Of course, the New York Police is absurd in such a character, absurd as a bull in a china-shop is absurd; yet, as in the case of the bull with the china, it is capable of doing quite a lot of damage.
I take the New York Police merely, as I said, as a crude example of, doubtless, well-meant, but entirely misplaced energy. Actually, however, it is scarcely more absurd than many similar, if more distinguished, bulls gaily crashing about on higher planes.
Such are statesmen who, because they are Prime Ministers or Presidents, deem themselves authorities on everything within the four winds, doctors of divinity, and general arbitri elegantiarum.
Such a bull in a china-shop in regard to literature was the late Mr. Gladstone. It is no disrespect towards his great and estimable character to say, that while, of course, he was technically a scholar—“great Homeric scholar” was the accepted phrase for him—there were probably few men in England so devoid of the literary sense. Yet for an author to receive a post-card of commendation from Mr. Gladstone meant at least the sale of an edition or two, and a certain permanency in public appreciation. Her late Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria was Mr. Gladstone’s only rival as the literary destiny of the time. To Mr. Gladstone we owe Mrs. Humphry Ward, to Her Majesty we owe Miss Marie Corelli.
John Ruskin, much as we may admire him for his moral influence, and admire, or not admire, him for his prose, was a bull in a china-shop when he made his famous criticism on Whistler, and thus inadvertantly added to the gaiety of nations by provoking that delightful trial, which, farcical as it seemed at the moment, not merely evoked from Whistler himself some imperishable dicta on art and the relation of critics to art, but really did something towards the long-drawn awakening of that mysterious somnolence called the public consciousness on the strange mission of beauty in this world, and, incidentally of the status of those “eccentric” ministers of it called artists.
I do not mean to say that bulls in china-shops are without their uses. John Ruskin is a shining example to the contrary.