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for quarter of a century is the disturbing element in European politics.
The attitude of all other nations is, to use the expression of the witty
Frenchman, that of spaniels watching the eye of their master at the
Tuileries. Then comes the collapse, and in the closing scene we see a
wretched creature driving out in a hack carriage from Sedan to give up
his sword to the German Emperor, and sitting on a wooden chair with
Bismarck, in front of a little wayside cabaret, to discuss the terms of the
surrender as prisoners of war of his last army of 120,000 men. What
must have been the emotions on that fatal day, hid under the mask of an
imperturable countenance and an eternal cigar. And all the time the
man was essentially the same. Kind-hearted, easy-going, utterly unprin-
cipled, vague, moony, idealistic; easily influenced by those about him,
and twisted round his finger by a strong and practical nature like that of
Bismarck. As his best counsellor and most intimate friend, the shrewd,
cynical, polished, and worldly De Morny, once said to me, when the
Emperor was in the height of his power, "The world will some day dis-
cover that the man has a better heart and a worse head than it gives him
credit for."

I have mentioned Bismarck. There is a man indeed, a man such as
Europe has not produced since Luther and Cromwell. Think of his
career from a wild student, a provincial Tory Squire, training himself by
degrees to be first a diplomatist, and then a statesman ; startling the
starched representatives of the German Confederation at Frankfort by
lighting his cigar without the permission of the Austrian Envoy, with the
same cool courage and happy audacity which led him to Sadowa and
Sedan, and now the founder of the German Empire, the great Chancellor,
the arbiter of the peace of Europe. What made him what he is ? His
solid strength of character, his sagacious sincerity, his keen insight, glanc-
ing through the outward show of things into their real essence, and
above all, his indomitable courage, which never quailed before hostile
parliaments or vacillating emperors, and led him to stake his head
on the success of the Prussian needle-gun and Prussian discipline,
against the veteran legions of Austria and the showy prestige of imperial

At the opposite pole from Bismarck is our own "Grand Old Man."
Opinions may differ as to Mr. Gladstone's policy, and whether his power-
ful personality is an element for good or for evil in English history ; but
no one who is not a purblind political partisan, can deny that, whether
for good or evil, he is a grand and striking figure. Where will you
find a man of such universal attainments, wide sympathies, and per-
suasive eloquence ? Where look for an intellect which combines such
scholastic subtlety with such argumentative power, such a grasp of details,
such juvenile energy, and such a fervid white heat of passionate con-
viction. What a rich and complex nature must it be, which has in
it the evolution from the ecclesiastically-minded Oxford student who


was the rising hope of the Tories, to the great financier of Free Trade,
the disestablisher of the Irish Church, the statesman who is at the head
of all Liberal movements, the man whose eager sympathies side with lib-
erty and with the masses "of our own flesh and blood," from Ireland
to Italy. His mind is like the steam-hammer, which can either crack
nuts, or mould masses of stubborn iron, and even in extreme old age
there are no signs that his natural vigor has abated.

