3 SEPTEMBER 1898, Page 19

EMERSON, AND OTHER ESSAYS.* EMERSON'S is a very great name

in what we may perhaps call the obscure school of letters. It would be quite as idle

• Emorson, and other Essays. By John Jay Chapman. London: David Nutt.

to ignore the substantial greatness of a school which includes a Browning and a Carlyle by the side of the American essayist as it is to deny that clearness of expression is a lofty merit, which adds high value to the charm of thought. Un- fortunately the world is so full of pretenders, who think that they establish a claim to distinction above their fellows by affecting the difficult, and posing to understand what has really no meaning for them, that nothing is at times so hard to measure as the true position, in art or letters, of the latest apostle of the indefinite. We wish to be understood as speaking, here, not of thought but of expression. Take for instance the case of Wagner, who, with all his poetry and power, may be called the high-priest of the difficult in music. Of his greatness there is no doubt, but there is so much in his large following of the fashion of the day, which is for- the eccentric before all things, that what his ultimate position may be it is still impossible to forecast. The future has not yet decided if the music of the future is really to replace the past, and if the tuneful qualities which were once the essence of the art are to be held secondary to others of quite another kind. The fact that Boito's Afefistofele, in many respects a finer work than much of his master's, and worthy of as deep a study, has entirely failed to win acceptance in England is a proof that, with us, fashion has a lamentable hold upon the most cultured followers of the later schools.

What tune was once in music, melody and clearness of expression were once in poetry and in the higher fields of prose. To be rugged and uncouth was held to be a vice, and one to be wrestled with and conquered by all who strove to attain the mastery. It is rather a recommendation now with the inner circle of judges, though with the multitude it is as much a stumbling-block as ever. Of course this opens up the further discussion, whether success with the multitude is in itself desirable, or if it is not rather the hall-mark of a commonplace inferiority. " Who pleases foolish readers must himself be a fool." If the general reader is after all quite such a fool as the superior junta think him is another question altogether. But he has the marked advantage of holding the verdict in his hands. If after the lapse of a. certain number of years he has confirmed the judgment of the somewhat self-elected few, he proves them to have been wise in prophecy and in advance of their time. The writer who has missed his mark in his lifetime may sometimes make it afterwards. But we doubt if the obscure in language can ever become clear through any change of fashion, or if what fails in clearness can ever become really successful or popular with those whom we shall venture to call the cultivated many. And to lack success is to lack use, after all is said. Not to be read, or not to be sung, will be to rust nnburnished, and to serve no end. But there is another class of people, and a very large class, who are fairly entitled to- consideration at our hands. They are those who are afraid to confess their own want of sympathy with certain advanced ideas, for fear of being set down as shallow by those to whom they have learned to look up. To them it is a misery to plead ignorance, and they suffer on in silence under what they de not understand. Many a time has the present writer won instant confidence by confessing his utter inability to grasp the meaning of some author much in vogue, some poet or novelist of the hour set high upon a pedestal for worship, and hearing the frank avowal of, "Oh, I'm so glad; I never can understand him, but I thought I must be quite stupid." It is like the multitude who adore French plays, though they can only read the language with a dictionary, and cannot follow it at all when spoken.

But if Mr. John Jay Chapman has selected the obscure writers for his subject of critical dissection, it cannot be said that in his case the experiment is not justified. He brings to bear on his task a rare store of critical perception and literary knowledge, while in his own style there is nothing to be found of the obscure or the inflated. Robert. Louis Stevenson he takes for one of his studies, apparently more for the purpose of contrast than anything else, as the point on which he mainly insists is the favourite essayist's lack of originality. There was no want of clearness about Stevenson, who was at infinite pains to acquire it, and by our- selves, at all events, is much honoured both for the labour and the result. But there is both truth and picturesqueness in the following description of a writer very difficult to describe :— " The reason why Stevenson represents a backward movement in literature, is that literature lives by the pouring into it of new words from speech, and new thoughts from life, and Stevenson used all his powers to exclude both from his work. He lived and wrote in the past. That this Scotch man should appear at the end of what has been a very great period of English literature, and summarise the whole of it in his two hours traffic on the stage gives him a strange place in the history of that literature. He is the Improvisatore, and nothing more. It is impossible to assign him rank in any line of writing. If you shut your eyes to try and place him, you find that you cannot do it. The effect he produces while we are reading him vanishes as we lay down the book, and we can recall nothing but a succession of flavours. It is not to to expected that posterity will take much interest in him, for his point and meaning are impressional He is ephemeral, a shadow, a reflection. He is the mistletoe of English literature, whose roots are not in the soil but in the tree."

It would not be easy, we think, to give in a few words a more vivid description of a man who was in one sense so original and in another so great a copyist. He was the prince of literary adapters, who took everything from somebody, but set his own mark upon it all. Nevertheless, if Emerson and Browning had thought it worth the trouble to learn how to say what they meant, they would have served no -less a purpose and occupied no smaller a place. But Mr. Chapman is an admirable expositor of Browning, none the less because he does not profess to admire where he cannot feel admiration, and is clearly convinced that Browning would have been all the better for expressing his strong thoughts en vigorous prose, instead of tearing poetry to pieces in the cause of his philosophic theology :—

"His language is the language of common speech ; his force the immediate force of life. His language makes no compromises of any sort. It is not subdued to form. The emphasis demanded by the sense is very often not the emphasis demanded by the -metre. He cuts off his words and forces them ruthlessly into lines as a giant might force his limbs into the armour of a .enortaL The joints and members of the speech fall in the wrong places, and have no relation to the joints and members of the metre."

