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Title: Aspects of Literature
Author: Murry, J. Middleton
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Copyright, 1920

_Printed in Great Britain_



Two of these essays, 'The Function of Criticism' and 'The Religion of
Rousseau,' were contributed to the _Times Literary Supplement_; that on
'The Poetry of Edward Thomas' in the _Nation_; all the rest save one
have appeared in the _Athenæum_.

The essays are arranged in the order in which they were written, with
two exceptions. The second part of the essay on Tchehov has been placed
with the first for convenience, although in order of thought it should
follow the essay, 'The Cry in the Wilderness.' More important, I have
placed 'The Function of Criticism' first although it was written last,
because it treats of the broad problem of literary criticism, suggests a
standard of values implicit elsewhere in the book, and thus to some
degree affords an introduction to the remaining essays.

But the degree is not great, as the critical reader will quickly
discover for himself. I ask him not to indulge the temptation of
convicting me out of my own mouth. I am aware that my practice is often
inconsistent with my professions; and I ask the reader to remember that
the professions were made after the practice and to a considerable
extent as the result of it. The practice came first, and if I could
reasonably expect so much of the reader I would ask him to read 'The
Function of Criticism' once more when he has reached the end of the

I make no apology for not having rewritten the essays. As a critic I
enjoy nothing more than to trace the development of a writer's attitude
through its various phases; I could do no less than afford my readers
the opportunity of a similar enjoyment in my own case. They may be
assured that none of the essays have suffered any substantial
alteration, even where, for instance in the case of the incidental and
(I am now persuaded) quite inadequate estimate of Chaucer in 'The
Nostalgia of Mr Masefield,' my view has since completely changed. Here
and there I have recast expressions which, though not sufficiently
conveying my meaning, had been passed in the haste of journalistic
production. But I have nowhere tried to adjust earlier to later points
of view. I am aware that these points of view are often difficult to
reconcile; that, for instance, 'æsthetic' in the essay on Tchehov has a
much narrower meaning than it bears in 'The Function of Criticism'; that
the essay on 'The Religion of Rousseau' is criticism of a kind which I
deprecate as insufficient in the essay, 'The Cry in the Wilderness,'
because it lacks that reference to life as a whole which I have come to
regard as essential to criticism; and that in this latter essay I use
the word 'moral' (for instance in the phrase 'The values of literature
are in the last resort moral') in a sense which is never exactly
defined. The key to most of these discrepancies will, I hope, be found
in the introductory essay on 'The Function of Criticism.'

_May_, 1920.


THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM                    1

THE RELIGION OF ROUSSEAU                    15

THE POETRY OF EDWARD THOMAS                 29

MR YEATS'S SWAN SONG                        39


GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS                       52

THE PROBLEM OF KEATS                        62

THOUGHTS ON TCHEHOV                         76

AMERICAN POETRY                             91

RONSARD                                     99

SAMUEL BUTLER                              107

THE POETRY OF THOMAS HARDY                 121



THE LOST LEGIONS                           157

THE CRY IN THE WILDERNESS                  167

POETRY AND CRITICISM                       176

COLERIDGE'S CRITICISM                      184

SHAKESPEARE CRITICISM                      194

_The Function of Criticism_

It is curious and interesting to find our younger men of letters
actively concerned with the present condition of literary criticism.
This is a novel preoccupation for them and one which is, we believe,
symptomatic of a general hesitancy and expectation. In the world of
letters everything is a little up in the air, volatile and
uncrystallised. It is a world of rejections and velleities; in spite of
outward similarities, a strangely different world from that of half a
dozen years ago. Then one had a tolerable certainty that the new star,
if the new star was to appear, would burst upon our vision in the shape
of a novel. To-day we feel it might be anything. The cloud no bigger
than a man's hand might even be, like Trigorin's in 'The Sea-gull,' like
a piano; it has no predetermined form.

This sense of incalculability, which has been aroused by the prodigious
literary efflorescence of late years, reacts upon its cause; and the
reaction tends by many different paths to express itself finally in the
ventilation of problems that hinge about criticism. There is a general
feeling that the growth of the young plant has been too luxuriant; a
desire to have it vigorously pruned by a capable gardener, in order that
its strength may be gathered together to produce a more perfect fruit.
There is also a sense that if the _lusus naturæ_, the writer of genius,
were to appear, there ought to be a person or an organisation capable of
recognising him, however unexpected his scent or the shape of his
leaves. Both these tasks fall upon criticism. The younger generation
looks round a little apprehensively to see if there is a gardener whom
it can trust, and decides, perhaps a little prematurely, that there is

There is reviewing but no criticism, says one icy voice that we have
learned to respect. There are pontiffs and potential pontiffs, but no
critics, says another disrespectful young man. Oh, for some more Scotch
Reviewers to settle the hash of our English bards, sighs a third. And
the _London Mercury_, after whetting our appetite by announcing that it
proposed to restore the standards of authoritative criticism, still
leaves us a little in the dark as to what these standards are. Mr T.S.
Eliot deals more kindly, if more frigidly, with us in the _Monthly
Chapbook_. There are, he says, three kinds of criticism--the historical,
the philosophic, and the purely literary.

    'Every form of genuine criticism is directed towards creation. The
    historical or philosophic critic of poetry is criticising poetry in
    order to create a history or a philosophy; the poetic critic is
    criticising poetry in order to create poetry.'

These separate and distinct kinds, he considers, are but rarely found
to-day, even in a fragmentary form; where they do exist, they are almost
invariably mingled in an inextricable confusion.

Whether we agree or not with the general condemnation of reviewing
implicit in this survey of the situation, or with the division of
criticism itself, we have every reason to be grateful to Mr Eliot for
disentangling the problem for us. The question of criticism has become
rather like Glaucus the sea-god, encrusted with shells and hung with
weed till his lineaments are hardly discernible. We have at least clear
sight of him now, and we are able to decide whether we will accept Mr
Eliot's description of him. Let us see.

We have no difficulty in agreeing that historical criticism of
literature is a kind apart. The historical critic approaches literature
as the manifestation of an evolutionary process in which all the phases
are of equal value. Essentially, he has no concern with the greater or
less literary excellence of the objects whose history he traces--their
existence is alone sufficient for him; a bad book is as important as a
good one, and much more important than a good one if it exercised, as
bad books have a way of doing, a real influence on the course of
literature. In practice, it is true, the historical critic generally
fails of this ideal of unimpassioned objectivity. He either begins by
making judgments of value for himself, or accepts those judgments which
have been endorsed by tradition. He fastens upon a number of outstanding
figures and more or less deliberately represents the process as from
culmination to culmination; but in spite of this arbitrary
foreshortening he is primarily concerned, in each one of the phases
which he distinguishes, with that which is common to every member of the
group of writers which it includes. The individuality, the quintessence,
of a writer lies completely outside his view.

We may accept the isolation of the historical critic then, at least in
theory, and conceive of him as a fragment of a social historian, as the
author of a chapter in the history of the human spirit. But can we
isolate the philosophic critic in the same way? And what exactly _is_ a
philosophic critic? Is he a critic with a philosophical scheme in which
art and literature have their places, a critic who therefore approaches
literature with a definite conception of it as one among many parallel
manifestations of the human spirit, and with a system of values derived
from his metaphysical scheme? Hegel and Croce are philosophical critics
in this sense, and Aristotle is not, as far as we can judge from the
Poetics, wherein he considers the literary work of Greece as an isolated
phenomenon, and examines it in and for itself. But for the moment, and
with the uneasy sense that we have not thoroughly laid the ghost of
philosophic criticism, we will assume that we have isolated him, and
pass to the consideration of the pure literary critic, if indeed we can
find him.

What does he do? How shall we recognise him? Mr Eliot puts before us
Coleridge and Aristotle and Dryden as literary critics _par excellence_
arranged in an ascending scale of purity. The concatenation is curious,
for these were men possessed of very different interests and faculties
of mind; and it would occur to few to place Dryden, as a critic, at
their head. The living centre of Aristotle's criticism is a conception
of art as a means to a good life. As an activity, poetry 'is more
philosophic than history,' a nearer approach to the universal truth in
appearances; and as a more active influence, drama refines our spiritual
being by a purgation of pity and terror. Indeed, it would not be an
exaggeration to say that the very pith and marrow of Aristotle's
literary criticism is a system of moral values derived from his
contemplation of life. It was necessary that this relation should exist,
because for Aristotle literature was, essentially, an imitation of life
though we must remember to understand imitation according to our final
sense of the theme which is the golden, persistent thread throughout the
Poetics. The imitation of life in literature was for Aristotle, the
creative revelation of the ideal actively at work in human life. The
tragic hero failed because his composition was less than ideal; but he
could only be a tragic hero if the ideal was implicit in him and he
visibly approximated to it. It is this constant reference to the ideal
which makes of 'imitation' a truly creative principle and the one which,
properly understood, is the most permanently valid and pregnant of all;
it is also one which has been constantly misunderstood. Its importance
is, nevertheless, so central that adequate recognition of it might
conceivably be taken as the distinguishing mark of all fruitful

To his sympathetic understanding of this principle Coleridge owed a
great debt. It is true that his efforts to refine upon it were not only
unsuccessful, but a trifle ludicrous; his effort to graft the vague
transcendentalism of Germany on to the rigour and clarity of Aristotle
was, from the outset, unfortunately conceived. But the root of the
matter was there, and in Coleridge's fertile mind the Aristotelian
theory of imitation flowered into a magnificent conception of the
validity and process of the poetic imagination. And partly because the
foundation was truly Aristotelian, partly because Coleridge had known
what it was to be a great poet, the reference to life pervades the
whole of what is permanently valuable in Coleridge's criticism. In him,
too, there is a strict and mutually fertilising relation between the
moral and the æsthetic values. This is the firm ground beneath his feet
when he--too seldom--proceeds to the free exercise of his exquisite
æsthetic discrimination.

In Dryden, however, there was no such organic interpenetration. Dryden,
too, had a fine sensibility, though less exquisite, by far, than that of
Coleridge; but his theoretical system was not merely alien to him--it
was in itself false and mistaken. _Corruptio optimi pessima_. He took
over from France the sterilised and lifeless Aristotelianism which has
been the plague of criticism for centuries; he used it no worse than his
French exemplars, but he used it very little better than they. It was in
his hands, as in theirs, a dead mechanical framework of rules about the
unities. Dryden, we can see in his critical writing, was constantly
chafed by it. He behaves like a fine horse with a bearing rein: he is
continually tossing his head after a minute or two of 'good manners and
action,' and saying, 'Shakespeare was the best of them, anyhow';
'Chaucer beats Ovid to a standstill.' It is a gesture with which all
decent people sympathise and when it is made in language so supple as
Dryden's prose it has a lasting charm. Dryden's heart was in the right
place, and he was not afraid of showing it; but that does not make him a
critic, much less a critic to be set as a superior in the company of
Aristotle and Coleridge.

Our search for the pure literary critic is likely to be arduous. We have
seen that there is a sense in which Dryden is a purer literary critic
than either Coleridge or Aristotle; but we have also seen that it is
precisely by reason of the 'pureness' in him that he is to be relegated
into a rank inferior to theirs. It looks as though we might have to
pronounce that the true literary critic is the philosophic critic. Yet
the pronouncement must not be prematurely made; for there is a real and
vital difference between those for whom we have accepted the designation
of philosophic critics, Hegel or Croce, and Aristotle or Coleridge. Yet
three of these (and it might be wise to include Coleridge as a fourth)
were professional philosophers. It is evidently not the philosophy as
such that makes the difference.

The difference depends, we believe, upon the nature of the philosophy.
The secret lies in Aristotle. The true literary critic must have a
humanistic philosophy. His inquiries must be modulated, subject to an
intimate, organic governance, by an ideal of the good life. He is not
the mere investigator of facts; existence is never for him synonymous
with value, and it is of the utmost importance that he should never be
deluded into believing that it is. He will not accept from Hegel the
thesis that all the events of human history, all man's spiritual
activities, are equally authentic manifestations of Spirit; he will not
even recognise the existence of Spirit. He may accept from Croce the
thesis that art is the expression of intuitions, but he will not be
extravagantly grateful, because his duty as a critic is to distinguish
between intuitions and to decide that one is more significant than
another. A philosophy of art that lends him no aid in this and affords
no indication why the expression of one intuition should be preferred to
the expression of another is of little value to him. He will incline to
say that Hegel and Croce are the scientists of art rather than its

Here, then, is the opposition: between the philosophy that borrows its
values from science and the philosophy which shares its values with art.
We may put it with more cogency and truth: the opposition lies between a
philosophy without values and a philosophy based upon them. For values
are human, anthropocentric. Shut them out once and you shut them out for
ever. You do not get them back, as some believe, by declaring that such
and such a thing is true. Nothing is precious because it is true save to
a mind which has, consciously or unconsciously, decided that it is good
to know the truth. And the making of that single decision is a most
momentous judgment of value. If the scientist appeals to it, as indeed
he invariably does, he too is at bottom, though he may deny it, a
humanist. He would do better to confess it, and to confess that he too
is in search of the good life. Then he might become aware that to search
for the good life is in fact impossible, unless he has an ideal of it
before his mind's eye.

An ideal of the good life, if it is to have the internal coherence and
the organic force of a true ideal, _must inevitably be æsthetic_. There
is no other power than our æsthetic intuition by which we can imagine or
conceive it; we can express it only in æsthetic terms. We say, for
instance, the good life is that in which man has achieved a harmony of
the diverse elements in his soul. For the good life, we know
instinctively, is one of our human absolutes. It is not good with
reference to any end outside itself. A man does not live the good life
because he is a good citizen; but he is a good citizen because he lives
the good life. And here we touch the secret of the most magnificently
human of all books that has ever been written--Plato's _Republic_. In
the _Republic_ the good life and the life of the good citizen are
identified; but the citizenship is not of an earthly but of an ideal
city, whose proportions, like the duties of its citizens, are determined
by the æsthetic intuition. Plato's philosophy is æsthetic through and
through, and because it is æsthetic it is the most human, the most
permanently pregnant of all philosophies. Much labour has been spent on
the examination of the identity which Plato established between the good
and the beautiful. It is labour lost, for that identity is axiomatic,
absolute, irreducible. The Greeks knew by instinct that it is so, and in
their common speech the word for a gentleman was the _kalos kagathos_,
the beautiful-good.

This is why we have to go back to the Greeks for the principles of art
and criticism, and why only those critics who have returned to bathe
themselves in the life-giving source have made enduring contributions to
criticism. They alone are--let us not say philosophic critics
but--critics indeed. Their approach to life and their approach to art
are the same; to them, and to them alone, life and art are one. The
interpenetration is complete; the standards by which life and art are
judged the same. If we may use a metaphor, in the Greek view art is the
consciousness of life. Poetry is more philosophic and more highly
serious than history, just as the mind of a man is more significant than
his outward gestures. To make those gestures significant the art of the
actor must be called into play. So to make the outward event of history
significant the poet's art is needed. Therefore a criticism which is
based on the Greek view is impelled to assign to art a place, the place
of sovereignty in its scheme of values. That Plato himself did not do
this was due to his having misunderstood the nature of that process of
'imitation' in which art consists; but only the superficial readers of
Plato--and a good many readers deserve no better name--will conclude
from the fact that he rejected art that his attitude was not
fundamentally æsthetic. Not only is the _Republic_ itself one of the
greatest 'imitations,' one of the most subtle and profound works of art
ever created, but it would also be true to say that Plato cleared the
way for a true conception of art. In reality he rejected not art, but
false art; and it only remained for Aristotle to discern the nature of
the relation between artistic 'imitation' and the ideal for the Platonic
system to be complete and four-square, a perpetual inspiration and an
everlasting foundation for art and the criticism of art.

Art, then, is the revelation of the ideal in human life. As the ideal is
active and organic so must art itself be. The ideal is never achieved,
therefore the process of revealing it is creative in the truest sense of
the word. More than that, only by virtue of the artist in him can man
appreciate or imagine the ideal at all. To discern it is essentially the
work of divination or intuition. The artist divines the end at which
human life is aiming; he makes men who are his characters completely
expressive of themselves, which no actual man ever has been. If he works
on a smaller canvas he aims to make himself completely expressive of
himself. That, also, is the aim of the greater artist who expresses
himself through the medium of a world of characters of his own creation.
He needs that machinery, if a coarse and non-organic metaphor may be
tolerated, for the explication of his own intuitions of the ideal, which
are so various that the attempt to express them through the _persona_ of
himself would inevitably end in confusion. That is why the great poetic
genius is never purely lyrical, and why the greatest lyrics are as often
as not the work of poets who are only seldom lyrical.

Moreover, every act of intuition or divination of the ideal in act in
the world of men must be set, implicitly or explicitly, in relation to
the absolute ideal. In subordinating its particular intuitions to the
absolute ideal art is, therefore, merely asserting its own sovereign
autonomy. True criticism is itself an organic part of the whole activity
of art; it is the exercise of sovereignty by art upon itself, and not
the imposition of an alien. To use our previous metaphor, as art is the
consciousness of life, criticism is the consciousness of art. The
essential activity of true criticism is the harmonious control of art by
art. This is at the root of a confusion in the thought of Mr. Eliot,
who, in his just anxiety to assert the full autonomy of art, pronounces
that the true critic of poetry is the poet and has to smuggle the
anomalous Aristotle in on the hardly convincing ground that 'he wrote
well about everything,' and has, moreover, to elevate Dryden to a purple
which he is quite unfitted to wear. No, what distinguishes the true
critic of poetry is a truly æsthetic philosophy. In the present state
of society it is extremely probable that only the poet or the artist
will possess this, for art and poetry were never more profoundly
divorced from the ordinary life of society than they are at the present
day. But the poet who would be a critic has to make his æsthetic
philosophy conscious to himself; to him as a poet it may be unconscious.
This necessary change from unconsciousness to consciousness is by no
means easy, and we should do well to insist upon its difficulty, for
quite as much nonsense is talked about poetry by poets and by artists
about art as by the profane about either. Moreover, it is important to
remember that in proportion as society approaches the ideal--there is no
continual progress towards the ideal; at present society is as far
removed from it as it has ever been--the chance of the philosopher, of
the scientist even, becoming a true critic of art grows greater. When
the æsthetic basis of all humane activity is familiarly recognised, the
values of the philosopher, the scientist, and the artist become
consciously the same, and therefore interchangeable.

Still, the ideal society is sufficiently remote for us to disregard it,
and we shall say that the principle of art for art's sake contains an
element of truth when it is opposed to those who would inflict upon art
the values of science, of metaphysics, or of a morality of mere
convention. We shall also say that the principle of art for art's sake
needs to be understood and interpreted very differently. Its
implications are tremendous. Art is autonomous, and to be pursued for
its own sake, precisely because it comprehends the whole of human life;
because it has reference to a more perfectly human morality than other
activity of man; because, in so far as it is truly art, it is indicative
of a more comprehensive and unchallengeable harmony in the spirit of
man. It does not demand impossibilities, that man should be at one with
the universe or in tune with the infinite; but it does envisage the
highest of all attainable ideals, that man should be at one with
himself, obedient to his own most musical law.

Thus art reveals to us the principle of its own governance. The function
of criticism is to apply it. Obviously it can be applied only by him who
has achieved, if not the actual æsthetic ideal in life, at least a
vision and a sense of it. He alone will know that the principle he has
to elucidate and apply is living, organic. It is indeed the very
principle of artistic creation itself. Therefore he will approach what
claims to be a work of art first as a thing in itself, and seek with it
the most intimate and immediate contact in order that he may decide
whether it too is organic and living. He will be untiring in his effort
to refine his power of discrimination by the frequentation of the finest
work of the past, so that he may be sure of himself when he decides, as
he must, whether the object before him is the expression of an æsthetic
intuition at all. At the best he is likely to find that it is mixed and
various; that fragments of æsthetic vision jostle with unsubordinated
intellectual judgments.

But, in regarding the work of art as a thing in itself, he will never
forget the hierarchy of comprehension, that the active ideal of art is
indeed to see life steadily and see it whole, and that only he has a
claim to the title of a great artist whose work manifests an incessant
growth from a merely personal immediacy to a coherent and
all-comprehending attitude to life. The great artist's work is in all
its parts a revelation of the ideal as a principle of activity in human
life. As the apprehension of the ideal is more or less perfect, the
artist's comprehension will be greater or less. The critic has not
merely the right, but the duty, to judge between Homer and Shakespeare,
between Dante and Milton, between Cezanne and Michelangelo, Beethoven
and Mozart. If the foundations of his criticism are truly æsthetic, he
is compelled to believe and to show that among would-be artists some are
true artists and some are not, and that among true artists some are
greater than others. That what has generally passed under the name of
æsthetic criticism assumes as an axiom that every true work of art is
unique and incomparable is merely the paradox which betrays the
unworthiness of such criticism to bear the name it has arrogated to
itself. The function of true criticism is to establish a definite
hierarchy among the great artists of the past, as well as to test the
production of the present; by the combination of these activities it
asserts the organic unity of all art. It cannot honestly be said that
our present criticism is adequate to either task.

[APRIL, 1920.

_The Religion of Rousseau_

These are times when men have need of the great solitaries; for each man
now in his moment is a prey to the conviction that the world and his
deepest aspirations are incommensurable. He is shaken by a presentiment
that the lovely bodies of men are being spent and flaming human minds
put out in a conflict for something which never can be won in the clash
of material arms, and he is distraught by a vision of humanity as a
child pitifully wandering in a dark wood where the wind faintly echoes
the strange word 'Peace.' Therefore he too wanders pitifully like that
child, seeking peace, and men are become the symbols of mankind. The
tragic paradox of human life which slumbers in the soul in years of
peace is awakened again. When we would be solitary and cannot, we are
made sensible of the depth and validity of the impulse which moved the
solitaries of the past.

The paradox is apparent now on every hand. It appears in the death of
the author of _La Formation Réligieuse de J.J. Rousseau_.[1] One of the
most distinguished of the younger generation of French scholar-critics,
M. Masson met a soldier's death before the book to which he had devoted
ten years of his life was published. He had prepared it for the press in
the leisure hours of the trenches. There he had communed with the
unquiet spirit of the man who once thrilled the heart of Europe by
stammering forgotten secrets, and whispered to an age flushed and
confident with material triumphs that the battle had been won in vain.
Rousseau, rightly understood is no consoling companion for a soldier.
What if after all, the true end of man be those hours of plenary
beatitude he spent lying at the bottom of the boat on the Lake of
Bienne? What if the old truth is valid still, that man is born free but
is everywhere in chains? Let us hope that the dead author was not too
keenly conscious of the paradox which claimed him for sacrifice. His
death would have been bitter.

   [Footnote 1: _La Formation Réligieuse de Jean-Jacques Rousseau_. Par
   Pierre Maurice Masson. (Paris: Hachette. Three volumes.)]

From his book we can hardly hazard a judgment. His method would speak
against it. Jean-Jacques, as he himself knew only too well, is one of
the last great men to be catechised historically, for he was inadequate
to the life which is composed of the facts of which histories are made.
He had no historical sense; and of a man who has no historical sense no
real history can be written. Chronology was meaningless to him because
he could recognise no sovereignty of time over himself. With him ends
were beginnings. In the third _Dialogue_ he tell us--and it is nothing
less than the sober truth told by a man who knew himself well--that his
works must be read backwards, beginning with the last, by those who
would understand him. Indeed, his function was, in a deeper sense than
is imagined by those who take the parable called the _Contrat Social_
for a solemn treatise of political philosophy, to give the lie to
history. In himself he pitted the eternal against the temporal and grew
younger with years. He might be known as the man of the second childhood
_par excellence_. To the eye of history the effort of his soul was an
effort backwards, because the vision of history is focused only for a
perspective of progress. On his after-dinner journey to Diderot at
Vincennes, Jean-Jacques saw, with the suddenness of intuition, that that
progress, amongst whose convinced and cogent prophets he had lived so
long was for him an unsubstantial word. He beheld the soul of man _sub
specie æternitatis_. In his vision history and institutions dissolved
away. His second childhood had begun.

On such a man the historical method can have no grip. There is, as the
French say, no _engrenage_. It points to a certain lack of the subtler
kind of understanding to attempt to apply the method; more truly,
perhaps, to an unessential interest, which has of late years been
imported into French criticism from Germany. The Sorbonne has not, we
know, gone unscathed by the disease of documentation for documentation's
sake. M. Masson's three volumes leave us with the sense that their
author had learnt a method and in his zeal to apply it had lost sight of
the momentous question whether Jean-Jacques was a person to whom it
might be applied with a prospect of discovery. No one who read Rousseau
with a mind free of ulterior motives could have any doubt on the matter.
Jean-Jacques is categorical on the point. The Savoyard Vicar was
speaking for Jean-Jacques to posterity when he began his profession of
faith with the words:--

    'Je ne veux argumenter avec vous, ni même de tenter vous convaincre;
    il me suffit de vous exposer ce que je pense dans la simplicité de
    mon coeur. Consultez le vôtre pendant mon discours; c'est tout ce
    que je vous demande.'

To the extent, therefore, that M. Masson did not respond to this appeal
and filled his volumes with information concerning the books
Jean-Jacques might have read and a hundred other interesting but only
partly relevant things, he did the citizen of Geneva a wrong. The
ulterior motive is there, and the faint taste of a thesis in the most
modern manner. But the method is saved by the perception which, though
it sometimes lacks the perfect keenness of complete understanding, is
exquisite enough to suggest the answer to the questions it does not
satisfy. Though the environment is lavish the man is not lost.

It is but common piety to seek to understand Jean-Jacques in the way in
which he pleaded so hard to be understood. Yet it is now over forty
years since a voice of authority told England how it was to regard him.
Lord Morley was magisterial and severe, and England obeyed. One feels
almost that Jean-Jacques himself would have obeyed if he had been alive.
He would have trembled at the stern sentence that his deism was 'a rag
of metaphysics floating in a sunshine of sentimentalism,' and he would
have whispered that he would try to be good; but, when he heard his
_Dialogues_ described as the outpourings of a man with persecution
mania, he might have rebelled and muttered silently an _Eppur si muove_.
We see now that it was a mistake to stand him in the social dock, and
that precisely those _Dialogues_ which the then Mr Morley so powerfully
dismissed contain his plea that the tribunal has no jurisdiction. To
his contention that he wrote his books to ease his own soul it might be
replied that their publication was a social act which had vast social
consequences. But Jean-Jacques might well retort that the fact that his
contemporaries and the generation which followed read and judged him in
the letter and not in the spirit is no reason why we, at nearly two
centuries remove, should do the same.

A great man may justly claim our deference, if Jean-Jacques asks that
his last work shall be read first we are bound, even if we consider it
only a quixotic humour, to indulge it. But to those who read the
neglected _Dialogues_ it will appear a humour no longer. Here is a man
who at the end of his days is filled to overflowing with bitterness at
the thought that he has been misread and misunderstood. He says to
himself: Either he is at bottom of the same nature as other men or he is
different. If he is of the same nature, then there must be a malignant
plot at work. He has revealed his heart with labour and good faith; not
to hear him his fellow-men must have stopped their ears. If he is of
another kind than his fellows, then--but he cannot bear the thought.
Indeed it is a thought that no man can bear. They are blind because they
will not see. He has not asked them to believe that what he says is
true; he asks only that they shall believe that he is sincere, sincere
in what he says, sincere, above all, when he implores that they should
listen to the undertone. He has been 'the painter of nature and the
historian of the human heart.'

His critics might have paused to consider why Jean-Jacques, certainly
not niggard of self-praise in the _Dialogues_, should have claimed no
more for himself than this. He might have claimed, with what in their
eyes at least must be good right, to have been pre-eminent in his
century as a political philosopher, a novelist, and a theorist of
education. Yet to himself he is no more than 'the painter of nature and
the historian of the human heart.' Those who would make him more make
him less, because they make him other than he declares himself to be.
His whole life has been an attempt to be himself and nothing else
besides; and all his works have been nothing more and nothing less than
his attempt to make his own nature plain to men. Now at the end of his
life he has to swallow the bitterness of failure. He has been acclaimed
the genius of his age; kings have delighted to honour him, but they have
honoured another man. They have not known the true Jean-Jacques. They
have taken his parables for literal truth, and he knows why.

    'Des êtres si singulièrement constitués doivent nécessairement
    s'exprimer autrement que les hommes ordinaires. Il est impossible
    qu'avec des âmes si différemment modifiés ils ne portent pas dans
    l'expression de leurs sentiments et de leurs idées l'empreinte de
    ces modifications. Si cette empreinte échappe à ceux qui n'ont
    aucune notion de cette manière d'être, elle ne peut échapper à ceux
    qui la connoissent, et qui en sont affectés eux-mêmes. C'est une
    signe caracteristique auquel les initiés se reconnoissent entre eux;
    et ce qui donne un grand prix à ce signe, c'est qu'il ne peut se
    contrefaire, que jamais il n'agit qu'au niveau de sa source, et que,
    quand il ne part pas du coeur de ceux qui l'imitent, il n'arrive
    pas non plus aux coeurs faits pour le distinguer; mais sitôt qu'il y
    parvient, on ne sauroit s'y méprendre; il est vrai dès qu'il est

At the end of his days he felt that the great labour of his life which
had been to express an intuitive certainty in words which would carry
intellectual conviction, had been in vain, and his last words are: 'It
is true so soon as it is felt.'

Three pages would tell as much of the essential truth of his 'religious
formation' as three volumes. At Les Charmettes with Mme de Warens, as a
boy and as a young man, he had known peace of soul. In Paris, amid the
intellectual exaltation and enthusiasms of the Encyclopædists, the
memory of his lost peace haunted him like an uneasy conscience. His
boyish unquestioning faith disappeared beneath the destructive criticism
of the great pioneers of enlightenment and progress. Yet when all had
been destroyed the hunger in his heart was still unsatisfied. Underneath
his passionate admiration for Diderot smouldered a spark of resentment
that he was not understood. They had torn down the fabric of expression
into which he had poured the emotion of his immediate certainty as a
boy; sometimes with an uplifted, sometimes with a sinking heart he
surveyed the ruins. But the certainty that he had once been certain, the
memory and the desire of the past peace--this they could not destroy.
They could hardly even weaken this element within him, for they did not
know that it existed, they were unable to conceive that it could exist.
Jean-Jacques himself could give them no clue to its existence; he had
no words, and he was still under the spell of the intellectual dogma of
his age that words must express definite things. In common with his age
he had lost the secret of the infinite persuasion of poetry. So the
consciousness that he was different from those who surrounded him, and
from those he admired as his masters, took hold of him. He was afraid of
his own otherness, as all men are afraid when the first knowledge of
their own essential loneliness begins to trouble their depths. The
pathos of his struggle to kill the seed of this devastating knowledge is
apparent in his declared desire to become 'a polished gentleman.' In the
note which he added to his memoir for M. Dupin in 1749 he confesses to
this ideal. If only he could become 'one of them,' indistinguishable
without and within, he might be delivered from that disquieting sense of
tongue-tied queerness in a normal world.

