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´╗┐Title: Studies and Essays: Censorship and Art
Author: Galsworthy, John, 1867-1933
Language: English
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ESSAYS ON CENSORSHIP AND ART


By John Galsworthy



          "Je vous dirai que l'exces est toujours un mal."
                                      --ANATOLE FRANCE



TABLE OF CONTENTS:
          ABOUT CENSORSHIP
          VAGUE THOUGHTS ON ART



ABOUT CENSORSHIP

Since, time and again, it has been proved, in this country of free
institutions, that the great majority of our fellow-countrymen consider
the only Censorship that now obtains amongst us, namely the Censorship of
Plays, a bulwark for the preservation of their comfort and sensibility
against the spiritual researches and speculations of bolder and too
active spirits--it has become time to consider whether we should not
seriously extend a principle, so grateful to the majority, to all our
institutions.

For no one can deny that in practice the Censorship of Drama works with a
smooth swiftness--a lack of delay and friction unexampled in any public
office.  No troublesome publicity and tedious postponement for the
purpose of appeal mar its efficiency.  It is neither hampered by the Law
nor by the slow process of popular election.  Welcomed by the
overwhelming majority of the public; objected to only by such persons as
suffer from it, and a negligible faction, who, wedded pedantically to
liberty of the subject, are resentful of summary powers vested in a
single person responsible only to his own 'conscience'--it is amazingly,
triumphantly, successful.

Why, then, in a democratic State, is so valuable a protector of the will,
the interests, and pleasure of the majority not bestowed on other
branches of the public being?  Opponents of the Censorship of Plays have
been led by the absence of such other Censorships to conclude that this
Office is an archaic survival, persisting into times that have outgrown
it.  They have been known to allege that the reason of its survival is
simply the fact that Dramatic Authors, whose reputation and means of
livelihood it threatens, have ever been few in number and poorly
organised--that the reason, in short, is the helplessness and weakness of
the interests concerned.  We must all combat with force such an aspersion
on our Legislature.  Can it even for a second be supposed that a State
which gives trial by Jury to the meanest, poorest, most helpless of its
citizens, and concedes to the greatest criminals the right of appeal,
could have debarred a body of reputable men from the ordinary rights of
citizenship for so cynical a reason as that their numbers were small,
their interests unjoined, their protests feeble?  Such a supposition were
intolerable!  We do not in this country deprive a class of citizens of
their ordinary rights, we do not place their produce under the
irresponsible control of one not amenable to Law, by any sort of
political accident!  That would indeed be to laugh at Justice in this
Kingdom!  That would indeed be cynical and unsound!  We must never admit
that there is no basic Justice controlling the edifice of our Civic
Rights.  We do, we must, conclude that a just and well-considered
principle underlies this despotic Institution; for surely, else, it would
not be suffered to survive for a single moment!  Pom!  Pom!

If, then, the Censorship of Plays be just, beneficent, and based on a
well-considered principle, we must rightly inquire what good and logical
reason there is for the absence of Censorship in other departments of the
national life.  If Censorship of the Drama be in the real interests of
the people, or at all events in what the Censor for the time being
conceives to be their interest--then Censorships of Art, Literature,
Religion, Science, and Politics are in the interests of the people,
unless it can be proved that there exists essential difference between
the Drama and these other branches of the public being.  Let us consider
whether there is any such essential difference.

It is fact, beyond dispute, that every year numbers of books appear which
strain the average reader's intelligence and sensibilities to an
unendurable extent; books whose speculations are totally unsuited to
normal thinking powers; books which contain views of morality divergent
from the customary, and discussions of themes unsuited to the young
person; books which, in fine, provide the greater Public with no pleasure
whatsoever, and, either by harrowing their feelings or offending their
good taste, cause them real pain.

It is true that, precisely as in the case of Plays, the Public are
protected by a vigilant and critical Press from works of this
description; that, further, they are protected by the commercial instinct
of the Libraries, who will not stock an article which may offend their
customers--just as, in the case of Plays, the Public are protected by the
common-sense of theatrical Managers; that, finally, they are protected by
the Police and the Common Law of the land.  But despite all these
protections, it is no uncommon thing for an average citizen to purchase
one of these disturbing or dubious books.  Has he, on discovering its
true nature, the right to call on the bookseller to refund its value?  He
has not.  And thus he runs a danger obviated in the case of the Drama
which has the protection of a prudential Censorship.  For this reason
alone, how much better, then, that there should exist a paternal
authority (some, no doubt, will call it grand-maternal--but sneers must
not be confounded with argument) to suppress these books before
appearance, and safeguard us from the danger of buying and possibly
reading undesirable or painful literature!

A specious reason, however, is advanced for exempting Literature from the
Censorship accorded to Plays.  He--it is said--who attends the
performance of a play, attends it in public, where his feelings may be
harrowed and his taste offended, cheek by jowl with boys, or women of all
ages; it may even chance that he has taken to this entertainment his
wife, or the young persons of his household.  He--on the other hand--who
reads a book, reads it in privacy.  True; but the wielder of this
argument has clasped his fingers round a two-edged blade.  The very fact
that the book has no mixed audience removes from Literature an element
which is ever the greatest check on licentiousness in Drama.  No manager
of a theatre,--a man of the world engaged in the acquisition of his
livelihood, unless guaranteed by the license of the Censor, dare risk the
presentment before a mixed audience of that which might cause an 'emeute'
among his clients.  It has, indeed, always been observed that the
theatrical manager, almost without exception, thoughtfully recoils from
the responsibility that would be thrust on him by the abolition of the
Censorship.  The fear of the mixed audience is ever suspended above his
head.  No such fear threatens the publisher, who displays his wares to
one man at a time.  And for this very reason of the mixed audience;
perpetually and perversely cited to the contrary by such as have no firm
grasp of this matter, there is a greater necessity for a Censorship on
Literature than for one on Plays.

