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Title: An Estimate of the Value and Influence of Works of Fiction in Modern Times
Author: Green, Thomas Hill
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Estimate of the Value and Influence of Works of Fiction in Modern Times" ***

by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF/Gallica) at

_Thomas Hill Green_

_An Estimate of The Value and Influence


Works of Fiction In Modern Times_

_Edited With Introduction and Notes


Fred Newton Scott

Professor of Rhetoric in the University of Michigan_

                                        _George Wahr
                                        Ann Arbor






_For a good many years I have used this essay of Green's with an
advanced class in the theory of prose fiction. It has worked well. It
always arouses discussion, and in doing so it has the great virtue that
it imperiously leads the argument away from superficialities and centers
it upon fundamentals. Its service as a stimulus to high thinking cannot
easily be overestimated. For any student, and especially for one who has
known only the unidea'd criticism of fiction so popular today, it is a
fine thing to come in contact with a high-minded, sturdy, and
uncompromising thinker such as Green is. As Green says of the hearer of
tragedy,_ "He bears about him, for a time at least, among the rank
vapors of the earth, something of the freshness and fragrance of the
higher air." _I trust that this reprint, by making the essay more easily
accessible than it has been heretofore, will help to raise the grade of
student thought and taste and criticism._

                                                              F. N. S.
_University of Michigan
December 1, 1910._


Introduction                                                 9
I. PRINCIPLES OF ART                                        19
   a. Epic, Drama, and Novel                                19
   b. Imitation vs. Art                                     21
   c. Nature the Creation of Thought                        22
   d. The 'Outward' aspect of Nature                        23
   e. Conquest of Nature by Art                             24
   f. The Artist as Idealizer                               26
   g. The Epic                                              27
   h. Tragedy as Purifier of the Passions                   29
   i. Tragedy the Elevation of Life                         33
   j. Conditions Favorable to Tragedy                       34
II. THE NOVEL AN INFERIOR FORM OF ART                       35
   a. Beginnings of the Novel                               35
   b. Characteristics of the _Spectator_                    36
   c. The Modern Novel a Reflection of Ordinary Life        38
   d. Naturalism vs. Idealism                               43
   e. Tragedy and the Novel                                 44
   f. The Epic and the Novel                                47
   g. Poetry and Prose                                      49
   h. The Novel an Incomplete Presentation of Life          52
   i. Prudence the Novelist's Highest Morality              54
   j. Evil Effects of Novel-reading                         56
III. TRUE FUNCTION OF THE NOVEL                             60
   a. A Widener of Experience                               60
   b. An Expander of Sympathies                             63
   c. A Creator of Public Sentiment                         69
   d. A Leveller of Intellects                              69


   a. An Appreciation of Green's Essay                      72
   b. Hegel on the Novel                                    77


Thomas Hill Green was born in Birkin, Yorkshire, April 7, 1836. His
early education was acquired first at home under his father, the rector
of Birkin, then at Rugby, where he was sent at the age of fourteen. In
1855 he entered Balliol College, Oxford, and came under the influence of
Jowett, afterwards famous as Master of Balliol and translator of Plato.
Though he matured early, Green was not a brilliant student. On the
contrary, he appeared to be indolent and sluggish. "No man," wrote one
of his fellow-students in 1862, "is driven with greater difficulty to
work not to his taste.... He wrote some of the best college essays: he
never sent them in on the right day, and might generally be seen on the
Monday pondering over essays which every one else had sent in on the
Friday night." These traits, however, as it proved later, were the index
not of a vagrant mind, but of independence of thought and of
preoccupation with weightier matters. To quote again from the tribute of
a fellow-student: "On everything he said or wrote there was stamped the
impress of a forcible individuality, a mind that thought for itself,
and whose thoughts had the rugged strength of an original character
wherein grimness was mingled with humor, and practical shrewdness with a
love for abstract speculation." In the end, his solid qualities of mind
and character made so strong an impression upon the University
authorities that in 1860 he was elected fellow of Balliol. At the same
time he became lecturer on ancient and modern history. Though from the
beginning of his student life he had been drawn to an academic career
and especially to the study of philosophy, he was now for a period
undecided what to make his life-work. At one time he thought of going
into journalism in India. In 1864, having accepted a place with the
Royal Commission on Middle Class Schools, he prepared a valuable report
upon the organization of high schools and their relation to the
university. Finally, however, in 1866, his indecision was brought to an
end. Obtaining an appointment in that year to a position on the teaching
staff of Balliol College, he settled down to the work of a tutor in
philosophy. When Jowett was made Master of Balliol, Green became, under
him, the responsible manager of the college, performing the manifold
small duties of the position with patience, thoroughness, and tact.

In 1871 he was married to Miss Charlotte Symonds, sister of John
Addington Symonds.

Twice Green was candidate for a professorship; once in 1864 when he
applied for the chair of moral philosophy at St. Andrews, and again in
1867 when the Waynflate professorship of moral and metaphysical
philosophy fell vacant at Oxford. In both cases he was unsuccessful. It
was not until 1878, by his election to the Whyte's professorship of
moral philosophy, that he obtained the position and the independence he
had long deserved. His enjoyment of the honor was brief. He died of
blood-poisoning, after an illness of only ten days, March 26, 1882.

Green's character was compounded of a variety of elements. The shyness
and reserve characteristic of many cultivated Englishmen, was
accentuated in his case by a natural austerity and an absorption in
serious thought. But though his temper was puritanic and inclined to
moroseness, there was no sourness or cynicism in it. "If," he wrote to
Miss Symonds, "I am rather a melancholy bird, given to physical fatigue
and depression, yet I have never known for a moment what it was to be
weary of life, as the youth of this age are fond of saying that they
are. The world has always seemed very good to me." Grim though he might
be outwardly, he had a keen sense of humor and a warmth of interest in
his fellows that made him, for those who broke through his reserve, a
charming companion. His most characteristic quality was elevation of
mind. In the essay that is here reprinted he speaks of "that aspiring
pride which arises from the sense of walking in intellect on the necks
of a subject crowd." Something of this elevation, this aloofness from
the vulgar, characterized all of his utterances and gave to them at
times a solemn fervency akin to that of the Hebrew prophets. This trait
is finely portrayed in the following description of the tutor Grey (a
thin disguise for Green) in Mrs. Ward's 'Robert Elsmere:'

     "In after years memory could always recall to him at will the face
     and figure of the speaker, the massive head, the deep eyes sunk
     under the brows, the midland accent, the make of limb and features
     which seemed to have some suggestion in them of the rude strength
     and simplicity of a peasant ancestry; and then the nobility, the
     fire, the spiritual beauty flashing through it all! Here, indeed,
     was a man on whom his fellows might lean, a man in whom the
     generation of spiritual force was so strong and continuous that it
     overflowed of necessity into the poorer, barrener lives around him,
     kindling and enriching."

Green's contributions to philosophy were partly constructive, partly
(and perhaps mainly) critical and destructive. On the critical side, his
greatest effort was his attack upon the philosophy of Hume in two
masterly Introductions to an edition of Hume's 'Works,' published in
1874-5. English philosophical thinking, so Green held, had stuck fast
in the scepticism of Hume. Such forward movement in thought as there had
been since the 18th Century, had come mainly through the writings of men
like Wordsworth and Shelley--men who having seen deeply into life, had
expressed themselves in imaginative, not in philosophical ways. To set
the stagnant tide of speculative thinking in motion, involved a two-fold
task: on one side the breaking down of the barriers erected by the
sensationalist and materialist schools of the 17th and 18th centuries,
and on the other side the letting in of a current of fresh ideas from
some source outside of England. The first, or destructive, task Green
performed with remarkable success in the two Introductions. For the new
and truer ideas which were to displace the old, he naturally looked to
Germany, whose methods of research were just coming into vogue at Oxford
through the influence of Pattison and Jowett. And since to speculative
thinkers of that time German philosophy meant the philosophy of Hegel,
Green's fundamental conceptions were derived by Hegelian modes of
thinking. In other words, he was a neo-Hegelian. But, as his biographer
notes, he never committed himself unreservedly to the Hegelian credo.
"While he regarded Hegel's system as the 'last word of philosophy,' he
did not occupy himself with the exposition of it, but with the
reconsideration of the elements in Kant of which it was the
development." That is, he was a neo-Kantian as well as a neo-Hegelian.
Of his constructive thinking in these channels the most complete
embodiment is his 'Prolegomena to Ethics.'

Though naturally his contributions to philosophy are first in bulk and
importance, Green's writings cover a considerable range of subjects.
Listed in the order of publication, they are as follows: 'The Force of
Circumstances,' published in _Undergraduate Papers_, 1858; 'An Estimate
of the Value and Influence of Prose Fiction,' published as a prize
essay, 1862; 'The Philosophy of Aristotle' and 'Popular Philosophy in
its relation to Life,' _North British Review_, Sept., 1866, and March,
1868; Introductions to 'Hume's Treatise of Human Nature' 1874-5; 'The
Grading of Secondary Schools,' _Journal of Education_, May, 1877; Review
of E. Caird's 'Philosophy of Kant,' _Academy_, Sept. 22, 1877; 'Mr.
Spencer on the Relations of Subject and Object,' _Contemporary Review_,
Dec., 1877; 'Mr. Spencer on the Independence of Matter,' _ibid._, March,
1878; 'Mr. Lewes' Account of Experience,' _ibid._, July, 1878; review of
J. Caird's 'Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion,' _Academy_, July
10, 1880; 'Answer to Mr. Hodgson,' _Contemporary Review_, January, 1881;
review of J. Watson's 'Kant and his English Critics,' _Academy_,
September 17, 24, 1881; 'Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Control,'
1881; 'The Work to be done by the New Oxford High School,' 1882;
'Prolegomena to Ethics,' 1883; 'The Witness of God' and 'Faith'
(delivered in 1870 and 1877, and at the time printed for private
circulation), 1884.

