Copyright
Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

. (page 17 of 38)
Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 17 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


any man in the world, even if the man is an author. That
literature is the strongest, therefore, which reaches the
widest basis for discussion. And still again, in America
this advantage reaches, as I maintain, to the very lan-
guage of literature and to the language ultimately of the
community at large. We get a vast deal of criticism, of
course, upon American slang, from visitors, who, when
left to themselves, acquire slang enough to take the most
experienced American's breath away. [Applause.] We
are constantly confronted in society in London with
American phrases such as we never heard of in America.
A very accomplished lady said to me once : " It seems to
me very strange that you Americans who seem so kindly,
should always address every man you meet as * stranger,'
whereas in England men always greet each other as * my
friend.' ' I could scarcely convince this lady that it had
been many years since I had been addressed as
" stranger." She said : " I thought you began every sen-
tence with * Well, stranger, I guess.' * I admit frankly
that we have any number of Americanisms, any number
of obsolete phrases still preserved among us ; but what I
believe is this: that the English language like all other
languages is in constant process of development. Slang



574



THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON



is only good English. I solemnly believe that this devel-
opment goes on best in a democratic community. And
why? What is the root of all language? Actual life
the life of every day. Where do the strong words come
from? From the life of every day. The literary man
does not make them. If he is not true to everything else
he is a little afraid of a new word. The dictionary makers
do not make them. Their office is to record and define
the language of other people.

The people themselves are the source of strong lan-
guage ; and Emerson himself, the most refined of scholars,
points out that if you want a vigorous vocabulary you
must not go to the clubs and universities, but you must
go to the men around the anvil, the shoemakers on their
benches, and the gossips in the village shops. They make
the words, they make them strongly tfieir words go like
bullets to the mark. Once in my native town in my
youth, when we had put in a highly educated college grad-
uate for Mayor, there occurred a large fire in the outskirts
of the town. At the ringing of the bells the Mayor took
his gold-headed cane and walked in the direction of the
fire. People were running across his way and were busy
in their efforts to put out the flames. There was one man
running with a fire-bucket in his hands, and as the Mayor
stood resting with his hands upon his cane he accosted
the man and said : " Can you inform me as to the probable
origin of this alarming conflagration?" "Sot, I guess,"
replied the man, and ran on with his fire-bucket. That
is where language comes from; that is the vigor of lan-
guage. [Applause.]

Some of you can recall the time, a great many years
ago, when, as we had done the Indians a good deal of
injury, it seemed as if something ought to be adopted by
way of return, the men took up the fashion of wearing
blankets around their shoulders. I was then young and
ardent, and bought a blanket. I went out and walked
down the street of the rural city where I lived, and as I
approached a building where the rat-tat-tat of the carpen-
ters' hammers were very busy on the roof, I noticed that
it diminished gradually, and then ceased altogether. I
was conscious of attracting attention. That did not sur-
prise me. At certain periods of youth it does not seem



LITERATURE IN A REPUBLIC



575



strange that all business should stop to look at a new gar-
ment; and presently a voice " fell like a morning star," as
Longfellow expresses it, to this effect : " H'm horse-
blankets is riz." All the persuasion of the fairest lips
could not have induced me that day to lay aside that
blanket. But it never occurred again, and it passed out
of use, except as a lap-robe in traveling in the railway-car
or the carriage.

But this is what I mean by vigor of language. Yet this
tendency, if left to itself in the uneducated people, would
simply separate that people, and make of them a class
with a wholly different dialect. When it belongs to a
people among whom education is universal, or becoming
universal, it keeps the language in its vigor; keeps it from
decaying; keeps it alive. You need the education. With-
out the education, the vigor remains, but the language
grows narrower and narrower, for want of education.
We see this much more in the Southern blacks, for in-
stance. A very few words do for their vocabulary, but
these few retain their vigor. Once in a negro regiment
during the war I was talking with a stately, jet-black
Nubian woman, characterized by that majesty of bearing
which results from 1;he carrying of baskets on their heads,
about a child in whom she was interested, and whom some
other person had inveigled away from her. She described
to me the relations she bore to the child, and said : "I take
she when she am dat high, and now if him wants to leave
we let her go." It was not perfect grammar, but the
thought was there. And as I believe the best language in
the world is destined to be produced among the demo-
cratic races. All classes share something of the vigor
which is the root of language, and all share something of
the culture, without which, language retaining its vigor
becomes dry and narrow and disappointing. [Applause.]

