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| The idea of limiting English literature to a
holy trinity of Shakespeare, Milton, and TO AN AUTHOR WHO APPRECIATED CONTEMPO
Bacon, and voluntarily losing all other auRARY LITERATURE.
thors, seems to me the most intense expresMiss Mitford on the selfishness of authors-A suggestion of sion of the spirit of aristocracy in reading.
Emerson's A laconic rule of his - Traces of jealousy- It is as if a man were to decide in his own And of a more subtle feeling-A contradiction-Necessary to resist the invasion of the present-A certain equilib
mind that society would be the better if all rium-The opposite of a pedant-The best classics not persons except the three Emperors were expedants, but artists.
cluded from it. There is a want of reliance READING the other day a letter by Miss Mit- upon one's own judgment, and an excess of ford, I was reminded of you as the eye is re- faith in the estimates of others, when we reminded of green when it sees scarlet. You, solve to read only those books which come to whose interest in literature has ever kept pace us in the splendor of a recognized intellectual with the time, to whom no new thing is un-royalty. We read either to gain information, welcome if only it is good, are safe from her to have good thinking suggested to us, or to accusations; but how many authors have de- have our imagination stimulated. In the way served them! Miss Mitford is speaking of a of knowledge the best authors are always the certain writer who is at the same time a cler- most recent, so that Bacon could not suffice. gyman, and whom it is not difficult to recog. In the way of thinking, our methods have nize.
gained in precision since Milton's time, and "I never,” she says, “saw him interested we are helped by a larger experience than his. in the slightest degree by the work of any | The one thing which Shakespeare and Milton other author, except, indeed, one of his own can do for us quite perfectly still, is to fill our followers or of his own clique, and then only imagination richly, and give it a fine stimuas admiring or helping him. He has great lus. But modern writers can render us the kindness and great sympathy with working same service. people, or with a dying friend, but I profess to Is there not a little jealousy of contempoyou I am amazed at the utter selfishness of au- raries in the persistence with which some thors. I do not know one single poet who cares authors avoid them, and even engage others for any man's poetry but his own. In general to avoid them? May not there be a shade of they read no books except such as may be nec- another feeling than jealousy, a feeling more essary to their own writings—that is to the subtle in operation, the undefined apprehenwork they happen to be about, and even then I sion that we may find, even amongst our suspect that they only read the bits that they more obscure contemporaries, merit equal to may immediately want. You know the abso- our own? So long as we restrict our reading lute ignorance in which Wordsworth lived of to old books of great fame we are safe from all modern works; and if, out of compliment to this apprehension, for if we find admirable a visitor, he thought it needful to seem to read qualities, we know beforehand that the world or listen to two or three stanzas, he gave unhes- has handsomely acknowledged them, and we itating praise to the writer himself, but took indulge in the hope that our own admirable especial care not to repeat the praise where it qualities will be recognized by posterity with might have done him good-utterly fair and equal liberality. But it creates an unpleasant false,"
feeling of uneasiness to see quantities of obThere are touches of this spirit of indiffer- scure contemporary work, done in a plain ence to contemporary literature in several way to earn a living by men of third or fourthwriters and scholars whom we know. There rate reputation, or of no reputation at all, are distinct traces of it even in published which in many respects would fairly sustain writings, though it is much more evident in a comparison with our own. It is clear that private life and habit. Emerson seriously an author ought to be the last person to suggests that “the human mind would per- advise the public not to read contemporary haps be a gainer if all the secondary writers literature, since he is himself a maker of conwere lost-say, in England, all but Shakes- temporary literature; and there is a direct peare, Milton, and Bacon, through the pro- contradiction between the invitation to read founder study so drawn to those wonderful his book, which he circulates by the act of minds." In the same spirit we have Emer-publishing, and the advice which the book son's laconic rule, “Never read any but famed contains. Emerson is more safe from this books,” which suggests the remark that if obvious rejoinder when he suggests to us to men had obeyed this rule from the beginning, transfer our reading day by day from the no book could ever have acquired reputation, newspaper to the standard authors. But are and nobody would ever have read anything these suggestions anything more than the reaction of an intellectual man against the The shallow pretence to admiration of famous too prevalent customs of the world? The writers which is current in the world is so disreading practised by most people, by all who tasteful to the love of honesty