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I NEVER wrote a long letter in my life. It is the manual part I dislike ; arranging the paper, holding the pen in my fingers, and finding my arm exhausted with carrying it to and from the inkstand. It does not signify, though ; for I have made arrangements with my free will to write more than a letter-a life, or rather the life of a life ;—let none pause to consider what this means, neither quite Germanly mysterious, nor quite Saxonly simple like my origin.
There are many literal presentations of ordinary personages, in books, which I am informed and I suppose I am to assure myself, are introduced
expressly to intensify and illustrate the chief and peculiar interest, where an interest is; or to allure the attention of the implicit, where it is not. But how does it happen, that the delineations of the gods among men, the heroic gifted few, the beings of imaginative might or genius, are infinitely more literal ? Who-worshipping, if not strong enough to serve the Ideal-can endure the graceless ignorance of his subject, betrayed by many a biographer, accepted and accomplished in his style ? Who, SO shipping, can do anything but shudder at the meagre, crude, mistakeable portraits of Shakspere, of Verulam, of Beethoven? Heaven send my own may not make me shudder first; and that in my attempt to recall, through a kind of artistic interlight, a few remembered lineaments, I be not self-condemned to blush for the spiritual craft, whose first law only I have learned.
I know how many notions grown persons entertain of their childhood as real, which are factitious, and founded upon elder experience until they become confounded with it; but I also feel that in great part we neglect our earliest impressions as vague, which were the truest and best we ever had. I believe none can recall their childish estimate or essence, without identifying with it their present intimate selves.
In my own case the analogy is perfect between my conceptions then, and my positive existence now. So every one must feel, who is at all acquainted with the liabilities of those who follow Art.
The man of power may manage to merge his individuality in his expansive association with the individuality of others — the man of science quenches self-consciousness in abstraction--and not a few, who follow with hot energy some worldly calling, become in its exercise as itself; nor for a solitary moment are left alone with their personality to remember even that, as separate and distinctly real.
But all artists, whether acknowledged or amateur, must have proved that for themselves the gage of Immortality, in Life as in Art, consists in their self-acquaintance, their self-reliance, their exact self-appreciation with reference to their masters, their models, their one supreme Ideal.
I was born in a city of England farthest from the sea, within whose liberties my grandfather and father had resided, acquiring at once a steady profit, and an honourable commercial fame. Never mind what they were, or in which street or square their stocked warehouses were planted, alluring the eyes and hearts of the pupils of Adam Smith. I remember the buildings well; but my elder brother, the eldest of our family, was established there when I first recall them, and he was always there, residing on the premises. He was indeed, very many years my senior, and I little knew him, but he was a steady excellent person with a tolerable tenor voice, and punctilious filial observances towards our admirable mother. My father was born in England, but though his ancestors were generally Saxon, an infusion of Norman blood had taken place in his family a generation or two behind him, and I always suspected that we owed to the old breeding of Claire Renée de Fontenelle some of our peculiarities and refinements, though my father always maintained that they flowed directly from our mother. He was travelling for the House, upon the Continent, when he first found her out, imbedded like a gem by a litt German river; and she left with him, unrepiningly, her still but romantic home, not again to revisit it.