But perhaps I ought to speak distinctively as I go on,
about literature as a profession, desirable or undesirable,
for the young. I see here, possibly, before me, many
young men or maidens who are penetrating that question.
I find myself sometimes in a minority with literary men
who do not ask for advice on that question, but carry out
" Punch's " advice to young men about to marry, and say
" don't."



576 THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON

Literature as a profession has an advantage in this
country. The disadvantage you are constantly told just
now in the newspapers in the discussion growing out of
the copyright discussion, is that literature is not paid
well; that a man cannot make his living out of it; that a
man is tempted into other occupations, or to combine
other occupations, because he cannot live by literature.
There is no doubt in my mind that the thing can be done.

The criticism comes, perhaps, from those who either
have not done it or have not been willing to do it, or have
not been satisfied to the extent to which they can do it.
When a patient dies, everybody in the house is convinced
that if they had brought in the other doctor instead of
that one, he would have been cured. When a man does
not make a living at literature you cannot convince that
man that he wouldn't, if he had only had the wisdom in
early life to become a dentist, or a civil engineer, have
been a howling success.

People are not easily convinced that they have made a
mistake. It is much easier to convince them that the
whole community is making a mistake in not appreciat-
ing them. There is no doubt that the maximum rewards,
pecuniarily, in this country are withheld from literature;
they are withheld from law, they are withheld from medi-
cine. It is not necessary to say that they are withheld
from the pulpit: that requires no argument.

If you wish your son or daughter to go in for the im-
mense prizes, do not make him a literary man, or her a
literary woman, of course, but do not make them lawyers,
do not make them doctors, do not make them anything
of what we call the educated professions. Fling them in
among the bulls and bears of the Stock Exchange, and
if they come out alive, which they probably will not, they
may come out with millions to their credit in the bank,
but think of the risk that is involved. I do not speak of it
morally ; we will let that go for the moment ; but the risk
on the other side. The comparative safety of the liter-
ary man's life is one of its great advantages. He is safer
than the lawyer, he is safer than the physician, he is so
much safer than the great capitalist of Wall Street, that
there is not a moment's comparison to be made.

Once when I was living at Newport I lived next door



LITERATURE IN A REPUBLIC



577



to a man who received a salary of $30,000 a year for
doing nothing. He could do anything he wished except
to use the family name in the manufacture of tobacco.
He was given this immense salary to keep out of the
business, the money being given him by his elder brother.
I know of many young men who would take that contract
with perfect security of fulfilling it. The brother of the
man I have just spoken of made, it is said, $700,000 a year
out of his monopoly. There is the standard. I do not
pretend that I know many literary men who make $700,-

000 a year by literature. [Laughter.] If that is what
you aim at you had better inquire at some other establish-
ment. You will not find it there. No professional man
makes that. The lawyer who makes $100,000 a year is
not to be found, I am told, in New York. The lawyer
who makes $50,000 a year, the physician who makes
$50,000 a year is rarely to be found anywhere. I have
heard of one clergyman who was said to have an income
of $20,000 a year, and believing it somewhat incredible, I
took the liberty to write to him on the subject an emi-
nent clergyman of New York and he wrote to me that
it was all nonsense, and he could not imagine where the
report came from.

There have been authors in America who for several
years in succession made $20,000 a year. I doubt if there
was ever in America an author who made more than
$10,000 a year for several years in succession ten years
we will say. The number of authors in America who
make $5,000 a year by their pen is said to be no greater
than you can count on the fingers of both hands, although

1 observe myself, especially when international copyright
is under discussion, a singular humility about my brother
authors as to announcing their receipts, and they are all
so anxious to plead poverty that you can hardly find one
here and there, like Mr. Cable or Mr. Clemens, who is
willing to admit that on the whole he earns an honest
living.