There is another striking personality of our times, whom, at the risk
of offending political prejudices, I should like to mention, the "uncrowned
king of Ireland " Parnell. I am accustomed to call him the Irish Bis-
marck, for in many of his essential traits he resembles the iron Chancellor.
Here again I pass no judgment as to his aims and policy, but look
simply at the man and his career. What a career it has been ! A young
man with no special gifts of position or fortune, little likely as a Protest-
ant and a landlord to enlist the sympathies of the Irish race, gifted with
no showy qualities of oratory, the very antipodes of the former great Irish
leader, O'Connell, silent, self-restrained, reserved, I may almost say, un-
social. I recollect this young man when I first knew him in the House
of Commons, an obscure member even of his own Home Rule party ; one
of a little knot of five or six Irish members, who thought Isaac Butt's
leadership too tame, and whose ruling idea was to force the attention of
the House to Irish grievances by organizing obstruction. They succeeded,
and soon became very conspicuous, and intensely obnoxious. Step by
step Parnell came to the front, and first rivalled and then displaced Shaw
in the leadership of the Irish party left vacant by the death of Butt Like
Carnot he organized victory, and even more than Bismarck, forged his
own weapons as the strife went on. For Bismarck had his sturdy em-
peror, his admirable Prussian army, and his great strategist, Von Moltke,
made to his hand ; Parnell had nothing but what he made himself. His
strength of character, practical sagacity, and far-seeing insight, by degrees
gave him an ascendancy which secured him the support of the great
majority of the Irish race at home and abroad, enabled him to wean them
from impossible dreams of rebellion and revenge, to the practical policy
of constitutional agitation ; and finally has placed the return of some
eighty-five out of one hundred and five members for Ireland in the hollow
of his hand, and what was apparently more hopeless, has silenced the
conflicting jealousies and interests which, in former days, marred all Irish
movements, and drilled these eighty-five members into a compact body,
acting as one man, under the control and advice of their leader. He has
thus, almost single-handed, advanced Home Rule from being a dream
as wild as the restoration of the Heptarchy, to be the burning question of
practical politics. He has got four-fifths of Ireland, two-thirds of Scot-
land and Wales, and the bulk of the Liberal party in England on his side,
and few dispassionate observers can doubt that, whether for good or evil,
the realization of the main features of his policy has become a question


of more or less, and of sooner or later, rather than of absolute and per-
manent rejection.

This is a good deal for an undergraduate of Magdalen to have done
before he has passed the meridian of middle life, and to have done it for a
a hopeless minority, an unpopular cause, and a down-trodden race, by
sheer force of individual character. Of the epithets which their contem-
porary age has attached to these three leading personalities, the " Great
Chancellor," the "Grand Old Man," and the " Uncrowned Irish King,"
I think there is little doubt that the Macaulay of a future century will find
them to have been justly applied, and that without reference to the suc-
cess or failure of their work which is in the womb of the future.

It would not be right to close the list of the great political personalities
of the day without saying one word of Abraham Lincoln, one of the
greatest, as he is certainly one of the most original and interesting of
modern statesmen. Wise, far-seeing, steadfast, simple, and noble, as
Washington, he had a fund of genial humor, and a touch of the quaint-
ness and eccentricity of the old Illinois rail-splitter, which endears his
memory to the affectionate respect of all classes of English-speaking
men, and makes him a bright example for all time of the height of
heroism to which a self-taught working-man of the new democracy may

If we turn from what may be called the epic of modern history to its
romance, what figure can be more original and interesting than that of
Lord Beaconsfield. What a career, from a second-rate novelist and dandy
about town, seeking notoriety by resplendent small clothes, to become the
minister of a great country, the favorite of sovereigns, the superior of
Dukes, the champion and hero of a proud aristocracy and of a great
historical party. And yet, as the novel of his last years shows, essentially
the same man throughout. Brilliant, audacious, a master of phrases,
and believing in them as stronger than facts. A sort of glorified Gil Bias,
or hero of a Spanish comedy ; arid yet with qualities which endeared
him to friends, captivated the popular imagination, and enabled him to
play his part to perfection in all the varied vicissitudes of his extraordi-
nary career. Infinite cleverness, infinite courage, infinite self-possession,
and at bottom a genial and artistic temperament, which made him always,
whatever else he might be, a finished gentleman. No one ever heard of
him, whether as leader of a Government, or as leader of an Opposition,
doing a coarse, vulgar, or ungentleman-like thing. He never lost his
temper ; he fought, like a courtly duellist of one of Dumas' romances,
with the keen rapier of polished sarcasm and pungent epigram, but he
fought fairly and left the coarser work, the flouts and jeers, to titled subor-
dinates. His ideas, if vague and visionary, were always grandiose, and
according to his lights, imperial and patriotic. He had no prejudges,
and although the leader of bucolic squires and favored guests of -iMOrt
drawing-rooms, he was fully convinced that Toryism couid only survive


by becoming democratic. Here surely was a product of the age as piqu-
ant and original as any to be met with in the romance of history.

