The Artistic Ordering of Life
by Albert S. Cook, Ph.D., L.H.D.
An Address delivered before the Alumni of Rutgers College Tuesday, June 21, 1898
Art is as yet an exotic in America. The Puritan, keenly conscious of the delicate or urgent appeal to the senses which is inseparable from all art, and dreading the corruption of which, it was often the subtle and malign agent, resolutely frowned upon even the innocent pleasures with which it might have cheered and embellished life, and allowed no place to it in his system of the universe. Though he guided his conduct, and inspired his sentiments, by the Old Testament rather than the New, he disregarded the example of Bezaleel and Aholiab, of David and Solomon, and left his tabernacles bare, and his temples unadorned. Literature, music, painting, sculpture, all fell under the strokes of the iron flail with which he scourged the passions and follies of men. Our sturdy ancestor, who fought with the red Indian, felled the forest, and wrenched a scanty livelihood from the reluctant and meagre soil, was, indeed, like the chastiser of evil in Spenser's poem, "immovable, resistlesse," because, like him, "made of yron mould." Nor, indeed, is this trait of the Puritan even in our own day without apology and eloquent vindication. Ruskin, who perhaps more than any other man in this generation has opened our unseeing eyes to the beauty of clouds, and skies, and mountains, and waters, and has disclosed to the prejudiced understandings of multitudes the wonder and joy in the paintings of the early religious masters, Ruskin himself, in the very heart of his Modern Painters, can calmly chronicle his doubt whether art, even religious art, has ever exerted any influence for good. I quote his eloquent words, though the passage be rather long, partly because of the authority with which they are uttered, and partly that the grounds of his belief, as well as the belief itself, may be the more clearly understood. I am sure that many who hear me will find it difficult to withhold some degree of assent from these views of the great critic and inspirer:--
"I do not think that any man who is thoroughly certain that Christ is in the room will care what sort of pictures of Christ he has on its walls; and, in the plurality of cases, the delight taken in art of this kind is, in reality, nothing more than a form of graceful indulgence of those sensibilities which the habits of a disciplined life restrain in other directions. Such art is, in a word, the opera and drama of the monk. Sometimes it is worse than this, and the love of it is the mask under which a general thirst for morbid excitement will pass itself for religion. The young lady who rises in the middle of the day, jaded by her last night's ball, and utterly incapable of any simple or wholesome religious exercise, can still gaze into the dark eyes of the Madonna di San Sisto, or dream over the whiteness of an ivory crucifix, and returns to the course of her daily life in full persuasion that her morning's feverishness has atoned for her evening's folly. And, all the while, the art which possesses these very doubtful advantages is acting for undoubtful detriment, in the various ways above examined, on the inmost fastnesses of faith: it is throwing subtle endearments round foolish traditions, confusing sweet fancies with sound doctrines, obscuring real events with unlikely semblances, and enforcing false assertions with pleasant circumstantiality, until, to the usual and assuredly sufficient difficulties standing in the way of belief, its votaries have added a habit of changing what they know to be true, and of dearly loving what they confess to be false. Has there, then (the reader asks emphatically), been no true religious ideal? Has religious art never been of any service to mankind?''>
Here, you will observe, is Ruskin's significant, his momentous question. What will he, the hierophant of beauty, the devotee of religion, the servant of humanity, answer to this query? Briefly and unequivocally he replies: "I fear, on the whole, not." And a little later he adds: "For the most part, it is assuredly much to be feared lest we mistake a surrender to the charms of art for one to the service of God; and, in the art which we permit, lest we substitute sentiment for sense, grace for utility."
To this effect Ruskin, writing half a century ago; and it is but yesterday since the strokes of the hammer, wielded by a frail girl in a plain poke bonnet, echoed through the land, as she demolished the Cupids of the Exposition Building at Omaha. The English race is still, at bottom, deeply Puritan. We play with art as with a dangerous, but glittering, edge-tool; or we surrender ourselves to it as to the wiles of a siren, with whom we cannot choose but be transported, while yet we feel that her breath is a delicious airy venom, that the undulations of her form are serpentine in their allurements, and that the glances of her beautiful eyes are fraught with a deadly, though irresistible, fascination.