If he cheated himself at all, the deception was brief. The poignant
memory of Les Charmettes whispered to him that there was a state of
grace in which the hard things were made clear. But he had not yet the
courage of his destiny. His consciousness of his separation from his
fellows had still to harden into a consciousness of superiority before
that courage would come. On the road to Vincennes on an October evening
in 1749--M. Masson has fixed the date for us--he read in a news-sheet
the question of the Dijon Academy: 'Si le rétablissement des arts et des
sciences a contribué à épurer les moeurs?' The scales dropped from his
eyes and the weight was removed from his tongue. There is no mystery
about this 'revelation.' For the first time the question had been put
in terms which struck him squarely in the heart. Jean-Jacques made his
reply with the stammering honesty of a man of genius wandering in age of

The First Discourse seems to many rhetorical and extravagant. In after
days it appeared so to Rousseau himself, and he claimed no more for it
than that he had tried to tell the truth. Before he learned that he had
won the Dijon prize and that his work had taken Paris by storm, he was
surely a prey to terrors lest his Vincennes vision of the non-existence
of progress should have been mere madness. The success reassured him.
'Cette faveur du public, nullement brigué, et pour un auteur inconnu, me
donna la première assurance véritable de mon talent.' He was, in fact,
not 'queer,' but right; and he had seemed to be queer precisely because
he was right. Now he had the courage. 'Je suis grossier,' he wrote in
the preface to _Narcisse_, 'maussade, impoli par principes; je me fous
de tous vous autres gens de cour; je suis un barbare.' There is a touch
of exaggeration and bravado in it all. He was still something of the
child hallooing in the dark to give himself heart. He clutched hold of
material symbols of the freedom he had won, round wig, black stockings,
and a living gained by copying music at so much a line. But he did not
break with his friends; the 'bear' suffered himself to be made a lion.
He had still a foot in either camp, for though he had the conviction
that he was right, he was still fumbling for his words. The memoirs of
Madame d'Epinay tell us how in 1754, at dinner at Mlle Quinault's,
impotent to reply to the polite atheistical persiflage of the company,
he broke out: 'Et moi, messieurs, je crois en Dieu. Je sors si vous
dites un mot de plus.' That was not what he meant; neither was the First
Discourse what he meant. He had still to find his language, and to find
his language he had to find his peace. He was like a twig whirled about
in an eddy of a stream. Suddenly the stream bore him to Geneva, where he
returned to the church which he had left at Confignon. That, too, was
not what he meant. When he returned from Geneva, Madame d'Epinay had
built him the Ermitage.

In the _Rêveries_, which are mellow with the golden calm of his
discovered peace, he tells how, having reached the climacteric which he
had set at forty years, he went apart into the solitude of the Ermitage
to inquire into the configuration of his own soul, and to fix once for
all his opinions and his principles. In the exquisite third _Rêverie_
two phrases occur continually. His purpose was 'to find firm
ground'--'prendre une assiette,'--and his means to this discovery was
'spiritual honesty'--'bonne foi.' Rousseau's deep concern was to
elucidate the anatomy of his own soul, but, since he was sincere, he
regarded it as a type of the soul of man. Looking into himself, he saw
that, in spite of all his follies, his weaknesses, his faintings by the
way, his blasphemies against the spirit, he was good. Therefore he
declared: Man is born good. Looking into himself he saw that he was free
to work out his own salvation, and to find that solid foundation of
peace which he so fervently desired. Therefore he declared: Man is born
free. To the whisper of les Charmettes that there was a condition of
grace had been added the sterner voice of remorse for his abandoned
children, telling him that he had fallen from his high estate.

  'J'ai fui en vain; partout j'ai retrouvé la Loi.
  Il faut céder enfin! ô porte, il faut admettre
  L'hôte; coeur frémissant, il faut subir le maître,
  Quelqu'un qui soit en moi plus moi-même que moi.'

The noble verse of M. Claudel contains the final secret of Jean-Jacques.
He found in himself something more him than himself. Therefore he
declared: There is a God. But he sought to work out a logical foundation
for these pinnacles of truth. He must translate these luminous
convictions of his soul into arguments and conclusions. He could not,
even to himself, admit that they were only intuitions; and in the
_Contrat Social_ he turned the reason to the service of a certainty not
her own.

This unremitting endeavour to express an intuitive certainty in
intellectual terms lies at the root of the many superficial
contradictions in his work, and of the deeper contradiction which forms,
as it were, the inward rhythm of his three great books. He seems to
surge upwards on a passionate wave of revolutionary ideas, only to sink
back into the calm of conservative or quietist conclusions. M. Masson
has certainly observed it well.

    'Le premier _Discours_ anathématise les sciences et les arts, et ne
    voit le salut que dans les académies; le _Discours sur l'Inégalité_
    paraît détruire tout autorité, et recommande pourtant "l'obéissance
    scrupuleuse aux lois et aux hommes qui en sont les auteurs": la
    _Nouvelle Héloïse_ prêche d'abord l'émancipation sentimentale, et
    proclame la suprématie des droits de la passion, mais elle aboutit à
    exalter la fidelité conjugale, à consolider les grands devoirs
    familiaux et sociaux. Le Vicaire Savoyard nous reserve la même

To the revolutionaries of his age he was a renegade and a reactionary;
to the Conservatives, a subversive charlatan. Yet he was in truth only a
man stricken by the demon of 'la bonne foi,' and, like many men devoured
by the passion of spiritual honesty, in his secret heart he believed in
his similitude to Christ. 'Je ne puis pas souffrir les tièdes,' he wrote
to Madame Latour in 1762, 'quiconque ne se passionne pas pour moi n'est
pas digne de moi.' There is no mistaking the accent, and it sounds more
plainly still in the _Dialogues_. He, too, was persecuted for
righteousness' sake, because he, too, proclaimed that the kingdom of
heaven was within men.

And what, indeed, have material things to do with the purification and
the peace of the soul? World-shattering arguments and world-preserving
conclusions--this is the inevitable paradox which attends the attempt to
record truth seen by the eye of the soul in the language of the
market-place. The eloquence and the inspiration may descend upon the man
so that he writes believing that all men will understand. He wakes in
the morning and he is afraid, not of his own words whose deeper truth he
does not doubt, but of the incapacity of mankind to understand him. They
will read in the letter what was written in the spirit; their eyes will
see the words, but their ears will be stopped to the music. The
_mystique_ as Péguy would have said, will be degraded into _politique_.
To guard himself against this unhallowed destiny, at the last Rousseau
turns with decision and in the language of his day rewrites the hard
saying, that the things which are Cæsar's shall be rendered unto Cæsar.

In the light of this necessary truth all the contradictions which have
been discovered in Rousseau's work fade away. That famous confusion
concerning 'the natural man,' whom he presents to us now as a historic
fact, now as an ideal, took its rise, not in the mind of Jean-Jacques,
but in the minds of his critics. The _Contrat Social_ is a parable of
the soul of man, like the _Republic_ of Plato. The truth of the human
soul is its implicit perfection; to that reality material history is
irrelevant, because the anatomy of the soul is eternal. And as for the
nature of this truth, 'it is true so soon as it is felt.' When the
Savoyard Vicar, after accepting all the destructive criticism of
religious dogma, turned to the Gospel story with the immortal 'Ce n'est
pas ainsi qu'on invente,' he was only anticipating what Jean-Jacques was
to say of himself before his death, that there was a sign in his work
which could not be imitated, and which acted only at the level of its
source. We may call Jean-Jacques religious because we have no other
word; but the word would be more truly applied to the reverence felt
towards such a man than to his own emotion. He was driven to speak of
God by the habit of his childhood and the deficiency of a language
shaped by the intellect and not by the soul. But his deity was one whom
neither the Catholic nor the Reformed Church could accept, for He was
truly a God who does not dwell in temples made with hands. The respect
he owed to God, said the Vicar, was such that he could affirm nothing of
Him. And, again, still more profoundly, he said, 'He is to our souls
what our soul is to our body.' That is the mystical utterance of a man
who was no mystic, but of one who found his full communion in the
beatific _dolce far niente_ of the Lake of Bienne. Jean-Jacques was set
apart from his generation, because, like Malvolio, he thought highly of
the soul and in nowise approved the conclusions of his fellows; and he
was fortunate to the last, in spite of what some are pleased to call his
madness (which was indeed only his flaming and uncomprehending
indignation at the persecution inevitably meted out by those who have
only a half truth to one who has the whole), because he enjoyed the
certainty that his high appraisement of the soul was justified.

[MARCH, 1918.

_The Poetry of Edward Thomas_

We believe that when we are old and we turn back to look among the ruins
with which our memory will be strewn for the evidence of life which
disaster could not kill, we shall find it in the poems of Edward
Thomas.[2] They will appear like the faint, indelible writing of a
palimpsest over which in our hours of exaltation and bitterness more
resonant, yet less enduring, words were inscribed; or they will be like
a phial discovered in the ashes of what was once a mighty city. There
will be the triumphal arch standing proudly; the very tombs of the dead
will seem to share its monumental magnificence. Yet we will turn from
them all, from the victory and sorrow alike, to this faintly gleaming
bubble of glass that will hold captive the phantasm of a fragrance of
the soul. By it some dumb and doubtful knowledge will be evoked to
tremble on the edge of our minds. We shall reach back, under its spell,
beyond the larger impulses of a resolution and a resignation which will
have become a part of history, to something less solid and more
permanent over which they passed and which they could not disturb.

   [Footnote 2: _Last Poems_. By Edward Thomas. (Selwyn & Blount.)]

Our consciousness will have its record. The tradition of England in
battle has its testimony; our less traditional despairs will be
compassed about by a crowd of witnesses. But it might so nearly have
been in vain that we should seek an echo of that which smiled at the
conclusions of our consciousness. The subtler faiths might so easily
have fled through our harsh fingers. When the sound of the bugles died,
having crowned reveillé with the equal challenge of the last post, how
easily we might have been persuaded that there was a silence, if there
had not been one whose voice rose only so little above that of the winds
and trees and the life of undertone we share with them as to make us
first doubt the silence and then lend an ear to the incessant pulses of
which it is composed. The infinite and infinitesimal vague happinesses
and immaterial alarms, terrors and beauties scared by the sound of
speech, memories and forgettings that the touch of memory itself
crumbles into dust--this very texture of the life of the soul might have
been a gray background over which tumultuous existence passed unheeding
had not Edward Thomas so painfully sought the angle from which it
appears, to the eye of eternity, as the enduring warp of the more
gorgeous woof.

The emphasis sinks; the stresses droop away. To exacter knowledge less
charted and less conquerable certainties succeed; truths that somehow we
cannot make into truths, and that have therefore some strange mastery
over us; laws of our common substance which we cannot make human but
only humanise; loyalties we do not recognise and dare not disregard;
beauties which deny communion with our beautiful, and yet compel our
souls. So the sedge-warbler's

  'Song that lacks all words, all melody,
  All sweetness almost, was dearer then to me
  Than sweetest voice that sings in tune sweet words.'

Not that the unheard melodies were sweeter than the heard to this dead
poet. We should be less confident of his quality if he had not been,
both in his knowledge and his hesitations, the child of his age. Because
he was this, the melodies were heard; but they were not sweet. They made
the soul sensible of attachments deeper than the conscious mind's
ideals, whether of beauty or goodness. Not to something above but to
something beyond are we chained, for all that we forget our fetters, or
by some queer trick of self-hallucination turn them into golden crowns.
But perhaps the finer task of our humanity is to turn our eyes calmly
into 'the dark backward and abysm' not of time, but of the eternal
present on whose pinnacle we stand.

  'I have mislaid the key. I sniff the spray
  And think of nothing; I see and hear nothing;
  Yet seem, too, to be listening, lying in wait
  For what I should, yet never can, remember.
  No garden appears, no path, no child beside,
  Neither father nor mother, nor any playmate;
  Only an avenue, dark, nameless without end.'

So, it seems, a hundred years have found us out. We come no longer
trailing clouds of glory. We are that which we are, less and more than
our strong ancestors; less, in that our heritage does not descend from
on high, more, in that we know ourselves for less. Yet our chosen spirit
is not wholly secure in his courage. He longs not merely to know in what
undifferentiated oneness his roots are fixed, but to discover it
beautiful. Not even yet is it sufficient to have a premonition of the
truth; the truth must wear a familiar colour.

  'This heart, some fraction of me, happily
  Floats through the window even now to a tree
  Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale,
  Not like a peewit that returns to wail
  For something it has lost, but like a dove
  That slants unswerving to its home and love.
  There I find my rest, and through the dark air
  Flies what yet lives in me. Beauty is there.'

Beauty, yes, perhaps; but beautiful by virtue of its coincidence with
the truth, as there is beauty in those lines securer and stronger far
than the melody of their cadence, because they tell of a loyalty of
man's being which, being once made sensible of it, he cannot gainsay.
Whence we all come, whither we must all make our journey, there is home
indeed. But necessity, not remembered delights, draws us thither. That
which we must obey is our father if we will; but let us not delude
ourselves into the expectation of kindness and the fatted calf, any more
than we dare believe that the love which moves the sun and the other
stars has in it any charity. We may be, we are, the children of the
universe; but we have 'neither father nor mother nor any playmate.'

And Edward Thomas knew this. The knowledge should be the common property
of the poetry of our time, marking it off from what went before and from
what will come after. We believe that it will be found to be so; and
that the presence of this knowledge, and the quality which this
knowledge imparts, makes Edward Thomas more than one among his
contemporaries. He is their chief. He challenges other regions in the
hinterland of our souls. Yet how shall we describe the narrowness of the
line which divides his province from theirs, or the only half-conscious
subtlety of the gesture with which he beckons us aside from trodden and
familiar paths? The difference, the sense of departure, is perhaps most
apparent in this, that he knows his beauty is not beautiful, and his
home no home at all.

  'This is my grief. That land,
  My home, I have never seen.
  No traveller tells of it,
  However far he has been.

  'And could I discover it
  I fear my happiness there,
  Or my pain, might be dreams of return
  To the things that were.'

Great poetry stands in this, that it expresses man's allegiance to his
destiny. In every age the great poet triumphs in all that he knows of
necessity; thus he is the world made vocal. Other generations of men may
know more, but their increased knowledge will not diminish from the
magnificence of the music which he has made for the spheres. The known
truth alters from age to age; but the thrill of the recognition of the
truth stands fast for all our human eternity. Year by year the universe
grows vaster, and man, by virtue of the growing brightness of his little
lamp, sees himself more and more as a child born in the midst of a dark
forest, and finds himself less able to claim the obeisance of the all.
Yet if he would be a poet, and not a harper of threadbare tunes, he must
at each step in the downward passing from his sovereignty, recognise
what is and celebrate it as what must be. Thus he regains, by another
path, the supremacy which he has forsaken.

Edward Thomas's poetry has the virtue of this recognition. It may be
said that his universe was not vaster but smaller than the universe of
the past, for its bounds were largely those of his own self. It is, even
in material fact, but half true. None more closely than he regarded the
living things of earth in all their quarters. 'After Rain' is, for
instance, a very catalogue of the texture of nature's visible garment,
freshly put on, down to the little ash-leaves

            '... thinly spread
  In the road, like little black fish, inlaid
            As if they played.'

But it is true that these objects of vision were but the occasion of the
more profound discoveries within the region of his own soul. There he
discovered vastness and illimitable vistas; found himself to be an eddy
in the universal flux, driven whence and whither he knew not, conscious
of perpetual instability, the meeting place of mighty impacts of which
only the farthest ripple agitates the steady moonbeam of the waking
mind. In a sense he did no more than to state what he found, sometimes
in the more familiar language of beauties lost, mourned for lost, and

  'The simple lack
  Of her is more to me
  Than other's presence,
  Whether life splendid be
  Or utter black.

  'I have not seen,
  I have no news of her;
  I can tell only
  She is not here, but there
  She might have been.

  'She is to be kissed
  Only perhaps by me;
  She may be seeking
  Me and no other; she
  May not exist.'

That search lies nearer to the norm of poetry. We might register its
wistfulness, praise the appealing nakedness of its diction and pass on.
If that were indeed the culmination of Edward Thomas's poetical quest,
he would stand securely enough with others of his time. But he reaches
further. In the verses on his 'home,' which we have already quoted, he
passes beyond these limits. He has still more to tell of the experience
of the soul fronting its own infinity:--

           'So memory made
  Parting to-day a double pain:
  First because it was parting; next
  Because the ill it ended vexed
  And mocked me from the past again.
  Not as what had been remedied
  Had I gone on,--not that, ah no!
  But as itself no longer woe.'

There speaks a deep desire born only of deep knowledge. Only those who
have been struck to the heart by a sudden awareness of the incessant
not-being which is all we hold of being, know the longing to arrest the
movement even at the price of the perpetuation of their pain. So it was
that the moments which seemed to come to him free from the infirmity of
becoming haunted and held him most.

  'Often I had gone this way before,
  But now it seemed I never could be
  And never had been anywhere else.'

To cheat the course of time, which is only the name with which we strive
to cheat the flux of things, and to anchor the soul to something that
was not instantly engulfed--

         'In the undefined
  Abyss of what can never be again.'

Sometimes he looked within himself for the monition which men have felt
as the voice of the eternal memory; sometimes, like Keats, but with none
of the intoxication of Keats's sense of a sharing in victory, he grasped
at the recurrence of natural things, 'the pure thrush word,' repeated
every spring, the law of wheeling rooks, or to the wind 'that was old
when the gods were young,' as in this profoundly typical sensing of 'A
New House.'

  'All was foretold me; naught
    Could I foresee;
  But I learned how the wind would sound
    After these things should be.'

But he could not rest even there. There was, indeed, no anchorage in the
enduring to be found by one so keenly aware of the flux within the soul
itself. The most powerful, the most austerely imagined poem in this book
is that entitled 'The Other,' which, apart from its intrinsic appeal,
shows that Edward Thomas had something at least of the power to create
the myth which is the poet's essential means of triangulating the
unknown of his emotion. Had he lived to perfect himself in the use of
this instrument, he might have been a great poet indeed. 'The Other'
tells of his pursuit of himself, and how he overtook his soul.

  'And now I dare not follow after
  Too close. I try to keep in sight,
  Dreading his frown and worse his laughter,
  I steal out of the wood to light;
  I see the swift shoot from the rafter
  By the window: ere I alight
  I wait and hear the starlings wheeze
  And nibble like ducks: I wait his flight.
  He goes: I follow: no release
  Until he ceases. Then I also shall cease.'

No; not a great poet, will be the final sentence, when the palimpsest is
read with the calm and undivided attention that is its due, but one who
had many (and among them the chief) of the qualities of a great poet.
Edward Thomas was like a musician who noted down themes that summon up
forgotten expectations. Whether the genius to work them out to the
limits of their scope and implication was in him we do not know. The
life of literature was a hard master to him; and perhaps the opportunity
he would eagerly have grasped was denied him by circumstance. But, if
his compositions do not, his themes will never fail--of so much we are
sure--to awaken unsuspected echoes even in unsuspecting minds.

[JANUARY 1919.

_Mr Yeats's Swan Song_

In the preface to _The Wild Swans at Coole_,[3] Mr W.B. Yeats speaks of
'the phantasmagoria through which alone I can express my convictions
about the world.' The challenge could hardly be more direct. At the
threshold we are confronted with a legend upon the door-post which gives
us the essential plan of all that we shall find in the house if we enter
in. There are, it is true, a few things capable of common use, verses
written in the seeming-strong vernacular of literary Dublin, as it were
a hospitable bench placed outside the door. They are indeed inside the
house, but by accident or for temporary shelter. They do not, as the
phrase goes, belong to the scheme, for they are direct transcriptions of
the common reality, whether found in the sensible world or the emotion
of the mind. They are, from Mr Yeats's angle of vision (as indeed from
our own), essentially _vers d'occasion._

   [Footnote 3: _The Wild Swans at Coole_. By W.B. Yeats.(Macmillan.)]

The poet's high and passionate argument must be sought elsewhere, and
precisely in his expression of his convictions about the world. And
here, on the poet's word and the evidence of our search, we shall find
phantasmagoria, ghostly symbols of a truth which cannot be otherwise
conveyed, at least by Mr Yeats. To this, in itself, we make no demur.
The poet, if he is a true poet, is driven to approach the highest
reality he can apprehend. He cannot transcribe it simply because he does
not possess the necessary apparatus of knowledge, and because if he did
possess it his passion would flag. It is not often that Spinoza can
disengage himself to write as he does at the beginning of the third book
of the Ethics, nor could Lucretius often kindle so great a fire in his
soul as that which made his material incandescent in _Æneadum genetrix_.
Therefore the poet turns to myth as a foundation upon which he can
explicate his imagination. He may take his myth from legend or familiar
history, or he may create one for himself anew, but the function it
fulfils is always the same. It supplies the elements with which he can
build the structure of his parable, upon which he can make it elaborate
enough to convey the multitudinous reactions of his soul to the world.

But between myths and phantasmagoria there is a great gulf. The
structural possibilities of the myth depend upon its intelligibility.
The child knows upon what drama, played in what world, the curtain will
rise when he hears the trumpet-note: 'Of man's first disobedience....'
And, even when the poet turns from legend and history to create his own
myth, he must make one whose validity is visible, if he is not to be
condemned to the sterility of a coterie. The lawless and fantastic
shapes of his own imagination need, even for their own perfect
embodiment, the discipline of the common perception. The phantoms of the
individual brain, left to their own waywardness, lose all solidity and
become like primary forms of life, instead of the penultimate forms they
should be. For the poet himself must move securely among his visions;
they must be not less certain and steadfast than men are. To anchor
them he needs intelligible myth. Nothing less than a supremely great
genius can save him if he ventures into the vast without a landmark
visible to other eyes than his own. Blake had a supremely great genius
and was saved in part. The masculine vigour of his passion gave
stability to the figures of his imagination. They are heroes because
they are made to speak like heroes. Even in Blake's most recondite work
there is always the moment when the clouds are parted and we recognise
the austere and awful countenances of gods. The phantasmagoria of the
dreamer have been mastered by the sheer creative will of the poet. Like
Jacob, he wrestled until the going down of the sun with his angel and
would not let him go.

The effort which such momentary victories demand is almost superhuman;
yet to possess the power to exert it is the sole condition upon which a
poet may plunge into the world of phantasms. Mr Yeats has too little of
the power to vindicate himself from the charge of idle dreaming. He
knows the problem; perhaps he has also known the struggle. But the very
terms in which he suggests it to us subtly convey a sense of

  Hands, do what you're bid;
  Bring the balloon of the mind
  That bellies and drags in the wind
  Into its narrow shed.

The languor and ineffectuality of the image tell us clearly how the poet
has failed in his larger task; its exactness, its precise expression of
an ineffectuality made conscious and condoned, bears equal witness to
the poet's minor probity. He remains an artist by determination, even
though he returns downcast and defeated from the great quest of poetry.
We were inclined at first, seeing those four lines enthroned in majestic
isolation on a page, to find in them evidence of an untoward conceit.
Subsequently they have seemed to reveal a splendid honesty. Although it
has little mysterious and haunting beauty, _The Wild Swans at Coole_ is
indeed a swan song. It is eloquent of final defeat; the following of a
lonely path has ended in the poet's sinking exhausted in a wilderness of
gray. Not even the regret is passionate; it is pitiful.

  'I am worn out with dreams,
  A weather-worn, marble triton
  Among the streams;
  And all day long I look
  Upon this lady's beauty
  As though I had found in book
  A pictured beauty,
  Pleased to have filled the eyes
  Or the discerning ears,
  Delighted to be but wise,
  For men improve with the years;
  And yet, and yet
  Is this my dream, or the truth?
  O would that we had met
  When I had my burning youth;
  But I grow old among dreams,
  A weather-worn, marble triton
  Among the streams.'

It is pitiful because, even now in spite of all his honesty the poet
mistakes the cause of his sorrow. He is worn out not with dreams, but
with the vain effort to master them and submit them to his own creative
energy. He has not subdued them nor built a new world from them; he has
merely followed them like will-o'-the-wisps away from the world he knew.
Now, possessing neither world, he sits by the edge of a barren road that
vanishes into a no-man's land, where is no future, and whence there is
no way back to the past.

  'My country is Kiltartan Cross,
  My countrymen Kiltartan's poor;
  No likely end could bring them loss
  Or leave them happier than before.'

It may be that Mr Yeats has succumbed to the malady of a nation. We do
not know whether such things are possible; we must consider him only in
and for himself. From this angle we can regard him only as a poet whose
creative vigour has failed him when he had to make the highest demands
upon it. His sojourn in the world of the imagination, far from enriching
his vision, has made it infinitely tenuous. Of this impoverishment, as
of all else that has overtaken him, he is agonisedly aware.

  'I would find by the edge of that water
  The collar-bone of a hare,
  Worn thin by the lapping of the water,
  And pierce it through with a gimlet, and stare
  At the old bitter world where they marry in churches,
  And laugh over the untroubled water
  At all who marry in churches,
  Through the white thin bone of a hare.'

Nothing there remains of the old bitter world which for all its
bitterness is a full world also; but nothing remains of the sweet world
of imagination. Mr Yeats has made the tragic mistake of thinking that to
contemplate it was sufficient. Had he been a great poet he would have
made it his own, by forcing it into the fetters of speech. By
re-creating it, he would have made it permanent; he would have built
landmarks to guide him always back to where the effort of his last
discovery had ended. But now there remains nothing but a handful of the
symbols with which he was content:--

  'A Sphinx with woman breast and lion paw,
  A Buddha, hand at rest,
  Hand lifted up that blest;
  And right between these two a girl at play.'

These are no more than the dry bones in the valley of Ezekiel, and,
alas! there is no prophetic fervour to make them live.

Whether Mr Yeats, by some grim fatality, mistook his phantasmagoria for
the product of the creative imagination, or whether (as we prefer to
believe) he made an effort to discipline them to his poetic purpose and
failed, we cannot certainly say. Of this, however, we are certain, that
somehow, somewhere, there has been disaster. He is empty, now. He has
the apparatus of enchantment, but no potency in his soul. He is forced
to fall back upon the artistic honesty which has never forsaken him.
That it is an insufficient reserve let this passage show:--

  'For those that love the world serve it in action,
  Grow rich, popular, and full of influence,
  And should they paint or write still it is action:
  The struggle of the fly in marmalade.
  The rhetorician would deceive his neighbours,
  The sentimentalist himself; while art
  Is but a vision of reality....'

Mr Yeats is neither rhetorician nor sentimentalist. He is by structure
and impulse an artist. But structure and impulse are not enough.
Passionate apprehension must be added to them. Because this is lacking
in Mr Yeats those lines, concerned though they are with things he holds
most dear, are prose and not poetry.

[APRIL, 1919.

_The Wisdom of Anatole France_

How few are the wise writers who remain to us? They are so few that it
seems, at moments, that wisdom, like justice of old, is withdrawing from
the world, and that when their fullness of years is accomplished, as,
alas! it soon must be, the wise men who will leave us will have been the
last of their kind. It is true that something akin to wisdom, or rather
a quality whose outward resemblance to wisdom can deceive all but the
elect, will emerge from the ruins of war; but true wisdom is not created
out of the catastrophic shock of disillusionment. An unexpected disaster
is always held to be in some sort undeserved. Yet the impulse to rail at
destiny, be it never so human, is not wise. Wisdom is not bitter; at
worst it is bitter-sweet, and bitter-sweet is the most subtle and
lingering savour of all.

Let us not say in our haste, that without wisdom we are lost. Wisdom is,
after all, but one attitude to life among many. It happens to be the one
which will stand the hardest wear, because it is prepared for all
ill-usage. But hard wear is not the only purpose which an attitude may
serve. We may demand of an attitude that it should enable us to exact
the utmost from ourselves. To refuse to accommodate oneself to the
angularities of life or to make provision beforehand for its
catastrophes is, indeed, folly; but it may be a divine folly. It is, at
all events, a folly to which poets incline. But poets are not wise;
indeed, the poetry of true wisdom is a creation which can, at the best,
be but dimly imagined. Perhaps, of them all, Lucretius had the largest
inkling of what such poetry might be; but he disqualified himself by an
aptitude for ecstasy, which made his poetry superb and his wisdom of no
account. To acquiesce is wise; to be ecstatic in acquiescence is not to
have acquiesced at all. It is to have identified oneself with an
imagined power against whose manifestations, in those moments when no
ecstasy remains, one rebels. It is a megalomania, a sublime
self-deception, a heroic attempt to project the soul on to the side of
destiny, and to believe ourselves the masters of those very powers which
have overwhelmed us.

Whether the present generation will produce great poetry, we do not
know. We are tolerably certain that it will not produce wise men. It is
too conscious of defeat and too embittered to be wise. Some may seek
that ecstasy of seeming acquiescence of which we have spoken; others,
who do not endeavour to escape the pain by plunging the barb deeper, may
try to shake the dust of life from off their feet. Neither will be wise.
But precisely because they are not wise, they will seek the company of
wise men. Their own attitude will not wear. The ecstasy will fail, the
will to renunciation falter; the gray reality which permits no one to
escape it altogether will filter like a mist into the vision and the
cell. Then they will turn to the wise men. They will find comfort in the
smile to which they could not frame their own lips, and discover in it
more sympathy than they could hope for.

Among the wise men whom they will surely most frequent will be Anatole
France. His company is constant; his attitude durable. There is no
undertone of anguish in his work like that which gives such poignant and
haunting beauty to Tchehov. He has never suffered himself to be so
involved in life as to be maimed by it. But the price he has paid for
his safety has been a renunciation of experience. Only by being involved
in life, perhaps only by being maimed by it, could he have gained that
bitterness of knowledge which is the enemy of wisdom. Not that Anatole
France made a deliberate renunciation: no man of his humanity would of
his own will turn aside. It was instinct which guided him into a
sequestered path, which ran equably by the side of the road of alternate
exaltation and catastrophe which other men of equal genius must travel.
Therefore he has seen men as it were in profile against the sky, but
never face to face. Their runnings, their stumblings and their
gesticulations are a tumultuous portion of the landscape rather than
symbols of an intimate and personal possibility. They lend a baroque
enchantment to the scene.

