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Title: Hieroglyphics
Author: Machen, Arthur, 1863-1947
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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  Arthur Machen

  Author of "The Great God Pan," etc.

  Grant Richards


    NOTE              v
    I                 1
    II               42
    III              68
    IV               99
    V               125
    VI              150
    APPENDIX        171


It was my privilege, many years ago, to make the acquaintance of the
obscure literary hermit, whose talk I have tried to reproduce in the
pages that follow. Our first meeting was one of those chance affairs
that now and then mitigate the loneliness of the London streets, and a
second hazard led to the discovery that we had many interests in common.
I think that the Hermit (as I shall call him) had begun to find the
perpetual solitude of his years a growing terror, and he was not sorry
to have a listener; at first, indeed, he talked almost with the joy of a
child, or rather of a prisoner who has escaped from the house of
silence, but as he chose subjects which have always interested me
intensely, he gave as much pleasure as he received, and I became an
assiduous visitor of his cell.

He had found an odd retreat. He avoided personalities, and had a happy
knack of forgetting any that I vouchsafed on my side, (he forgot my name
three times on the first evening that we spent together, and succeeded
in repeating this feat over and over again since then), and I never
gathered much of his past history. But I believe that "something had
happened" many years before, in the prehistoric age of the 'seventies.
There had been a break of some sort in the man's life when he was quite
young; and so he had left the world and gone to Barnsbury, an almost
mythical region lying between Pentonville and the Caledonian Road. Here,
in the most retired street of that retired quarter, he occupied two
rooms on the ground floor of a big, mouldy house, standing apart from
the street and sheltered by gaunt grown trees and ancient shrubs; and
just beside the dim and dusty window of the sitting-room a laburnum had
cast a green stain on the decaying wall. The laburnum had grown wild,
like all the trees and shrubs, and some of its black, straggling boughs
brushed the pane, and of dark, windy nights while we sat together and
talked of art and life we would be startled by the sudden violence with
which those branches beat angrily upon the glass.

The room seemed always dark. I suppose that the house had been built in
the early eighteenth century, and had been altered and added to at
various periods, with a final "doing up" for the comparative luxury of
someone in the 'tens or 'twenties; there were, I think, twenty rooms in
it, and my friend used to declare that when a new servant came she spent
many months in finding her way in the complicated maze of stairs and
passages, and that the landlady even was now and then at fault. But the
room in which we sat was hung with flock paper, of a deep and heavy
crimson colour, and even on bright summer evenings the crimson looked
almost black, and seemed to cast a shadow into the room. Often we sat
there till the veritable darkness came, and each could scarcely see the
white of the other's face, and then my friend would light two lonely
candles on the mantelpiece, or if he wished to read he set one on a
table beside him; and when the candles were lighted I thought that the
gloom grew more intense, and looking through the uncurtained window one
could not see even the friendly twinkle of the gas-lamp in the street,
but only the vague growth of the laburnum, and the tangle of boughs

It was a large room and gave me always a sense of empty space. Against
one wall stood a heavy bookcase, with glass doors, solid and of dark
mahogany, but made in the intermediate period that came between
Chippendale and the modern school of machine-turned rubbish. In the
duskiest corner of the room there was a secretaire of better
workmanship, and two small tables and three gaunt chairs made up the
furnishing. The Hermit would sometimes pace up and down in the void
centre of the room as he talked, and if I chanced to be sitting by the
window, his shape would almost disappear as he neared the secretaire on
his march, and I heard the voice, and used to wonder for a moment
whether the man had not vanished for ever, having been resolved into the
shadows about him.

I have spent many evenings in that old mouldering room, where, when we
were silent for an instant, the inanimate matter about us found a voice,
and the decaying beams murmured together, and a vague sound might come
from the cellars underneath. And it always seemed to me as if the
crypt-like odour of the cellar rose also into the room, mingling with a
faint suggestion of incense, though I am sure that my friend never
burned it. Here then, with such surroundings as I have indicated, we
held our sessions and talked freely and with enjoyment of many curious
things, which, as the Hermit would say, had the huge merit of
interesting no one but ourselves.

He would sometimes, whimsically, compare himself to Coleridge, and I
think that he often deliberately talked in S. T. C.'s manner with
delight in the joke. For, I need hardly say that the comparison was not
in any way a serious one; he had a veneration for Coleridge's
achievement, with a still greater veneration for that which Coleridge
might have achieved, which would have caused him to regard any such
comparison, seriously entertained, as unspeakably ludicrous. Still, he
liked to regard himself as a very humble disciple in Coleridge's school,
he was fond, as I have said, of imitating his master's manner as well as
he could, and I think that he cherished, in the fashion of S. T. C., the
notion that he had a "system," an esoteric philosophy of things; he
sought for a key that would open, and a lamp that would enlighten all
the dark treasure-houses of the Universe, and sometimes he believed that
he held both the Key and the Lamp in his hands.

It is a confession of mysticism, but I incline to think that he was
right in this belief. I recall the presence of that hollow, echoing
room, the atmosphere with its subtle suggestion of incense sweetening
the dank odours of the cellar, and the tone of the voice speaking to me,
and I believe that once or twice we both saw visions, and some glimpse
at least of certain eternal, ineffable Shapes. But these matters, the
more esoteric doctrines of "the system" have entered hardly or not at
all into the very imperfect and fragmentary notes that I have made of
his conversations on literature.

I should scarcely be justified in calling him a literary monomaniac. But
it is true that Art in general, and the art of literature in particular
had for him a very high significance and interest; and he was always
ready to defend the thesis that, all the arts being glorious, the
literary art was the most glorious and wonderful of all. He reverenced
music, but he was firm in maintaining that in perfect lyrical poetry
there is the subtlest and most beautiful melody in the world.

I can scarcely say whether he wrote much himself. He would speak of
stories on which he was engaged, but I have never seen his name on
publishers' lists, and I do not think that he had adopted a pseudonym.
One evening, I remember, I came in a little before my accustomed time,
and in the shadowy corner of the room, a drawer in the secretaire was
open, and I thought that it looked full of neat manuscripts. But I never
spoke to him about his literary work; and I noticed that he did not much
care to talk of literature from the commercial standpoint.

It is perhaps needless to say that I consulted my friend before
publishing these notes of his conversations. I had been forced to leave
London for some months, and I wrote to him from the country, requesting
his permission to give to the world (if the world would have them) those
judgments on books which I had listened to in Barnsbury. His reply
allowed me to take my own way, "with all my heart, so long as you make
me sufficiently apocryphal. I am not going to compete with 'real'
critics whose names are printed in the papers; but if you can maintain
the _incognito_ and allow your readers (supposing their existence) to
believe that I am a mere figment of your brain, you can print my _obiter
dicta_ 'with ease of body and rest of reins.' Here is a suggestion for a
title: what do you say to 'Boswell in Barnsbury'? But I really had no
notion that you were taking notes all the time. Remember: keep the
secret, _and the secrets_."

I regarded this as a very liberal license, and I have tried to set in
the best order I could compass the "system" so far as it relates to
letters. I do not pretend that I am a _verbatim_ reporter, for I had to
trust to my memory, and though I tried to arrange my notes at the time,
I fear I have fallen here and there into confusion. Still, I think that
the six chapters which follow will seem fairly consecutive in their
argument and arrangement, and the "Appendix"--a confession of
failure--is, in reality, the result of the "cyclical mode of
discoursing," in which the Hermit jocularly professed to follow

Perhaps indeed Coleridge was deceived, and my dear friend with him, in
the hope of real essential knowledge; but even so, these fragments which
I propose are evidence that the latter earnestly desired the truth and
sought it.

        A. M.



Do you know that just before you came in I found something highly
significant in the evening paper? I am afraid from your expression that
you rather undervalue the influence of the press; indeed, I remember one
day when we were out together you swore at an inoffensive boy who tried
to allure us with news of all the winners. I think I pointed out at the
time that even horse-racing and an interest in "events" are preferable
to stagnation, and that there is something august in the universal human
passion for gambling. And, after all, the office-boy who "puts on"
half-a-crown is really only an example of the love of man for the
unknown; the half-crown is a venture into mystery, with that due flavour
of commercialism which we in England add to most of our interests. But
you see, don't you? that gambling, even under its most sordid aspects,
is not altogether sordid; it's the mystery, the uncertainty, the hours
of "strange surmise" that the smallest bet gives to the bettor that
make the real delight of betting. When the office-boy wins and gets ten
shillings for the risk of his two-and-six, his delight is not by any
means pure love of gain, it is distinguished by a very marked line from
the constantly repeated joys of the grocer, who is always buying
delicious tea at ninepence and selling it at one-and-six. Here you have
commercialism in its simplest form; but our office-boy, though he likes
the money well enough, stands on a much higher plane. For the moment he
is the man who has succeeded in solving the enigma of the Sphinx, in
discovering the unknown continent, in reading the cypher, in guessing at
the song the Sirens sang, in unveiling the hidden treasure that the
buccaneers buried on the lonely shore; he has ventured successfully into
the dim region of surmises. And when he loses, there are always
consolations; the Indies have not been discovered on this voyage,
certainly, but there have been wonders on the way, he has enjoyed many
hours of delicious expectation. The proof that he likes the sport, even
when he loses, is that he invariably takes the first opportunity of
venturing again in the same manner. And, by the way, perhaps I was a
little severe just now on trade, and especially on the grocer's sugary
and soapy enterprise. Perhaps if we were to look with a rather finer
vision into the commercial spirit, we might find that it is not wholly
commercial, not altogether sordid. Of course if the grocer opens his
shop with a certainty, mathematical or almost mathematical, that the
public will buy his wares, he is a wicked fellow; he is gambling with
loaded dice, betting against a horse that he knows is to be made "all
right," playing cards with honours up his sleeve, and I am sure that if
this be his enterprise, it will always meet with our sternest
disapproval. Casanova died towards the close of the last century, and
since then cardsharping has become impossible to a man of taste. But
seriously, I suspect that a good deal of the allurement that trade
possesses for so many of us is the risk which it almost always implies,
and risk means uncertainty, and uncertainty connotes the unknown. So you
see our despised grocer turns out, after all, to be of the kin of
Columbus, of the treasure-seekers, and mystery-mongers, and delvers
after hidden things spiritual and material. I suppose we have here the
real explanation of the human trading passion, and the solution of a
problem that has often puzzled me. The problem I mean is this: how does
it happen that the English are both the greatest poets and the greatest
tradesmen of the modern world? Superficially, it seems that keeping
shops and making poetry are incompatibles, and Wordsworth and Coleridge,
Keats and Shelley, Tennyson and Poe, should have come from Provence or
Sicily, from the "unpractical," uncommercial Latin races. But if we
trace back the trading instinct to that love of a risk--or in other
words to the desire for the unknown--the antinomy disappears, and it
will become perfectly natural that the race which has gone to the
world's end with its merchandise, has penetrated so gloriously into the
further regions of poetry.

But that reminds me of what I was saying just after you had lit your
pipe. I think I remarked that I had seen something of very high
significance in the evening paper, and the glare of disgust with which
you greeted my observation constituted an interruption, and an
interruption that had to be dealt with. Now again you seem to hint at
doubt with your eyebrows; you would say, perhaps, that I have not made
out a very convincing case for journalism? But you must remember that
my mental process resembles that of Coleridge; you called on the Seer at
eleven o'clock in the morning, and (if young and imprudent) asked him a
question. And at the waning of the light Coleridge was still diligently
engaged in answering your question for you, having talked without
intermission all the summer day. A "cyclical mode of discoursing" the
pious Henry Nelson Coleridge called it, and he deals faithfully with
certain persons who complained "that they could get no answer to a
question from Coleridge." And you will please to remember this when you
think that I am "wandering"--a vice of which Coleridge also was accused.
To-night, for example, on the evening paper being mentioned, your face
expressed disgust and contempt, which I diagnosed (and rightly, I
believe?) as a tribute to the enormous interest taken by the editors of
these agreeable journals in the very latest sporting news; an interest
which allows but little space for the discussion of pure literature.
Hence my remarks on the gambling-spirit; and now I hope you will at
least assume a thrill of interest when the boy bawls in your ear "All
the winners and S. P." It is possible you may be thinking of Ulysses or
of Keats at the moment, and the interruption may annoy you, but it will
do so no longer when you reflect that a burning anxiety as to the
running of Bolter is for many thousands the symbol--and the only
possible symbol--of the Doom of Troy and the wandering fields of foam,
and the Isle of Calypso, and the "strange surmise" of Pizarro and all
his men.

But here is the evening-paper in question. Yes, the colour is, perhaps,
a little sickly. A kind of pinky-green, it seems, doesn't it? But it
forced itself on my notice in the most extraordinary manner, and I
expect you will have to admit, when you have heard the story, that some
Powers were at work. Well, I was walking up and down the room, just as
it was getting dusk, and every now and then I stopped and looked out of
the window. Yes, I was making phrases as usual, and thinking of a new
story in the middle of the old one: hence the quarter-deck exercise. I
daresay you have remarked that I do not keep my window in a very
brilliant condition, and the air this evening, you will remember, was
rather misty--October, I always think, wears a peculiar dim grace in
Barnsbury--so I hope you will not find my impressions too incredible. I
was staring, then, out of the window, when to my vast astonishment, a
great pale bird seemed suddenly to shoot up into the air from the road,
and to flutter into the garden, where it became entangled in that
sapless old laburnum that weeps green tears upon the wall. I saw, as I
thought, the beating and fluttering of wings, and I ran out, imagining
that I was to secure a strange companion for my solitude. It was the
evening paper, not a bird, and I saw at once that it would be impious to
let it flutter there unread, so I secured it and brought it in,
meditating the adventure, and wondering what strange message was thus
borne to my eyes. So I went through its columns patiently, even to the
leaderettes, and I will do myself the justice to say that I at once
recognised the communication that was addressed to me in this singular
and even I may say Arabian fashion. It was a short comment upon some
agitation that is now appealing rather strongly to Progressive leaders;
but the subject-matter is of no consequence, since the significance lies
in the last sentence. Here it is: "We are glad to hear that extensive
arrangements have been made for the dissemination of literature."

You don't see the immense importance of that? You surprise me. Let us go
into it, then. I told you I was not very precise as to the exact scope
of the agitation alluded to--it may be a question of a heavy tax on
persons who will say "lady" instead of "lydy," it may be an affair of
restricting the franchise to citizens thoroughly ignorant of history; it
doesn't matter--but here are men who wish some political change to be
effected, and these men are issuing printed matter, the purpose of which
is to convince others of the righteousness of this particular "program."
And this printed matter is called "literature." You know the sort of
thing indicated. It may be a series of arguments, simple and fallacious,
it may be in dialogue, it may be in story form, it may assume the guise
of parody, it may be a brief history. And now what I want to know is
this: here we have a vast body of thought, clothed in words, ranging
from the agreeable leaflets that we have been speaking of up to--let us
say--the Odyssey, and all this mass is known as literature: what is to
be our criterion, our means of distinguishing between the two extremes
I have mentioned and all the innumerable links between them? Is the
whole mass literature in the true sense of the word? If not, with what
instrument, by what rule are we to divide the true from the false, to
judge exactly in the case of any particular book whether it is
literature or not? Of course you may say that the question is rather
verbal than real; that "literature" is a general term conveniently
applied to anything in print, and that in practice everybody knows the
difference between a political pamphlet and the Odyssey. I very much
doubt whether people do understand precisely the distinction between the
two, but for the avoidance of verbal confusion I suggest that when we
mean literature in its highest sense we shall say (for the present at
all events), "fine literature"; and the question will be, then: what is
it that differentiates fine literature from a number of grammatical, or
partly grammatical, sentences arranged in a more or less logical order?
Why is the Odyssey to come in, why is the "literature" of our evening
paper to be kept out? And again, to put the question in a more subtle
form: to which class do the works of Jane Austen belong? Is "Pride and
Prejudice" to stand on the Odyssey shelf, or to lie in the pamphlet
drawer? Where is Pope's place? Is he to be set in the class of Keats? If
not, for what reason? What is the rank of Dickens, of Thackeray, of
George Eliot, of Hawthorne; and in a word, how are we to sort out, as it
were, this huge multitude of names, giving to each one his proper rank
and station?

I am glad it strikes you as a big question: to me it seems _the_
question, the question which covers the final dogma of literary
criticism. Of course after we have answered this prerogative riddle,
there will be other questions, almost without end, classes, and
sub-classes of infinite analysis. But this will be detail; while the
question I have propounded is the question of first principles; it marks
the parting of two ways, and in a manner, it asks itself not only of
literature, but of life, but of philosophy, but of religion. What is the
line, then; the mark of division which is to separate spoken, or
written, or printed thought into two great genera?

Well, as you may have guessed, I have my solution, and I like it none
the less, because the word of the enigma seems to me actually but a
single word. Yes, for me the answer comes with the one word, _Ecstasy_.
If ecstasy be present, then I say there is fine literature, if it be
absent, then, in spite of all the cleverness, all the talents, all the
workmanship and observation and dexterity you may show me, then, I
think, we have a product (possibly a very interesting one), which is not
fine literature.

Of course you will allow me to contradict myself, or rather, to amplify
myself before we begin to discuss the matter fully. I said my answer was
the word, ecstasy; I still say so, but I may remark that I have chosen
this word as the representative of many. Substitute, if you like,
rapture, beauty, adoration, wonder, awe, mystery, sense of the unknown,
desire for the unknown. All and each will convey what I mean; for some
particular case one term may be more appropriate than another, but in
every case there will be that withdrawal from the common life and the
common consciousness which justifies my choice of "ecstasy" as the best
symbol of my meaning. I claim, then, that here we have the touchstone
which will infallibly separate the higher from the lower in literature,
which will range the innumerable multitude of books in two great
divisions, which can be applied with equal justice to a Greek drama, an
eighteenth century novelist, and a modern poet, to an epic in twelve
books, and to a lyric in twelve lines. I will convince you of my belief
in my own nostrum by a bold experiment: here is _Pickwick_ and here is
_Vanity Fair_; the one regarded as a popular "comic" book, the other as
a serious masterpiece, showing vast insight into human character; and
applying my test, I set _Pickwick_ beside the Odyssey, and _Vanity Fair_
on top of the political pamphlet.

I will not argue the matter at the moment; I would merely caution you
against supposing that I imply any equality of merit in the books that I
have thus summarily "bracketed." You mustn't suppose that I think
Dickens's book as good as Homer's, or that I have any doubts as to the
vast superiority of _Vanity Fair_ over all the pamphlets in the world.
"Here is a temple, here is a tub," we may suppose a child to say,
learning from a picture-alphabet; but the temple may be a miserably
designed structure, in ruinous condition, and the tub is, perhaps, a
miracle of excellent workmanship. But one means worship and the other
means washing, and that is _the_ distinction. Or, to take a better
example; the bottom boy in the sixth form may be a miserable dunce
compared with the top boy in the fifth; still the dunce is in the sixth
form, and the genius is in the fifth. Or, to take a third instance (I
want you to understand what I'm driving at), the fact that an English
orator is fluent, brilliant, profound, convincing, while a Greek orator
is stuttering, stupid, shallow, illogical does not hinder that the
former, though he may speak ever so well, still speaks English, while
the latter, however badly he may speak, speaks in Greek for all that.
Analogies, as you know, are never perfect, and must not be pressed too
far; they suggest rather than prove; but I hope you understand me though
you may not agree with me.

But before we argue the merits of my own literary solvent, we might very
well see what we can do with other tests. I daresay you can suggest a
good many. We won't go into the question of printed and not printed,
written or not written, because it is obvious that the visible symbols
by which literature is recorded have nothing to do with literature
itself. In the beginning all literature was a matter of improvisation
or recitation and memory, and hieroglyphics, writing, printing are mere
conveniences. Indeed the point is only worth mentioning because there
are, I believe, simple souls who think that the invention of printing
has some sort of mysterious connection with the birth of literature, and
that the abolition of the paper duty was its coming of age. But I don't
think we need trouble ourselves much about a view of literary art which
regards the cheap press as its father and the school board as its
nursing mother. Many people think, on the other hand, that literature is
to be estimated by its effect on the emotions, by the shock which it
gives to the system. You may say that a book which interests you so
intensely that you cannot put it down, that affects you so acutely that
you weep, that amuses you so immensely that you roar with laughter must
be very good. I don't object to "very good," but from my point of view,
"very good" and "fine literature" are two different things. You see
I believe that the difference between interesting, exciting,
tear-compelling, laughter-moving reading matter and fine art is not
specific but generic: who would blaspheme against good bitter beer, who
would say that _because_ it is good, it is _therefore_ Burgundy?

I am not quite sure that I am not muddling up two things which are in
reality distinct. I mean I am in doubt whether the faculty of making the
reader cry ought not to be distinguished from the faculty of interesting
him intensely. On the whole I think that it would be well to draw a line
between the two, especially as "interesting" is somewhat ambiguous.