And yet, notwithstanding our instinctive thrill of dread, and the real danger which that dread apprehends, art, like the beauty which it strives to render, is well nigh irresistible. To many people, art is purely and solely the embodiment of the beautiful or the attractive, and such are ready to echo and acclaim the words of an eminent French painter and critic when he asserts: "At bottom, we naturally love only what is beautiful. Imagination turns thither; sensibility is excited by it; all hearts precipitate themselves toward it. If we seek carefully for what the mass of mankind loves most voluntarily, it may be seen that it is not what touches, nor what convinces, nor what edifies it; it is what charms it and excites its wonder."
How, then, can we reconcile our dread with our longing? Are art and beauty actually infernal? Is righteousness intrinsically repulsive? We would fain believe not. We listen attentively to Emerson when he says: "The high and divine beauty which can be loved without effeminacy is found in combination with the human will." We are ready to take him to our hearts when he adds: "Beauty is the mark God sets upon virtue."
We listen to noble music--a simple, tender ballad, an uplifting hymn, a sonata rich with griefs, and struggles, and aspirations, and consolations, the hallelujahs of an oratorio, the multitudinous voices, the complex harmonies of a symphony, and for the time being live in that sphere of music to which we have been lifted as if on seraphic wings. We feel that it is good to be there, and would gladly make a tabernacle on the spot, in which our souls might abide continually. For a brief hour we have outsoared the things of time and sense, and are in the presence of the eternal concords and satisfactions. But how is it when we return to earth again? Are we more permanently tender for the tenderness of the ballad, joyful for the consolations of the sonata, adoring for the hallelujahs of the oratorio? Are we more perfectly adjusted to our fellow-beings, to life, and to the will of God concerning us, for the harmonic resolutions and concordant instrumentalities of the symphony?
Perhaps this illustration will suggest what I have in mind when I speak of the artistic ordering of life. Can a human being, constantly assailed by appetite and weariness, besieged at every moment by sordid cares, a prey to impulse, to lassitude, to disease--can such a one hope to become permanently musical, in the full Greek sense of that word, habitually to "practise music," as Plato says? How beautiful is that conception of his, as expressed in these words: "He who would train the limbs of the body should impart to them the motions of the soul, and should practise music and all philosophy, if he would be called truly fair and truly good." Practise medicine--we have heard of that; practise running, vaulting, swimming, even, practise scales; but practise music, in Plato's sense of music, do we often hear people discuss so much as the possibility of that?
Two modern poets, one a man and the other a woman, have cast side-lights upon the idea which we are endeavoring to set forth. England's recent Laureate, referring to his friend Arthur Hallam and his struggle to attain an artistic conception of the meaning and purpose of life, wrote:--
One indeed I knew
In many a subtle question versed,
Who touched a jarring lyre at first,
But ever strove to make it true.
Perplexed in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
The greatest of England's poetesses, in a fine sonnet, just fails to express the thought at which I am aiming, though her failure is worth most triumphs:--
The woman singeth at her spinning-wheel
A pleasant chant,--ballad or barcarolle;
She thinketh of her song, upon the whole,
Far more than of the flax; and yet the reel
Is full, and artfully her fingers feel
With quick adjustment, provident control,
The lines, too subtly twisted to unroll,
Out to a perfect thread. I hence appeal
To the dear Christian church--that we may do
Our Father's business in these temples mirk,
Thus swift and steadfast, thus intent and strong;
While thus, apart from toil, our souls pursue
Some high, calm, spheric tune, and prove our work
The better for the sweetness of our song.
No, despite my admiration for this lovely sonnet, I cannot admit that it is best our souls should pursue some high, calm, spheric tune apart from toil. What I am advocating is that the toil should be not merely accompanied by music, but set to music, or that, to recur to Plato's phrase, the toil should be the practice of music.
To some minds all this will sound vastly Utopian, I am aware; and one must admit that it presents a very blind side indeed to the shafts of hard-headed common sense. "What! I am a farmer," says one; "how shall my pursuit be the practice of music?" "I am a shopkeeper," says another; "how am I to reconcile the weighing of pounds of butter or the measuring of yards of cloth with your wild, high-flying, visionary talk? Music, and art in general, are all very well in their place, as a diversion, as a recreation, even as the occupation of people who can afford to be busily idle in an elegant and graceful manner, but what have they to do with me in the hours of business, in a world where taxes are to be paid and every door is watched by a famine-stricken wolf?"
