“No, I don’t think that is better,” said Father Payne, “because it means a sort of blindness. It is very curious in the case of Browning, because he learned exactly how to do things. He had his method, he fixed upon an abnormal personality or a curious incident, and he turned it inside out with perfect fidelity. But after a certain time in his life, the thing became suddenly heavy and uninteresting. Something evaporated—I do not know what! The trick is done just as deftly, but one is bored; one simply doesn’t care to see the inside of a new person, however well dissected. There’s no life, no beauty about the later things. Wordsworth is somehow different—he is always rather noble and prophetic. The later poems are not beautiful, but they issue from a beautiful idea—a passion of some kind. But the later Browning poems are not passionate—they remind one of a surgeon tucking up his sleeves for a set of operations. I expect that Browning was too humble; he loved a gentlemanly convention, and Wordsworth certainly did not do that. If you want to know how a poet should live, read Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals at Grasmere; if you want to know how he should feel, read the letters of Keats.”
I had been having some work looked over by Father Payne, who had been somewhat trenchant. “You have been beating a broken drum, you know,” he had said, with a smile.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s poor stuff, I see. But I didn’t know it was so bad when I wrote it; I thought I was making the best of a poor subject rather ingeniously. I am afraid I am rather stupid.”
“If I thought you really felt like that,” said Father Payne, “I should be sorry for you. But I expect it is only your idea of modesty?”
“No,” I said, “it isn’t modesty—it’s humility, I think.”
“No one has any business to think himself humble,” said Father Payne. “The moment you do that, you are conceited. It’s not a virtue to grovel. A man ought to know exactly what he is worth. You needn’t be always saying what you are, worth, of course. It’s modest to hold your tongue. But humility is, or ought to be, extinct as a virtue. It belongs to the time when people felt bound to deplore the corruption of their heart, and to speak of themselves as worms, and to compare themselves despondently with God. That in itself is a piece of insolence; and it isn’t a wholesome frame of mind to dwell on one’s worthlessness, and to speak of one’s righteousness as filthy rags. It removes every stimulus to effort. If you really feel like that, you had better take to your bed permanently—you will do less harm there than pretending to do work in the value of which you don’t believe.”
“But what is the word for the feeling which one has when one reads a really splendid book, let us say, or hears a perfect piece of music?” I said.