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Ch. 5 - Hero as Man of Letters

[May 19, 1840.]

Hero-Gods, Prophets, Poets, Priests are forms of Heroism that belong to the
old ages, make their appearance in the remotest times; some of them have
ceased to be possible long since, and cannot any more show themselves in
this world. The Hero as _Man of Letters_, again, of which class we are to
speak to-day, is altogether a product of these new ages; and so long as the
wondrous art of _Writing_, or of Ready-writing which we call _Printing_,
subsists, he may be expected to continue, as one of the main forms of
Heroism for all future ages. He is, in various respects, a very singular

He is new, I say; he has hardly lasted above a century in the world yet.
Never, till about a hundred years ago, was there seen any figure of a Great
Soul living apart in that anomalous manner; endeavoring to speak forth the
inspiration that was in him by Printed Books, and find place and
subsistence by what the world would please to give him for doing that.
Much had been sold and bought, and left to make its own bargain in the
market-place; but the inspired wisdom of a Heroic Soul never till then, in
that naked manner. He, with his copy-rights and copy-wrongs, in his
squalid garret, in his rusty coat; ruling (for this is what he does), from
his grave, after death, whole nations and generations who would, or would
not, give him bread while living,--is a rather curious spectacle! Few
shapes of Heroism can be more unexpected.

Alas, the Hero from of old has had to cramp himself into strange shapes:
the world knows not well at any time what to do with him, so foreign is his
aspect in the world! It seemed absurd to us, that men, in their rude
admiration, should take some wise great Odin for a god, and worship him as
such; some wise great Mahomet for one god-inspired, and religiously follow
his Law for twelve centuries: but that a wise great Johnson, a Burns, a
Rousseau, should be taken for some idle nondescript, extant in the world to
amuse idleness, and have a few coins and applauses thrown him, that he
might live thereby; _this_ perhaps, as before hinted, will one day seem a
still absurder phasis of things!--Meanwhile, since it is the spiritual
always that determines the material, this same Man-of-Letters Hero must be
regarded as our most important modern person. He, such as he may be, is
the soul of all. What he teaches, the whole world will do and make. The
world's manner of dealing with him is the most significant feature of the
world's general position. Looking well at his life, we may get a glance,
as deep as is readily possible for us, into the life of those singular
centuries which have produced him, in which we ourselves live and work.

There are genuine Men of Letters, and not genuine; as in every kind there
is a genuine and a spurious. If _hero_ be taken to mean genuine, then I
say the Hero as Man of Letters will be found discharging a function for us
which is ever honorable, ever the highest; and was once well known to be
the highest. He is uttering forth, in such way as he has, the inspired
soul of him; all that a man, in any case, can do. I say _inspired_; for
what we call "originality," "sincerity," "genius," the heroic quality we
have no good name for, signifies that. The Hero is he who lives in the
inward sphere of things, in the True, Divine and Eternal, which exists
always, unseen to most, under the Temporary, Trivial: his being is in
that; he declares that abroad, by act or speech as it may be in declaring
himself abroad. His life, as we said before, is a piece of the everlasting
heart of Nature herself: all men's life is,--but the weak many know not
the fact, and are untrue to it, in most times; the strong few are strong,
heroic, perennial, because it cannot be hidden from them. The Man of
Letters, like every Hero, is there to proclaim this in such sort as he can.
Intrinsically it is the same function which the old generations named a man
Prophet, Priest, Divinity for doing; which all manner of Heroes, by speech
or by act, are sent into the world to do.

Fichte the German Philosopher delivered, some forty years ago at Erlangen,
a highly remarkable Course of Lectures on this subject: "_Ueber das Wesen
des Gelehrten_, On the Nature of the Literary Man." Fichte, in conformity
with the Transcendental Philosophy, of which he was a distinguished
teacher, declares first: That all things which we see or work with in this
Earth, especially we ourselves and all persons, are as a kind of vesture or
sensuous Appearance: that under all there lies, as the essence of them,
what he calls the "Divine Idea of the World;" this is the Reality which
"lies at the bottom of all Appearance." To the mass of men no such Divine
Idea is recognizable in the world; they live merely, says Fichte, among the
superficialities, practicalities and shows of the world, not dreaming that
there is anything divine under them. But the Man of Letters is sent hither
specially that he may discern for himself, and make manifest to us, this
same Divine Idea: in every new generation it will manifest itself in a new
dialect; and he is there for the purpose of doing that. Such is Fichte's
phraseology; with which we need not quarrel. It is his way of naming what
I here, by other words, am striving imperfectly to name; what there is at
present no name for: The unspeakable Divine Significance, full of
splendor, of wonder and terror, that lies in the being of every man, of
every thing,--the Presence of the God who made every man and thing.
Mahomet taught this in his dialect; Odin in his: it is the thing which all
thinking hearts, in one dialect or another, are here to teach.

Fichte calls the Man of Letters, therefore, a Prophet, or as he prefers to
phrase it, a Priest, continually unfolding the Godlike to men: Men of
Letters are a perpetual Priesthood, from age to age, teaching all men that
a God is still present in their life, that all "Appearance," whatsoever we
see in the world, is but as a vesture for the "Divine Idea of the World,"
for "that which lies at the bottom of Appearance." In the true Literary
Man there is thus ever, acknowledged or not by the world, a sacredness: he
is the light of the world; the world's Priest;--guiding it, like a sacred
Pillar of Fire, in its dark pilgrimage through the waste of Time. Fichte
discriminates with sharp zeal the _true_ Literary Man, what we here call
the _Hero_ as Man of Letters, from multitudes of false unheroic. Whoever
lives not wholly in this Divine Idea, or living partially in it, struggles
not, as for the one good, to live wholly in it,--he is, let him live where
else he like, in what pomps and prosperities he like, no Literary Man; he
is, says Fichte, a "Bungler, _Stumper_." Or at best, if he belong to the
prosaic provinces, he may be a "Hodman; " Fichte even calls him elsewhere a
"Nonentity," and has in short no mercy for him, no wish that _he_ should
continue happy among us! This is Fichte's notion of the Man of Letters.
It means, in its own form, precisely what we here mean.

In this point of view, I consider that, for the last hundred years, by far
the notablest of all Literary Men is Fichte's countryman, Goethe. To that
man too, in a strange way, there was given what we may call a life in the
Divine Idea of the World; vision of the inward divine mystery: and
strangely, out of his Books, the world rises imaged once more as godlike,
the workmanship and temple of a God. Illuminated all, not in fierce impure
fire-splendor as of Mahomet, but in mild celestial radiance;--really a
Prophecy in these most unprophetic times; to my mind, by far the greatest,
though one of the quietest, among all the great things that have come to
pass in them. Our chosen specimen of the Hero as Literary Man would be
this Goethe. And it were a very pleasant plan for me here to discourse of
his heroism: for I consider him to be a true Hero; heroic in what he said
and did, and perhaps still more in what he did not say and did not do; to
me a noble spectacle: a great heroic ancient man, speaking and keeping
silence as an ancient Hero, in the guise of a most modern, high-bred,
high-cultivated Man of Letters! We have had no such spectacle; no man
capable of affording such, for the last hundred and fifty years.

But at present, such is the general state of knowledge about Goethe, it
were worse than useless to attempt speaking of him in this case. Speak as
I might, Goethe, to the great majority of you, would remain problematic,
vague; no impression but a false one could be realized. Him we must leave
to future times. Johnson, Burns, Rousseau, three great figures from a
prior time, from a far inferior state of circumstances, will suit us better
here. Three men of the Eighteenth Century; the conditions of their life
far more resemble what those of ours still are in England, than what
Goethe's in Germany were. Alas, these men did not conquer like him; they
fought bravely, and fell. They were not heroic bringers of the light, but
heroic seekers of it. They lived under galling conditions; struggling as
under mountains of impediment, and could not unfold themselves into
clearness, or victorious interpretation of that "Divine Idea." It is
rather the _Tombs_ of three Literary Heroes that I have to show you. There
are the monumental heaps, under which three spiritual giants lie buried.
Very mournful, but also great and full of interest for us. We will linger
by them for a while.

Complaint is often made, in these times, of what we call the disorganized
condition of society: how ill many forces of society fulfil their work;
how many powerful are seen working in a wasteful, chaotic, altogether
unarranged manner. It is too just a complaint, as we all know. But
perhaps if we look at this of Books and the Writers of Books, we shall find
here, as it were, the summary of all other disorganizations;--a sort of
_heart_, from which, and to which all other confusion circulates in the
world! Considering what Book writers do in the world, and what the world
does with Book writers, I should say, It is the most anomalous thing the
world at present has to show.--We should get into a sea far beyond
sounding, did we attempt to give account of this: but we must glance at it
for the sake of our subject. The worst element in the life of these three
Literary Heroes was, that they found their business and position such a
chaos. On the beaten road there is tolerable travelling; but it is sore
work, and many have to perish, fashioning a path through the impassable!

