlier
prize essays written at college (though of these last I
have something to say hereafter) ; look at the letters you
wrote home when away at school or even at college, es-
pecially if you were a clever boy, trying to write in a
graphic and witty fashion ; and if you have reached sense
at last (which some, it may be remarked, never do), I
think you will blush even through the unblushing front
of manhood, and think what a terrific, unutterable, con-
ceited, intolerable blockhead you were. It is not till peo-
ple attain somewhat mature years that they can rightly
understand the wonderful forbearance their parents must
have shown in listening patiently to the frightful nonsense
they talked and wrote. I have already spoken of ser-
mons. If you go early into the Church, say at twenty-
three or twenty-four, and write sermons regularly and
diligently, you know what landmarks they will be of
your mental progress. The first runnings of the stream
are turbid, but it clears itself into sense and taste month
by month and year by year. You wrote many sermons
in your first year or two ; you preached them with entire
confidence in them, and they did really keep up the at-
tention of the congregation in a remarkable way. You


accumulate in a box a store of that valuable literature
and theology, and when by and by you go to another
parish, you have a comfortable feeling that you have a
capital stock to go on with. You think that any Mon-
day morning when you have the prospect of a very busy
week, or when you feel very weary, you may resolve
that you shall write no sermon that week, but just go
and draw forth one from the box. I have already said
what you will probably find, even if you draw forth a
discourse which cost much labor. You cannot use it as
it stands. Possibly it may be structural and essential
Veal ; the whole framework of thought may be imma-
ture. Possibly it may be Veal only in style ; and by
cutting out a tui'gid sentence hei*e and there, and above
all, by cutting out all the passages which you thought
particularly eloquent, the discourse may do yet. But
even then, you cannot give it with much confidence.
Your mind can yield something better than that now.
I imagine how a fine old orange-ti-ee, that bears oranges
Avith the thinnest possible skin and with no pips, juicy
and rich, might feel that it has outgrown the fruit of its
first years, when the skin was half an inch thick, the
pips innumerable, and the eatable portion small and poor.
It is with a feeling such as that that you read over your
early sermon. Still, mingling with the sense of shame,
there is a certain satisfaction. You have not been stand-
ing still ; you have been getting on. And we always like
to think that.

What is it that makes intellectual Veal ? What are
the things about a composition wliich stamp it as such ?
Well, it is a certain character in thought and style hard
to define, but strongly felt by such as discern its presence


at all. It is strongly felt by professors reading the com-
positions of their students, especially the compositions of
the cleverest students. It is strongly felt by educated
folk of middle age, in listening to the sermons of young
pulpit orators, especially of such as think for themselves,
of such as aim at a high standard of excellence, of such
as have in them the makings of striking and eloquent
preachers. Dull and stupid fellows never deviate into
the extravagance and absurdity which I specially under-
stand by Veal. They plod along in a humdrum manner :
there is no poetry in their soul ; none of those ambitious
stirrings which lead the man who has in him the true
spark of genius to try for grand things and incur severe
and ignominious tumbles. A heavy dray-horse, walking
along the road, may possibly advance at a very lagging
pace, or may even stand still ; but whatever he may do,
he is not likely to jump violently over the hedge, or to
gallop off at twenty-five miles an hour. It must be a
thorough-bred who will go wrong in that grand fashion.
And there are intellectual absurdities and extravagances
which hold out hopeful promise of noble doings yet : tlie
eagle, which will breast the hurricane yet, may meet
various awkward tumbles before he learns the fashion
in which to use those iron wings. But the substantial
goose, which probably escapes those tumbles in trying to
fly, will never do anything very magnificent in the way
of flying. The man who in his early days writes in a
very inflated and bombastic style, will gradually sober
down into good sense and accurate taste, still retaining
something of liveliness and eloquence. But expect little
of the man who as a boy was always sensible, and never
bombastic. He will grow awfully dry. He is sure to
fall into the unpardonable sin of tiresomeness. The rule


