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Autobiography and Selected Essays

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Recommend to your library. Rent with DeepDyve. Rent Article. I cannot give you any example of a thorough aesthetic pleasure more intensely real than a pleasure of this kind--the pleasure which arises in one's mind when a whole mass of different structures run into one harmony as the expression of a central law. That is where the province of art overlays and embraces the province of intellect.

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And, if I may venture to express an opinion on such a subject, the great majority of forms of art are not in the sense what I just now defined them to be--pure art; but they derive much of their quality from simultaneous and even unconscious excitement of the intellect. When I was a boy, I was very fond of music, and I am so now; and it so happened that I had the opportunity of hearing much good music.

Among other things, I had abundant opportunities of hearing that great old master, Sebastian Bach.

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I remember perfectly well-- though I knew nothing about music then, and, I may add, know nothing whatever about it now--the intense satisfaction and delight which I had in listening, by the hour together, to Bach's fugues. It is a pleasure which remains with me, I am glad to think; but, of late years, I have tried to find out the why and wherefore, and it has often occurred to me that the pleasure derived from musical compositions of this kind is essentially of the same nature as that which is derived from pursuits which are commonly regarded as purely intellectual.

I mean, that the source of pleasure is exactly the same as in most of my problems in morphology--that you have the theme in one of the old master's works followed out in all its endless variations, always appearing and always reminding you of unity in variety. If you are in Australia, you may get credit for being a good artist--I mean among the natives--if you can draw a kangaroo after a fashion. But, among men of higher civilisation, the intellectual knowledge we possess brings its criticism into our appreciation of works of art, and we are obliged to satisfy it, as well as the mere sense of beauty in colour and in outline.

A little song of Shakespeare or of Goethe is pure art; it is exquisitely beautiful, although its intellectual content may be nothing.

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A series of pictures is made to pass before your mind by the meaning of words, and the effect is a melody of ideas. Nevertheless, the great mass of the literature we esteem is valued, not merely because of having artistic form, but because of its intellectual content; and the value is the higher the more precise, distinct, and true is that intellectual content. And, if you will let me for a moment speak of the very highest forms of literature, do we not regard them as highest simply because the more we know the truer they seem, and the more competent we are to appreciate beauty the more beautiful they are?

No man ever understands Shakespeare until he is old, though the youngest may admire him, the reason being that he satisfies the artistic instinct of the youngest and harmonises with the ripest and richest experience of the oldest. I have said this much to draw your attention to what, in my mind, lies at the root of all this matter, and at the understanding of one another by the men of science on the one hand, and the men of literature, and history, and art, on the other.

It is not a question whether one order of study or another should predominate. It is a question of what topics of education you shall select which will combine all the needful elements in such due proportion as to give the greatest amount of food, support, and encouragement to those faculties which enable us to appreciate truth, and to profit by those sources of innocent happiness which are open to us, and, at the same time, to avoid that which is bad, and coarse, and ugly, and keep clear of the multitude of pitfalls and dangers which beset those who break through the natural or moral laws.


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  6. I address myself, in this spirit, to the consideration of the question of the value of purely literary education.