Further, if there were but a Censorship of Literature, no matter how
dubious the books that were allowed to pass, the conscience of no reader
need ever be troubled.  For, that the perfect rest of the public
conscience is the first result of Censorship, is proved to certainty by
the protected Drama, since many dubious plays are yearly put before the
play-going Public without tending in any way to disturb a complacency
engendered by the security from harm guaranteed by this beneficent, if
despotic, Institution.  Pundits who, to the discomfort of the populace,
foster this exemption of Literature from discipline, cling to the
old-fashioned notion that ulcers should be encouraged to discharge
themselves upon the surface, instead of being quietly and decently driven
into the system and allowed to fester there.

The remaining plea for exempting Literature from Censorship, put forward
by unreflecting persons: That it would require too many Censors--besides
being unworthy, is, on the face of it, erroneous. Special tests have
never been thought necessary in appointing Examiners of Plays.  They
would, indeed, not only be unnecessary, but positively dangerous, seeing
that the essential function of Censorship is protection of the ordinary
prejudices and forms of thought.  There would, then, be no difficulty in
securing tomorrow as many Censors of Literature as might be necessary
(say twenty or thirty); since all that would be required of each one of
them would be that he should secretly exercise, in his uncontrolled
discretion, his individual taste.  In a word, this Free Literature of
ours protects advancing thought and speculation; and those who believe in
civic freedom subject only to Common Law, and espouse the cause of free
literature, are championing a system which is essentially undemocratic,
essentially inimical to the will of the majority, who have certainly no
desire for any such things as advancing thought and speculation.  Such
persons, indeed, merely hold the faith that the People, as a whole,
unprotected by the despotic judgments of single persons, have enough
strength and wisdom to know what is and what is not harmful to
themselves.  They put their trust in a Public Press and a Common Law,
which deriving from the Conscience of the Country, is openly administered
and within the reach of all.  How absurd, how inadequate this all is we
see from the existence of the Censorship on Drama.

Having observed that there is no reason whatever for the exemption of
Literature, let us now turn to the case of Art.  Every picture hung in a
gallery, every statue placed on a pedestal, is exposed to the public
stare of a mixed company.  Why, then, have we no Censorship to protect us
from the possibility of encountering works that bring blushes to the
cheek of the young person?  The reason cannot be that the proprietors of
Galleries are more worthy of trust than the managers of Theatres; this
would be to make an odious distinction which those very Managers who
uphold the Censorship of Plays would be the first to resent.  It is true
that Societies of artists and the proprietors of Galleries are subject to
the prosecution of the Law if they offend against the ordinary standards
of public decency; but precisely the same liability attaches to
theatrical managers and proprietors of Theatres, in whose case it has
been found necessary and beneficial to add the Censorship.  And in this
connection let it once more be noted how much more easily the ordinary
standards of public decency can be assessed by a single person
responsible to no one, than by the clumsy (if more open) process of
public protest. What, then, in the light of the proved justice and
efficiency of the Censorship of Drama, is the reason for the absence of
the Censorship of Art?  The more closely the matter is regarded, the more
plain it is, that there is none!  At any moment we may have to look upon
some painting, or contemplate some statue, as tragic, heart-rending, and
dubiously delicate in theme as that censured play "The Cenci," by one
Shelley; as dangerous to prejudice, and suggestive of new thought as the
censured "Ghosts," by one Ibsen.  Let us protest against this peril
suspended over our heads, and demand the immediate appointment of a
single person not selected for any pretentiously artistic feelings, but
endowed with summary powers of prohibiting the exhibition, in public
galleries or places, of such works as he shall deem, in his uncontrolled
discretion, unsuited to average intelligence or sensibility.  Let us
demand it in the interest, not only of the young person, but of those
whole sections of the community which cannot be expected to take an
interest in Art, and to whom the purpose, speculations, and achievements
of great artists, working not only for to-day but for to-morrow, must
naturally be dark riddles.  Let us even require that this official should
be empowered to order the destruction of the works which he has deemed
unsuited to average intelligence and sensibility, lest their creators
should, by private sale, make a profit out of them, such as, in the
nature of the case, Dramatic Authors are debarred from making out of
plays which, having been censured, cannot be played for money.  Let us
ask this with confidence; for it is not compatible with common justice
that there should be any favouring of Painter over Playwright.  They are
both artists--let them both be measured by the same last!

But let us now consider the case of Science.  It will not, indeed cannot,
be contended that the investigations of scientific men, whether committed
to writing or to speech, are always suited to the taste and capacities of
our general public.  There was, for example, the well-known doctrine of
Evolution, the teachings of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russet Wallace, who
gathered up certain facts, hitherto but vaguely known, into presentments,
irreverent and startling, which, at the time, profoundly disturbed every
normal mind.  Not only did religion, as then accepted, suffer in this
cataclysm, but our taste and feeling were inexpressibly shocked by the
discovery, so emphasised by Thomas Henry Huxley, of Man's descent from
Apes.  It was felt, and is felt by many to this day, that the advancement
of that theory grossly and dangerously violated every canon of decency.
What pain, then, might have been averted, what far-reaching consequences
and incalculable subversion of primitive faiths checked, if some
judicious Censor of scientific thought had existed in those days to
demand, in accordance with his private estimate of the will and temper of
the majority, the suppression of the doctrine of Evolution.