has exceptions ; but the earliest productions of a man of
real genius are almost always crude, flippant, and affect-
edly smart ; or else turgid and extravagant in a high
degree. Witness Mr. Disraeli ; witness Sir E. B. Lyt-
ton ; witness even Macaulay. The man who as a mere
boy writes something very sound and sensible, will prob-
ably never become more than a dull, sensible, common-
place man. Many people can say, as they bethink
themselves of their old college companions, that those
who wrote with good sense and good taste at twenty,
have mostly settled down into the dullest and baldest of
prosers ; while such as dealt in bombastic flourishes and
absurd ambitiousness of style, have learned as time went
on to prune their early luxuriances, while still retaining
something of raciness, interest, and ornament.

I have been speaking very generally of the character-
istics of Veal in composition. It is difficult to give any
accurate description of it that shall go into minuter de-
tails. Of course it is easy to think of little external
marks of the beast — that is, the calf. It is Veal in
style when people, writing prose, think it a line thing to
write o'er instead of over, ne\r instead of never, poesie
instead of poetry, and methinks under any circumstances
whatsoever. References to the heart are generally of
the nature of veal, also allusions to the mysterious throb-
bings and yearnings of our nature. The word grand has
of late come to excite a strong suspicion of Veal ; and
when I read the other day in a certain poem something
about a great grand man, I concluded that the writer of
that poem is meanwhile a great grand calf. The only
case in which the words may properly be used together
is in speaking of your great grandfather. To talk about


mine affections, meaning my affections, is Veal ; and mine
bonnie love was decided Veal, though it was written by
Charlotte Bronte. To say mayhap, when you mean per-
haps, is Veal. So is it also to talk of human ken, when
you mean human knoivledge. To speak of something
higher ami holier is invariably Veal : and it is usually
Veal to speak of something deeper. Wife mine is Veal,
though it stands in The Caxtons. I should rather like to
see the man who in actual life is accustomed to address
his spouse in that fashion. To say Not, oh never, shall
we do so and so, is outrageous Veal. Sylvan grove or
sylvan vale in ordinary conversation is Veal. The word
glorious should be used with caution ; when applied to
trees, mountains, or the like, there is a strong suspicion
of Veal about it. But one feels that in saying these
things we are not getting at the essence of Veal. It is
Veal in thought that is essential Veal, and that is very
hard to define. Beyond extravagant language, beyond
absurd fine things, it lies in a certain lack of reality and
sobriety of sense and view — in a certain indefinable
jejuneness in the mental fare provided, which makes
mature men feel that somehow it does not satisfy their
cravings. You know what I mean better than I can
express it. You have seen and heard a young preacher,
with a rosy face and an unlined brow, preaching about
the cares and tibials of life. Well, you just feel at once
he knows uotliing about them. You feel that all this is
at second-hand. He is saying all this because he sup-
poses it is the right thing to say. Give me the pilot to
direct me who has sailed through the difficult cliannel
many a time himself! Give me the friend to sympathize
with me in sorrow, who has felt the like. There is a
hollowness, a certain want, in the talk about much trib-


ulation of the very cleverest man who has never felt
any great sorrow at all. The great force and value of
all teaching lie in the amount of personal experience
which is embodied in it. You feel the difference be-
tween the production of a wonderfully clever boy and
of a mature man when you read the first canto of Childe
Harold and then read Philip van Artevelde. I do not
say but that the boy's production may have a liveliness
and interest beyond the man's. Veal is in certain re-
spects superior to beef, though beef is best on the whole.
I have heard vealy preachers whose sermons kept up
breathless attention. From the first word to the last of
a sermon which was unquestionable Veal, I have wit-
nessed an entire congregation listen with that audible
hush you know. It was very different indeed from the
state of matters when a humdrum old gentleman was
preaching, every word spoken by whom was the maturest
sense, expressed in woi'ds to which the most fastidious
taste could have taken no exception ; but then the whole
thing was sleepy ; it was a terrible effort to attend. In
the case of the Veal there was no effort at all. I defy
you to help attending. But then you sat in pain. Every
second sentence there was some outrageous offence against
good taste ; every third statement was absurd or over-
drawn or almost profane. You felt occasional thrills of
pure disgust and horror, and you were in terror what
might come next. One thing which tended to carry all
this off was the manifest confidence and earnestness of
the speaker. He did not think it Veal that he was say-
ing. And though great consternation was de[)icted on
the faces of some of the better educated people in church,
you could see that a very considerable part of the con-
gregation did not think it Veal either. There can be no


