Art happens–no hovel is safe from it, no Prince may depend upon it, the vastest intelligence can not bring it about, and puny efforts to make it universal end in quaint comedy, and coarse farce.
—The “Ten-o’Clock” Lecture
The Eternal Paradox of Things is revealed in the fact that the men who have toiled most for peace, beauty and harmony have usually lived out their days in discord, and in several instances died a malefactor’s death. Just how much discord is required in God’s formula for a successful life, no one knows, but it must have a use, for it is always there.
Seen from a distance, out of the range of the wordy shrapnel, the literary scrimmage is amusing. “Gulliver’s Travels” made many a heart ache, but it only gladdens ours. Pope’s “Dunciad” sent shivers of fear down the spine of all artistic England, but we read it for the rhyme, and insomnia. Byron’s “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers” gave back to the critics what they had given out–to their great surprise and indignation, and our amusement. Keats died from the stab of a pen, they say, and whether ‘t was true or not we know that now a suit of Cheviot is sufficient shield. “We love him for the enemies he has made”–to have friends is a great gain, but to achieve an enemy is distinction.
Ruskin’s “Modern Painters” is a reply to the contumely that sought to smother Turner under an avalanche of abuse; but since the enemy inspired it, and it made the name and fame of both Ruskin and Turner, why should they not hunt out the rogues in Elysium and purchase ambrosia?
Whistler’s “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” is a bit of sharpshooter sniping at the man who was brave enough to come to the rescue of Turner, and who afterward proved his humanity by adopting the tactics of the enemy, working the literary stinkpot to repel impressionistic boarders.
No friend could have done for Whistler what Ruskin did. Before Ruskin threw an ink-bottle at him, as Martin Luther did at the Devil, he was one of several; after the bout he was as one set apart.
When we think of Whistler, if we listen closely we can hear the echo of shrill calls of recrimination, muffled reveilles of alarm– pamphlet answering unto pamphlet across seas of misunderstanding– vituperations manifold, and recurring themes of rabid ribaldry–all forming a lurid Symphony in Red.
John Davidson has dedicated a book to his enemy, thus:
“Unwilling Friend, let not thy spite abate: help me with scorn, and strengthen me with hate.”
The general tendency to berate the man of superior talent would seem to indicate, as before suggested, that disparagement has some sort of compensation in it. Possibly it is the governor that keeps things from going too fast–the opposition of forces that holds the balance true. But almost everything can be overdone; and the fact remains that without encouragement and faith from without, the stoutest heart will in time grow faint and doubt itself. It hears the yelping of the pack, and there creeps in the question, “What if they are right?” Then come the longing and the necessity for the word of praise, the clasp of a kindly hand, and the look that reassures.
Occasionally the undiscerning make remarks, slightly tinged with muriatic acid, concerning the ancient and honorable cult known as the Mutual Admiration Society. My firm belief is, that no man ever did or can do a great work alone–he must be backed up by the Mutual Admiration Society. It may be a very small Society–in truth, I have known Chapters where there were only two members, but there was such trust, such faith, such a mutual uplift, that an atmosphere was formed wherein great work was done.
In Galilee even the Son of God could do no great work, on account of the unbelief of the people. “Fellowship is heaven and lack of fellowship is hell,” said William Morris. And he had known both.