Imágenes de páginas

account for the omission of most earlier modern critics except Dryden and Johnson, and that of such later modern critics as Hazlitt, De Quincey, Carlyle, and Lowell. The introduction is a definition of criticism, and it contains also suggestions for the study of the form as a matter both of intelligent reading and of training in composition. The notes and questions are analytical rather than explanatory of the text; bracketed footnotes in the shape of translations of phrases not clear from the context are the only additions that I have made to the body of the book. I have also added a list of the books that I have cited in the course of the introduction and the notes, and an index of names and of topics. Any one who wishes to pursue the subject of criticism more exhaustively is, of course, referred to Professor Gayley and Professor Scott's invaluable bibliographies in their Introduction to the Materials and Methods of Literary Criticism.

If the view held in the following introduction be correct, that literary criticism is a corpus of opinion about literature deriving its ultimate sanction from personality and the general and lasting acceptation of its dicta —- it would follow that any collection of good critical essays would form a suitable and desirable subject for rhetorical study. Such valuable collections as Professor Saintsbury's Loci Critici, Mr. Vaughan's English Literary Criticism, and Mr. Payne's American Literary Criticism, despite a trifling emphasis on national rather than critical issues, are well fitted for such analytical study as I have here indicated, and I have profited greatly by them. With them, however, the historical point of view, the desire to show criticism as something of a growth, complicates the question, and this, in my opinion, serves to darken the counsel that is of prime importance for students at the outset of the study of literary criticism. Soundly and surely to trace the real history of any body of literary opinion is a delicate and complicated task, too hard, unquestionably, for most college students. What is of fundamental importance, I repeat, is for the student first to understand what the critic is saying and then to discern the sanction for the faith that is in him. These questions, at the outset, are best kept clear of theories about development and generalizations about the history of the art. The present book may be termed, in short, an introduction to the study and practice of literary criticism.


July 12, 1907.


THE once common and popular notion that criticism is faultfinding, more or less direct and pointed, more or less elaborate, is so far passing out of use that it may be dismissed with a word. A less easily disposed of matter remains. It confronts alike the serious student and the trustful seeker for authority. No one who has read treatises on art and literature or essays and reviews of authors and plays and books from the hand of eminent masters of the theory and practice of criticism, can fail to be struck with the fact that critics, like other doctors, frequently disagree in their judgments. The result is confusing. A prospective theatregoer, for example, sees in reviews of the first night very divergent opinions about a particular play, and he may “shudder, and know not how to think ” — or where to go. Or a modest seeker for finality, disdaining all forms of criticism that, like the foregoing example, hold a taint of commercialism, and seeking the repose of certitude in the words of high-minded masters of the critical essay and the acknowledged arbiters of literary taste, will be struck by the fact that whereas Arnold, for example, assigns to Byron a place second only to Wordsworth, among the poets of the last century, Mr. Swinburne 2 regards Byron as no more than low second rate and wholly inferior to Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, and others. Who shall guard the guardians of literature?

To make clearer the fact of this discrepancy a few pregnant remarks as to the nature, the function, and the value of criticism may be quoted. “Criticism,” says Mr. Collins, 3 “is to literature what legislation and government are to states. If they are in able and

1 Essays in Criticism, Second Series. Wordsworth. 2 Miscellanies. Wordsworth and Byron. 3 Ephemera Critica, p. 26.

honest bands, all goes well; if they are in weak and dishonest hands, all is anarchy and mischief.” Arnold, in a frequently quoted passage, says, “I am bound by my own definition of criticism: a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” Pater's theory is summed up in these words,2 “What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects.” Mr. Robertson's method is somewhat more argumentative: 3 “It is the getting behind spontaneous judgment, the ascertaining of how and why we differ in our judgments, that the critics so-called have left mostly unattempted. All these men, though at odds over method, evidently regard criticism as a high function. On the other hand, listen to Mr. Howells,4 “Every literary movement has been violently opposed at the start, and yet never stayed in the least, or arrested, by criticism: every author has been condemned for his virtues, but in nowise changed by it.” And again, “Criticism has condemned whatever was, from time to time, fresh and vital in literature; it has always fought the new good thing in behalf of the old good thing; it has invariably fostered the tame, the trite, the negative that survived.” Leslie Stephen, out of sorts with his life-long profession, wrote to Mr. Thomas Hardy (May 16, 1876):8 “My remark about modern lectures was, of course, 'wrote sarcastic,'as Artemus Ward says, and intended for a passing dig in the ribs of some modern critics, who think that they can lay down laws in art like the Pope in religion, e.g., the whole RossettiSwinburne school. But if you mean seriously to ask me what critical books I recommend, I can only say that I recommend none. I think that as a critic the less authors read of criticism, the better. You, e.g., have a perfectly fresh and original view, and I think that the less you bother yourself about critical canons, the less chance there is of your becoming self-conscious and cramped. I should, indeed, advise the great writers — Shakespeare, Goethe, Scott, etc., etc., who give ideas and don't prescribe rules. SainteBeuve and Mat. Arnold (in a smaller way) are the only modern critics who seem to me worth reading — perhaps, too, Lowell. We are generally a poor lot, horribly afraid of not being in the

1 Essays in Criticism, p. 38.

2 The Renaissance, p. xii. 3 New Essays towards a Critical Method, p. 4. 4 Criticism and Fiction, p. 39. 5 Ibid., p. 46.

6F. W. Maitland, Life of Leslie Stephen, p. 290.

« AnteriorContinuar »