American Essayist and Critic
Edwin Percy Whipple
American Essayist and Critic
It marries ideas lying wide apart by a sudden jerk of the understanding.
Talent is a cistern; genius, a fountain.
There is a very large and very knowing class of misanthropes who rejoice in the name of grumblers, persons who are so sure that the world is going to ruin that they resent every attempt to comfort them as an insult to their sagacity, and accordingly seek their chief consolation in being inconsolable, and their chief pleasure in being displeased.
Men educate each other in reason by contact or collision, and keep each other sane by the very conflict of their separate hobbies. Society as a whole is the deadly enemy of the particular crotchet of each, and solitude is almost the only condition in which the acorn of conceit can grow to the oak of perfect self-delusion.
Tears are copiously showered over frailties the discoverer takes a malicious delight in circulating; and thus, all granite on one side of the heart, and all milk on the other, the unsexed scandal-monger hies from house to house, pouring balm from its weeping eyes on the wounds it inflicts with its stabbing tongue.
True wisdom, indeed, springs from the wide brain which is fed from the deep heart; and it is only when age warms its withering conceptions at the memory of its youthful fire, when it makes experience serve aspiration, and knowledge illumine the difficult paths through which thoughts thread their way into facts,--it is only then that age becomes broadly and nobly wise.
Mirth is a Proteus, changing its shape and manner with the thousand diversities of individual character, from the most superfluous gayety to the deepest, moat earnest humor.
The bitterest satires and noblest eulogies on married life have come from poets.
We all originally came from the woods! it is hard to eradicate from any of us the old taste for the tattoo and the war-paint; and the moment that money gets into our pockets, it somehow or another breaks out in ornaments on our person, without always giving refinement to our manners.
Most of the men of dignity, who awe or bore their more genial brethren, are simply men who possess the art of passing off their insensibility for wisdom, their dullness for depth, and of concealing imbecility of intellect under haughtiness of manner.
The contemplation of beauty in nature, in art, in literature, in human character, diffuses through our being a soothing and subtle joy, by which the heart's anxious and aching cares are softly smiled away.
We like the fine extravagance of that philosopher who declared that no man was as rich as all men ought to be.
My Lord Anson, at the Admiralty, sends word to Chatham, then confined to his chamber by one of his most violent attacks of the gout, that it is impossible for him to fit out a naval expedition within the period to which he is limited. "Impossible!" cried Chatham, glaring at the messenger; "who talks to me of impossibilities?" Then starting to his feet, and forcing out great drops of agony on his brow with the excruciating torment of the effort, he exclaimed, "Tell Lord Anson that he serves under a minister who treads on impossibilities!"
The essence of the ludicrous consists in surprise,--in unexpected terms of feeling and explosions of thought,--often bringing dissimilar things together with a shock; as when some wit called Boyle, the celebrated philosopher, the father of chemistry and brother of the Earl of Cork.
What a lesson, indeed, is all history and all life to the folly and fruitlessness of pride! The Egyptian kings had their embalmed bodies preserved in massive pyramids, to obtain an earthly immortality. In the seventeenth century they were sold as quack medicines, and now they are burnt for fuel! The Egyptian mummies, which Cambyses or time hath spared, avarice now consumeth. Mummy is become merchandise.
Nature and society are so replete with startling contrasts that wit often consists in the mere statement and comparison of facts, as when Hume says that the ancient Muscovites wedded their wives with a whip instead of a ring.
The familiar writer is apt to be his own satirist. Out of his own mouth is he judged.
What a man does with his wealth depends upon his idea of happiness. Those who draw prizes in life are apt to spend tastelessly, if not viciously; not knowing that it requires as much talent to spend as to make.
Nature does not capriciously scatter her secrets as golden gifts to lazy pets and luxurious darlings, but imposes tasks when she presents opportunities, and uplifts him whom she would inform. The apple that she drops at the feet of Newton is but a coy invitation to follow her to the stars.
The great characteristic of men of active genius is a sublime self-confidence, springing not from self-conceit, but from an intense identification of the man with his object, which lifts him altogether above the fear of danger and death, which gives to his enterprise a character of insanity to the common eye, and which communicates an almost superhuman audacity to his will.
What does competency in the long run mean? It means to all reasonable beings, cleanliness of person, decency of dress, courtesy of manners, opportunities for education, the delights of leisure, and the bliss of giving.
No language can fitly express the meanness, the baseness, the brutality, with which the world has ever treated its victims of one age and boasts of them in the next. Dante is worshiped at that grave to which he was hurried by persecution. Milton, in his own day, was "Mr. Milton, the blind adder, that spit his venom on the king's person"; and soon after, "the mighty orb of song." These absurd transitions from hatred to apotheosis, this recognition just at the moment when it becomes a mockery, saddens all intellectual history.
The greatness of action includes immoral as well as moral greatness--Cortes and Napoleon, as well as Luther and Washington.
Whenever you find humor, you find pathos close by his side