Infomotions, Inc.The Relation of Literature to Life / Warner, Charles Dudley, 1829-1900

Author: Warner, Charles Dudley, 1829-1900
Title: The Relation of Literature to Life
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): warner; literature
Contributor(s): Teixeira de Mattos, Alexander, 1865-1921 [Translator]
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Title: Relation of Literature to Life

Author: Charles Dudley Warner

Release Date: December 6, 2004 [EBook #3117]

Language: English

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Produced by David Widger


By Charles Dudley Warner




The county of Franklin in Northwestern Massachusetts, if not rivaling in
certain ways the adjoining Berkshire, has still a romantic beauty of its
own. In the former half of the nineteenth century its population was
largely given up to the pursuit of agriculture, though not under
altogether favorable conditions. Manufactures had not yet invaded the
region either to add to its wealth or to defile its streams. The villages
were small, the roads pretty generally wretched save in summer, and from
many of the fields the most abundant crop that could be gathered was that
of stones.

The character of the people conformed in many ways to that of the soil.
The houses which lined the opposite sides of the single street, of which
the petty places largely consisted, as well as the dwellings which dotted
the country, were the homes of men who possessed in fullness many of the
features, good and bad, that characterized the Puritan stock to which
they belonged. There was a good deal of religion in these rural
communities and occasionally some culture. Still, as a rule, it must be
confessed, there would be found in them much more of plain living than of
high thinking. Broad thinking could hardly be said to exist at all. By
the dwellers in that region Easter had scarcely even been heard of;
Christmas was tolerated after a fashion, but was nevertheless looked upon
with a good deal of suspicion as a Popish invention. In the beliefs of
these men several sins not mentioned in the decalogue took really, if
unconsciously, precedence of those which chanced to be found in that
list. Dancing was distinctly immoral; card-playing led directly to
gambling with all its attendant evils; theatre-going characterized the
conduct of the more disreputable denizens of great cities. Fiction was
not absolutely forbidden; but the most lenient regarded it as a great
waste of time, and the boy who desired its solace on any large scale was
under the frequent necessity of seeking the seclusion of the haymow.

But however rigid and stern the beliefs of men might be, nature was there
always charming, not only in her summer beauty, but even in her wildest
winter moods. Narrow, too, as might be the views of the members of these
communities about the conduct of life, there was ever before the minds of
the best of them an ideal of devotion to duty, an earnest all-pervading
moral purpose which implanted the feeling that neither personal success
nor pleasure of any sort could ever afford even remotely compensation for
the neglect of the least obligation which their situation imposed. It was
no misfortune for any one, who was later to be transported to a broader
horizon and more genial air, to have struck the roots of his being in a
soil where men felt the full sense of moral responsibility for everything
said or done, and where the conscience was almost as sensitive to the
suggestion of sin as to its actual accomplishment.

It was amidst such surroundings that Charles Dudley Warner was born on
the 12th of September, 1829. His birthplace was the hill town of
Plainfield, over two thousand feet above the level of the sea. His
father, a farmer, was a man of cultivation, though not college-bred. He
died when his eldest son had reached the age of five, leaving to his
widow the care of two children. Three years longer the family continued
to remain on the farm. But however delightful the scenery of the country
might be, its aesthetic attractions did not sufficiently counterbalance
its agricultural disadvantages. Furthermore, while the summers were
beautiful on this high table land, the winters were long and dreary in
the enforced solitude of a thinly settled region. In consequence, the
farm was sold after the death of the grandfather, and the home broken up.
The mother with her two children, went to the neighboring village of
Charlemont on the banks of the Deerfield. There the elder son took up his
residence with his guardian and relative, a man of position and influence
in the community, who was the owner of a large farm. With him he stayed
until he was twelve years old, enjoying all the pleasures and doing all
the miscellaneous jobs of the kind which fall to the lot of a boy brought
up in an agricultural community.

The story of this particular period of his life was given by Warner in a
work which was published about forty years later. It is the volume
entitled "Being a Boy." Nowhere has there been drawn a truer or more
vivid picture of rural New England. Nowhere else can there be found such
a portrayal of the sights and sounds, the pains and pleasures of life on
a farm as seen from the point of view of a boy. Here we have them all
graphically represented: the daily "chores" that must be looked after;
the driving of cows to and from the pasture; the clearing up of fields
where vegetation struggled with difficulty against the prevailing stones;
the climbing of lofty trees and the swaying back and forth in the wind on
their topmost boughs; the hunting of woodchucks; the nutting excursions
of November days, culminating in the glories of Thanksgiving; the romance
of school life, over which vacations, far from being welcomed with
delight, cast a gloom as involving extra work; the cold days of winter
with its deep or drifting snows, the mercury of the thermometer clinging
with fondness to zero, even when the sun was shining brilliantly; the
long chilling nights in which the frost carved fantastic structures on
the window-panes; the eager watching for the time when the sap would
begin to run in the sugar-maples; the evenings given up to reading, with
the inevitable inward discontent at being sent to bed too early; the
longing for the mild days of spring to come, when the heavy cowhide boots
could be discarded, and the boy could rejoice at last in the covering for
his feet which the Lord had provided. These and scores of similar
descriptions fill up the picture of the life furnished here. It was
nature's own school wherein was to be gained the fullest intimacy with
her spirit. While there was much which she could not teach, there was
also much which she alone could teach. From his communion with her the
boy learned lessons which the streets of crowded cities could never have

At the age of twelve this portion of his education came to an end. The
family then moved to Cazenovia in Madison county in Central New York,
from which place Warner's mother had come, and where her immediate
relatives then resided. Until he went to college this was his home. There
he attended a preparatory school under the direction of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, which was styled the Oneida Conference Seminary. It was
at this institution that he fitted mainly for college; for to college it
had been his father's dying wish that he should go, and the boy himself
did not need the spur of this parting injunction. A college near his home
was the excellent one of Hamilton in the not distant town of Clinton in
the adjoining county of Oneida. Thither he repaired in 1848, and as he
had made the best use of his advantages, he was enabled to enter the
sophomore class. He was graduated in 1851.

But while fond of study he had all these years been doing something
besides studying. The means of the family were limited, and to secure the
education he desired, not only was it necessary to husband the resources
he possessed, but to increase them in every possible way. Warner had all
the American boy's willingness to undertake any occupation not in itself
discreditable. Hence to him fell a full share of those experiences which
have diversified the early years of so many men who have achieved
success. He set up type in a printing office; he acted as an assistant in
a bookstore; he served as clerk in a post-office. He was thus early
brought into direct contact with persons of all classes and conditions of

The experience gave to his keenly observant mind an insight into the
nature of men which was to be of special service to him in later years.
Further, it imparted to him a familiarity with their opinions and hopes
and aspirations which enabled him to understand and sympathize with
feelings in which he did not always share.

During the years which immediately followed his departure from college,
Warner led the somewhat desultory and apparently aimless life of many
American graduates whose future depends upon their own exertions and
whose choice of a career is mainly determined by circumstances. From the
very earliest period of his life he had been fond of reading. It was an
inherited taste. The few books he found in his childhood's home would
have been almost swept out of sight in the torrent, largely of trash,
which pours now in a steady stream into the humblest household. But the
books, though few, were of a high quality; and because they were few they
were read much, and their contents became an integral part of his
intellectual equipment. Furthermore, these works of the great masters,
with which he became familiar, set for him a standard by which to test
the value of whatever he read, and saved him even in his earliest years
from having his taste impaired and his judgment misled by the vogue of
meretricious productions which every now and then gain popularity for the
time. They gave him also a distinct bent towards making literature his
profession. But literature, however pleasant and occasionally profitable
as an avocation, was not to be thought of as a vocation. Few there are at
any period who have succeeded in finding it a substantial and permanent
support; at that time and in this country such a prospect was practically
hopeless for any one. It is no matter of surprise, therefore, that
Warner, though often deviating from the direct path, steadily gravitated
toward the profession of law.

Still, even in those early days his natural inclination manifested
itself. The Knickerbocker Magazine was then the chosen organ to which all
young literary aspirants sent their productions. To it even in his
college days Warner contributed to some extent, though it would doubtless
be possible now to gather out of this collection but few pieces which,
lacking his own identification, could be assigned to him positively. At a
later period he contributed articles to Putnam's Magazine, which began
its existence in 1853. Warner himself at one time, in that period of
struggle and uncertainty, expected to become an editor of a monthly which
was to be started in Detroit. But before the magazine was actually set on
foot the inability of the person who projected it to supply the necessary
means for carrying it on prevented the failure which would inevitably
have befallen a venture of that sort, undertaken at that time and in that
place. Yet he showed in a way the native bent of his mind by bringing out
two years after his graduation from college a volume of selections from
English and American authors entitled "The Book of Eloquence." This work
a publisher many years afterward took advantage of his later reputation
to reprint.

This unsettled period of his life lasted for several years. He was
resident for a while in various places. Part of the time he seems to have
been in Cazenovia; part of the time in New York; part of the time in the
West. One thing in particular there was which stood in the way of fixing
definitely his choice of a profession. This was the precarious state of
his health, far poorer then than it was in subsequent years. Warner,
however, was never at any period of his life what is called robust. It
was his exceeding temperance in all things which enabled him to venture
upon the assumption and succeed in the accomplishment of tasks which men,
physically far stronger than he, would have shrunk from under-taking,
even had they been possessed of the same abilities. But his condition,
part of that time, was such that it led him to take a course of treatment
at the sanatorium in Clifton Springs. It became apparent, however, that
life in the open air, for a while at least, was the one thing essential.
Under the pressure of this necessity he secured a position as one of an
engineering party engaged in the survey of a railway in Missouri. In that
occupation he spent a large part of 1853 and 1854. He came back from this
expedition restored to health. With that result accomplished, the duty of
settling definitely upon what he was to do became more urgent. Among
other things he did, while living for a while with his uncle in
Binghamton, N. Y., he studied law in the office of Daniel S. Dickinson.