and reality do not set before themselves intellectual cult- which is the basis of his character, that by ure as one of the definite aims of life, is re- an unhappy association of ideas he has acmarkable for the regularity with which it quired a repugnance to the writers themneglects all the great authors of the past. selves. But such men as Horace, Terence, The books provided by the circulating library, Shakespeare, Molière, though they have had the reviews and magazines, the daily news-the misfortune to be praised and commenpapers, are read whilst they are novelties, tated upon by pedants, were in their lives the but the standard authors are left on their precise opposite of pedants; they were artists shelves unopened. We require a firm resolu- whose study was human nature, and who tion to resist this invasion of what is new, I lived without pretension in the common because it flows like an unceasing river, and world of men. The pedants have a habit of unless we protect our time against it by some considering these genial old artists as in some solid embankment of unshakable rule and mysterious way their own private property, resolution, every nook and cranny of it will for do not the pedants live by expounding be filled and flooded. An Englishman whose them? And some of us are frightened away life was devoted to culture, but who lived in from the fairest realms of poetry by the an out-of-the-way place on the Continent, told fences of these grim guardians. me that he considered it a decided advantage to his mind to live quite outside of the English library system, because if he wanted to read a new book he had to buy it and pay heavily
LETTER X. for carriage besides, which made him very careful in his choice. For the same reason TO AN AUTHOR WHO KEPT VERY IRREGULAR he rejoiced that the nearest English news
HOURS. room was two hundred miles from his residence.
Julian Fane-His late hours-Regularity produced by habit
The time of the principal effort-That the chief work But, on the other hand, what would be the
should be done in the best hours-Physicians prefer early condition of a man's mind who never read to late work—The practice of Goethe and some modern anything but the classic authors? He would
authors The morning worker ought to live in a tranquil
neighborhood-Night-work-The medical objection to it live in an intellectual monastery, and would
The student's objection to day-work-Time to be kept in not even understand the classic authors them masses by adults, but divided into small portions by chi! selves, for we understand the past only by
dren-Rapid turning of the mind-Cuvier eminent for this
faculty-The Duke of Wellington-The faculty more arai referring it to what we know in the present.
able with some occupations than others--The slavery of a It is best to preserve our minds in a state of minute obedience to the clock-Broad rules the bestequilibrium, and not to allow our repugnance
Books of agenda, good in business, but not in the higher
intellectual pursuits. to what we see as an evil to drive us into an evil of an opposite kind. We are too often What you told me of your habits in the like those little toy-fish with a bit of steel in employment of your hours reminded me of their mouths, which children attract with a Julian Fane. Mr. Lytton tells us that “after magnet. If you present the positive pole of a long day of professional business, followed the magnet, the fish rushes at it at once, but by a late evening of social amusement, he if you offer the negative end it retreats con- would return in the small hours of the night tinually. Everything relatively to our char- to his books, and sit, unwearied, till sunrise acter has this positive or negative end, and we in the study of them. Nor did he then seem either rush to things or rush away from them. to suffer from this habit of late hours. His Some persons are actually driven away nightly vigils occasioned no appearance of from the most entertaining writers because fatigue the next day. ... He rarely rose be they happen to be what are called classics, before noon, and generally rose much later." cause pedants boast of having read them. I But however irregular a man's distribution know a man who is exactly the opposite of a of his time may be in the sense of wanting pedant, who has a horror of the charlatanism the government of fixed rules, there always which claims social and intellectual position comes in time a certain rogularity by the as the reward for having laboriously waded mere operation of habit. People who get up through those authors who are conventionally very late hardly ever do so in obedience to a termed “classical,” and this opposition to rule; many get up early by rule, and many pedantry has given him an aversion to the more are told that they ought to get up early classics themselves, which he never opens. I and believe it, and aspire to that virtue, but fail to carry it into practice. The late-risers stimulant. I could mention several living are rebels and sinners in this respect-to a authors of eminence who pursue the same man, and so persistently have the wise, from plan, and find it favorable alike to health Solomon downwards, harped upon the moral and to production. The rule which they folloveliness of early rising and the degrada- low is never to write after lunch, leavtion which follows the opposite practice, that ing the rest of their time free for study one can