Points of view/Pleasure: a Heresy

PLEASURE: A HERESY.

It is an interesting circumstance in the lives of those persons who are called either heretics or reformers, according to the mental attitudes or antecedent prejudices of their critics, that they always begin by hinting their views with equal modesty and moderation. It is only when rubbed sore by friction, when hard driven and half spent, that they venture into the open, and define their positions before the world in all their bald malignity. Now I have a certain sneaking sympathy, not with heretics or reformers, either, but with that frame of mind which compels a hunted and harried creature suddenly to assume the offensive, cast prudence to the winds, nail his thesis conspicuously to the doorpost, and snortingly await developments. He is not, while so occupied, a winning or beautiful figure, when judged by the strict standards of sweetness and light; but he is eminently human, and is entitled to the forbearance of humanity.

It is now over a year since, in an article called "Fiction in the Pulpit," and published in the "Atlantic Monthly," I ventured to say, or rather I said without any consciousness of being venturesome, that the sole business of a novel-writer was to give us pleasure; his sole duty was to give it to us within decent and prescribed limits. It seemed to me then that the assertion was so self-evident as to be hardly worth the making; it was a little like saying an undisputed thing "in such a solemn way." I have learned since how profoundly I was mistaken in the temper, not of writers only, but of readers as well,—how far remote I stood from the current of ethical activity. It is needless to state that this later knowledge has been brought to me by the mouths of critics: sometimes by professional critics, who said their say in print; sometimes by amateur and neighborly critics, who expressed theirs frankly in speech. It is needless, also, to state that, of the two, the professional critics—brothers and sisters of my own household I count them—have been infinitely more tolerant of my shortcomings, more lenient in their remonstrances, more persuasive and even flattering in their lines of argument. The ordinary reviewer, anonymous or otherwise, is not the ruthless destroyer, "ferocious, dishonest, butcherly," whom Mr. Howells so graphically portrays, but rather a kindly, indifferent sort of creature, who cares so little what you think that even his reproaches wear an air of gentle and friendly unconcern.

In all cases, however, the verdict reached was practically the same. The business of fiction is to elevate our moral tone; to teach us the stern lessons of life; to quicken our conceptions of duty; to show us the dark abysses of fallen nature; to broaden our spiritual vistas; to destroy our old comfortable creeds; to open our half-closed eyes; to expand our souls with the generous sentiments of humanity; to vex us with social problems and psychological conundrums; to gird us with chain armor for our daily battles; to do anything or everything, in short, except simply give us pleasure. It is not forbidden us, to be sure, to take delight, if we can, in the system of instruction; a good child, we are told, should always love its lessons; but the really important thing is to study and know them by heart. Verily

"This rugged virtue makes me gasp"!

Why should the word "pleasure," when used in connection with literature, send a cold chill down our strenuous nineteenth-century spines? It is a good and charming word, caressing in sound and softly exhilarating in sense. As in a dream, it shows us swiftly rich minutes by a winter firelight, with "The Eve of St. Agnes" held in our happy hands; long, lazy summer afternoons spent right joyously in company with Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley; or, perhaps, hours of content, lost in the letters of Charles Lamb, dear to us alike in all seasons and in all moods, a heritage of delight as long as life shall last. I do not, indeed, as I have been accused of doing, employ the word "pleasure" as synonymous with amusement. Amusement is merely one side of pleasure, but a very excellent side, against which, in truth, I have no evil word to urge. The gods forbid such base and savorless ingratitude! This is not at best a merry world. "There is a certain grief in things as they are, in man as he has come to be;" and the background of our lives is a steady, undeviating sadness. Who, then, has not felt that sudden lifting of the spirits, that quick purging of black, melancholy vapors from the brain, as wise old Burton would express it, when some fine jest appeals irresistibly to one's sense of humor! There comes to the alert mind at such a moment a distinct revelation of contentment; a conscious thought that it is well to be alive, and to hear that nimble witticism which has so warmed and tickled one's fancy. "Live merrily as thou canst," says Burton, "for by honest mirth we cure many passions of the mind. A gay companion is as a wagon to him that is wearied by the way."

