Think what Wordsworth means to the spiritual thought of the modern world. In his own day he was one of the most lonely and laughed at of poets, moping among his lakes and mountains and shepherds. Yet, as Matthew Arnold said, “we are all Wordsworthians nowadays,” and the religion of nature that he found there for himself in his solitude bids fair to be the final religion of the modern world.
It is the same with every other great name one can think of, be it Bunyan or Heine, Schopenhauer or Izaak Walton. One has but to cast one’s eyes over one’s shelves to realize, as we see the familiar names, how literally the books that bear them are living men, merely transmigrated from their fleshly forms into the printed word. Shakespeare and Milton, yes, even Pope; Johnson, Fielding, Sterne, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Carlyle, Dumas, Balzac, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Poe—their very faces seem to look out at us from the bindings, such vividly human beings were they, with a vision of the world, or a definition of character, so much their own and no one else’s. One might almost call them patented human beings—patentees of spiritual discoveries, or of aspects of humanity, whose patents can never be infringed for all our cleverness.
Said Tennyson, in bitter answer to criticism that began to depreciate him because of the glibness of his imitators:
can grow the flower now,
For all have got the seed.
And certainly, as I have already said, the art of literary impersonation is carried to a pitch today that almost amounts to genius. Yet you have only to compare the real flower with the imitation, and you will soon understand the difference.
Take Walter Scott. It is a commonplace to say how much better we do the historical novel nowadays than he did. At first sight, we may seem to; in certain particulars, no doubt we do; but read him again, read Rob Roy or Quentin Durward again, and you will not be quite so sure. You will realize what an immortal difference there is, after all, between the pen with a man behind it, and the most brilliant literary machine.
Yes, “the mob of gentlemen that write with ease” is once more with us, but no real book was ever yet written with ease, and no book has ever survived, or ever can, in which we do not feel the presence of the fighting, dreaming, or merely enjoying soul of a man.
BULLS IN CHINA-SHOPS
There are some people of great value and importance in their own spheres, who, on the strength of the distinction gained there, are apt to intrude on other spheres of which they have no knowledge, where in fact they are irrelevant, and often indeed ridiculously out of place. This, however, does not prevent their trying to assert an authority gained in their own sphere in those other spheres where they simply do not belong; and such is the power of a name that