So it is that in all the characters of Anatole France's work which are
not closely modelled upon his own idiosyncrasy there is something of the
marionette. They are not the less charming for that; nor do they lack a
certain logic, but it is not the logic of personality. They are embodied
comments upon life, but they do not live. And there is for Anatole
France, while he creates them, and for us, while we read about them, no
reason why they should live. For living, in the accepted sense, is an
activity impossible without indulging many illusions; and fervently to
sympathise with characters engaged in the activity demands that their
author should participate in the illusions. He, too, must be surprised
at the disaster which he himself has proved inevitable. It is not enough
that he should pity them; he must share in their effort, and be
discomfited at their discomfiture.

Such exercises of the soul are impossible to a real acquiescence, which
cannot even permit itself the inspiration of the final illusion that the
wreck of human hopes, being ordained, is beautiful. The man who
acquiesces is condemned to stand apart and contemplate a puppet-show
with which he can never really sympathise.

    'De toutes les définitions de l'homme la plus mauvaise me paraît
    celle qui en fait un animal raisonnable. Je ne me vante pas
    excessivement en me donnant pour doué de plus de raison que la
    plupart de ceux de mes semblables que j'ai vus de près ou dont j'ai
    connu l'histoire. La raison habite rarement les âmes communes, et
    bien plus rarement encore les grands esprits.... J'appelle
    raisonnable celui qui accorde sa raison particulière avec la raison
    universelle, de manière à n'être jamais trop surpris de ce qui
    arrive et à s'y accommoder tant bien que mal; j'appelle raisonnable
    celui qui, observant le désordre de la nature et la folie humaine,
    ne s'obstine point à y voir de l'ordre et de la sagesse; j'appelle
    raisonnable enfin celui qui ne s'efforce pas de l'être.'

The chasm between living and being wise (which is to be _raisonnable_)
is manifest. The condition of living is to be perpetually surprised,
incessantly indignant or exultant, at what happens. To bridge the chasm
there is for the wise man only one way. He must cast back in his memory
to the time when he, too, was surprised and indignant. No man is, after
all, born wise, though he may be born with an instinct for wisdom. Thus
Anatole France touches us most nearly when he describes his childhood.
The innocent, wayward, positive, romantic little Pierre Nozière[4] is a
human being to a degree to which no other figures in the master's comedy
of unreason are. And it is evident that Anatole France himself finds him
by far the most attractive of them all. He can almost persuade himself,
at moments, that he still is the child he was, as in the exquisite story
of how, when he had been to a truly royal chocolate shop, he attempted
to reproduce its splendours in play. At one point his invention and his
memory failed him, and he turned to his mother to ask: 'Est-ce celui qui
vend ou celui qui achète qui donne de l'argent?'

    'Je ne devais jamais connaître le prix de l'argent. Tel j'étais à
    trois ans ou trois ans et demi dans le cabinet tapissé de boutons de
    roses, tel je restai jusqu'à la vieillesse, qui m'est légère, comme
    elle l'est à toutes les âmes exemptes d'avarice et d'orgueil. Non,
    maman, je n'ai jamais connu le prix de l'argent. Je ne le connais
    pas encore, ou plutôt je le connais trop bien.'

   [Footnote 4: _Le Petit Pierre_. Par Anatole France. (Paris:

To know a thing too well is by worlds removed from not to know it at
all, and Anatole France does not elsewhere similarly attempt to indulge
the illusion of unbroken innocence. He who refused to put a mark of
interrogation after 'What is God,' in defiance of his mother, because he
knew, now has to restrain himself from putting one after everything he
writes or thinks. 'Ma pauvre mère, si elle vivait, me dirait peut-être
que maintenant j'en mets trop.' Yes, Anatole France is wise, and far
removed from childish follies. And, perhaps, it is precisely because of
his wisdom that he can so exactly discern the enchantment of his
childhood. So few men grow up. The majority remain hobbledehoys
throughout life; all the disabilities and none of the unique capacities
of childhood remain. There are a few who, in spite of all experience,
retain both; they are the poets and the _grands esprits_. There are
fewer still who learn utterly to renounce childish things; and they are
the wise men.

   'Je suis une autre personne que l'enfant dont je parle. Nous n'avons
    plus en commun, lui et moi, un atome de substance ni de pensée.
    Maintenant qu'il m'est devenu tout à fait étranger, je puis en sa
    compagnie me distraire de la mienne. Je l'aime, moi qui ne m'aime ni
    ne me haïs. Il m'est doux de vivre en pensée les jours qu'il vivait
    et je souffre de respirer l'air du temps où nous sommes.'

Not otherwise is it with us and Anatole France. We may have little in
common with his thought--the community we often imagine comes of
self-deception--but it is sweet for us to inhabit his mind for a while.
His touch is potent to soothe our fitful fevers.

[APRIL, 1919.

_Gerard Manley Hopkins_

Modern poetry, like the modern consciousness of which it is the epitome,
seems to stand irresolute at a crossways with no signpost. It is hardly
conscious of its own indecision, which it manages to conceal from itself
by insisting that it is lyrical, whereas it is merely impressionist. The
value of impressions depends upon the quality of the mind which receives
and renders them, and to be lyrical demands at least as firm a temper of
the mind, as definite and unfaltering a general direction, as to be
epic. Roughly speaking, the present poetical fashion may, with a few
conspicuous exceptions, be described as poetry without tears. The poet
may assume a hundred personalities in as many poems, or manifest a
hundred influences, or he may work a single sham personality threadbare
or render piecemeal an undigested influence. What he may not do, or do
only at the risk of being unfashionable, is to attempt what we may call,
for the lack of a better word, the logical progression of an _oeuvre_.
One has no sense of the rhythm of an achievement. There is an output of
scraps, which are scraps, not because they are small, but because one
scrap stands in no organic relation to another in the poet's work.
Instead of lending each other strength, they betray each other's

Yet the organic progression for which we look, generally in vain, is not
peculiar to poetic genius of the highest rank. If it were, we might be
accused of mere querulousness. The rhythm of personality is hard,
indeed, to achieve. The simple mind and the single outlook are now too
rare to be considered as near possibilities, while the task of tempering
a mind to a comprehensive adequacy to modern experience is not an easy
one. The desire to escape and the desire to be lost in life were
probably never so intimately associated as they are now; and it is a
little preposterous to ask a moth fluttering round a candle-flame to see
life steadily and see it whole. We happen to have been born into an age
without perspective; hence our idolatry for the one living poet and
prose writer who has it and comes, or appears to come, from another age.
But another rhythm is possible. No doubt it would be mistaken to
consider this rhythm as in fact wholly divorced from the rhythm of
personality; it probably demands at least a minimum of personal
coherence in its possessor. For critical purposes, however, they are
distinct. This second and subsidiary rhythm is that of technical
progression. The single pursuit of even the most subordinate artistic
intention gives unity, significance, mass to a poet's work. When
Verlaine declares 'de la musique avant toute chose,' we know where we
are. And we know this not in the obvious sense of expecting his verse to
be predominantly musical; but in the more important sense of desiring to
take a man seriously who declares for anything 'avant toute chose.'

It is the 'avant toute chose' that matters, not as a profession of
faith--we do not greatly like professions of faith--but as the guarantee
of the universal in the particular, of the _dianoia_ in the episode. It
is the 'avant toute chose' that we chiefly miss in modern poetry and
modern society and in their quaint concatenations. It is the 'avant
toute chose' that leads us to respect both Mr Hardy and Mr Bridges,
though we give all our affection to one of them. It is the 'avant toute
chose' that compels us to admire the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins[5];
it is the 'avant toute chose' in his work, which, as we believe, would
have condemned him to obscurity to-day, if he had not (after many years)
had Mr Bridges, who was his friend, to stand sponsor and the Oxford
University Press to stand the racket. Apparently Mr Bridges himself is
something of our opinion, for his introductory sonnet ends on a
disdainful note:--

  'Go forth: amidst our chaffinch flock display
  Thy plumage of far wonder and heavenward flight!'

   [Footnote 5: _Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins_. Edited with notes by
   Robert Bridges. (Oxford: University Press.)]

It is from a sonnet written by Hopkins to Mr Bridges that we take the
most concise expression of his artistic intention, for the poet's
explanatory preface is not merely technical, but is written in a
technical language peculiar to himself. Moreover, its scope is small;
the sonnet tells us more in two lines than the preface in four pages.

  'O then if in my lagging lines you miss
  The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation....'

There is his 'avant toute chose.' Perhaps it seems very like 'de la
musique.' But it tells us more about Hopkins's music than Verlaine's
line told us about his. This music is of a particular kind, not the
'sanglots du violon,' but pre-eminently the music of song, the music
most proper to lyrical verse. If one were to seek in English the lyrical
poem to which Hopkins's definition could be most fittingly applied, one
would find Shelley's 'Skylark.' A technical progression onwards from the
'Skylark' is accordingly the main line of Hopkins's poetical evolution.
There are other, stranger threads interwoven; but this is the chief.
Swinburne, rightly enough if the intention of true song is considered,
appears hardly to have existed for Hopkins, though he was his
contemporary. There is an element of Keats in his epithets, a half-echo
in 'whorled ear' and 'lark-charmèd'; there is an aspiration after
Milton's architectonic in the construction of the later sonnets and the
most lucid of the fragments,'Epithalamion.' But the central point of
departure is the 'Skylark.' The 'May Magnificat' is evidence of
Hopkins's achievement in the direct line:--

  'Ask of her, the mighty mother:
  Her reply puts this other
  Question: What is Spring?--
  Growth in everything--

  Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
  Grass and greenworld all together;
  Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
  Throstle above her nested
  Cluster of bugle-blue eggs thin
  Forms and warms the life within....

  ... When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
  Bloom lights the orchard-apple,
  And thicket and thorp are merry
  With silver-surfèd cherry,

  And azuring-over graybell makes
  Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes,
  And magic cuckoo-call
  Caps, clears, and clinches all....'

That is the primary element manifested in one of its simplest, most
recognisable, and some may feel most beautiful forms. But a melody so
simple, though it is perhaps the swiftest of which the English language
is capable without the obscurity which comes of the drowning of sense in
sound, did not satisfy Hopkins. He aimed at complex internal harmonies,
at a counterpoint of rhythm; for this more complex element he coined an
expressive word of his own:--

    'But as air, melody, is what strikes me most of all in music and
    design in painting, so design, pattern, or what I am in the habit of
    calling _inscape_ is what I above all aim at in poetry.'

Here, then, in so many words, is Hopkins's 'avant toute chose' at a
higher level of elaboration. 'Inscape' is still, in spite of the
apparent differentiation, musical; but a quality of formalism seems to
have entered with the specific designation. With formalism comes
rigidity; and in this case the rigidity is bound to overwhelm the sense.
For the relative constant in the composition of poetry is the law of
language which admits only a certain amount of adaptation. Musical
design must be subordinate to it, and the poet should be aware that even
in speaking of musical design he is indulging a metaphor. Hopkins
admitted this, if we may judge by his practice, only towards the end of
his life. There is no escape by sound from the meaning of the posthumous
sonnets, though we may hesitate to pronounce whether this directness was
due to a modification of his poetical principles or to the urgency of
the content of the sonnets, which, concerned with a matter of life and
death, would permit no obscuring of their sense for musical reasons.

  'I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
  What hours, O what black hours we have spent
  This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
  And more must in yet longer light's delay.
    With witness I speak this. But where I say
  Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
  Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
  To dearest him that lives, alas! away.'

There is compression, but not beyond immediate comprehension; music, but
a music of overtones; rhythm, but a rhythm which explicates meaning and
makes it more intense.

Between the 'May Magnificat' and these sonnets is the bulk of Hopkins's
poetical work and his peculiar achievement. Perhaps it could be regarded
as a phase in his evolution towards the 'more balanced and Miltonic
style' which he hoped for, and of which the posthumous sonnets are
precursors; but the attempt to see him from this angle would be
perverse. Hopkins was not the man to feel, save on exceptional
occasions, that urgency of content of which we have spoken. The
communication of thought was seldom the dominant impulse of his creative
moment, and it is curious how simple his thought often proves to be when
the obscurity of his language has been penetrated. Musical elaboration
is the chief characteristic of his work, and for this reason what seem
to be the strangest of his experiments are his most essential
achievement So, for instance, 'The Golden Echo':--

  There is one, yes, I have one (Hush there!);
  Only not within seeing of sun,
  Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
  Tall sun's tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth's air,
  Somewhere else where there is, ah, well, where! one,
  One. Yes, I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
  Where, whatever's prized and passes of us, everything that's fresh and
                    fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and
                    swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
  Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet clearly and dangerously sweet
  Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
  The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
  Never fleets more, fastened with the tenderest truth
  To its own best being and its loveliness of youth....'

Than this, Hopkins truly wrote, 'I never did anything more musical.' By
his own verdict and his own standards it is therefore the finest thing
that Hopkins did. Yet even here, where the general beauty is undoubted,
is not the music too obvious? Is it not always on the point of
degenerating into a jingle--as much an exhibition of the limitations of
a poetical theory as of its capabilities? The tyranny of the 'avant
toute chose' upon a mind in which the other things were not stubborn and
self-assertive is apparent. Hopkins's mind was irresolute concerning the
quality of his own poetical ideal. A coarse and clumsy assonance seldom
spread its snare in vain. Exquisite openings are involved in disaster:--

  'When will you ever, Peace, wild wood dove, shy wings shut,
  Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
  When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
  To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
  That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace....'

And the more wonderful opening of 'Windhover' likewise sinks, far less
disastrously, but still perceptibly:--

  'I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin,
                            dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
  High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
  In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
    As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and the gliding
    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
  Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!'

We have no doubt that 'stirred for a bird' was an added excellence to
the poet's ear; to our sense it is a serious blemish on lines which have
'the roll, the rise, the carol, the creation.'

There is no good reason why we should give characteristic specimens of
the poet's obscurity, since our aim is to induce people to read him. The
obscurities will slowly vanish and something of the intention appear;
and they will find in him many of the strange beauties won by men who
push on to the borderlands of their science; they will speculate whether
the failure of his whole achievement was due to the starvation of
experience which his vocation imposed upon him, or to a fundamental vice
in his poetical endeavour. For ourselves we believe that the former was
the true cause. His 'avant toute chose' whirling dizzily in a spiritual
vacuum, met with no salutary resistance to modify, inform, and
strengthen it. Hopkins told the truth of himself--the reason why he
must remain a poets' poet:--

  I want the one rapture of an inspiration.
  O then if in my lagging lines you miss
  The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation,
  My winter world, that scarcely yields that bliss
  Now, yields you, with some sighs, our explanation.'

[JUNE, 1919.

_The Problem of Keats_

It is a subject for congratulation that a second edition of Sir Sidney
Colvin's life of Keats[6] has been called for by the public: first,
because it is a good, a very good book, and secondly, because all
evidence of a general curiosity concerning a poet so great and so
greatly to be loved must be counted for righteousness. The impassioned
and intimate sympathy which is felt--as we may at least conclude--by a
portion of the present generation for Keats is a motion of the
consciousness which stands in a right and natural order. Keats is with
us; and it argues much for a generous elasticity in Sir Sidney Colvin's
mind, which we have neither the right nor the custom to expect in an
older generation, that he should have had more than a sidelong vision of
at least one aspect of the community between his poet-hero and a younger
race which has had the destiny to produce far more heroes than poets.
Commenting upon the inability of the late Mr Courthope to appreciate
Keats, Sir Sidney writes:--

    'He supposed that Keats was indifferent to history or politics. But
    of history he was in fact an assiduous reader, and the secret of his
    indifference to politics, so far as it existed, was that those of
    his own time had to men of his years and way of thinking been a
    disillusion,--that the saving of the world from the grip of one
    great overshadowing tyranny had but ended in reinstating a number of
    ancient and minor tyrannies less interesting but not less
    tyrannical. To that which lies behind and above politics and history
    to the general destinies, aspirations, and tribulations of the race,
    he was, as we have seen, not indifferent but only tragically and
    acutely sensitive.'

   [Footnote 6: _John Keats: His Life and Poetry, His Friends, Critics,
   and After-fame_. By Sidney Colvin. Second edition. (Macmillan.)]

We believe that both the positive and the negative of that vindication
might be exemplified among chosen spirits to-day, living or untimely
dead; but we desire, not to enlist Sir Sidney in a cause, but only to
make apparent the reason why, in spite of minor dissents and inevitable
differences of estimation, our sympathy with him is enduring. It may be
that we have chosen to identify ourselves so closely with Keats that we
feel to Sir Sidney the attachment that is reserved for the staunch
friend of a friend who is dead; but we do not believe that this is so.
We are rather attached by the sense of a loyalty that exists in and for
itself; more intimate repercussions may follow, but they can follow only
when the critical honesty, the determination to let Keats be valid as
Keats, whatever it might cost (and we can see that it sometimes costs
Sir Sidney not a little), has impressed itself upon us.

It is rather by this than by Sir Sidney's particular contributions to
our knowledge of the poet that we judge his book. This assured, we
accept his patient exposition of the theme of 'Endymion' with a friendly
interest that would certainly not be given to one with a lesser claim
upon us; and in this spirit we can also find a welcome for the minute
investigation of the pictorial and plastic material of Keats's
imagination. Under auspices less benign we might have found the former
mistaken and the latter irrelevant; but it so happens that when Sir
Sidney shows us over the garden every goose is a swan. Like travellers
who at the end of a long day's journey among an inhospitable peasantry
are, against their expectation received in a kindly farm, and find
themselves talking glibly to their host of matters which are unimportant
and unknown to them--the price of land, and the points of a pedigree
bull--so we follow with an intense and intelligent absorption a subtle
argument in 'Endymion' in which at no moment we really believe. On the
contrary, we are convinced (when we are free from our author's friendly
spell) that Keats wrote 'Endymion' at all adventure. The words of the
cancelled preface: 'Before I began I had no inward feel of being able to
finish; and as I proceeded my steps were all uncertain,' were, we are
sure, quite literally true, and if anything an under-statement of his
lack of argument and plan. Not that we believe that Keats was incapable
of or averse to 'fundamental brain-work'--he had an understanding more
robust, firmer in its hold of reality, more closely cast upon
experience, than any one of his great contemporaries, Wordsworth not
excepted--but at that phase in his evolution he was simply not concerned
with understanding. 'Endymion' is not a record or sublimation of
experience; it is itself an experience. It was the liberation of a
verbal inhibition, and the magic word of freedom was Beauty. The story
of Endymion was to Keats a road to the unknown, in her course along
which his imagination might 'paw up against the sky.'

A refusal to admit that Keats built 'Endymion' upon any structure of
argument, however obscure--even Sir Sidney would acknowledge that the
argument he discovers is _very_ obscure--is so far from being a
derogation from his genius that it is in our opinion necessary to a full
appreciation of his idiosyncrasy. It is customary to regard the Odes as
the pinnacle of his achievement and to trace a poetical progression to
that point and a subsequent decline: we are shown the evidence of this
decline in the revised Induction to 'Hyperion.' As far as an absolute
poetical perfection is concerned there can be no serious objection to
the view. But the case of Keats is eminently one to be considered in
itself as well as objectively. There is no danger that Keats's poetry
will not be appreciated; the danger is that Keats may not be understood.
And precisely this moment is opportune for understanding him. As Mr T.S.
Eliot has lately pointed out, the development of English poetry since
the early nineteenth century was largely based on the achievement of two
poets of genius, Keats and Shelley, who never reached maturity. They
were made gods; and rightly, had not poets themselves bowed down to
them. That was ridiculous; there is something even pitiful in the
spectacle of Rossetti and Morris finding the culmination of poetry, the
one in 'The Eve of St Agnes,' the other in 'La Belle Dame sans Merci.'
And this undiscriminating submission of a century to the influence of
hypostatised phases in the development of a poet of sanity and genius is
perhaps the chief of the causes of the half-conscious, and for the most
part far less discriminating, spirit of revolt which is at work in
modern poetry.

A sense is abroad that the tradition has somehow been snapped, that
what has been accepted as the tradition unquestioningly for a hundred
years is only a _cul de sac_. Somewhere there has been a substitution.
In the resulting chaos the twittering of bats is taken for poetry, and
the critically minded have the grim amusement of watching verse-writers
gain eminence by imitating Coventry Patmore! The bolder spirits declare
that there never was such a thing as a tradition, that it is no use
learning, because there is nothing to learn. But they are a little
nervous for all their boldness, and they prefer to hunt in packs, of
which the only condition of membership is that no one should ask what it

At such a juncture, if indeed not at all times, it is of no less
importance to understand Keats than to appreciate his poetry. The
culmination of the achievement of the Keats to be understood is not the
Odes, perfect as they are, nor the tales--a heresy even for objective
criticism--nor 'Hyperion'; but precisely that revised Induction to
'Hyperion' which on the other argument is held to indicate how the
poet's powers had been ravaged by disease and the pangs of unsatisfied
love. On the technical side alone the Induction is of extraordinary
interest. Keats's natural and proper revulsion from the Miltonic style,
the deliberate art of which he had handled like an almost master, is
evident but incomplete; he is hampered by the knowledge that the virus
is in his blood. The creative effort of the Induction was infinitely
greater than is immediately apparent. Keats is engaged in a war on two
fronts: he is struggling against the Miltonic manner, and struggling
also to deal with an unfamiliar content. The whole direction of his
poetic purpose had shifted since he wrote 'Hyperion.' 'Hyperion,' though
far finer as art, had been produced by an impulse substantially the same
as 'Endymion'; it was an exercise in a manner. Keats desired to prove to
himself, and perhaps a little at that moment to prove to the world, that
he was capable of Miltonic discipline and grandeur. It was, most
strictly, necessary for him to be inwardly certain of this. He had
drunk, as deeply as any of his contemporaries, of the tradition; he
needed to know that he had assimilated what he had drunk, that he could
employ a conscious art as naturally as the most deliberate artist of the
past, and, most of all, that he would begin, when he did begin, at the
point where his forerunners left off, and not at a point behind them.
These necessities were not present in this form to Keats's mind when he
began 'Hyperion'; most probably he began merely with the idea of holding
his own with Milton, and with a delight in an apt and congenial theme.
Keats was not a poet of definite and deliberate plans, which indeed are
incident to a certain tenuity of soul; his decisions were taken not by
the intellect, but by the being.

He dropped 'Hyperion' because it was inadequate to the whole of him. He
was weary of its deliberate art because it interposed a veil between him
and that which he needed to express; it was an imposition upon himself.

    'I have given up "Hyperion"--there were too many Miltonic inversions
    in it--Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful, or rather
    artist's, humour. I wish to give myself up to other sensations.
    English ought to be kept up. It may be interesting to you to pick
    out some lines from "Hyperion" and a mark + to the false beauty
    proceeding from art and one || to the true voice of
    feeling....'--(Letter to J.H. Reynolds, Sept. 22, 1819.)

That outwardly negative reaction is packed with positive implications.
'English ought to be kept up' meant, on Keats's lips, a very great deal.
But there is other and more definite authority for the positive
direction in which he was turning. To his brother George he wrote, at
the same time:--

    'I have but lately stood on my guard against Milton. Life to him
    would be death to me. Miltonic verse cannot be written, but is the
    verse of art. I wish to devote myself to another verse alone.'

More definite still is the letter of November 17, 1819, to his friend
and publisher, John Taylor:--

    'I have come to a determination not to publish anything I have now
    ready written; but for all that to publish a poem before long and
    that I hope to make a fine one. As the marvellous is the most
    enticing and the surest guarantee of harmonious numbers I have been
    endeavouring to persuade myself to untether fancy and to let her
    manage for herself. I and myself cannot agree about this at all.
    Wonders are no wonders to me. I am more at home amongst Men and
    Women. I would rather read Chaucer than Ariosto. The little dramatic
    skill I may as yet have, however badly it might show in a Drama,
    would, I think, be sufficient for a Poem. I wish to diffuse the
    colouring of St Agnes Eve throughout a poem in which Character and
    Sentiment would be the figures to such drapery. Two or three such
    poems if God should spare me, written in the course of the next six
    years would be a famous gradus ad Parnassum altissimum. I mean they
    would nerve me up to the writing of a few fine plays--my greatest
    ambition--when I do feel ambitious....'

No letter could be saner, nor more indicative of calm resolve. Yet the
precise determination is that nothing that went to make the 1820 volume
should be published, neither Odes, nor Tales, nor 'Hyperion.' This is
that mood of Keats which Sir Sidney Colvin, in his comment upon a
passage in the revised Induction, calls one of 'fierce injustice to his
own achievements and their value.' But a poet, if he is a real one,
judges his own achievements not by those of his contemporaries, but by
the standard of his own intention.

The evidence that Keats's mind had passed beyond the stage at which it
could be satisfied by the poems of the 1820 volume is overwhelming. His
letters to George of April, 1819, show that he was naturally evolving
towards an attitude, a philosophy, more profound and comprehensive than
could be expressed adequately in such records of momentary aspiration
and emotion as the Odes; though the keen and sudden poignancy that had
invaded them belongs to the new Keats. They mark the transition to the
new poetry which he vaguely discerned. The problem was to find the
method. The letters we have quoted to show his reaction from the
Miltonic influence display the more narrowly 'artistic' aspect of the
same evolution. A technique more responsive to the felt reality of
experience must be found--'English ought to be kept up'--the apparatus
of Romantic story must be abandoned--'Wonders are no wonders to me'--yet
the Romantic colour must be kept to restore to a realistic psychology
the vividness and richly various quality that are too often lost by
analysis We do not believe that we have in any respect forced the
interpretation of the letters; the terminology of that age needs to be
translated to be understood 'Men and Women ... Characters and
Sentiments' are called, for better or worse, 'psychology' nowadays. And
our translation has this merit, that some of our ultra-moderns will
listen to the word 'psychology,' where they would be bat-blind to
'Characters' and stone-deaf to 'Sentiments.'

Modern poetry is still faced with the same problem; but very few of its
adepts have reached so far as to be able to formulate it even with the
precision of Keats's scattered allusions. Keats himself was struck down
at the moment when he was striving (against disease and against a
devouring, hopeless love-passion) to face it squarely. The revised
Induction reveals him in the effort to shape the traditional (and
perhaps still necessary) apparatus of myth to an instrument of his
attitude. The meaning of the Induction is not difficult to discover; but
current criticism has the habit of regarding it dubiously. Therefore we
may be forgiven for attempting, with the brevity imposed upon us, to
make its elements clear. The first eighteen lines, which Sir Sidney
Colvin on objective grounds regrets are, we think, vital.

  'Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave
  A paradise for a sect; the savage, too,
  From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep
  Guesses at heaven; pity these have not
  Trac'd upon vellum or wild Indian leaf
  The shadows of melodious utterance,
  But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die;
  For poesy alone can tell her dreams,--
  With the fine spell of words alone can save
  Imagination from the sable chain
  And dumb enchantment. Who alive can say,
  'Thou art no poet--mays't not tell thy dreams'?
  Since every man whose soul is not a clod
  Hath visions and would speak, if he had loved,
  And been well-nurtured in his mother-tongue.
  Whether the dream now purposed to rehearse
  Be poet's or fanatic's will be known
  When this warm scribe, my hand, is in the grave.'

We may admit that the form of these lines is unfortunate; but we cannot
wish them away. They bear most closely upon the innermost argument of
the poem as Keats endeavoured to reshape it. All men, says Keats, have
their visions of reality; but the poet alone can express his, and the
poet himself may at the last prove to have been a fanatic, one who has
imagined 'a paradise for a sect' instead of a heaven for all humanity.

This discovery marks the point of crisis in Keats's development. He is
no longer content to be the singer; his poetry must be adequate to all
experience. No wonder then that the whole of the new Induction centres
about this thought. He describes his effort to fight against an invading
death and to reach the altar in the mighty dream palace. As his foot
touches the altar-step life returns, and the prophetic voice of the
veiled goddess reveals to him that he has been saved by his power 'to
die and live again before Thy fated hour.'

  '"None can usurp this height," return'd that shade.
  "But those to whom the miseries of the world
  Are misery and will not let them rest.
  All else who find a haven in the world
  Where they may thoughtless sleep away their days,
  If by a chance into this fane they come,
  Rot on the pavement where thou rottedst half."'

Because he has been mindful of the pain in the world, the poet has been
saved. But the true lovers of humanity,--

  'Who love their fellows even to the death,
  Who feel the giant agony of the world,'

are greater than the poets; 'they are no dreamers weak.'

  'They come not here, they have no thought to come,
  And thou art here for thou are less than they.'

It is a higher thing to mitigate the pain of the world than to brood
upon the problem of it. And not only the lover of mankind, but man the
animal is pre-eminent above the poet-dreamer. His joy is joy; his pain,
pain. 'Only the dreamer venoms _all_ his days.' Yet the poet has his
reward; it is given to him to partake of the vision of the veiled
Goddess--memory, Moneta, Mnemosyne, the spirit of the eternal reality
made visible.

  'Then saw I a wan face
  Not pined by human sorrows, but bright-blanch'd
  By an immortal sickness which kills not;
  It works a constant change, which happy death
  Can put no end to; deathwards progressing
  To no death was that visage; it had past
  The lily and the snow; and beyond these
  I must not think now, though I saw that face.
  But for her eyes I should have fled away;
  They held me back with a benignant light
  Soft, mitigated by divinest lids
  Half-closed, and visionless entire they seemed
  Of all external things; they saw me not,
  But in blank splendour beam'd like the mild moon
  Who comforts those she sees not, who knows not
  What eyes are upward cast....'

This vision of Moneta is the culminating point of Keats's evolution. It
stands at the summit, not of his poetry, but of his achievement regarded
as obedient to its own inward law. Moneta was to him the discovered
spirit of reality; her vision was the vision of necessity itself. In
her, joy and pain, life and death compassion and indifference, vision
and blindness are one; she is the eternal abode of contraries, the Idea
if you will, not hypostatised but immanent. Before this reality the poet
is impotent as his fellows; he is above them by his knowledge of it, but
below them by the weakness which that knowledge brings. He, too, is the
prey of contraries, the mirror of his deity, struck to the heart of his
victory, enduring the intolerable pain of triumph.

Here, not unfittingly, in his struggle with a conception too big to
express, came the end of Keats the poet. None have passed beyond him;
few have been so far. Of the poetry that might have been constructed on
the basis of an apprehension so profound we can form only a conjecture,
each after his own image: we do not know the method of the 'other verse'
of which Keats had a glimpse; we only know the quality with which it
would have been saturated, the calm and various light of united

We fear that Sir Sidney Colvin will not agree with our view. The angles
of observation are different. The angle at which we have placed
ourselves is not wholly advantageous--from it Sir Sidney's book could
not have been written--but it has this advantage, that from it we can
read his book with a heightened interest. As we look out from it, some
things are increased and some diminished with the change of
perspective; and among those which are increased is our gratitude to Sir
Sidney. In the clear mirror of his sympathy and sanity nothing is
obscured. We are shown the Keats who wrote the perfect poems that will
last with the English language, and in the few places where Sir Sidney
falls short of the spirit of complete acceptance, we discern behind the
words of rebuke and regret only the idealisation of a love which we are
proud to share.