If amusement can help us so materially in our daily life, which is a daily struggle as well, how much more pleasure!—pleasure which is the rightful goal of art, just as knowledge is the rightful goal of science. "Art," says Winckelmann, "is the daughter of Pleasure;" and as Demeter sought for Persephone with resistless fervor and desire, so Pleasure seeks for Art, languishing in sunless gloom, and, having found her, expresses through her the joy and beauty of existence, and lives again herself in the possession of her fair child, while the whole earth bubbles into laughter. We cannot separate these two without exchanging sunlight for frost and the cold, dark winter nights. Mr. E. S. Dallas, who, in those charming volumes pleadingly entitled "The Gay Science," has made a gallant fight for pleasure as the end of art, and for criticism as the path by which that end is reached, shows us very clearly and very persuasively that, in all ages and in all nations, there has been a natural, wholesome, outspoken conviction that art exists for pleasure, and, pleasing, instructs as well. There is a core of truth, he grants, in the Horatian maxim that art may be profitable as well as delightful, "since it always holds that wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, that enduring pleasure comes only out of healthful action, and that amusement, as mere amusement, is in its own place good if it be but innocent. There is profit in art, as there is gain in godliness, and policy in an honest life. But we are not to pursue art for profit, nor godliness for gain, nor honesty because it is politic."

This, then, is the earliest lesson that the student of art has to learn: that it exists for pleasure, but for a pleasure that may be profitable, and that stands in no sort of opposition to truth. "Science," says Mr. Dallas, "gives us truth without reference to pleasure, but immediately and chiefly for the sake of knowledge. Art gives us truth without reference to knowledge, but immediately and mainly for the sake of pleasure." The test of science, then, must always be an increase of knowledge, of proven and demonstrable facts; the test of art must always be an increase of pleasure, of conscious and sentient joy. "What is good only because it pleases," says Dr. Johnson, "cannot be pronounced good until it has been found to please."

The joy that is born of art is not always a simple or easily analyzed emotion. The pleasure we take in looking at the soft, white, dimpled Venus of the Capitol is something very different from that strange tugging at our heart-strings when we first see the sad and scornful beauty of the Venus of Milo, or the curious pity with which we watch the dejected Cupid of the Vatican hanging his lovely head. But with both the Venus of Milo and the Vatican Cupid, the sensation of pleasure they afford is greater than the sensation of pain, or pity, or regret. It triumphs wholly over our other emotions, and gains fullness from the conflict of our thoughts. We feel many things, but we feel pleasure most of all, and this is the final test and the final victory of art. In the same manner, the mixed emotions with which we listen to music resolve themselves ultimately to pleasure in that music; and the mixed emotions with which we read poetry resolve themselves ultimately to pleasure in that poetry. If it were otherwise, we should know that the music and the poetry had failed in their crucial trial. If we did not feel more pleasure than pain in the tragedy of "Othello," it would not be a great play. That we do feel more pleasure than pain, that our pleasure is subtly fed by our pain, proves it to be a masterpiece of art.

There is still another point to urge. While art may instruct as well as please, it can nevertheless be true art without instructing, but not without pleasing. The former quality is accidental, the latter essential, to its being. "Enjoyment," says Schiller, "may be only a subordinate object in life; it is the highest in art." We cannot say that "The Eve of St. Agnes" teaches us, directly or indirectly, anything whatever. The trembling lovers, the withered Angela, the revelers,

