John Davidson.

Sentences and paragraphs online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryJohn DavidsonSentences and paragraphs → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

/* -





Author of * Scaramouch in Naxos,'

fttftXiov yueya KOKOV







I. Magnanimity ... ... i

II. How to please all a Man's Friends ... i

III. Prolific Writers 2

IV. Science and Philosophy dismissed in

a Sentence ... ... ... ... 4

V. Animals,: Improvement of Human,

Deterioration of Lower 5

VI. Musical Analysis ... ... ... 9

VII. Spontaneity ... ... ... ... 10

VIII. Over-indulgence in Imaginative Com-
position ... ... ... ... ii

IX. Keats 12

X. Tact and Principle ... ... ... 13

XI. Absurd Attempt of Criticism ... ... 13

XII. Ibsen's Plays 14

XIII. Adaptability of the True Cosmopolite 17

XIV. No Time to read Literature 19

XV. Want of Poetical Power a Great

Source of Verse 21

XVI. The Better Part 22

XVII. English Historical Names 22



XVIII. Ruskin's Poetry 24

XIX. Modern Troubadours ... ... 28

XX. Definition of Dignity 30

XXI. Evolution ... ... ... ... 30

XXII. Definition of Logic ... ... ... 30

XXIII. "L'EtSdes Toasts" 31

XXIV. A Sun-gazer of Gotham ... ... 32

XXV. The Stories about the Wise Men of

Gotham put into a Connected

Narrative ... ... ... 33

XXVI. Fanny Burney 42

XXVII. Smollett's " Regicide " 44

XXVIII. The Finest Kid 47

XXIX. The Age of Poetry 47

XXX. -I. Heather in Literature. Emily

Bronte and Lenau 48

XXXII. Matter-of-fact Writing 61

XXXIII. Henry Lemoine, a Forgotten Book-

seller, Baker, Satirist, Novelist,

&c. 62

XXXIV. Advice of Worldly Wiseman to his

Son 71

XXXV. Angels' Visits 71

XXXVI. Exercise for a Healthy Mind .. 71
XXXVII.-LVIII. Nietsche's Philosophy.

Aphorisms ... ... ... 72


LIX. Truth 84

LX. The Advantages of Want of Method 85
LXI.-II. Carlyle's "Excursion to Paris"

and " Wotton Reinfred " ... 88
LXIII. Definition of the "New Journalism" 97

LXIV. Anthropomorphism 97

LXV. A Mistake in Criticism 98

LXVI. The Age of Bovril 100

LXVII. Attempts at Blank Verse in French 102

LXVIII. A Meredith Society 103

LXIX. Difficulty of Thinking 104

LXX.-I. "Shop" ... ... ... ... 105

LXX1I. Merlin and Vivien

LXXIII. William Hazlitt

LXXIV. Publicity

LXXV. Literature a Trade

LXXVI. Three Kinds of Poets
LXXVII. -LXXXII. Fin de Siecle


1 20



THE first step towards magnanimity is to
perceive no lack of it in others.


If you praise a man you please only him-
self. In order to provide the greatest
happiness for the greatest number, you
must damn with faint praise, for then you
please all a man's friends.




It has been remarked that there is a
great discovery still to be made in
literature that of paying literary men by
the quantity they do not write. Without
seeing altogether how proper estimates
could be drawn up of the kind required
by this suggestion, most people have
doubtless great sympathy with the view of
literature it involves. Talk is not neces-
sarily literature, and of the numerous
living novelists who have produced more
than a dozen novels apiece, what is to be
said of many of them except that they
have talked too much ? A dozen substan-
tial three-volume novels and few modern
novelists are content with that number
will be found to contain nearly two
millions of words more than Shakespeare


and the Bible put together. Is it reason-
able to suppose that more than one or
two writers in a century can produce, not
two millions, but two hundred thousand
words, that can justly be called literature ?
One would not ask these prolific writers to
think of fame instead of guineas, but one
would like to ask them how it would stand
with their interests as rational beings pro-
vided with consciences, if they were to
cease producing new matter for a time, and
to employ themselves in taking what they
have already written seriously to task. It
would be a severe punishment, bringing
with it a rude awakening, if many of our
popular novelists were forced to study
their own books so as to be able to pass
an examination on their import and style.

