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ing what on earth he meant. Was the be some new slang that he had not young man a little touched? And yet heard, might mean cigarette-case or he had talked sensibly enough and something. And yet, a cigarette-case even told him one or two new things in an oak-tree! Mr. Lauriston was de about the city. Then it occurred to cidedly puzzled. him that the words Gladstone bag might
(To be continued.)
A PLEA FOR THE POPULAR IN LITERATURE.
Readers of foreign books upon Eng. Taine is no less enthusiastic. Byron lish literature must surely have been is to him “the greatest and most Eng. struck by the conspicuous place which, lish" of the men of his time-"so great in most of them, is assigned to Byron. and so English that from him alone In the volume by Professor Brandes' we shall learn more truths of his counwhich deals with Wordsworth, Keats, try and his age than from all the rest Shelley, Coleridge, Scott, Landor. together." "Into what mediocrity and Moore, as well as the lesser stars of platitude," he cries, "sinks the Faust the early nineteenth century, one hun- of Goethe compared with Byron's Mandred and fifty pages out of three hun fred!" Here are judgments which in dred and fifty are occupied with Byron. certain striking respects run counter to To this foreign critic, Byron is the modern criticism in this country. I true "passionate personality" of the one must not say that Byron is under English movement, the man who was a cloud, he is at all events counted to in the main stream of the world's be one of the faultiest of great poets, thought, and who is the final expres- and many modern writers speak of his sion of the British poetic spirit of this vehement and ill-balanced opinions as period. In his closing summary be tells fatal or, at least, a serious drawback us that, while Wordsworth, Scott, to the true spirit of poetry. These forKeats, Shelley, and Coleridge were all eign critics, however, sweep aside mere in their different degrees limited and literary criticism and apply a test of provincial, Byron broke all bounds and character and energy which not only flooded the world with his song.
puts Byron at the head of the English
movement, but makes him a supreme What language! What tones break
leader of European thought. ing the death-like silence of oppressed Europe! The political air rang with
Which of these judgments is more the shrill notes: for no word uttered likely to stand the test of time need by Lord Byron fell unheard to the not be discussed at this moment. But ground. The legions of the fugitives, the fact that foreign writers of emthe banished, the oppressed, the con- inence take this exalted view of Byspirators of every nation, kept their
ron's place in literature, and take it eyes fixed on the one man who, amidst the universal debasement of
by appealing to the substance of his intelligences and characters to a low
poetry, surely suggests certain reflecstandard, stood upright. beautiful as tions on the literature and criticism of Apollo, brave as an Achilles, prouder our own day. For it is precisely these than all the kings of Europe together.? qualities that Taine and Brandes find 1 “Naturalism in England." English trans.
so admirable in Byron which have for lation (Heidemann).
? Ibid. p. 356. some years past been in disrepute
among English writers. No one in in their appreciation of literature, and these days "breaks the silence with that the common people must demand shrill notes which make the air ring." common things while the men of let. The modern man of letters, on the con- ters cultivate subtleties and delicacies trary, is at special pains to disclaim which the great majority cannot apthe idea that he has a mission in life preciate, is an assumption so freor anything momentous to say which is quently made that it has come to be not already familiar to the man in the regarded as an axiom of criticism; and street. Moralizing, we are perpetually the writings of the elect are full of lamtold, is fatal to literature, as of course entation and woe at the alleged narit is, if by moralizing we mean the dull rowing of the circle in which their reand unskillful hammering of the com- fined wares find acceptance. monplace. The axiom, however, takes And yet, if one looks back on the on a meaning which actually shuts off bistory of literature, it is an assumpthe literary artist from the greater mat- tion for which there is very little warters of life and conduct. Books on rant; so little, indeed, that to insist on style proceed from beginning to end on it seems, if one may judge from the the assumption that the literary art past, to be the note of an inferior consists wholly in the light choice of school, and not, as so many writers words and their scholarly arrangement appear to take for granted, of the great in graceful patterns. And being thus schools-a note of Euphuism rather preoccupied with word-craft, a great than of Elizabethanism. Judged by its many modern writers find it easier to power of surviving, Euphuism has no write good sentences than good chap- advantage over the most popular ters or good books. They lack what method in authorship. The stylists of Frenchmen call the esprit de suite, that the year before last are in the same grasp of the whole and sense of or grave with the popular novelists whom derly development which belong to the they despised, and the critic of to-day great theme in the hands of the mas- scarcely troubles even to drop a tear ter. The critic, meanwhile, judges not over them. For though style is, as of what is said, but of how it is said, and Stevenson truly said, a great antiseptic, is even apt to take the narrowest view it can only do its work if there is a of this accomplishment.