All of the foregoing, with the exception of the 'Prolegomena to Ethics,'
are included in the 'Works' edited by R. L. Nettleship (3 Vols., 1885,
2d Ed. 1889, Longmans). The 'Works' contain, in addition, the following
writings not previously published: An essay on 'The Influence of
Civilization on Genius'; an essay on 'Christian Dogma'; an article on
'Mr. Lewes' Account of the Social Medium,' written for the _Contemporary
Review_, but not used; four lectures or addresses on the New Testament;
four lectures on 'The English Commonwealth'; a series of lectures on
'The Philosophy of Kant,' on 'Logic' and on 'The principles of Political
Obligations'; a lecture on 'The Different Senses of Freedom as Applied
to Will and to the Moral Progress of Man'; and a fragment on

Aside from occasional references to poetry and art in his philosophical
writings, as, for example, in the opening paragraphs of the
'Prolegomena,' the essay on fiction here reprinted is Green's only
venture in the field of aesthetic criticism. When we remember that it
was one of his earliest productions, having been submitted for the
Chancellor's prize in 1862, when Green was but 26 years of age, the
maturity of both style and contents seems remarkable. It is in fact a
monumental piece of literary criticism, sufficient to establish the
reputation of many a lesser writer. At the same time, however, there is
about it an air of constraint which shows that the author was not at
ease in this kind of speculation. He was fencing, so to speak, with his
left hand. His mind was so absorbed in the metaphysical, ethical, and
religious aspects of experience that upon the aesthetic as such he had
little attention to bestow. When he approached aesthetic problems at all
it was for the purpose of obtaining data which he could employ in other
fields of thought. He was obviously not in sympathy with the aims of
English novelists. He had no expert knowledge of the history of fiction
in England, and no knowledge at all, so far as appears, of its history
in other countries. Probably he misunderstood the relation, in certain
particulars, of the novel to the epic. Nevertheless, his appreciation of
concrete works of art was so genuine and profound, his insight so clear,
his expressed judgments so candid, that any contact of his mind with
art, literary or other, could not fail to be illuminating. Whatever its
limitations, the essay has at least one distinguishing merit: in it a
fundamental principle of criticism is applied with merciless rigor to
the solution of a literary problem. The products of such a method are
certain to be interesting and valuable. Whether we agree with the
author's conclusions or not, we can at least see whence he derives them
and feel the stimulus which always comes from the spectacle of a
powerful mind grappling in deadly earnest with momentous questions of
art and life.

                 AN ESTIMATE
                   of the
            Value and Influence of
              Works of Fiction in
                 Modern Times



1. We commonly distinguish writings which appeal directly to the
emotions from those of which the immediate object is the conveyance of
knowledge, by applying to the former a term of conveniently loose
meaning, "works of imagination." Of the kinds included in the wide
denotation of this term there are three, between which it seems
difficult at first sight to draw a definite line; which appeal to
similar feelings, and excite a similar interest, in the different ages
to which each is appropriate. These are the epic poem, the drama, and
the novel. Each purports to be, in some sort, a reflex of human life and
action, as obeying certain laws and tending to a certain end. In each
men are represented, not as at rest, or in contemplative isolation, but
in co-operation or collision. In each there is a combination of two
elements, an outer element of incident, an inner of passion and
character. In view of these common features, we might be tempted at
first sight to suppose the difference between the three kinds to be
merely one of form, merely the difference between the vehicle of prose
and the vehicle of metre. We shall find, however, on deeper inquiry,
that to the true artist, who does not find his materials in the world,
but creates them according to the inner laws by which the world and
himself are governed, the vehicle is not more a part of his creation
than the "impassioned truth" which it conveys. Here, as elsewhere, form
and substance are inseparable; and the difference of form that
distinguishes the novel from the other kinds of composition which it
seems for the present to have superseded, symbolises, or rather is
identical with, a different potency in the art by which the substance is


[1] "Though in its most general sense the substance and matter of all
fine art is the same, issuing from the common source of the human desire
for expression, yet the region of fancy corresponding to each medium of
utterance is molded by intercourse with that medium, and acquires an
individuality which is not directly reducible to terms of any other
region of aesthetic fancy. Feeling, in short, is modified in becoming
communicable; and the feeling which has become communicable in music is
not capable of re-translation into the feeling which has become
communicable in painting. Thus the arts have no doubt in common a human
and even rational content--rational in so far as the feelings which are
embodied in expression, for expression's sake, arise in connection with
ideas and purposes; but each of them has separately its own peculiar
physical medium of expression and also a whole region of modified
feeling or fancy which constitutes the material proper to be expressed
in the medium and according to the laws of each particular art."--B.
Bosanquet, 'The Relation of the Fine Arts to One Another' (_Proceedings
of the Aristotelian Society_).


2. Mere copying is not art. The farther the artist rises above the stage
of imitation, the higher is his art, the more elevating its influence on
those who can enter into its spirit. If the landscape-painter does
nothing more than represent nature as seen by the outward eye, the
vulgar objection against looking at pictures--"I can see as fine a view
as this any day"--is unquestionably valid. But if the painter is
anything better than a photographer, he does far more than this. He
brings nature before us, as we have seen it, perhaps, only once or twice
in our lives, under the influence of some strong emotion. He does that
for us which we cannot do for ourselves; he reproduces those moments of
spiritual exaltation in which "we feel that we are greater than we
know"--moments which we can remember, and of which the mere memory may
be the light of our lives, but which no act of our own will can bring
back. It is not till the distinction has been appreciated between nature
as it is and nature as we make it to be, between that which we see and
that which "having not seen we love," that any branch of art can be
reckoned in its proper value.


3. In one sense of the the word, it would no doubt be true to say that
nature is simply and altogether that which we make it to be. Modern
philosophy has discarded the language which represented our knowledge of
things as the result of impressions and the transmission of images.[2]
If we still not only speak but think of ourselves as primarily passive
and in contact with an alien world, this arises simply from the
difficulty of conceiving a pure spontaneous activity. Driven from the
crude imagination which found the primary condition of knowledge in the
reception of "ideas" from without, "common sense" took refuge in the
more refined hypothesis of unknown objects, which cause our sensations,
and through sensations our knowledge.[3] But this standing-ground has
been swept away by the consideration that such a cause may be found
within as well as without, in the laws of the subject's activity as well
as in objects confessedly beyond the reach of cognition. Our ultimate
analysis can find no element in knowledge which is not supplied by
ourselves in conformity to a ruling law, or which exists independently
of the action of human thought.


[2] As, _e.g._, in the philosophy of Locke.

[3] Probably referring to Herbert Spencer.


4. But though the world of nature is, in this sense, a world of man's
own creation, it is so in a different way from the world of art and of
philosophy. Thought is indeed its parent, but thought in its primary
stage fails to recognize it as its own, fails to transfer to it its own
attributes of universality, and identity in difference. It sees outward
objects merely in their diversity and isolation. It seeks to penetrate
nature by endless dichotomy, glorying in that dissection of unity which
is the abdication of its own prerogative.[4] It treats outward things
as ministering to animal wants, as the sources of personal and
particular pleasures and pains; and thus induces the sense of bondage,
of collision with a world in which it has not yet learnt to find itself.
It places the end of human life not in harmony with the law which is the
highest form of itself, but in happiness, _i.e._, in the extraction of
the greatest possible amount of enjoyment from a world to which it seems
to be accidentally related. The view of things corresponding to this
stage of thought is what we commonly call their outward aspect. It is
the aspect of matter-of-fact, of logic, of "mere morality," as opposed
to that of art, of philosophy, and religion.


[4] "Life," says Professor Dewey ('Studies in Logical Theory,' p. 81),
"proposes to maintain at all hazards the unity of its own process." And
in a foot-note he adds: "Professor James's satisfaction in the
contemplation of bare pluralism, of disconnection, of radical
having-nothing-to-do-with-one-another, is a case in point. The
satisfaction points to an aesthetic attitude in which the brute
diversity becomes itself one interesting object; and thus unity asserts
itself in its own denial. When discords are hard and stubborn, and
intellectual and practical unification are far to seek, nothing is
commoner than the device of securing the needed unity by recourse to an
emotion which feeds on the very brute variety. Religion and art and
romantic affection are full of examples."


5. The perfection of this of latter and higher view involves the
absolute fusion of thought and things. Its full attainment is a new
creation of the world. Yet it is but the discovery of a relationship
which was from the beginning, the adoption by thought of a child which
was never other than its own. The habitual interpretation of natural
events by the analogy of human design, to which every hour's
conversation testifies, is the evidence that to the ordinary man nature
presents itself not as something external, but, like a friend, as
"another himself." The true conquest of nature is but the completion of
the reconciliation thus anticipated in the everyday language and
consciousness of mankind. When the mind has come to see in the endless
flux of outward things, not a succession of isolated phenomena, but the
reflex of its own development into an infinite variety of laws on a
basis of identity--when the laws of nature are raised to the character
of laws which regulate admiration and love--when the experiences of life
are held together in a medium of pure emotion, and the animal element so
fused with the spiritual as to form one organization through which the
same impulse runs with unimpeded energy--then man has made nature his
own, by becoming a conscious partaker of the reason which animates him
and it.[5] The attainment of this consummation is the end of life: but
it is an end that can never be fully realised, while "dualism" remains a
necessary condition of humanity. To most men it is as a land very far
off, of which occasional glimpses are caught from some "specular mount"
of philosophic or poetic thought. It can only approach realisation
through the operation of a power which can penetrate the whole man, and
act on every moment of his life. But that power, which in the form of
religion can make every meal a sacrament, and transform human passion
into the likeness of divine love, is represented at a lower stage, not
only by the unifying action of speculative philosophy, but by the
combining force of art.