B 2



When the heart and motives of con-
duct are in question, science may as
well poison itself with its last discovery, and
philosophy drown itself in its tub, as
pretend to lay down the law.



The human animal has steadily
improved, ridding itself as civilization
advanced of all monstrous and malformed
races, such as the one-legged tribe with
mushroom feet that did for tents, the
headless men whose faces were in their
chests, the people whose ears served them
for Inverness capes, the one-eyed men,
the dog-headed men, the elephant-headed
men, the centaurs, the satyrs, and the
sphinxes. These long ago disappeared so
completely from the face of the earth,
that if poets, historians, and draughtsmen
had not made descriptions and drawings
while they were extant, at least in memory,
we should have lost all authentic trace of
them ; even Africa can now boast of
nothing more curious than a tribe of


pigmies, well enough formed, and with
all their members. Perhaps one may be
allowed to confess to a lingering wish that
it were still possible to make the acquain-
tance of some gentle lady centaur ; on the
whole, however, one is glad to be rid of all
those other unfortunate miscreations.
But the brute beasts have sadly degener-
ated. It is not so much that remarkable
species have become extinct ; it is the
lamentable deterioration in those that
remain. The fox, for example what a
beast he once was. His craft is probably
as distinguished as ever, but his medicinal
qualities seem all to have faded. His
flesh, his blood, his lungs, his liver, his
lights, powdered, or baked, or boiled, were
sovereign remedies for wounds, and bruises,
and putrefying sores, and all the internal
diseases flesh is heir to. Then the zebra


he was indeed an animal. His skin,
half an inch thick, was attached to his
body only here and there, and came down
to his ankles slashed and puffed like
trunk-hose. Some of the cats were also
most original quadrupeds ; one, of which
a portrait is still extant, was a mere
articulation of Catherine-wheels and curly
crackers. The hippopotamus may be a wise
beast, but it is questionable if he still knows
how to phlebotomise himself. But the
most marvellously transformed of all
animals is the antelope. This comparatively
gentle and now proverbially timid creature
had formerly tusks like a boar, a horny
snout, a terrible eye, the tail of a lion,
beards all over his body, and horns like
saws with which to defeat armies and cut
down trees; and not half his virtues
were known even to Suidas. Of the


extinct animals the least to be regretted
are the eale, which had swivel horns of a
cubit in length, and the leucrocotta, whose
mouth extended from ear to ear, with one
continuous bone for teeth, and which
could imitate the human voice. The
bread-fruit tree is doubtless an admirable
contrivance; but how much better off
were our forefathers with lambs growing
in gourds, like natural pumpkin pies ? We
may not be sorry that the jaduah, a plant
bearing a baby, no longer blossoms,
although Philina would have liked it ;
but who will not regret the barnacle-geese,
or claiks, as they called them in Buchan,
which grew on trees, and were to be had
for the getting ? Indeed, indeed, sirs,
the lower creation seems to be going



It is difficult to sympathize with the
French and German musical analysts, who
examine every note in the scale, and
pulverize every feeling and idea experienced
through the influence of music, in order
to discover its soul : as satisfactory a
method, one would think, as that of the
biologist of Gotham, who put a body
through a mincing-machine in hopes of
detecting the vital principle.



Inaccuracy may be voluble, a lie may
be glib, but neither can be spontaneous.
Indeed, it may be said that spontaneity is
the vesture of veracity, of that veracity
which is clothed in mere accuracy of
statement, as well as of the higher veracity
of the imagination, which can never be
invested in the white light, the robe of
truth, but must remain divinely discon-
tented in its dazzling raiment, passionately
woven of many colours. And this is no
grievance. We can best contemplate
light as it decks itself in the green and
golden land, the pearl and sapphire sea.
The Gothamite who stared all day at the
sun to sharpen his eyes on the celes-
tial grindstone was blind when evening



Like all bad habits, the indulgence in
unrestrained imaginative composition
soon tyrannizes over the writer, be he
small or great. In youth incontinence of
utterance is expected, and has marked the
earliest work of some of the greatest men
of letters ; but it is an unnatural fury that
drives septuagenarians into the market-
place with indiscretions and ineptitudes,
with thoughts that should be secret and
feelings that should be shamefaced.



