« ZurückWeiter »
counteracting agencies are needed-those weightier and more substantial orders of prose expression that serve to steady literature and give it permanence in history. This is one of the primary offices of the style before us. It opposes the undue influences of the unintellectual in writing. It insists upon the primacy of mental faculty and method in letters over all else that may compete with it. It holds that the author shall, first of all, be the thinker.
Hence, prose must be prominent over poetry ; historical and philosophic prose over the descriptive, miscellaneous and imaginative ; the mental and ethical, over the ästhetic. In our time and nation, when books are fast giving way to pamphlets, periodicals and the daily issues of the press; when public taste is satisfied with an order of literature designed, only, to divert the attention for the moment; it is solemnly incumbent on the educated writer to bring the educational elements of style to the front; to raise the standard of common criticism in questions of authorship, and to write, as Milton wrote, for the “times succeeding.” An author, by the very etymology of the word, is one who adds to the sum of human knowledge ; who, in the true Baconian sense, aims by his pen to secure the advancement of learning.
The Intellectual style, we may add, is, by way of emphasis, the style of the student and the scholar, specially adapted to his introspective habit and to the general tenor of his daily work as
a seeker after truth. University and college men should, as such, be personally partial to its acquisition and practice; should view it and defend it as the first order of style, and insist, both in their undergraduate and graduate life, that, when they write, they write in a scholarly manner, not properly expected of those outside the pale of educational privilege. In the present dangerous drift of English style toward the superficial and flippant, what is to become, we submit, of general literary taste and the best interests of our national authorship, if English and American students fail to apply the discipline they have received and are receiving to the definite province of literary work, in the form of a stable, thoughtful, Websterian style ? Next to God himself, the greatest entity in the world is, Thought-the greatest force among forces, the greatest factor in the progress of the race : and when a man sits down to write, in the self-assumed character of a teacher of men, the rational presumption is, that he has something to say for which the world has been waiting ; by which the existing product of human intelligence shall be increased or revived. Style, we repeat, postulates thought and a thinker, and, in justice to this its fundamental postulate and its final purpose, must be, in the truest sense of the term, intellectual.
Examples. Another error, of a diverse nature from all the former, is the over-early and peremptory reduction of knowledge into arts and methods; from which time, commonly, sciences receive small or no augmentation. But as young men, when they knit and shape perfectly, do seldom grow to a further stature, so knowledge, while it is in aphorisms and observations, it is in growth, but when it once is comprehended in exact methods, it may perchance be further polished and accommodated for use and practice ; but-it increaseth no more in substance. Another error is an impatience of doubt and haste to assertion, without due and mature suspension of judgment. For the two ways of contemplation are not unlike the two ways of action, commonly spoken of by the ancients; the one, plain and smooth, in the beginning and in the end, impassable; the other, rough and troublesome, in the entrance, but, after a while, fair and even ; so it is in contemplation ; if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
But the greatest error of all the rest is, the mistaking or misplacing of the last or furthest end of knowledge. For men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes, upon a natural curiosity, and inquisitive appetite; sometimes, to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes, for ornament and reputation ; and, sometimes, to
enable them to victory of wit and contradiction ; and, most times, for lucre and profession, and, seldom, sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason to the benefit and use of men.-Bacon's " Advancement of Learning.”
In that great social organ, which, collectively, we call Literature, there may be distinguished two separate offices that may blend, and often do so, but capable, severally, of a severe insulation, and naturally fitted for reciprocal repulsion. There is, first, the literature of knowledge, and, secondly, the literature of power. The function of the first is to teach ; the function of the second is to move. The first speaks to the mere discursive understanding; the second speaks, ultimately, it may happen, to the higher understanding or reason, but always through affections of pleasure and sympathy. . . . It is in relation to these great moral capacities of man that the literature of power lies and has its field of action. It is concerned with what is highest in man; for the Scriptures themselves never condescend to deal, by suggestion or co-operation, with the mere discursive understanding. The very highest work that has ever existed in the literature of knowledge is but a provisional work, a book upon trial and sufferance. Whereas, the feeblest works in the litera. ture of power, surviving at all, survive as finished and unalterable amongst men.-De Quincey's “ Miscellanies.”
Extension, we know, is a very imperfect measure of things ; and the length of the sun's journeying can no more tell us how far life has advanced than the acreage of a field can tell us what growths may be active within it. A man may go south and stumbling over a bone, may meditate upon it till he has found a new starting point for anatomy ; or eastward and discover a new key to language, telling a new story of races ; or he may head a new expedition that opens new continental pathways, get himself maimed in body, and go through a whole heroic poem of resolve and endurupon that particular form of knowledge called literary, the aggregated product of the world's best literature. The literary style is based on literary authorship, as the intellectual style is based on intellectual authorship. The writer must be, in this sense, a man of books, fully at home in the literature of the past and present; conversant with the great authors of classical antiquity and with the equally distinguished names of Modern Continental Europe ; with Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Racine, Petrarch, Schiller and, most especially, with the celebrated names of his own vernacular English. The English writer is to be so familiar with English literary history, that he may be said to have it at his command, in a sense not at all applicable to any other authorship ; thoroughly imbued with the home feeling and with a laudable ambition to extend and defend the interests of his native speech.
There is, we may here remark, one particular branch of English Literature, especially designed to beget the English literary temper and style. We refer to English Literary Biography, whereby the careful reader comes into intimate relationship with the personality of authors; is enabled to look upon them and converse with them as personal friends, and to bring them, more and more, out of the region of the abstract into the open province of reality and life. No student can read such biographies as Spedding's “Life of Bacon ;” Masson's “Life of Milton ;” Lockhart's “Life of Scott; Prior's “Life of Burke ;” Trevelyan's “Life of