MR. MATTHEW ARNOLD'S new prose volume bears the unassuming title of Mixed Essays,1 and consists of nine papers on different themes of literary and social interest, of which the first was published nearly twenty years ago, by way of introduction to the author’s elaborate work on Continental Schools. The titles of the remaining eight essays indicate a wide range of subjects, but it is quite true, as Mr. Arnold claims in his preface, that they are animated by a common aim, and produce upon the mind of one who quietly re-reads them in their present order a strong and deep unity of impression. Let us see what this accomplished writer himself says to have been his prevailing purpose, and how his different studies bear upon that purpose. His aim is no less than the civilization of the human race. Literature, so perseveringly pursued and affected, he declares to be but a part of civilization, not the whole. “ What, then, is civilization, which some people seem to conceive of as if it meant railroads and the penny-post, and little more, but which is really so complex and vast a matter that a great spiritual power like literature is a part of it, and a part only ? Civilization is the humanization of man in society. Man is civilized when the whole body of society comes to live with a life worthy to be called human, and corresponding to man’s true aspirations and powers.” Now the basis, Mr. Arnold says, upon which all man’s effort to civilize himself proceeds is the love of liberty ; and the love of liberty is the instinct for expansion; and the instinct for expansion manifests itself in two principal ways, — in the resistance to being over-governed, sat upon, cramped and crushed, so to speak, from above, and in the demand for equality of opportunity and privilege, that is, in the resistance to being crowded and crushed laterally. And given this basis for man’s effort to civilize himself, “ the powers which, upon this basis, contribute to build up human civilization ” are chiefly “ the power of conduct, the power of intellect and knowledge, the power of art and beauty, the power of social life and manners.” Those who are familiar with Matthew Arnold’s previous writings, especially with Literature and Dogma and the Culture and Anarchy essays, know already something of what one may call his ethnic distribution of the civilizing powers. One nation has exemplified one power, another another: the Hebrews and the Protestant English the power of conduct; the Greeks and the Italians of the Renascence (sic) the power of art; the Germans the power of accurate knowledge ; the French, as did also and preëminently Athens in her prime, the power of social life and manners. No nation has thus far exhibited these powers, or any great number of them, in combination,—only rare individuals, bright, particular stars of humanity, have done that; yet this lofty combination is the end toward which all true patriots ought to labor, and the first and most indispensable preliminary to the acceptance of a great national ideal is the frank confession of actual national deficiencies. Again, as we have so often done before, let us follow Mr. Arnold attentively in the charges which he brings against his own compatriots, feeling sure that he will not weakly spare them the uttermost truth, yet trying to suppress as far as may be a certain ignoble satisfaction we all have in hearing Englishmen berated, and to reserve for earnest consideration the indirect bearing of those charges upon ourselves.
The essays on Democracy and the One Thing Needful (Porro Unum est Necessarium) concern themselves with educational matters, — with that part of civilization which belongs to the “ power of intellect and knowledge.” Mr. Arnold recognizes the fact that authority in England is fast and irrevocably passing from the hands of the aristocracy into that of the middle class, and he entreats for the establishment of schools by the state, which shall offer, at a moderate cost to the pupils, a better order of instruction for that class ; something more nearly approaching to the admirable mental training afforded by the French lycées and communal schools, and the higher public schools of Germany; something deserving the name of culture. In the essay on Equality, it is rather the social aspects of civilization which we are invited to consider, and England is most unfavorably contrasted with France in the general intelligence and personal refinement, the humanity and urbanity, of the great mass of its people. Life in France, says Mr. Arnold, is so good and agreeable a thing, and for so many people ; while life in England, though supremely good for the highly privileged few, is for all the rest so drear and cramped and uncomely a thing ! Then he proceeds, with his usual aptitude and amplitude of quotation, to shed all manner of side lights upon this main proposition. He cites Mr. Hamerton’s praise of the excellent manners of the French peasant: “ They are full of intelligence ; they have delicate perceptions ; they have tact ; they have a certain refinement which a brutalized peasant could not possibly have. If you talk to one of them at his own home, or in his field, he will enter into conversation with you quite easily, and sustain his part in a perfectly becoming way, with a pleasant combination of dignity and quiet humor. The interval between him and a Kentish laborer is enormous.” He quotes Voltaire as affirming that “ the great gift of the age of Louis XIV. to the world was the gift of society,” and shows how, when its high ideal of social manners was once firmly established, and the material necessity for feudal inequality pressed upon it no longer, the French people introduced equality and made the Revolution. “ It was not the spirit of philanthropy which mainly impelled the French to that Revolution, neither was it the spirit of envy, neither was it the love of abstract ideas, though all these did something towards it; it was the spirit of society.” Then we have the testimony of M. de Laveleye, the political economist, who, as a Belgian and a Protestant, cannot be suspected of undue partiality to France, to the effect that “ France, being the country of Europe where the soil is more divided than anywhere except in Switzerland and Norway, is at the same time the country where material well-being is most widely spread; where wealth has, of late years, increased most; and where population is least outrunning the limits which, for the comfort and progress of the working class themselves, seem necessary.” But here in France and everywhere and above all things, repeats Mr. Arnold, with that bland yet resolute reiteration which is one of his own idiosyncrasies of manner, “ it is by the humanity of their manners that men are made equal.” “ ' A man thinks to show himself my equal,’says Goethe,’by being grob, —that is to say, coarse and rude ; he does not show himself my equal, he shows himself grob.’ ” Now, the manners of the great mass of his own countrymen Mr. Arnold sorrowfully proclaims are grob rather than humane. And once more he cites a correspondent of the Siècle, whose letters from England have been thought worth collection in a volume: “ To understand the success of Messrs. Moody and Sankey one must he familiar with English manners; one must know the mind-deadening influence of a narrow biblism ; one must have experienced the sense of acute ennui which the aspect and the frequentation of this great division of English society produce in others, the want of elasticity and the chronic ennui which characterize this class itself, petrified in a narrow Protestantism and a perpetual reading of the Bible.” Then while admitting, with a touch of his more youthful humor, that a little more biblism would perhaps do the French mi harm, the unsparing censor confirms in the most emphatic manner the truth of the Frenchman’s picture. “ It is the picture of a class which, driven by its sense of the power of conduct, in the beginning of the seventeenth century entered the prison of puritanism, and had the key turned upon its spirit there for two hundred years. They did not know, good and earnest people as they were, that to the building up of human life there go all these other powers also, the power of intellect and knowledge, the power of beauty, the power of social life and manners.” They thus “ created a type of life and manners of which they themselves, indeed, are slow to recognize the faults, but which is fatally condemned by its hideousness, its immense ennui, and against which the instinct of sell-preservation in humanity rebels.”