And you think it a paradox, then, to maintain that the power of exciting
the emotions to a high degree is not a mark of fine literature? But just
think it over. Suppose that a few yards from this room--in the next
house, in the next street--a woman is waiting for the return of her
husband and son. A ring comes at the bell, there's a reddish-brown
envelope, and inside it the message: "Railway accident father killed."
Well, you can imagine the effect that these four words will have on the
woman's emotions; she will either faint away, or burst into an agony of
tears; she may even die of the shock, and you can't have a more striking
emotional result than death, can you? Very well; but is the telegram
fine art? Is it art? Is it even artifice? It isn't art because it is
true! But if I invented such a telegram and sent it to a woman whose
husband and son were away, would it thereby become art? You must see
perfectly well that it would be nothing of the kind; and I must ask you
to explain how a book which is, virtually, a long succession of such
telegrams can rise higher than its origin and source? You must see, I
think, that the question of truth and falsity can make no real
difference to our (no doubt pompous) high æsthetic standpoint; and if
you admit that four words which produce an emotional result are not
necessarily art, then it follows that four hundred or four hundred
thousand words woven together on the same principle are in no better
position. An increased quantity means no doubt an increased artifice,
but artifice and art are very different things. We may agree then that
it is impossible to measure the artistic merit of a book by the
emotional shock that it may give to its readers. I have never read the
"Sorrows of Werther"; but if you have read it and it has made you
sorrowful you are hereby warned against deducing from this effect any
conclusion as to its æsthetic value.

I confess all this seems A B C to me, though I see you are still
inclined to think me a little paradoxical--not to say sophistical--but
it grows more difficult when one gets to the question of the
"interesting" or "absorbing" book. As I said "interesting" seems such an
ambiguous word. It may stand for that æsthetic emotion produced, say, by
the Œdipus; it may denote the wide-eyed attention of the butcher's wife
listening to the story of my landlady as to the love-affairs of the
grocer's daughter--and there are many books which are, virtually,
"Tales of My Landlady" printed and bound. We must really then omit
"interesting" in our account of the possible criteria of fine art; the
word as it were cancels itself out, because it may mean on the one hand
the possession of the highest artistic value, or on the other it may
serve as epithet for a book which gratifies the lowest curiosity. You
know there are books which the French have kindly named "romans à clef";
and I suppose there is no more miserable form of book-making. The
receipt is easy enough. The grocer's daughter, to whose amours I alluded
just now, is really named Miss Buggins, and the gentleman is Mr Tibb.
Well, suppose that my landlady, relating their lyric to the butcher's
wife, should, with a knowing wink, profess to tell the story of Miss
Ruggins and Mr Ribb--she would simply be composing a _roman à clef_
without knowing it. You might say that it is hardly worth while to
labour the point, that such "interest" as this is wholly and lamentably
inartistic--that it is the very contrary to all true art--but it is not
long since a person of some literary note, in criticising the
"Heptameron," stated that its chief value lay in the fact that one could
identify the persons who tell the stories and those also of whom they
were told!

But there is another interest of a much higher kind, and that is the
sensational. We have done some excellent books of this sort in England,
and perhaps you will understand the class I mean when I say that a novel
of this description is hard to lay down, and harder still to take up
again when you have once found out the secret. This is not high art; you
are always at liberty to put down "Lycidas," but then you are compelled
to take it up again and again, and the secret of "Lycidas" is always a
secret, and one never fails to experience the joy of an artistic
surprise. Still the books I mean sometimes show very high artifice, and
in itself, perhaps, the quality that I am talking about, the power of
exciting a vivid curiosity, an earnest desire to know what is to come
next is not, like the vulgar _roman à clef_ curiosity, in actual
disaccord from the purpose of art. Indeed I imagine that this trick of
stimulating the curiosity may be made subservient to purely æsthetic
ends, it may become a handmaid to lead one towards that desire of the
unknown which I think was one of the synonyms I gave you for the master
word--Ecstasy. Still, though the trick is a good one, it will not, by
itself, make fine art. You may discover so much by reading the
"Moonstone," that monument of ingenuity and absurdity. On the face of it
all detective stories come under this heading: formally, no doubt, they
must all be reckoned as tricks, and they may vary from the infinitely
ingenious to the infinitely imbecile, and so far as I remember, the
famous French tales of detection verge towards the lower rather than the
higher ground. But I am inclined, not very logically, perhaps, to make
an exception in favour of Poe's Dupin, and to place him almost in the
sphere of pure literature. Logically, he is a detective, but I almost
think that in his case the detective is a symbol of the mystagogue. As
I say, I should be pressed hard if I were asked to make out my case in
terms and syllogisms, but if you require me to do so, I would say first
of all that the atmosphere of Dupin--and you must remember that in
literature everything counts; it is not alone the plot, or the style
that we have to consider--has to me hints of that presence which I have
called ecstasy. Listen to this:

"It was a freak of fancy in my friend (for what else shall I call it?)
to be enamoured of the Night for her own sake; and into this
_bizarrerie_, as into all his others, I quietly fell; giving myself up
to his wild whims with a perfect _abandon_. The sable divinity would not
herself dwell with us always; but we could counterfeit her presence. At
the first dawn of the morning we closed all the massive shutters of our
old building; lighting a couple of tapers which, strongly perfumed,
threw out only the ghastliest and feeblest of rays. By the aid of these
we then buried our souls in dreams--reading, writing, or conversing,
until warned by the clock of the advent of the true Darkness. Then we
sallied forth into the streets, arm in arm, continuing the topics of
the day, or roaming far and wide until a late hour, seeking amid the
wild lights and shadows of the populous city, that infinity of mental
excitement which quiet observation can afford."

And again; in the stories themselves, in the conduct of M. Dupin's
detective processes, I find a faint suggestion of the under-consciousness
or other consciousness of man, a mere hint, not, I think, expressed in so
many words, rather latent than patent, that if you would thoroughly
understand the rational man you must have sounded the irrational man, the
mysterious companion that walks beside each one of us on the earthly
journey. Of course the artifice in the Dupin stories is of the very
highest kind, but for the reasons I have given I am inclined to think that
there is more than artifice, and the shadow, at all events, of art itself.

But this exceptional case of Poe's detective tales only leads us back to
the main proposition--that the power of exciting a very high sensational
interest does not, in itself, mark out a book as being fine literature.
I think I proved the proposition by my instance of the "Moonstone," but
if that does not convince you, we might demonstrate this theorem in the
same way as we demonstrated the other one about the "literature" that
produces its effect on the emotions. We have only to send out a series
of telegrams, or we may even glance at the newspaper, and follow a case
in the Central Criminal Court. Or we may affirm, more generally, that
life often offers many highly absorbing and highly interesting
spectacles, but that life is not art, and therefore, that literature
which fails to rise above the level of life, or rather, to penetrate
beneath the surface of life, is not fine literature in our sense of that
term. A gold nugget may be as pure and fine as you like, but it is not a
sovereign; it lacks the stamp; and it is the business of art to give its
stamp and imprint to the matter of life.

I really think then that we have disposed of perhaps the most generally
received of artistic fallacies--that books are to be judged by their
power of reproducing in the reader those feelings of grief, interest,
curiosity, and so forth which he experiences or may experience in his
everyday life, which he really does experience in greater or less degree
every time he talks to a friend, takes up a newspaper, or receives a
telegram. It comes to this again and again, doesn't it, that Art and
Life are two different spheres, and that the Artist with a capital A is
not a clever photographer who understands selection in a greater or less

But before we go on with our work and see what can be done with other
literary "solvents" I want to make a digression. I should have made it
before, if you had pulled me up at the proper cue, and that was when I
spoke of "interest" as a highly ambiguous term, the fruitful parent of
"undistributed middles." You see how the unscrupulous sophist would bend
this word to his dark work, don't you? It would be, I suppose, something
like this:

     A very high degree of interest [of the artistic kind] is the mark
     of fine literature.

     But, the "Moonstone" excites a very high degree of interest [of the
     sensational kind].

     _Therefore_, the "Moonstone" has the mark of fine literature.

You note the "paltering" with the word, its use now in one sense, and
now in another; and if that sort of thing were allowed we should have
Wilkie Collins placed among the Immortals before we knew where we were.
But hasn't it occurred to you that nearly all the terms we are using are
patient of the same vile uses? You remember that we began with
"literature" itself, as a monstrous example of ambiguity, sheltering as
it did both the publications of the Anti-Everything Society and the Song
of Ulysses' Wandering; even now we are trying to track the monster to
his den in spite of his manifold turnings and disguises. In the
meanwhile, for the sake of clearness, we agreed to prefix the epithet
"fine" to the word when we meant the "Odyssey" class, though if we say
"fine" so often I am afraid we run the risk of being thought superfine.
However one must run all risks in the cause of making oneself
understood; and so I say you ought to have pulled me up when I talked
about "art" and "books that appealed to the emotions." My "art" may not
be the same as your "art," and "emotions" are still more dangerous in
the same way.

I think I made some attempt to deal with "art" as I was talking. I
contrasted it with "artifice," and my phrase "Artist with a big A" was
another hint to you that the word must be handled cautiously. You know
that in ordinary conversation we say that bees have "the art" or "an
art" of making hexagonal cells of wax, that wasps have an art of making
a sort of paper for their nests, that there is an art of logic, an art
of cookery, an art in making a gravel path. Now in each of these
instances the word really speaks of the adaptation of means to ends. In
the case of the bees and wasps there is a slightly different _nuance_ of
meaning, because they make their cells and their paper just as a bird
builds its nest, through the influence of forces which to us are occult,
which we conveniently sum up under the word instinct. In the arts of
cookery and pathmaking there is a conscious employment of certain means
towards the securing of certain ends; and it is at least possible that
the swallow, gathering its materials and shaping them, has at the moment
nothing but a blind impulse, similar to that of hunger--we all know when
we are hungry and we all know what to do in such a case, but we do not
all know the physiology of the stomach and the gastric juices, and
perhaps not one of us knows the whole secret of inanition and
nutrition. We simply eat because we want to eat, not because we wish to
supply ourselves with a certain quantity of peptones; and so perhaps the
swallow gathers her nest and shapes it, without the consciousness of the
eggs and the little birds that are to follow. But I need not remind you
that there are plenty of well authenticated instances of animals who
have consciously used means to secure ends, and thus "art" in its common
significance is not even an exclusively human faculty. When, for
example, the bees find themselves in danger of being left queenless,
they administer what has been called "royal food" to a common grub, and
that which would have been a worker becomes a queen; and in this case
the bees are as much "artists" as the cook who puts a particular
ingredient into a dish with the view of obtaining a particular flavour.

Now, then, let us apply all this to our matter. I daresay you have often
heard a book praised for its "great art," and if you have read it you
will have discovered that its "art" is simply contrivance, the very
adaptation of means to ends that we have been discussing. "The art with
which the mystery is carefully kept in the background," "the art by
which the two characters are contrasted throughout the volume," "the
highly artistic manner in which Fernando and the heroine are brought
together on the last page"--these, you see clearly, are contrivances,
artifices, in no way differing in degree from the contrivances of the
man who makes the garden path, of the cook who "dusts in" just a
suspicion of lemon-rind, of the bee who administers the "royal food."
This "art" then is a totally different thing from our Art with the
capital letter, with the epithet "fine," or "high" before it; and in
future when I mean "adaptation of means to ends," I shall always say
"artifice"; while "art" will be retained and set apart for higher uses.

And now as to "emotion." Here, I think, you ought to have been down on
me. You might have said: "You declare that the appeal to the emotions is
not a test of fine literature. But to what then does Homer appeal? What
is the "Œdipus" but an appeal to the emotions? What is all exquisite
lyric poetry but the cry of the emotions, set to music?" I suppose that,
as a matter of fact, you understood my real meaning by the instance I
gave; the anguish of a wife at the loss of a husband; you saw that what
I wanted to say was this: that fine literature does not content itself
with repeating, or mimicking, the emotions of private, personal,
everyday life. Still, I should have gone into the matter more fully
then, and as I did not do so, we had better see what can be done now.
And do you know that I believe that the best approach we can make to a
rather subtle question will be a somewhat indirect one? Just now I was
talking about Poe's Dupin stories, and I tried, rather vaguely, to
justify my tentative inclusion of them in the higher class of letters,
by pointing out that Poe seemed to hint at the "other-consciousness" of
man, and to suggest, at least, the presence of that shadowy, unknown, or
half-known companion who walks beside each one of us all our days. I
tried to realise the image of a man, followed or rather attended, by a
spiritual fellow, treading a path parallel with but different from his
own; and now I want you to carry out this image into the sphere of
words. Already you must have a hint of it. One might draw a figure;
something like this:

               |                    |                 |
               | Fine Literature.   |   "Literature." |
               | Art.               |   Artifice.     |
               | Emotion.           |   Feelings.     |
               |                    |                 |

And before I go into the special question, let me extend the list; it
will explain itself.

    |                        |                                         |
    | Romance, romantic.     |  A "Romantic" Affair in the West End.   |
    | Tragedy, tragic.       |  "Tragedy" in Soho.                     |
    | Drama, dramatic.       |  Le "drame" de la Rue Cochon:           |
    |                        |       "Dramatic" Elopement in Peckham.  |
    | Interest, interesting  |  An "interesting" number of "Snippets." |
    |      [of "Hamlet"].    |                                         |
    | Lyric.                 |  The "Lyric" Theatre.                   |
    | Inebriated.            |  In an "inebriated" condition.          |
    |                        |                                         |

That almost gives my secret away, doesn't it? Of course you see the
place that the words in the right-hand column take in the scheme. The
"Romantic" Affair in the West End really concerned the life of a
draper's assistant, who robbed his master's till, in order that he might
make presents to Miss Claire Tilbury, one of the "Sisters Tilbury" now
performing at the "Lucifer." An unmentionable person cut his throat in
some alley off Greek Street; hence the "Tragedy" in Soho. Two
peculiarly squalid servants, who beat out their master's brains, under
singularly uninteresting circumstances, acted the "Drama" of the Rue
Cochon, and it was a dissolute barmaid who eloped "dramatically" from
Peckham in the dog-cart of her employer. The two varying uses of the
word "lyric" need not be underlined for you, who know the Elizabethans
and the Cavaliers; but perhaps I may say that he who tastes _calix meus
inebrians_ will not be in an "inebriated" condition. It would be
possible to extend these parallel columns almost to infinity; but I
think the list is long enough for our purpose, and "Trench on Words" is
a well-known handbook. But you see my right-hand column word, parallel
with "Emotion"? You see I have written "Feelings," and I suggest that it
will be convenient to speak of feelings when we mean the things of life,
of society, of personal and private relationship, while we may reserve
emotion for the influence produced in man by fine art. Thus it will be
with emotion that we witness the fall of Œdipus, the madness of Lear,
while we feel for our friends and ourselves in misfortune. That seems to
make it plain enough, doesn't it; you see now, clearly, what I mean by
saying that the power of producing an emotional shock cannot be a test
of fine literature. Art must appeal to emotion, and sometimes, no doubt,
with a shock; but it must always be to the emotion of the left-hand
column, never to the "feelings" on the right hand. So you must never
tell me that a book is fine art because it made you, or somebody else,
cry; your tears are, emphatically, not evidence in the court of Fine

I daresay it may have struck you that the tests we have considered
hitherto have been, in the main, popular tests. No doubt many persons
calling themselves critics have praised the art of a book because it has
drawn tears from eyes, or because it has not suffered itself to be put
down, or because it contains easily recognisable portraits of well-known
people, but such critics are to be spelt with a very small initial
letter, and, as I said, I don't think we want to extend that list of
parallels. There is another test that I had forgotten: I suppose there
really are people who believe that a book is fine "because it will do
good," but I don't think we'll argue with them, though I once knew a
liberally-educated man who said a certain book was fine because it
tended "to raise one's opinion of the clergy." So we will reckon our
"popular" tests as done with, and proceed to the more technical solvents
that are proposed by professed men of letters.

Three of these more literary criteria occur to me at the moment, and I
believe we shall understand them and the position which they represent
better if we take them, at first, at all events, in a mass. I can
conceive, then, that many persons whose opinion one would respect would
state their position in literary criticism somewhat as follows:--"If a
book (they would say) shows keenness of observation, insight into
character, with fidelity to life as the result of these capacities; if
its art (we should say, artifice) in the design and 'laying out' of the
plot, in the contrivance of incident is confessedly admirable, and
finally if it is written in a good style: then you have fine literature.
Fine art, in short, is a clear mirror, and the artist's skill consists
in arranging and selecting such parts of life as he thinks best for his
purpose of reflection."

Well, now, as to the first point: fidelity to life, clearness of
reflection, the selection being taken for granted, as no one out of an
asylum would maintain that a book must mirror the whole of life, or even
the millionth part of one particular man's life. Come, let us apply the
test in question to one or two of the acknowledged excellencies--to the
"Odyssey" for instance, to the "Morte D'Arthur," to "Don Quixote." Is
the story of Ulysses, in any accepted sense of the phrase "faithful" to
life as we know it? Is it "faithful," that is to say, with the fidelity
of Jane Austen, of Thackeray, of George Eliot, of Fielding? Is there
anything in our experience answering to the episodes of the
Lotus-Eaters, Calypso's Isle, the Cyclops' Cavern, the descent of the
Goddess? Is the "reflection" even a reflection of Homer's own
experience? Had he escaped from the cave under the belly of a ram? Had
he been in the world of one-eyed giants? Were his friends in the habit
of talking in hexameter verse? We may go on, of course, but is it worth
while? It is surely hardly necessary to demonstrate the fact that the
author of the "Morte D'Arthur" had never seen the Graal, that such a
character as Don Quixote never existed in the natural order of things.
We might have gone more sharply to work with this "fidelity" test: we
might have said that poetry being, admittedly fine literature at its
finest, and (admittedly also) being unfaithful to life as we know it
both in matter and manner, that therefore the test breaks down at once.
If fine literature must be faithful to life, then "Kubla Khan" is not
fine literature; which, I think we may say, is highly absurd.

I daresay you think I have dealt rather crudely, in a somewhat
materialistic spirit, with this criterion of "fidelity to life." I admit
the charge, but you must remember that I am dealing with very bad
people, who understand nothing but materialism. And when these people
tell you in so many words that it is the author's business clearly and
intelligently to present the life--the common, social life around
him--then, believe me, the only thing to be done is to throw "Odyssey"
and "Œdipus," "Morte D'Arthur," "Kubla Khan" and "Don Quixote" straight
in their faces, and to demonstrate that these eternal books were not
constructed on the proposed receipt. Of course if I were treating with
the initiated, if I were commentating and not arguing, I should handle
the great masterpieces in a much more reverent manner. I mean that for
those who possess the secret it skills not to bring in the Cyclops (who
for us is not a giant but a symbol); we have only to bow down before the
great music of such a poem as the Odyssey, recognising that by the very
reason of its transcendent beauty, by the very fact that it trespasses
far beyond the world of our daily lives, beyond "selection" and
"reflection," it is also exalted above our understanding, that because
its beauty is supreme, that therefore its beauty is largely beyond
criticism. For ourselves we do not need to prove its transcendence of
life by this or that extraordinary incident; it is the whole spirit and
essence and sound and colour of the song that affect us; and we know
that the Odyssey surpassed the bounds of its own age and its own land
just as much as it surpasses those of our time and our country. You look
as if you thought I were fighting with the vanquished, but let me tell
you that great people have praised Homer because he depicted truthfully
the men and manners of his time.

But as I was saying, all this would be too subtle for the enemy, for the
people who maintain that fine literature is a faithful reflection of
life, and think that Jane Austen touched the point of literary
supremacy. With them, as I said, we must be rough; we must ask: Did
Sophocles describe the ordinary life of Athens in his day? No: very
well, then; since the works of Sophocles are fine literature, it follows
that some fine literature does not reflect ordinary life, and therefore
that fidelity to nature is not the differentia of the highest art.

I wonder whether I ought to caution you again against the ambiguity of
language? We are dealing easily enough with such words as "life" and
"nature," and from what you know of my system you may perhaps have seen
that I have been using these words as the people use them, as those use
them who would say that "Vanity Fair" is a faithful presentation of
life. I thought you would understand this, but I may just mention in
passing that words like "nature," "life" and "truth" or "fidelity" have
also their esoteric values, that (by way of example) the truth of the
scientist and the truth of the philosopher are two very different
things. So it may turn out by and bye that in the occult sense,
"fidelity to life" _is_ the differentia of fine literature; that the
aim of art is truth; that the artist continually mirrors nature in its
eternal, essential forms; but for the present moment, it is understood,
is it not, that these words have been used in their common, everyday
popular significance? The "Dunciad" is a study of man, and Wordsworth's
"Ode on Intimations of Immortality" is a study of man, and the literary
standpoint that we have been attacking is that of Pope and not that of

If I remember, the next test we have to analyse is that of artifice,
often and improperly called art. But I think we have already demolished
this criterion. In distinguishing between art and artifice I pointed out
that the latter merely signifies the adaptation of means to an end, and
has no relation whatever with art properly so-called; it is simply the
mental instrument with which man performs every task and every work of
his daily life; it consists in the rejection of that which is unfit for
the particular purpose in view, and in the acceptance and use of that
which is fit for the desired end and likely to bring it about. It
concerns not creation but execution, and it is I need hardly say as
indispensable to the author as are his pen and ink, and (I might almost
say) is as little concerned as these with the essence of his art. Of
course in works of the very highest genius we may declare that, in a
sense, art has become all in all, that the necessary artifice has been
interpenetrated with art, so that we can hardly distinguish in our minds
between the idea and the realisation of it. In such cases, artifice has
been lifted up and exalted into the heaven of art, and it remains
artifice no longer; but in the view that we are considering it is merely
the adaptation of means to an end, a clever choice of incident, the
knack of putting in and leaving out. The faculty may, as I said, be
glorified and transfigured by genius, but every newspaper reporter must
have more or less of it, and it is clear enough I think (perhaps I may
mention Wilkie Collins once more) that in itself it cannot establish the
claim of any book to be fine literature.