[5] The same thought may be found, in concrete and poetic form, in
Wordsworth's lines:

                      "And I have felt
     A presence that disturbs me with the joy
     Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
     Of something far more deeply interfused,
     Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
     And the round ocean and the living air,
     And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
     A motion and a spirit, that impels
     All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
     And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
     A lover of the meadows and the woods,
     And mountains."


6. The artist, even at his lowest level, is more than an imitator of
imitations.[6] Abridgment, selection, combination, are the necessary
instruments of his craft; and by their aid he introduces harmony and
order into the confused multiplicity of sensuous images. He substitutes
for the primary outward aspect of things a new view, in which thought
already finds a resting place. Just as strong emotion tends to make all
known existence the setting of a single form; just as intense meditation
sees in all experience the manifestation of a single idea; so the
artist, even if he be merely telling a story, or painting a common
landscape, puts some of his materials in a relief, and combines all in a
harmony, which the untaught eye does not find in the world as it is. He
presents to us the facts in the one case, the outward objects in the
other, as already acted upon by thought and emotion. In this sense every
artist, instead of copying nature, idealises it. In degree and mode,
however, the idealisation varies infinitely in the various kinds of art.
It is by considering the height to which it is carried in the epic poem
and the drama that we shall best appreciate its limitations in the


[6] Here are three beds: one existing in nature, which is
made by God, as I think that we may say--for no one else can be
the maker?--No.--There is another which is the work of the
carpenter?--Yes.--And the work of the painter is a third?--Yes?--Beds,
then, are of three kinds, and there are three artists who superintend
them: God, the maker of the bed, and the painter?--Yes, there are three
of them.--God, whether from choice or from necessity, made one bed in
nature and one only; two or more such ideal beds neither ever have been
nor ever will be made by God.... Shall we, then, speak of Him as the
natural author or maker of the bed?--Yes, he replied; inasmuch as by
the natural process of creation He is the author of this and of all
other things.--And what shall we say of the carpenter--is he not
also the maker of the bed?--Yes.--But would you call the painter a
creator and maker?--Certainly not.--Yet if he is not the maker,
what is he in relation to the bed?--I think, he said, that we may fairly
designate him as the imitator of that which the others make.--Good, I
said; then you call him who is third in the descent from nature an
imitator?--Certainly, he said.--And the tragic poet is an imitator, and
therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king
and from the truth.--That appears to be so.--Plato, 'Republic,' X. 597.


7. In outward form the epic poem is simply a narrative in verse.
Historically it seems to have originated in the records of ancestral
heroism, which passed from mouth to mouth in metre, as the natural form
of oral communication in an unlettered age. In the Iliad and Odyssey we
first find this outward form penetrated by a new spirit, which converts
the narrative into the poem. There is no need to do violence to
historical probability by supposing that Homer was a conscious artist,
or that he imagined himself to be doing anything else than representing
events as they happened. We have simply to notice that in him facts have
become poetry, and to ask ourselves what constitutes the change. How is
it that the epic poet, while "holding up the mirror to nature," yet
shows us in the glass a glory which belongs not to nature as we see it,
in its material limitations? The answer is, that though he follows the
essential laws of the human spirit, his scene is not the earth we live
in. He fills it with actors other than the men who "hoard and sleep and
feed" around us. He places the action either in heroic ages--in the
"past which was never present," when gods were more human and men more
divine--or in heavenly places, and among the powers of the air. The
action is simple in proportion to its remoteness from the reality of
life, and rapid in proportion to its simplicity. It arises from the
operation of the most elementary passions, the wrath of Achilles or the
pride of Satan, in collision with an overruling power. For the animal
wants and tricks of fortune, which entangle the web of man's affairs, it
has no place. The animal element, if not banished from view altogether,
becomes merely the organ of the ruling motions of the spirit; and
fortune is lost in destiny or providence. Thus the incidents of the
narrative cease to be mere incidents. They are held together by passion;
they are themselves, so to speak, manifestations of passion working with
more and more intensity to the final consummation. Not the laws which
regulate curiosity, but those which regulate hope and awe, are the laws
which they have to satisfy.


8. In tragedy, as the product of a more cultivated age, these
characteristics appear more strongly than in the primitive epic. The
Homeric poems are still legendary narratives, though narratives
unconsciously transmuted by the highest art. Tragedy, on the contrary,
has no extraneous elements. It implies a conscious effort of the spirit,
made for its own sake, to re-create human life according to spiritual
laws; to transport itself from a world, where chance and appetite seem
hourly to give the lie to its self-assertion, into one where it may work
unimpeded by anything but the antagonism inherent in itself and the
presence of an overruling law. This result is attained simply by the
action of the proper instruments of thought, abstraction and synthesis.
The tragedian presents to us scenes of life, not its continuous flow of
incident. In "Macbeth," for instance, there is an hiatus of some years
between the earlier and later acts;[7] but we are not sensible of the
void; for the passions which lead to the catastrophe are but the
development of those which appear at the beginning, and to the law
against which they struggle "a thousand years are but as yesterday."
Time, however, is but one among many circumstances which the tragedian
ignores. The common facts of life as it is, and always must have been,
the influence of custom, the transition of passion into mechanical
habit, the impossibility of continuous effort, the necessary
arrangements of society, the wants of our animal nature and all that
results from them, these are excluded from view, and so much only of the
material of humanity is retained as can take its form from the action of
the spirit, and become a vehicle of pure passion. But the synthesis
keeps pace with the abstraction, for the tragedian creates not passions
but men. The outer garment, the flesh itself, is stript off from man,
that the spirit may be left to re-clothe itself, according to its proper
impulses and its proper laws. The false distinctions of dress, of
manner, of physiognomy, are obliterated, that the true individuality
which results from the internal modifications of passion may be seen in
clearer outline. These modifications are as infinite and as complex as
the spirit of man itself; and if the characters of the ancient
dramatists, in their broad simplicity, fail to exhibit the finer
lineaments of real life, yet in Shakespeare the variations of pure
passion are as numerous and as subtle as those of the fleshly or
customary mask by which man thinks that he knows his neighbour. The
essential difference lies in the fact that they are variations of the
spiritual, not the animal, man; that they arise from the qualifications
of the spirit by itself, not from its intermixture with matter. It is
this which gives tragedy its power over life. The problem of the
diabolic nature, of the possibility of a "fallen spirit," is not for
man to solve. He may be satisfied with the diagnosis of his own disease,
with the knowledge that it is his littleness, not his greatness, that
separates him from the divine; that not intellectual pride, not
spiritual self-assertion, but the meanness of his ordinary desires, the
degradation of his higher nature to the pursuit of animal ends, keep him
under the curse. From this curse tragedy, in its measure, helps to
relieve him. It "purifies his passions"[8] by extricating them from
their earthly immersion. For an hour, it may be, or a day, it raises him
into a world of absolute ideality, where he may forget his wants and his
vanity, and lose himself in a struggle in which the combatants are the
forces of the spirit, and of which the end is that annihilation in
collision with destiny which is but the blank side of reconciliation
with it. And though his sojourn in this region be short, yet, when he
falls again, the smell of the divine fire has passed upon him, and he
bears about him, for a time at least, among the rank vapours of the
earth, something of the freshness and fragrance of the higher air.


[7] The actual time represented in the play has been calculated to be
nine days, with intervals of a week or two between Acts II and III,
scenes ii and iii of Act IV, and scenes i and ii of Act V. See _New
Shakespeare Society Publications_, 1877-79.

[8] The phrase is Aristotle's; cf. the 'Poetics,' Chap. vi, and, for
comment, Butcher's 'Aristotle's Theory of Poetry and Fine Art,' Chapter


9. In this sense, then, tragedy satisfies its definition as "the flight
or elevation of life." The two indispensable supports which render this
elevation possible, are metrical expression and great situations. "In
the regeneration" the language of the market-place and the morning call
may answer to the realised harmony of life; there may, indeed, be "the
fifth act of a tragedy in every death-bed;" there may be no distinction
of great or little, high or low. But it is an affectation to confound
what shall be with what is. We cannot dissociate ordinary incidents from
the petty wants out of which they ordinarily spring, nor common language
from the common-place thoughts which it usually expresses. The action in
tragedy must be relative to the situation; and if the situation be one
which we are unable to separate from matter-of-fact associations,
neither can the action be so separated except by an effort which of
itself depresses the soaring spirit. Nor, again, if the action be
high-wrought, above the measure of man's ordinary activity, can it find
expression in the unrhythmical language[9] which corresponds to that
ordinary activity. New wine must not be put in old bottles; nor must the
motions of disenthralled passion be confined in vessels worn by the uses
of daily life.


[9] The language of prose is not necessarily unrhythmical, nor is it
always commonplace, as witness, for example, the more moving and
imaginative passages of the English Bible. On this point consult
Gummere's 'Beginnings of Poetry,' Chapter ii (Rhythm as the Essential
Fact of Poetry, especially pp. 56-60); Watts's article 'Poetry' in the
Encyclopædia Britannica; and the _Publications of the Modern Language
Association_, xx. 4.