To such an objector I would reply: "Do you not acknowledge the binding force of the injunction, 'Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God'? Because, if you do admit the obligation of this principle, you have conceded the possibility of your leading the artistic life, in the somewhat unusual sense in which we have employed the term." This may seem like a rather inconclusive rejoinder. In order to discover whether it is really so or not, we must first inquire what art is, an inquiry by no means superfluous, since one person habitually limits it to painting, another regularly qualifies the word by an adjective, speaking of "decorative art," "literary art," etc., while there are comparatively few who employ it in its most comprehensive and universal signification.
The word art, short as it is, has not escaped analysis; and the root, found in a considerable number of words in Greek and Latin, is the biliteral one ar, meaning "to join or fit together." Two Latin words, from the same root, chance to have assumed an identical form in English: one stands for a product of God's art, and one of man's. I refer to the word arm. As a member of the human body, it signifies that which is joined or fitted, at the shoulder, to the shoulder-blade; this, then, is a product of God's art. As a warlike implement, it is a product of man's skill in joining or fitting together; no one who considers the derivative term, armor, needs to be told how, in the Middle Ages, scale was lapped over scale, or link welded within link.
We can now the better understand what Sir Thomas Browne meant when he said, "Nature is the art of God"; and indeed he himself illustrates his own statement by another to the like effect:
"Now, this course of Nature God seldom alters or perverts, but, like an excellent Artist, hath so contrived his work that, with the selfsame instrument, without a new creation, he may effect his obscurest designs." We see, too, at a glance, Pope's meaning in the lines:--
All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood.
We even apprehend what Dante has in mind in his somewhat oracular saying: "Your art [i.e., man's art] is, as it were, the granddaughter of God." His conception is, of course, that man's art is suggested by Nature, as Nature herself is a manifestation of God.
Nature, therefore, in the sense of the universe of created things, is a manifestation of God's skill in the mutual adaptation of parts, and their adjustment to the scheme of the whole. It was according to the same conception that the Greeks spoke of the universe as cosmos, from a verb signifying to order or arrange. Art is man's endeavor at the same thing, an attempt on his part to exemplify one or more principles of the cosmical beauty. If he does this in marble or bronze, we call it sculpture or statuary; if with pigments, painting; if with notes of the scale, music; if with words rhythmically arranged, poetry. If, perchance, he should do this with the successive days of his life, knitting them together in orderly sequences, and shaping them to a predetermined end--but we are anticipating.
Let us now see whether we have been adopting a singular, out-of-the-way, and therefore indefensible definition of our term. Since the foundations of much of our systematic knowledge were laid by Aristotle, it may be well to inquire what he thought on this point. His view is: "Since there is no art which is not a habit of methodical production, nor any habit of methodical production which is not an art, it follows that the definition of art is: 'A habit of production in conscious accordance with a correct method.'" No definition of art is older than Aristotle's, so far as I am aware, and none is more recent than this, which I extract from the latest authoritative English dictionary: "The skilful and systematic arrangement or adaptation of means for the attainment of some desired end." There is no essential difference, it will be seen, between these two definitions, and both are in accord with the notion which I have been seeking to develop.
We have now arrived at a conclusion which will enable us, I think, to include among the fine arts the fine art of living. Surely life may be considered with reference to the attainment of a desired end, and surely there can be no rational objection to the skilful and systematic arrangement or adaptation of means for the attainment of this desired end. That the ancients, or at least the Romans, recognized the propriety of applying the term "art" to various species of moral excellence which had been produced or acquired by the soul "in conscious accordance with a correct method," is beyond question. Thus Horace, in his famous Third Ode of the Third Book, after seven or eight lines descriptive of the virtues of the upright man, resumes them all in the word art. He begins (I employ the translation of Addison):--
The man resolved and steady to his trust,
Inflexible to ill, and obstinately just,
May the rude rabble's insolence despise,
Their senseless clamors and tumultuous cries.