Innumerable investigations of scientists on subjects such as the date of
the world's creation, have from time to time been summarised and
inconsiderately sprung on a Public shocked and startled by the revelation
that facts which they were accustomed to revere were conspicuously at
fault.  So, too, in the range of medicine, it would be difficult to cite
any radical discovery (such as the preventive power of vaccination),
whose unchecked publication has not violated the prejudices and disturbed
the immediate comfort of the common mind.  Had these discoveries been
judiciously suppressed, or pared away to suit what a Censorship conceived
to be the popular palate of the time, all this disturbance and discomfort
might have been avoided.

It will doubtless be contended (for there are no such violent opponents
of Censorship as those who are threatened with the same) that to compare
a momentous disclosure, such as the doctrine of Evolution, to a mere
drama, were unprofitable.  The answer to this ungenerous contention is
fortunately plain.  Had a judicious Censorship existed over our
scientific matters, such as for two hundred years has existed over our
Drama, scientific discoveries would have been no more disturbing and
momentous than those which we are accustomed to see made on our nicely
pruned and tutored stage. For not only would the more dangerous and
penetrating scientific truths have been carefully destroyed at birth, but
scientists, aware that the results of investigations offensive to
accepted notions would be suppressed, would long have ceased to waste
their time in search of a knowledge repugnant to average intelligence,
and thus foredoomed, and have occupied themselves with services more
agreeable to the public taste, such as the rediscovery of truths already
known and published.

Indissolubly connected with the desirability of a Censorship of Science,
is the need for Religious Censorship.  For in this, assuredly not the
least important department of the nation's life, we are witnessing week
by week and year by year, what in the light of the security guaranteed by
the Censorship of Drama, we are justified in terming an alarming
spectacle.  Thousands of men are licensed to proclaim from their pulpits,
Sunday after Sunday, their individual beliefs, quite regardless of the
settled convictions of the masses of their congregations.  It is true,
indeed, that the vast majority of sermons (like the vast majority of
plays) are, and will always be, harmonious with the feelings--of the
average citizen; for neither priest nor playwright have customarily any
such peculiar gift of spiritual daring as might render them unsafe
mentors of their fellows; and there is not wanting the deterrent of
common-sense to keep them in bounds.  Yet it can hardly be denied that
there spring up at times men--like John Wesley or General Booth--of such
incurable temperament as to be capable of abusing their freedom by the
promulgation of doctrine or procedure, divergent from the current
traditions of religion.  Nor must it be forgotten that sermons, like
plays, are addressed to a mixed audience of families, and that the
spiritual teachings of a lifetime may be destroyed by ten minutes of
uncensored pronouncement from a pulpit, the while parents are sitting,
not, as in a theatre vested with the right of protest, but dumb and
excoriated to the soul, watching their children, perhaps of tender age,
eagerly drinking in words at variance with that which they themselves
have been at such pains to instil.

If a set of Censors--for it would, as in the case of Literature,
indubitably require more than one (perhaps one hundred and eighty, but,
for reasons already given, there should be no difficulty whatever in
procuring them) endowed with the swift powers conferred by freedom from
the dull tedium of responsibility, and not remarkable for religious
temperament, were appointed, to whom all sermons and public addresses on
religious subjects must be submitted before delivery, and whose duty
after perusal should be to excise all portions not conformable to their
private ideas of what was at the moment suitable to the Public's ears, we
should be far on the road toward that proper preservation of the status
quo so desirable if the faiths and ethical standards of the less
exuberantly spiritual masses are to be maintained in their full bloom.
As things now stand, the nation has absolutely nothing to safeguard it
against religious progress.

We have seen, then, that Censorship is at least as necessary over
Literature, Art, Science, and Religion as it is over our Drama.  We have
now to call attention to the crowning need--the want of a Censorship in
Politics.

If Censorship be based on justice, if it be proved to serve the Public
and to be successful in its lonely vigil over Drama, it should, and
logically must be, extended to all parallel cases; it cannot, it dare
not, stop short at--Politics.  For, precisely in this supreme branch of
the public life are we most menaced by the rule and license of the
leading spirit.  To appreciate this fact, we need only examine the
Constitution of the House of Commons.  Six hundred and seventy persons
chosen from a population numbering four and forty millions, must
necessarily, whatever their individual defects, be citizens of more than
average enterprise, resource, and resolution. They are elected for a
period that may last five years.  Many of them are ambitious; some
uncompromising; not a few enthusiastically eager to do something for
their country; filled with designs and aspirations for national or social
betterment, with which the masses, sunk in the immediate pursuits of
life, can in the nature of things have little sympathy.  And yet we find
these men licensed to pour forth at pleasure, before mixed audiences,
checked only by Common Law and Common Sense political utterances which
may have the gravest, the most terrific consequences; utterances which
may at any moment let loose revolution, or plunge the country into war;
which often, as a fact, excite an utter detestation, terror, and
mistrust; or shock the most sacred domestic and proprietary convictions
in the breasts of vast majorities of their fellow-countrymen!  And we
incur this appalling risk for the want of a single, or at the most, a
handful of Censors, invested with a simple but limitless discretion to
excise or to suppress entirely such political utterances as may seem to
their private judgments calculated to cause pain or moral disturbance in
the average man.  The masses, it is true, have their protection and
remedy against injudicious or inflammatory politicians in the Law and the
so-called democratic process of election; but we have seen that theatre
audiences have also the protection of the Law, and the remedy of boycott,
and that in their case, this protection and this remedy are not deemed
enough.  What, then, shall we say of the case of Politics, where the
dangers attending inflammatory or subversive utterance are greater a
million fold, and the remedy a thousand times less expeditious?

