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Title: The Critical Game
Author: Macy, John Albert, 1877-1932
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, 1922, by
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Printed in the United States of America.





The Critical Game                          11

Dante in English                           31

Dante's Political Philosophy               43

Nietzsche                                  55

Tolstoy                                    65

Maeterlinck's Essays                       95

Joseph Conrad                              105

A Conrad Miscellany                        123

Strindberg                                 135

Tagore                                     145

Remy de Gourmont                           153

Swift's Relations with Women               163

William James, Man of Letters              175

Biographies of Poe                         193

Biographies of Whitman                     203

George E. Woodberry                        215

Abraham Cahan                              227

Thomas Hardy                               237

George Borrow                              247

Shelley                                    259

H. G. Wells and Utopia                     269

John Masefield                             279

Shakespeare and the Scribes                289

George Moore and Other Irish Writers       305

James Joyce                                317

D. H. Lawrence                             325


Criticism is one form of the game of writing. It differs from other
forms only as whist differs from poker and as tennis differs from
golf. The motives are the same, the exercise of the player's brain and
muscles, and the entertainment of the spectators, from whom, if the
player be successful, he derives profit, livelihood, applause, and
fame. The function of criticism at the present time, and at all times,
is the function of all literature, to be wise, witty, eloquent,
instructive, humourous, original, graceful, beautiful, provocative,
irritating, persuasive. That is, it must possess some of the many
merits that can be found in any type of literature; it must in some
way be good writing. There is no other sound principle to be
discovered in the treatises on the art of criticism or in fine
examples of the art. Whether Charles Lamb writes about Shakespeare or
Christ's Hospital or ears is of relatively slight importance compared
with the question whether in one essay or another Lamb is at one of
his incomparable best moments of inspiration.

Remy de Gourmont says, apropos Brunetière's views of Renan:

    Contre l'opinion commune, la critique est peut-être le plus
    subjectif de tous les genres littéraires; c'est une confession
    perpétuelle; en croyant analyser les oeuvres d'autrui, c'est
    soi-même que l'on dévoile et que l'on expose au public ... voulant
    expliquer et contredire Renan, M. Brunetière s'est une fois de
    plus confessé publiquement.

That is true, except that it may be doubted whether one type of
literature is more subjective than another, since all types are
subjective. Even a work that belongs, according to De Quincey's
definition, to the literature of information as distinguished from the
literature of power, even an article in an encyclopædia, an article,
say, on Patagonia, has a man behind it; it cannot be quite objective
and impersonal.

Criticism should not be set off too sharply from other forms of
literary expression. It has no special rights, privileges, and
authority; and at the same time it has no special disabilities that
consign it to a secondary place in the divisions of literature. In any
unit of art, a sonnet or an epic, a short story or a novel, a little
review or a history of æsthetics, a man is trying to say something.
And the value of what he says must, of course, depend partly on the
essential interest of his subject; but it depends to a greater extent
on the skill with which he puts words together, creates interest in
himself. Arnold's essay on Keats is less Keats than Arnold. It could
not have been if Keats had not existed. But the beauty of that
sequence of words, that essay in criticism, is due to the genius of
Arnold. Francis Thompson on Shelley adds no cubit to the stature of
Shelley, but Thompson's interpretation is a marvellous piece of poetic
prose which cannot be deducted without enormous loss from the works of
Thompson, from English criticism. We read Pater on Coleridge, not for
Coleridge but for Pater, and we read Coleridge for Coleridge, not for
Shakespeare. Thackeray's lecture on Swift, which is full of animosity
and miscomprehension, is a well-written revelation of Thackeray.
Trollope's book on Thackeray, which is full of friendship and
admiration, is an ill-written revelation of Trollope.

Some men of great ability, like Trollope, who have written good books
themselves, lack the faculty, whatever it may be, of writing in an
entertaining fashion about the books of other men. Swinburne is a
striking example. His knowledge of literature was immense, and he had
the enthusiasms and contempts that make the critical impulse; but
except when the poet in him seized the pen and made a passage of
lyrical prose, his excursions into criticism are bewildering and
difficult to read. His sonnets on Dickens, Lamb, and the Elizabethans
are worth more than all his prose. On the other hand, Lamb, who wrote
like an angel about the Elizabethan dramatists, failed completely as a

Every man who plays with literature at all must be ambitious to
succeed in some form of art that may be called "creative," as distinct
from critical--a distinction which, since Arnold taught us our lesson,
we know does not exist. The reason for this ambition is plain enough.
A novel or a play reaches a wider audience than a volume of essays,
however admirable; it has a more obvious claim to originality, and it
brings the author a greater degree of practical satisfaction. A few
doubly or trebly gifted men, Dryden, Coleridge, Poe, Arnold, Pater,
Henley, Stevenson, Henry James, could do first-rate work in more than
one _genre_, including criticism. And a good case could be made out to
prove that a man who knows how to handle words in many ways is on the
whole the best qualified to comment on the art of handling words.
However that may be, it is certain that in English literature a critic
who is only a critic seldom wins a conspicuous position. Even Johnson
was something more than a critic, and he was, with all due respect,
somewhat less than a good one. And Hazlitt, who was a good one, wrote
on many subjects besides books and art.

Because so many little people went into the business of reviewing and
presumed to sit in judgment on their betters, criticism early got a
bad name in English literature, and not all the dignified work of
Arnold and others has yet succeeded in restoring the reputation of the
word or the art. Criticism came to mean censure, a connotation which
persists in current speech. The degeneration had already taken place
in Dryden's time, and he protested that "they wholly mistake the
nature of criticism who think that its business is principally to find
fault." Authors of imaginative works became resentful and felt that
the critic was an enemy, a nasty and incompetent enemy, as indeed he
often was. An interesting compilation could be made--and probably
Saintsbury or somebody else has done it--of the retorts and
counter-attacks made by writers of other things than criticism against
the whole critical crew. Here are a few examples:

Gentle Jane Austen in "Northanger Abbey" amusingly defends her
heroine's habit of reading novels:

    I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom, so common
    with novel writers, of degrading, by their contemptuous censure,
    the very performances to the number of which they are themselves
    adding ... if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the
    heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and
    regard?... Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such
    effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to
    talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now

That sounds as if Miss Austen's pride in her craft had been wounded. I
know of no record that anybody ever spoke ill of her while she was

Scott, whose generous soul was hurt by the harsh squabbles of the
Scottish reviewers, took a shot at the tribe in the letter which
appears in the introductory note to "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" in
the Cambridge edition:

    As to the herd of critics, it is impossible for me to pay much
    attention to them for, as they do not understand what I call
    poetry, we talk in a foreign language to each other. Indeed, many
    of these gentlemen appear to me to be a sort of tinkers, who,
    unable to _make_ pots and pans, set up for _menders_ of them,
    and, God knows, often make two holes in patching one.

The idea that the critic is a secondary fellow who cannot make
first-hand literature goes back to Dryden, the champion and exemplar
of sound criticism, who wrote in "The Conquest of Granada":

    They who write ill and they who ne'er durst write
    Turn critics out of mere revenge and spite.

Landor repeats the idea in a "Conversation" between Southey and
Porson, in which Porson says: "Those who have failed as writers turn

Writers and other artists are usually sensitive and often vain. Some
have taken critics too seriously, have given them too much importance
while pretending to despise them, and have allowed themselves to be
stung instead of brushing the flies off. Thanks to Shelley, the idea
became current that the "viperous murderer," the critic, killed Keats.
It was not so. Keats died of tuberculosis. Though he was, like all
poets, delicately organized, he was an unusually sane and self-reliant
man, quite sure of the value of his work. Moreover, in a day when
rough criticism was the fashion, the critics were, though stupid, not
especially rough on Keats. Shelley's "_J'accuse_" is flaming poetry,
but--it is not good criticism. Byron had the right idea. With his
superior wit and vigour he gave the reviewers ten blows for one and
used his opponents as the occasion of a delightful exhibition of
boxing. The reviewers were knocked out in the second round. "English
Bards and Scottish Reviewers" is still in the ring, as I have
pleasantly discovered by re-reading it.

The notion that the critic will, or can, do damage to the artist
persisted long after Shelley and is perhaps still believed. In 1876,
Sidney Lanier, a man of good sense and great bravery, whom the flies,
or the "vipers," had but lightly nipped, wrote in a letter to his

    What possible claim can contemporary criticism set up to
    respect--that criticism which crucified Jesus, stoned Stephen,
    hooted Paul for a madman, tried Luther for a criminal, tortured
    Galileo, bound Columbus in chains, drove Dante into a hell of
    exile, made Shakespeare write the sonnet, "When in disgrace of
    fortune and men's eyes," gave Milton £5 for "Paradise Lost," kept
    Samuel Johnson cooling his heels on Lord Chesterfield's doorstep,
    reviled Shelley as an unclean dog, killed Keats, cracked jokes on
    Gluck, Schubert, Beethoven, Berlioz, and Wagner, and committed so
    many other impious follies and stupidities?

Lanier's charges are not all quite true. He mixed up the sins of
criticism with the sins of politics, economics, and other dreadful
affairs. But his outburst is a good illustration of the quarrel
between the "author" and the "critic." Especially when the author has
for the moment lost his sense of humour.

The best treatment of the critic by the author, as also, perhaps, of
the author by the critic, is humourous. In "One of Our Conquerors,"
Meredith lays out the art critics:

    He had relied and reposed on the dicta of newspaper critics; who
    are sometimes unanimous, and are then taken for guides, and are

Washington Irving, in a delightful little paper called "Desultory
Thoughts on Criticism," quietly places the reviewer in the low seat
where he belongs. I shall not quote from the essay, but merely refer
the reader to it and especially to the introductory quotation from
Buckingham's "Rehearsal," in which the critic is set in a still lower

Finally--for these quotations--Dr. Holmes, who lived all his life
surrounded by praise and comfort, puts his finger gently on the
parasitism of the critic. The passage is in "The Poet at the Breakfast

    Our _epizoic_ literature is becoming so extensive that nobody is
    safe from its _ad infinitum_ progeny. A man writes a book of
    criticisms. A _Quarterly Review_ criticises the critic. A _Monthly
    Magazine_ takes up the critic's critic. A _Weekly Journal_
    criticizes the critic of the critic's critic, and a daily paper
    favours us with some critical remarks on the performance of the
    writer in the _Weekly_, who has criticised the critical notice in
    the _Monthly_ of the critical essay in the _Quarterly_ on the
    critical work we started with. And thus we see that as each flea
    "has smaller fleas that on him prey," even the critic himself
    cannot escape the common lot of being bitten.

To what extent is the critic parasitic? To this extent: he is dealing
with ideas already expressed, with cooked and predigested food. It is
easier for any mind to think of something to say about an idea that
has already gone through cerebral processes than it is to take the raw
material of life and make something. You may sit on a bench in the
park and watch the people and never, for the life of you, conceive a
good story. Then O. Henry comes along and makes twenty stories. After
he has done it, you can write something very brilliant about what O.
Henry saw from the same bench that you sat on. And you can make neat
remarks about the resemblances and differences between O. Henry,
Boccaccio, and H. C. Bunner. That may be worth doing, if your remarks
are really neat. For then you may be readable.

And that is the function of the critic, to be readable, to make
literature of a sort. The critic is always playing his own game,
selfish, egotistical, expressive of his own will, and no more
disinterested than was Arnold himself when he took his pen in hand to
slay a Philistine or to sign a contract with his manager for a lecture
tour in America. In playing his own game the critic may help the game
of another author by crying him up and advertising him. But a hundred
critics, clamouring in the fatal unanimity at which Meredith pokes
fun, cannot make the fortunes of a book or influence at the creative
source the work of a man sufficiently strong and original to be worth
reading. And the same hundred critics with lofty hatred of bad writing
cannot prevent bad books from being written and read. George Eliot
made it a rule not to read criticisms of her work because she found it
necessary to be preserved "from that discouragement as an artist which
ill-judged praise no less than ill-judged blame tends to produce in
me." The implication that criticism, favorable or unfavorable, is
ill-judged gives us an addition to our notes on what authors think of
critics. I doubt whether, if that strong-minded woman had read
everything that was written about her before and after her death, she
would have altered a single sentence. Did Hardy stop writing novels
because of the ignorant attacks on "Jude"? I would not accept without
question Hardy's own word for it. I suspect that it was his own inward
impulse, not determined by the opinions of the other people, that
turned his energy to that stupendous epic, "The Dynasts."

To what extent can the critic play the game of the reader, be guide
and teacher, maintain standards, elevate taste, make the best ideas
prevail? Not to a very great extent. Criticism, good or bad, is read
only by the sophisticated, by people whose tastes are formed and who
can take care of themselves in matters literary and intellectual. Who
that had not already looked into Shakespeare and Plato ever heard of
Pater? The journals that print intelligent articles about literature
and art have a small circulation; they are missionaries to the
converted; their controversial discussions of general principles or of
the merits of an individual are only family feuds. Critics play with
each other in a professional game. The few amateurs who sit as
spectators are a select minority who have seen the game before and
who, though not in the professional class, are instructed, cultivated,
have some knowledge of the plays. The critical game is enjoyed by
those who are themselves critical and least in need of enlightenment.

Nevertheless, it is a great game--when it is played well.

The author of a book on golf illustrates it with the stances and
swings of better players than himself; he makes an anthology. A
collection of essays by various authors would illustrate the game
better than the plays of a single critic, a much more competent critic
than I. I do not pretend that the essays in this book are first-rate
specimens of how the strokes should be made. But even a small fellow
may flatter himself that he has an individual way of looking at things
which may give unity of interest to a collection of papers. At any
rate he has a right to exhibit his methods, and nobody is obliged to
watch him or play with him.

Most of these papers have been published in reviews and magazines,
_The Freeman_, _The Dial_, _The New Republic_, the _Boston Herald_,
the _Atlantic Monthly_, the _Literary Review_ of the _New York Evening
Post_, the _New York Tribune_.

The essay on Joseph Conrad appeared in the _Atlantic Monthly_ in
1906. I am proud only of the date. Sixteen years ago Conrad was not
universally recognized; some of his best work had not been done; and
many finer essays than mine had not yet been written. If I was not the
first American critic to pursue that mysterious mariner across
enchanted seas, at least I can swear before the critical court of
admiralty that the waters were not crowded with little craft like
mine. It is a pleasure to read again a few letters which hail me for
hailing Conrad and which make me believe that I did introduce the
master to a few readers. If so, I have not lived in vain.

But my pride is somewhat reduced by the consideration that any reader
intelligent enough to look at a literary essay in the _Atlantic
Monthly_ must sooner or later have discovered Conrad for himself
without the assistance of a critic. However, I hug with amusement the
memory of a Harvard professor who threw up his hands and said: "My
God! I had no idea there was a man living who could write like that!"
To the professorial mind in those days English literature stopped
officially with the death of Browning or, at the latest, with the
deaths of Stevenson and Pater. The essay itself is a little
professorial, enfeebled by a sort of Boston-Harvard timidity, utterly
failing to express the wild joy which I felt. The second paper on
Conrad, written fifteen years later, is not so hesitant. It is
interesting to look again at the bibliographical footnote to the first
essay and see how Conrad's few books were scattered among the
publishers. I could not find "An Outcast of the Islands" except in the
Tauchnitz edition. Today his work is collected. There is a handsome
subscription edition. And Mr. Doubleday tells me that a new book by
Conrad has an assured immediate sale of twenty to thirty thousand.
Perhaps, after all, we who cheered long ago when it was not the
fashion to cheer have justified our miserable existence as critics.

The essay on Tolstoy was written in the two months immediately after
his death. Mr. Ellery Sedgwick asked me to write it for the _Atlantic
Monthly_ and then rejected it. It was published in the _New York
Call_. I bear no bitter grudge against Mr. Sedgwick for returning an
article that he had ordered. But I am convinced, as I read the
article over again, that he is an incompetent critic of criticism.
Sometimes editors and publishers, whose business it is to provide the
arena and assemble the spectators, play their part of the game
stupidly. But on the whole I think they are more than generous to
second-rate performers. If I owned a magazine I should be very
grudging of the space I gave to literary chatter--except my own.

A critical friend--we critics suffer from each other--admonishes me
that in the foregoing remarks I have treated an important art in a
flippant manner. Certainly I am not so foolish as to take my essays
very seriously, and I believe that much modern criticism is too
solemn, that if we fooled with literature in a lighter spirit we
should enjoy it more and be happier.

Charles Lamb was not afraid to kick up his heels, and yet nobody will
accuse him of being a trivial clown. Oscar Wilde was a man of wit,
sometimes a buffoon, and he could puncture a stupid piece of work with
ridicule. But the prevailing tone of his best essays is one of dignity
and sobriety.

Good criticism is as important as anything that man can put on paper.
Moreover, certain subjects must be treated by the critic with the
utmost gravity. It would be owlishly humourless, uncritical, not to
take Tolstoy seriously. Essays about the greater men of genius and the
deeper problems of art must be substantial, solid, or they are
inappropriate, out of key.

But it is possible to be sane and erudite without being leaden, to
approach a noble subject earnestly without striking an attitude of
priestly austerity. Some of our sincerest contemporaries, both the
academic and the rebellious, seem to me to worry about literature, as
if it were an invalid that needed nursing or a dead man about whom the
last word must be said before next Thursday afternoon. They do not get
enough fun out of it. They forget that Pater, who was not a mad wag
and not a dilettante, could sometimes see the gaiety of things and was
willing to be inconclusive.

Criticism is important. The best contemporaneous English criticism is
not good enough. And even in France, where we have been taught to look
for sound critics, Flaubert thought as late as 1869 that criticism was
still in its infancy. He wrote to George Sand: "You speak of criticism
in your last letter to me, telling me that it will soon disappear. I
think, on the contrary, that it is, at most only dawning.... When will
they (critics) be artists, only artists, but really artists? Where do
you know a criticism? Who is there who is anxious about the work in
itself, in an intense way?... The _unconscious_ poetic expression?
Where it comes from? its composition, its style? The point of view of
the author? Never. That criticism would require great imagination and
great sympathy." To which George Sand replied with good sense: "The
artist is too much occupied with his own work to forget himself in
estimating that of others."

Since then France has had a generation of critics, some of whom were
artists. If Hennequin, who thought he was a scientific critic, was not
an artist, if De Gourmont, who smiled wisely at the whole game, was
not an artist, then the word means nothing. In England and America
criticism has not made much progress since Pater died. I know that I
am punctuating literature in the manner of the academic fogies. But
one of the humours of this sport is that you sometimes do things which
are fouls when your opponent is guilty of them.

I come back gladly to the analogy of the game. We have, I believe,
made progress in one direction. In the direction of fair play. We
cannot write like Hazlitt, but we will not hit below the belt as he
did sometimes. We cannot write like Arnold, and his combination of
literary charm and scholarship makes us feel desperately small, but in
our descent from his altitude we have freed ourselves from his major
vice, his dogmatic snobbery, his bigoted liberalism. The
pulpit-pounder still thrives in religion and politics; in criticism he
is becoming obsolete. I am sure, or at least hopeful, that this is
true in America. I think I see a slight but appreciable improvement in
candour, simplicity, generosity, geniality, and fairness in attack. On
the whole we are a little more sportsmanlike than some of our elders.
That is all that I claim for us. Our real consolation is that the
ancient and honorable game is still young, still to be played.


I am tempted to call the following remarks "Reading Dante for Fun."
The most austere of poets should not be treated with levity. But,
after all, poetry, even poetry of profound ethical and religious
import, is to be enjoyed. And the simple point that I wish to make, as
a mere reader with but a stumbling knowledge of Italian and almost no
knowledge of the vast library of Dante scholarship, is that Dante is
accessible in English. His book of magic is at least half open even to
one who must forever remain partly blind and deaf to the beauty of the
original. It is a great pleasure to read the convenient little volumes
of the Temple Classics with the Italian text on the left-hand page and
the English on the right, to read idly or study deeply, according to
mood and temperament. At any rate, let us not be overcome by the
solemnity of the occasion or discouraged by the difficulties, some of
which the commentators have cleared away and some of which they have
made more difficult.

Dr. Toynbee[1] finds that since 1802 the _Commedia_ as a whole has
been translated into English about once every four years. And he
excludes from his record American translators and critics. Why did Dr.
Toynbee or the British Academy make this commemorative volume so
narrowly insular? English and American scholarship is one institution.
And American Dantists have done good work. Though it is the fashion to
scorn the Yankee bards and seers, Lowell's essay and the translations
by Longfellow, Norton, and Parsons are important in the history of
Dante in English, not British, literature. They had literary gifts,
they knew Italian, and they were able to appreciate a universal mind.
For all their provinciality their shades can afford to smile at their
young countryman, Mr. Mencken, who writes: "If I have to go to hell
for it, I must here set down my conviction that much of the 'Divine
Comedy' is piffle." Well, he ought to go to hell--to Dante's hell,
which is an entertaining and hospitable place. In the cold prose of
Norton or John Carlyle, where the melody is necessarily lost, there
may be some passages in which an alert modern reader cannot find great
interest, but the number of lines of "piffle" is exactly none.

          [1] Britain's Tribute To Dante in Literature and Art. A
          Chronological Record of 540 Years. By Paget Toynbee. London:
          Published for the British Academy, 1921.

It is not to be expected that all men, even all literary men, will
respond to Dante. Horace Walpole called him "extravagant, absurd,
disgusting; in short, a Methodist parson in Bedlam." This is amusing,
even refreshing, in view of the too pious devotion of some later
Englishmen. But the eighteenth century was not the time for English
appreciation of Dante, and Walpole, witty _prosateur_, was not the man
to enjoy him. Dante was known, of course, to Chaucer and to the
Elizabethans and Milton, and his influence on English poetry was
perhaps even greater than Dr. Toynbee's record makes evident. But it
is with the nineteenth century, which, _bien entendu_, was born
intellectually a few years before its numerical date, that Dante
becomes a power in English literature. He is, indeed, a part of the
revival of English romanticism. The translations of Boyd and Cary
appeared early in the century, and from then on Dante belonged to
English literature, as well acclimated as any other foreign classic.
The index of Dr. Toynbee's record contains the names of almost all the
important English poets from Scott to Francis Thompson.

And it contains hundreds of other names, not perhaps of great
importance in literature, but important in this respect, that they
show the appeal of Dante to a great variety of minds, of minds not
mediæval, not Catholic, not Italian. Nobody can dip into him, however
superficially, without getting something. He has so much that
everybody can be happy, from the Pope to the most pagan young poet.
Though the true Dantist will insist that the greatest of poets must be
understood, or accepted, entire, like his own God and his own
universe, I propose that the anthological view of him is proper and
delightful. If he is so rich and structurally perfect that no side of
him can be neglected, then he is so rich and so strong that any side
of him can be neglected. You can sit under a tree on the side of a
mountain without comprehending the mountain, but deriving much
happiness from the tree, the altitude, and the view.

The interpreters of Dante's stupendous unity are all true to Dante, in
that they try to find some complete explanation of him and will
tolerate no neglect of his least detail. Dante himself, for all his
mystery and multiple meanings, is quite explicit about the
indivisibility, the integrity, of his work. So that the episodic,
incomplete view of him, which I recommend to other casual readers, is
unphilosophic and amateurish. Let us concede that and at the same time
let us reserve the right to be cheerfully weary of systems where the
"benumbed conceiving soars." Ruskin speaks the indubitable truth: "The
central man of all the world, as representing the imaginative, moral,
and intellectual faculties, all at their highest, is Dante." But such
a genius is too awful to contemplate, and it is more comfortable to
keep this side idolatry.

Moreover, the interpreters, seeking to comprehend Dante's vast
totality, do not discover complete unity among themselves. Mr. Walter
Arensberg[2] thinks that he has unlocked the mystery, and I think that
he has. But as I had a little to do with filing that key I will not
say how well I think it turns in the wards of the lock; I will leave
him to the mercies of other critics and merely note that six centuries
after Dante's death we have a novel interpretation.

          [2] The Crytography of Dante. By Walter Arensberg. New York:
          Alfred A. Knopf, 1921.

And then comes Professor Courtney Langdon[3] with another. One of his
ideas seems to me just, though debatable--namely, that any modern man
has the right to find anything in Dante that he can find, to derive
the sort of joy and wisdom that suit him, the reader, whether or not
Dante would recognize that reader's meaning. The poet exists for our
benefit and, like the Bible, does not forbid but justifies the
multitude of sects and individual expositors. That idea alone is worth
Professor Langdon's labor, and it will be interesting to see how he
develops it. Unfortunately, his translation is worse than useless. He
simply has not the gift of English verse. His own verses, prefixed to
the several canticles, are absurd doggerel; they remind one of
Longfellow's lovely sonnets (the best poems he ever wrote) only by
their position of naïve rivalry with the splendor that follows. And,
what is more strange, Professor Langdon writes abominable prose, such
assaults upon the ear as "verse's rhythm" and "Divine Comedy's last
part." If the poet exists for us, in English or Italian, one of the
things to learn from him is how to write.

          [3] The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. The Italian Text
          with a Translation in English Blank Verse and a Commentary.
          By Courtney Langdon. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 3

The poet exists for us. That is an excellent idea. It is our privilege
to take what we enjoy and reject what we do not like or understand. I
cannot be interested in Dante's ethics, which interested him so
profoundly and is the bone of his thought. His "stern indignant
moral," as Carlyle called it, is for me no part of the beauty of the
"mystic song." I cannot regard without suspicion, even in a New
Englander, Norton's statement to Dr. Dinsmore that the quality of the
_Commedia_, other than its beauty, which attracted him to Dante was
"his powerful exposition of moral penalties and rewards." Other than
its beauty? What does that mean? If the qualities of the _Commedia_
can be separated (Dante happened to believe that they can not be), let
us throw the ethics, the penalties, and rewards to the four winds. Let
us keep as much as we can grasp of the beauty of the episodes, the
images, the phrases, the structure, whatever gives delight.

The beauty of the fifth canto of _Inferno_ does not depend on the
ethical fact that the carnal sinners are punished, but on the poetic
fact that their pathetic loves on earth are recalled and that their
punishment is vividly, physically dramatized. The tragic pity and
terror of it break through the baldest translation stripped of the
enchantment of the original verse. Many English poets have been
tempted to try to render that famous fifth canto. Mr. Arensberg has
made the best version that I have seen. His version is in the _terza
rima_, a difficult thing to manage in English, and he succeeds in
making a good English poem, a shade finer than a mere _tour de force_.
I doubt whether he or any other poet can so well translate the entire
_Commedia_ in the same form, though the attempt has been made. The
_terza rima_ has never been quite naturalized in our language. Even
such a master as Shelley can not turn it perfectly. We imported the
sonnet as easily as the apple and we made some French forms grow
thriftily in our hardy garden. The _terza rima_ remains artificial and
foreign, peculiarly Italian and more peculiarly Dante; he made it his
own and moved at ease in its exacting rigidities. He was in thought
and form a diabolical magician.

In order to show the _terza rima_ in English and to suggest (not to
solve!) the problem of translation, let us look at three versions of
the last ten lines of the fifth canto of _Inferno_, the story of Paolo
and Francesca. Francesca is speaking and tells how she and her lover
read the story of Lancelot and Guinevere--romance within romance!
First, Norton's clear, deliberately uninspired prose:

    "When we read of the longed-for smile being kissed by such a
    lover, this one, who never shall be divided from me, kissed my
    mouth all trembling. Gallehaut was the book, and he wrote it. That
    day we read no farther in it!"

    While the one spirit said this, the other was so weeping that
    through pity I swooned as if I had been dying, and fell as a dead
    body falls.

Then Longfellow in traditional blank verse (and it is good verse; he
knew his business):

    "When as we read of the much longed-for smile
    Being by such a noble lover kissed,
    This one, who ne'er from me shall be divided,
    Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
    Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
    That day no farther did we read therein."
    And all the while one spirit uttered this,
    The other one did weep so that, for pity,
    I swooned away as if I had been dying,
    And fell, even as a dead body falls.

Finally, Arensberg in _terza rima_:

    "When we had read how one so amorous
      Had kissed the smile that he was longing for,
    This one, who always must be by me thus,

      Kissed me upon the mouth, trembling all o'er;
    Galeot the book, and he 'twas written by!
      Upon that day in it we read no more."

    So sorely did the other spirit cry,
      While the one spoke, that for the very dread
    I swooned as if I were about to die,
      And I fell down even as a man falls dead.

Those versions, I submit, are all good; and I risked the tedium of
repeating the same idea of Dante in the English of three different
translators. Because my simple point is that Dante in English is
interesting--to anybody who cares for English literature.


Dante's _De Monarchia_ is usually treated by the commentators as a
mere footnote to the _Commedia_; and this subordination is justifiable
because the poet in Dante overwhelms all other expressions of his
genius and also because the _Commedia_ contains much political
philosophy, some of which _De Monarchia_ elucidates. But _De
Monarchia_, considered by itself, is a work of great importance. Even
if by some unthinkable accident the _Commedia_ had been lost and _De
Monarchia_ had survived, it would remain a significant treatise on the
state and the papacy and would deserve to be regarded as we regard the
political writings of philosophers from Plato to Hobbes. To be sure,
the chief interest of the work for us lies in the fact that Dante
wrote it, and it would lose some of its value if it were isolated from
the rest of his thought; the amazing unity of his mind and the
coherence of his purpose make a piecemeal view of any part of him
essentially false. His vision of earth and heaven has a thousand
aspects but no fragments. Even the unfinished works, _Il Convivio_ and
_De Vulgari Eloquentia_, are not fragments but are rather to be read
as partial manifestations of a singular and consistent plan.

_De Monarchia_ is a vision of earthly well-being. It is an argument,
prosaic and heavy in the English translations and very difficult in
the original, I should suppose, even to an excellent Latin scholar.
But the argument embodies a dream of the greatest of dreamers. The
first part sets forth the necessity of empire. Only under a single
world-governing monarch are possible the solidarity of mankind and the
fullest possible development of the human spirit. In unity man can
find peace and justice. Man is made in the image of God, and God is
one; wherefore man in imitation of God must make the secular world
conform to the universe and set up a unique earthly dominion. In the
nature of things empire is divinely ordained and this is further
proved by the fact that Christ willed to be born under the Emperor

The second part seeks to show that the Roman empire was appointed by
God to rule the world. It was established by the aid of miracles,
which confirm it as especially created by the will of God. Christ died
under the empire; if the empire had not been the rightful temporal
authority, Christ would have been punished by the agent of an unjust
power, his suffering would have been unlawful and therefore the sin of
Adam would not have been duly expiated. Rome was born to command,
because it did, in point of fact, conquer the world, and also because
the histories of its many heroes and patriots show that the Roman
citizen loved right and justice.

The third part is an argument for the separation of church and state,
which are independent authorities both deriving directly from God.
Many false arguments for the temporal power of the church are refuted.
Though the emperor, as a man, is the first son of the church and
should obey it like other Christians, yet as emperor he owes
allegiance only to God, whom he represents on earth in temporal
matters as the pope represents God in spiritual matters. The very
nature of the church, its essential spiritual function, forbids it the
possession of temporal power.

Have we here, then, nothing but a defence of an empire that has been
dust these many centuries, and stale scholastic arguments for the
separation of church and state, a long settled question in theoretic
politics and practically settled in most countries? There is much more
than that in _De Monarchia_ even for the most confident modern
democrat, who may regard emperor and pope as twin tyrants and for whom
the word "mediæval" has derogatory connotations. It is true that the
empire under which Dante actually lived is dead as the empire of the
Caesars and that the empire of Dante's dream was never realized in the
workaday world. As a political pamphlet _De Monarchia_ is obsolete
without even the persistent contemporaneity of some eighteenth century
tracts. In a sense Dante's treatise died at birth. Bryce, who gives an
excellent summary of it in his "Holy Roman Empire," shows that this
plea for empire, conceived by the supreme mind of the age, was the
epitaph of the existing empire. It was, indeed, a swan-song, not of
the author, who was still to take us to Paradise and put his dream in
lovelier form, but of empire in the Catholic Christian sense of
"holy." The empire that persisted after the thirteenth century grew
further and further away not only from a poet's dream but from any
practical possibility of united political authority. The solidarity of
mankind was not to be achieved through Rome or Christ, and Dante was
not, as he thought, announcing a new era, but summing up a passing

But the truth of a dream inheres in the dream itself and is measured
only in a secondary way by the course of events. _De Monarchia_ has
for us at least the value of a pacifist tract, the noble core of which
is not obscured by the strangeness of some of the reasoning or by the
destruction of Dante's political milieu. Like some other pacifist
documents it is the work of an aggressive militant mind. Dante had
lived and suffered in a world continuously at war. The contesting
powers, great and small, were so complicated that the historian has
difficulty in keeping them clear. To the major quarrels between church
and state and the strife of the city-republics with one or the other
or both were added an internal warfare between economic classes and
feuds between castes and families, all hopelessly intricate.

In this bloody confusion Dante had played the part not of closet
philosopher _au-dessus de la mêlée_, but of soldier and civil official.
And to the last he was temperamentally a fighter, though forced by
circumstances to drop the sword for the pen. He was not in the eyes of
his contemporaries what he has become for us, the supreme solitary
genius exiled by an ungrateful city, but was simply one of a thousand
members of a beaten party. He was not a pathetic, unappreciated poet
but a pertinacious partisan who happened to be on the losing side. He
knew war and misery and defeat. Yet his plea for peace is by no means
that of a weary belligerent; it is that of a bellicose champion of
certain principles. And so, though those principles do not appeal to us
and though the expression of them is laborious, even turgid, _De
Monarchia_ is still hot with conviction.