I turn gladly to the serener regions of science and art Here also,
while we find everywhere the influence of the spirit of the age, we find
everywhere genius and originality of character. It is the age of science ;
its marvellous triumphs have given man an undreamt-of command over
the forces of nature, and revolutionized his ideas both of the material and
of the spiritual universe. But what I wish principally to remark for the
present purpose, these triumphs have been achieved, not by a mechanical
process of second-rate specialists working each in his separate groove like
wheels and pulleys in the mill of progress, but by a succession of great
men, worthy leaders of great events. Take Darwin, the greatest of all.
Who in the school-boy scolded by his master for wasting the time which
should have been devoted to hexameters in trying rude chemical experi-
ments and collecting beetles, could have foreseen the great philosopher
who was to revolutionize the whole course of modern thought ? At col-
lege he was, like many another careless student, thinking more of
partridge-shooting than of books, and looking forward to taking orders,
and becoming a college don, or vicar of a country parish. But his beetle-
hunting saved him, it brought him into connection with men of science
at the University like Henslow, and the merest accident led to his being
appointed as naturalist to accompany Captain Fitzroy in the exploring
voyage of the Beagle.

He saw new lands and new races of men, and his mind, rapidly
expanding, acquired a storehouse of new facts and ideas which were the
germ of his future greatness. See him next a martyr to ill-health in his
quite cottage in a secluded Kentish village, thinking out his ideas, trying
simple experiments, clipping out extracts, and patiently collecting infor-
mation, until one day he woke to find himself famous, and to have his
name associated with the greatest revolution ever known in man's concep-
tion of the universe. In less than forty years ' ' Darwinism, " that is evo-
lution by unvarying law, superseded " Supernaturalism," or the theory of
a world created and maintained by a succession of secondary interfer-
ences, as completely as the Copernican theory superseded that of Ptolemy.

Before he died he could see all educated thought, all men of light and
leading in all countries, converts, if not to all the details, to the leading
ideas and facts of his world-wide theory. And what a simple, noble
character he was. Patient, candid, magnanimous, modest, loving and
beloved in all intercourse with family and surroundings down even to his
little dog, faithful friend, single-minded worshipper of truth, one might
say that, apart from his fame, here was a model man of the nineteenth
century, and if scepticism can give us more like him we may well be con-
tent to take what the outcome of a sceptical age has in store for us with-
out much apprehension.

And if Darwin was the Napoleon of science, what a brilliant array of


marshals marched under him at the head of its various divisions men
not of one idea and cramped intellects, but large-minded men of genius
and originality, men such as Lyell, Huxley, Herbert Spencer, and a host
of others.

Take Huxley as a typical instance. If he had never made a discovery
in science, he would go down to posterity as the greatest master of style
and best writer of English prose in the whole range of modern literature.
To a wit keen as that of Voltaire he adds a far greater range of accurate
knowledge and force of pungent logic; his grave irony and undercurrent
of genuine humor are delicious, and every sentence goes straight to the
mark like a rifle-bullet. In controversy he is like a sun-god shooting his
arrows of light through the thickest cuirass of ignorance and prejudice.
Given something to say on a theme of science or philosophy, and I know
of no writer, past or present, who can say it as well as Huxley.

Of all these, and of the hundred other names which might easily be
added to the list of generals and captains of the army of modern science,
it may safely be said, that as a rule they lived true, simple, and noble
lives, giving no cause of scandal or offence to the world, and showing that
the high-priests of truth need not fear a comparison as regards character
and conduct with those of any stereotyped and formalized religious creed
or caste.

The remaining complaint of the pessimists, that the world is becoming
uninteresting and prosaic, is easily disposed of. I reserve for another
essay what I have to say as to the creeds of the great poets, but for the
present it is enough to ask whether Byron and Shelley were believers or
sceptics, and whether their poems show any falling-off in the poetic fac-
ulty ? Swinburne, whatever we may think of him otherwise, has the gift
of word-music and of brilliant imagination in an eminent degree ; and
Victor Hugo, though too turgid and rhetorical for an English taste,
strikes a powerful lyre whose chords resound loudly in the souls of his
sceptical countrymen. Above all, Tennyson, the great poet of modern
thought, attains a height of inspiration which has been seldom if ever
equalled. I care not what his creed may be, but he is thoroughly the
man of his age, imbued with its science, from which many of his noblest
similes are drawn, and a sharer in its strength and weakness, its hopes
and fears, its grandest aspirations, and its blankest misgivings. The
stanzas in In Memoriam, which conclude with the solemn words, "Be-
hind the Veil," are the profoundest expression of the deepest thoughts of
the most earnest minds of the nineteenth century.

