The principle of the Third Age,—that Age which we have undertaken to describe,—is now sufficiently apparent:—this, namely,—to accept nothing whatever but that which it understands. The Comprehensible is its highest Idea;—it is thus Scientific in its form; and any complete delineation of it must commence with a description of its Scientific position, because it here becomes most clear and intelligible to itself; and from this, its best defined point, all its other characteristics may most readily be deduced.
In our last lecture, we described this Scientific position in the first place as regards its form,—that is, by means of certain general and fundamental peculiarities which are visible in all its phenomena, and which spring directly from its essential characteristic—its incapacity for the Idea. The Idea, we said, was the source of all power; this Age must therefore necessarily be feeble and powerless:—the Idea was the source of a perennial satisfaction; this Age must therefore be conscious of an emptiness which it endeavours to supply by means of Wit, although this is unattainable by it. To-day we desire to present you with a concise description of this Scientific position itself as it actually exists.
In the first place, let me remark what I have already mentioned in passing on a previous occasion, but here desire to enforce, and for the first time to apply:—Every possible Age strives to encompass and pervade the whole Race; and only in so far as it succeeds in doing this does it manifest the true character of an Age, since besides this Life of the Race there is nothing remaining but the phenomena of individual life.
So also the Third Age. It is in its nature an Age of Knowledge; and it must therefore labour and strive to raise all Mankind to this position. To this Age, Understanding, as the highest and decisive tribunal, possesses a value in itself; and indeed the highest value, determining all other value: hence men are esteemed only in so far as they readily receive or studiously acquire the Conceptions of the Understanding, and easily apply and clearly discriminate among them;—and all the efforts of the Age in the Culture of Mankind must be directed to this end. It matters not that individual voices may be heard from time to time exclaiming—‘Act! act!—that is the business: what shall mere knowledge avail us?’—for either by such action is meant only another form of learning; or else those voices are but the reaction against itself of an Age dissatisfied with its own emptiness, of which we have already made mention in our last lecture: and by such a reaction this Age, in all its varied manifestations, is usually accompanied. In judging of this point, the decisive test is the Education which an Age bestows on the children of all classes, but particularly on those of the people. Is it found that, among all classes, the aim of such Education is that children should know something; and that, in particular among the people, the main object is that they should be enabled to read with facility, and, so far as it may be attainable, to write also; and generally, that they should acquire the Knowledge peculiar to the class on whom their Education devolves: as for example, where that Education is entrusted to the clerical body, that they should be well versed in a systematic and tabular code of dogmatics under the name of a catechism;—is this, I say, found to be so?—then experience makes good that which we have said. Should other maxims of popular Education here and there make their appearance, and even be in part carried out, this is but the reaction:—the former is the rule, without which indeed no reaction could take place.
It is impossible that these influences, directed upon the Age on all sides and from every quarter, should entirely fail of their purpose. Every individual, even the most insignificant and least cultivated, will in some measure acquire an independent consciousness and knowledge of himself; that is, since the enlightenment of the Age is throughout negative, he will by means of reflection raise himself above something which has been taught him in his youth, and will no longer be restrained by many things which before restrained him. And thus does man recognise himself as Man, attain to independent thought, and the whole Age transforms itself into a fixed camp of Formal Knowledge,—in which, indeed, many and various degrees of rank are to be found, but where each brings his contribution to the common armoury.
I trust that no one here will so far misunderstand what I have said, as to suppose that I unconditionally condemn the characteristics of this Age which we have now adduced, and thereby attach myself to a party which has already appeared in many shapes, and lately in that of Philosophy also, and which in every shape it has assumed has rightly borne the name of Obscuranti. Were the Knowledge of the Third Age Knowledge of the right sort, it should in that case deserve no blame for its striving to reach all men of every class. Rather do those representatives of the Age, who desire to retain their wisdom to themselves, and will not allow it to be spread forth among the masses, only exhibit their inconsistency on a new side. The Age which succeeds the Third,—that of True Knowledge,—will also strive to embrace all men, for if the Laws of Reason are to be made manifest by Art throughout the whole Race, every individual of the Race must possess at least a certain amount of knowledge of these Laws, since each individual must uphold, by his own private and individual conduct, the outward and public dominion of Reason in the Race, which again reacts in aid of individual effort. All without exception must sooner or later attain to Reason as Knowledge; therefore all without exception must first be set free from the blind faith in Authority. To accomplish this is the object of the Third Age, and in this it does well.