[JULY, 1919.

_Thoughts on Tchehov_

We do not know if the stories collected in this volume[7] stand together
in the Russian edition of Tchehov's works, or if the selection is due to
Mrs Constance Garnett. It is also possible that the juxtaposition is
fortuitous. But the stories are united by a similarity of material.
Whereas in the former volumes of this admirable series Tchehov is shown
as preoccupied chiefly with the life of the _intelligentsia_, here he
finds his subjects in priests and peasants, or (in the story _Uprooted_)
in the half-educated.

   [Footnote 7: _The Bishop; and Other Stories_. By Anton Tchehov.
   Translated by Constance Garnett. (Chatto & Windus.)]

Such a distinction is, indeed, irrelevant. As Tchehov presents them to
our minds, the life of the country and the life of the town produce the
same final impression, arouse in us an awareness of an identical
quality; and thus, the distinction, by its very irrelevance, points us
the more quickly to what is essential in Tchehov. It is that his
attitude, to which he persuades us, is complete, not partial. His
comprehension radiates from a steady centre, and is not capriciously
kindled by a thousand accidental contacts. In other words, Tchehov is
not what he is so often assumed to be, an impressionist. Consciously or
unconsciously he had taken the step--the veritable _salto mortale_--by
which the great literary artist moves out of the ranks of the minor
writers. He had slowly shifted his angle of vision until he could
discern a unity in multiplicity. Unity of this rare kind cannot be
imposed as, for instance, Zola attempted to impose it. It is an
emanation from life which can be distinguished only by the most
sensitive contemplation.

The problem is to define this unity in the case of each great writer in
whom it appears. To apprehend it is not so difficult. The mere sense of
unity is so singular and compelling that it leaves room for few
hesitations. The majority of writers, however excellent in their
peculiar virtues, are not concerned with it: at one moment they
represent, at another they may philosophise, but the two activities have
no organic connection, and their work, if it displays any evolution at
all, displays it only in the minor accidents of the craft, such as style
in the narrower and technical sense, or the obvious economy of
construction. There is no danger of mistaking these for great writers.
Nor, in the more peculiar case of writers who attempt to impose the
illusion of unity, is the danger serious. The apparatus is always
visible; they cannot afford to do without the paraphernalia of argument
which supplies the place of what is lacking in their presentation. The
obvious instance of this legerdemain is Zola; a less obvious, and
therefore more interesting example is Balzac.

To attempt the more difficult problem. What is most peculiar to
Tchehov's unity is that it is far more nakedly æsthetic than that of
most of the great writers before him. Other writers of a rank equal to
his--and there are not so very many--have felt the need to shift their
angle of vision until they could perceive an all-embracing unity; but
they were not satisfied with this. They felt, and obeyed, the further
need of taking an attitude towards the unity they saw They approved or
disapproved, accepted or rejected it. It would be perhaps more accurate
to say that they gave or refused their endorsement. They appealed to
some other element than their own sense of beauty for the final verdict
on their discovery; they asked whether it was just or good.

The distinguishing mark of Tchehov is that he is satisfied with the
unity he discovers. Its uniqueness is sufficient for him. It does not
occur to him to demand that it should be otherwise or better. The act of
comprehension is accompanied by an instantaneous act of acceptance. He
is like a man who contemplates a perfect work of art; but the work of
creation has been his, and has consisted in the gradual adjustment of
his vision until he could see the frustration of human destinies and the
arbitrary infliction of pain as processes no less inevitable, natural,
and beautiful than the flowering of a plant. Not that Tchehov is a
greater artist than any of his great predecessors; he is merely more
wholly an artist, which is a very different thing. There is in him less
admixture of preoccupations that are not purely æsthetic, and probably
for this reason he has less creative vigour than any other artist of
equal rank. It seems as though artists, like cattle and fruit trees,
need a good deal of crossing with substantial foreign elements, in order
to be very vigorous and very fruitful. Tchehov has the virtues and the
shortcomings of the pure case.

I do not wish to be understood as saying that Tchehov is a manifestation
of _l'art pour l'art_, because in any commonly accepted sense of that
phrase, he is not. Still, he might be considered as an exemplification
of what the phrase might be made to mean. But instead of being diverted
into a barren dispute over terminologies, one may endeavour to bring
into prominence an aspect of Tchehov which has an immediate
interest--his modernity. Again, the word is awkward. It suggests that he
is fashionable, or up to date. Tchehov is, in fact, a good many phases
in advance of all that is habitually described as modern in the art of
literature. The artistic problem which he faced and solved is one that
is, at most, partially present to the consciousness of the modern
writer--to reconcile the greatest possible diversity of content with the
greatest possible unity of æsthetic impression. Diversity of content we
are beginning to find in profusion--Miss May Sinclair's latest
experiment shows how this need is beginning to trouble a writer with a
settled manner and a fixed reputation--but how rarely do we see even a
glimmering recognition of the necessity of a unified æsthetic
impression! The modern method is to assume that all that is, or has
been, present to consciousness is _ipso facto_ unified æsthetically. The
result of such an assumption is an obvious disintegration both of
language and artistic effort, a mere retrogression from the classical

The classical method consisted, essentially, in achieving æsthetic unity
by a process of rigorous exclusion of all that was not germane to an
arbitrary (because non-æsthetic) argument. This argument was let down
like a string into the saturated solution of the consciousness until a
unified crystalline structure congregated about it. Of all great artists
of the past Shakespeare is the richest in his departures from this
method. How much deliberate artistic purpose there was in his
employment of songs and madmen and fools (an employment fundamentally
different from that made by his contemporaries) is a subject far too big
for a parenthesis. But he, too, is at bottom a classic artist. The
modern problem--it has not yet been sufficiently solved for us to speak
of a modern method--arises from a sense that the classical method
produces over-simplification. It does not permit of a sufficient sense
of multiplicity. One can think of a dozen semi-treatments of the problem
from Balzac to Dostoevsky, but they were all on the old lines. They
might be called Shakespearean modifications of the classical method.

Tchehov, we believe, attempted a treatment radically new. To make use
again of our former image in his maturer writing, he chose a different
string to let down into the saturated solution of consciousness. In a
sense he began at the other end. He had decided on the quality of
æsthetic impression he wished to produce, not by an arbitrary decision,
but by one which followed naturally from the contemplative unity of life
which he had achieved. The essential quality he discerned and desired to
represent was his argument, his string. Everything that heightened and
completed this quality accumulated about it, quite independently of
whether it would have been repelled by the old criterion of plot and
argument. There is a magnificent example of his method in the longest
story in this volume, 'The Steppe.' The quality is dominant throughout,
and by some strange compulsion it makes heterogeneous things one; it is
reinforced by the incident. Tiny events--the peasant who eats minnows
alive, the Jewish inn-keeper's brother who burned his six thousand
roubles--take on a character of portent, except that the word is too
harsh for so delicate a distortion of normal vision; rather it is a
sense of incalculability that haunts us. The emphases have all been
slightly shifted, but shifted according to a valid scheme. It is not
while we are reading, but afterwards that we wonder how so much
significance could attach to a little boy's questions in a remote
village shop:--

    '"How much are these cakes?'

    '"Two for a farthing.'

    'Yegorushka took out of his pocket the cake given him the day before
    by the Jewess and asked him:--

    '"And how much do you charge for cakes like this?'

    'The shopman took the cake in his hands, looked at it from all
    sides, and raised one eyebrow.

    '"Like that?' he asked.

    'Then he raised the other eyebrow, thought a minute, and answered:--

    '"Two for three farthings...."'

It is foolish to quote it. It is like a golden pebble from the bed of a
stream. The stream that flows over Tchehov's innumerable pebbles,
infinitely diverse and heterogeneous, is the stream of a deliberately
sublimated quality. The figure is inexact, as figures are. Not every
pebble could be thus transmuted. But how they are chosen, what is the
real nature of the relation which unites them, as we feel it does, is a
secret which modern English writers need to explore. Till they have
explored and mastered it Tchehov will remain a master in advance of

[AUGUST, 1919.

       *       *       *       *       *

The case of Tchehov is one to be investigated again and again because he
is the only great modern artist in prose. Tolstoy was living throughout
Tchehov's life, as Hardy has lived throughout our own, and these are
great among the greatest. But they are not modern. It is an essential
part of their greatness that they could not be; they have a simplicity
and scope that manifestly belongs to all time rather than to this.
Tchehov looked towards Tolstoy as we to Hardy. He saw in him a Colossus,
one whose achievement was of another and a greater kind than his own.

    'I am afraid of Tolstoy's death. If he were to die there would be a
    big empty place in my life. To begin with, because I have never
    loved any man as much as him.... Secondly, while Tolstoy is in
    literature it is easy and pleasant to be a literary man; even
    recognising that one has done nothing and never will do anything is
    not so dreadful, since Tolstoy will do enough for all. His work is
    the justification of the enthusiasms and expectations built upon
    literature. Thirdly, Tolstoy takes a firm stand; he has an immense
    authority, and so long as he is alive, bad tastes in literature,
    vulgarity of every kind, insolent and lachrymose, all the bristling,
    exasperated vanities will be in the far background, in the
    shade....'--(January, 1900.)

Tchehov was aware of the gulf that separated him from the great men
before him, and he knew that it yawned so deep that it could not be
crossed. He belonged to a new generation, and he alone perhaps was fully
conscious of it. 'We are lemonade,' he wrote in 1892.

    'Tell me honestly who of my contemporaries--that is, men between
    thirty and forty-five--have given the world one single drop of
    alcohol?... Science and technical knowledge are passing through a
    great period now, but for our sort it is a flabby, stale, dull
    time.... The causes of this are not to be found in our stupidity,
    our lack of talent, or our insolence, but in a disease which for the
    artist is worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. We lack
    "something," that is true, and that means that, lift the robe of our
    muse, and you will find within an empty void. Let me remind you that
    the writers who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who
    intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic:
    they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it,
    too, and you feel, not with your mind but with your whole being,
    that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father,
    who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing.... And we?
    We! We paint life as it is, but beyond that--nothing at all.... Flog
    us and we can do more! We have neither immediate nor remote aims,
    and in our soul there is a great empty space. We have no politics,
    we do not believe in revolution, we have no God, we are not afraid
    of ghosts, and I personally am not afraid even of death and
    blindness. One who wants nothing, hopes for nothing, and fears
    nothing cannot be an artist....

    '... You think I am clever. Yes, I am at least so far clever as not
    to conceal from myself my disease and not to deceive myself, and not
    to cover up my own emptiness with other people's rags, such as the
    ideas of the 'sixties and so on.'

That was written in 1892. When we remember all the strange literary
effort gathered round about that year in the West--Symbolism, the
_Yellow Book_, Art for Art's sake--and the limbo into which it has been
thrust by now, we may realise how great a precursor and, in his own
despite, a leader, Anton Tchehov was. When Western literature was
plunging with enthusiasm into one _cul de sac_ after another, incapable
of diagnosing its own disease, Tchehov in Russia, unknown to the West,
had achieved a clear vision and a sense of perspective.

To-day we begin to feel how intimately Tchehov belongs to us; to-morrow
we may feel how infinitely he is still in advance of us. A genius will
always be in advance of a talent, and in so far as we are concerned with
the genius of Tchehov we must accept the inevitable. We must analyse and
seek to understand it; we must, above all, make up our minds that since
Tchehov has written and his writings have been made accessible to us, a
vast amount of our modern literary production is simply unpardonable.
Writers who would be modern and ignore Tchehov's achievement are,
however much they may persuade themselves that they are devoted artists,
merely engaged in satisfying their vanity or in the exercise of a
profession like any other; for Tchehov is a standard by which modern
literary effort must be measured, and the writer of prose or poetry who
is not sufficiently single-minded to apply the standard to himself is of
no particular account.

Though Tchehov's genius is, strictly speaking, inimitable, it deserves a
much exacter study than it has yet received. The publication of this
volume of his letters[8] hardly affords the occasion for that; but it
does afford an opportunity for the examination of some of the chief
constituents of his perfect art. These touch us nearly because--we
insist again--the supreme interest of Tchehov is that he is the only
great modern artist in prose. He belongs, as we have said, to us. If he
is great, then he is great not least in virtue of qualities which we may
aspire to possess; if he is an ideal, he is an ideal to which we can
refer ourselves, He had been saturated in all the disillusions which we
regard as peculiarly our own, and every quality which is distinctive of
the epoch of consciousness in which we are living now is reflected in
him--and yet, miracle of miracles, he was a great artist. He did not rub
his cheeks to produce a spurious colour of health; he did not profess
beliefs which he could not maintain; he did not seek a reputation for
universal wisdom, nor indulge himself in self-gratifying dreams of a
millennium which he alone had the ability to control. He was and wanted
to be nothing in particular, and yet, as we read these letters of his,
we feel gradually form within ourselves the conviction that he was a
hero--more than that, _the_ hero of our time.

   [Footnote 8: _Letters of Anton Tchehov_. Translated by Constance
   Garnett (Chatto & Windus).]

It is significant that, in reading Tchehov's letters, we do not
consider him under the aspect of an artist. We are inevitably fascinated
by his character as a man, one who, by efforts which we have most
frequently to divine for ourselves from his reticences, worked on the
infinitely complex material of the modern mind and soul, and made it in
himself a definite, positive, and most lovable thing. He did not throw
in his hand in face of his manifold bewilderments; he did not fly for
refuge to institutions in which he did not believe; he risked
everything, in Russia, by having no particular faith in revolution and
saying so. In every conjuncture of his life that we can trace in his
letters he behaved squarely by himself and, since he is our great
exemplar, by us. He refused to march under any political banner--a
thing, let it be remembered, of almost inconceivable courage in his
country; he submitted to savagely hostile attacks for his political
indifference; yet he spent more of his life and energy in doing active
good to his neighbour than all the high-souled professors of liberalism
and social reform. He undertook an almost superhuman journey to Sahalin
in 1890 to investigate the condition of the prisoners there; in 1892 he
spent the best part of a year as a doctor devising preventive measures
against the cholera in the country district where he lived, and,
although he had no time for the writing on which his living depended, he
refused the government pay in order to preserve his own independence of
action; in another year he was the leading spirit in organising
practical measures of famine relief about Nizhni-Novgorod. From his
childhood to his death, moreover, he was the sole support of his family.
Measured by the standards of Christian morality, Tchehov was wholly a
saint. His self-devotion was boundless.

Yet we know he was speaking nothing less than the truth of himself when
he wrote: 'It is essential to be indifferent.' Tchehov was indifferent;
but his indifference, as a mere catalogue of his secret philanthropies
will show, was of a curious kind. He made of it, as it were, an
axiomatic basis of his own self-discipline. Since life is what it is and
men are what they are, he seems to have argued, everything depends upon
the individual. The stars are hostile, but love is kind, and love is
within the compass of any man if he will work to attain it. In one of
his earliest letters he defines true culture for the benefit of his
brother Nikolay, who lacked it. Cultivated persons, he said, respect
human personality; they have sympathy not for beggars and cats only;
they respect the property of others, and therefore pay their debts; they
are sincere and dread lying like fire; they do not disparage themselves
to arouse compassion; they have no shallow vanity; if they have a talent
they respect it; they develop the æsthetic feeling in themselves ...
they seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual
instinct. The letter from which these chief points are taken is
tremulous with sympathy and wit. Tchehov was twenty-six when he wrote
it. He concludes with the words: 'What is needed is constant work day
and night, constant reading, study, will. Every hour is precious for

In that letter are given all the elements of Tchehov the man. He set
himself to achieve a new humanity, and he achieved it. The indifference
upon which Tchehov's humanity was built was not therefore a moral
indifference; it was, in the main, the recognition and acceptance of the
fact that life itself is indifferent. To that he held fast to the end.
But the conclusion which he drew from it was not that it made no
particular difference what any one did, but that the attitude and
character of the individual were all-important. There was, indeed, no
panacea, political or religious, for the ills of humanity; but there
could be a mitigation in men's souls. But the new asceticism must not be
negative. It must not cast away the goods of civilisation because
civilisation is largely a sham.

    'Alas! I shall never be a Tolstoyan. In women I love beauty above
    all things, and in the history of mankind, culture expressed in
    carpets, carriages with springs, and keenness of wit. Ach! To make
    haste and become an old man and sit at a big table!'

Not that there is a trace of the hedonist in Tchehov, who voluntarily
endured every imaginable hardship if he thought he could be of service
to his fellow-men, but, as he wrote elsewhere, 'we are concerned with
pluses alone.' Since life is what it is, its amenities are doubly
precious. Only they must be amenities without humbug.

    'Pharisaism, stupidity, and despotism reign not in bourgeois houses
    and prisons alone. I see them in science, in literature, in the
    younger generation.... That is why I have no preference either for
    gendarmes, or for butchers, or for scientists, or for writers, or
    for the younger generation. I regard trade marks and labels as a
    superstition. My holy of holies is the human body, health,
    intelligence, talent inspiration, love, and the most absolute
    freedom--freedom from violence and lying, whatever forms they make
    take. This is the programme I would follow if I were a great

What 'the most absolute freedom' meant to Tchehov his whole life is
witness. It was a liberty of a purely moral kind, a liberty, that is,
achieved at the cost of a great effort in self-discipline and
self-refinement. In one letter he says he is going to write a story
about the son of a serf--Tchehov was the son of a serf--who 'squeezed
the slave out of himself.' Whether the story was ever written we do not
know, but the process is one to which Tchehov applied himself all his
life long. He waged a war of extermination against the lie in the soul
in himself, and by necessary implication in others also.

He was, thus, in all things a humanist. He faced the universe, but he
did not deny his own soul. There could be for him no antagonism between
science and literature, or science and humanity. They were all pluses;
it was men who quarrelled among themselves. If men would only develop a
little more loving-kindness, things would be better. The first duty of
the artist was to be a decent man.

    'Solidarity among young writers is impossible and unnecessary.... We
    cannot feel and think in the same way, our aims are different, or we
    have no aims whatever, we know each other little or not at all, and
    so there is nothing on to which this solidarity could be securely
    hooked.... And is there any need for it? No, in order to help a
    colleague, to respect his personality and work, to refrain from
    gossiping about him, envying him, telling him lies and being
    hypocritical, one does not need so much to be a young writer as
    simply a man.... Let us be ordinary people, let us treat everybody
    alike, and then we shall not need any artificially worked-up

It seems a simple discipline, this moral and intellectual honesty of
Tchehov's, yet in these days of conceit and coterie his letters strike
us as more than strange. One predominant impression remains: it is that
of Tchehov's candour of soul. Somehow he has achieved with open eyes the
mystery of pureness of heart; and in that, though we dare not analyse it
further, lies the secret of his greatness as a writer and of his present
importance to ourselves.

[MARCH, 1920.

_American Poetry_

We are not yet immune from the weakness of looking into the back pages
to see what the other men have said; and on this occasion we received a
salutary shock from the critic of the _Detroit News_, who informs us
that Mr Aiken, 'despite the fact that he is one of the youngest and the
newest, having made his debut less than four years ago, ... demonstrates
... that he is eminently capable of taking a solo part with Edgar Lee
Masters, Amy Lowell, James Oppenheim, Vachel Lindsay, and Edwin
Arlington Robinson.' The shock is two-fold. In a single sentence we are
in danger of being convicted of ignorance, and, where we can claim a
little knowledge, we plead guilty; we know nothing of either Mr
Oppenheim or Mr Robinson. This very ignorance makes us cautious where we
have a little knowledge We know something of Mr Lindsay, something of Mr
Masters, and a good deal of Miss Lowell, who has long been a familiar
figure in our anthologies of revolt; and we cannot understand on what
principle they are assembled together. Miss Lowell is, we are persuaded,
a negligible poet, with a tenuous and commonplace impulse to write which
she teases out into stupid 'originalities.' Of the other two gentlemen
we have seen nothing which convinces us that they are poets, but also
nothing which convinces us that they may not be.

Moreover, we can understand how Mr Aiken might be classed with them. All
three have in common what we may call creative energy. They are all
facile, all obviously eager to say something, though it is not at all
obvious what they desire to say, all with an instinctive conviction that
whatever it is it cannot be said in the old ways. Not one of them
produces the certainty that this conviction is really justified or that
he has tested it; not one has written lines which have the doom 'thus
and not otherwise' engraved upon their substance; not one has proved
that he is capable of addressing himself to the central problem of
poetry, no matter what technique be employed--how to achieve a
concentrated unity of æsthetic impression. They are all diffuse; they
seem to be content to lead a hundred indecisive attacks upon reality at
once rather than to persevere and carry a single one to a final issue;
they are all multiple, careless, and slipshod--and they are all

They are extremely interesting. For one thing, they have all achieved
what is, from whatever angle one looks at it, a very remarkable success.
Very few people, initiate or profane, can have opened Mr Lindsay's
'Congo' or Mr Masters's 'Spoon River Anthology' or Mr Aiken's 'Jig of
Forslin' without being impelled to read on to the end. That does not
very often happen with readers of a book which professes to be poetry
save in the case of the thronging admirers of Miss Ella Wheeler Wilcox,
and their similars. There is, however, another case more exactly in
point, namely, that of Mr Kipling. With Mr Kipling our three American
poets have much in common, though the community must not be unduly
pressed. Their most obvious similarity is the prominence into which
they throw the novel interest in their verse. They are, or at moments
they seem to be, primarily tellers of stories. We will not dogmatise and
say that the attempt is illegitimate; we prefer to insist that to tell a
story in poetry and keep it poetry is a herculean task. It would indeed
be doubly rash to dogmatise, for our three poets desire to tell very
different stories, and we are by no means sure that the emotional
subtleties which Mr Aiken in particular aims at capturing are capable of
being exactly expressed in prose.

Since Mr Aiken is the _corpus vile_ before us we will henceforward
confine ourselves to him, though we premise that in spite of his very
sufficient originality he is characteristic of what is most worth
attention in modern American poetry. Proceeding then, we find another
point of contact between him and Mr Kipling, more important perhaps than
the former, and certainly more dangerous. Both find it apparently
impossible to stem the uprush of rhetoric. Perhaps they do not try to;
but we will be charitable--after all, there is enough good in either of
them to justify charity--and assume that the willingness of the spirit
gives way to the weakness of the flesh. Of course we all know about Mr
Kipling's rhetoric; it is a kind of emanation of the spatial immensities
with which he deals--Empires, the Seven Seas, from Dublin to Diarbekir.
Mr Aiken has taken quite another province for his own; he is an
introspective psychologist. But like Mr Kipling he prefers big business.
His inward eye roves over immensities at least as vast as Mr Kipling's
outward. In 'The Charnel Rose and Other Poems' this appetite for the
illimitable inane of introspection seems to have gained upon him. There
is much writing of this kind:--

  'Dusk, withdrawing to a single lamplight
  At the end of an infinite street--
  He saw his ghost walk down that street for ever,
  And heard the eternal rhythm of his feet.
  And if he should reach at last that final gutter,
  To-day, or to-morrow,
  Or, maybe, after the death of himself and time;
  And stand at the ultimate curbstone by the stars,
  Above dead matches, and smears of paper, and slime;
  Would the secret of his desire
  Blossom out of the dark with a burst of fire?
  Or would he hear the eternal arc-lamps sputter,
  Only that; and see old shadows crawl;
  And find the stars were street lamps after all?

  Music, quivering to a point of silence,
  Drew his heart down over the edge of the world....'

It is dangerous for a poet to conjure up infinities unless he has made
adequate preparation for keeping them in control when they appear. We
are afraid that Mr Aiken is almost a slave of the spirits he has evoked.
Dostoevsky's devil wore a shabby frock-coat, and was probably
managing-clerk to a solicitor at twenty-five shillings a week. Mr
Aiken's incubus is, unfortunately, devoid of definition; he is protean
and unsatisfactory.

  'I am confused in webs and knots of scarlet
  Spun from the darkness;
  Or shuttled from the mouths of thirsty spiders.

  Madness for red! I devour the leaves of autumn.
  I tire of the green of the world.
  I am myself a mouth for blood....'

Perhaps we do wrong to ask ourselves whether this and similar things
mean, exactly, anything? Mr Aiken warns us that his intention has been
to use the idea--'the impulse which sends us from one dream or ideal to
another, always disillusioned, always creating for adoration some new
and subtler fiction'--'as a theme upon which one might wilfully build a
kind of absolute music.' But having given us so much instruction, he
should have given more; he should have told us in what province of music
he has been working. Are we to look for a music of verbal melody, or for
a musical elaboration of an intellectual theme? We infer, partly from
the assurance that 'the analogy to a musical symphony is close,' more
from the absence of verbal melody, that we are to expect the elaboration
of a theme. In that case the fact that we have a more definite grasp of
the theme in the programme-introduction than anywhere in the poem itself
points to failure. In the poem 'stars rush up and whirl and set,'
'skeletons whizz before and whistle behind,' 'sands bubble and roses
shoot soft fire,' and we wonder what all the commotion is about. When
there is a lull in the pandemonium we have a glimpse, not of eternity,
but precisely of 1890:--

  'And he saw red roses drop apart,
  Each to disclose a charnel heart....

We are far from saying that Mr Aiken's poetry is merely a chemical
compound of the 'nineties, Freud and introspective Imperialism; but we
do think it is liable to resolve at the most inopportune moments into
those elements, and that such moments occur with distressing frequency
in the poem called 'The Charnel Rose.' 'Senlin' resists disruption
longer. But the same elements are there. They are better but not
sufficiently fused. The rhetoric forbids, for there is no cohesion in
rhetoric. We have the sense that Mr Aiken felt himself inadequate to his
own idea, and that he tried to drown the voice of his own doubt by a
violent clashing of the cymbals where a quiet recitative was what the
theme demanded and his art could not ensure.

  'Death himself in the rain ... death himself ...
  Death in the savage sunlight ... skeletal death ...
  I hear the clack of his feet,
  Clearly on stones, softly in dust,
  Speeding among the trees with whistling breath,
  Whirling the leaves, tossing his hands from waves ...
  Listen! the immortal footsteps beat and beat!...'

We are persuaded that Mr Aiken did not mean to say that; he wanted to
say something much subtler. But to find exactly what he wanted might
have taken him many months. He could not wait. Up rushed the rhetoric;
bang went the cymbals: another page, another book. And we, who have seen
great promise in his gifts, are left to collect some inadequate
fragments where his original design is not wholly lost amid the poor
expedients of the moment. For Mr Aiken never pauses to discriminate. He
feels that he needs rhyme; but any rhyme will do:--

  'Has no one, in a great autumnal forest,
  When the wind bares the trees with mournful tone,
  Heard the sad horn of Senlin slowly blown?'

So he descends to a poetaster's padding. He does not stop to consider
whether his rhyme interferes with the necessary rhythm of his verse; or,
if he does, he is in too much of a hurry to care, for the interference
occurs again and again. And these disturbances and deviations, rhetoric
and the sacrifice of rhythm to shoddy rhyme, appear more often than the
thematic outline itself emerges.

In short, Mr Aiken is, at present, a poet whom we have to take on trust.
We never feel that he meant exactly what he puts before us, and, on the
whole, the evidence that he meant something better, finer, more
irrevocably itself, is pretty strong. We catch in his hurried verses at
the swiftly passing premonition of a _frisson_ hitherto unknown to us in
poetry, and as we recognise it, we recognise also the great distance he
has to travel along the road of art, and the great labour that he must
perform before he becomes something more than a brilliant feuilletonist
in verse. It is hardly for us to prophesy whether he will devote the
labour. His fluency tells us of his energy, but tells us nothing of its
quality. We can only express our hope that he will, and our conviction
that if he were to do so his great pains, and our lesser ones would be
well requited.



Ronsard is _rangé_ now; but he has not been in that position for so very
long, a considerably shorter time for instance, than any one of the
Elizabethans (excepting Shakespeare) with us. Sainte-Beuve was very
tentative about him until the sixties, when his dubious,
half-patronising air made way for a safe enthusiasm. And, even now, it
can hardly be said that French critical opinion about him has
crystallised; the late George Wyndham's essay shows a more convinced and
better documented appreciation than any that we have read in French,
based as it is on the instinctive sympathy which one landed gentleman
who dabbles in the arts feels towards another who devotes himself to
them--an admiration which does not exclude familiarity.

Indeed, it is precisely because Ronsard lends himself so superbly as an
amateur to treatment by the amateur, that any attempt to approach him
more closely seems to be tinged with rancour or ingratitude. There is
something churlish in the determination to be most on one's guard
against the engaging graces of the amateur, a sense that one is behaving
like the hero of a Gissing novel; but the choice is not large. One must
regard Ronsard either as a charming country gentleman, or as a great
historical figure in the development of French poetry, or as a poet; and
the third aspect has a chance of being the most important.

Ronsard is pre-eminently the poet of a simple mind. There is nothing
mysterious about him or his poetry; there is not even a perceptible
thread of development in either. They are equable, constant
imperturbable, like the bag of a much invited gun, or the innings of a
safe batsman. The accomplishment is akin to an animal endowment. The
nerves, instead of being, if only for a moment, tense and agitated, are
steady to a degree that can produce an exasperation in a less
well-appointed spectator. He will never let himself down, or give
himself away, one feels, until the admiration of an apparent sure
restraint passes into the conviction that there is nothing to restrain.
All Ronsard the poet is in his poetry, and indeed on the surface of it.

Poetry was not therefore, as one is tempted to think sometimes, for
Ronsard a game. There was plenty of game in it; _l'art de bien
pétrarquiser_ was all he claimed for himself. But the game would have
wearied any one who was not aware that he could be completely satisfied
and expressed by it. Ronsard was never weary. However much one may tire
of him, the fatigue never is infected by the nausea which is produced by
some of the mechanical sonnet sequences of his contemporaries. No one
reading Ronsard ever felt the tedium of mere nullity. It would be hard
to find in the whole of M. van Bever's exhaustive edition of 'Les
Amours'[9] a single piece which has not its sufficient charge of gusto.
When you are tired, it is because you have had enough of that particular
kind of man and mind; you know him too well, and can reckon too closely
the chances of a shock of surprise.

   [Footnote 9: _Les Amours_. Par Pierre de Ronsard. Texte établi par
   Ad. van Bever. Two volumes. (Paris: Crès.)]

With the more obvious, and in their way delightful, surprises Ronsard
is generous. He can hold the attention longer than any poet of an equal
tenuity of matter. Chiefly for two reasons, of which one is hardly
capable of further analysis. It is the obvious reality of his own
delight in 'Petrarchising.' He is perpetually in love with making; he
disports himself with a childlike enthusiasm in his art. There are
moments when he seems hardly to have passed beyond the stage of naive
wonder that words exist and are manipulable.