In the Christmas season of 1854 he went with a friend on a visit to
Philadelphia and stayed at the house of Philip M. Price, a prominent
citizen of that place who was engaged, among other things, in the
conveyancing of real estate. It will not be surprising to any one who
knew the charm of his society in later life to be told that he became at
once a favorite with the older man. The latter was advanced in years, he
was anxious to retire from active business. Acting under his advice,
Warner was induced to come to Philadelphia in 1855 and join him, and to
form subsequently a partnership in legal conveyancing with another young
man who had been employed in Mr. Price's office. Thus came into being the
firm of Barton and Warner. Their headquarters were first in Spring Garden
Street and later in Walnut Street. The future soon became sufficiently
assured to justify Warner in marriage, and in October, 1856, he was
wedded to Susan Lee, daughter of William Elliott Lee of New York City.

But though in a business allied to the law, Warner was not yet a lawyer.
His occupation indeed was only in his eyes a temporary makeshift while he
was preparing himself for what was to be his real work in life.
Therefore, while supporting himself by carrying on the business of
conveyancing, he attended the courses of study at the law department of
the University of Pennsylvania, during the academic years of 1856-57 and
1857-58. From that institution he received the degree of bachelor of law
in 1858--often misstated 1856--and was ready to begin the practice of
his, profession.

In those days every young man of ability and ambition was counseled to go
West and grow up with the country, and was not unfrequently disposed to
take that course of his own accord. Warner felt the general impulse. He
had contemplated entering, in fact had pretty definitely made up his mind
to enter, into a law partnership with a friend in one of the smaller
places in that region. But on a tour, somewhat of exploration, he stopped
at Chicago. There he met another friend, and after talking over the
situation with him he decided to take up his residence in that city. So
in 1858 the law-firm of Davenport and Warner came into being. It lasted
until 1860. It was not exactly a favorable time for young men to enter
upon the practice of this profession. The country was just beginning to
recover from the depression which had followed the disastrous panic of
1857; but confidence was as yet far from being restored. The new firm did
a fairly good business; but while there was sufficient work to do, there
was but little money to pay for it. Still Warner would doubtless have
continued in the profession had he not received an offer, the acceptance
of which determined his future and changed entirely his career.

Hawley, now United States Senator from Connecticut, was Warner's senior
by a few years. He had preceded him as a student at the Oneida Conference
Seminary and at Hamilton College. Practicing law in Hartford, he had
started in 1857, in conjunction with other leading citizens, a paper
called the Evening Press. It was devoted to the advocacy of the
principles of the Republican party, which was at that time still in what
may be called the formative state of its existence. This was a period in
which for some years the dissolution had been going on of the two old
parties which had divided the country. Men were changing sides and were
aligning themselves anew according to their views on questions which were
every day assuming greater prominence in the minds of all. There was
really but one great subject talked about or thought about. It split into
opposing sections the whole land over which was lowering the grim, though
as yet unrecognizable, shadow of civil war. The Republican party had been
in existence but a very few years, but in that short time it had
attracted to its ranks the young and enthusiastic spirits of the North,
just as to the other side were impelled the members of the same class in
the South. The intellectual contest which preceded the physical was
stirring the hearts of all men. Hawley, who was well aware of Warner's
peculiar ability, was anxious to secure his co-operation and assistance.
He urged him to come East and join him in the conduct of the new
enterprise he had undertaken.

Warner always considered that he derived great benefit from his
comparatively limited study and practice of law; and that the little time
he had given up to it had been far from being misspent. But the opening
which now presented itself introduced him to a field of activity much
more suited to his talents and his tastes. He liked the study of law
better than its practice; for his early training had not been of a kind
to reconcile him to standing up strongly for clients and causes that he
honestly believed to be in the wrong. Furthermore, his heart, as has been
said, had always been in literature; and though journalism could hardly
be called much more than a half-sister, the one could provide the support
which the other could never promise with certainty. So in 1860 Warner
removed to Hartford and joined his friend as associate editor of the
newspaper he had founded. The next year the war broke out. Hawley at once
entered the army and took part in the four years' struggle. His departure
left Warner in editorial charge of the paper, into the conduct of which
he threw himself with all the earnestness and energy of his nature, and
the ability, both political and literary, displayed in its columns gave
it at once a high position which it never lost.

At this point it may be well to give briefly the few further salient
facts of Warner's connection with journalism proper. In 1867 the owners
of the Press purchased the Courant, the well-known morning paper which
had been founded more than a century before, and consolidated the Press
with it. Of this journal, Hawley and Warner, now in part proprietors,
were the editorial writers. The former, who had been mustered out of the
army with the rank of brevet Major-General, was soon diverted from
journalism by other employments. He was elected Governor, he became a
member of Congress, serving successively in both branches. The main
editorial responsibility for the conduct of the paper devolved in
consequence upon Warner, and to it he gave up for years nearly all his
thought and attention. Once only during that early period was his labor
interrupted for any considerable length of time. In May, 1868, he set out
on the first of his five trips across the Atlantic. He was absent nearly
a year. Yet even then he cannot be said to have neglected his special
work. Articles were sent weekly from the other side, describing what he
saw and experienced abroad. His active connection with the paper he never
gave up absolutely, nor did his interest in it ever cease. But after he
became connected with the editorial staff of Harpers Magazine the
contributions he made to his journal were only occasional and what may be
called accidental.

When 1870 came, forty years of Warner's life had gone by, and nearly
twenty years since he had left college. During the latter ten years of
this period he had been a most effective and forcible leader-writer on
political and social questions, never more so than during the storm and
stress of the Civil War. Outside of these topics he had devoted a great
deal of attention to matters connected with literature and art. His
varied abilities were fully recognized by the readers of the journal he

But as yet there was little or no recognition outside. It is no easy
matter to tell what are the influences, what the circumstances, which
determine the success of a particular writer or of a particular work.
Hitherto Warner's repute was mainly confined to the inhabitants of a
provincial capital and its outlying and dependent towns. However
cultivated the class to which his writings appealed--and as a class it
was distinctly cultivated--their number was necessarily not great. To the
country at large what he did or what he was capable of doing was not
known at all. Some slight efforts he had occasionally put forth to secure
the publication of matter he had prepared. He experienced the usual fate
of authors who seek to introduce into the market literary wares of a new
and better sort. His productions did not follow conventional lines.
Publishers were ready to examine what he offered, and were just as ready
to declare that these new wares were of a nature in which they were not
inclined to deal.

But during 1870 a series of humorous articles appeared in the Hartford
Courant, detailing his experiences in the cultivation of a garden. Warner
had become the owner of a small place then almost on the outskirts of the
city. With the dwelling-house went the possession of three acres of land.
The opportunity thus presented itself of turning into a blessing the
primeval curse of tilling the soil, in this instance not with a hoe, but
with a pen. These articles detailing his experiences excited so much
amusement and so much admiration that a general desire was manifested
that they should receive a more permanent life than that accorded to
articles appearing in the columns of newspapers, and should reach a
circle larger than that to be found in the society of the Connecticut
capital. Warner's previous experience had not disposed him to try his
fortunes with the members of the publishing fraternity. In fact he did
not lay so much stress upon the articles as did his readers and friends.
He always insisted that he had previously written other articles which in
his eyes certainly were just as good as they, if not better.

It so chanced that about this time Henry Ward Beecher came to Hartford to
visit his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Warner was invited to meet him.
In the course of the conversation the articles just mentioned were
referred to by some one of those present. Beecher's curiosity was aroused
and he expressed a desire to see them. To him they were accordingly sent
for perusal. No sooner had he run through them than he recognized in them
the presence of a rare and delicate humor which struck a distinctly new
note in American literature. It was something he felt which should not be
confined to the knowledge of any limited circle. He wrote at once to the
publisher James T. Fields, urging the production of these articles in
book form. Beecher's recommendation in those days was sufficient to
insure the acceptance of any book by any publisher. Mr. Fields agreed to
bring out the work, provided the great preacher would prefix an
introduction. This he promised to do and did; though in place of the
somewhat more formal piece he was asked to write, he sent what he called
an introductory letter.

The series of papers published under the title of "My Summer in a Garden"
came out at the very end of 1870, with the date of 1871 on the
title-page. The volume met with instantaneous success. It was the subject
of comment and conversation everywhere and passed rapidly through several
editions. There was a general feeling that a new writer had suddenly
appeared, with a wit and wisdom peculiarly his own, precisely like which
nothing had previously existed in our literature. To the later editions
of the work was added an account of a cat which had been presented to the
author by the Stowes. For that reason it was given from the Christian
name of the husband of the novelist the title of Calvin. To this John was
sometimes prefixed, as betokening from the purely animal point of view a
certain resemblance to the imputed grimness and earnestness of the great
reformer. There was nothing in the least exaggerated in the account which
Warner gave of the character and conduct of this really remarkable member
of the feline race. No biography was ever truer; no appreciation was ever
more sympathetic; and in the long line of cats none was ever more worthy
to have his story truly and sympathetically told. All who had the fortune
to see Calvin in the flesh will recognize the accuracy with which his
portrait was drawn. All who read the account of him, though not having
seen him, will find it one of the most charming of descriptions. It has
the fullest right to be termed a cat classic.

With the publication of "My Summer in a Garden" Warner was launched upon
a career of authorship which lasted without cessation during the thirty
years that remained of his life. It covered a wide field. His interests
were varied and his activity was unremitting. Literature, art, and that
vast diversity of topics which are loosely embraced under the general
name of social science--upon all these he had something fresh to say, and
he said it invariably with attractiveness and effect. It mattered little
what he set out to talk about, the talk was sure to be full both of
instruction and entertainment. No sooner had the unequivocal success of
his first published work brought his name before the public than he was
besieged for contributions by conductors of periodicals of all sorts; and
as he had ideas of his own upon all sorts of subjects, he was constantly
furnishing matter of the most diverse kind for the most diverse

As a result, the volumes here gathered together represent but a limited
portion of the work he accomplished. All his life, indeed, Warner was not
only an omnivorous consumer of the writings of others, but a constant
producer. The manifestation of it took place in ways frequently known to
but few. It was not merely the fact that as an editor of a daily paper he
wrote regularly articles on topics of current interest to which he never
expected to pay any further attention; but after his name became widely
known and his services were in request everywhere, he produced scores of
articles, some long, some short, some signed, some unsigned, of which he
made no account whatever. One looking through the pages of contemporary
periodical literature is apt at any moment to light upon pieces, and
sometimes upon series of them, which the author never took the trouble to
collect. Many of those to which his name was not attached can no longer
be identified with any approach to certainty. About the preservation of
much that he did--and some of it belonged distinctly to his best and most
characteristic work--he was singularly careless, or it may be better to
say, singularly indifferent.