Our pious Fathers, feeling well what importance lay in the speaking of man
to men, founded churches, made endowments, regulations; everywhere in the
civilized world there is a Pulpit, environed with all manner of complex
dignified appurtenances and furtherances, that therefrom a man with the
tongue may, to best advantage, address his fellow-men. They felt that this
was the most important thing; that without this there was no good thing.
It is a right pious work, that of theirs; beautiful to behold! But now
with the art of Writing, with the art of Printing, a total change has come
over that business. The Writer of a Book, is not he a Preacher preaching
not to this parish or that, on this day or that, but to all men in all
times and places? Surely it is of the last importance that _he_ do his
work right, whoever do it wrong;--that the _eye_ report not falsely, for
then all the other members are astray! Well; how he may do his work,
whether he do it right or wrong, or do it at all, is a point which no man
in the world has taken the pains to think of. To a certain shopkeeper,
trying to get some money for his books, if lucky, he is of some importance;
to no other man of any. Whence he came, whither he is bound, by what ways
he arrived, by what he might be furthered on his course, no one asks. He
is an accident in society. He wanders like a wild Ishmaelite, in a world
of which he is as the spiritual light, either the guidance or the

Certainly the Art of Writing is the most miraculous of all things man has
devised. Odin's _Runes_ were the first form of the work of a Hero; _Books_
written words, are still miraculous _Runes_, the latest form! In Books
lies the _soul_ of the whole Past Time; the articulate audible voice of the
Past, when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished
like a dream. Mighty fleets and armies, harbors and arsenals, vast cities,
high-domed, many-engined,--they are precious, great: but what do they
become? Agamemnon, the many Agamemnons, Pericleses, and their Greece; all
is gone now to some ruined fragments, dumb mournful wrecks and blocks: but
the Books of Greece! There Greece, to every thinker, still very literally
lives: can be called up again into life. No magic _Rune_ is stranger than
a Book. All that Mankind has done, thought, gained or been: it is lying
as in magic preservation in the pages of Books. They are the chosen
possession of men.

Do not Books still accomplish _miracles_, as _Runes_ were fabled to do?
They persuade men. Not the wretchedest circulating-library novel, which
foolish girls thumb and con in remote villages, but will help to regulate
the actual practical weddings and households of those foolish girls. So
"Celia" felt, so "Clifford" acted: the foolish Theorem of Life, stamped
into those young brains, comes out as a solid Practice one day. Consider
whether any _Rune_ in the wildest imagination of Mythologist ever did such
wonders as, on the actual firm Earth, some Books have done! What built St.
Paul's Cathedral? Look at the heart of the matter, it was that divine
Hebrew BOOK,--the word partly of the man Moses, an outlaw tending his
Midianitish herds, four thousand years ago, in the wildernesses of Sinai!
It is the strangest of things, yet nothing is truer. With the art of
Writing, of which Printing is a simple, an inevitable and comparatively
insignificant corollary, the true reign of miracles for mankind commenced.
It related, with a wondrous new contiguity and perpetual closeness, the
Past and Distant with the Present in time and place; all times and all
places with this our actual Here and Now. All things were altered for men;
all modes of important work of men: teaching, preaching, governing, and
all else.

To look at Teaching, for instance. Universities are a notable, respectable
product of the modern ages. Their existence too is modified, to the very
basis of it, by the existence of Books. Universities arose while there
were yet no Books procurable; while a man, for a single Book, had to give
an estate of land. That, in those circumstances, when a man had some
knowledge to communicate, he should do it by gathering the learners round
him, face to face, was a necessity for him. If you wanted to know what
Abelard knew, you must go and listen to Abelard. Thousands, as many as
thirty thousand, went to hear Abelard and that metaphysical theology of
his. And now for any other teacher who had also something of his own to
teach, there was a great convenience opened: so many thousands eager to
learn were already assembled yonder; of all places the best place for him
was that. For any third teacher it was better still; and grew ever the
better, the more teachers there came. It only needed now that the King
took notice of this new phenomenon; combined or agglomerated the various
schools into one school; gave it edifices, privileges, encouragements, and
named it _Universitas_, or School of all Sciences: the University of
Paris, in its essential characters, was there. The model of all subsequent
Universities; which down even to these days, for six centuries now, have
gone on to found themselves. Such, I conceive, was the origin of

It is clear, however, that with this simple circumstance, facility of
getting Books, the whole conditions of the business from top to bottom were
changed. Once invent Printing, you metamorphosed all Universities, or
superseded them! The Teacher needed not now to gather men personally round
him, that he might _speak_ to them what he knew: print it in a Book, and
all learners far and wide, for a trifle, had it each at his own fireside,
much more effectually to learn it!--Doubtless there is still peculiar
virtue in Speech; even writers of Books may still, in some circumstances,
find it convenient to speak also,--witness our present meeting here! There
is, one would say, and must ever remain while man has a tongue, a distinct
province for Speech as well as for Writing and Printing. In regard to all
things this must remain; to Universities among others. But the limits of
the two have nowhere yet been pointed out, ascertained; much less put in
practice: the University which would completely take in that great new
fact, of the existence of Printed Books, and stand on a clear footing for
the Nineteenth Century as the Paris one did for the Thirteenth, has not yet
come into existence. If we think of it, all that a University, or final
highest School can do for us, is still but what the first School began
doing,--teach us to _read_. We learn to _read_, in various languages, in
various sciences; we learn the alphabet and letters of all manner of Books.
But the place where we are to get knowledge, even theoretic knowledge, is
the Books themselves! It depends on what we read, after all manner of
Professors have done their best for us. The true University of these days
is a Collection of Books.

But to the Church itself, as I hinted already, all is changed, in its
preaching, in its working, by the introduction of Books. The Church is the
working recognized Union of our Priests or Prophets, of those who by wise
teaching guide the souls of men. While there was no Writing, even while
there was no Easy-writing, or _Printing_, the preaching of the voice was
the natural sole method of performing this. But now with Books! --He that
can write a true Book, to persuade England, is not he the Bishop and
Archbishop, the Primate of England and of All England? I many a time say,
the writers of Newspapers, Pamphlets, Poems, Books, these _are_ the real
working effective Church of a modern country. Nay not only our preaching,
but even our worship, is not it too accomplished by means of Printed Books?
The noble sentiment which a gifted soul has clothed for us in melodious
words, which brings melody into our hearts,--is not this essentially, if we
will understand it, of the nature of worship? There are many, in all
countries, who, in this confused time, have no other method of worship. He
who, in any way, shows us better than we knew before that a lily of the
fields is beautiful, does he not show it us as an effluence of the Fountain
of all Beauty; as the _handwriting_, made visible there, of the great Maker
of the Universe? He has sung for us, made us sing with him, a little verse
of a sacred Psalm. Essentially so. How much more he who sings, who says,
or in any way brings home to our heart the noble doings, feelings, darings
and endurances of a brother man! He has verily touched our hearts as with
a live coal _from the altar_. Perhaps there is no worship more authentic.

Literature, so far as it is Literature, is an "apocalypse of Nature," a
revealing of the "open secret." It may well enough be named, in Fichte's
style, a "continuous revelation" of the Godlike in the Terrestrial and
Common. The Godlike does ever, in very truth, endure there; is brought
out, now in this dialect, now in that, with various degrees of clearness:
all true gifted Singers and Speakers are, consciously or unconsciously,
doing so. The dark stormful indignation of a Byron, so wayward and
perverse, may have touches of it; nay the withered mockery of a French
sceptic,--his mockery of the False, a love and worship of the True. How
much more the sphere-harmony of a Shakspeare, of a Goethe; the cathedral
music of a Milton! They are something too, those humble genuine lark-notes
of a Burns,--skylark, starting from the humble furrow, far overhead into
the blue depths, and singing to us so genuinely there! For all true
singing is of the nature of worship; as indeed all true _working_ may be
said to be,--whereof such _singing_ is but the record, and fit melodious
representation, to us. Fragments of a real "Church Liturgy" and "Body of
Homilies," strangely disguised from the common eye, are to be found
weltering in that huge froth-ocean of Printed Speech we loosely call
Literature! Books are our Church too.

Or turning now to the Government of men. Witenagemote, old Parliament, was
a great thing. The affairs of the nation were there deliberated and
decided; what we were to _do_ as a nation. But does not, though the name
Parliament subsists, the parliamentary debate go on now, everywhere and at
all times, in a far more comprehensive way, _out_ of Parliament altogether?
Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters'
Gallery yonder, there sat a _Fourth Estate_ more important far than they
all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal
fact,--very momentous to us in these times. Literature is our Parliament
too. Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is
equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. Writing
brings Printing; brings universal everyday extempore Printing, as we see at
present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a
power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in
all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or
garnitures. the requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others
will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed
by all that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually _there_. Add
only, that whatsoever power exists will have itself, by and by, organized;
working secretly under bandages, obscurations, obstructions, it will never
rest till it get to work free, unencumbered, visible to all. Democracy
virtually extant will insist on becoming palpably extant.--

On all sides, are we not driven to the conclusion that, of the things which
man can do or make here below, by far the most momentous, wonderful and
worthy are the things we call Books! Those poor bits of rag-paper with
black ink on them;--from the Daily Newspaper to the sacred Hebrew BOOK,
what have they not done, what are they not doing!--For indeed, whatever be
the outward form of the thing (bits of paper, as we say, and black ink), is
it not verily, at bottom, the highest act of man's faculty that produces a
Book? It is the _Thought_ of man; the true thaumaturgic virtue; by which
man works all things whatsoever. All that he does, and brings to pass, is
the vesture of a Thought. This London City, with all its houses, palaces,
steam-engines, cathedrals, and huge immeasurable traffic and tumult, what
is it but a Thought, but millions of Thoughts made into One;--a huge
immeasurable Spirit of a THOUGHT, embodied in brick, in iron, smoke, dust,
Palaces, Parliaments, Hackney Coaches, Katherine Docks, and the rest of it!
Not a brick was made but some man had to _think_ of the making of that
brick.--The thing we called "bits of paper with traces of black ink," is
the _purest_ embodiment a Thought of man can have. No wonder it is, in all
ways, the activest and noblest.