body worth preserving, and then it acts It follows almost inevitably from this silently and imperceptibly. Of course, conception of the writer's art that the it is true that the mass of people look great mass of the public become es- first to the thing said rather than to tranged from literature. In these days the manner in which it is said; but it we have writers with immense circu- is a mistake to suppose that the manlations whom the literary people de ner does not make its appeal to the clare to be of no account, and literary reader because he is unable to analyze people of high accomplishment whom its virtues. Style in its perfection is the great public refuses to consider. like the sword in the Arabian Nights. A small minority speak habitually of which decapitated its victim, and left the literary art as if it were a secret bim unaware of what had happened, process which is hidden from their till he shook his head, and it rolled on neighbors, and their neighbors retaliate to the floor. by showing complete indifference to So far then, as it depends upon style, wbat this minority calls literature. the virtue of being above the heads That this gulf must necessarily be of the people belongs not to the best, fixed between the few and the many but only to the second-best literature. With that reservation we may concede of whom are Carlyle and Ruskin in one it. If a writer cannot ascend to the field, and Dickens and Thackeray in heights, it is well for him not to de- another field, whose main purpose is scend to the depths, but to work on to say what they feel about life, and the middle plane where he may make who are so filled with their subject a cultivated appeal to the people of that they have no time to consider culture. Here he may legitimately themselves as literary craftsmen, surely on accomplishments which will be perb as they very often are in that "caviare to the general" who have been respect. With all his professed coneducated in the various kinds of public tempt for the thirty millions, mostly schools; here, too, he may give him- fools, Carlyle's ambition was to reach self reasonable airs of superiority over them and to influence them, and not lower mortals who frankly bid for the to tickle the palates of the literary largest circulation with wares that are hundred, whom he probably considwholly commercial. Genius, however, ered the greatest fools of all. Rusis not limited by these conditions. The kin, too, resented nothing so much appeal which genius makes to the heart as the imputation that he was a mere and imagination may carry it to vast literary artist or artistic critic, and masses of people who have no opinion year by year addressed his vehement at all about the literary form that it exhortations on life and conduct to a uses. And for this reason, an exag larger and larger audience of simple gerated concern with the mechanism of people. These two men between them literature is almost invariably a sign reached hundreds of thousands of of the absence of genius, though it working-class and middle-class folk in may also very well be the sign of a the days before school boards, without high degree of accomplishment.
ever forfeiting the respect of the literThe rise and fall of English litera- ary élite. An even more remarkable ture in the nineteenth century brings instance is Tennyson, who was at once this home to us. Glancing back over the conscious literary artist and the those years we find at the beginning most popular of poets. Browning and of them a whole school of writers in re- Meredith are in a different category: volt against the stylistic conception of but, though their appeal was to a writing-Wordsworth, in particular, as smaller class, both of them are entirely serting that there is no such thing as removed from the esoteric and æsthetic. a literary language as distinguished Here we are in presence of men with from ordinary speech, and carrying his imagination so vivid and ideas so rich theory to excess in a studied, and oc- that they break the bounds of speech casionally somewhat ridiculous homeli- in the effort to overtake their own ness of speech. The mark of this thoughts. Hence a certain obscurity school is what Professor Brandes calls for less nimble minds, but it is, if one Its "naturalism," that is, its contact may express it, a natural obscurity with nature and human nature as op- arising out of the breathlessness of this posed to the formalism of its prede. pursuit, not the artificial obscurity by cessors. Yet this school, without any which smaller men conceal the poverty labored pursuit of style, did, as a mat of their thoughts. Both these men are ter of fact, achieve the highest form in the main stream of human nature, of expression, as in Keats and Shelley, rejoicing in life and all its manifestaand Wordsworth himself. Descending tions, sane, robust, and optimistic, to the next generation, we find a pow. without a touch of that intellectual erful band of prose-writers, the chief vanity which makes the work of some others who depict human nature seem moral thinker. This does some injusa kind of condescension. Browning's tice to Addison, whose moral was not men and women, like the men and the less profound because it was conwomen of Thackeray, Dickens, and veyed indirectly; but it may be quoted Meredith, are not the stuff that books to show that, whenever he came finally are made of, but humanity interpreted to appraise a writer, Arnold thought by genius, which means by sympathy. of his substance and not of his form. These great writers have their weak. His hard saying that poetry is a critinesses and limitations, no doubt, but cism of life, the weight which he at. they never look down on their subject; tached to Hebraism as against Helthey are filled with the sense of its lenism, to conduct as against mere mystery and complexity, and of the manners, his unfailing interest in immense difficulty of measuring its moral tendencies and the drift of pubheights and its depths. Hence the mid- lic affairs, were even more vitally charVictorian school of fiction has handed acteristic of his life and writings than on to us an infinitely varied portrait his advocacy of culture. Nevertheless. gallery of humanity, in mean circum- his influence over men who had not stances and heroic, in poverty and his genius-who could imitate his manwealth, ridiculous and pathetic; but, ner but not enter into his thoughton the whole, making a brave show was, I am afraid it must be said, in against the buffets of fortune and the the contrary direction. To them he powers of darkness.