The instrument of peace was the one form of government that Dante
knew, the empire. Even if his genius had taken the form of
vaticination (he was indeed, as it turned out, a poor prophet), he
naturally could not in his time have made himself familiar with
leagues of nations and Wellsian "world-states." He had to ride on a
horse, not in a motor-car. And he rode, as a worldly rider, to a fall.
The tragedy of the fall has in it a large element of dramatic irony
because he was so splendidly sure of his ideas at exactly the moment
when they were least secure.

Dante's conception of an ideal empire had nothing in common with what
we now call imperialism, which is mere commercial conquest and can be
led by Kaiser or democratic prime minister with equally disastrous
results. Dante believed in an imperial headship for the good of all
humanity. The ruler of the world was to be the servant of the world,
not its master and exploiter; a supreme monarch was to be protected by
his lonely authority from the temptations that beset a weak man
clothed with limited and contentious authority; aloof from strife and
cupidity, having all and so being beyond pride and ambition, he could
be a disinterested and just administrator.

The aim of empire is universal peace--Dante begins his argument almost
in the terms of Burke and with something like Burke's combination of
generosity and elaborate futility--peace, "the best of those things
that are ordained for our beatitude." For on peace depends the destiny
of mankind to realize the full power of the human mind in thought and
deed. Dante's world state is Utopia, compounded, as all Utopias must
be, of wisdom and utter impossibilities, of sublime faith and facts
half-understood. While he dreamed he did not believe himself a
dreamer, any more than did Shelley. He believed intensely in the
practical value of his vision, in its originality and its finality as
a solution of the problems of the political world. He says that
knowledge of monarchy has been shunned because it has no direct
relation to profit, and that he will be the first to bring it from
obscurity to light for the good of the world and for his own glory.
The humble servant and the arrogant doctor at the bedside of the
patient! It is one of the most consistent contradictions of proud
souls. The reformer has found a new and sure cure and cries "Eureka!"

In spite of the practical failure of his dream, which in a sense
defeats him, I do not believe that Dante's pell-mell acceptance of all
stories about the greatness of Rome, with no apparent discrimination,
is proof that he did not know what he was about. He was making a
special plea and he pillaged history and legend to get material for
the purposes of his argument. He is a dialectician animated, like all
reformers, by unselfish motives, but willing to score a point if he
can. We may be fairly sure that Dante was not a credulous person with
a childish view of history, but a sophisticated controversialist
handling his evidence for effect. Though he mingles fact and fiction
and though his documentary resources were more limited than ours, yet
he knew perfectly what he was trying to do, and modern attempts to
gloss him in a patronizing and apologetic manner are generally

There is a grim humour in the fate that overtakes the works of wise
men. The treatise which Dante believed would bring peace to a vexed
world became a matter of strife. Later Ghibellines used his argument,
unfairly, of course, to support the supremacy of the empire over the
church, and ecclesiastical authority retorted by condemning the book
and even threatening the repose of Dante's bones. A somewhat similar
quarrel arose over Hobbes's "Leviathan" three centuries later. Seeking
to unite all men, the political philosopher is attacked from both
sides, and if he lives he finds that he has poured oil not on troubled
waters but on a fire.

Though _De Monarchia_ is much more than a footnote to the _Commedia_
and is worth study for its own sake, yet the unity which it seeks in
the world is closely allied to the unity of Dante's celestial vision
by which he tried to lead mankind to God. Mankind refused to be cured
of its political pains by _De Monarchia_ and even ignored it in spite
of Dante's secure and growing fame (there was no English translation
until the late nineteenth century). But mankind also never accepted
and never will accept the supreme vision of the _Commedia_. It is a
beautiful poem enjoyed by the literary, and even in Italy it is
valued, quite properly, as a mere work of art. The world has never
paid much attention to Dante's declared purpose to bring mankind
through art to God. So that in one way of regarding him, which may
perhaps be his way, he failed in the _Commedia_ as he did in _De
Monarchia_. The world of thinking and acting men, whose salvation
Dante believed he could work by verse and prose, remains disunited and
contentious, weaponed with such bitterness of heart and methods of
destruction as the dreamer of _Inferno_ never dreamed.


It is more than thirty years since Nietzsche's work was finished and
darkness fell upon that mighty intellect. In 1917, Mr. W. M. Salter,
who certainly knows the bibliography of Nietzsche, wrote:

    I can not make out that his influence is appreciable now--at least
    in English-speaking countries.... He has, indeed given a phrase
    and perhaps an idea or two to Mr. Bernard Shaw, a few scattering
    scholars have got track of him (I know of but two or three in
    America), the great newspaper and magazine-writing and reading
    world has picked up a few of his phrases, which it does not

The preface of Frau Foerster-Nietzsche's edition of her brother's
correspondence with Wagner is dated, Weimar, 1914, and the English
translation was published in 1921. Dr. Oscar Levy's preface to his
selection from the five volumes of Nietzsche's correspondence,[1]
published in Germany between the years 1900-1909, is dated August,

          [1] "Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche." Edited by Dr.
          Oscar Levy. Authorized Translation by Anthony M. Ludovico.
          New York: Doubleday Page & Co.

So, although Nietzsche's works are now all, or nearly all, to be read
in English, he is not quite an old story which every literate child
should know. Professional students of philosophy seemed to have missed
him or to have tardily recognized him, and the mere casual reader of
philosophy may quietly dodge Mr. Mencken's bludgeon: "Only blockheads
to-day know nothing of them [Nietzsche's ideas] and only fools are
unshaken by them." That sort of aggressiveness on the part of a
champion of Nietzsche will not help the master's ideas to prevail;
though it may seem to be a disciple's repetition of Nietzsche's superb
arrogance, it is really not true to his spirit. For Nietzsche attacked
thoughts and thinkers, quarrelled with opponents who were somewhere
near his size, ignored the opinions of the brainless multitude, and
was content to wait for time and the slow-moving world to find him

Certainly he can not be jammed down our throat, and quite as certainly
his stimulating and cathartic doses can not be snatched from our lips
by moralistic prohibitionists. It is possible, of course, for a doctor
to take advantage of one's innocence and ignorance and put one to
sleep with drugs. That was my own experience. Dr. Paul Elmer More
stole up on me in the dark with a soporific little book, the first I
had ever read about Nietzsche. When I came to, the world was at war. A
wild German philosopher, who had been quoted by a brutal German
general named Bernhardi, was responsible for the violation of Belgian
women. This was manifestly absurd, but there was no time to
investigate and explain, even for one's private satisfaction, the
causes of this ridiculous misunderstanding not only of an individual
philosopher but of the relation of book-philosophy to appallingly
unphilosophic crimes.

It is amazing to find that the absurdity persists, that it is
necessary for Dr. Levy to try to prove in 1921 that Nietzsche did not
incite the Germans to a war of conquest! Has not the hysteria
sufficiently subsided for wise men to quit wasting their energies in a
contest with spooks? It was part of Nietzsche's work to ridicule
ghosts and blow away myths, and that he should have become a myth
himself is an irony that he might have enjoyed. He gloried in being
misunderstood. The true philosopher has always been in lonely
opposition to the dominant ideals of his time. It is in a tone not of
resentment or complaint but of haughty satisfaction that he writes to
Georg Brandes, in the last year of his intellectual life:

    Your opinion of present-day Germans is more favourable than mine
    ... all profound events escape them. Take, for example, my "Beyond
    Good and Evil." What bewilderment it has caused them. I have not
    heard of a single intelligent utterance about it, much less of an
    intelligent sentiment. I believe that it has not dawned on the
    most well-intentioned of my readers that here is the outcome of a
    sane philosophic sensibility, and not a medley of a hundred
    outworn paradoxes and heterodoxes. Not a soul has ever experienced
    the same sort of thing that I have. I never meet anyone who has
    been through a thousandth part of the same passionate struggle.

Nietzsche's philosophic solitude accounts in part for the excellence
of his letters. In his struggles with the world, and his wilful
alienation from it, he clung passionately to the few who were allied
to him by the ties of blood, friendship, or intellectual sympathy. The
letters contain no philosophic ideas which he did not express again
and again in his professional writings. They do contain something
else, however, moods, emotions, pleasures and private difficulties,
intimacies which are never quite apart from the incessant battle of
thought yet belong to moments of comparative ease when the soldier is
off duty. This philosopher, whose work is so intensely personal, who
says that he wrote his books with his whole body and life, did not
completely express himself in his books. He poured his soul into them
and was honestly naked and unashamed. But for all his autobiographical
candor, his work is not a promiscuous confession. He labored over his
paragraphs like an artist, calculated their effect, and made them
personal only in so far as suited his philosophic purpose. There
remains a sensitive and reticent Nietzsche who revealed himself to his
friends alone.

He was fortunate in his friends. When he writes in the preface of
"Human, All-Too-Human," that he has evolved an as yet non-existent
company of free spirits, because he needs them and because they are
some compensation for lack of friends, he is posing in a philosophic
attitude which is quite justified by his experience as a thinker and
writer but which is not quite true to the private history of Friedrich
Nietzsche. He never lacked friends, and his isolation was in great
measure self-imposed. The most distinguished friend he lost was
Wagner; the break came late in the older man's life, and it seems to
have been the younger man who disrupted the friendship.

Even without Wagner, Nietzsche's correspondents are numerous and
varied, as many and of as many kinds as a wise man needs, if he
chooses to make the most of them. The lonely philosopher was not
neglected as man and brother. He preferred to flock by himself. His
ill health rather than the animosity of his countrymen drove him out
of Germany; and he was happiest, as close as he ever came to
happiness, when he concentrated his energy in his work. He makes a
philosophic virtue of necessity, affects to despise what he can not
have, laments his solitude and is proud of it. To his sister he writes:

    You can not think how lonely and out of it I always feel when I am
    in the midst of all the kindly Tartufferie of those people whom
    you call 'good,' and how intensely I yearn at times for a man who
    is honest and who can talk even if he were a monster, but of
    course I should prefer discourse with demi-gods.... Oh, this
    infernal solitude!

A few months later, when this aged philosopher is forty, he writes to
an old friend that all the people he loves belong to the past and
regard him with merely merciful indulgence.

    We see each other, we talk in order to avoid being silent--we
    still write each other in order to avoid being silent. Truth,
    however, glances from their eyes, and these tell me (I hear it
    well enough): 'Friend Nietzsche, you are now quite alone!'

    That's what I have lived and fought for!

The last sentence may be taken in two ways. It may mean that Nietzsche
strove for isolation, or it may be interpreted bitterly: "So _that's_
what I get from my friends for all my labor and struggle!" Perhaps
both meanings are there. The letter ends: "Ah, dear friend, what an
absurdly silent life I lead! So much alone, so much alone! So
'childless'! Remain fond of me; I am truly fond of you." That sounds
like a not too human cry of hunger for affection. The man who prefers
demi-gods and is confident that he would be worthy of their
companionship is not immune from the pangs of ordinary mortals.

Nietzsche had a self-critical knowledge of his own needs and nature,
and, so far as circumstances permitted, he followed the course that
pleased him. He sometimes groaned but he never whined. In a letter to
his sister, who had evidently suggested the possibility of marriage,
he says that he cheerfully accepts the disadvantages of independence.
The list of requirements that he lays down are enough to make us
congratulate the impossible she whom he wisely refrained from
marrying. "I know the women folk of half Europe," he writes, "and
wherever I have observed the influence of women on men, I have noticed
a sort of gradual decline as the result." That is one of the
philosopher's amusing errors. He did not know women folk at all; the
most fatuous, almost the only fatuous, passages in his works and his
letters are those about the ladies, and his letters to ladies are the
declarations of a free spirit shying off from something "agreeable
though perhaps a trifle dangerous."

Nietzsche is at his best, of course, when he writes to distinguished
men, the few who recognized his genius and made him glow in his cold
solitude. Nietzsche craved recognition; his contempt for fame was
largely a contempt for sour grapes. Brandes and Strindberg put wreaths
on his head, and he was proud of them. He writes to Strindberg:

    I am the most powerful intellect of the age, condemned to fulfill
    a stupendous mission.... It is possible that I have explored more
    terrible and more questionable worlds of thought than anyone else,
    but simply because it is in my nature to love the silent
    backwater. I reckon cheerfulness among the proofs of my

A man who can write like that of himself is the happiest of mortals,
for he knows that he belongs among the immortals.



Tolstoy closes the second part of "Sevastopol" with these words: "The
hero of my tale, whom I love with all the power of my soul, whom I
have tried to portray in all his beauty, who has been, is, and ever
will be beautiful, is Truth." That sentence was written when Tolstoy
was twenty-seven. For fifty years, in novels, tales, essays, and
exhortations, he celebrated his hero with unflagging devotion. The
deeds and lineaments of the hero are not always as other men have seen
them, but the identity, the character of the hero is never in doubt.
The hero changes and utters conflicting wisdom, not because of the
worshiper's inconstancy, but because Tolstoy develops, because he
outgrows and disavows his previous selves and violates consistency
between one book and another in his zeal to find consistency between
his next book and Truth.

In ceaseless pursuit of Truth, Tolstoy is led through the most
stirring intellectual and moral experiences which modern man has
undergone. He is part of all that we have met; from the remotest of
European countries, from a moment in the world's thought that is
already well behind us, his messages have encircled the globe and
modify the living ideas of today. He touched all departments of
thought and left none as it had been.

He plunged into the nineteenth century warfare of religion and
science, found that both parties were priest-ridden and arrogant, and
wrested from both the right of the individual to a simple faith and to
knowledge free from the cant of the laboratory. The increasing grumble
of the contest between privilege and labor--the most portentous war
the world has seen and not yet at its crisis--assaulted his ears; he
hearkened while most other members of the narrow circle of culture
were deaf or indifferent, and he took his stand on the side of the
workers against his own rank and kin. He laid bare the motives of war,
in which he had drawn a guilty sword, and became a militant champion
of peace. The unholy alliance of culture, religion, and civil
authority he strove to dissolve by broadsides against each member of
the triune tyranny, and so he conceived a new theory of art, a new
reading of the gospels, and an anarchism so individual that it
excludes most other anarchists. Under the solemnity of marriage and
the thin poetry of romance he discerned the cloven hoof of
self-indulgence, and he shocked the world with a virile puritanism, so
powerful in its terms, so subversive of our timid codes that bashful
Morality shrank from her bravest defender.

All the main thoroughfares of nineteenth century thought crossed
before the doorway of Tolstoy's house. He trafficked with all the
passengers, but joined no special group. Even his own disciples he
allowed to go their own way; he took no part in their organization and
left them to make their own interpretation and their own application
of his teachings. Loving all mankind, having sympathetic knowledge of
all sorts and conditions of men, he was nevertheless strangely
solitary. At the end of his life his devotion to his ideas alienated
from his family this most tender, home-loving man.[1] The young
idealists of the world left him behind, for they broke out new
highways of thought which he could not travel; young Russia sees in
him a splendid survival of an elder age of storm and struggle, calls
him master but not leader.

          [1] As this book goes to press, Madam Tolstoy's
          "Autobiography" is being published in _The Freeman_.
          Her views of the great man should be illuminating,
          especially if she does not try to minimize his defects.

He justified in his own life his theoretic individualism, because he
was great and strong enough to stand alone. The spirit of irony can
not but deal gently with the sincerest, bravest of men. Yet may she
note under the gray garment of humility a mien incorrigibly
aristocratic and domineering. The most powerful mind in the world
proclaimed self-submersion as the perfect virtue, because it is the
most difficult virtue for a daring and vigorous spirit to attain. The
foe of privilege, preaching that all men are brothers in love and
alike before the Lord as they should be before the law of man, enjoyed
a unique privilege--he was almost the only man in Russia who could
with impunity say what he thought. He won this right because he was an
aristocrat with friends at court and because the Russian government
dared not disregard the admiration of the world which had made Tolstoy
an international hero. He warned the mighty to walk in the fear of
God, but they walked in the fear of Leo Tolstoy.

To remind ourselves of the titles of some of his books and the order
in which they appeared, we may divide his work into seven parts. The
first part includes military tales and autobiographic sketches:
"Sevastopol," "Two Hussars," "The Raid," "The Cossacks," "Childhood,"
"Boyhood," "Youth." The second part, beginning in 1861, embraces his
experience as school teacher, his discourses on education, school
books, and stories for children and peasants. The third part, from
1864 to 1878, comprises "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina." The
fourth part begins with his religious conversion in 1878, and is
devoted to theological, ethical and sociological essays: "My
Confession," "Union and Translation of the Four Gospels," "My
Religion," "What, Then, Must We Do?" The subjects treated in these
books he expounds over and over for the rest of his life. Because it
is salient from his other work we may say that the "Kreutzer Sonata"
(1889) constitutes a fifth part. "What is Art?" and "Resurrection" may
be thought of as a sixth part. Then follows the concluding decade of
warfare in pamphlets, essays, letters, upon civil and ecclesiastical
authority and other powers of darkness.

Any such partition of Tolstoy's work is untrue to its organic
continuity, its massive unity. His books are embedded in his life.
Though each novel stands alone in self-sustaining integrity,
intelligible to all the world, yet each gains in clearness and power
for being understood in relation to the mind that produced it. This
colossus of solitary protest, rising rough and volcanic above the
flats of modern thought, is vaster when seen close to his intellectual
base. Viewed from a distance some sides of him, some contours, are
blurred and deceptive. No part of his work can be wholly apprehended
unless all parts are brought into the range of vision.

On the day of his death he was the most famous man of letters in the
world. From the first report of his final illness bulletins flew over
the cables in hourly succession. Yet for several weeks after his
death, repeated inquiry among the dealers in English and foreign books
in Boston (reputed center of culture and high thinking) showed that
there never had been much demand for Tolstoy's books, except his
novels, and that the momentary rise of interest caused by his death
had not disturbed the dust on such books as "What, Then, Must We Do?"
and "My Confession."

This seems to indicate that not all the articles and sermons which
followed the ultimate news from Russia were grounded upon first-hand
knowledge of Tolstoy. The truth is that his opinions have trickled
through to us Westerners in diluted streams. He is already a
tradition, and it is the habit of tradition to weaken as it spreads,
to lose the effect which a drinker at the sources feels in their
concentration, in their full and proportioned measure of ingredients.
Tolstoy is abroad in the world; he has permeated the thought of the
best minds and tinged the currents of our present beliefs. But few
Westerners know him in his overwhelming entirety. This man who laid
open his whole mind and heart with prodigal frankness is borne
westward on the winds of rumor as a mythical prodigy. The outlines of
his thought are misty and wavering to many of those who call him
great. He spared no pains to clarify his beliefs; he expounded the
same principle many times with undiminished force and ever new
transparency; he gave sweeping permission to the world to translate
and print his books. Yet there is no complete authorized edition of
his works in any language, even in Russian, thanks to the censors and
his own indifference to practical concerns.[2]

          [2] This is no longer true in the troubled year of grace,
          1922. Every scrap of Tolstoy is published in Russia. And
          probably before long there will be complete translations in
          many modern languages.

Thus for the moment a partial chaos has descended upon the work of
Tolstoy, a coherent luminous body of work, which left his hand as free
from ambiguity as his extraordinary skill and industry could make it,
but which has been scattered in transmission. It will take some years
for his loyal followers in England and America to give us a complete
and adequate translation; and in spite of Matthew Arnold's naive
confidence in the French, the most patient collator will have
difficulty in finding Tolstoy's work or recognizing even the titles,
in the books which the Parisian publishers have sent forth under his
name. One who has assembled such of his books as are procurable in
French and English would say with all emphasis possible:

"Withhold judgment about any particular belief expressed or supposed
to have been expressed by Tolstoy until you have read as many of his
books as you can get--and do not fail to read them." He is the one
noble speaker who has happened in our time, "who may be named and
stand as the mark and acme" of modern literature.

A little knowledge of Tolstoy is more than proverbially dangerous. He
laid his vigorous hand upon every problem that vexes and strengthens
the soul. His utterance on each problem is intense and aggressive. He
boldly pursues an idea whither it leads, or drives it with passionate
conviction to a foreseen conclusion, and stays not for the beliefs of
any majority or minority of men. His magnitude overflows the accepted
area of such an adjective as intolerant. Yet approached for the first
time by a reader accustomed to the persuasive amenities of other
saints and sages, he seems to bristle with outrageous denial; some of
his opinions, isolated from the rest, stand as repellant outposts,
forbidding many minds which, entering from another side, would go
straight to the heart of him. For example, our traditional reverence
for Shakespeare is wounded by his downright statement that Shakespeare
was not an artist; the offended judgment retorts that thereby Tolstoy
proves that he is himself no artist, or that in crotchety old age he
outgrew the poetry of his virile years. It must be understood that the
essay on Shakespeare is in the nature of an appendix to his essay,
"What Is Art?" That in turn is closely related to his ethical and
social teachings. Those again are inseparably bound with his tales and
novels. And his fiction, finally, is rooted in Russian life, not only
because, as is obvious, it deals with Russian people, but because
during Tolstoy's prime, there was, as we shall presently see, an
attitude toward the novel and all literary art which was peculiar to
intellectual Russians.

Happily for English readers the foundation for complete understanding
of Tolstoy has been laid by Mr. Aylmer Maude in his "Life," the second
volume of which appeared a few days before his master's death. Mr.
Maude has entire knowledge of his subject and perfect sympathy; he is
a sane and independent thinker, and his work is admirable for its
balance, its candor, its sturdy devotion, which, however, admits no
surrender of the biographer's private beliefs. To the reader who cares
merely for an interesting story Tolstoy's career offers more than that
of most men of letters. It is laid amid the plots and counterplots of
bloody Russia, the most melodramatic background of modern history. The
man is spectacular, compelling, in all violation of his own doctrines
of self-abasement. The peasant's smock, which he wore as symbol of his
unity with common man, served only to make him the more picturesque.
This ascetic religious philosopher was a master of thrilling war
stories. He knew equally well the heart of a lady in the high life of
Moscow, and the soul of a peasant woman. He was of athletic stature,
and his huge hand was sensitive to the finger tips; with it he gripped
a scythe, played the piano, wrote a tirade against modern music, and
indited an exposition of the gospel of love which estranged some of
his best friends! It is no wonder that his fiction bears the seal of
reality, that it has the abundance, the variety, the jostling
contrasts of life itself.


In Russia prose fiction has been for a century the vehicle of the
soberest reflections upon contemporary problems. It was dangerous for
a Russian radical to express his beliefs directly in essays and
expositions; what he was not allowed to utter in editorial and
parliamentary debate he set forth indirectly through the novel, which
thus became a sort of realistic parable. Suppression increased his
emotional intensity. Feeling himself a member of a down-trodden class,
he became the champion of other down-trodden classes. When Tolstoy
began to write, the novel was already a tempered weapon against abuse,
the skilful handling of it was a tradition among the literati, and
there were masters to coach and encourage the beginner. The Russian
novel records the deepest motives of Russian history. Tourgenef voiced
the philosophic resignation and scepticism of the educated Russian and
the evils of serfdom. Tolstoy portrayed the vices of the educated
Russian and the evils of wage-slavery which followed the emancipation
of the serfs. Russian fiction is great, because it treats the gravest
struggles of life and because its authors have trained themselves in
the art of expounding ideas in the form of fiction without
transgressing the laws of narrative; they have learned to be the
mouthpiece of life and to let life preach the sermons. To Tolstoy and
other Russians the greatest American book is "Uncle Tom's Cabin,"
because it is the chronicle of a bleeding issue; I have seen many
references to that book by Russian writers but scarcely a mention of

Mr. Maude quotes a letter to Tolstoy from Drouzhinin, critic,
novelist, and translator of Shakespeare: "An Englishman or an
American," he says, "may laugh at the fact that in Russia not merely
men of thirty, but gray-haired owners of 2,000 serfs sweat over
stories of a hundred pages, which appear in the magazines, are
devoured by everybody, and arouse discussion in society for a whole
day. However much artistic quality may have to do with this result,
you cannot explain it merely by art. What in other lands is a matter
of idle talk and careless dilettantism, with us is quite another
affair. Among us things have taken such shape that a story--the most
frivolous and insignificant form of literature--becomes one of two
things: either it is rubbish, or else it is the voice of a leader
sounding through the empire."

Tolstoy's realism is, then, the result both of his own temperamental
passion for truth and of a theory of art which prevailed in his
literary circle. There were, to be sure, silly novelists in Russia;
there, as everywhere, only the best minds regarded fiction as a vital
matter. But there were enough such serious minds to welcome Tolstoy
and encourage him. Nekrasof, editor of _The Contemporary_, found in
Tolstoy's first work, "the truth--the truth, of which, since Gogol's
death, so little has remained in Russian literature." Tourgenef
repeatedly called Tolstoy the greatest of Russians, and on his
deathbed pencilled the pathetic letter in which he pleaded with
Tolstoy to return to his art. "I am glad," he said, "to have been your
contemporary." Had he lived sixteen years longer, "Resurrection" might
have made him happy.

In Tolstoy's discourses on religion appear many times the words "sense
of life"--religion is the sense of life, the principle upon which the
details of the moral world are ordered and by which they are to be
interpreted. In a slightly different meaning "the sense of life"
expresses the total effect of Tolstoy's fiction. He wrote to a young
disciple: "Do not bend to your purpose the events in the story, but
follow them wherever they lead you.... Lack of symmetry and the
apparent haphazardness of events is a chief sign of life."

In "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" there are many plots. The unity
is that of the loose-jointed English novel rather than that of the
French, which travels on a straight track. Tolstoy's stories move like
a river with many tributaries; he explores now one, now another of the
branch streams, but the course of the main current is continuous, and
runs in one general direction, as if the slope of the country had been
determined before the recorder came upon the scene to measure and

"War and Peace" is greater than a novel; it is an epic, it is
nation-wide and long as the growth from childhood to maturity. We see
from a peak of the face of eastern Europe and the swarming of peoples
and armies. The sensation of vastness, of humanity surging and flowing
in obedience to obscure collective interests is produced by only one
other modern book that I know, Hardy's "The Dynasts." From the high
pinnacles of omniscience the imagination descends by swift unperceived
transitions to the intimacies of a house in Moscow--to the heart of
the girl Natacha--to the mind of Pierre saturated with alcohol
plotting to assassinate Napoleon. The adventures and purposes of the
characters cross and conflict, interweave and unite, but each goes as
it must and there is no confusion in the telling.

In "Anna Karenina," the story of Levin is but loosely related to the
principal tragedy, and the story of Levin's brother is an excursion
from the highway of Levin's career. One can see that after the book is
done. During its course the reader has no sense that any part is not
precisely placed. The illusion of inevitability is perfect. Levin's
brother is related to him by natural ties in life; it is natural,
then, that he should appear in Levin's story.

The illusion of inevitability springs from Tolstoy's all-encircling
comprehension of events, from his justice to each character and from
his extraordinary physical vividness. He writes with his five senses.
A critic warned him early that he was in danger of making a man's
thigh feel like going on a journey to India.

But his recognition of physical sensations and his power to convey
them (they traverse bodily the stylistic obstacles of translation)
take the story off the flat page and give it three dimensional
reality. The acrid smell of an old man's breath, the coldness of a
man's hand when he is in mental distress, the cracking of Karenin's
knuckles when he clasps his hands in moral satisfaction or the anguish
of wounded pride--such details cling to the mind, and the memory of
them recalls the whole story.

Tolstoy's conception of human character is at once relentlessly
analytic and profoundly pitiful and kind. The whole content of his
thought from its bold surface to its deepest depth is instinct with
compassion. Once when he was walking with Tourgenef they came to an
old broken-down horse in a pasture. Tolstoy went up to it, stroked it,
and uttered its thoughts and sufferings with such moving tenderness
that Tourgenef cried: "You must once have been a horse yourself."

In "Master and Man," a beautiful story of two men lost in a snowstorm,
the horse is a third character--an animal character, be it understood,
for Tolstoy is antipodal to nature-faking. He has confidence that
nature and man will tell their own story and disclose their inherent
lessons. Dogmatic and uncompromising in his private ethical beliefs,
he never sacrifices humanity even upon the altars where he tried to
immolate himself. Valid morality springs spontaneously from his
narrative, and is thereby a hundredfold more impressive than teachings
forced from artificially moulded events. Even in his rewriting of
traditional myths and parables he restores inorganic sermons to life,
creates a living thing in which the ethical intention is assimilated
and vitalized. He told these stories to the peasants, listened with
delight to their retelling of them, and incorporated their racial
turns of phrase. To an old peasant woman with a native gift for
narrative, he said: "You are a real master, Anisya; thank you for
teaching me to speak Russian and to think Russian."

He learned from life and he trusted life to teach the reader. Anna
Karenina commits suicide, not because she is a naughty woman whom the
novelist as guardian of morals must punish for the satisfaction of a
virtuous world, but because the society that surrounds her, the
everyday life of visiting and tea-drinking, inexorably forbids her to
be happy. Tolstoy is a champion of the poor, and he began his career
at a time when, as Mr. Cahan tells us, "the idealization of the
peasant" was one of the staple phrases in essays and editorials. But
in Tolstoy's stories there is no false sublimation of the peasant. He
does not cry, like Dickens, or the professional charity-monger: "Pity
these poor starved brothers." He simply recites their lives. Sometimes
he chronicles the most terrible things in a grim restrained
matter-of-fact tone, more moving than any passionate appeal to the
reader's sympathy. He is, of course, a master of argument and
exhortation, but all that is found in his other books, not in his

A critic, whose democracy is too narrowly partisan, complains that in
"War and Peace" all the important characters are aristocrats, and that
the story fails to reveal the motives of the people, of those
inarticulate millions who Tolstoy himself says are the real makers of
history. But this apparent fault is an instance of Tolstoy's
integrity. When he wrote "War and Peace" he knew only aristocrats, or
was chiefly interested in them. He had already begun to discern the
relations between the multitude and the leaders whom history
signalizes; but he had not lived close to peasants and workmen; he had
approached them as lord and master, not yet as brother and
interpreter. Moreover, if there be a moral hero in "War and Peace"
whom the author seems to favor, it is Karataief, the illiterate
soldier, whose simple faith dawns as a regenerative light upon Pierre,
a rich man of the world who has met all philosophies and found them

Tolstoy could not write what he did not know or did not feel. His
stories, though not autobiographic in the usual sense of the world,
are the quintessence of his adventures and experiences, accurately
recalled and profoundly meditated. When the manuscript of the
"Kreutzer Sonata" was read in his house to a company of friends,
Tolstoy said in answer to some objections:

"In a work of art it is indispensable that the artist should have
something new, of his own. It is not how it is written that really
matters. People will read the 'Kreutzer Sonata' and say, 'Ah, that is
the way to write!' The indispensable thing is to go beyond what others
have done, to pick off even a very small fresh bit. But it won't do to
be like my friend Fet, who at sixteen wrote, 'The spring bubbles, the
moon shines, and she loves me,' and who went on writing and writing,
and at sixty wrote: 'She loves me, and the spring bubbles, and the
moon shines.'"

It was impossible for Tolstoy, the novelist, to write of people whom
he did not know, merely because he happened to have sympathy with some
of their ideals and habits. It was impossible for him to violate human
nature when he portrayed characters that he did know. Hating
professional psychology and all other sciences and quasi-sciences, he
is the greatest of so-called psychological novelists; his psychology
was made before text-books, and it used to be called "truth to human
nature." You cannot suggest, as you read a novel by Tolstoy, anything
a character ought have done which was not done, any emotion he should
have felt which Tolstoy has not suggested at exactly the right moment.
He penetrates the characters of living men and the characters of
history and romance. The pseudo-psychology of the critics of "Hamlet,"
does not deceive him. Napoleon, mythical monster and genius
unapproachable, fails to over-awe him; Tolstoy draws him, man size,
amid events that dwarf heroes.

In "Resurrection," Nekhludof is represented as holding social theories
which in point of fact Tolstoy held. Nekhludof reads Henry George and
tries to give his land to the peasants as communal property. Tolstoy,
the social reformer, would admit no obstacle to the justice and the
practicability of the plan; a lesser artist would have yielded to the
reformer, the plan would have worked and the story would have proved
the theory. But Tolstoy, the novelist, confronts Nekhludof with the
suspicion, the ignorant shrewdness of the peasants; the plan
encounters all the difficulties, legal and psychological, which life
would offer.

"Resurrection" is the crowning proof of Tolstoy's artistic power. For
twenty years he had developed theories about every problem of life; he
held his opinions tenaciously; hugging them in resolute defiance he
strode roughshod through the domains of church, state and family. His
convictions were strong enough to silence him as an artist, and for
years he obeyed the mandate of conscience that forbade him to write
novels at all. But when, to raise money for the Doukhobors, he
consented to write "Resurrection," his artistic sense was stronger
than the rest of him (if, indeed, there was any antagonism between the
two sides of his nature), and theories powerful enough to disrupt the
universe were kept in bounds by his sense of proportion, his sense of

The feeling that Tolstoy, the artist, and Tolstoy, the reformer, are
in any true sense engaged in struggle is largely due to the false
dialectic of traditional criticism, which he by precept and practice
has confuted. His great moral principles are the sure foundation of
his greatness in art. For us Westerners modern realism--Hardy and Zola
come first to mind--is associated with a godless though very humane
scepticism. Religious sentiment has been left in the weak hands of
romance, and the longer it has been left there the more false it has
become. From the beginning, even before his religious conversion,
Tolstoy had a sound ethical outlook. At the age of forty he wrote of
Tourgenef's "Smoke": "The strength of poetry lies in love, and the
direction of that strength depends on character. Without strength of
love there is no poetry. In 'Smoke' there is hardly any love of
anything and very little poetry. There is only love of a light and
playful adultery, and therefore the poetry of that novel is
repulsive." The spirit in that criticism is the guiding spirit in
"Anna Karenina," and it is the same spirit which dictated this passage
in the magnificent sermon on the Russian-Japanese war: "The great
struggle of our time ... is not the struggle in which men engage with
mines, bombs and bullets; it is the spiritual struggle which goes on
incessantly, which is going on now, between the enlightened conscience
of humanity, about to be made manifest, and the shadows and oppression
which surround it and crush it."