And lastly we have to deal with style; and here again I must have
recourse to my distinctions. What _is_ a good style? If you mean by a
"good" style, one that delivers the author's meaning in the clearest
possible manner, if its purpose and effect are obviously utilitarian, if
it be designed solely with the view of imparting knowledge--the
knowledge of what the author intends--then I must point out that "style"
in this sense is or should be amongst the accomplishments of every
commercial clerk--indeed, it will be merely a synonym for plain speaking
and plain writing--and in this sense it is evidently not one of the
marks of art, since the object of art is not information, but a peculiar
kind of æsthetic delight. But if on the other hand style is to mean such
a use and choice of words and phrases and cadences that the ear and the
soul through the ear receive an impression of subtle but most beautiful
music, if the sense and sound and colour of the words affect us with an
almost inexplicable delight, then I say that while Idea is the soul,
style is the glorified body of the very highest literary art. Style, in
short, is the last perfection of the very best in literature, it is the
outward sign of the burning grace within. But we must keep the
systematic consideration of style for some other night; it's not a
subject to be dealt with by the way, and I have only said so much
because it was necessary to draw the line between language as a means of
imparting facts (good style in the sense of our opponents) and language
as an æsthetic instrument, which is a good, or rather a beautiful style
in our sense. In the latter sense it is the form of fine literature, in
the former sense it is the medium of all else that is expressed in
words, from a bill of exchange upwards.

It seems to me, then, that we have considered one by one the alternative
tests of fine literature which have been or may be proposed, and we have
come to the conclusion that each and all are impossible. It is no longer
permissible, I imagine, for you or for me to say: "This book is fine
literature because it makes me cry, because it was so interesting that I
couldn't put it down, because it is so natural and faithful to life,
because it is so well (plainly and neatly) written." We have picked
these reasons to pieces one by one, and the result is that we are driven
back on my "word of the enigma"--Ecstasy; the infallible instrument, as
I think, by which fine literature may be discerned from reading-matter,
by which art may be known from artifice, and style from intelligent
expression. At any rate we have got our hypothesis, and you remember
what stress Coleridge laid on the necessity of forming some hypothesis
before entering on any investigation.

I believe we began to-night with the evening paper, and the strange
glimpse it gives us, through a pinky-green veil, through a cloud of
laborious nonsense about odds and winners and tips and all such foolery,
into that ancient eternal desire of man for the unknown. And that, you
remember, was one of the synonyms that I offered you for ecstasy; and so
in a sense I expect that we shall have the evening paper close beside us
all the way of our long voyage in quest of the lost Atlantis.


I think it is a horrible thing to have such a good memory as that. I
recollect, now that you remind me, that I did lay down "Pickwick" _v._
"Vanity Fair" as a sort of test case of my theory of literature; but you
surely do not expect me to work out the arguments in detail? Of course
if I were giving a series of lectures I should "set a paper" after each
one; but I expect you to content yourself with the suggestion, with the
skeleton map, as it were. Besides, if we take that special case of two
eminent Victorian novels as a concrete instance of the abstract
argument, don't you see that we are answering the particular question
all the while that we are investigating the general proposition? Surely
if you recollect all that we said about fine literature in general, you
won't have much difficulty in adjudicating on the claims of Thackeray.
Don't you see that he never withdraws himself from the common life and
the common consciousness, that he is all the while nothing but a
photographer; a showman with a set of pictures. A consummately clever
photographer, certainly, a showman with a gift of amusing, interesting
"patter" that is quite extraordinary, an artificer of very high merit.
But where will you find Ecstasy in Thackeray? Where is his adoration?
You may search, I think, from one end of his books to the other, without
finding any evidence that he realised the mystery of things; he was
never for a moment aware of that shadowy double, that strange companion
of man, who walks, as I said, foot to foot with each one of us, and yet
his paces are in an unknown world. And (unless you have got any fresh
arguments) I think we decided last week that the book which lacks the
sense of all this is not fine literature.

I hope you don't think I am abusing Thackeray. I am always reading him,
and I chose his "Vanity Fair" because it strikes me as such a supremely
clever example of its class. I suppose there is nothing more amusing
than the society of a brilliant, observant man of the world. Well,
Thackeray was brilliant and observant _in excelsis_, and besides that,
he understood the artifice of story-telling, and he could write a terse,
clean-cut English which was always sufficient for his purpose. He
contrives the corporal overthrow of the Marquis of Steyne, he shows you
that bald old nobleman sprawling on the floor, and the words that he
uses are his brisk, willing, and capable servants. He has observation,
and artifice, and "style" in that secondary sense which we distinguished
from the real style; from those "melodies unheard" which I called (I
think rather picturesquely) the glorified body of the highest literary
art. But these qualities, we found out, are not, separately or
conjointly, the differentia of fine literature as we understand the
term; and consequently, with all our admiration and all our interest we
are compelled to place Thackeray in the lower form, simply because he is
clearly and decisively lacking in that one essential quality of ecstasy,
because he never leaves the street and the highroad to wander on the
eternal hills, because he does not seem to be aware that such hills

Of course I have only taken Thackeray as the representative of his
class, and I chose him, as I remarked, because, for me, he is the most
favourable representative of it. I am thinking, really, of the "plain
man" whom we have engaged in so many forms, and of his "plain" argument
which comes to this--"for me a great book is a book that amuses me
greatly and that I enjoy reading." And I say that Thackeray amuses me
greatly and that I enjoy reading his books immensely, but that, with due
respect to "common sense," such an argument fails to prove that "Vanity
Fair" is fine literature. Other people would, no doubt, have chosen
other books; many would have selected Miss Austen, and I daresay they
would have a good deal to say for their choice. Undoubtedly there is a
severity, a self-restraint, a fineness of observation, a delicacy of
irony in "Pride and Prejudice" which are unmatched of their kind (the
Thackeray of the caricatures, of those queer woodblocks, comes out now
and then in the books, and digression occasionally goes beyond due
bounds); but I named "Vanity Fair" because, personally, I find it more
amusing than "Pride and Prejudice." In neither of these books is there
art in our high sense of the word, and in preferring the one over the
other I am simply saying that I prefer the company of a brilliant and
witty cosmopolitan to that of a very keen and delicate, but very limited
maiden lady, who lives in a remote country town and understands
thoroughly the reason why the vicar bowed so low when a certain
carriage rolled up the high street, and why that pretty, prim girl
crossed over the way when the handsome gentleman from the Hall came out
of the chymist's. Yes, the cosmopolitan at the club window certainly
fails a little in his manners now and then, and the country
gentlewoman's breeding is perfect of its kind, but the circles in which
Pendennis moved are (to me) so infinitely the more entertaining of the

You see, I think that the question of liking a book or not liking it has
nothing whatever to do with the consideration of fine art. Art is
_there_, if I may say so, just as the Tenth Commandment is there; and if
we don't like them, so much the worse for us. I may find Homer very dull
reading, I may covet your ox and your ass and everything that is yours,
but my limited and somewhat commonplace brains, and my envy of your
prosperity won't alter the fact that the "Odyssey" is fine literature
and that covetousness is wicked. But when we once leave the utterances
of the eternal, universal human ecstasy, which we have agreed to call
art, and descend to these lower levels that we are talking of now, it
seems to me that the question of liking or not liking counts for a good
deal. Not for everything, of course. We must still distinguish: between
plots stupid or ingenious, between observation that is close and keen
and observation that is vague and inaccurate, between artifice and the
want of it, between sentences that are neatly constructed and mere
slipshod. All these things naturally reckon in the account, but when
they have been estimated and allowed their value, you will usually find
that you are influenced still more by your mere liking or disliking of
the subject-matter, and it seems to me quite legitimately. For, if you
look closely into the whole question, you will find that you are judging
these secondary books as you judge of life, as you choose the scene of
your holiday, as you read the newspaper. One man may say that he prefers
to talk to artists, another, quite legitimately, may love the society of
brewers; you may think Norway perfection, I am going to Constantinople;
A. turns at once to the quotation for Turpentine at Savannah, B. folds
down the sheet at the Police News. It is not a question of art, but of
taste, that is of individual humour and constitution; you frequent the
company that suits you, you go to the place you like, you read the news
that happens to be most interesting from your special standpoint. And in
the same way, if I find the conversation of Miss Becky Sharpe, as
reported by Mr W. M. Thackeray, more amusing than the conversation of
Miss Elizabeth Bennett as reported by Miss Jane Austen; it seems to me
that there is no more to be said. Elizabeth's remarks are more skilfully
reported? Very likely, but, granting that, I had rather listen to the
record, imperfect, if you please, of the other lady's conversation. Here
is a speech on Bimetallism, given at great length, and (let us presume)
with great accuracy; here is a short summary of Professor L.'s "Lecture
on the Eleusinian Mysteries," very badly "sub-edited." But, you see, I
happen not to care twopence about Bimetallism, so I turn away from the
careful report, growling; while I cut out that wretched summary of the
Lecture with the purpose of pasting it in my scrap-book, since every
word about the Eleusinian Mysteries has a vivid interest for me.

It often amuses me to hear people quarrelling about the rival "artistic
merit" of books which have, in most cases, no artistic merits at all. A.
writes a book about greengrocers, and you, who find something
singularly piquant and entertaining in the manners, speech, and habits
of the class in question, pronounce A. to be a "great artist" who has
written a masterpiece. I love dukes, and B's. novel of the peerage
strikes me as a marvel of artistic accomplishment, while I pronounce the
work that has charmed you to be as stupid and tiresome as the class it
represents. Each of us is talking nonsense; there is no art in the
question, which is purely a matter of individual taste. The Stock
Exchange column interests one man, while the latest football news
absorbs the other. That is all.

Of course, as I said, artifice counts for something: there is a pleasure
in seeing the thing neatly done, and I suppose it is this pleasure that
has secured Miss Austen her fervent admirers. It is a little difficult
to treat this form of pleasure quite fairly; a musician perhaps would
find it difficult to answer the question whether he would rather hear
Palestrina badly rendered or Zingarelli executed to perfection. In the
latter case there would certainly be the charm of exquisite voices in
perfect order and accord, though the music were nothing or worse than
nothing; still, our musician might say, on the other hand, that
Palestrina martyred was better than Zingarelli triumphant. I am afraid
I can imagine myself saying: "Limited country-people, as seen by Jane
Austen, are so 'slow' that they rather bore me, though the author has
portrayed them with wonderful skill," but I can hardly fancy myself
affirming that Becky Sharpe is such an interesting personage that she
would still delight me, even if the author of "Ten Thousand a Year" had
written her history. On the other hand I believe that the plot of
"Jekyll and Hyde" would still have had some fascination, though it had
been treated by the veriest dolt in letters. But that is not a good
example, since "Jekyll and Hyde" is certainly in its conception, though
not in its execution, a work of fine art. Let us take the "Moonstone"
again as an example; I believe then, that if the events related in it
had caught our eyes in a brief newspaper paragraph they would still have

It seems to me that, after all, this question of artifice, of "how the
thing is done," comes under the same category as liking and disliking. I
mean it is largely a matter of the personal equation, about which no
very strict laws can be laid down. You might say, for example, that
Becky would entertain you in any hands, however indifferent, provided
that her "facts" were preserved, and I don't see that I could argue the
point with you. It reminds me again of the way in which men choose their
friends; one lays stress on pleasant manners, another on sterling
goodness of character, a third on wit, a fourth on distinction of some
kind; and argument is really voiceless. "Here is a book-case," you may
say, "look how exquisitely it is made." Yes, but I don't want a
book-case; whereas that table, ricketty as it is, will be really useful.
But if you were to say: "Look at Westminster Abbey," you can hardly
imagine my answering: "Bother Westminster Abbey; I want a pig-sty." You
see how, here again, we come to the generic difference between fine
literature and interesting reading matter. We read the "Odyssey" because
we are supernatural, because we hear in it the echoes of the eternal
song, because it symbolises for us certain amazing and beautiful things,
because it is music; we read Miss Austen and Thackeray because we like
to recognise the faces of our friends aptly reproduced, to see the
external face of humanity so deftly mimicked, because we are natural.
The question of our preference for one over the other, is, making due
allowance for analogy, the question of our preference for a table over a
bookcase or _vice versâ_, and the workmanship in each case is largely a
matter of detail. And the great poem may be equated with the great
church: each is made for beauty, the one is ecstasy in words, the other
ecstasy in stone. But the church and the pig-sty, on the other hand, are
not to be compared together: incidentally, no doubt, the former is
rainproof or in ill repair, has good or bad acoustic properties, while
the latter may be either an æsthetic pest in the back-yard, or an
agreeable looking little shed enough. Still, the essence of the church
is beauty, ecstasy; of the sty utility, the safe keeping of pigs. It
would be absurd, you see, to say: "I prefer an abbey to a pig-sty," and
it would be equally absurd to say: "I prefer the 'Œdipus' to 'Pride and
Prejudice'" or "I prefer the Venus of the Louvre to the wax-figures in
the exhibition." Of course these are only analogies, and you mustn't
press them, but they may help to make my meaning clearer, to enforce the
vast distinction between art and artifice. Please don't think that I
wish to establish a proportion: as a pig-sty is to an abbey, so is Jane
Austen to Sophocles. In her case you would have to substitute a neat
Georgian house for "pig-sty" and then I think you would have a very fair
proportion. But all that I wanted to do was to draw the line between
things made for use, to occupy some definite place in relation to our
common daily life; and things made by ecstasy and for ecstasy, things
that are symbols, proclaiming the presence of the unknown world.

And I chose "Pickwick" as the antithesis to "Vanity Fair" deliberately.
Thackeray (in my private judgment) is the chief of those who have
provided interesting reading-matter; Dickens is by no means in the first
rank of literary artists. I think he is golden, but he is very largely
alloyed with baser stuff, with indifferent metal, which was the product
of his age, of his circumstances in life, of his own uncertain taste.
Just contrast the atmosphere which surrounded the young Sophocles, with
that in which the young Dickens flourished. Both were men of genius, but
one grew up in the City of the Violet Crown, the other in Camden Town
and worse places, one was accustomed to breathe that "most pellucid
air," the other inhaled the "London particular." The wonder is, not
that there are faults in Dickens, but that there is genius of any kind.
I am not going to analyze "Pickwick" any more than I analyzed "Vanity
Fair," but of course you see that, in its conception, it is essentially
one with the "Odyssey." It is a book of wandering; you start from your
own doorstep and you stray into the unknown; every turn of the road
fills you with surmise, every little village is a discovery, a something
new, a creation. You know not what may happen next; you are journeying
through another world. I need not remind you how glorious all this is in
the Odyssey, which of course is so much more beautiful than "Pickwick,"
as that glowing Mediterranean Sea, whose bounds on every side were
mystery, is more beautiful than the muddy, foggy Thames, as those
rolling hexameters are more beautiful than Dickens's prose; and yet in
each case the symbol is, in reality, the same; both the heroic song of
the old Ionian world and the comic cockney romance of 1837 communicate
that enthralling impression of the unknown, which is, at once, a whole
philosophy of life, and the most exquisite of emotions. In varying
degrees of intensity you will trace it all through fine literature in
every age and in every nation; you will find it in Celtic voyages, in
the Eastern Tale, where a door in a dull street suddenly opens into
dreamland, in the mediæval stories of the wandering knights, in "Don
Quixote," and at last in our "Pickwick" where Ulysses has become a
retired city man, whimsically journeying up and down the England of
sixty years ago. You talk of the "grotesquerie" of "Pickwick," but don't
you see that this element is present in all the masterpieces of the
kind? Remember the Cyclops, remember the grotesque shapes that decorate
the "Arabian Nights," remember the bizarre element, the almost wanton
grotesquerie of many of the "Arthur" romances. In all these cases as in
"Pickwick" the same result is obtained; an overpowering impression of
"strangeness," of remoteness, of withdrawal from the common ways of
life. "Pickwick," is, in no sense, or in no valuable sense, a portrayal,
a copy, an imitation of life in the ordinary sense of "imitation," and
"life"; Pickwick, and Sam, and Jingle, and the rest of them are not
clever reproductions of actual people, (is there any more foolish
pursuit than that of disputing about the "original" of Mr Pickwick?);
the book is rather the suggestion of another life, beneath our own or
beside our own, and the characters, those queer grotesque people, are
queer for the same reason that the Cyclops is queer and the dwarfs and
dragons of mediæval romance are queer. We are withdrawn from the common
ways of life; and in that withdrawal is the beginning of ecstasy. There
are sentences in "Pickwick" that give me an almost extravagant delight.
You remember the lines about the Lotus-Eaters.

    τῶν δ' ὅστις λωτοῖο φάγοι μελιηδέα καρπὸν,
    οὐκέτ' ἀπαγγεῖλαι πάλιν ἤθελεν οὐδὲ νέεσθαι
    ἀλλ' αὐτοῦ βούλοντο μετ' ἀνδράσι Λωτοφάγοισιν
    λωτὸν ἐρεπτόμενοι μενέμεν νόστου τε λαθέσθαι.

Well, do you know there is a brief dialogue in "Pickwick" that seems
almost as enchanted, to me. The scene is the manor-farm kitchen, on
Christmas eve.

"'How it snows,' said one of the men, in a low voice.

"'Snows, does it?' said Wardle.

"'Rough, cold night, sir,' replied the man, 'and there's a wind got up
that drifts it across the fields, in a thick white cloud.'

"'What does Jem say?' inquired the old lady. 'There ain't anything the
matter, is there?'

"'No, no, mother,' replied Wardle; 'he says there's a snow-drift, and a
wind that's piercing cold.'"

You know this is the introduction to the Tale of Gabriel Grub, an
admirable legend which Dickens "farsed" with an obtrusive moral. But I
confess that the atmosphere (which to me seems all the wild weather and
the wild legend of the north) suggested by those phrases "a thick white
cloud," and "a wind that's piercing cold" is in my judgment wholly
marvellous. But Dickens, of course, is full of impressions which never
become expressions. You remember that chapter about the lawyer's clerks
in the "Magpie and Stump"? It is always quite pathetic to me to note how
Dickens _felt_ the strangeness, the mystery, the haunting that are like
a mist about the old Inns of Court, and how utterly unable he was to
express his emotion--to find a fit symbol for his meaning. He takes
refuge, as it were, behind Jack Bamber, who tells two very insignificant
legends as to the mystery of the Inns. Dickens feels that these legends
are insignificant, and throws in one that is pure burlesque, and then
changes the subject in despair; the vague impression has refused to be
put into words; probably, indeed, it had stopped short of becoming
thought. But I am afraid that if I once begin to talk about the defects
and faults of Dickens I shall run on for ever, and I think you will be
able to find out his laches quite well for yourself. What I want to
insist on is his sense of mystery, his withdrawal from common life, and,
finally, his ecstasy. I have not proved my case up to the hilt by a
thorough-going analysis of "Pickwick," but I think I have suggested the
"heads" of such an analysis. There is ecstasy in the main idea, in the
thought of the man who wanders away from his familiar streets into
unknown tracks and lanes and villages, there is ecstasy in the
conception of all those queer, grotesque characters, reminders each one
of the strangeness of life, there is ecstasy in the thought of the wild
Christmas Eve, of the fields and woods scourged by "a wind that's
piercing cold," hidden by the thick cloud of snow, there is ecstasy in
that vague impression of the old, dark, Inns, of the "rotten" chambers
that had been shut up for years and years. In a word: "Pickwick" is fine

Well, you've got what you wanted; some sort of analysis of my case:
"'Pickwick' _v._ 'Vanity Fair'"; but it must be clearly understood that
I'm not going to "work out" every example. However, I am not sorry that
I have been led to go into this particular case rather fully, because it
is a typical one, and we shall not be obliged to go over the same ground
again. I mean, that having witnessed the dissection of Thackeray, you
will have no need to come to me for my judgment of George Eliot, or of
Anthony Trollope, or--to make a very long list a very short one--of
about ninety-nine per cent of our modern novels. Yes, you have mentioned
a great name, and I, like you, take off my cap to the man who has gone
on his way, without caring for the "public," or the "reviewers," or
anything else, except his own judgment of what is right. But, frankly,
if you pass from the man and come to his work, my plain opinion is this:
that he has written about ordinary life, regarded from an ordinary
standpoint, in a style which is extraordinary certainly, but very far
from beautiful. It is not a beautiful style, since a fine style, though
it may carry suggestion beyond the bourne of thought, though it may be
the veil and visible body of concealed mysteries, is always plain on the
surface. It may be like an ingeniously devised cryptogram, which may
have an occult sense conveyed to initiated eyes in every dot and line
and flourish, but is outwardly as simple and straightforward as a
business letter. But in the works of the writer whom we are discussing
obscurities, dubieties of all kinds are far from uncommon; and in many
of his books there are passages which hardly seem to be English at all.
The words are familiar--most of them--the grammatical construction often
offers no very considerable difficulties--it is rarely, I mean, that one
has to search very long for the nominative of the sentence--but when one
has read the words and parsed them, one feels inclined to think that
after all the passage is not in English but in some other language with
a superficial resemblance to English. Style is not everything? Certainly
not; a book may fail in style, and yet be fine, though not the finest
literature. You have only to open Sir Walter Scott to have highly
conclusive evidence on that point. But the writer we are considering not
only fails in the body of art but even more conspicuously in the soul of
it. Just think for a moment of his story of the very earnest Jew who
fell in love with the baroness who was not very earnest. There was a
false female friend, you remember, and social complications perturbed
the hearts of the curiously assorted lovers, and finally the Jew was
shot in a duel by another, less "detrimental," courtier. Can you
conceive anything more trivial than this? Don't you see that from such a
book as that the _idea_, the soul of fine literature, is completely
lacking? Great books may always be summed up in a phrase, often in a
single word, and that phrase or that word will always signify some
primary and palmary idea. To me the only "idea" suggested by the plot I
have outlined is unimportance; and, as in the case of Thackeray, ecstasy
is entirely absent both from this and from all other of the author's
books. You say that, after all, the plot in question is a plot of the
love of a man for a woman, and that _that_ is an idea in the highest
sense of the word, and an idea which is the most of all fit for the
purpose and the making of the finest literature. I agree with you in the
latter clause of your sentence, but I must point out that the book is
_not_ the story of the love of a man for a woman, it is the story of the
flirtation of a baroness with a German Jew Socialist--a very different
matter. In a word, it is a tale of the accidental, of the particular,
of the inessential; it is completely the play of Hamlet with the part of
Hamlet omitted, and the greatest stress laid on the minor characters.

