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Coventry Patmore: Peace in life and art

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

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Coventry Patmore
From Peace in Life and Art (1889)

If we compare ancient with modern art, and the minds and manners of our far ancestors with the minds and manners of the present time, it can hardly fail to strike us that the predominant presence of peace in the former and its absence in the latter constitute the most characteristic difference. Peace, as it was held to be the last effect and reward of a faithful life, was regarded as the ideal expression of life in painting, sculpture, poetry, and architecture; and accordingly the tranquil sphere of all the greatest of great art is scarcely troubled by a tear or a smile. This peace is no negative quality. It does not consist in the mere absence of disturbance by pain or pleasure. It is the peace of which St. Thomas says “perfect joy and peace are identical,” and is the atmosphere of a region in which smiles and tears are alike impertinences. In such art the expression of pain and pleasure is never an end, as it almost always is with us moderns, but a means of glorifying that peace which is capable of supporting either without perturbation.” Peace,” says again the great writer above quoted, “is the tranquillity of order, and has its seat in the will.”

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Delights and pleasures demand, no less than grief and pain, to be subordinated to peace, in order to become worthy of life and art. The cynicism and the corrupt melancholy of much of our modern life and art are the inevitable results of the desires being set upon delights and pleasures in which there is not peace.

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