"The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,"

the storm without, the fragrant warmth and light within, are all equally innocent of moral emphasis. Even the Beadsman is not worked up, as he might have been, into a didactic agent. But every beauty-laden line is rich in pleasure, the whole poem is an inheritance of delight. I never read it without being reminded afresh of that remonstrance offered so gently by Keats to Shelley,—by Keats, who was content to be a poet, to Shelley, who would also be a reformer: "You will, I am sure, forgive me for sincerely remarking that you might curb your magnanimity, and be more of an artist, and load every rift of your subject with ore." Load every rift of your subject with ore,—there spoke the man who claimed no more for himself than that he had loved "the principle of beauty in all things," and to whose hushed and listening soul the cry of Shelley's "divine discontent" rang jarringly in the stillness of the night. If the poetry of Keats, a handful of scattered jewels left us by a dying boy, is, as Matthew Arnold admits, more solid and complete than Shelley's superb and piercing song, to what is this due, save that Keats possessed, in addition to his poetic gift, the tranquil artist soul; content, as Goethe was content, to love the principle of beauty, and to be in sympathy with the great living past which has nourished, and still nourishes, the living present. The passion for reconstructing society, and for distributing pamphlets as a first step in the reconstruction, had no part in his artistic development. The errors of his fellow-mortals touched him lightly; their superstitions did not trouble him at all; their civil rights and inherited diseases were not matters of daily thought and analysis. But what he had to give them he gave unstintedly, and we to-day are rich in the fullness of his gift. "The proper and immediate object of poetry," says Coleridge, "is the communication of immediate pleasure;" and are our lives so joyous that this boon may go unrecognized and unregarded? Which is best for us in this chilly world,—that which pleases, but does not instruct, like "The Eve of St. Agnes," or that which instructs, but does not please, like Dr. Ibsen's "Ghosts"? I do not say, which is true art? because the relative positions of the two authors forbid comparison; but, judged by the needs of humanity, which is the finer gift to earth? If, with Pliny, we seek an escape from mortality in literature, which shall be our choice? If, with Dr. Johnson, we require that a book should help us either to enjoy life or to endure it, which shall we take for a friend?

"Everything that is any way beautiful is beautiful in itself, and terminates in itself," says Marcus Aurelius; and the pleasure we derive from a possession of beauty has characteristic completeness and vitality. This pleasure is not only, as we are so often told, a temporary escape from pain; it is not a negation, a mere cessation of suffering; it is not necessarily preceded by craving or followed by satiety; it is emphatically not a matter of prospect as Shelley would have us believe;[1] it is a matter of conscious possession. "Vivre, c'est penser et sentir son âme;" and when a happy moment, complete and rounded as a pearl, falls into the tossing ocean of life, it is never wholly lost. For our days are made up of moments and our years of days, and every swift realization of a lawful joy is a distinct and lasting gain in our onward flight to eternity.

It seems to me strangely cruel that this philosophy of pleasure should be so ruthlessly at variance with the ethical criticism of our day. If it has come down to us as a gracious gift from the most cheerful and not the least wholesome of heathens, it has been broadened and brightened into fresh comeliness by the spirit of Christianity, which is, above all things, a spirit of lawful and recognized joy. Nothing is more plain to us in the teaching of the early Church than that asceticism is for the chosen few, and enjoyment, diffused, genial, temperate, and pure enjoyment, is for the many. "Put on, therefore, gladness that hath always favor with God, and is acceptable unto him, and delight thyself in it; for every man that is glad doeth the things that are good, and thinketh good thoughts, despising grief."[2] Through all the centuries, rational Christianity has still taught us bravely to endure what we must, and gratefully to enjoy what we can. There is a very charming and sensible letter on this point, written by the Abbé Duval to Madame de Rémusat, who was disposed to reproach herself a little for her own happiness, and to think that she had no right to be so comfortable and so well content.