hardly get up after eight without and society, both of which are absolutely either an uncomfortable sense of guilt or an ex- necessary to authors. According to this traordinary callousness. Yet the late-risers, system it is presumed that the hours bethough obeying no rule, for the abandoned tween breakfast and lunch are the best sinner recognizes none, become regular in hours. In many cases they are so. A pertheir late rising from the gradual fixing pow-son in fair health, after taking a light er of habit. Even Julian Fane, though he early breakfast without any heavier stimuregretted his desultory ways, “and dwelt lant than tea or coffee, finds himself in a with great earnestness on the importance state of freshness highly favorable to sound of regular habits of work," was perhaps and agreeable thinking. His brain will be in less irregular than he himself believed. We still finer order if the breakfast has been preare sure to acquire habits; what is impor- ceded by a cold bath, with friction and a littant is not so much that the habits should tle exercise. The feeling of freshness, cleanlibe regular, as that their regularity should ness, and moderate exhilaration, will last for be of the kind most favorable in the long run several hours, and during those hours the into the accomplishment of our designs, and tellectual work will probably be both lively this never comes by chance, it is the result of and reasonable. It is difficult for a man who un effort of the will in obedience to govern- feels cheerful and refreshed, and whose task ing wisdom.
seems easy and light, to write anything morThe first question which every one who has bid or perverse. the choice of his hours must settle for him- But for the morning to be so good as I have self is at what time of day he will make his just described it, the workman must be quite principal effort; for the day of every intellect favorably situated. He ought to live in a mal workman ought to be marked by a kind very tranquil neighborhood, and to be as free of artistic composition; there ught to be as possible from anxiety as to what the postsome one labor distinctly recognized as dom- man may have in reserve for him. If his inant, with others in subordination, and sub-study-window looks out on a noisy street, and ordination of various degrees. Now for the if the day is sure, as it wears on, to bring hours at which the principal effort ought to anxious business of its own, then the increasbe made, it is not possible to fix them by ing noise and the apprehension (even though the clock so as to be suitable for everybody, l it be almost entirely unconscious) of impendbut a broad rule may be arrived at which is ing business, will be quite sufficient to interapplicable to all imaginable cases. The rule fere with the work of any man who is the s this-to do the chief work in the best hours; least in the world nervous, and almost all inbo give it the pick of your day; and by the tellectual laborers are nervous, more or less. hay I do not mean only the solar day, but the Men who have the inestimable advantage of whole of the twenty-four hours. There is an absolute tranquillity, at all times, do well to important physiological reason for giving the work in the morning, but those who can only · best hours to the most important work. The get tranquillity at times independent of their better the condition of the brain and the body, own choice have a strong reason for working and the more favorable the surrounding cir- at those times, whether they happen to be in unstances, the smaller will be the cost to the morning or not. , the organization of the labor that has to be In an excellent article on “Work” (evilune. It is always the safest way to do the dently written by an experienced intellectual heaviest (or most important) work at the workman), which appeared in one of the early lime and under the conditions which make it numbers of the Cornhill Magazine, and was the least costly.
remarkable alike for practical wisdom and Physicians are unanimous in their prefer the entire absence of traditional dogmatism, ence of early to late work; and no doubt, if the writer speaks frankly in favor of nightthe question were not complicated by other work, “If you can work at all at night, one considerations, we could not do better than to hour at that time is worth any two in the follow their advice in its simplicity. Goethe morning. The house is hushed, the brain is wrote in the morning, with his faculties re- clear, the distracting influences of the day freshed by sleep and not yet excited by any are at an end. You have not to disturb your
self with thoughts of what you are about to able to change their attention from one subdo, or what you are about to suffer. You ject to another much more easily than we can. know that there is a gulf between you and whilst at the same time they cannot fix their the affairs of the outside world, almost like minds for very long without cerebral fatigue the chasm of death; and that you need not leading to temporary incapacity. The custom take thought of the morrow until the mor- prevalent in schools, of making the boys learn row has come. There are few really great several different things in the course of the thoughts, such as the world will not willingly day, is therefore founded upon the necessities let die, that have not been conceived under of the boy-nature, though most grown men the quiet stars."