* * *
Should the whole frame of Nature round him break,
In ruin and confusion hurled,
He, unconcerned, would hear the mighty crack,
And stand secure amidst a falling world.
And then he adds:--
Such were the godlike arts that led
Bright Pollux to the blest abodes.
Cicero, too, calls various virtues by the name of arts. For example, in one of his moral treatises he says: "Let us pass in review not those greater arts"--meaning such as modesty, justice, contempt of pain and death--"which whoso lacked was called by our ancestors soulless." In the Oration on Pompey he asserts that the great commander must not only be brave and a good fighter, "but," he adds, "there are many arts of a high order which are auxiliary to and attendant upon his courage: what uprightness must such a chief possess, what temperance in all things, what sense of obligation!" and so the orator goes on, enumerating what we should call virtues, but what he is including under the designation of arts.
Enough has been said, I trust, to show that art is a term large enough to include not merely the pursuits of the sculptor, the musician, the painter, the architect, and the poet, but also the scope of many lives which would ordinarily be called workaday and prosaic. The essence of the artistic life is the production of effects permanently delightful and profitable to other people. The right sort of effect will not be delightful alone, but profitable as well; and this combination being presupposed, the rank of the artistic product will be determined by the permanency of the delight and the profit. Whoever, therefore, influences other lives for good in this twofold meaning of the term, and in such a way as to make an impression either lasting or recurrent, is, according to this definition, leading the artistic life. The landscape gardener would evidently be an artist in his laying out of noble parks, rich in masses of shadow and glades of light, set here and there with stately oaks and graceful elms, diversified with sweep of acclivity and prospect of gleaming water; but so also is the farmer who bends his best energies to the production of harvests that gladden the eye before they fill the granary, of orchards that realize the fable of the Hesperides before they swell the credit account of the ledger, and who sees to it that his own toil and that of all his family and associates is cheered by the contemplation of these achievements, and ennobled by a hearty and generous co-operation in the process. The preacher is an artist when he is made all things to all men, that he may by all means save some, for surely nothing can be more delightful and profitable, whether in its whole progress or in occasional retrospect, than the spiritual regeneration that he induces in the soul that is the object of his ministry. Can any contemplation of a landscape by Ruysdael or Corot, of an interior by Metsu or Gerard Dou, of a battle-piece by De Neuville or a reproduction of ancient life by Alma Tadema, afford such satisfaction as the view of one's own life undergoing, through whatever struggle and strain, a continual transformation into the image of the heavenly, and, by its often unconscious influence, effecting a similar change in the lives of others? In so far as the preacher fulfils his mission, he paints many such masterpieces, or rather he sketches them so that the intent is visible, and leaves to the individual subject the task of filling in the outline thus delineated.
In like manner, there is many a home in which the mother is an accomplished artist, laying, with delicate precision and loving touch, here a line and there a line, and not seldom reinforcing the first dim contour by adding line upon line, until there flashes out upon the beholder a portrait true in its lineaments to the inherited racial and family character, but with a certain ideality in the features, a certain generosity, or courage, or scorn of meanness, for which nature is not wholly responsible, but which emanated from the brooding thought of the artificer.
Examples will occur to you in all the walks of life, and in circumstances the most humble. George Herbert's lines are classic:--
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws
Makes that and the action fine.
And in truth the artistic spirit may be well shown in little things, in those which the dull person passes over, or slights in the performance, as insignificant. Indeed, in what province of human effort is it possible to rise above mediocrity without possessing something of the largeness of view and fineness of sensation, without having experienced, in some measure, that high and harmonious training of all the powers, which is indispensable to the artist?
