his happier days, a sympathy, an urban- ous, but not dishonorable, bread and butity, a wit, and even a literary enthusiasm ter. There are good reviews among the (for Lamartine and Racine), which cover multitude which the Press, daily and à number of sins in the eyes of an English- weekly, brings to the birth. There are man. Thus, it is not sober soundness and even reviews by men who are masters of correctness and sagacity alone that make their subjects, and who can give an author the critic. It is rather originality, indi- new facts, or new matter for thought. viduality, the possession of wide knowl. There are amiable reviews, which do their edge and of an interesting temperament, best to procure a hearing for a book adthat enable a writer on books to write what mired by the reviewer. There are severe shall be valuable. For writing about writ- reviews, which honestly dance upon a ing is not in itself a very noble profession, book which the critic does not admire. nor one very well worth devoting time and There are candid, and temperate, and labor to, though the greatest writers, funny reviewers, for all of whom authors Goethe, Wordsworth, Hugo, Scott, have and readers may be thankful. They help not disdained it. The laws and processes (a little) to sell a book, or (a little) they of all arts are interesting to artists, and to help to prevent its sale. Theirs are the others who, without possessing genius, verdicts of public tasters, that is all, or have knowledge, and taste, and discrimina- nearly all. Occasionally modern reviews tion. Criticism does very little, if any- are essays worth reading. If the reviewer thing, for any art, but man is so made be a student and competent, he can hang that he takes pleasure in having his say. a charming article on the revival of an old This say” is Criticism, and, at worst, play or the success or failure of a new play. Criticism adds some agreeable hours to Even the review of a novel may show good life, offers some pleasant matters of manners, wit, knowledge, a happy knack thought, brings us nearer to some great of bringing ideas together, and of eluciminds than we can come when we study dating the grounds of liking and disliking. their creative work alone ; and so far, I I cannot agree with Mr. Besant's theory suppose, Criticism has a raison d'être and that critics never instruct and never enneeds no defence of its existence. Few courage an author. That they often enpersons, I presume, can look back on their courage and often discourage authors, first reading of Lessing's Laocoon without experience shows us. That they instruct pleasure, without remembering how their is more difficult to prove, because an outlook was widened, how their ideas were author must, at all costs, be himself ; and clarified, how they had gained more in a the best advice may be bad, if it makes few hours from a book than they could him self-conscious, makes him try to be have extracted from experience in years. Other than himself. On the whole, reIt is a commonplace thing to say, but it viewing by instructed and competent men is true, that good Criticism does for art and women is not worthless, I hope, to the and works of art what art does for nature public, to publishers, or to authors. On and the works of nature. It clears our the other hand, a great proportion of our eyes, it heightens and intensifies and innumerable reviews are written by the makes more select our pleasures.

ignorant, the hasty, the spiteful, the careBut we are writing about excellent crit less, the incompetent. Some reviewers ics, men of taste, learning, temper, urban- are merely flippant on all occasions ; ity, and wit. The works of such authors, always with the same weary old secondfrom Aristotle to Hazlitt, are, I suppose, hand flippancy, a bad imitation of a manvery little read ; are only read, as a rule, ner that never was good. Such are they by people who have to occupy themselves who tell in a dozen lines of forced fun the professionally with literature, or who live plot of a novel. It may be a bad novel, much of their lives in literature's pale and but the best will not stand this process. shadowy, but enduring pleasures. The Other reviewers there are, who appear to kind of Criticism which the world really conceive gratuitous and causeless hates and reads is to be found in reviews of all sorts loves for authors whom they never met, and sizes. “It is an ill bird which fouls nor are likely to meet. They distribute its own nest,” and heaven forbid that I blame or praise with a queer kind of pershould speak ill of the mystery of review- sonal animus, for which they probably ing, whereby many of us make our inglori- could not account themselves. The book


reviewed is the last thing in their minds. on the floor ; or whether Mr. Trulliber (I They are denouncing or applauding their have forgot his Greek name) took exact own personal ideal of the author. A good care of the hogs. If it was not an incondeal of envy, hatred, malice, and all un- testable fact that Milton wrote Paradise charitableness

goes into the manufacture Regained, one could never believe Homer of reviews, all combined in an aspic of wrote the Odyssey." ignorance. For the ignorance of the Here we find Mrs. Carter an honest, if ordinary reviewer is only equalled by his not, perhaps, an acute or sympathetic confidence, and by the audacity with which critic. But her Editor, a clergyman, tells he delivers his brawling judgments on a als that “Mrs. Carter's criticism was not book, after a glance at the preface. In designed for the public;" she would have brief, reviewing may be, and often is, spoken very differently if she had written done by gentlemen and scholars, but it is, for the public. In that case Mrs. Carter perhaps, as frequently the mere expression would have been dishonest, a knave : we of ignorant and careless and envious dul- prefer her honest, and not very wise. Let