Understanding, I said, for its own sake possesses a value to this Age,—and indeed the highest value, determining all other value; and upon it is made to depend the dignity and worth of all personality. It is therefore an honour in the estimation of this Age, simply to have thought for oneself, provided only that something new has been brought forward, even although this originality may be merely an obvious perversion of Truth. This Age will never pronounce a final judgment; and by this judgment arrive at ultimate Truth, where it might then remain steadfast and for ever:—it is too faint-hearted to do this;—it only desires a treasury of materials for opinion, among which it may have the power of choice, should it at any time desire to form a judgment;—and therefore every one is welcomed who can increase this store. Thus it happens that individuals, not only without shame, but even with a certain self-satisfaction, step forth and proclaim—‘See, here is my opinion; this is the way in which I, for my part, conceive of this matter:—for the rest I willingly allow that others may think quite differently of it,’—and that these individuals even give themselves credit for an amiable modesty of spirit;—whereas, in the truly reasonable mode of thought, it is the greatest arrogance to suppose that our personal opinion is of any essential value, and that any one can be interested in knowing how we, important personages as we are, look upon the matter; and before the tribunal of this mode of thought no one has a right to open his mouth before he is thoroughly satisfied that his speech shall be not of himself, but the utterance of the Pure Reason within him; and that therefore every one who comprehends him, and desires to maintain the rank of a reasonable being, will recognise his utterance as true and genuine.
Understanding, for its own sake, possesses the highest value for this Age:—this Understanding has therefore supreme Authority, and becomes the first and primitive Authority, limited by no other. Hence arises the all-ruling idea of Intellectual Freedom,—freedom of Scientific judgment and of public opinion. Let it be made manifest to a true son of this Age that what he has produced is absurd, ridiculous, immoral, and corrupt:—‘That is nothing,’ he replies; ‘I have thought it,—of my own self I have created it,—and thought of itself is always some merit for it costs some labour; and man must be at liberty to think what he pleases:’—and, truly, against this one can have nothing further to say. Let it be shown to another that he is ignorant of the very first principle of an Art or a Science upon the results of which he has pronounced at great length, and that the whole domain to which it belongs is quite beyond his knowledge:—‘Am I thereby tacitly to understand,’ he replies, ‘that I ought not to have exercised my judgment under these circumstances? Surely those who say this have no conception of the Freedom of Judgment which belongs of right to men of learning. If a man were in every case to study and understand that upon which he pronounces a judgment the unconditional Liberty of Thought would thereby be much limited and circumscribed; and there would be found exceedingly few who could venture to pronounce an opinion;—whereas the Freedom of Judgment consists in this,—that every man may judge of all things whether he understands them or not!’ Has any one, in the circle of a few friends perhaps, allowed an assertion to escape him which it may be supposed he would not willingly see published to the world? In a week or two the printing press is at work to announce the remarkable fact to the world and to posterity. The journals take a part on one side and on the other, carefully investigating and inquiring whether the assertion was actually made or not, before whom was it made, what were the exact words employed, and under what conditions the offender may be dismissed in the meantime with a partial punishment, or else be irretrievably condemned. He must stand the brunt; and it will be well for him if, at the end of a few years, he find his business forgotten in some new affair. Let no man smile at this;—for thereby he will only show that he has no sense of the high value of Public Opinion. But should any one who is summoned before the tribunal of this Public Opinion dare to despise its authority, then total perplexity takes possession of the minds of its representatives, and to the end of their lives they gaze in profound astonishment at the man who has had courage sufficient to scorn their jurisdiction. They have of a truth thought this which they say;—at least they have assumed the air of having thought it. How then can any reasonable man refuse to pay them that respectful submission which is their due?