doubt, my middle-aged friend, if you could but give your
early sermons now with the confidence and fire of the
time when you wrote them, they would make a deep
impression on many people yet. But it is simply impos-
sible for you to give them ; and if you should force your-
self some rainy Sunday to preach one of them, you would
give it with such a sense of its errors, and with such an
absence of corresponding feeling, that it would fall very
flat and dead. Your views are maturing : your taste is
growing fastidious ; the strong things you once said you
could not bring yourself to say now. If you could preach
those old sermons, there is no doubt they would go down
with the mass of uncultivated folk, — go down better than
your mature and reasonable ones. We have all known
such cases as that of a young preacher who, at twenty-
five, in his days of Veal, drew great crowds to the church
at which he preached ; and who at thirty -five, being a
good deal tamed and sobered, and in the judgment of
competent judges vastly improved, attracted no more than
a respectable congregation. A very great and eloquent
preacher lately lamented to me the uselessness of his
store of early discourses. If he could but get rid of his
present standard of what is right and good in thought
and language, and preach them with the enchaining fire
with which he preached them once ! For many hearers
remain immature, though the preacher has matured.
Young people are growing up, and there are people
whose taste never ripens beyond the enjoyment of Veal.
There is a period in the mental development of those
who will be ablest and maturest, at which vealy thought
and language are accepted as the best. Veal will be
highly appreciated by sympathetic calves ; and the great-
est men, with rare exceptions, are calves in youth, while


many human beings are calves forever. And here I
may remark, as something which has afforded me conso-
lation on various occasions within the last year, that it
seems unquestionable that sermons which are utterly
revolting to people of taste and sense, have done much
good to large masses of those people in whom common
sense is most imperfectly developed, and in whom taste
is not developed at all ; and accordingly, wherever one
is convinced of the sincerity of the individuals, however
foolish and uneducated, who go about pouring forth those
violent, exaggerated, and all but blasphemous discourses
of which I have read accounts in tiie newspapers, one
would humbly hope that a Power which works by many
means, would bring about good even through an instru-
mentality which it is hard to contemplate without some
measure of horror. The impression produced by most
things in this world is relative to the minds on which the
impression is produced. A coarse ballad, deficient in
rhyme and rhythm, and only half decent, will keep up
the attention of a rustic group to whom you might read
from In Memoriam in vain. A waistcoat of glaring
scarlet will be esteemed by a country bumpkin a garment
every way preferable to one of aspect more subdued.
A nigger melody will charm many a one who would
yawn at Beethoven. You must have rough means to
move rough people. The outrageous revival-orator may
do good to people to whom Bishop Wilberforce or Dr.
Caird might preach to no purpose ; and if real good
be done, by whatever means, all right-minded people
should rejoice to hear of it.

And this leads to an important practical question, on
which men at different periods of life will never agree.