10. These considerations may explain to us why the production of a great
tragedy is almost an impossibility in our own time. The age most
favourable to it would seem to be one in which men stand on the edge of
an old and but half-known world--as Aeschylus and Sophocles stood on the
edge of the mythologic, Shakespeare on that of the feudal world--an age
of sufficient culture and reflection for men to be conscious of the
glory they have left behind, while yet civilisation has not reached the
stage of acquiescence in things as they are, and scepticism as to all
beyond them. Those great situations furnished by the mysterious past, in
which passion quits the earth, soon lose their charm, and with the reign
of wonder that of tragedy ceases. At Athens it gives place to the new
comedy, whose highest boast was to copy present life ([Greek: ô Menandre
kai Bie, poteros ar' humôn poteron apemimêsato];):[10] in modern Europe
it has yielded to the novel.


[10] A saying of Aristophanes, the Grammarian, quoted by Syrianus on
Hermogenes, IV. 101. It may be translated: "O Menander and Life! Which
of you copies the other?"



11. The novel in its proper shape did not come to the birth in England
till the time of Fielding and Richardson, but it had long been in
process of formation. The seventeenth century at its close had lost the
tragic impulse of its youth. The ecstatic hope of a new world, combined
with the sad and wondering recollection of the old, which had raised the
human spirit to the height of the Shakesperian tragedy, had died out,
and the age had become eminently satisfied with itself. Wits,
philosophers, and poets, alike were full of the present time. While the
wits complimented each other on their superiority to the weaknesses of
mankind, they made no scruple of indulging those weaknesses in their own
persons. It was part of their business to do so, for it was part of
"life." The only difference between them and other men was that they
were weak and laughed over it, while others were weak and serious.
Philosophers congratulated themselves on their new enlightenment; but it
was an enlightenment which gave them insight into things as they are,
not as they are to be. "The proper study of mankind," they held was
"man;" man, however, not in his boundless promise, but in the mean
performance with which they proclaimed themselves satisfied. The poetry
of the time was, at best, merely common-sense with ornamentation. It was
neither lyrical nor tragic, though it may have tried to be both. It
represented man neither as withdrawn into himself, nor as transported
into an ideal world of action, but as observing and reasoning on his
present affairs. The satire and moral essay were its characteristic


12. The most pleasing expression of this self-satisfaction of the age is
found in the _Spectator_, the first and best representative of that
special style of literature--the only really popular literature of our
time--which consists in talking to the public about itself. Humanity is
taken as reflected in the ordinary life of men; and, as thus reflected,
it is copied with the most minute fidelity. No attempt is made either to
suppress the baser elements of man's nature, or to transfigure them by a
stronger light than that of the common understanding. No deeper laws are
recognised than those which vindicate themselves to the eye of daily
observation, no motives purer than the "mixed" ones which the practical
philosopher delights to analyse, no life higher than that which is
qualified by animal wants. The reader never finds himself carried into a
region where it requires an effort to travel, or which is above the
existing level of opinion and morality. It is from this levelness with
life that the _Spectator_ derives its interest--an interest so nearly
the same, barring the absence of plot, with that of the novel, as to
lead Macaulay to pronounce Addison "the forerunner of the great English
novelists."[11] The elements of the novel, indeed, already existed in
Addison's time, and only required combination. Fictitious biography,
which may be regarded as its raw material, had been written by Defoe
with a life-like reality which has never since been equalled; and the
popular drama furnished plots, in the shape of love stories drawn from
present life. Let the adventures of the fictitious biography, instead of
being merely external to the man, as in Defoe, be made subservient to
that display of character in which Addison had shown himself a master,
and let them become steps in the development of a love-plot, and the
novel--the novel of the last century, at any rate--is fully formed. As
was the self-contented, and therefore uncreative and prosaic, thought of
the age, which produced the novel, such the novel itself continued to
be. Man, comfortable and acquiescent, wished to amuse himself by a
reflex of the life which he no longer aspired to transcend. He wanted to
enjoy himself twice over--in act and in fancy; or, if the former were
denied him, at least to explore in fancy the world of pleasure and
excitement, of which circumstances abridged or disturbed his enjoyment
in fact. In "the smooth tale, generally of love,"[12] the novelist
supplied the want.


[11] "We have not the least doubt that, if Addison had written a novel,
on an extensive plan, it would have been superior to any that we
possess. As it is, he is entitled to be considered, not only as the
greatest of the English essayists, but as the forerunner of the great
English novelists."--Macaulay, 'Life and writings of Addison.'

[12] "A small tale, generally of love."--Johnson's Dictionary.


13. This Johnsonian definition may be objected to as merely accidental,
and as inconsistent with the romantic character which the novel assumed
in the hands of Sir Walter Scott. It expresses, however, adequately
enough the view which the popular novelists prior to Scott took of their
own productions. Cervantes, though in his own great work attaining that
rhapsody of grotesqueness which lies on the edge of poetry, had yet
established the idea of the novel as the antithesis of romance. These
novelists, accordingly, if they are not always telling the reader (like
Fielding), seem yet to be always thinking to themselves, how perfectly
natural their stories are. It is on this naturalness they pride
themselves; and naturalness, in their sense, meant conformity to nature
as it is commonly seen. This is the characteristic feature of the class.
Whether, like Richardson, they analyse character from within, or, like
Miss Austen, develop it in the outward particularities of an unruffled
life--whether they describe, like Fielding, the buoyancy of a generous
animalism, or, like Miss Edgeworth and Miss Burney, the precise
decencies of conventional morality--they deal simply with
eighteenth-century life as seen by eighteenth-century eyesight. All
romantic virtue, all idealised passion, they rigorously eschew. Prudence
they make the guide, happiness the end, of life. And they do well. They
undertake to copy present life, and they do so. They have to reflect
man's habitual consciousness; it is not for them to anticipate a
consciousness which has not yet been attained, or to represent man's
lower nature as absorbed in a spiritual movement which, because we
cannot arrest it, we habitually ignore. It is just their deficiency in
this respect which gives them their peculiar fascination. Man is not
really mere man, though he may think himself so. He is always something
potentially, which he is not actually; always inadequate to himself; and
as such, disturbed and miserable. The novel, on the contrary, represents
him as being what he vainly tries to be--adequate to himself. It offers
to his imagination the full enjoyment of earthly life, unchallenged by
obstinate surmises, untroubled by yearnings after the divine. Ordinary
men are satisfied with this enjoyment; the highest are allured by its
temptation. The "reading public" is charmed with the contemplation of
its own likeness, "twice as natural" as life. Its own wisdom, its own
wishes, its own vanity, are set before it in little with a completeness
and finish which the deeper laws of the universe, vindicating themselves
by apparent disorder and misfortune, happily prevent from being attained
in real life.[13] It is thus pleasantly flattered into contentment with
itself--a contentment not disturbed by the occasional censure of
practices which good taste condemns as ungraceful, or prudence as
prejudicial to happiness. But the man of keener insight, who, instead of
wrestling with the riddle of life, seeks for a time to forget it, and
to place in its stead the rounded representation of activity which the
novelist supplies, cannot but find the vanity of hiding his face from
the presence which he dreads. Out of heart with the world about
him--conscious of its actual meanness, and without vigor to re-cast it
in the mould of his own thought--he fancies that after a sojourn in the
world of fiction he may come back braced for his struggle with life. In
his study, with a novel, he hopes to overlook the walls of his
prison-house, to see the beginning and the end of human strife. But he
soon finds himself in the embrace of the very power which he sought to
escape. Here is the world itself brought back to him. Here is a perfect
copy of that which in actual experience he sees but partially. The
mirror is but too truly held up to nature. The getting and spending, the
marrying and giving in marriage, the dominion of fortune which makes
life a riddle, the prudential motives and worship of happiness which
hide its divinity, these meet him here as they meet him in life,
untransmuted, unidealised. Yet the charm of art overcomes him. The
perfectness of the representation, the skill with which the incidents
are combined to result in a crowning happiness behind which no sorrow
seems to lie, make him find a pleasure in the copy which he cannot find
in actual life, when in personal and painful collision with it. But
meanwhile he gains no real strength, he readies no new height of
contemplation. He comes back to the world, as a man with a diseased
digestion, after living for a time on spiced meats, comes back to
ordinary food. He has not braced the assimilative power of his thought
by a flight into the ideal world, or learnt even for a time to turn
"matter to spirit by sublimation strange." He has remained on the earth,
and though his fancy has for the hour given the earth a charm, he is no
better able than he was before to raise his eyes from its dead level, or
remove the limits of its horizon.

14. Thus, then, the old quarrel of the philosopher with the imitative
arts seems to be revived in respect of the novel. But though
novel-writers might be banished from a new republic,[14] it would not be
as artists, but for the inferiority of their art. An artist indeed the
novelist is; he combines events and persons with reference to ends; he
concentrates into a dialogue of a few sentences an amount of feeling and
character which it would take real men some hours to express; he imparts
a rapidity to the stream of incident quite unlike the sluggishness of
our daily experience. In this sense he does not copy what we see, but
shows us what we can not see for ourselves. Our complaint against him is
that the aspect of things which he shows us is merely the outward and
natural, as opposed to the inner or ideal. His answer would probably be
either that the ideal, in any sense in which it can be opposed to the
natural, must be false and delusive; or that it is merely an accident of
novel-writing, as hitherto practised, and not anything essential to this
species of composition, which has prevented it from exhibiting the
highest aspect of things; or, finally, that admitting the view which the
novel presents to be necessarily lower than the poetic, it yet is a more
useful view for man to contemplate.


[13] This rather obscure phrase may be interpreted as follows: The
average man would like to live such a rounded and symmetrical life as is
portrayed in the novel. He would like to see his wisdom justifying
itself, his vanity triumphant, his selfishness achieving its end; and he
thinks that his cravings are being satisfied. But the deeper laws of the
universe will not be balked, they are lying in wait. And presently when
he thinks, good easy man, his little bourgeois world is rounding into
the perfect sphere, they spring up in his path, shatter his sugar-candy
paradise, and ruthlessly vindicate themselves (that is, prove that they
cannot be disregarded, that they must be reckoned with) by bringing into
his life disorder and misfortune.

