694: A Secret.

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

(Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. London: Chapman & Hall, 1919, p. 12).

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694: A Secret.

691: The Most Intimate of Forms.

Though an essay must state a proposition, there are other requirements to be fulfilled. The bones of subject and predicate must be clothed in a certain way. The basis of the essay is meditation, and it must in a measure admit the reader to the meditative process. (This procedure is frankly hinted in all those titles that used to begin with “Of” or “On”: “Of Truth,” “Of Riches,” “On the Graces and Anxieties of Pig-Driving,” “On the Knocking at the Gate in ‘Macbeth’,” “On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places”). An essay, to some extent, thinks aloud; though not in the loose and pointless way to which the “stream of consciousness” addicts have accustomed us. The author must have made up his mind otherwise, where is his proposition? But the essay, I think, should show how and why he made up his mind as he did; should engagingly rehearse the steps by which he came to his conclusions. (“Francis of Verulam reasoned thus with himself”.) Meditation; but an oriented and fruitful meditation.

This is the most intimate of forms, because it permits you to see a mind at work. On the quality and temper of that mind depends the goodness of the production. Now, if the essay is essentially meditative, it cannot be polemical. No one, I think, would call Cicero’s first oration against Catiline an essay; or Burke’ s Speech on the Conciliation of America; hardly more could we call Swift’s “Modest Proposal” a true essay. The author must have made up his mind, but when he has made it up with a vengeance, he will not produce an essay. Because the  process is meditative, the manner should be courteous; he should always, by implication, admit that there are good people who may not agree with him; his irony should never turn to the sardonic. Reasonableness, urbanity (as Matthew Arnold would have said) are prerequisites for a form whose temper is meditative rather than polemical. We have said that this is the most intimate of forms. Not only for technical reasons, though obviously the essayist is less sharply controlled by his structure than the dramatist or the sonneteer or even the novelist. It is the most intimate because it is the most subjective. When people talk of “creative” and “critical” writing dividing all literature thus they always call the essay critical. In spite of Oscar Wilde, to call it critical is probably correct; for creation implies objectivity. The created thing, though the author have torn its raw substance from his very vitals, ends by being separate from its creator. The essay, however, is incurably subjective; even “Wuthering Heights” or “Manfred” is less subjective strange though it sound than “The Function of Criticism” or “The Poetic Principle.” What Oscar Wilde really meant in “The Critic as Artist” if, that is, you hold him back from his own perversities is not that Pater’s essay on Leonardo da Vinci was more creative than many a novel, but that it was more subjective than any novel; that Pater, by virtue of his style and his mentality, made of his conception of the Mona Lisa something that we could be interested in, regardless of our opinion of the painting. I do not remember that Pater saw himself as doing more than explain to us what he thought Leonardo had done Pater, I think, would never have regarded his purple page as other than criticism. I, myself because I like the fall of Pater’s words, and do not much care for Mona Lisa’s feline face prefer Pater’s page to Leonardo’s portrait; but I am quite aware that I am merely preferring criticism, in this instance, to the thing criticized. I am, if you like, preferring Mr. Pecksniff’s drunken dream “Mrs. Todgers’s idea of a wooden leg” to the wooden leg itself. Anything (I say to myself) rather than a wooden leg!

A lot of nineteenth century “impressionistic” criticism Jules Lemaitre, Anatole France, etc. is more delightful than the prose or verse that is being criticized. It is none the less criticism. The famous definition of “the adventures of a soul among the masterpieces” does not put those adventures into the “creative” category; it merely stresses their subjectivity. Wilde is to some extent right when he says that criticism is the only civilized form of autobiography; but he is not so right when he says that the highest criticism is more creative than creation. No one would deny that the purple page Wilde quotes tells us more about Pater than it does about Leonardo, or even about Mona Lisa as Macaulay’s Essay on Milton conceivably tells us more about Macaulay than about the author of “Paradise Lost.” All Bacon’s essays together but build up a portrait of Bacon Francis of Verulam reasoning with himself; and what is the substance of the Essays of Elia, but Elia? “Subjective” is the word, however, rather than “creative.”