The remaining essays in Mr. Arnold’s volume are not directly argumentative and didactic, but none the less powerfully do they enforce his convictions. In the essay on Falkland we have most reverently and sympathetically presented the picture of one Englishman who seems to have exemplified in his own person, and very touchingly, throughout a brief but glorious life of thirty-throe years, almost all the civilizing powers, — knowledge, art, urbanity, and spotless virtue. In the delightful paper entitled A French Critic on Goethe we have reviewed, and to some extent corrected, M. Edmund Scherer’s rather dry estimate of one who was preëminently and memorably a humanist,— illustrating the powers of beauty, learning, and social refinement somewhat to the exclusion of the sterner fourth, that of conduct. In the case of Milton, on the contrary, M. Scherer’s elaborate study is made the basis of one which represents the great epic poet of England as one “ born a humanist,” and, as one may add, in the very purple of humanitarian privilege, yet mastered before his life was done by the acerb and rigid spirit of puritanism. Finally, the brief notice of George Sand at the close of the volume is a tribute, grave, tender, and delicate as may be, to the memory of a mighty woman, whose strange vagaries in conduct are simply and sadly admitted, but whom our author admires with an unusual touch of fondness for that high and generous ideal of human life to which, through evil report and good report, she clung with such heroic faith, and which he finds so like his own. “ La sentiment de la vie idéale, qui n’est autre que la vie normale, telle que no ns sommes appelés a la connaître ” ('“ The sentiment of the ideal life which is none other than man’s normal life as we shall some day know it”), — this, he says, was from first to last, George Sand’s ruling thought ; and it is as a personage inspired by this great thought that he himself reveres her, and holds her up to the veneration of his countrymen.
To give in a half dozen paragraphs, or even pages, the gist of as many of Mr. Arnold’s complex and crowded essays is a difficult, if not an impossible matter. He says single things so much better than they can ever be said again that the temptation to run into fragmentary quotation is almost irresistible. Moreover, the form of his argument often renders it specially difficult of compression ; for there is in him a strange mixture of terseness of phraseology with a certain diffuseness of logic. He is almost unduly inductive. He assembles such a multitude of instances, balances, corrects, offsets, with such infinite pains and patience, that one is sure to drop some of his finer threads of thought when one attempts a rapid gathering up, and one is not always sure of having kept hold of the main, essential ones. But Mr. Arnold is, after all, not half as dogmatic as he sometimes has the air of being, and his keen and subtle considerations are presented, as he himself says somewhere in the present volume, not so much in the hope of winning proselytes to a fixed code of opinion, as by way of assembling matter “ for the thoughts of those who think,” who desire to see things as they really are, — “ the friends of humane life, the lovers of perfection.” In this latter spirit let us glance for one moment at the bearing of some of his views on the tough problems of American society.
When, in his character of uncompromising critic, he sets forth the bigotry, the conceit, the ignorance, the low and unlovely ideal of life and manners, of the great English middle class, and then sums up the dangers which await England if she falls under the complete control of this narrowminded and blunt-mannered bourgeoisie by saying that she will be Americanized, the climax is naturally an unpleasant one for an American to reach. But let us at least show that we have the nobility which can rise above personal pique, and recognize and respect truth under whatever disguise it comes to us. It is true, then, that our whole nation is one enormous middle class. We have no nobility, and we have no peasantry. We have uo class as highly civilized as the privileged classes of the Old World, and we have no class as hopeless of civilization as its inferior classes, since here there is at least room and food enough for all the appalling millions who are born. We have some rather highly civilized individuals, a few in each of our great cities and their environs, — individuals who are in every way worthy to associate upon equal terms with the privileged in older lands, and who, let it be added, have never, as individuals, failed of a most gracious welcome among them. But the effect of such individuals upon the quality of the mass has never been appreciable, — the less in that the higher they rise above the mass, the more they are acted upon by a sort of centrifugal force, which tends to keep them separate units, and throw them off entirely from it.
Enthusiastic individuals among us, conscious of cultivated tastes and generous desires and purposes, will be ready to resent on their own behalf the admission of the truth, and to point with an affronted air to their private efforts and achievements. But here also let us at least have the comfort, as Mr. Arnold says, “ de ne pas être dupe ” (of not being taken in). If these individuals really love their country, they will stop talking and thinking of themselves and their work, and continue for a long while yet to labor without recognition or reward. For as yet they have not diminished the sum of our “hideousness” by a fraction large enough to be expressed at all.
