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Hard Times Indeed
adequacy, and expects to be brushed aside. Even if sometimes he feels sure that his dream-knowledge sees deeper than the darkened eyes of his friends, he dares not insist, till Time has given him the right to be heard. He must grow up before he can speak. . . . Or, to put it more plainly, he must be great to be worth hearing. When he can never be great, nothing is left for him but silence, and wonder. He may always keep the wonder. . . . His courageous silence will leave more sky-room for the great songs sure to come. His wonder will open to him some private port of Paradise, gleaming with the proud light of Truth.
This kind of talk is still heard in more or less authoritative places, although, like the phrase “minor poet,” it is somewhat out of fashion. I am not convinced of the heroism of that self-abnegating might-be bard, who is “cast back into silence” by “high necessity,” struck “dumb before the terrible and noble facts about him.” Were Coleridge, Keats, Shelley— many others—struck dumb by the terrible and noble facts of the Napoleonic wars?—yet these singers of “clouds and leaves and elfin things” were minor poets to their contemporaries. Did any one of them hush his “sweet-chiming words” to “leave more room for the great songs sure to come?” No, for he knew that the great song, the great work of art, is merely the highest tree of a forest, rarely an isolated miracle.
Let us get down to brass tacks. This being a strenuous age, of universal locomotion, war and other bedevilments, the world has no use, we are told, for the poet unless he is an Isaiah or a Hans Christian Anderson. One might as well say the world has no use for gardens, or dwellings, or symphonies, for sculptured friezes and monuments, for portraits and landscapes, for Venetian glass or Chinese rugs, for jewels and laces, for club-houses and art museums. Because my favorite painter is not moved to depict cosmic horrors like Verestchagin, shall I bid him burn his brushes and take to brooding in a corner? Because the mad world is at war, shall no one play the piano, or plan a fair house, or dream by a sculptured fountain under the tree? Or, Mr. Essayist, “because thou art virtuous, shall there be no more cakes and ale P” The poet, in any primitive society or any well-organized civilization, should be as much a matter-of-course as the carpenter. No tribe, no city, is complete without one, and the better he is the more effectually does he complete it. But for any community to demand the ultimate perfection of its poet, to expect him to be silent unless he can speak, like Moses, from Mount Sinai, is as absurd as it would be to forbid to a carpenter his tools unless he can at once, though unpracticed and unappreciated, turn out Chippendale chairs. Some reader may retort with another familiar sentiment— “the true poet can't be silenced.” But the trouble is, he can be silenced—by starvation of body or soul, song-deafness of his generation, or other obstructions; and there is nothing more dangerous, more bitter and perverted perhaps, than a silenced poet. If “no one needs his songs,” his “wonder,” far from leading him to “some private port of Paradise,” usually ends in toxic decay or some violent explosion, like other suppressed forces. But in a more profound sense the essayist's point of view is piteously wrong-headed, and piteously typical of much
Hard Times Indeed
wrong-headedness at the present hour. In such platitudes indeed, such tawdry thinking, lies the cause of this cosmic tragedy of nations; and every poet who sings of brooks and clouds, of elfin beauty, of love and death, thereby utters his heroic protest, helps to remind us of eternal truth. Are we to believe, forsooth, that this is “a world of energetic, serious maturity”—because men are riding in steamers and motor-cars, and building sky-scrapers, and killing each other by millions at the call of rotten dynasties and ideas? Forever and forever no! It is a world of overgrown children playing with expensive and explosive toys, of children who make friends across the world, and then madly mow each other down in a quarrel not their own, which would make any wise man laugh but for his bitter tears of pity. So hot with youth is the world that its soul—the common feeling of the crowd—is drawing our own reluctant nation into this furious game with a force that even the most illumined leader, though mature far beyond the people, would be unable to resist; even as the illumined Lincoln was compelled in his day to respond to the immediate call, and drive the dogs of war.
If the world ever grows up into “energetic, serious maturity,” it will be because the common feeling of the crowd arrives at wisdom. And wisdom is now, as it ever has been, insight into the eternal verities of truth and beauty. Every artist who helps the world to see truth and beauty—be it merely by a pastel landscape, or a carved kitten, or a song to a butterfly's wing, “does his bit” toward reminding us of eternal verities, and thereby bringing the world nearer to “serious maturity.” He is an advance agent of cilivization, , that higher civilization which means wisdom, forbearance, humor, joy in life and magnanimity in death. H. M.
THINGS TO BE DONE
Transportation is civilization.—Rudyard Kipling First, we should get the tariff off books. The work of the American Free Trade League may be purely “economic and political”; it is outside the scope of our activities. But a protective tariff on books is an obstacle to the free circulation of thought and must be done away with. “Transportation is civilization”: that phrase is the most profound that Mr. Kipling has ever written. But the free circulation of thought is the very core and pulse of the matter. The United States has a new law which permits and even fosters the importation of contemporary painting and sculpture. Is it anything but sloth and ignorance that leaves literature in worse condition than these other arts? Second, we should get a good copyright law. The present law, framed in the interest of a few local mechanics, is also an obstacle to the free circulation of thought. Is there any reason why the United States should lag behind other countries in a matter of this sort? Third, let us learn more languages—let more people learn more languages. The man who reads only one language is, intellectually, only half a man in comparison with the man of equal mental energy who can read two with comfort. All things are not written in one tongue.
Things to Be Done
Fourth, we should multiply translations. It is not everyone who has time to learn ten languages, or even two. Competition is of value even in matters of art and intelligence. The better the stock in the store, the more chance of finding what you need. We need more translations of French authors, not only contemporary but eighteenth-century authors. We need translations of German and Russian authors, many more than we get. We need standards of comparison. All excellence has not risen out of one ant-hill. America is full of provincial people, who do not know that they are provincial, who are insulted if one calls them provincial; even though they have never stopped to inquire whether there are peculiar functions appertaining to provincials, and particular opportunities afforded by the very fact of provincialism, or whether it is a flaw to be, perhaps in part, overcome. Fifth, we must try to think, at least a little, about civilization, centralization and its possible functions, the differentiation of individuals, and the function, advantage or disadvantage of such differentiation. We should read De Gourmont, De Goncourt. We should not assume that Christ knew more than Confucius until we have read Confucius. We should mistrust the local parson and the local professor, remembering that lots of people, not so long ago, were brought up to believe in Carlyle and Macaulay. Nor should we assume that Darwin said the last word, or that Christianity is the religion of all the world, or that what we call Christianity would