It is by the one right of this force of language that the critic /claims for Browning the " superlative excellence " by which

" he may possibly fight his way down to posterity." For Mr. Chapman is slow to claim for him that he has fought it yet,

.high as his name stands at the present day, even allowing for all the mists of affected admiration through which such figures loom. The doubt in our own mind is whether any force of language will avail in the end to bear down obscurity

of expression. But at the same time we must not forget that there is a large part of Browning's work which is as lucid as it is harmonious.

The interesting part of Mr. Chapman's work is that he has

-something new to say about everything that he touches, and gives one to think " even where one is not disposed to agree. He can give happy expression to very happy thoughts, and

.summarize what we all know and feel in a phrase that brings it home, as when he talks of our passing through the " age of the distribution of knowledge." "All the books of the -older literatures are being abstracted and sown abroad in popular editions. Andrew Lang heads an army of organised workers who mine in the old literature, and coin it into booklets." Even on the absorbing topic of Shakespeare the

-essayist can find new points in his " Study of Romeo," though nothing quite so new as Mr. Buchanan's recent dis- covery that there is more beauty and poetry and humanity in Maeterlinck's last play than in all Romeo and Juliet put -together. Mr. Chapman's most interesting theory to us is that, whereas the contemporary high life depicted by Shake-

speare has disappeared, the lower characters survive because the lower types are more enduring. "No one of us has ever known a Mercutio. But England swarms with old women .like Juliet's nurse." Yet the more favoured criticism would probably be the other way,—that Mercutio is delightful and the Nurse a bore. There is no doubt that the popular taste, .real or imagined, has lately voted out the Shakespearian -clown, and reduced Dogberry and Launcelot to very small proportions. Bat we are inclined to agree with Mr. Chap- man, and to hold that the pits and galleries are by no means

of that opinion. Mr. H. A. Jones argued once that it is in spite of Titania and Oberon, and by right of Bottom and Quince, that the "Midsummer Night's Dream" dreams on.

Mr. Chapman's book is so tempting in its nature that we find ourselves nearly at the end of our space without having touched

.on Emerson, the most interesting and fullest part of it. Naturally so, because Mr. Chapman is an American, and his

views of America's position on the threshold of the world of letters is large, and strong, and true. It is because he writes so well from an American's point of view that his work has

so interested us; and we do not remember having seen Emerson's figure so clearly brought out before. His style has never tempted the English into making a popular man

of him, whereas the Americans were the first to introduce Browning to his meed of popularity. But there is no doubt of the extraordinary influence he exercised in America. Not Rossetti himself was more absolute in founder's rights. And there is a charm in reading him, from the oneness of thought which pervaded all his work, which Mr. Chapman has clearly seized and carefully insists on. Whether one agrees with it or no there is something fresh and strong in the present day in Emerson's vigorous and angry protest against the modern dragon-type of Democracy, which goes far to chain all individuality to Andromeda's rock

Leave this hypercritical prating about the masses. Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influ- encer, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them. The worst of charity is, that the lives you are asked to preserve are not worth preserving. Masses The calamity is the masses. I do not wish any man at all, but honest men only. Lovely, sweet, accom- plished women only, and no shovel-handed narrow-brained, gin. drinking million stockingers or lazzaroni at all. If Government knew how. I should like to see it check, not multiply, the popu- lation. When it reaches its true law of action, every man that is born will be hailed as essential. Away with this hurrah of masses, and let us have the considerate vote of single men spoken on their honour and their conscienco."

To draw individuals out of them. That is the keynote of Emerson's teaching, thrown into full relief by Mr. Chapman's method. A protest against the tyranny of democracy, and an example of elemental hero-worship, he stands out a more exceptional figure in the capital-land of democracy than he could anywhere else in the world. The making of the indi. vidual, the building up of the perfected man, and the absolute character of the individual will are the texts of a philosophy which in the first primitive outburst reads like a page from Plato's Republic, with its sweetly impossible population of honest men and lovely women. Recent developments have left the loveliness of women out. Scattered through Emer- son's writings are thoughts that are finely true. " Genius is always sufficiently the enemy of genius by over-influence. The literature of every nation bears me witness. The English dramatic poets have Shakespearised now for two hundred years." Mr. Chapman gives us a very attractive and vivid picture of Emerson as a lecturer, with Lowell's famous criticism, "that he began nowhere and ended everywhere, and yet, as always with that divine man, left you feeling that something beautiful had passed that way, like the rising and setting of stars." Great was the belief of Emerson that the Civil War was the making of the United States. Whatever else the war might bring, it would leave behind it heroes or villains, but in any case strong men. "Ab," he said when the firing began, "sometimes gunpowder smells good." Always an adherent of Abolition, he became one of its foremost preachers through his antagonism to Daniel Webster, which furnishes Mr.

Chapman with the most readable part of an admirable essay. Emerson's is a high place among the high thinkers of the world. The laws of space forbid our quoting further, bat leave us very cordially disposed towards our American critic, and anxious to invite the world of readers to make his acquaintance for themselves.