Per contra, we may venture to encourage ourselves by reflecting that we learn easily and civilize quickly. It may take seven centuries to make a gentleman in Europe, but the thing has been done in the United States, and done consummately well, in one. Hereby we perceive one advantage we shall have in the way of some time bringing our standard of social refinement up to a level with our standard of political equality, which, as our author truly says, has now unhappily, so far, outrun it. You shall travel in a common car over one of our country railways, and just when you are most oppressed and disheartened by the general boorishness and apparent vulgarity of your companions you shall perceive some grace of helpfulness, some trait of chivalry or fine feeling, in the most loutish individual present, for which you might long have waited in vain among a much higher grade of travelers beyond the sea. Dean Stanley, when he paid us a little visit last autumn, was amazed to see how well some of us already uhderstand the science of physical comfort, the pitch to which we have carried some of the more material refinements of living. Finally, Mr. Matthew Arnold’s own poems (the best and daintiest of them) have been reprinted in a fifteen-cent edition by the canniest publishing house in the country for railway circulation, and have had an uncommonly good sale. Such are a few of the notes, pro and con, which may be jotted down on the margins of Mr. Arnold’s noble and suggestive essays, for our own private consideration, as material for the thoughts of Americans who think.
— Mr. Wilberforce Newton’s book of essays2 shows a very pleasant spirit of candor and of breadth. The range of subjects is wide enough to afford a large field to wander in, and the author is frank enough to be willing to let his readers see that he likes to wander about in it, and look at the things of heaven and earth, if not with profound insight, at least with a pleased and not unpleasiug curiosity. He has something to say about the school-men, and about Savonarola and Lacorduire and Edward Irving; he considers the Prsent Day Elements in Christianity, and the Causes of Heresy; and ends his book by a dissertation, somewhat theological, upon the not yet exhausted subject of Original Sin.
While this discursiveness and ease in writing has a side which is not without charm, still it is to be said that it may be carried so far as to be destructive of all literary form. It might be hard to define exactly the form of an essay, but one has only to remember the work of the masters in this kind of writing to see that an essay may be made a flawless work of art. Apparently little restricted by form, it may wander, and wander charmingly, and yet all the time be flowing in subordination to the hidden law of its existence, like a brook. Least of all is it like the newspaper article, to which, in a quotation from Mr. Taine which serves as his preface, Mr. Newton seems willing to liken it. It is partly from this misconception that our author has made a book to which it is impossible to give unqualified praise. The style is neither clear nor graceful; words are often used in a way to baffle the imagination of the most ingenious reader. What, for instance, does this mean ? “ Into this cultured but cor-
rupt city of Florence, given up to the idolatry of art, ami with no true belief in the outlying doctrines of Christianity, the young Savonarola came.” Or what would a teacher of rhetoric say to this sentence? “ Thus closely do these two worlds often collide.” And what is true of the style is also unhappily true of the substance of the essays. They are full of newspaper-like inaccuracies. Two of them, at least, are not to be counted as essays at all. They are sermons, pure and simple, lacking only the needless formality of a text, and might have been delivered from any pulpit. But of the others that may be called essays, it is to bo said that they constantly disappoint the reader’s hope, either by over-statement, or by inadequate statement, of the thing of which the writer is talking. Here is a typical instance of what we mean : —
“ After William of Champeaux,” our author says, “ came Abelard, with his twoedged sword of breadth, which cut in the twofold way, ‘Sic et non,’ — ‘ Yes and no ;’ and after Abelard comes Hugo, the mystic.”
To say that the Sic et Non treatise of Abelard is properly to be considered in the order of time as coming between William of Champeaux and Hugh of St. Victor is to make a very doubtful statement indeed. There is no doubt that it existed ; the Benedictines in later times had a copy which they suppressed as injurious to morals; but that it was published anywhere near the time that it was written we see no reason to believe. In the year 1836, M. Victor Cousin, as the late Sir James Stephen says, first gave the treatise to the world in the edition of the works of Abelard, which he brought out in that year.
There are smaller lapses, also, to which one does not like to be obliged to call attention. Nothing is said, for instance, of the work of education to which Lacordaire devoted himself after leaving the pulpit. He is, morever, represented, as being it Dominican monk, and as wearing at one time the Benedictine, and at another the Carmelite habit.
All Frenchmen, Mr. Newton says, are of the Franks Frenchy ; and the first instance he gives under this head is St. Philip Neri, who was born in Florence and lived in Rome. Mr. Keble is said to have been “in full sympathy with Pusey and the Oxford theologians;” as if Keble were not one of the founders of the Tractarian movement at Oxford, and active in it long before Dr. Pusey joined it !
These slips may be great or small; but whether great or small, they are great enough to lessen the pleasure which the reader may justly take in Mr. Newton’s essays. Of the theological essays, strictly so called, it does not come within our province to speak; but in them also, we fancy, the trained theologian would miss the highest degree of grasp of the subject, and of knowledge and of accuracy of statement.
— A complete analysis of the processes of thought and of mechanism which are essential to the production of a work of art is possible only to an artist; but it is rare to find in the profession either the willingness to undertake, or the capacity to carry out, such a task, —still more, perhaps, to see it performed with sincerity. But under the impulse of that intellectuality, that habit of self-examination and conscientiousness, which are distinctive characteristics of modern artists, the attempt is now occasionally made, to the great profit of the practice of art. Among these attempts Thomas Couture’s Méthode et Entretiens d’Atelier has been long familiar to his pupils and friends, and has exercised no small influence upon contemporary art, especially in France, but more from the spirit displayed in it than from any scientific or exact exposition therein contained. Therefore a translation of this interesting work into English,3 although in fact it is here and there too loyal to the idiomatic French text to be really good English, may be welcomed by all who are concerned directly as practitioners, or indirectly as critics and patrons, in the rational development of art. The scope of the book may be best understood, perhaps, from the master’s own words: —
“ This book is the result of personal observation. Rebellious against all science, it has been impossible for me to learn by academic means. Were these teachings bad ? I cannot say; I never understood them. The sight of nature, the eager desire to produce that which captivated me, guided me better than words, which seemed useless; and besides, I confess to my shame I did not wish to listen. This independence has cost me dear. I have often mistaken the way, sometimes entirely lost myself; but there have come to me front these failures great results, great light. I come out from them more robust; torn to pieces, it is true, but no less valiant. These intellectual gymnastics have formed within me a good artistic temperament.”