If I may be permitted to indulge in the recital of a personal experience,
there is one incident I recall which will bring out this trait in a
marked manner. Once on a visit to him I accompanied him to the office of
his paper. While waiting for him to discharge certain duties there, and
employing myself in looking over the exchanges, I chanced to light upon a
leading article on the editorial page of one of the most prominent of the
New York dailies. It was devoted to the consideration of some recent
utterances of a noted orator who, after the actual mission of his life
had been accomplished, was employing the decline of it in the
exploitation of every political and economic vagary which it had entered
into the addled brains of men to evolve. The article struck me as one of
the most brilliant and entertaining of its kind I had ever read; it was
not long indeed before it appeared that the same view of it was taken by
many others throughout the country. The peculiar wit of the comment, the
keenness of the satire made so much of an impression upon me that I
called Warner away from his work to look at it. At my request he hastily
glanced over it, but somewhat to my chagrin failed to evince any
enthusiasm about it. On our way home I again spoke of it and was a good
deal nettled at the indifference towards it which he manifested. It
seemed to imply that my critical judgment was of little value; and
however true might be his conclusion on that point, one does not enjoy
having the fact thrust too forcibly upon the attention in the familiarity
of conversation. Resenting therefore the tone he had assumed, I took
occasion not only to reiterate my previously expressed opinion somewhat
more aggressively, but also went on to insinuate that he was himself
distinctly lacking in any real appreciation of what was excellent. He
bore with me patiently for a while. "Well, sonny," he said at last,
"since you seem to take the matter so much to heart, I will tell you in
confidence that I wrote the piece myself." I found that this was not only
true in the case just specified, but that while engaged in preparing
articles for his own paper he occasionally prepared them for other
journals. No one besides himself and those immediately concerned, ever
knew anything about the matter. He never asserted any right to these
pieces, he never sought to collect them, though some of them exhibited
his happiest vein of humor. Unclaimed, unidentified, they are swept into
that wallet of oblivion in which time stows the best as well as the worst
of newspaper production.

The next volume of Warner's writings that made its appearance was
entitled "Saunterings." It was the first and, though good of its kind,
was by no means the best of a class of productions in which he was to
exhibit signal excellence. It will be observed that of the various works
comprised in this collective edition, no small number consist of what by
a wide extension of the phrase may be termed books of travel. There are
two or three which fall strictly under that designation. Most of them,
however, can be more properly called records of personal experience and
adventure in different places and regions, with the comments on life and
character to which they gave rise.

Books of travel, if they are expected to live, are peculiarly hard to
write. If they come out at a period when curiosity about the region
described is predominant, they are fairly certain, no matter how
wretched, to achieve temporary success. But there is no kind of literary
production to which, by the very law of its being, it is more difficult
to impart vitality. Paradoxical as it may seem, it is perfectly true that
the greatest hinderance to their permanent interest is the information
they furnish. The more full, specific and even accurate that is, the more
rapidly does the work containing it lose its value. The fresher knowledge
conveyed by a new, and it may be much inferior book, crowds out of
circulation those which have gone before. The changed or changing
conditions in the region traversed renders the information previously
furnished out of date and even misleading. Hence the older works come in
time to have only an antiquarian interest. Their pages are consulted only
by that very limited number of persons who are anxious to learn what has
been and view with stolid indifference what actually is. Something of
this transitory nature belongs to all sketches of travel. It is the one
great reason why so very few of the countless number of such works,
written, and sometimes written by men of highest ability, are hardly
heard of a few years after publication. Travels form a species of
literary production in which great classics are exceedingly rare.

From this fatal characteristic, threatening the enduring life of such
works, most of Warner's writings of this sort were saved by the method of
procedure he followed. He made it his main object not to give facts but
impressions. All details of exact information, everything calculated to
gratify the statistical mind or to quench the thirst of the seeker for
purely useful information, he was careful, whether consciously or
unconsciously, to banish from those volumes of his in which he followed
his own bent and felt himself under no obligation to say anything but
what he chose. Hence these books are mainly a record of views of men and
manners made by an acute observer on the spot, and put down at the moment
when the impression created was most vivid, not deferred till familiarity
had dulled the sense of it or custom had caused it to be disregarded.
Take as an illustration the little book entitled "Baddeck," one of the
slightest of his productions in this field. It purports to be and is
nothing more than an account of a two weeks' tour made to a Cape Breton
locality in company with the delightful companion to whom it was
dedicated. You take it up with the notion that you are going to acquire
information about the whole country journeyed over, you are beguiled at
times with the fancy that you are getting it. In the best sense it may be
said that you do get it; for it is the general impression of the various
scenes through which the expedition leads the travelers that is left upon
the mind, not those accurate details of a single one of them which the
lapse of a year might render inaccurate. It is to the credit of the work
therefore than one gains from it little specific knowledge. In its place
are the reflections both wise and witty upon life, upon the characters of
the men that are met, upon the nature of the sights that are seen.

This is what constitutes the enduring charm of the best of these pictures
of travel which Warner produced. It is perhaps misleading to assert that
they do not furnish a good deal of information. Still it is not the sort
of information which the ordinary tourist gives and which the cultivated
reader resents and is careful not to remember. Their dominant note is
rather the quiet humor of a delightful story-teller, who cannot fail to
say something of interest because he has seen so much; and who out of his
wide and varied observation selects for recital certain sights he has
witnessed, certain experiences he has gone through, and so relates them
that the way the thing is told is even more interesting than the thing
told. The chief value of these works does not accordingly depend upon the
accidental, which passes. Inns change and become better or worse.
Facilities for transportation increase or decrease. Scenery itself alters
to some extent under the operation of agencies brought to bear upon it
for its own improvement or for the improvement of something else. But
man's nature remains a constant quantity. Traits seen here and now are
sure to be met with somewhere else, and even in ages to come. Hence works
of this nature, embodying descriptions of men and manners, always retain
something of the freshness which characterized them on the day of their

Of these productions in which the personal element predominates, and
where the necessity of intruding information is not felt as a burden,
those of Warner's works which deal with the Orient take the first rank.
The two--"My Winter on the Nile" and "In the Levant"--constitute the
record of a visit to the East during the years 1875 and 1876.

They would naturally have of themselves the most permanent value,
inasmuch as the countries described have for most educated men an abiding
interest. The lifelike representation and graphic characterization which
Warner was apt to display in his traveling sketches were here seen at
their best, because nowhere else did he find the task of description more
congenial. Alike the gorgeousness and the squalor of the Orient appealed
to his artistic sympathies. Egypt in particular had for him always a
special fascination. Twice he visited it--at the time just mentioned and
again in the winter of 1881-82. He rejoiced in every effort made to
dispel the obscurity which hung over its early history. No one, outside
of the men most immediately concerned, took a deeper interest than he in
the work of the Egyptian Exploration Society, of which he was one of the
American vice-presidents. To promoting its success he gave no small share
of time and attention. Everything connected with either the past or the
present of the country had for him an attraction. A civilization which
had been flourishing for centuries, when the founder of Israel was a
wandering sheik on the Syrian plains or in the hill-country of Canaan;
the slow unraveling of records of dynasties of forgotten kings; the
memorials of Egypt's vanished greatness and the vision of her future
prosperity these and things similar to these made this country, so
peculiarly the gift of the Nile, of fascinating interest to the modern
traveler who saw the same sights which had met the eyes of Herodotus
nearly twenty-five hundred years before.

To the general public the volume which followed--"In the Levant"--was
perhaps of even deeper interest. At all events it dealt with scenes and
memories with which every reader, educated or uneducated, had
associations. The region through which the founder of Christianity
wandered, the places he visited, the words he said in them, the acts he
did, have never lost their hold over the hearts of men, not even during
the periods when the precepts of Christianity have had the least
influence over the conduct of those who professed to it their allegiance.
In the Levant, too, were seen the beginnings of commerce, of art, of
letters, in the forms in which the modern world best knows them. These,
therefore, have always made the lands about the eastern Mediterranean an
attraction to cultivated men and the interest of the subject accordingly
reinforced the skill of the writer.

There are two or three of these works which can not be included in the
class just described. They were written for the specific purpose of
giving exact information at the time. Of these the most noticeable are
the volumes entitled "South and West" and the account of Southern
California which goes under the name of "Our Italy." They are the outcome
of journeys made expressly with the intent of investigating and reporting
upon the actual situation and apparent prospects of the places and
regions described. As they were written to serve an immediate purpose,
much of the information contained in them tends to grow more and more out
of date as time goes on; and though of value to the student of history,
these volumes must necessarily become of steadily diminishing interest to
the ordinary reader. Yet it is to be said of them that while the pill of
useful information is there, it has at least been sugar-coated. Nor can
we afford to lose sight of the fact that the widely-circulated articles,
collected under the title of "South and West," by the spirit pervading
them as well as by the information they gave, had a marked effect in
bringing the various sections of the country into a better understanding
of one another, and in imparting to all a fuller sense of the community
they possessed in profit and loss, in honor and dishonor.

It is a somewhat singular fact that these sketches of travel led Warner
incidentally to enter into an entirely new field of literary exertion.
This was novel-writing. Something of this nature he had attempted in
conjunction with Mark Twain in the composition of "The Gilded Age," which
appeared in 1873. The result, however, was unsatisfactory to both the
collaborators. Each had humor, but the humor of each was fundamentally
different. But the magazine with which Warner had become connected was
desirous that he should prepare for it an account of some of the
principal watering-places and summer resorts of the country. Each was to
be visited in turn and its salient features were to be described. It was
finally suggested that this could be done most effectively by weaving
into a love story occurrences that might happen at a number of these
places which were made the subjects of description. The principal
characters were to take their tours under the personal conduct of the
novelist. They were to go to the particular spots selected North and
South, according to the varying seasons of the year. It was a somewhat
novel way of, visiting resorts of this nature; there are those to whom it
will seem altogether more agreeable than would be the visiting of them in
person. Hence appeared in 1886 the articles which were collected later in
the volume entitled "Their Pilgrimage."