All this, of the importance and supreme importance of the Man of Letters in
modern Society, and how the Press is to such a degree superseding the
Pulpit, the Senate, the _Senatus Academicus_ and much else, has been
admitted for a good while; and recognized often enough, in late times, with
a sort of sentimental triumph and wonderment. It seems to me, the
Sentimental by and by will have to give place to the Practical. If Men of
Letters _are_ so incalculably influential, actually performing such work
for us from age to age, and even from day to day, then I think we may
conclude that Men of Letters will not always wander like unrecognized
unregulated Ishmaelites among us! Whatsoever thing, as I said above, has
virtual unnoticed power will cast off its wrappages, bandages, and step
forth one day with palpably articulated, universally visible power. That
one man wear the clothes, and take the wages, of a function which is done
by quite another: there can be no profit in this; this is not right, it is
wrong. And yet, alas, the _making_ of it right,--what a business, for long
times to come! Sure enough, this that we call Organization of the Literary
Guild is still a great way off, encumbered with all manner of complexities.
If you asked me what were the best possible organization for the Men of
Letters in modern society; the arrangement of furtherance and regulation,
grounded the most accurately on the actual facts of their position and of
the world's position,--I should beg to say that the problem far exceeded my
faculty! It is not one man's faculty; it is that of many successive men
turned earnestly upon it, that will bring out even an approximate solution.
What the best arrangement were, none of us could say. But if you ask,
Which is the worst? I answer: This which we now have, that Chaos should
sit umpire in it; this is the worst. To the best, or any good one, there
is yet a long way.

One remark I must not omit, That royal or parliamentary grants of money are
by no means the chief thing wanted! To give our Men of Letters stipends,
endowments and all furtherance of cash, will do little towards the
business. On the whole, one is weary of hearing about the omnipotence of
money. I will say rather that, for a genuine man, it is no evil to be
poor; that there ought to be Literary Men poor,--to show whether they are
genuine or not! Mendicant Orders, bodies of good men doomed to beg, were
instituted in the Christian Church; a most natural and even necessary
development of the spirit of Christianity. It was itself founded on
Poverty, on Sorrow, Contradiction, Crucifixion, every species of worldly
Distress and Degradation. We may say, that he who has not known those
things, and learned from them the priceless lessons they have to teach, has
missed a good opportunity of schooling. To beg, and go barefoot, in coarse
woollen cloak with a rope round your loins, and be despised of all the
world, was no beautiful business;--nor an honorable one in any eye, till
the nobleness of those who did so had made it honored of some!

Begging is not in our course at the present time: but for the rest of it,
who will say that a Johnson is not perhaps the better for being poor? It
is needful for him, at all rates, to know that outward profit, that success
of any kind is _not_ the goal he has to aim at. Pride, vanity,
ill-conditioned egoism of all sorts, are bred in his heart, as in every
heart; need, above all, to be cast out of his heart,--to be, with whatever
pangs, torn out of it, cast forth from it, as a thing worthless. Byron,
born rich and noble, made out even less than Burns, poor and plebeian. Who
knows but, in that same "best possible organization" as yet far off,
Poverty may still enter as an important element? What if our Men of
Letters, men setting up to be Spiritual Heroes, were still _then_, as they
now are, a kind of "involuntary monastic order;" bound still to this same
ugly Poverty,--till they had tried what was in it too, till they had
learned to make it too do for them! Money, in truth, can do much, but it
cannot do all. We must know the province of it, and confine it there; and
even spurn it back, when it wishes to get farther.

Besides, were the money-furtherances, the proper season for them, the fit
assigner of them, all settled,--how is the Burns to be recognized that
merits these? He must pass through the ordeal, and prove himself. _This_
ordeal; this wild welter of a chaos which is called Literary Life: this
too is a kind of ordeal! There is clear truth in the idea that a struggle
from the lower classes of society, towards the upper regions and rewards of
society, must ever continue. Strong men are born there, who ought to stand
elsewhere than there. The manifold, inextricably complex, universal
struggle of these constitutes, and must constitute, what is called the
progress of society. For Men of Letters, as for all other sorts of men.
How to regulate that struggle? There is the whole question. To leave it
as it is, at the mercy of blind Chance; a whirl of distracted atoms, one
cancelling the other; one of the thousand arriving saved, nine hundred and
ninety-nine lost by the way; your royal Johnson languishing inactive in
garrets, or harnessed to the yoke of Printer Cave; your Burns dying
broken-hearted as a Gauger; your Rousseau driven into mad exasperation,
kindling French Revolutions by his paradoxes: this, as we said, is clearly
enough the _worst_ regulation. The _best_, alas, is far from us!

And yet there can be no doubt but it is coming; advancing on us, as yet
hidden in the bosom of centuries: this is a prophecy one can risk. For so
soon as men get to discern the importance of a thing, they do infallibly
set about arranging it, facilitating, forwarding it; and rest not till, in
some approximate degree, they have accomplished that. I say, of all
Priesthoods, Aristocracies, Governing Classes at present extant in the
world, there is no class comparable for importance to that Priesthood of
the Writers of Books. This is a fact which he who runs may read,--and draw
inferences from. "Literature will take care of itself," answered Mr. Pitt,
when applied to for some help for Burns. "Yes," adds Mr. Southey, "it will
take care of itself; _and of you too_, if you do not look to it!"

The result to individual Men of Letters is not the momentous one; they are
but individuals, an infinitesimal fraction of the great body; they can
struggle on, and live or else die, as they have been wont. But it deeply
concerns the whole society, whether it will set its _light_ on high places,
to walk thereby; or trample it under foot, and scatter it in all ways of
wild waste (not without conflagration), as heretofore! Light is the one
thing wanted for the world. Put wisdom in the head of the world, the world
will fight its battle victoriously, and be the best world man can make it.
I called this anomaly of a disorganic Literary Class the heart of all other
anomalies, at once product and parent; some good arrangement for that would
be as the _punctum saliens_ of a new vitality and just arrangement for all.
Already, in some European countries, in France, in Prussia, one traces some
beginnings of an arrangement for the Literary Class; indicating the gradual
possibility of such. I believe that it is possible; that it will have to
be possible.

By far the most interesting fact I hear about the Chinese is one on which
we cannot arrive at clearness, but which excites endless curiosity even in
the dim state: this namely, that they do attempt to make their Men of
Letters their Governors! It would be rash to say, one understood how this
was done, or with what degree of success it was done. All such things must
be very unsuccessful; yet a small degree of success is precious; the very
attempt how precious! There does seem to be, all over China, a more or
less active search everywhere to discover the men of talent that grow up in
the young generation. Schools there are for every one: a foolish sort of
training, yet still a sort. The youths who distinguish themselves in the
lower school are promoted into favorable stations in the higher, that they
may still more distinguish themselves,--forward and forward: it appears to
be out of these that the Official Persons, and incipient Governors, are
taken. These are they whom they _try_ first, whether they can govern or
not. And surely with the best hope: for they are the men that have
already shown intellect. Try them: they have not governed or administered
as yet; perhaps they cannot; but there is no doubt they _have_ some
Understanding,--without which no man can! Neither is Understanding a
_tool_, as we are too apt to figure; "it is a _hand_ which can handle any
tool." Try these men: they are of all others the best worth
trying.--Surely there is no kind of government, constitution, revolution,
social apparatus or arrangement, that I know of in this world, so promising
to one's scientific curiosity as this. The man of intellect at the top of
affairs: this is the aim of all constitutions and revolutions, if they
have any aim. For the man of true intellect, as I assert and believe
always, is the noble-hearted man withal, the true, just, humane and valiant
man. Get him for governor, all is got; fail to get him, though you had
Constitutions plentiful as blackberries, and a Parliament in every village,
there is nothing yet got!--

These things look strange, truly; and are not such as we commonly speculate
upon. But we are fallen into strange times; these things will require to
be speculated upon; to be rendered practicable, to be in some way put in
practice. These, and many others. On all hands of us, there is the
announcement, audible enough, that the old Empire of Routine has ended;
that to say a thing has long been, is no reason for its continuing to be.
The things which have been are fallen into decay, are fallen into
incompetence; large masses of mankind, in every society of our Europe, are
no longer capable of living at all by the things which have been. When
millions of men can no longer by their utmost exertion gain food for
themselves, and "the third man for thirty-six weeks each year is short of
third-rate potatoes," the things which have been must decidedly prepare to
alter themselves!--I will now quit this of the organization of Men of