(Katharine Fullerton Gerould, “An Essay on Essays,” The North American Review, Vol. CCXL, 1935, pp. 412–414).

691: The Most Intimate of Forms.

633: A Dickens Character.

A solemn friend of my grandfather used to go for walks on Sunday carrying a prayer-book, without the least intention of going to church. And he calmly defended it by saying, with uplifted hand, “I do it, Chessie, as an example to others.” The man who did that was obviously a Dickens character. And I am disposed to think that, in being a Dickens character, he was in many ways rather preferable to many modern characters. Few modern men, however false, would dare to be so brazen. And I am not sure he was not really a more genuine fellow than the modern man who says vaguely that he has doubts or hates sermons, when he only wants to go and play golf. Hypocrisy itself was more sincere. Anyhow, it was more courageous.

(G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1936, p. 20).

633: A Dickens Character.

632: Proverbial Philosophy.

In many cases, though the ideas may be familiar enough, we might find it difficult to match Creole proverb with English equivalent. “It’s the old pot that makes the good soup,” might well be the motto for a Conservative association. “If your petticoats fit you well, don’t try to put on your husband’s breeches,” reminds us of one of Mrs. Lynn Lynton’s scolding diatribes; and “eating once doesn’t wear out the teeth” makes us think of Oliver Twist and his impertinent demand for more. In some of these sayings there seems to lurk a sombre irony. “It is when death comes that you think about your life;” “He who kills his own body works for the worms;” “The leprosy says it loves you, while it is eating your fingers.” There is something here, deeper and more mordant than is common in proverbial philosophy. Those who are proud of low aims and ignoble ambitions, may find a word for them in the homely saying, “Chickens don’t boast what good soup they make.” A delightful laxity in the law of slander seems to be indicated in the brief sentence “The tongue has no bones,” while, on the other hand, a strictness in the legal code is hinted at in this, “He who takes a partner takes a master.” A patriotic if mistaken zeal is shown in the protest against the custom of the rich planters who Send their sons to be educated in Europe, “He went to school a kid, and came back a sheep.” That we should learn by the misfortune of others seems to be the moral of this saying: “If you see your neighbor’s beard on fire, water your own.” “Behind the dog’s back it is ‘dog’, but before him it is ‘Mr. Dog,’” reminds us at once of a certain barrack-room ballad:

Oh, it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’
Tommy go away,
But it’s “Thank you, Mr. Atkins,” when
the band begins to play.

Good people who are over-sanguine as to the immediate accomplishment of all their little plans are quietly assured that “When the sky falls, all the flies will be caught.” Two pithy sayings deal with the root of all evil: “Money is good, but it’s too dear;” “Money has no blood relations.” Fair-Weather friends are hit off rather neatly in the next: “It’s when the wind is blowing that folks can see the skin of a fowl.”

(“Creole Proverbs,The Living Age, Vol. CCXVI, 1898, pp. 471–472).

632: Proverbial Philosophy.

571: A Lack of Full Humanity.

Some forty years ago two comments on Mill used often to be cited, made by the two men who were then the most prominent figures in the English world of politics. Mr. Gladstone spoke of him (and, I think, also wrote of him) as the “saint of Rationalism.” Mr. Disraeli, whose attention was called to Mill by his somewhat unexpected apparition in later life in the House of Commons as member for Westminster, when asked after a session’s experience of the new member what he thought of him, replied with a shrug of the shoulders, “A political finishing governess.” […]