This book, however, is eminently the work of a painter, — a man rather of sentiment and emotions than of intellectual discipline. It is not arranged in any scientific form, and gives but little exact technical instruction ; but it exhibits the inspiring spirit and force of a man of genius. It is abounding in hints, full of the loose logic of the studio, expressed with infinite bonhomie, and illustrated by tales of personal experience, told with all of a Frenchman’s vivacity and with all of an artist’s dramatic instinct. The student or critic cannot fail to find in these pages not only amusement, but some new and precious inspirations. Thus, there is a chapter or two on drawing which may be accepted as ex cathedra. The remarks on the close observation of nature rather than of art or of the antique, as essential to the establishment of sound foundations, are excellent and timely, and in certain brief sentences are expressed volumes of truth : “ Use three quarters of your eyes for observation, and one quarter for drawing.” “ Above all things, be humble; in the art of painting, humility is the greatest strength.” “ If you look superficially,” says the painter, summarizing the results of an afternoon’s study by the borders of a stream, wherein there had been revealed to him innumerable wonders of life, color, and form,— “if you look superficially, you have only a common image; look longer and deeper, the image becomes sublime.” “ I hope you have observed that I attach little importance to so-called rules, and sacrifice them willingly for the expression of natural sentiment.” “ To be a good servant of art is well ; this is not being a slave to nature and the masters.” Such ideas are the basis of Couture’s teaching and practice, and his application of them in the chapters on drawing, color, composition, portraiture, values, etc., is remarkable for a certain picturesqueness of statement and a certain breadth and liberality of comprehension, which are the natural expressions of a man of original thought and successful achievement. His hints of practice in the use of pigments, though mere hints, are extremely suggestive, and those who have followed his methods have found their reward in a distinctive purity and sweetness of tone, and in a luminous quality of atmospheric effect. Not the least interesting and instructive parts of this volume are those which contain his impressions of the art of Delacroix, in which he finds an imposing display of artifice at the expense of natural inspirations and study; of that of Decamp, which he admires without stint; of that of Titian, Veronese, Ruberts, Raphael, Rembrandt, Watteau, Gros, Poussin, and Van Dyck. Of these masters he speaks with the utmost frankness and fearlessness, like an artist in his own studio conversing with his pupils, — like a man who has arrived at convictions by practice, and not by theory.
Indeed, a large part of the interest of this singular volume is to be attributed to the apparently unguarded character of these studio talks. Ideas are not evolved with any formality of speech ; it is not a literary performance ; there is neither order, compactness of thought, nor neatness of expression in the development of the theme, and some passages have absolutely no raison d’être. In parts one has to get behind the straggling text and to read between the lines to discover what is in the master’s mind ; but the artistic thought of the painter of the Decadence is worth looking for in the midst of any indirectness of language. Sometimes he talks as if he were in front of his easel, with palette on thumb, half absorbed in the production of effects upon the canvas, but meanwhile uttering thoughts out of the fullness of his experience and observation. The whole performance, however, is genuine, manly, and wholesome. It is to be observed, moreover, that his attitude towards his pupils throughout, though natural and unaffected, is full of dignity, though earnest and uncompromising, it is inspired with sweetness and modesty. The didactive form of the conversations is never offensive ; one can sit at the feet of this master with no loss of self-respect, and with an absolute assurance that his own individuality is not to be lessened, but rather increased and consecrated to efforts in the purest regions of truth. The personal instruction of Couture was during his lifetime regarded as one of the highest privileges to be enjoyed by the student of art, and no one left his atelier without freshened inspirations and a certain mastery of the technique, each according to his capacity. This little book, with its unique flavor of personality, opens those hospitable doors to all the world.
— After the studio talks of Couture, who is recognized as a master in an age of complicated ideals, — an age not prone to elevate individualities into any such distinction, — Ruskin’s matchless eloquence upon the same themes may be studied with a new intelligence. 4 As far as the observation of nature and the general views of art are concerned, the artist and the critic are in close concord. In many essential points there is an absolute identity of thought, though in all probability the Frenchman, after the manner of his nation, never looked to such a Nazareth as England for any advanced view of the subject. But the contrast in the methods and in the habits of thought and expression of the two men is significant. The one, living in the midst of a people who have for centuries loved beauty for its own sake, inheriting this precious capacity of loving, together with all the accumulated traditions of national art, utters his convictions with decision and firmness indeed, but with a certain modesty and kindliness of expression which seems to recognize in his hearers an intelligent companionship in art. Moreover, his occupation as a painter prevents him from ever separating his theory from his practice. An aspect of nature, a human face and figure, are indissolubly associated in his mind with their capacity to be portrayed by processes of art. When he has observed an effect, straightway he sets a palette to express his impressions in regard to it. The great English critic, on the other hand, speaks with the authority of a prophet preaching the truth to heathen unbelievers, de haul en has. He is arrogant and defiant. He brings not peace, but a sword, and compels a nation to sit at his feet and be converted. Perhaps no other attitude or method of propagandism could have been equally efficient in the midst of a people who, at the time when he wrote as an Oxford graduate, were singularly ignorant of art, and singularly inaccessible to the influence of the beautiful. He accomplished his purpose, and the book by which mainly a nation was aroused has become a monument. But an artist cannot read it without an instinctive feeling of antagonism; not so much because of its matter as of its manner. For if no other writer ever studied nature so closely, or wrote with such impressive eloquence of conviction, surely none has exhibited less respect for the opinions of others, and has been less tolerant of opposition, however intelligent. Moreover, in his work the essential personality of the artist as an element of expression is not recognized ; the necessary mechanisms of art, with their compromises, their balance, and their contrast of values, are less to him than nature pure and simple. He would yield nothing to considerations of technique. He is primarily less an artist than a student of nature, and he has influenced art rather by making critics than by direct appeals to the artistic temperament. But the fundamental truths concerning nature which he has set forth cannot be gainsaid, and cannot be made too familiar to us.