To western liberals Tolstoy's assaults on church and state seem too
vehement, partly because the tyranny he attacked is more obviously
brutal than that from which we suffer, partly because we are
complacently blind to facts which he revealed, facts which are present
at our doors. Our mild meliorations delude us. We wave an idle hand
and say: "Ah, yes, Russia is a savage country, but we are not like
that."[3] And all the while the coldest labor statistics, if we dared
to open them, show that in the exploitation of workmen, women and
children, ours is as barbarous a country as any in the world. Our
horrors and injustices are smoothed over by a disingenuous press,
which is owned or indirectly controlled by the powers that be.
American philanthropy steals with one hand and builds universities
with the other. We have no kings and no dukes, but America is the
sport of capital; it lies abjectly prostrate before a power-drunk
bourgeoisie. We celebrate Tolstoy in harmless little magazine articles
and wear shirts woven by children. We think we need no school like the
one Tolstoy conducted for poor, backward Russian peasants, because we
have our public schools and compulsory education laws--in some states.
Hundreds of our children are at work; they have succeeded, thanks to
the glorious free competition of business, in taking their fathers'
places at the machines. The children that are in school wave the flag
and read about George Washington.

          [3] And we are still saying it, 1922!

Tolstoy's teachings can not at present shake the somnolent conscience
of America. He believed in his innocence that our industrial masters
have reached the outrageous limits of exploitation, and that America
must be the first country to rise and throw off its parasites. But
that is a foreigner's opinion and not to be taken seriously in the
land of the free and the home of the National Civic Federation. His
indictment of our civilization is only nine-tenths true, and we shall
take advantage of the one-tenth that is overstatement to throw his
indictment out of court. He sees that every government is a commercial
agency by means of which a privileged minority conducts its business
at the expense of the majority. We are ashamed to believe that that
can be true of our Congress and our irreproachable Supreme Court. It
is easier to dismiss Tolstoy, because he is "eccentric" and "goes too
far." Did he not sweepingly assert that there is no such thing as a
virtuous statesman? That absurdity permits us to ignore the book in
which it appears.

Besides, it is more "optimistic" to read articles about the "history
of achievement in the United States," to take democratic short cuts to
superficial knowledge, than to read disconcerting books. Our
healthy-minded confidence in American morals bids us be content with a
little gossip about Carlyle and his wife, and not trouble ourselves
with such a difficult book as "Past and Present." In like fashion we
shall understand Tolstoy's ideals without reading "What, Then, Must We
Do?" or "The Kingdom of Heaven Is Within You." Sufficient for us a few
newspaper discussions about "Why Tolstoy Left the Countess and the
Relations Between Family Life and Anarchism." For Tolstoy was an
anarchist, and that disposes of him! We know all about anarchists;
they live in Paterson, N.J., and in the imaginations of journalists,
home secretaries, and framers of immigration laws.

Yet despite our republican wisdom, we cannot quite understand Tolstoy
until we know the true meanings of such words as labor, capital,
exploitation, rent, property, interest, and proletariat. In Russia
these words are understood by many people, also in Germany. But we
Americans, though highly cultivated, are not well informed about
contemporary facts and current philosophies. We have still to be
taught that the Russian revolution is our revolution, that it is part
of a mighty economic change which is in process all over the world. A
study of Tolstoy and his critics will help to instruct us--some
day--about these momentous relations.

The present status of the revolution is more confused in Russia than
in any other country.[4] The repressive measures of the government
forced a temporary alliance between all types of revolutionaries. It
was this alliance which isolated Tolstoy from other reformers and made
him a retarding force, almost a reactionary, against the progress of
the Social Democracy, that party of orderly Marxians under German
tutelage which was the hope of young Russia. The Czar's government,
which was no respecter of principles, grouped him with all the
malcontents and libertarians. And he returned the compliment. Because
he despised all economics, he could not join a "scientific" party.
Failing to distinguish between the peaceful and the militant
revolutionists, he charged them all with murder and grouped them with
the government. And thus he stood alone, distrustful of peaceful
anarchists because they were not religious, and distrustful of most
religions because they were organized on a property basis. He stood
alone. Yet all liberal men, antithetical to each other as are the
socialists and the anarchists, united in loving him as they united in
hatred of the government. They applauded his terrific indictment of
the society under which we live, though they disagreed from various
points of view with his solution. It was said of him on his eightieth
birthday that whatever conflict there might be between his beliefs and
those of other reformers, the foes of liberty were his foes and the
friends of liberty were his friends.

          [4] This refers, of course, to the revolution before the
          Great War. I wonder now, 1922, just what Lenin, Trotsky,
          Chicherin, et. al., think of Tolstoy, and what he would have
          thought of them!

Tolstoy's solution for our ills is Christian anarchy, a voluntary
communism allied with the teachings of Jesus, or with Tolstoy's
interpretation of them. He taught that all violence is wrong, all
government is robbery, and that the only possible moral order is
founded on love of man and renunciation of legal rights. That he
should have been a champion of Henry Georgeism, a plan that depends on
organized government, is one of his many inconsistencies; what drew
him to the single-tax theory was probably not so much the economic
principles as George's arraignment of landlordism.

It is Tolstoy's own arraignment of our so-called civilization rather
than his proposed remedies which will quicken the conscience of the
world.[5] His individualism, his doctrine of private goodness, looks
backward and not forward. He is, like Carlyle, the voice of a bygone

          [5] Will it? I am not so confident as I was once.

He had lived through the failures of many political revolutions, and
he abhorred anything that pretended to be scientific. He turned his
eyes from the science of men to their souls. In his magnificent self
he justified his individualism, but were we a billion Tolstoys,
saintly and self-disciplined, we must work in organization, or we
cannot work effectively. The world is religious, but religion is a
matter of opinion. The world is also economic, and economics is not a
matter of opinion, but of unavoidable facts over which the individual
has little control.[6] Like Ruskin, Tolstoy rejected economics because
most professorial economists do not tell the truth. He blamed the
dismal science for the dismal facts and for the inadequacies of its
classic expounders. Had he understood the economic structure of
society (which nobody does understand), he would have seen the
futility of trying to abandon his estates. His singular abnegation
could not put an end to the evils of landlordism, even to the extent
of his own plot of ground. He could not make the burden of landless
people one ounce lighter by dismounting in his own person from their
backs. Nothing can be done until an effective majority of men agree to
abolish private ownership of land and establish communal ownership.

          [6] That sounds like good sense. Some of Tolstoy's
          countrymen at Genoa seem to have proved it.

Tolstoy preached with splendid fervor the power of the individual
soul. But his practice is proof of our impotent severalty. It was
disorganization that caused the famine which he labored to relieve,
and it was his efficient organization that kept the hungry from
starving. That our greatest man of letters should sweat behind a
prehistoric plow is good for his soul and for ours; but, even if we
should all grow perfect in spirit and eager for our share of manual
labor, we should still feed ourselves better by communal use of steam
plows. Tolstoy's belated Proudhonism is not the solution for the evils
of property. It is his negative teaching that has positive value. He
is an abolitionist, not a constructive philosopher. But to say that is
not to answer him, not to deny him. He remains unanswered as long as
the labor of this world is done at the behest of the few and for their
profit. His work is not done, his books cannot be outgrown, until
every man of us looks at the facts honestly and cries with him: "It is
impossible to live so! It is impossible to live so!"


If we had to lose one part or the other of Maeterlinck's work, I think
we should less reluctantly surrender the plays than the essays. The
essays are richer in substance than the dramas and they are as truly
poetic. The sunny garden, where the poet lives with his bees and
flowers, is a more splendid domain than moonlit pseudo-mediæval
empires, peopled with the wraiths of women. And the little bull-pup of
the essay is a truer dog than the one in "The Blue Bird."

Some years ago, when the essay on the dog was first published in
English, I read it aloud to a woman who owned a Boston terrier, and I
gave it to a professional breeder of dogs. Both liked it. It is an
essay that any one can understand; it illuminates a ground where all
kinds of people meet. Even Bill Sikes would have liked it. Maeterlinck
says what almost everybody thinks, and says it as it has not been said
before, not in "Rab and His Friends." The simple eloquence, the
sincerity, the affectionate humor are the positive virtues of the
essay; and its negative virtue is freedom from a kind of rhetorical
artificiality in which Maeterlinck indulges when he gets away from the
solid realities of life.

Maeterlinck is an amateur botanist and bee-keeper and a professional
poet. He knows, or seems to know, the facts, and he sees them with an
imaginative vision, wondering at them like a child, in the very act of
giving quite lucid "scientific" explanations. He hovers often on the
enchanted borderland between knowledge and fancy, and plays to and fro
between regions which, though adjacent parts of the same universe,
have different habits of thought. I am acquainted with an American
poet and philosopher who does not know the common kinds of dogs such
as any boy of ten knows. I also knew and argued with an eminent
biologist who objected to Maeterlinck's "Life of the Bee," on the
ground that the poetic phrasing falsified the facts. True, he
conceded, the queen-bee does fly and the strongest male overtakes and
fertilizes her. But for Maeterlinck to poetize the fact as a "nuptial
flight" seemed to the man of science not only untruth to nature, but a
blasphemy against the sacred love of man and woman.

My friend, the biologist, and my acquaintance, the American poet and
philosopher, both seem to be unfortunately incomplete human beings.
The poet and philosopher does not know what any duffer knows, what
anybody who cares not only for animals but for ordinary folks that own
dogs cannot refrain from knowing. He is a man of cosmopolitan
experience and has surely been in the _Bois_ more than once. In
the Garden of Acclimatation is a wonderful kennel; there are at least
fifteen kinds of dogs, each with his specific or sub-specific name
hung on his cage. If you had never seen a dog you could not walk about
that kennel five minutes without learning the names of a half-dozen
varieties (and without discovering in yourself a highly moral desire
to steal one or two of those beautifully kept beasts). Some ignorance
is unpardonable, and some philosophy and some poetry would be more
vital for a little plain back-yard knowledge. On the other hand, what
a pity it is that any man's sense of fact should be so strait as to
forbid entrance to his soul of a honey bee which Maeterlinck sends
forth equipped with these gorgeous unentomological wings of words:
"The yellow fairies of the honey." It's as bad as a democrat who
should object to the phrase "queen-bee."

Maeterlinck has knowledge of nature, not only such knowledge as
Wordsworth had, but a fair acquaintance with contemporaneous science.
He has learned lessons from Fabre, whom he admires. He has studied his
own garden in the light of what botanists have told him and in the
other light, which is not hostile to botany, but is different, the
light of poetry. He loves to speculate about unsettled questions. And
his speculations have a very great intellectual merit. He is, on the
whole, content to be uncertain about uncertain things and to express
his inclinations toward one or another conclusion in a persuasive,
wistful manner. Like many other poets, he leans toward the belief that
nature, which includes us, knows more than we do, and that to ascribe
intelligence, in a restricting way, to man alone is probably to leave
out a good deal of the magic of growing things, and to omit some
potential explanations of their mystery, their mystery in the poet's
sense and in the stern truth seeker's sense. The essay on "The
Intelligence of Flowers" revivifies the old moot question about what
knowledge is, what instinct is. It's a very fine question, and it
becomes hottest when the men of imagination and the men of science
(happily they are not mutually exclusive) argue about whether a dog
knows that he loves you. A British poet began a verse to a dog:

    The curate says you have no soul--
      I know that he has none.

That is good; but it is spiteful. Let us admit the curate. For the dog
would. A dog does not care a wag of his tail whether a man is curate
or editor of a newspaper. Therein the dog is our superior.

Maeterlinck, though overtaken by the wan doubt of our times, is a
true believer in other kinds of intelligence than ours. He holds that
"nature, when she wishes to be beautiful, to please, to delight and
to prove herself happy, does almost what we should do had we her
treasures at our disposal." There, you see, he begs the whole
question and ascribes to "nature" wishes, desires, intentions. He
does the trick that poets always do; he answers the question that he
asks and that he pretends to be discussing. "All that we observe
within ourselves," he says, "is rightly open to suspicion; we are at
once litigant and judge, and we have too great an interest in
peopling our world with magnificent illusions and hopes. But let the
least external indication be dear and precious to us."

In this the poet says all, while, on another page, the man of science,
with firm integrity, minimizes evidence and refuses to be convinced.
There is a region where the poet knows almost everything worth
knowing. There is a region where the man of science knows, not
everything worth knowing, but all that is known. There is a misty
mid-region where a full-minded, large-hearted man can live happily. He
gets the message going and coming. He receives what the poet has to
say and what the man of fact has to say and he constructs his world
from the fragmentary contributions of both regions. Maeterlinck
himself in "Our Eternity," dwells on this central ground. Shakespeare
and Isaiah are on his right hand. On his left hand are William James
and other psychological students of the evidence of spooks.

Poets are enamored of death. Nine-tenths of all the imaginative
literature of the world is concerned with love and death, the begetter
and the extinguisher. The sweetest lines in Shakespeare deal with
love; the stateliest lines, Hamlet's and Macbeth's, are upon death.
The chief interest of life is in dying. We get our highest emotions
from some other person's death, and we adapt our entire course, from
the cradle to the grave, with a view to the fact that we are going to
quit in some year determined by fate or God or other power not quite
understood, a year carefully figured out by the actuaries of the life
insurance companies.

Man is a perfect coward in the face of death, his own or that of
somebody he loves. The believer and the unbeliever alike bewail the
great adventure. The tears shed by the believer in immortality and by
the disbeliever are the same hot, saline, human drops. Everybody wants
an answer, and only the adherents of certain sects receive an answer
that satisfies them. Those answers do not satisfy me or you, not
because there is anything wrong in the answers, but because the people
that hold the answers behave as all the rest of us do in the presence
of death. Maeterlinck, on the basis of modern evidence, argues for
two-hundred and fifty-eight pages that we do not know what happens
when we die. "In any case, I would not wish my worst enemy, were his
understanding a thousand-fold loftier and a thousand-fold mightier
than mine, to be condemned eternally to inhabit a world of which he
had surprised an essential secret and of which, as a man, he had begun
to grasp an atom."

Amen! That leaves us where we started. But the fact, the cold,
interesting, magnificent fact, is that we are alive, and some of us
are working and some are playing. Maeterlinck is a great child playing
with flowers and with words. He is also a competent workman, and he is
assisted by another skilful craftsman to whom English readers owe
much, Mr. Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, who translates Maeterlinck
into English. He is a fine artist. Following faithfully the run of our
English idiom, he succeeds in keeping for our Anglo-Saxon eyes and
ears the color, tone, or whatever it is, of Maeterlinck's beautiful


To the newest generation of adult readers the dawn of a literary light
is a rare experience. It is as if the courses of our literature were
Arctic in their slowness, as if the day came at long intervals, and
then without warmth or brilliance. Our fathers knew the joy of
welcoming the latest novel of Dickens or a new volume of essays by
Carlyle. The only[1] great day whose beginning young men have
witnessed is the day of Kipling; his light mounted rapidly to a high
noon, and if the afternoon shadows have begun to deepen prematurely,
that sun is still beautiful and strong. Other lights have kindled in
the last fifteen years, and have gone out before they had fairly
dislodged the darkness, or have continued to burn dimly.

          [1] I ask the reader to remember that this was written in

Eyes accustomed only to darkness and uncertain lights are in condition
to be deluded by the phantoms of false dawn; it is therefore unwise to
greet with too much enthusiasm the arrival of Mr. Joseph Conrad. Even
if the dawn is real, it is certainly overcast with heavy clouds, and
it has not proved bright enough to startle the world. Nevertheless,
his light is of unique beauty in contemporary literature, and the
story of its kindling makes interesting biography.

Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski was born fifty years ago in Poland. His
father, a critic and poet, and his mother, who was exiled to Siberia,
were engaged in revolutionary journalism. At nineteen Conrad left
home, to escape an unsettled life, and also, it is fair to assume, to
satisfy his love of adventure. He found work on English vessels, and
this fact gave to contemporary English letters a man who might
otherwise have written in French. To-day he appears in hand-books of
biography as Master in the British Merchant Service, and Author. At
nineteen he had not mastered English; at thirty-eight he had published
no book. Since then he has published about a volume a year. In
preparation for his books he sailed as able seaman, mate, and master,
for twenty years, on steam and sailing craft, and meanwhile he was
reading deep in French and English literature,--all, we are told, with
no intent to become a writer. Indeed it was a period of ill health
resulting in an enforced idleness from the familiar sea that gave him
opportunity to put some of his adventures into words. Perhaps he is a
lesser illustration of a theory of Thoreau's that a word well said
"must have taken the place of a deed by some urgent necessity, even by
some misfortune, so that the truest writer will be some captive
knight, after all." However that may be, the intellectual and physical
adventures of Conrad's life were abundant, and they reappear,
discernible though transfigured, in the substance and the qualities of
his work.

His ten books are for the most part concerned with the waters of the
earth, and the men that sail on the face of the waters, and with
lands, far from English readers, to be reached only by long journeying
in ships.[2] His first book, "Almayer's Folly," tells the story of a
disappointed Dutch trader in Borneo, whose half-caste daughter runs
away with a Malay chief. His second book, "An Outcast of the Islands,"
deals further with the career of Almayer and with that of another
exiled Dutchman. "Nostromo," has for its scene an imaginary South
American state, and its heroes are an Englishman and an Italian. "The
Nigger of the Narcissus" (published in America as "The Children of the
Sea") and "Typhoon" are each the chronicle of a voyage. "Lord Jim" is
the story of a young mate who disgraces himself by one unseamanlike
act, and becomes a wanderer in the eastern islands, and finally a kind
of king in a village of savages. "Tales of Unrest" contains five
stories, two of which are about Malays, and another about white
traders in an African station. The hero of "Falk"--the title story of
a volume of three pieces--is a Scandinavian sailor who has been a
cannibal, and who wins the daughter of a German ship captain in an
Eastern port. "Youth," the first story in a volume of three, is the
memory of a young mate's voyage in an unseaworthy ship, which burns
and leaves the crew to seek an Eastern seaport in the boats. The
second story, "The Heart of Darkness," is an account of a journey into
the Belgian Congo State and a curious study of the effect of solitude
and the jungle and savagery on a white trader. The third piece in the
volume is the story of a ship-captain who steers his ship with the
help of a Malay servant and lets no one guess until the end that he is
blind. Of two books written in collaboration with Mr. Ford M. Hueffer,
the only one worth considering, "Romance," comes the nearest to being
the kind of fiction that the advertisements announce as "full of heart
interest, love, and the glamor of a charming hero and heroine." It
begins with a smuggler's escapade in England, and ends in an elopement
in the West Indies; the best parts, probably Mr. Conrad's share in the
work, are those about the sea and all that on it is, fogs, ships, and
bearded pirates. In these books are men and women of all civilized
nations, the acquaintance of a globe-trotter, and there are, besides,
enough Malays, Chinamen, and Negroes to make the choruses of several
comic operas. But in Conrad they are serious people, every Malay with
a soul and a tragedy; even the Nigger of the Narcissus is equipped
with psychological machinery.

          [2] Almayer's Folly. The Macmillan Co. 1895.
          An Outcast of the Islands. Tauchnitz. 1896.
          The Nigger of the Narcissus (Children of the Sea). Dodd,
            Mead & Co. 1897.
          Tales of Unrest. Charles Scribner's Sons. 1898.
          Lord Jim. McClure, Phillips & Co. 1899.
          The Inheritors (with F. M. Hueffer). McClure, Phillips & Co.
          Typhoon. G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1902.
          Falk. McClure, Phillips & Co. 1903.
          Youth. McClure, Phillips & Co. 1903.
          Romance (with F. M. Hueffer). McClure, Phillips & Co. 1904.
          Nostromo. Harper & Brothers. 1904.

Conrad's subject-matter, the secretion of experience, is rich enough
and of sufficiently strange and romantic quality to endow a writer of
popular fiction; and his style,--that is, the use of words for their
melody, power, and charm,--is fit for a king of literature. Stevenson,
who found so little sheer good writing among his contemporaries, would
have welcomed Conrad and have lamented that he could not or would not
tell his stories in more brief, steady, and continuous fashion.

For there is the rub. Conrad is not instinctively a story-teller. Many
a writer of less genius surpasses him in method. He has no gift of
what Lamb calls a bare narrative.

There are writers with magnificent power of language who do not attain
that combination of literary and human qualities which is
readableness, and there are others who interest many people in many
generations, and yet do not write well. To most readers Dickens is as
delightful when he writes slovenly sentences as when he writes at his
best. Scott, the demigod, pours out his great romances in an
inexpressive fluid. On the other hand, Walter Pater writes infallibly
well. These illustrations are intended to suggest a difference which
is a fact in literature, and are not to be carried to any conclusive
comparison. The difference exists and it is not a strange fact. It is
strange, however, that Conrad, who spins yarns about the sea, master
of a kind of subject-matter that would make his books as popular as
"Robinson Crusoe" and "Treasure Island," should be one of those who
can write but cannot make an inevitably attractive and winning book
for the multitude.

Either he knows his fault and can not help it, or he wills it and
does not consider it a fault. There is evidence on this question.
Several of his stories are put in the mouth of Marlow, an eloquent,
reflective, world-worn man. In one place Conrad says, "We knew that
we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of
Marlow's _inconclusive_ experiences." The story Marlow tells is no
more inconclusive and rambling than most of the other stories, so
that one is forced to conclude that Marlow's character as narrator is
Conrad's concession to his own self-observed habit of mind. In
another place Conrad says: "The yarns of seamen have a direct
simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a
cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin
yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not
inside a kernel, but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it
out as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these
misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral
illumination of moonshine." Evidently Conrad prefers or pretends to
prefer the haze to the kernel.

In an essay on Henry James he openly scorns the methods usual to
fiction of "solution by rewards and punishments, by crowned love, by
fortune, by a broken leg or sudden death," and says: "Why the reading
public, which as a body has never laid upon the story-teller the
command to be an artist, should demand from him this sham of divine
omnipotence is utterly incomprehensible." Thus Mr. Conrad flings down
the gauntlet to those demands of readers which greater men than he and
Mr. James have been happy to satisfy without sacrifice of wisdom and

A further announcement of his literary creed he made in a kind of
artistic confession published a few years ago. "His (the prose
writer's) answer to those who in the fulness of a wisdom which looks
for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled,
amused, who demand to be promptly improved or encouraged, or
frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus: 'My task which I am
trying to achieve is by the power of the written word to make you
hear, to make you feel--it is before all to make you see.... If I
succeed, you shall find there, according to your deserts,
encouragement, consolation, fear, charm--all you demand; perhaps also
that glimpse of truth[3] for which you have forgotten to ask."

          [3] These Slavs (see above on Tolstoy) are all for Truth,
          but they are not Chadbandians. They are artists. And so was
          the Anglo-Saxon who made Chadband.

A writer with ideals so high and strongly felt commits himself for
trial by exacting standards. It is necessary to remind Mr. Conrad that
if a reader is to feel, he must first understand; if he is to hear, he
must hear distinctly; and if he is to see, his eye must be drawn by
interest in the object, and it can look only in one direction at once.
"Nostromo" is told forward and backward in the first half of the book,
and the preliminary history of the silver mine is out of all
proportion to the story of Nostromo, the alleged hero of the book.
"Lord Jim" is confused.[4] The first few chapters are narrated in the
third person by the author. Then for three hundred pages Marlow, a
more or less intimate spectator of Jim's career, tells the story as an
after-dinner yarn. It would have taken three evenings for Marlow to
get through the talk, and that talk in print involves quotation within
quotation beyond the legitimate uses of punctuation marks. In other
stories the point of view fails. In "The Nigger of the Narcissus" are
conferences between two people in private which no third person could
overhear, yet the narrative seems to be told in the first person by
one of the crew. In "Typhoon," where a steamer with deck almost
vertical is plunging through a storm, we are on the bridge beside the
simple dogged captain while he shouts orders down to the engine-room
through the tube. Without warning we are down in the engine-room,
hearing the captain's voice from above, and as suddenly we are back on
the bridge again. A man crawls across the deck in a tempest so black
that he cannot see whose legs he is groping at. We are immediately
informed that he is a man of fifty, with coarse hair, of immense
strength, with great lumpy hands, a hoarse voice, easy-going and
good-natured,--as if the man were visible at all, except as a blot in
the darkness!

          [4] No, it is not. It is clear as daylight.

Conrad has a mania for description. When anything is mentioned in the
course of narrative, though it be a thousand miles from the present
scene, it must be described. Each description creates a new scene, and
when descriptions of different and separated places appear on the same
page, the illusion of events happening before the eye is destroyed. If
a writer is to transport us instantaneously from one quarter of the
globe to another he should at least apprise us that we are on the
magic rug, and even then the space-o'erleaping imagination resents
being bundled off on hurried and inconsequential journeys. Often when
Conrad's descriptions are logically in course, they are too long; the
current of narrative vanishes under a mountain (a mountain of gold,
perhaps, but difficult to the feet of him who would follow the
stream); and when the subterranean river emerges again, it is
frequently obstructed by inopportune, though subtle, exposition.

Conrad's propensity for exposition is allied, no doubt, with his
admiration for Mr. Henry James, of whom he has written an extremely
"literary" appreciation. Too much interest in masters like Flaubert
and Mr. James is not gentlemanly in a sailor, and it cannot help a
sailor turned writer, who pilots a ship through a magnificent struggle
with a typhoon, leads us into the bewitching terror of the African
jungle, and guides us to Malay lands where the days are full of savage
love, intrigue, suicide, murder, piracy, and all forms of picturesque
and terrific death. Mr. Conrad finds that there are "adventures in
which only choice souls are involved, and Mr. James records them with
a fearless and insistent fidelity to the _péripéties_ of the contest
and the feelings of the combatants." That is true and fine, no doubt,
but the price which Mr. Conrad pays for his ability to discover it is
the fact that hundreds of thousands of readers of good masculine
romance are not reading "Lord Jim," or finding new "Youth" in a young
mate's wondrous vision of the East, or welcoming a new hero in Captain
Whalley. A man who can conceive the mournful tale of Karain and the
fight between the half crazy white men at an African trading post has
a kind of adventure better, as adventure, than the experiences of Mr.
James's choice souls. Stevenson knew all about Mr. James and his
"péripéties," but he could stow that knowledge on one side of his
head, and from the other side spin "Treasure Island" and "The
Wrecker". "The Sacred Fount" never could have befuddled the chronicle
of the amiable John Silver, but in Mr. Conrad's "An Outcast of the
Islands," where it seems to be a question which white man will kill
the other, after a dramatic meet-in the presence of a Malay heroine,
each man stands still before our eyes and radiates states of mind.

The lover who finds fault with his sweetheart because he is so proud
of her is perfectly human and also perfectly logical. So my reason for
dwelling on Mr. Conrad's shortcomings is because his books are
thoroughly worth consideration. His advent is really important. More
than any other new writer he is master of the ancient eloquence of
English style; no one since Stevenson has surpassed in fiction the
cadence and distinction of his prose. Never has an English sailor
written so beautifully, never has artist had such full and
authoritative knowledge of the sea, not even Pierre Loti. Stevenson
and Kipling are but observant landsmen after all. Marryat and Clark
Russell never write well, though they tell absorbing tales. There was
promise in Jack London, but he was not a seaman at heart. Herman
Melville's eccentric genius, greater than any of these, never led him
to construct a work of art, for all his amazing power of thought and
language. Conrad stands alone with his two gifts of sea experience and
cultivation of style. He has lived on the sea, loved it, fought it,
believed in it, been baffled by it, body and mind. To know its ways,
to be master of the science of its winds and waves and the ships that
brave it, to have seen men and events and the lands and waters of the
earth with the eye of a sailor, the heart of a poet, the mind of a
psychologist--artist and ship-captain in one--here is a combination
through which Fate has conspired to produce a new writer about the
most wonderful of all things, the sea and the mysterious lands beyond

If we grant that he is not master of the larger units of style, that
is, of construction, we can assert that in the lesser units, sentence
for sentence, he is a master of the English tongue. There is a story
that he learned English first from the Bible, and his vigorous primal
usages of words, his racial idioms and ancient rich metaphors warrant
the idea that he came to us along the old highway of English speech
and thought, the King James version. His sentences, however, are not
biblical as Stevenson's and Kipling's often are, but show a modern
sophistication and intellectual deliberateness. He frequently reminds
us that he is a Slav who learned French along with his native tongue,
that he has read Flaubert and Maupassant and Henry James. Approaching
our language as an adult foreigner, he goes deep to the derivative
meanings of words, their powerful first intentions, which familiarity
has disguised from most of us native-born to English. He has achieved
that ring and fluency which he has declared should be the artist's
aim. Conrad's prose lifts to passages of great poetic beauty, in which
the color of the sea, its emotional aspects, its desolation and its
blitheness, are mingled with its meaning for the men who sail it, its
"austere servitude," its friendliness and its treachery.

"The ship, a fragment detached from the earth, went on lonely and
swift like a small planet. Round her the abysses of sky and sea met in
an unattainable frontier. A great circular solitude moved with her,
ever changing and ever the same, always monotonous and always
imposing. Now and then another wandering white speck, burdened with
life, appeared far off,--disappeared, intent on its own destiny....
The august loneliness of her path lent dignity to the sordid
inspiration of her pilgrimage. She drove foaming to the southward, as
if guided by the courage of a high endeavor. The smiling greatness of
the sea dwarfed the extent of time."

No fairer temptation can be offered to a reader who does not know
Conrad than to quote a passage from the end of "Youth," and no more
honest praise can be offered to Conrad than to say that it is a
selected, but by no means unique, specimen of his genius.

A crew that have left a burning ship in boats find an Eastern port at
night. The weary men tie to the jetty and go to sleep. This is the
young mate's narrative years after, the narrative of the reflective
and eloquent Marlow: "I was lying in a flood of light, and the sky had
never looked so far, so high, before. I opened my eyes and lay without
moving. And then I saw the men of the East--they were looking at me.
The whole length of the jetty was full of people. I saw brown, bronze,
yellow faces, the black eyes, the glitter, the color of an Eastern
crowd. And all these beings stared without a murmur, without a sigh,
without a movement. They stared down at the boats, at the sleeping men
who at night had come to them from the sea. Nothing moved. The fronds
of palms stood still against the sky. Not a branch stirred along the
shore, and the brown roofs of hidden houses peeped through the green
foliage, through the big leaves that hung shining and still like
leaves forged of heavy metal. This was the East of the navigators, so
old, so mysterious, resplendent and somber, living and unchanged, full
of danger and promise.... I have known its fascinations since: I have
seen the mysterious shores, the still water, the lands of brown
nations, where a stealthy Nemesis lies in wait, pursues, overtakes so
many of the conquering race, who are proud of their wisdom, of their
knowledge, of their strength. But for me all the East is contained in
that vision of my youth. It is all in that moment when I opened my
young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea--and I was
young--and I saw it looking at me. And this is all that it left of it!
Only a moment of strength, of romance, of glamour, of youth!"


Nothing that Joseph Conrad writes is negligible; he is one of few
living writers whom we must have complete to the last, or the latest,
published word. Readers who care only for the yarn-spinner will not
find much in his volume of essays, "Notes on Life and Letters," but
even they will find something. And for those to whom Conrad is more
than a story teller, an incomparable magician, these small bits from
his laboratory will have much of the charm of the larger pieces, if
only the reminiscent charm that brings any book of his, the least read
or read longest ago, swiftly to the surface of memory. If a mere
landlubber may hazard the similitude, the captain will always show his
qualities whether he is on the bridge of a liner or in a rowboat.

The essays on books are unpretentious notes--eight pages on Henry
James, seven on Maupassant, twelve on Anatole France, short excursions
in criticism made between the longer voyages to the islands of the
blessed. Like most criticism written by men of genius, these papers
are interesting for what they say about another man of genius and also
for what they say about the critic. One of the most satisfactory
essays in what it reveals of Conrad is least satisfactory as objective
criticism--the one about Marryat and Cooper, in which there is a
declaration of descent in terms of surrender. To be sure, since the
elder men are seamen and writers of the sea, Conrad's delight in them
is understandable and not to be denied. But there are some things that
must be denied even by a critic who gets seasick a mile off shore. One
is Conrad's reiterated judgment that the greatness of Marryat "is
undeniable." If Marryat is great, then so is Oliver Optic. And when
Conrad speaks of the "sureness and felicity of effect" of the prose of
Cooper--Cooper, whose style grates on the ear and who drags us by the
sheer power of his story through his verbal infelicities--then I jump
overboard and leave these literary sailors to fight it out.

