It should lay us under a spell with its first word, and we should only wake, refreshed, with its last.In the interval we may pass through the most various experiences of amusement, surprise, interest, indignation; we may soar to the heights of fantasy with Lamb or plunge to the depths of wisdom with Bacon, but we must never be roused.The only living Englishman who ever looks into these volumes is, of course, a gentleman of Polish extraction.
But if the voice of the scold should never be heard in this narrow plot, there is another voice which is as a plague of locusts--the voice of a man stumbling drowsily among loose words, clutching aimlessly at vague ideas, the voice, for example, of Mr.But that value, which is contributed by the reader, perhaps illicitly, in his desire to get as much into the book from all possible sources as he can, must be ruled out here.There is no room for the impurities of literature in an essay.Somehow or other, by dint of labor or bounty of nature, or both combined, the essay must be pure--pure like water or pure like wine, but pure from dullness, deadness, and deposits of extraneous matter.Of all writers in the first volume, Walter Pater best achieves this arduous task, because before setting out to write his essay (' Notes on Leonardo da Vinci') he has somehow contrived to get his material fused.But as we turn over the pages of these five little volumes, containing essays written between 18, certain principles appear to control the chaos, and we detect in the short period under review something like the progress of history.Of all forms of literature, however, the essay is the one which least calls for the use of long words.Macaulay in one way, Froude in another, did this superbly over and over again. But the process is fatiguing; it requires more time and perhaps more temper than Pattison had at his command. Grün up raw, and he remains a crude berry among the cooked meats, upon which our teeth must grate forever.They have blown more knowledge into us in the course of one essay than the innumerable chapters of a hundred textbooks. Something of the sort applies to Matthew Arnold and a certain translator of Spinoza.It is admirably done, but we cannot help feeling anxious, as the essay proceeds, lest the material may give out under the craftsman's fingers.The ingot is so small, the manipulation so incessant.