In no vocation, however, is the artistic temper, the artistic ideal, more indispensable than in that of the teacher. To take character when it is most plastic, and knead it as the modeler kneads clay; to give it such consistency that it can best abide the fiery trial of the world's seven-times-heated furnace; to take account of the changes which will inevitably be wrought in the form by the fierce glow to which the fabric must needs be subjected--this is the task of the teacher, a task so momentous in its consequences, and so subtle in its execution, as to tax the highest powers, to demand at once wisdom, alertness, adaptability, unwearied effort, and an utter consecration to the endeavor. It is among the keenest of pleasures, on returning after long absence to the scene of one's own earlier education, to recall those who there labored in this spirit, and to realize, however one may have failed to approach the standard which they set, that they were workmen that needed not to be ashamed. And keener still, if possible, is the pleasure to find so many of them still occupying their chairs of instruction, and accomplishing, with added sureness of judgment and firmness of touch, the same artistic transformation of another generation. Not all of these were men of eloquence; several of them were silent rather than loquacious, men of thought rather than of speech, of deed first, and of word only so far as word was necessary to give proper visibility to the deed; yet somehow they inculcated high endeavor, steady industry, love of Nature, reverence for things worthy, contempt of things base, the service of man, the worship of God. It is not for nothing that small colleges exist. So long as small colleges can shelter the activity of large men--men large-hearted and large-minded--there will, there must be a place for them in our American scheme of education.
If you have shared my thought thus far, we shall have seen, I think, that the acceptance of the view which I have proposed--a view which I have taken some pains to show is grounded in both philosophy and history--will tend to efface the current distinction between the fine and the useful arts. For some purposes, it is desirable that this distinction be retained; but it is perhaps even more important that it be abolished, or at least in some degree waived. It is important for two reasons--first, that the fine arts shall not be set apart, in a daintiness hedged about on all sides from contact with life in its ruder and more elemental forms; and secondly, that the useful arts shall be useful not merely in the gratification of the grosser and more material needs, but shall serve for the twofold embellishment, or rather ennoblement, of life, the life of him by whom, and the life of him for whom, the art is practised. For example, the making of pottery is a useful art, but it may also be brought under the dominion of beauty. In these last years the pottery of New Jersey has been serving more and more to exemplify this principle. And when we consider who it was that, doing his allotted work in this place, strove within his own peculiar sphere to render this outcome possible, shall we deny to him the essential artistic impulse, though his concern seemed to be primarily with the study of rocks and ores, and the diffusion of better ideas concerning agriculture? The truth is, we ought to cherish broader conceptions of the province common to the man of affairs and the devotee of art. In the palmy days of the Renaissance men were not so one-sided as they have become in the epoch which has since intervened. Michael Angelo had already executed his David, his Moses, and the Prophets and Sibyls of the Sistine Chapel, when in 1529 he was called upon to fortify the city of Florence, in anticipation of an attack by the Medici. He at once devoted himself to this undertaking--one not strictly, it will be observed, within the province of fine art--and, according to his biographer, "the work was carried on by him with such zeal that his brick bastions rose from the ground with wonderful rapidity." He was then fifty-four years of age; and it was after this that he wrote his sonnets, chiseled the statues in the Medicean Chapel, painted the Last Judgment, and achieved one of the greatest triumphs of architecture in the dome of St. Peter's. Take another illustration, somewhat earlier in time. Leonardo da Vinci said of himself, not untruly: "I can execute sculpture, whether in marble, bronze, or terra-cotta; also in painting I can do as much as any other, be he who he may." Subsequently to this utterance, he painted the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, made a large number of exquisite drawings, and wrote a celebrated treatise on painting; but he also, we are told, devised a system of hydraulic irrigation of the plains of Lombardy, and was entrusted with the most ample authority as architect and engineer in the service of Caesar Borgia. These men, and such as these, did not conceive of their art as a thing cloistered and aloof, as remote from civic life and daily needs. They did not devote themselves exclusively to one of the arts, isolating it in their thought from all the others. No, above the technical skill displayed in each several province of the whole domain was throned the comprehensive, the august conception of Art, the efflux, it is true, of rich and mighty life, but dominating the life from which it sprang, as purpose sways the purposeless, as form tyrannizes over matter. Were Art, the prolific mother of vital works, thus regnant in our lives, though only in that humbler degree commensurate with our own inferiority to these giants of an elder time, might it not make some difference in both the quantity and the quality of our production?