Alas, the evil that pressed heaviest on those Literary Heroes of ours was
not the want of organization for Men of Letters, but a far deeper one; out
of which, indeed, this and so many other evils for the Literary Man, and
for all men, had, as from their fountain, taken rise. That our Hero as Man
of Letters had to travel without highway, companionless, through an
inorganic chaos,--and to leave his own life and faculty lying there, as a
partial contribution towards _pushing_ some highway through it: this, had
not his faculty itself been so perverted and paralyzed, he might have put
up with, might have considered to be but the common lot of Heroes. His
fatal misery was the _spiritual paralysis_, so we may name it, of the Age
in which his life lay; whereby his life too, do what he might, was half
paralyzed! The Eighteenth was a _Sceptical_ Century; in which little word
there is a whole Pandora's Box of miseries. Scepticism means not
intellectual Doubt alone, but moral Doubt; all sorts of infidelity,
insincerity, spiritual paralysis. Perhaps, in few centuries that one could
specify since the world began, was a life of Heroism more difficult for a
man. That was not an age of Faith,--an age of Heroes! The very
possibility of Heroism had been, as it were, formally abnegated in the
minds of all. Heroism was gone forever; Triviality, Formulism and
Commonplace were come forever. The "age of miracles" had been, or perhaps
had not been; but it was not any longer. An effete world; wherein Wonder,
Greatness, Godhood could not now dwell;--in one word, a godless world!

How mean, dwarfish are their ways of thinking, in this time,--compared not
with the Christian Shakspeares and Miltons, but with the old Pagan Skalds,
with any species of believing men! The living TREE Igdrasil, with the
melodious prophetic waving of its world-wide boughs, deep-rooted as Hela,
has died out into the clanking of a World-MACHINE. "Tree" and "Machine:"
contrast these two things. I, for my share, declare the world to be no
machine! I say that it does _not_ go by wheel-and-pinion "motives"
self-interests, checks, balances; that there is something far other in it
than the clank of spinning-jennies, and parliamentary majorities; and, on
the whole, that it is not a machine at all!--The old Norse Heathen had a
truer motion of God's-world than these poor Machine-Sceptics: the old
Heathen Norse were _sincere_ men. But for these poor Sceptics there was no
sincerity, no truth. Half-truth and hearsay was called truth. Truth, for
most men, meant plausibility; to be measured by the number of votes you
could get. They had lost any notion that sincerity was possible, or of
what sincerity was. How many Plausibilities asking, with unaffected
surprise and the air of offended virtue, What! am not I sincere? Spiritual
Paralysis, I say, nothing left but a Mechanical life, was the
characteristic of that century. For the common man, unless happily he
stood _below_ his century and belonged to another prior one, it was
impossible to be a Believer, a Hero; he lay buried, unconscious, under
these baleful influences. To the strongest man, only with infinite
struggle and confusion was it possible to work himself half loose; and lead
as it were, in an enchanted, most tragical way, a spiritual death-in-life,
and be a Half-Hero!

Scepticism is the name we give to all this; as the chief symptom, as the
chief origin of all this. Concerning which so much were to be said! It
would take many Discourses, not a small fraction of one Discourse, to state
what one feels about that Eighteenth Century and its ways. As indeed this,
and the like of this, which we now call Scepticism, is precisely the black
malady and life-foe, against which all teaching and discoursing since man's
life began has directed itself: the battle of Belief against Unbelief is
the never-ending battle! Neither is it in the way of crimination that one
would wish to speak. Scepticism, for that century, we must consider as the
decay of old ways of believing, the preparation afar off for new better and
wider ways,--an inevitable thing. We will not blame men for it; we will
lament their hard fate. We will understand that destruction of old _forms_
is not destruction of everlasting _substances_; that Scepticism, as
sorrowful and hateful as we see it, is not an end but a beginning.

The other day speaking, without prior purpose that way, of Bentham's theory
of man and man's life, I chanced to call it a more beggarly one than
Mahomet's. I am bound to say, now when it is once uttered, that such is my
deliberate opinion. Not that one would mean offence against the man Jeremy
Bentham, or those who respect and believe him. Bentham himself, and even
the creed of Bentham, seems to me comparatively worthy of praise. It is a
determinate _being_ what all the world, in a cowardly half-and-half manner,
was tending to be. Let us have the crisis; we shall either have death or
the cure. I call this gross, steam-engine Utilitarianism an approach
towards new Faith. It was a laying-down of cant; a saying to oneself:
"Well then, this world is a dead iron machine, the god of it Gravitation
and selfish Hunger; let us see what, by checking and balancing, and good
adjustment of tooth and pinion, can be made of it!" Benthamism has
something complete, manful, in such fearless committal of itself to what it
finds true; you may call it Heroic, though a Heroism with its _eyes_ put
out! It is the culminating point, and fearless ultimatum, of what lay in
the half-and-half state, pervading man's whole existence in that Eighteenth
Century. It seems to me, all deniers of Godhood, and all lip-believers of
it, are bound to be Benthamites, if they have courage and honesty.
Benthamism is an _eyeless_ Heroism: the Human Species, like a hapless
blinded Samson grinding in the Philistine Mill, clasps convulsively the
pillars of its Mill; brings huge ruin down, but ultimately deliverance
withal. Of Bentham I meant to say no harm.

But this I do say, and would wish all men to know and lay to heart, that he
who discerns nothing but Mechanism in the Universe has in the fatalest way
missed the secret of the Universe altogether. That all Godhood should
vanish out of men's conception of this Universe seems to me precisely the
most brutal error,--I will not disparage Heathenism by calling it a Heathen
error,--that men could fall into. It is not true; it is false at the very
heart of it. A man who thinks so will think _wrong_ about all things in
the world; this original sin will vitiate all other conclusions he can
form. One might call it the most lamentable of Delusions,--not forgetting
Witchcraft itself! Witchcraft worshipped at least a living Devil; but this
worships a dead iron Devil; no God, not even a Devil! Whatsoever is noble,
divine, inspired, drops thereby out of life. There remains everywhere in
life a despicable _caput-mortuum_; the mechanical hull, all soul fled out
of it. How can a man act heroically? The "Doctrine of Motives" will teach
him that it is, under more or less disguise, nothing but a wretched love of
Pleasure, fear of Pain; that Hunger, of applause, of cash, of whatsoever
victual it may be, is the ultimate fact of man's life. Atheism, in
brief;--which does indeed frightfully punish itself. The man, I say, is
become spiritually a paralytic man; this godlike Universe a dead mechanical
steam-engine, all working by motives, checks, balances, and I know not
what; wherein, as in the detestable belly of some Phalaris'-Bull of his own
contriving, he the poor Phalaris sits miserably dying!

Belief I define to be the healthy act of a man's mind. It is a mysterious
indescribable process, that of getting to believe;--indescribable, as all
vital acts are. We have our mind given us, not that it may cavil and
argue, but that it may see into something, give us clear belief and
understanding about something, whereon we are then to proceed to act.
Doubt, truly, is not itself a crime. Certainly we do not rush out, clutch
up the first thing we find, and straightway believe that! All manner of
doubt, inquiry, [Gr.] _skepsis_ as it is named, about all manner of
objects, dwells in every reasonable mind. It is the mystic working of the
mind, on the object it is _getting_ to know and believe. Belief comes out
of all this, above ground, like the tree from its hidden _roots_. But now
if, even on common things, we require that a man keep his doubts _silent_,
and not babble of them till they in some measure become affirmations or
denials; how much more in regard to the highest things, impossible to speak
of in words at all! That a man parade his doubt, and get to imagine that
debating and logic (which means at best only the manner of _telling_ us
your thought, your belief or disbelief, about a thing) is the triumph and
true work of what intellect he has: alas, this is as if you should
_overturn_ the tree, and instead of green boughs, leaves and fruits, show
us ugly taloned roots turned up into the air,--and no growth, only death
and misery going on!