The right to raise itself in thought to the conception of the Laws of Reason, free from all constraint of outward authority, is indeed the highest, inalienable right of Humanity:—it is the unchangeable vocation of the Earthly Life of the Race. But no man has a right to wander recklessly about in the empty domain of unsettled Opinion; for such a course is directly opposed to the distinctive character of Humanity, i.e. to Reason. Neither would any Age have such a right, were it not that this unsettled hovering between authority and mere emptiness is a necessary step in the progress of our Race, whereby it may first be set free from blind constraint, and then be impelled towards Knowledge by the oppressive sense of its own vacuity. Let these men, then, with their pretensions about unlimited Freedom of Thought and unrestrained Public Opinion, make what demands they please; and let no man hinder them from degrading themselves as far, and making themselves as ridiculous, as they please;—this must be permitted them. And who should desire to hinder them? Not the State,—at least no State that understands its own interest. The State has charge of watching over the outward actions of its citizens, and ordering these actions by means of imperative laws which, if they are rightly adapted to the nation and imposed without distinction upon all, must, without danger of failure, secure and maintain the order which is contemplated. The opinions of the citizens are not actions;—let these opinions be even dangerous, still if crime is sure of its threatened punishment it will be suppressed despite of opinion. The State may either attempt to change the opinions of its citizens for its own advantage:—and in this case it partly undertakes a thing which it cannot accomplish, and partly shows that its laws are not adapted to the existing condition of the nation to which this system of opinion belongs; or, that the governing power is inadequate, and, being unable to trust to its own resources, needs the aid of a foreign power which yet it cannot incorporate with itself. Or, the State may attempt,—perhaps with the purest intentions, and from the warmest zeal on the part of its administrators for the advancement of the dominion of Reason,—it may attempt to combat the prevailing opinions by means of external power;—and in this case it undertakes a thing in which it can never succeed, for all men feel that it then takes the form of injustice, and the persecuted opinion, being thus to a certain extent put in the right, gains new friends by the injustice which it suffers, and by this conviction of the justice of its cause acquires a stronger power of opposition; and the matter ends by the State being obliged to yield, whereby it once more shows only its own weakness. In like manner, neither will the few worshippers of True Knowledge hinder these advocates of unrestricted license. They have no power to do so; and if they had, they would not desire to use it. Their weapons are no other than the forces of Reason; their wishes for the world no other than that these forces should make their way by means of free conviction. Whatever they say is to be clearly understood as true and as alone true: nothing they say is to be learned by rote and accepted in faith and trust; for then would Humanity be only brought back again to bondage, and subjected to a new authority; and instead of the desired progress there would be only a retreat in a new direction. Could these men comprehend it, they would no doubt acknowledge its truth;—for we do not charge them with the baseness which disavows its own conviction of better things. But precisely because they do not comprehend it they are what they are; and so must they remain so long as they do not comprehend it:—since they are once for all what they are, it is impossible for them to become anything else;—and they must be endured, as integral parts of an unchangeable and necessary order of things.
This mode of thought, I said before, will strive to spread itself universally; and in certain masses of the Human Race it will succeed in this, and with them the whole Age will become a camp of mere Formal Knowledge. Who rules in this camp, and leads on its armies?—‘Clearly,’ it will be answered, ‘the Heroes of the Age; the champions in whom the Spirit of the Time has most gloriously revealed itself.’ But who are these, and by what marks are they to be recognised? Perchance by the importance of the researches which they set on foot, or the truth which radiates from their doctrines, and enlightens all men? How were that possible, when the Age passes no judgment whatever upon the importance or truth of anything, but only collects a store of opinions as materials for a future judgment? Thus he who only announces an opinion, and thereby brings his contribution to the great magazine of general speculation, in this way qualifies himself to be a leader of the host. But, as we have already observed, there is no preeminence to be attained in this Age; for every one who breathes its atmosphere, has at one time or another swelled the general store of opinion by producing some conception of his own. Unfortunately a disaster often befalls this fertile capacity of thought;—this, namely,—that the opinion which bears universal sway in the evening is in the morning forgotten by all the world, even by its own prolific inventor;—and so this new contribution to the treasures of the Age vanishes into thin air. But should a method be discovered by which this fact of an opinion having been announced, as well as the opinion itself in so far as this latter may be possible, should be firmly established and protected against the next morning’s breeze, so that all who are blessed with sound eyesight might be distinctly advertised that an opinion had been ushered into the world, and the thinker himself be provided with a safeguard against forgetting what he has thought;—if, for example, the arts of Writing and Printing were discovered then should the Age be delivered from its perplexity. Then he whose opinions stood permanently recorded by means of ink and paper should belong to the Heroes of the Age, the sublime phalanx of whom constitutes a community of votaries of Knowledge, or, as they better love to be called,—their whole being resting only on empiricism,—a Republic of Letters.