Contemporaneous with Couture’s Conversations, to which we have just referred, the Messrs. Appleton have published, in their new Handy-Volume Series, a selection of passages from Modem Painters, which, taken consecutively, are intended to present the main argument of the work, with the exception of those special discussions which are intelligible only by means of elaborate engravings. These selections are preceded by a brief though acceptable biographical sketch. The excerpts are well chosen, and arranged in the form of a continuous essay, each division of which has its distinctive title, and is made accessible by a sufficient table of contents. It is a useful book, and contains the germ of a great historical revolution in the observation of nature, if not in the practice of art.
— Of the great men of our time, none has lived a life so devoid of picturesqueness, and appealing so little to the imagination, as was that of the late Mr. Thiers ; yet it is well worth study, even aside from the importance of the events with which it had to do. For Thiers possessed virtues which alone in a public man would have made him conspicuous in France. In the first place, he cared exclusively for things, the name they bore being to him a matter of entire indifference. He had, in fact, almost no touch of sentiment in his moral makeup,— a lack which in his case implied not only great clearness of view, but entire unconcern with the right and wrong of a matter. Then, whatever theory he might have adopted, he stuck to it; neither argument nor derision could shake his faith ; neither unpopularity nor temporary advantage could induce him to give the lie to his past. And, lastly, he never ranted, and was never servile ; kings and mobs might come to him, — he would not go to them. On the other hand, Thiers’s faults were most serious; and, though they may not really have been more developed than in many others, they stand out plainer in him than in anybody else, Metternich, perhaps, excepted. Not that he can be accused of political cynicism; for cynicism implies a standard of goodness, and of this he had not the faintest conception. To him politics was a game, in which the great object was to damage and to browbeat your opponent; a politician’s business was by no means a seeking after truth and justice, with a resolution to stand by them when found. Thiers saw not only that all the world’s a stage, but also that the history of a country is a play. This situation he ever regarded with the eye of a born manager. A quiet, domestic village comedy might have its advantages, — was indeed just the thing for Germans and Italians; but it was quite unworthy of Frenchmen, who must ever be kept preparing or acting some startling melodrama. At whatever cost, the stage must always be ready to produce a thrilling spectacle; and whatever tended to make the actors less inclined to this sort of thing therein condemned itself. Throughout his long career, Thiers remained faithful to this idea, and never lost it from view. In his youth he preached the worship of military glory, and of Bonaparte, its prophet ; in his manhood he was ever the enemy of freedom and union abroad, because they made France appear not positively, but relatively, less fortunate ; in his old age he opposed at home schemes the most essential to political well-being and national civilization (such as decentralization and the abolition of a professional army), because such measures would make the French people less fond of theatrical parade, less disposed to engage in risky adventures, more willing to busy their minds and hands with affairs at home.
Yet it was the singular fate of Thiers, after spending a long life in this fashion, to be in his last years of the greatest service to his country, at a time when greater and better men could not have done half so well. And it is a proof of the importance of the time, as well as of the wonderful picturesqueness of all French history, that the two large volumes of Mr. Jules Simon,5 covering as they do but two years of time, should not only be eagerly read in France, but should excite great interest in Englishspeaking countries. Then, at the same time that appears this history of Thiers’s presidency, we have presented to the American public a biography 6 edited and translated by Mr. Theodore Stanton from the manuscript of Mr. François le Goff. In both these books is visible that strong bias characteristic of almost all books on history written by Frenchmen, — a naïve belief that foreign nations have no rights that France is bound to respect, and, as regards domestic affairs, the firmest confidence in the wicked disposition of all outside their own party. Historically, of course, Mr. Simon’s work is very valuable, for the writer is not only an able man, but was a prominent actor in the events described. But in his book, as in the other, is evident that fatal vice of French writers, a constant effort to flatter a party, and a sublime indifference to truth as regards foreigners. Mr. Simon, in fact, is a Parisian before he is a Frenchman, and soundly belabors the conservatives of the Assembly for daring to hold the meetings of that body in Versailles. “ To make little of Paris,” he says, “ is to make little of France, and to lessen its wealth. Foreigners come to see Paris rather than France. To wealthy and enlightened Europe Paris is France, and the strength and splendor of France are estimated by the strength and splendor of Paris. All the rest of the world takes its tastes, its fashions, and its customs from Paris ; submits to its judgment ; comes thither as to the universal meeting-place, the centre of civilization.” He cannot remark that the German neither insulted the inhabitants of the city, nor stole their goods, without intimating that they abstained only because they were a pack of slaves under the eye of a master; while later be repeats the long since exposed newspaper stories about the illegitimate fondness of “ Prussian ” officers (Mr. Simon knows no other Germans than Prussians, just as the Southern troops knew no Northerners but Yankees) for French clocks and women’s clothes. Perhaps the most conspicuous instance of this petty malice is where Mr. Simon first has occasion to mention the German emperor, whom he speaks of as “ the king, or rather, since he chose to give himself that title at Versailles, the emperor ; ” thus giving the reader to understand that King Wilhelm appropriated the title from vanity, after the fashion of Bonaparte, instead of its being conferred upon him by the princes of the nation, as a part of a great political change. The value of the book really consists in the author’s account of home affairs, and especially in the three chapters of the second volume, The Work of Legislation, The Liberation of the Territory, and The 24th of May. We have here a full account of the organization of the departmental councils, of the new army laws, of the proposed educational acts, of Thiers’s financial schemes, etc., and of the final struggle between the president and the parliament. To knowledge, however, Mr. Simon does not unite literary skill, and both these books translate military and administrative terms in such a way that they must be incomprehensible to all not familiar with the original expressions. Mr. Le Goff’s book, it should be said, is openly a eulogy, passing over in silence the least creditable acts of Thiers’s career ; but the story, as far as it goes, is well told, and, barring the very awkward English of the translation, is an agreeable book to read. Neither work has an index or a table of contents.