For the Scepticism, as I said, is not intellectual only; it is moral also;
a chronic atrophy and disease of the whole soul. A man lives by believing
something; not by debating and arguing about many things. A sad case for
him when all that he can manage to believe is something he can button in
his pocket, and with one or the other organ eat and digest! Lower than
that he will not get. We call those ages in which he gets so low the
mournfulest, sickest and meanest of all ages. The world's heart is
palsied, sick: how can any limb of it be whole? Genuine Acting ceases in
all departments of the world's work; dexterous Similitude of Acting begins.
The world's wages are pocketed, the world's work is not done. Heroes have
gone out; Quacks have come in. Accordingly, what Century, since the end of
the Roman world, which also was a time of scepticism, simulacra and
universal decadence, so abounds with Quacks as that Eighteenth? Consider
them, with their tumid sentimental vaporing about virtue, benevolence,--the
wretched Quack-squadron, Cagliostro at the head of them! Few men were
without quackery; they had got to consider it a necessary ingredient and
amalgam for truth. Chatham, our brave Chatham himself, comes down to the
House, all wrapt and bandaged; he "has crawled out in great bodily
suffering," and so on;--_forgets_, says Walpole, that he is acting the sick
man; in the fire of debate, snatches his arm from the sling, and
oratorically swings and brandishes it! Chatham himself lives the strangest
mimetic life, half-hero, half-quack, all along. For indeed the world is
full of dupes; and you have to gain the _world's_ suffrage! How the duties
of the world will be done in that case, what quantities of error, which
means failure, which means sorrow and misery, to some and to many, will
gradually accumulate in all provinces of the world's business, we need not

It seems to me, you lay your finger here on the heart of the world's
maladies, when you call it a Sceptical World. An insincere world; a
godless untruth of a world! It is out of this, as I consider, that the
whole tribe of social pestilences, French Revolutions, Chartisms, and what
not, have derived their being,--their chief necessity to be. This must
alter. Till this alter, nothing can beneficially alter. My one hope of
the world, my inexpugnable consolation in looking at the miseries of the
world, is that this is altering. Here and there one does now find a man
who knows, as of old, that this world is a Truth, and no Plausibility and
Falsity; that he himself is alive, not dead or paralytic; and that the
world is alive, instinct with Godhood, beautiful and awful, even as in the
beginning of days! One man once knowing this, many men, all men, must by
and by come to know it. It lies there clear, for whosoever will take the
_spectacles_ off his eyes and honestly look, to know! For such a man the
Unbelieving Century, with its unblessed Products, is already past; a new
century is already come. The old unblessed Products and Performances, as
solid as they look, are Phantasms, preparing speedily to vanish. To this
and the other noisy, very great-looking Simulacrum with the whole world
huzzaing at its heels, he can say, composedly stepping aside: Thou art not
_true_; thou art not extant, only semblant; go thy way!--Yes, hollow
Formulism, gross Benthamism, and other unheroic atheistic Insincerity is
visibly and even rapidly declining. An unbelieving Eighteenth Century is
but an exception,--such as now and then occurs. I prophesy that the world
will once more become _sincere_; a believing world; with _many_ Heroes in
it, a heroic world! It will then be a victorious world; never till then.

Or indeed what of the world and its victories? Men speak too much about
the world. Each one of us here, let the world go how it will, and be
victorious or not victorious, has he not a Life of his own to lead? One
Life; a little gleam of Time between two Eternities; no second chance to us
forevermore! It were well for us to live not as fools and simulacra, but
as wise and realities. The world's being saved will not save us; nor the
world's being lost destroy us. We should look to ourselves: there is
great merit here in the "duty of staying at home"! And, on the whole, to
say truth, I never heard of "world's" being "saved" in any other way. That
mania of saving worlds is itself a piece of the Eighteenth Century with its
windy sentimentalism. Let us not follow it too far. For the saving of the
_world_ I will trust confidently to the Maker of the world; and look a
little to my own saving, which I am more competent to!--In brief, for the
world's sake, and for our own, we will rejoice greatly that Scepticism,
Insincerity, Mechanical Atheism, with all their poison-dews, are going, and
as good as gone.--

Now it was under such conditions, in those times of Johnson, that our Men
of Letters had to live. Times in which there was properly no truth in
life. Old truths had fallen nigh dumb; the new lay yet hidden, not trying
to speak. That Man's Life here below was a Sincerity and Fact, and would
forever continue such, no new intimation, in that dusk of the world, had
yet dawned. No intimation; not even any French Revolution,--which we
define to be a Truth once more, though a Truth clad in hell-fire! How
different was the Luther's pilgrimage, with its assured goal, from the
Johnson's, girt with mere traditions, suppositions, grown now incredible,
unintelligible! Mahomet's Formulas were of "wood waxed and oiled," and
could be burnt out of one's way: poor Johnson's were far more difficult to
burn.--The strong man will ever find _work_, which means difficulty, pain,
to the full measure of his strength. But to make out a victory, in those
circumstances of our poor Hero as Man of Letters, was perhaps more
difficult than in any. Not obstruction, disorganization, Bookseller
Osborne and Fourpence-halfpenny a day; not this alone; but the light of his
own soul was taken from him. No landmark on the Earth; and, alas, what is
that to having no loadstar in the Heaven! We need not wonder that none of
those Three men rose to victory. That they fought truly is the highest
praise. With a mournful sympathy we will contemplate, if not three living
victorious Heroes, as I said, the Tombs of three fallen Heroes! They fell
for us too; making a way for us. There are the mountains which they hurled
abroad in their confused War of the Giants; under which, their strength and
life spent, they now lie buried.

I have already written of these three Literary Heroes, expressly or
incidentally; what I suppose is known to most of you; what need not be
spoken or written a second time. They concern us here as the singular
_Prophets_ of that singular age; for such they virtually were; and the
aspect they and their world exhibit, under this point of view, might lead
us into reflections enough! I call them, all three, Genuine Men more or
less; faithfully, for most part unconsciously, struggling to be genuine,
and plant themselves on the everlasting truth of things. This to a degree
that eminently distinguishes them from the poor artificial mass of their
contemporaries; and renders them worthy to be considered as Speakers, in
some measure, of the everlasting truth, as Prophets in that age of theirs.
By Nature herself a noble necessity was laid on them to be so. They were
men of such magnitude that they could not live on unrealities,--clouds,
froth and all inanity gave way under them: there was no footing for them
but on firm earth; no rest or regular motion for them, if they got not
footing there. To a certain extent, they were Sons of Nature once more in
an age of Artifice; once more, Original Men.

As for Johnson, I have always considered him to be, by nature, one of our
great English souls. A strong and noble man; so much left undeveloped in
him to the last: in a kindlier element what might he not have been,--Poet,
Priest, sovereign Ruler! On the whole, a man must not complain of his
"element," of his "time," or the like; it is thriftless work doing so. His
time is bad: well then, he is there to make it better!--Johnson's youth
was poor, isolated, hopeless, very miserable. Indeed, it does not seem
possible that, in any the favorablest outward circumstances, Johnson's life
could have been other than a painful one. The world might have had more of
profitable _work_ out of him, or less; but his _effort_ against the world's
work could never have been a light one. Nature, in return for his
nobleness, had said to him, Live in an element of diseased sorrow. Nay,
perhaps the sorrow and the nobleness were intimately and even inseparably
connected with each other. At all events, poor Johnson had to go about
girt with continual hypochondria, physical and spiritual pain. Like a
Hercules with the burning Nessus'-shirt on him, which shoots in on him dull
incurable misery: the Nessus'-shirt not to be stript off, which is his own
natural skin! In this manner _he_ had to live. Figure him there, with his
scrofulous diseases, with his great greedy heart, and unspeakable chaos of
thoughts; stalking mournful as a stranger in this Earth; eagerly devouring
what spiritual thing he could come at: school-languages and other merely
grammatical stuff, if there were nothing better! The largest soul that was
in all England; and provision made for it of "fourpence-halfpenny a day."
Yet a giant invincible soul; a true man's. One remembers always that story
of the shoes at Oxford: the rough, seamy-faced, rawboned College Servitor
stalking about, in winter-season, with his shoes worn out; how the
charitable Gentleman Commoner secretly places a new pair at his door; and
the rawboned Servitor, lifting them, looking at them near, with his dim
eyes, with what thoughts,--pitches them out of window! Wet feet, mud,
frost, hunger or what you will; but not beggary: we cannot stand beggary!
Rude stubborn self-help here; a whole world of squalor, rudeness, confused
misery and want, yet of nobleness and manfulness withal. It is a type of
the man's life, this pitching away of the shoes. An original man;--not a
second-hand, borrowing or begging man. Let us stand on our own basis, at
any rate! On such shoes as we ourselves can get. On frost and mud, if you
will, but honestly on that;--on the reality and substance which Nature
gives _us_, not on the semblance, on the thing she has given another than

And yet with all this rugged pride of manhood and self-help, was there ever
soul more tenderly affectionate, loyally submissive to what was really
higher than he? Great souls are always loyally submissive, reverent to
what is over them; only small mean souls are otherwise. I could not find a
better proof of what I said the other day, That the sincere man was by
nature the obedient man; that only in a World of Heroes was there loyal
Obedience to the Heroic. The essence of _originality_ is not that it be
_new_: Johnson believed altogether in the old; he found the old opinions
credible for him, fit for him; and in a right heroic manner lived under
them. He is well worth study in regard to that. For we are to say that
Johnson was far other than a mere man of words and formulas; he was a man
of truths and facts. He stood by the old formulas; the happier was it for
him that he could so stand: but in all formulas that _he_ could stand by,
there needed to be a most genuine substance. Very curious how, in that
poor Paper-age, so barren, artificial, thick-quilted with Pedantries,
Hearsays, the great Fact of this Universe glared in, forever wonderful,
indubitable, unspeakable, divine-infernal, upon this man too! How he
harmonized his Formulas with it, how he managed at all under such
circumstances: that is a thing worth seeing. A thing "to be looked at
with reverence, with pity, with awe." That Church of St. Clement Danes,
where Johnson still _worshipped_ in the era of Voltaire, is to me a
venerable place.