Warner executed the task which had been assigned him with his wonted
skill. The completed work met with success--with so much success indeed
that he was led later to try his fortune further in the same field and
bring out the trilogy of novels which go under the names respectively of
"A Little Journey in the World," "The Golden House," and "That Fortune."
Each of these is complete in itself, each can be read by itself; but the
effect of each and of the whole series can be best secured by reading
them in succession. In the first it is the story of how a great fortune
was made in the stock market; in the second, how it was fraudulently
diverted from the object for which it was intended; and in the third, how
it was most beneficially and satisfactorily lost. The scene of the last
novel was laid in part in Warner's early home in Charlemont. These works
were produced with considerable intervals of time between their
respective appearances, the first coming out in 1889 and the third ten
years later. This detracted to some extent from the popularity which they
would have attained had the different members followed one another
rapidly. Still, they met with distinct success, though it has always been
a question whether this success was due so much to the story as to the
shrewd observation and caustic wit which were brought to bear upon what
was essentially a serious study of one side of American social life.

The work with which Warner himself was least satisfied was his life of
Captain John Smith, which came out in 18881. It was originally intended
to be one of a series of biographies of noted men, which were to give the
facts accurately but to treat them humorously. History and comedy,
however, have never been blended successfully, though desperate attempts
have occasionally been made to achieve that result. Warner had not long
been engaged in the task before he recognized its hopelessness. For its
preparation it required a special study of the man and the period, and
the more time he spent upon the preliminary work, the more the humorous
element tended to recede. Thus acted on by two impulses, one of a light
and one of a grave nature, he moved for a while in a sort of diagonal
between the two to nowhere in particular; but finally ended in treating
the subject seriously.

In giving himself up to a biography in which he had no special interest,
Warner felt conscious that he could not interest others. His forebodings
were realized. The work, though made from a careful study of original
sources, did not please him, nor did it attract the public. The attempt
was all the more unfortunate because the time and toil he spent upon it
diverted him from carrying out a scheme which had then taken full
possession of his thoughts. This was the production of a series of essays
to be entitled "Conversations on Horseback." Had it been worked up as he
sketched it in his mind, it would have been the outdoor counterpart of
his "Backlog Studies." Though in a measure based upon a horseback ride
which he took in Pennsylvania in 1880, the incidents of travel as he
outlined its intended treatment would have barely furnished the slightest
of backgrounds. Captain John Smith, however, interfered with a project
specially suited to his abilities and congenial to his tastes. That he
did so possibly led the author of his life to exhibit a somewhat hostile
attitude towards his hero. When the biography was finished, other
engagements were pressing upon his attention. The opportunity of taking
up and completing the projected series of essays never presented itself,
though the subject lay in his mind for a long time and he himself
believed that it would have turned out one of the best pieces of work he
ever did.

It was unfortunate. For to me--and very likely to many others if not to
most--Warner's strength lay above all in essay-writing. What he
accomplished in this line was almost invariably pervaded by that genial
grace which makes work of the kind attractive, and he exhibited
everywhere in it the delicate but sure touch which preserves the just
mean between saying too much and too little. The essay was in his nature,
and his occupation as a journalist had developed the tendency towards
this form of literary activity, as well as skill in its manipulation.
Whether he wrote sketches of travel, or whether he wrote fiction, the
scene depicted was from the point of view of the essayist rather than
from that of the tourist or of the novelist. It is this characteristic
which gives to his work in the former field its enduring interest. Again
in his novels, it was not so much the story that was in his thoughts as
the opportunity the varying scenes afforded for amusing observations upon
manners, for comments upon life, sometimes good-natured, sometimes
severe, but always entertaining, and above all, for serious study of the
social problems which present themselves on every side for examination.
This is distinctly the province of the essayist, and in it Warner always
displayed his fullest strength.

We have seen that his first purely humorous publication of this nature
was the one which made him known to the general public. It was speedily
followed, however, by one of a somewhat graver character, which became at
the time and has since remained a special favorite of cultivated readers.
This is the volume entitled "Backlog Studies." The attractiveness of this
work is as much due to the suggestive social and literary discussions
with which it abounds as to the delicate and refined humor with which the
ideas are expressed. Something of the same characteristics was displayed
in the two little volumes of short pieces dealing with social topics,
which came out later under the respective titles of "As We Were Saying,"
and "As We Go." But there was a deeper and more serious side of his
nature which found utterance in several of his essays, particularly in
some which were given in the form of addresses delivered at various
institutions of learning. They exhibit the charm which belongs to all his
writings; but his feelings were too profoundly interested in the subjects
considered to allow him to give more than occasional play to his humor.
Essays contained in such a volume, for instance, as "The Relation of
Literature to Life" will not appeal to him whose main object in reading
is amusement. Into them Warner put his deepest and most earnest
convictions. The subject from which the book just mentioned derived its
title lay near to his heart. No one felt more strongly than he the
importance of art of all kinds, but especially of literary art, for the
uplifting of a nation. No one saw more distinctly the absolute necessity
of its fullest recognition in a moneymaking age and in a money-making
land, if the spread of the dry rot of moral deterioration were to be
prevented. The ampler horizon it presented, the loftier ideals it set up,
the counteracting agency it supplied to the sordidness of motive and act
which, left unchecked, was certain to overwhelm the national spirit--all
these were enforced by him again and again with clearness and
effectiveness. His essays of this kind will never be popular in the sense
in which are his other writings. But no thoughtful man will rise up from
reading them without having gained a vivid conception of the part which
literature plays in the life of even the humblest, and without a deeper
conviction of its necessity to any healthy development of the character
of a people.

During the early part of his purely literary career a large proportion of
Warner's collected writings, which then appeared, were first published in
the Atlantic Monthly. But about fourteen years before his death he became
closely connected with Harper's Magazine. From May, 1886, to March, 1892,
he conducted the Editor's Drawer of that periodical. The month following
this last date he succeeded William Dean Howells as the contributor of
the Editor's Study. This position he held until July, 1898. The scope of
this department was largely expanded after the death of George William
Curtis in the summer of 1892, and the consequent discontinuance of the
Editor's Easy Chair. Comments upon other topics than those to which his
department was originally devoted, especially upon social questions, were
made a distinct feature. His editorial connection with the magazine
naturally led to his contributing to it numerous articles besides those
which were demanded by the requirements of the position he held. Nearly
all these, as well as those which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, are
indicated in the bibliographical notes prefixed to the separate works.

There were, however, other literary enterprises in which he was
concerned; for the calls upon him were numerous, his own appetite for
work was insatiable, and his activity was indefatigable. In 1881 he
assumed the editorship of the American Men of Letters series. This he
opened with his own biography of Washington Irving, the resemblance
between whom and himself has been made the subject of frequent remark.
Later he became the editor-in-chief of the thirty odd volumes which make
up the collection entitled "The World's Best Literature." To this he
contributed several articles of his own and carefully allotted and
supervised the preparation of a large number of others. The labor he put
upon the editing of this collection occupied him a great deal of the time
from 1895 to 1898.

But literature, though in it lay his chief interest, was but one of the
subjects which employed his many-sided activity. He was constantly called
upon for the discharge of civic duties. The confidence felt by his
fellow-citizens in his judgment and taste was almost equal to the
absolute trust reposed in his integrity. The man who establishes a
reputation for the possession of these qualities can never escape from
bearing the burdens which a good character always imposes. If any work of
art was ordered by the state, Warner was fairly certain to be chosen a
member of the commission selected to decide upon the person who was to do
it and upon the way it was to be done. By his fellow-townsmen he was made
a member of the Park Commission. Such were some of the duties imposed;
there were others voluntarily undertaken. During the latter years of his
life he became increasingly interested in social questions, some of which
partook of a semi-political character. One of the subjects which engaged
his attention was the best method to be adopted for elevating the
character and conduct of the negro population of the country. He
recognized the gravity of the problem with which the nation had to deal
and the difficulties attending its solution. One essay on the subject was
prepared for the meeting held at Washington in May, 1900, of the American
Social Science Association, of which he was president. He was not able to
be there in person. The disease which was ultimately to strike him down
had already made its preliminary attack. His address was accordingly read
for him. It was a subject of special regret that he could not be present
to set forth more fully his views; for the debate, which followed the
presentation of his paper, was by no means confined to the meeting, but
extended to the press of the whole country. Whether the conclusions he
reached were right or wrong, they were in no case adopted hastily nor
indeed without the fullest consideration.

But a more special interest of his lay in prison reform. The subject had
engaged his attention long before he published anything in connection
with it. Later one of the earliest articles he wrote for Harper's
Magazine was devoted to it. It was in his thoughts just before his death.
He was a member of the Connecticut commission on prisons, of the National
Prison Association, and a vice-president of the New York Association for
Prison Reform. A strong advocate of the doctrine of the indeterminate
sentence, he had little patience with many of the judicial outgivings on
that subject. To him they seemed opinions inherited, not formed, and in
most cases were nothing more than the result of prejudice working upon
ignorance. This particular question was one which he purposed to make the
subject of his address as president of the Social Science Association, at
its annual meeting in 1901. He never lived to complete what he had in

During his later years the rigor of the Northern winter had been too
severe for Warner's health. He had accordingly found it advisable to
spend as much of this season as he could in warmer regions. He visited at
various times parts of the South, Mexico, and California. He passed the
winter of 1892-93 at Florence; but he found the air of the valley of the
Arno no perceptible improvement upon that of the valley of the
Connecticut. In truth, neither disease nor death entertains a prejudice
against any particular locality. This fact he was to learn by personal
experience. In the spring of 1899, while at New Orleans, he was stricken
by pneumonia which nearly brought him to the grave. He recovered, but it
is probable that the strength of his system was permanently impaired, and
with it his power of resisting disease. Still his condition was not such
as to prevent him from going on with various projects he had been
contemplating or from forming new ones. The first distinct warning of the
approaching end was the facial paralysis which suddenly attacked him in
April, 1900, while on a visit to Norfolk, Va. Yet even from that he
seemed to be apparently on the full road to recovery during the following

It was in the second week of October, 1900, that Warner paid me a visit
of two or three days. He was purposing to spend the winter in Southern
California, coming back to the East in ample time to attend the annual
meeting of the Social Science Association. His thoughts were even then
busy with the subject of the address which, as president, he was to
deliver on that occasion. It seemed to me that I had never seen him when
his mind was more active or more vigorous. I was not only struck by the
clearness of his views--some of which were distinctly novel, at least to
me--but by the felicity and effectiveness with which they were put.

