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About Hesperian student / (Lincoln [Neb.]) 1872-1885 | View Entire Issue (Nov. 17, 1885)
foolish practice. Luther and Savonarola were so unfortunate
as to spend their whole lives in this kind of foolishness. Hut
then they did not have the advantage of the lofty standard of
our acsthctical critics. What the effect of their gross ignor
ance has been wc can not tell, not knowing how much better
men would have been if they had preached the gospel of non
One of our exchanges evolves the following generalization.
"There is one lesson in life wc should learn. It is siir.ply this;
to ascertain how little wc know, and how much there is to
learn." Such mental acumen is exceedingly rare. It re
minds us of the truism of a certain old lady who said she no
ticed that if she did not die in February, she did not die in any
other month of the year. (This story is purloined from an in
surance agent.) These two examples show how much there
is still undiscovered in the world; that there are truths all
around us unknown until some sagacious mind points them
Wc sincerely thank our contemporary for the light he has
thrown on the complex subjects of life and knowledge.. To
be sure his judgement may seem paradoxical to some, but wc
arc confident that the advanced thinkers of the age will com
prehend and endorse It. Edwin Whipple says "the passage
0f a paradox into a truism is attended with numberless com
motions." We shall wait with some anxiety the revolution
inevitably to be effected by this profound utterance. Wc
hope to sec the passage effected without blood and carnage,
but wc arc prepared for the worst.
The plea for the natural in literature might be pushed too
far. There are many things one docs not care to hear ex
pressed, although they are met with frequently. The back
yard of a hotel full of old tin cans, staves of buckets, rusty
hoops, old battered boilers, broken plates, old knives and
pieces ol chairs is certainly a phenomenon too common to es
cape notice; yet I do not know that we care to be presented
with too searching and realistic a picture of it. A scraggy
wild plum tree, covcrcdwith "black knot," crooked, unshape
ly, With limbs bent into every conceivable angle, resembling
the contortions of "St. Vitus Dance" transfixed, is a product
of nature seen on banks of Nebraska creeks. A minute des
caption of this might not be as agreeable as an Italian sun
set. In fact there are many things which one can be truthful
in painting not calculated to please or elevate.
The theory of presenting things as "they are" ought to be
subject to some restrictions. Surely there are products of
nature best passed over in silence, than recorded. All the
hideous unsightly spectacles shocking to the senses and feel
ings need not be dwelt upon too extensively.
I suppose the primal object of literature is to instruct, not
in a narrow, exclusive, moral sense, but in some way answer
the need of man's many-sided nature. It is hardly sufficient
then that it merely presents a truth, but a beneficial truth, one
that strengthens, refines or elevates. Men of letters are
larger fuller types of humanity, hence, in a general sense
It is possible that literature might be too realistic, too
truthful in some directions. A writer must follow nature, but
in passing over its sloughs ought to be careful not to fall in
The moral poets and writers arc most universally read. For
conduct, as Mathew Arnold says is "three fourths of life," and
men rate it accordingly. The literature weighted with serious
earnest thought is most profitable. The ethical is a more
important element than the aesthetic. Pretty sayings do not
satisfy; there must be something more. Men can not live on
airy, graceful thoughts; character-growth needs stronger food.
A little realism is an excellent thing to have in ones na
ture and make up. It saves him from a great many imagin
ary sorrows and troubles. If he thinks he is not going to sur
vive some calamity, it tells him in disenchanting terms that in a
few months his grief will fade away and he will be pursuing
his usual prosaic duties again. This cold fact glaring at him
with such painful exactness makes him question whether' he
really feels as bad as he thinks he docs now. Such an inquiry
startles him, makes him wonder if his most powerful feelings
arc not based on illusion.
This grim, realistic specter stalking up constantly behind a
man ironically saying what is the use of entertaining hope,
fear, affection, ideals and sentiment, for tomorrow they may
be destroyed and yet you will goon living just the same, is
not the most cheerful companion. Hut it is useful in showing
up many falsities, so wc will give it credit for what it docs.
The Actual always has been a disagreeable thing to con
tend with. Poets have assaulted it, reviled it, and heaped
all manner of abuse upon it. Still it keeps its grip upon us,
is always attendant.
The best that wc can do is to decorate it, make it appear
presentable, as farmers do old sheds by training ivy over them.
Philosophers say that wc can learn to like anything, and pos
sibly this is true of Actualism.
It is really disheartening to discover in the study or litera
ture what a vast army of writers have sunk into obscurity who
were once famous. It has a tendency to dampen the ardor of
the young upstart who wishes to dazzle posterity with his
brilliancy when he sees such a multitude whose names were
"writ in water."
Yet the work ol these men is not in vain. They helped to
raise the standard ofliteraturc although it did not reach its
highest mark in them, but in others. A lamp still has its
value even if the electric light is more powerful. For the
lamp one can carry into corners and odd places where the
other would not reach. So these ephemeral writers were use
Ail in carrying culture into places which otherwise would be
All genuine lovers of literature, if they do not contribute
anything to it, help swell the current, though that current in
the next age may not bear their names.
We quote a few sentences from Percy Greg on Longfellow.
They are taken from his "American Poets and Poetry" in the
British Quarterly Revieiu.
"Why do we feel compunction in hinting that Longfellow has
been ranked above his merit; that save in a few of his
best lyrics, he never approached the passion of Hyron, the
deep and true thought of Tennyson, the vigor, ease, and real
ity of Scott; that he is the poet of women nnd girls rather than
men, sentimental rather than strong, pretty, oftener than pow
erful; that the Golden Legend is childish, Hiawatha at once
prosaic and grotesque, and Evangeline, pretty, pathetic, poetic
as it is, at least thrice too long: Why are we so loth to hint,
so sorry to believe fifty years hence he will be no better read
than Southcy?" After explaining that it is merely because
we like the man that we refrain from such criticism, he goes
"Long passages in Evangeline read as mere prose, distorted
by the necessity of an artificial construction. '
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