It was in virtue of his _sincerity_, of his speaking still in some sort
from the heart of Nature, though in the current artificial dialect, that
Johnson was a Prophet. Are not all dialects "artificial"? Artificial
things are not all false;--nay every true Product of Nature will infallibly
_shape_ itself; we may say all artificial things are, at the starting of
them, _true_. What we call "Formulas" are not in their origin bad; they
are indispensably good. Formula is _method_, habitude; found wherever man
is found. Formulas fashion themselves as Paths do, as beaten Highways,
leading toward some sacred or high object, whither many men are bent.
Consider it. One man, full of heartfelt earnest impulse, finds out a way
of doing somewhat,--were it of uttering his soul's reverence for the
Highest, were it but of fitly saluting his fellow-man. An inventor was
needed to do that, a _poet_; he has articulated the dim-struggling thought
that dwelt in his own and many hearts. This is his way of doing that;
these are his footsteps, the beginning of a "Path." And now see: the
second men travels naturally in the footsteps of his foregoer, it is the
_easiest_ method. In the footsteps of his foregoer; yet with improvements,
with changes where such seem good; at all events with enlargements, the
Path ever _widening_ itself as more travel it;--till at last there is a
broad Highway whereon the whole world may travel and drive. While there
remains a City or Shrine, or any Reality to drive to, at the farther end,
the Highway shall be right welcome! When the City is gone, we will forsake
the Highway. In this manner all Institutions, Practices, Regulated Things
in the world have come into existence, and gone out of existence. Formulas
all begin by being _full_ of substance; you may call them the _skin_, the
articulation into shape, into limbs and skin, of a substance that is
already there: _they_ had not been there otherwise. Idols, as we said,
are not idolatrous till they become doubtful, empty for the worshipper's
heart. Much as we talk against Formulas, I hope no one of us is ignorant
withal of the high significance of _true_ Formulas; that they were, and
will ever be, the indispensablest furniture of our habitation in this

Mark, too, how little Johnson boasts of his "sincerity." He has no
suspicion of his being particularly sincere,--of his being particularly
anything! A hard-struggling, weary-hearted man, or "scholar" as he calls
himself, trying hard to get some honest livelihood in the world, not to
starve, but to live--without stealing! A noble unconsciousness is in him.
He does not "engrave _Truth_ on his watch-seal;" no, but he stands by
truth, speaks by it, works and lives by it. Thus it ever is. Think of it
once more. The man whom Nature has appointed to do great things is, first
of all, furnished with that openness to Nature which renders him incapable
of being _in_sincere! To his large, open, deep-feeling heart Nature is a
Fact: all hearsay is hearsay; the unspeakable greatness of this Mystery of
Life, let him acknowledge it or not, nay even though he seem to forget it
or deny it, is ever present to _him_,--fearful and wonderful, on this hand
and on that. He has a basis of sincerity; unrecognized, because never
questioned or capable of question. Mirabeau, Mahomet, Cromwell, Napoleon:
all the Great Men I ever heard of have this as the primary material of
them. Innumerable commonplace men are debating, are talking everywhere
their commonplace doctrines, which they have learned by logic, by rote, at
second-hand: to that kind of man all this is still nothing. He must have
truth; truth which _he_ feels to be true. How shall he stand otherwise?
His whole soul, at all moments, in all ways, tells him that there is no
standing. He is under the noble necessity of being true. Johnson's way of
thinking about this world is not mine, any more than Mahomet's was: but I
recognize the everlasting element of _heart-sincerity_ in both; and see
with pleasure how neither of them remains ineffectual. Neither of them is
as _chaff_ sown; in both of them is something which the seedfield will

Johnson was a Prophet to his people; preached a Gospel to them,--as all
like him always do. The highest Gospel he preached we may describe as a
kind of Moral Prudence: "in a world where much is to be done, and little
is to be known," see how you will _do_ it! A thing well worth preaching.
"A world where much is to be done, and little is to be known:" do not sink
yourselves in boundless bottomless abysses of Doubt, of wretched
god-forgetting Unbelief;--you were miserable then, powerless, mad: how
could you _do_ or work at all? Such Gospel Johnson preached and
taught;--coupled, theoretically and practically, with this other great
Gospel, "Clear your mind of Cant!" Have no trade with Cant: stand on the
cold mud in the frosty weather, but let it be in your own _real_ torn
shoes: "that will be better for you," as Mahomet says! I call this, I
call these two things _joined together_, a great Gospel, the greatest
perhaps that was possible at that time.

Johnson's Writings, which once had such currency and celebrity, are now as
it were disowned by the young generation. It is not wonderful; Johnson's
opinions are fast becoming obsolete: but his style of thinking and of
living, we may hope, will never become obsolete. I find in Johnson's Books
the indisputablest traces of a great intellect and great heart;--ever
welcome, under what obstructions and perversions soever. They are
_sincere_ words, those of his; he means things by them. A wondrous buckram
style,--the best he could get to then; a measured grandiloquence, stepping
or rather stalking along in a very solemn way, grown obsolete now;
sometimes a tumid _size_ of phraseology not in proportion to the contents
of it: all this you will put up with. For the phraseology, tumid or not,
has always _something within it_. So many beautiful styles and books, with
_nothing_ in them;--a man is a malefactor to the world who writes such!
_They_ are the avoidable kind!--Had Johnson left nothing but his
_Dictionary_, one might have traced there a great intellect, a genuine man.
Looking to its clearness of definition, its general solidity, honesty,
insight and successful method, it may be called the best of all
Dictionaries. There is in it a kind of architectural nobleness; it stands
there like a great solid square-built edifice, finished, symmetrically
complete: you judge that a true Builder did it.

One word, in spite of our haste, must be granted to poor Bozzy. He passes
for a mean, inflated, gluttonous creature; and was so in many senses. Yet
the fact of his reverence for Johnson will ever remain noteworthy. The
foolish conceited Scotch Laird, the most conceited man of his time,
approaching in such awe-struck attitude the great dusty irascible Pedagogue
in his mean garret there: it is a genuine reverence for Excellence; a
_worship_ for Heroes, at a time when neither Heroes nor worship were
surmised to exist. Heroes, it would seem, exist always, and a certain
worship of them! We will also take the liberty to deny altogether that of
the witty Frenchman, that no man is a Hero to his valet-de-chambre. Or if
so, it is not the Hero's blame, but the Valet's: that his soul, namely, is
a mean _valet_-soul! He expects his Hero to advance in royal
stage-trappings, with measured step, trains borne behind him, trumpets
sounding before him. It should stand rather, No man can be a _Grand-
Monarque_ to his valet-de-chambre. Strip your Louis Quatorze of his
king-gear, and there _is_ left nothing but a poor forked radish with a head
fantastically carved;--admirable to no valet. The Valet does not know a
Hero when he sees him! Alas, no: it requires a kind of _Hero_ to do
that;--and one of the world's wants, in _this_ as in other senses, is for
most part want of such.

On the whole, shall we not say, that Boswell's admiration was well
bestowed; that he could have found no soul in all England so worthy of
bending down before? Shall we not say, of this great mournful Johnson too,
that he guided his difficult confused existence wisely; led it _well_, like
a right valiant man? That waste chaos of Authorship by trade; that waste
chaos of Scepticism in religion and politics, in life-theory and
life-practice; in his poverty, in his dust and dimness, with the sick body
and the rusty coat: he made it do for him, like a brave man. Not wholly
without a loadstar in the Eternal; he had still a loadstar, as the brave
all need to have: with his eye set on that, he would change his course for
nothing in these confused vortices of the lower sea of Time. "To the
Spirit of Lies, bearing death and hunger, he would in nowise strike his
flag." Brave old Samuel: _ultimus Romanorum_!

Of Rousseau and his Heroism I cannot say so much. He is not what I call a
strong man. A morbid, excitable, spasmodic man; at best, intense rather
than strong. He had not "the talent of Silence," an invaluable talent;
which few Frenchmen, or indeed men of any sort in these times, excel in!
The suffering man ought really "to consume his own smoke;" there is no good
in emitting _smoke_ till you have made it into _fire_,--which, in the
metaphorical sense too, all smoke is capable of becoming! Rousseau has not
depth or width, not calm force for difficulty; the first characteristic of
true greatness. A fundamental mistake to call vehemence and rigidity
strength! A man is not strong who takes convulsion-fits; though six men
cannot hold him then. He that can walk under the heaviest weight without
staggering, he is the strong man. We need forever, especially in these
loud-shrieking days, to remind ourselves of that. A man who cannot _hold
his peace_, till the time come for speaking and acting, is no right man.