Our Legislators have laid down Censorship as the basic principle of
Justice underlying the civic rights of dramatists.  Then, let "Censorship
for all" be their motto, and this country no longer be ridden and
destroyed by free Institutions!  Let them not only establish forthwith
Censorships of Literature, Art, Science, and Religion, but also place
themselves beneath the regimen with which they have calmly fettered
Dramatic Authors.  They cannot deem it becoming to their regard for
justice, to their honour; to their sense of humour, to recoil from a
restriction which, in a parallel case they have imposed on others.  It is
an old and homely saying that good officers never place their men in
positions they would not themselves be willing to fill.  And we are not
entitled to believe that our Legislators, having set Dramatic Authors
where they have been set, will--now that their duty is made plain--for a
moment hesitate to step down and stand alongside.

But if by any chance they should recoil, and thus make answer: "We are
ready at all times to submit to the Law and the People's will, and to bow
to their demands, but we cannot and must not be asked to place our
calling, our duty, and our honour beneath the irresponsible rule of an
arbitrary autocrat, however sympathetic with the generality he may chance
to be!"  Then, we would ask: "Sirs, did you ever hear of that great
saying: 'Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you!'"  For it is
but fair presumption that the Dramatists, whom our Legislators have
placed in bondage to a despot, are, no less than those Legislators, proud
of their calling, conscious of their duty, and jealous of their honour.
1909.



VAGUE THOUGHTS ON ART

It was on a day of rare beauty that I went out into the fields to try and
gather these few thoughts.  So golden and sweetly hot it was, that they
came lazily, and with a flight no more coherent or responsible than the
swoop of the very swallows; and, as in a play or poem, the result is
conditioned by the conceiving mood, so I knew would be the nature of my
diving, dipping, pale-throated, fork-tailed words.  But, after all--I
thought, sitting there--I need not take my critical pronouncements
seriously.  I have not the firm soul of the critic.  It is not my
profession to know 'things for certain, and to make others feel that
certainty.  On the contrary, I am often wrong--a luxury no critic can
afford.  And so, invading as I was the realm of others, I advanced with a
light pen, feeling that none, and least of all myself, need expect me to
be right.

What then--I thought--is Art?  For I perceived that to think about it I
must first define it; and I almost stopped thinking at all before the
fearsome nature of that task.  Then slowly in my mind gathered this group
of words:

Art is that imaginative expression of human energy, which, through
technical concretion of feeling and perception, tends to reconcile the
individual with the universal, by exciting in him impersonal emotion.
And the greatest Art is that which excites the greatest impersonal
emotion in an hypothecated perfect human being.

Impersonal emotion!  And what--I thought do I mean by that?  Surely I
mean: That is not Art, which, while I, am contemplating it, inspires me
with any active or directive impulse; that is Art, when, for however
brief a moment, it replaces within me interest in myself by interest in
itself.  For, let me suppose myself in the presence of a carved marble
bath.  If my thoughts be "What could I buy that for?" Impulse of
acquisition; or: "From what quarry did it come?"  Impulse of inquiry; or:
"Which would be the right end for my head?"  Mixed impulse of inquiry and
acquisition--I am at that moment insensible to it as a work of Art.  But,
if I stand before it vibrating at sight of its colour and forms, if ever
so little and for ever so short a time, unhaunted by any definite
practical thought or impulse--to that extent and for that moment it has
stolen me away out of myself and put itself there instead; has linked me
to the universal by making me forget the individual in me.  And for that
moment, and only while that moment lasts, it is to me a work of Art.  The
word "impersonal," then, is but used in this my definition to signify
momentary forgetfulness of one's own personality and its active wants.

So Art--I thought--is that which, heard, read, or looked on, while
producing no directive impulse, warms one with unconscious vibration. Nor
can I imagine any means of defining what is the greatest Art, without
hypothecating a perfect human being.  But since we shall never see, or
know if we do see, that desirable creature--dogmatism is banished,
"Academy" is dead to the discussion, deader than even Tolstoy left it
after his famous treatise "What is Art?"  For, having destroyed all the
old Judges and Academies, Tolstoy, by saying that the greatest Art was
that which appealed to the greatest number of living human beings, raised
up the masses of mankind to be a definite new Judge or Academy, as
tyrannical and narrow as ever were those whom he had destroyed.

This, at all events--I thought is as far as I dare go in defining what
Art is.  But let me try to make plain to myself what is the essential
quality that gives to Art the power of exciting this unconscious
vibration, this impersonal emotion.  It has been called Beauty!  An
awkward word--a perpetual begging of the question; too current in use,
too ambiguous altogether; now too narrow, now too wide--a word, in fact,
too glib to know at all what it means.  And how dangerous a word--often
misleading us into slabbing with extraneous floridities what would
otherwise, on its own plane, be Art!  To be decorative where decoration
is not suitable, to be lyrical where lyricism is out of place, is
assuredly to spoil Art, not to achieve it.  But this essential quality of
Art has also, and more happily, been called Rhythm.  And, what is Rhythm
if not that mysterious harmony between part and part, and part and whole,
which gives what is called life; that exact proportion, the mystery of
which is best grasped in observing how life leaves an animate creature
when the essential relation of part to whole has been sufficiently
disturbed.  And I agree that this rhythmic relation of part to part, and
part to whole--in short, vitality--is the one quality inseparable from a
work of Art.  For nothing which does not seem to a man possessed of this
rhythmic vitality, can ever steal him out of himself.

And having got thus far in my thoughts, I paused, watching the swallows;
for they seemed to me the symbol, in their swift, sure curvetting, all
daring and balance and surprise, of the delicate poise and motion of Art,
that visits no two men alike, in a world where no two things of all the
things there be, are quite the same.