It is quite true that when an author writes a romance containing a hero
and a heroine he must tell you who they are, he must give, briefly and
succinctly, the necessary details--names, ages, conditions and so
forth--but if he is a great author he will do this incidentally and make
us feel that such details are incidental. In short, he must poise his
feet on earth, but his way is to the stars. Think of the "Scarlet
Letter," open it again and see how admirably Hawthorne has omitted a
world of unessential details that a lesser man would have put in. He has
left out a whole encyclopædia of useless and tedious information; there
is the dim, necessary background of time and place, but in reality the
scene is Eternity, and the drama is the Mystery of Love and Vengeance
and Hell-fire. Of course fine literature must have its gross and carnal
body, we must know "who's who," for I don't think an old-fashioned
receipt that I remember was ever very successful. Oh, you must have read
some of the tales I mean; they used to flourish in the old "Keepsakes,"
and the hero was boldly labelled "Fernando" for all distinction and
description. One might surmise that Fernando was domiciled on the
continent of Europe, but that was all. It was not successful, this
well-meaning school of fiction, and I repeat that the finest literature
must have its accidents--it cannot exist as shining substance alone. It
is just the same with the art of sculpture, with the art of painting.
You cannot look at a Greek Apollo without looking at that part of the
body which conceals the bowels, but I imagine you don't want to treasure
this thought or to insist on it? And I suppose a geologist, looking at a
picture, could tell you whether those wild and terrible rocks were
volcanic or carboniferous; but really one doesn't want to know. Bowels,
geological formation, in sculpture and painting, the social position of
the characters and all other such details in fine literature are
inessential; and the great artist will, as I said, make us feel that
they are inessential. If you want an instance of what I mean read a book
which is very comparable with the German-Jew-Baroness tale that we were
talking about. I mean "Two on a Tower" by Mr Hardy. In that you have
the contrast of social ranks: the "two" are the Lady of the Manor and an
educated peasant, but how utterly all thought of "society" (in any sense
of the word) disappears from those wonderful pages, as you advance and
find that the theme is really Love. Why even the accidents are glorified
and are made of the essence of the book. The old tower standing in the
midst of lonely, red ploughlands far from the highway, is at first only
the convenient place where the young peasant studies astronomy; but as
you read you feel the change coming, the tower is transmuted, glorified;
every stone of it is aglow with mystic light; it is made the abode of
the Lover and the Beloved, it is seen to be a symbol of Love, of an
ecstasy, remote, and passionate, and eternal, dwelling far from the ways
of men. Compare these two books, I say again, and you will know the
chief distinction between fine literature and reading matter. To me, I
confess, the "Jew-book" has not even interest of the lower sort, not by
any means the interest of Thackeray, or Jane Austen or even of poor,
dreary, draggle-tailed George Eliot; but if you are amused by it, I have
no objection to make. You may be amused by the plates of the "Spring
and Summer Novelties" in the lady's paper, if you please; but for
heaven's sake don't come here and tell me that on the whole you prefer
Botticelli's Primavera! Nay, but the fashion-plates are sometimes very
nicely done, and they put in backgrounds, and they are trying to give
the faces some character. Do get it into your head--firmly and
fixedly--that the camera and the soul of man are two entirely different

You think the "photographic" comparison unfair, in this and other
instances, because of the mechanical element in photography, because of
that camera I have just mentioned? Well, I suppose that it _is_ a little
misleading. The sun and the camera between them certainly do your
picture for you, and as you urge, there is more of artifice in the
merest Sunday-school tale than in the best of photographs. Still, you
must remember that photography too has its artifice, its choice of the
right and the wrong way, and its exercise of judgment; there is a great
deal in it that is not mechanical; and in its essence it is of the same
class as the books I have been alluding to. The means employed are
different, and a higher and finer artifice is required for making books
than for taking photographs, but the end of each is the same, and that
end is to portray the surface of life, to make a picture of the outside
of things. It is on this ground that I defend my use of the analogy, and
you must understand me to speak only of the object which is common to
each, when I compare the secondary writer to a photographer. The
writers, to be sure, have invention in a greater or less degree, but you
will remark that the artists in literature have the power of creation, a
totally different process. Invention is the finding of a thing in its
more or less obscure hiding-place; creation is the making of a new
thing, the invocation of Something from Nothingness. Don Quixote is a
creation; the clergyman in "Pride and Prejudice" is an invention,
Colonel Newcome is, in all probability, a composite portrait, while the
Jew-Socialist who fell in love with the Baroness is simply a portrait of
Ferdinand Lassalle.

You must remember that while the two classes--fine literature and
reading matter--differ the one from the other generically, the
individuals of each class differ from each other only specifically. Thus
the difference in merit between the "Odyssey" and "Pickwick" is
enormous, but it is a specific difference. In the same way it is hard to
measure with the imagination the difference between "Madame Bovary" and
that famous Sunday-school story "Jackie's Holiday": the former is
immensely clever, the latter is immensely silly; but the two are,
emphatically, of the same genus. In each case the effort of the author
is to "describe life," the aim of Flaubert is absolutely identical with
the aim of Miss Flopkins, and their results differ only as the Frenchman
differs from the Englishwoman, the one being a serious and patient
artificer while the other is a bungling idiot, who obtrudes her very
empty personality and her very trashy ethics instead of studiously
concealing them. Still: a photograph taken in the most famous studio in
London is still a photograph equally with the spotted and misty effort
of the amateur, and no amount of "touching-up" or "finishing," however
patient it may be, will turn a photograph into a work of art. And, in
like manner, no labour, no care, no polishing of the phrase, no patience
in investigation, no artifice in plot or in construction will ever make
"reading-matter" into fine literature.


I see that I shall be obliged to keep on reiterating the difference
between fine literature and "literature," or in other words between art
and observation expressed with artifice. I am afraid, that in your heart
of hearts, you still believe that the "Odyssey" is fine literature, and
that "Pride and Prejudice" is fine literature, though the "Odyssey" is
"better" than "Pride and Prejudice." It is that "better" that I want to
get out of your head, that monstrous fallacy of comparing Westminster
Abbey with the charming old houses in Queen Square. You would see the
absurdity of imagining that there can be any degree of comparison
between two things entirely different, if I substituted for "Pride and
Prejudice" some ordinary circulating-library novel of our own times. At
least I hope you would see, though, as I told you a few weeks ago, I
doubt very much whether many people realise the distinction between the
"Odyssey" and a political pamphlet. The general opinion, I expect, is
that both belong to the same class, though the Greek poem is much more
"important" than the pamphlet. I think we succeeded in demonstrating the
falsity of this idea, in showing clearly and decisively that fine
literature means the expression of the eternal human ecstasy in the
medium of words, and that it means nothing else whatsoever. Words, it is
true, are used for other ends than this: they are used in sending
telegrams to stockbrokers, for example, but why should this double
office create any confusion? A tub and a tabernacle may each be made of
wood, but you don't mix the two things up on that account? The other day
you gave me a most amusing account of your landlady's quarrels with her
servant girls. I remember that I laughed consumedly, and at the moment,
that solemn preconisation of the servant Mabel to the effect that her
mistress, Mrs Stickings, was not a "lydy," was more to my taste than the
recitation of the "Ode on a Grecian Urn." But you surely didn't think
that you were making literature all the while? Or that the history of
Mrs Stickings and Mabel would have mysteriously become literature if you
had written it down and got somebody to print it? Or that it would have
been literature if some of the details had been a little exaggerated (I
thought you had embroidered here and there); or if you had made the
whole story up out of your own head? Exactly, you were, as you say,
amusing me by the relation of facts a little altered, compressed, and
embellished, and I am glad that you see that no process of writing or
printing, no variation in the proportion of truth and invention, even to
the total lack of all truth, could have changed an amusing presentation
of the Stickings _ménage_ into fine literature. But, surely, it is so
very obvious. Did any cook ever think that he could change a turkey into
a bird of paradise by careful attention to the _farse_ and the sauce?
The farmer might as well expect to breed early phœnixes for Leadenhall
Market by the simple process of lighting a bonfire in the farmyard. The
young ducks would jump into the blaze, and the transformation would be
the work of a second! There is no more madness in _that_ notion than in
the other one--that one has only to print an amusing, interesting,
life-like, or pathetic tale to make it into fine literature.

Yes; but what I am afraid is still lurking somewhere in your skull is
this: that if only the stuffing is extremely well made, if only the
sauce is an exquisite concoction, the turkey _is_, somehow or other,
changed into a bird of paradise. That is, to translate the analogy, if
only the plot is very ingenious, if only the construction is well
carried out, if the characters are extremely life-like, if the English
is admirably neat and sufficient, then reading-matter becomes fine
literature. Make the bonfire high enough and your young ducks will be
burned into phœnixes fast enough; let the artifice be sufficiently
artificial and it will be art. Indeed you might as well maintain that a
wooden statue, if it be really well carved, is thereby made into a gold

Well, I remember saying one night that you were here that ecstasy is at
once the most exquisite of emotions and a whole philosophy of life. And
it is to the philosophy of life that we are brought, in the last resort.
You know that there are, speaking very generally, two solutions of
existence; one is the materialistic or rationalistic, the other, the
spiritual or mystic. If the former were true, then Keats would be a
queer kind of madman, and the "Morte d'Arthur" would be an elaborate
symptom of insanity; if the latter is true, then "Pride and Prejudice"
is not fine literature, and the works of George Eliot are the works of
a superior insect--and nothing more. You must make your choice: is the
story of the Graal lunacy, or not? You think it is not: then do not talk
any more of turning glass into diamonds by careful polishing and
cutting. Do not say: Mr A. spends five years over a book, and therefore
what he writes is fine literature; Miss B. polishes off five novels in a
year, and therefore she does not write fine literature. Do not say, Mr
Shorthouse has got the name of a man who kept a private school in the
time of Charles I. quite right; therefore "John Inglesant" is fine
literature, while the archæological details in "Ivanhoe" are all wrong,
therefore it is not fine literature. Good Lord! You might as well say:
but my landlady's name is Mrs Stickings, and the girl (who left last
month) was really called Mabel; _therefore_ that story of mine was fine
literature. What's that about sustained effort? Can you turn a deal
ladder into a golden staircase by making it of a thousand rungs? What I
say three times is right, eh? and if I tell the tale of Mrs Stickings so
that it extends to "our minimum length for three volume novels," it
becomes fine literature.

Well, I really hope that we have at last settled the matter; that fine
literature is simply the expression of the eternal things that are in
man, that it is beauty clothed in words, that it is always ecstasy, that
it always draws itself away, and goes apart into lonely places, far from
the common course of life. Realise this, and you will never be misled
into pronouncing mere reading-matter, however interesting, to be fine
literature; and now that we clearly understand the difference between
the two, I propose that we drop the "fine" and speak simply of

But I assure you that, even after having established the grand
distinction, it is by no means plain sailing. Everything terrestrial is
so composite (except, perhaps, pure music) that one is confronted by an
almost endless task of distinguishing matter from form, and body from
spirit. Literature, we say, is ecstasy, but a book must be written about
something and about somebody; it must be expressed in words, it must
have arrangement and artifice, it must have accident as well as essence.
Consider "Don Quixote" as an example; it is, I suppose, the finest prose
romance in existence. Essentially, it expresses the eternal quest of the
unknown, that longing, peculiar to man, which makes him reach out
towards infinity; and he lifts up his eyes, and he strains his eyes,
looking across the ocean, for certain fabled, happy islands, for Avalon
that is beyond the setting of the sun. And he comes into life from the
unknown world, from glorious places, and all his days he journeys
through the world, spying about him, going on and ever on, expecting
beyond every hill to find the holy city, seeing signs, and omens, and
tokens by the way, reminded every hour of his everlasting citizenship.
"From the great deep to the great deep he goes": it is true of King
Arthur and of each one of us; and this, I take it, is the essence of
"Don Quixote," and of all his forerunners and successors. Then, in the
second place, you get the eternal moral of the book, and you will
understand that I am not using "moral" in the vulgar sense. The eternal
moral, then, of "Don Quixote" is the strife between temporal and
eternal, between the soul and the body, between things spiritual and
things corporal, between ecstasy and the common life. You read the book
and you see that there is a perpetual jar, you are continually
confronted by the great antinomy of life. It seems a mere comic
incident when the knight dreaming of enchantment is knocked about, and
made ridiculous; but I tell you it is the perpetual tragedy of life
itself, symbolised. I say that it is, under a figure, the picture of
humanity in the world, that you will find the truth it represents
repeated again and again throughout all history. You know that if one
goes back resolutely to the first principles of things, one finds
oneself, as it were, in a place where all lines that seemed parallel and
eternally divided meet, and so it is with this tragedy symbolised by the
Don Quixote. It is, you may say, the tragedy of the Unknown and the
Known, of the Soul and Body, of the Idea and the Fact, of Ecstasy and
Common Life; at last, I suppose, of Good and Evil. The source of it lies
far beyond our understanding, but its symbol is shown again and again in
Cervantes's page.

Then, there is a third element in the book. The author intended to write
a burlesque on the current romances of chivalry; and he wrote, I
suppose, the best burlesque that has ever been written, or ever will be
written. If you unhappily so choose, you can shut your eyes to
everything serious and everything beautiful, and read merely of Amadis
and Arthur "taken off," of the highest ideals turned into nonsense, of
the best motives shown to be, in effect, mischievous. You will read how
the knight, in the approved manner of knights, helped the oppressed and
the wretched, and how he usually worsened their condition tenfold. You
may lend your ear to Sancho, grumbling and quoting "common-sense"
proverbs all the road, as he rides on his ass, and if it were not for
the wit and the comedy, you might fancy yourself in a suburban train
bound for the city. Why, if you so please, "Don Quixote" is the
Institute of cynicism, the reduction of every generous impulse to

Finally, the knight is the mouthpiece of Cervantes himself, especially
towards the end of the second part, where the armour and the fantasy
drop off, piece by piece, and shred by shred, on that mournful, homeward
journey. At last, I say, Don Quixote is almost simply Cervantes,
commenting on men and affairs in Spain, and I think that in those final
chapters the art has vanished together with the armour and the ecstasy.
Yes, I always dread the ending of "Don Quixote." A star drops a line of
streaming fire, down the vault of the sky, and perhaps you may have
seen the ugly, shapeless thing that sinks into the earth.

But this very brief and imperfect analysis of a great masterpiece of
literary art may give you some idea of the extraordinary complexity of
all literature. As it is I have omitted one most important item in the
account; I have said nothing of the style, because, I am sorry to say
that I have no Spanish, and Cervantes speaks to me through an
interpreter named Charles Jarvis. But, omitting style, you see that we
have, in this particular case, five books in one; we have the utterance
of pure ecstasy, the strife between ecstasy and the common life, the
burlesque of chivalry, the institutes of cynicism, and the comments on
affairs. Each of these different themes is managed with consummate
ability, and (always excepting the last chapters of the book), each
keeps its due place, so that it really rests with the reader, in a
manner, to choose which book he is to read.

And then, there are other elements which must be accounted for if one is
to judge a book as a whole, fairly and thoroughly. I may be so charmed
with the writer's rapture, with the wonder and beauty of his idea, that
I may forget the fact that the artist must also be the artificer; that
while the soul conceives, the understanding must formulate the
conception, that while ecstasy must suggest the conduct of the story,
common-sense must help to range each circumstance in order, that while
an inward, mysterious delight must dictate the burning phrases and sound
in the music and melody of the words, cool judgment must go through
every line, reminding the author that, if literature be the language of
the Shadowy Companion it must yet be translated out of the unknown
speech into the vulgar tongue. Here then we have the elements of a book.
Firstly the Idea or Conception, the thing of exquisite beauty which
dwells in the author's soul, not yet clothed in words, nor even in
thought, but a pure emotion. Secondly, when this emotion has taken
definite form, is made incarnate as it were, in the shape of a story,
which can be roughly jotted down on paper, we may speak of the Plot.
Thirdly, the plot has to be systematised, to be drawn to scale, to be
carried out to its legitimate conclusions, to be displayed by means of
Incident; and here we have Construction. Fourthly, the story is to be
written down, and Style is the invention of beautiful words which shall
affect the reader by their meaning, by their sound, by their mysterious

This, then, is the fourfold work of literature, and if you want to be
perfect you must be perfect in each part. Art must inspire and shape
each and all, but only the first, the Idea, is pure art; with Plot, and
Construction, and Style there is an alloy of artifice. If then any given
book can be shown to proceed from an Idea, it is to be placed in the
class of literature, in the shelf of the "Odyssey" as I think I once
expressed it. It may be placed very high in the class; the more it have
of rapture in its every part, the higher it will be: or, it may be
placed very low, because, for example, having once admired the
Conception, the dream that came to the author from the other world, we
are forced to admit that the Story or Plot was feebly imagined, that the
Construction was clumsily carried out, that the Style is, æsthetically,
non-existent. You will notice that I am never afraid of blaming my
favourites, of finding fault with the books which I most adore. I can do
so freely and without fear of consequences, since having once applied my
test, and having found that "Pickwick," for example, is literature, I
am not in the least afraid that I shall be compelled to eat my words if
flaws in plot and style and construction are afterwards made apparent.
The statue is gold; we have settled that much, and we need not fear that
it will turn into lead, if we find that the graving and carving is poor
enough. Once be sure that your temple _is_ a temple, and I will warrant
you against it being suddenly transmuted into a tub, through the
discovery of scamped workmanship.