  'Dous fut le trait, qu'Amour hors de sa trousse
  Pour me tuer, me tira doucement,
  Quand je fus pris au dous commencement
  D'une douceur si doucettement douce....'

Ronsard is here a boy playing knucklebones with language; and some of
his characteristic excellences are little more than a development of
this aptitude, with its more striking incongruities abated. A modern ear
can be intoxicated by the charming jingle of

  'Petite Nimfe folastre,
  Nimfette que j'idolastre....'

One does not pause to think how incredibly naive it is compared with
Villon, who had not a fraction of Ronsard's scholarship, or even with
Clement Marot; naive both in thought and art. As for the stature of the
artist, we are back with Charles of Orleans. It would be idle to
speculate what exactly Villon would have made of the atomic theory had
he read Lucretius; but we are certain that he would have done something
very different from Ronsard's

  'Les petits cors, culbutant de travers,
  Parmi leur cheute en biais vagabonde,
  Heurtés ensemble ont composé le monde,
  S'entr'acrochant d'acrochemens divers....'

For this is not grown-up; the cut to simplicity has been too short. So
many of Ronsard's verses flow over the mind, without disturbing it; fall
charmingly on the ear, and leave no echoes. But for the moment we share
his enjoyment.

The second cause of his continued power of attraction is doubtless
allied to the first; it is a _naïveté_ of a particular kind, which
differs from the profound ingenuousness of which we have spoken by the
fact that it is employed deliberately. Conscious simplicity is art, and
if it is successful art of no mean order, Ronsard's method of admitting
us, as it were, to his conversation with himself is definitely his own.
His interruptions of a verse with 'Hà' or 'Hé'; his 'Mon Dieu, que
j'aime!' or 'Hé, que ne suis-je puce?' (the difference between Ronsard's
flea and Donne's would be worth examination) have in them an element of
irresistible _bonhomie_. We feel that he is making us his confidant. He
does not have to tear agonies out of himself, so that what he confides
has no chance of making explicit any secrets of our own. There is
nothing dangerous about him; we know that he is as safe as we are. We
are in conversation, not communion. But how effective and engaging it

  'Vous ne le voulez pas? Eh bien, je suis contant ...'

  'Hé, Dieu du ciel, je n'eusse pas pensé
  Qu'un seul départ eust causé tant de peine!...'

or the still more casual

  'Un joïeus deplaisir qui douteus l'épointelle,
  Quoi l'épointelle! ainçois le genne et le martelle ...'

Of this device of style our own Elizabethans were to make more
profitable use than Ronsard. At their best they packed an intensity of
dramatic significance into conversational language, of which Ronsard had
no inkling; and even a strict contemporary of his, like Wyatt, could
touch cords more intimate by the same means. But, on the other hand,
Ronsard never fails of his own effect, which is not to convince us
emotionally, but to compel us to listen. His unexpected address to
himself or to us is a new ornament for us to admire, not a new method
for him to express a new thing; and the suggestion of new rhythms that
might thus be attained is never fully worked out.

  'Mais tu ne seras plus? Et puis?... quand la paleur
  Qui blemist nôtre corps sans chaleur ne lumière
  Nous perd le sentiment?...

The ampleness of that reverberance is almost isolated.

Ronsard's resources are indeed few. But he needed few. His simple mind
was at ease in machinery of commonplaces, and he makes the pleasant
impression of one to whom commonplaces are real. He felt them all over
again. One imagines him reading the classics--the Iliad in three days,
or his beloved companion 'sous le bois amoureux,' Tibullus--with an
unfailing delight in all the concatenations of phrase which are foisted
on to unripe youth nowadays in the pages of a Gradus. One might almost
say that he saw his loves at second-hand, through alien eyes, were it
not that he faced them with some directness as physical beings, and that
the artificiality implied in the criticism is incongruous with the
honesty of such a natural man. But apart from a few particulars that
would find a place in a census paper one would be hard put to it to
distinguish Cassandre from Hélène. What charming things Ronsard has to
say of either might be said of any charming woman--'le mignard
embonpoint de ce sein,'--

  'Petit nombril, que mon penser adore,
  Non pas mon oeil, qui n'eut oncques ce bien ...'

And though he assures Hélène that she has turned him from his grave
early style, 'qui pour chanter si bas n'est point ordonné,' the
difference is too hard to detect; one is forced to conclude that it is
precisely the difference between a court lady and an inn-keeper's
daughter. As far as art is concerned the most definite and distinctive
thing that Ronsard had to say of any of his ladies is said of one to
whom he put forward none of his usually engrossing pretensions. It was
the complexion of Marguerite of Navarre of which he wrote:--

  'De vif cinabre estoit faicte sa joue,
  Pareille au teint d'un rougissant oeillet,
  Ou d'une fraize, alors que dans de laict
  Dessus le hault de la cresme se joue.'

That is, whether it belonged to Marguerite or not, a divine complexion.
It is the kind of thing that cannot be said about two ladies; the image
is too precise to be interchangeable. This may be a reason why it was
applied to a lady _hors concours_ for Ronsard.

But we need, in fact, seek no reason other than the circumscription of
Ronsard's poetical gifts. They reduce to only two--the gift of convinced
commonplace, and the gift of simple melody. His commonplace is genuine
commonplace, quite distinct from the tense and pregnant condensation of
a lifetime of impassioned experience in Dante or Shakespeare; things
that would occur to a bookish country gentleman in after-dinner
conversation, the sentiments that such a rare and amiable person would
underscore in his Horace. (From a not unimportant angle Ronsard is a
minor Horace.) These things are the warp of his poetry; they range from
the familiar 'Le temps s'en va' to the masterly straightforwardness of

        'plus heureus celui qui la fera
  Et femme et mère, en lieu d'une pucelle.'

His melody, likewise, is genuine melody; it is irrepressible. It led him
to belie his own professed seriousness. He could not stop his sonnets
from rippling even when he pretended to passionate argument. Life came
easily to him; he was never weary of it, at the most he acknowledged
that he was 'saoûl de la vie.' It is not surprising, therefore, that his
remonstrances as the tortured lover have a trick of opening to a
delightful tune:--

  'Rens-moi mon coeur, rens-moi mon coeur pillarde....'

In another form this melody more closely recalls Thomas Campion:--

  'Seule je l'ai veue, aussi je meurs pour elle....'

But to compare Ronsard's sonnet with 'Follow your saint' is to see how
infinitely more subtle a master of lyrical music was the Elizabethan
than the great French lyrist of the Renaissance. From first to last
Ronsard was an amateur.


_Samuel Butler_

The appearance of a new impression of _The Way of all Flesh_[10] in Mr
Fifield's edition of Samuel Butler's works gives us an occasion to
consider more calmly the merits and the failings of that entertaining
story. Like all unique works of authors who stand, even to the most
obvious apprehension, aside from the general path, it has been
overwhelmed with superlatives. The case is familiar enough and the
explanation is simple and brutal. It is hardly worth while to give it.
The truth is that although there is no inherent reason why the isolated
novel of an author who devotes himself to other forms should not be 'one
of the great novels of the world,' the probabilities tell heavily
against it. On the other hand, an isolated novel makes a good stick to
beat the age. It is fairly certain to have something sufficiently unique
about it to be useful for the purpose. Even its blemishes have a knack
of being _sui generis_. To elevate it is, therefore, bound to imply the
diminution of its contemporaries.

   [Footnote 10: _The Way of all Flesh_. By Samuel Butler, 11th
   impression of 2nd edition. (Fifield.)]

Yet, apart from the general argument, there are particular reasons why
the praise of _The Way of all Flesh_ should be circumspect. Samuel
Butler knew extraordinarily well what he was about. His novel was
written intermittently between 1872 and 1884 when he abandoned it. In
the twenty remaining years of his life he did nothing to it, and we have
Mr Streatfeild's word for it that 'he professed himself dissatisfied
with it as a whole, and always intended to rewrite, or at any rate, to
revise it.' We could have deduced as much from his refusal to publish
the book. The certainty of commercial failure never deterred Butler from
publication; he was in the happy situation of being able to publish at
his own expense a book of whose merit he was himself satisfied. His only
reason for abandoning _The Way of all Flesh_ was his own dissatisfaction
with it. His instruction that it should be published in its present form
after his death proves nothing against his own estimate. Butler knew, at
least as well as we, that the good things in his book were legion. He
did not wish the world or his own reputation to lose the benefit of

But there are differences between a novel which contains innumerable
good things and a great novel. The most important is that a great novel
does not contain innumerable good things. You may not pick out the
plums, because the pudding falls to pieces if you do. In _The Way of all
Flesh_, however, a _compère_ is always present whose business it is to
say good things. His perpetual flow of asides is pleasant because the
asides are piquant and, in their way, to the point. Butler's mind, being
a good mind, had a predilection for the object, and his detestation of
the rotunder platitudes of a Greek chorus, if nothing else, had taught
him that a corner-man should have something to say on the subject in
hand. His arguments are designed to assist his narrative; moreover, they
are sympathetic to the modern mind. An enlightened hedonism is about all
that is left to us, and Butler's hatred of humbug is, though a little
more placid, like our own. We share his ethical likes and dislikes. As
an audience we are ready to laugh at his asides, and, on the first night
at least, to laugh at them even when they interrupt the play.

But our liking for the theses cannot alter the fact that _The Way of all
Flesh_ is a _roman à thèses_. Not that there is anything wrong with the
_roman à thèses_, if the theses emerge from the narrative without its
having to be obviously doctored. Nor does it matter very much that a
_compère_ should be present all the while, provided that he does not
take upon himself to replace the demonstration the narrative must
afford, by arguments outside it. But what happens in _The Way of all
Flesh_? We may leave aside the minor thesis of heredity, for it emerges,
gently enough, from the story; besides, we are not quite sure what it
is. We have no doubt, on the other hand, about the major thesis; it is
blazoned on the title page, with its sub-malicious quotation from St
Paul to the Romans. 'We know that all things work together for good to
them that love God.' The necessary gloss on this text is given in
Chapter LXVIII, where Ernest, after his arrest, is thus described:--

    'He had nothing more to lose; money, friends, character, all were
    gone for a very long time, if not for ever; but there was something
    else also that had taken its flight along with these. I mean the
    fear of that which man could do unto him. _Cantabit vacuus_. Who
    could hurt him more than he had been hurt already? Let him but be
    able to earn his bread, and he knew of nothing which he dared not
    venture if it would make the world a happier place for those who
    were young and lovable. Herein he found so much comfort that he
    almost wished he had lost his reputation even more completely--for
    he saw that it was like a man's life which may be found of them that
    lose it and lost of them that would find it. He should not have had
    the courage to give up all for Christ's sake, but now Christ had
    mercifully taken all, and lo! it seemed as though all were found.

    'As the days went slowly by he came to see that Christianity and the
    denial of Christianity after all met as much as any other extremes
    do; it was a fight about names--not about things; practically the
    Church of Rome, the Church of England, and the freethinker have the
    same ideal standard and meet in the gentleman; for he is the most
    perfect saint who is the most perfect gentleman....'

With this help the text and the thesis can be translated: 'All
experience does a gentleman good.' It is the kind of thing we should
like very much to believe; as an article of faith it was held with
passion and vehemence by Dostoevsky, though the connotation of the word
'gentleman' was for him very different from the connotation it had for
Butler. (Butler's gentleman, it should be said in passing, was very much
the ideal of a period, and not at all _quod semper, quod ubique_; a very
Victorian anti-Victorianism.) Dostoevsky worked his thesis out with a
ruthless devotion to realistic probability. He emptied the cornucopia of
misery upon his heroes and drove them to suicide one after another; and
then had the audacity to challenge the world to say that they were not
better, more human, and more lovable for the disaster in which they were
inevitably overwhelmed. And, though it is hard to say 'Yes' to his
challenge, it is harder still to say 'No.'

In the case of Ernest Pontifex, however, we do not care to respond to
the challenge at all. The experiment is faked and proves nothing. It is
mere humbug to declare that a man has been thrown into the waters of
life to sink or swim, when there is an anxious but cool-headed friend on
the bank with a £70,000 life-belt to throw after him the moment his head
goes under. That is neither danger nor experience. Even if Ernest
Pontifex knew nothing of the future awaiting him (as we are assured he
did not) it makes no difference. _We_ know he cannot sink; he is a lay
figure with a pneumatic body. Whether he became a lay figure for Butler
also we cannot say; we can merely register the fact that the book breaks
down after Ernest's misadventure with Miss Maitland, a deplorably
unsubstantial episode to be the crisis of a piece of writing so firm in
texture and solid in values as the preceding chapters. Ernest as a man
has an intense non-existence.

After all, as far as the positive side of _The Way of all Flesh_' is
concerned, Butler's eggs are all in one basket. If the adult Ernest does
not materialise, the book hangs in empty air. Whatever it may be instead
it is not a great novel, nor even a good one. So much established, we
may begin to collect the good things. Christina is the best of them. She
is, by any standard, a remarkable creation. Butler was 'all round'
Christina. Both by analysis and synthesis she is wholly his. He can
produce her in either way. She lives as flesh and blood and has not a
little of our affection; she is also constructed by definition, 'If it
were not too awful a thing to say of anybody, she meant well'--the whole
phrase gives exactly Christina's stature. Alethea Pontifex is really a
bluff; but the bluff succeeds, largely because, having experience of
Christina, we dare not call it. Mrs Jupp is triumphantly complete; there
are even moments when she seems as great as Mrs Quickly. The novels that
contain three such women (or two if we reckon the uncertain Alethea, who
is really only a vehicle for Butler's very best sayings, as cancelled by
the non-existent Ellen) can be counted, we suppose, on our ten fingers.

Of the men, Theobald is well worked out (in both senses of the word).
But we know little of what went on inside him. We can fill out Christina
with her inimitable day-dreams; Theobald remains something of a
skeleton, whereas we have no difficulty at all with Dr Skinner, of
Roughborough. We have a sense of him in retirement steadily filling the
shelves with volumes of Skinner, and we know how it was done. When he
reappears we assume the continuity of his existence without demur. The
glimpse of George Pontifex is also satisfying; after the christening
party we know him for a solid reality. Pryer was half-created when his
name was chosen. Butler did the rest in a single paragraph which
contains a perfect delineation of 'the Oxford manner' twenty years
before it had become a disease known to ordinary diagnosis. The curious
may find this towards the beginning of Chapter LI. But Ernest, upon whom
so much depends, is a phantom--a dream-child waiting the incarnation
which Butler refused him for twenty years. Was it laziness, was it a
felt incapacity? We do not know; but in the case of a novelist it is our
duty to believe the worst. The particularity of our attitude to Butler
appears in the fact that we are disappointed, not with him, but with
Ernest. We are even angry with that young man. If it had not been for
him, we believe, _The Way of all Flesh_ might have appeared in 1882; it
might have short-circuited _Robert Elsmere_.

[JUNE, 1919.

       *       *       *       *       *

We approach the biography of an author whom we respect, and therefore
have thought about, with contradictory feelings. We are excited at the
thought of finding our conclusions reinforced, and apprehensive less the
compact and definite figure which our imaginations have gradually shaped
should become vague and incoherent and dull. It is a pity to purchase
enlightenment at the cost of definition; and it is more important that
we should have a clear notion of the final shape of a man in whom we are
interested than an exact record of his phases.

The essential quality of great artists is incommensurable with
biography; they seem to be unconsciously engaged in a perpetual evasion
of the event. All that piety can do for them is beside the mark. Their
wilful spirit is fled before the last stone of the mausoleum can be got
in place, and as it flies it jogs the elbow of the cup-bearer and his
libation is spilt idly upon the ground. Although it would be too much
and too ungrateful to say that the monumental piety of Mr Festing Jones
has been similarly turned to derision--after all, Butler was not a
great man--we feel that something analogous has happened. This laborious
building is a great deal too large for him to dwell in. He had made
himself a cosy habitation in the _Note-Books_, with the fire in the
right place and fairly impervious to the direct draughts of criticism.
In a two-volume memoir[11] he shivers perceptibly, and at moments he
looks faintly ridiculous more than faintly pathetic.

   [Footnote 11: _Samuel Butler, author of 'Erewhon'_ (1835-1902): _a
   Memoir_. By Henry Festing Jones. 2 vols. (Macmillan.)]

And if it be said that a biography should make no difference to our
estimate of the man who lives and has his being in his published works,
we reply that it shifts the emphasis. An amusingly wrong-headed book
about Homer is a peccadillo; ten years of life lavished upon it is
something a good deal more serious. And even _The Way of all Flesh_,
which as an experimental novel is a very considerable achievement,
becomes something different when we have to regard it as a laborious and
infinitely careful record of experienced fact. Further still, even the
edge of the perfected inconsequence of certain of the 'Notes' is
somewhat dulled when we see the trick of it being exercised. The origin
of the amusing remark on Blake, who 'was no good because he learnt
Italian at over 60 in order to read Dante, and we know Dante was no good
because he was so fond of Virgil, and Virgil was no good because
Tennyson ran him--well, Tennyson goes without saying,' is to be found in
'No, I don't like Lamb. You see, Canon Ainger writes about him, and
Canon Ainger goes to tea with my aunts.' Repeated, it becomes merely a
clever way of being stupid, as we should be if we were tempted to say
we couldn't bear Handel, because Butler was mad on him, and Butler was
no good because he was run by Mr Jones, and, well, Mr Jones goes without

Nevertheless, though Butler lives with much discomfort and some danger
in Mr Jones's tabernacle, he does continue to live. What his head loses
by the inquisition of a biography his heart gains, though we wonder
whether Butler himself would have smiled upon the exchange. Butler loses
almost the last vestige of a title to be considered a creative artist
when the incredible fact is revealed that the letters of Theobald and
Christina in _The Way of all Flesh_ are merely reproduced from those
which his father and mother sent him. Nor was Butler, even as a copyist,
always adequate to his originals. The brilliantly witty letters of Miss
Savage, by which the first volume is made precious, seem to us to
indicate a real woman upon whom something more substantial might have
been modelled than the delightful but evanescent picture of Alethea
Pontifex. Here, at least, is a picture of Miss Savage and Butler
together which, to our sense, gives some common element in both which
escaped the expression of the author of _The Way of all Flesh_:--

    'I like the cherry-eating scene, too [Miss Savage wrote after
    reading the MS. of _Alps and Sanctuaries_], because it reminded me
    of your eating cherries when I first knew you. One day when I was
    going to the gallery, a very hot day I remember, I met you on the
    shady side of Berners Street, eating cherries out of a basket. Like
    your Italian friends, you were perfectly silent with content, and
    you handed the basket to me as I was passing, without saying a word.
    I pulled out a handful and went on my way rejoicing, without saying
    a word either. I had not before perceived you to be different from
    any one else. I was like Peter Bell and the primrose with the yellow
    brim. As I went away to France a day or two after that and did not
    see you again for months, the recollection of you as you were eating
    cherries in Berners Street abode with me and pleased me greatly.'

Again, we feel that the unsubstantial Towneley of the novel should have
been more like flesh and blood when we learn that he too was drawn from
the life, and from a life which was intimately connected with Butler's.
Here, most evidently, the heart gains what the head loses, for the story
of Butler's long-suffering generosity to Charles Paine Pauli is almost
beyond belief and comprehension. Butler had met Pauli, who was two years
his junior, in New Zealand, and had conceived a passionate admiration
for him. Learning that he desired to read for the bar, Butler, who had
made an unexpected success of his sheep-farming, offered to lend him
£100 to get to England and £200 a year until he was called. Very shortly
after they both arrived in England, Pauli separated from Butler,
refusing even to let him know his address, and thenceforward paid him
one brief visit every day. He continued, however, to draw his allowance
regularly until his death all through the period when, owing to the
failure of Butler's investments, £200 seems to have been a good deal
more than one-half Butler's income. At Pauli's death in 1897 Butler
discovered what he must surely at moments have suspected, that Pauli had
been making between £500 and £800 at the bar, and had left about
£9000--not to Butler. Butler wrote an account of the affair after
Pauli's death which is strangely self-revealing:--

    '... Everything that he had was good, and he was such a fine
    handsome fellow, with such an attractive manner that to me he seemed
    everything I should like myself to be, but knew very well that I was

    'I had felt from the very beginning that my intimacy with Pauli was
    only superficial, and I also perceived more and more that I bored
    him.... He liked society and I hated it. Moreover, he was at times
    very irritable and would find continual fault with me; often, I have
    no doubt, justly, but often, as it seemed to me, unreasonably.
    Devoted to him as I continued to be for many years, those years were
    very unhappy as well as very happy ones.

    'I set down a great deal to his ill-health, no doubt truly; a great
    deal more, I was sure, was my own fault--and I am so still; I
    excused much on the score of his poverty and his dependence on
    myself--for his father and mother, when it came to the point, could
    do nothing for him; I was his host and was bound to forbear on that
    ground if on no other. I always hoped that, as time went on, and he
    saw how absolutely devoted to him I was, and what unbounded
    confidence I had in him, and how I forgave him over and over again
    for treatment which I would not have stood for a moment from any
    one else--I always hoped that he would soften and deal as frankly
    and unreservedly with me as I with him; but, though for some fifteen
    years I hoped this, in the end I gave it up, and settled down into a
    resolve from which I never departed--to do all I could for him, to
    avoid friction of every kind, and to make the best of things for him
    and myself that circumstances would allow.'

In love such as this there is a feminine tenderness and devotion which
positively illuminates what otherwise appears to be a streak of
perversity in Butler; and the illumination becomes still more certain
when we read Butler's letters to the young Swiss, Hans Faesch, to whom
_Out into the Night_ was written. Faesch had departed for Singapore.

    'The sooner we all of us,' wrote Butler, 'as men of sense and sober
    reason, get through the very acute, poignant sorrow which we now
    feel, the better for us all. There is no fear of any of us
    forgetting when the acute stage is passed. I should be ashamed of
    myself for having felt as keenly and spoken with as little reserve
    as I have if it were any one but you; but I feel no shame at any
    length to which grief can take me when it is about you. I can call
    to mind no word which ever passed between us three which had been
    better unspoken: no syllable of irritation or unkindness; nothing
    but goodness and kindness ever came out of you, and such as our best
    was we gave it to you as you gave yours to us. Who may not well be
    plunged up to the lips in sorrow at parting from one of whom he can
    say this in all soberness and truth? I feel as though I had lost an
    only son with no hope of another....'

The love is almost pathetically lavish. Letters like these reveal to us
a man so avid of affection that he must of necessity erect every barrier
and defence to avoid a mortal wound. His sensibility was _rentrée_,
probably as a consequence of his appalling childhood; and the indication
helps us to understand not only the inordinate suspiciousness with which
he behaved to Darwin, but the extent to which irony was his favoured
weapon. The most threatening danger for such a man is to take the
professions of the world at their face value; he can inoculate himself
only by irony. The more extreme his case, the more devouring the hunger
to love and be loved, the more extreme the irony, and in Butler it
reached the absolute maximum, which is to interpret the professions of
the world as their exact opposite. As a reviewer of the _Note-Books_ in
_The Athenæum_ recently said, Butler's method was to stand propositions
on their heads. He universalised his method; he applied it not merely to
scientific propositions of fact, but, even more ruthlessly, to the
converse of daily life. He divided up the world into a vast majority who
meant the opposite of what they said, and an infinitesimal minority who
were sincere. The truth that the vast majority are borderland cases
escaped him, largely because he was compelled by his isolation to regard
all his honest beliefs as proven certainties. That a man could like and
admire him and yet regard him as in many things mistaken and
wrong-headed was strictly incomprehensible to him, and from this angle
the curious relations which existed between him and Dr Richard Garnett
of the British Museum are of uncommon interest. They afford a strange
example of mutual mystification.

Thus at least one-half the world, not of life only (which does not
greatly matter, for one can live as happily with half the world as with
the whole) but of thought, was closed to him. Most of the poetry, the
music, and the art of the world was humbug to him, and it was only by
insisting that Homer and Shakespeare were exactly like himself that he
managed to except them from his natural aversion. So, in the last
resort, he humbugged himself quite as vehemently as he imagined the
majority of men were engaged in humbugging him. If his standard of truth
was higher than that of the many, it was lower than that of the few.
There is a kingdom where the crass division into sheep and goats is
merely clumsy and inopportune. In the slow meanderings of this _Memoir_
we too often catch a glimpse of Butler measuring giants with the
impertinent foot-rule of his common sense. One does not like him the
less for it, but it is, in spite of all the disconcerting jokes with
which it may be covered, a futile and ridiculous occupation.
Persistently there emerges from the record the impression of something
childish, whether in petulance or _gaminerie_, a crudeness as well as a
shrewdness of judgment and ideal. Where Butler thought himself complete,
he was insufficient; and where he thought himself insufficient, he was
complete. To himself he appeared a hobbledehoy by the side of Pauli; to
us he appears a hobbledehoy by the side of Miss Savage.

[OCTOBER, 1919.

_The Poetry of Mr Hardy_

One meets fairly often with the critical opinion that Mr Hardy's poetry
is incidental. It is admitted on all sides that his poetry has curious
merits of its own, but it is held to be completely subordinate to his
novels, and those who maintain that it must be considered as having
equal standing with his prose, are not seldom treated as guilty of
paradox and preciousness.

We are inclined to wonder, as we review the situation, whether those of
the contrary persuasion are not allowing themselves to be impressed
primarily by mere bulk, and arguing that a man's chief work must
necessarily be what he has done most of; and we feel that some such
supposition is necessary to explain what appears to us as a visible
reluctance to allow Mr Hardy's poetry a clean impact upon the critical
consciousness. It is true that we have ranged against us critics of
distinction, such as Mr Lascelles Abercrombie and Mr Robert Lynd, and
that it may savour of impertinence to suggest that the case could have
been unconsciously pre-judged in their minds when they addressed
themselves to Mr Hardy's poetry. Nevertheless, we find some significance
in the fact that both these critics are of such an age that when they
came to years of discretion the Wessex Novels were in existence as a
_corpus_. There, before their eyes, was a monument of literary work
having a unity unlike that of any contemporary author. The poems became
public only after they had laid the foundations of their judgment. For
them Mr Hardy's work was done. Whatever he might subsequently produce
was an interesting, but to their criticism an otiose appendix to his
prose achievement.

It happens therefore that to a somewhat younger critic the perspective
may be different. By the accident of years it would appear to him that
Mr Hardy's poetry was no less a _corpus_ than his prose. They would be
extended equally and at the same moment before his eyes; he would embark
upon voyages of discovery into both at roughly the same time; and he
might find, in total innocence of preciousness and paradox, that the
poetry would yield up to him a quality of perfume not less essential
than any that he could extract from the prose.

This is, as we see it, the case with ourselves. We discover all that our
elders discover in Mr Hardy's novels; we see more than they in his
poetry. To our mind it exists superbly in its own right; it is not
lifted into significance upon the glorious substructure of the novels.
They also are complete in themselves. We recognise the relation between
the achievements, and discern that they are the work of a single mind;
but they are separate works, having separate and unique excellences. The
one is only approximately explicable in terms of the other. We incline,
therefore, to attach a signal importance to what has always seemed to us
the most important sentence in _Who's Who?_--namely, that in which Mr
Hardy confesses that in 1868 he was compelled--that is his own word--to
give up writing poetry for prose.

For Mr Hardy's poetic gift is not a late and freakish flowering. In the
volume into which has been gathered all his poetical work with the
exception of 'The Dynasts,'[12] are pieces bearing the date 1866 which
display an astonishing mastery, not merely of technique but of the
essential content of great poetry. Nor are such pieces exceptional.
Granted that Mr Hardy has retained only the finest of his early poetry,
still there are a dozen poems of 1866-7 which belong either entirely or
in part to the category of major poetry. Take, for instance, 'Neutral

  'We stood by a pond that winter day,
  And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
  And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;
    --They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

  'Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
  Over tedious riddles long ago;
  And some winds played between us to and fro
    On which lost the more by our love.

  'The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
  Alive enough to have strength to die;
  And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
    Like an ominous bird a-wing....

  'Since then keen lessons that love deceives
  And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
  Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree
    And a pond edged with grayish leaves.'

   [Footnote 12: _Collected. Poems of Thomas Hardy_. Vol. I.

That was written in 1867. The date of _Desperate Remedies_, Mr Hardy's
first novel, was 1871. _Desperate Remedies_ may have been written some
years before. It makes no difference to the astonishing contrast between
the immaturity of the novel and the maturity of the poem. It is surely
impossible in the face of such a juxtaposition then to deny that Mr
Hardy's poetry exists in its own individual right, and not as a curious
simulacrum of his prose.

These early poems have other points of deep interest, of which one of
the chief is in a sense technical. One can trace a quite definite
influence of Shakespeare's sonnets in his language and imagery. The four
sonnets, 'She to Him' (1866), are full of echoes, as:--

  'Numb as a vane that cankers on its point
  True to the wind that kissed ere canker came.'

or this from another sonnet of the same year:--

  'As common chests encasing wares of price
  Are borne with tenderness through halls of state.'

Yet no one reading the sonnets of these years can fail to mark the
impress of an individual personality. The effect is, at times, curious
and impressive in the extreme. We almost feel that Mr Hardy is bringing
some physical compulsion to bear on Shakespeare and forcing him to say
something that he does not want to say. Of course, it is merely a
curious tweak of the fancy; but there comes to us in such lines as the
following an insistent vision of two youths of an age the one
masterful, the other indulgent, and carrying out his companion's firm

  'Remembering mine the loss is, not the blame
  That Sportsman Time rears but his brood to kill,
  Knowing me in my soul the very same--
  One who would die to spare you touch of ill!--
  Will you not grant to old affection's claim
  The hand of friendship down Life's sunless hill?'

But, fancies aside, the effect of these early poems is twofold. Their
attitude is definite:--

  'Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain
  And dicing time for gladness calls a moan ...
  These purblind Doomsters had as readily thrown
  Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.'

and the technique has the mark of mastery, a complete economy of
statement which produces the conviction that the words are saying only
what poet ordained they should say, neither less nor more.

The early years were followed by the long period of the novels, in
which, we are prepared to admit, poetry was actually if not in intention
incidental. It is the grim truth that poetry cannot be written in
between times; and, though we have hardly any dates on which to rely, we
are willing to believe that few of Mr Hardy's characteristic poems were
written between the appearance of _Desperate Remedies_ and his farewell
to the activity of novel-writing with _The Well-Beloved_ (1897). But the
few dates which we have tell us that 'Thoughts of Phena,' the beautiful
poem beginning:--

  'Not a line of her writing have I,
  Not a thread of her hair....'

which reaches forward to the love poems of 1912-13, was written in 1890.

