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ART AND DECADENCE
E DON'T want either the life or the decorations of the thir.
teenth century back again; and the circumstances with
which you must surround your workmen are those simply of happy modern English life, because the designs you have now to ask for from your workmen are such as will make modern English life beautiful. All that gorgeousness of the Middle Ages, beautiful as it sounds in description, noble as in many respects it was in reality, had, nevertheless, for foundation and for end, nothing but the pride of life — the pride of the so-called superior classes; a pride which supported itself by violence and robbery, and led in the end to the destruction both of the arts themselves and the States in which they flourished.
The great lesson of history is, that all the fine arts hitherto having been supported by the selfish power of the nobless, and never having extended their range to the comfort or the relief of the mass of the people - the arts, I say, thus practiced, and thus matured, have only accelerated the ruin of the States they adorned; and at the moment when, in any kingdom, you point to the triumphs of its greatest artists, you point also to the determined hour of the kingdom's decline.
HAT which we foolishly call vastness is, rightly considered, not
more wonderful, not more impressive, than that which we
insolently call littleness, and the infinity of God is not mysterious, it is only unfathomable, not concealed, but incomprehensible; it is a clear infinity, the darkness of the pure unsearchable sea.
The Society OF NATURE
10 THE mediæval knight, from Scottish moor to Syrian sand,
the world was one great exercise ground, or field of ad
venture; the stanch pacing of his charger penetrated the pathlessness of outmost forest, and sustained the sultriness of the most secret desert. Frequently alone, - or if accompanied, for the most part only by retainers of lower rank, incapable of entering into complete sympathy with any of his thoughts,he must have been compelled often to enter into dim companionship with the silent nature around him, and must assuredly sometimes have talked to the wayside flowers of his love, and to the fading clouds of his ambition.
ALL CARVING AND NO MEAT
HE divisions of a church are much like the divisions of a ser
mon; they are always right so long as they are necessary
to edification, and always wrong when they are thrust upon the attention as divisions only. There may be neatness in carving when there is richness in feasting; but I have heard many a discourse, and seen many a church wall, in which it was all cary. ing and no meat.
HE simple fact, that we are, in some strange way, different
from all the great races that have existed before us, cannot
at once be received as the proof of our own greatness; nor can it be granted, without any question, that we have a legitimate subject of complacency in being under the influence of feelings, with which neither Miltiades nor the Black Prince, neither Homer nor Dante, neither Socrates nor St. Francis, could for an instant have sympathized.
Whether, however, this fact be one to excite our pride or not, it is assuredly one to excite our deepest interest. The fact itself is certain. For nearly six thousand years the energies of man have pursued certain beaten paths, manifesting some constancy of feeling throughout all that period, and involving some fellowship at heart, among the various nations who by turns succeeded or surpassed each other in the several aims of art or policy. So that, for these thousands of years, the whole human race might be to some extent described in general terms. Man was a creature separated from all others by his instinctive sense of an Existence superior to his own, invariably manifesting this sense of the being of a God more strongly in proportion to his own perfectness of mind and body; and making enormous and self-denying efforts, in order to obtain some persuasion of the immediate presence or approval of the Divinity.
THE CORONATION OF THE WHIRLWIND
uch of the love of mystery in our romances, our poetry, our
art, and, above all, in our metaphysics, must come under
that definition so long ago given by the great Greek, speaking ingeniously concerning smoke.” And much of the instinct, which, partially developed in painting, may be now seen throughout every mode of exertion of mind,- the easily encouraged doubt, easily excited curiosity, habitual agitation, and delight in the changing and the marvelous, as opposed to the old quiet serenity of social custom and religious faith, is again deeply defined in those few words, the “dethroning of Jupiter," the coronation of the whirlwind.”
