Page images

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 wordthe 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 is 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

cussion, viz., that the more the novel gets away from woman the greater the book. This I suppose you will think is heresy, but I expect to show you it is orthodox. That is, the more she is made the priestess of the religion without herself becoming the religion the greater the book. In his preface Montaigne says, “I have gathered flowers from everybody's field, and nothing is mine except the string that binds them." So, the modern novel, that is, the ideal novel and the modern novel is approaching the ideal novel—is a book in which the truth is gathered from every field, from science, from religion, from politics, and woman is the white ribbon that binds them for us. That is all.

To illustrate: Let us take the German novel by Richter. Who was Richter? Was he some young man trying to palm off on the public an account of his courtship? By no means. For fifty or sixty years had the sun gone down in beauty along the Rhine in his sight. For fifty years he had been a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. The hair hung snow-white upon his shoulders when he sat down to commit to writing his deepest thoughts regarding education, and religion, and the development of character; and he chose Linda, a beautiful being, and set her down in the midst of his thought after weaving around her all the flowers of his mind's best moments, and we are all allured along by her shining figure through the deepest thoughts of that German philosopher. In George MacDonald our religion is reinstated. The religion of the past is all reconstructed—not overthrown, but beautifully reconstructed. In his works the gates of hell are made a little narrower, so that not quite so big a crowd are forced therein. In his works the gates of heaven are made a good deal larger, so that millions of beings whom our ancestors shut out forever from this blessed abode all come crowding in there, a happy throng, through its pearly gates. What need I say of Bulwer, and George Eliot, and all this modern school? I will only say this, that they are gates of beauty through which often appear the holiest truths of life.

Now, if education were simply the accumulation of truths I should not be willing to enter this plea, but education is never the accumulation of facts. Otherwise all

[ocr errors]

the books we would need would be the encyclopedia, the dictionary, the daily press. Education is the awakening of the heart: it is life, vitality, the arousing of the spirit. And hence all the arts come beside the truths of life. Education, being the power to think, the power to act, what we need is not information only, but awakening something that moves the sluggish blood in our hearts and makes us truly alive. This is what we all need, because man is not only by nature totally depraved, but totally lazy. Edmund Burke was indeed a man that knew much, but you can find many a German professor in his gardien that knew ten times as much. So Daniel Webster; but Daniel Webster felt deeply some of the truths of life. They flowed all through his blood, tingled in his fingerends—liberty for example, the Union. Education, therefore, is not the amassing of truths, but it is the deep realization of truth, and hence around the great forehead of Daniel Webster all the shouts of liberty in all the ages of the past echoed a great music in the upper air. This was education, the power to think and to feel deeply.

I speak with feeling upon this point, because one of the great calamities with which we all have to battle is narrowness, that is, we all become attached to our little path in life, and we think that is the God-appointed life. The physician feels that if only the whole human family would read some of the rules regarding health, they would need little else. They would not need much daily newspaper, or preaching, or magazine. He has come to feel that the wisdom of the world is all along his path. It is so with the lawyer, and who is an exception to this? I am not sure but that the editor of the daily paper--the best in the land-feels that if we would all take his paper-and it is the best in the land—we would need nothing else. And then along comes a clergyman, and he is perfectly certain -if the clergyman ever has an assurance of faith, it is on this point—that if the whole world were brought before his pulpit every Sunday morning, it would need very little of the novel, or the newspaper, or the magazine, for does he not know it all?-and so cheap! It is the fine art that helps the newspaper, and the newspaper that helps the fine art, and the pulpit the same, and he has the educated

soul who permits all these rays of light to fall right down through his intellect upon his heart.

The question, Who should read novels? is perfectly absurd. There are in all the arts the high and the low. The wit of Rabelais is low, or Cervantes lofty. The paintings of the old Dutch school were humble, being most of them scenes in grog-shops, but in the Düsseldorf school lofty, being for the most part great scenes from the world of nature. The poetry of Swinburne is low for the most part, that of Bryant lofty. These two colors, white and black, run through all the arts everywhere, and it is for us to choose. Who should read the novel? Everybody should read the novel where woman decorates the great truths of life; but where the novel is the simple history of love, nobody. And especially should those read novels who the most don't want to; they the most need them. And there ought to be a law requiring a certain class of people to read one novel a year-persons who through some narrowness of law, or of medicine, or of merchandise, or, what is most probable, of theology, have been reduced to the condition of pools of water in Auguststationary, sickly, scum-covered, and just about to go dry.

Nor are we to love only the novel in the day when history has become so deep, so broad, so grand, not being the history of wars any more, but of thought, of science, of art. In such a day, to love only the novel, and to read only the novel, is to offer an insult alike to God and to man; but even Tyndall ought to turn away from his perpetual analyses of drops of water, everlasting weighing of dust, and over the pages of “John Halifax” pass from a world of matter to a world of spirit. So must you all live, with all the beautiful things and the powerful things of God's world falling right into your open hearts, feeding the great flame of life. As miners look up a long shaft and see a little piece of sky which they call heaven, so there are men who look through a long punched-elder, very long and very slim, and they see through the other end of it a spot, and call it a world. It must be the effort of our lives to get right away from this imprisonment. To be too near any one thing—that is fanaticism. It is the eclipse of God's great Heavens in favor of our tallow candle,

« PreviousContinue »