seemed always to be preaching the Then there comes upon the scene a comfortable doctrine that culture, powerful man of letters who draws a which they understood as meaning a dividing line between the Philistines knowledge of dead languages and a and the elect, the cultured few and University education, placed them in a the uncultured many. It would be the class apart from their fellow men who basest ingratitude to question the debt were without these advantages. They which English letters owe to Matthew read with delight the passage in which Arnold. His poetry was exquisite and he spoke of a barbarian upper class, original; he sharpened criticism and a Philistine middle class, and a bruimproved taste at a time when both talized lower class, and with immense were on the down-grade. For all that, self-complacency conceived themselves the stress which he laid upon the as the select minority which stood outaesthetic element in literary culture side those ignominious categories. drew attention from the ethical side of Arnold himself would have made his teacbing and encouraged the vanity short work of their claim, but his which in the next twenty years led teaching had in effect encouraged the men of letters to pride themselves on belief that literature, in the true sense appealing to a limited public. Yet of the word, was the possession of the Arnold himself, while appealing to this few. audience, fit but few, insisted with all And then, improving upon this exthe force of his nature that the main ample, we had a school of stylists who thing was the substance of literature sought still further to narrow the circle and its ethical character. and in this and finally to make of literature somerespect he remains a true mid-Vic- thing exquisite and gemlike, appealing torian. There is even a passage in one to connoisseurs who were a minority of his essays in which he denies to of the minority. The one considerable Addison the title of a great writer on man of this group was Walter Pater, the ground that he is not a profound who was indeed a delightful craftsman, and did work which was entirely fail to reach reads Stevenson, reads admirable within its own limits. No Tennyson, reads Carlyle and Ruskin, one need quarrel with the masters of and now buys by the hundreds of any style who give us the best of thousands the popular editions of the which their nature is capable; the great classical writers which are issuquarrel is with disciples who would ing in streams from the press. And bave us believe that the master's if for modern tiction and modern esmethod is the only method. With the says they are delivered over to writers Arnold influence and the Pater influ- who make the pursuit of the largest ence working together upon the edu- circulation a purely commercial busicated classes, the idea of literature bad ness, the reason must be either that we undoubtedly become impoverished in lack literary men with natures large the last ten years of the nineteenth enough and simple enough to make this century. We had swung as far as pos- wide appeal, or that the men who sible from the naturalist movement of might have made it have deliberately the early years of the century, and chosen to treat writing as if it were had come to think of the man of letters an art for the few. not as interpreter of the inarticulate Of course, if the first of these somasses, but as leader of a forlorn hope lutions is the right one, if, that is to against the masses. There have, of say, we lack genius, there is no more course, been eminent exceptions. In to be said. "The wind bloweth where Stevenson we had a novelist who, like it listeth, and no man knoweth whence Tennyson in poetry, combined the most it cometh or whither it goeth." We exquisite skill in word-craft with a must simply bide our time till this massimplicity and buoyancy of nature sive and simple kind of genius reapwhich have made him the delight of pears. But even so we may make the many as of the few; but, like things easier for genius when it comes. Arnold, Stevenson influenced other and prepare an atmosphere which will writers, who had not his genius, on the be favorable for its coming, if we set xesthetic rather than on the human our faces against the literary tyranny side. They dwelt on his account of the which is constantly narrowing the labor by which he acquired the art of sphere of letters, and teaching the writing-how he did “sedulous ape to younger writers of to-day that it is a Hazlitt" and other masters of style, kind of vulgarity to appeal to the great what innumerable note-books he kept, public. It does not follow, as these and how he enriched his vocabulary critics seem to suppose, that because by collecting strange and curious some writers obtain the largest circuwords-and it bewildered them to find lation by methods which have notbing that the most diligent efforts on the in common with literature, the mass same lines left the public cold and un- of people are inaccessible by writers appreciative in their own case. It (al- who respect their calling. That is a not be doubted that the public have, false syllogism, as the experience of on the whole, shown a thoroughly great writers proves, and the constant sound instinct in this respect, and assertion of it as if it were an inconwhen we hear cultivated persons de testable fact, decentralizes literature nouncing Board schools and halfpenny and drives it more and more into holes newspapers and popular magazines for and corners. This tendency is seen their alleged debauching of the public in the fiction and drama of to-day. taste. we may remind them that this One hears educated people talking great public whom they despise and habitually as if it were necessarily a