— Mr. Whitney may well be proud of his excellent catalogue of the Spanish and Portuguese books in the Boston Public Library.7 It forms a handsome volume of 476 large octavo pages, and will be found really invaluable by all who care for the literature of the Iberian peninsula. Mr. Tickuor’s library, which naturally forms the main part of this collection, —5359 volumes out of 7867, — was even before his death one of the most complete in existence, and now its usefulness is more than doubled by this admirable catalogue. The principal wealth of the collection is in books of general literature and history, and how rich it is can be fairly seen only by those who read over the long list of titles. These titles, useful as they of course are, have an added value for the bibliographer and the student from the exceedingly interesting notes with which Mr. Whitney has kindly made the way easier for those who follow the road which he has graded and paved.
The work of cataloguing is by no means merely mechanical; it, calls continually for judgment as well as knowledge, and when the two qualities are combined, as they have been in the preparation of this volume, it is the reader, and too often the ungrateful reader, who reaps the benefit. The bulletins of the Public Library have often been enriched by valuable notes, and here the student will find very copious additions to aid him in his researches. What more can be asked for it is hard to see.
While the Public Library is, in a commercial way, one of the most important pieces of property in the possession of the city, its higher value is beyond computation. And it has this value, not merely from the number of its books, but by its great richness in certain departments, and the value of the books is indefinitely increased by good catalogues. This one which Mr. Whitney has made with such unceasing pains is a model of careful accuracy and intelligence, and we heartily congratulate him, the library, and the public itself on this admirable volume. It is full, precise, rich in information, and well printed. The title-page especially will please the book-lover’s eye.
— In pursuance of his method of teaching the art of china painting, to which we have had occasion to refer (see Atlantic Monthly for February, 1879, page 268), M. Camille Piton has published a second album of examples,8 with two pages of letterpress devoted mainly to hints as to the proper method of copying each plate upon china, and of rendering it in color. The present album is given exclusively to the reproduction of Japanese methods in art. In the absence of Japanese picture-books, which, by the bye, are not very expensive and are easily obtained, these plates present a useful series of examples of vegetable and animal forms applied to decoration ; though for the most part suggestions quite as good, and in respect to color better, may be obtained from good fans, which, because they are cheap, are apt to be undervalued as specimens of decorative art. The album, however, has the advantage of presenting a contrasting series of motifs, and to the learner the hints as to the technicalities of their transfer to porcelain have their value. Moreover, the plates, and especially the decorations on the covers, readily and conveniently illustrate the leading characteristics of Japanese art as referred to in the text: such as the admirable adaptation of decorative forms to given spaces; its suggestion of motion and action, wherein the traditions of the best style have been faithfully and intelligently preserved from ancient times ; its feeling for the values of detail, which, though often to our eyes seeming to interfere with the necessary unity and simplicity of portrayal, is a distinctive expression of Oriental methods of design, and an inestimable addition to our resources. The cover contains excellent reproductions from the work of Ho Kusai, wherein the contortions of acrobats are set forth with a sureness and precision of touch, an appreciation of form and movement, and a parsimony of lines which contrast strangely with our own methods of drawing; and not always to our advantage, as is shown on the back cover, where Japanese fencers are given by M. Piton after Stillfried in the European manner, compared with native representations of the same subject in the native manner.
— The popular idea of music as a science is usually limited to the laws governing its construction and expression, as laid down in the treatises upon harmony, counterpoint, and thorough-bass. That there are fundamental principles underlying the entire structure, which involve physical, physiological, and even psychological laws, very few may suspect. Indeed, so thoroughly identified has the “ divine art ” become with the emotional inspirations it is used to express that its devotees might shrink from dissecting its anatomy and laying bare the hidden sources of its vitality. But a thorough understanding of its structure is essential to a perfect appreciation of its truest beauty, and whatever illusions may be dispelled will be more than compensated for by the perfected sense of this beauty.
This exposition9 is based principally on the investigations of the eminent German philosopher Helmholtz, but other authorities are cited and compared where the argument appears open to question. The author announces in his introduction that the object of his inquiry shall be to ascertain how far the rules and forms of musical structure are determined by physical laws of recognized authority, and to what extent they have been influenced by æsthetical principles, which experience has shown are subject to change, or rather to a progressive development. Throughout the work there is an evident inclination to allow much latitude in all cases where individual taste or genius does not controvert any well-established physical law, and the modern theories of harmony which undertake to subject the art in all its details to fixed and definite rules deduced from natural laws are shown to be arbitrary and insecurely based. The question has an important practical bearing upon the music of the future ; for once admit that any set of rules are incontrovertible, and we shut the door on every innovation, which experience has frequently shown to be the first step toward advancement. Unrestrained license, on the other hand, would no doubt give rise to many grotesque and fanciful forms, which could not fail to end in deterioration. How far we must obey the law, and where we may safely exercise individual taste and discretion, becomes the question, and it is only by a thorough investigation of the underlying principles of acoustics, physiology, and æsthetics, together with a careful study of the history of the art itself, that we may hope to solve it satisfactorily.
The work commences with a very clear and entertaining account of the acoustical phenomena involved, and many readers will witness with astonishment the sweeping away of long-cherished notions, shown to be purely the result of education and habit ; yet so deeply ingrained have they become that it may require a considerable effort to divest the mind of this bias sufficiently to comprehend the full force of the argument. To be told that the intervals in the diatonic scale, with the exceptions of the octave and the fifth, are purely a human invention, and that within the range of an octave we might have had anywhere from four to twenty-two perfect notes, had the inventor so willed it, rather shakes our instinctive belief in their individuality. That our present system of tonality, upon which our modern structure of harmony very largely depends, and without which it is difficult for us even to think a musical phrase, should have been in existence for less than a century, does not confirm our unconsidered assumption that it is a natural necessity. Perhaps one of the most striking instances of the force of education and habit is the inability of a person accustomed to use our chromatic scale to distinguish any melody in the succession of sounds from a Chinese “ fiddle.”We are in the habit of ridiculing the musical efforts of other races using a different scale from our own, and we call their music barbaric; but although our scale may be in many respects superior, there can be no doubt that the incoherent and unintelligible effect of their music in our ears is entirely due to a want of appreciation on our part, corresponding to the lack of comprehension of their verbal utterances when ignorant of their language. Nay, it is quite as certain that our music, like our language, must in their ears be equally incoherent and unintelligible.
