Page images


Photogra'ure arter a

photograph from life


agreed. But these structural laws are never obvious in the great works of art; they are obeyed, not because they have been arbitrarily imposed by an authority from without, but because they are at one with the deepest artistic impulses and necessities. Shakespeare does not need to remind himself that he is an Englishman in order to write like one; he has but to follow the line of least resistance in expression, and his work will be English to the core.

Literature may be said to approach perfection in the degree in which it reveals the life behind it, and at the same time conceals all trace of intention, contrivance, or method in making its revelation. In the highest work of all kinds obedience is spontaneous and apparently unconscious; for it is of the very essence of art that all traces of the workman should be effaced. A great poem has the volume, the flow, the deep and silent fulness, of a river; one cannot calculate the force of the springs which feed it; one gets from it only a continuous impression of exhaustless and effortless power. One has but to glance at the Rhone to feel that the Alps are feeding it. In the literature of races in their youth there may be no greater power than in the literature of the same races at maturity, but there is likely to be more buoyancy, confident ease, overflowing vitality, than at a later period; and these earlier works enrich all later work by the qualities they bring into the race consciousness. There was something in Homer which the dramatists could not reproduce, but which profited them much; there was a joy, a delight in life, a fragrance of the morning, in Chaucer which, reappearing in Shakespeare, make the weight of tragedy bearable. It is well for a race, as for a man, that it has childhood behind it, and that in those first outpourings of energy in play the beauty of the new day and the young world sinks into its heart and becomes part of its deepest consciousness; for it is out of these memories and dreams that the visions of art issue. The artist is always a child in freshness of feeling; in unworldly delight in the things which do not add to one's estate, but which make for inward joy and peace; in that easy possession of the world which brings with it the sense of freedom, the right to be happy, and the faith that life is greater than its works, and a man more important than his toil. A race, like an individual, must get this con

sciousness of possession before the work of the day becomes imperative and absorbing. The man who has not learned to play in childhood is not likely to learn to play in maturity; and without the spirit of play--the putting forth of energy as an end in itself, and for the sake of the joy which lies in pure activity—there can be no art. For work becomes art only when it is transformed into play.

Our race has had its youth, its dreams and visions; but that youth was lived on another continent; so far as the record of experience in our literature is concerned, we have always been mature people at hard work. The beginnings of our art are to be found, therefore, not in epics, ballads, songs, and stories, but in records of exploration, reports of pioneers, chronicles and histories; in Captain John Smith's “True Relation of Such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as Hath Happened in Virginia"; in William Bradford's “History of Plymouth”; in John Winthrop's “History of New England," a narrative not without touches of youth—“We had now fair sunshine weather, and so pleasant a sweet air as did much refresh us, and there came a smell off the shore like the smell of a garden"; in Cotton Mather's “Magnalia"; in “Poor Richard's Almanac"; in Mrs. Bradstreet's rhymed history of “The Four Monarchies"; in Michael Wigglesworth's “Day of Doom,” of which Lowell said that it became "the solace of every fireside, the flicker of the pine knots by which it was conned perhaps adding a livelier relish to its premonitions of eternal combustion.” There are touches of beauty in Jonathan Edwards at his best; there is a spiritual charm in John Woolman's Journal; the directness and simplicity of genuine literature are in Franklin's Autobiography; in Freneau and Hopkinson there are strains which, in a more fortunate time, might easily have turned to melody; there were great notes struck by the writers and orators of the Revolutionary period—by Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Henry. But in all this early expression of the English race in the New World there is a clear, definite purpose, an ulterior aim, a subordination of the art to the religious or political intention, which stamp the writing of the time as essentially secondary.

« PreviousContinue »