[14] As poets were from the republic of Plato. "When any one of these
pantomimic gentlemen, who are so clever that they can imitate anything,
comes to us, and makes a proposal to exhibit himself and his poetry, we
will fall down and worship him as a sweet and holy and wonderful being;
but we must also inform him that in our state such as he are not
permitted to exist; the law will not allow them. And so when we have
anointed him with myrrh, and set a garland of wool upon his head, we
shall send him away to another city. For we mean to employ for our
souls' health the rougher and severer poet or story-teller, who will
imitate the style of the virtuous only, and will follow those models
which we prescribed at first when we began the education of our
soldiers."--Plato, 'Republic,' III. 398.


15. Much fruitless controversy between naturalism and idealism in art
might have been saved by a consideration of the true character of the
antithesis. It becomes unmeaning as soon as nature is expanded to the
fulness of the idea. And so expanded it may be, for, according to the
old formula, it is always in flux. It is never in being, always in
becoming. As has been already pointed out, it is what we see; and we see
according to higher and lower laws of vision. We may look at man and the
world either from without or from within. We may observe man's actions
like other phenomena, and from observation learn to ascribe them to
certain general but distinct motives and faculties, which we do not
refer to any higher unity; or, on the other hand, by the light of our
own consciousness we may recognise that in man of which no observation
of his actions could tell us--something which is in him, but yet is not
his own; which combines with all his faculties, but is none of them;
which gives them a unity, to which their diversity is merely relative.
So again with regard to the phenomena of the world; we may look on these
either simply as phenomena, or as manifestations of destiny or divine
will. The former view of man and the world we may conveniently call
_natural_, because the only view that mere observation can give us; the
latter _ideal_, because making observation posterior to something given
in thought.


16. The tragedian, then, idealises, because he starts from within. He
reaches, as it were, the central fire, in the heat of which every
separate faculty, every animal want, every fortuitous incident is
melted down and lost. We never could observe in actual experience
passion such as Lear's, or meditation such as Hamlet's, fusing
everything else into itself. Facts at every step would interfere to
prevent such a possibility. But let us place ourselves, by the poet's
help, within the soul of Lear or Hamlet, and we shall be able to follow
the process by which the spiritual power, taking the form of passion in
the one, and of thought in the other, and working outwards, draws
everything into its own unity, according to the same activity of which,
however impeded by the "imperfections of matter," we are conscious in
ourselves. The incidents of the tragedy are wholly subordinate, issuing
either from this spiritual energy of the actors on the one hand, or, on
the other, from destiny, to whose throne the poet penetrates. They thus
present an aspect entirely different from that of events which we
approach from without. The novel, on the contrary, starts from the
outside. Its main texture is a web of incidents through which the
motions of the spirit must be discerned, if discerned at all. These
incidents must be probable, must be such as are consistent with the
observed sequences of the world. The view of man, therefore, which we
attain through them, can only be that which is attainable by observation
of outward actions and events; or, in other words, according to the
distinction which we have attempted to establish, it is the natural
view, not the ideal. Its character corresponds to its origin.
Observation shows us man not as self-determined, but as the creature of
circumstances, as a phenomenon among other phenomena. As such, too, he
is presented to us in the novel. We do not see him, as in tragedy,
standing in the strength of his own spirit, remaking the world by its
power, determined by it for good or evil, dependent on it for all that
may be attractive or repellent about him. The hero of a novel attracts
in part by his physiognomy, his manner, or even his dress; his character
is qualified by circumstances and society; his impulses vary according
to the impressions of outward things; he is the sport of fortune,
dependent for weal or woe on the acquisition of some external blessing
which the development of the plot may or may not bestow on him. As
circumstances make his life what it is, so the particular combination of
circumstances, called happiness, constitutes its end. Instead of losing
his merely personal and particular self, as in the catastrophe of a
tragedy, he satisfies it with its appropriate pleasure. "He that loveth
wife or children more than me, is not worthy of me," are the words of
the Author of the Christian life. "Marry, enjoy domestic bliss, and thou
hast attained the end of virtue"--such is the ordinary moral of the
ordinary novel; nay, the only consistent moral of the consistent novel.
As the novelist sows, so must he reap; as his plot is, such must its
consummation be. In the body of the work he must, from the nature of the
case, represent men as they appear in fact, and he cannot fitly round it
off by representing them as they are only in idea. He cannot step at
pleasure from one sphere of art to another; by attempting to do so he
destroys the harmony without which there is no art at all, and leaves us
with a sense of dissatisfaction and unreality. The reader, who through
the whole three volumes till close upon the end has been travelling in
an atmosphere of ordinary morality and every-day aspiration, knows not
how in the last chapter to breathe the air of a higher life.


17. It may be objected to this limitation of the capabilities of the
novel, that it must stand on the same footing with the epic poem, which
is no less made up of a texture of incident, and which, therefore,
according to the present argument, can only reach the springs of man's
actions from without. Such an objection has some truth with reference to
the Homeric poems. These, as we have seen, have the legendary narrative
for their primitive element, and in so far as they are merely a reflex
of Greek life in the Homeric age, their interest is that of a novel, not
properly of the epic. The true epic (of which the "Paradise Lost" would
seem to be a less mixed form than the Iliad or Odyssey), no less than
tragedy, seizes the idea of a self-determined spirit on the one hand,
and of destiny or divine law on the other. These are the primary springs
from which it makes action and incident issue, with a perfect
subordination which the laws of our lower nature and of social life must
prevent from being realised in the world of experience, and which the
novelist therefore, tied down to the world of experience, only offends
us by attempting to exhibit. The essential character of the novel is not
changed by its assumption of the form of a romance. In the romantic
world of the middle ages, the great Italian poets did indeed find their
materials. To their eyes it was a world in which hope and wonder might
roam at large: it furnished actions which, glorified by them, became
manifestations of the divine and heroic in man. But it is another world
as seen by the novelist, even by such a one as Walter Scott. The
romantic life which he depicts is simply the life which we see our own
neighbors live, with more picturesque situations, with more to excite
curiosity in the reader, and activity in the imaginary hero. We gain
more from him, it is true, than from those copies of the too familiar
faces around us which are the staple commodity in novels of the day. He
at least carries us into scenes of adventure, where we may forget the
"smooth tale" of our nineteenth-century life. But further he cannot go,
for he approaches men from without. He does not reach, by other methods
than observation, to any _a priori_ affection of the spirit, and to this
subordinate incident. Had he done so, he could not have uttered himself
in the language of common life. In the world of heroes or angels,
_i.e._, of men idealised, to which the epic poet raises us, he sustains
us by the power of verse. The exalted action and the poetic expression
are as essentially correlative in the epic, as are the natural incident
and the prosaic expression in the novel.


18. The hostility of Wordsworth to the "poetic diction" of his
time rested on principles of which he scarcely seems himself to
have been conscious.[15] The poets of the last century had lost the
genuine sense of their high calling. Their productions for the most part
were, at best, practical philosophy in verse. They observed the outer
aspect of things, and to make their observations poetry they clothed
them in "poetic diction," which thus became offensive, because
artificial--because a superadded ornament, and not the natural
expression of exalted passion or the emotion which accompanies our
passage "behind the veil." Repugnance to this artificiality misled
Wordsworth into the celebrated assertion that "between the language of
prose and that of metrical composition, there neither is, nor can be,
any essential difference:" an assertion which, as prompted by a feeling
of the incompatibility of poetic language with prosaic thought, is
really a witness to the essential antithesis between poetry and prose.
Verse is simple, harmonious, and unfamiliar. It is thus the fitting
organ for that energy of thought which simplifies the phenomena of life
by referring them to a spiritual principle; which blends its shifting
colours in the light of a master-passion, and passes from the
contradictory data of the common understanding to the unity of a deeper
consciousness. Even the spiritualist philosopher, no less than the poet,
would have to speak in verse, if, instead of making statements, he
portrayed: if, besides asserting that "all things are to be seen in
God," he sought to excite in the reader the emotion appropriate to the
sight. Prose is the "oratio soluta." It is complex, irregular,
inharmonious. It thus corresponds to the natural or phenomenal view of
life; the view of it, that is, in its diversity, as qualified in
innumerable modes by animal wants and apparent accident, and not
harmonised by the action of the spirit.[16] The novelist must express
himself in prose, because this is his view of life: and this must be his
view of life, because he thus expresses himself. It is indeed a view
which may vary according to the circumstances of the case, but only
within definite limits. There is an "earnestness" about some of our
modern novelists, Miss Brontë for instance, which would have seemed out
of place to those of fifty years ago; but this is merely because the
life they see around them is more "earnest." It presents to them scenes
of sterner significance than were to be found among the coquetry and
dissipation of the fashionable world or the dull courtesies of a country
house. But that they do not transcend this outward life we have one
crucial proof. Just in so far as each of us learns to regard his own
individual being from within, and not from without, does he discard
dependence on happiness as arising from external circumstances, and
becomes already in idea, as he tends to become in reality, his own world
and his own law. No novelist attains to the assertion of this spiritual
prerogative. As we follow in sympathy the story of his hero, we find
ourselves lifted up and cast down as fortune changes, our life
brightening as the clouds break above, and darkening as they close
again. If the author chooses to disappoint us with "a bad ending," he
leaves us, not as we are left at the conclusion of a tragedy, purified
from personal desires, but vexed and sorrowful, sadder but not wiser


[15] "Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because in that
condition the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in
which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and
speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition of
life our elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater simplicity,
and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated, and more
forcibly communicated.... The language, too, of these men has been
adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from
all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust), because such men
hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of
language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in society
and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being less
under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and
notions in simple and unelaborated expressions. Accordingly, such a
language arising out of repeated experience and regular feeling, is a
more permanent, and a far more philosophical language, than that which
is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who think that they are
conferring honor upon themselves and their art in proportion as they
separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in arbitrary
and capricious habits of expression, in order to furnish food for fickle
tastes and fickle appetites of their own creation."--Wordsworth, Preface
to the 'Lyrical Ballads.'