But taking $5,000 a year as a respectable standard for
a reasonably successful man, and it certainly is a reason-
able standard, because it is the standard upon which we
pay our members of Congress, and, inasmuch as they fix
their own rate of pay, or at least for ensuing years, if they



578



THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON



do not know how much they are worth, who should ? As
we pay our judges that amount, except in the larger
cities, why should we have such profound pity for the
literary man, to whom, if he is tolerably successful and
willing to work as hard as men would work in those other
professions, an income of $5,000 a year is as practicable
as it is for them ? [Applause.]

It is my hope that, if there is one who is led into pleas-
ant paths of literature through any words I have said
to-night, it is my hope that it will be in this spirit of self-
respect and of true nationality. I am glad to express the
belief that literature, as a profession in America, has an
end that may worthily command the attention of the
young and the ambitious, and if it exists at all it is surely
one of the highest forms of human activity. Without a
great literature no nation is permanently great. Without
literature history has no lasting heroism, beauty no chron-
icle, emotion no echo, and without it all the vast achieve-
ments and sacrifices of our great civil strife, all the com-
ing achievements and glories of our great Exposition,
will have nothing to secure for us a permanent place.
[Applause.]



NEWELL D WIGHT HILLIS

Photogravure after a photograph from life



NEWELL DWIGHT HILLIS



JOHN RUSKIN

[Lecture by Newell D wight Hillis, pastor of Plymouth Church,
Brooklyn, since 1899, previously of the Central (Independent) Church,
Chicago (born in Magnolia, Iowa, September 2, 1858; ), deliv-
ered in various parts of the country, as a Sunday evening sermon-
lecture. The particular theme of the discourse is indicated by its
formal title : " John Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture as In-
terpreters of the Seven Laws of Life: a Study of the Principles of
Character-Building."]

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: Among the heroic souls
who have sought to recover the lost paradise and recap-
ture the glory of an undefiled' and blessed world stands
John Ruskin, oft an apostle of gentle words that heal like
medicines, and sometimes a prophet of Elijah-like stern-
ness and grandeur, consuming man's sins with words of
flame. "There is nothing going on among us," wrote
Carlyle to Emerson, " as notable as those fierce lightning
bolts Ruskin is copiously and desperately pouring into the
black world of anarchy around him. No other man has
in him the divine rage against iniquity, falsity, and base-
ness that Ruskin has, and every man ought to have."

Full fifty years have passed since this glorious youth
entered the arena, his face glowing with hope, the heroic
flame of the martyrs burning within his breast, his mes-
sage a plea for a return to the simplicities of virtue. Dur-
ing all these years he has been pouring forth prose of a
purity and beauty that have never been surpassed. Over
against the brocaded pages of Gibbon and the pomposity
of Dr. Johnson's style stands Ruskin's prose, every page
embodied simplicity, every sentence clear as a cube of

From "Great Books as Life Teachers." Published by permission.



580



NEWELL DWIGHT HILLIS



solid sunshine. Effects that Keats produced only through
the music and magic of verse, John Ruskin has easily
achieved through the plainness of prose. What Leigh
Hunt said of Shelley we may say of Ruskin he needs
only the green sod beneath his feet to make him a kind of
human lark, pouring forth songs of unearthly sweetness.

But if the critics vote him by acclamation the first
prose writer of the century, it must be remembered that
his fame does not rest upon his skill as a literary artist.
An apostle of beauty and truth, indeed, Ruskin is pri-
marily an apostle of righteousness. Unlike Burns and
Byron, Shelley and Goethe, no passion ever poisoned his
purposes, and no vice ever disturbed the working of his
genius. What he taught in theory he first was in char-
acter and did in practice. Rich with great wealth, in-
herited and acquired, he refused interest upon his loans,
and having begun with giving away his income, he ended
by giving away much of his capital. Unlike that rich
young man who went away from Christ sorrowful, John
Ruskin gladly forsook all possessions to follow Jesus.
The child of leisure, he chose to earn to-morrow's bread
by to-day's labor and toil.

