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manifests itself in them for spiritual progress and development, and such a longing for a clearer insight into the mysteries which shroud the ultimate aim and purpose of life, that they convey an idea of his character which can scarcely fail to be of a favourable nature. He appears so thoroughly in earnest in those “ Thoughts,” as he called them; so much more anxious to work out a problem which had long baffled him, than desirous of producing a poem which should please the public. And it is impossible to read them without feeling a kindly pity for their writer, as for one who could have found few to whom he could communicate such ideas with any hope of being understood, and still fewer whom he could expect to find rising of their own accord to such a level of thought. Here are very
literal translations of two of his more serious pieces. The one is called
My faith is as clear
flame of prayer.
“O'er the Cross, o'er the grave,
O’er the sky, o'er the earth,
“Forgive me, my Saviour,
The tear in my erring
The other is styled the
“ TWO LIVES.
" This world of ours contains two different lives :
The one shines brightly, splendid as the sun,
Its living strength finds utterance in free,
“ The other life is dark, and in its eyes
Reign night and sorrow; heavy is its sleep
As swift to vanish as a falling star.” By way of conclusion, a specimen may be given of the poems in which Koltsof has described the feelings to which a lost love gives rise. hey are among the most tender and graceful of his compositions, free from anything like pretence or conceit, and expressing in simple and unaffected language regrets that manifestly spring from the heart. In the following lines an attempt is made to give some idea of a sonnet entitled
“ FIRST LOVE.
So well, so tenderly-who filled
A heart which time has not yet stilled-
But all in vain. I strive and strive, and yet
Whate'er I do I never can forget.
She comes in dreams; once more I see her stand
My suffering soul in bliss; once more her hand
W. R. S. RALSTON.
IMMORALITY IN AUTHORSHIP.
If by morality in literature I imply merely the moral atmosphere to be inhaled from certain written thoughts of men and women, I would not be understood as publicly pinning my faith on any particular code of society, although such and such a code may form part of the standard of my private conduct :-as believing, for example, that a high moral tone is consistent only with the wearing of pantaloons, or that a fine moral halo may not surround a Hottentot Venus, full dressed in a yard of calico: as confounding the cardinal virtues with the maxims of a cardiphonia—"omnia dicta factaque,” as Petronius says, “quasi papavere et sesamo sparsa.” The conduct of life is to a great extent a private affair, about which people will never quite agree. But books are public property, and their effect is a public question. It seems at first sight very difficult to decide what books may be justly styled “immoral”—in other words, what books have a pernicious effect on readers fairly qualified to read them. Starting, however, agreed upon certain finalities—as is essential in every and any discussion-readers may come to a common understanding as to
— certain works. Two points of agreement with the reader are necessary to my present purpose; and these are, briefly stated :-(1) That no
1 book is to be judged immoral by any other rule than its effects upon the moral mind, and (2) that the moral mind, temporarily defined, is one consistent with a certain standard accepted or established by itself, and situated at a decent height above prejudice. Bigotry is not morality.
Morality in literature is, I think, far more intimately connected with the principle of sincerity of Vision, expounded by the editor of this Review, than any writer has yet had the courage to point out. Courage, indeed, is necessary, since there is no subject on which a writer is so liable to be misconceived. The subject, however, is not a difficult one, if we take sincerity of vision into consideration. Wherever there is insincerity in a book there can be no morality; and wherever there is morality, but without art, there is no literature.