Poor Rousseau's face is to me expressive of him. A high but narrow
contracted intensity in it: bony brows; deep, strait-set eyes, in which
there is something bewildered-looking,--bewildered, peering with
lynx-eagerness. A face full of misery, even ignoble misery, and also of
the antagonism against that; something mean, plebeian there, redeemed only
by _intensity_: the face of what is called a Fanatic,--a sadly
_contracted_ Hero! We name him here because, with all his drawbacks, and
they are many, he has the first and chief characteristic of a Hero: he is
heartily _in earnest_. In earnest, if ever man was; as none of these
French Philosophers were. Nay, one would say, of an earnestness too great
for his otherwise sensitive, rather feeble nature; and which indeed in the
end drove him into the strangest incoherences, almost delirations. There
had come, at last, to be a kind of madness in him: his Ideas _possessed_
him like demons; hurried him so about, drove him over steep places!--

The fault and misery of Rousseau was what we easily name by a single word,
_Egoism_; which is indeed the source and summary of all faults and miseries
whatsoever. He had not perfected himself into victory over mere Desire; a
mean Hunger, in many sorts, was still the motive principle of him. I am
afraid he was a very vain man; hungry for the praises of men. You remember
Genlis's experience of him. She took Jean Jacques to the Theatre; he
bargaining for a strict incognito,--"He would not be seen there for the
world!" The curtain did happen nevertheless to be drawn aside: the Pit
recognized Jean Jacques, but took no great notice of him! He expressed the
bitterest indignation; gloomed all evening, spake no other than surly
words. The glib Countess remained entirely convinced that his anger was
not at being seen, but at not being applauded when seen. How the whole
nature of the man is poisoned; nothing but suspicion, self-isolation,
fierce moody ways! He could not live with anybody. A man of some rank
from the country, who visited him often, and used to sit with him,
expressing all reverence and affection for him, comes one day; finds Jean
Jacques full of the sourest unintelligible humor. "Monsieur," said Jean
Jacques, with flaming eyes, "I know why you come here. You come to see
what a poor life I lead; how little is in my poor pot that is boiling
there. Well, look into the pot! There is half a pound of meat, one carrot
and three onions; that is all: go and tell the whole world that, if you
like, Monsieur!"--A man of this sort was far gone. The whole world got
itself supplied with anecdotes, for light laughter, for a certain
theatrical interest, from these perversions and contortions of poor Jean
Jacques. Alas, to him they were not laughing or theatrical; too real to
him! The contortions of a dying gladiator: the crowded amphitheatre looks
on with entertainment; but the gladiator is in agonies and dying.

And yet this Rousseau, as we say, with his passionate appeals to Mothers,
with his _contrat-social_, with his celebrations of Nature, even of savage
life in Nature, did once more touch upon Reality, struggle towards Reality;
was doing the function of a Prophet to his Time. As he could, and as the
Time could! Strangely through all that defacement, degradation and almost
madness, there is in the inmost heart of poor Rousseau a spark of real
heavenly fire. Once more, out of the element of that withered mocking
Philosophism, Scepticism and Persiflage, there has arisen in this man the
ineradicable feeling and knowledge that this Life of ours is true: not a
Scepticism, Theorem, or Persiflage, but a Fact, an awful Reality. Nature
had made that revelation to him; had ordered him to speak it out. He got
it spoken out; if not well and clearly, then ill and dimly,--as clearly as
he could. Nay what are all errors and perversities of his, even those
stealings of ribbons, aimless confused miseries and vagabondisms, if we
will interpret them kindly, but the blinkard dazzlement and staggerings to
and fro of a man sent on an errand he is too weak for, by a path he cannot
yet find? Men are led by strange ways. One should have tolerance for a
man, hope of him; leave him to try yet what he will do. While life lasts,
hope lasts for every man.

Of Rousseau's literary talents, greatly celebrated still among his
countrymen, I do not say much. His Books, like himself, are what I call
unhealthy; not the good sort of Books. There is a sensuality in Rousseau.
Combined with such an intellectual gift as his, it makes pictures of a
certain gorgeous attractiveness: but they are not genuinely poetical. Not
white sunlight: something _operatic_; a kind of rose-pink, artificial
bedizenment. It is frequent, or rather it is universal, among the French
since his time. Madame de Stael has something of it; St. Pierre; and down
onwards to the present astonishing convulsionary "Literature of
Desperation," it is everywhere abundant. That same _rose-pink_ is not the
right hue. Look at a Shakspeare, at a Goethe, even at a Walter Scott! He
who has once seen into this, has seen the difference of the True from the
Sham-True, and will discriminate them ever afterwards.

We had to observe in Johnson how much good a Prophet, under all
disadvantages and disorganizations, can accomplish for the world. In
Rousseau we are called to look rather at the fearful amount of evil which,
under such disorganization, may accompany the good. Historically it is a
most pregnant spectacle, that of Rousseau. Banished into Paris garrets, in
the gloomy company of his own Thoughts and Necessities there; driven from
post to pillar; fretted, exasperated till the heart of him went mad, he had
grown to feel deeply that the world was not his friend nor the world's law.
It was expedient, if any way possible, that such a man should _not_ have
been set in flat hostility with the world. He could be cooped into
garrets, laughed at as a maniac, left to starve like a wild beast in his
cage;--but he could not be hindered from setting the world on fire. The
French Revolution found its Evangelist in Rousseau. His semi-delirious
speculations on the miseries of civilized life, the preferability of the
savage to the civilized, and such like, helped well to produce a whole
delirium in France generally. True, you may well ask, What could the
world, the governors of the world, do with such a man? Difficult to say
what the governors of the world could do with him! What he could do with
them is unhappily clear enough,--_guillotine_ a great many of them! Enough
now of Rousseau.

It was a curious phenomenon, in the withered, unbelieving second-hand
Eighteenth Century, that of a Hero starting up, among the artificial
pasteboard figures and productions, in the guise of a Robert Burns. Like a
little well in the rocky desert places,--like a sudden splendor of Heaven
in the artificial Vauxhall! People knew not what to make of it. They took
it for a piece of the Vauxhall fire-work; alas, it _let_ itself be so
taken, though struggling half-blindly, as in bitterness of death, against
that! Perhaps no man had such a false reception from his fellow-men. Once
more a very wasteful life-drama was enacted under the sun.

The tragedy of Burns's life is known to all of you. Surely we may say, if
discrepancy between place held and place merited constitute perverseness of
lot for a man, no lot could be more perverse then Burns's. Among those
second-hand acting-figures, _mimes_ for most part, of the Eighteenth
Century, once more a giant Original Man; one of those men who reach down to
the perennial Deeps, who take rank with the Heroic among men: and he was
born in a poor Ayrshire hut. The largest soul of all the British lands
came among us in the shape of a hard-handed Scottish Peasant.

His Father, a poor toiling man, tried various things; did not succeed in
any; was involved in continual difficulties. The Steward, Factor as the
Scotch call him, used to send letters and threatenings, Burns says, "which
threw us all into tears." The brave, hard-toiling, hard-suffering Father,
his brave heroine of a wife; and those children, of whom Robert was one!
In this Earth, so wide otherwise, no shelter for _them_. The letters
"threw us all into tears:" figure it. The brave Father, I say always;--a
_silent_ Hero and Poet; without whom the son had never been a speaking one!
Burns's Schoolmaster came afterwards to London, learnt what good society
was; but declares that in no meeting of men did he ever enjoy better
discourse than at the hearth of this peasant. And his poor "seven acres of
nursery-ground,"--not that, nor the miserable patch of clay-farm, nor
anything he tried to get a living by, would prosper with him; he had a sore
unequal battle all his days. But he stood to it valiantly; a wise,
faithful, unconquerable man;--swallowing down how many sore sufferings
daily into silence; fighting like an unseen Hero,--nobody publishing
newspaper paragraphs about his nobleness; voting pieces of plate to him!
However, he was not lost; nothing is lost. Robert is there the outcome of
him,--and indeed of many generations of such as him.

This Burns appeared under every disadvantage: uninstructed, poor, born
only to hard manual toil; and writing, when it came to that, in a rustic
special dialect, known only to a small province of the country he lived in.
Had he written, even what he did write, in the general language of England,
I doubt not he had already become universally recognized as being, or
capable to be, one of our greatest men. That he should have tempted so
many to penetrate through the rough husk of that dialect of his, is proof
that there lay something far from common within it. He has gained a
certain recognition, and is continuing to do so over all quarters of our
wide Saxon world: wheresoever a Saxon dialect is spoken, it begins to be
understood, by personal inspection of this and the other, that one of the
most considerable Saxon men of the Eighteenth Century was an Ayrshire
Peasant named Robert Burns. Yes, I will say, here too was a piece of the
right Saxon stuff: strong as the Harz-rock, rooted in the depths of the
world;--rock, yet with wells of living softness in it! A wild impetuous
whirlwind of passion and faculty slumbered quiet there; such heavenly
_melody_ dwelling in the heart of it. A noble rough genuineness; homely,
rustic, honest; true simplicity of strength; with its lightning-fire, with
its soft dewy pity;--like the old Norse Thor, the Peasant-god!

