One may consider that the present age is an age of spiritual eclipse, though that is not the writer’s opinion, and question with Matthew Arnold:
Now reads in her bosom as clear
As Rebekah read, when she sate
At eve by the palm-shaded well?
Who guards in her breast
As deep, as pellucid a spring
Of feeling, as tranquil, as sure?
At the height of his vision, can deem
Of God, of the world, of the soul,
With a plainness as near,
As flashing as Moses felt
When he lay in the night by his flock
On the starlit Arabian waste?
Can rise and obey
The beck of the Spirit like him.
Yet the sight of one who sees is worth more than the blindness of a hundred that cannot see. Some people are born with spiritual antennae and some without. There is much delicate wonder in the universe that needs special organizations for its apprehension. “One eye,” you remember, that of Browning’s Sordello—
In all Verona cared for the soft sky.
In these imponderable and invisible matters, many are in a like case with Hamlet’s mother, when she was unable to see the ghost of his father which he so plainly saw. “Yet all there is I see!” exclaimed the queen—though she was quite wrong, as wrong as Mr. Ruskin when he could see nothing in that painting of Whistler’s but a cocks-comb throwing a paint-pot at a canvas and calling it a picture!
Many people who have sharp enough eyes and ears for their own worlds are absolutely blind and deaf when introduced into other worlds for which nature has not equipped them. But this by no means prevents their pronouncing authoritative opinions in those worlds, opinions which would be amazing if they were not so impertinent. Many literary people proclaim their indifference to and even contempt for music—as if their announcement meant anything more than their music deafness, their unfortunate exclusion from a great art. Mark Twain used to advertise his preference for the pianola over the piano—as if that proved anything against the playing of Paderewski. Similarly, he acted the bull in the china-shop in regard to Christian Science, which cannot be the accepted creed of millions of men and women of intelligence and social value without deserving even in a critic the approach of some respect.
But humorists are privileged persons. That, no doubt, accounts for the astonishing toleration of Bernard Shaw. Were it not that he is a farceur, born to write knock-about comedies—his plays, by the way, might be termed knock-about comedies of the middle-class mind—he would never have got a hearing for his common-place blasphemies, and cheap intellectual antics. He is undeniably “funny,” so we cannot help laughing, though we are often ashamed of ourselves for our laughter; for to him there is nothing sacred—except his press-notices, and—his royalties.