In this view the Age is by no means disturbed by the consideration that the admission into this glorious senate of humankind is usually effected through the nearest printer, whose knowledge of what he prints is even less than that of the writer as to what he writes, and whose only desire is to exchange his own printed paper for that of others.
In this way the Republic of Letters is brought together. By means of the printing press it is separated from the masses who do not print anything, and whose position in the camp of Formal Knowledge is that of Readers only. Hence arise new relations and connexions between these two principal sections of the camp of Formal Knowledge.
The first purpose of printing is obviously to announce publicly to all the world the independence of mind possessed by the Author;—from this arises, in Science, a straining after new or seemingly new opinions; and in Literature, a struggling after new forms. He who has attained this end, gains the favour of his Reader, whether or not, in the one case, his opinion be true; or, in the other, his form be beautiful. But when the printing press has thoroughly come into play even this novelty is laid aside, and mere printing, for its own sake alone, becomes a merit;—and then arises, in Science, the tribe of compilers, who give to the world what has been given to it a hundred times before, only with some slight transposition of its parts; and in Literature, the fashionable author, who continues to repeat a form which has already been so long employed by others or by himself, that at last no man can discover anything good in it.
This stream of Literature now flows forth, constantly renewing itself; each new tide displacing its forerunner; so that the purpose originally contemplated in printing is frustrated, and the hope of immortality by means of the press destroyed. It matters not to have brought forth one’s opinion in open print, unless one also possess the art to continue so to do unceasingly:—for all that is Past is soon forgotten. Who is there that shall bear it in memory? Not the Author as such: for since each strives after something new, no one listens to another, but each goes his own way, and promulgates his own conceptions. Not the Reader: for he, glad to be done with the old, flies to the newest comers, in choosing among whom he is for the most part guided by mere chance. In these circumstances no one who commits his lucubrations to the press, can be sure that any one, except himself and his printer, shall know anything of the matter. Hence it becomes indispensably necessary to set on foot and establish some public and general record or memorial of Literature. Such are the literary Journals and Magazines, which once more make known what it is which the Author has made known, and by means of which an Author is enabled to repeat, even after the lapse of half a year, what he has said already; and a similar opportunity is afforded to the reading public to learn what he has said, if they read the Journals. But it would not accord with the dignity of the authors of these publications, and would place them too far below other writers, if they only conveyed this intelligence of the thoughts of others; they must therefore, while reporting their information, also assert their own independence by discussing these thoughts and announcing their own opinion thereon;—the leading maxims in this business being the following:—that the Reviewer shall always find something to censure; and that he knows everything better than the original Author.