Well, suppose we begin to apply our analysis. Let us take the strange
case of Mr R. L. Stevenson, and especially his "Jekyll and Hyde," which,
in some ways, is his most characteristic and most effective book. Now I
suppose that instructed opinion (granting its existence) was about
equally divided as to the class in which this most skilful and striking
story was to be placed. Many, I have no doubt, gave it a very high place
in the ranks of imaginative literature, or (as we should now say) in the
ranks of literature; while many other judges set it down as an extremely
clever piece of sensationalism, and nothing more. Well, I think both
these opinions are wrong; and I should be inclined to say that "Jekyll
and Hyde" just scrapes by the skin of its teeth, as it were, into the
shelves of literature, and no more. On the surface it would seem to be
merely sensationalism; I expect that when you read it, you did so with
breathless absorption, hurrying over the pages in your eagerness to find
out the secret, and this secret once discovered, I imagine that "Jekyll
and Hyde" retired to your shelf--and stays there, rather dusty. You have
never opened it again? Exactly. I _have_ read it for a second time, and
I was astonished to find how it had, if I may say so, evaporated. At the
first reading one was enthralled by mere curiosity, but when once this
curiosity had been satisfied what remained? If I may speak from my own
experience, simply a rather languid admiration of the ingenuity of the
plot with its construction, combined with a slight feeling of
impatience, such as one might experience if one were asked to solve a
puzzle for the second time. You see that the secret once disclosed, all
the steps which lead to the disclosure become, _ipso facto_,
insignificant, or rather they become nothing at all, since their only
significance and their only existence lay in the secret, and when the
secret has ceased to be a secret, the signs and cyphers of it fall also
into the world of nonentity. You may be amazed, and perplexed, and
entranced by a cryptogram, while you are solving it, but the solution
once attained, your cryptogram is either nothing or perilously near to

Well, all this points, doesn't it, towards mere sensationalism, very
cleverly done? But, as I said, I think "Jekyll and Hyde" just scrapes
over the border-line and takes its place, very low down, among books
that are literature. And I base my verdict solely on the Idea, on the
Conception that lies, buried rather deeply, beneath the Plot. The
plot, in itself, strikes me as mechanical--this actual physical
transformation, produced by a drug, linked certainly with a theory of
ethical change, but not linked at all with the really mysterious, the
really psychical--all this affects me, I say, as ingenious mechanism and
nothing more; while I have shown how the construction is ingenious
artifice, and the style is affected by the same plague of laboured
ingenuity. Throughout it is a thoroughly conscious style, and in
literature all the highest things are unconsciously, or at least,
subconsciously produced. It has music, but it has no under-music, and
there are no phrases in it that seem veils of dreams, echoes of the
"inexpressive song." It is on the conception, then, alone, that I
justify my inclusion of "Jekyll" amongst works of art; for it seems to
me that, lurking behind the plot, we divine the presence of an Idea, of
an inspiration. "Man is not truly one, but truly two," or, perhaps, a
polity with many inhabitants, Dr Jekyll writes in his confession, and I
think that I see here a trace that Mr Stevenson had received a vision of
the mystery of human nature, compounded of the dust and of the stars, of
a dim vast city, splendid and ruinous as drowned Atlantis deep beneath
the waves, of a haunted quire where a flickering light burns before the
Veil. This, I believe, was the vision that came to the artist, but the
admirable artificer seized hold of it at once and made it all his own,
omitting what he did not understand, translating roughly from the
unknown tongue, materialising, coarsening, hardening. Don't you see how
thoroughly _physical_ the actual plot is, and if one escapes for a
moment from the atmosphere of the laboratory it is only to be confronted
by the most obvious vein of moral allegory; and from this latter light,
"Jekyll and Hyde" seems almost the vivid metaphor of a clever preacher.
You mustn't imagine, you know, that I condemn the powder business as bad
in itself, for (let us revert for a moment to philosophy) man is a
sacrament, soul manifested under the form of body, and art has to deal
with each and both and to show their interaction and interdependence.
The most perfect form of literature is, no doubt, lyrical poetry which
is, one might say, almost pure Idea, art with scarcely an alloy of
artifice, expressed in magic words, in the voice of music. In a word, a
perfect lyric, such as Keats's "Belle Dame Sans Mercy" is _almost_ pure
soul, a spirit with the luminous body of melody. But (in our age, at all
events) a prose romance must put on a grosser and more material envelope
than this, it must have incident, corporeity, relation to material
things, and all these will occupy a considerable part of the whole. To a
certain extent, then, the Idea must be materialised, but still it must
always shine through the fleshly vestment; the body must never be mere
body but always the body of the spirit, existing to conceal and yet to
manifest the spirit; and here it seems to me that Mr Stevenson's story
breaks down. The transformation of Jekyll into Hyde is solely material,
as you read it, without artistic significance; it is simply an
astounding incident, and not an outward sign of an inward mystery. As
for the possible allegory I have too much respect for Mr Stevenson as an
artificer to think that he would regard this element as anything but a
very grave defect. Allegory, as Poe so well observed, is always a
literary vice, and we are only able to enjoy the "Pilgrim's Progress" by
forgetting that the allegory exists. Yes, that seems to me the _vitium_
of "Jekyll and Hyde": the conception has been badly realised, and by
badly I do not mean clumsily, because from the logical, literal
standpoint, the plot and the construction are marvels of cleverness; but
I mean inartistically: ecstasy, which as we have settled is the synonym
of art, gave birth to the idea, but immediately abandoned it to
artifice, and to artifice only, instead of presiding over and inspiring
every further step in plot, in construction, and in style. All this may
seem to you very fine-drawn and over-subtle, but I am convinced that it
is the true account of the matter, and perhaps you may realise my theory
better if I draw out that analogy of "translation" which I suggested, I
think, a few minutes ago. I was passing along New Oxford Street the
other day, and I happened to look into a shop which displays Bibles in
all languages, and I glanced at the French version, open at the seventh
chapter of the Book of Proverbs. I saw the words "un jeune homme
dépourvu de bon sens," and then, lower down, "comme un bœuf à la
boucherie," and it was some considerable time before I realised that
these phrases "translated," "a young man void of understanding," and "as
an ox goeth to the slaughter." Now you notice that these are in every
way commonplace examples; there is nothing extraordinarily poetical in
either phrase as it stands in the Authorised Version. I might have made
the contrast much more violent by choosing a passage from the Song of
Songs or Ecclesiastes; and I wonder how "Therefore with Angels and
Archangels" would go into French. But isn't the gulf astounding between
"void of understanding" and "dépourvu de bon sens"? Yet the meaning of
the French is really the same as the meaning of the English; logically,
I should think, the two phrases are exactly equivalent. And yet ...
well, we know perfectly well that "dépourvu de bon sens" in no way
renders that noble and austere simplicity that we reverence in the
English text.

Now, I think, you ought to see what I have been trying to express about
the gulf that may open always between the conception and the plot, or
story, that does divide the conception from the plot of "Jekyll and
Hyde." Of course the analogy is not perfect, because the _magnum chaos_
that yawns between the unformulated Idea and the formulated plot,
between pure ecstasy and ecstasy _plus_ artifice, is much vaster than
the distinction between English and French, indeed between the two
former there is almost or altogether the difference of the infinite and
the finite, of soul and body; still, you see how a book is a rendering,
a translation of an Idea, and how a very fine idea may be embodied in a
very mechanical plot.

You remember the "Socialist and Baroness" novel that we were talking
about the other night. We placed it outside of literature firstly and
chiefly because it was not based on ecstasy, on an idea of any kind, and
secondly, and by way of consequence, because in its execution and detail
it was so thoroughly insignificant, because it played Hamlet with the
part of the Prince omitted. Now I think that it is strong evidence of
the soundness of my literary theory that we are enabled by it to take
two books so utterly dissimilar in manner and method, in story and
treatment, and to judge them both by the same scale. For this is what it
really comes to: we say that the "Tragic Comedians" is not literature
because it simply tells of facts without their significance, because it
deals with the outward show and not with the inward spirit, because it
is accidental and not essential. And in just the same way we say that
"Jekyll and Hyde" (its conception apart) is not literature inasmuch as
it too has the body of a story without the soul of a story, the
incident, the fact, without the inward thing of which the fact is a
symbol. For if you will consider the matter you will see that a fact
_qua_ fact has no existence in art at all. It is not the painter's
business to make us a likeness of a tree or a rock; it is his business
to communicate to us an emotion--an ecstasy, if you please--and that he
may do so he uses a tree or a rock as a symbol, a word in his language
of colour and form. It is not the business of the sculptor to chisel
likenesses of men in marble; the human form is to him also a symbol
which stands for an idea. In the same manner it is not the business of
the literary artist to describe facts--real or imaginary--in words: he
is possessed with an idea which he symbolises by incident, by a story of
men and women and things. He is possessed, let us say, by the idea of
Love: then he must write a story of lovers, but he must never forget
that A. and B., his actual lovers in the tale, with their social
positions, their whims and fancies, their sayings and doings are only of
consequence in the degree that they symbolise the universal human
passion, which in its turn is a copy of certain eternal and ineffable
things. If A. and B. do _not_ do this then they are nothing, and worse
than nothing, so far as art is concerned. "But my tree is like a tree,"
says the dull painter, and "my anatomy is faultless," says the bad
sculptor, and "my characters are life-like," says the novelist.

And one can apply exactly the same reasoning to Mr Stevenson's ingenious
story. I do not know whether there is, or has been, or will be a salt in
existence which can turn a man into another person; that is of not the
slightest consequence to the argument. The result of the powder, as it
is described in the book, is an incident, and it makes no difference to
the critical judgment whether the incident is true or false, probable or
improbable. The only point, absolutely the only point is this: is the
incident significant or insignificant, is it related for its own sake,
or is it posited because it is a sign, a symbol, a word which veils and
reveals the artist's ecstasy and inspiration? The socialist fell in love
with the baroness: it is true, you say, it really happened so in Germany
some twenty-five years ago. But in the book it is insignificant. The
doctor took the powder and became another man; it is probably untrue.
But it is also insignificant; and to the critic of art in literature the
one incident stands precisely on the same footing as the other.

And, do you know, I am glad I have made this comparison between "Jekyll
and Hyde" and the "Tragic Comedians," because it has struck me that what
I have been saying about the essential element of all literature might
be open to very grave misunderstanding. I have been insisting, with
reiteration that must have tired you, that there is only one test by
which literature may be distinguished from mere reading matter, and that
that test is summed up in the word, ecstasy. And then we admitted a
whole string of synonyms--desire of the unknown, sense of the unknown,
rapture, adoration, mystery, wonder, withdrawal from the common
life--and I daresay I have used many other phrases in the same sense
without giving you any special warning that it was our old friend again
in a new guise. But it has just occurred to me that with all this wealth
of synonyms, I may not have made my meaning perfectly clear. For
example, while I was laying down the law about Dr Jekyll's powder and
its effects, you might have interrupted me with the remark: "But I
thought you said the sense of wonder was characteristic of literature;
and surely the change from Jekyll into Hyde is extremely wonderful." Or
again, when I was belauding the "Odyssey," dwelling on the voyage of
Ulysses amongst strange peoples, you might have put in some modern tale
of strange adventure, and requested me to distinguish between the two,
to justify my praise of the old, and rejection of the new. And we have
mentioned Sunday-school books, always, I think, with a certain _nuance_
of contempt; but Sunday-school books usually deal with religion, and
religion and adoration are almost synonymous. And so one could go on
with the list, making out, on our premises, with our own test, a
plausible case for books which we know very well are neither literature
nor anything remotely approaching it. And that would look rather like
the collapse of our literary case, wouldn't it?

Well, the solution of the difficulty seems to me to be sought for in the
remarks I was making just now about "facts" in art. I said, you
remember, that in art, facts as facts have no existence at all. Facts,
incidents, plots, simply form the artistic speech--its mode of
expression, or medium--and if there is no idea behind the facts, then
you have no longer language but gibberish. Just as language is made up
of the letters of the alphabet, arranged in significant words and
sentences; so is the artistic language made up of plots, incidents,
sentences which are informed with significance. If I heap up letters of
the alphabet, and arrange them in an arbitrary collocation, without
meaning, I am forming gibberish, and not a language; and so if I pepper
my pages with extraordinary incidents, without attaching to them any
significance, I am writing, it may be, an exciting, absorbing,
interesting book, but I am not making literature. Indeed, some of the
books that might be mentioned in this connection remind me of a man
swearing: he uses the holiest names but he does so in such a manner that
he excites not reverence and awe but disgust and repulsion. Tell the
bare "plot" of the Odyssey to one of these writers, and hint that it
might be made into a "successful Christmas book for boys," and he will
produce you a book which will contain the Lotus-Eaters, and Calypso and
the Cyclops, but which will have just the same relation to literature as
blasphemy bears to the Liturgy. That seems to me the explanation; one
must say again that mere incident is nothing, that it only becomes
something when it is a symbol of an interior meaning. And, turning this
maxim inside out, as it were, we shall sometimes find that a book which
seems on the surface to be "reading matter" is really literature, and
incidents, apparently insignificant, may turn out, on a closer
examination, to be significant and symbolic in a very high degree. So I
don't think our literary criterion is in any way invalidated by the
occurrence of surprising incidents in very worthless books. Look at "Mr
Isaacs" for example. In a sense it is a "wonderful" book, inasmuch as
it contains incidents which are far removed from common experience; but
you have only to read it to discover that the author had not been
visited by any inspiration of the unseen. One may trace some
acquaintance with theosophical "literature," but not even the dimmest
vision of "the other things." The "other things"? Ah, that is another
synonym, but who can furnish a precise definition of the indefinable?
They are sometimes in the song of a bird, sometimes in the scent of a
flower, sometimes in the whirl of a London street, sometimes hidden
under a great lonely hill. Some of us seek them with most hope and the
fullest assurance in the sacring of the Mass, others receive tidings
through the sound of music, in the colour of a picture, in the shining
form of a statue, in the meditation of eternal truth. Do you know that I
can never hear a jangling piano-organ, contending with the roar of
traffic without the tears--not of feeling but of emotion--coming to my

And that instance--it is grotesque enough--reminds me that I think I
have an explanation of another puzzle that has often perplexed me, and I
daresay has perplexed you. Do you remember the books that you read when
you were a boy? I can think of stories that I read long ago (I have
forgotten the very names of them) that filled me with emotions that I
recognised, afterwards, as purely artistic. The sorriest pirate, the
most wretchedly concealed treasure, poor Captain Mayne Reid at his
boldest gave me then the sensations that I now search for in the
"Odyssey" or in the thought of it; and I looked into some of these
shabby old tales years afterwards, and wondered how on earth I had
managed to penetrate into "faëry lands forlorn" through such miserable
stucco portals. And you, you say, extracted somehow or other, from
Harrison Ainsworth's "Lancashire Witches," that essence of the unknown
that you now find in Poe, and I expect that everybody who loves
literature could gather similar recollections.

Well, it would be easy enough to solve the problem by saying that the
emotions of children are of no consequence and don't count, but then I
don't think that proposition is true. I think, on the contrary, that
children, especially young children before they have been defiled by the
horrors of "education," possess the artistic emotion in remarkable
purity, that they reproduce, in a measure, the primitive man before he
was defiled, artistically, by the horrors of civilisation. The ecstasy
of the artist is but a recollection, a remnant from the childish vision,
and the child undoubtedly looks at the world through "magic casements."
But you see all this is unconscious, or subconscious (to a less degree
it is so in later life, and artists are rare simply because it is their
almost impossible task to translate the emotion of the sub-consciousness
into the speech of consciousness), and as you may sometimes see children
uttering their conceptions in words that are nonsense, or next door to
it, so nonsense or at any rate very poor stuff suffices with them to
summon up the vision from the depths of the soul. Suppose we could catch
a genius at the age of nine or ten and request him to utter what he
felt; the boy would speak or write rubbish, and in the same way you
would find that he read rubbish, and that it excited in him an ineffable
joy and ecstasy. Coleridge was a Bluecoat boy when he read the "poems"
of William Lisle Bowles, and admired them to enthusiasm, and I am quite
sure that at some early period Poe had been enraptured by Mrs Radcliffe,
and we know how Burns founded himself on Fergusson. When men are young,
the inward ecstasy, the "red powder of projection" is of such efficacy
and virtue that the grossest and vilest matter is transmuted for them
into pure gold, glistering and glorious as the sun. The child (and with
him you may link all primitive and childlike people) approaches books
and pictures just as he approaches nature itself and life; and a
wonderful vision appears where many of us can only see the common and

But all this has been a digression; it has come by the way in a talk
about worthless and insignificant books. But I think that we should by
this time have brought our testing apparatus into working order; we
should be able to criticise any given book on some ground or principle,
not on the rule of thumb of "it sent me to sleep," or "it kept me
awake." And I think that what I have already remarked about the
subconscious element in literature should have answered that question
about "books with a purpose." As a matter of fact I believe that they
are mostly trash, but it is not a case for _à priori_ reasoning; you
must test each book by itself. Mr Stevenson was, I believe, an artist at
heart, but we have seen how the artificer overcame the artist in "Jekyll
and Hyde," and in like manner there have been cases of people who were
artificers, and even preachers, at heart, who were forced to succumb to
the concealed, subconscious artist, when pen touched paper. For example;
first logically analyze "Lycidas"; you will be disgusted just as Dr
Johnson, who had no analysis but the logical, was disgusted. Forget your
logic, your common-sense, and read it again as poetry; you will
acknowledge the presence of an amazing masterpiece. An unimportant
lament over an unimportant personage, constructed on an affected
pseudo-pastoral plan, full of acrid, Puritanical declamation and abuse,
wantonly absurd with its mixture of the nymphs and St Peter; it is not
only wretched in plan but clumsy in construction, the artifice is
atrocious. And it is also perfect beauty! It is the very soul set to
music; its austere and exquisite rapture thrills one so that I could
almost say: he who understands the mystery and the beauty of "Lycidas"
understands also the final and eternal secret of art and life and man.


Do you know that when we last talked _belles lettres_ the whole evening
went by (or at least I think so) without my saying anything about
"Pickwick"? I hope you noted the omission in your diary, if you keep
one, because I find it difficult to talk much about literature, without
drawing some illustration from that very notable, and curious, and
unappreciated book. Yes, I maintain the justice of the last epithet in
spite of circulation, in spite of popularity, and in spite of "Pickwick
'literature.'" You may like a book very much and read it three times a
year without appreciating it, and if a great book is really popular it
is sure to owe its popularity to entirely wrong reasons. There are
people, you know, who study Homer every day, because he throws so much
light on the manners and customs of the ancients, and if a book of our
own time is both great and popular, you may be sure that it is loved for
its most peccant parts, just as nine people out of ten will recall the
"Raven" and the "Bells" if the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe is mentioned.

After all, I needn't have excused myself for my constant references to
Dickens's masterpiece, since I have already informed you that, like
Coleridge, I love a "cyclical" mode of discoursing; and I honestly think
that if you want to understand something about the Mysteries or the Fine
Arts (which are the expression of the mysteries) it is the only way. A
proposition in Euclid is demonstrated and done with, since nothing can
be added to a mathematical proof; but literature is different. It is
many-sided and many-coloured, and variable always; you can consider it
in half-a-dozen ways, from half-a-dozen standpoints, and from
half-a-dozen judgments, each of which will be true and perfect in
itself, and yet each will supplement the other. Two or three weeks ago I
think I tried to show you what a complex organism any given book
reveals, if one examines it with a little attention, and if one specimen
be so curiously and intricately fashioned, you may imagine the
complexity of the whole subject.

But I have a more particular reason for turning once more to the
"Posthumous Papers." We have noted that that which at first sight seems
significant, may turn out to be insignificant, and I think that in
passing I hinted that the reverse was sometimes the case. Very good; and
the especial instance that is in my mind is the enormous capacity for
strong drink exhibited by Mr Pickwick and all his friends and
associates. Of course you've noticed it; perhaps you have thought it a
nuisance and a blemish from the artistic standpoint, just as many "good
people" have found it a nuisance and a blemish from the temperance or
teetotal standpoint. You may have felt quite certain that a set of men
who were always drinking brandy and water, and strong ale, and
milk-punch, and madeira, who constantly drank a great deal too much of
each and all of these things, would be extremely unpleasant companions
in private life; I daresay you have been thankful that you never knew Mr
Pickwick or any of his followers. You know, I expect, by personal
experience, that a man whose daily life is a pilgrimage from one whiskey
bar to another is, in most cases, an extremely tedious and unprofitable
companion; and it is undeniable that the "Pickwickians" rather made
opportunities for brandy and water than avoided them. And in an
indirect manner, you feel that all this makes you like the book less.

But (I can no more miss an opportunity of digression than Mr Pickwick
could keep on the coach if there were a chance of drinking his favourite
beverage) do you know that there are really people who make their liking
or disliking of the characters the criterion of literature--of romances,
I mean? We touched on this some time ago, and I remember saying that in
the case of such secondary books as Jane Austen's and Thackeray's, it
was permissible enough to go where one was best amused, that one had a
right to say, "Yes, the artifice may be the better here, but the
characters are much more amusing there, and I had rather talk to the
cosmopolitan whose manners are now and then a little to seek, than to
the maiden lady in the village, whose decorum is so unexceptionable."
But I confess that at the time it had not dawned upon me that there are
people who try to judge fine art--the true literature--on the same
grounds. I believe, however, that such is the case; I believe, indeed,
that the egregious M. Voltaire was dimly moved by some such feeling when
he wrote his famous "criticism" of the prophet Habakkuk. What (he must
have said to himself) would they think in the _salons_ of a man who
talked like this:--

    And the everlasting mountains were scattered,
    The perpetual hills did bow:
    His ways are everlasting?

Evidently Habakkuk could never hope for a second invitation; and
_therefore_ he wrote rubbish. And I believe, as I said, that there are
many people who more or less unconsciously judge literature by this
measure, by asking, "Would these people be pleasant to meet? would one
like to hear this kind of thing in one's drawing-room?" And this is well
enough with secondary books, since they contain nothing but
"characters," and "incidents," and "scenes," and "facts"; but it is by
no means well in literature, in which, as we found out, all these things
are symbols, words of a language, used, not for themselves, but because
they are significant. Remember our old definition--ecstasy, the
withdrawal, the standing apart from common life--and you will see that
we may almost reverse this popular method of judgment, and turn it into
another test, or rather another way of putting the test, of art. For, if
literature be a kind of withdrawal from the common atmosphere of life,
we shall naturally expect to find its utterance, both in matter and
manner, wholly unsuitable for the drawing-room or the street, and its
"characters" persons whom we cannot imagine ourselves associating with
on pleasant or comfortable terms. Neither you nor I would be very happy
on Ulysses's boat, we should soon become irritated with Don Quixote, we
should hardly feel at home with Sir Galahad. It is true that all the
good there is in men is this--that at rare intervals, in certain lonely
moments of exaltation they do feel for the time a faint stirring of the
beautiful within them, and _then_ they would adventure on the Quest of
the Graal; but as you know few of us are saints, fewer, perhaps, are men
of genius; we are sunk for the most part of our days in the common life,
and our care is for the body and for the things of the body, for the
street and the drawing-room, and not for the perpetual, solitary hills.
So you see that if you read a book and can say of the characters in it:
"I wish I knew them," there is very strong reason to suspect that the
book in question is not literature, though it may well be a pleasant
picture of pleasant people.

Yes, I was expecting that question. I should have been sorry if your
sense of humour had _not_ prompted you to ask whether the drinking of
too much milk-punch constituted a withdrawal from the common life, a
profound and lonely ecstasy. But don't you remember that when we were
discussing "Pickwick" before, and comparing it with the "Odyssey," I
suddenly deserted Homer, and brought in Sophocles? I think I contrasted,
very briefly, the education of the dramatist with the education of the
romance writer, the London of the 'twenties and 'thirties with the city
of the Violet Crown, the fate of him,

    ἀεὶ διὰ λαμπροτάτου
    βαίνοντος ἁβρῶς αἰθέρος

with that of the other who tried to find the way through the evil and
hideous London fog.

