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can be made what it ought to be, an essential factor in all intellectual and social progress-these are questions with which the conscientious critic is bound to deal, lest, indeed, the very end of his art be missed. The final purpose of literary criticism is what Lessing would have styled, the search after truth, first of all, as expressed in literature itself, and, then, through it as a medium in all related domains of thought. Such a purpose is eminently ethical, and serves to co-ordinate the work of the critic with that of the educator and moralist.
It is in this particular province of criticism that danger is the most imminent. Manifestly so in Continental Europe, and, most especially, in the modern French school of art, it is far too apparent on the English side of the channel, and is even working its way across the Atlantic. Mr. Gibbon has sinned as critic just here, as has Mr. Buckle, in his survey of European civilization. Mallock and Lecky are not without faults in this repect, while even such critics as John Morley and Leslie Stephen have more than once yielded to the growing tendency whereby the pursuit of truth for truth's sake has been made the secondary end. In most of the recent estimates of the character of George Eliot, it is humiliating to mark the deliberate evasion of fact and truth on behalf of a questionable morality in a woman of letters, nor is it at all possible to see just what can be gained by that exorbitant and unjustifiable laudation of the school of Whitman which at present is so prevalent among us.
Accuracy, impartiality, and moral aim positively forbid it. It is, in every true sense, unconscientious.
We speak and speak rightly of the superiority of that criticism which is constructive over that which is simply destructive and negative, while it is pertinent to emphasize the principle, just here that such an order of positive, progressive, and organizing criticism is possible only on the basis of a method and purpose controllingly ethical. Knowledge, sympathy, and insight are fundamental requisites, but that species of criticism that is grounded in these only, apart from the presence of moral aims as primary, is sure in the end to return upon itself and further every other interest but the interests of truth.
A question of lively moment arises as we close this discussion, to what extent American literary criticism is fulfilling or aiming to fulfil these essential conditions. It is this very question that Mr. Stedman seems to have in mind as he writes in the opening chapter of his “ American Poets : "
“There is little doubt that our poetry has suffered from the lack of those high and exquisite standards of criticism which have been established in older lands. Only of late have we begun to look for criticism which applies both knowledge and self-knowledge to the test, which enters into the soul and purpose of a work and considers every factor that makes it what it is. Such criticism is now essayed, but often too much occupied with foreign subjects to search out and foster what is of worth among ourselves,"
The favorite theory of recent English critics that all genuine creative epochs in literature must be preceded by critical eras would seem to be having a partial illustration in the present status of our native authorship. The purely inventive era of Bryant and Longfellow, and even of Holmes and Lowell, may be said to have given way to the existing era of criticism, while it in turn is preparing the way for that highly original period of American prose and verse to which the most sanguine among us are confidently looking. Be this as it may, as in England, so at home, the present drift is rather toward the reflective examination of literary product already at hand than toward the awakening of every energy to the increasing of such product. While it is still held by some who have a right to be heard that, even yet, the main business of our American writers is to develop the national literature along the highest lines of its possible progress, there is in the country such a substantial amount of accomplished literary work as the basis of artistic criticism that such criticism will accept its opportunity and specially emphasize the questions of method, form, and external feature. For so young a people as the Americans are, and so necessarily devoted hitherto to the establishment of political and industrial life, not a little of worthy work has been done in this direction, and worthier results are promised. It is too true, indeed, that untutored and conscienceless novicęs insist upon experimenting within the sacred precincts of this high calling, and that American secular journalism offers too tempting a sphere for superficial and cynical judgments of men and authors. Despite this, however, it is pleasing to note that since the critical prose of Taylor and Lowell has established by example the necessity of those essentials we have aimed to discuss, there has been a more honest desire to illustrate in criticism these same essentials of knowledge, sympathy, insight, and conscience. With such names before us as Ticknor and Tuckerman, Fields and Channing, Reed and White, this hopeful spirit may find encouragement. If to this list we add those American authors who as editors of the American Men of Letters " series, and “American Statesmen " series, may be said to be doing a high form of specifically critical work, the hopefulness is increased, while two such able critics as Mr. Whipple and Mr. Stedman are enough in themselves to inspire confidence as to our future.
Nor must the liberal institutions of the land be omitted in this general estimate. Their distinctive title is that of literary institutions. Whatever their defects have been as to high literary tone and critical competency, it is more and more apparent that in these particulars worthier views are obtaining and the colleges of the country are fast becoming accepted standards of literary judgment. The question propounded of late, whether a national academy of letters would be best in America, is, after all, subordinate, to the further question, as to the possibility of founding numerous centres of literary influence among us.
As Mr. Howells recently suggests, what is needed in America is not that this or that city should be an acknowledged primate in the Republic of American authorship, but that we have “a literary centre scattered all over the country in keeping thus with the spirit of federal nationality." There is here, we submit, a possible result open to our liberal institutions, in the realization of which all that has hitherto been done will appear insignificant. If we need and are to have in this country an order of criticism worthy of the name, then must our literary schools of learning become indeed literary, the sources of continuous literary product, the accepted centres the country over of all that is worthy in æsthetic art and culture.
We are full of hope in this particular. American letters are to become a substantial power in the land. Literary progress is to rank among us as second to no other form of progress. The colleges of our future are to be as never before the homes of high taste. Criticism is to mean, most especially literary criticism, the criticism of style and authorship, while from these multiplied seats of literary activity, as of scientific and philosophic, there will ever go forth an influence so potent and pervasive that the remotest frontiers of our national domain will feel it. Perchance, the American greed for gold and civic preferment will, under such an influence, give way at length to an equally