« ZurückWeiter »
and processes : of accuracy of touch on the part of the writer ; of his sensibility and finer instincts; of the cast and coloring of his language as distinct from the language itself; of symmetry and fitness of method-in fine, a study in which the artistic and ästhetic have a valid place, us appealing to that sense of beauty supposed to be resident in every rightly constituted mind. It is these Humanities, above all, on which all literary culture is based and without the presence of which we have something short of culture, be it learning, or wisdom or skill.
It is this type of mind and art that Mr. Arnold is ever pressing in his teachings and which may be said to mark, as a law, the literary history of every prominent nation. Lessing, of Germany, was a signal example of artistic taste in letters. Fenelon, of France, was such a writer, while many English authors in the second order of merit, such as Dryden and Pope, Keats and Gray, have evinced its presence in special measure. No literature can be said to be worthy of its name that does not notably possess it. No author can be strictly designated literary who does not substantially express it. No amount of ability or acquisition will altogether atone for its absence, while he is doing an invaluable work for others who insists, as Principal Shairp insists, that all true culture, general or special, finds its best basis in character and contemplates securing the highest ethical ends.
IV. We advance to a final and crowning claim of literary studies in—their Disciplinary Value. We are speaking, it must be noted, of studies, and not merely of reading. It is suggestive to mark, just here, that Lord Bacon's essay on “Reading" is called an essay on Studies, and it is to the disciplinary side of this subject that he refers as he adds
Studies serve for ability.” The position that is here assumed may be sharply contested. It runs directly counter to current opinion, and with many in educated circles would be regarded as a presumption, unwarranted in fact or theory. Literature, as we have been taught to believe, is quite aside from those branches and lines of study that minister to mental breadth and outlook-the incidental pursuit of leisure hours, having no claim to recognition beyond that already expressed, as they contribute to pleasure and culture. The subject, as we view it, is one of immediate interest and value, and may be accorded special discussion at our hands.
The question as to whether literary studies are disciplinary or not in character wholly depends on the view which we hold as to the scope and method of such studies, and the argument may be safely rested at this point. There are two distinct theories historically held as to literary method. We may call them the Æsthetic and the Intellectual.
The first of these is the current one, under the influence of whicii most of us have been educated. In this sense, literature means what it has meant in Southern Europe-Polite Letters, or Belles Lettres, and, even here, in the sphere of verse rather than prose. In so far as prose is admissible, it is in its lighter forms ; in narrative, descriptive and miscellaneous authorship ; in story and sketch and romance. In this sense, it would be questionable to speak of literature as a study or serious pursuit. It takes rank rather as an accomplishment, a convenient and an eminently proper manner of passing one's hours when relieved of specially important duty. Even if allowed a place among studies at all, the order of the study will be that of fact and incident only and the mental result be correspondingly meagre.
This is the æsthetic or verbal method, the method hitherto in vogue, on the basis of which it is rightly argued that disciplinary elements, if indeed existing, are reduced to their lowest measure and are, in no sense, potent.
There is, however, a higher and a better method; in fact, the only method consistently before students having a serious purpose in view and having regard to what Bacon would call “ the groundwork” of things. We term it the intellectual method, the study of literature as an expression of the human mind. It is a study of causes and effects, as seen in authorship; of great laws and principles, stated and applied ; of characteristic features, national and personal ; of generic and inner forms behind all verbal product ; a study of types and tendencies ; of helps and hindrances; of race and climate ; of place and time and nationality ; of the rise and reign and possible decadence of particular schools ; of heredity and environment as affecting authorship — in a word, a study of the philosophy of literature and style, as Bascom and Spencer have, respectively, called it ; on which conditions, as Mr. Taine insists, all forces and factors must work before any satisfactory conclusions can be reached.
The method before us is, thus, suggestive, comprehensive and logical, as distinct from being technical, narrow and superficial. It is a study of style with primary reference to the thought that is in it. It includes an inquiry into political, social and religious phenomena, and at once co-ordinates literature with every other branch of high learning known to men. It insists upon the detection of a logical nexus in all authorship, national and international, in the light of which all apparent anomalies may be explained, and what Prof. Possnett has called “the world-literature" be seen to move majestically onward, under the benign control of the same great mental laws.
All this, we submit, is in the strictest sense disciplinary ; tending directly to the education and enlargement of mental power ; entering, at once, as a vital factor into what we call a man's intellectual life. There is, thus, a substantial order of literature, as well as a lighter one, and the substantial is the normal type. There is prose as well as poetry, and prose is the normal type. There are philosophies and histories and criticisms and discussions, as well as sketches and romances and semi-poetic adventures, and the former are the normal types. As Prof. Garnett has told us—"If reasoning and judgment are faculties of the mind whose training must be kept in view as the objects of literary discipline, where can more suitable means be found to this end than in the study of authors!” “The critical study of literature," adds Dr. Porter, “cannot be overestimated," an order of study, in its disciplinary value, which, according to Pres. Eliot, “has been strangely undervalued.”
We are now discussing literary study in its highest phase, as a rational procedure for men of thought in their best moments, as a mental gymnastic among other similar forms of training. How signally this higher view is confirmed, if we pause a moment and examine any separate department of letters! If we speak of history as a literary form, there is a philosophy of history. It is thus that Hallam and Sismondi have written it. How prominent are the higher mental elements of conception, reach and function in the world's great epics, and, more distinctly still, in its dramatic masterpieces! Even in fiction, the most pronounced form of light literature, what a psychological study is offered us in the pages of such authors as Balzac and Victor Hugo ; George Eliot and Hawthorne ; to say nothing of the intellectual groundwork that lies back of all fiction, as Sidney Lanier, in his "English Novel,” has interpreted it!