Never, too, had I been more impressed with the suavity, the
agreeableness, the general charm of his manner. He had determined during
the coming winter to learn to ride the wheel, and we then and there
planned to take a bicycle trip during the following summer, as we had
previously made excursions together on horseback. When we parted, it was
with the agreement that we should meet the next spring in Washington and
fix definitely upon the time and region of our intended ride. It was on a
Saturday morning that I bade him good-by, apparently in the best of
health and spirits. It was on the evening of the following Saturday
--October 20th--that the condensed, passionless, relentless message which
the telegraph transmits, informed me that he had died that afternoon.

That very day he had lunched at a friend's, where were gathered several
of his special associates who had chanced to come together at the same
house, and then had gone to the office of the Hartford Courant. There was
not the slightest indication apparent of the end that was so near. After
the company broke up, he started out to pay a visit to one of the city
parks, of which he was a commissioner. On his way thither, feeling a
certain faintness, he turned aside into a small house whose occupants he
knew, and asked to sit down for a brief rest, and then, as the faintness
increased, to lie undisturbed on the lounge for a few minutes. The few
minutes passed, and with them his life. In the strictest sense of the
words, he had fallen asleep. From one point of view it was an ideal way
to die. To the individual, death coming so gently, so suddenly, is shorn
of all its terrors. It is only those who live to remember and to lament
that the suffering comes which has been spared the victim. Even to them,
however, is the consolation that though they may have been fully prepared
for the coming of the inevitable event, it would have been none the less
painful when it actually came.

Warner as a writer we all know. The various and varying opinions
entertained about the quality and value of his work do not require notice
here. Future times will assign him his exact position in the roll of
American authors, and we need not trouble ourselves to anticipate, as we
shall certainly not be able to influence, its verdict. But to only a
comparatively few of those who knew him as a writer was it given to know
him as a man; to still fewer to know him in that familiarity of intimacy
which reveals all that is fine or ignoble in a man's personality. Scanty
is the number of those who will come out of that severest of ordeals so
successfully as he. The same conclusion would be reached, whether we were
to consider him in his private relations or in his career as a man of
letters. Among the irritable race of authors no one was freer from petty
envy or jealousy. During many years of close intercourse, in which he
constantly gave utterance to his views both of men and things with
absolute unreserve, I recall no disparaging opinion ever expressed of any
writer with whom he had been compared either for praise or blame. He had
unquestionably definite and decided opinions. He would point out that
such or such a work was above or below its author's ordinary level; but
there was never any ill-nature in his comment, no depreciation for
depreciation's sake. Never in truth was any one more loyal to his
friends. If his literary conscience would not permit him to say anything
in favor of something which they had done, he usually contented himself
with saying nothing. Whatever failing there was on his critical side was
due to this somewhat uncritical attitude; for it is from his particular
friends that the writer is apt to get the most dispassionate
consideration and sometimes the coldest commendation. It was a part of
Warner's generous recognition of others that he was in all sincerity
disposed to attribute to those he admired and to whom he was attached an
ability of which some of them at least were much inclined to doubt their
own possession.

Were I indeed compelled to select any one word which would best give the
impression, both social and literary, of Warner's personality, I should
be disposed to designate it as urbanity. That seems to indicate best the
one trait which most distinguished him either in conversation or writing.
Whatever it was, it was innate, not assumed. It was the genuine outcome
of the kindliness and broad-mindedness of his nature and led him to
sympathize with men of all positions in life and of all kinds of ability.
It manifested itself in his attitude towards every one with whom he came
in contact. It led him to treat with fullest consideration all who were
in the least degree under his direction, and converted in consequence the
toil of subordinates into a pleasure. It impelled him to do unsought
everything which lay in his power for the success of those in whom he
felt interest. Many a young writer will recall his words of encouragement
at some period in his own career when the quiet appreciation of one meant
more to him than did later the loud applause of many. As it was in
public, so it was in private life. The generosity of his spirit, the
geniality and high-bred courtesy of his manner, rendered a visit to his
home as much a social delight as his wide knowledge of literature and his
appreciation of what was best in it made it an intellectual



This paper was prepared and delivered at several of our universities as
introductory to a course of five lectures which insisted on the value of
literature in common life--some hearers thought with an exaggerated
emphasis--and attempted to maintain the thesis that all genuine, enduring
literature is the outcome of the time that produces it, is responsive to
the general sentiment of its time; that this close relation to human life
insures its welcome ever after as a true representation of human nature;
and that consequently the most remunerative method of studying a
literature is to study the people for whom it was produced. Illustrations
of this were drawn from the Greek, the French, and the English
literatures. This study always throws a flood of light upon the meaning
of the text of an old author, the same light that the reader
unconsciously has upon contemporary pages dealing with the life with
which he is familiar. The reader can test this by taking up his
Shakespeare after a thorough investigation of the customs, manners, and
popular life of the Elizabethan period. Of course the converse is true
that good literature is an open door into the life and mode of thought of
the time and place where it originated.


I hade a vision once--you may all have had a like one--of the stream of
time flowing through a limitless land. Along its banks sprang up in
succession the generations of man. They did not move with the stream-they
lived their lives and sank away; and always below them new generations
appeared, to play their brief parts in what is called history--the
sequence of human actions. The stream flowed on, opening for itself
forever a way through the land. I saw that these successive dwellers on
the stream were busy in constructing and setting afloat vessels of
various size and form and rig--arks, galleys, galleons, sloops, brigs,
boats propelled by oars, by sails, by steam. I saw the anxiety with which
each builder launched his venture, and watched its performance and
progress. The anxiety was to invent and launch something that should
float on to the generations to come, and carry the name of the builder
and the fame of his generation. It was almost pathetic, these puny
efforts, because faith always sprang afresh in the success of each new
venture. Many of the vessels could scarcely be said to be launched at
all; they sank like lead, close to the shore. Others floated out for a
time, and then, struck by a flaw in the wind, heeled over and
disappeared. Some, not well put together, broke into fragments in the
bufleting of the waves. Others danced on the flood, taking the sun on
their sails, and went away with good promise of a long voyage. But only a
few floated for any length of time, and still fewer were ever seen by the
generation succeeding that which launched them. The shores of the stream
were strewn with wrecks; there lay bleaching in the sand the ribs of many
a once gallant craft.

Innumerable were the devices of the builders to keep their inventions
afloat. Some paid great attention to the form of the hull, others to the
kind of cargo and the loading of it, while others--and these seemed the
majority--trusted more to some new sort of sail, or new fashion of
rudder, or new application of propelling power. And it was wonderful to
see what these new ingenuities did for a time, and how each generation
was deceived into the belief that its products would sail on forever. But
one fate practically came to the most of them. They were too heavy, they
were too light, they were built of old material, and they went to the
bottom, they went ashore, they broke up and floated in fragments. And
especially did the crafts built in imitation of something that had
floated down from a previous generation come to quick disaster. I saw
only here and there a vessel, beaten by weather and blackened by time
--so old, perhaps, that the name of the maker was no longer legible; or
some fragments of antique wood that had evidently come from far up the
stream. When such a vessel appeared there was sure to arise great dispute
about it, and from time to time expeditions were organized to ascend the
river and discover the place and circumstances of its origin. Along the
banks, at intervals, whole fleets of boats and fragments had gone ashore,
and were piled up in bays, like the driftwood of a subsided freshet.
Efforts were made to dislodge these from time to time and set them afloat
again, newly christened, with fresh paint and sails, as if they stood a
better chance of the voyage than any new ones. Indeed, I saw that a large
part of the commerce of this river was, in fact, the old hulks and
stranded wrecks that each generation had set afloat again. As I saw it in
this foolish vision, how pathetic this labor was from generation to
generation; so many vessels launched; so few making a voyage even for a
lifetime; so many builders confident of immortality; so many lives
outlasting this coveted reputation! And still the generations, each with
touching hopefulness, busied themselves with this child's play on the
banks of the stream; and still the river flowed on, whelming and wrecking
the most of that so confidently committed to it, and bearing only here
and there, on its swift, wide tide, a ship, a boat, a shingle.

These hosts of men whom I saw thus occupied since history began were
authors; these vessels were books; these heaps of refuse in the bays were
great libraries. The allegory admits of any amount of ingenious
parallelism. It is nevertheless misleading; it is the illusion of an idle
fancy. I have introduced it because it expresses, with some whimsical
exaggeration--not much more than that of "The Vision of Mirza"--the
popular notion about literature and its relation to human life. In the
popular conception, literature is as much a thing apart from life as
these boats on the stream of time were from the existence, the struggle,
the decay of the generations along the shore. I say in the popular
conception, for literature is wholly different from this, not only in its
effect upon individual lives, but upon the procession of lives upon this
earth; it is not only an integral part of all of them, but, with its
sister arts, it is the one unceasing continuity in history. Literature
and art are not only the records and monuments made by the successive
races of men, not only the local expressions of thought and emotion, but
they are, to change the figure, the streams that flow on, enduring, amid
the passing show of men, reviving, transforming, ennobling the fleeting
generations. Without this continuity of thought and emotion, history
would present us only a succession of meaningless experiments. The
experiments fail, the experiments succeed--at any rate, they end--and
what remains for transmission, for the sustenance of succeeding peoples?
Nothing but the thought and emotion evolved and expressed. It is true
that every era, each generation, seems to have its peculiar work to do;
it is to subdue the intractable earth, to repel or to civilize the
barbarians, to settle society in order, to build cities, to amass wealth
in centres, to make deserts bloom, to construct edifices such as were
never made before, to bring all men within speaking distance of each
other--lucky if they have anything to say when that is accomplished--to
extend the information of the few among the many, or to multiply the
means of easy and luxurious living. Age after age the world labors for
these things with the busy absorption of a colony of ants in its castle
of sand. And we must confess that the process, such, for instance, as
that now going on here--this onset of many peoples, which is transforming
the continent of America--is a spectacle to excite the imagination in the
highest degree. If there were any poet capable of putting into an epic
the spirit of this achievement, what an epic would be his! Can it be that
there is anything of more consequence in life than the great business in
hand, which absorbs the vitality and genius of this age? Surely, we say,
it is better to go by steam than to go afoot, because we reach our
destination sooner--getting there quickly being a supreme object. It is
well to force the soil to yield a hundred-fold, to congregate men in
masses so that all their energies shall be taxed to bring food to
themselves, to stimulate industries, drag coal and metal from the bowels
of the earth, cover its surface with rails for swift-running carriages,
to build ever larger palaces, warehouses, ships. This gigantic
achievement strikes the imagination.