"You say that you are happy," writes this gentlest and wisest of confessors; "why then distress yourself? Your happiness is a proof of God's love toward you; and if in your heart you truly love Him, can you refuse to respond to the divine benevolence? ... Engrave upon your conscience this fundamental truth: that religion demands order above all things; and that, since the institutions of society have been allowed and consecrated, there is encouragement for those duties by which they are maintained.... But especially banish from your mind the error that our pains alone are acceptable to God. A general willingness to bear trial is enough. Never fear but life and time will bring it. Dispose yourself beforehand to resignation, and meanwhile thank God incessantly for the peace which pervades your lot."

This is something very different from Ruskin's ethics,—from the plain statement that we have no right to be happy while our brother suffers, no right to put feathers in our own child's hat, while somebody else's child goes featherless and ragged. But there is a certain staying power in the older and simpler doctrine, and an admirable truth in the gentle suggestion that we need not vex ourselves too deeply with the notion of our ultimate freedom from trial. It was not given to Madame de Rémusat, any more than it is given to us, to ride in untroubled gladness over a stony world. All that she attained, all that we can hope for, are distinct and happy moments, brief intervals from pain, or from that rational ennui which is inseparable from the conditions of human life. But I cannot agree with the long list of philosophers and critics, from Kant and Schopenhauer down to Mr. Dallas, who have taught that these passing moments are negative in their character; that they are hidden from our consciousness and elude our scrutiny,—existing while we are content simply to enjoy them, vanishing, if, like Psyche, we seek to understand our joy. The trained intelligence grasps its pleasures, and recognizes them as such; not after they have fled, and linger only, a golden haze, in memory, but alertly, in the present, while they still lie warm in the hollow of the heart. There is indeed a certain breathless and unconscious delight in life itself, which is born of our ceaseless struggle to live, a sweetness of honey snatched from the lion's mouth. This delight is common to all men, and is probably keenest in those who struggle hardest. When society is reorganized on a Utopian basis, and nobody has any further need to elbow his own way through hardships and difficulties, there will be one joy less in the world; and, missing it, many people will realize that all which made life worth having has been softened and improved out of existence. They will cease to value, and refuse to possess, that which costs them nothing to preserve.

This fundamental happiness in life, and in the enforced activity by which it is maintained, is hidden from our consciousness. We feel the hardships, and do not especially feel any relish in ceaselessly combating them, though the relish is there; not keen enough for palpable felicity, but vital enough to keep the human race alive. All other pleasures, however, we should train ourselves to enjoy. They flow from many sources, and are fitted to many moods. They are fed alike by our most secret emotions and by our severest toil, by the simplest thing in nature and by the utmost subtlety of art. A primrose by a river's brim often makes its appeal as vainly as does Hamlet, or the Elgin Marbles. What we need is, not more cultivation, but a recognized habit of enjoyment. There is, I am told, though I cannot speak from experience, a very high degree of pleasure in successfully working out a mathematical problem. Burton confesses frankly that his impelling motive, in long hours of research, was primarily his own gratification. "The delight is it I aim at, so great pleasure, such sweet content, there is in study." I think the most beautiful figure in recent literature is Mr. Pater's Marius the Epicurean, whose life, regarded from the outside, is but a succession of imperfect results, yet who, deserted and dying, counts over with a patient and glad heart the joys he has been permitted to know.

"Like a child thinking over the toys it loves, one after another, that it may fall asleep so, and the sooner forget all about them, he would try to fix his mind, as it were impassively, on all the persons he had loved in life,—on his love for them, dead or living, grateful for his love or not, rather than on theirs for him,—letting their images pass away again, or rest with him, as they would. One after another, he suffered those faces and voices to come and go, as in some mechanical exercise; as he might have repeated all the verses he knew by heart, or like the telling of beads, one by one, with many a sleepy nod between whiles."