Yes--I thought--and this Art is the one form of human energy in the whole
world, which really works for union, and destroys the barriers between
man and man.  It is the continual, unconscious replacement, however
fleeting, of oneself by another; the real cement of human life; the
everlasting refreshment and renewal.  For, what is grievous, dompting,
grim, about our lives is that we are shut up within ourselves, with an
itch to get outside ourselves.  And to be stolen away from ourselves by
Art is a momentary relaxation from that itching, a minute's profound, and
as it were secret, enfranchisement. The active amusements and relaxations
of life can only rest certain of our faculties, by indulging others; the
whole self is never rested save through that unconsciousness of self,
which comes through rapt contemplation of Nature or of Art.

And suddenly I remembered that some believe that Art does not produce
unconsciousness of self, but rather very vivid self-realisation.

Ah! but--I though--that is not the first and instant effect of Art; the
new impetus is the after effect of that momentary replacement of oneself
by the self of the work before us; it is surely the result of that brief
span of enlargement, enfranchisement, and rest.

Yes, Art is the great and universal refreshment.  For Art is never
dogmatic; holds no brief for itself you may take it or you may leave it.
It does not force itself rudely where it is not wanted.  It is reverent
to all tempers, to all points of view.  But it is wilful--the very wind
in the comings and goings of its influence, an uncapturable fugitive,
visiting our hearts at vagrant, sweet moments; since we often stand even
before the greatest works of Art without being able quite to lose
ourselves!  That restful oblivion comes, we never quite know when--and it
is gone!  But when it comes, it is a spirit hovering with cool wings,
blessing us from least to greatest, according to our powers; a spirit
deathless and varied as human life itself.

And in what sort of age--I thought--are artists living now?  Are
conditions favourable?  Life is very multiple; full of "movements,"
"facts," and "news"; with the limelight terribly turned on--and all this
is adverse to the artist.  Yet, leisure is abundant; the facilities for
study great; Liberty is respected--more or less.  But, there is one great
reason why, in this age of ours, Art, it seems, must flourish.  For, just
as cross-breeding in Nature--if it be not too violent--often gives an
extra vitality to the offspring, so does cross-breeding of philosophies
make for vitality in Art.  I cannot help thinking that historians,
looking back from the far future, will record this age as the Third
Renaissance.  We who are lost in it, working or looking on, can neither
tell what we are doing, nor where standing; but we cannot help observing,
that, just as in the Greek Renaissance, worn-out Pagan orthodoxy was
penetrated by new philosophy; just as in the Italian Renaissance, Pagan
philosophy, reasserting itself, fertilised again an already too inbred
Christian creed; so now Orthodoxy fertilised by Science is producing a
fresh and fuller conception of life--a, love of Perfection, not for hope
of reward, not for fear of punishment, but for Perfection's sake. Slowly,
under our feet, beneath our consciousness, is forming that new
philosophy, and it is in times of new philosophies that Art, itself in
essence always a discovery, must flourish.  Those whose sacred suns and
moons are ever in the past, tell us that our Art is going to the dogs;
and it is, indeed, true that we are in confusion!  The waters are broken,
and every nerve and sinew of the artist is strained to discover his own
safety.  It is an age of stir and change, a season of new wine and old
bottles.  Yet, assuredly, in spite of breakages and waste, a wine worth
the drinking is all the time being made.

I ceased again to think, for the sun had dipped low, and the midges were
biting me; and the sounds of evening had begun, those innumerable
far-travelling sounds of man and bird and beast--so clear and
intimate--of remote countrysides at sunset.  And for long I listened, too
vague to move my pen.

New philosophy--a vigorous Art!  Are there not all the signs of it?  In
music, sculpture, painting; in fiction--and drama; in dancing; in
criticism itself, if criticism be an Art.  Yes, we are reaching out to a
new faith not yet crystallised, to a new Art not yet perfected; the forms
still to find-the flowers still to fashion!

And how has it come, this slowly growing faith in Perfection for
Perfection's sake?  Surely like this: The Western world awoke one day to
find that it no longer believed corporately and for certain in future
life for the individual consciousness.  It began to feel: I cannot say
more than that there may be--Death may be the end of man, or Death may be
nothing.  And it began to ask itself in this uncertainty: Do I then
desire to go on living?  Now, since it found that it desired to go on
living at least as earnestly as ever it did before, it began to inquire
why.  And slowly it perceived that there was, inborn within it, a
passionate instinct of which it had hardly till then been conscious--a
sacred instinct to perfect itself, now, as well as in a possible
hereafter; to perfect itself because Perfection was desirable, a vision
to be adored, and striven for; a dream motive fastened within the
Universe; the very essential Cause of everything.  And it began to see
that this Perfection, cosmically, was nothing but perfect Equanimity and
Harmony; and in human relations, nothing but perfect Love and Justice.
And Perfection began to glow before the eyes of the Western world like a
new star, whose light touched with glamour all things as they came forth
from Mystery, till to Mystery they were ready to return.

This--I thought is surely what the Western world has dimly been
rediscovering.  There has crept into our minds once more the feeling that
the Universe is all of a piece, Equipoise supreme; and all things equally
wonderful, and mysterious, and valuable.  We have begun, in fact, to have
a glimmering of the artist's creed, that nothing may we despise or
neglect--that everything is worth the doing well, the making fair--that
our God, Perfection, is implicit everywhere, and the revelation of Him
the business of our Art.

And as I jotted down these words I noticed that some real stars had crept
up into the sky, so gradually darkening above the pollard lime-trees;
cuckoos, who had been calling on the thorn-trees all the afternoon, were
silent; the swallows no longer flirted past, but a bat was already in
career over the holly hedge; and round me the buttercups were closing.
The whole form and feeling of the world had changed, so that I seemed to
have before me a new picture hanging.