[16] On the relations of prose and poetry, see Alden's 'An introduction
to Poetry,' pp. 23-28, 128-138, 160-164, and the references there given.


19. By the mere explanation of the difference between the ideal and the
natural, the poetic and novelistic, views of the world, we may seem to
have already settled the question as to the beneficial effects of each.
The question, be it observed, is not as to the comparative influence of
the discipline of art and that of real life. The man who seeks his
entire culture in art of any kind will soon find the old antagonism
between speculation and action begin to appear. There will be a chasm,
which he cannot fill, between his life in the closet and his life in the
world; his impotence to carry his thought into act will limit and weaken
the thought itself. But this ill result will equally ensue, whether the
art in which he finds his nurture be that of the novelist or that of the
poet. The novel-reader sees human action pass before him like a
panorama, but he feels none of its pains and penalties; his fancy feeds
on its pleasures, but he has not to face the struggle of resistance to
pleasure, or the suffering which follows on indulgence. Nor is it merely
from that weakness of effect which, in one sense, must always belong to
representation as opposed to reality, that the novel suffers. The
representation itself is incomplete. The novelist, like every other
artist, must abridge and select. For many of the elements whose action
builds up our human soul, there is no place in his canvas. A great part
of the discipline of life arises simply from its slowness. The long
years of patient waiting and silent labor, the struggle with
listlessness and pain, the loss of time by illness, the hope deferred,
the doubt that lays hold on delay--these are the tests of that
pertinacity in man which is but a step below heroism. The exhibition of
them in the novel, however, is prevented by that rapidity of movement
which is essential to its fascination; and hence to one whose
acquaintance with life was derived simply from novels, its main business
would be unknown. They are perhaps more brought home to us by Defoe than
by any other writer of fiction; but this is due to that very deficiency
of artistic power which makes his agglomeration of details[17] such
heavy reading to all but school-boys.


[17] Modern criticism inclines to the view that Defoe's "agglomeration
of details" is the result of high and conscious art. If 'Robinson
Crusoe' were kept away from schoolboys it would doubtless be read
pleasurably by adults.


20. The novel, then, as being a work of art, must fail to teach the
lesson of life in its completeness: as an inferior work of art, it has
peculiar weaknesses of its own. However extensive the influence of the
literature of fiction may have been, its intensity has been in inverse
proportion. A great poem, once made our own, abides with us for ever.

                 "Amid the fretful stir
     Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,"[18]

the spirit, returning to it, may gain a fresh assurance of its _own_
birthright, and purify itself, as in a river of Lethe, for an ideal
transition to its proper home. The novel, itself the reflex of "the
fretful stir unprofitable," can exercise no such power. It can but make
us more at home in the region from which a great poem transports us. The
value of that experience of the world, which it is its object to impart,
is commonly overrated in our day. In the form in which it is imparted by
the novelist, we have perhaps had too much of it without his aid. Our
external environment is quite enough in our thoughts: we are not too
reluctant to admit that we are what we seem to be, dependent for good or
evil on circumstances which we do not make for ourselves. This
dependence is in itself, no doubt, a fact; but it ceases to be so for us
when we contemplate it in forgetfulness of that spring of potential
freedom which underlies it, and of the law of duty correlative to
freedom. To the exclusive consideration of it we owe those profitless
recipes for eliciting moral health from circumstances which are the
plague of modern literature, and which one of our ablest writers has
lately condescended to dispense, in an essay on "organisation in daily
life." This circumstantial view of life, if we may use the term, being
the only one that the novelist can convey, prudence is his highest
morality. But it may be doubted whether prudence is what any one has
great need to learn. The plain man, who fronting circumstances boldly on
the one hand, looks reverently to the stern face of duty on the other,
can dispense with its maxims. For the moral valetudinarian small benefit
is to be gained from a doctor who will

     "Read each wound, each weakness clear,
     Will strike his finger on the place
     And say, 'Thou ailest here and here'."[19]

It is far better for him, instead of poring over a detail of the causes
and symptoms of the disease which he hugs, to be stimulated to an effort
in which, though it be but temporary, ecstatic, and for an end not
actually attainable, he may at least forget the disease altogether. Such
a stimulus a great poem may afford him; but in the whole expanse of
novel-literature he merely sees his own sickly experience modified in an
infinite variety of reflections, till he fancies that the "strange
disease of modern life" is the proper constitution of God's universe.



                 "When the fretful stir
     Unprofitable, and the fever of the world
     Have hung upon the beatings of my heart."
                    --Wordsworth, 'Tintern Abbey.'

[19] Matthew Arnold's 'Memorial Verses,' lines 20-22, adapted to the


21. Novel-reading thus aggravates two of the worst maladies of modern
times, self-consciousness and want of reverence. Many a man in these
days, instead of doing some sound piece of work for mankind, spends his
time in explaining to himself why it is that he does not do it, and how,
after all, he is superior to those who do. Even men of a higher sort
never seem to forget themselves in their work. Our popular writers
generally take the reader into confidence as to their private feelings
as they go along; our men of action are burdened by a sense of their
reputation with "intelligent circles." No one loses himself in a cause.
Scarcely understanding what is meant by a "divine indifference" as to
the fate of individual existences in the evolution of God's plan, we
weary heaven with complaints that we find the world contrary, or that we
cannot satisfy ourselves with a theory of life. Thus "measuring
ourselves by ourselves, and comparing ourselves among ourselves, we are
not wise." The novel furnishes the standard for the measurement, and the
data for the comparison. It presents us with a series of fictitious
experiences, in the light of which we read our own, and become more
critically conscious of them. Instead of idealising life, if we may so
express ourselves, it sentimentalises it. It does not subordinate
incidents to ideas; yet it does not treat them simply as phenomena to
excite curiosity, but as misfortunes or blessings to excite sentiment.
The writer of the "Mill on the Floss" reaches almost the tragic pitch
towards the close of her book, and if she had been content to leave us
with the death of the heroine and her brother[20] in the flood, we
might have supposed that in this case, as representing the annihilation
of human passion in the struggle with destiny, the novelist had indeed
attained the ideal view of life. But the novelistic instinct does not
allow her to do so. At the conclusion we are shown the other chief
actors standing, with appropriate emotions, over the heroine's grave,
and thus find that the catastrophe has not really been the manifestation
of an idea, but an occasion of sentiment. The habitual novel-reader,
from thus looking sentimentally at the fictitious life which is the
reflex of his own, soon comes to look sentimentally at himself. He
thinks his personal joys and sorrows of interest to angels and men; and
instead of gazing with awe and exultation upon the world, as a theatre
for the display of God's glory and the unknown might of man, he sees in
it merely an organism for affecting himself with pains and pleasures.
Thus regarded, it must needs lose its claim on his reverence, for it is
narrowed to the limits of his own consciousness. Conversant with present
life in all its outward aspects, he forgets the infinite spaces which
lie around and above it. This confinement of view, which among the more
intelligent appears merely as disbelief in the possibilities of man,
takes a more offensive form in the complacent blindness of ordinary
minds. We have no wish to disparage our own age in comparison with any
that have preceded it. Young men have always been ignorant, and
ignorance has always been conceited. There is, however, this difference.
The ignorant young men of past time, such as the five sons of Sir
Hildebrand Osbaldistone,[21] knew that they were ignorant, but thought
it no shame: the ignorant young men of our days, with the miscellaneous
knowledge of life which they derive from the popular novelists, fancy
themselves wiser than the aged. Whoever be the philosopher, the coxcomb
nowadays will answer him not merely with a grin, but with a joke which
he has still in lavender from Dickens or his imitators. The comic aspect
of life is indeed plain enough to see, nor is the merely pathetic much
less obvious; but there is little good in looking at either. It is far
easier to laugh or to weep than to think; to give either a ludicrous or
sentimental turn to a great principle of morals or religion than to
enter into its real meaning. But the vulgar reader of our comic
novelists, when he has learnt from them a jest or a sentiment for every
occasion of life, fancies that nothing more remains unseen and unsaid.


[20] "Lover" in the original text of the essay. The error does not much
affect the argument.

[21] In Scott's 'Rob Roy.'