Setting aside his rapid progress, Keats
is the best illustration of the natural
development of a poet. Beginning and
ending his intemperate period with the too
ample verge and room, the trailing fringe
and sampler-like embroidery of " Endy-
mion," he was soon writing the most
perfect odes in the language ; he
elaborated in a few months a style, the
like of which greater men have failed
to achieve even in half a century of
uninterrupted work.



We must carefully distinguish between
the absence of tact and the presence of


Literary criticism is constantly attempting
a very absurd thing the explanation of
passionate utterance by utterance that is
unimpassioned : it is like trying to
paint a sunset in lamp-black.



In Ibsen's later plays we seem at last to
be shown men and women as they are ;
and it is at first more than we can endure.
It sets the brain whirling, this array of
naked souls. Bernick, Rosmer, Ellida,
Mrs. Alving, Rebecca, Hedda, Lovborg
men and women, weak or strong, they have
all to yield up their secret to this new
Wizard of the North. All Ibsen's charac-
ters speak and act as if they were hypno-
tized, and under their creator's imperious
command to reveal themselves. There
never was such a mirror held up to nature
before : it is too terrible. One cannot
read Dickens after a play of Ibsen's, hardly
even Thackeray. Refuge may be found
in Scott, whose men and women are
hidden in the trappings of romance ; or in


Shakespeare, where, though souls are
sometimes naked, they appear in " the
light that never was on sea or land," and
fill us with the melancholy we have learned
to love. Yet we must return to Ibsen
with his remorseless surgery, his remorse-
less electric light, until we, too, have
grown strong, and learned to face the
naked, if necessary, the flayed and
bleeding reality. It is well, once in a
lifetime, once in an age, to go down to the
roots of things, to put a thermometer in
the central fire, to grope about in caves
and mines, to search the bottom of the
sea ; but the earth is not a naked geologi-
cal specimen. It is a place to live on,
clothed with grass and forests, and
enamelled with flowers, with the atmo-
sphere for cloak, and sun, moon, and
stars for lamps. After a volume of the


later Ibsen it is refreshing to enumerate
these commonplaces. Neither is man, as
was long ago remarked, a naked animal,
nor is his soul unclothed : even those who
strip it of religion and duty are ready with
another garment, if it were only some
fantastic new protestantism of Every Man
His Own God. There is no such thing as
naked reality ; the attempt at it in litera-
ture is unreal, inasmuch as it is incomplete.
The trees and flowers are as real as the
soil from which they spring, and the so-
called illusions with which the soul clothes
itself are also a part of reality. To see
the soul stripped of these, and held out
like a heart plucked throbbing from a
living breast, is perhaps in our time a
necessary lesson. But once is enough.



There is a little water-creature revealed
by that great thaumaturge, the micro-
scopist, which has two coats, and can endure
without inconvenience a dry heat up to
212 Fahr. He may lie for years desic-
cated in some out-of-the-way corner, but
as soon as a drop of rain touches him he
becomes all alive, and goes grubbing
about among the water-plants in a most
independent manner. If the sun should
suck him up into a cloud he doesn't care,
but wraps himself tightly in his two coats,
and content and self-contained, floats
between heaven and earth awaiting the
next episode. This enviable and almost
invisible little fellow is the counterpart in
the inferior creation of that species of men
who, if they have James Howell's in-



capacity to lay a large grasp on the world,
are blessed like him with the good humour,
self-satisfaction, and adaptability of a true
cosmopolite. Though such a man may
"have many aspiring and airy, odd
thoughts," and be "on occasion of a
sudden distemper, sometimes a madman,
sometimes a fool, sometimes a melan-
choly odd fellow, having the humours
within that belong to all three," since
common sense is the chief quality of his
mind he can endure his flights of fancy
even to 212 Fahr. : and whether he be
lifted up above the earth in a glowing
cloud of royal or popular favour, or laid
aside waiting for the drop of rain that shall
swell him out once more to his portly
proportions, he is always patient, self-
reliant knows himself, and knows the



