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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/67

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A GREAT SEA-WAVE.

command the market, and write his later works without undue pressure. Others could only write in a tavern, or to get out of a creditor's clutches. Shakespeare's mind was at ease by the consciousness of his comfortable investments at Stratford. "Hamlet" was written because Shakespeare was solvent. Pope was able to polish his verses because he judiciously made himself independent by his "Homer." Wordsworth, like Haydon, wished to shake the world; but unlike Haydon, he recognized and acted upon the truth that the first condition of such power is personal independence. Live for art, if you will; but first be sure that you have not to live by your art, otherwise the only harvest that you can reap will be that of the first reckless ebullitions, when the responsibility of life does not weigh upon the buoyancy of youth. Some good work has come out of Bohemia; but any one who sojourns permanently in that seductive region is sure to loose his vigor as well as his money, and produces in the end mere scraps and outlines and rough indications of what he might have done. When we are asked to consider how much may have been crushed in poets condemned to writing ledgers, we can only reply by pointing out how much has certainly been lost by poets who have run to seed in spunging-houses. From the days of Marlowe to those of the unhappy Edgar Poe, we have innumerable warnings that genius runs to waste when it does not condescend to be respectable. We have fallen upon a very commonplace and humble moral. It is none the worse for that, and certainly not the less often overlooked. The truth which it is really important to enforce more than ever is the simple one, that all really good and permanent work is the expression, not of a single mood of passionate excitement or prurient desire for enjoyment, but of a mind fully developed, strengthened by conflict with the world, and enriched by reflection and experience. The first condition of such a development is independence of spirit, which is seldom obtainable without independence of pocket. The first, though not the loftiest, duty of man is to pay his way; though it must, of course, be added, that limitation of wants, rather than increase of means, is the legitimate mode of securing that object. If, like Wordsworth, you think that you can be a great man by living upon bread and water, you are certainly right in not aiming at the vulgar prizes of money and preferment. But a career is honorable even if it fails; and we may safely honor the man who limits himself to a modest livelihood in order to devote himself to great work. The evil is that most men want to have both advantages; to live splendidly, and yet to stake their means of living upon literary fame; to gain the praise of the world as well as the praise of posterity; and, in short, to set about a campaign which can only be justified by success without counting the cost beforehand. That is why so many men of genius run to seed, and so many men of no genius fancy that they are acting nobly when they neglect their ordinary duties in search for glory, and fancy that the greatness of their ambition is an apology for the imperfection of their work.




From The Spectator.

A GREAT SEA-WAVE.

The great sea-wave which, after the recent earthquake at Peru, swept across the Pacific to the Sandwich Islands, affords fresh illustration of the vital energy which still pervades the frame of our earth. If those theories be sound according to which each planet during its extreme youth is as a sun glowing with fiery heat, and in extreme old age is, like our moon, cold (save where the sun's rays pour upon it) even to its very centre, we should regard the various portions of the middle age of a planet as indicating more or less of vitality according as the signs of internal heat and activity were greater or less. Assuredly, thus viewing our earth, we have no reason to accept the melancholy doctrine that she is approaching the stage of planetary decrepitude. She still shows signs of intense vitality, not indeed that all parts of her surface are moved at this present time by what Humboldt called "the reaction of her interior." In this respect, doubtless, changes slowly take place, the region of disturbance at one time becoming after many centuries a region of rest, and vice versâ. But regarding the earth as a whole, we find reason for believing that she still has abundant life in her. The astronomer who should perceive, even with the aid of the most powerful telescope, the signs of any change in another planet (Mars, for example, our nearest neighbor among the superior planets), the progress of the change being actually discernible as he watched, would certainly conclude that that planet was moved by mighty internal forces. Now it is not too much to say, though at first it may per-