Nothing, we all know, is more common than clever writing; very clever writing, in fact, is the vice of contemporary literature. Everywhere is brilliance not generally known to be Brummagem; pasteboard marvels that glimmer like jewels down Mr. Mudie’s list. Genuine works of Art, however, are very rare; or if I write works of Heart, instead of Art, I shall express their general character as well, and lead more directly to the point on which I wish to dwell. It is so easy to get up a kaleidoscope : a few bits of stained glass, bright
enough to catch the eye, and well contrasted, are the chief ingredients. It is so difficult to find a truth to utter; and then, when the truth is found, how hard it is to utter it beautifully! That is only a portion of the labour besetting an earnest writer. Directly he has caught his truth, and feels competent to undertake the noble task of beautifying it, he has to ask his conscience if there be not in society some deeper truth against which the new utterance may offend; and hence arise the personal demands—“Have I a right to say these things? Do I believe in them with all my faculties of belief? Is my heart in them, and am I sure that I understand them clearly ?” The moral mind must answer. If that replies in the affirmative, the minor question, of whether the truth will be palatable to society, is of no consequence. Let the words be uttered at all hazards, at all losses, and the gods will take care of the rest. It may be remarked, that what the writer believed to be a truth is in all possibility a falsehood, immoral and dangerous. The reply is, that Nature in her wondrous wisdom for little things, regulates the immorality and the danger by a plan of her own, so delicate, so beautiful, as to have become part of the spirit of Art itself. A writer, for example, may believe with all his might that the legalisation of prostitution would be productive of good. He will do no harm by uttering his belief, founded as it is in his finest faculties, if he has weighed the matter thoroughly; and his book, though it may offend scores of respectable people, will be a moral book. If, on the other hand, the writer be lasty, insincere, writing under inadequate motives, he will be certain to betray himself, and every page of his book will offend against morality. For the conditions of expression are so occult, that no man can write immorally without being detected and exposed by the wise. His insincerity of vision in matters of conduct will betray itself in a hundred ways; for whatever be his mental calibre, we are in no danger of misconceiving the temper of his understanding. This fact, which connects the author's morality with the sincerity of his vision, is at once the cultivated reader's salvation against immoral effects from immoral books. What does not affect us as literature cannot affect our moral sensitiveness, and can therefore do no harm. So distinctly does Nature work, indeed, that what is one writer's immorality, is the morality of another writer ; so delicately does she work, that what shocks us in one book, plays lightly through the meaning of another, and gives us pleasure. An immoral subject, treated insincerely, leaves an immoral effect on those natures weak cnough to be influenced by it at all. The same subject, treated with the power of genius and the delicacy of art, delights and exalts us ; in the pure white light of the author's sincerity, and the delicate tints of literary loveliness, the immoral point just shows distinctly enough to impress purely, without paining. All deep lovers of art must
have felt this in the “Cenci.” A moral idea, on the other hand—that is to say, an idea generally recognised as connected with moralitydisgusts us, if it be treated insincerely. Every nerve of the reader is jarred; there is no pleasure, no exaltation of the spirit or intellect; and the moral sense feels numbed and blunted proportionally.
The mere physical passion of man for woman is a case in point. The description of this passion in coarse hands is abominable ; yet how many poems are alive with it, and with it alone! The early poems of Alfred de Musset are immoral and unreal, and consequently displeasing ; some of the songs of Beranger are flooded with sensuality, yet, just because they are sincere, they do not impress us sensually. In Burns and Beranger, even in some of their coarsest moments, the physical passion is so real, that it brings at once before us the presence of the Man, and looking on him, we feel a thrill of finer human sympathy, in which the passion he is expressing cannot
In the insincere writer, the passion is a gross thing; in the sincere writer, it becomes part of the life and colour of a human being. Thus finely does Nature prevent mere immorality from affecting the moral mind at all; while in dealing with men of real genius, she makes the immoral sentiment, saturated with poetry, breathe a fine aroma which stirs the heart not unpleasantly, and rapidly purifies itself as it mounts up to the brain.
Certain books of great worth are of course highly injurious to minds unqualified to read them. Out of Boccaccio, whom our Chaucer loved, and from whose writings our Keats drew a comb of purest honey, many young men get nothing but evil. He who has gained no standard of his own, or whose ideas of life are base and brutal, had better content himself with Messrs. Chambers' expurgated Shakspeare, and the good books let out of the local library. But a true lover of books, though he be not a mere student, may pass with clean feet through any path of literature, as safe in the gloomy region of Roman satire, as in the bright land of Una and the milk-white Lamb; he knows well that what is really shocking will not attract him, because it is sure to be shockingly, i.e. inartistically, uttered. He feels that what is not abominable, but somewhat removed from his own ideas of decency, will affect him merely in proportion to the sincerity and delicacy of the revelation, and cannot hurt him, because it is subdued or kept at a distance by the mental emotion which the sincerity and delicacy have imparted. It will not disconcert him, but make him love his own standard all the better. It is, in fact, only on account of sensualists and fools that one now and then wishes to throw some of his best books in the fire. If poor Boccaccio could only hear what Smith and Brown say about him! If La Fontaine only knew the moral indignation of Gigadibs! The list of so-called immoral books is very numerous.