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sequenceffends myo the whole is made
criticism of defects for the noble and fruitful criticisin of beauties.” It is time that all acute minds should grasp the thread that frequently connects what we, following our special whim, call “ defects” with what we call “beauty." Defects—at all events those which we call by that name -are often the inborn, necessary, inevitable conditions of good qualities.
Scit genius, natale comes qui temperat astrum. Who ever saw a medal without its reverse ? a talent that had not some shadow with its brilliancy, some smoke with its flame? Such a blemish can be only the inseparable consequence of such beauty. This rough stroke of the brush, which offends my eye at close range, completes the effect and gives relief to the whole picture. Efface one and you efface the other. Originality is made up of such things. Genius is necessarily uneven. There are no high mountains without deep ravines. Fill up the valley with the mountain and you will have nothing but a steppe, a plateau, the plain of Les Sablons instead of the Alps, swallows and not eagles.
We must also take into account the weather, the climate, the local influences. The Bible, Homer, hurt us sometimes by their very sublimities. Who would want to part with a word of either of them? Our infirmity often takes fright at the inspired bold flights of genius, for lack of power to swoop down upon objects with such vast intelligence. And then, once again, there are defects which take root only in masterpieces; it is given only to certain geniuses to have certain defects. Shakespeare is blamed for his abuse of metaphysics, of wit, of redundant scenes, of obscenities, for his employment of the mythological nonsense in vogue in his time, for exaggeration, obscurity, bad taste, bombast, asperities of style. The oak, that giant tree which we were comparing to Shakespeare just now, and which has more than one point of resemblance to him, the oak has an unusual shape, gnarled branches, dark leaves, and hard, rough bark; but it is the oak.
And it is because of these qualities that it is the oak,
If you would have a smooth trunk, straight branches, satiny leaves, apply to the pale birch, the hollow elder, the weeping willow; but leave the mighty oak in peace. Do not stone that which gives you shade.
The author of this book knows as well as any one the numerous and gross faults of his works. If it happens too seldom that he corrects them, it is because it is repugnant to him to return to a work that has grown cold. Moreover, what has he ever done that is worth that trouble? The labor that he would throw away in correcting the imperfections of his books, he prefers to use in purging his intellect of its defects. It is his method to correct one work only in another work.
However, no matter what treatment may be accorded his book, he binds himself not to defend it, in whole or in part. If his drama is worthless, what is the use of upholding it? If it is good, why defend it? Time will do the book justice or will wreak justice upon it. Its success for the moment is the affair of the publisher alone. If then the wrath of the critics is aroused by the publication of this essay, he will let them do their worst. What reply should he make to them? He is not one of those who speak, as the Castilian poet says, “through the mouths of their wounds."
Por la boca de su herida. One last word. It may have been noticed that in this somewhat long journey through so many different subjects, the author has generally refrained from resting his personal views upon texts or citations of authorities. It is not, however, because he did not have them at his hand.
“If the poet establishes things that are impossible according to the rules of his art, he makes a mistake unquestionably; but it ceases to be a mistake when by this means he has reached the end that he aimed at; for he has found what he sought.”—“ They take for nonsense whatever the weakness of their intellects does not allow them to understand. They are especially prone to call absurd those wonderful passages in which the poet, in order the better to enforce his argument, departs, if we may so ex
press it, from his argument. In fact, the precept which makes it a rule sometimes to disregard rules, is a mystery of the art which it is not easy to make men understand who are absolutely without taste and whom a sort of abnormality of mind renders insensible to those things which ordinarily impress men."
Who said the first? Aristotle. Who said the last? Boileau. By these two specimens you will see that the author of this drama might, as well as another, have shielded himself with proper names and taken refuge behind others' reputations. But he preferred to leave that style of argument to those who deem it unanswerable, universal and allpowerful. As for himself, he prefers reasons to authorities; he has always cared more for arms than for coats-of. arms.
PREFACE TO LEAVES OF GRASS
BY WALT WHITMAN. (1855)
AMERICA does not repel the past or what it has pro
duced under its forms or amid other politics or
the idea of castes or the old religions ... accepts the lesson with calmness . .. is not so impatient as has been supposed that the slough still sticks to opinions and manners and literature while the life which served its requirements has passed into the new life of the new forms ... perceives that the corpse is slowly borne from the eating and sleeping rooms of the house . . . perceives that it waits a little while in the door . . . that it was fittest for its days . . . that its action has descended to the stalwart and well shaped heir who approaches . . . and that he shall be fittest for his days.
The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth, have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. In the history of the earth hitherto the largest and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their ampler largeness and stir. Here at last is something in the doings of man that corresponds with the broadcast doings of the day and night. Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations. Here is action untied from strings necessarily blind to particulars and details magnificently moving in vast masses.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892), the most original of American poets, was born in West Hills, Long Island, educated in the Brooklyn Public Schools, and apprenticed to a printer. As a youth he taught in a country school, and later went into journalism in New York, Brooklyn, and New Orleans. The first edition of " Leaves of Grass” appeared in 1855, with the remarkable preface here printed. During the war he acted as a volunteer nurse in the army hospitals, and, when it closed, he became a clerk in the government service at Washington. He continued to write almost till his death.
Here is the hospitality which forever indicates heroes. ... Here are the roughs and beards and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the soul loves. Here the performance disdaining the trivial unapproached in the tremendous audacity of its crowds and groupings and the push of its perspective spreads with crampless and flowing breadth and showers its proflic and splendid extravagance. One sees it must indeed own the riches of the summer and winter, and need never be bankrupt while corn grows from the ground or the orchards drop apples or the bays contain fish or men beget children upon women.
Other states indicate themselves in their deputies ... but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors ... but always most in the common people. Their manners speech dress friendship—the freshness and candor of their physiognomy—the picturesque looseness of their carriage . . . their deathless attachment to freedom—their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean-the practical acknowledgment of the citizens of one state by the citizens of all other states—the fierceness of their roused resentment—their curiosity and welcome of novelty—their self-esteem and wonderful sympathy—their susceptibility to a slight—the air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors—the fluency of their speech-their delight in music, the sure symptom of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul . . . their good temper and open handedness—the terrible significance of their elections—the President's taking off his hat to them, not they to him—these too are unrhymed poetry. It awaits the gigantic and generous treatment worthy of it.
The largeness of nature or the nation were monstrous without a corresponding largeness and generosity of the spirit of the citizen. Not nature nor swarming states nor streets and steamships nor prosperous business nor farms nor capital nor learning may suffice for the ideal of man ... nor suffice the poet. No reminiscences may suffice either. A live nation can always cut a deep mark and