Hesperian student / (Lincoln [Neb.]) 1872-1885, December 01, 1885, Page 4, Image 4

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ness; who has a vivid consciousness of those propensities which
tend to enervate, has little patience with that literature
which is pervaded with the very thing he has
striven to eradicate from himself. He who has just em
erged from a state of morbid scntimcntalism, and is seeking
a more healthy vigorous life, does not care to put himself un
der the influence of Rosseau and his followers, excellent in
some respects though their writings arc, yet tinged with an
unmanly spirit, tending to weaker resolution and self restraint.
The same is true of Heine, in spite of the exquisite melody of
his lyrics and the poignant wit of his "Pictures of Travel".
One who reads them pays for it at the cost of his peace of
mind. They are the product of the man who found the world
and its conflicts too much for him and the notes he sounds
most frequently are those of sorrow and despair.
We do not pretend to say that literature should be a mor
al code, containing only set rules and regulations. On the
contrary all preaching should be kept out of it We only ask
that it be filled with vigorous, healthy life, and only indirectly
teach just as every strong man, sound and whole, in whatever
business he may be, is a force for good though he says not a
We do not object to poetry that deals with nature or
sentiment; but let it be done in a healthy manner not in a pul
ing, languishing way. The real genuine spirit of nature is re
freshing and invigorating. But we protest against that sickly
fartificial representation by one who has forsworn the world
on account of wounded egotism or weak sensitiveness' and
seeks sympathy from her in his moods of weariness and des
pondency. Nature is not a vast sepulchre of blasted hopes.
It is an imposition to represent her as gloomy and melancholy.
That condition exists not in her, but in the diseased imagi
nation of the would-be interpreter. It is hardly fair to take
advantage of the impersonality of nature and make her, like
the chameleon, take on the color of whatever she comes in
contact with.
Carlyle expresses the idea somewhere in his essays that lit
erary creation is no separate faculty but the combination of
the natural powers. It is only by being more of a man that
one is able to write well. The picture of Hell and its horrors
in the Divine Comedy was conceived by a man who vividly
saw and felt what he expressed. It was a living reality
to Dante. The dark passions, the crimes, and all the brood of
Sin he saw in his intense, active existence, furnished him ma
terial which he concretized in his description of the inferna
regions. He did not obtain it from some secret place known
only to him. He simply had what is always present to every
one, man and nature. What distinguishes Dante from the
ordinary individual is impressionability; which means that he
is original not in kind but in degree. Dante is gifted with a
keener vision; he sees what we do, only more vividly and
comprehensively. Any view which does not recognize the
literary man as a larger type, as having power and weight in
some way at least, must be false. We do not'worship dwarfs;
we want no what is less, but more than ourselves. He who
would command attention must have something behind his
We do not want thin ideas and copious verbage. Weak
thought is not less out of place in literature than the "Fisher
man's Hornpipe" as a musical basis for a symphony. Power
there must be if it takes hold of men. We do not mean stor
my violence. It is not necessary to speak with a shout.
The test is in the energy of the thought.
But whatever literature may seem to critics, the people will
hardly care for more than the simple definition Wordsworth
gaveto poetry, that which makes us wuer, better or happier.
We who have not time to refine on the subtle niceties of
literary theories arc satisfied with the effect. A hungry man
having fasted for several hours does not care for a lengthy
treatise on roast beef and its nutritious value; he wants the
article itself. So as regards literature, we read it because it
answers our needs and wants. What these wants are, deter
mines our choice.
But the judgement of men in general we think, would fav
or the so-called moral standard, that literature is not merely
exquisite word-painting, but is the concrete expression of the
life cfcamest'thoughtfhl men who have trod the same paths
that we have, but having keener, stronger vision, discover
more than we. They write our history on a larger scale, as
what were possibilities to us, arc realities to them.
Perhaps this is a narrow view. It may be that literature
should only attract us as a sunset or an Alpine scene. But
there are some who do not care to forever gaze. They want
something more tangible, something that bears more directly
on the part they are playing in actual life. They arc keenly
ntcrestcd to know the experience of others who have passed
on the same road. Their sympathies draw them to seek
what is allied to them, not foreign.
What this intellectual sympathy demands, is life, a picture
of its realities so strongly and harmoniously painted that it
seems one with nature. This explains the power of the novel;
why Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" stinck a more telling
blow against slavery than a store-house of sermons and mor
al dissertations. Not the fact but the impression conveyed is
most important.
Of course we do not mean to say that form is of no conse
quence. Form is necessary but it is not all, nor the most
important part. We have something more to do than contem
plate pictures. That might be possible if we were living in
the fabled golden age, but at present we have an age of hard
er material.
But it is not best for any critic to say "I am the way through
which all must pass who would comprehend literature." For
it is possible that he may have mistaken his dimensions; that
humanity is too wide to be compressed within the narrow
space of his personality. Building partitions is uncertain
work unless one has a very clear conception of the size
of what is to be confined in them. This is not always
possible to finite man, as is demonstrated by the wholesale
distraction of standaids, literary, philosophical, political and
Perhaps it is wiser for a man not to insist on all viewing the
universe through the same key-hole that he does. It often
occasions trouble. Truth is too universal to admit of such
The field of literature is broad. The horizon of every one
does not extend to its limits. But it matters little whether we
succeed in expressing its function in a precise formula or not.
Air is just as life-giving, defined or undefined, and so is lit
erature. There are some things that do not depend on anal
ysis for their worth. It would be as well, perhaps, to desist
from applying the hammer and crowbar method to literature
in the vain endeavor to nail it down securely. The labor of
such critics is valueless to them, painful to us.
That funny little apparatus over in the Lab., described by
a Sophomore as a new fangled corn sheller, turns out to be a
water metre. The city water is to be paid for by the drink,
so to speak. The name of the measuring machine suggests
the possibility of a variation in Churchill's favorite pun. Pity
that Edward is not here in person to strike a new chord on
the old thing. r 1