Going every whither seeking for pictures and marbles
that represented ideal beauty, he used these art treasures
not so much for enriching his own life, and happiness, as
for diffusing the beautiful and furnishing models to labor-
ers who worked in iron, steel, and stone. If other rich
men have given money to found workingmen's clubs,
Ruskin gave himself also, and lent the toilers independ-
ence and self-reliance. It is said that through his favorite
pupil, Arnold Toynbee, he developed the germ of the
social settlements. But his fame rests neither upon his
work as an art critic, nor his skill as a prose author, nor
his work as a social reformer ; it rests rather upon his un-
ceasing emphasis of individual worth as the secret of hap-
piness and progress. If Mazzini preached the gospel of
social rights, and Carlyle the gospel of honest work and
Matthew Arnold the gospel of culture, and Emerson the
gospel of insanity and optimism, John Ruskin's message,
repeated in a thousand forms, is one message never al-
tered and never retreated from goodness is more than
gold, and character outweighs intellect. Because he



JOHN RUSKIN 581

stood for fine, high heroic regimen, he conquered confi-
dence, and has his place among the immortals.

If we search out the fascination of Ruskin's later works,
we shall find the secret in their intense humanity. Lov-
ing nature, Ruskin's earliest, latest, deepest enthusiasm
was for man. With eager and passionate delight, in
" Modern Painters " he sets forth the claim of rock and
wave, of herb and shrub, upon man's higher life. But the
white clouds, the perfumed winds, the valleys covered
with tended corn and cattle, the mountains robed in pine
as with the garments of God, seemed as nothing com-
pared to man, who goes weeping, laughing, loving
through his pathetic career. One morning, crossing the
field toward Matterhorn, he met a suffering peasant, and
in that hour the mountain became as nothing in the pres-
ence of his brother man. In all his later books, there-
fore, he is a light-bearer, seeking to guide men into hap-
piness and virtue. He reminds the weary king and tor-
mented slave alike that the secrets of happiness are in
" drawing hard breath over chisel, or spade, or plow, in
watching the corn grow and the blossom set, and, after
toil, in reading, thinking, in hoping and praying." Would
any man be strong, let him work; or wise, let him observe
and think; or happy, let him help; or influential, let him
sacrifice and serve. Does some youth deny beauty to the
eye, books to the mind, and friendship to the heart, that
he may gather gold and daily eat stalled ox in a palace?
Such a one is a prince who hath voluntarily entered a
dungeon to spend his time gathering the rotting straw
from the damp stones to twist it into a filthy wreath for
his forehead. Does some Samson of industry use his
superior wisdom to gather into his hands all the lines of
some branch of trade while others starve? He is like
unto a wrecker, who lures some good ship upon the rocks
that he may clothe himself with garments and possess
purses unwrapped from the bodies of brave men slain by
deceit. Wealth, he asserts, is like any other natural
power in nature divine if divinely used. In the hands
of a miserly man wealth is clogged by selfishness and be-
comes like rivers that " overwhelm the plains, poisoning
the winds, their breath pestilence, their work famine,"
while honest and benevolent wealth is like those rivers



582



NEWELL DWIGHT HILLIS



that pass softly from field to field, moistening the soil,
purifying the air, giving food to man and beast, bearing
up fleets of war and peace.

For John Ruskin the modern Pharisee was the man
who prayed, " God, I thank thee that I am not as other
men are; I feast seven days a week, while 1 have made
other men fast." And against every form of selfishness
and injustice he toiled, ever seeking to overthrow the
kingdoms of Mammon and Belial, laboring to make his
lL.nd a " land of royal thrones for kings, a sceptered isle for
all the world, a realm of light, a center of peace, a mistress
of arts, a faithful guardian of great memories, in the
midst of irreverence and ephemeral visions." But from
the first volume of " Modern Painters " to the last pages
of the " Prseterita " his own message is, Doing is better
than seeming, giving is better than getting, and stooping
to serve better than climbing toward the throne to wear
an outer crown and scepter.