And how could it be otherwise ? all critics imitate the outspoken private Here is a hungry and eager nobody, who manner of Mrs. Carter, remembering, also, has never done, and never will do, any- to avoid the literary arts unknown to Mr. thing. He has a pen in his hand, he has Clough. “He had not yet traduced bis the work of someone who has made money friends, nor flattered bis enemies, nor and a name before him, and what is to blamed what be approved, nor praised prevent him from writing a review which what he despised. Criticism would be amounts to a yell of “Yah !"

more amusing if all critics were like Mrs. At the best, I suppose Criticism does Carter ; it is vain to hope that they will authors

little good.

Archdeacon all be like Mr. Clough. But, when all is Farrar, I think, though I have not the said, I own that I can scarcely conceive of reference at hand, once told the world that a topic less momentous than Criticism. Criticism had done him no good. This, We are all but Goniobornbukes ;* though perhaps, is an extreme case. But review- some buzz a little longer or louder than ing may do one's books good, if it be others, and in a more spacious corner. favorable. It may, if it be sincere and Who reads Boileau now, and is Quintilian competent, give the public a hint as to much in men's minds? Does Mr. Pinero what to read and what to avoid, though consult the the public usually prefers its own selec

“ Prefaces of Dryden, tions. On a lower level, if it be witty For these our critics much confide in ?" (which is not common), Criticism may Where is Burke on the Sublime, and amuse, and to amuse few readers is not

where is Mr. Morritt's Vindication of wholly to waste time, ink, and paper.

Homer, and Blackwell's treatise on the Such seem to me to be the hun ble duties

sanie anthor ? Quite a inild little poem or of everyday reviewing work. You may benefit a new author a little, though, to be of our Criticisms, and the critic's lot, on

a third-rate play outlives and outlasts most sure, in doing so you make all Grub Street the whole, is not a happy one. detest him. You may cause a pretender Mr. Henry James and Mr. Saintsbury fiud

Perhaps to dance at the Torture Stake, though this it more satisfactory than I do. again is an entertainment in which only the

A. LANG. young braves and the squaws should take part. You should, at least, be "indiffer

JII. ent honest,” and speak your mind. Here is an opportunity for a story about that

There is a great deal too much waste of eminent female critic, Mrs. Carter, the powder and shot in the current attacks learned lady, the translator of Epictetus.

which authors make upon critics. It is On September 5th, 1746, Mrs. Carter of no use at all to fight against the purely wrote to Miss Talbot. She’had been read. irresponsible, incompetent, or indolent exing the Odysrey, and thought it a very body of what are commonly called “ Press

pressions of opinion, which form the main mean performance. “ It really does not scem of any great importance to the reader

persons who a peg, or was sloven enough to throw them buzz in a corner.”

* For the benefit of Grub Street, let us transwhether Telemachus bung bis clothes upon late this hard word. It means

notices." These, be they genial or spite- the other forms of belles-lettres; it is ful, if written by persons without literary hardly two hundred years old. Yet it training on books the subjects of which lie takes every day a greater prominence, and outside their knowledge, mean less than it becomes inore and more desirable to innothing. No leafage of the printing press sist on its importance and to ensure its can be so terly deciduous. It is better welfare. to leave this mass of imitative opinion un- The best criticism must, I conceive, be touched, and to consider only what is of intelligent, sympathetic, and personal. its kind sincere, original, and competent. The critic must first of all be intelligent. Of literary criticism which we can discuss His mind must act with rapidity. It must with gravity, criticism which may pre- be trained to receive a succession of delisumably be of some service to its readers, cate impressions promptly and precisely. there are two main species. The first of He must be agile in intellectual movement. these, and the least important, may be If he misunderstands his author for a mobriefly dismissed.