People complain nowadays that they
have no time for literature, there are so
many newspapers to read, every right-
thinking person being expected to know
daily the current news of the world, not
later in the evening than the issue of the
" extra special." It is supposed that this
is quite a modern excuse for the decay of
the reading of literature; and sighs are
deeply breathed for the time when
" Clarissa Harlowe " was deemed too
short, when " Evelina " was voted brilliant,
or when nobody found the Waverley
Novels tiresome. And yet, since we
began to have a prose literature this com-
plaint has always existed. The melan-
choly Butler, as far back as 1614, puts it
thus, speaking of the majority: "if they

C 2


read a book at any time, 'tis an English
chronicle, 'St. Huon of Bordeaux,'
'Amadas de Gaul,' etc., a play-book or
some pamphlet of news." The major
part of the reading public has been peren-
nially interested in current events, and the
man who says he can't find time to read
literature because it is a social duty to be
acquainted with news, makes a virtue of
curiosity, like any Greek frequenter of the
Areopagus or Jacobean subscriber to the
" Staple of News."



The want of poetical power is the
impelling force in the case of most
versifiers. They would fain be poets,
and imagine that the best way is to try to
write poetry, and to publish what they
write. They will never see their mistake.
Equus asinus still believes that the
possession of an organ of noise is suffi-
cient, with a little practice, to enable him
to sing like a nightingale.



He who dares manfully to lounge and
take his leisure, no matter what his calling
or what his necessity, often chooses the
better part.


It does one good to find that there are
still Willoughbys in Oxfordshire and
Bucks, Beaumonts, titled and untitled,
in Yorkshire, Leicester, Surrey, Notts,
Northumberland, and Ferrers in Warwick-
shire; Fanhope and Erpingham are un-
known to " Walford," nor is there now an
Earl of Oxford, or a Duke of Gloster.
But a Howard is Earl of Suffolk, and Guy
is Earl of Warwick. What though the
former title now dates from James I.,


and the latter from George II. ? In
honour of the glorious names let us say
the glorious verse :

" Warwick in blood did wade,
Oxford the foe invade,
And cruel slaughter made,

Still as they ran up ;
Suffolk his axe did ply,
Beaumont and Willoughby
Bare them right doughtily,

Ferrers and Fanhope."



Jean Paul found that he had done all
his thinking and imagining before his
eighteenth year, and that he had spent his
life in realizing in his writings and in his
conduct the dreams of his boyhood.
Ruskin, doubtless like other men of
letters, has had a similar experience.
He says in his old age, " I find in myself
nothing whatsoever changed. Some of
me is dead, more of me is stronger. I
have learned a few things, forgotten
many ; in the total of me I am but the
same youth, disappointed and rheumatic."
That the holder of such an opinion
should preserve his juvenilia from seven
years onwards, and " yielding to the
request of his friends" should permit


their publication, although not exactly
foregone conclusions, are things that should
surprise no one. It is not, perhaps,
too much to say that the Ruskin of
" Modern Painters," " The Stones of
Venice," " Fors Clavigera," &c., is to be
found in the two volumes of " Poems of
John Ruskin ; " but one unacquainted
with that later Ruskin could not possibly
detect in them the art critic, political
economist, moral censor, and latter-day
prophet whom the English - speaking
world knows, admires, and disbelieves, or
disobeys. And this remark is intended
to apply to the earlier poems on the
typical nature of which Ruskin himself
lays stress, as well as to those written
after he had attained his majority. It is
beyond expression childish to ask us to
recognize in this couplet, written at the


age of eight, the political economist in
embryo :

" And the water wheel turns slowly round
Grinding the corn that requires to be ground ; "

and equally absurd to point to the follow-
ing verses from the same piece as fore-
telling " Stones of Venice," and " Queen
of the Air":

" And quarries with their craggy stones,
And the wind among them moans."

To a mind excessively analogical like
Ruskin's, any one thing can stand for any
other : a bee may appear only a more
highly developed bull's foot. It would be
just as easy to detect a future Ruskin in
the juvenilia of Tennyson or Browning as
in Ruskin's own early verse. No man
can be other than himself, even under
conditions the most adverse to his


development. But the fact is, that in
Ruskin's poetry there is much less of him-
self than young writers of capacity usually
contrive to put into their early work. The
great prose stylist, as he himself long ago
confessed, made a false start when he
donned the Byronic collar and set off to
climb Parnassus.