Over against these books dealing with man's ambitions,
strifes, defeats and sins stands Ruskin's " Lamps of Archi-
tecture," a book written at an hour when the sense of
life's sins, sorrows, and wrongs swept through his heart
with the might of a destroying storm. In that hour when
the pen dropped from his hands and hope departed from
his heart, one problem distracted his mind by day and
'disturbed his sleep by night "Why is the fruit shaken
to the earth before its ripeness, the glowing life and the
goodly purpose dissolved away in sudden death, the words
half spoken chilled upon the lips touched into clay for-
ever, the whole majesty of humanity raised to its fulness,
with every gift and power necessary for a given purpose
at a given moment centered in one man, and all this per-
fected blessing permitted to be refused, perverted,
crushed, and cast aside by those who need it most the
city which is not set upon a hill, the candle that giveth
light to none enthroned in the candlestick"? The
world's ingratitude to its best men rested like a black
cloud upon his spirit. In that hour when the iron entered
his soul and ingratitude blighted the blossoms of the
heart, Ruskin turned from the baseness of man to the
white statue that lifts no mailed hand to strike, and ex-
changed the coarse curses of the market-place for the



JOHN RUSKIN 583

sacred silence of the cathedral. He knew that if whole-
some labor wearies at first, afterward it lends pleasure;
that if the frosty air now chills the peasant's cheek, after-
ward it will make his blood the warmer. But he also
knew that " labor may be carried to a point of utter ex-
haustion from which there is no recovery ; that cold pass-
ing to a certain point will cause the arm to molder in
its socket," and that heart-sickness through ingratitude
may cause the soul to lose its life forever.

Leaving behind the tumult of the street and the din
of the market-place, he entered the cathedral, hoping in.
its silence and peace to find healing of life's hurts. Stand-
ing beneath the vast dome, in vision hour he saw Von
Rile or Angelo, stretching out hands upon the stones of
the field and rearing them into some awful pile with vast
springing arches and intrepid pinnacles that go leaping
toward Him whose home is above the clouds and beyond
them. He saw walls all glorious with lustrous beauty,
and knew that artists had taken the flower-girls from the
streets and turned them into angels for the ceiling; had
taken the shrunken beggar, ho'bbling homeward, and
made him to reappear upon the canvas as an Apollo of
beauty. He saw chapels once the scene of rubbish, plas-
ter, and litter become chapels of peace, glowing with an-
gels and prophets and sibyls.

One day, crossing the square of Venice, he saw St.
Mark's rising like a vision out of the ground, its front
one vast forest of clustered pillars of white and gold and
rose, upon which rested domes glorious enough to have
been let down from heaven ; a pile made partly of mother-
of pearl, partly of opal, partly of marble, every tower
surmounted by a golden cross flinging wide its arms to
uplift the world, every niche holding some angel upon
whose lips trembled words of mercy and healing. Lin-
gering there, slowly the fever passed from his heart and
the fret from his mind. Studying the laws by which
foundations were made firm, by which towers were made
secure and domes perfect, he completed a volume in
which he forgot man, and remembered only the problems
of stone and steel and wood ; and yet as we analyze these
chapters we find that these seven lamps of architecture
are in reality the seven laws of life and happiness. For



584



NEWELL DWIGHT HILLIS



the soul is a temple more majestic than any cathedral a
temple in which principles are foundation stones, and
habits are columns and pillars, and facilities are master-
builders, every thought driving a nail and every deed
weakening or making strong some timber, every holy as-
piration lending beauty to the ceiling, as every unclean
thing lends defilement the whole standing forth at last
builded either of passions, worthless as wood, hay, and
stubble, or builded of thoughts and purposes more
precious than gold and flashing gems.

Lingering long in the cities of Italy, Ruskin found some
temples in the full pride of their strength and the perfec-
tion of their beauty, having passed unharmed through
the snows of a thousand winters and the storms of a
thousand summers. But other temples he found that
were mere shells of their former loveliness, bare skele-
tons of pierced walls, here a tower and there an arch.
Studying these deserted temples through which the sea
wind moaned and murmured, and the ruins that time was
plowing into dust, he discovered that no robber's hand
had wrought this ruin, that no fire had consumed the arch
or overthrown the column. In Venice the roof of the
great church had fallen because the architect had put ly-
ing stones in the foundation. In Verona the people had
deserted the cathedral because the architect had built
columns of plaster and painted them to look like veined
marble, forgetting that time would soon expose the ugly,
naked lie. One day, entering a church in a heavy rain-
storm, he found buckets placed to catch the rain that was
dripping from the priceless frescoes of Tintoretto because



Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 17 of 38)