would find that changes so frequent would, The medical objection to night-work in the for them, have all the inconveniences of intercase of literary men would probably be that ruption. To boys they come as relief, to men the night is too favorable to literary produc- as interruption. The reason is that the phystion. The author of the Essay just quoted ical condition of the brain is different in the says that at night "you only drift into deep- two cases; but in our loose way of talking er silence and quicker inspiration. If the about these things we may say that the boy's right mood is upon you, you write on; if not, ideas are superficial, like the plates and dishes your pillow awaits you." Exactly so; that is on the surface of a dinner-table, which nay to say, the brain, owing to the complete ex- be rapidly changed without inconvenience, ternal tranquillity, can so concentrate its ef- whereas the man's ideas, having all struck forts on the subject in hand as to work itself root down to the very depths of his nature, are up into a luminous condition which is fed by more like the plants in a garden, which canthe most rapid destruction of the nervous not be removed without a temporary loss both substance that ever takes place within the of vigor and of beauty, and the loss cannot be walls of a human skull. “If the right mood instantaneously repaired. For a man to do his is upon you, you write on;" in other words, work thoroughly well, it is necessary that he if you have once well lighted your spirit-lamp, should dwell in it long enough at a time to get it will go on burning so long as any spirit is all the powers of his mind fully under comleft in it, for the air is so tranquil that noth- mand with reference to the particular work ing comes to blow it out. You drift into in hand, and he cannot do this without tuning deeper silence and “quicker inspiration." It his whole mind to the given diapason, as a is just this quicker inspiration that the phy-tuner tunes a piano. Some men can tund sician dreads.
I their minds more rapidly, as violins are tuned, Against this objection may be placed the and this faculty may to a certain extent be ac equally serious objection to day-work, that quired by efforts of the will very frequently every interruption, when you are particularly repeated. Cuvier had this faculty in the most anxious not to be interrupted, causes a defi- eminent degree. One of his biographers says: nite loss and injury to the nervous system. “His extreme facility for study, and of directThe choice must therefore be made between ing all the powers of his mind to diverse occutwo dangers, and if they are equally balanced pations of study, from one quarter of an hour there can be no hesitation, because all the lit- to another, was one of the most extraordinary erary interests of an author are on the side of qualities of his mind." The Duke of Wellingthe most tranquil time. Literary work is al-ton also cultivated the habit (inestimably valways sure to be much better done when there uable to a public man) of directing the whole is no fear of disturbance than under the ap- of his attention to the subject under consider prehension of it; and precisely the same ation, however frequently that subject might amount of cerebral effort will produce, when happen to be changed. But although men of the work is uninterrupted, not only better exceptional power and very exceptional flexi. writing, but a much greater quantity of writ-bility may do this with apparent impunity. ing. The knowledge that he is working well that still depends very much on the nature of and productively is an element of health to the occupation. There are some occupatins every workman because it encourages cheer- which are not incompatible with a fragmenful habits of mind.