That we may more perfectly apprehend the qualities which of right pertain to art, let us consult Winckelmann, the historian and most eminent critic of ancient sculpture. I quote a few of his sentences: "The highest beauty is in God; and our idea of human beauty advances towards perfection in proportion as it can be imagined in conformity and harmony with that highest Existence, which, in our conception of unity and indivisibility, we distinguish from matter. This idea of beauty . . . seeks to beget unto itself a creature formed after the likeness of the first rational being designed in the mind of the Divinity. . . . All beauty is heightened by unity and simplicity, as is everything we do and say; for whatever is great in itself is elevated when executed and uttered with simplicity." From this canon of unity and simplicity, enounced by Winckelmann, it is evident that all great art is founded upon a philosophy. The artist must have a definite purpose in each production, aim at a specific effect, and focus all the means employed upon this end. This necessarily implies that he has well considered his purpose, has come to consider it most worthy of his effort, and has carefully distinguished it from all other purposes which might be confounded with it. Such unity and simplicity of aim, with corresponding unity and simplicity in the result, is possible only to those of reflective habit. Accordingly, we find Sir Joshua Reynolds, that most charming of portrait-painters, addressing the Royal Academy in these terms: "Though there neither are, nor can be, any precise, invariable rules for the exercise or the acquisition of these great qualities, yet we may truly say that they operate in proportion to our attention in observing the works of Nature, to our skill in selecting, and to our care in digesting, methodizing, and comparing our observations. There are many beauties in our art that seem, at first, to lie without reach of precept, and yet may easily be reduced to practical principles. . . . This long, laborious comparison should be the first study of the painter who aims at the great style. By this means he acquires a just idea of beautiful forms. His eye being enabled to distinguish the accidental deficiencies, excrescences, and deformities of things from their general figures, he makes out an abstract idea of their forms more perfect than any one original. . . . This idea of the perfect state of Nature, which the artist calls the ideal beauty, is the great leading principle by which works of genius are conducted. By this Phidias acquired his fame. He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world; and by this method you who have courage to tread the same path may acquire equal reputation."
It is this last truth which is so distasteful to many who are ambitious to move, to charm, to benefit their fellows. They are apt to suppose that an excited state of feeling is all that is necessary to arouse the enthusiasm of others. With what a chill falls upon the spirit of such a one the remark, the well-considered remark, of the man who enraptured his contemporaries, and has continued to command admiration ever since: "He wrought upon a sober principle what has so much excited the enthusiasm of the world"! or that other: "This long, laborious comparison should be the first study''! Nevertheless, these remarks are just. Science and philosophy must lay the foundations of art, and are its indispensable concomitants, if anything of permanent interest and value is to be achieved. And what is true of the arts usually denominated fine is quite as true of all those which, to recur to our definition, are "the skilful and systematic arrangement or adaptation of means for the attainment of a desired end." This fact, however, so far from being repellent, ought rather to be an incentive. He who already has some tincture of science and philosophy may well rejoice that, by means of certain acquisitions in art, he can more perfectly profit and more fully delight; and he who is actuated by the artistic spirit may reflect what a great advantage and stimulus he possesses over his fellows in the study of that science and philosophy which to them are ultimate, but to him are merely ancillary.
As a modern example of art founded upon well-considered principles, and everywhere imbued with science and philosophy, take that of Tennyson, and observe how unerringly he oftentimes succeeds in what he attempts. Compare the feelings evoked in the reader by The Lotos-Eaters, Ulysses, and St. Agnes' Eve respectively, and see how all sounds, and forms, and hues, from the isles of tropic seas or the white desolations of the frozen North, are but pigments on the palette of a cunning craftsman, from which he selects those, and those only, that will unite and harmonize in verse which is picture and picture which is music. What is true of the poet is true in his kind and degree of the orator. The orator, as being often a leader in practical affairs, is likely to be skilled in the art of government, that larger art in which oratory is only one element, though by no means the least. And what an array of such uncrowned kings, artists every one, the world has seen, from Demosthenes through Cicero and Chatham and Burke down to the old man eloquent whose mortal remains England has just laid to rest in Westminster Abbey!