With such writings as commonly appear this is of little moment; for it is no great misfortune that something which is bad at first should be made worse by the new treatment of the Reviewer. Writings which really deserve to see the light, whether in the department of Science or that of Literature, are ever the expression of a Life wholly devoted to the Idea in some new and original form; and until such writings have seized upon the Age, and penetrated it, and fashioned it after their own thought, no judgment of them is possible: and therefore it is obvious that no thorough and comprehensive Review of such works, even by the ablest critic, can be produced in a half or even in a whole year. It is of course understood that the ordinary critics do not make this distinction, but unhesitatingly seize upon all that comes under their notice without discrimination; and also that the same judgment is pronounced upon truly original works, as upon the most thoroughly worthless productions. But even this fault is no misfortune except to themselves; for nothing really good is lost in the stream of Time:—how long soever it may lie defamed, misunderstood, and disregarded, the day at length arrives when it breaks its way through such hindrances and comes forth into light. But any one who should feel aggrieved by such perverted views of his writings,—who should vex himself at such attacks, instead of compassionately laughing at them, would only show thereby that his opponent had a certain amount of truth on his side,—that his own individual personality had not yet wholly disappeared in the Idea, and in the Knowledge and Love of Truth;—that therefore this personal feeling may indeed have shown itself in his work, and that the more offensively, the purer the expression of the Idea with which it is associated:—and such an one receives thereby the most urgent and impressive summons to retire within his own soul and to purify himself. ‘Do they regard this matter falsely?’—thinks he who is pure within himself:—‘it is to their prejudice, not mine; and that they do regard it falsely, is not the fault of an evil will but of a feeble vision;—they themselves would be glad indeed were it possible for them to come to the truth.’—Finally it is to be noticed as an advantage arising from the creation of the critic species, that he who has no great pleasure in reading, or has not much time to devote to that purpose, no longer requires to read books; but by mere reference to the literary Journals finds the whole Literature of the Age brought within his grasp;—and in this way, indeed, it may be said that books are only printed in order that they may be reviewed; and there would no longer be any need for books, if Reviews could be fabricated without them.
Such is the portraiture of the active section of this camp of Formal Knowledge;—namely, the Authors. After their image, the passive or receptive section,—the body of Readers—fashions itself, that it may become their exact counterpart. As the former write on, without rest or intermission; so do the latter read on, without rest or intermission,—straining every nerve to keep their head above the flood of Literature, and, as they call it, to advance with the Age. Glad to have hurried through the old they eagerly grasp at the new, while the newest already makes its appearance; and not a single moment remains for them ever to revert to the old. They can by no means stop themselves in this restless career in order to consider what they read;—for their business is pressing, and time is short:—and so it is left wholly to chance what and how much of their reading may stick to them in this rapid transit, how it may influence them, and what spiritual form it may assume.
This custom of reading for its own sake is specifically different from every other habit of mind; and, having something about it in the highest degree agreeable, it soon becomes an indispensable want to those who once indulge in it. Like other narcotic remedies, it places those who use it in the pleasant condition betwixt sleeping and waking, and lulls them into sweet self-forgetfulness without calling for the slightest exertion on their part. It has always appeared to me to have the greatest resemblance to tobacco-smoking, and to be best illustrated by that habit. He who has once tasted the delights of this condition will desire continually to enjoy them, and will devote himself to nothing else: he now reads even without regard to the knowledge of Literature, or to advancing with his Age; but with this view only, that he may read, and reading live;—and so represents in his person the character of the pure Reader.
At this point Authorship and Readership both reach their end; they disappear in themselves, the final result being its own extinction. To the pure Reader, as we have described him, there is no longer any instruction in his reading, nor does he derive any clear conceptions from it; for any printed production forthwith lulls him into listless repose and placid self-forgetfulness. Besides, all other means of instruction are cut off from him. Hence verbal communication, by continuous discourse or scientific conversation, possesses infinite advantage over the mere dead letter. Writing was only practised by the Ancients in order to convey such spoken instruction to those who had not access to the speaker; everything that was written had in the first place been verbally communicated, and was but a copy of the spoken discourse: only among the Moderns, and particularly since the invention of printing, has this method of intercourse claimed recognition for its own sake; whereby style, among other things, having lost the living corrective of speech, has fallen to ruin. But even for spoken communication, a Reader such as we have described is from the first wholly unfit.
How could such an one, habitually given up to absolute passivity, understand the bearings of a connected discourse, which demand an active effort of the mind to lay hold of and retain them? How could he, were the discourse broken up into periods, as every good discourse ought to be,—how could he combine the separate periods together, and review them as a whole? If he could have them put before his eyes in black and white,—then, he thinks, his difficulty should be removed. But he deceives himself. Even in that case, he would not mentally comprehend the unity of the discourse, but would only, through his eye, embrace the extent of it included within his range of vision, hold this fast upon the paper and by means of the paper;—and then imagine that he had comprehended it.
