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On Polish
by [?]

But how will the figure of material polish aid us any further? How can it be said that Polish of Manners is a revelation of that which is within, a calling up to the surface of the hidden loveliness of the material? For do we not know that courtesy may cover contempt; that smiles themselves may hide hate; that one who will place you at his right hand when in want of your inferior aid, may scarce acknowledge your presence when his necessity has gone by? And how then can polished manners be a revelation of what is within? Are they not the result of putting on rather than of taking off? Are they not paint and varnish rather than polish?

I must yield the answer to each of these questions; protesting, however, that with such polish I have nothing to do; for these manners are confessedly false. But even where least able to mislead, they are, with corresponding courtesy, accepted as outward signs of an inward grace. Hence even such, by the nature of their falsehood, support my position. For in what forms are the colours of the paint laid upon the surface of the material? Is it not in as near imitations of the real right human feelings about oneself and others as the necessarily imperfect knowledge of such an artist can produce? He will not encounter the labour of polishing, for he does not believe in the divine depths of his own nature: he paints, and calls the varnish polish.

“But why talk of polish with reference to such a character, seeing that no amount of polishing can bring to the surface what is not there? No polishing of sandstone will reveal the mottling of marble. For it is sandstone, crumbling and gritty–not noble in any way.”

Is it so then? Can such be the real nature of the man? And can polish reach nothing deeper in him than such? May not this selfishness be polished away, revealing true colour and harmony beneath? Was not the man made in the image of God? Or, if you say that man lost that image, did not a new process of creation begin from the point of that loss, a process of re-creation in him in whom all shall be made alive, which, although so far from being completed yet, can never be checked? If we cut away deep enough at the rough block of our nature, shall we not arrive at some likeness of that true man who, the apostle says, dwells in us–the hope of glory? He informs us–that is, forms us from within.

Dr. Donne (who knew less than any other writer in the English language what Polish of Style means) recognizes this divine polishing to the full. He says in a poem called “The Cross:”–

As perchance carvers do not faces make,
But that away, which hid them there, do take,
Let Crosses so take what hid Christ in thee,
And be his Image, or not his, but He.

This is no doubt a higher figure than that of polish, but it is of the same kind, revealing the same truth. It recognizes the fact that the divine nature lies at the root of the human nature, and that the polish which lets that spiritual nature shine out in the simplicity of heavenly childhood, is the true Polish of Manners of which all merely social refinements are a poor imitation.–Whence Coleridge says that nothing but religion can make a man a gentleman.–And when these harmonies of our nature come to the surface, we shall be indeed “lively stones,” fit for building into the great temple of the universe, and echoing the music of creation. Dr. Donne recognizes, besides, the notable fact that crosses or afflictions are the polishing powers by means of which the beautiful realities of human nature are brought to the surface. One can tell at once by the peculiar loveliness of certain persons that they have suffered.