Here is a profound truth, delicately and reverently conveyed. That which is given us for our joy is ours as long as life shall last; not passing away with the moment of enjoyment, but dwelling with us, and enriching us to the end. The memory of a past pleasure, derived from any lawful source, is a part of the pleasure itself, a vital part, which remains in our keeping as long as we recognize and cherish it. Thus, the pleasure obtained from seeing the Venus of Milo or reading "The Eve of St. Agnes" is not ended when we have left the Louvre or closed the book. It becomes a portion of our inheritance, a portion of the joy of living; and the statue and the poem have fulfilled their allotted purpose in yielding us this delight. There is a curious fashion nowadays of criticising art and poetry, and even fiction, with scant reference to the pleasure for which they exist; yet a rational estimate of these things is hardly possible from any other standpoint. Mr. Ruskin, we know, has invented that pleasing novelty, ethical art-criticism, and, by its means, as Mr. Dallas frankly admits, he has made, not the criticism only, but the art itself, intelligible and palatable to his English readers. It would seem as if they hardly held themselves justified in enjoying a thing unless there was a moral meaning back of it, a moral principle involved in their own happiness. This meaning and this principle Mr. Ruskin has supplied, bringing to bear upon his task all the earnestness and sincerity of his spirit, all the wonderful charm and beauty of a winning and persuasive eloquence. It is well-nigh impossible to withstand his appeals, they are so irresistibly worded; and it is only when we have withdrawn from his seductive influence, to think a little for ourselves, that we realize how much of his criticism, as criticism, is valueless, because it consists in analyzing motives rather than in estimating results. He assumes that the first interest in a picture is, what did the painter intend? the second interest is, how did he carry out his intention? whereas the one really important and paramount consideration in art is workmanship. We have, many of us, the artist's soul, but few the artist's fingers. It is a pleasant pastime to decipher the mental attitude of the painter; it is essential to understand the quality and limit of his powers.

Reading Mr. Ruskin's criticisms on Tintoret's pictures in the Scuola di S. Rocco—on the Annunciation particularly—is very much like listening to a paper in a Browning Society. Perhaps the poet, perhaps the painter, did mean all that. It is manifestly impossible to prove they did n't, inasmuch as death has removed them from any chance of interrogation. But by what mysterious and exclusive insight have Mr. Ruskin and the Browning student found it out? The interpretation is not suggested as feasible, it is asserted as a fact; though precisely how it has been reached we are not suffered to know. Many unkind and severe things have been said about judicial criticism, but Mr. Ruskin's criticism is not judicial,—which infers an application of governing principles; it is dogmatic, the unhesitating expression of a personal sentiment. He shows you Giotto's frescoes in the cloister of Santa Maria Novella; he pleads with you very prettily and charmingly to admire the Birth of the Virgin; he points out to you with rather puzzling precision exactly what the painter intended to imply by every detail of the work. This is pleasant enough; but suppose you don't really care about the Birth of the Virgin when you see it; suppose you fail to follow the guiding finger that reveals to you its significance and beauty. What happens then? Mr. Ruskin retorts in the severest manner, and with a degree of scorn that seems hardly warranted by the contingency: "If you can be pleased with this, you can see Florence. But if not, by all means amuse yourself there, if you find it amusing, as long as you like; you can never see it."

So Florence with all its loveliness is lost to you, unless you can sufficiently sympathize with one small fresco. It would be as reasonable to say that all English literature is lost to you, unless you truly enjoy "Comus;" that all music is lost to you, unless you delight in "Parsifal." It is the special privilege of ethical criticism to take this exclusive and didactic form; to bid you admire a thing, not because it is beautiful in itself, but because it has a subtle lesson to convey,—a lesson of which, it is urbanely hinted, you stand particularly in need. On precisely the same principle, you are commanded to cleave to Tolstoï, not because he has written able novels, but because those novels teach a great many things which it is desirable you should know and believe; you are bidden to revere George Meredith, not because he has given the world some brilliant and captivating books, but because these books contain a tonic element fitted for your moral reconstruction. If you do not sufficiently value these admirable lessons, then you are told, in language every whit as contemptuous as Mr. Ruskin's, to amuse yourself, by all means, with Lever, and Gaboriau, and Jules Verne; for all higher fiction is, like the art of Florence, a sealed book to your understanding.