If the world in which you live happens to be the world of books, if your
pursuit is to know what has been done and said in the world, to the end
that your own conception of the value of life may be enlarged, and that
better things may be done and said hereafter, this world and this pursuit
assume supreme importance in your mind. But you can in a moment place
yourself in relations--you have not to go far, perhaps only to speak to
your next neighbor--where the very existence of your world is scarcely
recognized. All that has seemed to you of supreme importance is ignored.
You have entered a world that is called practical, where the things that
we have been speaking of are done; you have interest in it and sympathy
with it, because your scheme of life embraces the development of ideas
into actions; but these men of realities have only the smallest
conception of the world that seems to you of the highest importance; and,
further, they have no idea that they owe anything to it, that it has ever
influenced their lives or can add anything to them. And it may chance
that you have, for the moment, a sense of insignificance in the small
part you are playing in the drama going forward. Go out of your library,
out of the small circle of people who talk of books, who are engaged in
research, whose liveliest interest is in the progress of ideas, in the
expression of thought and emotion that is in literature; go out of this
atmosphere into a region where it does not exist, it may be into a place
given up to commerce and exchange, or to manufacturing, or to the
development of certain other industries, such as mining, or the pursuit
of office--which is sometimes called politics. You will speedily be aware
how completely apart from human life literature is held to be, how few
people regard it seriously as a necessary element in life, as anything
more than an amusement or a vexation. I have in mind a mountain district,
stripped, scarred, and blackened by the ruthless lumbermen, ravished of
its forest wealth; divested of its beauty, which has recently become the
field of vast coal-mining operations. Remote from communication, it was
yesterday an exhausted, wounded, deserted country. Today audacious
railways are entering it, crawling up its mountain slopes, rounding its
dizzy precipices, spanning its valleys on iron cobwebs, piercing its
hills with tunnels. Drifts are opened in its coal seams, to which iron
tracks shoot away from the main line; in the woods is seen the gleam of
the engineer's level, is heard the rattle of heavily-laden wagons on the
newly-made roads; tents are pitched, uncouth shanties have sprung up,
great stables, boarding-houses, stores, workshops; the miner, the
blacksmith, the mason, the carpenter have arrived; households have been
set up in temporary barracks, children are already there who need a
school, women who must have a church and society; the stagnation has
given place to excitement, money has flowed in, and everywhere are the
hum of industry and the swish of the goad of American life. On this
hillside, which in June was covered with oaks, is already in October a
town; the stately trees have been felled; streets are laid out and graded
and named; there are a hundred dwellings, there are a store, a
post-office, an inn; the telegraph has reached it, and the telephone and
the electric light; in a few weeks more it will be in size a city, with
thousands of people--a town made out of hand by drawing men and women
from other towns, civilized men and women, who have voluntarily put
themselves in a position where they must be civilized over again.

This is a marvelous exhibition of what energy and capital can do. You
acknowledge as much to the creators of it. You remember that not far back
in history such a transformation as this could not have been wrought in a
hundred years. This is really life, this is doing something in the world,
and in the presence of it you can see why the creators of it regard your
world, which seemed to you so important, the world whose business is the
evolution and expression of thought and emotion, as insignificant. Here
is a material addition to the business and wealth of the race, here
employment for men who need it, here is industry replacing stagnation,
here is the pleasure of overcoming difficulties and conquering obstacles.
Why encounter these difficulties? In order that more coal may be procured
to operate more railway trains at higher speed, to supply more factories,
to add to the industrial stir of modern life. The men who projected and
are pushing on this enterprise, with an executive ability that would
maintain and manoeuvre an army in a campaign, are not, however,
consciously philanthropists, moved by the charitable purpose of giving
employment to men, or finding satisfaction in making two blades of grass
grow where one grew before. They enjoy no doubt the sense of power in
bringing things to pass, the feeling of leadership and the consequence
derived from its recognition; but they embark in this enterprise in order
that they may have the position and the luxury that increased wealth will
bring, the object being, in most cases, simply material
advantages--sumptuous houses, furnished with all the luxuries which are
the signs of wealth, including, of course, libraries and pictures and
statuary and curiosities, the most showy equipages and troops of
servants; the object being that their wives shall dress magnificently,
glitter in diamonds and velvets, and never need to put their feet to the
ground; that they may command the best stalls in the church, the best
pews in the theatre, the choicest rooms in the inn, and--a consideration
that Plato does not mention, because his world was not our world--that
they may impress and reduce to obsequious deference the hotel clerk.

This life--for this enterprise and its objects are types of a
considerable portion of life--is not without its ideal, its hero, its
highest expression, its consummate flower. It is expressed in a word
which I use without any sense of its personality, as the French use the
word Barnum--for our crude young nation has the distinction of adding a
verb to the French language, the verb to barnum--it is expressed in the
well-known name Croesus. This is a standard--impossible to be reached
perhaps, but a standard. If one may say so, the country is sown with
seeds of Croesus, and the crop is forward and promising. The interest to
us now in the observation of this phase of modern life is not in the
least for purposes of satire or of reform. We are inquiring how wholly
this conception of life is divorced from the desire to learn what has
been done and said to the end that better things may be done and said
hereafter, in order that we may understand the popular conception of the
insignificant value of literature in human affairs. But it is not aside
from our subject, rather right in its path, to take heed of what the
philosophers say of the effect in other respects of the pursuit of

One cause of the decay of the power of defense in a state, says the
Athenian Stranger in Plato's Laws--one cause is the love of wealth, which
wholly absorbs men and never for a moment allows them to think of
anything but their private possessions; on this the soul of every citizen
hangs suspended, and can attend to nothing but his daily gain; mankind
are ready to learn any branch of knowledge and to follow any pursuit
which tends to this end, and they laugh at any other; that is the reason
why a city will not be in earnest about war or any other good and
honorable pursuit.

The accumulation of gold in the treasury of private individuals, says
Socrates, in the Republic, is the ruin of democracy. They invent illegal
modes of expenditure; and what do they or their wives care about the law?

"And then one, seeing another's display, proposes to rival him, and thus
the whole body of citizens acquires a similar character.

"After that they get on in a trade, and the more they think of making a
fortune, the less they think of virtue; for when riches and virtue are
placed together in the balance, the one always rises as the other falls.

"And in proportion as riches and rich men are honored in the state,
virtue and the virtuous are dishonored.

"And what is honored is cultivated, and that which has no honor is

"And so at last, instead of loving contention and glory, men become
lovers of trade and money, and they honor and reverence the rich man and
make a ruler of him, and dishonor the poor man.

"They do so."

The object of a reasonable statesman (it is Plato who is really speaking
in the Laws) is not that the state should be as great and rich as
possible, should possess gold and silver, and have the greatest empire by
sea and land.

The citizen must, indeed, be happy and good, and the legislator will seek
to make him so; but very rich and very good at the same time he cannot
be; not at least in the sense in which many speak of riches. For they
describe by the term "rich" the few who have the most valuable
possessions, though the owner of them be a rogue. And if this is true, I
can never assent to the doctrine that the rich man will be happy: he must
be good as well as rich. And good in a high degree and rich in a high
degree at the same time he cannot be. Some one will ask, Why not? And we
shall answer, Because acquisitions which come from sources which are just
and unjust indifferently are more than double those which come from just
sources only; and the sums which are expended neither honorably nor
disgracefully are only half as great as those which are expended
honorably and on honorable purposes. Thus if one acquires double and
spends half, the other, who is in the opposite case and is a good man,
cannot possibly be wealthier than he. The first (I am speaking of the
saver, and not of the spender) is not always bad; he may indeed in some
cases be utterly bad, but as I was saying, a good man he never is. For he
who receives money unjustly as well as justly, and spends neither justly
nor unjustly, will be a rich man if he be also thrifty. On the other
hand, the utterly bad man is generally profligate, and therefore poor;
while he who spends on noble objects, and acquires wealth by just means
only, can hardly be remarkable for riches any more than he can be very
poor. The argument, then, is right in declaring that the very rich are
not good, and if they are not good they are not happy.

And the conclusion of Plato is that we ought not to pursue any occupation
to the neglect of that for which riches exist--"I mean," he says, "soul
and body, which without gymnastics and without education will never be
worth anything; and therefore, as we have said not once but many times,
the care of riches should have the last place in our thoughts."

Men cannot be happy unless they are good, and they cannot be good unless
the care of the soul occupies the first place in their thoughts. That is
the first interest of man; the interest in the body is midway; and last
of all, when rightly regarded, is the interest about money.

