« ZurückWeiter »
Macaulay;” Courthope's “Life of Addison ;” or Holmes' “Life of Emerson” and not come into a closer contact with the literary habit and spirit of those authors than could possibly be obtained by the most conscientious perusal of their writings.
II. We note a second method of inducing such literary spirit and style in-Personal Familiarity with Literary Scenes, Places and Memorials—with the “Homes and Haunts of Poets," as Mr. Howitt has described them, in his charming volume on, “British Poets." We know of but few experiences which would so stir within the soul of an English student every literary element and motive as a month or two of travel through the British Isles, with the object of visiting the homes and schools and scenes and graves of Britain's greatest authors. A visit to the celebrated English Lake Country, where Coleridge and De Quincey lived awhile ; where Wordsworth lived, at Rydal Mount, and where he lies buried in the old village yard at Grasmere ; to stand by the tomb of Southey in Keswick; to walk out through the English leas from Eton College to Stoke Pogis, and stand in the old churchyard where Thomas Gray wrote his “Elegy" and where are his tomb and monument ; to visit Dryburgh Abbey, where the great Sir Walter Scott is buried ; to walk through the beautiful Ayrshire district and stop a while at the little peasant cottage in which Robert Burns was born and in which he penned his simple Scottish lyrics ; to spend an hour, outside of Rome, in the Protestant Godsacre, and stand by the graves of Keats and Shelley, or to sit on the shore of the Bay of Spezzia, over whose waters Byron and Shelley sailed together and in whose depths Shelley found his grave; to walk through the halls of Trinity College, Dublin, where Edmund Burke was a student, and, so, on to the Cathedral where Dean Swift administered the rites of the church; to ride through the town of Auburn, of which Goldsmith so plaintively sings in his “Deserted Village ; above all, to walk along the lines of busts and memorials in Westminster Abbey, where lies the dust of England's greatest authors, from Chaucer to Coleridge and, in the village church at Stratford, to sit at the shrine of Shakespeare and think how Englishmen before us have written in prose and in verse-all this is nothing short of inspiring and stimulating to any sensitive literary nature, and kindles within him the unquenchable desire to do something, at least, in the line of his immortal predecessors, and worthy of his English name and lineage. There is a secret and an all-effective law of affinity and sympathy at work in such an experience as this, and we feel as we look upon such scenes as these, that it becomes us, and is binding upon us, to take up the work that these sons of song and masters of prose laid down and maintain the reputation of English Letters.
III. Personal Contact with Living Authors.
This was one of the great occasions and offices of those literary clubs that flourished in the days of Elizabeth and Queen Anne and have, to some extent, existed in all distinctively literary eras. Whatever their social or politicial purposes may have been, their main design was to encourage authorship. Timid and rising authors came to these clubs with their latest and best work for criticism and consequent acceptance or rejection. Authors, old and young, compared notes and exchanged greetings ; studied together the literary history of their time ; watched with anxiety all signs of decadence, and hailed with delight every evidence of genuine literary progress. The Old Mermaid, of the days of Ben Jonson ; and the October Club, of the days of Steele, were centres of literary influence second to none in the United Kingdom. Modern successors of these older organizations are established in London, Edinburgh, Boston and New York. Wits are sharpened thereby ; sympathies kindled ; errors corrected and excellencies encouraged,—in a word, literary taste and style are directly developed. The effect is altogether tonic and healthful. What Mr. Disraeli has called “The Amenities of Literature" verified and expressed. The literary spirit, back of all book and pen and suggestive scene, is begotten and the way is widely opened for the best results for authorship.
These and kindred privileges will do more than
all other agencies combined to quicken within a writer whatever literary taste there is and to inspire the ever stronger ambition to develop it to fuller measure. He is to be congratulated whose earliest teachers were men of pronounced literary culture and able to impress, in a healthful way, their literary personality upon their pupils. The old English Universities are thus pervaded with liter
Cambridge, the seat of Harvard University, is especially fortunate in this regard, in that literature is there a fact as well as a theory, and Cambridge students aspiring to literary excellence have about them, in the persons of Holmes and Lowell, Childs and Norton, living exponents of literary art.
We note—That Modern English and American influences are as hostile to the Literary style as they are to the Intellectual. It must be confessed that, even in the best periods of our literature, this particular type of style has been far too limited in its expression. If Addison and Lamb and De Quincey possessed it, Swift and Ben Jonson did not; if Landor and Goldsmith and Burke and Macaulay possessed it, Bacon and Hooker, Hume and Gibbon and Carlyle did not, nor is it manifest, to any marked degree, in Thackeray and Bulwer and in such living authors as Froude and Freeman and McCarthy and our own venerable historian, Bancroft. Whatever these styles are, they are not literary ; especially in the sense of being conspicuously natural and finished.
Any careful observer of the prevailing influences now at work in the mother country and at home will readily discern their anti-literary character. As the geologists would say, the drift or trend is toward the practical and commercial. Modern materialism is not confined to the schools as a metaphysical theory, but has assumed a wider scope, taking the form, far too largely, of a philosophy of life, the one incentive of all human activity. Trade, barter and profit ; practical schemes and immediate results are the staple of conversation, and the main forms of individual and civic endeavor. All this has its value in certain directions, but is unfriendly, in the extreme, to the literary character and style. Not only have printers and publishers become more and more commercial in their callings, but authors themselves are inclined to make literary productions a question purely of supply and demand ; profit and loss; so many pages for so much a page—and, ere we are aware, book-making, as it is called, is reduced to the level of a market transaction and all parties are satisfied.
The direct influence of such a procedure as this upon the rising generation of writers and upon our academic students, ambitious in authorship, is anything but helpful. Style, we are told, is worth what it will bring at the exchange. If the literary order of style has nothing to commend it but the fact that it is the expression of the finer and more cultivated side of one's nature, then •must it be