When we get back on land to another of Conrad's masters, Guy de
Maupassant, I feel less shaky. In "Tales of Unrest" are two stories,
"The Return" and "The Idiots," in which I long ago thought I
discovered the right kind of influence from the French master--what
Conrad praises as Maupassant's austere fidelity to fact. Yet one is
puzzled by the implied praise in the very dubious statement that "this
creative artist [Maupassant] has the true imagination; he never
condescends to invent anything." Just what does that mean? If "A Piece
of String" and "The Necklace" are not diabolically ingenious
inventions, then the word invention means nothing as applied to
fiction. In point of invention how far apart are the story of the
girls in "La Maison Tellier" and the story of the girl in the pathetic
troupe in "Victory"? Both stories are equally invented, equally true
to nature, equally free from "the miserable vanity of a catching
phrase." But what is a catching phrase? I suppose that a Frenchman
gets somewhat the same shiver of delight from fine rhythms in
Maupassant's prose that we get from fine rhythms in Conrad. Both
men--I could quote many examples--strike out amazing metaphors, the
poetry of prose, which are not decorations hung on the outside but are
the unremovable intestines of their story. Such metaphors in rhythm
are surely "catching phrases," but they are not miserable vanities. I
wonder if Conrad has a moment now and then when he distrusts his own
eloquence--an eloquence which has brought against him from more than
one critic the charge of being a phrase maker.

Conrad's prose is not so hard and compact as Maupassant's, and except
the two short stories I have mentioned I recall nothing in Conrad
which in manner or substance obviously illustrates his own statement
that he has been "inspired by a long and intimate acquaintance with
the work" of Maupassant. His greatest short stories, "Youth" and "The
Heart of Darkness," seem worlds away from the French master. But
inspiration, the influence of one artist on another, does not mean
imitation in method or any visible resemblance in effect. It may mean
a fundamental similarity in artistic attitude. The elements of
similarity between the French writer and the British are the plain
virtues, honesty and courage, which Conrad rightly ascribes to
Maupassant; for these are the central virtues in the creed which
Conrad announced many years ago and to which he has loyally adhered in
the remotest strange seas of romance.

Another of Conrad's masters, acknowledged in the phrase "twenty years
of attentive acquaintance" (and the phrase was written in 1905) is
Henry James. This seems a curious discipleship if we consider only the
material: James static, land-bound, class-bound; Conrad adventurous,
errant, familiar with all breeds and degrees of men. But much the same
thing happens to both kinds of material. For in the first place the
material is not essentially different; it is the history of a
two-legged animal staggering on land or aboard ship. And in the second
place what happens is simply (though it is not so simple) that an
artist tries to put this animal steady on its feet and make it give a
reasonable account of itself--through himself. It gets transmitted
through an intelligence, a personality, a style, into something more
interesting than the actual poor creature who wabbles along the street
or on the deck of a steamer. The courageous interpreters make their
fellow men stand up, and the real hero of a romance is the romancer.

This is one of the paradoxes of fiction which the mere reader of
fiction and of criticism written by masters of fiction can enjoy, that
the modern self-conscious story tellers, forever proclaiming their
devotion to an objective reality, to the naked fact, and even, like
Conrad, pretending scorn of the phrase, are wilful persons who distort
life into a new reality. There is something almost naïve in the honest
belief of Tolstoy, James, Conrad, that nature, human nature, is
something outside the artist, lying _over there_, and that the artist
standing _over here_ observes it, renders it, "mirrors" it. James
himself, a most sophisticated realist, was not always so insistent as
Conrad seems to think on the function of the novelist as historian;
some years later than Conrad's essay, James found fault with the
younger novelists because their work was too undigested, because it
was not sufficiently remade, transformed by an individual
interpreter--that is, though he did not say it so harshly, the younger
men were not interesting individuals, not men of first-rate

But we must not get too far away from Conrad and his particular
relation to James. He has a generously envious admiration for James's
inconclusiveness, for the novel that stops but does not end because
life does not end; it seems to be, like his admiration for
Maupassant's accuracy and directness, a declaration of something that
he has striven for and not always accomplished. Conrad winds his own
stories up pretty sharply, wipes out his people with annihilation more
desolating than the conventional piling of corpses at the end of
"Romeo and Juliet" or "Hamlet." Recall the obliterating finality of
"Lord Jim," of "Victory," which ends with the blank word "nothing."
Or, where death does not conclude it all but the character lives on,
remember the abrupt inevitable termination of "The Rescue": "Steer
north!" Another relation which I have suggested and which Conrad as
critic does not hint is this: Conrad's material, though superficially
it is made up of adventure, wreck, blood, piracy, mystery, and
Stevensonian yo-heave-ho, is, as he treats it, often as static as
anything in James; it is stationary, concerned with the moods of men,
analytic, psychological (that tiresome word has to do for it), even
while the storm rages; and this is one of the reasons why readers with
a taste for ripping yarns have not welcomed him with the unanimous
popularity which they accorded to Stevenson and Kipling, to name fine
artists and not, of course, to mention cheap favorites. If we really
understood Conrad's fiction we have no difficulty in understanding his
filial relation to Henry James. Begin with the paragraph on page 13 of
"Notes on Life and Letters:" "Action in its essence, the creative art
of the writer of fiction," etc., and see if the rest that follows is
not, with a change or two, as good an account of Joseph Conrad as of
Henry James--better, indeed, since one master of fiction writing of
another speaks with two voices or with a voice proceeding from a
two-fold authority and wisdom.

Joseph Conrad, novelist, child of English and Continental literature,
is not more unaccountable than any other literary genius. But how to
explain, or even remember at all, that the head of living English men
of letters, next to Hardy, is a Pole named Korzeniowski? It is fair to
remember that and be inquisitive about it because in "Notes on Life
and Letters" he pretends to write autobiography, and reminds us of his
origin in a paper called "Poland Revisited." It is a baffling
narrative, even more baffling than the vague book which he chose to
call "A Personal Record." Conrad in quest of his youth never gets back
to Poland at all except as a British tourist. The paper consists of
thirty-two pages. Mr. Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski reaches Cracow on the
twenty-fourth page. There are two or three pages of reminiscence,
chiefly about his father's death. Then war is declared (this is in
1914), and the British subject, with the assistance of the American
Ambassador, escapes from Poland and amid the booming of distant guns
in Flanders sails safely back through the Downs "thick with the
memories of my sea-life."

Mr. Conrad is the least patriotic of Poles and the most patriotic of
Englishmen. His political opinions, which he was evidently invited to
express by some English editor who remembered the fading fact of
Korzeniowski and appreciated the luminous fact of Joseph Conrad, the
writer, are no better and no worse than any competent journalist might
have delivered. His hatred of Russia, expressed long before his
adopted country became the ally of the Czar, may have its origin in
some boyhood bitterness. But it is an Englishman who speaks, not a
Pole. His prophecy of the downfall of Russian autocracy and of the
menace of Prussianism shoots into the future with as true an aim as
any man could have had in 1905, and a prophet is to be excused for
having said at that time that there was in Russia "no ground ready for
a revolution." "Conrad political" is less interesting than "Conrad
controversial," since his controversial utterances were provoked by
the sinking of the Titanic, the question of the safety of ships, and
the stupidity of marine officials on land, subjects which he can
discuss with the cool knowledge of the expert and the vehemence of an
offended master of ships and words.

But the true men of the four into which in his preface he divides
himself are "Conrad literary" and "Conrad reminiscent." The
reminiscence is not of a dimly, even indifferently, remembered Poland,
but of England and the sea. On the twenty-four-page journey to the
five-page sojourn in Cracow what happens? London, flashed on you in a
few sentences with an original vividness as if Englishmen had never
described it before, realized in brief transit, an immense solid
thing, compared to which Cracow is an insubstantial dream. He cannot
recapture his boyhood, but he gives you instantly the London of to-day
and the London of his youth when the British-Polish apprentice was
looking for a berth. And then the voyage across the North Sea. Here we
are at home. "The same old thing," he says. "A grey-green expanse of
smudgy waters grinning angrily at one with white foam-ridges, and over
all a cheerless, unglowing canopy, apparently made of wet blotting

"The same old thing!" The sea is the same old thing, water deep and
shoal, storm and calm, fog and clear weather, light and darkness,
starshine and sunshine. It is understandable that from time to time a
new poet should be born, Byron, Tennyson, Swinburne, Whitman, Conrad,
Masefield, who, being a different man from all the rest, should phrase
some mood of the sea in words that no other poet in centuries had
used. But Conrad has written fifteen volumes mostly about the sea,
many pages necessarily about some aspect which he has treated more
than once. His treatment is so unmistakably his own that you could
recognize any passage as his if you saw it on a piece of torn paper
blown from nowhere. Yet it is truer of him than of Shakespeare that he
never repeats, has no _clichés_, no pet phrases, but in each book
finds astonishing new images, as if he himself had not written before.
How does he do it?


Some men of genius at forty or fifty arrive at a view of life, an
attitude toward the human comedy, as inclusive and definite as it is
possible for them to conceive. Hardy at seventy is quite recognizable
the man that he was at forty. The Meredith of 1860 is the Meredith of
1890. They grow, they improve or change their artistic methods. But
their natures do not undergo violent revolutions. Other men, Tolstoy
for example, experience a catastrophic annihilation of some part of
themselves and emerge from the confusion, remade, fired with new
beliefs. Tolstoy had one great battle with himself which divided his
life into two main periods, and after the struggle his philosophy,
whatever its worth, was fairly settled, and he knew how to express it
clearly over and over again.

Strindberg seems to have been continuously at war with Strindberg; and
the peace that he found was but the death-bed repentance of a man
whose forces were spent. He went through many phases. "The Growth of a
Soul", which is autobiographical, might better be called "The
Conflicts of a Soul". It seethes with ideas, ends in a half-formed
philosophy, and is only a section of Strindberg's intellectual
adventures. He was ten men at ten different times, and he was ten men
all the time. He expressed every aspect of himself. His manifold
genius was master of all forms of literature. As Emerson said of
Swedenborg, in whom Strindberg found all the light that his dark soul
ever knew, he lies abroad on his times, leviathan-like. Undoubtedly to
know him, one must know him entire, and I do not pretend to complete
knowledge of his life and works.

Some fragments of his total artistic expression are not intelligible
when they are read apart from his other books. "The Inferno" is a
confused and murky nightmare which takes on form and purpose only when
the light of biography is turned on it. Other works of Strindberg,
read by themselves, are clear and shapely.

"By the Open Sea" is an intensely powerful study of an overcultivated
man and a primitively passionate woman. It is, moreover, the work of a
poet who loves the sea. The passage in which the ichthyologist
observes through his telescope the wonder-world beneath the surface of
the water is rich with the essential poetry of natural fact. The
translator, Ellie Schleussner, would probably say, as Strindberg's
admirers all say, that his resonant poetic prose cannot be rendered in
another language. Yet the things that he sees in nature and his
interpretations of them are in their naked substance the imaginative
stuff which is poetry. This Titan was not content to be poet,
novelist, dramatist, essayist, philosopher. He was also a man of
science, no mean rival, they say, of the professional student of
biology and chemistry. The eye that looks through Borg's telescope has
been trained in a laboratory and can also roll with a fine frenzy:

"The blenny, which has developed a pair of oars in front, but is too
heavy in the stern and reminds one of first attempts at boat building,
raised its architectural stone head, adorned with the moustachios of a
Croat, above the heraldic foliage among which it had lain, and lifted
itself for a short moment out of the mud only to sink back into it the
next instant.

"The lump-fish with its seven backs stuck up its keel; the whole fish
was nothing but an enormous nose, scenting out food and females; it
illuminated for a second the bluish-green water with its rosy belly,
surrounding itself with a faint aureole in the deep darkness; but
before long its sucker again held safely to a stone, there to wait the
lapse of the million years which shall bring delivery to the laggards
on the endless road of evolution."

Strindberg has been called both misogamist and misogynist. Yet it is
not possible to collect and compress within the bounds of such
definite words a man whose ideas on any one subject fly far apart as
the poles. If he sometimes, often, expresses virulent detestation of
women and all their ways, he is not more tender toward men. He is not
a caresser of life. He hangs the whole human race. But he analyzes;
tries it before the twelve-minded jury in himself before he pronounces
sentence. Point by point, detail for detail, he is just in perception
of character and motive. His final view is simply not final, but
contradictory as life itself. He thinks that woman is a snare to the
feet of a man who would walk upright and accomplish something in the
world. Yet he believes in the freedom of woman, would give her the
vote, and emancipate her from economic bondage to the man. He even
champions the liberty of the child, condemns "the family as a social
institution which does not permit the child to become an individual at
the proper time," and draws both parents as victims of "the same
unfortunate conditions which are honored by the sacred name of law."

"Marriage" contains twenty short stories of married life, so many
variations of Strindberg's thesis against the institution. So
regarded, the book leaves one rather sore than enlightened. But these
stories are stories, not tracts. Strindberg is a great, if rough and
savage, artist. His opinions, whatever they are, do not devitalize his
fiction. His short narratives are as skilful as Maupassant's in at
least one respect, compression, sinewy economy. He can put in ten
pages the domestic tragedy of a lifetime. He is a fine or, rather, a
firm craftsman, and though the man rages, the artist has the artist's
restraint and every other literary virtue short of ultimate beauty. He
sets down terrible things with a cool succinctness. One story ends
thus: "The children had become burdens and the once beloved wife a
secret enemy despised and despising him. And the cause of all this
unhappiness? The want of bread! And yet the large storehouses of the
new world were breaking down under the weight of an over-abundant
supply of wheat. What a world of contradictions! The manner in which
bread was distributed must be at fault. Science, which has replaced
religion, has no answer to give; it merely states facts and allows the
children to die of hunger and the parents of thirst."

"The Red Room" is a satire on life in Stockholm, on life everywhere.
The pathetic struggle of the artistic and literary career, its follies
and pretenses, the fatuity of politics, the dishonesty of journalism,
the disillusion that awaits the aspiring actor, all these things run
riot through the lively pages. Strindberg's satire is severe, it is
sometimes hard, but it is not mean. He has a large if rather distant
sympathy for the poor fellows whose aspirations, failures,
dissipations, and friendships he portrays. Of two young critics he
says: "And they wrote of human merit and human unworthiness and broke
hearts as if they were breaking egg-shells." He writes of their
unconscious inhumanity and blindness in a way that reveals his own
clearness of vision and fundamental humanity. The laughter of a somber
humorist has in it a tenderness unknown to merry natures.

The dramatic and literary critic may profitably read the chapter
called "Checkmate," in which the young journalist is made to say: "The
public does not want to have an opinion, it wants to satisfy its
passions. If I praise your enemy you writhe like a worm and tell me
that I have no judgment; if I praise your friend, you tell me that I
have. Take that last piece of the Dramatic Theatre, Fatty, which has
just been published in book form.... It's quite safe to say that there
isn't enough action in it: that's a phrase the public knows well;
laugh a little at the 'beautiful language'; that's good, old
disparaging praise; then attack the management for having accepted
such a play and point out that the moral teaching is doubtful--a very
safe thing to say about most things."

Strindberg's imagination visualized and dramatized everything. He made
plays of an astonishing variety of ideas ranging from wild poetic
fantasy to grim realism--a range as great as Ibsen's and greater than

Glance at those in the third volume of Mr. Björkman's translations,
not to analyze them but merely to note their diversity. "Swanwhite" is
a fairy fantasy of love, confessedly inspired by Maeterlinck, yet in
no sense an imitation of him. "Advent" is a Christmas miracle play,
which embodies a gentle sermon on the forgiveness of sins--a strange
sermon from the man who wrote the last chapter of "By the Open Sea!"
"Debit and Credit" is a realistic sketch portraying the man who
succeeds at the expense of other people. "The Thunderstorm" plays upon
an old theme, one that Strindberg knew by experience, the failure of
marriage between an elderly man and a young woman. It ends rather
serenely for Strindberg, whose last years were not peaceful: "It's
getting dark, but then comes reason to light us with its bull's-eyes,
so that we don't go astray.... Close the windows and pull down the
shades so that all memories can lie down and sleep in peace of old

In "After the Fire" the vanity and dishonesty of petty people are
ruthlessly exposed. The Stranger who finds all reputations to have
been based on sham and all pride founded on wind, is said to be
Strindberg himself. "Vanity, vanity.... You tiny earth; you, the
densest and heaviest of all planets--that's what makes everything on
you so heavy--so heavy to breathe, so heavy to carry. The cross is
your symbol, but it might just as well have been a fool's cap or a
strait-jacket--you world of delusions and deluded!"


Sometimes the world, or a section of it, goes wildly cheering after a
prophet; and a stranger, watching the multitude, wonders wherein lies
the greatness of the great man. The sceptic may be too ignorant to
understand or he may be too clear-sighted to be deceived. Not many
years ago the tom-tom of the Nobel Prize beat before the tent of the
modest and inoffensive Hindoo poet, Rabindranath Tagore. English
critics and poets of first-rate authority have called him wonderful.
For all I know he may be wonderful, for I have not read all his work
in English and I am not well acquainted with Bengali. But I submit
that in "The Crescent Moon" and "The Gardener," there is not one great
line, not one poem that is arresting, compelling, memorable. Moreover,
there is much that is false and weak.

    O Great Beyond, O the keen call of thy flute!
    O Farthest End, O the keen call of thy flute!

Now that may do in India, but in our part of the world it is feeble
orchestration. The poets of the Bible and English poets since the days
of the Elizabethan translation have equipped the celestial choirs with
more sounding instruments. One cannot without a smile consider the far
end of the cosmos playing a flute or a piccolo. Harken to how a
supreme poet makes music worthy of the wide spaces:

    But thou dost set in statelier pageantry,
      Lauded with tumults of the firmament;
    Thy visible music-blasts make deaf the sky,
      Thy cymbals clang to fire the Occident,
    Thou dost thy dying so triumphally;
      I see the crimson blaring of thy shawms.

This is from Francis Thompson's "Ode to the Setting Sun." You see the
difference. Thompson's lines are poetry. Tagore's simply are not.

Miss May Sinclair, herself a distinguished artist, says that Mr.
Tagore's translation of his Bengali poetry into English "preserves,
not only all that is essential and eternal in his poetry, but much of
the strange music." That may be so, but how does Miss Sinclair know
that? Does she understand Bengali? Does she read it and speak it well
enough to be sure that Mr. Tagore has translated himself adequately?
Is not she affording an instance of criticism that in an excess of
enthusiasm runs beyond its own knowledge? Some of Tagore's lines are
mildly sweet, and there are some pretty fancies in the Child-Poems.
The poem in "The Gardener," which begins:

    Why do you whisper so faintly in my ears, O
    Death, my Death?

would be faintly impressive if Walt Whitman had never lived.

Not only are Tagore's lines not great but some of his lines are

    Under the banyan tree you were milking the cow with your hands,
    tender and fresh as butter.

Perhaps Mr. Tagore did not know that in English "butter fingers"
greasily signifies manual ineptitude. I can not take that line
seriously, nor understand how Tagore has become one of England's
acknowledged poets. He distorts nature with pathetic fallacies which
have not verbal splendor to carry them, as the verbal splendor of
Shakespeare, Shelley, and Thompson often carries a metaphor that, so
to speak, will not hold water.

    I paced alone on the road across the field while the sunset was
    hiding its last gold like a miser.

The sunset is not in the least like a miser; and a true lover and
observer of nature would not allow himself such a niggardly fallacious
image. Are not our friends, the poets and critics, victims of the
spell which odd things out of the East put on our occidental minds,
the spell that makes some people run after queer preachers and
philosophers who talk religion through their turbans?

One is reminded that Mr., or Sir Owen Seaman has in his delicious book
of parodies, "The Battle of the Bays", an Edwin-Arnoldy thing that
runs like this:

    The bulbul hummeth like a book
      Upon the pooh-pooh tree,
    And now and then he takes a look
      At you and me,
    At me and you.
      Kuchi! Kuchoo!

It is, I confess, sheer perversity that made that stanza come into my
head while I was reading Tagore. Tagore does not rhyme; he puts his
verses into simple prose, most of which is pleasant enough, but none
of which is rich in thought or magnificent in phrase.

Tagore is a faker in the English sense of the word. I do not know what
he is in Hindoo. He gives lectures in America to audiences that are,
of course, mostly women. Then when he has got all the money he can get
from them (for his schools; he is not selfish) he tells them as a
Parthian shot that they are idle. If they were not, the poor ignorant
dears, he would not have had any audiences or any money. It is caddish
to kick the cow that gives the milk. I should rejoice if he took
millions from the idle ladies of America to help the ladies of India
and to free India from the British murderer and thief. Spoiling the
Egyptians is a good game. But it is not playing the game like a man
and a philosopher to bite the hand that feeds you.

And it is not manly or philosophic to kiss the hand that strikes you.
Tagore with a feeble gesture relinquishes his British title as a
protest against British crime in India. If he had been a real
philosopher and a true patriot he would not have accepted the title in
the first place. The lost leader who sticks a riband in his coat does
not recover leadership by throwing the riband away. The political and
social beliefs of poets, even of Dante and Shelley and Hugo, are of
less importance than their sense of beauty. But there is a connection,
not quite impertinent to a purely literary discussion, between the
quality of a poet's work and his character as it is expressed when he
descends from Parnassus and uses the prose of politicians. It is not
surprising that Tagore, who babbles to American chautauquas and allows
an English king to tap him on the shoulder, should be a weak and
stammering poet. That voice from the east is not impressive. If it is
the best that modern India can do, then India is done for
intellectually as well as economically.


In "Decadence and Other Essays on the Culture of Ideas,"[1] Mr.
William Aspenwall Bradley has made an excellent selection from the
work of Remy de Gourmont; one only regrets that space did not permit
him to give us more. He has a gift unfortunately rare among
translators: he knows his original and he knows how to write the
language into which he translates. He even corrects his master in one
place: where de Gourmont, stumbling in a language which he has not
quite mastered, writes that the English words, "sweet," and "sweat,"
are _mots de prononciation identique_, Mr. Bradley gently wipes out
the blunder with "words which resemble each other." Not that de
Gourmont, with his enormous knowledge, made many such mistakes! I
merely note the care and delicacy of the translator.

          [1] Decadence and Other Essays on the Culture of Ideas. Remy
          de Gourmont. Translated by William Aspenwall Bradley. New
          York: Harcourt Brace & Co. 1921.

Without pretending too much to the wisdom which should have ensued, I
remember like a shock of light, as if a blind man had suddenly gained
his vision, my introduction, a few years ago, to the work of de
Gourmont (for which my thanks are due to Mr. Martin Loeffler, who is a
distinguished musician and only potentially a man of letters). If you
wish to have your darkness illuminated, associate with the wise. If
you are groping in a foreign literature, the first man to meet is
the critic. The little I know about France of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries I owe to having clung to the broad and often
elusive coat-tails of Sainte-Beuve. As a guide to the nineteenth
century and much else beside--back to Rome and Greece--the most
stimulating cicerone is Remy de Gourmont.

When he was born, the gods went crazy and put into one person an elf
and a sage, Ariel and Prospero, Morgan and Merlin. It is no uncommon
thing when you are reading a French book, by an author with whose work
you are not familiar, to find facing the title-page a list of books
_du même auteur_ and to discover that he has published something
in all the main divisions of imaginative literature, plays, poems,
romances, criticism. It takes a Frenchman to box the literary compass.
He assumes that the business of a writer is to write, and he learns
and practises all the forms, with varying degrees of success, to be
sure, just as a musician, trying all forms, may be at his best in
songs or quartettes for strings or symphonies or operas.

De Gourmont played every instrument in the band and played it well.
His range and versatility are remarkable even for a Frenchman. He took
all knowledge for his province. In spreading his interests wide he
never became thin; even when he played on the surface of an idea he
somehow, in a page or two, showed the depth of mind and matter
underneath. He was, as his American publishers say, poet, critic,
dramatist, scholar, biologist, philosopher, novelist, philologist, and
grammarian. He was an experimenter and explorer. When he died, just
under sixty, he was still looking round with his keen roaming eye, and
he was looking sadly, for the war, according to his brother Jean, who
writes not sentimentally but like a de Gourmont, killed him.

Even the colossal, universal genius, the Hugo, the Goethe, can not be
supreme in every realm of thought, in every type of literary
expression. De Gourmont's poetry, to my ignorant alien ear, is not
among the best in that prolific and still living period of French
poetry which he as critic did so much to encourage. As for de
Gourmont's fiction, "Une Nuit au Luxembourg," which he might have
tossed with a wink into the lap of Anatole France, does not greatly
enrich French fiction, which is already rich in similar achievements.
"Couleurs" consists of delightful twittings on ideas, and surely is
not greatly important in a nation where one man of letters out of four
has mastered the art of the _conte_.

De Gourmont is supremely the critic, the man who digests, interprets,
reorganizes the thoughts of other men and in the process adds to those
thoughts. His favorite method of reorganization is disorganization,
"dissociation" (and by the way, that word is good in English, as in
French, and better than Mr. Bradley's "disassociation"). He pulls
ideas to pieces and skilfully puts them together again. He is an
analyst, a dissector. But the flowers of the garden are not all
plucked to shreds and scattered on the paths, nor are they all taken
to the laboratory and subjected to the microscope. De Gourmont is
interested in things living and in propagating life. "_Toutes nos
fleurs sont fraîches, jeunes et pleines d'amour._" He surveys
wildernesses and lays out gardens. No other man was ever blessed with
such a combination of the safe, sane, intellectually comfortable and
the restless, daring, venturesome.

He loves paradoxes because life is full of contradictions, and his
paradoxes are often elucidations and conciliations of conflicting
ideas, never the cheap and facile paradoxes of a Chesterton. Is
Mallarmé obscure? There is never absolute, literal obscurity in an
honestly written work. Besides, there are too few obscure writers in
French. This from a Frenchman whose own writing is a marvel of clarity
even when he is handling subtle and difficult ideas! Moreover, de
Gourmont's essays on language and style are studies in precision, in

De Gourmont is a wise man, who, like Socrates and William James, is
not afraid to joke, and some of his perversities are uttered with his
ironic tongue in his cheek. Like all fine humorists he is profoundly
serious, and the delicate play of his fingers is backed by terrific
muscular scholarship. His method is to appear to be casual, to make
the review of a book "_une occasion de parler un peu_" and then
to pack into six pages the reading of a lifetime. He manipulates
Brunetière into the corner and annihilates him before you have time to
realize that there is no button on the rapier.

For all his tolerant smile and sceptical shrug, de Gourmont is
fighting valiantly for ideas. He wants ideas liberated but not loose,
and in the very act of freeing them he defines and fixes them. He
divides long-mated notions in order to reassemble them according to
his private logic. For he is the most wilful and individual of
critics. The journalistic multiplicity of his subjects is unified by a
great personality. The "dissociator" of ideas is a constructive
thinker, one of the greatest of critics in a nation of critics and
sufficient in himself to stand as smiling refutation of Croce's dictum
that "French criticism is notably weak whenever the fundamentals of
art are concerned." If there is a fundamental of art that de Gourmont
missed, I doubt whether it is to be discovered in any German or
Italian book. For de Gourmont's reading embraced the literature of
Europe, and he was especially alert to philosophic criticism. He was
forever in search of principles; but the result of his quest is not a
massive disquisition. The solidity of his learning and the systematic
coherence of his ideas are concealed from the unwary reader by the
lightness of his tone and also by his brevity, the gift, which belongs
to the race of Montaigne and Voltaire, of saying everything in a few
sentences. His essays are light as a feather and yet they carry tons
of information. The aeroplane looks like a bird but it is a heavy and
elaborate piece of machinery.

De Gourmont lived in an ivory tower, the tower of a wizard who
combined the knowledge of an ancient necromancer with that of a modern
chemist. He was much alone, for only in solitude can a man read as
much as de Gourmont read and write about it in serene meditation.
Nevertheless, he was in and of the world of writers; he was an active
and friendly editor; he made the _Mercure de France_; he encouraged
the youngest and bravest of his day; many of his notes record
conversations with the finest men of his time. He spent his days with
_la jeunesse_ and his nights with aged wisdom. When he retired to his
ivory tower he carried under one arm a volume of mediæval Latin, to
add to his enormous library, already neatly stowed in his head, and
under the other arm the manuscript of the youngest French poet.

In one of his essays de Gourmont plays charmingly with the reviewer's
too facile use of "great"; "great writer," "very great writer."
Despite that delightful warning I dare say that de Gourmont is a
_très grand écrivain_, not a great poet nor a great novelist, but
the greatest critic that has been born, even in France where critics
are wont to be born.


"Controversy," says the editor of the Swift-Vanessa letters,[1] "might
have been more moderate in tone and more fruitful of result, if
writers had always remembered that, though grounds of conjecture are
abundant, the data for forming a judgment are manifestly incomplete."
Leslie Stephen, a shrewd and cautious biographer, with a lawyer's gift
for handling evidence, says "This is one of those cases in which we
feel that even biographers are not omniscient; and I must leave it to
my readers to choose their own theory, only suggesting that readers,
too, are fallible."

          [1] Vanessa and Her Correspondence with Jonathan Swift.
          Letters edited for the first time from originals. With an
          introduction by A. Martin Freeman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

I propose an explanation of Swift, but propose it only as a
conjecture, an hypothesis. I shall not even argue it up to the point
of positive belief; certainly I shall not push it beyond the line
where belief borders knowledge. Conjecture is good if it remains
clearly in the realm of conjecture, an honest area of thought, and
does not try to sneak over into the land of things proved.

All of Swift's relations with women, and much else in his life, may be
accounted for by the supposition that early he discovered or suspected
that he was insane, that he believed his insanity might be
transmissible, that he was consequently afraid to have children, that
he was honest and strong enough to keep himself in check, that the
resulting suppression made him irascible and bitter, that he was a
vigorous and passionate man, that his quick shifts from tender fooling
to savage satire, his friendly and brutal moods, his strutting
arrogance that amazed the coffee houses, were not due to any
tom-foolery of politics or thwarted ambition in the petty matter of
advancement in the church but were due to a conflict, honorably won by
Swift, in the place where a man lives. The "early" in this supposition
is important. Leslie Stephen, quoting the familiar dark prophecy of
Swift at the age of fifty: "I shall be like that tree; I shall die at
the top," justly observes that "a man haunted perpetually by such
forebodings might well think that marriage was not for him." But
Stephen is dealing with Swift in middle age and offering an
explanation of why, assuming that Swift was not already married to
Stella, he did not marry Vanessa. Let us place the beginning of the
perpetual foreboding early in Swift's life and see if the main facts,
so far as we know them, will lie upon this supposition.

Swift's attacks of vertigo began in his youth. He attributed his
illness to an over-consumption of fruit when he was twenty-one. Swift
knew better than that. Even if we assume that medical science in the
eighteenth century was stupid and backward, Swift was too intelligent
to believe that an early period of indigestion accounted for the
suffering which afflicted him all his life. He knew, or suspected and
feared, what was the matter with him. In 1699, when he was thirty-two,
he wrote some resolutions, headed "when I come to be old." Among them
is this: "Not to be fond of children or let them come near me hardly."
Stephen quotes a friendly commentator as saying: "We do not fortify
ourselves with resolutions against what we dislike but against what we
feel in our weakness we have reason to believe we are really inclined
to." That friendly commentator was right and understood human nature,
though he had never lived (Stephen does not name him) to hear about
libido, suppression, defence, inversion, and other wise words now

Stephen goes wrong, it seems to me, in his following friendly
commentation: "Yet it is strange that a man should regard the purest
and kindliest of feelings as a weakness to which he was too much
inclined." I have not space to quote the rest, which is on page 31 of
Stephen in the English Men of Letters. Swift was not fighting against
a weakness, he was fighting against a strength. He resolves "not to
marry a young woman." In a letter he calls a woman's children her
"litter," and that has been quoted by some critics as an example of
his brutality. He loves Tom, Dick, and Harry but he hates mankind. Is
it not clear? He can not have what he wants, and what he wants is what
normally results in children, in more mankind. His resolution,
superficially harsh and misanthropic, is a masked, or inverted,
expression of desire. Such expression is not, of course, peculiar to
literary satirists, but it should be remembered that Swift had
supremely the ironic trick of thought, the gift of saying a thing by
saying exactly the opposite.

The resolution should be read in the light of the fact that Stella was
eighteen years old, a grown and comely woman. But the interpretation
of it depends much more closely on the termination of Swift's affair
with Varina. The date, 1699, suggests this. He had proposed to Varina,
Miss Waring, in 1696, in a letter which is passionate enough, and had
been rejected, at least provisionally, on the score of her ill health
and his poverty. Four years later, after he had received the living at
Laracor and seemed to be on the way to other preferments, she wished
to hold him to his word, and he jilted her. There are three
explanations. One is that he had fallen in love with Stella and so out
of love with the other woman. The second explanation, Leslie
Stephen's, is that his ambitions had not been realized, his
advancement had not been brilliant, and marriage would have kept his
nose to the grind-stone in an obscure living. That explanation is not
good, for, though Swift always had an eye to the main chance and was
worried about money, power, and position, it is only men of cool blood
or men who have extra-marital opportunities to gratify their desires
who are ever deterred by considerations of thrift and economy from
marrying the beloved woman. Swift was not cold but passionate. And it
is inconceivable that he, a clergyman in a small parish, was finding
his pleasure in illicit intercourse.

