Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

hem of his garment? Already the greater number of them are entirely forgotten, and if any one has risen to an enviable grade of distinction, it is by qualities in which he is not an imitator. In the meanwhile, minds of good ability have been squandered in these foolish efforts, and their own duties are left undone.

Imitation is a hopeless business, especially the imitation of a man of great celebrity-and few think of imitating any other. None can comprehend the higher excellencies of a mind superior to his own.

What he imitates must therefore be something less than the best, and very probably, the faults of his model. And whoever, with a high degree of intellectual power, has made a vigorous use of his means, has rendered more difficult the task of arriving at distinction, to all who come after him with similar endowments. A man of celebrity has generally, in the course of earning his reputation, pretty well exhausted his proper field. Even Byron, whose talents were great, and whose career was short, began to flag before he died. Had he lived longer, some other path must have been opened, in order to keep up his popularity. The old mine was nearly wrought out, and Byron himself perceived that farther fame must be pursued by other

What then must be the disadvantage to a young writer, who enters, at his first step, upon a field thus exhausted. In order to succeed, he must be possessed of genius of the same kind, to a much higher degree than his original. But we have no reason to believe that the Creator has so constituted any two minds that, in following accurately the bent of their own idiocrasy, they can thus interfere. The imitator, then, gratuitously assumes a difficulty, in rejecting his own proper strength, in attempting to counterfeit feelings, tastes, and views, of which he has but an imperfect conception, becomes stiff and unnatural, the distinction of his model only making his detection the more certain, and his failure the more conspicuous. But disgrace is the smallest evil attendant upon such a course: while aiming at what only another can accomplish, those talents of his own, which the Almighty gave to be the guide and instrument of his usefulness, are running to waste; years and energies are spent to no purpose, while those very things which he could do well are entirely neglected. Life is not given to be squandered so, nor is art an empty play—a mere means of obtaining a notoriety among our fellow men. It must effect something of which we shall not be ashamed before that God by whom all genius is conferred.

means.

Imitation is the fault, not only of those who imitate, but also of critics, so called, who teach and recommend the practice. Indeed, the critics are generally most to

, blame. For the excellence already produced being the only basis of their rules, they can guide to nothing but its reproduction; and generally, not conceiving of anything farther, they especially inculcate the practice, and advise the most enslaving habits of preparation and of composition. The principles deduced from nature, and the experience of the great masters, must be acquired and made familiar. No good can be effected in disregard of them, nor without a thorough command of them; but to make use of the valuable truths unfolded or embodied by a predecessor, is a different thing from molding oneself upon the aggregate of all his qualities, in which, of course, his faults as well as his excellencies are included. But this latter is precisely the shape in which the practice is enjoined by those who advise the adoption of models. Every person has faults enough of his own without the adoption of those of others, even though such adopted faults did not sit worse upon him than his own.

Imitation may be of the manner, of the matter, of the general bearing of an effort, or of all together. The last constitutes what is called servile, blind, or indiscriminate, and is that to which the foregoing remarks have been addressed. It is difficult to adduce any example of this kind, for, although very numerous, they die almost as soon as born-and properly are they suffered to die in silence, because, from the nature of the case, they must be good for nothing. A very

few moments of reflection will suffice to show the utter impropriety of that imitation of manner, or style, so often enjoined by the advocates of a model. Why should you have a style at all? Why not compose without a style; now in one way, and then in another? Is it because the fashion so dictates, and

a

you are to put on a fashionable style, as you would a fashionable coat? Can any good reason be assigned, except that because you are now and always the same thinking being, the proper expression of yourself must always be marked by the same prominent features ? Now, if these do not correspond to the distinctive features of your character, it is plain that the style is not yours, does not answer to you the purposes of a style. It must be an embarrassment, instead of a facility, a continually misrepresenting medium, through which you can never be understood. Better have nothing to do with it, unless you prefer to live under an intellectual mask, and wear an appearance which must ever give the lie to your real character.

Under this head I may be reminded of the schools of art, of the Lombard school of painting, of the Venitian, Flemish, etc. I grant that the influence of a few men of genius, wielded in that way, has suggested much valuable thought to others; but every one worthy of name, in any of those schools, was himself an original thinker. The mere imitators are the shame of them all. I may

be reminded of the successful imitators of Addison, among whom will certainly be included the names of Mackenzie and Franklin. Of all the thousands who have imitated that author in this respect, not one has attained to eminence without more distinctive features of his own. Mackenzie, who has been called the Addison of Scotland, never attained that happy facility which distinguished his master. On great qualities of his own he rose to fame. To the extent of his imitation he was stiff and affected. The story comes from Franklin's own pen, that in early youth he formed himself upon the style of Addison, and must, therefore, be true; but it should not have blinded the eyes of critics to the original merits of a manner so marked as that of his matured productions. So far from being a mere imitation of Addison, the style of Franklin has something in it unlike the style of any other writer in the English language. It is plain and simple; but the simplicity is that of Franklin, not of Addison. That of Addison is the garb of a gentle, poetic mind, humbling itself to praise; that of Franklin, the plain, sometimes the quaint dress of a shrewd, practical philosopher. If an English writer will imitate in this manner, I would say, let Addison be the model. From the simplest manner the least evil will accrue. But however simple the shape, however normal the man, his coat will not sit well on all shoulders.

Imitation of an author's matter may be right or wrong, according to the way in which it is done. - If his ideas are adopted without essential change, and without acknowledgement, the act is one of plagiarism, and justly branded as the meanest trick of the most abandoned imitator. When the debt is acknowledged, or the idea greatly improved, the character of the

« AnteriorContinuar »