Arrived at this point, I said, the scientific effort of the Age has destroyed itself! and the Race stands in absolute impotence on the one side, and in absolute incapacity on the other, for farther cultivation:—the Age can no longer read, and therefore all writing is in vain. Thus it is high time to begin something new,—and, in my opinion, this something should be, on the one side, to return to the method of spoken discourse, and to cultivate proficiency in this Art;—and on the other, to acquire the requisite capacities for appreciating this form of communication.
If reading is still to be practised, it should at least be in another way than is customary now. In order that I may follow up the repulsive description which I have had to bring before you to-day, with something more pleasing, allow me to say what mode of reading I hold to be the right one.
Whatever ought to be read in print, is either a work of Science, or a product of Literature: whatever is neither of these, and is without relation to one or other of them, is much better unread, and might as well have remained unwritten.
In the first place, with respect to works of Science:—The first object of reading them is to understand them, and to apprehend historically the true meaning of the Author. To do this, we must not passively resign ourselves to our Author, and suffer him to mould us as chance or fortune may direct; or accept at once whatever dicta he may choose to propound, and so depart, and get these by rote. But as the Experimentalist subjects Nature to his interrogatories, and compels her not to speak at random but to reply to the questions which he puts to her; so is the Author to be subjected to a skilful and well-considered experiment by the Reader. This experiment is made in the following way. After a cursory perusal of the whole book, with the view of obtaining beforehand a general conception of the Author’s design, the Reader ought to turn to the first leading principle, period, or paragraph, as the case may be. This is necessarily, even with respect to the purpose of the Author, only to a certain extent defined—in other respects undefined;—were it already completely defined, then were the book at an end, and there were no need for the continuation, the only purpose of which is, that therein what still remains undefined, may gradually be brought to light. Only in so far as this principle is defined, is it intelligible; in so far as it is undefined, it as yet remains unintelligible. These separate portions, the Intelligible and the Unintelligible, the reader sets clearly before himself in the following way. ‘The subject of which this Author treats is, in itself, and independently of the Author, definable in this way, and in this.’ The more completely the various possible modes of defining the conception are understood beforehand, the better are we prepared. ‘Of these different ways of defining his subject, the Author in his first principle touches only this, and this; and thus defines his subject only in such and such respects, as distinguished from the other modes of defining it which are also possible. So far only is he intelligible to me. But he leaves his principle undefined in this, and this, and this respect; how he may view it on these sides, I know not as yet. I stand fast in an intelligible position, surrounded by a distinctly recognised circle of what is as yet unintelligible. How the Author may think upon these points, provided he has not declared it at once, will be seen from the way in which he follows up the principle he has laid down; the use which he makes of his admitted propositions will reveal this. Let me read further until the Author more fully declare himself: by this new definition, a portion of the former indefiniteness certainly disappears; the clear point is extended, the sphere of the Unintelligible is narrowed. Let me make this new acquisition of the Intelligible thoroughly distinct to myself, and impress it on my mind, and read on until the Author declare himself anew;—and so on in the same way until the sphere of the Undefined and the Unintelligible has wholly disappeared in the general mass of light, and I can re-create for myself the whole system of the Author’s thought in any order that may be desired, and from any selected point deduce all its other forms.’ And in order that he may strictly watch over himself during this examination of his Author, and also in order that what has once become clear and distinct may not again be lost, it would even be advisable that he should undertake this whole operation pen in hand, although it should be necessary, as at first might well be the case, to devote twenty written sheets to a single printed one. Any lamentation over the loss of paper were here out of place;—only let him take care that this paper do not hastily find its way to the press under the name of a commentary! This commentary, as proceeding from the amount of culture which he has brought to the study of his Author, is still a commentary for himself only: and every one who truly desires to understand the matter would require to practise the same operation upon his commentary. Let him rather, as is more becoming, leave others to perform upon the original Author the same operation for themselves which he himself has had to do.