Ah!  I thought Art must indeed be priest of this new faith in Perfection,
whose motto is: "Harmony, Proportion, Balance."  For by Art alone can
true harmony in human affairs be fostered, true Proportion revealed, and
true Equipoise preserved.  Is not the training of an artist a training in
the due relation of one thing with another, and in the faculty of
expressing that relation clearly; and, even more, a training in the
faculty of disengaging from self the very essence of self--and passing
that essence into other selves by so delicate means that none shall see
how it is done, yet be insensibly unified?  Is not the artist, of all
men, foe and nullifier of partisanship and parochialism, of distortions
and extravagance, the discoverer of that jack-o'-lantern--Truth; for, if
Truth be not Spiritual Proportion I know not what it is.  Truth it seems
to me--is no absolute thing, but always relative, the essential symmetry
in the varying relationships of life; and the most perfect truth is but
the concrete expression of the most penetrating vision.  Life seen
throughout as a countless show of the finest works of Art; Life shaped,
and purged of the irrelevant, the gross, and the extravagant; Life, as it
were, spiritually selected--that is Truth; a thing as multiple, and
changing, as subtle, and strange, as Life itself, and as little to be
bound by dogma.  Truth admits but the one rule: No deficiency, and no
excess!  Disobedient to that rule--nothing attains full vitality.  And
secretly fettered by that rule is Art, whose business is the creation of
vital things.

That aesthete, to be sure, was right, when he said: "It is Style that
makes one believe in a thing; nothing but Style."  For, what is Style in
its true and broadest sense save fidelity to idea and mood, and perfect
balance in the clothing of them?  And I thought: Can one believe in the
decadence of Art in an age which, however unconsciously as yet, is
beginning to worship that which Art worships--Perfection-Style?

The faults of our Arts to-day are the faults of zeal and of adventure,
the faults and crudities of pioneers, the errors and mishaps of the
explorer.  They must pass through many fevers, and many times lose their
way; but at all events they shall not go dying in their beds, and be
buried at Kensal Green.  And, here and there, amid the disasters and
wreckage of their voyages of discovery, they will find something new,
some fresh way of embellishing life, or of revealing the heart of things.
That characteristic of to-day's Art--the striving of each branch of Art
to burst its own boundaries--which to many spells destruction, is surely
of happy omen.  The novel straining to become the play, the play the
novel, both trying to paint; music striving to become story; poetry
gasping to be music; painting panting to be philosophy; forms, canons,
rules, all melting in the pot; stagnation broken up!  In all this havoc
there is much to shock and jar even the most eager and adventurous.  We
cannot stand these new-fangled fellows!  They have no form!  They rush in
where angels fear to tread.  They have lost all the good of the old, and
given us nothing in its place!  And yet--only out of stir and change is
born new salvation.  To deny that is to deny belief in man, to turn our
backs on courage!  It is well, indeed, that some should live in closed
studies with the paintings and the books of yesterday--such devoted
students serve Art in their own way.  But the fresh-air world will ever
want new forms.  We shall not get them without faith enough to risk the
old!  The good will live, the bad will die; and tomorrow only can tell us
which is which!

Yes--I thought--we naturally take a too impatient view of the Art of our
own time, since we can neither see the ends toward which it is almost
blindly groping, nor the few perfected creations that will be left
standing amidst the rubble of abortive effort.  An age must always decry
itself and extol its forbears.  The unwritten history of every Art will
show us that.  Consider the novel--that most recent form of Art!  Did not
the age which followed Fielding lament the treachery of authors to the
Picaresque tradition, complaining that they were not as Fielding and
Smollett were?  Be sure they did.  Very slowly and in spite of opposition
did the novel attain in this country the fulness of that biographical
form achieved under Thackeray.  Very slowly, and in face of condemnation,
it has been losing that form in favour of a greater vividness which
places before the reader's brain, not historical statements, as it were,
of motives and of facts, but word-paintings of things and persons, so
chosen and arranged that the reader may see, as if at first hand, the
spirit of Life at work before him.  The new novel has as many bemoaners
as the old novel had when it was new.  It is no question of better or
worse, but of differing forms--of change dictated by gradual suitability
to the changing conditions of our social life, and to the ever fresh
discoveries of craftsmen, in the intoxication of which, old and equally
worthy craftsmanship is--by the way--too often for the moment mislaid.
The vested interests of life favour the line of least
resistance--disliking and revolting against disturbance; but one must
always remember that a spurious glamour is inclined to gather around what
is new.  And, because of these two deflecting factors, those who break
through old forms must well expect to be dead before the new forms they
have unconsciously created have found their true level, high or low, in
the world of Art.  When a thing is new how shall it be judged?  In the
fluster of meeting novelty, we have even seen coherence attempting to
bind together two personalities so fundamentally opposed as those of
Ibsen and Bernard Shaw dramatists with hardly a quality in common; no
identity of tradition, or belief; not the faintest resemblance in methods
of construction or technique. Yet contemporary; estimate talks of them
often in the same breath. They are new!  It is enough.  And others, as
utterly unlike them both.  They too are new.  They have as yet no label
of their own then put on some one else's!