The majority of mankind reverses this order of interests, and therefore
it sets literature to one side as of no practical account in human life.
More than this, it not only drops it out of mind, but it has no
conception of its influence and power in the very affairs from which it
seems to be excluded. It is my purpose to show not only the close
relation of literature to ordinary life, but its eminent position in
life, and its saving power in lives which do not suspect its influence or
value. Just as it is virtue that saves the state, if it be saved,
although the majority do not recognize it and attribute the salvation of
the state to energy, and to obedience to the laws of political economy,
and to discoveries in science, and to financial contrivances; so it is
that in the life of generations of men, considered from an ethical and
not from a religious point of view, the most potent and lasting influence
for a civilization that is worth anything, a civilization that does not
by its own nature work its decay, is that which I call literature. It is
time to define what we mean by literature. We may arrive at the meaning
by the definition of exclusion. We do not mean all books, but some books;
not all that is written and published, but only a small part of it. We do
not mean books of law, of theology, of politics, of science, of medicine,
and not necessarily books of travel, or adventure, or biography, or
fiction even. These may all be ephemeral in their nature. The term
belles-lettres does not fully express it, for it is too narrow. In books
of law, theology, politics, medicine, science, travel, adventure,
biography, philosophy, and fiction there may be passages that possess, or
the whole contents may possess, that quality which comes within our
meaning of literature. It must have in it something of the enduring and
the universal. When we use the term art, we do not mean the arts; we are
indicating a quality that may be in any of the arts. In art and
literature we require not only an expression of the facts in nature and
in human life, but of feeling, thought, emotion. There must be an appeal
to the universal in the race. It is, for example, impossible for a
Christian today to understand what the religious system of the Egyptians
of three thousand years ago was to the Egyptian mind, or to grasp the
idea conveyed to a Chinaman's thought in the phrase, "the worship of the
principle of heaven"; but the Christian of today comprehends perfectly
the letters of an Egyptian scribe in the time of Thotmes III., who
described the comical miseries of his campaign with as clear an appeal to
universal human nature as Horace used in his 'Iter Brundusium;' and the
maxims of Confucius are as comprehensible as the bitter-sweetness of
Thomas a Kempis. De Quincey distinguishes between the literature of
knowledge and the literature of power. The definition is not exact; but
we may say that the one is a statement of what is known, the other is an
emanation from the man himself; or that one may add to the sum of human
knowledge, and the other addresses itself to a higher want in human
nature than the want of knowledge. We select and set aside as literature
that which is original, the product of what we call genius. As I have
said, the subject of a production does not always determine the desired
quality which makes it literature. A biography may contain all the facts
in regard to a man and his character, arranged in an orderly and
comprehensible manner, and yet not be literature; but it may be so
written, like Plutarch's Lives or Defoe's account of Robinson Crusoe,
that it is literature, and of imperishable value as a picture of human
life, as a satisfaction to the want of the human mind which is higher
than the want of knowledge. And this contribution, which I desire to be
understood to mean when I speak of literature, is precisely the thing of
most value in the lives of the majority of men, whether they are aware of
it or not. It may be weighty and profound; it may be light, as light as
the fall of a leaf or a bird's song on the shore; it may be the thought
of Plato when he discourses of the character necessary in a perfect
state, or of Socrates, who, out of the theorem of an absolute beauty,
goodness, greatness, and the like, deduces the immortality of the soul;
or it may be the lovesong of a Scotch plowman: but it has this one
quality of answering to a need in human nature higher than a need for
facts, for knowledge, for wealth.

In noticing the remoteness in the popular conception of the relation of
literature to life, we must not neglect to take into account what may be
called the arrogance of culture, an arrogance that has been emphasized,
in these days of reaction from the old attitude of literary
obsequiousness, by harsh distinctions and hard words, which are paid back
by equally emphasized contempt. The apostles of light regard the rest of
mankind as barbarians and Philistines, and the world retorts that these
self-constituted apostles are idle word-mongers, without any sympathy
with humanity, critics and jeerers who do nothing to make the conditions
of life easier. It is natural that every man should magnify the circle of
the world in which he is active and imagine that all outside of it is
comparatively unimportant. Everybody who is not a drone has his
sufficient world. To the lawyer it is his cases and the body of law, it
is the legal relation of men that is of supreme importance; to the
merchant and manufacturer all the world consists in buying and selling,
in the production and exchange of products; to the physician all the
world is diseased and in need of remedies; to the clergyman speculation
and the discussion of dogmas and historical theology assume immense
importance; the politician has his world, the artist his also, and the
man of books and letters a realm still apart from all others. And to each
of these persons what is outside of his world seems of secondary
importance; he is absorbed in his own, which seems to him all-embracing.
To the lawyer everybody is or ought to be a litigant; to the grocer the
world is that which eats, and pays--with more or less regularity; to the
scholar the world is in books and ideas. One realizes how possessed he is
with his own little world only when by chance he changes his profession
or occupation and looks back upon the law, or politics, or journalism,
and sees in its true proportion what it was that once absorbed him and
seemed to him so large. When Socrates discusses with Gorgias the value of
rhetoric, the use of which, the latter asserts, relates to the greatest
and best of human things, Socrates says: I dare say you have heard men
singing--at feasts the old drinking-song, in which the singers enumerate
the goods of life-first, health; beauty next; thirdly, wealth honestly
acquired. The producers of these things--the physician, the trainer, the
money-maker--each in turn contends that his art produces the greatest
good. Surely, says the physician, health is the greatest good; there is
more good in my art, says the trainer, for my business is to make men
beautiful and strong in body; and consider, says the money-maker, whether
any one can produce a greater good than wealth. But, insists Gorgias, the
greatest good of men, of which I am the creator, is that which gives men
freedom in their persons, and the power of ruling over others in their
several states--that is, the word which persuades the judge in the court,
or the senators in the council, or the citizens in the assembly: if you
have the power of uttering this word, you will have the physician your
slave, and the trainer your slave, and the moneymaker of whom you talk
will be found to gather treasures, not for himself, but for those who are
able to speak and persuade the multitude.

What we call life is divided into occupations and interest, and the
horizons of mankind are bounded by them. It happens naturally enough,
therefore, that there should be a want of sympathy in regard to these
pursuits among men, the politician despising the scholar, and the scholar
looking down upon the politician, and the man of affairs, the man of
industries, not caring to conceal his contempt for both the others. And
still more reasonable does the division appear between all the world
which is devoted to material life, and the few who live in and for the
expression of thought and emotion. It is a pity that this should be so,
for it can be shown that life would not be worth living divorced from the
gracious and ennobling influence of literature, and that literature
suffers atrophy when it does not concern itself with the facts and
feelings of men.

If the poet lives in a world apart from the vulgar, the most lenient
apprehension of him is that his is a sort of fool's paradise. One of the
most curious features in the relation of literature to life is this, that
while poetry, the production of the poet, is as necessary to universal
man as the atmosphere, and as acceptable, the poet is regarded with that
mingling of compassion and undervaluation, and perhaps awe, which once
attached to the weak-minded and insane, and which is sometimes expressed
by the term "inspired idiot." However the poet may have been petted and
crowned, however his name may have been diffused among peoples, I doubt
not that the popular estimate of him has always been substantially what
it is today. And we all know that it is true, true in our individual
consciousness, that if a man be known as a poet and nothing else, if his
character is sustained by no other achievement than the production of
poetry, he suffers in our opinion a loss of respect. And this is only
recovered for him after he is dead, and his poetry is left alone to speak
for his name. However fond my lord and lady were of the ballad, the place
of the minstrel was at the lower end of the hall. If we are pushed to say
why this is, why this happens to the poet and not to the producers of
anything else that excites the admiration of mankind, we are forced to
admit that there is something in the poet to sustain the popular judgment
of his in utility. In all the occupations and professions of life there
is a sign put up, invisible--but none the less real, and expressing an
almost universal feeling--"No poet need apply." And this is not because
there are so many poor poets; for there are poor lawyers, poor soldiers,
poor statesmen, incompetent business men; but none of the personal
disparagement attaches to them that is affixed to the poet. This popular
estimate of the poet extends also, possibly in less degree, to all the
producers of the literature that does not concern itself with knowledge.
It is not our care to inquire further why this is so, but to repeat that
it is strange that it should be so when poetry is, and has been at all
times, the universal solace of all peoples who have emerged out of
barbarism, the one thing not supernatural and yet akin to the
supernatural, that makes the world, in its hard and sordid conditions,
tolerable to the race. For poetry is not merely the comfort of the
refined and the delight of the educated; it is the alleviator of poverty,
the pleasure-ground of the ignorant, the bright spot in the most dreary
pilgrimage. We cannot conceive the abject animal condition of our race
were poetry abstracted; and we do not wonder that this should be so when
we reflect that it supplies a want higher than the need for food, for
raiment, or ease of living, and that the mind needs support as much as
the body. The majority of mankind live largely in the imagination, the
office or use of which is to lift them in spirit out of the bare physical
conditions in which the majority exist. There are races, which we may
call the poetical races, in which this is strikingly exemplified. It
would be difficult to find poverty more complete, physical wants less
gratified, the conditions of life more bare than among the Oriental
peoples from the Nile to the Ganges and from the Indian Ocean to the
steppes of Siberia. But there are perhaps none among the more favored
races who live so much in the world of imagination fed by poetry and
romance. Watch the throng seated about an Arab or Indian or Persian
story-teller and poet, men and women with all the marks of want, hungry,
almost naked, without any prospect in life of ever bettering their sordid
condition; see their eyes kindle, their breathing suspended, their tense
absorption; see their tears, hear their laughter, note their excitement
as the magician unfolds to them a realm of the imagination in which they
are free for the hour to wander, tasting a keen and deep enjoyment that
all the wealth of Croesus cannot purchase for his disciples. Measure, if
you can, what poetry is to them, what their lives would be without it. To
the millions and millions of men who are in this condition, the bard, the
story-teller, the creator of what we are considering as literature, comes
with the one thing that can lift them out of poverty, suffering--all the
woe of which nature is so heedless.

