Page images
PDF
EPUB

erringly than you will from Shakespeare? He was no priest, I repeat, he waved no censer. But just as in regard to that other lesson of Freedom, Shakespeare does seem to give to each one of us courage, and energy, and strength to dedicate ourselves and our work to that seryice, to that mission—whatever it may be—which life has revealed to us as best, and highest, and most real,-SO, also, with regard to this other lesson of the Redemptive Power of a priestly Humanity, this social force of true forgiveness, I do not hesitate to say that in Shakespeare's genius there burns truly, and fragrantly, and steadily

“Such incense as of right belongs

To the true shrine,
Where stands the Healer of all wrongs,

In light Divine."

DAVID SWING

THE NOVEL IN LITERATURE

[Address by David Swing, clergyman, and platform speaker, founder of the Central (Independent) Church, Chicago, of which he remained minister until his death. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 23, 1830; died in Chicago, Ill., October 3, 1894.)

In speaking of the novel, it is not my purpose to eulogize nor to decry it, but simply in an impartial manner, to inquire as to the position in literature that the novel should occupy. I shall speak only of the ideal novel, and shall say little of it in the concrete.

Every branch of fine art springs out of something within human nature. All of the arts are the external expression of something in the spirit, and literature, being one of the arts, must also be the external expression of something within. In seeking for the cause of some branches of the fine arts, it is often essential that we fall back upon our rights as human beings, and placing our hands upon our hearts, say, “I love this or I love that because—I do.” None of you can rise in your place and tell why you love music.

Very often we have to be like the young man who was walking in the garden among the Romans—I am sure it was in the Roman days—with an old philosopher, and, having come to a bed of poppies, the young man said, “Father, why is it the poppy makes people sleepy?” Now, the custom of these old Latin and Greek professors was never to admit ignorance of anything, but always to know the whole reason—and there are men yet living of that class, theologians generally. The old philosopher From "Old Pictures of Life.” Copyright, by Stone & Kimball, and published by

Herbert S. Stone & Co.

I114

looking upon the ground said: “My son, the poppy makes people sleepy because it possesses a soporific principle”; and the young man was happy. Walking through this garden of literature, this flower called the novel-not this poppy, for the sermon is the true poppy of literaturethis rose rises up before you and asks if you can tell the source of its gorgeous coloring. In doing this it is necessary to go back.

First, having found out what literature is, we may infer whether the novel is a part of true literature. Literature is that thought which is universal. True literature must be universal truth appealing to man as man, not to man as a Methodist, Calvinist, an Englishman, or an American. Hence the writings of Shakespeare, of Homer, of Milton pass into all languages, because the great thoughts of those writers belong to the human heart. But the element of universality is not sufficient, because the truths of the multiplication table are universal. The whole humani family believe that twice two makes four. Besides the universality, you will find that all the thoughts of literature spring from the soul, that is, from the emotions, from the sentiments, rather than from the intellect alone. So that in literature you must have a universality of thought, and thought ornamented, thought decorated the thoughts of the heart. This is sufficiently inclusive, if it includes poetry, the drama, the great histories, the great essays, and religion, and is sufficiently exclusive if it throws out encyclopedias, “The Congressional Globe," and, what is better yet, arithmetic, and also dogmatic theology—which is no part of literature.

Secondly, all the fine arts spring from a basis of sentiment. They are the outward expressions of sentiment, and for the most part all fine arts spring from a single sentiment, that of the beautiful. Music, statuary, painting, architecture are the outward expressions of our sense of beauty. Literature is nothing else than thought ornamented. Where, then, is this element of beauty that makes the novel a part of literature, and secures for it an admittance into the great world of art? Go back with me, if you choose, two thousand years, and you will see upon the walls of every old temple, of every palace, of every dwelling-house a certain form or figure, and the

likeness is—woman. The forehead is not high, as our girls used to think twenty years ago—I believe the notion has perished, that thought made the forehead high; nor is the hair black, as our girls still think, but brown. The cheek, the chin, the nose, the shoulders all express beauty in the undulating lines that are supposed to con

vey it.

The Greeks called this image Andromeda, or Helen. Along came the Latins and called it Minerva, or Zenobia. Along came the Italians and called it Beatrice. The Bible built a beautiful garden around it and called it Eve. But call this creature what you may, this is the Atlas upon whose shoulders the world of the novel turns and passes through the vicissitudes of day and night, summer and winter. This is the element of beauty that entered into that part of literature, and for the most part acts as the adorning element, the decoration of the thought.

I affirm, therefore, that of the novel woman is the satisfactory explanation, the ample apology. The novel is that part of literature which is decorated, for the most part, by the beauty of woman. It is the woman in literature. I mean by this, not that woman is the whole subject-matter. She cannot be; but she is the inspiration, the central figure in the group, the reason of the grouping, the apology for it, the explanation of it, the decoration, the golden light flung over the thought. Let me illustrate. While Madame Récamier lived the great men of France-generals, statesmen, scientific men, literary men of every kind, and even clergymen—met in her parlors every day at four o'clock. Not because they loved her or she them—for it is said she loved nobody deeply—and they met not because of her conversation, for she said little, but they convened every day because there was an inspiration in her presence, something that sweetly molded the hour. They met because her beauty, her friendship, was a glorious flag under which to convene, and when she departed from life those great men convened no more. Not because the questions of war or theology had been answered, but because their hearts had been freed from that charming entanglement. This is all. What a power to inspire has the single sentiment called "love"! . I believe that is the best name for it--or friendship. What

an influence it does exert upon all our years between fifteen and-and-eighty. We have all known the poor sewing-girl to bend over her machine and sing far into the night, not because sewing-machines and poverty are sweet, but because there is something in that deep attachment she has to some human being which will take up a life of varied cares and sorrows and will baptize them all into its great flowing river and make this very life all beauty by its coloring.

This, then, is what I mean by saying that woman is the inspiration of that part of literature called the novel. The great Hindoo nation produced a beautiful system of morals and quite a good system of scientific thought and truth, but no novel. Why? Because the reason of the novel had not been permitted to exist. The Hindoo world denied the existence of woman as a mental and spiritual being, and thus, having held back the cause, the effect failed to put in an appearance. The novel rose up out of the land which emancipated woman; and ever since that day the novel has been the photograph of woman, beautiful as she is beautiful, wretched where she declines. In the days of Sir Walter Scott it was nothing but the history of a green country courtship long drawn out and full of monotony, that is, to the rest of mankind. Had not Sir Walter Scott woven into his novels a vast amount of scenery and costume and history, his works to-day would be entirely crowded from our shelves. In Sir Walter Scott's day the entire effort of genius in this line was to postpone a wedding. Just think of it! Escapes from bandits, Indians, poisoning, and mothers-in-law enabled the novel writer then to accumulate stuff enough for two volumes, and then came a wedding or a funeral.

Every novel, too, must have its hero, as well as its heroine. But candor compels me—I emphasize the word the sense of justice compels me to say that there is not in the masculine faith or nature the element of beauty that will ever enable it to become the basis of fine art. It discouraging, but true.

When any painter wishes to place upon canvas his idea of beauty, he never asks men to sit. Who ever saw Faith, Hope, and Charity pictured as three men ?

I now proceed to the most difficult part of my dis

« PreviousContinue »