Well, you might have been inclined to ask, why Sophocles? But do you
remember for whose festivals, in whose honour the Greek wrote his dramas
and his choral songs? It was the god of wine who was worshipped and
invoked at the Dionysiaca, in the praise of Dionysus the chorus sang and
danced about the altar, and all the drama arose from the celebration of
the Bacchic mysteries. So you get, I think, a pretty fair proportion: as
the Athens of Sophocles is to the Cockneydom of Dickens, so is the cult
of Dionysus to the cult of cold punch and brandy and water. The interior
meaning is in each case the same; the artistic expression has lamentably
deteriorated, in the degree that the artistic atmosphere on the banks of
Fleet Ditch, the "mother of dead dogs," was inferior to the artistic
atmosphere on the banks of the Ilissus.

I expect you have gathered from all this talk the point I want to make:
that the brandy and water and punch business in "Pickwick," which at
first sight seems trivial and insignificant and even disgusting, is, in
fact, full of the highest significance. Don't you notice the insistence
with which the writer dwells on drinking, the unction and enthusiasm
with which he describes it? We have admitted the poverty of the
"materials" with which Dickens works, and of course it would be as idle
to expect him to write a choral song in honour of Dionysus as it would
be to expect him to write in Greek. He expressed himself as best he
could, in the "language" (that is with the incidents and in the
atmosphere) that he knew, but there can be no possible doubt as to his
meaning. In a word, I absolutely identify the "brandy and water scenes"
with the Bacchic cultus and all that it implies.

This is "a little too much for you" is it? Well, let us take another
well-known book, the "Gargantua" and "Pantagruel." You know it well, and
I have only to remind you of the name to remind you that as "Pickwick"
has been said to "reek with brandy and water," so does Rabelais
assuredly reek of wine. The history begins:--

     "Grandgousier estoit bon raillard en son temps, aimant à boire

it ends with the Oracle of the Holy Bottle, with the word

     "_Trinch_ ... un mot panomphée, celebré et entendu de toutes
     nations, et nous signifie, _beuvez_;"

and I refer you to the allocution of Bacbuc, the priestess of the
Bottle, at large. "By wine," she says, "is man made divine," and I may
say that if you have not got the key to these Rabelaisian riddles much
of the value--the highest value--of the book is lost to you. You know
how they drink, those strange figures, the giants and their followers,
you know the aroma of the vintage, the odour of the wine vat that fills
all those marvellous and enigmatic pages, and I tell you that here again
I recognise the same signs as in "Pickwick," the same music as that of
the dithyrambic choruses in honour of Dionysus, which were eventually
amplified into that magnificent literary product, the Greek drama. And
if we wish to penetrate the secret we must not forget the Hebrew
psalmist, with his _calix meus inebrians quam præclarus est_. And
remember, too, if you feel inclined to shudder at the milk-punch, that
the words which I have just quoted might be rendered, "how splendid is
this cup of wine that makes me drunk!" and we may say that, in a manner,
poor Dickens did so render them, since, as I have reminded you he
belonged, after the flesh, to the Camden Town of the 'twenties, and was
forced to use its unbeautiful dialect because he knew no other.

And after all, then, what does this Bacchic cultus mean? We have seen
that under various disguises the one spirit appeared in Greece, in the
France of the Renaissance, and in Victorian England, and that in each
instance there is an apparent glorification of drunkenness. The Greeks,
indeed, a sober people by necessity, as all Southerners are,
impersonated the genius of intoxication, and made excessive drinking, as
it would seem, an elaborate religion, with rites and festivals and
mysteries. The Tourainian, whose personal habit was that not of a
drunkard, but of a learned physician and restorer of ancient letters,
who probably drank very much in the manner of the good curé I once knew
("My God!" he said to me, after the third small glass of small white
wine, "'tis a veritable debauch!"), has, on the face of it, dedicated
all his enormous book to the same cause, so that to read Pantagruel is
like walking through a French village in the vintage season, when the
whole world, as Zola unpleasantly and nastily expresses it "pue le
raisin." Thirdly, Dickens, who loved to talk of concocting gin-punch,
and left it, when concocted, to be drunk by his guests, shows us Mr
Pickwick "dead drunk" in the wheel-barrow. And, for a final touch of
apparent absurdity, you remember that the Dionysus myth represents wine
as a civilising influence! You may well think of the public-house at
the corner, and ask yourself how strong drink can contribute to

Well, that is, in very brief outline, the problem and the puzzle; and I
may say at once that to the literalist, the rationalist, the materialist
critic, the problem is quite insoluble. But to you and me, who do not
end in any kind of _ist_, the enigma will not be quite so hopeless. Let
us get back to our maxim that, in literature, facts and incidents are
not present for their own sake but as symbols, as words of the language
of art; it will follow, then, that the incidents of the Dionysus myth,
the incidents of "Pantagruel" and "Pickwick" are not to be taken
literally, but symbolically. We are not to conclude that the Greeks were
a race of drunkards, or that Rabelais and Dickens preached habitual
excess in drink as the highest virtue; we are to conclude that both the
ancient people and the modern writers recognised Ecstasy as the supreme
gift and state of man, and that they chose the Vine and the juice of the
Vine as the most beautiful and significant symbol of that Power which
withdraws a man from the common life and the common consciousness, and
taking him from the dust of the earth, sets him in high places, in the
eternal world of ideas. And, after all, I cannot do better than quote at
length the sermon of Bacbuc, priestess of the Dive Bouteille.

     "Et icy maintenons que non rire, ains boire, est le propre de
     l'homme: je ne dis boire simplement et absolument, car aussi bien
     boivent les bestes: je dis boire vin bon et frais. Notez, amis, que
     de vin, divin on devient: et n'y a argument tant seur, ni art de
     divination moins fallace. Vos academiques l'afferment, rendans
     l'etymologie de vin lequel ils disent en Grec ΟΙΝΟΣ, estre comme
     _vis_, force, puissance. Car pouvoir il a d'emplir l'ame de toute
     verité, tout savoir et philosophie. Si avez noté ce qui est en
     lettres Ioniques escrit dessus la porte du temple, vous avez peu
     entendre qu'en vin est verité cachée."

You see how that passage lights up the whole book, and you see what
Rabelais meant in the Prologue to the first book by that reference to
"certain little boxes such as we see nowadays in apothecaries' shops,
the which boxes are painted on the outside with joyous and fantastic
figures ... but within they hold rare drugs, as balm, ambergris, amomum,
musk, civet, certain stones of high virtue, and all manner of precious
things." I do not know whether you have read any of our English
commentators on Rabelais, if not, I would not advise you to do so,
unless you take pleasure in futility. For instance they take the passage
from the prologue, and seeing the hint that something is concealed, try
by some complicated chain of argument to show that Rabelais veiled his
attacks on the Church under a mask of "wild buffoonery." Of course the
attacks on the Church (the "secondary" and comparatively unimportant
element in the book, fairly answering to the attacks on books of
Chivalry in the Don Quixote) are as open as any attack can well be, and
anyone who finds a veil drawn between Rabelais' dislike for the clergy
and his expression of it must have a very singular notion of what
constitutes concealment, and a still more singular misapprehension of
the motive-forces which make and shape great books. Art, you may feel
quite assured, proceeds always from love and rapture, never from hatred
and disdain, and satire of every kind _qua_ satire is eternally
condemned to that Gehenna where the pamphlets, the "literature of the
subject," and the "life-like" books lie all together. In "Don Quixote"
one perceives that Cervantes loved the romances he condemns, and the
satire is therefore good-humoured, and, one may say, does his book
little harm or none at all; but Rabelais had been harshly treated by the
friars, and his consequent ill-humour, his very violent abuse _are_ in
disaccord with the eternal melodies which may be discerned in
"Pantagruel," noted there under strange symbols. Yes, the satire in
Rabelais is an "accident," which one has to accept and to make the best
of; some of it is amusing enough, "joyous and fantastic," like the "apes
and owls and antiques" that adorn the little boxes of the apothecaries,
some of it is a little acrid, as I said; but let us never forget that
the essence of the book is its splendid celebration of ecstasy, under
the figure of the vine.

You know I have not opened the door; I have only put the key into your
hands, in this as in other instances. There are things, which, strange
to say, are better left unsaid, and this, no doubt, Rabelais perceived
when he devised his symbolism and set many traps in the paths of the
shallow commentator. It was not from dread of the consequences of
attacking the clergy that he devised curious veils and concealments,
since, as I have noted, his hatred of the church is quite open and
unconcealed. He chose the method of symbolism, firstly because he was
an artist, and symbolism is the speech of art; and secondly because the
high truth that he prophesied was not, and is not, fit for vulgar ears.
The secret places of the human nature are not heedlessly to be exposed
to the uninitiated, who would merely profane this occult knowledge if
they had it. By consequence the "Complete Works of Rabelais" are
obtainable in Holywell Street, and many, seeking the libidinous, have
found merely the tiresome, and have cursed their bargain.

No, I will positively say no more. The key is in your hands, and with it
you may open what chambers you can. There is only this to be mentioned:
that, if I were you, I would not be "afraid with any amazement" should
Mr Pickwick's overdose of milk punch prove, ultimately, a clue to the
labyrinth of mystic theology.

There are, however, one or two minor points in Rabelais that may be
worth notice. I might, you know, analyze it as I attempted to analyze
"Don Quixote." There is in "Gargantua" and "Pantagruel" that same
complexity of thought and construction: you may note, first of all, the
great essence which is common to these masterpieces as to all
literature--ecstasy, expressed in the one case under the similitude of
knight-errantry, in the other by the symbol of the vine. Then, in
Rabelais you have another symbolism of ecstasy--the shape of
_gauloiserie_, of gross, exuberant gaiety, expressing itself by
outrageous tales, outrageous words, by a very cataract of obscenity, if
you please, if only you will notice how the obscenity of Rabelais
transcends the obscenity of common life; how grossness is poured out in
a sort of mad torrent, in a frenzy, a very passion of the unspeakable.
Then, thirdly, there is the impression one collects from the book: a
transfigured picture of that wonderful age: there is the note of the
vast, interminable argument of the schools, and for a respond, the
clear, enchanted voice of Plato; there is the vision, there is the
mystery of the vast, far-lifted Gothic quire; and those fair, ornate,
and smiling _châteaux_ rise smiling from the rich banks of the Loire and
the Vienne. The old tales told in farmhouse kitchens in the Chinonnais,
the exultation of the new learning, of lost beauty recovered, the joy of
the vintage, the old legends, the ancient turns of speech, the new style
and manner of speaking: so to the old world answers the new. Then one
has the satire of clergy and lawyers--the criticism of life--analogous,
as I said with much that is in Cervantes, and so from divers elements
you see how a literary masterpiece is made into a whole.

But now, do you know, I am going to make a confession. You have heard me
say more than once that in art, in literature properly so called, liking
and disliking count for nothing. We have understood, I think, that when
once amusing reading matter has been put out of court, the question of
how often, with what absorption one reads a work of art, matters
nothing. Well, I want to contradict, or rather to modify that axiom; we
have been speaking of three great books, each of which I believe firmly
to be true literature--"Pickwick," "Don Quixote," and "Pantagruel." Here
is my confession. I read "Pickwick," say, once a year, "Don Quixote,"
once every three years, while I read Rabelais in fragments perhaps once
in six years. You might suppose that I have indicated the order of
merit? Well, I have, but you must reverse the order, since I firmly
believe that "Pantagruel" is the finest of the three. We will leave
Dickens out of account, since we are agreed that though the message was
that of angels, the accent and the speech were of Camden town; he, that
is to say, approaches most nearly to the common life, to the common
passages in which we live, and hence he, naturally, pleases us the most
in our ordinary and common humours. But, of the other two, I confess
that Cervantes pleases me much the more; the vulgarity of Dickens is
absent or rather it is concentrated in Sancho, in a much milder form
than that of "Pickwick," for a Spanish peasant of the sixteenth century,
with all his "common-sense," and practical reason, is less remote from
beauty than the retired "business man" of the early nineteenth century;
just as poor Mr Pickwick, an honest, kindly creature, is vastly superior
to the blatant, pretentious, diamond-bedecked swindlers who represent
the city in our day. But Cervantes, who lacks, as I say, the
"commonness" of Dickens, has something of the urbanity, the
cosmopolitanism of Thackeray, he is, to a certain degree, a Colonel
Newcome of his time, but he has seen the world more sagaciously than
Colonel Newcome ever could. So while Rabelais appals me with his
extravagance, his torrents of obscene words, I am charmed with the good
humoured and observant companionship of Cervantes.

And hence I conclude that "Pantagruel" is the finer book. It may sound
paradoxical to say so, but don't you see that the very _grotesquerie_ of
Rabelais shows a further remove from the daily round, a purer metal,
less tinged with the personal, material, interest than "Don Quixote."
Mind you, I find greater deftness, a finer artifice in Cervantes, who I
think expressed his conception the more perfectly, but I think that the
conception of Rabelais the higher, precisely because it is the more
remote. Look at the "Pantagruel"; consider those "lists," that more than
frankness, that ebullition of grossness, plainly intentional, designed:
it is either the merest lunacy, or else it is sublime. Don't you
remember the trite saying "extremes meet," don't you perceive that when
a certain depth has been passed you begin to ascend into the heights?
The Persian poet expresses the most transcendental secrets of the Divine
Love by the grossest phrases of the carnal love; so Rabelais soars above
the common life, above the streets and the gutter by going far lower
than the streets and the gutter: he brings before you the highest by
positing that which is lower than the lowest, and if you have the
prepared, initiated mind, a Rabelaisian "list" is the best preface to
the angelic song. All this may strike you as extreme paradox, but it has
the disadvantage of being true, and perhaps you may assure yourself of
its truth by recollecting the converse proposition--that it is when one
is absorbed in the highest emotions that the most degrading images will
intrude themselves. No; you are right: this is not the psychology of the
"scientific" persons who write hand-books on the subject, it is not the
psychology of the "serious" novelists, of those who write the annals of
the "engaged"; but it happens to be the psychology of man.

I don't know that very much can be made of the signification of the
characters in "Pantagruel," as I hardly think that Rabelais was anxious
to be systematic or consistent in delineating them. I believe that there
are two reasons for the gigantic stature of Pantagruel, or perhaps
three. The form of the whole story came from popular legends about a
giant named Gargantua, and that is the first and least important reason.
Secondly the "giant" conception does something to remove the book from
common experience; it is a sign-post, warning you _not_ to expect a
faithful picture of life, but rather a withdrawal from life and from
common experience, and you are in a position to appreciate the value of
that motive, since I have never ceased from telling you that it is the
principal motive of all literature. And, thirdly, I hesitate and doubt,
but nothing more, whether the giant Pantagruel, he who is "all thirst"
and ever athirst, may not be a hint of the stature of the perfect man,
of the ideal man, freed from the bonds of the common life, and common
appetites, having only the eternal thirst for the eternal vine.
Candidly, I am inclined to favour this view, but only as a private
interpretation; it may be all nonsense, and I shall not be offended or
surprised if you can prove to me that it is nonsense. But have you
noticed how Pantagruel is at once the most important and the least
important figure in the book? He is the most important personage; he is
the hero, the leader, the son of the king, the giant, wiser than any or
all of his followers: formally, he is to Rabelais that which Don Quixote
is to Cervantes. And yet, actually, he is little more than a vague,
tremendous shadow; the living, speaking, impressive personages are
Frère Jean and Panurge, who occupy the stage and capture our attention.
Doesn't this rather suggest to you the part played by the "real" man in
life itself; a subordinate, unobtrusive part usually, hidden very often
by an exterior, which bears little resemblance to the true man within.
You know Coleridge says that:--

"Pantagruel is the Reason; Panurge the Understanding--the pollarded man,
the man with every faculty except the reason. I scarcely know an example
more illustrative of the distinction between the two. Rabelais had no
mode of speaking the truth in those days but in such form as this; as it
was, he was indebted to the king's protection for his life."

I must cavil at the last sentence, in which Coleridge seems to hint that
Rabelais was in danger because he had hinted the distinction between the
Reason and the Understanding. With all respect to Coleridge, Rabelais
might have gone to the limits of psychology and metaphysics without
incurring any danger; he was threatened on account of his very open
satire of the church and the clergy, which, as I have pointed out, is as
plain spoken as satire well can be. Still, I think that Coleridge,
using the technical language of German philosophy, had a glimpse of the
truth, and Mr Besant's remark that Panurge is a careful portrait of a
man without a soul is virtually the same definition in another
terminology. As I have already said, I don't think that Rabelais kept
his characters within the strict limits of consistence--they are only
significant, perhaps, now and then--and I want to say, again, that I
speak under correction in this matter, not feeling at all sure of my
ground. But I am inclined to think that Pantagruel, Panurge, and the
Monk are not so much three different characters, as the representative
of man in his three persons. Frère Jean is, perhaps, the natural man,
the "healthy animal," Panurge is the rational man, and Pantagruel, as I
said, is the spiritual, or perfect man, who looms, gigantic, in the
background, almost invisible, and yet all important, and the three are,
in reality, One. If I may apply the case to our own subject, I may say
that while Pantagruel conceives the idea, Panurge writes the book, and
Brother John has the courage to take it to the publishers. The first is
the artist, the second the artificer, and the third the social being,
ready to battle for his place in the material world. The giant is
always calm, since his head is high above earth--_vidit nubes et
sidera_--but the other two have to face the compromises of life, and
suffer its defeats. All this may be purely fantastical; and at any rate
I am sure that anyone who knows his Rabelais could pick many holes in my
interpretation. For example, I said that the monk was the "healthy
animal," and Panurge the rational man; but there are occasions when
Panurge assumes the character of the unhealthy beast, the hairy-legged,
hybrid, creature of the Greek myth, who uses the superior human artifice
for ends that are wholly bestial or worse than bestial. Still; is this a
valid objection? Are there not such men in life itself? Is it not,
perhaps, the peculiar and terrible privilege of humanity that it may, if
it pleases, prostitute its most holy and most blessed gifts to the worst
and most horrible uses? And does not each one of us feel that,
potentially, at all events, there is such a being within him, not
yielded to, perhaps, for a moment, yet always present, always ready to
assume the command. The greatest saints, we are told, have suffered the
most fiery temptations; in other words--Pantagruel is always attended by
_Panurge diabolicus_. I have talked once or twice of the Shadowy
Companion, but one must not forget that there is the Muddy Companion
also; a being often of exquisite wit and deep understanding, but given
to evil ways if one do not hold him in check.

But, in any case, I think I have shown that the Pantagruel is one of the
most extraordinary efforts of the human mind, full of "Pantagruelism";
and that word stands for many concealed and wonderful mysteries.

It is not in the least a "pleasant," or a "life-like," or even an
"interesting" book; I think that when one knows of the key--or rather of
the keys--one opens the pages almost with a sensation of dread. So it is
a book that one consults at long intervals, because it is only at rare
moments that a man can bear the spectacle of his own naked soul, and a
vision that is splendid, certainly, but awful also, in its constant
apposition of the eternal heights and the eternal depths.


I have been waiting for that question for a very long time, and I only
wonder that you have been able to restrain yourself so well--through
such a series of what I know you believe to be paradoxes, though I have
assured you that I deal merely in the plainest truth. But, after all,
your question is quite a legitimate one, and I remember when I first
began to think of these things I went astray--simply because I did not
recognise the existence of the difficulty that has been bothering you,
ever since that talk of ours about the _haulte sagesse Pantagrueline--et
Pickwickienne_, and perhaps before it.

Yes, I will put the question in its plainest, crudest form, and I will
make you ask, if you please, whether Charles Dickens had any
consciousness of the interior significance of the milk-punch, strong
ale, and brandy and water which he caused Mr Pickwick and his friends to
consume in such outrageous quantities. It sounds plain enough and simple
enough, doesn't it, and yet I must tell you that to answer that
question fairly you must first analyze human nature, and I needn't
remind you that _that_ is a task very far from simple. "Man" sounds a
very simple predicate, as you utter it; you imagine that you understand
its significance perfectly well, but when you begin to refine a little,
and to bring in distinctions, and to carry propositions to their
legitimate bounds, you find that you have undertaken the definition of
that which is essentially indefinite and probably indefinable. And,
after all, we need not pitch on this term or on that, there is no need
to select "man" as offering any especial difficulty, for, I take it,
that the truth is that all human knowledge is subject to the same
disadvantage, the same doubts and reservations. _Omnia exeunt in
mysterium_ was an old scholastic maxim; and the only people who have
always a plain answer for a plain question are the pseudo-scientists,
the people who think that one can solve the enigma of the universe with
a box of chemicals.

But all this is a caution--necessary I suppose--that you need not expect
me to give you a plain, cut and dried answer to your question whether
literature is a conscious production--or, in more particular form--was
Dickens aware that by milk-punch he meant ecstasy? I shall "ask you
another" in the approved Scotch manner. You were telling me that as you
came along this evening you had to stop for five minutes at the corner
of the Caledonian Road to watch the exquisite grace of two slum-girls of
fourteen or fifteen, dancing to the rattling tune of a piano-organ. You
spoke of the charm of their movements--_motus Ionici_, some of them, I
fear--of the purely æsthetic delight there was in the sight of young
girls, disguised as horrible little slatterns, leaping and dancing as
young girls have always leapt and danced, I suppose, from the time of
the cave-dwellers onwards. Well, but do you suppose that this charm you
have remarked was conscious? Do you think that Harriet and Emily
realised that they were of the kin of the ecstatic dancers of all time,
that they were beautiful because they were naturally expressing by a
symbol that is universal, the universal and eternal ecstasy of life?
Look back in your memory for illustrations; I, as you know, am rather
the enemy of facts, and it is rarely that I am able to support a theory
by a systematic _catena_ of instances and authorities. But, if one had
the industry and energy, one might make a most curious history of the
dance. Remember the Hebrew dances of religious joy, of ecstasy in its
highest form, remember that strange survival of the choristers' dance
before the high altar in Spain on certain solemn feasts, a survival
which has persisted in spite of the strong Roman influences which make
for rigid uniformity. Think of the Greek Menads and Bacchantes, of the
Dionysiac chorus in the theatre, of our old English peasants "treading
the mazes," and dancing round the maypole, of dances at Breton
_Pardons_, of the fairies, supposed to dance in the forest glade beneath
the moon. Why, dancing is as much an expression of the human secret as
literature itself, and I expect it is even more ancient; and Harriet and
Emily, leaping on the pavement, to that jingling, clattering tune, were
merely showing that though they were the children of the slum, and the
step-children of the School Board, they were yet human, and partakers of
the universal sacrament.