SACRIFICES THAT MAKE ASHAMED
HE vain and haughty projects of youth for future life; the giddy
reveries of insatiable self-exaltation; the discontented dreams
of what might have been or should be, instead of the thankful understanding of what is; the casting about for sources of interest in senseless fiction, instead of the real human histories of the people round us; the prolongation from age to age of romantic historical deceptions instead of sifted truth; the pleasures taken in fanciful portraits of rural or romantic life in poetry and on the stage, without the smallest effort to rescue the living rural population of the world from its ignorance or misery; the excitement of the feelings by labored imagination of spirits, fairies, monsters, and demons, issuing in total blindness of heart and sight to the true presences of beneficent or destructive spiritual powers around us; in fine, the constant abandonment of all the straightforward paths of sense and duty, for fear of losing some of the enticement of ghostly joys, or trampling somewhat "sopra lor vanità, che par persona”; all these various forms of false idealism have so entangled the modern mind, often called, I suppose ironically, practical, that truly I believe there never yet was idolatry of stock or staff so utterly unholy as this our idolatry of shadows; nor can I think that, of those who burnt incense under oaks, and poplars, and elms, because the shadow thereof was good,” it could in any wise be more justly or sternly declared than of us — «The wind hath bound them up in her wing, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.”
OPPRESSION UNDER THE SUN
cannot but have noticed how often in those parts of the Bible which are likely to be oftenest opened when people
look for guidance, comfort, or help in the affairs of daily life, namely, the Psalms and Proverbs, mention is made of the guilt attaching to the Oppression of the poor. Observe: not the neglect of them, but the Oppression of them; the word is as frequent as it is strange. You can hardly open either of those books, but somewhere in their pages you will find a description of the wicked man's attempts against the poor, such as, “He doth ravish the poor when he getteth him into his net.”
« His mouth is full of deceit and fraud; in the secret places doth he murder the innocent.
« They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression.”
« Their poison is like the poison of a serpent. Ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.”
Yes: "Ye weigh the violence of your hands”; weigh these words as well. The last things we usually think of weighing are Bible words. We like to dream and dispute over them, but to weigh them and see what their true contents are — anything but that! Yet weigh them; for I have purposely taken these verses, perhaps more strikingly to you read in this connection, than separately in their places out of the Psalms, because, for all people belonging to the Established Church of this country these Psalms are appointed lessons, portioned out to them by their clergy to be read once through every month. Presumably, therefore, whatever portions of Scripture we may pass by or forget, these, at all events, must be brought continually to our obseryance as useful for the direction of daily life. Now, do we ever ask ourselves what the real meaning of these passages may be, and who these wicked people are, who are “murdering the innocent”? You know it is rather singular language this! - rather strong language, we might, perhaps, call it - hearing it for the first time. Murder! and murder of innocent people! — nay, even a sort of cannibalism. Eating people, - yes, and God's people, too - eating my people as if they were bread! swords drawn, bows bent, poison of serpents mixed! violence of hands weighed, measured, and trafficked with as so much coin! where is all this going on ? Do you suppose it was only going on in the time of David, and that nobody but Jews ever murder the poor? If so, it would surely be wiser not to mutter and mumble for our daily lessons what does not concern us; but if there be any chance that it may concern us, and if this description, in the Psalms, of human guilt is at all generally applicable, as the descriptions in the Psalms of human sorrow are, may it not be advisable to know wherein this guilt is being committed round about us, or by ourselves ? And when we take the words of the Bible into our mouths in a congregational way, to be sure whether we mean sincerely to chant a piece of melodious poetry relating to other people (we know not exactly whom) - or to assert our belief in facts bearing somewhat astringently on ourselves and our daily business. And if you make up your minds to do this no longer, and take pains to examine into the matter, you will find that these strange words, occurring as they do, not in a few places only, but almost in every alternate Psalm, and every alternate chapter of Proverbs or Prophecy, with tremendous reiteration, were not written for one nation or one time only, but for all nations and languages, for all places and all centuries; and it is as true of the wicked man now as ever it was of Nabal or Dives, that his eyes are set against the poor.”
TO MERCHANT deserving the name ought to be more liable to a
“panic” than a soldier should; for his name should
be on more paper than he could at any instant meet the call of, happen what will. I do not say this without feeling at the same time how difficult it is to mark, in existing commerce, the just limits between the spirit of enterprise and of speculation. Something of the same temper which makes the English soldier do aiways all that is possible, and attempt more than is possible, joins its influence with that of mere avarice in tempting the