And so--I thought it must always be; for Time is essential to the proper
placing and estimate of all Art.  And is it not this feeling, that
contemporary judgments are apt to turn out a little ludicrous, which has
converted much criticism of late from judgment pronounced into impression
recorded--recreative statement--a kind, in fact, of expression of the
critic's self, elicited through contemplation of a book, a play, a
symphony, a picture?  For this kind of criticism there has even recently
been claimed an actual identity with creation.  Esthetic judgment and
creative power identical!  That is a hard saying.  For, however
sympathetic one may feel toward this new criticism, however one may
recognise that the recording of impression has a wider, more elastic, and
more lasting value than the delivery of arbitrary judgment based on rigid
laws of taste; however one may admit that it approaches the creative gift
in so far as it demands the qualities of receptivity and reproduction--is
there not still lacking to this "new" critic something of that thirsting
spirit of discovery, which precedes the creation--hitherto so-called--of
anything?  Criticism, taste, aesthetic judgment, by the very nature of
their task, wait till life has been focussed by the artists before they
attempt to reproduce the image which that imprisoned fragment of life
makes on the mirror of their minds.  But a thing created springs from a
germ unconsciously implanted by the direct impact of unfettered life on
the whole range, of the creator's temperament; and round the germ thus
engendered, the creative artist--ever penetrating, discovering,
selecting--goes on building cell on cell, gathered from a million little
fresh impacts and visions.  And to say that this is also exactly what the
recreative critic does, is to say that the interpretative musician is
creator in the same sense as is the composer of the music that he
interprets.  If, indeed, these processes be the same in kind, they are in
degree so far apart that one would think the word creative unfortunately
used of both....

But this speculation--I thought--is going beyond the bounds of vagueness.
Let there be some thread of coherence in your thoughts, as there is in
the progress of this evening, fast fading into night. Return to the
consideration of the nature and purposes of Art!  And recognize that much
of what you have thought will seem on the face of it heresy to the school
whose doctrine was incarnated by Oscar Wilde in that admirable apotheosis
of half-truths: "The Decay of the Art of Lying."  For therein he said:
"No great artist ever sees things as they really are."  Yet, that
half-truth might also be put thus: The seeing of things as they really
are--the seeing of a proportion veiled from other eyes (together with the
power of expression), is what makes a man an artist.  What makes him a
great artist is a high fervour of spirit, which produces a superlative,
instead of a comparative, clarity of vision.

Close to my house there is a group of pines with gnarled red limbs
flanked by beech-trees.  And there is often a very deep blue sky behind.
Generally, that is all I see.  But, once in a way, in those trees against
that sky I seem to see all the passionate life and glow that Titian
painted into his pagan pictures.  I have a vision of mysterious meaning,
of a mysterious relation between that sky and those trees with their
gnarled red limbs and Life as I know it.  And when I have had that vision
I always feel, this is reality, and all those other times, when I have no
such vision, simple unreality.  If I were a painter, it is for such
fervent vision I should wait, before moving brush: This, so intimate,
inner vision of reality, indeed, seems in duller moments well-nigh
grotesque; and hence that other glib half-truth: "Art is greater than
Life itself."  Art is, indeed, greater than Life in the sense that the
power of Art is the disengagement from Life of its real spirit and
significance.  But in any other sense, to say that Art is greater than
Life from which it emerges, and into which it must remerge, can but
suspend the artist over Life, with his feet in the air and his head in
the clouds--Prig masquerading as Demi-god.  "Nature is no great Mother
who has borne us.  She is our creation.  It is in our brain that she
quickens to life."  Such is the highest hyperbole of the aesthetic creed.
But what is creative instinct, if not an incessant living sympathy with
Nature, a constant craving like that of Nature's own, to fashion
something new out of all that comes within the grasp of those faculties
with which Nature has endowed us?  The qualities of vision, of fancy, and
of imaginative power, are no more divorced from Nature, than are the
qualities of common-sense and courage.  They are rarer, that is all.  But
in truth, no one holds such views.  Not even those who utter them.  They
are the rhetoric, the over-statement of half-truths, by such as wish to
condemn what they call "Realism," without being temperamentally capable
of understanding what "Realism" really is.

And what--I thought--is Realism?  What is the meaning of that word so
wildly used?  Is it descriptive of technique, or descriptive of the
spirit of the artist; or both, or neither?  Was Turgenev a realist?  No
greater poet ever wrote in prose, nor any one who more closely brought
the actual shapes of men and things before us.  No more fervent idealists
than Ibsen and Tolstoy ever lived; and none more careful to make their
people real.  Were they realists?  No more deeply fantastic writer can I
conceive than Dostoievsky, nor any who has described actual situations
more vividly.  Was he a realist?  The late Stephen Crane was called a
realist.  Than whom no more impressionistic writer ever painted with
words.  What then is the heart of this term still often used as an
expression almost of abuse?  To me, at all events--I thought--the words
realism, realistic, have no longer reference to technique, for which the
words naturalism, naturalistic, serve far better.  Nor have they to do
with the question of imaginative power--as much demanded by realism as by
romanticism.  For me, a realist is by no means tied to naturalistic
technique--he may be poetic, idealistic, fantastic, impressionistic,
anything but--romantic; that, in so far as he is a realist, he cannot be.
The word, in fact, characterises that artist whose temperamental
preoccupation is with revelation of the actual inter-relating spirit of
life, character, and thought, with a view to enlighten himself and
others; as distinguished from that artist whom I call romantic--whose
tempera mental purpose is invention of tale or design with a view to
delight himself and others.  It is a question of temperamental antecedent
motive in the artist, and nothing more.