The history of the development of counterpoint from melody, and of harmony from counterpoint, is carefully traced, and furnishes many curious and interesting facts. Many of our modern chords which we prize so highly were considered discords by our forefathers, and avoided accordingly. The well known chord of the diminished seventh, which is so effective in our estimation, appeared for the first time in an opera by Monteverdi in 1608, and produced quite a marked sensation by reason of its supposed dissonance. In the works of such modern writers as Wagner or Gounod, we occasionally meet with new combinations of notes that on first acquaintance seem discordant; but the musician of the future will doubtless employ them freely, as we have learned to use and admire the diminished seventh.
By an ingenious yet simple mathematical calculation, it is possible accurately to determine the relative amount of dissonance in any given combination of notes sounded simultaneously ; under this test the octave is shown to be the only perfect harmony in existence ; the perfect fifth ranks second, and the other chords follow with ever-increasing rates of dissonance.
Wherever the argument turns upon physical laws or historical facts, the author is unusually forcible and thorough, being evidently the master of his subject. But upon physiological and æsthetic questions he will find others ready to continue his argument from the point where he has thought best to leave it. Some of the questions which he has declared must defy philosophical reasoning have been attacked by no less a writer than Herbert Spencer, in his essay upon the Origin and Function of Music, published in 1858. It is difficult to understand why this branch of the subject has not been more exhaustively treated by the author, who certainly gives no sign of dissent from the views advanced by Spencer ; indeed, they are but an extension of his own, and would materially strengthen the general argument.
His tribute to the genius of great composers, whose work need not be “accounted for, that is, brought into conformity with some imagined natural rule,” suggests the possibility that a genius accomplishes results neither by overriding natural law, nor by soaring above it, nor in conscious obedience to it, but by an instinctive sympathy with its vital principles, which anticipates its deductions. Such a view of the case would satisfy both parties to the controversy ; for while allowing genius full liberty to break any technical rule not capable of immediate demonstration, it would give the theorists a right to test the results by scientific methods, whenever their laws succeeded in reaching the question. This must of necessity be afar off; for until we come to a better comprehension of the several underlying sciences, the philosophy of music can never be completely elaborated. As a clear and entertaining exposition of much that has been done towards achieving such a triumph, the work in question is worthy of careful study.
FRENCH AND GERMAN.
M. Paul Heusy, in his little book, Un Coin de la Vie de Misère,10 has drawn four sketches of the suffering of paupers, not at all in the method of Zola, but rather in that of Victor Hugo, deprived of all exaggeration, and with great striving for simplicity. The consequence is that the book is really painful reading. It is dedicated to Flaubert, who is very much admired by a number of young French writers, and is accustomed to receive the homages given him as the leader of the realistic school. But there are as many kinds of realists as there are of anything else, and M. Heusy, though he tries hard to be severe, cannot help being touching. The little tales are extremely pathetic; the étude le pauvre, for example, is of a sort to make every reader miserable, and the others are quite as sure to inspire the deepest gloom. This is a common condition of things just at the present time, and the cheerful writers are probably starving to death, while the melancholy ones are waxing fat and rosy. The most important question, however, is how the readers can stand these assaults on their feelings. If they like, a certain amount of sorrow in the books they read, let them take up this one. They will find pathetic stories, well told, and can glut themselves to their hearts’ content with the most delicious melancholy.
Wherever the discussion of French novels goes on, sooner or later something is pretty sure to be said about Theuriet, and this is generally very much to his praise. This is surely just. Theuriet is an excellent writer in many ways. But it may yet be true that it is his intention which is deserving of praise rather than his performance. To hear the laudation that is given him, one would suppose that here was a great novelist who had struck out a new path in literature, and that his originality was most striking. In fact, however, this is rating him pretty high, and higher, possibly, than he deserves. He is, to be sure, original to the moderate extent of leaving Parisian drawing-rooms and brandy-shops to some of his more illustrious contemporaries, while he generally lays his scene in the country ; but this is no novelty. George Sand had done this when Theuriet was a child, — it is curious, by the way, to bear in mind that her attention was called to the merit of what we may call rustic literature by a friend who showed her Auerbach’s Dorfgeschichten,—and Balzac and Charles de Bernard wrote about other places than Paris.
It is also true that Theuriet describes the country in a pleasant way; but green trees are no rarer in novels than they are in the woods, and there are a good many writers of fiction who are formidable rivals to our best known landscape and marine painters. Possibly this mingling of the arts justifies those hasty critics who are forever talking about word-painting. All these qualities are, however, but the outside of the matter; they concern only the frame of the picture; true originality does not show itself in describing new fashions of head-dress, but in the way the people beneath these hats are set before us, and here Theurict shows but little disposition to leave the beaten path. He makes it very clear that he is wise enough to read English novels, and to profit to some extent by their good qualities, but this no more establishes his claim to originality than the adaptation of French plays proves the existence of that quality in those who purvey to the English stage. In all essentials, Theuriet remains true to those models with which he is infinitely more familiar, and nowhere is this shown more clearly than in his story called La Maison des Deux Barbeaux.11
It is no serious objection to the tale that the plot is evident from the time that the first ten pages are read. The interest of a plot is quite an accidental matter, — who reads Thackeray for the plot, and what does all his ingenuity in this respect do to raise Wilkie Collins from his place in the valley by the side of Parnassus? — the only important thing is the way the story is told. Here we have familiar people, the middleaged, innocent husband, the frivolous wife, and the barber’s block of a lover, and the action moves in the well-known ruts. Of course, when things come to a crisis, the broad shoulders of the husband quite dwarf the scented pettiness of the lover, and after a period of probation the wife is taken into favor again. We all know the incidents ; French novelists who seek to be proper are never tired of casting their stories after this model, and in consequence they are as much like one another as are the bars of an iron fence.