It is obvious that in this way a writer may often be much better understood by another than by himself, particularly when the Reader sets out from a clearer conception than his Author. ‘Here he gets involved in his own reasoning,—there he makes a false conclusion,—elsewhere fitting utterance is denied him, and he writes down something wholly different from what he wishes to express;—what is that to me? I know how he ought to have proceeded, and what he would have said, for I have penetrated his whole thought. These are the failings of human weakness, which, when united with true merit in the subject itself, no honourable mind will reprove.’
It is also clear, that by this mode of reading it may soon be discovered when the Author is not master of the Science of which he aspires to write, and is ignorant of the extent to which it has already been cultivated; or when he is only a bewildered dreamer. In both cases his book may be quietly laid aside: it will not be necessary to read it further.
And in this way, the first object,—the understanding and historical recognition of the Author’s meaning,—is attained. Whether this meaning be consistent with Truth,—to ascertain which is the second purpose of reading,—will be very easily determined after such a searching study as we have described; if, indeed, a judgment upon this latter point has not already been formed during the study itself.
In the second place, with respect to the reading of a Literary work:—The sole purpose of such reading is, that the Reader may partake of the inspiration, elevation, and culture of mind which the work may be designed to communicate. For this purpose, mere passive self-abandonment is all that is requisite; for it is not the business of every man to penetrate to the source of aesthetic pleasure, or even to trace its operations in individual cases. Art summons all men to the enjoyment, but only a few to the use, or even to the knowledge, of her secrets. But in order that a work of Art may even come into contact with our minds, and we ourselves enter into communion with it, it must first of all be understood;—that is, we must thoroughly comprehend the purpose of the Artist, and what it is which he desires to communicate to us by his work, and be able to reproduce this purpose, as the pervading spirit of the whole work, out of all its parts, and again to deduce these from the purpose which created them. Still, this is not the work itself, but only the prosaic part of it;—that only which, in the contemplation of the work from this point of view, lays hold of and penetrates us with irresistible power, is the Truth of Art:—but still we must first possess this introductory knowledge, this comprehension of the work in its organic unity, before we are capable of its enjoyment. This organic unity indeed, like all works of Genius, still remains infinite and inexhaustible, but it is no mean pleasure to have approached it, although only at a distance. We may return to our common occupations, and forget this glorious revelation; but it will abide secretly in our souls, and gradually develop itself there unknown to us. After a time we will return to our work, and see it under another form; and thus it shall never become old to us, but with every new contemplation assume a new life before us. We shall no longer desire something new, for we shall have discovered the means of transforming even the oldest into fresh and living originality.
What this organic unity of a work of Art, which is before all things to be understood and comprehended, really is,—let no one ask to whom it is not already known, and whose own thoughts I have not either repeated, or at least given clearer utterance to, in what I have already said. With regard to the unity of a Scientific work, I could make myself quite clear to you, and I think that I have done so; not so with respect to the unity of a work of Art. At all events, the unity of which I speak is not that unity of its plot, and coherence of its parts, and its probability, and psychological value, and moral instructiveness, which are prated of in the common theories, and by the common critics of Art:—vain chatter of barbarians who wilfully belie the true feeling of Art in themselves, to other barbarians who belie it at second hand!—the unity of which I speak is another than this,—and is best made known to those who have not yet attained to it by examples, and by actual analysis and comprehension of existing works of Art in the spirit which we have described. Would that a man could be found who would work out this high advantage for humanity, and thereby rekindle in young minds the almost extinguished sense of Art!—such an one, however, must not himself be young, but a thoroughly tried and mature man. Until this come to pass, others may quietly refrain from the reading and study of those existing products of Art which by reason of their infinite depth are unintelligible to them, and the enjoyment of which, since enjoyment presupposes an understanding of them, is also shut off from their participation. They will find it to far better account to content themselves with Artists of another class, who take the favourite tendencies, weaknesses, and amusements of the Age under their protection; and so crowd together, within a brief season of enjoyment, what all men crave, and even actually experience, in life, although unfortunately not without frequent interruptions. And so it shall be in reality, henceforward as hitherto, whether we have accorded it our sanction or not.