Among Famous Books eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 268 pages of information about Among Famous Books.

The salvation of Faust is implicit in the whole structure and meaning of the play.  It is worked out mystically in the Second Part, along lines of human life and spiritual interest far-flung into the sphere that surrounds the story of the First.  But even in the First Part, the happy issue is involved in the terms of Faust’s compact with the devil.  Only on the condition that Mephistopheles shall be able to satisfy Faust and cheat him “into self-complacent pride, or sweet enjoyment,” only

     “If ever to the passing hour I say,
     So beautiful thou art! thy flight delay”—­

only then shall his soul become the prey of the tempter.  But from the first, in the scorn of Faust for this poor fiend and all he has to bestow, we read the failure of the plot.  Faust may sign a hundred such bonds in his blood with little fear.  He knows well enough that a spirit such as his can never be satisfied with what the fiend has to give, nor lie down in sleek contentment to enjoy the earth without afterthought.

It is the strenuous and insatiable spirit of the man that saves him.  It is true that “man errs so long as he is striving,” but the great word of the play is just this, that no such errors can ever be final.  The deadly error is that of those who have ceased to strive, and who have complacently settled down in the acceptance of the lower life with its gratifications and delights.

But such striving is, as Robert Browning tells us in Rabbi ben Ezra and The Statue and the Bust, the critical and all-important point in human character and destiny.  It is this which distinguishes pagan from idealist in the end.  Faust’s errors fall off from him like a discarded robe; the essential man has never ceased to strive.  He has gone indeed to hell, but he has never made his bed there.  He is saved by want of satisfaction.




It is extremely difficult to judge justly and without prejudice the literature of one’s own time.  So many different elements are pouring into it that it assumes a composite character, far beyond the power of definition or even of epigram to describe as a whole.  But, while this is true, it is nevertheless possible to select from this vast amalgam certain particular elements, and to examine them and judge them fairly.

The field in which we are now wandering may be properly included under the head of ancient literature, although in another sense it is the most modern of all.  The two authors whom we shall consider in this lecture, although they have come into our literature but recently, yet represent very ancient thought.  There is nothing whatsoever that is modern about them.  They describe bed-rock human passions and longings, sorrowings and consolations.  Each may be claimed as a revival of ancient paganism, but only one of them is capable of translation into a useful idealism.

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Among Famous Books from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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