Mill had the educating mania, and it was largely inspired by that religious zeal for the improvement of mankind which formed part of his “saintship.” From his father he had early learnt to think that if only people were thoroughly well educated and freed from the dead hand of outworn institutions all would be well with the world. And greatly though his views eventually changed, this early way of looking at things left its stamp on him through life. His cult of education issued in a certain priggishness and preciseness, and a detestation of anything vague and not clearly communicable to those whom he would instruct and help. It is to this side of his intellectual character that we may set down his admiration for the French intellect and his extraordinary undervaluing of such German metaphysicians as Hegel and Fichte. To this again must be ascribed his intense joy in distinct classification which made Dumont’s redaction of Bentham (of which I shall speak later on) as inspiring and satisfying to him as Fichte and Hegel were almost physically distressing. It is the “finishing governess” element again which made his own unique and precocious early education for years the sole matter of interest to him, and led him afterwards to analyze its results with such painful care. Like a Jesuit confessor he regarded recreation only as a means to the accomplishment of his main purpose. In his autobiography he refers to frequent holidays as a boy of seven, eight, nine, and ten spent at the old baronial hall (Ford Abbey) rented by Mr. Bentham, as “an important circumstance in my education,” and as contributing “to nourish elevation of sentiment.” He saw the Pyrenees at the age of fourteen. This is interesting to him because it “gave a colour to my tastes through life.” The interest of nearly every event in his life is determined by its effect on his mind and character.

The priggishness and preciseness which called forth Disraeli’s saying were in part caused by those peculiarities of Mill’s own early education. He had the ways of one who learnt in the first instance from books and in the schoolroom rather than, as Charles Dickens did, from the vivid impressions made by actual life on a boy’s imagination. Mr. Bain tells us that to the end his hold on abstract principles was far closer than on the concrete on the facts of life and the world. His extraordinary precocity was a hot-house growth, and he never quite recovered the fulness of human nature. There was in Mill to the end a certain thinness of sympathy and a deficiency in geniality, though his sympathies were very intense in their own narrow groove. There was a lack of full humanity. He had little sense of the ludicrous. He did not enter into or understand the varieties of human character, and he was wanting in virility.

(Wilfrid Ward, Men and Matters. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1914, pp. 146–148).

571: A Lack of Full Humanity.

356: A Idéia do Sr. Dickens.

Charles Dickens, numa nota que agora está à minha frente, aludindo a uma análise que fiz, certa vez, do mecanismo do “Barnaby Rudge”, diz: “De passagem, sabe que Godwin escreveu seu “Caleb Williams” de trás para diante? Envolveu primeiramente seu herói numa teia de dificuldades, que formava o segundo volume, e depois, para fazer o primeiro, ficou procurando um modo de explicar o que havia sido feito.”

Não posso pensar que esse seja o modo preciso de proceder de Godwin, e, de fato, o que ele próprio confessa não está completamente de acordo com a idéia do Sr. Dickens. Mas o autor de “Caleb Williams” era muito bom artista para deixar de perceber a vantagem procedente de um processo, pelo menos um tanto semelhante. Nada é mais claro do que deverem todas as intrigas, dignas desse nome, ser elaboradas em relação ao epílogo, antes que se tente qualquer coisa com a pena. Só tendo o epílogo, constantemente em vista, poderemos dar a um enredo seu aspecto indispensável de consequência, ou causalidade, fazendo com que os incidentes e, especialmente, o tom da obra tendam para o desenvolvimento de sua intenção.

(Edgar Allan Poe, “A Filosofia da Composição.” In: Poesia e Prosa. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Globo, 1960, p. 501).

356: A Idéia do Sr. Dickens.

344: The World of Hicks and Slobs.

He was a far more voracious reader than I, but he made it a rule never to touch a book by any author who had not been dead at least thirty years. “That’s the only kind of book I can trust,” he said.

“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature,” he added, “but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”

“What kind of authors do you like?” I asked, speaking in respectful tones to this man two years my senior. “Balzac, Dante, Joseph Conrad, Dickens,” he answered without hesitation.

“Not exactly fashionable.”

“That’s why I read them. If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That’s the world of hicks and slobs.

(Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood. New York: Vintage Books, 2000, pp. 30–31).

344: The World of Hicks and Slobs.