Whether the development of Mr Hardy's poetry was concealed or visible
during the period of the novels, development there was into a maturity
so overwhelming that by its touchstone the poetical work of his famous
contemporaries appears singularly jejune and false. But, though by the
accident of social conditions--for that Mr Hardy waited till 1898 to
publish his first volume of poems is more a social than an artistic
fact--it is impossible to follow out the phases of his poetical progress
in the detail we would desire, it is impossible not to recognise that
the mature poet, Mr Hardy, is of the same poetical substance as the
young poet of the 'sixties. The attitude is unchanged; the modifications
of the theme of 'crass casualty' leave its central asseveration
unchanged. There are restatements, enlargements of perspective, a slow
and forceful expansion of the personal into the universal, but the truth
once recognised is never suffered for a moment to be hidden or
mollified. Only a superficial logic would point, for instance, to his

  'Wonder if Man's consciousness
  Was a mistake of God's,'

as a denial of 'casualty.' To envisage an accepted truth from a new
angle, to turn it over and over again in the mind in the hope of
finding some aspect which might accord with a large and general view is
the inevitable movement of any mind that is alive and not dead. To say
that Mr Hardy has finally discovered unity may be paradoxical; but it is
true. The harmony of the artist is not as the harmony of the preacher or
the philosopher. Neither would grant, neither would understand the
profound acquiescence that lies behind 'Adonais' or the 'Ode to the
Grecian Urn.' Such acquiescence has no moral quality, as morality is
even now understood, nor any logical compulsion. It does not stifle
anger nor deny anguish; it turns no smiling face upon unsmiling things;
it is not puffed up with the resonance of futile heroics. It accepts the
things that are as the necessary basis of artistic creation. This unity
which comes of the instinctive refusal in the great poet to deny
experience, and subdues the self into the whole as part of that which is
not denied, is to be found in every corner of Mr Hardy's mature poetry.
It gives, as it alone can really give, to personal emotion what is
called the impersonality of great poetry. We feel it as a sense of
background, a conviction that a given poem is not the record, but the
culmination of an experience, and that the experience of which it is the
culmination is far larger and more profound than the one which it seems
to record.

At the basis of great poetry lies an all-embracing realism, an adequacy
to all experience, a refusal of the merely personal in exultation or
dismay. Take the contrast between Rupert Brooke's deservedly famous
lines: 'There is some corner of a foreign field ...' and Mr Hardy's
'Drummer Hodge':--

  'Yet portion of that unknown plain
    Will Hodge for ever be;
  His homely Northern heart and brain
    Grow to some Southern tree,
  And strange-eyed constellations reign
    His stars eternally.'

We know which is the truer. Which is the more beautiful? Is it not Mr
Hardy? And which (strange question) is the more consoling, the more
satisfying, the more acceptable? Is it not Mr Hardy? There is sorrow,
but it is the sorrow of the spheres. And this, not the apparent anger
and dismay of a self's discomfiture, is the quality of greatness in Mr
Hardy's poetry. The Mr Hardy of the love poems of 1912-13 is not a man
giving way to memory in poetry; he is a great poet uttering the cry of
the universe. A vast range of acknowledged experience returns to weight
each syllable; it is the quality of life that is vocal, gathered into a
moment of time with a vista of years:--

  'Ignorant of what there is flitting here to see,
    The waked birds preen and the seals flop lazily,
  Soon you will have, Dear, to vanish from me,
    For the stars close their shutters and the
        Dawn whitens hazily.
  Trust me, I mind not, though Life lours
    The bringing me here; nay, bring me here again!
      I am just the same as when
  Our days were a joy and our paths through flowers.'

[NOVEMBER, 1919.

We have read these poems of Thomas Hardy, read them not once, but many
times. Many of them have already become part of our being; their
indelible impress has given shape to dumb and striving elements in our
soul; they have set free and purged mute, heart-devouring regrets. And
yet, though this is so, the reading of them in a single volume, the
submission to their movement with a like unbroken motion of the mind,
gathers their greatness, their poignancy and passion, into one stream,
submerging us and leaving us patient and purified.

There have been many poets among us in the last fifty years, poets of
sure talent, and it may be even of genius, but no other of them has this
compulsive power. The secret is not hard to find. Not one of them is
adequate to what we know and have suffered. We have in our own hearts a
new touchstone of poetic greatness. We have learned too much to be
wholly responsive to less than an adamantine honesty of soul and a
complete acknowledgment of experience. 'Give us the whole,' we cry,
'give us the truth.' Unless we can catch the undertone of this
acknowledgment, a poet's voice is in our ears hardly more than sounding
brass or a tinkling cymbal.

Therefore we turn--some by instinct and some by deliberate choice--to
the greatest; therefore we deliberately set Mr Hardy among these. What
they have, he has, and has in their degree--a plenary vision of life. He
is the master of the fundamental theme; it enters into, echoes in,
modulates and modifies all his particular emotions, and the individual
poems of which they are the substance. Each work of his is a fragment of
a whole--not a detached and arbitrarily severed fragment, but a unity
which implies, calls for and in a profound sense creates a vaster and
completely comprehensive whole His reaction to an episode has behind and
within it a reaction to the universe. An overwhelming endorsement
descends upon his words: he traces them as with a pencil, and
straightway they are graven in stone.

Thus his short poems have a weight and validity which sets them apart in
kind from even the very finest work of his contemporaries. These may be
perfect in and for themselves; but a short poem by Mr Hardy is often
perfect in a higher sense. As the lines of a diagram may be produced in
imagination to contain within themselves all space, one of Mr Hardy's
most characteristic poems may expand and embrace all human experience.
In it we may hear the sombre, ruthless rhythm of life itself--the
dominant theme that gives individuation to the ripple of fragmentary
joys and sorrows. Take 'The Broken Appointment':--

      'You did not come,
  And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb.--
  Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
  Than that I thus found lacking in your make
  That high compassion which can overbear
  Reluctance for pure lovingkindness' sake
  Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
      You did not come.

  'You love not me,
  And love alone can lend you loyalty
  --I know and knew it. But, unto the store
  Of human deeds divine in all but name,
  Was it not worth a little hour or more
  To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came
  To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be
      You love not me?'

On such a seeming fragment of personal experience lies the visible
endorsement of the universe. The hopes not of a lover but of humanity
are crushed beneath its rhythm. The ruthlessness of the event is
intensified in the motion of the poem till one can hear the even pad of
destiny, and a moment comes when to a sense made eager by the strain of
intense attention it seems to have been written by the destiny it

What is the secret of poetic power like this? We do not look for it in
technique, though the technique of this poem is masterly. But the
technique of 'as the hope-hour stroked its sum' is of such a kind that
we know as we read that it proceeds from a sheer compulsive force. For a
moment it startles; a moment more and the echo of those very words is
reverberant with accumulated purpose. They are pitiless as the poem; the
sign of an ultimate obedience is upon them. Whence came the power that
compelled it? Can the source be defined or indicated? We believe it can
be indicated, though not defined. We can show where to look for the
mystery, that in spite of our regard remains a mystery still. We are
persuaded that almost on the instant that it was felt the original
emotion of the poem was endorsed Perhaps it came to the poet as the pain
of a particular and personal experience; but in a little or a long
while--creative time is not measured by days or years--it became, for
him, a part of the texture of the general life. It became a
manifestation of life, almost, nay wholly, in the sacramental sense, a
veritable epiphany. The manifold and inexhaustible quality of life was
focused into a single revelation. A critic's words do not lend
themselves to the necessary precision. We should need to write with
exactly the same power as Mr Hardy when he wrote 'the hope-hour stroked
its sum,' to make our meaning likewise inevitable. The word 'revelation'
is fertile in false suggestion; the creative act of power which we seek
to elucidate is an act of plenary apprehension, by which one
manifestation, one form of life, one experience is seen in its rigorous
relation to all other and to all possible manifestations, forms, and
experiences. It is, we believe, the act which Mr Hardy himself has tried
to formulate in the phrase which is the title of one of his books of
poems--_Moments of Vision_.

Only those who do not read Mr Hardy could make the mistake of supposing
that on his lips such a phrase had a mystical implication. Between
belief and logic lies a third kingdom, which the mystics and the
philosophers alike are too eager to forget--the kingdom of art, no less
the residence of truth than the two other realms, and to some, perhaps,
more authentic even than they. Therefore when we expand the word
'vision' in the phrase to 'æsthetic vision' we mean, not the perception
of beauty, at least in the ordinary sense of that ill-used word, but the
apprehension of truth, the recognition of a complete system of valid
relations incapable of logical statement. Such are the acts of unique
apprehension which Mr Hardy, we believe, implied by his title. In a
'moment of vision' the poet recognises in a single separate incident of
life, life's essential quality. The uniqueness of the whole, the
infinite multiplicity and variety of its elements, are manifested and
apprehended in a part. Since we are here at work on the confines of
intelligible statement, it is better, even at the cost of brutalising a
poem, to choose an example from the book that bears the mysterious name.
The verses that follow come from 'Near Lanivet, 1872.' We choose them as
an example of Mr Hardy's method at less than its best, at a point at
which the scaffolding of his process is just visible.

  'There was a stunted hand-post just on the crest.
    Only a few feet high:
  She was tired, and we stopped in the twilight-time for her rest,
    At the crossways close thereby.

  'She leant back, being so weary, against its stem,
    And laid her arms on its own,
  Each open palm stretched out to each end of them,
    Her sad face sideways thrown.

  'Her white-clothed form at this dim-lit cease of day
    Made her look as one crucified
  In my gaze at her from the midst of the dusty way,
    And hurriedly "Don't," I cried.

  'I do not think she heard. Loosing thence she said,
    As she stepped forth ready to go,
  "I am rested now.--Something strange came into my head;
    I wish I had not leant so!'...

  'And we dragged on and on, while we seemed to see
    In the running of Time's far glass
  Her crucified, as she had wondered if she might be
    Some day.--Alas, alas!'

Superstition and symbolism, some may say; but they mistakenly invert the
order of the creative process. The poet's act of apprehension is wholly
different from the lover's fear; and of this apprehension the
chance-shaped crucifix is the symbol and not the cause. The
concentration of life's vicissitude upon that white-clothed form was
first recognised by a sovereign act of æsthetic understanding or
intuition; the seeming crucifix supplied a scaffolding for its
expression; it afforded a clue to the method of transposition into words
which might convey the truth thus apprehended; it suggested an
equivalence. The distinction may appear to be hair-drawn, but we believe
that it is vital to the theory of poetry as a whole, and to an
understanding of Mr Hardy's poetry in particular. Indeed, in it must be
sought the meaning of another of his titles, 'Satires of Circumstance,'
where the particular circumstance is neither typical nor fortuitous, but
a symbol necessary to communicate to others the sense of a quality in
life more largely and variously apprehended by the poet. At the risk of
appearing fantastic we will endeavour still further to elucidate our
meaning. The poetic process is, we believe, twofold. The one part, the
discovery of the symbol, the establishment of an equivalence, is what we
may call poetic method. It is concerned with the transposition and
communication of emotion, no matter what the emotion may be, for to
poetic method the emotional material is, strictly, indifferent. The
other part is an esthetic apprehension of significance, the recognition
of the all in the one. This is a specifically poetic act, or rather the
supreme poetic act. Yet it may be absent from poetry. For there is no
necessary connection between poetic apprehension and poetic method.
Poetic method frequently exists without poetic apprehension; and there
is no reason to suppose that the reverse is not also true, for the
recognition of greatness in poetry is probably not the peculiar
privilege of great poets. We have here, at least a principle of division
between major and minor poetry.

Mr Hardy is a major poet; and we are impelled to seek further and ask
what it is that enables such a poet to perform this sovereign act of
apprehension and to recognise the quality of the all in the quality of
the one. We believe that the answer is simple. The great poet knows what
he is looking for. Once more we speak too precisely, and so falsely,
being compelled to use the language of the kingdom of logic to describe
what is being done in the kingdom of art. The poet, we say, knows the
quality for which he seeks; but this knowledge is rather a condition
than a possession of soul. It is a state of responsiveness rather than a
knowledge of that to which he will respond. But it is knowledge inasmuch
as the choice of that to which he will respond is determined by the
condition of his soul. On the purity of that condition depends his
greatness as a poet, and that purity in its turn depends upon his
denying no element of his profound experience. If he denies or forgets,
the synthesis--again the word is a metaphor--which must establish itself
within him is fragmentary and false. The new event can wake but partial
echoes in his soul or none at all; it can neither be received into, nor
can it create a complete relation, and so it passes incommensurable from
limbo into forgetfulness.

Mr Hardy stands high above all other modern poets by the deliberate
purity of his responsiveness. The contagion of the world's slow stain
has not touched him; from the first he held aloof from the general
conspiracy to forget in which not only those who are professional
optimists take a part. Therefore his simplest words have a vehemence and
strangeness of their own:--

      'It will have been:
  Nor God nor Demon can undo the done,
      Unsight the seen
  Make muted music be as unbegun
      Though things terrene
  Groan in their bondage till oblivion supervene.'

What neither God nor Demon can do, men are incessantly at work to
accomplish. Life itself rewards them for their assiduity, for she
scatters her roses chiefly on the paths of those who forget her thorns.
But the great poet remembers both rose and thorn; and it is beyond his
power to remember them otherwise than together.

It was fitting, then, and to some senses inevitable, that Mr Hardy
should have crowned his work as a poet in his old age by a series of
love poems that are unique for power and passion in even the English
language. This late and wonderful flowering has no tinge of miracle; it
has sprung straight from the main stem of Mr Hardy's poetic growth. Into
'Veteris Vestigia Flammas' is distilled the quintessence of the power
that created the Wessex Novels and 'The Dynasts'; all that Mr Hardy has
to tell us of life, the whole of the truth that he has apprehended, is
in these poems, and no poet since poetry began has apprehended or told
us more. _Sunt lacrimæ rerum_.

[NOVEMBER, 1919.

       *       *       *       *       *


Three months after this essay was written the first volume of the long
awaited definitive edition of Mr Hardy's works (the Mellstock Edition)
appeared. It was with no common thrill that we read in the precious
pages of introduction the following words confirming the theory upon
which the first part of the essay is largely based.

    'Turning now to my verse--to myself the more individual part of my
    literary fruitage--I would say that, unlike some of the fiction,
    nothing interfered with the writer's freedom in respect of its form
    or content. Several of the poems--indeed many--were produced before
    novel-writing had been thought of as a pursuit; but few saw the
    light till all the novels had been published....

    'The few volumes filled by the verse cover a producing period of
    some eighteen years first and last, while the seventeen or more
    volumes of novels represent correspondingly about four-and-twenty
    years. One is reminded by this disproportion in time and result how
    much more concise and quintessential expression becomes when given
    in rhythmic form than when shaped in the language of prose.'

_Present Condition of English Poetry_

Shall we, or shall we not, be serious? To be serious nowadays is to be
ill-mannered, and what, murmurs the cynic, does it matter? We have our
opinion; we know that there is a good deal of good poetry in the
Georgian book, a little in _Wheels_.[13] We know that there is much bad
poetry in the Georgian book, and less in _Wheels_. We know that there is
one poem in _Wheels_ beside the intense and sombre imagination of which
even the good poetry of the Georgian book pales for a moment. We think
we know more than this. What does it matter? Pick out the good things,
and let the rest go.

   [Footnote 13: _Georgian Poetry_, 1918-1919. Edited by E.M. (The
   Poetry Bookshop.)

   _Wheels_. Fourth Cycle. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell.)]

And yet, somehow, this question of modern English poetry has become
important for us, as important as the war, important in the same way as
the war. We can even analogise. _Georgian Poetry_ is like the Coalition
Government; _Wheels_ is like the Radical opposition. Out of the one
there issues an indefinable odour of complacent sanctity, an unctuous
redolence of _union sacrée_; out of the other, some acidulation of
perversity. In the coalition poets we find the larger number of good
men, and the larger number of bad ones; in the opposition poets we find
no bad ones with the coalition badness, no good ones with the coalition
goodness, but in a single case a touch of the apocalyptic, intransigent,
passionate honesty that is the mark of the martyr of art or life.

On both sides we have the corporate and the individual flavour; on both
sides we have those individuals-by-courtesy whose flavour is almost
wholly corporate; on both sides the corporate flavour is one that we
find intensely disagreeable. In the coalition we find it noxious, in the
opposition no worse than irritating. No doubt this is because we
recognise a tendency to take the coalition seriously, while the
opposition is held to be ridiculous. But both the coalition and the
opposition--we use both terms in their corporate sense--are unmistakably
the product of the present age. In that sense they are truly
representative and complementary each to the other; they are a fair
sample of the goodness and badness of the literary epoch in which we
live; they are still more remarkable as an index of the complete
confusion of æsthetic values that prevails to-day.

The corporate flavour of the coalition is a false simplicity. Of the
nineteen poets who compose it there are certain individuals whom we
except absolutely from this condemnation, Mr de la Mare, Mr Davies, and
Mr Lawrence; there are others who are more or less exempt from it, Mr
Abercrombie, Mr Sassoon, Mrs Shove, and Mr Nichols; and among the rest
there are varying degrees of saturation. This false simplicity can be
quite subtle. It is compounded of worship of trees and birds and
contemporary poets in about equal proportions; it is sicklied over at
times with a quite perceptible varnish of modernity, and at other times
with what looks to be technical skill, but generally proves to be a
fairly clumsy reminiscence of somebody else's technical skill. The
negative qualities of this _simplesse_ are, however, the most obvious;
the poems imbued with it are devoid of any emotional significance
whatever. If they have an idea it leaves you with the queer feeling that
it is not an idea at all, that it has been defaced, worn smooth by the
rippling of innumerable minds. Then, spread in a luminous haze over
these compounded elements, is a fundamental right-mindedness; you feel,
somehow, that they might have been very wicked, and yet they are very
good. There is nothing disturbing about them; _ils peuvent être mis dans
toutes les mains_; they are kind, generous, even noble. They sympathise
with animate and inanimate nature. They have shining foreheads with big
bumps of benevolence, like Flora Casby's father, and one inclines to
believe that their eyes must be frequently filmed with an honest tear,
if only because their vision is blurred. They are fond of lists of names
which never suggest things; they are sparing of similes. If they use
them they are careful to see they are not too definite, for a definite
simile makes havoc of their constructions, by applying to them a certain
test of reality.

But it is impossible to be serious about them. The more stupid of them
supply the matter for a good laugh; the more clever the stuff of a more
recondite amazement. What _is_ one to do when Mr Monro apostrophises the
force of Gravity in such words as these?--

  'By leave of you man places stone on stone;
  He scatters seed: you are at once the prop
  Among the long roots of his fragile crop
  You manufacture for him, and insure
  House, harvest, implement, and furniture,
  And hold them all secure.'

We are not surprised to learn further that

  'I rest my body on your grass,
  And let my brain repose in you.'

All that remains to be said is that Mr Monro is fond of dogs ('Can you
smell the rose?' he says to Dog: 'ah, no!') and inclined to fish--both
of which are Georgian inclinations.

Then there is Mr Drinkwater with the enthusiasm of the just man for
moonlit apples--'moon-washed apples of wonder'--and the righteous man's
sense of robust rhythm in this chorus from 'Lincoln':--

    'You who know the tenderness
  Of old men at eve-tide,
    Coming from the hedgerows,
  Coming from the plough,
    And the wandering caress
  Of winds upon the woodside,
    When the crying yaffle goes
  Underneath the bough.'

Mr Drinkwater, though he cannot write good doggerel, is a very good man.
In this poem he refers to the Sermon on the Mount as 'the words of light
From the mountain-way.'

Mr Squire, who is an infinitely more able writer, would make an
excellent subject for a critical investigation into false simplicity. He
would repay a very close analysis, for he may deceive the elect in the
same way as, we suppose, he deceives himself. His poem 'Rivers' seems to
us a very curious example of the _faux bon_. Not only is the idea
derivative, but the rhythmical treatment also. Here is Mr de la Mare:--

  'Sweet is the music of Arabia
  In my heart, when out of dreams
  I still in the thin clear murk of dawn
  Descry her gliding streams;
  Hear her strange lutes on the green banks
  Ring loud with the grief and delight
  Of the dim-silked, dark-haired musicians
  In the brooding silence of night.
  They haunt me--her lutes and her forests;
  No beauty on earth I see
  But shadowed with that dream recalls
  Her loveliness to me:
  Still eyes look coldly upon me,
  Cold voices whisper and say--
  "He is crazed with the spell of far Arabia,
  They have stolen his wits away."'

And here is a verse from Mr Squire:--

  'For whatever stream I stand by,
  And whatever river I dream of,
  There is something still in the back of my mind
    From very far away;
  There is something I saw and see not,
  A country full of rivers
  That stirs in my heart and speaks to me
    More sure, more dear than they.

  'And always I ask and wonder
  (Though often I do not know it)
  Why does this water not smell like water?...'

To leave the question of reminiscence aside, how the delicate vision of
Mr de la Mare has been coarsened, how commonplace his exquisite
technique has become in the hands of even a first-rate ability! It
remains to be added that Mr Squire is an amateur of nature,--

  'And skimming, fork-tailed in the evening air,
  When man first was were not the martens there?'--

and a lover of dogs.

Mr Shanks, Mr W.J. Turner, and Mr Freeman belong to the same order. They
have considerable technical accomplishment of the straightforward
kind--and no emotional content. One can find examples of the disastrous
simile in them all. They are all in their degree pseudo-naïves. Mr
Turner wonders in this way:--

  'It is strange that a little mud
  Should echo with sounds, syllables, and letters,
  Should rise up and call a mountain Popocatapetl,
  And a green-leafed wood Oleander.'

Of course Mr Turner does not really wonder; those four lines are proof
positive of that. But what matters is not so much the intrinsic value of
the gift as the kindly thought which prompted the giver. Mr Shanks's
speciality is beauty. He also is an amateur of nature. He bids us: 'Hear
the loud night-jar spin his pleasant note.' Of course, Mr Shanks cannot
have heard a real night-jar. His description is proof of that. But
again, it was a kindly thought. Mr Freeman is, like Mr Squire, a more
interesting case, deserving detailed analysis. For the moment we can
only recommend a comparison of his first and second poems in this book
with 'Sabrina Fair' and 'Love in a Valley' respectively.

It is only when we are confronted with the strange blend of technical
skill and an emotional void that we begin to hunt for reminiscences.
Reminiscences are no danger to the real poet. He is the splendid
borrower who lends a new significance to that which he takes. He
incorporates his borrowing in the new thing which he creates; it has its
being there and there alone. One can see the process in the one fine
poem in _Wheels_, Mr Wilfred Owen's 'Strange Meeting':--

  'It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
  Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
  Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
  Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
  Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
  Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
  With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
  Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
  And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall.
  With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
  Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
  And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
  "Strange, friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
  "None," said the other, "save the undone years,
  The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
  Was my life also..."'

The poem which begins with these lines is, we believe, the finest in
these two books, both in intention and achievement. Yet no one can
mistake its source. It comes, almost bodily, from the revised Induction
to 'Hyperion.' The sombre imagination, the sombre rhythm is that of the
dying Keats; the creative impulse is that of Keats.

  'None can usurp this height, return'd that shade,
  But those to whom the miseries of the world
  Are misery, and will not let them rest.'

That is true, word by word, and line by line, of Wilfred Owen's 'Strange
Meeting.' It touches great poetry by more than the fringe; even in its
technique there is the hand of the master to be. Those monosyllabic
assonances are the discovery of genius. We are persuaded that this poem
by a boy like his great forerunner, who had the certainty of death in
his heart, is the most magnificent expression of the emotional
significance of the war that has yet been achieved by English poetry. By
including it in his book, the editor of _Wheels_ has done a great
service to English letters.

Extravagant words, it may be thought. We appeal to the documents. Read
_Georgian Poetry_ and read 'Strange Meeting.' Compare Wilfred Owen's
poem with the very finest things in the Georgian book--Mr Davies's
'Lovely Dames,' or Mr de la Mare's 'The Tryst,' or 'Fare Well,' or the
twenty opening lines of Mr Abercrombie's disappointing poem. You will
not find those beautiful poems less beautiful than they are; but you
will find in 'Strange Meeting' an awe, an immensity, an adequacy to that
which has been most profound in the experience of a generation. You
will, finally, have the standard that has been lost, and the losing of
which makes the confusion of a book like _Georgian Poetry_ possible,
restored to you. You will remember three forgotten things--that poetry
is rooted in emotion, and that it grows by the mastery of emotion, and
that its significance finally depends upon the quality and
comprehensiveness of the emotion. You will recognise that the tricks of
the trade have never been and never will be discovered by which ability
can conjure emptiness into meaning.

It seems hardly worth while to return to _Wheels_. Once the argument has
been pitched on the plane of 'Strange Meeting,' the rest of the
contents of the book become irrelevant. But for the sake of symmetry we
will characterise the corporate flavour of the opposition as false
sophistication. There are the same contemporary reminiscences. Compare
Mr Osbert Sitwell's _English Gothic_ with Mr T.S. Eliot's _Sweeney_; and
you will detect a simple mind persuading itself that it has to deal with
the emotions of a complex one. The spectacle is almost as amusing as
that of the similar process in the Georgian book. Nevertheless, in
general, the affected sophistication here is, as we have said, merely
irritating; while the affected simplicity of the coalition is positively
noxious. Miss Edith Sitwell's deliberate painted toys are a great deal
better than painted canvas trees and fields, masquerading as real ones.
In the poems of Miss Iris Tree a perplexed emotion manages to make its
way through a chaotic technique. She represents the solid impulse which
lies behind the opposition in general. This impulse she describes,
though she is very, very far from making poetry of it, in these not
uninteresting verses:--

  'But since we are mere children of this age,
  And must in curious ways discover salvation
  I will not quit my muddled generation,
  But ever plead for Beauty in this rage.

  'Although I know that Nature's bounty yields
  Unto simplicity a beautiful content,
  Only when battle breaks me and my strength is spent
  Will I give back my body to the fields.'

There is the opposition. Against the righteous man, the _mauvais
sujet_. We sympathise with the _mauvais sujet_. If he is persistent and
laborious enough, he may achieve poetry. But he must travel alone. In
order to be loyal to your age you must make up your mind what your age
is. To be muddled yourself is not loyalty, but treachery, even to a
muddled generation.

[DECEMBER, 1919.

_The Nostalgia of Mr Masefield_

Mr Masefiled is gradually finding his way to his self-appointed end,
which is the glorification of England in narrative verse. _Reynard the
Fox_ marks we believe, the end of a stage in his progress to this goal.
He has reached a point at which his mannerisms have been so subdued that
they no longer sensibly impede the movement of his verse, a point at
which we may begin to speak (though not too loud) of mastery. We feel
that he now approaches what he desires to do with some certainty of
doing it, so that we in our turn can approach some other questions with
some hope of answering them.

The questions are various; but they radiate from and enter again into
the old question whether what he is doing, and beginning to do well, is
worth while doing, or rather whether it will have been worth while doing
fifty years hence. For we have no doubt at all in our mind that, in
comparison with the bulk of contemporary poetry, such work as _Reynard
the Fox_ is valuable. We may use the old rough distinction and ask first
whether _Reynard the Fox_ is durable in virtue of its substance, and
second, whether it is durable in virtue of its form.

The glorification of England! There are some who would give their souls
to be able to glorify her as she has been glorified, by Shakespeare, by
Milton, by Wordsworth, and by Hardy. For an Englishman there is no
richer inspiration, no finer theme; to have one's speech and thought
saturated by the fragrance of this lovely and pleasant land was once
the birthright of English poets and novelists. But something has crept
between us and it, dividing. Instead of an instinctive love, there is a
conscious desire of England; instead of slow saturation, a desperate
plunge into its mystery. The fragrance does not come at its own sweet
will; we clutch at it. It does not enfold and pervade our most arduous
speculations; no involuntary sweetness comes flooding in upon our
confrontation of human destinies. Hardy is the last of that great line.
If we long for sweetness--as we do long for it, and with how poignant a
pain!--we must seek it out, like men who rush dusty and irritable from
the babble and fever of the town. The rhythm of the earth never enters
into their gait; they are like spies among the birds and flowers, like
collectors of antique furniture in the haunts of peace. The Georgians
snatch at nature; they are never part of it. And there is some element
of this desperation in Mr Masefield. We feel in him an anxiety to load
every rift with ore of this particular kind, a deliberate intention to
emphasise that which is most English in the English country-side.

How shall we say it? It is not that he makes a parade of arcane
knowledge. The word 'parade' does injustice to his indubitable
integrity. But we seem to detect behind his superfluity of technical,
and at times archaic phrase, an unconscious desire to convince himself
that he is saturated in essential Englishness, and we incline to think
that even his choice of an actual subject was less inevitable than
self-imposed. He would isolate the quality he would capture, have it
more wholly within his grasp; yet, in some subtle way, it finally
eludes him. The intention is in excess, and in the manner of its
execution everything is (though often very subtly) in excess also. The
music of English place-names, for instance is too insistent; no one into
whom they had entered with the English air itself would use them with so
manifest an admiration.

Perhaps a comparison may bring definition nearer. The first part of Mr
Masefield's poem, which describes the meet and the assembled persons one
by one, recalls, not merely by the general cast of the subject, but by
many actual turns of phrase, Chaucer's _Prologue_. Mr Masefield's parson
has more than one point of resemblance to Chaucer's Monk:--

  'An out-ryder, that loved venerye;
  A manly man to ben an abbot able....'

But it would take too long to quote both pictures. We may choose for our
juxtaposition the Prioress and one of Mr Masefield's young ladies:--

  'Behind them rode her daughter Belle,
  A strange, shy, lovely girl, whose face
  Was sweet with thought and proud with race,
  And bright with joy at riding there.
  She was as good as blowing air,
  But shy and difficult to know.
  The kittens in the barley-mow,
  The setter's toothless puppies sprawling,
  The blackbird in the apple calling,
  All knew her spirit more than we.
  So delicate these maidens be
  In loving lovely helpless things.'

And here is the Prioress:--

  'But for to speken of hir conscience,
  She was so charitable and so pitous,
  She wolde weepe if that she sawe a mous
  Caught in a trappe, if it were ded or bledde.
  Of smalle houndes had she, that she fed
  With rosted flesh, or milk, or wastel bread,
  But sore wepte she if oon of hem were ded
  Or if men smote it with a yerde smerte:
  And all was conscience and tendere herte.'
  Ful semely hir wympel pynched was;
  His nose tretys; hir eyen greye as glas;
  Hir mouth full small, and thereto soft and red,
  But sikerly she hadde a fair forhed.'