In fiction, we have a hundred writers and a thousand readers, of works
of a fairly high standard of excellence, for one of former centuries. Noth-
ing gives me more hope for the future of that inevitable democracy which
is advancing on us with such rapid steps, than the multitude of standard
works which are circulated in cheap editions. Shakespeare, Walter Scott
Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, as well as works on history, philosophy,


and art, like those of Macaulay, Carlyle, and Ruskin, are published in
ever increasing numbers and at ever lower prices. Who reads them ?
They must be bought by hundreds of thousands, or it would not pay to
publish them, even in pirated editions like those of America. They must
be read by millions who never read before, but who now read with intelli-
gent interest for education and self-culture.

If we turn to painting we find the same phenomenon. It is becoming
more popular and more democratic. Prints and chromo-lithographs hang
on the walls of every cottage ; illustrations, often admirable, like those of
the modern school of wood-cut, adorn the pages of pictorial newspapers
and magazines, and have become almost a necessary accompaniment of
every work of wide circulation. And how has this affected the higher class
of painting ? Has it become more prosaic ? Distinctly the reverse, it is
far more poetical; that is to say it aims far more at expressing the real
essence and typical spirit of the varying moods, whether of external or of
human nature. The contrast between the modern French school and that
of conventional classicism affords the best instance for my present purpose,
for France is par excellence the country whose scepticism and democracy
may be suppossed to have killed poetry. Compare a landscape of Corot's
with a landscape of Poussin, which is most poetical ? Or take Millet, who
has caught for all time the type of the true French peasant, with his simple
or even sordid surroundings, his narrow horizon as he bends with an almost
ferocious intensity of labor over his paternal clods, yet illumined by
gleams of humble poetry, as in the Angelus, or of pure domestic affection,
as in Teaching the Baby to Walk. Surely this is real poetry, and worth a
thousand of the academic pictures of the school of David.

In the English school of art, the same tendency is manifest All the
great modern masters aim at representing types and ideas rather than
traditional conventionalities or prosaic realities. Thus Millais' North-
West Passage and Boyhood of Raleigh give us the essence of that spirit of
maritime adventure which has made Britannia rule the waves; Faed's pic-
tures of humble Scottish life are as tender and true as if they were poems
of Burns transferred to canvas; Peter Graham, Brett, and Hook paint the
sea as it never was before painted, in all its moods of strength, repose,
and of the joyous freshness of its rising flood. And so of a host of others.
They aim at and often succeed in painting pictures which are really poems,
true and touching phases of human characters, types of nature which
speak to the varying emotions of the human soul, and their masterpieces
find a ready response in the hearts of millions.

All this does not look like the advent of a drab-colored age of prosaic
mediocrity ; or as if the fresh bracing breeze of modern science and free
thought, sweeping through the confined air of mediaeval cloisters, were
going to do otherwise than sweeten and purify the atmosphere, and
make the blue of heaven more blue, the grass greener, and the earth, on
the whole, a better and more genial place for man to live in. Blow,


brave North-Wester ! sweeping over the free and boundless ocean of
Truth, chilling to worn-out creeds and decrepit superstitions, but filling
the lungs with ozone, bracing the nerves and brightening the eye.

" Who loves not knowledge, who shall rail
Against her beauty ? may she mix
With men and prosper, whc shall fix
Her pillars; may her cause prevail."


WHAT is a poet, and what is a great poet ? A'poet I take to be one
whose nature is exceptionally susceptible to impressions from
the surrounding universe, especially those of a character which comes
within the domain of art, and who unites with this a certain musical
faculty and command of language, which enables him to translate these
impressions into apt and harmonious verse. The poet's brain may be
compared to a photographic plate which is extremely sensitive and reten-
tive of images which flash across it ; or to a delicate ./Eolian harp which
vibrates responsive to harmonies of nature, unheard, or only half-heard,
by the coarser fibres of ordinary mortals.