Realist--Romanticist!  Enlightenment--Delight!  That is the true
apposition.  To make a revelation--to tell a fairy-tale!  And either of
these artists may use what form he likes--naturalistic, fantastic,
poetic, impressionistic.  For it is not by the form, but by the purpose
and mood of his art that he shall be known, as one or as the other.
Realists indeed--including the half of Shakespeare that was realist not
being primarily concerned to amuse their audience, are still
comparatively unpopular in a world made up for the greater part of men of
action, who instinctively reject all art that does not distract them
without causing them to think.  For thought makes demands on an energy
already in full use; thought causes introspection; and introspection
causes discomfort, and disturbs the grooves of action.  To say that the
object of the realist is to enlighten rather than to delight, is not to
say that in his art the realist is not amusing himself as much as ever is
the teller of a fairy-tale, though he does not deliberately start out to
do so; he is amusing, too, a large part of mankind.  For, admitted that
the abject, and the test of Art, is always the awakening of vibration, of
impersonal emotion, it is still usually forgotten that men fall, roughly
speaking, into two flocks: Those whose intelligence is uninquiring in the
face of Art, and does not demand to be appeased before their emotions can
be stirred; and those who, having a speculative bent of mind, must first
be satisfied by an enlightening quality in a work of Art, before that
work of Art can awaken in them feeling.  The audience of the realist is
drawn from this latter type of man; the much larger audience of the
romantic artist from the former; together with, in both cases, those
fastidious few for whom all Art is style and only style, and who welcome
either kind, so long as it is good enough.

To me, then--I thought--this division into Realism and Romance, so
understood, is the main cleavage in all the Arts; but it is hard to find
pure examples of either kind.  For even the most determined realist has
more than a streak in him of the romanticist, and the most resolute
romanticist finds it impossible at times to be quite unreal.  Guido Reni,
Watteau, Leighton were they not perhaps somewhat pure romanticists;
Rembrandt, Hogarth, Manet mainly realists; Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, a
blend.  Dumas pere, and Scott, surely romantic; Flaubert and Tolstoy as
surely realists; Dickens and Cervantes, blended.  Keats and Swinburne
romantic; Browning and Whitman--realistic; Shakespeare and Goethe, both.
The Greek dramatists--realists.  The Arabian Nights and Malory romantic.
The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Old Testament, both realism and romance.
And if in the vagueness of my thoughts I were to seek for illustration
less general and vague to show the essence of this temperamental cleavage
in all Art, I would take the two novelists Turgenev and Stevenson.  For
Turgenev expressed himself in stories that must be called romances, and
Stevenson employed almost always a naturalistic technique.  Yet no one
would ever call Turgenev a romanticist, or Stevenson a realist.  The
spirit of the first brooded over life, found in it a perpetual voyage of
spiritual adventure, was set on discovering and making clear to himself
and all, the varying traits and emotions of human character--the varying
moods of Nature; and though he couched all this discovery in caskets of
engaging story, it was always clear as day what mood it was that drove
him to dip pen in ink.  The spirit of the second, I think, almost dreaded
to discover; he felt life, I believe, too keenly to want to probe into
it; he spun his gossamer to lure himself and all away from life. That was
his driving mood; but the craftsman in him, longing to be clear and
poignant, made him more natural, more actual than most realists.

So, how thin often is the hedge!  And how poor a business the partisan
abuse of either kind of art in a world where each sort of mind has full
right to its own due expression, and grumbling lawful only when due
expression is not attained.  One may not care for a Rembrandt portrait of
a plain old woman; a graceful Watteau decoration may leave another cold
but foolish will he be who denies that both are faithful to their
conceiving moods, and so proportioned part to part, and part to whole, as
to have, each in its own way, that inherent rhythm or vitality which is
the hall-mark of Art.  He is but a poor philosopher who holds a view so
narrow as to exclude forms not to his personal taste.  No realist can
love romantic Art so much as he loves his own, but when that Art fulfils
the laws of its peculiar being, if he would be no blind partisan, he must
admit it. The romanticist will never be amused by realism, but let him
not for that reason be so parochial as to think that realism, when it
achieves vitality, is not Art.  For what is Art but the perfected
expression of self in contact with the world; and whether that self be of
enlightening, or of fairy-telling temperament, is of no moment
whatsoever.  The tossing of abuse from realist to romanticist and back is
but the sword-play of two one-eyed men with their blind side turned
toward each other.  Shall not each attempt be judged on its own merits?
If found not shoddy, faked, or forced, but true to itself, true to its
conceiving mood, and fair-proportioned part to whole; so that it
lives--then, realistic or romantic, in the name of Fairness let it pass!
Of all kinds of human energy, Art is surely the most free, the least
parochial; and demands of us an essential tolerance of all its forms.
Shall we waste breath and ink in condemnation of artists, because their
temperaments are not our own?

But the shapes and colours of the day were now all blurred; every tree
and stone entangled in the dusk.  How different the world seemed from
that in which I had first sat down, with the swallows flirting past.  And
my mood was different; for each of those worlds had brought to my heart
its proper feeling--painted on my eyes the just picture.  And Night, that
was coming, would bring me yet another mood that would frame itself with
consciousness at its own fair moment, and hang before me.  A quiet owl
stole by in the geld below, and vanished into the heart of a tree.  And
suddenly above the moor-line I saw the large moon rising.
Cinnamon-coloured, it made all things swim, made me uncertain of my
thoughts, vague with mazy feeling. Shapes seemed but drifts of moon-dust,
and true reality nothing save a sort of still listening to the wind.  And
for long I sat, just watching the moon creep up, and hearing the thin,
dry rustle of the leaves along the holly hedge.  And there came to me
this thought: What is this Universe--that never had beginning and will
never have an end--but a myriad striving to perfect pictures never the
same, so blending and fading one into another, that all form one great
perfected picture?  And what are we--ripples on the tides of a birthless,
deathless, equipoised Creative-Purpose--but little works of Art?

Trying to record that thought, I noticed that my note-book was damp with
dew.  The cattle were lying down.  It was too dark to see.
1911





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