« VorigeDoorgaan »
written of the event afterwards. In their actual experience most people are sound in their relation towards art, but in the defining of that experience they habitually come to grief. In reasoning about art they persist in applying standards not of imaginative virtue but of doctrine, and they blame the artist not for defective vision but for what he sees, so that still Pope is justified
'A fool might once himself alone expose,
Of the sufficiency for the artist of this communication to himself we are, perhaps, most tellingly persuaded when we are sometimes with forgotten and uncelebrated work. I was lately reading the love elegies of an obscure eighteenth-century poet, James Hammond, whom Samuel Johnson included in his 'Lives' only to dismiss as negligible, and who has since come to no better luck than a contemptuous reference in Mr. I. A. Williams's recent ‘Byways
Round Helicon.' Hammond, by his work as a whole, has deserved better treatment, having more art and feeling than Johnson allowed, and having a mood of tenderness not very common in his generation. It is true, however, that, for the most part, the fervour of his love escapes us in his verses, in which there is often an expectancy of the perfect word and no realization. Then, suddenly, in one poem we come across this stanza,
"With thee I hop'd to waste the pleasing Day,
With the exception of the one phrase, the stanza is no better than its fellows, but with his ‘old with Love' Hammond stumbles upon revelation, and for one moment is a poet with the best of them. There was some very vivid brightening of the emotion when he achieved that, and I do not believe that in the orderings of Providence he captured the phrase chiefly so that he might communicate that brightening to some lucky reader two hundred years later. I think that Providence wanted just once to be kind to the poet Hammond himself, and gave him that phrase in token of the good-will. I do not suppose that since he died Hammond has averaged one reader a year, but I do not think that to himself the significance of his moment was any the less for that.
The modern school of painting that refuses to represent anything that can be related to a natural image is inspired by this determination that its art shall be judged as art and not as doctrine. This does not mean at all that in the literary arts doctrine should have no place. The poet may bristle with convictions and be all the better poet for it, but it is not seemly in us to praise or dispraise him because of the nature of these. How does he
sent them, how does he stimulate us in the shaping of his vision, how does he quicken our faculties in the exercise of his? These are the questions, and these alone, by which he comes up for our judgment. That he is human and treasures our good opinion of his work when it is done, even of the kind of man that his work embodies, is a circumstance of which it is dishonourable in us to take advantage. When his work is finished he may be hurt or gratified by opinions passed upon these false premises, but at the time of creation he knows better than this and would despise us for them. In the long run the only good-will that he truly cherishes is that which comes from an audience which makes nothing of consent or otherwise to his doctrine, but acknowledges in him that abundance of life which is alone the negation of evil. There is no deliberation in the lovely service which the poet does to mankind. It is his to
· My friend, Ernest de Sélincourt, has drawn my attention to the fitness of these lines from Keats to my argument.
THE POET AND TRADITION 1
Every poet spends his life between the devil of imitation and the deep sea of revolt. So far as his deliberation controls his working at all - and it may be said that deliberation is an energy in the creative mind as vital as the more mercurial habit which we call inspiration, that it is, indeed, the patient conditioning of the moods from which inspiration springs - it is concerned more than anything else with the sorting of individual experience with tradition. Given creative energy, it is upon just dealing in this matter that all hope of its happy employment depends. For just as the idle surrender to tradition, the mere pilfering of another man's constructive achievement, is the most ignoble process of the mind, so the petulant refusal to consider tradition at all and the self-mistrust that forbids the artist to look at his fellow's wares lest he be tempted overmuch to steal, result always in fumbling pretentiousness. For an artist to suppose that the discovery and practice of his forerunners can be
neglected without disaster is to be duped, and to be tradition's dupe is no more admirable than to be its slave. Let us, before considering the real problem of the poet's proper relation to tradition and * A paper read to the Royal Society of Literature.
the nourishment that he can draw from it, dismiss both slaves and dupes with a word or two. Of the slaves, indeed, hardly a word is necessary. The facile rhymesters who so copiously do ill what has already been done well are familiar to us all; their work is the token of half-witted appreciation of the work of others, and that is all there is to say. The dupes are not so easily measured. However far they may fall short of artistic salvation, they at least are not without artistic conscience. They do not understand; for they refuse the direction of an intelligence that is greater than theirs, the intelligence of generations, but their failure is one of undisciplined energy rather than of sloth. We are sometimes apt to be irritated by what seems to be the arrogance of these rather sorry tatterdemalions of art. Missing always the true significance of past achievement in their dread of its sorcery, they fall so often to abusing their fellows who, not fearing tradition, have mastered it. But it is, in truth, the abuse of unhappy minds, sick with half-realization of the health that they have missed. They remain inarticulate, and, unlike the slaves, not being withered in the roots, they know how desirable a thing articulation is. They are to be pitied, for there is no spiritual state so sorrowful as that of the man who, knowing, not as a delighted observer but with creative intensity, the beauty of expression, cannot achieve it. These men, scorning tradi