This of itself, where it exists in an exceptional degree, may make a
pleasing or even a considerable poet, but to make a great poet something
more is required. To this fine susceptibility and musical nature must be
added a great intellect; an intellect capable of casting flashes of insight into
the varying phases of human character, and the deepest problems of man's
relations to the universe; an intellect so imbued with the spirit of the age
and abreast of the knowledge of the day as to be able to sum them up in a
few glowing lines which embody their inmost essence. Such poets are
extremely rare. Of the ancient world, Homer, ^schylus, Sophocles,
and Euripides of the Greeks, Lucretius and Virgil of the Romans, still
shine as stars of the first magnitude among the " stars of mortal night,"
though dimmed by distance and seen under greatly altered conditions.
Of moderns, I hardly know that the very first class can be assigned to
other names than those of Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, Goethe, Burns,
Wordsworth, and Tennyson. Many come near it from exceptional excel-
lence in some of the qualities which are most essential to true poetry.
Shelley, for instance, is equal to the very greatest in the exquisite suscep-
tibility to all that is beautiful in nature, and the faculty of reproducing it
in the loveliest and most musical of lyrics. His Skylark and Cloud may well
stand as the high-water mark to which lyrical poetry has ever attained.
But he was cut off at an early age, before his intellect had got over the
stage of youthful effervescence, and settled down into the sober and
serene wisdom requisite to reflect truly the spirit of an age, and guide a
world towards better and higher things. He and Keats have given us
" things of beauty " which are "joys for ever," but scarcely wise counsels



and consoling words, to enable us better to live our lives and face oat
destinies. The same may be said of Byron, the vigor of whose verse and
vividness of feeling and description are unsurpassed, but whose ideal of
life and character, be it real or be it affected, is about the last any one
would do well to follow.

Of living poets Tennyson alone comes up to the highest standard.
Others approach it on different sides, but on special sides only, and fail as
conspicuously in many of the attributes of the highest poetry as they excel
in others. Swinburne, for instance, almost equals Shelley in the exquisite
musical susceptibility of rhythm and language, but the ideas behind the
words are for the most part rhetorical, and exaggerated, like those of his
prototype, Victor Hugo. Browning again has intellect and insight, but
his style is so rugged and obscure that to read his poetry is almost like
trying to solve chess-problems. He is to Shelley or Tennyson what
Wagner is to Rossini or Beethoven; caviare to the multitude, and almost
outside the range of the true art which is based essentially on the beautiful.

Of other well-known poets, Pope is a great master of the art of weav-
ing appropriate words into harmonious verse, and his ideas are for the most
part clear and sensible. But they are not profound, and in his chief
philosophical work, the Essay on Man, he rather reflects, with point and
precision, the somewhat conventional and commonplace views of the
average intellect of his age than gives flashes of insight drawn from his
own inward struggles and experiences. The same may be said of Dryden,
who had a singular gift of terse and vigorous expression, which has made
so many of his lines survive in the form of standard quotations. But he
was hardly a deep and original thinker, and however much we may admire
his poetry we learn little from it.

Coleridge I hardly mention as a poet, for his principal work, as a reli-
gious philosopher influencing to a certain extent the spirit of his age, was
done in prose and in conversation. His Aids to Reflection was long the
text-book of the advanced thinkerc of Anglican theology, but his Chris-
tobel, Kubla Khan, and Ancient Mariner, admirable as they are, are little
more than the dreams of a gorgeous imagination. They might be the
visions of an "English Opium-Eater, " in the earlier stages of the seduc-
tive drug as described by De Quincey.

Of the early English poets, the names of Chaucer and Spenser stand
out pre-eminent. Spenser, indeed, has perhaps as large a share as any
other, even of the greatest poets, of that which is the substratum or first
requisite of all true poetry; the exquisite susceptibility to all that is beau-
tiful in the surrounding universe. But his philosophy does not go much

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