"Most men," says Mr. Froude, "feel the necessity of being on some terms with their conscience, at their own expense or at another's;" and one very popular method of balancing their score is by exacting from art and literature that serious ethical purpose which they hesitate to intrude too prominently into their daily lives, rightly opining that it gives much less trouble in books. So prevalent is this tone in modern thought that even a consummate critic like Mr. Bagehot is capable of saying, in one of his supremely moral moments, that Byron's poems "taught nothing, and therefore are forgotten." Et tu, Brute! Such a sentence from such a pen makes me realize something of the bitterness with which the dying Cæsar covered up his face from his most trusted friend. That Lord Byron's poems are forgotten is rather a matter of doubt; that they are given over entirely into the hands of "a stray schoolboy" is a hazardous assertion to make; but to say that they are forgotten because they teach nothing is to strike at the very life and soul of poetry. It does not exist to teach, but to please; it can cease to exist only when it ceases to give pleasure.

Perhaps what Mr. Bagehot meant to imply is that it would be a difficult task to review Byron's poetry after the approved modern fashion; to assign him, as we assign more contemplative and analytic poets, a moral raison d'être. Pick up a criticism of Mr. Browning, for example, and this is the first thing we see: "What was the kernel of Browning's ethical teaching, and how does he apply its principles to life, religion, art, and love?"[3] It would be as manifestly absurd to ask this question about Byron as it would be to review Fielding from the standpoint adapted for Tolstoï, or to discuss Sheridan from the same field of view as Ibsen. With the earlier writers it was a question of workmanship; with our present favorites it has become a question of ethics. Yet when we seek for simple edification, as our plain-spoken grandfathers understood the word, as many innocent people understand it now, the new school seems as remote from furnishing it as the old. Browning, Tolstoï, and Ibsen have their own methods of dealing with sin, and richly suggestive and illustrative methods they are. The lessons taught may be of a highly desirable kind, but I doubt their practical efficacy in our common working lives; and I cannot think this possible efficacy warrants their intrusion into art. Great truths, unconsciously revealed and as unconsciously absorbed, have been, in all ages, the soul of poetry, the subtle life of fiction. These truths, always in harmony with the natural world and with the vital sympathies of man, were not put forward crudely as lessons to be learned, but primarily as pleasures to be enjoyed; and through our "sweet content," as Burton phrased it, we came into our heritage of knowledge. To-day both poetry and fiction have assumed a different and less winning attitude. They have grown sensibly didactic, are at times almost reproachful in their tone, and, so far from striving to yield us pleasure, to increase our "sweet content" with life, they endeavor, with very tolerable success, to prevent our being happy after our own limited fashion. Their principal mission is to worry us vaguely about our souls or our neighbors' souls, or the social order which we did not establish, and the painful problems that we cannot solve. Our spirits, at all times restless and troubled, respond with quick alarm to these dismal agitations; our serenity is not proof against the strain; our sense of humor is not keen enough to cure us with wholesome laughter; and nineteenth-century cultivation consists in being miserable for misery's sake, and in saying solemnly to one another at proper intervals, "This is the eternal progress of the ages."