But if you ask, were they conscious of all this, it will be very
difficult to give a direct answer. I need hardly say that they could not
have put their very real emotion into the terms I have used--nor perhaps
into any terms at all--and yet they know the delight of what they do,
as much as if they had been initiated in all the mysteries. If someone
with the genius of Socrates for propounding searching questions could
"corner" Harriet and Emily, and face and overcome that preliminary,
inevitable "garn," it is possible that he might find that they were
fully conscious of the reasons why they danced and delighted in dancing;
just as Socrates demonstrated to the slave that he was perfectly
acquainted with geometry; but failing a Socrates, and using words in
their usual senses, I suppose we must say that they are not conscious.
They dance and leap without calculation, as they eat and drink, and as
birds sing in springtime; and very much the same answer must be given to
the similar question as to literature.

I said that to answer the riddle fully and completely, one would have to
make an analysis of human nature; and, in truth, the problem is simply a
problem of the consciousness and subconsciousness, and of the action and
interaction between the two. I will not be too dogmatic. We are in
misty, uncertain and unexplored regions, and it is impossible to chart
all the cities and mountains and streams, and fix with the nicety of
the ordnance survey their several places on the map--but I am strangely
inclined to think that all the quintessence of art is distilled from the
subconscious and not from the conscious self; or, in other words, that
the artificer seldom or never understands the ends and designs and
spirit of the artist. Our literary architects have all, I think, builded
better than they knew, and very often, I expect, the draughtsman who
sees the triumph and enjoys it in his manner, takes all the credit to
himself, and ludicrously imagines that it is his careful drawing and
amplification of the sketch, and following the scale, that have created
the high and holy house of God. There is a queer instance of what I mean
in Dickens's preface to the later editions of "Pickwick"--I put the book
up on a high shelf the other day, and I can't be bothered getting it
down and verifying the quotation--but I believe the author, after
telling us that the original design was to give opportunities to the
etcher Seymour, goes on to recapitulate, as it were, the achievements of
the book, and his list of triumphs is much more amusing than any list in
Rabelais. The law of imprisonment for debt has been altered! Fleet
Prison has been pulled down! The School-Board is coming! Lawyers'
clerks have nicer manners! Parliamentary elections are a little better,
but they might be better still! and one wonders that he does not
announce that, in consequence of the publication of "Pickwick," medical
students have given up brandy for barley-water. It is evident, you see,
that Dickens thought (or thought that he thought, for it is very
difficult to be exact) that his masterpiece of the _picaresque_, his
epitome of Pantagruelism, was written to correct abuses, and looking
back, many years after its publication, he congratulates himself that
most of these abuses have been corrected, and (one can almost hear him
say) _ergo_, it is a very fine book. He was impelled to write this
nonsense of the preface because he was, by comparison, "educated";
Harriet, the dancer, would probably tell you, if you succeeded in
penetrating beyond "garn," that she danced because she liked it; but,
granting that the poisoning process had been carried out more
successfully in the case of Emily, she might, conceivably, reply that
she danced "becos it's 'elthy, and Teacher says as 'ow it cirkilates the
blood." Emily, you see, obtained the prize for Physiology, as well as
for French and the Piano-Forte; she is thus enabled to give "reasons,"
and they are quite as valuable as the "reasons" of Dickens, explaining
the merits of "Pickwick." You know that pompous old fool Forster, who
took in Dickens at times, sniffed a little at "Pickwick," and thought
the later books, with their ingenious plots, and floods of maudlin
tears, and portentous "character-drawing," immense advances, and I
suppose the master felt obliged to justify himself for that first
enterprise--to show that he had not really been inspired, but had
written a useful tract! You remember he "explains" Stiggins; he warns
you not to be under any misconceptions, not to suppose that Stiggins
satirises a, b, or c, since he is only aimed at x, y, and z. Can you
conceive that a mediæval artist in gurgoyles, having perfected for our
eternal joy, a splendid grinning creature, lurking on the parapet, and
having endowed him, greatly to our oblectation, with the tail of a
dragon, the body of a dog, the feet of an eagle, the head of a bull in
hysterics, with a Franciscan cowl, by way of finish, should afterwards
explain that no offence was intended to Father Ambrose, the prior over
the way?

So it seems fairly plain, doesn't it, that in the case of Dickens, at
all events, there was no very clear consciousness of what had been
achieved, and I believe that you would find the rule hold good with
other artists in a greater or less degree. With Dickens it holds in a
very high degree, just because there was that tremendous gulf I have so
often spoken about between his inward and his outward self; because,
with the soul of rare genius, his intelligence lived in those dreary,
dusty London streets, because the artificer, even while he carried out
the artist's commands, understood very little what he was doing. But one
can trace the same working in other cases. Take the case of Mr Hardy,
for instance. You remember what I said about his "Two on a Tower"; I
praised it for its ecstatic passion, for that revelation of a great
rapture, for its symbolism, showing how one must withdraw from the
common ways, from the dusty highroad and the swarming street, and go
apart into high, lonely places, if one would perceive the high, eternal
mysteries. I did not say so in so many words, but you no doubt saw that
I was indicating that which is, in my opinion, valuable in Mr Hardy's
work, that which makes his books literature. And I am sure he would most
decidedly and entirely disagree with me, and if you want to know why I
am sure, I refer you to his later books, to his "Tess" and "Jude." You
know how the "Tess" was talked about, how it remade the author from the
commercial standpoint, simply because it contained, with many beautiful
things, many absurd "preachments," much pseudo-philosophy of a kind
suited to the intelligence of persons who think that "Robert Elsmere" is
literature. If Mr Hardy had been a conscious artist, if he had
understood, I mean, what makes the charm and the wonder of "Two on a
Tower," he could never have adulterated the tale of "Tess" with a
free-thinking tract, he would never have turned "Jude" into a long
pamphlet on secondary education for farm labourers, with agnostic notes.
It is pathetic in the latter book amidst much weary and futile writing
to come across a passage here and there that shows the artist striving
for utterance, longing to sing us his incantations, in spite of the
preacher, who howls him down. Think of that distant vision of Oxford
from the lonely field, of all those clustering roofs and spires, wet
with rain, suddenly kindling into glancing, and scintillant fire, at the
sunset; and then remember, with what sorrow, that this is but an oasis
in a barren land of blundering argument. It is almost as if literature
had become "literature"--the "literature of the subject"--and one must
only rejoice that the artist still lives even if the enemy has shut him
up in prison. You can trace the struggle all through the book: "Sue" was
an artistic conception, a very curious but a very beautiful revelation
of some strange elements in the nature and in the love of women; but how
difficult it is to detect this--the real Sue--underneath the surface,
which makes Sue seem the prophetess of the "Woman Question," or whatever
the contemporary twaddle on the subject was called. Conceive the
"Odyssey" so handled that it seems like a volume in a "technical series"
dealing with "Seamanship and Navigation," think what might have happened
if the Rabelais who had been put in the dark cell of Fontenay-le-Comte
had completely gained the upper hand, and had silenced that other
Rabelais--that solitary and rapturous soul who had seen as in a glass
the marvellous face of man. Well, the five books of the "Pantagruel"
would have conveyed to us, no doubt with some eloquence and vigour, the
highly unimportant fact that François Rabelais, runaway Franciscan
friar, did not like Franciscan friars; and now that the centuries have
gone by we see how (comparatively) worthless such a book as that would
have been. Fortunately Pantagruel was too strong for the forces of
Panurge and Frère Jean combined, and so they have been able to do little
harm to the book.

And how one wishes that it might be so with Mr Hardy! It is not as if he
had no "body" for his conceptions; his studies of peasant folk do very
well as backgrounds for his dramas, though, of course, his work in this
way, good as it is, is not his element of real value. But it is
inoffensive always, sometimes amusing, and it might well suffice him in
his more material moments, when he feels the necessity of descending
from the solitary heights into the pleasant, populous valleys and
villages of common life. But his true work is--as it is the work of all
artists--the shaping for us of ecstasy by means of symbols; and for him
the symbol which he understands is, no doubt, the passion of love, and
with it the symbol of red, lonely ploughlands, of deep overshadowed
lanes that climb the hills and wander into lands that we know not, of
dark woods that hide a secret, of strange, immemorial barrows where one
may have communion with the souls of the dead. The passion of love, the
passion of the hills--no artist could desire more exquisite or
significant symbols than these, nor need he seek for more beautiful
forms for the expression of the perfect beauty. And Mr Hardy has chosen
to be a pamphleteer, to voice for us our poor, ignorant contemporary
chatter: it is as if an angel's pen were to be occupied in inditing
"Society Small Talk!"

But it proves the unconsciousness of Mr Hardy's art; and here, by the
way, I am moved to revert to the case of Rabelais. How far, you may ask,
was he conscious of what he was saying, and I see you remember that
passage I quoted from the last book--the splendid declaration of the
Priestess Bacbuc that "by wine is man made divine." That passage, and
indeed many other passages in the final chapters, would seem to show
that the author had worked consciously, and I certainly think the point
worth our consideration. You will remember that I stated my rule without
bigotry; I rather proposed it as a pious opinion--to the effect that in
literature the finest things are not designed. And I confess, that at
first sight, this matter of Bacbuc and her allocution looks rather like
an exception to the rule, a proof that Rabelais, at all events,
understood clearly what he was doing.

Well; it may have been so; for Rabelais was, as I think I have shown, a
very exceptional man, whom it would be difficult to place in any class.
But I hardly think this _is_ an instance of the proverbial (and
fallacious) exception that proves the rule. In the first place I believe
that some French editors have grave doubts whether Rabelais wrote the
fifth book at all; but I am not inclined to press this point. _My_ point
is that the allocution of Bacbuc and all those chapters which describe
the Oracle of the Holy Bottle are the last in the book--the last words
of the author; and I am in no way concerned to defend the position that
an author must always remain unconscious of the work that he has done.
As a matter of fact I think that always, or almost always, he is
unconscious while he is writing; but I see no reason why the revelation
may not come to him afterwards, especially in such a case as the
"Pantagruel," which was the affair of many years--of a lifetime, indeed.
In the beginning of production, in the youth, the springtime of artistic
work, the creative influence prevails, and this, it seems to me, always
or almost always operates secretly; but in later years the critical
spirit is apt to assert itself, and this will lead, very naturally,
to the artist's understanding more plainly the nature of his
accomplishment. Rabelais had a long, wonderful career; his life was full
of incident, of violent breaks, and his books were produced at
intervals, and it seems to me very possible that, towards the end, he
may have reflected on what he had done, and have understood in part, at
all events, the sense of the amazing message that he had delivered.
This, I think, is the explanation of the "Holy Bottle" chapters, and you
will note that, admirable as criticism, they are inferior as art to
those astounding early pages where there is no hint of conscious
workmanship, but rather evidence of a man for whom the world has been
transformed, who has been visited by an astounding vision. He takes an
old, popular story about a giant, he takes the vine that flourishes in
his native Chinonnais, he takes the New Learning that seems to him like
the New Wine, he takes the gross tale of the farmhouse and the tavern,
the rank speech of the people, and with these elements, with these
"facts," he symbolises the revelation that he has received. He writes,
he writes on, he writes madly, and every line is written in a fury of
delight; but, I think I may say, there is at the moment of writing, no
conscious apperception of all that that torrent of words conveys and
implies. _That_ may well come later; one may well begin with legend:
"Grandgousier was a good drinker," and end with the interpretation: "All
truth and every philosophy is contained in wine"; but I believe that if
Rabelais had perceived this at the beginning he would have been not an
artist but a philosopher.

Well; if you are content with this comment on Bacbuc, I should like to
give you a very curious instance of our own day, in which the
unconscious artist has been subdued by the conscious preacher. You
remember those very notable books: "Keynotes" and "Discords"? I have not
seen them for some time, so I am afraid my criticism will be very loose
and general, but I think that the two volumes mark very well the fatal
descent from the higher to the lower ground. In the first, it seems to
me, there is a somewhat slight, but very genuine, note of ecstasy;
I mean that you can collect a certain distinct image of real
womanhood--not the laboured, foolish, inane psychology of Mr Meredith
and those who work with him--not the analysis of the surface, of the
"society" woman, belonging to a particular grade, and a particular
period, but of the very woman who remains really the same in all social
grades and in all ages. I remember thinking when I read "Keynotes" that
it was a "lonely" book; it hinted, I think, a soul apart, and afar from
the secondary, tertiary problems of an organised civilisation, and
though there was an undertone of "preaching" and arguing, the total
impression was curiously and beautifully artistic. I found, if I
remember rightly, that subordination of the accidental to the essential
that I praised in "Two in a Tower," and I am the more convinced that
this is so by my own recollections. I have forgotten all about social
conditions, if any such things are indicated; I only think of women and
of men, of the true, inalterable human nature; and here, it seems to me,
you have a very high achievement. But the next volume "Discords" took
distinctly lower ground. The artifice was better, the stories, as
stories, were told with more skill and more deftness than anything in
"Keynotes"; but there was no more literature; there was only the
"literature of the subject." The incidents were no longer symbols of an
emotion; they had become the basis of an agitation, concerning which my
curiosity never led me to inquire further: and there you see another
proof of the unconsciousness of art. If the author of "Keynotes" had
understood her achievement "Discords" would never have been written. One
might continue the _catena_ almost _ad infinitum_: would not Wordsworth,
supposing him to have been a conscious artist, have rather cut off his
right hand than have suffered such a _magisterium_ as the "Ode on
Intimations of Immortality" to have the companionship of the enormous
mass of futility and stupidity which constitutes the greater part of the
"Complete Works"?

Well, there is the evidence that must guide us in answering the question
you propounded, and it shows, conclusively enough, I think, that art is
not, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, a conscious product.
Perhaps it would be a perilous dogmatism, on the other hand, to
definitely pronounce it to be unconscious; and I expect we had better
take refuge in the subconscious, that convenient name for the
transcendental element in human nature. For myself, I like best my old
figure of the Shadowy Companion, the invisible attendant who walks all
the way beside us, though his feet are in the Other World; and I think
that it is he who whispers to us his ineffable secrets, which we
clumsily endeavour to set down in mortal language. I think that while
the artist works he is conscious of joy and of nothing more; he works
beautifully but he could give no _rationale_ of the process, and when he
endeavours to explain himself, we are often perplexed by this strange
spectacle of a man wholly ignorant of his own creation. Consider again
the grotesqueness of that preface to "Pickwick"; it is really as if a
great sculptor, congratulated on his achievement, should answer that his
Venus was indeed beautiful--because it tended to improve the marble
industry and the general knowledge of anatomy.

And after all the conclusion does return to us from other than literary
sources. You cannot conceive a builder of the fourteenth century
hesitating as to the respective merits of Romanesque, Norman, First and
Second Pointed; to him there was only one possible method, and he built,
as he spoke, without calculation and without conscious effort, only
knowing the joy of his work. So indeed we all speak and live when we are
not bound by convention and acquired usages and manners, and you see
that art, properly so called, takes its place in the great scheme of
things; it is no studied contortion, no strange trick acquired by the
late ingenuity of man, but as "natural" (and as supernatural) as the
blossoming of a flower, and the singing of the nightingale. Art, indeed,
is wholly natural, artifice is more or less acquired, the creature of
reason, of experiment, of systematised intelligence. It is doubtful, I
suppose, whether the natural, untaught man has of himself, by endowment,
any artifice at all; doubtful, perhaps, whether, in the beginning, his
artifice was not the product of his art; whether he did not learn to
speak with artifice because he had received from nature the art of
singing; certainly the child, entering the world, has not the inborn
artifice of the swallow and the bee. This artifice, it seems, man has
been forced to acquire by slow and painful degrees, and perhaps it only
differs from the artifice of animals in that it has been aided and
reinforced by imagination, that is by art, that is by the power the
human soul possesses of projecting itself into the unknown, and
adventuring in the realm of nothingness. Man, I mean, could never have
invented the telephone, had he not first created it, had he not
conceived the possibility of its existence, when as yet, it was
non-existent, and so his artifice will always be progressive, and
distinguished from the artifice of animals.

But art is born with man, and is of the essence, the very differentia of
man. It is of his very inmost being, and therefore, I suppose, is
removed from his consciousness simply because it is within and not from
without. You may say that I have been vague, that I have not solved the
problem I propounded, that I have not clearly explained whether the
Greeks knew what they did when they worshipped Dionysus, whether
Rabelais was conscious of an inner meaning in his praise of wine,
whether Dickens understood the value of his punch and brandy. But if I
have been vague it is because man, in the last analysis, is a tremendous
mystery, because he is a complex being, because he is at once
Pantagruel, and Panurge, and Frère Jean, because he is both Don Quixote
and Sancho Panza. In some cases Pantagruel and Panurge seem to speak a
common language, to be able to communicate the one with the other: if
Rabelais wrote the "Dive Bouteille" chapters, he certainly understood
much of that which he had expressed in symbols. Sometimes the two seem
like foreigners in one home, Pantagruel dictates, and Panurge the scribe
writes down his words, hardly or not at all comprehending the magic
symbols that he expresses. So Dickens ludicrously misinterprets his own
"Pickwick." And, doubtless, this understanding of the artificer of the
artist varies in an almost infinite chain of _nuances_: there have been
artists, perhaps, who have worked like men under the influence of
haschish, who have opened their mouths and prophesied, and then
recovering from the possession, have sat up and stared, and asked where
they were, and what they had been doing. Indeed, it may be that this was
the condition of the working of art in the very dawn of human life, for
this, no doubt, is the explanation of that old equation in which bards,
magicians, seers, prophets, and madmen ranked all together as men who
spoke and worked miracles, things unintelligible to the "common sense,"
to the understanding which regulates and arranges the affairs of the
common life. All these were alike men of the mountains, men who withdrew
from the camp, and went apart into high solitary places, into the lonely
wilderness, into the forest, and in such retirements and cells they
uttered the voices that came to them, speaking words that were
unintelligible to themselves.

On the other hand there may have been artists in whom the two persons
have been happily reconciled, who have not only the "gift of tongues"
but also the gift of the interpretation of tongues. Even these, I think,
are always "possessed," ecstatic, rapt from their common nature at the
moment of inspiration, but afterwards, when the magic song is done, they
awake and return and remember, and understand, in a measure at least,
the meaning of their prophecies. They never wholly understand, they are
never able to express in rational terms the _whole_ force of the
message, for the good reason that the language of the soul infinitely
transcends the language of the understanding; because art is, indeed,
the sole channel by which the highest and purest truth can reach us. You
may, perhaps, succeed in giving a Boer "some notion" of a Greek chorus
through the medium of the "Taal," but it would be vain to dream of
translating almost perfect beauty into that poor medium, framed for the
temporary and corporal necessities of rough and illiterate farmers. And
so, however well an artist or those who appreciate his work may
"understand" his meaning, they do but "understand" a little; since the
tongue of art has many words which have no rendering in the speech of
the understanding.

Here, then, is another form of our text which enables us to separate art
from artifice, literature from reading matter. Artifice is explicable;
you remember that someone has said Thackeray was simply the ordinary
clubman _plus_ genius and a style. We must correct his phrases: but if
you substitute an "immense talent of observation" for genius, and a
"great gift of expression" for style, I think the definition admirable.
Thackeray, in short, is the clubman of heightened faculties; he differs
not in quiddity but in quality and quantity from his neighbour at the
window; he looks more closely than Tom Eaves, and he can give you the
result of his inspection in better phrases and with a better system, but
he looks at the same things from the same standpoint, and you and I can
admire his work and be amused and delighted by it, but we have no sense
of miracle, of transcendent vision and achievement. We simply see a man
who does the things that we do, but does them with a far greater
dexterity: you may watch an acrobat with an immense admiration, but you
recognise that you, too, are potentially an acrobat, that with a little
training you, too, could hang by the heels, though not with such grace,
nor for so long a time.

But art is always miraculous. In its origin, in its working, in its
results it is beyond and above explanation, and the artist's
unconsciousness is only one phase of its infinite mysteries.


I am afraid that at our last conversation I rather spoke to you "as if
you were a public meeting." Not precisely in that manner, perhaps, since
no public meeting that I can imagine would have stood me for a moment,
but I fear that I was what is called "high-flown." And yet how can one
avoid that reproach? Look here: let us suppose an examination paper, and
the following questions set.

1. Explain, in rational terms, the "Quest of the Holy Graal." State
whether in your opinion such a vessel ever existed, and if you think it
did not, justify your pleasure in reading the account of the search for

2. Explain, logically, your delight in colour. State, in terms that
Voltaire would have understood, the meaning of the phrase, "the beauty
of line."

3. What do you mean by the word "music"? Give the rational explanation
of Bach's Fugues, showing them to be as (1) true as Biology and (2)
useful as Applied Mechanics.