22. But there is another side to this question which we must not allow
ourselves to overlook. We have shown what the novel cannot do, and its
ill effect on those who trust to it for their culture. We must not
forget that it has a proper work of its own which, if modern progress be
anything more than a euphemism, must be a work for good. Least of all
should it be depreciated by the student, who may find in it deliverance
from the necessary confinement of his actual life. For the production of
poetic effect, as we have seen, large abstraction is necessary. It is
with man in the purity of his inward being, with nature in its simple
greatness, that the poet deals. The glory which he casts on life is far
higher than any which the novelist knows, but it is only on certain of
the elements of life that it can be cast at all. The novelist works on a
far wider field. With choice of subject and situation he scarcely need
trouble himself, except in regard to his own intellectual
qualifications. Wherever human thought is free, and human character can
display itself, whether in the servants' hall or the drawing-room,
whether in the country mansion or the back alley, he may find his
materials. He is thus a great expander of sympathies; and if he cannot
help us to make the world our own by the power of ideas, he at least
carries our thought into many a far country of human experience, which
it could not otherwise have reached. We hear much in these days of the
sacrifice of the individual to society through professional limitations.
In the progressive division of labor, while we become more useful as
citizens, we seem to lose our completeness as men. The requirements of
special study become more exacting, at the same time that the perfect
organisation of modern society removes the excitement of adventure and
the occasion for independent effort. There is less of human interest to
touch us within our calling, and we have less leisure to seek it beyond.
Hence it follows that one who has made the most of his profession is apt
to feel that he has not attained his full stature as a man; that he has
faculties which he can never use, capacities for admiration and
affection which can never meet with an adequate object. To this feeling,
probably, are mainly due our lamentations over a past age of
hero-worship and romance, when action was more decisive and passion a
fuller stream. Its alleviation, if not its remedy, is to be found in the
newspaper and the novel. Every one indeed must lay in his own experience
the foundation of the imaginary world which he rears for himself. There
is a primary "virtue which cannot be taught." No man can learn from
another the meaning of human activity or the possibilities of human
emotion. But this [Greek: pou stô] being given, even the cloistered
student may find that, as his soul passes into the strife of social
forces and the complication of individual experience, which the
newspaper and the novel severally represent, his sympathies break from
the bondage of his personal situation and reach to the utmost confines
of human life. The personal experience and the fictitious act and react
on each other, the personal experience giving reality to the fictitious,
the fictitious expansion to the personal. He need no longer envy the man
of action and adventure, or sigh for new regions of enterprise. The
world is all before him. He may explore its recesses without being
disturbed by its passions; and if the end of experience be the knowledge
of God's garment, as preliminary to that of God Himself, his eye may be
as well trained for the "vision beatific," as if he had himself been an
actor in the scenes to which imagination transfers him.


23. The novelist not only works on more various elements, he appeals to
more ordinary minds than the poet. This indeed is the strongest
practical proof of his essential inferiority as an artist. All who are
capable of an interest in incidents of life which do not affect
themselves, may feel the same interest more keenly in a novel; but to
those only who can lift the curtain does a poem speak intelligibly. It
is the twofold characteristic, of universal intelligibility and
indiscriminate adoption of materials, that gives the novel its place as
the great reformer and leveller of our time. Reforming and levelling are
indeed more closely allied than we are commonly disposed to admit.
Social abuses are nearly always the result of defective organisation.
The demarcations of family, of territory, or of class, prevent the
proper fusion of parts into the whole. The work of the reformer
progresses as the social force is brought to bear more and more fully on
classes and individuals, merging distinctions of privilege and position
in the one social organism. The novel is one of the main agencies
through which this force acts. It gathers up manifold experiences,
corresponding to manifold situations of life; and subordinating each to
the whole, gives to every particular situation a new character, as
qualified by all the rest. Every good novel, therefore, does something
to check what may be called the despotism of situations; to prevent that
ossification into prejudices arising from situation, to which all feel a
tendency. The general novel literature of any age may be regarded as an
assertion by mankind at large, in its then development, of its claims,
as against the influence of class and position; whether that influence
appear in the form of positive social injustice, of oppressive custom,
or simply of deficient sympathy.

24. To be what he is, the novelist must be a man with large powers of
sympathetic observation. He must have an eye for the "humanities" which
underlie the estranging barriers of social demarcation, and in relation
to which the influence of those barriers can alone be rightly
appreciated. We have already spoken of that acquiescence in the dominion
of circumstance, to which we are all too ready to give way, and which
exclusive novel-reading tends to foster. The circumstances, however,
whose rule we recognise, are apt to be merely our own or those of our
class. We are blind to other "idola" than those of our own cave; we do
not understand that the feelings which betray us into "indiscretions"
may, when differently modified by a different situation, lead others to
game-stealing or trade-outrages. From this narrowness of view the
novelist may do much to deliver us. The variations of feeling and
action with those of circumstance, and the essential human identity
which these variations cannot touch, are his special province. He shows
us that crime does not always imply sin, that a social heresy may be the
assertion of a native right, that an offence which leads to conventional
outlawry may be merely the rebellion of a generous nature against
conventional tyranny. Thus, if he does not do everything, he does much.
Though he cannot reveal to us the inner side of life, he at least gives
a more adequate conception of its surface. Though he cannot raise us to
a point of view from which circumstances appear subordinate to spiritual
laws, he yet saves us from being blinded, if not from being influenced,
by the circumstances of our own position. Though he cannot show the
prisoners the way of escape from their earthly confinement, yet by
breaking down the partitions between the cells he enables them to
combine their strength for a better arrangement of the prison-house. The
most wounding social wrongs more often arise from ignorance than from
malice, from acquiescence in the opinion of a class rather than from
deliberate selfishness. The master cannot enter into the feelings of the
servant, nor the servant into those of his master. The master cannot
understand how any good quality can lead one to "forget his station"; to
the servant the spirit of management in the master seems mere
"driving." This is only a sample of what is going on all society over.
The relation between the higher and lower classes becomes irritating,
and therefore injurious, not from any conscious unfairness on either
side, but simply from the want of a common understanding; while at the
same time every class suffers within its own limits from the prevalence
of habits and ideas, under the authority of class-convention, which
could not long maintain themselves if once placed in the light of
general opinion. Against this twofold oppression, the novel, from its
first establishment as a substantive branch of literature, has made
vigorous war. From Defoe to Kingsley its history boasts of a noble army
of social reformers; yet the work which these writers have achieved has
had little to do with the morals--commonly valueless, if not false and
sentimental--which they have severally believed themselves to convey.
Defoe's notion of a moral seems to have been the vulgar one that vice
must be palpably punished and virtue rewarded; he recommends his "Moll
Flanders" to the reader on the ground that "there is not a wicked action
in any part of it but is first or last rendered unhappy and[22]
unfortunate." The moral of Fielding's novels, if moral it can be called,
is simply the importance of that prudence which his heroes might have
dispensed with, but for the wildness of their animal license. Yet both
Defoe and Fielding had a real lesson to teach mankind. The thieves and
harlots whom Defoe prides himself on punishing, but whose adventures he
describes with the minuteness of affection, are what we ourselves might
have been; and in their histories we hear, if not the "music," yet the
"harsh and grating cry" of suffering humanity. Fielding's merit is of
the same kind; but the sympathies which he excites are more general, as
his scenes are more varied, than those of Defoe. His coarseness is
everywhere redeemed by a genuine feeling for the contumelious buffets to
which weakness is exposed. He has the practical insight of Dickens and
Thackeray, without their infusion of sentiment. He does not moralise
over the contrast between the rich man's law and the poor man's, over
the "indifference" of rural justice, over the lying and adultery of
fashionable life. He simply makes us see the facts, which are everywhere
under our eyes, but too close to us for discernment. He shows society
where its sores lie, appealing from the judgment of the diseased class
itself to that public intelligence which, in spite of the cynic's sneer
on the task of "producing an honesty from the combined action of
knaves," has really power to over-ride private selfishness. The same
sermon has found many preachers since, the unconscious missionaries
being perhaps the greatest. Scott was a Tory of the purest water. His
mind was busy with the revival of a pseudo-feudalism: no thought of
reforming abuses probably ever entered it. Yet his genial human insight
made him a reformer against his will. He who makes man better known to
man takes the first steps toward healing the wounds which man inflicts
on man. The permanent value of Scott's novels lies in his pictures of
the Scotch peasantry. He popularised the work which the Lake poets had
begun, of re-opening the primary springs of human passion. "Love he had
found in huts where poor men lie," and he announced the discovery;
teaching the "world" of English gentry what for a century and a half
they had seemed to forget, that the human soul, in its strength no less
than in its weakness, is independent of the accessories of fortune. He
left no equals, but the combined force of his successors has been
constantly growing in practical effect. They have probably done more
than the journalists to produce that improvement in the organisation of
modern life which leads to the notion that, because social grievances
are less obvious, they have ceased to exist. The novelist catches the
cry of suffering before it has obtained the strength, or general
recognition, which are pre-supposed when the newspaper becomes its
mouthpiece. The miseries of the marriage-market had been told by
Thackeray, with almost wearisome iteration, many years before they found
utterance in the columns of the "Times."


[22] "Or" in Green's text.


25. It may indeed be truly said that, after all, human selfishness is
much the same as it ever was; that luxury still drowns sympathy; that
riches and poverty have still their old estranging influence. The novel,
as has been shown, cannot give a new birth to the spirit, or initiate
the effort to transcend the separations of place and circumstance; but
it is no small thing that it should remove the barriers of ignorance and
antipathy which would otherwise render the effort unavailing. It at
least brings man nearer to his neighbor, and enables each class to see
itself as others see it. And from the fusion of opinions and sympathies
thus produced, a general sentiment is elicited, to which oppression of
any kind, whether of one class by another, or of individuals by the
tyranny of sectarian custom, seldom appeals in vain.


