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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Iconoclasm is a bias of humanity


There

is an epoch in ecclesiastical history known as the War of the Iconoclast; but that was only an embodiment of what had transpired before, and what has occurred often since. Iconoclasm is a bias of humanity. It grows out of the constitution of man. He is by heredity a breaker of images. If this view be not fictitious, we must not be surprised if there are developments of this spirit in our era or any era. It is a perennial reappearance. Whether it come in religion, statecraft, economic science, or literature, can be of little moment. The fact is the matter of paramount importance. Christianity was the iconoclast which broke in pieces the images of decrepit polytheism, and hewed out a way where progress might march to fulfill her splendid destiny. Luther was the iconoclast whose giant strokes demolished the castle doors of Romish superstition, and broke to fragments the images of Mariolatry. The practical induction of Bacon, Earl of Verulam, was the death-warrant of the fruitless deductive philosophy which had culminated in the vagaries of Scholasticism. The Declaration of Independence and the Federation of the States were the iconoclast which slew the phantom of the divine necessity of kings. It is thus evident that iconoclasm abounds, and there will be no marvel if it have a place in literature.

Innovation is a practical synonym of iconoclasm; for an innovation is putting the new in the place of the old. In ancient literature and literatures,

prose was an innovation as regards poetry; and later, rhyme was an innovation in the domain of poesy, and an innovation of such a sort that against it the master-poet, Milton, lifted up his voice in solemn protest, and the solitary epic in English literature is a perpetual protestation against the custom. Shakespeare was an innovator of the laws of the drama when he violated unities of time and place; and in a sense the drama was an innovation on narrative poetry, and the novel an iconoclast in its attitude to the drama.

The iconoclasm in literature in our time is objective rather than subjective; and attention to the spirit of the age will give a practical comprehension of this iconoclastic spirit.

It must be observed that the literature of an age is largely the product of that age. Times create literatures. The literature of any period, in an emphatic sense, will be directly and easily traceable to something in that age for its peculiarity.

The Iliad and Odyssey were necessities of the age which gave them birth. In so far as a literature is purely human, in so far will it be stamped with the seal of the times, customs, and thoughts in the midst of which it bloomed into beauty. In early Greek times an epic without its gods and demigods, without resounding battle-shout and din of mighty conflict, had been an anachronism for which there could have been offered no apology. The splendid era of Pericles demanded the tragedy, and such a tragedy as only Aeschylus and Sophocles could originate; while the foibles of an earlier era made the comedy imperative. On like principles, the writings of Lucretius are not enigmatical, but easy of explanation.

The age which made possible the revels of Kenilworth, made possible also the splendor, like that of setting suns, which characterizes the "Faerie Queen." And the prowess, the achievement, the discovery, the colonization, the high tide of life, which ran like lightning through the Nation's arteries, made the drama, not only a possibility, but a fact. It was the embodiment of the mighty activities of a mighty age. The tragedy, to use the splendid figure of Milton, "rose like an exhalation." A solitary lifetime brought it from sunrise to high noon; and from that hour what could the sun do but sink?


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