ment, he must be ready instantly to retrace The books of the day, copies of each his steps ; he must not push on, obstiof which are poured forth into the editorial nately force the sense, and delight in his offices of half a hundred newspapers, meet own robustness. Misplaced vigor of this with a certain number of critics who are kind is a very English fault in criticism. trained to form an opinion of their quali- Half the honest fellows who come up froin ties which is relatively just and precise. both Universities, ready equipped to be The nature of this kind of criticism it critics, prove mere bulls in the china shop should be easy to define. The critic has of imaginative literature. What is subtle to take the book on its own merits, to de- and evanescent escapes them, what is unscribe succinctly its contents or the line of familiar to their narrow experience they its argument, and to give a judgment on are able to prove has never, and could its execution. This work is strictly im- never have, existed, and when it is their personal. He must not air his own opin- business to be attentive they are merely ions, he should not, in this elementary waking the echoes with their own formulas. kind of criticism, compare the author's The best critic is quick of ear and eye, book with those of his contemporaries, or slow to believe that he has exhausted his even with his own earlier productions. theme, anxious to comprehend from all The critic is here merely employed to tell points of view the product presented to the newspaper-reader what is the nature of him. this or that particular volume which has The critic must be sympathetic. He just been published. His duty is to be must have some of the qualities of the truthful, to be unprejudiced, to guard purely creative writer-insight, imagina. against riding any of his own hobbies un- tion, a sense of relative values. It is not fairly, in short, to give the book before enough to be clearly aware of the meaning him a fair field and no favor. This is the of the writer under discussion, nor of the inferior class of criticism, which, in my exact tendency of his work, With this, opinion, is always more effective when un. and with nothing more, some very insigned. It is not of a pretentious order ; teresting results have been obtained, parbut if honestly and competently performed, ticularly in France. But this is far from in the spirit of a gentleman, it may be of being enough. The critic, if he is to be extraordinary public utility. But it is un- of the highest class, must know why his comparative, and it is of necessity a mere author wrote thus and thus. Even when indication of fleeting opinion.

he detests what the author has written, he The other class of literary criticism, and must comprehend what led to such manithe only one which it is of serious interest festations, He must be capable of leavto discuss, is comparative and composite. ing his own plane and of moving in the very To this class belongs all the criticism that atmosphere of his subject. By an imag- : enjoys even a brief existence as in itself a inative process, he must see the mind of species of literature. At its best, this is the author at work, and appreciate not one of the most exquisite of intellectual merely the product but the process. products, and only a little below the Most thoughtful readers will admit that creative work of tbe novelist or poet. It criticism must be intelligent and even symhas come into existence much later than pathetic. I anticipate more opposition

It apo

when I insist that it must be personal, that an exaggerated laudation of minor points is to say, individual to the critic.

where you agree with him. It is not a pears to me that there can be no valuable series of instances in which he has made criticism of the composite order, nothing grammatical errors or erred from the paths comparative or elaborate, that does not de- of punctuation. It is not any exclusive pend for its value on the personal authority inspection of lesser points, whether for or personal charm of the critic who pro. fault-finding or the reverse. The considduces it. What we do not want, what eration of these minor matters has its gods and men abhor, is the absence of place in the course of ininor criticism, but personality in criticism, a colorless state- even there it should be kept in proportion ment of second-hand opinion, not due to with the general outlines of the theme. any individual impression, not the result An insistence upon these lesser details, to of personal judgment, but a kind of aver- the disregard of the larger matters of litage opinion, nebulous and unassailable, erary interest, must always be the indica- . formed indolently and ignorantly on the tion of an ill-balanced judgment. unreasonable likes or dislikes of the public. Most of the faults of current critics It is impossible within the


allotted would be avoided if they, and if we, their to us here to do more than touch on one or readers, would, as I have said, realize the two desultory points. I pass, therefore, dignity of the art they practise. Where without apology, to a general considera- would be the room for acrid recrimination, tion. Nothing seems to be more lacking to for slovenly obiter dicta, for exhibitions the ordinary literary criticism of this coun- of unabashed ignorance, for all the species try than the sense of proportion. It would of criticism falsely so-called from which we be a great benefit to this branch of litera- suffer, if writers regarded this department ture if those who practise it would realize of letters as gravely as they do the others ? more clearly the dignity of the art they We have to demand in those who disundertake to cultivate and the natural course to us on literature certain definite parts of which it should consist. A qualities. Without a lifelong knowledge perusal of the reviews of the day suggests of books, without absolute judicial rectia whole code of negatives which might be tude, without the mental habit of urbanity, useful to reviewers. Criticism

without a determined cultivation of supwould like to say to these young lions, if pleness and independence of mind, no one one had the temerity to do 80, -criticism ought to have the presumption to present is not praise nor blame ; it is analysis. himself to us as a critic. It is not pretty writing about the subject

EDMUND GOSSE. which the author has treated. It is not

-New Review.




