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Robert Burns
by [?]

People who are not scientific in their speech often speak of the birds as being happy. My opinion is that birds are not any more happy than men–probably not as much so. Many birds, like the English sparrow and the blue jay, quarrel all day long. Come to think of it, I believe that man is happier than the birds. He has a sense of remorse, and this suggests reformation, and from the idea of reformation comes the picturing of an ideal. This exercise of the imagination is pleasure, for indeed there is a certain satisfaction in every form of exercise of the faculties. There is a certain pleasure in pain: for pain is never all pain. And sin surely is not wholly bad, if through it we pass into a higher life–the life of the spirit.

Anything is better than the Dead Sea of neutral nothingness, wherein a man merely avoids sin by doing nothing and being nothing. The stirring of the imagination by sorrow for sin, sometimes causes the soul to wing a far-reaching upward flight.

Asceticism is often only a form of sensuality: the man finds satisfaction in overcoming the flesh. And wherever you find asceticism you find potential passion–a smoldering volcano held in check by a devotion to duty; and a gratification is oft found in fidelity.

The moral and religious poems of Burns were written in a desire to work off a fit of depression, and make amends for folly. They are sincere and often very excellent. Great preachers have often been great sinners, and the sermons that have moved men most are often a direct recoil from sin on the part of the preacher. Remorse finds play in preaching repentance. When a man talks much about a virtue, be sure that he is clutching for it. Temperance fanatics are men with a taste for strong drink, trying hard to keep sober. The moral and religious poems of Robert Burns are not equal to his love-songs. The love-songs are free, natural, untrammeled and unrestrained; while his religious poems have a vein of rotten warp running through them in the way of affectation and pretense. From this I infer that sin is natural, and remorse partially so. In Burns’ moral poems the author tries to win back the favor of respectable people, which he had forfeited. In them there is a violence of direction; and all violence of direction–all endeavors to please and placate certain people–is fatal to an artist. You must work to please only yourself.

Work to please yourself and you develop and strengthen the artistic conscience. Cling to that and it shall be your mentor in times of doubt: you need no other. There are writers who would scorn to write a muddy line, and would hate themselves for a year and a day should they dilute their honest thought with the platitudes of the fear-ridden. Be yourself and speak your mind today, though it contradict all you have said before. And above all, in art, work to please yourself–that Other Self that stands over and behind you, looking over your shoulder, watching your every act, word and deed–knowing your every thought. Michelangelo would not paint a picture on order. “I have a critic who is more exacting than you,” said Meissonier–“it is my Other Self.”

Rosa Bonheur painted pictures just to please her Other Self, and never gave a thought to any one else, nor wanted to think of any one else, and having painted to please herself, she made her appeal to the great Common Heart of humanity–the tender, the noble, the receptive, the earnest, the sympathetic, the lovable. That is why Rosa Bonheur stands first among women artists of all time: she worked to please her Other Self.

That is the reason Rembrandt, who lived at the same time Shakespeare lived, is today without a rival in portraiture. He had the courage to make an enemy. When at work he never thought of any one but his Other Self, and so he infused soul into every canvas. The limpid eyes look down into yours from the walls and tell of love, pity, earnestness and deep sincerity. Man, like Deity, creates in his own image, and when he portrays some one else, he pictures himself, too–this provided his work is Art. If it is but an imitation of something seen somewhere, or done by some one else, to please a patron with money, no breath of life has been breathed into its nostrils, and it is nothing, save possibly dead perfection–no more.