658: A Quality so Rare.

Where the purpose of glass is to be seen through, we do not want it tinted nor wavy. In certain kinds of poetry the case may be slightly different; such, for instance, as are intended to display the powers of association and combination in the writer, and to invite and exercise the compass and comprehension of the intelligent… Great painters have always the same task to perform. What is excellent in their art cannot be thought excellent by many, even of those who reason well on ordinary matters, and see clearly beauties elsewhere. All correct perceptions are the effect of careful practice. We little doubt that a mirror would direct us in the most familiar of our features, and that our hand would follow its guidance, until we try to cut a lock of our hair. We have no such criterion to demonstrate our liability to error in judging of poetry; a quality so rare that perhaps no five contemporaries ever were masters of it.

(Walter Savage Landor, Aphorisms. London: George Allen, 1897, pp. 165–166).

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658: A Quality so Rare.

655: Genius Cannot Popularize Itself.

While, in order to win popularity and immediate success, it appears to be a necessity to write to a probable public, it is no less true that the greatest minds — those which have influenced the thought, not of individuals, but of the race — have simply written out what was in them; written not for popularity nor fame, nor even for money, but for posterity, for all time.

Primarily, though, I am inclined to think they wrote for themselves, because they could not help it, absolute necessity for expression being one of the laws of genius. A poet sings as does the bird, and a brain that is bursting with thought must give itself vent. Herein lies the difference. The magazinist writes to his public, the genius must form his public; the first must please his audience, and if he succeeds, he has his reward in applause and bouquets. But genius toils during long and apparently fruitless years; he cannot get before the footlights. He is unheard, unappreciated by the public, while too often misunderstood, taunted, and scorned by his private critic. To many people print is the criterion of excellence, and they would not estimate Shakespeare himself in manuscript.

No less than other men would our genius enjoy fame, success, and the ease of wealth, but not for these will he exchange his soul. Genius cannot popularize itself; it must wait for the thought of the times to catch up with it, for it is the very essence of genius that it is before and far away beyond its generation. The greater the genius, the longer the waiting. Remember Hawthorne, the hermit, secluding himself in a bleak New England chamber for seventeen years before his marvellous witchery began to win recognition; Carlyle at Craigan-Puttoch, and again at Cheyne Row tearing his hair over the “French Revolution,” and bitterly reviling in his heart the pigmy public which could “eat; drink, and be merry” on the edge of a no less terrible social abyss. Emerson never won riches, and grand old Walt Whitman has lived in poverty all these years. Shelley, the exile, was banished from Oxford, scorned by his own, robbed of his children, and yet to-day the Clarendon Press is bringing out his “Adonais” in an edition de luxe. Browning lived to realize fame and a sufficiency of success; but read his “Men and Women” to learn if he knew or not the depths of sorrowing disheartenment.

“Given the conditions, who would be a genius?” cries one, and the answer comes swift: “Surely, not he who asks the question and flaunts the doubt.”

(Jeanie Porter Rudd, “Writing to a Public,” The Writer, Vol. V, 1891, p. 117).

655: Genius Cannot Popularize Itself.

651: Fearless Man.

‘I will have no man in my boat,’ said Starbuck, ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’ By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.

(Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Vol. 1. London: Constable and Company, 1922, p. 242).

651: Fearless Man.

649: He is in Heaven.

You do not rise from the reading of one of Chesterton’s appreciations with that feeling of being armed which you obtain from the great satirists and particularly from the masters of irony.

He wounded none, but thus also he failed to provide weapons wherewith one may wound and kill folly. Now without wounding and killing, there is no battle; and thus, in this life, no victory; but also no peril to the soul through hatred.

Of the personal advantage to himself of so great and all-pervading a charity, too much cannot be said; but I believe it to be a drag upon his chances of endurance upon paper — for what that may be worth — and it is worth nothing compared with eternal things. Christendom would seem to be now entering an ultimate phase in the struggle between good and evil, which is, for us, the battle between the Catholic Church and its opponents. In that struggle, those will stand out in the future most vividly who most provoked hostility. To his lasting advantage in the essential things of the spirit, of his own individual soul, he did not provoke it.

He was aided in the preservation of such serenity by the gradualness of the approach he made to the right side of the battle. His name and writings were already familiar before his conversion, to a general public, which had no idea of the Faith. They were thus familiar and accepted long before he threw down the last challenge by fully accepting the Creed, the Unity and the temporal disabilities of Catholic allegiance. He had before his reception acquired, as it were, a privileged position which permitted him to be still listened to after he had crossed that frontier of the Faith beyond which lies all that his fellow-countrymen oppose.

Herein he was blessed and may be justly envied by those who are condemned by their Faith to exclusion and exile. In the appreciation of a man rather than of a writer virtue is immeasurably more important than literary talent and appeal. For these last make up nothing for the salvation of the soul and for an ultimate association with those who should be our unfailing companions in Beatitude: the Great Company. Of that Company he now is; so that it is a lesser and even indifferent thing to determine how much he shall also be of the company, the earthly and temporal company, of the local and temporarily famous.

What place he may take according to that lesser standard I cannot tell, because many years must pass before a man’s position in the literature of his country can be called securely established.

We are too near to decide on this. But because we are so near and because those (such as I who write this) who were his companions, knew him through his very self and not through his external activity, we are in communion with him. So be it. He is in Heaven.

(Hilaire Belloc, On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters. London: Sheed & Ward, 1940).

649: He is in Heaven.

645: They Were Not Satirists.

Satire is a matter of period. It flourishes in a stable society and presupposes homogeneous moral standards — the early Roman Empire and eighteenth-century Europe. It is aimed at inconsistency and hypocrisy. It exposes polite cruelty and folly by exaggerating them. It seeks to produce shame. All this has no place in the Century of the Common Man where vice no longer pays lip service to virtue. The artist’s only service to the disintegrated society of today is to create independent little systems of order of his own. I foresee in the dark age to come that the scribes may play the part of monks after the first barbarian victories. They were not satirists.

(Evelyn Waugh; quoted in Paul V. Mankowski, “Waugh on the Merits,” First Things, October 2017).

645: They Were Not Satirists.

644: My Retrospect of Life.

‘Praise,’ said the sage with a sigh, ‘is to an old man an empty sound. I have neither mother to be delighted with the reputation of her son, nor wife to partake the honours of her husband. I have outlived my friends and my rivals. Nothing is now of much importance; for I cannot extend my interest beyond myself. Youth is delighted with applause, because it is considered as the earnest of some future good, and because the prospect of life is far extended; but to me, who am now declining to decrepitude, there is little to be feared from the malevolence of men, and yet less to be hoped from their affection or esteem. Something they may yet take away, but they can give me nothing. Riches would now be useless, and high employment would be pain. My retrospect of life recalls to my view many opportunities of good neglected, much time squandered upon trifles, and more lost in idleness and vacancy. I leave many great designs unattempted, and many great attempts unfinished. My mind is burdened with no heavy crime, and therefore I compose myself to tranquillity; endeavour to abstract my thoughts from hopes and cares, which, though reason knows them to be vain, still try to keep their old possession of the heart; expect, with serene humility, that hour which nature cannot long delay; and hope to possess, in a better state, that happiness which here I could not find, and that virtue which here I have not attained.’

(Samuel Johnson, History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1898, pp. 143–144).

644: My Retrospect of Life.