There are neat touches here and there in the book, but it is hard to see upon what principle its author is called in any way great. Surely, too, the other sketch in the volume is not of a sort to add to a great man’s fame. It begins prettily enough, and there is some merit in certain parts, but there are stains in it — or such they seem to be to the reader of another nation —that cannot delight a good many persons. Moreover, many of the most offensive things are lugged in in the most superfluous way.
Yet these criticisms do not in any way detract from what we can call Theuriet’s amiability. He is pleasing enough as far as he goes, but he is tethered with a short rope.
We spoke of Auerbach a moment ago, and it is interesting to see how in his old age he has gone back to the sort of writing that first brought him real fame. His Landolin 12 is an example of his best method. After straying away to attempt the composition of the great novel of the period,— for must it not have been with some such ambitious design that he composed such a cumbersome ethical monstrosity as The Villa on the Rhine ? — he has wisely learned what is the exact limits of his powers, and has set himself a practicable task. That he has succeeded here no one can deny, and yet it is perfectly credible that a great many readers should find this book unreadable. Those who like Auerbach will like this novel, while those who do not like him will yawn over it. And it is very possible to see great merits in a book without caring to read it. We are all ready enough to acknowledge, as an abstract question, the importance of mathematical study, yet there are those of us who never open a book on the subject; and in the same way, it is easy to be indifferent to a writer whose ability and good intention we are ready enough to admit. As Paul Stapfer says in his Causeries Guernesiaises, the only position of absolutely uniform feeling towards every writer is that of indifference to all. Hence it may be very possible to read some books with every feeling of respect and none of liking. There will be others, however, who will take pleasure in this novel.
Certainly the attraction that even poor novels have for a large number of American readers is a curious thing. And it is by no means the best ones that are liked most : authors who rank at home no higher than, say, Mrs. Southworth does here are translated for the delight of thousands, while a really fine novel, like Geier-Wally, has no exceptional success. It would seem as if sometimes people who shifted from one country to another lost the bearings in more ways than one. On the other hand, we have Julian Schmidt praising the novels of Edmund Yates, of all men. But this is straying far from the discussion of Auerbach’s last novel. He takes us back to the country that he has made famous in literature, and sets before us familiar figures. The main character is the heroine, the daughter of the rich farmer. This man complicates matters very much by committing a murder, and the main interest of the story, so far as the action is concerned, is the trial of the murderer, and his subsequent career. It would be unkind to the reader to unfold here the various ins and outs of the plot; it will be sufficient to say that any one who cares for the tale at the beginning will be interested to the end. Yet the story is hardly in every respect a success. The heroine, who gives her name to the novel, is a tremendous creature, who can exist only in the imagination of a novelist who carries on his shoulders a good deal more than the construction of his stories. She is more like a goddess than a human being. In fact, it might not be inaccurate to state that the German imagination in literary matters strays from exactness very much as their imagination in art differs from that of the Greeks when they undertake to treat similar problems. Consider, for instance, what a bombastic, inflated modern Athens Munich is, what an overgrown enormity is the statue of Liberty, and it will be easy to see that the heroine of this tale has bulk and a certain sort of impressiveness, yet without belonging to the immortals. It was not the size of Zeus that made him impressive, yet it is in this respect that much of German work has tried to make itself felt, and has — with respect be it spoken — failed.
In æsthetic matters, Germany has not yet succeeded in supplanting Greece, whatever it may have done on the lists of studies in college catalogues.
- Mixed Essays. By MATTHEW ARNOLD. New York: Macmillan & Co. 1879.↩
- Essays of To-Day: Religious and Theological. By WILLIAM WILBERFORCE NEWTON. Boston : A Williams & Co. 1879.↩
- Conversations on Art Methods. By THOMAS COUTURE. Translated from the French by S. E. STEWART. With an Introduction by ROBERT SWAIN GIFFORD. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1879.↩
- Raskin on Fainting. With a Biographical Sketch. Now York : D. Appleton & Co, 1879.↩
- The Government of M. Thiers, from 8th February, 1871. to 24th May, 1878. From the French of M. JULES SIMON. In two volumes. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1879.↩
- The Life of Louis Adolphe Thiers. By FRANÇOIS LE GOFF. Translated from the unpublished MS., by THEODORE STANTON, A. M. New York : G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1879.↩
- Catalogue of the Spanish Library and of the Portuguese Books bequeathed by George Ticknor to the Boston Public Library. Together with the Collection of Spanish and Portuguese Literature in the General Library. By JAMES LYMAN WHITNEY. Boston : Printed by Order of the Trustees. 1879.↩
- China Painting in America. Album No. II. By CAMILLE PITON, Principal of National Art Training School, Philadelphia. New York : John Wiley & Sons. 1879.↩
- The Philosophy of Music. By WILLIAM POLE, F. R. S., F. R. S. E., Mus. Doc. Oxon. Boston : Houghton, Osgood & Co. 1879.↩
- Un Coin de la Vie de Misère. Par PAUL HEUSY. Paris : P. Ollendorff. Boston : CSchönhof. 1879.↩
- La Maison des Deux Barbeaux. Par A. THEUIUUT. Paris : P. Ollendorff. Boston : C. Schönhof. 1879.↩
- Landolin von Reutershöfen, Erzählung von BERTHOLD AUERBACH. Berlin : Gebrüder Paetel. Boston : C. Schönhof. 1878.↩