When people speak of the East, of draw the attention of the public at large Oriental languages, Oriental literature, toward Oriental studies, and to arouse an Oriental art, or Oriental religion, their idea interest in the languages, the literatures, generally seems to be that all that belongs the art, and the religion of the East, pot to the East is extremely old and very mys- only among scholars, but among the everterious. There is a charm which it is widening circles of intelligent men and difficult to account for, but there certainly cultivated women, it may not seem very is a charm that attracts us to everything wise to say anything that might break that that is supposed to be very old, and to charm, that might reduce the enormous everything that seems wrapt in mystery. antiquity so often claimed for Oriental litIf, then, these lectures which I have the erature to more modest limits, and dispel honor to inaugurate to-night are meant to those golden clouds of mystery which are Inaugural Address, delivered before tbe

supposed to surround the sanctuary of the Royal Asiatic Society, on Wednesday, March primeval wisdom of the East. 4, 1891.

And yet, if I were asked to say what in NEW SERIES.–VOL, LIV., No. 1. 2

our own time is the distinguishing feature cophagi of nature ! And again, how mod. of Oriental research, I should say that it ern are those stratificd cemeteries on the was the endeavor to bring the remote East surface of our globe, nay, even the uncloser and closer to our own time, and to stratified foundations of this earth, in the dispel as much as possible that mystery eyes of the astronomer, to whom onr globe which used to shroud its language, its dwindles away into a mere infinitesimal literature, and its religion. Oriental globule that has not yet been touched by scholarship is no longer a mere matter of the rays of light proceeding from more curiosity. It appeals to higher sympa- distant suns ! Mere antiquity, it has thies, and teaches us that we can study in always seemed to me, can lend no real the East as well as in the West the great charm to Oriental studies. questions of humanity-those questions First of all, what we call ancient in litthat furnish the first impulse and the high- erary productions is not so very ancient est purpose to all human inquiries. So after all. Our libraries and museums conlong as the Egyptian is a mere mummy to tain little that is more than four thousand us, the Babylonian a mere image in stone, years old. If one century is easily spanned the Jew a prophet, the Hindu a dreamer, by three generations, a little more than one the Chinaman a joke, we are not yet Ori- hundred generations would span

the whole ental scholars. The Wise Men of the history of the literature of the world. East are still mere strangers to us, coming What the Egyptians said to the Greeks we we know not whence, going we know not must learn to say to ourselves—“ We are whither, and leaving bebind then noth- as yet but children." Man's life on earth ing but gold, frankincense, and myrrh. is only in its beginnings. The future be

It is only when these strangers cease to fore him is immense ; the past that lies be strangers, when they become friends, behind us is but the short preface to a people exactly like ourselves in their work that will require many volumes bestrength and in their weakness, in their fore it is finished, before man has become ideals and their failures, in their hopes and what he was meant to be. their despairs—it is then only that we can Secondly, we must not forget that when claim to be Oriental scholars, real students we speak of literary works of two, or of the East, true lovers of humanity which three, or four thousand years before our is always the same, whatever its age, era, we are not really on what is properly whatever its language, whatever the many called historical ground. I am by no disguises which it has assumed in the means a sceptic as to the remote antiquity different acts of the great drama of history. assigned to Chinese, Egyptian, Baby

What charm is there in mere antiquity ? lonian, and Indian literature ; but I think Antiquity seems difficult to define. Very we are too easily tempted to forget the often what is old is despised, however important difference between authentic good it may be ; at other times, what is and constructive history. Authentic hisold is valued, though its merit seems to tory, as Niebuhr often pointed out, begins consist in nothing but its age. A book when we have the testimony of a contemprinted in the fifteenth century is competed porary, or an eye-witness, testifying to for by all collectors, while many a manu- the events which he relates. Constructive script of the same date will hardly tempt history and constructive chronology rest a buyer. A Greek work of art, say, of on deduction. Constructive history may 500 B.C., finds a place of honor in any be quite as true as authentic history. Stiil

An Egyptian monument of the we should never forget the difference besame age is referred to the decadence of tween the two. old Egyptian art. When we come to one If we bear this difference in mind, I thousand years, two thousand years, or, should say that the authentic history of as some will have it, to three or four thou- India does not begin before the third censand years B.C., everything that can claim tury B.C. We have at that time the indescent from those distant ages is valued, scriptions of the famous King Asoka, the and almost worshipped. And yet, what grandson of Chandragupta, the Sandroare four thousand, what are six thousand kyptos of Greek historians. Everything years, when we become geologists ? What in the history of India before that time is are the oldest Egyptian mummies compare purely constructive. But is it therefore to the megatheria embalmed in the sar. less certain ? I believe not. The language


« VorigeDoorgaan »