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[26]

And for literary training, especially, the influence of natural beauty is simply priceless. Under the present educational systems we need grammars and languages far less than a more thorough out-door experience. On this flowery bank, on this ripple-marked shore, are the true literary models. How many living authors have ever attained to writing a single page which could be for one moment compared, for the simplicity and grace of its structure, with this green spray of wild woodbine or yonder white wreath of blossoming clematis? A finely organized sentence should throb and palpitate like the most delicate vibrations of the summer air. We talk of literature as if it were a mere matter of rule and measurement, a series of processes long since brought to mechanical perfection: but it would be less incorrect to say that it all lies in the future; tried by the out-door standard, there is as yet no literature, but only glimpses and guideboards; no writer has yet succeeded in sustaining, through more than some single occasional sentence, that fresh and perfect charm. If by the training of a lifetime one could succeed in producing one continuous page of perfect cadence, it would be a life well spent, and such a literary artist would fall short of Nature's standard in quantity only, not in quality.

It is one sign of our weakness, also, that we commonly assume Nature to be a rather fragile and merely ornamental thing, and suited for a model of the graces only. But her seductive softness is the last climax of magnificent strength. The same mathematical law winds the leaves around the stem and the planets around the sun. The same law of crystallization rules the slight-knit snow-flake and the hard foundations of the earth. The thistle-down floats secure upon the same summer zephyrs that are woven into the tornado. The dew-drop holds within its transparent cell the same electric fire which charges the thunder-cloud. In the softest tree or the airiest waterfall, the fundamental lines are as lithe and muscular as the crouching haunches of a leopard; and without a pencil vigorous enough to render these, no mere mass of foam or foliage, however exquisitely finished, can tell the story. Lightness of touch is the crowning test of power.

Yet Nature does not work by single spasms only. That chestnut spray is not an isolated and exhaustive effort of creative beauty: look upward and see its sisters rise with pile above pile of fresh and stately verdure, till tree meets sky in a dome of glorious blossom, the whole as perfect as the parts, the least part as perfect as the whole. Studying the details, it seems as if Nature were a series of costly fragments with no coherency,—as if she would never encourage us to do anything systematically,—would tolerate no method but her own, and yet had none of her own,—were as abrupt in her transitions from oak to maple as the heroine who went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; while yet there is no conceivable human logic so close and inexorable as her connections. How rigid, how flexible are, for instance, the laws of perspective! If one could learn to make his statements as firm and unswerving as the horizon-line,—his continuity of thought as marked, yet as unbroken, as yonder soft gradations by which the eye is lured upward from lake to wood, from wood to hill, from hill to heavens,—what more bracing tonic could literary culture demand? As it is, Art misses the parts, yet does not grasp the whole.

Literature also learns from Nature the use of materials: either to select only the choicest and rarest, or to transmute coarse to fine by skill in using. How perfect is the delicacy with which the woods and fields are kept, throughout the year! All these millions of living creatures born every season, and born to die; yet where are the dead bodies? We never see them. Buried beneath the earth by tiny nightly sextons, sunk beneath the waters, dissolved into the air, or distilled again and again as food for other organizations,—all have had their swift resurrection. Their existence blooms again in these violet-petals, glitters in the burnished beauty of these golden beetles, or enriches the veery's song. It is only out of doors that even death and decay become beautiful. The model farm, the most luxurious house, have their regions of unsightliness; but the fine chemistry of Nature is constantly clearing away all its impurities before our eyes, and yet so delicately that we never suspect the process. The most exquisite work of literary art exhibits a certain crudeness and coarseness, when we turn to it from Nature,—as the smallest cambric needle appears rough and jagged when compared through the magnifier with the tapering fineness of the insect's sting.

Once separated from Nature, literature recedes into metaphysics, or dwindles into novels. How ignoble seems the current material of London literary life, for instance, compared with the noble simplicity which, a half-century ago, made the Lake Country an enchanted land forever. Is it worth a voyage to England to sup with Thackeray in the Pot Tavern? Compare the ‘enormity of pleasure’ which De Quincey says Wordsworth derived from the simplest natural object, with the serious protest of Wilkie Collins against the affectation of caring about Nature at all. ‘Is it not strange,’ says this most unhappy man, ‘to see how little real hold the objects of the natural world amidst which we live can gain on our hearts and minds? We go to Nature for comfort in joy, and sympathy in trouble, only in books. . . . . . What share have the attractions of Nature ever had in the pleasurable or painful interests and emotions of ourselves or our friends? . . . . . There is surely a reason for this want of inborn sympathy between the creature and the creation around it.’

Leslie says of ‘the most original landscape-painter he knew,’ meaning Constable, that, whenever he sat down in the fields to sketch, he endeavored to forget that he had ever seen a picture. In literature this is easy, the descriptions are so

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