Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

and no man can afford, either for his own sake or for that of literature itself, to take the censor's chair and issue his decisions in any other attitude of mind than that of considerate deference to the feelings of men.

III. Knowledge and sympathy are one thing and essential in their place. Insight is quite another thing, and in its place even more essential. It is what Mr. Arnold terms “the endeavor to see the object as in itself it really is.” The work of the critic is now introspective and subjective, having to do with the innermost content and spirit of whatsoever may be examined.

1. There is in this included, first of all, that particular order of insight which we may call philoscplis. As such, it has primarily to do with the fundamental laws of things, with the genesis of causes and the gradual sequence of effects. It is this phase of critical activity which the ablest critics of all ages have magnified. It is the criticism of ideas, of the essential properties of any mental product, quite apart from any specifically external form which it may assume. Even Pope, despite his slavish subjection to the formalities of Augustan art in letters, insists upon this interior insight as one of the prime conditions in those “ born to judge.” Criticism at this point may rise to the dignity of a philosophic science. All that is meant by the high mental process of generalization, of analysis and synthesis, is practically involved in it. Hence, the increasingly high conception which modern educated opinion is holding as to its character and requirements. More and more, is it seen to be something more than a verbal study of authorship, and is taking its place as a substantial art, based on logical and psychological grounds.

Nothing more surely confirms this statement than the tendency manifest of late to make the boundary line between literary criticism and creation as narrow as possible. Principal Shairp, in his “ Aspects of Poetry,” dwells on this very subject with characteristic interest. Mr. Carlyle, in all his writings, insists upon the necessity of the inventive as well as the historical element in criticism. Precisely so, Mr. Arnold; while the latest deliverance on this particular topic is from Mr. Stedman; as he quaintly expresses it: “I doubt if creative criticism, and that which is truly critical, differ like the experimental and the analytic chemistries.” In plain English, he would say, the difference is incidental and not radical. When he says of Mr. Lowell, “that to read him enjoyably is a point in evidence of a liberal education," he is speaking of his critical ability. There is, indeed, such a thing as the “higher criticism” applied to the products of literary art. It is distinctively intellectual in cast and method, so that its normal result will be seen in the form of mental quickening and expansion. It has to do far more with what De Quincey calls the “Literature of Power," than with the

· Literature of Knowledge.” The one is inquisitive; the other, merely acquisitive. The judicial faculty, in whatever sphere applied, is one of the highest organs of mental energy, and reaches its conclusions largely through the agency of philosophic insight.

There is, however, a further form of insight absolutely essential to the criticism of literature. We may call it literary, as distinct from philosophic. Addison speaks of it as “fine taste," born with us, if at all existing, and so essential as by its absence to render all judgments fallacious. We sometimes speak of it correctly as, delicacy of perception, that peculiar reach and nicety of discrimination by which the mind comes at once to the clear discernment of what is true and beautiful in authorship. While less distinctively logical than that order of insight already noted, it is even more penetrating and crucial, and, withal, more reliable in its decisions. Unrestricted by any of the formulæ of the schools, and quite devoid of what may be called a systematic procedure, it works with all the spontaneity of instinct, and yet with all the satisfactoriness of established law. It is this that Mr. Arnold may have in mind in one of his favorite words—“lucidity.” It is undoubtedly what he means by his reiterated phrase, “a sense of

“ beauty." This is substantially what we mean by literary insight, including in its range of vision not only beauty, but all the other and higher qualities of expression. We prefer to call it, the literary sense, -founded, indeed, on literary knowledge and philosophic insight, and yet possessed of a character and territory of its own and signally exhibited in what we have discussed as, the literary style. This is that special penetration that detects, appreciates, and exhibits all the most delicate features of literary excellence in prose and verse; which peers with the genuine critic's eye, clarified by culture, into all the shades and phases of truth. It is what Hazlitt would call “the refined understanding,” a sagacious apprehension of those particular qualities which make any work of art attractive and worthy. At times, as with the Greeks of old, it would seem to have been the possession of an entire people, while even in modern literature the instances are not rare when mere scholarly criticism, devoid of this unstudied perception of the inmost essence of things, has been forced to defer its literary judgments to the intuitive decisions of the general literary public. The existence of such a type and measure of insight is, however, comparatively rare, either in nations or individuals. Hence, those critics in whom this genius of criticism is found are few in number. Longinus, among the Greeks, was such an one. Such, among the Germans, was Goethe, whom Masson calls “the greatest literary critic that ever lived." Such was Sainte-Beuve in France, and such is Mr. Ruskin, of England. The very mention of these names is indicative of a keen, subtle, pervasive insight into character and art. Beyond all knowiedge of fact and power of generalization there is the “vision and the faculty divine " as belonging to the critic no less than to the author. Under its searching introspection hidden things are brought to light, and truth and beauty are seen to be one.

It is pertinent to note, in this connection, that nothing is more fatal to literary progress than the presence of superficial literary criticism, marked alike by its lack of philosophic and of literary penetration. As already intimated, modern Continental and English Letters are showing decided progress in this particular. Since the opening of the romantic era in England, in the natural art of Burns and Wordsworth, scholars, authors, and readers alike are becoming less and less tolerant of mere verbal structure for structure's sake. Despite the fact that the conventional school of the days of Anne is far too largely reproduced by the leading poets of England, to-day, still the protest against it is so emphatic and continuous that it must perforce be heard and heeded. The gradual supremacy of substantial prose over merely resonant verse, the gradual decadence of polite letters, as the French have loosely used that phrase, and the increasing attention now given to the history, philosophy and purpose of literature, all make their influence felt within the province of criticism itself, and call for something more than mere mechanical technique. There is an ever more imperative demand among the representative classes of the community to get

« ZurückWeiter »