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On Polish
by [?]

All utterances which, however they may add to the amount of thought, distract the mind, and confuse its observation of the main idea, the essence or life of the book or paper, must be diligently refused. In the manuscript of Comus there exists, cancelled but legible, a passage of which I have the best authority for saying that it would have made the poetic fame of any writer. But the grand old self-denier struck it out of the opening speech because that would be more polished without it–because the Attendant Spirit would say more immediately and exclusively, and therefore more completely, what he had to say, without it.–All this applies much more widely and deeply in the region of art; but I am at present dealing with the surface of style, not with the round of result.

I have one instance at hand, however, belonging to this region, than which I could scarcely produce a more apt illustration of my thesis. One of the greatest of living painters, walking with a friend through the late Exhibition of Art-Treasures at Manchester, came upon Albert Duerer’s Melancholia. After looking at it for a moment, he told his friend that now for the first time he understood it, and proceeded to set forth what he saw in it. It was a very early impression, and the delicacy of the lines was so much the greater. He had never seen such a perfect impression before, and had never perceived the intent and scope of the engraving. The mere removal of accidental thickness and furriness in the lines of the drawing enabled him to see into the meaning of that wonderful production. The polish brought it to the surface. Or, what amounts to the same thing for my argument, the dulling of the surface had concealed it even from his experienced eyes.

In fine, and more generally, all cause whatever of obscurity must be polished away. There may lie in the matter itself a darkness of colour and texture which no amount of polishing can render clear or even vivid; the thoughts themselves may be hard to think, and difficulty must not be confounded with obscurity. The former belongs to the thoughts themselves; the latter to the mode of their embodiment. All cause of obscurity in this must, I say, be removed. Such may lie even in the region of grammar, or in the mere arrangement of a sentence. And while, as I have said, no ornament is to be allowed, so all roughnesses, which irritate the mental ear, and so far incapacitate it for receiving a true impression of the meaning from the words, must be carefully reduced. For the true music of a sentence, belonging as it does to the essence of the thought itself, is the herald which goes before to prepare the mind for the following thought, calming the surface of the intellect to a mirror-like reflection of the image about to fall upon it. But syllables that hang heavy on the tongue and grate harsh upon the ear are the trumpet of discord rousing to unconscious opposition and conscious rejection.

And now the consideration of the Polish of Manners will lead us to some yet more important reflections. Here again I must admit that the ordinary use of the phrase is analogous to that of the preceding; but its relations lead us deep into realities. For as diamond alone can polish diamond, so men alone can polish men; and hence it is that it was first by living in a city ([Greek: polis], polis) that men–

“rubbed each other’s angles down,”

and became polished. And while a certain amount of ease with regard to ourselves and of consideration with regard to others is everywhere necessary to a man’s passing as a gentleman–all unevenness of behaviour resulting either from shyness or self-consciousness (in the shape of awkwardness), or from overweening or selfishness (in the shape of rudeness), having to be polished away–true human polish must go further than this. Its respects are not confined to the manners of the ball-room or the dinner-table, of the club or the exchange, but wherever a man may rejoice with them that rejoice or weep with them that weep, he must remain one and the same, as polished to the tiller of the soil as to the leader of the fashion.