When shall thought be regarded as mature ? Is there a
standard by which we can ascertain beyond question
whether a composition be Veal or Beef? I sigh for fixity
and assurance in matters a^sthetical. It is vexatious
that what I think very good my friend Smith thinks very
bad. It is vexatious that what strikes me as supreme
and unapproachable excellence, strikes another person at
least as competent to form an opinion, as poor. And I am
angry with myself when I feel that I honestly regard as
inflated commonplace and mystical jargon, what a man as
old and (let us say) nearly as wise as myself thinks the
utterance of a prophet. You know how, when you con-
template the purchase of a horse, you lead him up to the
measuring-bar, and there ascertain the precise number of
hands and inches which he stands. How have I longed for
the means of subjecting the mental stature of human beings
to an analogous process of measurement ! Oh for some
recognized and unerring gauge of mental calibre ! It
would be a grand thing if somewhere in a very conspic-
uous position — say on the site of the National Gallery
at Charing-cross - — there were a {)illar erected, graduated
by some new Fahrenheit, on which we could measure the
height of a man's mind. How delightful it would be to
drag up some pompous pretender who passes off at once
upon himself and others as a profound and able man,
and make him measure his height upon that pillar, and
understand beyond all cavil what a pigmy he is ! And
how pleasant, too, it would be to bring up some man of
unacknowledged genius, and make the v/orld see the
I'each of Ms intellectual stature ! The mass of educated
people even are so incapable of forming an estimate of a
man's ability, that it would be a blessing if men could
be sent out into the world with the stamp upon them,


telling what are their weight and value, plain for every-
one to see. But of course there are many ways in
which a book, sermon, or essay, may be bad without be-
ing Vealy. It may be dull, stupid, illogical, and the like,
and yet have nothing of boyishness about it. It may be
insufferably bad, yet quite mature. Beef may be bad,
and yet undoubtedly beef. And the question now is, not
so much wliether there be a standard of what is in a
literary sense good or bad, as whether there be a stand-
ard of what is Veal and wliat is Beef. And there is a
great difficulty here. Is a thing to be regarded as mature
when it suits your present taste ; when it is approved by
your present deliberate judgment ? For your taste is al-
ways changing : your standard is not the same for three
successive years of your early youth. The Veal you now
despise you thought Beef when you wrote it. And so,
too, with the productions of other men. You cannot read
now witiiout amazement the books which used to enchant
you as a child. I remember when I used to read Her-
vey's Meditations with great delight. That was when
I about five years old. A year or two later I
greatly affected Macpherson's translation of Ossian. It
is not so very long since I felt the liveliest interest in
Tupper's Proverbial Philosophy. Let me confess tliat I
retain a kindly feeling towards it yet ; and that I am
glad to see that some hundreds of thousands of readers
appear to be still in the stage out of which I passed some
years since. Yes, as you grow older your taste changes :
it becomes more fastidious ; and especially you come to
have always less toleration for sentimental feeling and for
flights of fancy. And besides this gradual and constant
progression, which holds on uniformly year after year,
there are changes in mood and taste sometimes from day


to day find from hour to Iiour. The man who did a very
silly thing thought it was a wise thing when he did it.
He sees the matter differently in a little while. On the
evening after the battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wel-
lington wrote a certain letter. History does not record
its matter or style. But history does record that some
years afterwards the Duke paid a hundred guineas to get
it back again ; and that on getting it he instantly burnt it,
exclaiming that when he wrote it he must have been the
greatest idiot on the face of the earth. Doubtless, if we
had seen that letter, we should have heartily coincided in
the sentiment of the hero. He teas an idiot when he
wrote it, but he did not think that he was one. I think,
however, that there is a standard of sense and folly ; and
that there is a point at which Veal is Veal no more. But
I do not believe that thought can justly be called mature
only when it has become such as to suit the taste of some
desperately dry old gentleman with as much feeling as a
log of wood, and as much imagination as an oyster. I
know how intolerant some dull old fogies are of youthful
fire and fancy. I shall not be convinced that any dis-
course is puerile because it is pronounced such by the
venerable Di*. Dryasdust. I remember that the vener-
able man has written many pages, possibly abundant in
sound sense, but which no mortal could read, and to
which no mortal could listen. I remember that though
that not very amiable individual has outlived such wits
as he once had, he has not outlived the unbecoming emo-
tions of envy and jealousy ; and he retains a strong ten-
dency to evil-speaking and slandering. You told me,

Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydLeisure hours in town → online text (page 2 of 33)