There is in the Chaucer a naturalness, a lack of emphasis, a confidence
that the object will not fail to make its own impression, beside which
Mr Masefield's demonstration and underlining seem almost _malsain_. How
far outside the true picture now appears that 'blackbird in the apple
calling,' and how tainted by the desperate _bergerie_ of the Georgian

It is, we admit, a portentous experiment to make, to set Mr Masefield's
prologue beside Chaucer's. But not only is it a tribute to Mr Masefield
that he brought us to reading Chaucer over again, but the comparison is
at bottom just. Chaucer is not what we understand by a great poet; he
has none of the imaginative comprehension and little of the music that
belong to one: but he has perdurable qualities. He is at home with his
speech and at home with his world; by his side Mr Masefield seems
nervous and uncertain about both. He belongs, in fact, to a race (or a
generation) of poets who have come to feel a necessity of overloading
every rift with ore. The question is whether such a man can hope to
express the glory and the fragrance of the English country-side.

Can there be an element of permanence in a poem of which the ultimate
impulse is a _nostalgie de la boue_ that betrays itself in line after
line, a nostalgia so conscious of separation that it cannot trust that
any associations will be evoked by an unemphasised appeal? Mr Masefield,
in his fervour to grasp at that which for all his love is still alien to
him, seems almost to shovel English mud into his pages; he cannot (and
rightly cannot) persuade himself that the scent of the mud will be there
otherwise. For the same reason he must make his heroes like himself.
Here, for example, is the first whip, Tom Dansey:--

  'His pleasure lay in hounds and horses;
  He loved the Seven Springs water-courses,
  Those flashing brooks (in good sound grass,
  Where scent would hang like breath on glass).
  He loved the English country-side;
  The wine-leaved bramble in the ride,
  The lichen on the apple-trees,
  The poultry ranging on the lees,
  The farms, the moist earth-smelling cover,
  His wife's green grave at Mitcheldover,
  Where snowdrops pushed at the first thaw.
  Under his hide his heart was raw
  With joy and pity of these things...'

That 'raw heart' marks the outsider, the victim of nostalgia. Apart from
the fact that it is a manifest artistic blemish to impute it to the
first whip of a pack of foxhounds, the language is such that it would
be a mistake to impute it to anybody; and with that we come to the
question of Mr Masefield's style in general.

As if to prove how rough indeed was the provisionally accepted
distinction between substance and form, we have for a long while already
been discussing Mr Masefield's style under a specific aspect. But the
particular overstrain we have been examining is part of Mr Masefield's
general condition. Overstrain is permanent with him. If we do not find
it in his actual language (and, as we have said, he is ridding himself
of the worst of his exaggerations) we are sure to find it in the very
vitals of his artistic effort. He is seeking always to be that which he
is not, to lash himself into the illusion of a certainty which he knows
he can never wholly possess.

  'From the Gallows Hill to the Kineton Copse
  There were ten ploughed fields, like ten full-stops,
  All wet red clay, where a horse's foot
  Would be swathed, feet thick, like an ash-tree root.
  The fox raced on, on the headlands firm,
  Where his swift feet scared the coupling worm;
  The rooks rose raving to curse him raw,
  He snarled a sneer at their swoop and caw.
  Then on, then on, down a half-ploughed field
  Where a ship-like plough drove glitter-keeled,
  With a bay horse near and a white horse leading,
  And a man saying "Zook," and the red earth bleeding.'

The rasp of exacerbation is not to be mistaken. It comes, we believe,
from a consciousness of anæmia, a frenetic reaction towards what used,
some years ago, to be called 'blood and guts.'

And here, perhaps, we have the secret of Mr Masefield and of our
sympathy with him. His work, for all its surface robustness and
right-thinking (which has at least the advantage that it will secure for
this 'epic of fox-hunting' a place in the library of every country
house), is as deeply debilitated by reaction as any of our time. Its
colour is hectic; its tempo feverish. He has sought the healing virtue
where he believed it undefiled, in that miraculous English country whose
magic (as Mr Masefield so well knows) is in Shakespeare, and whose
strong rhythm is in Hardy. But the virtue eludes all conscious
inquisition. The man who seeks it feverishly sees riot where there is
peace. And may it not be, in the long run, that Mr Masefield would have
done better not to delude himself into an identification he cannot feel,
but rather to face his own disquiet where alone the artist can master
it, in his consciousness? We will not presume to answer, mindful that Mr
Masefield may not recognise himself in our mirror, but we will content
ourselves with recording our conviction that in spite of the almost
heroic effort that has gone to its composition _Reynard the Fox_ lacks
all the qualities essential to durability.

[JANUARY, 1920.

_The Lost Legions_

One day, we believe, a great book will be written, informed by the
breath which moves the Spirits of Pity in Mr Hardy's _Dynasts_. It will
be a delicate, yet undeviating record of the spiritual awareness of the
generation that perished in the war. It will be a work of genius, for
the essence that must be captured within it is volatile beyond belief,
almost beyond imagination. We know of its existence by signs hardly more
material than a dream-memory of beating wings or an instinctive, yet all
but inexplicable refusal of that which has been offered us in its stead.
The autobiographer-novelists have been legion, yet we turn from them all
with a slow shake of the head. 'No, it was not that. Had we lost only
that we could have forgotten. It was not that.'

No, it was the spirit that troubled, as in dream, the waters of the
pool, some influence which trembled between silence and a sound, a
precarious confidence, an unavowed quest, a wisdom that came not of
years or experience, a dissatisfaction, a doubt, a devotion, some
strange presentiment, it may have been, of the bitter years in store, in
memory an ineffable, irrevocable beauty, a visible seal on the forehead
of a generation.

    'When the lamp is shattered.
  The light in the dust lies dead--
    When the cloud is scattered
  The rainbow's glory is shed.
    When the lute is broken,
  Sweet tones are remembered not...'

Yet out of a thousand fragments this memory must be created anew in a
form that will outlast the years, for it was precious. It was something
that would vindicate an epoch against the sickening adulation of the
hero-makers and against the charge of spiritual sterility; a light in
whose gleam the bewildering non-achievements of the present age, the art
which seems not even to desire to be art, the faith which seems not to
desire to be faith, have substance and meaning. It was shot through and
through by an impulse of paradox, an unconscious straining after the
impossible, gathered into two or three tremulous years which passed too
swiftly to achieve their own expression. Now, what remains of youth is
cynical, is successful, publicly exploits itself. It was not cynical

Elements of the influence that was are remembered only if they lasted
long enough to receive a name. There was Unanimism. The name is
remembered; perhaps the books are read. But it will not be found in the
books. They are childish, just as the English novels which endeavoured
to portray the soul of the generation were coarse and conceited. Behind
all the conscious manifestations of cleverness and complexity lay a
fundamental candour of which only a flickering gleam can now be
recaptured. It glints on a page of M. Romains's _Europe_; the memory of
it haunts Wilfred Owen's poems; it touches Keeling's letters; it hovers
over these letters of Charles Sorley.[14] From a hundred strange
lurking-places it must be gathered by pious and sensitive fingers and
withdrawn from under the very edge of the scythe-blade of time, for if
it wander longer without a habitation it will be lost for ever.

   [Footnote 14: _The Letters of Charles Sorley_. (Cambridge University

Charles Sorley was the youngest fringe of the strange unity that
included him and men by ten years his senior. He had not, as they had,
plunged with fantastic hopes and unspoken fears into the world. He had
not learned the slogans of the day. But, seeing that the slogans were
only a disguise for the undefined desires which inspired them he lost
little and gained much thereby. The years at Oxford in which he would
have taken a temporary sameness, a sameness in the long run protective
and strengthening, were spared him. In his letters we have him
unspoiled, as the sentimentalists would say--not yet with the
distraction of protective colouring.

One who knew him better than the mere reader of his letters can pretend
to know him declares that, in spite of his poems, which are among the
most remarkable of those of the boy-poets killed in the war, Sorley
would not have been a man of letters. The evidence of the letters
themselves is heavy against the view; they insist upon being regarded as
the letters of a potential writer. But a passionate interest in
literature is not the inevitable prelude to a life as a writer, and
although it is impossible to consider any thread in Sorley's letters as
of importance comparable to that which joins the enthronement and
dethronement of his literary idols, we shall regard it as the record of
a movement of soul which might as easily find expression (as did
Keeling's) in other than literary activities. It takes more than
literary men to make a generation, after all.

And Sorley was typical above all in this, that, passionate and
penetrating as was his devotion to literature, he never looked upon it
as a thing existing in and for itself. It was, to him and his kind, the
satisfaction of an impulse other and more complex than the æsthetic. Art
was a means and not an end to him, and it is perhaps the apprehension of
this that has led one who endeavoured in vain to reconcile Sorley to
Pater into rash prognostication. Sorley would never have been an artist
in Pater's way; he belonged to his own generation, to which _l'art pour
l'art_ had ceased to have meaning. There had come a pause, a throbbing
silence, from which art might have emerged, may even now after the
appointed time arise, with strange validities undreamed of or forgotten.
Let us not prophesy; let us be content with the recognition that
Sorley's generation was too keenly, perhaps too disastrously aware of
destinies, of

    'the beating of the wings of Love
  Shut out from his creation,'

to seek the comfort of the ivory tower.

Sorley first appears before us radiant with the white-heat of a
schoolboy enthusiasm for Masefield. Masefield is--how we remember the
feeling!--the poet who has lived; his naked reality tears through 'the
lace of putrid sentimentalism (educing the effeminate in man) which
rotters like Tennyson and Swinburne have taught his (the superficial
man's) soul to love.' It tears through more than Tennyson and Swinburne.
The greatest go down before him.

    'So you see what I think of John Masefield. When I say that he has
    the rapidity, simplicity, nobility of Homer, with the power of
    drawing character, the dramatic truth to life of Shakespeare, along
    with a moral and emotional strength and elevation which is all his
    own, and therefore I am prepared to put him above the level of these
    two great men--I do not expect you to agree with me.'--(From a paper
    read at Marlborough, November, 1912.)

That was Sorley at seventeen, and that, it seems to us, is the quality
of enthusiasm which should be felt by a boy of seventeen if he is to
make his mark. It is infinitely more important to have felt that flaming
enthusiasm for an idol who will be cast down than to have felt what we
ought to feel for Shakespeare and Homer. The gates of heaven are opened
by strange keys, but they must be our own.

Within six months Masefield had gone the way of all flesh. In a paper on
_The Shropshire Lad_ (May, 1913), curious both for critical subtlety and
the faint taste of disillusion, Sorley was saying: 'His (Masefield's)
return (to the earth) was purely emotional, and probably less
interesting than the purely intellectual return of Meredith.' At the
beginning of 1914, having gained a Scholarship at University College,
Oxford, he went to Germany. Just before going he wrote:--

    'I am just discovering Thomas Hardy. There are two methods of
    discovery. One is when Columbus discovers America. The other is when
    some one begins to read a famous author who has already run into
    seventy editions, and refuses to speak about anything else, and
    considers every one else who reads the author's works his own
    special converts. Mine is the second method. I am more or less

The humorous exactness and detachment of the description are remarkable,
and we feel that there was more than the supersession of a small by a
great idol in this second phase. By April he is at Jena, 'only 15 miles
from Goethe's grave, whose inhabitant has taken the place of Thomas
Hardy (successor to Masefield) as my favourite prophet.'

    'I hope (if nothing else) before I leave Germany to get a thorough
    hang of _Faust_.... The worst of a piece like _Faust_ is that it
    completely dries up any creative instincts or attempts in oneself.
    There is nothing that I have ever thought or ever read that is not
    somewhere contained in it, and (what is worse) explained in it.'

He had a sublime contempt for any one with whom he was not drunk. He
lumped together 'nasty old Lyttons, Carlyles, and Dickenses.' And the
intoxication itself was swift and fleeting. There was something wrong
with Goethe by July; it is his 'entirely intellectual' life.

    'If Goethe really died saying "more light," it was very silly of
    him: what _he_ wanted was more warmth.'

And he writes home for Richard Jefferies, the man of his own county--for
through Marlborough he had made himself the adopted son of the Wiltshire

    'In the midst of my setting up and smashing of deities--Masefield,
    Hardy, Goethe--I always fall back on Richard Jefferies wandering
    about in the background. I have at least the tie of locality with

A day or two after we incidentally discover that Meredith is up (though
not on Olympus) from a denunciation of Browning on the queer non- (or
super-) æsthetic grounds of which we have spoken:--

    'There is much in B. I like. But my feeling towards him has (ever
    since I read his life) been that of his to the "Lost Leader." I
    cannot understand him consenting to live a purely literary life in
    Italy, or (worse still) consenting to be lionised by fashionable
    London society. And then I always feel that if less people read
    Browning, more would read Meredith (his poetry, I mean.)'

Then, while he was walking in the Moselle Valley, came the war. He had
loved Germany, and the force of his love kept him strangely free from
illusions; he was not the stuff that "our modern Elizabethans" are made
of. The keen candour of spiritual innocence is in what he wrote while
training at Shorncliffe:--

    'For the joke of seeing an obviously just cause defeated, I hope
    Germany will win. It would do the world good, and show that real
    faith is not that which says "we _must_ win for our cause is just,"
    but that which says "our cause is just: therefore we can disregard

    'England--I am sick of the sound of the word. In training to fight
    for England, I am training to fight for that deliberate hypocrisy,
    that terrible middle-class sloth of outlook and appalling
    "imaginative indolence" that has marked us out from generation to
    generation.... And yet we have the impudence to write down Germany
    (who with all their bigotry are at least seekers) as "Huns," because
    they are doing what every brave man ought to do and making
    experiments in morality. Not that I approve of the experiment in
    this particular case. Indeed I think that after the war all brave
    men will renounce their country and confess that they are strangers
    and pilgrims on the earth. "For they that say such things declare
    plainly that they seek a country." But all these convictions are
    useless for me to state since I have not had the courage of them.
    What a worm one is under the cart-wheels--big, clumsy, careless,
    lumbering cart-wheels--of public opinion. I might have been giving
    my mind to fight against Sloth and Stupidity: instead, I am giving
    my body (by a refinement of cowardice) to fight against the most
    enterprising nation in the world.'

The wise arm-chair patriots will shake their heads; but there is more
wisdom of spirit in these words than in all the newspaper leaders
written throughout the war. Sorley was fighting for more than he said;
he was fighting for his Wiltshire Downs as well. But he fought in
complete and utter detachment. He died too soon (in October, 1915), to
suffer the cumulative torment of those who lasted into the long agony of
1917. There is little bitterness in his letters; they have to the last
always the crystal clarity of the vision of the unbroken.

His intellectual evolution went on to the end. No wonder that he found
Rupert Brooke's sonnets overpraised:--

    'He is far too obsessed with his own sacrifice.... It was not that
    "they" gave up anything of that list he gives in one sonnet: but
    that the essence of these things had been endangered by
    circumstances over which he had no control, and he must fight to
    recapture them. He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he
    has taken the sentimental attitude.'

Remember that a boy of nineteen is writing, and think how keen is this
criticism of Brooke's war sonnets; the seeker condemns without pity one
who has given up the search. 'There is no such thing as a just war,'
writes this boy. 'What we are doing is casting out Satan by Satan.' From
this position Sorley never flinched. Never for a moment was he renegade
to his generation by taking 'the sentimental attitude.' Neither had he
in him an atom of the narrowness of the straiter sect.

Though space forbids, we will follow out his progress to the last. We do
not receive many such gifts as this book; the authentic voice of those
lost legions is seldom heard. We can afford, surely, to listen to it to
the end. In November, 1914, Sorley turns back to the Hardy of the poems.
After rejecting 'the actual "Satires of Circumstance"' as bad poetry,
and passing an incisive criticism on 'Men who March away,' he

    'I cannot help thinking that Hardy is the greatest artist of the
    English character since Shakespeare; and much of _The Dynasts_
    (except its historical fidelity) might be Shakespeare. But I value
    his lyrics as presenting himself (the self he does not obtrude into
    the comprehensiveness of his novels and _The Dynasts_) as truly, and
    with faults as well as strength visible in it, as any character in
    his novels. His lyrics have not the spontaneity of Shakespeare's or
    Shelley's; they are rough-hewn and jagged: but I like them and they

A little later, having finished _The Egoist_,--

    'I see now that Meredith belongs to that class of novelists with
    whom I do not usually get on so well (_e.g._ Dickens), who create
    and people worlds of their own so that one approaches the characters
    with amusement, admiration, or contempt, not with liking or pity, as
    with Hardy's people, into whom the author does not inject his own
    exaggerated characteristics.'

The great Russians were unknown to Sorley when he died. What would he
not have found in those mighty seekers, with whom Hardy alone stands
equal? But whatever might have been his vicissitudes in that strange
company, we feel that Hardy could never have been dethroned in his
heart, for other reasons than that the love of the Wessex hills had
crept into his blood. He was killed on October 13, 1915, shot in the
head by a sniper as he led his company at the 'hair-pin' trench near

[JANUARY, 1920.

_The Cry in the Wilderness_

We have in Mr Irving Babbitt's _Rousseau and Romanticism_ to deal with a
closely argued and copiously documented indictment of the modern mind.
We gather that this book is but the latest of several books in which the
author has gradually developed his theme, and we regret exceedingly that
the preceding volumes have not fallen into our hands, because whatever
may be our final attitude towards the author's conclusions, we cannot
but regard _Rousseau and Romanticism_ as masterly. Its style is, we
admit, at times rather harsh and crabbed, but the critical thought which
animates it is of a kind so rare that we are almost impelled to declare
that it is the only book of modern criticism which can be compared for
clarity and depth of thought with Mr Santayana's _Three Philosophical

By endeavouring to explain the justice of that verdict we shall more
easily give an indication of the nature and scope of Professor Babbitt's
achievement. We think that it would be easy to show that in the last
generation--we will go no further back for the moment, though our
author's arraignment reaches at least a century earlier--criticism has
imperceptibly given way to a different activity which we may call
appreciation. The emphasis has been laid upon the uniqueness of the
individual, and the unconscious or avowed aim of the modern 'critic' has
been to persuade us to understand, to sympathise with and in the last
resort to enter into the whole psychological process which culminated
in the artistic creation of the author examined. And there modern
criticism has stopped. There has been no indication that it was aware of
the necessity of going further. Many influences went to shape the
general conviction that mere presentation was the final function of
criticism, but perhaps the chief of these was the curious contagion of a
scientific terminology. The word 'objectivity' had a great vogue; it was
felt that the spiritual world was analogous to the physical; the critic
was faced, like the man of science, with a mass of hard, irreducible
facts, and his function was, like the scientist's, that of recording
them as compendiously as possible and without prejudice. The unconscious
programme was, indeed, impossible of fulfilment. All facts may be of
equal interest to the scientist, but they are not to the literary
critic. He chose those which interested him most for the exercise of his
talent for demonstration. But that choice was, as a general rule, the
only specifically critical act which he performed, and, since it was
usually unmotived, it was difficult to attach even to that more than a
'scientific' importance. Reasoned judgments of value were rigorously
eschewed, and even though we may presume that the modern critic is at
times vexed by the problem why (or whether) one work of art is better
than another, when each seems perfectly expressive of the artist's
intention, the preoccupation is seldom betrayed in the language of his
appreciation. Tacitly and insensibly we have reached a point at which
all works of art are equally good if they are equally expressive. What
every artist seeks to express is his own unique consciousness. As
between things unique there is no possibility of subordination or

That does not seem to us an unduly severe diagnosis of modern criticism,
although it needs perhaps to be balanced by an acknowledgment that the
impulse towards the penetration of an artist's consciousness is in
itself salutary, as a valuable adjunct to the methods of criticism,
provided that it is definitely subordinated to the final critical
judgment, before which uniqueness is an impossible plea. Such a
diagnosis will no doubt be welcomed by those who belong to an older
generation than that to which it is applied. But they should not rejoice
prematurely. We require of them an answer to the question whether they
were really in better case--whether they were not the fathers whose sins
are visited upon the children. Professor Babbitt, at least, has no doubt
of their responsibility. From his angle of approach we might rake their
ranks with a cross-fire of questions such as these: When you invoked the
sanction of criticism were you more than merely destructive? When you
riddled religion with your scientific objections, did you not forget
that religion is something more, far more than a nexus of historical
facts or a cosmogony? When you questioned everything in the name of
truth and science, why did you not dream of asking whether those
creations of men's minds were _capax imperii_ in man's universe? What
right had you to suppose that a man disarmed of tradition is stronger
for his nakedness? Why did you not examine in the name of that same
truth and science the moral nature of man, and see whether it was fit to
bear the burden of intolerable knowledge which you put upon it? Why did
you, the truth-seekers and the scientists, indulge yourselves in the
most romantic dream of a natural man who followed instinctively the
greatest good of the greatest number, which you yourselves never for one
moment pursued? What hypocrisy or self-deception enabled you to clothe
your statements of fact in a moral aura, and to blind yourselves and the
world to the truth that you were killing a domesticated dragon who
guarded the cave of a devouring hydra, whom you benevolently loosed? Why
did you not see that the end of all your devotion was to shift man's
responsibility for himself from his shoulders? Do you, because you
clothed yourselves in the shreds of a moral respectability which you had
not the time (or was it the courage?) to analyse, dare to denounce us
because our teeth are set on edge by the sour grapes which you enjoyed?

But this indictment, it may be said by a modern critic, deals with
morals, and we are discussing art and criticism. That the objection is
conceivable is precisely the measure of our decadence. For the vital
centre of our ethics is also the vital centre of our art. Moral nihilism
inevitably involves an æsthetic nihilism, which can be obscured only
temporarily by an insistence upon technical perfection as in itself a
supreme good. Neither the art of religion nor the religion of art is an
adequate statement of the possibilities and purpose of art, but there is
no doubt that the religion of art is by far the more vacuous of the two.
The values of literature, the standards by which it must be criticised,
and the scheme according to which it must be arranged, are in the last
resort moral. The sense that they should be more moral than morality
affords no excuse for accepting them when they are less so. Literature
should be a kingdom where a sterner morality, a more strenuous liberty
prevails--where the artist may dispense if he will with the ethics of
the society in which he lives, but only on condition of revealing a
deeper insight into the moral law to whose allegiance man, in so far as
he is man and not a beast, inevitably tends. Never, we suppose, was an
age in which art stood in greater need of the true law of decorum than
this. Its philosophy has played it false. It has passed from the
nebulous Hegelian adulation of the accomplished fact (though one would
have thought that to a generation with even a vague memory of
Aristotle's _Poetics_, the mere title, _The Philosophy of History_ would
have been an evident danger signal) to an adulation of science and of
instinct. From one side comes the cry, 'Man _is_ a beast'; from the
other, 'Trust your instincts.' The sole manifest employment of reason is
to overthrow itself. Yet it should be, in conjunction with the
imagination, the vital principle of control.

Professor Babbitt would have us back to Aristotle, or back to our
senses, which is roughly the same thing. At all events, it is certain
that in Aristotle the present generation would find the beginnings of a
remedy for that fatal confusion of categories which has overcome the
world. It is the confusion between existence and value. That strange
malady of the mind by which in the nineteenth century material progress
was supposed to create, _ipso facto_, a concomitant moral progress, and
which so plunged the world into catastrophe, has its counterpart in a
literature of objective realism. One of the most admired of
contemporary works of fiction opens with an infant's memory of a
mackintosh sheet, pleasantly warmed with its own water; another, of
almost equal popularity among the cultivated, abounds with such
reminiscences of the heroine as the paste of bread with which she filled
her decaying teeth while she ate her breakfast. Yet the young writers
who abuse their talents so unspeakably have right on their side when
they refuse to listen to the condemnation pronounced by an older
generation. What right, indeed, have these to condemn the logical
outcome of an anarchic individualism which they themselves so jealously
cherished? They may not like the bastard progeny of the various
mistresses they adored--of a Science which they enthroned above instead
of subordinating to humanistic values, of a brutal Imperialism which the
so-called Conservatives among them set up in place of the truly humane
devotion of which man is capable, of the sickening humanitarianism which
appears in retrospect to have been merely an excuse for absolute
indolence--but they certainly have forfeited the right to censure it.
Let those who are so eager to cast the first stone at the æsthetic and
moral anarchy of the present day consider Professor Babbitt's indictment
of themselves and decide whether they have no sin:--

    '"If I am to judge by myself," said an eighteenth-century Frenchman,
    "man is a stupid animal." Man is not only a stupid animal, in spite
    of his conceit of his own cleverness, but we are here at the source
    of his stupidity. The source is the moral indolence that Buddha,
    with his almost infallible sagacity, defined long ago. In spite of
    the fact that his spiritual and, in the long run, his material
    success, hinge on his ethical effort, man persists in dodging this
    effort, in seeking to follow the line of least or lesser resistance.
    An energetic material working does not mend, but aggravate the
    failure to work ethically, and is therefore especially stupid. Just
    this combination has in fact led to the crowning stupidity of the
    ages--the Great War. No more delirious spectacle has ever been
    witnessed than that of hundreds of millions of human beings using a
    vast machinery of scientific efficiency to turn life into a hell for
    one another. It is hard to avoid concluding that we are living in a
    world which has gone wrong on first principles, a world that, in
    spite of all the warnings of the past, has allowed itself to be
    caught once more in the terrible naturalistic trap. The dissolution
    of civilisation with which we are threatened is likely to be worse
    in some respects than that of Greece or Rome, in view of the success
    that has been obtained in 'perfecting the mystery of murder.'
    Various traditional agencies are indeed still doing much to chain up
    the beast in man. Of these the chief is no doubt the Church. But the
    leadership of the Occident is no longer here. The leaders have
    succumbed in greater or less degree to naturalism, and so have been
    tampering with the moral law. That the brutal imperialist who brooks
    no obstacle to his lust for domination has been tampering with this
    law goes without saying, but the humanitarian, all adrip with
    brotherhood and profoundly convinced of the loveliness of his own
    soul, has been tampering with it also, and in a more dangerous way,
    for the very reason that it is less obvious. This tampering with
    the moral law, or, what amounts to the same thing, this overriding
    of the veto power in man, has been largely a result, though not a
    necessary result, of the rupture with the traditional forms of
    wisdom. The Baconian naturalist repudiated the past because he
    wished to be more positive and critical, to plant himself on the
    facts. But the veto power is itself a fact--the weightiest with
    which man has to reckon. The Rousseauistic naturalist threw off
    traditional control because he wished to be more imaginative. Yet
    without the veto power imagination falls into sheer anarchy. Both
    Baconian and Rousseauist were very impatient of any outer authority
    that seemed to stand between them and their own perceptions. Yet the
    veto power is nothing abstract, nothing that one needs to take on
    hearsay, but is very immediate. The naturalistic leaders may be
    proved wrong without going beyond their own principles, and their
    wrongness is of a kind to wreck civilisation.'

We find it impossible to refuse our assent to the main counts of this
indictment. The deanthropocentrised universe of science is not the
universe in which man has to live. That universe is at once smaller and
larger than the universe of science: smaller in material extent, larger
in spiritual possibility. Therefore to allow the perspective of science
seriously to influence, much less control, our human values, is an
invitation to disaster. Humanism must reassert itself, for even we can
see that Shakespeares are better than Hamlets. The reassertion of
humanism involves the re-creation of a practical ideal of human life and
conduct, and a strict subordination of the impulses of the individual
to this ideal. There must now be a period of critical and humanistic
positivism in regard to ethics and to art. We may say frankly that it is
not to our elders that we think of applying for its rudiments. We regard
them as no less misguided and a good deal less honest than ourselves, It
is among our anarchists that we shall look most hopefully for our new
traditionalists, if only because, in literature at least, they are more
keenly aware of the nature of the abyss on the brink of which they are

[FEBRUARY, 1920.

_Poetry and Criticism_

Nowadays we are all vexed by this question of poetry, and in ways
peculiar to ourselves. Fifty years ago the dispute was whether Browning
was a greater poet than Tennyson or Swinburne; to-day it is apparently
more fundamental, and perhaps substantially more threadbare. We are in a
curious half-conscious way incessantly debating what poetry is, impelled
by a sense that, although we have been living at a time of
extraordinarily prolific poetic production, not very much good has come
out of it. Having thus passed the stage at which the theory that poetry
is an end in itself will suffice us, we vaguely cast about in our minds
for some fuller justification of the poetic activity. A presentiment
that our poetic values are chaotic is widespread; we are uncomfortable
with it, and there is, we believe, a genuine desire that a standard
should be once more created and applied.

What shall we require of poetry? Delight, music, subtlety of thought, a
world of the heart's desire, fidelity to comprehensible experience, a
glimpse through magic casements, profound wisdom? All these things--all
different, yet not all contradictory--have been required of poetry. What
shall we require of her? The answer comes, it seems, as quick and as
vague as the question. We require the highest. All that can be demanded
of any spiritual activity of man we must demand of poetry. It must be
adequate to all our experience; it must be not a diversion from, but a
culmination of life; it must be working steadily towards a more complete

Suddenly we may turn upon ourselves and ask what right we have to demand
these things of poetry; or others will turn upon us and say: 'This is a
lyrical age.' To ourselves and to the others we are bound to reply that
poetry must be maintained in the proud position where it has always
been, the sovereign language of the human spirit, the sublimation of all
experience. In the past there has never been a lyrical age, though there
have been ages of minor poetry, when poetry was no longer deliberately
made the vehicle of man's profoundest thought and most searching
experience. Nor was it the ages of minor poetry which produced great
lyrical poetry. Great lyrical poetry has always been an incidental
achievement, a parergon, of great poets, and great poets have always
been those who believed that poetry was by nature the worthiest vessel
of the highest argument of which the soul of man is capable.

Yet a poetic theory such as this seems bound to include great prose, and
not merely the prose which can most easily be assimilated to the
condition of poetry, such as Plato's _Republic_ or Milton's
_Areopagitica_, but the prose of the great novelists. Surely the
colloquial prose of Tchehov's _Cherry Orchard_ has as good a claim to be
called poetry as _The Essay on Man_, _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_ as _The
Ring and the Book_, _The Possessed_ as _Phèdre_? Where are we to call a
halt in the inevitable process by which the kinds of literary art merge
into one? If we insist that rhythm is essential to poetry, we are in
danger of confusing the accident with the essence, and of fastening upon
what will prove to be in the last analysis a merely formal difference.
The difference we seek must be substantial and essential.

The very striking merit of Sir Henry Newbolt's _New Study of English
Poetry_ is that he faces the ultimate problem of poetry with courage,
sincerity, and an obvious and passionate devotion to the highest
spiritual activity of man. It has seldom been our good fortune to read a
book of criticism in which we were so impressed by what we can only call
a purity of intention; we feel throughout that the author's aim is
single, to set before us the results of his own sincere thinking on a
matter of infinite moment. Perhaps better, because subtler, books of
literary criticism have appeared in England during the last ten
years--if so, we have not read them; but there has been none more truly
tolerant, more evidently free from malice, more certainly the product of
a soul in which no lie remains. Whether it is that Sir Henry has like
Plato's Cephalus lived his literary life blamelessly, we do not know,
but certainly he produces upon us an effect akin to that of Cephalus's
peaceful smile when he went on his way to sacrifice duly to the gods and
left the younger men to the intricacies of their infinite debate.