The third explanation, which I venture to suggest, is that between his
proposal to Varina in 1696 and his insulting rejection of her in 1700,
between his twenty-ninth and thirty-third years, he had discovered a
reason why he must not live with a woman. His resolutions, remember,
not to marry a young woman and not to be fond of children were written
in 1699. How could Stephen believe that those resolutions, with others
"pithy and sensible," were "for behavior in a distant future?" Swift's
heading, "when I come to be old," means nothing; he is writing from
the misery of the moment. Why is the letter in which Swift puts an end
to poor Varina so brutal and insulting that, in Stephen's words, no
one with a grain of self-respect could accept the conditions of
marriage which he lays down? Because he could not tell her the real
reason, a reason based on fear rather than on physiological certainty.
It is an honestly dishonest letter. It is a perfect example of that
perplexing contradiction which appears everywhere in his life and
writings, that he was brutally honest, saw through the postures and
masks of everybody else, and yet postured, attitudinized, and lied
himself. He carried his secret agony with fortitude and alternately
raged against the world and fooled with it. In relation to the Varina
episode Stephen misses the point, though what he says is true enough:
"Swift could be the most persistent and ardent of friends. But when
anyone tried to enforce claims no longer congenial to his feelings,
the appeal to the galling obligation stung him into ferocity, and
brought out the most brutal side of his imperious nature." Though a
man has but one heart, yet his relations with his friends are quite
different from his passions for women. A proud, ferocious and
imperious nature is not the whole story of Swift. It does not give us
the real foundation of the story of Varina, of Stella, of Vanessa and
the man they loved.

On the foundation which I propose the story of Stella will rest
securely, intelligibly. If Swift was married secretly to Stella in
1716--the evidence is not conclusive--the marriage was only a legal
ceremony performed perhaps for the purpose of securing her in case her
fortunes went wrong or gossip or other circumstances made necessary
the protection of his name. Almost certainly there was no physical
marriage, no union legal or illegal. Why? He was free and she was
free. She was, by his own account, a charming person who would have
been quite presentable to his friends and in all ways helpful to a man
in middle age who is supposed to need a woman to take care of him. The
answer is simply that Swift feared to propagate his tainted stock,
that he refrained and suffered. And the "Journal to Stella" is a
record of suffering, of passion disguised and writhing. A busy man,
with other things to write, does not write that much to a woman he
does not love, and he does not write that way to a woman he openly and
avowedly loves. The "little language," the silliness, the foolings,
the avoidance of direct declaration of love, the semi-paternal
injunctions, the gossip about big people, much of it whimsical chatter
in which we get only by implication the serious view of Swift and his
times that has made it an important historical document, the two or
three hintful promises of felicity which commit Swift to nothing, the
passages of melancholy and half-humorous old man's grouch--all this is
a veiled love letter. It is tingling and nervous and alert and full of
pain, not the idle recreation of a tired man of affairs entertaining a
child, but the heartbreak of a powerful man of forty-five expressed
by indirections to a woman of thirty. Perhaps she understood his
spleen and his complaints of ill-health. We may be on the way
to understanding them now. Certainly Stephen is off the track
when he says that there are "grounds for holding that Swift was
constitutionally indisposed to the passion of love." Unless he means
by that that Swift knew that there was something in his constitution
which made the ultimate realization of love impossible. And Stephen
does not mean that, for he speaks of the absence of traces of passion
from writings "conspicuous for their amazing sincerity." An amazing
example of a sincere biographer missing the trace! Swift's insistence
on his "coldness" and his assertion that he did not understand love
are precisely an affirmation of what the words deny.

Now enters the third woman of record--there may have been more--in
Swift's unhappy sexual life, Vanessa, Esther Vanhomrigh. At the same
time that he is writing his long love letter, the "Journal to Stella,"
he is seeing Vanessa. Of course. It is all explicable. The man can not
have the woman he wants and is tantalized by another woman who wants
him. He plays and he won't play. He is tormented by the same restraint
that keeps him out of Stella's bed. He is handsome, virile, and
distinguished. The woman is crazy about him. He is unable to keep away
from her, but he is fighting, for reasons known to him, against the
impulse to possess her. He plays again, as with Stella, a game which,
viewed superficially, is fraudulent and unfair. He is teacher, guide,
philosopher, and Dutch uncle. But she is not a docile, gentle girl
like Stella. Mr. Freeman, who handles his documents admirably and is
not slanted from the truth by moralistic concern for hero or heroine,
is, nevertheless, naïve and blind to the facts which he has so
carefully considered. He says: "The tragedy, then, was inevitable from
the day when Vanessa attempted to arouse in him a love of which he was
incapable. It might have been hastened, or its form might have been
different, if he had sternly broken with Vanessa as soon as he
discovered the nature of her desires." Swift was not incapable, in
that sense, and he knew the nature of her desires, for he was not a
fool. What he knew also was the nature of his own desires and their
possible consequences. That is, I conjecture, the heart of the story
of Swift's heart.



The letters of a philosopher usually have the primary, if not
exclusive, interest of elucidating and extending in an informal way
the ideas expounded in his professional writings. It is for this
interest that one would turn to the letters of a thinker who was
nothing but a thinker, such as Kant (if, indeed, there is a collection
of Kant's letters), and to the correspondence of such a philosopher as
Nietzsche, who, aside from his technical contributions to human
wisdom, presents fascinating problems in human character, personality,
biography. The letters of Williams James[1] have two distinct values.
They appeared at the same moment with his "Collected Essays and
Reviews"[2] and the two publications, taken together, complete the
intellectual record of the man. Though master and man can not be
separated, yet, as good disciples of James's pluralism, we may be
permitted to divide an individual into two "aspects." First let us
enjoy the letters, simply as the letters of a man who was,
incidentally, a philosopher.

          [1] The Letters of William James. Edited by his son Henry
          James. Two Vols. Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press.

          [2] Collected Essays and Reviews. William James. New York;
          Longmans, Green and Co.

And what letters! The letters of Lamb, of Edward Fitzgerald, are not
more delightful. The easiest and pleasantest way to prove that would
be to fill the rest of this essay with quotations, and that way would
be in consonance with the whimsical spirit of James, who wrote to his
youngest son: "Your Ma thinks you'll grow up into a filosofer like me
and write books. It is easy enough, all but the writing. You just get
it out of other books and write it down." To write a jolly letter to a
child, to ridicule yourself and your profession and at the same time
to defend an idea with vigor and determination, to poke fun at
colleagues and heartily respect them, to be dignified in mental shirt
sleeves, to wink one eye and keep two keen eyes on the page or the
fact that has to be studied, to fling words with apparent carelessness
and never for a moment to lose control of words or thought--all this
means a great character and a fine literary artist.

James says of Duveneck, the painter: "I have seen very little of him.
The professor is an oppressor of the artist, I fear." It may be that
the professor, which James was and officially had to be, oppressed the
artist in him. But the artist would not down. If all the philosophic
work of James were wiped out by an act of God or by the arguments of
philosophers, James, the man of letters, would still survive. I
believe that part of the success of James as philosopher was due to
his ability to say what he meant not only with logical clarity but
with charm, with the skill of the literary artist. Technical
Philosophy may immortalize or bury his work. The man, the startling,
original person must be imperishable. No matter what subject he
touches, his way of saying things is superb. He had an artist's
interest in the art of writing. Of a volume of his essays he says: "I
am sure of your sympathy in advance for much of their contents. But I
am afraid that what you will never appreciate is their wonderful
English style! Shakespeare is a little street-boy in comparison!" The
wise man has his tongue in his cheek, of course, but there is a
serious idea behind the fooling. Of a correspondent's "strictures on
my English" he writes: "I have a tendency towards too great
colloquiality." What sort of laborious philosopher was it who worried
James about his style, his fluent, accurate, imaginative vehicle of
thought? It may be that some of James's philosophic ideas are quite
wrong. But there is a presumption in favor of the truth of an idea
which is well expressed.

James argues somewhere that a style as thick as Hegel's can not be the
"authentic mother-tongue of reason." If that is unfair to Hegel, it is
a fair revelation of the mind of James. He was an advocate and an
exemplar of lucidity of expression, and was always putting to himself
and other philosophers the plain question: "Just what do you mean?"
But his sharpness of mind, though often aggressive, was never
offensive. He seems at times to have dulled the edge of his wit in
order not to hurt the other fellow. The editor of the letters has,
perhaps wisely, "not included letters that are wholly technical or
polemic." Probably the ideas expressed in the technical letters are
repeated in James's books. But I should like to see the polemic
letters. The editor himself in the act of withholding them has defined
their merits: "He rejoiced openly in the controversies which he
provoked and engaged in polemics with the good humor and vigor that
were the essence of his genius." The touches of polemic writing which
appear in the correspondence that is given us reveal this good humor
and vigor and make one hungry for more. He was staunch and dexterous
in argument and never yielded an inch, but he could stop and laugh at
his opponent and at himself. He objected to Huxley's somewhat solemn
devotion to "Truth," yet he had a kind of skill in argument that was
not unlike Huxley's. He could give a man a smashing blow in the ribs,
and even show a quite human irritation, but his exquisite courtesy
never failed. His letters to Godkin, of the _Nation_, protesting
against unfair criticism of the work of the elder Henry James, are a
lesson for critics, and no doubt Godkin's reply was a model of
magnanimous contrition.

James had an immense variety of interests outside philosophy, though
perhaps it is unphilosophical to imply that anything can lie outside
the range of a true philosopher's vision. His letters are written to
many different kinds of persons; the best of them, naturally, are to
philosophers and men of letters, who evoked from him an amazing
multiplicity of ideas and to whom he let fly a delicious compound of
sound reason and jocularity. In characterizing other men he
characterized himself. For example, what he says about Royce embraces
both men perfectly: "that unique mixture of erudition, originality,
profundity and vastness, and human wit and leisureliness." He was
fortunate in his human and intellectual contacts. An early and
abidingly fortunate contact was that with his father, who was also a
"filosofer." His last letter to his father is beautiful. It brings
tears, of which the most stoical philosopher need not be ashamed;
indeed, one might rather be ashamed if the tears did not come. No one
outside the family and a few friends has a right to read that letter,
but print has extended the privilege. If Mr. E. V. Lucas or any other
anthologist makes a new collection of examples of "the gentlest art,"
the letter from James to his father should be included. In it two men
are portrayed, father and son, both magnificently; if either man had
been less than great the letter could not have been written.

James was born a philosopher; philosophy was in the blood and in the
very air of the household. There is no better instance of the heredity
of genius and of predestination to a career. Yet James did not find
himself immediately; he floundered about in the world of thought long
after the age at which most men have hung out shingles. He was thirty
when he was appointed instructor in physiology at Harvard, and his
tardiness in establishing himself as a bread-winning citizen fretted
him. Lesser men who feel that the expression of their talents has been
thwarted or postponed may take comfort from the fact that James's
first printed book, the "Psychology," appeared in 1890, when he was
forty-eight years old.

The fact that James was an intellectual roamer and did not proceed
docilely from a doctor's degree to a position as teacher, in a groove
forever, accounts, in part, for the flexibility and variety of his
thought. His "dribbling," as he calls it, during years when he
suffered from physical illness and a depressing sense of impotence,
was not altogether bad for the man or for the philosopher. He wandered
about Europe, became bilingual, if not trilingual (he was never quite
happy in German speech or German philosophy). His learning was
enriched with odds and ends of information such as belong rather to
the man of the world than to the professor. If he had lived all his
life in Königsberg or Cambridge he would have been neither Kant nor
James. To him philosophy was never an affair of remote abstract
heavens or of little dusty class rooms. He served academic interests
faithfully and did more than any other man to make the department of
philosophy at Harvard the finest thing in American university life.
But he was in constant rebellion against the academic world and,
indeed, against all institutionalism. He wrote to Thomas Davidson:
"Why is it that everything in this world is offered to us on no medium
terms between either having too much of it or too little? You pine for
a professorship. I pine for your leisure to write and study." Yet he
had more leisure and freedom than most men. He went abroad whenever he
wanted to go, and never knew what it was to be down to his last

His lateness in finding himself professionally and philosophically is,
perhaps, related to his perpetual youth, his eagerness for new ideas,
his inability to be fixed and settled. He sometimes grasped at ideas
too hastily and welcomed such new arrivals as Wells and Chesterton
with a heartiness which, perhaps, they did not quite deserve. But that
was the fault of his enthusiastic catholicity. He hated shut minds and
shut doors of thought and feared nothing except that some possibly
valuable inquiry might be hindered or stopped by stupidity and
prejudice. His colleague, Professor Palmer, called him "the finest
critical mind of our time." Let the philosophers decide whether that
is excessive praise. We mere laymen can know him and enjoy him as he
reveals himself in his letters, a vivacious, humorous, affectionate


The supreme service of William James to philosophy is the restoration
of philosophy to the uses of life. At least that is the tendency of
his philosophy. Even though much wisdom still remains shut up in a
tower, indifferent to life, and though life may often be ungrateful to
and suspicious of such wisdom as is offered to it, nevertheless
James's attempt to bring about a _rapprochement_ was his finest
contribution and is expressed in some of his most glowing pages. He
came at the right time and illustrated in himself one of his hearty
beliefs that Humanity will produce all the types of thinker that it
needs. At the moment when he entered the realm of philosophy, the
physical sciences had arrogantly assumed, if not all wisdom, the
possession of the correct method of searching for wisdom. On the other
hand, the transcendental philosophers held themselves aloof from the
physical sciences and ignored psychology. This division of interest in
a world which James himself tried to keep manageably split up and
pluralistic, was his first philosophic perplexity and, in his
treatment of the problem, he committed himself to inconsistencies and
self-contradictions, which were partly inherent in the situation and
partly due to his temperament.

Through all his writings, from one of his earliest papers (that on
Renan's "Dialogues," republished in "Collected Essays and Reviews") to
the last chapters of "The Meaning of Truth," James saw philosophers as
so many individuals, each fighting under his own banner of truth, and
he was puzzled because they would not be reconciled and fight together
against the powers of darkness which must be conquered if philosophy
is ever to be worth anything, and if there is ever to be any reason
why there should be philosophers to sit in comfortably endowed chairs.
No critic took more keenly humorous delight than James did in the
disputes of the schools, or stirred up with more lively argument the
factions whose lack of solidarity he deplored.

Take two examples. While James was young and still under the influence
of his laboratory studies he made out a good case for psychology as a
natural science, admitting that in its present stage of development it
is rather a loose subject, but demanding for its best interests an
application of the scientific method. Then he saw that he had gone
counter to his own belief in the unity of knowledge, or the unity of
study. It occurred to him that something valuable might be lost to
psychology if metaphysical and epistemological inquiries were
debarred. So in an address to the American Psychological Association,
he openly renounced his first position, adding, however, as a
half-smiling reservation, that metaphysics should give up some of its
nonsense as a condition of admission.

In one of his last papers, that on "Bradley or Bergson," James takes a
shrewd pleasure in tracing their resemblances as far as they go, and
then laments that they diverge, because if they had kept together they
could between them have buried post-Kantian rationalism. For a
complexity of partisanship in unity that can not be surpassed! But
James's willingness to be pallbearer at the funeral of a philosophic
idea was not inconsonant with his determination that some other ideas
of doubtful character should be allowed to grow up and thrive. For the
old idea had had its say. The new ideas might be strangled in infancy.
Let each new idea have its time and opportunity. Let everything be
tried. It is better to be credulous than bigoted, but to be
excessively one or the other is not befitting a philosopher.

Aside from certain technical problems, James's philosophic attitude
was always determined by his answer to the question: On which side
lies the greater force and fullness of life, the possibility of
richness, novelty, adventure? In 1895, at the height of his power as a
man--though perhaps he grew wiser as he grew older--he ends a paper on
"Degeneration and Genius" thus: "The real lesson of the genius-books
is that we should welcome sensibilities, impulses, and obsessions if
we have them, as long as by their means the field of our experience
grows deeper and we contribute the better to the race's stores; that
we should broaden our notion of health instead of narrowing it; that
we should regard no single element of weakness as fatal--in short,
that we should _not be afraid of life_." The italics are his. If
that is not good psychological argument, then there is something the
matter with the science of psychology. It is only just such good sense
as this that a common man can understand, and the humanity and
eloquence of it are better than argument.

Can a common man understand philosophy? James believed that he can
both understand it and express it. Two or three times he quotes the
saying of his friend the carpenter: "There is very little difference
between one man and another, but what little difference there is is
very important." He has a hot contempt for Renan's cool contempt for
_l'homme vulgaire_, and he admires Clifford's "lavishly generous
confidence in the worthiness of average human nature to be told all
the truth, the lack of which in Goethe made him an inspiration to the
few but a cold riddle to the many"--and the possession of which by
James made him a greater teacher of youth.

He was an instinctive democrat and was always on the side of what, in
his social environment, was the unpopular minority. Like Whitman, of
whom he often speaks with admiration, he was a born individual
aristocrat, with no delusions about the intelligence of the herd but
an immense faith in its possibilities. His generosity towards the
delusions of common men was warmer than towards the delusions of
philosophers, because philosophers have opportunities for study--and
should know better. He had only one fear, which sometimes took a
belligerent form (there is something in his book on psychology about
the relation between belligerency and fear); and that fear was lest he
or some other philosopher should try to interfere with a possibly good
idea, to put sand, not on the tracks, but in the machinery. The
vaguely comforting fatalistic belief that good ideas will prevail and
bad ones die he regarded as untrue to the history of human thought,
and not good for people whose business it is to express thought. James
held that it did make a real difference in the world that a saint or a
monster, St. Paul or Bonaparte, did not die in his cradle. It does
make a difference--the one illustration that James would have laughed
at--that James lived to be a philosopher. Ideas do sometimes seem just
to happen, to grow without human guidance, but the precious ideas have
to be fought for. Matthew Arnold's idea, that it is our duty to make
the best ideas prevail, may seem priggish and dictatorial, yet
fundamentally James had the same idea. Pluralism, he says, is not for
sick souls but for those in whom the fighting-spirit is alive.
Philosophy does not flourish by accident. Men make it.

Therefore, philosophy begins in the human mind, and is the history of
the action of mind on experience. James was from the very beginning a
student of the human mind. He began in epistemology and he ended
there. One of his earliest essays is a rather too easy slipping of his
knife into the "operose ineptitude" of Spencer's definition of mind,
and his last word about a philosophic puzzle was: "We shall not
understand these alterations of consciousness either in this
generation or the next."

The right self-contradiction consists not in turning in obedience to
others, but in going against the wind from whichever direction it
blows. James attacked the too-much in any philosophy, even his own. To
the over-credulous he preached caution; to the over-sceptical, faith.
This sort of antagonism between two ideas is not contradiction but
balance of mind. Apropos Professor Schiller and others he demands an
"all-round statement in classic style," and, himself the jolliest
joker that ever was in philosophy, he recommends that Mr. Schiller
"tone down a little the exuberance of his polemic wit." But to the too
sober he says, "Our errors are not such awfully solemn things. A
certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive
nervousness in their behalf."

As a philosopher, James had to use the terms peculiar to his craft,
but he so strongly sustained those terms in a structure of words which
can be found in a pocket-dictionary that the peculiar terms of the
craft become intelligible to simple literate men, and it may be that
thereby they become more intelligible as mere philosophic terms. Like
Bergson he is a poet and a humorist in his analogies and
illustrations. When we read that "the feeling of 'q' knows whatever
reality it resembles," many of us, including the philosophers, I
suspect, are lost in the dark. But when we read that "the Kilkenny
cats of fable could leave a residuum in the shape of their undevoured
tails, but the Kilkenny cats of existence as it appears in the pages
of Hegel are all-devouring, and leave no residuum"--then we begin to
believe that philosophy may be a human and amusing study and that to
be great in philosophy it is not necessary always to be thinking of
the other side of the moon.


The biography of Poe got a wrong start immediately after his death
when Griswold slandered him or at least put a false emphasis on
certain aspects of his character. Since then, every book about Poe has
had an argumentative tone, a defensive spirit, which in a way is as
unfair to Poe as was the first misrepresentation. One sometimes feels
like crying: "For heaven's sake read his work and let the man alone!"
Yet it is not possible to let Poe alone if you have once looked into
his life; his story is one of the fascinating chapters of literary
history. Professor Smith says that his book, "Edgar Allen Poe, How to
Know Him," "is an attempt to substitute for the travesty the real Poe,
to suggest at least the diversity of his interests, his
future-mindedness, his sanity, and his humanity." On the whole,
Professor Smith's attempt is successful and he does help us to realize
Poe's personality, "that co-ordination of thought and mood and
conduct, of social action and reaction, of daily interest and aim,"
which Professor Smith justly says, "finds no portrayal in the
biographies of Poe."

It is an odd fact that after Griswold two of the more authoritative
biographers of Poe did not like him. One was Richard Henry Stoddard;
the other, Mr. George E. Woodberry. Neither one, I suspect, chose Poe
as a congenial, or even as an interesting subject. The task of writing
his biography seems to have fallen to both men as a literary chore; to
Stoddard as an official critic who knew Poe, and to Mr. Woodberry as a
rising young man of literary talent who thirty years ago was selected
by the editor of the "American Men of Letters" to write the life of
Poe. Of course, Mr. Woodberry is a competent workman. When, in the
year of Poe's centennial, he enlarged his "Life" to two volumes, he
put together in a judicial, objective style probably all the facts
that we need to know. But his æsthetic judgments are at best
unsympathetic. It may be that the lyric "To Helen" has been
overpraised, though it is difficult to understand how there can be too
much praise for a masterpiece. And when Mr. Woodberry says of our
American writers that they were concerned "not with the transitory,
but the eternal; and, excepting Poe, they were all artists of the
beautiful," we seem to have an example of that sort of moralistic
æsthetics which sounds lofty but is only bosh. "If Poe was not an
artist of the beautiful," Professor Smith asks, "what was he an artist

That is a good, sensible question and Professor Smith's answer, if not
as eloquent as some things that have been written by Poe's European
admirers, is sound and appreciative. If it be an American tendency to
overrate our national men of genius, we have certainly not displayed
that tendency in relation to the American writer who more than any
other has captured the imagination of Europeans, for undoubtedly the
finest criticism of Poe has come from our brethren overseas. Stoddard
had but a grudging sense of Poe's merits and ends his account with a
remark which contains a partial truth but which, although it is quoted
from Dr. Johnson, is a flat anti-climax: "All that can be told with
certainty is that he was poor." There seems to be a good deal more to
tell than that, and, indeed, the implications of Poe's poverty, as it
affected the artist, are better expressed by Stoddard himself when he
says that Poe "wrote with fastidious difficulty, and in a style too
much above the popular level to be well paid."

American criticism of Poe is thick with moralisms. Thus Lowell wrote:
"As a critic Mr. Poe was æsthetically deficient ... he seemed wanting
in the faculty of perceiving the profounder ethics of art." But, we
may well ask, what is "the profounder ethics of art," and who, except
a New England preacher, wants to be bothered with it in lyric poetry?
Poe always focused his attention on beauty, on excellence of
workmanship, both in the work of other craftsmen and in his own. The
Scottish critic, Mr. John M. Robertson, seems to be nearer the truth
than Lowell when he says that Poe "has left a body of widely various
criticism which, as such, will better stand critical examination
to-day than any similar work produced in England or America in his
time." I am glad to see that Professor Smith regards Mr. Robertson's
essay on Poe as "the ablest brief treatment in any language." The only
exception, which Mr. Robertson himself would be the first to make, is
the essay by the French critic Emile Hennequin.

But Professor Smith does not quite escape American moralism in his
effort to accentuate Poe's virtues. He makes too much of Poe's
interest in religion, which was surely nothing but a purely
intellectual and critical interest, and his recurrent emphasis on
Poe's Americanism is too tiresomely patriotic even for a professor in
the United States Naval Academy. Poe was keen for the best interests
of American literature, zealous in searching out any note of promise
in a new poet and in pointing to the weak spots in men of acknowledged
talent. He sometimes exhibits a kind of local Southern patriotism
which does not much interest us now. But on the whole, he was detached
from the issues of politics, an unlocalized, almost disembodied genius
whose apparition in the United States of America is still an endless
wonder to European critics.

One possible influence of Poe's environment on his art Professor Smith
is, so far as I know, the first to point out; and it is a very
valuable suggestion, even if it can not be thoroughly proved. In
Virginia, more than in any other American State, the English and Scots
ballads survive by oral tradition. It is possible that as a child Poe
heard these ballads recited or sung, and from them derived his sense
of refrain and repetition. To the influence of the ballad Professor
Smith adds the possible influence of plantation melodies as
"subsidiary sources of Poe's lyrical technique." He is certainly right
in thinking that Poe's originality consists not in the contribution of
a new form to poetry but in his individual development of forms
already established. His charm resides in the color of his words
rather than in the shape of his stanzas. But of course the two things
are inseparable and whoever tries to analyse them is hopelessly
baffled. Poe's own attempt to explain how the trick is done is far
from explaining it, and if he could not expound in prose the secret of
poetry, nobody can.

For Poe was first and always a critic, inquisitive of methods, and
making his effects with cool calculation. Even if his tales of horror
no longer give us the creeps, they will always give to any one who
cares about writing, that shiver of pleasure which comes when we watch
a dexterous craftsman at work. Professor Smith calls Poe the "father
of the short story," but he came too late to be credited with such
paternity. After all, Boccaccio and whoever made "The Arabian Nights"
lived long before Poe and in Poe's stories are evident traces of old
tales of magic and mystery. What Poe did was to rationalize the short
story so highly, in some cases, as to sacrifice the illusion of
spontaneity which is one of the merits of a tale that seems to tell

With the purpose of suggesting the range of Poe's intellectual
interest and of classifying some of his miscellaneous work that does
not fall into certain obvious groups, Professor Smith has adopted the
term "frontiersman." The image evoked by that word somehow does not
fit Poe. He was, in a sense, an explorer of ideas, and he had a
genuine gift for philosophy which he did not live to develop. We could
spare many of his short stories rather than lose "Eureka." If it is
not profound philosophy and if it does not solve the riddle of the
universe, it is profound in its beauty, a prose poem. Poe's science is
obsolete, no doubt, and even in the science of his day he was little
more than an amateur. But the mark of a great intellect is on every
page. An amazing mind! He succeeded in all forms of literary art which
he tried. If the poet or the critic or the short-story writer should
be obliterated, there would still remain a man of genius.

Critics and biographers of Poe, like Poe himself, cannot let his drink
alone. They deny or blame or pity without understanding. The question
of Poe and alcohol seems to have been finally answered by a California
physician, John W. Robertson, in a book which I have not seen but
which I know only through reviewers' accounts of it. This physician
finds from the evidence that Poe was a dipsomaniac. Dipsomania is not
drunkenness nor riotous dissipation; it is a disease. Poe, like other
victims of the disease, had to have periodic bouts with the demon, got
fearfully sick, and when he recovered stayed cold sober until his next
attack. This accounts for Poe's written anathemas against alcohol,
which puzzled Remy de Gourmont. De Gourmont says: "_Il ne pouvait
plus travailler que dans l'hallucination de l'ivresse._" Quite the
contrary is the case. Poe could not do a stroke of work under the
inspiration of whiskey; he was not one of those mad geniuses who
conceive masterpieces in a tavern or with a bottle beside the ink-pot.
That is proved, or indicated, by his critical clarity, the almost
passionless rationality of his tales and poems, and even by the
physical perfection of his manuscripts. He worked between his joyless
debauches, and he worked hard. His melancholy and love of terror, his
preoccupation with defects of will and remorse, whatever "morbidity"
there is in his writings, may have some relation to his disease. But
as an artist he achieved his dark effects by sheer force of intellect
in hours of clear-eyed sobriety. Only in a literary sense is he the
author of "MS. Found in a Bottle."


The one fault that can be found with Traubel's "With Walt Whitman in
Camden" is that there is too much of it. But that is a fault easily
remedied without blotting a line of the record. Books that contain too
little may cheat us of desired knowledge, whereas books that contain
too much can do no harm; every reader has the privilege of not reading
at all or of dipping into a book here and there. Traubel's method is
admirable; it is that of a documentary historian. He set down
Whitman's talk and such impressions and facts as the biographer
recorded at the moment, and he reproduced the letters in the order in
which Whitman gave them to him. He did not presume to select from
Whitman's conversation what now seems most interesting or most to
Whitman's credit, but he gave you all that he had for you to enjoy or
ignore and for other biographers and historians to make use of as they

Traubel made no concessions to the fact that readers have to catch
trains and read other books, and he ignored, perhaps to his personal
disadvantage, certain exigencies of publication, such as the
publisher's obvious need to interest as many people as possible with
the least possible expenditure. Traubel's method is simple from an
artistic point of view, requiring nothing but accuracy, courage and
industry. Yet the method is a great strain on all concerned. Traubel
could stand it. Evidently the publishers thought they could stand it.
The reader can stand it, because, as I have said, he can take as much
or as little as suits him. The real question is whether Whitman can
stand it. And the amazing man _can_ stand it. Consider that in
the years when Traubel knew him Whitman was an invalid, broken by his
services as nurse and brother of soldiers during the war. He was a
garrulous old man talking to men who loved him and who, though no
servile worshippers of him or anyone else, encouraged him to
reminiscence and the utterance of offhand opinion. Now that is a
severe test. Not many old men, even men of great achievement in action
or art, could last for more than a small volume. Whitman is worth
these hundreds and hundreds of pages. For he was a great talker, full
of experience and endowed with the gift of speech. Almost every day,
according to Traubel's record, he hit off an interesting idea and
turned it in a Whitmanese way. He repeats himself. He makes remarks
that do not amount to much. But he is never a bore. Line by line he
and Traubel, egotists both, but honest, thoughtful, artfully
inartistic, have drawn a portrait, the like of which is not to be
found. For once a literary man is as big as his literary work. Traubel
was a very happy biographer, for he had a sort of monopoly of a great
subject, and he had not the slightest temptation to omit or defend.

An admirer has called Traubel's work "the most truthful biography in
the language." To use the informal mode of Walt Whitman and of his
biographer, that ain't exactly so. It ain't the most truthful
biography; it's simply a true biography.

"Lincoln," said Whitman, "don't need adorers, worshippers--he needs
friends.... The great danger with Lincoln for the next fifty years
will be that he will be overdone, over-explained, over-exploited--made
a good deal too much of--gather about himself a rather mythical
aureole." From such danger Traubel did his best to protect Whitman;
the biographer's multitudinous veracity preserves a real man and is a
heavy impediment to the critic and literary historian of the future
who may try to disobey Whitman's injunction not to "prettify" him. If
that impossible and tedious universe, the "whole" truth, is not
comprehended in these prolific pages, the errors and omissions are due
not to the biographer, but to Whitman himself, who had a silent as
well as a loquacious side; he had unexplained depths which probably he
did not understand himself. When he spoke he tried to say what he
thought, but often he did not speak at all, and at least once he said
to Traubel: "I don't care to talk about that."

The writer of fiction may invent substance to fit an artistic scheme.
The compiler of facts may, under certain conditions, disregard
literary form. The biographer or the historian who will have his work
read must play skilfully between the double restriction of substance
and form. He must be at once man of science and artist. Because of its
very great difficulties, because of the high demands it makes upon the
writer, biography is rarely well done. One can name few masterpieces
of biography in English. Perhaps the only masterpiece that everybody
will name is Boswell's Johnson, that extraordinary performance which
heaved literary history out of shape and keeps it in a permanent state
of distortion. For Johnson was not a first-rate man of letters; he
wrote little that is even tolerable to read; his letter to
Chesterfield and the preface to the Dictionary are his most vital
productions. Moreover, Boswell was a foreordained nonentity. Yet he
was a great artist and Johnson was a great person, and the two of them
made a great book; it is a puzzle which makes one fall back,
outwitted, to the last ditch of adjectives.

Whitman's opinion of Johnson is interesting, if only in relation to
his own biographer's methods. Johnson knew that Boswell was making
notes. Traubel, whose word is infallibly good, says that Whitman did
not know that his biographer was keeping a record. Whitman did know
that Traubel would write about him and he selected the letters and
other documents for the "archives." But he was not aware that Traubel
was making a diary. Therefore when he talked he was free at least from
the constraint imposed on a man who knows that his spoken words are to
appear in print.

When Whitman was 69 years old he began to read Boswell; he refers to
him a dozen times in the course of the year, thereby showing that
Boswell interested him, for when Whitman was not interested in a book
he simply forgot it. He thought that Johnson "talked for
effect--seemed rather inclined to bark men down, like the biggest
dog--indeed, a spice of dishonesty palpably possessed him. Johnson
tried rather to impress than to be true." "He was on stilts always--he
belongs to the self-conscious literary class, who live in a house of
rules and never get into the open air." However, note this significant
confession: "I read it through, looked it through, rather--persisted
in spite of fifty temptations to throw it down. I don't know who tried
me most--Johnson or Boswell. The book lasts--it seems to have elements
of life--but I will do nothing to pass it on." There is the comment of
the lion on the bear. No, these zoölogical metaphors are quite false.
Benevolent and burly male persons are not, even by Whitmanian
identifications, to be named with the brutes.

Some day a biographer with the right talent and in possession of all
Traubel's material, cognizant of social ideals and facts and sensitive
to poetry, will write a good life of Whitman. So far as I know, there
is no satisfactory biography of our one magnificent American poet.
Traubel was not able to do it. He was properly employed in gathering
and publishing the fundamental record. Moreover, his style, perfectly
fitted to short hand notes, is, in continuous composition, abominable.
I loved him with all my Whitmanian heart and read him, because of
every four of his sentences one says something worth while. But ten
sentences of his in a row hurt like a corduroy road. I have to get out
and walk and rub myself.

Several literary men have tried to write Whitman's life and they have
failed. Professor Bliss Perry's book is fatuous. He had no excuse to
write about Whitman at all, except in so far forth as a publisher's
request to an alleged literary man to do a book for an established
series furnishes a practical excuse.