It was a curious and rather melancholy experience, a year ago, to hear the comments of those patient women who devoted their afternoons to Ibsen readings, and to turning over in their minds the new and unprofitable situations thus suggested. The discussions that followed were invariably ethical, never critical; they had reference always to some moral conundrum offered by the play, never to the artistic or dramatic excellence of the play itself. Was Nora Helmer justified, or was she not, in abandoning her children with explicit confidence to the care of Mary Ann? Had Dr. Wangel a right, or had he not, to annul his own marriage tie with the primitive simplicity of the king of Dahomey? To answer such questions as these has become our notion of literary recreation, and there is something pathetically droll in the earnestness with which we bend our wits to the task. Indeed, poor little Nora's matrimonial infelicities threatened to become as important in their way as those of Catherine of Aragon or Josephine Beauharnais, and we talked about them quite seriously and with a certain awe. The unflinching manner in which Ibsen has followed Sir Thomas Browne's advice, "Strive not to beautify thy corruption!" commends him, naturally, to that large class of persons who can tolerate sin only when it is dismal; and Baudelaire, praying for a new vice, was jocund in comparison with our Norwegian dramatist, unwearyingly analyzing the old one. Yet what have we gained from the rankness of these disclosures, from these horrible studies of heredity, these hospital and madhouse sketches, these incursions of pathology into the realms of art? What shall we ever gain by beating down the barriers of reserve which civilized communities have thought fit to rear, by abandoning that wholesome reticence which is the test of self-restraint? We try so hard to be happy,—we have such need, each of his little share of happiness; yet Ibsen, troubling the soul more even than he troubles the senses, has chosen to employ his God-given genius in deliberately lessening our small sum of human joy. When shall we cease to worship at such dark altars? When shall we recognize, with Goethe, that "all talent is wasted if the subject be unsuitable"? When shall we understand and believe that "the gladness of a spirit is an index of its power"?

"To live," says Amiel, "we must conquer incessantly, we must have the courage to be happy." Enjoyment, then, is not our common daily portion, to be stupidly ignored or carelessly cast away. It is something we must seek courageously and intelligently, distinguishing the pure sources from which it flows, and rightly persuaded that art is true and good only when it adds to our delight. For this were our poets and dramatists, our painters and novelists, sent to us,—to make us lawfully happier in a hard world, to help us smilingly through the gloom. And can it be they think this mission beneath their august consideration, unworthy of their mighty powers? Why, to have given pleasure to one human being is a recollection that sweetens life; and what should be the fervor and transport of him to whom it has been granted to give pleasure to generations, to add materially to the stored-up gladness of the earth! "Science pales," says Mr. Dallas, "age after age is forgotten, and age after age has to be freshened; but the secret thinking of humanity, embalmed in art, survives, as nothing else in life survives." This is our inheritance from the past,—this secret thinking of humanity, embalmed in imperishable beauty, and enduring for our delight. The thinking of that idle vicar, Robert Herrick, when he sang, on a fair May morning:—

"Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,
And take the harmless folly of the time!
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty."

The thinking of Theocritus, who, lying drowsily on the hillside, saw the sacred waters welling from the cool caverns, and heard the little owl cry in the thorn brake, and the yellow bees murmur and hum in the soft spicy air:—

"All breathed the scent of the opulent summer, of the season of fruit. Pears and apples were rolling at our feet; the tender branches, laden with wild plums, were bowed to earth; and the four-year-old pitch seal was loosened from the mouth of the wine-jars."

Here is art attuned to the simplest forms of pleasure, yet as lasting as the pyramids,—a whispered charm borne down the current of years to soothe our fretted souls. But the tranquil enjoyment of what is given us to enjoy has become a subtle reproach in these days of restless disquiet, of morbid and conscious self-scrutiny, when we have forfeited our sympathy with the beliefs, the aspirations, and the "sweet content" that linked the centuries together. We are suffering at present from a glut of precepts, a surfeit of preceptors, and have grown sadly wise, and very much cast down in consequence. We lack, as Amiel says, the courage to be happy, and glorify our discontent into an intellectual barrier, pluming ourselves on a seriousness that may not be diverted. But if we will only consent to calm our fears, to quiet our scruples, to humble our pride, and to take one glad look into the world of art, we shall see it bathed in the golden sunlight of pleasure; and we shall know very well that didacticism, whether masquerading as a psychological drama or a socialistic forecast, as a Sunday-school story or a deistical novel, is no guide to that enchanted land.

  1. "Pain or pleasure, if subtly analyzed, will be found to consist entirely in prospect."
  2. Shepherd of Hermas.
  3. Quarterly Review.