26. The novelist is a leveller also in another sense than that of which
we have already spoken. He helps to level intellects as well as
situations. He supplies a kind of literary food which the weakest
natures can assimilate as well as the strongest, and by the consumption
of which the former sort lose much of their weakness and the latter
much of their strength. While minds of the lower order acquire from
novel-reading a cultivation which they previously lacked, the higher
seem proportionately to sink. They lose that aspiring pride which arises
from the sense of walking in intellect on the necks of a subject crowd;
they no longer feel the bracing influence of living solely among the
highest forms of art; they become conformed insensibly, to the general
opinion which the new literature of the people creates. A similar change
is going on in every department of man's activity. The history of
thought in its artistic form is parallel to its history in its other
manifestations. The spirit descends, that it may rise again; it
penetrates more and more widely into matter, that it may make the world
more completely its own. Political life seems no longer attractive, now
that political ideas and power are disseminated among the mass, and the
reason is recognised as belonging not to a ruling caste merely, but to
all. A statesman in a political society resting on a substratum of
slavery, and admitting no limits to the province of government, was a
very different person from the modern servant of "a nation of
shopkeepers," whose best work is to save the pockets of the poor. It
would seem as if man lost his nobleness when he ceased to govern, and as
if the equal rule of all was equivalent to the rule of none. Yet we
hold fast to the faith that the "cultivation of the masses," which has
for the present superseded the development of the individual, will in
its maturity produce some higher type even of individual manhood than
any which the old world has known. We may rest on the same faith in
tracing the history of literature. In the novel we must admit that the
creative faculty has taken a lower form than it held in the epic and the
tragedy. But since in this form it acts on more extensive material and
reaches more men, we may well believe that this temporary declension is
preparatory to some higher development, when the poet shall idealise
life without making abstraction of any of its elements, and when the
secret of existence, which he now speaks to the inward ear of a few, may
be proclaimed on the house-tops to the common intelligence of mankind.



It is interesting to see how the leading ideas in his [Green's] mind
governed the treatment of an apparently alien material in his last piece
of academic work, the essay on novels, which gained the Chancellor's
prize in 1862. The essay has also the additional interest of being
almost the only record of his views on art and its relation to life. The
fundamental conception upon which it is based is one with which we have
already met. The world in its truth is a unity, governed by a single
law, animated by an undivided life, a whole in every part. But to human
apprehension it is fragmentary and mechanical, a chaos of elements of
which each is external to the other and all are external to our minds,
and in which chance tempered by familiarity seems to be the only law. To
exceptional men, or at exceptional crises in life, in the moments of
intense insight or emotion which philosophy calls knowledge and religion
faith, the weight of custom falls away, the truth breaks through the
veil, and the most trivial object or accident comes to reflect in
itself the whole system of nature or the whole providence of God. At
such moments man realises that in order to live he must die, that in
order to be free he must obey, and that only by surrendering his fancied
independence can he enter into the divine unity. To this liberation of
the self from its own bondage art contributes its share. The poetic
genius, like the speculative and the religious, penetrates the
monotonous disorder of everyday life, and lays bare "the impassioned
expression" which is there for those who can read it. The dramatist, for
instance, with whom the novelist is here compared, shows us some
elemental force of humanity, stripped of the accidents of time and
place, working itself out in free conflict with other forces, and
finally breaking itself against the eternal fact that no man can gain
the world without first losing himself. It is this catastrophe which
makes the real tragedy of life; it is this which the tragic poet has the
eye to see and the words to portray; and in proportion as we can follow
him in imagination, we come away from the spectacle with our own hearts
broken and purged, but strengthened to face the fact and obey the law.
The novelist does with inferior means, and for minds at a lower level,
what the dramatist may do for a mind at its highest. He idealises enough
to make us feel pleasure or pain, not enough to make us forget
ourselves. He excites curiosity or suspense, not awe or hope. If the
novel ends well, it flatters our complacency with the feeling that the
world as it is is not such a bad place after all; if it ends badly, it
strengthens the indolent conviction that aimless misery is the law of
the universe. There are however two ways in which novels may be of real
service and value. If they cannot teach men how to live, they may,
through the wide range of their subjects, enable those who have already
found a principle of life to give it a freer application than their
limited circumstances would otherwise allow; the "fictitious experience"
may "give expansion to the personal," while the personal gives reality
to the fictitious, and thus may be mitigated that "sacrifice of the
individual to society" which the modern division of labor tends to bring
about. And secondly, by appealing to such various classes and
capacities, and exhibiting the identity of human nature under such
various circumstances, novels supply a vehicle through which the force
of public opinion may work, fusing differences, breaking down
prejudices, and checking the "despotism of situations." The essay
concludes characteristically with the refusal to believe that democracy
is necessarily unpoetic. As "we hold fast to the faith that the
'cultivation of the masses,' which has for the present superseded the
development of the individual, will in its maturity produce some higher
type of individual manhood than any which the old world has known," so,
though in the novel "the creative faculty has taken a lower form than it
held in the epic and the tragedy," "we may well believe that this
temporary declension is preparatory to some higher development, when the
poet shall idealise life without making abstraction of any of its
elements, and when the secret of existence, which he now speaks to the
inward ear of a few, may be proclaimed on the housetops to the common
intelligence of mankind."

Readers of the essay who are also novel-readers will be inclined to say
that the writer was not much in sympathy with his subject; and he
himself, on getting the prize, remarks that "it is curious that I should
have been successful in an essay on novels, about which I know and care
little, and should have failed in both my efforts in theology, for which
I care considerably." At the same time it is probably true, as he once
said, that he had read more novels than his friends gave him credit for,
and it is certainly true that what his reading lacked in extent it made
up in intensity. As might be supposed, his taste in fiction was for
forcible delineation and robust humor. The flavor of strong, healthy
individuality was what attracted him; for rarities, niceties, and
abnormalities of mental organisation he cared nothing. He liked things
which he could take hold of with his mind, not things which merely gave
him sensations, pleasant or painful. Both in his deepest and his
lightest moods he was absolutely simple and "above board," and this
simplicity made him keenly alive to the proximity of the sublime to the
ridiculous or the exquisite to the grotesque. Though he had little of
the animal in him, and was never troubled by his appetites, he was quite
free from prudery. If obscenity moved him at all, it was to frank
laughter or to grim contempt; he never dwelt upon it, either in the way
of enjoyment or loathing. "For rules of ascetic discipline," says a
friend, "he had no need. The view of life suggested by so much of the
best French literature, that thinking men are generally in a practical
dilemma between the extremes of sensual excess and of spiritual
exaltation, did not commend itself to him in the least." The only forms
of art to which he was keenly susceptible were those of oratory and
poetry. He had no ear for music, though he seemed to get a certain
exaltation from listening to it. In regard to painting and sculpture he
always professed himself incompetent, but he was not without decided
tastes. On his first visit to the Continent he was more attracted by
Rembrandt, Holbein, and Dürer than by the Italians; "these men," he
said, "grasped the idea of Christianity." Of Durer's four saints at
Munich he writes, "I could contemplate them with interest for hours; he
has contrived to give St. John an almost perfect expression of 'divine
philosophy'." In later years when he went to Italy he spent a good deal
of time in looking at early Italian pictures, and admitted that they
would soon have got a great hold upon him. But on the whole his attitude
to the arts (excluding those of language) was one of deferential
ignorance. He had not himself any artistic gifts; he did not even write
verses. Yet to his friends, as one of them says, "he never represented
the prose of existence. With all his gravity, with all his firm grip on
fact and material interests, he had the enthusiastic movement of the
world's poetry in him."--From the Memoir by R. L. Nettleship, Green's
'Works,' Vol. 3, pp. xxx-xxxiii.


Among the mongrel forms of epic should be included the half descriptive,
half lyric poems which were popular among the English, dealing chiefly
with nature, the seasons of the year, etc. There belong also to this
division numerous didactic poems in which a prosaic content is dressed
up in poetic form, such as compendiums of physics, astronomy, and
medicine, and treatises on chess, fishing, hunting, and the conduct of
life. Poems of this sort were most artfully elaborated by the later
Greeks, by the Romans, and, in modern times, especially by the French.
Despite their general epic tone, they lend themselves readily to lyric

More poetical, but still without the characteristics necessary for
definite classification, are romances and ballads. Being epic in content
but lyric in treatment, these products of the Middle Ages and of modern
times may be assigned to either class indifferently.

The case of the novel, the modern popular epic, is very different. Here
we find the same wealth and variety of interests, circumstances,
characters, and human relationships, the same world-background, and the
same handling of events, that characterize the true epic. But there is
lacking to it the primitive poetic state of the world, in which the true
epic took its rise. The novel, in the modern acceptation of the term,
presupposes a prosaically ordered reality. But working from the basis of
this reality, and moving within its own circle, the novel, both as
regards picturesqueness of incident and as regards characters and their
fate, retrieves for poetry (so far as the above presupposition permits)
her lost prerogatives.[23]

Thus it happens that the struggle between the poetry of the heart and
the opposing prose of outward circumstances is for the novel one of the
commonest and most suitable conflicts. This struggle may end comically,
or tragically, or in a reconciliation of the opposing forces. In the
last case the characters who at first oppose the ordinary world-order
may, by learning to recognize the true and abiding elements in it,
become reconciled to the existing circumstances, and take an active part
in them; or, on the other hand, they may strip off the prosaic hull from
deed and accomplishment, and thus put in the place of the original prose
a reality which is on intimate and friendly terms with beauty and art.

As far as the range of representation is concerned, the true novel, like
the epic, requires a complete world and a complete view of life, the
many-sided materials and relationships of which exhibit themselves in
the particular action that is the nucleus of the whole. As to details of
conception and development, however, the author must be allowed great
liberty, for it is difficult to bring the prose of real life into the
representation without sticking fast in the prosaic and
commonplace.--Hegel, 'Aesthetik.' 3. Thl., Kap. III. Abt. 3., S.


[23] In simpler terms: The novel, being a form of epic, should have all
the characteristics of poetry. But this is impossible because it is
compelled to work in the humble field of prose. Nevertheless, by a
skilful use of description, narration, and dramatic situation, it causes
a poetic oasis to spring up in the desert of prose, and so wins back
some of its poetical rights.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Estimate of the Value and Influence of Works of Fiction in Modern Times" ***

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