The mention of governmental leaders suggests that what is true of the individual is not without application to the nation. For the nation, too, like the individual, has, or should have, an aim which it seeks to compass, and which can be realized, if it is realized at all, only through prevision, sobriety, the employment of all contributory agencies, the neglect of no essential factors. The State should not drift, from year to year, and from presidential campaign to campaign, like a vessel without a helm. There ought to be no place in this country, now or ever, for political opportunism in high places, for the trimming of sails to the ephemeral zephyr or the treacherous gust. Shall we have war or peace? This is a matter which properly should be decided, and not merely acquiesced in. Shall we enter upon a career of foreign colonization and conquest, or civilize our immense African colony at home, educate the poor white, put a stop to lynching, break the power of the saloon, and set intelligence and conscience to governing our cities? The decisions of the sculptor and the architect are the sheerest child's play as compared with the issue between colonial empire, a standing army, and international entanglements on the one hand, and obedience to the monitions of Washington's Farewell Address on the other. It may be said that the Master Artist of the universe is wiser than we, and that we are the clay, He the potter. This also is true, and we shall do well to beware lest haply we be found even to fight against God. Yet none the less it behooves us to advance upon our national path with calmness and deliberation, to use all the wisdom with which He has endowed us, and to work out upon sober principles what may afterwards excite the enthusiasm of the world.
But to return to the individual. It has seemed to me that college halls, and an anniversary occasion like the present, were fitting place and time for the consideration of this topic of art, since it is concerned with individual achievement, with the deepest personal satisfaction, with the highest exercise of our faculties, and with the fulfilment of the divine plan in us, through us, and respecting us. Moreover, it is in college halls that the artistic impulse should be fostered and educated. Here, perhaps, and in such places as this, something more might be done to enable young men to find their peculiar vocation, through addresses and familiar talks by eminent representatives of the several arts and artistic occupations, pointing out how the ideal and the practical are or may be combined in each, and thus assisting every student to bring into play his own peculiar abilities, at the same time that he satisfied his deeper spiritual needs. Thus we should be helping to bring nearer the day when, within the commonwealth, all ordered toil shall be co-operant to an end, and when the principle of variety in unity, e pluribus unum, shall find its most perfect exemplification in the Nation's life.
I know what may be said by and for those who enter this race as an unequal struggle. There are those whom poverty threatens to debar from entering it at all. There are those who have been straitened, physically and intellectually, in earliest life. There are those whom, midway in their career, sickness lays low, or sudden reverse of fortune overtakes. There are those whom death will cut off untimely.
For all who seem to be the victims of circumstance there are words of cheer. To those who are hindered in beginning I would say, The Supreme Artist sympathizes with the cry of your soul to work out a fair and noble life, full of achievement perfect within its limits. He also was born into His world poor, humble, in the family of an unconsidered mechanic. He also was cut off untimely, in the flower of His age, yet not without being able to say, with a fulness of meaning which the words can never bear on any other tongue, "It is finished." Not only does He sympathize, but, through His sway in the hearts of men, He raises up friends and helpers for those who, being wrought in a peculiar sense in the divine image, have something of the poetic, the shaping, the organizing, the creative impulse within their souls. The message to such is, Heaven helps them that help themselves.
To the others who, attempting, are prevented by adverse circumstance from bringing anything notable to pass in accordance with their strenuous endeavor, whom duty directs into other channels from those they would have chosen, who are thwarted by disease or overthrown by sudden disaster, the word of our time has come by the mouth of Robert Browning, in such poems as Rabbi Ben Ezra:--
But all, the world's coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account;
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount;
Thoughts hardly to be packed
Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke through language and escaped;
All I could never be,
All men ignored in me,
This I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.
And so there is cheer and consolation for all artists, actual, prospective, or only potential. If actual, then are they laborers together with God, bringing order, and beauty, and delight into His world. If prospective, they are called with a high calling to an employment divine in its satisfactions. If potential, with a potentiality destined to fail of any marked realization in this our mortal sphere, yet God will reckon even this to them for righteousness, since out of the heart are the issues of life.
Brethren of the Alumni, we are not unconcerned in this matter. Our times need artists--artists of the beautiful, artists of the practical, artists of righteousness. Are we doing everything in our power to discover them, to evolve them, to train them? Shall we not see to it that Rutgers, which strikes its roots so deep into the Nation's past, shall become, to an ever increasing extent, the nursery of those spirits which shall shape the future, invest life with a purer radiance and joy, and conspire, with all those who love our land, to fashion here a fairer type of humanity than the world has yet known?