The critical study of Whitman by Mr. Basil De Selincourt is
sympathetic and discerning as regards what may be called the purely
literary side. He understands what Whitman says and takes him for
granted as one of the world's supreme poets. He conceives the
essential unity of Whitman's thought, a unity that should be obvious
but evidently is not to some readers and critics who treat Whitman as
a collection of more or less impressive fragments. Mr. De Selincourt's
analysis of Whitman's form is instructive, appreciative, though a
trifle academic, not wholly emancipated from schoolroom rules of
prosody. If you will read Whitman aloud, pronouncing the words as they
are pronounced in prose, and emphasizing them according to the sense,
the scansion will take care of itself. When a line is bad (and
Whitman, like most of the other great poets, wrote bad lines) it won't
work by any effort of elocution. The good lines, if you have an ear in
your head and a tongue in your mouth, chant themselves, and you can
forget all about iambics and hexameters.

Where Mr. De Selincourt fails is in his account of Whitman's notions
of liberty, democracy, America, the future. Book-people do not
understand these things, especially English book-people, who assume
that America produced Whitman because it was a land of liberty. It was
not. It was, like the rest of the world, a land of plutocracy,
convention, servility. It is complimentary to us but unhappily not
true to say that "America stands for the passionate re-assertion of
certain beliefs which life, to those who look back upon it, seems
always to stultify, but which, to those who can look forward, appears
as the very spirit and power of life itself--'the urge, the ardour,
the unconquerable will'."

As a matter of fact, America does not stand for any such thing and
Whitman does not stand for America. He is a revolutionist in revolt
against the American fact and celebrating a possible American future.
Official America tried to throttle him. Conventional America ignored
him. Literary and revolutionary spirits in England and America
welcomed him, for they are free spirits, intellectually free, under
any economic conditions and in any part of the world. Whitman himself
did not understand why he was acclaimed in England by more men and
better men than in America. It was simply because English thinkers,
writers, poets, with minds capable of appreciating him, outnumbered
their American brothers ten to one.

Two American ladies once called on Tennyson. He asked them whether
they knew Walt Whitman. They confessed that they did not. "Then," said
he, "you do not know the greatest man in America."


A man's place in the generations of mankind is not wholly determined
by the date of his birth. If William James were alive he would be
eighty years old; but he belongs to us, to the living present. Mr.
George Edward Woodberry is only sixty-seven; yet he already seems like
the last figure in a tradition which has come to an end--so far as any
period in literature may truly be said to end. James was aware of
something like this twenty years ago. He gave Mr. Woodberry the praise
that is his due, but expressed at the same time his essential
weakness. Of "The Heart of Man" James wrote in a letter:

    The essays are grave and noble in the extreme. I hail another
    American author. They can't be popular, and for cause. The respect
    of him for the Queen's English, the classic leisureliness and
    explicitness, which give so rare a dignity to his style, also take
    from it that which our generation seems to need, the sudden word,
    the unmeditated transition, the flash of perception that makes
    reasonings unnecessary. Poor Woodberry, so high, so true, so good,
    so original in his total make-up, and yet so unoriginal if you
    take him spot-wise--and therefore so ineffective.

Mr. Woodberry is not out of date in a mere journalistic sense or in
the hasty judgment of an irreverent generation which affects a trivial
contemporaneity and regards even the end of the last century as old
fogy. He is out of date because he did not gear with his own times,
but remained aloof and backward-looking and so became the last of the
Lowells instead of the first of the Woodberrys. It could not have been
a conscious or servile emulation on his part, for he has a spirit of
his own. But his surroundings and his education were too strong for
his fine talent. He was brought up in the twilight of the New England
demigods. They handed him the "torch," and he has carried it with
pious devotion. To younger men as docile as himself, he became, almost
officially, the representative in the flesh of the elders over whose
graves he prayed. His publishers announce with pride, with no sense of
the depressing implications of what they are saying, that there is a
Woodberry Society, "probably the only organization in America
dedicated to a living writer." Thus the anachronism is fulfilled. Mr.
Woodberry was old when he was young, and he is an institution before
he is dead. Some books are epoch making; other books, even great and
original books, lie comfortably in their times without being either
innovative or conclusive; Mr. Woodberry's six solid volumes[1] are
epoch closing, a collection of such words as will not be written again
by a man of genuine talent and wisdom.

          [1] Collected Essays of George Edward Woodberry. 6 vols. New
          York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1921.

The feeling that Mr. Woodberry is a voice from the past that
immediately preceded him comes over me most heavily when I read his
essays on Lowell's Addresses, on Democracy, and on Wendell Phillips.
It may be only the essayist's strict fidelity to Lowell's ideas--no
doubt a merit--which leaves the impression that the essayist knows
only what Lowell knew and no more, that the pupil has not moved a step
beyond the master. It is Lowell over again without the slightest
addition from the lessons of time. The London _Nation_ has said
of Mr. Woodberry's essays that most of them have "a unity and life
that make many of Lowell's seem those of a shrewd but old-fashioned
amateur." Yet Lowell was at least a vivid amateur, who expressed
something that belonged to the 'fifties, 'sixties and 'seventies; and
he had an old gentleman's right to be old in the 'eighties. It is not
to be expected that a critic should begin where Lowell leaves
off--only a thinker of real genius makes such long strides. But the
critic following Lowell in time and not moving half a step ahead of
him seems older than Lowell himself.

The same thing is true of the address on Wendell Phillips, "The Faith
of an American." It is fine, even eloquent, but it is abstract and
curiously old-fashioned. Phillips in his own utterances is more of
to-day and of to-morrow than is his eulogist who was a child in
Beverley when Phillips was in mid-career. The reason, of course, is
that Phillips was a fighter, hot with real issues, and it is not the
critic's business to fight but to examine the ideas of the fighter.
These ideas necessarily become somewhat abstract when a critic quotes
or rephrases them, especially since Phillips was an orator and flung
at his audiences sweeping generalities which in a less inspired man
are mere tall talk. But Mr. Woodberry devitalizes Phillips, especially
the later Phillips who went on from one issue to the next until he
dropped. Mr. Woodberry has not a single clear, plain word about one of
Phillips' last fights, that for the Labor party. Mr. Woodberry stops
with the actual Phillips before Phillips stopped, and the end of the
address fades out in vagueness and platitude. There is something
rather touching about Mr. Woodberry's declaration: "I know that what I
have said to-night is heavy with risk." One looks in vain to discover
the risk. Surely in 1911, when the address was delivered, a man might
talk in Mr. Woodberry's mild way every night in the week and invite no
more severe punishment than a scolding from Dr. Nicholas Murray

Mr. Woodberry's ideas and his expressions are all gentle, though not
timid nor emasculate. His general faith in "Democracy" is too serenely
above the tumult to disturb anybody or provoke a riot call in the
quietude of Beverley. I do not know what he means by "Democracy,"
whether such actual democracy as existed in America in 1899, or some
beautiful dream of the future. If democracy is a dream, an unrealized
dream, then any beautiful thing a poet says about it is true. But Mr.
Woodberry seems to be talking about something actually existing,
something already realized in considerable part if not completely, for
he says: "Democracy has its great career, for the first time, in our
national being, and exhibits here most purely its formative powers,
and unfolds destiny on the grand scale." That was not true twenty
years ago, and it is certainly not true now. It is the sort of thing
that Emerson and Lowell could say with rousing conviction, but twenty
years ago it was as obsolete as a beaver hat except in newspaper
editorials and political speeches, where it is still going
strong--even if not quite so strong as it used to be.

Mr. Woodberry seems to imply that he is somewhat more of a realist
than Lowell. But he is in fact less of a realist than Lowell; for
Lowell in his time did grapple with the facts of politics. In poetry
it is not necessary, it is better not, to be a realist. But in dealing
with politics and contemporaneous history the true citizen must be a
realist and leave it to the politicians to fly with the eagle. No
wisdom is to be derived from such a statement as this: "There is
always an ideality of the human spirit in all its [Democracy's] works,
if one will search them out." Or this: "Democracy is a mode of dealing
with souls." Or this: "Not that other governments have not had regard
to the soul, but in democracy, it is spirituality that gives the law
and rules the issue." It is, alas, not true that "education, high
education even, is more respected and counts for more in a democracy
than under the older systems," or that "the law becomes the embodied
persuasion of the community," or that "all these blessings [aversion
to war, devotion to public duty and many other enumerated virtues]
unconfined as the element, belong to all our people."

Mr. Woodberry's democracy simply does not exist and never did exist.
Yet there is one existent glory of my country which I believe I
appreciate better than he does. He says: "It behooves us, especially,
to be modest, for our magnificent America has never yet produced a
poet even of the rank of Gray." That was written fourteen years after
the death of Whitman. Mr. Woodberry's democracy had not yet come
along, but one of its great poets had arrived and departed leaving Mr.
Woodberry none the wiser. There is another glory of my country which I
appreciate better than Mr. Woodberry does--Poe, whose poetry Mr.
Woodberry has never understood, though he has written what is
altogether the best biography of the man! To save the six best lyrics
of Poe, I would, if such a sacrifice were necessary, cheerfully sink
Gray in the deepest sea of oblivion, "Elegy," letters and all. But
that is only a slight difference of judgment, and there is no more
futile business than to draw up minor poets in grades and ranks.
Whitman is another matter; the critic who misses him in this day of
the world is simply incompetent. The excuse for Mr. Woodberry is that
he does not belong to this day of the world.

There is something pathetic about Mr. Woodberry's patriotism. He
sincerely believes that "America's title to glory is her service to
human liberty." He has never been delivered from the superstition that
"the sense of justice is the bedrock of the Puritan soul"--the Puritan
soul, narrow, despotic, cruelly unjust! But when Mr. Woodberry leaves
politics and patriotism and religion and returns to art and literature
where he is at home, he puts his finger ruefully on the real rock of
the Puritan soul, recalling the Puritan's hostility to the theatre and
regretting "the American inhibition" "which rejects the nude in
sculpture and painting, not only forfeiting thereby the supreme of
Greek genius and sanity, but to the prejudice, also, of human
dignity." Mr. Woodberry is himself a Puritan, yearning to be free but
chained to New England granite, and since he can not get free on this
planet he looks up to the heavens where the God of his fathers used to
dwell, but where he can find only abstract and vague ideas. Mr.
Woodberry's tendency to abstract phrases, which on pressure yield
nothing, vitiates his literary essays, the essays in which a
professional critic ought to be most concrete, definite, and
nourishing. The trouble may be that his views are too high and too
broad for the limited vision of a common man; but I think his trouble
is that he has not the true philosopher's power to make a long idea,
bridging time and space, stand up under its own weight; there is a
lack of solid timber and concrete. His best essays are those on
individual authors in which he has the selected specific substance of
another man's thought to work on. As ought to happen to a sensitive
critic, it sometimes happens that Mr. Woodberry's style takes the very
tone of his subject. He is whimsical in his charming little essay on
Pepys, an adequate trifle; he is grave and quiet when he writes about
Gray; and Swinburne so stirs him that his prose awakes and sparkles
with metaphor. Even in this essay, however, he can not help
demoralizing poetry by moralizing it into pseudo-philosophic prose.
"The imagery (of 'Laus Veneris') has more affinity with modes of
sacerdotal art, with symbolism and the attributive in imaginative
power than it has with the free vitality that is more properly the
sphere of poetry." What does that mean? What is the sphere of poetry?
The essays on the older poets would make first-rate introductions to
school texts, and I think some of them have been so used. They suffer
from the fact that in Mr. Woodberry's time--and since--so many
standard essays on Milton, Shakespeare, and the rest were written and
rewritten, that unless a critic has a fresh point of view, as Mr.
Woodberry has not, another essay is simply another essay.

It must be pleasant to meditate on the great men of letters and from
time to time write an essay on Virgil or Montaigne or Matthew Arnold.
Some leisure is necessary, for the conscientious critic must read
much, and much reading takes time. It may be that in our nervous age,
in this country, the scholarly critic with a true taste for letters
has disappeared, to return perhaps in a day when Democracy or
something better shall have dawned. The comfortable old tradition is
dead or dying, and since its good works are extant in print, we need
no more contributions to it. As Mr. Woodberry says in an essay called
"Culture of the Old School": "The _Gentleman's Magazine_--both the
name and the thing belong to a bygone time."


Toward the end of the last century there appeared in the magazines
some remarkable stories of the East Side of New York by Abraham Cahan.
They were not of the crudely comic type of Potash and Perlmutter, nor
were they in the somewhat finer mood of sentimental humor which made
Myra Kelly deservedly popular. They were humorous and pathetic in a
quiet, compelling way, with a gentle austerity of tone even less
familiar to American readers then than it is in the days of the
Russian invasion. Mr. Howells praised these stories and he and others
in editorial authority encouraged the author to write more. A career
in the pleasant art of fiction was open to Mr. Cahan. But he withdrew
from it and, so far as I know, he wrote no more stories for at least
ten years. He has devoted his energy to building up the great
_Jewish Daily Forward_, which is not only the voice of the East
Side, but a powerful vehicle of social and political ideals that have
not yet penetrated the sanctums of Times Square and of the older
newspaper world near City Hall and Civic Virtue.

Then, as he approached sixty, Mr. Cahan gave us "The Rise of David
Levinsky", a solid mature novel, into which are compacted the
reflections of a lifetime. The publisher's notice called it "a story
of success in the turmoil of American life." Probably the writer of
those words intended to help the book by the appeal which "success"
makes to the American mind, for no reader, not even a publisher's
clerk, could miss the immense irony of the story. It is indeed the
story of a failure. The vanity of great riches was never set forth
with more searching sincerity. The helplessness of the individual,
even the strong and prosperous, in the economic whirlpool, the
loneliness and disillusionment only partly assuaged by pride in
commercial achievement, the sacrifice of the intellectual life to the
practical, these are the fundamental themes of the book. Levinsky,
with the instincts of a scholar and a desire for the finest things in
life, is swept into business by circumstances which he hardly
understands himself and against which he is powerless; once in the
game he makes the most of his abilities, but he never ceases to regard
his visible good fortune as poor compensation for the invisible things
he has missed. His wealth forces him to associate with all that is
vulgar and acquisitive in Jewry and isolates him from all that is
idealistic. He finds that he cannot even speak the language of the
woman he most admires. Worse still, he is out of sympathy with the
aspirations of millions of poor Jews from whose ranks he has sprung.
He has no sympathy with those who would break the game up or make new
rules, yet he sees that the game is hardly worth playing, even for the
winner. "Success! Success! Success! It was the almighty goddess of the
hour. Thousands of new fortunes were advertising her gaudy splendors.
Newspapers, magazines, and public speeches were full of her glory, and
he who found favor in her eyes found favor in the eyes of man."

The portrait of David Levinsky is a portrait of society, not simply of
the Jewish section of it, or of New York, but of American business.
And business is business whether done by Jew or Gentile. If Levinsky
is a triumphant failure, he is so because American business, which
shaped him to its ends, is, viewed from any decent regard for
humanity, a miserable monster of success. Not that Levinsky is an
abstraction, or that the novelist is forcing a thesis. Far from it.
The personality of Levinsky is as sharply individualized as the hero
of Meredith's "One of Our Conquerors," though with a different kind of
subtlety, the subtlety not of detached analysis, but of naïvely simple
self-revelation, which of course is not so simple as it sounds.

Mr. Cahan knows how to think through his characters, by letting them
do the thinking, as if it were their affair and not his. At the same
time he does not perform (nor does any other artist) that foolish and
meaningless operation, as expressed by a great poet through a young
critic, of holding "the mirror up to nature." Nature in a mirror is
just nature, not nature thought out, excogitated, turned to human
uses, interpreted in human words. And this is the place to say that
Mr. Cahan knows how to use words. There are no great phrases in this
book. A simple and (intellectually) honest business man writing his
autobiography would not use a great phrase; such a phrase might issue
from some enviable person in that intellectual life from which
Levinsky was excluded. But there is no banal or inept phrase. Such a
man as Mr. Cahan intends Levinsky to be, a man trained in the Talmud,
which means verbal sense, and hammered by the facts of life, which
means a sense of reality, and a wistful failure, which means
imaginative retrospection, says things in a direct, firm, accurate

There is no lack of emotion; strong feeling, expressed or implied,
runs through the book from beginning to end. But there is a complete
absence of eloquence, a deliberate refraining from emphasis, an even
manner of setting forth ideas and events impartially for the value
inherent in them, an admirable method, the method of a philosophic
artist. Here is life, some of it is good, some of it is bad; it is all
somewhat pitiable, to be laughed at rather than cried over; nobody is
deserving of indignant blame or abuse. It is our business to
understand it as well as we can; and though we never can see it in its
entirety or with complete clearness, if we make an honest effort to
record events and delineate personalities, the events will arrange
themselves in a more or less intelligible sequence, and the
personalities will be their own commentary upon themselves. An obvious
method, but you will read many a book to find one skilful application
of it.

It seems to me the method most often employed and carried to the
highest degree of perfection by the great Russians. I am driven to the
timidity of "seems" because we do much talking about Russian novels
without having read many of them or understanding what we have read.
But better-informed critics than I have noted that one characteristic
of the Russian novel is a benevolent impartiality in its treatment of
all kinds of people and a calm contemplation of events horrible, gay,
sad, comic. A revolutionist can portray, in fiction, a commissioner of
police, whom in real life he would be willing to kill, with a fairness
that is more than fair, with a combination of Olympian serenity and
human sympathy. He can be a virulent propagandist when he is writing
pamphlets, and when he writes fiction he can forget his propaganda or
subdue it to art, that is, to a balanced sense of life.

When I say that Mr. Cahan's novel sounds like a good translation of a
Russian novel, and that he is a disciple of the Russian novelists, I
accuse him of the crime of being an artist and a seer. As a matter of
biography, he is a child of Russian literature. And that is why his
novel, written in faultless English, is a singular and solitary
performance in American fiction. If that strange demand for "the" or
"a great American novel," a demand which is at once foolish and the
expression of a justifiably proud feeling that a big country ought to
have big books, is to be satisfied, perhaps we shall have to ask an
East Side Jew to write it for us. That would be an interesting
phenomenon for some future Professor Wendell to deal with in a History
of American Literature. And by the way, Mr. Cahan is a competent
critic. I hope he will give us not only more novels, but a study of
Russian literature for the enlightenment of the American mind. I
remember with gratitude an article of his which I read when I was even
more ignorant than I am now, on the modern successors to the group of
Titans, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. He put Maxim Gorky in his place
and told us (this was before the Russian invasion) about Andreyev and
Chekhov. If Mr. Cahan will write a book on Russian literature, I will
do my best to establish him in his merited place in American


Mr. Bernard Shaw says, apropos Samuel Butler, that the English people
do not deserve to have a genius. Butler himself in a note remarks that
America, even America, will probably have men of genius, has indeed,
already had one, Walt Whitman, but that he cannot imagine any country
where a genius would have more unfortunate surroundings than in
America. Mr. Arnold Bennett sends a shot from the same gun in
"Milestones," when he makes the millionaire shipbuilder puff his chest
and say that there is no greater honor to English character than the
way we treat our geniuses. Egad! The unworthiness of the British and
American nations to have artists born to them was never more
shamefully manifested than by the reception accorded thirty years ago
to Hardy's "Jude, the Obscure." Harper's Magazine, which seems to have
begun printing the story before the editors had seen the complete
manuscript, fell into temporary disfavor with some outraged readers.
One British journal distinguished itself by reviewing the book under
the caption, "Jude, the Obscene."

It is inconceivable that any nation on the continent of Europe could,
through its critics or through any considerable number of readers, so
dishonor a masterpiece. For "Jude" is a masterpiece; if it is not
Hardy's greatest novel, it is one of his three or four greatest, and
that means one of a score of supreme works of prose fiction in the
language. If profundity of substance and skill in narrative are both
considered, Hardy is without rival among British novelists. His is the
crowning achievement in the century of fiction that began with Jane
Austen and, happily, has not yet terminated with Joseph Conrad. In his
hands the English novel assumed a form which, perhaps without good
critical reason, one thinks of as French. Despite the racy localism of
scene and character, Hardy's work seems alien to the Anglo-Saxon
temperament; it has less in common with the spacious days of great
Victoria than with a younger time, whose living masters, Mr. Conrad
and Mr. Galsworthy, for example, have taken lessons in art across the

In a prefatory note to "Desperate Remedies," dated February, 1896,
Hardy lets fall a casual phrase which indicates that he and others had
noted his kinship to the French, but that he was not disposed to
acknowledge it fully. He seems to say, with that kind of modest pride
which distinguishes him, that he found his method for himself, played
the game alone. "As it happened," runs the note, "that certain
characteristics which provoked most discussion in my latest story
['Jude'?] were present in this my first--published in 1871, when there
was no French name for them--it has seemed best to let them stand
unaltered." What characteristics does he intend? And was there no
French name for them in 1871? Or had not the British critics begun to
use the French name? Are these characteristics his candor, his logic,
his classic finish of phrase, a certain cool stateliness of manner, an
impersonal, distant way of treating most tender and poignant subjects,
a lucid, ironic view of life, perfect proportion, large intellectual
pity and freedom from cant, from sentimentality? These are some of his
virtues and they are the virtues of several modern French novelists
and some of the Russian pupils of the French.

If the ill reception of "Jude" caused Mr. Hardy to foreswear fiction,
then the fools have in a way done us harm by cheating us of two or
three great novels. Yet genius takes its revenge on a dull world,
especially if it is prosperous genius, too well established to be
starved out by the stupidity of an inartistic people. If Hardy had
been encouraged to write more novels perhaps we should not have had
"The Dynasts." And by and by we shall discover what a loss that would
have been. It is the greatest epic that we have been privileged to
read since Tolstoy's "War and Peace." And it is the best long poem in
English since Morris's "The Earthly Paradise." Though it is cast in
scenes and acts it is not a drama except in a vast untechnical sense
of the word. But epic it is, creation of an enormous imagination which
sweeps the universe and manages a cosmic panorama as commandingly as
the same imagination dominates a rural kingdom of farms and desolate
heaths. If "The Dynasts" and Hardy's shorter poems lack one thing,
that one thing is the magical and haunting line, that concatenation of
words which is everlastingly beautiful in the context or detached from
it. Morris knew that magic. He was born with it, and no reader of
Morris, except a critic, will be deceived by his own denial of his
divinity when he said in his honest, off-hand way, sensible as Anthony
Trollope, that inspiration is nonsense and verse is easy to write.

"The Dynasts" is an extraordinary poem. It is not French, it is not
Greek, it is not like anything else in English. Hardy has discarded
Christian mythology. He is not childish enough to revert to the Greek.
He has invented a new one. His celestial machinery is as strange an
apparition in the heavens as the first aeroplane. His hero, Napoleon,
rises above the human stature by which the realistic novelist measures
man and becomes not only a tool of destiny but a demigod who seems to
understand destiny and share the secrets of that impersonal goddess.
Those who are curious about Hardy's philosophy (we like his art; his
philosophy may lie down and die on the shelf with the other
philosophies) will find the closing chorus of "The Dynasts"

        But--a stirring thrills the air
        Like to sounds of joyance there
            That the rages
            Of the ages
    Shall be cancelled, and deliverance offered from the darts that were,
    Consciousness the Will informing, till It fashion all things fair!

Such is the ultimate word of this artist who so keenly loves beauty,
yet, like some neo-Puritan and latter-day ascetic, cannot draw a
lovely woman without reminding you that the skull under the cheeks and
behind the passionate eyes is not pretty and will probably endure a
long time under ground. Is he of like mind with his chorus at last,
and does he believe that the Will is going to grow intelligent and
make all things fair?

Perhaps Hardy's proneness to dwell on the skeletonic grin of life is
due to his exceeding sensitiveness to beauty. Like Poe and other
poets, he cannot abide the ugliness that is in the world, and so he
insists on The Conqueror Worm, as a man cannot refrain from thrusting
his tongue into the sore tooth. Perhaps Hardy is a reaction against
the saccharine optimism of his contemporaries and of those just before
his time. They falsified life in their fictions by making everything
come out nicely, thank you, on the last page. He leans over backward
from that kind of untruth and comes dangerously near to being as
false. As between falsity in one direction and falsity in the other,
there is no choice, except that we have had so much of the sweet kind
that Hardy is refreshing. He tends to restore the balance.

Ask any man, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, how life has gone
with him, and, if he is honest, he will tell you that life did not go
definitely one way or the other. Things sometimes came out well and
sometimes not. Hardy is biased in favor of the things that do not come
out well. "Life's Little Ironies" is a good title, but it is a title
that implies a thesis, an attitude from which humanity is surveyed.
The stories are perfection and they sound true. Hardy is a logician
and he will back any tale of his with evidence, even the first story
in "Wessex Tales," in the preface of which the authority of physicians
is invoked. But when you take all his stories together you find nine
failures out of ten human careers, and life has a better batting
average than that. No one doubts that the "Fellowtownsmen" got into
such horrid confusion, that things happened as they shouldn't, that
every shot at happiness was a miss. And "The Waiting Supper" is so
convincing that you cannot escape. But the two stories together,
regarded for the moment not as the excellent works of art which they
are, but as a view of human destiny, weaken each other. One convinces
you. The two together make you ask questions about the author.

In "The Waiting Supper" there is one line that is as great a pathetic
fallacy as the more familiar and cheery kind which represents nature
as smiling upon the lovers. Hardy's lovers have to submit to this:
"Thus the sad autumn afternoon waned, while the waterfall hissed
sarcastically of the inevitableness of the unpleasant." Did you ever
hear a waterfall like that? The only waterfalls I have heard quote
Darwin and discuss the election returns. I know that the happy poet is
a liar when he says that the nightingale is celebrating my love for
Mamie, for the nightingale is concerned with other matters. But as
between a nightingale who is sympathetic with my emotions and a
sarcastic waterfall, I prefer the nightingale. And I do not like
either in realistic fiction.

Thomas Hardy, the idol of the younger realists and the liberator of
British fiction from the Victorian hoopskirt and the happy ending, is
not a realist. He is a great romantic, with a taste for pretty girls,
moonlight, heroes and dragoons. He is incurably superstitious. He is
pained by many modern things, especially by modern restorations of
ancient buildings. He takes Tess to the Druidical stones on Salisbury
Plain because he dearly likes that kind of moonlit antiquity. His
pronominal substitution of It for He does not achieve a revolution in
theology. He manages the destinies of human folk as arbitrarily as any
maker of fiction that ever lived. But he never made a story in which
he did not convince you that life is overwhelmingly interesting and
that nature, girls, and dragoons are beautiful if sad things to


Any book about George Borrow is worth reading. The two volumes by Dr.
Knapp are forbiddingly dense with documentary minutiæ, yet it is a
pleasure to loaf through them at least once. Borrow's burly
personality makes itself felt in the driest philological note and
vitalizes the pages even of a commonplace critic, as, indeed, it
vitalizes many flatly ordinary pages in his extraordinary books. Mr.
Clement K. Shorter's "George Borrow and His Circle" is interesting
because it is about Borrow and not in the least because it is by Mr.
Shorter. Mr. Shorter's declared ambition was to write a book that
should appeal not to "Borrovians," but to "a wider public which knows
not Borrow."

Every book about the fighting scholar, every moderately competent
article about him must invite new immigrants into Borrow's kingdom.
But Mr. Shorter is not an introductory critic, not one who by his own
skill and charm summons strangers to make the acquaintance of a great
man. He is an inept critic who thrives by attaching his name to great
reputations. Fancy a man of any trifling literary experience, with the
least enthusiasm for literature, writing about style in a style like
this: "Borrow, in common with many other great English authors whose
work will live, was not uniformly a good stylist. He has many
lamentable fallings away from the ideals of the stylist. But he will,
by virtue of a wonderful individuality, outlive many a good stylist."
It is a sin so to "style" in a chapter about Edward FitzGerald, who at
the sound of such sentences would have clapped his hands to his ears.

Borrow describes himself in that pugnacious defence of Lavengro which
forms the appendix to "The Romany Rye." "Though he may become
religious, it is hardly to be expected that he will become a very
precise and straitlaced person; it is probable that he will retain,
with his scholarship, something of his gypsyism, his predilection for
the hammer and tongs, and perhaps some inclination to put on certain
gloves, not white kid, with any friend who may be inclined for a
little old English diversion, and a readiness to take a glass of ale,
with plenty of malt in it, and as little hop as may well be--ale at
least two years old--with the aforesaid friend--when the diversion is

Is not that an irresistible man? Shouldn't you think that there would
have been among his contemporaries two or three hundred thousand good
sports, rooters, heelers, literary and non-literary bookmakers who
would bet on him and back him in any enterprise in which his
adventurous spirit elected to engage? Yet it was not so. He enjoyed
only a short period of popularity after the publication of "The Bible
in Spain." When he died at a ripe old age in 1881, he was not well
known. During his life the only highly distinguished man of letters
who knew and appreciated him was FitzGerald, the exquisite poet and
critic--FitzGerald, whose literary habits were as distant as possible
from Borrow's, whose fine-edged rapier seems utterly alien to Borrow's
short arm jab or his overhand wallop. FitzGerald had a curious
accuracy in spotting what was worth while in his time and in dodging
certain celebrated things that other people thought worth while, and
there is nothing inconsistent in his knowing that Borrow wrote good
English. But looking over Borrow's shoulder at his contemporaries, and
remembering Borrow's ungainly verses, one is amused to find that the
only real literary man facing one with a wink in his eye is
FitzGerald. The others have their backs turned.

Consider also Borrow's posthumous fame. His first biographer is Dr.
Knapp, an American professor of philology. And the modern critics who
praise him are not open-air men, but bookish, library men, whose names
do not suggest the robustly adventurous, Lionel Johnson, Mr.
Watts-Dunton, Mr. Birrell, Mr. Seccombe.

Most literary critics praise him in terms laudatory enough to atone
for the sins of their professional predecessors, whom Borrow held up
to "show the creatures wriggling, blood and foam streaming from their
broken jaws." His four important books are published in Everyman's
Library; Mr. Birrell says that "we are all Borrovians now"; within
twenty years have appeared three biographical studies, besides Mr.
Shorter's. Yet Dr. Knapp's fundamental biography which was published
in 1898 is out of print; that mysterious and reprehensible entity
known as the public has not demanded a new edition. It is all
consistent with the Borrovian inconsistency. Borrow was proud of being
a gentleman and a scholar, and he was both in all true senses of the
words; but he hated gentility and wrote a hammer-and-tongs chapter
against the genteel; no revolutionist despising the "bourgeois" ever
punched their smug faces with such violent verbal fisticuffs.

He boasts of his fondness for gypsies and prize-fighters and quite
simply asks, "If he had not associated with prize-fighters, how could
he have used his fists?" However, he is an aristocrat and has no
sympathy with radical weavers. Despite his hatred of cant, some
sentences in "The Bible in Spain" have a missionary twang. He drifts
naturally away from the Church of England, yet when he attacks other
ecclesiastical institutions he holds up the Church of England as the
exemplar of religious truth. He scorns all deviation from fact, yet
his biographers have not wholly succeeded in separating what he did
from what he invented.

He was undoubtedly a polyglot, he made metrical translations from
thirty languages, wrote a version of the Gospel of St. Luke in Spanish
Gypsy (the first book ever attempted in any Gypsy dialect), supervised
the printing of the Bible in Manchu-Tartar, made translations from the
English into Manchu-Tartar, Russian and Turkish in good style, as any
of us who has read them can testify. In the person of Lavengro he lost
the stalwart Isopel Berners because he insisted on giving her lessons
in Armenian! For all that, he made mistakes and so gave the scholars
evidence that he was no scholar. He was not. He had an instinct for
language, especially for that language which he knew, as we know it,
probably better than he knew Manchu-Tartar. In his English narratives
we can follow him and praise him or censure him without violating the
severe rule which he laid down: "Critics, when they review books,
ought to have a competent knowledge of the subjects which those books

The four books of Borrow which belong to English literature are "The
Bible in Spain," "Lavengro," "The Romany Rye" and "Wild Wales." "The
Bible in Spain" is one of those books that grow out of circumstances;
it was to a large extent thought out and phrased on the scene, amid
the adventures which it narrates; later it was cast into book form. It
grew out of experience, but an artist shaped its growth. Borrow was
sent by the Bible Society to distribute Spanish versions of the Bible.
He encountered the opposition of allied church and government, was
arrested, put in prison for three weeks, and liberated through the
influence of British officials.

It is not, however, the Bible or his mission that stimulates Borrow's
imagination. Cities and people, meetings on the road, scraps of talk,
sometimes rather long conversations, monologues by Borrow, the
mischances, dangers and excitements of a country at once wild and
anciently civilized, Borrow's opinions about languages, characters,
landscapes and anything else under the Spanish skies--such is the
substance of the book; and the substance is transmitted through a
style that gives little heed to elegance, that walks along like a
healthy man on a tramp. The most eccentric of men, full of strange
languages and odd ideas, Borrow writes English as naturally as he
drinks English ale. There is not a touch of eloquence, not a great
phrase; his descriptions are rather literal records of what was in
front of him and how he liked it than "word-paintings." The dominant
writers of his time were super-eloquent. Borrow does not speak their
language. Perhaps that is why he did not rival them in popular favor,
and also why he seems to us so refreshingly downright.

Borrow, like his master Defoe, has the art of setting all things forth
as if they were matters of fact. Even when his characters talk of
unusual matters, nay, especially when they harangue and gossip about
queer things, their conversation sounds like a transcription from life
and not like invention.