Those modern troubadours, those
Parisian Sordellos, the Felibres and Ciga-
liers, have as yet only attempted to resusci-
tate the Langue d*Oc. There is no word
of the re-establishment of Courts of Love,
or the drawing of a code for the regulation
of affairs of the heart or rather of the
fancy. Should the modern professors of
the Gay Science extend their revival to
the reconstitution of the whole fantastic
polity of the Provencal love-makers, it is
to be hoped that the head, as of yore, and
not the heart, will be the source of the
poetical passion, especially when it is
remembered that, according to the old
articles, as reported by Raynouard, "true
love cannot exist between husband and
wife," and that " nothing prevents a


woman from being loved by two men, or
a man from being loved by two women."
Probably our modern troubadours will
remain satisfied with the composition of
poems after the manner of Mistral and
Jasmin chants, chansons, sons, sonets,
albas, serenas, and planhs ; and with their
annual August escape into Provence from
the exigencies of a time too much con-
cerned about ways and means, social,
political, and economic, to take any but
the most transitory interest in artificial
revivals of long-forgotten manners, or to
listen even in passing to the " stretched
metre of an antique song."



Dignity is impudence.


Those who are convinced of the
absolute truth of Evolution are merely
bigots, as intolerant as those who formerly
believed in witchcraft or a concrete hell.
No mind is so much given over to
delusions as the logical one.


Logic is the strong delusion which God



The French christened the summer
of 1891 " F'et'e des toasts." Fraternization
in every language and every latitude
marked it. One Frenchman imagined
himself exclaiming twenty years hence
when he is an Academician, " Ah ! mes
enfants ! What a lovely time that was !
So fertile in miracles ! The very English
were polite ! " The French still believe
what Froissart said five hundred years ago,
that the " English are the most outrage-
ous people in the world ; " and they think
it specially good of us to have tamed our
native savagery on the occasion of their



We can see only as far as our sight will
carry ; and paltry souls detect paltriness
everywhere. It was a man of Gotham
who first perceived, after staring at it with
his naked eyes for an hour, that the sun
was only a spot with some splashes of
light on it.



Here follpw, strung together for the
first time, such of the chapbook stories
of the Wise Men of Gotham as will bear
the light :

Gotham attained its notoriety in the
reign of King John. That misguided
monarch, being on a journey to Notting-
ham, desired to pass through Gotham,
and sent word of his intention. The
inhabitants, already apparently in an
incipient state of Gothamic wisdom,
assembled to consider the King's message.
One of the townsmen, a more fully
developed wiseacre than the others,
explained to his fellows that the ground
over which the King passed must for ever
after be a public road, and advised them,
if they wished to avoid that calamity, to



entreat the King to go by some other way,
and even to take steps to prevent his
Majesty from passing through Gotham.
An indefinable terror took possession
of the people. A public road through
their town ! It was not to be thought of.
No one stopped to inquire what evils were
dreaded, but sent incontinently to the
King praying him to choose another road,
and plainly stating that they would oppose
his passage if he did not. There can
have been no particular advantage in
going by Gotham, for the King did take
another way. He was, however, as
became a King, deeply incensed at the
proceedings of the Gothamites, and sent
to inquire of them the reason of their
incivility and ill-treatment, with the
comforting assurance that it would
need to be a very good reason indeed


if they wished to escape punishment.
The people of Gotham, hearing of the
nature of the royal message before its
arrival, developed all of them into wise-
acres of the first water, and hit upon
an expedient worthy of Ulysses. When
the King's messengers came, they could
find no one whom they deemed able to
give an answer " in any constant
question," not to speak of such a delicate
matter as a reply to an incensed monarch.
The first sign of the strange mental con-
dition of the Gothamites that the King's
messengers met was a cheese, which came
rolling down the hill to Nottingham. A
little way up the hill they saw a man
standing watching the cheese with a
wallet full of cheeses on his back. This
man, when they came close to him, took
no notice of them, but continued watch-

D 2


ing the cheese ; and when it was out of
sight, " So," said he to himself, " what a

1 3 4

Online LibraryJohn DavidsonSentences and paragraphs → online text (page 1 of 4)