Now it seems to us of importance that a writer like Sir Henry Newbolt
should declare roundly that creative poetry and creative prose belong to
the same kind. It is important not because there is anything very novel
in the contention, but because it is opportune; and it is opportune
because at the present moment we need to have emphasis laid on the vital
element that is common both to creative poetry and creative prose. The
general mind loves confusion, blest mother of haze and happiness; it
loves to be able to conclude that this is an age of poetry from the fact
that the books of words cut up into lines or sprinkled with rhymes are
legion. An age of fiddlesticks! Whatever the present age is--and it is
an age of many interesting characteristics--it is not an age of poetry.
It would indeed have a better chance of being one if fifty instead of
five hundred books of verse were produced every month; and if all the
impresarios were shouting that it was an age of prose. The differentia
of verse is a merely trivial accident; what is essential in poetry, or
literature if you will, is an act of intuitive comprehension. Where you
have the evidence of that act, the sovereign æsthetic process, there you
have poetry. What remains for you, whether you are a critic or a poet or
both together, is to settle for yourself a system of values by which
those various acts of intuitive comprehension may be judged. It does not
suffice at any time, much less does it suffice at the present day, to be
content with the uniqueness of the pleasure which you derive from each
single act of comprehension made vocal. That contentment is the
comfortable privilege of the amateur and the dilettante. It is not
sufficient to get a unique pleasure from Mr De la Mare's _Arabia_ or Mr
Davies's _Lovely Dames_ or Miss Katherine Mansfield's _Prelude_ or Mr
Eliot's _Portrait of a Lady_, in each of which the vital act of
intuitive comprehension is made manifest. One must establish a
hierarchy, and decide which act of comprehension is the more truly
comprehensive, which poem has the completer universality. One must be
prepared not only to relate each poetic expression to the finest of its
kind in the past, or to recognise a new kind if a new kind has been
created, but to relate the kind to the finest kind.

That, as it seems to us, is the specifically critical activity, and one
which is in peril of death from desuetude. The other important type of
criticism which is analysis of poetic method, an investigation and
appreciation of the means by which the poet communicates his intuitive
comprehension to an audience, is in a less perilous condition. Where
there are real poets--and only a bigot will deny that there are real
poets among us now: we have just named four--there will always be true
criticism of poetic method, though it may seldom find utterance in the
printed word. But criticism of poetic method has, by hypothesis, no
perspective and no horizons; it is concerned with a unique thing under
the aspect, of its uniqueness. It may, and happily most often does,
assume that poetry is the highest expression of the spiritual life of
man; but it makes no endeavour to assess it according to the standards
that are implicit in such an assumption. That is the function of
philosophical criticism. If philosophical criticism can be combined with
criticism of method--and there is no reason why they should not coexist
in a single person; the only two English critics of the nineteenth
century, Coleridge and Arnold, were of this kind--so much the better;
but it is philosophical criticism of which we stand in desperate need
at this moment.

A good friend of ours, who happens to be one of the few real poets we
possess, once wittily summed up a general objection to criticism of the
kind we advocate as 'always asking people to do what they can't.' But to
point out, as the philosophical critic would, that poetry itself must
inevitably languish if the more comprehensive kinds are neglected, or if
a non-poetic age is allowed complacently to call itself lyrical, is not
to urge the real masters in the less comprehensive kinds to desert their
work. Who but a fool would ask Mr De la Mare to write an epic or Miss
Mansfield to give us a novel? But he might be a wise man who called upon
Mr Eliot to set himself to the composition of a poetic drama; and
without a doubt he would deserve well of the commonwealth who should
summon the popular imitators of Mr De la Mare, Mr Davies, or Mr Eliot to
begin by trying to express something that they did comprehend or desired
to comprehend, even though it should take them into thousands of
unprintable pages. It is infinitely preferable that those who have so
far given evidence of nothing better than a fatal fluency in insipid
imitation of true lyric poets should fall down a precipice in the
attempt to scale the very pinnacles of Parnassus. There is something
heroic about the most unmitigated disaster at such an altitude.

Moreover, the most marked characteristic of the present age is a
continual disintegration of the consciousness; more or less deliberately
in every province of man's spiritual life the reins are being thrown on
to the horse's neck. The power which controls and disciplines
sensational experience is, in modern literature, daily denied; the
counterpart of this power which envisages the ideal in the conduct of
one's own or the nation's affairs and unfalteringly pursues it is held
up to ridicule. Opportunism in politics has its complement in
opportunism in poetry. Mr Lloyd George's moods are reflected in Mr
----'s. And, beneath these heights, we have the queer spectacle of a
whole race of very young poets who somehow expect to attain poetic
intensity by the physical intensity with which they look at any
disagreeable object that happens to come under their eye. Perhaps they
will find some satisfaction in being reckoned among the curiosities of
literature a hundred years hence; it is certainly the only satisfaction
they will have. They, at any rate, have a great deal to gain from the
acid of philosophical criticism. If a reaction to life has in itself the
seeds of an intuitive comprehension it will stand explication. If a
young poet's nausea at the sight of a toothbrush is significant of
anything at all except bad upbringing, then it is capable of being
refined into a vision of life and of being expressed by means of the
appropriate mechanism or myth. But to register the mere facts of
consciousness, undigested by the being, without assessment or
reinforcement by the mind is, for all the connection it has with poetry,
no better than to copy down the numbers of one's bus-tickets.

We do not wish to suggest that Sir Henry Newbolt would regard this
lengthy gloss upon his book as legitimate deduction. He, we think, is a
good deal more tolerant than we are; and he would probably hesitate to
work out the consequences of the principles which he enunciates and
apply them vigorously to the present time. But as a vindication of the
supreme place of poetry as poetry in human life, as a stimulus to
critical thought and a guide to exquisite appreciation of which his
essay on Chaucer is an honourable example--_A New Study of English
Poetry_ deserves all the praise that lies in our power to give.

[MARCH, 1920.

_Coleridge's Criticism_

It is probably true that _Biographia Literaria_ is the best book of
criticism in the English language; nevertheless, it is rash to assume
that it is a book of criticism of the highest excellence, even when it
has passed through the salutary process of drastic editing, such as that
to which, in the present case,[15] the competent hands of Mr George
Sampson have submitted it. Its garrulity, its digressions, its verbiage,
the marks which even the finest portions show of submersion in the tepid
transcendentalism that wrought such havoc upon Coleridge's mind--these
are its familiar disfigurements. They are not easily removed; for they
enter fairly deeply even in the texture of those portions of the book in
which Coleridge devotes himself, as severely as he can, to the proper
business of literary criticism.

   [Footnote 15: _Coleridge: Biographia Literaria_, Chapters I.-IV.,
   XIV.-XXII.--_Wordsworth: Prefaces and Essays on Poetry_, 1800-1815.
   Edited by George Sampson, with an Introductory Essay by Sir Arthur
   Quiller-Couch. (Cambridge University Press.)]

It may be that the prolixity with which he discusses and refutes the
poetical principles expounded by Wordsworth in the preface of _Lyrical
Ballads_ was due to the tenderness of his consideration for Wordsworth's
feelings, an influence to which Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch directs our
attention in his introduction. That is honourable to Coleridge as a man;
but it cannot exculpate him as a critic. For the points he had to make
for and against Wordsworth were few and simple. First, he had to show
that the theory of a poetic diction drawn exclusively from the language
of 'real life' was based upon an equivocation, and therefore was
useless. This Coleridge had to show to clear himself of the common
condemnation in which he had been involved, as one wrongly assumed to
endorse Wordsworth's theory. He had an equally important point to make
for Wordsworth. He wished to prove to him that the finest part of his
poetic achievement was based upon a complete neglect of this theory, and
that the weakest portions of his work were those in which he most
closely followed it. In this demonstration he was moved by the desire to
set his friend on the road that would lead to the most triumphant
exercise of his own powers.

There is no doubt that Coleridge made both his points; but he made them,
in particular the former, at exceeding length, and at the cost of a good
deal of internal contradiction. He sets out, in the former case, to
maintain that the language of poetry is essentially different from the
language of prose. This he professes to deduce from a number of
principles. His axiom--and it is possibly a sound one--is that metre
originated in a spontaneous effort of the mind to hold in check the
workings of emotion. From this, he argues, it follows that to justify
the existence of metre, the language of a poem must show evidence of
emotion, by being different from the language of prose. Further, he
says, metre in itself stimulates the emotions, and for this condition of
emotional excitement 'correspondent food' must be provided. Thirdly, the
emotion of poetical composition itself demands this same 'correspondent
food.' The final argument, if we omit one drawn from an obscure theory
of imitation very characteristic of Coleridge, is the incontrovertible
appeal to the authority of the poets.

Unfortunately, the elaborate exposition of the first three arguments is
not only unnecessary but confusing, for Coleridge goes on to
distinguish, interestingly enough, between a language proper to poetry,
a language proper to prose, and a neutral language which may be used
indifferently in prose and poetry, and later still he quotes a beautiful
passage from Chaucer's _Troilus and Cressida_ as an example of this
neutral language, forgetting that, if his principles are correct,
Chaucer was guilty of a sin against art in writing _Troilus and
Cressida_ in metre. The truth, of course, is that the paraphernalia of
principles goes by the board. In order to refute the Wordsworthian
theory of a language of real life supremely fitted for poetry you have
only to point to the great poets, and to judge the fitness of the
language of poetry you can only examine the particular poem. Wordsworth
was wrong and self-contradictory without doubt; but Coleridge was
equally wrong and self-contradictory in arguing that metre
_necessitated_ a language essentially different from that of prose.

So it is that the philosophic part of the specifically literary
criticism of the _Biographia_ takes us nowhere in particular. The
valuable part is contained in his critical appreciation of Wordsworth's
poetry and that amazing chapter--a little forlorn, as most of
Coleridge's fine chapters are--on 'the specific symptoms of poetic power
elucidated in a critical analysis of Shakespeare's _Venus and Adonis_.
In these few pages Coleridge is at the summit of his powers as a critic.
So long as his attention could be fixed on a particular object, so long
as he was engaged in deducing his general principles immediately from
particular instances of the highest kind of poetic excellence, he was a
critic indeed. Every one of the four points characteristic of early
poetic genius which he formulates deserves to be called back to the mind
again and again:--

    'The delight in richness and sweetness of sound, even to a faulty
    excess, if it be evidently original and not the result of an easily
    imitable mechanism, I regard as a highly favourable promise in the
    compositions of a young man....

    'A second promise of genius is the choice of subjects very remote
    from the private interests and circumstances of the writer himself.
    At least I have found, that where the subject is taken immediately
    from the author's personal sensations and experiences the excellence
    of a particular poem is but an equivocal mark, and often a
    fallacious pledge, of genuine poetical power....

    'Images, however beautiful, though faithfully copied from nature,
    and as accurately represented in words, do not of themselves
    characterise the poet. They become proofs of original genius only as
    far as they are modified by a predominant passion; or by associated
    thoughts or images awakened by that passion; or when they have the
    effect of reducing multitude to unity, or succession to an instant;
    or lastly, when a human and intellectual life is transferred to them
    from the poet's own spirit....

    'The last character ... which would prove indeed but little, except
    as taken conjointly with the former--yet without which the former
    could scarce exist in a high degree ... is _depth_ and _energy_ of
    _thought_. No man was ever yet a great poet without being at the
    same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the
    fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions,
    emotions, language.'

In the context the most striking peculiarity of this enunciation of the
distinguishing marks of poetic power, apart from the conviction which it
brings, is that they are not in the least concerned with the actual
language of poetry. The whole subject of poetic diction is dropped when
Coleridge's critical, as opposed to his logical, faculty is at work;
and, although this Chapter XV is followed by many pages devoted to the
analysis and refutation of the Wordsworthian theory and to the
establishment of those principles of poetic diction to which we have
referred, when Coleridge comes once more to engage his pure critical
faculty, in the appreciation of Wordsworth's actual poetry in Chapter
XXII, we again find him ignoring his own principles precisely on those
occasions when we might have thought them applicable.

Coleridge enumerates Wordsworth's defects one by one. The first, he
says, is an inconstancy of style. For a moment he appears to invoke his
principles: 'Wordsworth sinks too often and too abruptly to that style
which I should place in the second division of language, dividing it
into the three species; _first_, that which is peculiar to poetry;
_second_, that which is proper only in prose; and _third_, the neutral
or common to both.' But in the very first instance which Coleridge
gives we can see that the principles have been dragged in by the hair,
and that they are really alien to the argument which he is pursuing. He
gives this example of disharmony from the poem on 'The Blind Highland
Boy' (whose washing-tub in the 1807 edition, it is perhaps worth noting,
had been changed at Coleridge's own suggestion, with a rash contempt of
probabilities, into a turtle shell in the edition of 1815):--

  'And one, the rarest, was a shell
  Which he, poor child, had studied well:
  The Shell of a green Turtle, thin
  And hollow;--you might sit therein,
      It was so wide, and deep.

  'Our Highland Boy oft visited
  The house which held this prize; and led
  By choice or chance, did thither come
  One day, when no one was at home,
      And found the door unbarred.'

The discord is, in any case, none too apparent; but if one exists, it
does not in the least arise from the actual language which Wordsworth
has used. If in anything, it consists in a slight shifting of the focus
of apprehension, a sudden and scarcely perceptible emphasis on the
detail of actual fact, which is a deviation from the emotional key of
the poem as a whole. In the next instance the lapse is, however,

  'Thou hast a nest, for thy love and thy rest.
  And though little troubled with sloth,
  Drunken Lark! thou would'st be loth
  To be such a traveller as I.
      Happy, happy liver!
  _With a soul as strong as a mountain River
  Pouring out praise to th' Almighty Giver_,
  Joy and jollity be with us both,
  Hearing thee or else some other
      As merry as a Brother
  I on the earth will go plodding on,
  By myself, cheerfully, till the day is done.'

The two lines in italics are discordant. But again it is no question of
language in itself; it is an internal discrepancy between the parts of a
whole already debilitated by metrical insecurity.

Coleridge's second point against Wordsworth is 'a _matter-of-factness_
in certain poems.' Once more there is no question of language. Coleridge
takes the issue on to the highest and most secure ground. Wordsworth's
obsession with realistic detail is a contravention of the essential
catholicity of poetry; and this accidentality is manifested in
laboriously exact description both of places and persons. The poet
sterilises the creative activity of poetry, in the first case, for no
reason at all, and in the second, because he proposes as his immediate
object a moral end instead of the giving of æsthetic pleasure. His
prophets and wise men are pedlars and tramps not because it is probable
that they should be of this condition--it is on the contrary highly
improbable--but because we are thus to be taught a salutary moral
lesson. The question of language in itself, if it enters at all here,
enters only as the indifferent means by which a non-poetic end is
sought. The accidentality lies not in the words, but in the poet's

Coleridge's third and fourth points, 'an undue predilection for the
dramatic form,' and 'an eddying instead of a progression of thought,'
may be passed as quickly as he passes them himself, for in any case they
could only be the cause of a jejuneness of language. The fifth, more
interesting, is the appearance of 'thoughts and images too great for the
subject ... an approximation to what might be called _mental_ bombast.'
Coleridge brings forward as his first instance of this four lines which
have taken a deep hold on the affections of later generations:--

  'They flash upon the inward eye
  Which is the bliss of solitude!
  And then my heart with pleasure fills
  And dances with the daffodils.'

Coleridge found an almost burlesque bathos in the second couplet after
the first. It would be difficult for a modern critic to accept that
verdict altogether; nevertheless his objection to the first couplet as a
description of physical vision is surely sound. And it is interesting to
note that the objection has been evaded by posterity in a manner which
confirms Coleridge's criticism. The 'inward eye' is almost universally
remembered apart from its context, and interpreted as a description of
the purely spiritual process to which alone, in Coleridge's opinion, it
was truly apt.

The enumeration of Wordsworth's excellences which follows is masterly;
and the exhilaration with which one rises through the crescendo to the
famous: 'Last and pre-eminently, I challenge for this poet the gift of
_Imagination_ in the highest and strictest sense of the word ...' is
itself a pleasure to be derived only from the gift of criticism of the
highest and strictest kind.

The object of this examination has been to show, not that the
_Biographia Literaria_ is undeserving of the high praise which has been
bestowed upon it, but that the praise has been to some extent
undiscriminating. It has now become almost a tradition to hold up to our
admiration Coleridge's chapter on poetic diction, and Sir Arthur
Quiller-Couch, in a preface that is as unconventional in manner as it is
stimulating in most of its substance, maintains the tradition. As a
matter of fact, what Coleridge has to say on poetic diction is prolix
and perilously near commonplace. Instead of making to Wordsworth the
wholly sufficient answer that much poetry of the highest kind employs a
language that by no perversion can be called essentially the same as the
language of prose, he allows himself to be led by his German metaphysic
into considering poetry as a _Ding an sich_ and deducing therefrom the
proposition that poetry _must_ employ a language different from that of
prose. That proposition is false, as Coleridge himself quite adequately
shows from his remarks upon what he called the 'neutral' language of
Chaucer and Herbert. But instead of following up the clue and beginning
to inquire whether or not narrative poetry by nature demands a language
approximating to that of prose, and whether Wordsworth, in so far as he
aimed at being a narrative poet, was not working on a correct but
exaggerated principle, he leaves the bald contradiction and swerves off
to the analysis of the defects and excellences of Wordsworth's actual
achievement. Precisely because we consider it of the greatest importance
that the best of Coleridge's criticism should be studied and studied
again, we think it unfortunate that Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch should
recommend the apprentice to get the chapters on poetic diction by heart.
He will be condemned to carry about with him a good deal of dubious
logic and a false conclusion. What is worth while learning from
Coleridge is something different; it is not his behaviour with 'a
principle,' but his conduct when confronted with poetry in the concrete,
his magisterial ordonnance (to use his own word) and explication of his
own æsthetic intuitions, and his manner of employing in this, the
essential task of poetic criticism, the results of his own deep study of
all the great poetry that he knew.

[APRIL, 1920.

_Shakespeare Criticism_

It is an exciting, though exhausting, experience to read a volume of the
great modern Variorum Shakespeare from cover to cover. One derives from
the exercise a sense of the evolution of Shakespeare criticism which
cannot be otherwise obtained; one begins to understand that Pope had his
merits as an editor, as indeed a man of genius could hardly fail to
have, to appreciate the prosy and pedestrian pains of Theobald, to
admire the amazing erudition of Steevens. One sees the phases of the
curious process by which Shakespeare was elevated at the beginning of
the nineteenth century to a sphere wherein no mortal man of genius could
breathe. For a dizzy moment every line that he wrote bore the authentic
impress of the divine. _Efflavit deus_. In a century, from being largely
beneath criticism Shakespeare had passed to a condition where he was
almost completely beyond it.

_King John_ affords an amusing instance of this reverential attitude.
The play, as is generally known, was based upon a slightly earlier and
utterly un-Shakespearean production entitled _The Troublesome Raigne of
King John_. The only character Shakespeare added to those he found ready
to his hand was that of James Gurney, who enters with Lady Falconbridge
after the scene between the Bastard and his brother, says four words,
and departs for ever.

  '_Bast_.--James Gurney, wilt thou give us leave awhile?

  _Gur_.--Good leave, good Philip.

  _Bast_.--Philip! Sparrow! James.'

It is obvious that Shakespeare's sole motive in introducing Gurney is to
provide an occasion for the Bastard's characteristic, though not to a
modern mind quite obvious, jest, based on the fact that Philip was at
the time a common name for a sparrow. The Bastard, just dubbed Sir
Richard Plantagenet by the King, makes a thoroughly natural jibe at his
former name, Philip, to which he had just shown such breezy
indifference. The jest could not have been made to Lady Falconbridge
without a direct insult to her, which would have been alien to the
natural, blunt, and easygoing fondness of the relation which Shakespeare
establishes between the Bastard and his mother. So Gurney is quite
casually brought in to receive it. But this is not enough for the
Shakespeare-drunken Coleridge.

    'For an instance of Shakespeare's power _in minimis_, I generally
    quote James Gurney's character in _King John_. How individual and
    comical he is with the four words allowed to his dramatic life!'

Assuredly it is not with any intention of diminishing Coleridge's title
as a Shakespearean critic that we bring forward this instance. He is the
greatest critic of Shakespeare; and the quality of his excellence is
displayed in one of the other few notes he left on this particular play.
In Act III, scene ii., Warburton's emendation of 'airy' to 'fiery' had
in Coleridge's day been received into the text of the Bastard's lines:--

  'Now by my life, this day grows wondrous hot;
  Some airy devil hovers in the sky.'

On which Coleridge writes:--

    'I prefer the old text: the word 'devil' implies 'fiery.' You need
    only to read the line, laying a full and strong emphasis on 'devil,'
    to perceive the uselessness and tastelessness of Warburton's

The test is absolutely convincing--a poet's criticism of poetry. But
that Coleridge went astray not once but many times, under the influence
of his idolatry of Shakespeare, corroborates the general conclusion that
is forced upon any one who will take the trouble to read a whole volume
of the modern _Variorum_. There has been much editing, much comment, but
singularly little criticism of Shakespeare; a half-pennyworth of bread
to an intolerable deal of sack. The pendulum has swung violently from
niggling and insensitive textual quibble to that equally distressing
exercise of human ingenuity, idealistic encomium, of which there is a
typical example in the opening sentence of Mr Masefield's remarks upon
the play: 'Like the best Shakespearean tragedies, _King John_ is an
intellectual form in which a number of people with obsessions illustrate
the idea of treachery.' We remember that Mr Masefield has much better
than this to say of Shakespeare in his little book; but we fasten upon
this sentence because it is set before us in the _Variorum_, and because
it too 'is an intellectual form in which a literary man with obsessions
illustrates his idea of criticism.' Genetically, it is a continuation of
the shoddy element in Coleridge's Shakespeare criticism, a continual
bias towards transcendental interpretation of the obvious. To take the
origin a phase further back, it is the portentous offspring of the
feeble constituent of German philosophy (a refusal to see the object)
after it had been submitted to an idle process of ferment in the softer
part of Coleridge's brain.

_King John_ is not in the least what Mr Masefield, under this dangerous
influence, has persuaded himself it is. It is simply the effort of a
young man of great genius to rewrite a bad play into a good one. The
effort was, on the whole, amazingly successful; that the play is only a
good one, instead of a very good one, is not surprising. The miracle is
that anything should have been made of _The Troublesome Raigne_ at all.
The _Variorum_ extracts show that, of the many commentators who studied
the old play with Shakespeare's version, only Swinburne saw, or had the
courage to say, how utterly null the old play really is. To have made
Shakespeare's Falconbridge out of the old lay figure, to have created
the scenes between Hubert and John, and Hubert and Arthur, out of that
decrepit skeleton--that is the work of a commanding poetical genius on
the threshold of full mastery of its powers, worthy of all wonder, no
doubt, but doubly worthy of close examination.

But 'ideas of treachery'! Into what cloud cuckoo land have we been
beguiled by Coleridge's laudanum trances? A limbo--of this we are
confident--where Shakespeare never set foot at any moment in his life,
and where no robust critical intelligence can endure for a moment. We
must save ourselves from this insidious disintegration by keeping our
eye upon the object, and the object is just a good (not a very good)
play. Not an Ibsen, a Hauptmann, a Shaw, or a Masefield play, where the
influence and ravages of these 'ideas' are certainly perceptible, but
merely a Shakespeare play, one of those works of true poetic genius
which can only be produced by a mind strong enough to resist every
attempt at invasion by the 'idea'-bacillus.

In considering a Shakespeare play the word 'idea' had best be kept out
of the argument altogether; but there are two senses in which it might
be intelligibly used. You might call the dramatic skeleton Shakespeare's
idea of the play. It is the half-mechanical, half-organic factor in the
work of poetic creation--the necessary means by which a poet can
conveniently explicate and express his manifold æsthetic intuitions.
This dramatic skeleton is governed by laws of its own, which were first
and most brilliantly formulated by Aristotle in terms that, in
essentials, hold good for all time. You may investigate this skeleton,
seize, if you can, upon the peculiarity by which it is differentiated
from all other skeletons; you may say, for instance, that _Othello_ is a
tragedy of jealousy, or _Hamlet_ of the inhibition of self-consciousness.
But if your 'idea' is to have any substance it must be moulded very
closely upon the particular object with which you are dealing; and in
the end you will find yourself reduced to the analysis of individual

On the other hand, the word 'idea' might be intelligibly used of
Shakespeare's whole attitude to the material of his contemplation, the
centre of comprehension from which he worked, the aspect under which he
viewed the universe of his interest. There is no reason to rest content
with Coleridge's application of the epithet 'myriad-minded,' which is,
at the best, an evasion of a vital question. The problem is to see
Shakespeare's mind _sub specie unitatis_. It can be done; there never
has been and never will be a human mind which can resist such an inquiry
if it is pursued with sufficient perseverance and understanding. What
chiefly stands in the way is that tradition of Shakespeariolatry which
Coleridge so powerfully inaugurated, not least by the epithet

But of 'ideas' in any other senses than these--and in neither of these
cases is 'idea' the best word for the object of search--let us beware as
we would of the plague, in criticism of Shakespeare or any other great
poet. Poets do not have 'ideas'; they have perceptions. They do not have
an 'idea'; they have comprehension. Their creation is æsthetic, and the
working of their mind proceeds from the realisation of one æsthetic
perception to that of another, more comprehensive if they are to be
great poets having within them the principle of poetic growth. There is
undoubtedly an organic process in the evolution of a great poet, which
you may, for convenience of expression, call logical; but the moment you
forget that the use of the word 'logic,' in this context, is
metaphorical, you are in peril. You can follow out this 'logical
process' in a poet only by a kindred creative process of æsthetic
perception passing into æsthetic comprehension. The hunt for 'ideas'
will only make that process impossible; it prevents the object from ever
making its own impression upon the mind. It has to speak with the
language of logic, whereas its use and function in the world is to speak
with a language not of logic, but of a process of mind which is at least
as sovereign in its own right as the discursive reason.

Let us away then with 'logic' and away with 'ideas' from the art of
literary criticism; but not, in a foolish and impercipient reaction, to
revive the impressionistic criticism which has sapped the English brain
for a generation past. The art of criticism is rigorous; impressions are
merely its raw material; the life-blood of its activity is in the
process of ordonnance of æsthetic impressions.

It is time, however, to return for a moment to Shakespeare, and to
observe in one crucial instance the effect of the quest for logic in a
single line. In the fine scene where John hints to Hubert at Arthur's
murder, he speaks these lines (in the First Folio text):--

  'I had a thing to say, but let it goe:
  The Sunne is in the heauen, and the proud day,
  Attended with the pleasure of the world,
  Is all too wanton, and too full of gawdes
  To giue me audience: If the midnight bell
  Did with his yron tongue, and brazen mouth
  Sound on into the drowzie race of night,
  If this same were a Churchyard where we stand,
  And thou possessed with a thousand wrongs:
  ... Then, in despight of brooded watchfull day,
  I would into thy bosome poure my thoughts....'

If one had to choose the finest line in this passage, the choice would
fall upon

  'Sound on into the drowsy race of night.'

Yet you will have to look hard for it in the modern editions of
Shakespeare. At the best you will find it with the mark of corruption:--

  +'Sound on into the drowsy race of night ('Globe');

and you run quite a risk of finding

  'Sound one into the drowsy race of night' ('Oxford').

There are six pages of close-printed comment upon the line in the
_Variorum_. The only reason, we can see, why it should be the most
commented line in _King John_ is that it is one of the most beautiful.
No one could stand it. Of all the commentators, only one, Miss Porter,
whom we name _honoris causa_, stands by the line with any conviction of
its beauty. Every other person either alters it or regrets his inability
to alter it.

'How can a bell sound on into a race?' pipe the little editors. What is
'the race of night?' What _can_ it mean? How _could_ a race be drowsy?
What an _awful_ contradiction in terms! And so while you and I, and all
the other ordinary lovers of Shakespeare are peacefully sleeping in our
beds, they come along with their little chisels, and chop out the
horribly illogical word and pop in a horribly logical one, and we
(unless we can afford the _Variorum_, which we can't) know nothing
whatever about it. We have no redress. If we get out of our beds and
creep upon them while they are asleep--they never are--and take out our
little chisels and chop off their horribly stupid little heads, we shall
be put in prison and Mr Justice Darling will make a horribly stupid
little joke about us. There is only one thing to do. We must make up our
minds that we have to combine in our single person the scholar and the
amateur; we cannot trust these gentlemen.

And, indeed, they have been up to their little games elsewhere in _King
John_. They do not like the reply of the citizens of Angiers to the
summons of the rival kings:--

  'A greater powre than We denies all this,
  And till it be undoubted, we do locke
  Our former scruple in our strong-barr'd gates;
  Kings of our feare, untill our feares resolu'd
  Be by some certaine king, purg'd and depos'd.'

Admirable sense, excellent poetry. But no! We must not have it. Instead
we are given 'King'd of our fears' ('Globe') or 'Kings of ourselves'
('Oxford'). Bad sense, bad poetry.

They do not like Pandulph's speech to France:--

  'France, thou maist hold a serpent by the tongue,
  A cased lion by the mortall paw,
  A fasting tiger safer by the tooth
  Than keep in peace that hand which thou dost hold.'

'Cased,' caged, is too much for them. We must have 'chafed,' in spite of

  'If thou would'st not entomb thyself alive
  And case thy reputation in thy tent.'

Again, the Folio text of the meeting between the Bastard and Hubert in
Act V., when Hubert fails to recognise the Bastard's voice, runs thus:--

  'Unkinde remembrance: thou and endles night,
  Have done me shame: Brave Soldier, pardon me
  That any accent breaking from thy tongue
  Should scape the true acquaintaince of mine eare.'

This time 'endless' is not poetical enough for the editors. Theobald's
emendation 'eyeless' is received into the text. One has only to read the
brief scene through to realise that Hubert is wearied and obsessed by
the night that will never end. He is overwrought by his knowledge of

             'news fitting to the night,
  Black, fearful, comfortless, and horrible,'

and by his long wandering in search of the Bastard:--

  'Why, here I walk in the black brow of night
  To find you out.'

Yet the dramatically perfect 'endless' has had to make way for the
dramatically stupid 'eyeless.' Is it surprising that we do not trust
these gentlemen?

[APRIL, 1920

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