"Lavengro" and its sequel, "The Romany Rye," are properly classified
in Everyman's Library under fiction, and "The Bible in Spain" is
classified as "Travel and Topography." In what proportion
autobiography and fiction are admixed is a question which does not
effect the merits of the books. They all follow about the same method,
and so, too, does "Wild Wales." The episodes are inconsequential, and
the looseness of organization not only permits Borrow unlimited
latitude of subject, but strengthens the Defoe-like illusion of truth;
he never loses the tone of the veracious chronicler who puts things
down in the order of nature and not according to the design of art.
Between adventures and more or less pertinently to them, Borrow
becomes itinerant schoolmaster and gives us instruction in language,
philology, comparative literature, ethics and religion. He is not a
pedant, but a humanist: "It has been said, I believe, that the more
languages a man speaks, the more a man he is; which is very true,
provided he acquires languages as a medium for becoming acquainted
with the thoughts and feelings of the various sections into which the
human race is divided; but in that case he should rather be termed a
philosopher than a philologist."

Borrow need not be read continuously; if he enters upon a discourse
that promises not to interest you, you can turn the pages rapidly
until the eye strikes something more attractive. In his wide variety
is something for everybody. The conversations with the old apple woman
who had read the story of "Blessed Mary Flanders"; the chapters on
pugilism; the talks with tinkers and publicans; the old man who knew
Chinese but could not tell time by the clock; the outrageous attack
upon Walter Scott; the theological arguments with the man in
black--these are some of the choice fragments of what Borrow was
pleased to call a "dream." The general atmosphere is less that of
dreamland than of the broad highway in full sunlight. Since Borrow
died the cult of the open air has increased, and to that as much as to
anything is due the revival of interest in him. He is a great person,
a colossal egotist who in his journeyings takes up the whole road. It
is healthy for a man to be an egotist--especially if he is a colossal


In his "Defence of Poetry" Shelley says that the imagination is the
moral instrument. To be greatly good a man must imagine intensely and
comprehensively. Poetry serves morality not by what it explicitly
teaches, but by its power to awaken and enlarge the mind, to render it
"the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought."
Since poetry strengthens the imagination, which is the organ of the
moral nature of man, "a poet would do ill to embody his own
conceptions of right and wrong, which are usually those of his time
and place, in his poetical creations which participate in neither." A
remarkable book could be made of the best things said in prose by
English poets about poetry. Perhaps one book would not hold so much. A
narrower yet great and imaginative book could be made of what Shelley
said about poetry and what English poets have said about him. Such a
book would explain and exhibit the theory of poetry and the art of
criticism. The very good edition of Shelley in the Regent Library,
(edited by Roger Ingpen) contains some brief "Testimonia" which invite
one to the essays from which they are taken, by Browning, Swinburne,
Francis Thompson.

It is significant that Mr. Ingpen has not quoted from Arnold. If it is
the function of poetry to expand the imagination and make the mind
aware of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought, how did it
happen that Arnold, a genuine poet, missed Shelley utterly? Arnold was
not satisfied with his essay and intended to return to the subject.
That he could do a better thing is proved by his essay on Keats,
which, after he has done with his droning, schoolmasterly defence of
Keats's morals, is eloquent, serene and restrainedly emotional.
Shelley phrased many of the revolutionary ideas that were current in
his time. Arnold's timid school-bred culture was impervious to any
sort of revolutionary idea. Shelley's ideas did not impress him; he
thought Shelley a wonderful singer, but a singer without a solid body
of thought. Now, Shelley was the most full-minded poet of his time. He
knew more about what ought to be done with the world than any of his
contemporaries. That he failed to free Ireland and that the French
revolution was a disaster are a reflection on other people's
intelligence, not on his. It is not at all derogatory to a man's ideas
that for centuries and centuries after him the world fails to come up
to his teachings. If an angel is ineffectual that is not the angel's
fault. Indeed a too readily effectual angel would be rather a
journalist than a seer.

That the bulk of mankind is ages behind the best of its poets and
seers might possibly be explained by the fact that the bulk of mankind
simply has not met their thoughts. But how shall one explain the fact
that artistic children of culture, who have had opportunity to read,
who respond to the beauty of seers and poets, remain at the tail of
the intellectual procession, are not abreast of long dead poets like
Shelley, and let the leaders of their own day sweep past them
unapprehended, unguessed? The thing that makes one impatient of the
privilege of culture is that many of those who have enjoyed it do not
lead; they drag mankind back. In "Winds of Doctrine," by Mr. George
Santayana, the mind of the present age is likened to "a philosopher at
sea who, to make himself useful, should blow into the sail." When you
make a generality about the mind of today, you are perfectly safe, for
nobody can dispute you. Nobody knows what the mind of today is doing.
It is doing so many things that no one of us can keep track of it. But
when a man writes himself down in a book, you can tell what his mind
is doing--in that book. I should liken Mr. Santayana to a philosopher
who, really wanting to sail, had forgot to cast off and was still
lashed to the dock with a spanking wind blowing out to sea.

It is no wonder that Whitman, revolutionary in substance and form,
perplexes the genteel and the cloistered. But it is a wonder that
Shelley, whose form is classic and whom a century has transformed from
demon to angel, does not reach them. A striking example of critical
and philosophic blindness is Mr. Santayana's essay on Shelley. Mr.
Santayana is a poet, and in this essay he says beautiful poetic
things. He is not stupid as Arnold was, for once in his life. But he
misses Shelley. He understands what Shelley was related to before
Shelley, for example, Plato, but he does not know the relation of
Shelley to his time or to the world since Shelley. What Mr. Santayana
says is lucid in phrase but quite hopelessly confused in thought. He
says that Shelley was "a finished child of nature, not a joint
product, like most of us, of nature, history and society." That is not
true of Shelley or any other human being in recorded history. It is
worse biography than Dowden's, and it seems that so old a critic as
Taine might have saved a man from writing such nonsense in the year
1912. Mr. Santayana says that "Shelley was not left standing aghast,
like a Philistine, before the destruction of the traditional order."
That is naïve. Of course Shelley was not left standing aghast; he was
trying his best to destroy the traditional order; he was butting his
beautiful head against it. He did not budge the traditional order. One
reason is that most people have impoverished imaginations, that the
world can't do what Tolstoy thought would save it, stop and think for
five minutes. Another little reason is that there are too many
conservatives like Mr. Santayana teaching the young men of the world.
Yet Mr. Santayana says that Shelley was "unteachable"!

Shelley believed that a man would do ill to embody his own conceptions
of right and wrong in his poetry. Yet every man, poet or not, who
writes at all and is not a hypocrite, embodies his conceptions of
right and wrong in all his utterances. Shelley was intensely personal
in his poetry. His sky-larking, star-sweeping way of expressing
himself takes us out of range of his individual opinions. He spoke
heart-near things in splendid distances and tried to pull the far
skies down into sodden British hearts. The revolt, the defeated revolt
of his own times, near to him as the news of the daily papers, he
allegorized as the rebellion of a mythological Islam, and he flung the
stars reeling through Spenserian stanzas. No essayist has risen fully
to Shelley's poetic stature and comprehended him except another great
poet, Francis Thompson. Speaking his own convictions, as every man,
poet, critic, or even an academic voice of reason must and should
speak his convictions, Thompson begins his essay by pleading for a
reunion between his church and the art of poetry. So much of his essay
seems to me interesting but not closely relevant to Shelley. After
this introduction Thompson soars into the greatest essay that has ever
been written on an English poet by an English poet.

Most poets, with their wonderful ears, of course write good prose.
Francis Thompson has a fine essay on the prose of poets. Even
Browning, who wrote little prose except the extraordinary
parenthetical letters, was so clarified by Shelley that in his essay
he discovered a fairly fluent and readable style.

Shelley is primarily neither philosopher nor revolutionist, but lyric
poet. Yet to treat him only as a lyric poet is to forget his great
drama, "The Cenci," which can hold up its head undiminished beside the
Elizabethans. That idiotic British officialdom does not, or did not at
last accounts, allow its performance on the regular stage, is perhaps
only one more proof of how little impression Shelley's austere
anarchism made on practical British morality. "The Cenci" is austere;
for Shelley, it is athletically economical. The last speech of
Beatrice is an unexcelled emotional climax. Yet even in this play we
find that "intensely personal" note of Shelley; it speaks all his
heart against all injustice. The play learned many lessons from the
Elizabethans. It is not far wrong to call these lines Shakespearean:

    My wife and children sleep;
    They are now living in unmeaning dreams;
    But I must wake, still doubting if that deed
    Be just which was most necessary. O,
    Thou replenished lamp! whose narrow fire
    Is shaken by the wind and on whose edge
    Devouring darkness hovers!


Utopias fall into two classes, the local and the chronological. That
is, some are removed from present fact by geographical transition to a
country apart from us in space, a magic island, a realm undiscovered
until the romancer found it and assumed it to be extant in the
romancer's year of grace; others are sundered from present fact by
being thrown forward into the future or backward into a time that
precedes recorded history. The desirable land within the limits of
present time and the known surficial limits of the globe is obviously
not convincing. One fears that it may be rediscovered and invaded by
an imperial fleet or an inquisitive scientific expedition. Crusoe's
island is no longer remote. The geographers have plotted the planet
and have snared every conceivable no-man's-land in the meshes of
realistic lines of latitude and longitude.

The ideal civilization which plays ducks and drakes, not with space,
but with time, is safer. Nothing can dislodge it or disprove it or in
any wise proceed against it--except by force of superior imagination.
For nobody knows what may happen in the future. That is why all the
theological heavens are sublimely ramparted against attack.

Bellamy placed his ideal civilization within the impregnable security
of a time as yet unborn. His conception was original and in its way
was more realistic than the timeless abstraction of Plato and More,
and the Nowhere from which Morris sent news. The fundamental scheme of
portraying a future upon this earth was so fascinating that Bellamy's
book enjoyed a success out of all proportion to its literary skill or
its sociological insight. He had a first-rate plan, but with what
unfanciful and rigidly precise lines he filled it in! His style is
stiff and his future is ossified.

Mr. H. G. Wells took the idea of describing an imagined tomorrow and
made of it a stimulating romance. In saying that he took the idea one
does not mean to imply that he borrowed the scheme of "Looking
Backward" or of any other book. The notion of criticizing today from
the height of a postulated tomorrow was probably born and raised
before Bellamy. My bibliography is imperfect, but I seem to remember
that an Assyrian conceived the notion and inscribed his reflections on
a ton of brick. The important thing is the kind of future a man
imagines and the way he gets there and the justice of his backlook on
the world as it is. Wells's "The World Set Free" is the most
vision-expanding book of its kind--if there be a kind--that I have
ever quarrelled with and been delighted by. It justifies the last word
of its title. It does not cramp the growth of the race between a set
of rules. It spreads the lines of development out at a generously wide
angle. It bids humanity spring from what it is. It makes no
desperately impossible demands upon our common nature. Indeed, with a
cunning hidden plea, not evident at first glance, Mr. Wells draws the
world council, which gathered together the shattered nations and gave
them the first good government they had ever known, as a collection of
ordinary men, with only one or two inspiring geniuses. The idea--a
very important idea--is that any of us duffers could do it if we had
to, and if we were only jolted out of a few little private interests
and superstitions.

The value of a Utopia is not so much the description of a desirable
and convincingly attainable state as in the reflex description of an
undesirable state--the state in which we live. To show how the "new
civilization" was unhampered by political intrigue and financial
considerations is to show how obstructive is the present system of
politics and ownership. "Man the warrior, man the lawyer, and all the
bickering aspects of life, pass into obscurity; the grave dreamers,
man the curious learner and man the creative artist, come forward to
replace these barbaric aspects of existence by a less ignoble
adventure." In "those" times, that is the present seen from the year
2000, many of the homes were entirely "horrible, uniform, square,
squat, ugly, hideously proportioned, uncomfortable, dingy, and in some
respects quite filthy; only people in complete despair of anything
better could have lived in them." In "our" time, that is about 2000,
the last stupid capitalist who wanted millions for an invention he had
stolen was laughed out of court. People do not struggle to get,
because they do not run the risk of starvation and wage slavery; they
produce as artists, because man likes to do things with his head and
his hands. In our times we understand that Bismarck, to take a salient
example, was not an admirable man but a gross person, and that the age
that produced him, made him a ruler, and paid him respect, was a dull,
stupefied, vicious age. The time when people were taking pills for all
kinds of ailments, were being killed by the slow process of the slum
or the swift process of the ill-managed railroads, is past the
imagination of "our" time to conceive.

From such a past the world is set free. The people of that past day
might have set themselves free, but they were too stupid; the workmen
were debased, timid and without imagination, the capitalists had to be
intent on property and dividends lest they fall to the unpropertied
condition of workmen; lawyers, clergymen, popular novelists like Mr.
Wells, editors, journalists, and other professional parasites did not
dare utter even such vision as they had, or did it for money under
convenient restrictions. It was an unthinkably rotten period in the
history of the world. Only a few kickers knew how rotten it was, or
had courage to express their sense of the prevalent putrescence.

The account of what used to be is just enough, and the account of
what "is" does not strain the intelligence even of one who sees
things from the point of view of 1914. The only unconvincing part of
Mr. Wells's history is that which narrates how we ceased to be what
we were and became what we are. He wipes the old world out with an
atomic bomb, so destructive that it annihilates all the capitals of
the earth, makes war impossible and compels mankind to federate. Mr.
Wells has a penchant for "fishy" science. He knows a good deal about
chemistry, biology, mechanics, and he knows that novel readers know
less, as a rule, than he knows. So with the finest air of conviction
he shatters the world with a new explosive, which has a kind of
laboratory-veracity not claimed for the comet whose tail brushed us
to revolution in an earlier of his engaging romances. The clever man
secures plausibility by rather cheekily dedicating the book to
"Frederick Soddy's interpretation of radium," to which this story
"owes long passages." Neat, isn't it? It inspires in the ignorant
reader a confidence that those atomic bombs are approved by the most
advanced science--though, of course, Mr. Wells does not say so. The
cataclysmic revolution is splendidly narrated, and is even better
than Mr. Wells's earlier mechanical and astronomical romances. The
trouble with it is that it is not a fitting transition from a state
of society which is seriously conceived to a better state of society
which is described with all the earnestness of a sociologist. The two
things are discordant. If we are to be taken from one civilization to
another we must move along a social highway. The atomic bombs are out
of key with the prelude and the last two chapters.

Mr. Wells is fond of mixing fake chemistry and social reality. He has
succeeded in two kinds of fiction, which he should keep distinct, the
Jules Verne romance and the novel of present-day life. He persists in
putting the two in the same book, and they simply will not blend even
under his skilful stirring-spoon. In "Tono-Bungay" he gave us a good
picture of a quack millionaire, full of the spirit of the living age.
It was set in a realistic scene and was true to life. Then for no
reason at all he sent his hero in search of a mysterious metal called
"quap," which does not exist and so never burnt the bottom out of the
ship. "Quap" destroys the illusion of the book. About the time that
quap begins to do its work, the book ceases to be a novel. "Marriage"
almost ceases to be a novel when the couple go to Labrador. The
introduction of love business into the comet story is an impertinence,
as Mr. Bernard Shaw has complained. Mr. Wells's incurable taste for
romantic adventure on a plane removed from life--usually an aeroplane
that does what no aeroplane has done yet--vitiates his realism; and
his concessions to the "love interest" do not help his experiments in
scientific "futurism." He is best when he keeps separate the two sides
of his genius.

On the other hand, his extraordinary skill in feathering social truth
with romance, and his equally extraordinary skill in making a monster
of romance eat real hay are the virtues of his vices. His tracts read
like novels, and his novels often carry shrewdly concealed tracts. He
is, next to Bernard Shaw, the most irritating and the most widely read
revolutionary economist who writes our language. Like Mr. Shaw, he is
a rather tame revolutionist; he has never got free from the
middle-class, emancipated clerk view of life, and his romantic sense
sometimes corrupts his sense of social fact as it does his sense of
scientific fact. But he always thinks in ambush behind his most
trivial narrative. And when he comes forth avowedly as a thinker and
theorist, he has the vivacity of phrase, the sparkle of manner which
serve him when he is making fiction. Moreover, in spite of his intense
modernity and his contempt for ancient elegancies and traditional
beauties, he can write fine, rhythmic, luminously visual prose; like
all imaginative men who deal in words, he is a bit of a poet. His
account of "the last war" has in it something of the quality of the
epic: "Men rode upon the whirlwind that night and slew and fell like
archangels. The sky rained heroes upon the astonished earth. Surely
the last fights of mankind were the best. What was the heavy pounding
of Homeric swordsmen, what was the creaking charge of chariots, beside
this swift rush, this crash, this giddy triumph, this headlong swoop
to death?"


The first version of Mr. Masefield's "Pompey the Great" was published
before "The Everlasting Mercy" and "The Widow of the Bye Street,"
those virile narratives that made us wake to find him famous. "Pompey"
is vigorous and dramatic, yet it lacks the note that announces a new
poet. The earlier poems, "Salt Water Ballads" are good, but do not
rise above the chorus of minor lyrists. The short stories in "A
Mainsail Haul" do not distinguish Masefield from a score of sturdy
spinners of sea yarns. It was "The Widow in the Bye Street" that told
us that a great new ship was in port. After that splendid arrival came
"The Daffodil Fields" and "Dauber." Meanwhile the man who had found,
if not created, a form of poetry so individual as to invite the final
tribute of parody, showed himself in "The Tragedy of Nan," master of
dramatic realism.

It is likely and logical, even if the dates do not fall into line,
that "Pompey" is the work of a young ambitious literary man who in the
hour of conceiving the work had not yet discovered his course. He had
to a large extent discovered his style and his attitude toward life
and the speech of men. He makes the Romans talk in a sharp bold
staccato, which is good English and excellent Masefield; as for its
Latinity, well, the Romans are dead and we do not know just how they
talked. Pompey says: "We were happy there, that year." Cornelia
answers: "Very happy. And that day the doves came, picking the spilled
grain. And at night there was a moon." Pompey's next speech is: "All
the quiet valley. And the owls were calling. Those little grey owls.
Make eight bells, captain."

It is a question whether a modern dramatist is not misdirecting his
genius when he makes plays of Greek or Roman legends and characters.
To be sure, a man of genius is not to be limited in his subjects or
his style. He is free by virtue of his genius. He may make an Iliad if
it pleases him to try it. Mr. Bernard Shaw put a new wrinkle in the
stiffened parchment of Caesar's biography. Ibsen at the age of 43,
after he had hit upon his "later" manner, that is after he had made
the simple discovery that universal tragedy grins in the small houses
of small people in small Norwegian towns, produced his "Julian the
Apostate." Poets of all nations during the last three hundred years
have retold Greek and Roman stories and made new poetry of them. But
on the whole the Greeks and Romans handled their own subjects, their
own lives and legends fairly well. The task of the modern is to render
our times or to interpret timeless and spaceless subjects from our
point of view. The widow who lived in the bye street and the painter
who was killed at sea are not as important persons as the Hon. Cneius
Pompeius Magnus, but Mr. Masefield's poems about living (or recently
killed) obscure folk are more important than his drama about the
ancient illustrious dead.

"Pompey" is a good play, that is, it is good to read; I do not know
whether it has been acted. It has one characteristic of Mr.
Masefield's other work, a direct incisive speech, poetry of the naked
fact, the brief metaphor which might come out in any man's talk and
which has the "unliterary" flavor of reality--a cunningly literary
mode of writing. Mr. Masefield makes Pompey say: "Five minutes ago I
had Rome's future in my hand. She was wax to my seal. I was going to
free her. Now is the time to free her. You can tear the scales and the
chains from her." Did the Romans talk in this clipped hurried fashion?
Probably they did when they were excited, for it is human to talk in
short sentences; even Germans do it.

The business of the dramatist is to make you believe, with an arrested
compelled attention, in the speech and action of persons in clearly
defined circumstances. It makes no great difference whether the scene
is in a Norwegian house or on the necromantic island of Shakespeare's
"Tempest." Sometimes it seems a more wonderful achievement to make the
Norwegian house interesting because it is so terribly like the one we
live in. Mr. Masefield's Nan seems to me worth ten of Mr. Masefield's
Cornelias, and the peculiar style and habit of thought of Mr.
Masefield seem more fitted to the modern subject. One of his
metrically ingenious stanzas, with all the artifice of meter and
rhyme, is nearer to life than his vivaciously realistic sentences put
into the mouth of a Roman. "Back your port oars. Shove off. Give way
together. Go on there. Man your halliards. Take the turns off. Stretch
it along. Softly now. Stand by." Was such the dialect of Roman sea
captains? Nobody knows. All that I argue is that Mr. Masefield's
punching abruptness is more wonderfully real, more effective on the
lips of modern people whom we do know.

    O God, O God, what pretty ways she had.
    He's kissing all her skin, so soft and white.
    She's kissing back. I think I'm going mad.
    Like rutting rattens in the apple loft.
    She held that light she carried high aloft
    Full in my eyes for him to hit me by,
    I had the light all dazzling in my eye.

Every poet is limited to his idiom, and though he may make broad
differentiations, may change his structural form from sonnet to ode,
from ode to dramatic scene, may adapt his style to a character to the
extent of making clown and king unlike in their turn of phrase, yet
when he is earnestly poetic he writes his own kind of poetry. Mr.
Masefield vocalizes Masefield sentences with the breath of Romans. So
Browning's characters all have the Browning abundance of telescoped
metaphor. Shakespeare's English kings and Italian dukes trumpet
Elizabethan blank verse. The identity of flavor and idiom and of
metaphor between Shakespeare's English characters and Roman characters
and Italian characters will never be perceived by the male and female
Mrs. Jamesons, who write essays about Shakespeare's "characters," but
cannot hear verse. To be sure, Shakespeare and all other great
dramatists make the persons of the play adapt their substance to the
situation; naturally Othello in a jealous fit does not talk about
having lost his ducats and his daughter or order a cup of sack. But
within the specific situation and the rather loose limits of character
Shakespeare equips his person with a style of blank verse that is
primarily Elizabethan, secondarily Shakespearean, and only in a
tertiary and wholly subordinate sense Caesarean or Macbethean.
D'Annunzio writes magnificent D'Annunzio, with a recognizable fondness
for certain words and sonorities, no matter who is alleged to be
talking. A poet is at his best when his singular power of phrase and
his substance are most happily fused.

Masefield's instrument plays best upon modern themes, upon the tragedy
of obscure people in English fields or upon the seven seas. It is his
distinction to have taken the lives of the humble and to have involved
those lives in the revolution of the stars and the expanses of sea. He
has lifted coarse words into literature (the Elizabethans did that,
too); he has related the large elements to little elemental lives; he
has elevated obvious simplicities to grand complexities.

The resemblance between the austerely tender pathos of "The Daffodil
Fields" and Wordsworth's "Michael" is a genuine resemblance honorable
to the younger poet; and the pointing to the resemblance is not, I
trust, an example of the critic's weak habit of referring one poet
back to another. Mr. Quiller-Couch has said that "neither in the
telling did, or could, 'Enoch Arden' come near the artistic truth of
'The Daffodil Fields'." Now, if one is to compare poets, for the sake
of praising them or for the better understanding of them, it is well
to make comparisons that refer the new and unknown to the known in
illuminating conjunction. To say that "Enoch Arden" does not approach
the artistic truth of "The Daffodil Fields" is to make an inept
comparison, to associate the weak with the strong, even though the
comparison is negative. "Enoch Arden" is the flimsiest kind of
romantic fraud in Tennyson's worst manner. It is a sob poem that sends
only the tiniest lace handkerchiefs to the laundry. "The Daffodil
Fields," for all its conscious artistry and the adroit manipulation of
the verses, is terrifically sincere. If its substance has any
allegiance to another English poet, we must look for a poet who had a
realistic sense of the furrowed field and a visionary sense of the
stars, that is Wordsworth. And if one's odious liking for comparison
is not satisfied with that, one may ask readers of poetry to compare
the opening stanza of "The Widow in the Bye Street" with Chaucer, and
think of such merits as plainness of phrase, simplicity and ease of
narrative, and soundness of verse structure.

    Down Bye street, in a little Shropshire town,
    There lived a widow with her only son:
    She had no wealth nor title to renown,
    Nor any joyous hours, never one.

Is there not here a note that suggests the opening of "The Nonne
Preestes Tale," even though the story which follows is quite unlike
Chaucer's? Or is it only the "widow" that makes me associate the two?
At any rate it is pleasant to think that Mr. Masefield in a strong,
not an imitative or servile, sense, is heir to the oldest master of
English narrative verse.

Then if our habit of judging new poets by old ones still dominates us,
let us take any passage describing the sea in "Dauber" and put it
beside any of the thousand years of English sea poetry.

    Denser it grew, until the ship was lost.
    The elemental hid her: she was merged
    In mufflings of dark death, like a man's ghost,
    New to the change of death, yet hither urged.
    Then from the hidden waters something surged--
    Mournful, despairing, great, greater than speech,
    A noise like one slow wave on a still beach.

After that, if only for the pleasure of quoting them, recall
Swinburne's lines:

    Where beyond the extreme sea-wall and between the remote
    Waste water washes, and tall ships founder, and deep death

The wonder of our English tongue is never more resounding than when
English poets echo the tumult of the sea. Mr. Masefield is not so much
an innovator as an initiate into a great poetic tradition, the
tradition of a race of sailors and chantey-makers who began with "The
Seafarer" or long before that, and shall not end with "Dauber." The
sea is in Masefield's blood and in his personal experience. Who but an
English poet would have ended "The Tragedy of Pompey the Great" with a
chantey to the tune of "Hanging Johnny"?


In his sensible little book, "Literary Taste: How to Form It," Mr.
Arnold Bennett says: "In attending a university extension lecture on
the sources of Shakespeare's plots, or in studying the researches of
George Saintsbury into the origins of English prosody, or in weighing
the evidence for and against the assertion that Rousseau was a
scoundrel, one is apt to forget what literature really is and is for."

Of the vast library of scholarly research, the most fatuous section,
if one is to judge from the few specimens one happens to have seen, is
that which deals with the most important division of literature--poetry;
and probably the poet who has suffered the most voluminous maltreatment
from two centuries of English, German and American scholarship is
Shakespeare. I have been going in an idle way over the notes in "The
Tragedie of Jvlivs Caesar," edited by Horace Howard Furness, Jr.,
and "The Tragedie of Cymbeline," edited by the elder Dr. Furness. And
I have looked into other volumes of this laborious work, "A New
Varorium Edition of Shakespeare." From an enormous mass of commentary,
criticism, word-worrying, text-marring and learned guesswork, the
editor has chosen what seem to him the best notes. The sanity of his
introductions and the good sense of some of his own notes lead one to
suppose that he has selected with discrimination from the notes of
others. His work is a model of patience, industry and judgment. He
plays well in this game of scholarship. But what is the game worth?
What is the result?

Here is a volume of nearly 500 large pages containing only one play!
The text is a literal reprint of the first folio, or whatever is
supposed to be the earliest printed version. The clear stream of
poetry runs along the tops of the pages. Under that is a deposit of
textual emendations full of clam-shells and lost anchors and tin cans.
Under that is a mud bottom two centuries deep. It consists of (a) what
scholars said Shakespeare said; (b) what scholars said Shakespeare
meant; (c) what scholars said about what other scholars said; (d) what
scholars said about the morality and character of the personages, as
(1) they are in Shakespeare's play, and as (2) they are in other
historical and fictitious writings; (e) what scholars said about how
other people used the words that Shakespeare used; (f) what scholars
said could be done to Shakespeare's text to make him a better poet. I
have not read all these notes and I never shall read them. Life is too
short and too interesting.

All the time that I was trying to read the notes, so that I could know
enough about them to write this article, my mind kept swimming up out
of the mud into that clear river of text. It is an almost perfectly
clear river. Some of the obscurities that scholars say are there are
simply not obscure, except as poetry ought to have a kind of obscurity
in some turbulent passages. Many of the obscurities the scholars put
there in their innocence and stupidity, and those obscurities you can
eliminate by ignoring them.

The really valuable note is the etymological. Etymology reveals the
essential metaphors of words. The modern reader will find that beyond
his intellectual front door stand three or four wire entanglements of
connotation; by the time a word gets to him it is bruised and ragged.
The etymologist clears all those fences for you and delivers a word
fresh into your hands. He shows you how other poets have used it. He
enriches it with other connotations. He shows it to be even wealthier
than it was in the mind of the man who wrote the Shakespearian line.
One of the most exciting and poetic books is the Oxford Dictionary.
The dated illustrative history of a word, past milestone after
milestone of use, is an intellectual epic. The word is root-deep and
branch-high with poetry, with the imaginative habits of the race. The
etymological note not only clarifies Shakespeare, but spreads behind
him (and other poets) a sort of verbal-cosmic background. Etymology
brightens the color of words, deepens their significance. That the
etymologist is often a duffer, who, in the very act of resolving a
word into new chords, writes stiff and stodgy prose, is a perplexing
thing in human nature and a very perplexing problem in that appalling
institution, Scholarship.

It is impossible for even a vivacious, humorous man like Dr. Furness,
an enthusiastic amateur in love with his task, to live in a library of
Shakespearian scholarship and not be infected by its diseases. Dr.
Furness knows, for example, precisely when "Cymbeline" was written.
Shakespeare was forty-six years old. Now, "Cymbeline" is a foolish
play; Dr. Johnson said so. And there must be a reason for
Shakespeare's deterioration, for Shakespeare, unlike other poets, is
not to be allowed to write bad plays and bad lines without a
satisfactory explanation. He did not explain himself, but the scholars
come to his rescue. Dr. Furness fancies that, though forty-six is not
an advanced age, Shakespeare was tired and disillusioned. "There may
have crept into Shakespeare's study of imagination a certain weariness
of soul in contemplating in review the vast throng of his dream
children.... A sufficing harvest of fame is his and honest wealth,
accompanied by honor, love, obedience and troops of friends." "I can
most reverently fancy that he is once more allured by the joy of
creation when by chance there falls in his way the old, old story of a
husband convinced, through villany, of his wife's infidelity."

And there you are. Shakespeare at the age of forty-six is lured by the
restless joy of creation into writing "Cymbeline," which is a poor
play. It is not up to the mark which Shakespeare's previous
masterpieces have set. There is something a little wobbly about this
conjunction of surmises. But the scholar is never at a loss. He can
deliver immortal Will from his own errors, shield him from the
consequences of being at once a god in art and a human man, prone to
literary lapses and slovenly work. The masque in the fifth act "is
regarded by a large majority of editors and critics as an intrusive
insertion by some hand not Shakespeare's." When a large majority of
scholars and critics regard a thing as so, it is so. It gets into the
books that you have to read to pass college examinations. And if you
say that many of the scholars and critics whom you happen to have read
or listened to are chumps, when they deal with Shakespeare or any
other poet, you are a lost soul.

Some of the notes of the various commentators are suggestive. But many
of the notes are sheer impertinences, especially those that attempt to
mend the lines.

    I would haue left it on the Boord, so soone
    As I had made my Meale; and parted
    With Pray'rs for the Prouider.

There is nothing the matter with that. It sounds all right. But the
editors have to fill out the short second line, to make it scan. Dr.
Furness thinks, justly, that the line needs only "a very timid pause
after 'Meale.'" Of course, any reader, any good actor, with an ear on
the side of his head, reads all lines with pauses timid or bold as the
case requires, and does not make a fuss about it. It is only the
scholars that fuss, or poets like Pope, who are entirely out of touch
with Shakespeare's free metrical habits.

It is almost inconceivable that grown men with enough interest in
poetry to spend their whole lives in Shakespeare's company could have
daubed him with such muddy nonsense as one finds in these notes, which
are not the worst of scholarly comment but the best, selected by a
discriminating man. What a colossal sham it all is!--erected not by
charlatans but by men working in good faith and with disinterested
devotion to their task.

It is not merely the ignorant idler and the superficial player among
books who has got tired of the institution of Shakespeare Improved:
Fourteen Thousand Doctors of Philosophy in Session Day and Night,
Searching for a Serum to Prevent Spinal Meningitis in the Lines of
Shakespeare. Millions Needed to Continue This Humanitarian Work: Fifty
Thousand Students Under Instruction in the Art of How Not to Be Poets.
Against this amazing institution some of the more independent surgeons
have protested. One was the late John Churton Collins, a physician who
discovered that the Shakespearean metaphor was not a locally British
infection rising from the Avon river, but was brought by the verbal
mosquito from Rome and Greece. Collins had a vivid and audacious mind
that made him one of the most readable of modern Shakespeareans, and
he had, I assume, considerable learning. He says: "Dozens of
impertinent emendations have been introduced into Shakespeare's text,
because editors have not been aware that the custom of using the same
word in different senses in one line, or even twice in contiguous
lines, was deliberately affected by the Elizabethan poets."
Deliberately affected? Yes, and it came natural to them in a time when
language was a little looser and freer than it is after three
centuries of increased use and hardened definition both in prose and

One trouble with much Shakespearean scholarship lies in the assumption
that everything that left Shakespeare's hand must have been perfect.
Why, he probably used words carelessly and did all kinds of tricks
with them, as other geniuses do. Why should we assume that he always
wrote a good line? Some of his lines are bad, and it is not necessary
for Dr. Pumpernickell to knock out a couple of words or add a couple
just to make a line go metrically. These scholars have a split vision.
In one note they treat Shakespeare like a god who could not go wrong.
In the next note they treat him like a sophomore versifier whose lines
have to be corrected. Dr. Furness says that the earliest known text of
"Julius Caesar"--that of the First Folio, "is markedly free from
corruptions." What corruptions? The printers' or Shakespeare's? Dr.
Furness lugs in that tiresome phantom, a playhouse copy. "Our only
recourse is to accept the explanation given by Resch, viz., that these
words between Brutus and Messala are an interpolation from a MS.
addition which appeared first in a playhouse copy, and which, by
mistake, became incorporated in the text." Now, is not that a "soft,
downy, pink-cheeked peach of an idea" (Jonson's "Sejanus," act IV.,
sc. 13, I, 23. Potter's edition: Oshkosh, Scholar and Sellum, 1913)?
Resch be hanged! What playhouse copy? When? Whose mistake? How
incorporated? A solid page and two-thirds of a page are devoted to
explaining a difficulty which does not exist.