It is not alone of the poetical nations of the East that this is true,
nor is this desire for the higher enjoyment always wanting in the savage
tribes of the West. When the Jesuit Fathers in 1768 landed upon the
almost untouched and unexplored southern Pacific coast, they found in the
San Gabriel Valley in Lower California that the Indians had games and
feasts at which they decked themselves in flower garlands that reached to
their feet, and that at these games there were song contests which
sometimes lasted for three days. This contest of the poets was an old
custom with them. And we remember how the ignorant Icelanders, who had
never seen a written character, created the splendid Saga, and handed it
down from father to son. We shall scarcely find in Europe a peasantry
whose abject poverty is not in some measure alleviated by this power
which literature gives them to live outside it. Through our sacred
Scriptures, through the ancient storytellers, through the tradition which
in literature made, as I said, the chief continuity in the stream of
time, we all live a considerable, perhaps the better, portion of our
lives in the Orient. But I am not sure that the Scotch peasant, the
crofter in his Highland cabin, the operative in his squalid
tenement-house, in the hopelessness of poverty, in the grime of a life
made twice as hard as that of the Arab by an inimical climate, does not
owe more to literature than the man of culture, whose material
surroundings are heaven in the imagination of the poor. Think what his
wretched life would be, in its naked deformity, without the popular
ballads, without the romances of Scott, which have invested his land for
him, as for us, with enduring charm; and especially without the songs of
Burns, which keep alive in him the feeling that he is a man, which impart
to his blunted sensibility the delicious throb of spring-songs that
enable him to hear the birds, to see the bits of blue sky-songs that make
him tender of the wee bit daisy at his feet--songs that hearten him when
his heart is fit to break with misery. Perhaps the English peasant, the
English operative, is less susceptible to such influences than the Scotch
or the Irish; but over him, sordid as his conditions are, close kin as he
is to the clod, the light of poetry is diffused; there filters into his
life, also, something of that divine stream of which we have spoken, a
dialect poem that touches him, the leaf of a psalm, some bit of
imagination, some tale of pathos, set afloat by a poor writer so long ago
that it has become the common stock of human tradition-maybe from
Palestine, maybe from the Ganges, perhaps from Athens--some expression of
real emotion, some creation, we say, that makes for him a world, vague
and dimly apprehended, that is not at all the actual world in which he
sins and suffers. The poor woman, in a hut with an earth floor, a reeking
roof, a smoky chimney, barren of comfort, so indecent that a gentleman
would not stable his horse in it, sits and sews upon a coarse garment,
while she rocks the cradle of an infant about whom she cherishes no
illusions that his lot will be other than that of his father before him.
As she sits forlorn, it is not the wretched hovel that she sees, nor
other hovels like it--rows of tenements of hopeless poverty, the
ale-house, the gin-shop, the coal-pit, and the choking factory--but:

       "Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
        Stand dressed in living green"

for her, thanks to the poet. But, alas for the poet there is not a
peasant nor a wretched operative of them all who will not shake his head
and tap his forehead with his forefinger when the poor poet chap passes
by. The peasant has the same opinion of him that the physician, the
trainer, and the money-lender had of the rhetorician.

The hard conditions of the lonely New England life, with its religious
theories as sombre as its forests, its rigid notions of duty as difficult
to make bloom into sweetness and beauty as the stony soil, would have
been unendurable if they had not been touched with the ideal created by
the poet. There was in creed and purpose the virility that creates a
state, and, as Menander says, the country which is cultivated with
difficulty produces brave men; but we leave out an important element in
the lives of the Pilgrims if we overlook the means they had of living
above their barren circumstances. I do not speak only of the culture
which many of them brought from the universities, of the Greek and Roman
classics, and what unworldly literature they could glean from the
productive age of Elizabeth and James, but of another source, more
universally resorted to, and more powerful in exciting imagination and
emotion, and filling the want in human nature of which we have spoken.
They had the Bible, and it was more to them, much more, than a book of
religion, than a revelation of religious truth, a rule for the conduct of
life, or a guide to heaven. It supplied the place to them of the
Mahabharata to the Hindoo, of the story-teller to the Arab. It opened to
them a boundless realm of poetry and imagination.

What is the Bible? It might have sufficed, accepted as a book of
revelation, for all the purposes of moral guidance, spiritual
consolation, and systematized authority, if it had been a collection of
precepts, a dry code of morals, an arsenal of judgments, and a treasury
of promises. We are accustomed to think of the Pilgrims as training their
intellectual faculties in the knottiest problems of human responsibility
and destiny, toughening their mental fibre in wrestling with dogmas and
the decrees of Providence, forgetting what else they drew out of the
Bible: what else it was to them in a degree it has been to few peoples
many age. For the Bible is the unequaled record of thought and emotion,
the reservoir of poetry, traditions, stories, parables, exaltations,
consolations, great imaginative adventure, for which the spirit of man is
always longing. It might have been, in warning examples and commands,
all-sufficient to enable men to make a decent pilgrimage on earth and
reach a better country; but it would have been a very different book to
mankind if it had been only a volume of statutes, and if it lacked its
wonderful literary quality. It might have enabled men to reach a better
country, but not, while on earth, to rise into and live in that better
country, or to live in a region above the sordidness of actual life. For,
apart from its religious intention and sacred character, the book is so
written that it has supremely in its history, poetry, prophecies,
promises, stories, that clear literary quality that supplies, as
certainly no other single book does, the want in the human mind which is
higher than the want of facts or knowledge.

The Bible is the best illustration of the literature of power, for it
always concerns itself with life, it touches it at all points. And this
is the test of any piece of literature--its universal appeal to human
nature. When I consider the narrow limitations of the Pilgrim households,
the absence of luxury, the presence of danger and hardship, the harsh
laws--only less severe than the contemporary laws of England and
Virginia--the weary drudgery, the few pleasures, the curb upon the
expression of emotion and of tenderness, the ascetic repression of
worldly thought, the absence of poetry in the routine occupations and
conditions, I can feel what the Bible must have been to them. It was an
open door into a world where emotion is expressed, where imagination can
range, where love and longing find a language, where imagery is given to
every noble and suppressed passion of the soul, where every aspiration
finds wings. It was history, or, as Thucydides said, philosophy teaching
by example; it was the romance of real life; it was entertainment
unfailing; the wonder-book of childhood, the volume of sweet sentiment to
the shy maiden, the sword to the soldier, the inciter of the youth to
heroic enduring of hardness, it was the refuge of the aged in failing
activity. Perhaps we can nowhere find a better illustration of the true
relation of literature to life than in this example.

Let us consider the comparative value of literature to mankind. By
comparative value I mean its worth to men in comparison with other things
of acknowledged importance, such as the creation of industries, the
government of States, the manipulation of the politics of an age, the
achievements in war and discovery, and the lives of admirable men. It
needs a certain perspective to judge of this aright, for the near and the
immediate always assume importance. The work that an age has on hand,
whether it be discovery, conquest, the wars that determine boundaries or
are fought for policies, the industries that develop a country or affect
the character of a people, the wielding of power, the accumulation of
fortunes, the various activities of any given civilization or period,
assume such enormous proportions to those engaged in them that such a
modest thing as the literary product seems insignificant in comparison;
and hence it is that the man of action always holds in slight esteem the
man of thought, and especially the expresser of feeling and emotion, the
poet and the humorist. It is only when we look back over the ages, when
civilizations have passed or changed, over the rivalries of States, the
ambitions and enmities of men, the shining deeds and the base deeds that
make up history, that we are enabled to see what remains, what is
permanent. Perhaps the chief result left to the world out of a period of
heroic exertion, of passion and struggle and accumulation, is a sheaf of
poems, or the record by a man of letters of some admirable character.
Spain filled a large place in the world in the sixteenth century, and its
influence upon history is by no means spent yet; but we have inherited
out of that period nothing, I dare say, that is of more value than the
romance of Don Quixote. It is true that the best heritage of generation
from generation is the character of great men; but we always owe its
transmission to the poet and the writer. Without Plato there would be no
Socrates. There is no influence comparable in human life to the
personality of a powerful man, so long as he is present to his
generation, or lives in the memory of those who felt his influence. But
after time has passed, will the world, will human life, that is
essentially the same in all changing conditions, be more affected by what
Bismarck did or by what Goethe said?

We may without impropriety take for an illustration of the comparative
value of literature to human needs the career of a man now living. In the
opinion of many, Mr. Gladstone is the greatest Englishman of this age.
What would be the position of the British empire, what would be the
tendency of English politics and society without him, is a matter for
speculation. He has not played such a role for England and its neighbors
as Bismarck has played for Germany and the Continent, but he has been one
of the most powerful influences in molding English action. He is the
foremost teacher. Rarely in history has a nation depended more upon a
single man, at times, than the English upon Gladstone, upon his will, his
ability, and especially his character. In certain recent crises the
thought of losing him produced something like a panic in the English
mind, justifying in regard to him, the hyperbole of Choate upon the death
of Webster, that the sailor on the distant sea would feel less safe--as
if a protecting providence had been withdrawn from the world. His mastery
of finance and of economic problems, his skill in debate, his marvelous
achievements in oratory, have extorted the admiration of his enemies.
There is scarcely a province in government, letters, art, or research in
which the mind can win triumphs that he has not invaded and displayed his
power in; scarcely a question in politics, reform, letters, religion,
archaeology, sociology, which he has not discussed with ability. He is a
scholar, critic, parliamentarian, orator, voluminous writer. He seems
equally at home in every field of human activity--a man of prodigious
capacity and enormous acquirements. He can take up, with a turn of the
hand, and always with vigor, the cause of the Greeks, Papal power,
education, theology, the influence of Egypt on Homer, the effect of
English legislation on King O'Brien, contributing something noteworthy to
all the discussions of the day. But I am not aware that he has ever
produced a single page of literature. Whatever space he has filled in his
own country, whatever and however enduring the impression he has made
upon English life and society, does it seem likely that the sum total of
his immense activity in so many fields, after the passage of so many
years, will be worth to the world as much as the simple story of Rab and
his Friends? Already in America I doubt if it is. The illustration might
have more weight with some minds if I contrasted the work of this great
man--as to its answering to a deep want in human nature--with a novel
like 'Henry Esmond' or a poem like 'In Memoriam'; but I think it is
sufficient to rest it upon so slight a performance as the sketch by Dr.
John Brown, of Edinburgh. For the truth is that a little page of
literature, nothing more than a sheet of paper with a poem written on it,
may have that vitality, that enduring quality, that adaptation to life,
that make it of more consequence to all who inherit it than every
material achievement of the age that produced it. It was nothing but a
sheet of paper with a poem on it, carried to the door of his London
patron, for which the poet received a guinea, and perhaps a seat at the
foot of my lord's table. What was that scrap compared to my lord's
business, his great establishment, his equipages in the Park, his
position in society, his weight in the House of Lords, his influence in
Europe? And yet that scrap of paper has gone the world over; it has been
sung in the camp, wept over in the lonely cottage; it has gone with the
marching regiments, with the explorers--with mankind, in short, on its
way down the ages, brightening, consoling, elevating life; and my lord,
who regarded as scarcely above a menial the poet to whom he tossed the
guinea--my lord, with all his pageantry and power, has utterly gone and
left no witness.

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