tary division of time, because these occupaIn the division of time it is an excellent rule tions are themselves fragmentary. For exfor adults to keep it as much as possible in ample, you may study languages in phrase large masses, not giving a quarter of an hour books during very small spaces of time, be. to one occupation and a quarter to another, cause the complete phrase is in itself a very but giving three, four, or five hours to one small thing, but you could not so easily break thing at a time. In the case of children an and resume the thread of an elaborate arguopposite practice should be followed; they are ment. I suspect that though Cuvier appeared to his contemporaries a man remarkably able known a man of genius who could be perto leave off and resume his work at will, he fectly regular in his habits, whilst he had must have taken care to do work that would known many blockheads who could. It is bear interruption at those times when he knew easy to see that a minute obedience to the himself to be most liable to it. And although, clock is unintellectual in its very nature, for when a man's time is unavoidably broken up the intellect is not a piece of mechanism as a into fragments, no talent of a merely auxil-clock is, and cannot easily be made to act' iary kind can be more precious than that of. like one. There may be perfect correspondturning each of those fragments to advan-ence between the locomotives and the clocks tage, it is still true that he whose time is at on a railway, for if the clocks are pieces of his own disposal will do bis work most calmly, mechanism the locomotives are so likewise, most deliberately, and therefore on the whole but the intellect always needs a certain loosemost thoroughly and perfectly, when he ness and latitude as to time. Very broad keeps it in fine masses. The mere knowledge rules are the best, such as “Write in the that you have three or four clear hours before morning, read in the afternoon, see friends in you is in itself a great help to the spirit of the evening,” or else “Study one day and prothoroughness, both in study and in production. duce another, alternately," or even “Work It is agreeable too, when the sitting has come one week and see the world another week, to an end, to perceive that a definite advance alternately." is the result of it, and advance in anything is There is a fretting habit, much recomscarcely perceptible in less than three or four mended by men of business and of great use hours.
to them, of writing the evening before the There are several pursuits which cannot be duties of the day in a book of agenda. If followed in fragments of time, on account of this is done at all by intellectual men with the necessary preparations. It is useless to reference to their pursuits, it ought to be begin oil-painting unless you have full time done in a very broad, loose way, never mito set your palette properly, to get your can- nutely. An intellectual worker ought never vas into a proper state for working upon, to to make it a matter of conscience (in intelpose the model as you wish, and settle down lectual labor) to do a predetermined quantity to work with everything as it ought to be. of little things. This sort of conscientiousness In landscape-painting from nature you re- frets and worries, and is the enemy of all sequire the time to go to the selected place, and renity of thought. after your arrival to arrange your materials and shelter yourself from the sun. In scientific pursuits the preparations are usually at
PART XI. least equally elaborate, and often much more 90. To prepare for an experiment, or for a dissection, takes time which we feel to be dis- . TRADES AND PROFESSIONS. proportionate when it leaves too little for the scientific work itself. It is for this reason more frequently than for any other that ama
LETTER I. teurs who begin in enthusiasm, so commonly, after awhile, abandon the objects of their
TO A YOUNG GENTLEMAN OF ABILITY AND CULTpursuit.
URE WHO HAD NOT DECIDED ABOUT HIS PROThere is a kind of slavery to which no
FESSION. really intellectual man would ever volunta- The Church--Felicities and advantages of the clerical profes rily submit, a minute obedience to the clock.
sion-Its elevated idealThat it is favorable to noble stud
ies-French priests and English Clergymen--The profesVery conscientious people often impose upon sional point of view-Difficulty of disinterested thinkingthemselves this sort of slavery. A person Colored light-Want of strict accuracy--Quotation from a who has hampered himself with rules of this
sermon.-The drawback to the clerical life--Provisional
nature of intellectual conclusions-The legal professionkind will take up a certain book, for instance,
That it affords gratification to the intellectual powerswhen the clock strikes nine, and begin at yes Want of intellectual disinterestedness in lawyers-Their terday's mark, perhaps in the middle of a
absorption in professional life--Anecdote of a, London
lawyer-Superiority of lawyers in their sense of affairsparagraph. Then he will read with great
Medicine--The study of it a fine preparation for the intelsteadiness till a quarter-past nine, and exactly lectual life-Social rise of medical men coincident with the on the instant when the minute-hand gets op
mental progress of communities—Their probable future
influence on education-The heroic side of their profesposite the dot, he will shut his book, however
sion--The military and naval professions, Bad effect of inuch the passage may happen to interest him. the privation of solitude-Interruption-Anecdote of CuIt was in allusion to good people of this kind
vier-The fine arts-In what way they are favorable to
thought-Intellectual leisure of artists-Reasoning artists that Sir Walter Scott said he had never --Sciences included in the fine arts.