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Excerpt from "Feathertop"

Excerpt from "The Artist of the Beautiful"

Artist Owen Warland's contemporaries assess his fascination with the beautiful and with art as mere madness. Hawthorne observes that such a judgment is "soothing to the injured sensibility of narrowness and dullness," a judgment as harsh in its own way as the one made of Warland. Hawthorne goes on to suggest that the artist or intellectual has always been judged this way: "From Saint Paul's days, down to our poor little Artist of the Beautiful, the same talisman had been applied to the elucidation of all mysteries in the words or deeds of men, who spoke or acted too wisely or too well."
And now, again, he resumed his wanderings in the woods and fields. It might be fancied that the bright butterfly, which had come so spiritlike into the window, as Owen sat with the rude revellers, was indeed a spirit, commissioned to recall him to the pure, ideal life that had so etherealized him among men. It might be fancied, that he went forth to seek this spirit, in its sunny haunts; for still, as in the summer-time gone by, he was seen to steal gently up, wherever a butterfly had alighted, and lose himself in contemplation of it. When it took flight, his eyes followed the winged vision, as if its airy track would show the path to heaven. But what could be the purpose of the unseasonable toil, which was again resumed, as the watchman knew by the lines of lamp-light through the crevices of Owen Warland's shutters? The townspeople had one comprehensive explanation of all these singularities. Owen Warland had gone mad! How universally efficacious--how satisfactory, too, and soothing to the injured sensibility of narrowness and dullness--is this easy method of accounting for whatever lies beyond the world's most ordinary scope! From Saint Paul's days, down to our poor little Artist of the Beautiful, the same talisman had been applied to the elucidation of all mysteries in the words or deeds of men, who spoke or acted too wisely or too well. In Owen Warland's case, the judgment of his townspeople may have been correct. Perhaps he was mad. The lack of sympathy--that contrast between himself and his neighbors, which took away the restraint of example--was enough to make him so. Or, possibly, he had caught just so much of ethereal radiance as served to bewilder him, in an earthly sense, by its intermixture with the common day light.



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