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or that love of books is scarcely a blessing at all if it seals our eyes—which it should aid us in keeping open
to the sea, the mountains, and the stars. I take reading for what it is worth as one help only, but one which allies others to itself even as the five talents may become ten. For if the germ of culture once gets into the system, it propagates itself with marvelous speed. There are, it is true, individuals whom it affects in one part and not in others, lovers of literature who delight in vulgar vaudeville, lovers of music who devour detective stories and dime novels, lovers of the pure and high who by contrast enjoy-or try to think they enjoy-sporadic attacks of the impure and low; but, in general, culture in one art leads to taste in others, for it refines the intellect. And though she who has cultivated herself by reading may know little of painting or of music, she has put herself into that actively receptive condition which will make progress, even in those arts, rapid when the opportunity comes. She has learned that the greatest minds, like the sun and the stars, shine for all who have eyes and hearts to welcome their quickening rays. She may be a teacher of stubborn and stupid little children; she may write dull business letters at the dictation of vulgar men; she may sell hairpins all day behind a counter; she may make eyelets in a shoe factory; but when the minutes come that are her own, she steps instantly into a life from which no drudgery can divorce her-a life the breath of which inspires her daily work, however mean, with a kind of glory. For the work is her discipline, her part in the ceaseless renewal of that great and multifarious life which we call the world; and she can do it, for she has tasted the joy of the “unconquerable soul.”
JOSEPH RUSSELL TAYLOR
Åny one who reads this essay is pretty sure to suspect that its author has more than a layman's knowledge not only of writing but of picture-making and sculpture as well. The guess is correct, for after his graduation from Ohio State University in 1887 Mr. Taylor gave much attention to drawing and painting, and in fact began his service on the Ohio State Faculty as a teacher of drawing. Since then he has been officially concerned with rhetoric and literature, and has constantly preached and practised the æsthetic approach to both literature and life. He has contributed verse to the magazines since 1890, and has published several volumes of lyrics. His first volume of verse, The Overture, came out in 1903, followed by Wintergreen in 1911, What You Will in 1921, and Our Dancing Days in 1923. The following essay on "Description" is taken from his Composition in Narration, and represents faithfully his theory of writing and his prose style.
Mr. Taylor, who was born in Circleville, Ohio, in 1868, is descended from a line of clergymen whose influence throughout eastern and central Ohio extends back to pioneer days.
A MAN's philosophy is borrowed; his art is his own. What a man thinks of things is doubtless interesting and characteristic; result of his breeding and education, it is his contemporary patent; he takes of the stream as engineers take of the power of wind and water. But what he does, what he makes, the use to which he puts his heritage, is the measure both of his value to us and of the man himself.
Yet our quaint habit is to look, almost exclusively, for philosophies, the ideas that are involved, in Sophocles
1 From Composition in Narration. Reprinted through the courtesy of Joseph Russell Taylor and Henry Holt and Company.
and in Shakespeare. "If you've got the idea," said the famous German professor, whose name, unfortunately, I have forgotten, and whose subject was the madonna motive in painting, “if you've got the idea, you've got the whole thing." And he proceeded to prove this with lantern-slides in black and white. Think of that. Ruskin used to say that truths of color are the least important of all truths; and his ingenious and malapropos argument is made from the standpoint of a child who has achieved a drawing in outline, and who then by a happy afterthought proceeds to color it. Did Ruskin really believe that paintings are made in that way? Does anybody have to be told that paintings are color? Yet we keep to our naive critical program, as if one should give a dinner composed only of printed bills of fare, voluptuous orgy, or of books about digestion, ethical uplift; the idea of it, you know.
Great are ideas, our only available source of supply of power. That was a great idea that first gave into our hands, by the burning of sticks, a little of the sun's stored power to use for ourselves. That was a great idea that put to our use the coal and the oil and the gas stored in the earth; and they are great ideas that foresee the exhaustion of this source, that have taught us to use water as "white fire," and are teaching us to store power in corn-leaves and mirrors. One supposes the ideas themselves originally came from the sun. These are means to life; it is life itself that dreams and remembers by the hearth-fire, and whose fire-driven journeys end in lover's meeting. And do you need to be told again that life is art? Art uses ideas; it is not a philosophy, it is imagination.
We, therefore, who in trying to tell our stories are dealing with the practice of an art must deal at once with the whole product, the idea and the image. If we keep in mind always our purpose and end, we shall be the less distracted with ways and means. We are to find out what to tell, we are to determine and fix and make unmistakably sure this "what”; and we are not to concern ourselves too much with how to tell it. At times it seems that our books of composition are so excessively helpful that they embarrass us; and many of our courses in composition are so rich in "stunts” that one's writing remains a "stunt," and in the multiplication of means one loses sight of the end. The end is that we shall tell the truth; two things, "truth," and "telling," two things in one. The end is a perfect narration.
Description, which is a means to that end, is commonly set apart for separate practice. But the practice is false that develops one's skill in narrating ideas on the one hand and one's skill in describing images separately on the other hand. The two are one practice, one process, and together simultaneously build the story. They are never really separate. If we use the restricted and partial meaning of narration, in the sense of a process, without reference to results, we may say it is equivalent to that function of painting which we call, variously, the drawing, or the outline, or the composition; and by the same analogy we may call description the equivalent of color. Every painter knows that these two are inseparately and simultaneously one. A line is where two colors meet. Color is the light by which you see the line. The painter's attention, to be sure, may be relatively more occupied with line, or it may be more occupied with light; but this by no means indicates that drawing and coloring, or in music melody and harmony, or in writing narration and description, are separate processes. Of themselves, the terms are nothing. You do not need names for your processes. One question is enough for your attention; how shall you express what you have seen to be the truth, how shall you get it into words?
Let us try an experiment with a relic of antique art; the armless Venus, a familiar image in our houses; a fragment of stone put to the use, we say, of expressing an idea of womanhood, and there are books and controversies aplenty about that idea. Place her before you in full front view, at your eye's level, and fully illuminated with light from behind you. Thus seen, her features, the mold of her body, the folds of the draperies flatten and melt and fuse into the white silhouette we know so well. You get most of all the broad sweep of line, the sure and subtle rhymes of the attitude, the head tilted to the right on the droop of the right shoulder and the lift of the right hip.
Now place her, again in full opposition to your eye, against the window light. The silhouette is the same, but details are lost in its flat darkness, and it has become suddenly keen and crystalline of outline. This remains most of all, the outline; and it is accentuated by the slender silver lines of light caught on her throat and her sides. One gets, more sleek and slender than before, the flowing continuity, the crisp sure-footed balance, of her pose.
And now put her, still in full front view, in a single side-light, say first from your right. The full figure
. starts immediately and dramatically into vivid revelation. You are given a bold harmony of details; the sweep of the hair back from the left temple, the almost sullen