Abbildungen der Seite

ditions of successful criticism are, we find them to consist mainly in knowledge and insight. In addition to a large acquaintance with the comprehensive province of letters, there must be that delicacy of literary perception which is above all formal statute, though not unfriendly to it, and which fulfils, in the critic's personality, the practical function of intuitive judgment. No criticism, he would teach us, is worthy of the name, in which instinct is not greater than logical process; in which quickness of apprehension is not greater than mere acquisition, and where any decision is not known to be valid chiefly because it is seen and felt to be such. The critic, as he adds, is he who “has the faculty of judging with all the powers of his mind and soul at work together." He is the man in his mental and moral entirety absorbed, for the time, in the examination of authorship.

Hence it is that Mr. Arnold has done an invaluable work in minimizing the distance between creation and criticism in literature. Conceding, as he must have done, that the faculty of judging is of lower rank than the purely productive power, he still insists upon magnifying above its present status the judicial function. He sharply rebukes his favorite Wordsworth for taking so low a view of the critical art; illustrates the principle he is defending by a reference to Goethe, and is especially severe against that mercenary view of criticism by which it is reduced to the level of the merely practical. Not only is it, in Mr. Arnold's opinion, a high intellectual art, but it is based, also, on ethical principles and applied to ethical ends. Its purpose is “to see the object really as it is.” It is to be prosecuted in that “justness of spirit” of which he so often speaks as essential to men of letters.

We have spoken of literary insight as seen in Mr. Arnold's critical style. This is most apparent by the way in which he subordinates facts to principles, and carefully elaborates these principles for the benefit of his readers. As he tells us, “Fineness and delicacy of perception to deal with the facts is the principal thing.” Hence we find, in the prose before us, definite literary principia for the guidance of the novice. They read, by way of specimen, as follows: "The grand power of poetry is its interpretative power." "To ascertain the master current in the literature of an epoch is one of the critic's highest functions.” “The thing to

" know of a writer is, where he is all himself and his best self; where he gives us what no other man gives us." Such are a few of these critical canons ; passages that reveal genuine literary sagacity, and which, if applied to criticism in general, would exalt it at once to a scientific pursuit, worthy of the best endeavor of gifted men.

Reference has been made to the style in question as controversial. All criticism must be, to some extent, of this polemic character. This is not to say, however, that it is censorious. Though our author, as we shall see, has his faults as a critic, they are not here. We must accredit him with what he claims, "a disinterested endeavor," and confess that he brings conscience, as well as culture, to his work. There is manifest in his style a love of argument, a growing fondness, perhaps, for discussion, and yet very rarely present for any other reason than for ingenuous difference of opinion, and to defend what he conceives to be a radical literary law. The nature of the topics with which the author has dealt, the men and institutions with which he has been conversant, the age in which he has lived, made it impossible that he could have been critical without being controversial, That his critical style has not been more acrid than it has been, is largely due to the high ideal that he has always had of his art, and partly due to that scholarly equanimity of temper which is his, alike by constitution and training.

Thus much in praise of Mr. Arnold's critical style, and we turn, perforce, to what we must regard as his fundamental fault-its dogmatic spirit. Where this does not lead him into open contradictions, it gives to his writing a temper quite out of keeping with his clearly-pronounced views. Though this dogmatism is apparent in all his prose, it is least so in that which is educational; most so, in that which is theological; while far too conspicuous in that which is mainly literary. No man has opposed the dogmatic tone more than he, and yet he is, here, among the chief of sinners. The author of “ Literature and Dogma” knew

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

what was meant by each of these terms. We are speaking now of the inner spirit of style, and not at all of the subject-matter as expressed in opinion or belief. Independence of judgment is one thing; bold independence of the judgment of others is a different and a more dangerous thing. Even a genius in criticism must take account of the conclusions of others, and, at times, wait upon their

, word. What may be called the indifferent tone of

. Mr. Arnold's critical style is in keeping with this dogmatism, if not, indeed, a part of it. The critic is thoroughly satisfied with himself. One of his favorite words is, Sweetness. Who would be so daring as to charge our author with its manifestation! What he calls “urbanity” is but another

! name for cautious reserve, an unsympathetic reticence which often becomes cynical. We are not sure but that this aristocratic manner was more and more apparent in Mr. Arnold, and never more pronounced than in his latest utterances. Despite his well-meaning theories, the appellation given him of an "asthetic reformer" is not quite undeserved. In the face of his avowed devotion to the middle classes, his references to their “hardness and vulgarity and grotesque illusions " is not the best way to conciliate the Philistines. Full of schemes for the people's good, the mere mention of the name of John Bright, the people's practical friend, was enough to stir within him the “scorn of scorn," and drive his pen to the verge of person ality. A son of Oxford, he was devoted to its “ faith and traditions,” and preferred to appear as a representative of the “Remnant," the acknowledged apostle of classical restraint. Criticism has, at its best, quite enough of this unfeeling element in it, this urban indifference to the outside. To our own mind, the one most repellant feature of this distinguished writer is this imperial pompousness, this air of self-assertion, which amounts, at times, to nothing short of a literary strut. The

a world is too old and too wise for such posing as this, and it is well for all to know it. It is the most natural thing imaginable for a critical style to become self-assertive, and yet the intelligent classes are tired of it, and are looking for more humility at the seat of judgment. Mr. Arnold is regarded by some as an erratic guide in criticism. The opinion is not without basis, in so far as the error in question is present. In his several addresses recently delivered in America, we note most suggestive examples of this parade of partsthis literary hauteur. The dogmatic temper apart, however, Mr. Arnold's prose writings exhibit the better features of the critical style. They are the product of a man of large literary acquisition, of high classical taste, of a marked degree of literary acumen and of ingenuous literary motive, and must take their place among the representative criticisms of the time.

III. To our mind, one of the chief characteristics of a good book and a good style is, that it is

« ZurückWeiter »