« ZurückWeiter »
THE CLAIMS OF LITERARY STUDIES.
The generally accepted classification of studies, as now pursued, may be said to be-Science, Philosophy, Art, Language and Literature. It is with the last of these that we have to do in the chapter before us—with Literature, as distinct even from Language. The study of Linguistics, or Philology, is, for our present purpose, one thing ; that of Literature, quite another.
By Literary Studies is meant, in a word, the study of authorship in written form, in book and treatise and pamphlet. In the words of Professor Hart, of Ohio, it may be said, quoting in substance, “that literature is the study of life and feeling as it is reflected in the best prose and poetry.” Its proper object is, to grasp the author's inner personality and power. In its widest sense, it em
. braces the expressed written product of all times and peoples-ancient and modern, foreign and native. An examination of the claims of such studies to fuller recognition and a more general pursuit is now in place.
I. At the lowest estimate that may be taken of them, they are a source of personal Literary Pleasure. They serve, as Bacon tells us, “ for delight,” their chief use being, “in privateness and retiring." There is a recreative, refreshing and restful ministry in books, a needed and rational relief from the routine duties of common life. They afford that sense of entertainment to which Maurice refers when he speaks of the Friendship of Books ;-to which Lowell refers, in the well-chosen titles of his collections, “ Among my Books” and “My Study Windows"; and to which scores of authors, from Bacon to Wordsworth, have gratefully referred. In all periods of life, in youth and early manhood ; in later manhood and in old age ; in all professions and callings; they come with solace and helpfulness and affectionate counsel.
With what wide variety of topic and treatment, incident and teaching they accost us! In the forms of prose and poetry ; biography and history ; romance and miscellany ; wit and humor and satire ; philosophy and morals; maxims and sentiments ; social habit and national life-in these and other endless forms, they interest and charm us. Today, in one manner, and, to-morrow, in another ;
grave and gay, lively and severe ; " suited to our transient moods and fitting in to the changing experiences of life-such studies serve for avocation as well as for vocation, and, as they profit us, also delight and fascinate us.
Perhaps, the main explanation of such a ministry of pleasure is found in the fact, that the literary studies which we pursue are instinct with the life of the minds behind them. The author is in the authorship and gives it a personal potency. We see and hear the man himself conversing with us, and, thus, “choose an author as we choose a friend," on the basis of his individual qualities. That soul must be soured, indeed, and bent on misery for its own sake who cannot, at times, secure surcease of sorrow by communion with the world's gifted spirits who have uttered for us their best thoughts and insist that, despite the anxieties of life, we gratefully receive what they have to offer us of genuine literary pleasure.
II. Such studies present a further and higher claim, in the line of Literary Knowledge. They include what Bacon means when he says, “that reading maketh a full man, so that if a man read little, he need have much cunning to seem to know that he doth not." As a writer in the Westminster Review has expressed it, “ Books are a means of seeing through other men what we cannot see for ourselves.” These literary researches introduce us to the life and times of authors, to that wide area of truth and fact embraced in the broadest scope of such pursuits. They afford us what Mr. Arnold has called, "the criticism of life”; a comprehensive and an ever-widening view of the best thought of
If we take into account but one department of
literary study, we can see at a glance the almost limitless extent of that field of inquiry, observation, reflection and inference to which it conducts us. We refer to what is termed, Literary History, the history of the literature of the most advanced nations. One of the most prominent topics now engaging the attention of our cultivated critics is, the true relation of such a form of history to the origin and progress of literature itself, and the exact value of the historical method in all such studies. Morley and Craik, of England, and Coppee and Tyler, of America, have dwelt largely upon this special feature. In the wider department of general letters, such writers as Hallam, Sismondi, Taine and Possnett, Scherer and Schlegel, have opened to us, in part, the accumulated treasures that lay before them. There is an historicoliterary law running through all events and all authorship, binding them together while increasing their separate influence, and no student can examine either aright apart from its relation to the other.
What a spacious and profitable field is opened up in the literature of any one people--say, the French, as we trace it from its beginnings in Celtic Gaul on through the days of the Trouveres and Troubadours to its progressive and culminating expression in the writings of Moliere and Racine! What a vivid picture of early literary
! development is given us in Arabian letters as far back as the days of the Caliphs, in the eighth cen