Burns's Brother Gilbert, a man of much sense and worth, has told me that
Robert, in his young days, in spite of their hardship, was usually the
gayest of speech; a fellow of infinite frolic, laughter, sense and heart;
far pleasanter to hear there, stript cutting peats in the bog, or such
like, than he ever afterwards knew him. I can well believe it. This basis
of mirth ("_fond gaillard_," as old Marquis Mirabeau calls it), a primal
element of sunshine and joyfulness, coupled with his other deep and earnest
qualities, is one of the most attractive characteristics of Burns. A large
fund of Hope dwells in him; spite of his tragical history, he is not a
mourning man. He shakes his sorrows gallantly aside; bounds forth
victorious over them. It is as the lion shaking "dew-drops from his mane;"
as the swift-bounding horse, that _laughs_ at the shaking of the
spear.--But indeed, Hope, Mirth, of the sort like Burns's, are they not the
outcome properly of warm generous affection,--such as is the beginning of
all to every man?

You would think it strange if I called Burns the most gifted British soul
we had in all that century of his: and yet I believe the day is coming
when there will be little danger in saying so. His writings, all that he
_did_ under such obstructions, are only a poor fragment of him. Professor
Stewart remarked very justly, what indeed is true of all Poets good for
much, that his poetry was not any particular faculty; but the general
result of a naturally vigorous original mind expressing itself in that way.
Burns's gifts, expressed in conversation, are the theme of all that ever
heard him. All kinds of gifts: from the gracefulest utterances of
courtesy, to the highest fire of passionate speech; loud floods of mirth,
soft wailings of affection, laconic emphasis, clear piercing insight; all
was in him. Witty duchesses celebrate him as a man whose speech "led them
off their feet." This is beautiful: but still more beautiful that which
Mr. Lockhart has recorded, which I have more than once alluded to, How the
waiters and ostlers at inns would get out of bed, and come crowding to hear
this man speak! Waiters and ostlers:--they too were men, and here was a
man! I have heard much about his speech; but one of the best things I ever
heard of it was, last year, from a venerable gentleman long familiar with
him. That it was speech distinguished by always _having something in it_.
"He spoke rather little than much," this old man told me; "sat rather
silent in those early days, as in the company of persons above him; and
always when he did speak, it was to throw new light on the matter." I know
not why any one should ever speak otherwise!--But if we look at his general
force of soul, his healthy _robustness_ every way, the rugged
downrightness, penetration, generous valor and manfulness that was in
him,--where shall we readily find a better-gifted man?

Among the great men of the Eighteenth Century, I sometimes feel as if Burns
might be found to resemble Mirabeau more than any other. They differ
widely in vesture; yet look at them intrinsically. There is the same burly
thick-necked strength of body as of soul;--built, in both cases, on what
the old Marquis calls a _fond gaillard_. By nature, by course of breeding,
indeed by nation, Mirabeau has much more of bluster; a noisy, forward,
unresting man. But the characteristic of Mirabeau too is veracity and
sense, power of true _insight_, superiority of vision. The thing that he
says is worth remembering. It is a flash of insight into some object or
other: so do both these men speak. The same raging passions; capable too
in both of manifesting themselves as the tenderest noble affections. Wit;
wild laughter, energy, directness, sincerity: these were in both. The
types of the two men are not dissimilar. Burns too could have governed,
debated in National Assemblies; politicized, as few could. Alas, the
courage which had to exhibit itself in capture of smuggling schooners in
the Solway Frith; in keeping _silence_ over so much, where no good speech,
but only inarticulate rage was possible: this might have bellowed forth
Ushers de Breze and the like; and made itself visible to all men, in
managing of kingdoms, in ruling of great ever-memorable epochs! But they
said to him reprovingly, his Official Superiors said, and wrote: "You are
to work, not think." Of your _thinking-faculty_, the greatest in this
land, we have no need; you are to gauge beer there; for that only are you
wanted. Very notable;--and worth mentioning, though we know what is to be
said and answered! As if Thought, Power of Thinking, were not, at all
times, in all places and situations of the world, precisely the thing that
was wanted. The fatal man, is he not always the unthinking man, the man
who cannot think and _see_; but only grope, and hallucinate, and _mis_see
the nature of the thing he works with? He mis-sees it, mis_takes_ it as we
say; takes it for one thing, and it _is_ another thing,--and leaves him
standing like a Futility there! He is the fatal man; unutterably fatal,
put in the high places of men.--"Why complain of this?" say some:
"Strength is mournfully denied its arena; that was true from of old."
Doubtless; and the worse for the _arena_, answer I! _Complaining_ profits
little; stating of the truth may profit. That a Europe, with its French
Revolution just breaking out, finds no need of a Burns except for gauging
beer,--is a thing I, for one, cannot _rejoice_ at!--

Once more we have to say here, that the chief quality of Burns is the
_sincerity_ of him. So in his Poetry, so in his Life. The song he sings
is not of fantasticalities; it is of a thing felt, really there; the prime
merit of this, as of all in him, and of his Life generally, is truth. The
Life of Burns is what we may call a great tragic sincerity. A sort of
savage sincerity,--not cruel, far from that; but wild, wrestling naked with
the truth of things. In that sense, there is something of the savage in
all great men.

Hero-worship,--Odin, Burns? Well; these Men of Letters too were not
without a kind of Hero-worship: but what a strange condition has that got
into now! The waiters and ostlers of Scotch inns, prying about the door,
eager to catch any word that fell from Burns, were doing unconscious
reverence to the Heroic. Johnson had his Boswell for worshipper. Rousseau
had worshippers enough; princes calling on him in his mean garret; the
great, the beautiful doing reverence to the poor moon-struck man. For
himself a most portentous contradiction; the two ends of his life not to be
brought into harmony. He sits at the tables of grandees; and has to copy
music for his own living. He cannot even get his music copied: "By dint
of dining out," says he, "I run the risk of dying by starvation at home."
For his worshippers too a most questionable thing! If doing Hero-worship
well or badly be the test of vital well-being or ill-being to a generation,
can we say that _these_ generations are very first-rate?--And yet our
heroic Men of Letters do teach, govern, are kings, priests, or what you
like to call them; intrinsically there is no preventing it by any means
whatever. The world has to obey him who thinks and sees in the world. The
world can alter the manner of that; can either have it as blessed
continuous summer sunshine, or as unblessed black thunder and
tornado,--with unspeakable difference of profit for the world! The manner
of it is very alterable; the matter and fact of it is not alterable by any
power under the sky. Light; or, failing that, lightning: the world can
take its choice. Not whether we call an Odin god, prophet, priest, or what
we call him; but whether we believe the word he tells us: there it all
lies. If it be a true word, we shall have to believe it; believing it, we
shall have to do it. What _name_ or welcome we give him or it, is a point
that concerns ourselves mainly. _It_, the new Truth, new deeper revealing
of the Secret of this Universe, is verily of the nature of a message from
on high; and must and will have itself obeyed.--

My last remark is on that notablest phasis of Burns's history,--his visit
to Edinburgh. Often it seems to me as if his demeanor there were the
highest proof he gave of what a fund of worth and genuine manhood was in
him. If we think of it, few heavier burdens could be laid on the strength
of a man. So sudden; all common _Lionism_. which ruins innumerable men,
was as nothing to this. It is as if Napoleon had been made a King of, not
gradually, but at once from the Artillery Lieutenancy in the Regiment La
Fere. Burns, still only in his twenty-seventh year, is no longer even a
ploughman; he is flying to the West Indies to escape disgrace and a jail.
This month he is a ruined peasant, his wages seven pounds a year, and these
gone from him: next month he is in the blaze of rank and beauty, handing
down jewelled Duchesses to dinner; the cynosure of all eyes! Adversity is
sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there
are a hundred that will stand adversity. I admire much the way in which
Burns met all this. Perhaps no man one could point out, was ever so sorely
tried, and so little forgot himself. Tranquil, unastonished; not abashed,
not inflated, neither awkwardness nor affectation: he feels that _he_
there is the man Robert Burns; that the "rank is but the guinea-stamp;"
that the celebrity is but the candle-light, which will show _what_ man, not
in the least make him a better or other man! Alas, it may readily, unless
he look to it, make him a _worse_ man; a wretched inflated
wind-bag,--inflated till he _burst_, and become a _dead_ lion; for whom, as
some one has said, "there is no resurrection of the body;" worse than a
living dog!--Burns is admirable here.

And yet, alas, as I have observed elsewhere, these Lion-hunters were the
ruin and death of Burns. It was they that rendered it impossible for him
to live! They gathered round him in his Farm; hindered his industry; no
place was remote enough from them. He could not get his Lionism forgotten,
honestly as he was disposed to do so. He falls into discontents, into
miseries, faults; the world getting ever more desolate for him; health,
character, peace of mind, all gone;--solitary enough now. It is tragical
to think of! These men came but to _see_ him; it was out of no sympathy
with him, nor no hatred to him. They came to get a little amusement; they
got their amusement;--and the Hero's life went for it!

Richter says, in the Island of Sumatra there is a kind of "Light-chafers,"
large Fire-flies, which people stick upon spits, and illuminate the ways
with at night. Persons of condition can thus travel with a pleasant
radiance, which they much admire. Great honor to the Fire-flies! But--!

Thomas Carlyle

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