This is the true history of the passage in question. Shakespeare and
Bacon and Raleigh met in the Mermaid Tavern for the purpose of turning
out a few yards of Elizabethan blank verse in the post-Tennysonian
style of Mr. Alfred Noyes. It was a very difficult job and Will of
Stratford got roaring full. He went home on foot to Stratford, a long
journey, and found Anne with another pair of twins, one of whom was
the poet Davenant. This was very disturbing to Will. He did not know
until after his death which twin was Davenant. He was then in that
fateful year, 1599-1600, writing his play, "Julius Caesar", and making
extensive use of Suetonius's "The Lives of the Caesars" (Dr. Furness
thinks this doubtful, but if you are going to guess, why not guess
good and plenty?). Anne got on Will's nerves and he had a bad morning
head. That is why he made that slightly confused passage, which has
bothered the scholars ever since.

The following example of how Shakespeare's biography is written is not
a parody. It appears in the New York _Nation_ of November 27, 1913,
page 513, in a review of Arthur S. Pier's "Story of Harvard."

"Every good story has a prologue, and the story of Harvard has one
which by no means should be left out. In Stratford-on-Avon stands the
'Old House in the High Street,' identified by the most eminent of our
antiquaries, the late H. F. G. Waters, by certain documentary
evidence, as the early home of Katharine Rogers, mother of John
Harvard, from whom proceeded the little inheritance that first kindled
in the western hemisphere the torch of a liberal culture. For this we
have distinct contemporaneous chapter and verse.

"At circumstantial evidence we look askance, but without pressing the
matter unduly this may be said--that the families of Rogers and
Shakespeare lived in close neighborhood and intimacy at Stratford
during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I.; that the poet knew
Katharine Rogers well, as, on the other hand, he knew well Robert
Harvard, at length her husband, in his shop at Southwark, in London,
hard by the Globe Theatre. So far the conjunction would seem to be

"Then looms up a possibility amounting perhaps to a likelihood, that
no other than Shakespeare was the intermediary who brought together
the Londoner and the fair, well-dowered maid in the remote midlands,
that he was a familiar guest in the home in Southwark which he had
helped to establish, and that he, the genial family friend, held on
his knee the little John Harvard, the first-born in the household.

"Could this touch of their foster-father with the most illustrious
name in literature be fairly established (and who can say after the
feats of Mr. Waters what scraps may yet be found in the dust-heaps?),
Harvard men would indeed have a tradition to prize."

Why not get down to brass tacks? We do not know much about
Shakespeare's life. We do not know anything about his manuscripts, or
the playhouse versions. We cannot even rely on the printed date of a
quarto. We do not know whether a corrupt line was corrupted by
Shakespeare or the printer or somebody else. Many emendations consist
largely in a kind of scholarly punning. For example: Shakespeare wrote
a line that every scholar remembers, for it is a causer of gray hairs
and a prodigal spender of the midnight taper: "The blind Rush hath
proclaimed his Bowells search." Johnson conjectures that four lines
have been omitted. Steev. conj.: For "blind rush," read "mind rush."
That is, the impetuousness of his thought makes one aware of how his
instinct is struggling for the solution of his difficulties. Malone
conj.: "Bowells lurch." Evidently referring to the sea-sickness of
Antony after the battle of Actium. Craik conj.: "Rowell's search,
meaning that his blind rush, that is headlong rush, is caused or
indicated by the speed of his horse into which he has thrust his
rowels." Cf. B. Jonson, "Every man out of His Humor"; "One of the
rowels catched hold of the ruffle of my boot." Oechelhauser
(_Einleitung_, p. 1185): But this must refer to the speed of the
intellect going through purely idealistic experiences. There is no
question here of either sea or land. Macbeth has not been near the sea
and Henry V. has not yet set sail for France. As for horses, it is now
well established that there were no horses in England; otherwise why
should Richard have cried, "My kingdom for a horse"? If there had been
horses, one could surely have bought one, especially a King, for 80
marks, the then ruling price in Schleswig-Holstein; and even the
ecstasies of expression would not have made appropriate the offer of
an entire kingdom.

So they go "conjing" and "conjing" through desolate miles of notes.
In spite of the fact that now and again a genuine bit of historic
information, a light of interpretative intuition flashing from a
scholar's note, does vivify and elucidate a puzzling line, or a line
that you might pass over in an oblivious mood, nevertheless, is it not
true that this whole institution of literary theology is a stupid
superstition? There are plenty of unsolved problems in Shakespeare,
fascinating questions of biography and interpretation to which
conjectural answers are legitimate. But for illuminating answers, or
partial answers, one has to go outside orthodox scholarship, to Walter
Begley, to "The Shakespeare Problem Restated," by George C. Greenwood,
to "Shakespeare's Mystery Play: A Study of The Tempest" by Colin
Still, and to other heretical inquirers whom the pundits dismiss as

The scholars do not confine their thick-headed learning to old poets
whose language is strange and who are made clearer by a note here and
there. For some stranger reason scholars are hired to edit the modern
poets in the popular series, those valuable and inexpensive reprints
which help to spread poetry over the face of the earth and make it
accessible to increasing numbers of readers. I pick up the "Selected
Poems of Christina Rossetti," edited with introduction and notes by
Charles Bell Burke, Ph.D., professor of English in the University of
Tennessee. The volume is in Macmillan's Pocket Classics. I come upon
"A Green Cornfield," a lovely lyric that must have made Shelley look
down with interest "from the abode where the eternal are." There is
reference to a note. I turn to it and find this: "An inverted simile?
Consult Genung's 'Working Principles of Rhetoric,' p. 79, 2, example."
I will not consult Genung. I will advise all the pupils in my school
never to consult Genung while they are reading poetry.

I commend to those hard-working young men and women in the
universities who are now studying under editors of Shakespeare to fit
themselves to be editors of Shakespeare these sentences from Mr. Max
Eastman's "Enjoyment of Poetry": "A misfortune incident to all
education is the fact that those who elect to be teachers are
scholars. They esteem knowledge not for its use in attaining other
values, but as a value in itself; and hence they put an undue emphasis
upon what is formal and nice about it, leaving out what is less
pleasing to the instinct for classification but more needful to the
art of life. This misfortune is especially heavy in the study of
literature. Indeed the very rare separation of the study of literature
from that of the subjects it deals with suggests the barren and formal
character of it. As usually taught for three years to postgraduates in
our universities, it is not worth spending three weeks upon."


"Though I may have lost the habit of reading," says Mr. Moore, "I have
acquired, perhaps more than any other human being, another habit, the
habit of thinking. I love my own thoughts." It must be a great
pleasure to be Mr. George Moore, to have confidence in one's
intellectual habits, to enjoy the memories and opinions that the mind
excogitates, and to be able to phrase them with beautiful precision.
The mind that honestly likes itself is sure to attract other minds and
to interest even those that are antipathetic. If Mr. Moore does not
persuade you that all his judgments are to be accepted, he provokes
you to examine your own. He is stimulant, irritant, but there is no
depressant reaction from him. One can stand a large dose of him, both
of his exquisite fiction and of his repetitive reminiscences, which
may or may not be fiction.

There is a remark ascribed to Lady Gregory: "Some men kiss and do not
tell; George Moore does not kiss, but he tells." It is the business of
the writer of fiction to "tell," and it makes little difference to the
reader who reads for fun whether the gallant adventures are
biographical or not. Early in his literary career Mr. Moore tried the
confessional form of narrative and succeeded masterfully. The young
man who "confessed" twenty-five years ago grew older, and in "Memoirs
of My Dead Life" looked back upon his youth from the quiescence of
middle age. Mr. Moore says that "if the reader of 'Vale' be wishful to
know what happened at Orelay he can do so in a volume entitled
'Memoirs of My Dead Life,' but he need not read this novel to follow
adequately the story of 'Vale.'" So the "Memoirs" is fiction. What,
then, is "Hail and Farewell"? Simply an extension of the
autobiographic novel, it includes real persons living and dead and
calls them by their names, but it is as obviously a "made-up" book as
anything in literature. It is the work of an artist and critic, the
artist who gave us two masterpieces, "Esther Waters" and "Evelyn
Innes," and the critic, who, apropos books and pictures, writes, if
not with infallible judgment, ever with an unfailing sense of beauty.

Mr. Moore's lady-loves have not, according to his own testimony,
direct and unconscious, been the most interesting affairs of his life.
He writes better about Manet than about an amatory encounter of
yesteryear. The women of his "regular" novels are more vivid than the
women who perturb his mature reminiscences. He says that the critics
complain that "instead of creating types of character like Esther
Waters," he is wasting his time describing his friends, "mere portrait
painting," and he asks an argumentative question: "In writing 'Esther
Waters' did I not think of one heroic woman?"

For once the critics are on the right side. Lady Gregory is
interesting in her own person and her own work, but Mr. Moore can
never make her so interesting in a book as he has made Esther and
Evelyn. And the ladies of his experience are more alive when he uses
them as matter for fiction than when he sits behind a cigar dictating
memories. That in creating Esther he was thinking of an heroic woman
is his concern, not ours. His private kisses undoubtedly taught him
something of the art of making fictitious kisses public; they
furnished him, as such experiences furnish every author, with the
story which as an artist he was to "tell." But his purely personal
revelations are not startling. Ladies flit into his memory, receive
the most delicate literary treatment and flit out again. Nothing
unusual happens at Orelay or anywhere else, and what happens is
handled finely, timidly even, with what may have been audacity in
1890, but no longer strikes us as valiantly candid. The introduction
to "Memoirs of My Dead Life" now seems much ado over little; it is out
of proportion and is a wobbly piece of thinking such as Mr. Moore's
Irish born and French trained mind is seldom guilty of. The "Memoirs"
and "Hail and Farewell" are to be enjoyed and admired. Even an
Irishman ought not to find in them occasion for more than a contest of

No page of "Hail and Farewell" is flat; no opinion of Mr. Moore's
leaves you quite indifferent. The most interesting pages, more
interesting than his portrait of himself as a lover in France or a
member of the landed gentry of county Mayo, are those which criticize
the personalities and the ideas of the so-called Celtic Revival. His
comments on Lady Gregory and "Willie" Yeats just miss being insults.
To say that "Lady Gregory has never been for me a very real person" is
gratuitous and not quite consonant with that honesty which Mr. Moore
advocates and for the most part practises. For in his portrait of her
and his comments on her he shows that she is a very real person to him
and a writer who compels his consideration. In the act of putting a
pin through the humbuggery of others he buzzes himself.

However, his literary criticism of their work is delightful. Whether
it is true or not we Yankees have no sure means of judging. He says
that Lady Gregory's style which Mr. Yeats so highly values, the speech
that she learned from the people and puts into the mouths of her
characters, "consists of no more than a dozen turns of speech, dropped
into pages of English so ordinary, that redeemed from these phrases it
might appear in any newspaper without attracting attention." Well, is
not that true of the speech of the Irish or any province of England or
America? Our dialectic differences are few but important. The speech
of Lady Gregory's characters is effective, and more than that, the
humor and the pathos of them is deeper than their speech or any
peculiar turns of phrase.

Doubtless (as would say Sir Sidney Lee, whom Mr. Moore despises),
doubtless Mr. Yeats makes too much of Lady Gregory's discovery of
dialect and of his own discovery of Lady Gregory. In the revised
version of "Red Hanrahan," he thanks Lady Gregory "who helped me to
rewrite The Stories of Red Hanrahan in the beautiful country speech of
Kiltartan, and nearer to the tradition of the people among whom he, or
some likeness of him, drifted and is remembered." It is little I care,
myself being a literary man, whether the metaphors and the syntax and
the sentence rhythms were contrived by Mr. Yeats or Lady Gregory or
the people of Kiltartan, or whether they are natural to the English
tongue of other times and other regions of the world. They are
impressive, they convey the story, and they give to the story the
strange color appropriate to it. Mr. Yeats plays with verbal color,
with lights and darkness in a way that should appeal to so sympathetic
a student of the French impressionists as Mr. Moore.

To be sure, there is always the danger of affectation, and the
concluding sentences of Mr. Yeats's dedicatory letter to "AE" are
pretty close to buncombe. "Ireland, which is still predominantly
Celtic, has preserved, with some less excellent things, a gift of
vision which has died out among more hurried and more successful
nations; no shining candelabra have prevented us from looking into the
darkness, and when one looks into the darkness there is always
something there." Not always; there may not be anything there worth
talking about, not even a black cat. And the man of poetic vision may
be a citizen of a relatively successful nation. The eye does not
thrive in the dark, but is gradually atrophied. It was not by
scrutinizing the dark, but by using his ear and his wonderful visual
imagination that Mr. Yeats learned to write the verses in "Red
Hanrahan's Curse," verses the like of which no other man can write.

In such verses lives and will live the real Yeats. That some of his
verses are obscure and weak does not matter. Greater poets than he
have failed at times. And the best of his later verse is his very
best; he grows and keeps young, for he has been dipped in some magic
well. That he has foibles a plenty is of little moment; greater poets
than he have allowed the fool to triumph over the genius sometimes.
The divine fool is one of the common themes in poetic legend. Later
criticism will assess the value of the "school" that he has founded
and appraise his influence in the literary history of Ireland. The
function of criticism at the present time is to proclaim the lyric
poet and persuade readers to subject themselves to the enchantment of
his songs. It is surprising that Mr. Moore, who preaches the gospel of
beauty with a fervor worthy of Keats, should not balance his witty
strictures with a little more hearty appreciation. He quotes one of
his friends as saying that Yeats "took his colleen to London and put
paint upon her cheeks and dye upon her hair and sent her up

And another critic added that the hat and feathers were supplied by
Arthur Symons. That is funny enough and serves the purpose of
criticism by arousing interest. It also gives other critics
opportunity to remind their readers that Yeats's colleen, whether in
Sligo or London, is a lovely witch.

One story that Mr. Moore tells of Mr. Yeats is beyond my un-Celtic
sense of humor. He represents Mr. Yeats as coming down to luncheon at
Lady Gregory's house and saying: "I have had a great morning. I have
written eight lines." Where is the joke? It does not seem to be at the
expense of the poet. Eight of his lines may seem a poor day's work to
so great a man as George Moore. But some of us who have not earned the
right to be patronizing would cheerfully devote a month of Sundays, if
we knew how, to making one line as good as the best of Yeats. These
Irish people rag each other delightfully, and it is more delightful to
poke fun than to admire too mutually; perhaps it is more Irish.

Of living Irishmen the two most distinguished writers of prose are
George Moore and Bernard Shaw. They resemble each other in two or
three particulars. Both are out of sympathy with the modern movement
in Irish literature, with the "Celtic revival," with all that revolves
about the person of Mr. Yeats. In the introduction to "John Bull's
Other Island," Mr. Shaw says (I quote from memory) that he is an
old-fashioned Irishman who sees other Irishmen as they really are and
not as the young people of the Abbey Theatre imagine them to be. Mr.
Moore somewhat grudgingly concedes that Synge was a man of genius and
that Lady Gregory's plays, though inferior to the "Playboy" are all
meritorious. But he implies, if he does not directly say, that the
only man who really understands the diction of the Irish is George
Moore, Esq., of Moore Hall. Another point of resemblance between Shaw
and Moore is that both insist on calling themselves shameless; they
boast their independence and find satisfaction in contemplating their
difference from other people. It is amusing to think that the reading
world has long taken them for granted and is no longer shocked. Both
are masters of the English tongue, not of a new style full of strange
idioms, natural or artificial, but of the straightest sort of classic
English, firm as the best prose of the eighteenth century.

It is that English which shall save these Celtic iconoclasts who are
now respectable old gentlemen. Irish to the back-bone, they took for
foster mother the finest prose of the race that betrayed their
country; they became favorite sons of an empire superior to the
political and racial divisions of the world. Mr. Moore thinks that the
English are a tired race and their weariness betrays itself in the
language. "God help the writer who puts pen to paper in fifty years'
time, for all that will be left of the language will be a dry
shank-bone that has been lying a long while on the dust-heap of
empire." A dismal prophecy which is cheerfully contradicted by the
facts of literary history. The political empire may be disrupted,
Ireland may be freed from English yoke and split in twain. But the
language is safe. Artists like Mr. Moore preserve its integrity and
renew its vitality. And we have not heard the last of James Joyce and
James Stephens, or of one or two young men who were born on the island
that lies east of Dublin.


In the preface of "Pendennis" Thackeray says: "Since the author of
'Tom Jones' was buried, no writer of fiction among us has been
permitted to depict to his utmost power a Man. We must drape him and
give him a certain conventional simper. Society will not tolerate the
Natural in our Art." If Thackeray felt that, why did he not take his
reputation and his fortune in his hands and, defying the social
restrictions which he deplored, paint us a true portrait of a young
gentleman of his time? He might have done much for English art and
English honesty. As it was, he did as much as any writer of his
generation to fasten on English fiction the fetters of a hypocritical
reticence. It was only in the last generation that English and Irish
novelists, under the influence of French literature, freed themselves
from the cowardice of Victorian fiction and assumed that anything
human under the sun is proper subject-matter for art. If they have not
produced masterpieces (and I do not admit that they have not), they
have made a brave beginning. Such a book as "A Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man" would have been impossible forty years ago. Far from
looking back with regret at the good old novelists of the nineteenth
century (whom, besides, we need never lose), I believe that our
fiction is in some respects freer[1] and richer than the fiction of
our immediate forefathers.

          [1] If it gets too free, as in Joyce's "Ulysses," it has an
          official hand clapped on its mouth!

Joyce's work is outspoken, vigorous, original, beautiful. Whether it
faithfully reflects Irish politics and the emotional conflicts of the
Catholic religion one who is neither Irish nor Catholic can not judge
with certainty. It seems, however, that the noisy controversies over
Parnell and the priests in which the boy's elders indulge have the
sound of living Irish voices; and the distracted boy's wrestlings with
his sins and his faith are so movingly human that they hold the
sympathy even of one who is indifferent to the religious arguments. I
am afraid that the religious questions and the political questions are
too roughly handled to please the incurably devout and patriotic. If
they ever put up a statue of Joyce in Dublin, it will not be during
his lifetime. For he is no respecter of anything except art and human
nature and language.

There are some who, to turn his own imaginative phrase, will fret in
the shadow of his language. He makes boys talk as boys do, as they did
in your school and mine, except that we lacked the Irish imagery and
whimsicality. If the young hero is abnormal and precocious, that is
because he is not an ordinary boy but an artist, gifted with thoughts
and phrases above our common abilities. This is a portrait of an
artist, a literary artist of the finest quality.

The style is a joy. "Cranly's speech," he writes, "had neither rare
phrases of Elizabethan English nor quaintly turned versions of Irish
idioms." In that Joyce has defined his own style. It is Elizabethan,
yet thoroughly modern; it is racily Irish, yet universal English. It
is unblushingly plain-spoken and richly fanciful, like Shakespeare and
Ben Jonson. The effect of complete possession of the traditional
resources of language is combined with an effect of complete
indifference to traditional methods of fiction. Episodes, sensations,
dreams, emotions trivial and tragic succeed each other neither
coherently nor incoherently; each is developed vividly for a moment,
then fades away into the next, with or without the mechanical devices
of chapter divisions or rows of stars. Life is so; a fellow is pandied
by the schoolmaster for no offense; the cricket bats strike the balls,
pick, pock, puck; there is a girl to dream about; and Byron was a
greater poet than Tennyson anyhow....

The sufferings of the poor little sinner are told with perfect
fidelity to his point of view. Since he is an artist his thoughts
appropriately find expression in phrases of maturer beauty than the
speech of ordinary boys. He is enamored of words, intrigued by their
mystery and color; wherefore the biographer plays through the boy's
thoughts with all manner of verbal loveliness.

    Did he then love the rhythmic rise and fall of words better than
    their associations of legend and colour? Or was it that, being as
    weak of sight as he was shy of mind, he drew less pleasure from
    the reflection of the glowing sensible world through the prism
    of a language many-coloured and richly storied than from the
    contemplation of an inner world of individual emotions mirrored
    perfectly in a lucid supple periodic prose?

From the fading splendor of an evening beautifully described, he
tumbles into the sordid day of a house rich in pawn tickets. That is
life. "Welcome, O life!" he bids farewell to his young manhood. "I go
to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to
forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead."

The sketches in "Dubliners" are perfect, each in its own way, and all
in one way: they imply a vast deal that is not said. They are small as
the eye-glass of a telescope is small; you look through them to depths
and distances. They are a kind of short story almost unknown to the
American magazine if not to the American writer. An American editor
might read them for his private pleasure, but from his professional
point of view he would not see that there was any story there at all.
The American short story is explicit and thin as a moving-picture
film; it takes nothing for granted; it knows nothing of the art of the
hintful, the suggestive, the selected single detail which lodges
fertilely in the reader's mind, begetting ideas and emotions. America
is not the only offender (for patriotism is the fashion and bids
criticism relent); there is much professional Irish humor which is
funny enough but no more subtle than a shillalah. And English short
stories, such at least as we see in magazines, are obvious and
"express" rather than expressive. Joyce's power to disentangle a
single thread from the confusion of life and let you run briefly back
upon it until you encounter the confusion and are left to think about
it yourself--that is a power rare enough in any literature.

Except one story, "A Painful Case," I could not tell the plot of any
of these sketches. Because there is no plot going from beginning to
end. The plot goes from the surface inward, from a near view away into
a background. A person appears for a moment--a priest, or a girl, or a
small boy, or a street-corner tough, or a drunken salesman--and does
and says things not extraordinary in themselves; and somehow you know
all about these people and feel that you could think out their entire
lives. Some are stupid, some are pathetic, some are funny in an
unhilarious way. The dominant mood is irony. The last story in the
book, "The Dead," is a masterpiece which will never be popular,
because it is all about living people; there is only one dead person
in it and he is not mentioned until near the end. That's the kind of
trick an Irishman like Synge or Joyce would play on us, and perhaps a
Frenchman or a Russian would do it; but we would not stand it from one
of our own writers.


Mr. Lawrence is a poet in prose and in verse. No writer of his
generation is more singular, more unmistakably individual, and no
other that I know is endowed with his great variety of gifts. He is as
dangerous to public morals as Meredith or Hardy. Readers who cannot
understand the tragedy of "Richard Feverel" or of "Jude the Obscure,"
will not understand Mr. Lawrence or be interested to read a third of
the way through one of his books. The stupidity of the multitude is
sure protection against his insidious loveliness and essential
sadness. He and his admirers will, I hope, regard it as honorable to
him that he reminds this critic oftener of Meredith and Hardy than of
any of his contemporaries. I am not so fatuous as to suggest that his
independent and original work is in any unfavorable sense derivative.
It must be true that every young novelist learns his lessons from the
older novelists; but I cannot see that Mr. Lawrence is clearly the
disciple of any one master. I do feel simply that he is of the elder
stature of Meredith and Hardy, and I will suggest, in praise of him,
some resemblances that have struck me, without trying to analyze or
quote chapter and verse in tedious parallels.

Mr. Lawrence is a lyric as well as a tragic poet. In this he is like
Meredith and Hardy, and I can think of no other young novelist who is
quite worthy of the company. Young people in love, or some other
difficulty, become entangled with stars and mountains and seas; they
are baffled and lost, seldom consoled, in cosmic immensities.
Novelists who happen also to be poets are enamoured of those

This is the end of "Sons and Lovers":

    "Where was he?--one tiny upright speck of flesh, less than an ear
    of wheat lost in the field. He could not bear it. On every side
    the immense dark silence seemed pressing him, so tiny a spark,
    into extinction, and yet, almost nothing, he could not be extinct.
    Night, in which everything was lost, went reaching out, beyond
    stars and sun. Stars and sun, a few bright grains, went spinning
    round for terror, and holding each other in embrace, there in the
    darkness that outpassed them all, and left them tiny and daunted.
    So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core nothingness, and
    yet not nothing."

The concluding scenes of "Women in Love" are the Alps, "a silence of
dim, unrealized snow, of the invisible intervening between her and the
visible, between her and the flashing stars." I am reminded, by the
beauty of the phrasing and by the sense of the pathetic little human
being adrift in space, of the flight of the two young people through
the Alps, in "The Amazing Marriage," and of farmer Gabriel Oak
watching the westward flow of the stars.

Sometimes, like Meredith, rather than like Hardy, whose style is
colder and more austere, Mr. Lawrence is almost too lyric and his
phrases threaten to overflow the rigid dikes of prose. I could pick
out a dozen rhapsodical passages which with little change might well
appear in his books of verse.

But young people in love do not spend all their days and nights in
ecstatic flights to the clouds. And their flights are followed by
pathetic Icarian disasters. From luminous moments they plunge into
what Mr. Lawrence calls "the bitterness of ecstacy," and their pain
outweighs their joy many times over, as in Hardy, and as in the more
genial Meredith, whose rapturous digression played on a penny whistle
is a cruelly beautiful preparation for the agonies that ensue. It may
be that the emotional transports of Mr. Lawrence's young people are
more frequent and violent than the ordinary human soul can enjoy and
endure. The nervous tension is high and would break into hysteria if
Mr. Lawrence were not a philosopher as well as a poet, if he did not
know so accurately what goes on inside the human head, if he had not
an artist's ability to keep his balance at the very moment when a less
certain workman would lose it.

There is firm ground under his feet and under the feet of his lovers;
it is the everyday life which consists of keeping shop and keeping
school and other commonplace activities in street, kitchen, and coal
mine. These diurnal details he studies with a fidelity not surpassed
by Mr. Bennett or any other of his contemporaries. The talk of his
people is always alive, both the dialect of the villagers and the
discussions of the more intellectual. Sometimes he puts into the
speech of his characters a little more of his own poetic fancy than
they might reasonably be supposed to be capable of. But if this is a
fault, from a realistic point of view, it is a merit from the point of
view of readability, and it makes for vivacity. At times--and is not
this like Meredith?--he seems to be less interested in the sheer
dramatic value of a situation he has created than in the opportunity
it offers of writing beautiful things around it. Not that his
situations fail to carry themselves or have not their proper place and
proportion. Mr. Lawrence knows how to handle his narrative and he has
an abundant invention and dramatic ingenuity. But he is above those
elementary things that any competent novelist knows. He has the
something else that makes the story teller the first rate literary
artist--style may be the word for it, but poetic imagination seems to
be the better and more inclusive term. Open "The Lost Girl" at page 57
and read two pages. Without knowing what has preceded or whither the
story is bound, anybody who knows what literature is will feel at once
that that is it.

"Women in Love" is a sequel to "The Rainbow," in that it carries on
the story of Ursula of the family of Brangwen. "The Rainbow" is the
stronger book; it has more of the tragic power, the deep social
implications of Mr. Lawrence's masterpiece, "Sons and Lovers". In
"Women in Love" are four young people, two men and two women, whose
chief interest, for them and for us, is in amatory relations. This is
indicated by the title of the story, one of those obvious titles which
only a man of imagination could hit upon, so simple that you wonder
why no novelist ever thought of it before. Now the erotic relations of
people, though a tremendous part of life, as all the great tragic
romances prove, are still only part of life. Nobody knows this better
than Mr. Lawrence. The first story of the Brangwen family is richer
than the second, not because of the proverbial falling off of sequels,
not because Mr. Lawrence's power declined--far from it!--but because
the first novel embraces a larger number of the manifold interests
that compose the fever called living. In it are not only young lovers,
but old people, old failures, the land, the town, the succession of
the generations rooted yet restless. Ursula emerges from immemorial
centuries of English life, touched with foreign blood out of Poland
(when an English novelist wishes to introduce variety and strangeness
into the dull solidity of an English town he imports a Pole, or an
Italian, or a Frenchman, somebody not English).

Ursula's background is thus richer than all her emotional experience.
Her father, her grandfather, the family, the muddled tragicomedy of
little affairs and ambitions, the grim, gray colliery district, the
entire social situation, are the foundations and walls of the story,
and she is the slender spire that surmounts it all--and is struck by
lightning. In "The Rainbow" she goes to ashes, and in "Women in Love"
she revives, burns again, and finds in her new love new

It is impossible to write of Mr. Lawrence without discoursing in
symbols and reflecting, somewhat pallidly, his metaphors. For like all
genuine poets he is a symbolist. In "Aaron's Rod" he redoubles and
compounds symbolism in a manner baffling to readers and to critics who
like to have their prose prosaic and their poetry in lines and whose
sound stomachs refuse a mixed drink. I enjoy the mixture--in the
Bible, in Meredith, in Ruskin, in James, in Lawrence.

It is stupid to explain symbols. Yet after all that is the dull
function of criticism, to explain something--as if the creator of a
work of art had not given all the necessary explanation in the very
act of creation. Whoever does not understand Lawrence on immediate
contact will not understand him better after the intervention of a
critic. But it is the pleasure and the privilege of a critic to have
his secondary imagination set on fire by the primary imagination of a
man of genius, to spread the fire if he can by the cold fluid of
critical exposition--as water carries burning oil.

Well, then, Aaron's rod is doubly symbolic. His rod which, in the
Biblical phrase, bloomed, blossomed and yielded almonds, is a flute.
And the symbol is also phallic, as, indeed, it is in the Bible.
Aaron's flute, the musical instrument, is smashed in an accident which
is as irrational as life itself. The instrument in its other aspect is
broken by the supreme and only rationality--that of human character.

In all his books, beginning with "Sons and Lovers," Mr. Lawrence has
shown relatively little interest in those mere sequences of external
events which novelists artificially pattern into plots. He throws some
matter-of-fact probabilities to the winds, as in "Aaron's Rod," when
he makes a man from the English collieries a master flautist and
alleges that he got a hearing in Italy, where there are more good
flautists to the square inch than in England to the square mile.

But Aaron is an unusual person. "It is remarkable," says his creator,
"how many odd or extraordinary people there are in England." Mr.
Lawrence has always been interested in slightly eccentric characters,
and so he stands apart from his contemporaries who call themselves
realists or naturalists because they deal with the commonplace or the
recognizably normal.

After all, extraordinary persons in fiction, as in life, are better
worth knowing than ordinary persons. Mr. Lawrence does not make his
people so widely different from the general run of human beings as to
put a strain on credulity, and he studies them with a subtle and firm
understanding. Their talk sounds real. Their emotions are alive in his
bold and delicate prose. He has made amateurish excursions into
psychoanalysis, which may or may not be a fruitful subject for a
novelist to study. The real novelist has always been a psychologist in
an untechnical sense.

Mr. Lawrence is too fine an artist to import into his art the dubious
lingo of psycho-analysis; he remains the poet, the dramatist, his
symbols and images uncorrupted by pseudo-science. Aaron's dream in the
last chapter--no modern novel is complete without at least one
dream--is easily "freuded" (cave, corridor, and water symbols), but
Mr. Lawrence refrains from analysis.

Aaron's whole life, or as much as the author gives us of it, is a
dream, a dream unfulfilled in love or friendship or music. To what he
wakes, if he wakes at all, the conclusion leaves us guessing. That
will puzzle readers who demand that a story shall finish with a bang
or come to a definite point of rest. But life does not conclude; it

When Aaron related his history and experiences to some friends, he
"told all his tale as if it was a comedy. A comedy it seemed, too, at
that hour. And a comedy no doubt it was. But mixed, like most things
in this life. Mixed." Though Aaron is a strange man, an individual,
yet the conflict that goes on in him, between his rebellion and his
indecision, his desire and his impotence, is not freakish; it is so
much like the struggle that every man knows, with special variations,
that it is true to universal human nature. Behind the symbolism are
the plain facts, solidly conceived.

The other characters in the book are well drawn, notably Aaron's odd,
philosophic friend, Lilly, whose ideas are at once clear and cryptic.
There is a pitifully accurate portrait of a captain whose soul and
nerves had not recovered from the war. In a single chapter through one
man Mr. Lawrence suggests the disillusionment, the mental disaster,
that followed the armistice. "None of the glamour of returned heroes,
none of the romance of war ... the hot, seared burn of unbearable
experience, which did not heal nor cool, and whose irritation was not
to be relieved."

In "The Lost Girl" and "Women in Love" the men are subordinate to the
women. In "Aaron's Rod" the women are of secondary interest; Aaron's
wife is rather indistinct and shadowy, and the Marchesa, the Cleopatra
whom he tried to love and couldn't, never quite comes alive, either
for Aaron or for the reader. Probably these women are just what Mr.
Lawrence intended them to be, as seen through Aaron's temperament. But
I do not feel that Mr. Lawrence has here made a very striking
contribution to the history of the everlasting warfare between the
sexes. Did Aaron miss because he happened not to meet the right woman?
Or was he the sort of man whom no woman could capture and satisfy?
Evidently Mr. Lawrence means to leave the eternal question unsettled
even for the man whom he has created.

Like many other English poets, Mr. Lawrence is a lover of Italy, and
he takes his hero there, one suspects, for the sheer joy of the scene
and the atmosphere, which he realizes with vivid beauty. He is a
master of description, a master of words. His command ranges from the
baldest sort of every day conversation to prose harmonies that are as
near to verse as prose can go without breaking over. This is not
merely a command of style; it is more than that--it is a command of
ideas. Mr. Lawrence can pass with equal sureness from colliery to
cathedral and find the right word for every thing and person met on
the way, the right word, though often a perplexed and perplexing word.
Because life is like that. It is "mixed."

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