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understood sense, of that which is idiomatic and unprovincial. In commenting on the style of Bossuet, he gives us, in one of his unique phrases, the clearest idea of classical prose as, “the prose of the centre.” It is from this point of view that he rebukes Burke and other English essayists, in that they too often depart from the “centre,” from what might be called, metropolitan English. Their style is suburban, and, to this degree, out of harmony with the governing spirit of the time. Where others fail, in this respect, Mr. Arnold substantially succeeds, and may be said to write an order of English which, with all its deference to pagan models, is the accepted English of modern England. In each of these senses, therefore, the style before us is classical. It is, in a word, a literary style, as distinct from being philosophic or scientific or even local. No English author of note, now living, is more distinctly a littérateur than was Mr. Arnold; more literary in his instincts, methods, habits, and aims. He was an author by profession and by preference. We have spoken of his essays as theological, educational, and literary. Such a classification is for convenience only. All his writings are literary more than they are anything else, and leave upon the reader the impression of the author's unqualified devotion to this particular type of expression.
If we inquire more particularly as to the chief elements of style included in the term classical, we may indicate them as clearness and finish. In a
well-understood use of words, Mr. Arnold may be called a clear writer ; substantially so in the conception of his ideas and in their communication to others. Every reader of his prose will recall the emphatic manner in which he gives to this quality the first place, as it deserves, in all literary work. He agreed with the old Welshman, Gerald de Barri, “that it is better to be dumb than not to be understood." He wrote all his books, as he wrote “Literature and Dogma," for a “better apprehension" of the subject in hand. He was constantly insisting on “lucidity," and thoroughly believed in it as a “character of perfection "in authorship.
When it is said that Mr. Arnold is a clear writer, this is not to say that he is clear in the same sense in which all other intelligible writers are clear, or that he is similarly clear on all subjects. With rare exceptions, however, he is practically intelligible on subjects capable of being made so, and to intelligent minds disposed to give to his writings a fair degree of thoughtful attention. When Mr. Arnold speaks of "the stream of tendency ;” of “the Eternal, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness;” of “righteousness as salvation verifiably;" of the “ criticism of life ;” and of conduct as “three-fourths of life," we are simply to hold our objections in abeyance until he "comes to himself” and makes us understand his meaning, because he understands it himself. In such vague deliverances as these, we must remember that Mr. Arnold is not at his best, or even at his average
of clearness as a writer. So true is this, that he is often seen to pass to the opposite extreme of overclearness, to an undue repetition of idea and word, until the reader's patience is wearied and his intelligence insulted. Few of our author's admirers have failed to note this blemish, and deplore it. In all this, Mr. Arnold is consistent, and aims thereby to apply a principle which he approvingly quotes from Joubert: “It is by means of familiar words that style takes hold of the reader.” Familiar words are not, however, repetitious. The logical elaboration of an idea is not, necessarily, its frequent re-statement. If we examine such an essay as “Culture and Anarchy" or “Literature
” and Science," with this particular error in mind, surprise will grow into repugnance at the injudicious recurrence of such phrases as “ Sweetness and Light; ”“ the sense in us for conduct ; in us for beauty."
The “ long sweep" which the author, in his essay on “Numbers,” confesses he has taken in arriving at the point, is a sweep of fifty-six pages, in an article of seventy-one. Clear, beyond a question, this style is, but a little more of that “pregnant conciseness" for which he justly praised Milton, would have been in place, and made a style already intelligible still more decidedly so.
As to the author's style in the line of classical finish, scarcely too much of praise can be said. We come in contact here with the very essence of Mr. Arnold's personality,-his supreme devotion to
" " the sense
literary form as an art, to the artistic or æsthetic side of authorship. Here, again, we find the explanation of his love of Greek letters. He loves them because they are, to his mind, the best human embodiment of the beautiful in language. For this reason, if for no other, he is at home in Athens and with Plato. Hence, his preference of Hellenism to Hebraism ; of beauty to sublimity ; of senti
i ment to action. The real Renaissance is to him but the reproduction of this old Attic art; of that “genius and instinct for style” which he finds among the classic authors. Happily for the author, his antecedents and surroundings strongly contributed to this ruling principle. It was a part of his inheritance from his more distinguished father. His training at Rugby and Winchester and Oxford deepened and enlarged it. As professor of poetry at Oxford, he had studied and explained the governing laws of beauty ; as a writer of poetry, he had illustrated and applied them ; while, in the more didactic department of prose discourse, he ever evinced the presence of this “sense of beauty," and justified the appellation of “the apostle of culture.” This he defines to be “a study and pursuit of perfection”; a “passion for perfection”; the final aim of the expression of thought. In choice of word, in structure of phrase and sentence, in unity and symmetry of outline, and in the general procedure of his work, this desire to reach the most consummate excellence of form is a dominant
If the style is classically clear, it is, even
more so, classically finished, and thus made attractive to the most fastidious taste. In this passionate devotion to the structural side of style, there is a danger lurking, and a danger, we are bound to add, which Mr. Arnold has not always escaped. There is here, at times, an over-finish, a finish for its own sake.
Mainly and generally, the style is clear and finished, and, in this sense, classical-a type of prose, partly, the result of his .constant communion with Greek and French authors ; partly, the result of English training : but, mainly, the result of that inborn “passion for perfection ” which goes far to commend to the judgment and taste of cultured readers whatever he was pleased to pen.
II. We have spoken of Mr. Arnold as, above all else, an exponent of literary style. His style may also justly be termed critical and controversial. All his essays might well be called “Essays in Criticism." In his excellent paper on “ The Function of Criticism,” he gives us the general literary principles which, as he conceived them, lie at the basis of all literary judgment, and is willing, as an author, to be tested by them. Criticism he defines to be "a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” That with which the literary censor has specially to do, is the “criticism of life." If we ask what, in Mr. Arnold's view, the chief con