4. Estimate the value of Westminster Abbey in the Avoirdupois measure.

5. "The light that never was on land or sea." What light?

6. "Faery lands forlorn." Draw a map of the district in question,
putting in principal towns, and naming exports.

7. Show that, "heaven lies about us in our infancy" must mean "wholesome
maternal influences surround us in our childhood."

You say that is all nonsense? that one cannot express art of any kind in
the terms of rationalism? Well, I agree with you that it _is_ nonsense;
that the tables of weights and measures give no æsthetic guide to the
value of Westminster Abbey; but if we agree on this I am afraid that we
must be content to be called high-flown. Having once for all settled
that "common sense" has nothing to do with literary art, we must be, I
suppose, uncommon, and (apparently) nonsensical if we want to talk about
it to any profit. That is what it comes to, after all. If literature be
a kind of dignified reporting, in which the reporter is at liberty to
invent some incidents and leave out others, and to arrange all in the
order that pleases him best; then, let us have as much "common sense"
and "rationalism" as you please, and the more the better; but if
literature is a mysterious ecstasy, the withdrawal from all common and
ordinary conditions--well, I suppose, we had better be mystics when we
discuss the subject, and frankly confess that with its first principles
logic has nothing to do. I suppose that there are only two parties in
the world: the Rationalists and the Mystics, and one's vote on
literature goes with one's party. One might leave the matter there, and
amiably agree to differ with the other side, but I, personally, have the
ferocity to insist, that my side, the mystical, is wholly right, and the
other, the rationalist, wholly wrong, and moreover I shall be so
indecent as to prove the truth of my position. But, I have done so, and
with that "Examination Paper" I just read out to you. For if rationalism
be the truth, then all literature, all that both sides agree in thinking
the finest literature is simple lunacy, and all the world of the arts
must go into the region of mania. Take the lowest, the simplest
instance. Here is a knife with a wooden handle, and the handle has
certain curious carved designs on it, which do _not_ enable it to be
held better. Why is this knife better, more to be valued, than that
other knife, which is not decorated at all? It does not cut better; it
does not justify its existence and purpose as a knife more than the
other; where is its superiority? Because I find pleasure in seeing those
designs? But _why_ do I find any pleasure in ornament? What is the
rationalistic justification for that pleasure? By logical definition a
knife is an instrument for cutting, and nothing else; the plain cuts as
well as the ornate; _why_ then are you sorry if you lose the one, while
you don't care twopence for the loss of the other? You have at last to
answer that you have a joy which you cannot in any way define in the
purely decorative pattern; and with that answer the whole system of
rationalism topples over. Rationalism may say to you: Either give a
definite reason for going to Mass, or leave off going. You have only to
answer: Your command is based on the premiss that one should do nothing
without being able to give a definite reason for it. But I can give no
definite reason for liking--the Odyssey or a curiously carved knife--and
yet you confess that I am right in liking these things. Then I have
proved the contradictory of your premiss, as you have admitted that
there are things that one may do without being able to give a definite
reason for doing them: _ergo_, I shall not neglect the "parson's bell."

Of course, all this is altogether outside of my business; but I confess
I am fond of carrying things to their limits. You remember how poor S.
T. C. used to talk, humbly and yet proudly, of "my system," though I am
afraid "my system," never emerged from the state of fragments and
_disjecta membra_. And I too, though I have only broken morsels and
ruinous stones to show for the splendid outlines and indicated arches of
Coleridge, still like to follow up an argument whithersoever it will
lead me, regardless of consequences; and this, I am sure, should count
for righteousness with our friends the rationalists. I love to start a
_sorites_, something as follows: I admire that odd but beautiful little
decorative scheme on the seventeenth century chest, and therefore, I
think poetry, as poetry, finer than prose, as prose. Hence I approve of
"Ritualism" in the service of the church, and from the same premiss I
draw the conclusion that Keats was a poet and that Pope was not. Pope
not being a poet, it follows that to "intone" is in every way better
than to "read" the Liturgy and the Offices, and "reading" the service
being wrong, you will easily infer that I dislike Mr Frith's pictures.
And after learning that I do not care for the "Derby Day," you will
scarcely require my opinion as to the (theoretical) righteousness of the
first Reform Bill, and from my attitude towards Lord John Russell's
measure, you can, of course, guess my opinion on the respective merits
of the French and English languages as literary instruments. And French
being vastly inferior to English, it necessarily follows that the
English Reformation was a great (though perhaps unavoidable) misfortune.
Hence, you see, admiring certain lines cut in an old oaken box, I am led
by the strictest logic to dislike the religious policy of Edward VI.,
with all the other consequences in order; and on the other hand if I saw
no sense in that rude ornament I should be an Atheist, or at the
mildest, an attendant at Pleasant Sunday Afternoons, with George Eliot
for my favourite reading.

Yes, I like my theories to "work through," and I confess that my belief
in the truth of "my system" is very much strengthened by the fact that
it does "work through," that it seems to me justified by the facts of
life. I mean that the premiss which enables me to declare Keats to be a
poet and Pope not to be a poet does really enable me to pronounce
democracy to be a bad system in theory; and the premiss baldly stated is
simply this: that logic does not cover life, or in other words, that
life cannot be judged by the rules of logic, of common sense.

But yet I am using logic all the time, you say? Certainly, but I am
using it in its right place, to do the work for which it is competent.
If I say that a scythe is not exactly the instrument for performing a
surgical operation, I am not therefore bound to have my meadow mown with
a bistoury? A microscope is good and a telescope is good, but it is the
microscope that one uses in bacteriology. You know, don't you, that ever
since that unhappy Reformation of ours people have been talking nonsense
about the Aristotelian logic, and fumbling, in the most grotesque
manner, for some "new" logic. Our great false prophet Bacon (a wretch
infinitely more guilty than Hobbes) began it in England with his "Novum
Organum"; and if you wish to really estimate "educated" folly, to touch
the bottom of the incredible depths to which a man of information may
sink, read Macaulay's comparison of the "old" philosophy and the "new"
philosophy. The essayist says that the "old" philosophy was no good,
because it never led up to the steam-engine and the telegraph post.
Isn't it almost humiliating to think that we have to acknowledge
ourselves of the same genus as that "brilliant" Macaulay? But if I told
you that the Greek Alphabet was no good because it has never grilled a
single steak you would probably get uneasy and make for the door, and if
you were charitable you would tell the landlady that I ought to be
"taken care of." But such a remark as that is no whit more lunatic than
Macaulay's "comparison" between philosophy, properly so called, and
physical science applied to utilitarian purposes. Well, all the
portentous stuff that has been written about logic is nonsense of
exactly the same kind. The scholastic logic, people said, won't discover
the truth. That is perfectly true, but then the scholastic logic was not
intended to discover truth. It will draw conclusions from truths already
discovered, from premisses granted, but it wont make premisses any more
than a scythe will make grass. And, it is, curiously enough, the very
class of people who despise the formal logic, who insist on your giving
logical reasons for actions and emotions which are altogether outside
the jurisdiction of logic. With one breath they say: Aristotle is
useless, because the "Organon" could never have led men to discover the
stomach-pump; and with the next breath they ask you what you mean by
admiring the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" if you can't give any logical reason
for your admiration. Your religion doesn't rest on a logical foundation,
they say. But does anything of any consequence rest on a logical
foundation? Can you reduce the "Morte d'Arthur" into valid syllogisms in
_Barbara_, can you "disprove" Salisbury Cathedral by the aid of
_Celarent_. What is the "rational" explanation of our wonder and joy at
the vision of the hills? Are a great symphony, the swell and triumph of
the organ, the voices of the choristers, to be tested by the process of
the understanding? But perhaps I am misjudging the people who ask these
questions. When they say that logic does not discover truth, they
doubtless mean by logic that formal analysis of the ratiocinative
process that is rightly so called; but I am inclined to think that when
they condemn religious or artistic emotions because they are
"illogical," they mean by "illogical" that which does not conduce to the
ease and comfort of the digestive apparatus or the money-making faculty.
They are terrible fellows, you know, some of these persons. For example,
I asked, with a tone of undue triumph, I am afraid, for the "reason why"
we experience awe and delight in the presence of the hills. But in
certain quarters my problem would be very quickly solved. I should be
told, more in sorrow than in anger, that my emotion at the sight of
certain shapes of earth was due to the fact that hill air was highly
ozonised, and that the human race had acquired an instinctive pleasure
in breathing it, greatly to its digestive profit. And if I tried to turn
the tables by declaring that I experienced an equal, though a different
delight in the spectacle of a desolate, smoking marsh, where a red sun
sinks from a world of shivering reeds, I suppose I should hear that some
remote ancestor of mine had found in some such place "pterodactyls
plentiful and strong on the wing." And if I like the woods, it was
because a monkey sat at the root of my family tree, and if I love an
ancient garden it is because I am "second cousin to the worm."

There: I confess it is difficult to keep one's temper with these people,
but one must try to do so. Do you remember how Trunnion's marriage was
delayed? The bridegroom set out bravely with his retinue for the
parish-church, where the bride waited a whole half hour--in vain. A
messenger was sent who saw:

"The whole troop disposed in a long field, crossing the road obliquely,
and headed by the bridegroom and his friend Hatchway, who finding
himself hindered by a hedge from proceeding farther in the same
direction, fired a pistol and stood over to the other side, making an
obtuse angle with the line of his former course; and the rest of the
squadron followed his example, keeping always in the rear of each other
like a flight of wild geese.

"Surprised at this strange method of journeying, the messenger came up
... and desired he would proceed with more expedition. To this message
Mr Trunnion replied, 'Hark ye, brother, don't you see we make all
possible speed? Go back, and tell those who sent you, that the wind has
shifted since we weighed anchor, and that we are obliged to make short
trips in tacking, by reason of the narrowness of the channel; and that,
as we lie within six points of the wind, they must make some allowance
for variation and leeway.' 'Lord, sir!' said the valet, 'what occasion
have you to go zig-zag in that manner? Do but clap spurs to your horses,
and ride straight forward, and I'll engage you shall be at the church
porch in less than a quarter of an hour.' 'What! right in the wind's
eye?' answered the commander. 'Ahey! brother, where did you learn your

You see Commodore Trunnion's "logic" was perfect, only it was the logic
of seamanship and not of riding to church on horseback. There are a good
many people at the present day who are quite unable to get to church in
time, for "reasons" as valid as Trunnion's; and when I hear of "the
scientific basis of literature" I am always a little reminded of those
scarecrows straggling in short tacks from one side of the lane to the
other on their way to the wedding. The moral is, you know, that they
didn't get there.

I tackled a materialist once on very similar lines. He began by saying
that time and thought devoted to religion (they never see that art and
religion stand or fall together, religion being the foundation of the fine
arts) were an utter waste of time as they only diverted us from
consideration of the present world, which we ought to study to the utmost;
and he went on to praise some saying of Confucius on the folly of
troubling about the future things. Then I went for him. He had to admit
that agriculture is good, and I pointed out to him that England was
changed from a savage wilderness into a pleasant garden by the monastic
houses. He agreed that to found and endow hospitals and alms-houses was
not precisely a waste of time, and I showed him that such institutions
were begun by the religion of the past and carried on by the religion of
the present. Then he allowed, in response to my Socratic question, that
painting was something, and I demonstrated that all painting arose from
the religious impulse, that the greatest paintings in the world were meant
to adorn churches. Then he admitted the value of architecture, and he got
the Parthenon, all the mediæval cathedrals, and the wonderful mound
temples of Ceylon right at his head. He granted me that travel civilised,
and I rubbed in the pilgrimage; he confessed that he liked to read the
Latin and Greek classics--sometimes--and he received from me information
as to the monastic scriptorium, and its part in the preservation of the
old literature. As for the blessedness of forming one's character on the
teaching of Confucius; there happened to be an article in the morning's
paper on the Mandarin class! Well, my rationalist hadn't anything to say
to it at all, with the exception of some vague remark that the Romans made
roads, which, considering the state of England in the sixth century, was
about as helpful as the somewhat similar remark of Mr F's. Aunt--that
there are milestones on the Dover Road. I told him that the only Roman
civilisation which contributed to the making of our country was that
brought over by St Austin; and he had to allow that his statement that
religion was a waste of time, an elaborate form of idleness, was, to put
it mildly, not proven. Then he said kindly but firmly that religion wasn't
rational, and I used up most of the arguments that I have used to-night; I
mean, I showed him that it is good to paint pictures, to write poems, to
devise romances, and to compose symphonies, and that it is also good to
meditate and enjoy all these things. Hence, he was forced to admit, that
his suppressed premiss had been disproved, and that he must no longer
say: "that which is not rational is absurd."

And then, I think, the fun really began. I carried the war into the very
camp of the enemy; that is, into actual, observable life, into the every
day world of fact and experience. You talk about "reason," I said, and I
presume you won't mind if I substitute, occasionally, "common sense" for
reason, as I think that in your phraseology the two terms are very
fairly equated. Very well, then, don't you think that there is a good
deal of common sense in many of the actions of animals? Take the case of
the small birds who mob an owl all day, in order that their enemy may be
kept awake, and so unable to hoot at night. Take the case of the ants,
who milk the aphides, and go slave-hunting. Take the bees, who rise to
an emergency, and remedy, with singular contrivance, the threatened lack
of a queen. Take the dog, who brought a wounded fellow to the hospital
where he had been cured. All these are instances of common sense, aren't
they, as rational as the telegram "Sell Cobras at once"? Very good;
animals, then, have a plentiful supply of reason, and not of a mere
mechanical reason, but of reason that can rise to the height of
unforeseen cases, and remedy unexpected evils. When the experimenter
tilted the bees' house to one side, so that the equilibrium was in
danger, a sufficient number of bees climbed up, and placed themselves on
the other side so that they constituted a balance; here there was no
mechanism, but a calculated and rational contrivance. Animals, then,
have reason and its effect artifice; the adaptation of means to secure
ends. But, then, how about instinct? By what motion does the swallow
make her nest in spring? Can the bee demonstrate the advantages of the
hexagon cell? Does the fly, laying its eggs, here and there, in this or
in that according to its kind, in meat or in dung, or in the crevices of
a wall, rationally foresee that it is providing for the future grub its
only possible food? No; but then animals, even, perform "irrational"
actions; though they have common sense they do things which must be
troublesome to them, at some instance, which is not common sense. But if
a bluebottle lays her eggs in my beef, and knows not why, perhaps I, a
man, may sing the _Sanctus_, and pray that I may be joined _cum angelis
et archangelis, cum thronis et dominationbus, Cumque omni militiâ
cælestis exercitus_.

And consider our own human life; the great _coups_ of war, commerce,
diplomacy, of all the conduct of life, are often, or usually, the result
of "intuitions," that is of irrational and inexplicable mental
processes, which elude all analysis. If the knowledge, the successful
and triumphant knowledge of men and affairs and strategy were a
"rational" product; then, indeed, Carlyle's dictum were true, and each
one of us were, at choice, a man of genius in diplomacy, or business, or
battle. We know that it is not so, and that no man by taking thought can
make himself, say, a Stonewall Jackson. And we have all heard of the
"woman's reason"--"I don't know why I am sure that x = a, but I am
sure"--and this extremely irrational process often corresponds with the
truth. So, I finished up, your "reason" far from being the despot of the
world, turns out to be a humble, though useful, deputy-assistant
councillor-general, and is by no means a prerogative force, even in
affairs of common, everyday existence. Why, "reason," alone and
unassisted, won't enable you to make a decent living by selling ribbons
and laces, and you have been trying to make me accept its dictation in
the highest affairs of the soul. You have been appealing from the
King's Majesty in Council to the Magistrates of Little Pedlington in
Petty Sessions assembled!

Then my rationalist made a point. You know, he said, that some men seem
to have an almost miraculous skill in solving mathematical problems:
would you, therefore, give up teaching the ordinary arithmetic? I was
not alarmed; I pointed out that the analogy was not quite perfect. The
case, I said, was this. A certain number of "problems" were,
confessedly, beyond the jurisdiction of the "ordinary arithmetic"
altogether, but offered no difficulties to the "lightning calculator,"
who obtained results that were demonstratively correct, and I therefore
thought it well to trust to him in all problems of a similar character,
even though the "ordinary arithmetic," confessedly incompetent, assured
me that his answers were wholly unreliable--a case of a schoolboy, well
on in Colenso, scouting the Binomial Theorem because one couldn't prove
it by Practice or the Rule of Three. I left then, unanswered, and I
suppose my friend passed the rest of the evening in showing that
Salisbury Cathedral was "opposed" to the facts of Biology, and that
Sisters of Charity are to be classed with criminal lunatics.

But, you know, I was the real lunatic. You would not have "argued" with
me if I _had_ disparaged the Greek alphabet, because it never grilled a
single steak; I hinted the course you would probably have pursued if I
had chanced to make such an alarming remark. And why should I argue with
the sect of Macaulay, with the tribe which utters such stuff as this:

"Assuredly if the tree which Socrates planted and Plato watered is to be
judged of by its flowers and leaves, it is the noblest of trees. But if
we take the homely test of Bacon--if we judge the tree by its
_fruits_--our opinion of it may be less favourable. When we sum up the
useful truths which we owe to that philosophy, to what do they
amount.... But when we look for something more--for something which adds
to the comfort or alleviates the calamities of the human race--we are
forced to own ourselves disappointed."

No; there is, really, nothing to be said. If the Learned Pig found voice
and articulate speech and expressed his scorn of the poet's art, since
it added nothing to the pleasures of the wash-tub, we might wonder but
we should not argue; and it were idle to contend with a Laughing
Jackass, contemptuously amused by the chanting of the cathedral choir.

And, perhaps, you are wondering what all this talk of mine has to do
with our main subject--literature? But don't you see that all the while
I have merely been reiterating our old conclusions in a new phraseology?
I may have appeared to you to be the last of the Cavaliers, gallantly
contending for the rights of Holy Church, but, in reality, I have been
showing, at every step, that Jane Austen's works are not literature.
Yes, but it is so. If the science of life, if philosophy, consisted of a
series of mathematical propositions, capable of rational demonstration,
then, "Pride and Prejudice" would be the highest pinnacle of the
literary art; but if not, but oh! if we, being wondrous, journey through
a wonderful world, if all our joys are from above, from the other world
where the Shadowy Companion walks, then no mere making of the likeness
of the external shape will be our art, no veracious document will be our
truth; but to us, initiated, the Symbol will be offered, and we shall
take the Sign and adore, beneath the outward and perhaps unlovely
accidents, the very Presence and eternal indwelling of God.

We have tracked Ecstasy by many strange paths, in divers strange
disguises, but I think that now, and only now, we have discovered its
full and perfect definition. For Artifice is of Time, but Art is of


Poe was not altogether right in saying that the object of poetry was
Beauty as distinguished from Truth. I don't for a moment suppose that
his meaning was amiss, but I hardly like his expression of it. I should
contend, on the other hand, that poetry κατ' ἐξοχήν, and literature,
generally, are the sole media by which the very highest truth can be
conveyed. Poe, no doubt, meant to state a proposition which is true and
self-evident--that poetry has nothing to do with scientific truth, or
facts, or information of any kind, and I say that that proposition is
self-evident, because we have already seen that in literature, facts as
facts, have no existence at all. They are only "words" in the language
of literary art, and are used as symbols of something else. That A. is
in love with B. is a "scientific truth," a fact; but if it be not also a
symbol, it has no literary existence whatever; and this of course is
what Poe wished to say--literature is not a matter of information.

But I doubt, after all, whether Poe had quite grasped the theory of
literature, of all the arts. You remember that he says that he yields to
no man in his love of the truth; and unless he meant the highest truth
the statement is almost nonsensical. No one, I should imagine, surely
not Poe, would express his enthusiasm for facts as facts, would adore
correct information in the abstract. You remember what Rossetti
said--that he neither knew nor cared whether the sun went round the
earth or the earth round the sun--and so far as art is concerned this
is, no doubt, the expression of the true faith, which, from what we know
of Poe, would be his faith also. We should therefore conclude that by
truth he meant philosophical truth, the highest truth, the essential
truth as distinguished from the accidental, the universal as
distinguished from the particular. Yet in the next breath he contrasts
this Truth with Beauty, being clearly under the impression that they
were two different things. Of course he was completely mistaken. In the
last analysis it is entirely true that "Beauty is Truth and Truth
Beauty": they are one and the same entity seen from different points of
view. You will see how this fits in with all we have been saying about
literature lately: how we can if we please put our test of literature
into yet another phraseology. For instance: "Vanity Fair" is
information, while "Pickwick" is Truth; the one tells you a number of
facts about Becky Sharpe and other people, while the other symbolises
certain eternal and essential elements in human nature by means of
incidents. And, as I said, it is doubtful whether truth in this, its
highest and its real significance, can be adequately expressed in any
other way. All the profound verities which have been revealed to man
have come to him under the guise of myths and symbols--such as the myth
of Dionysus--and truth in the form of a mathematical demonstration or a
"rational" statement is a contradiction in terms. Yet note the profound
vice of language; we are obliged to use the same word to imply things
which are separated by an immeasurable gulf. It is "true" that Mrs
Stickings sent away Ethelberta to-night (you imparted that interesting
fact, and I rely on your testimony), and the "Don Quixote" is "true":
that is, it conveys to us by means of symbols the verities of our own

But Poe had not grasped the essential distinction between literature
and "literature." He thought that poetry alone should be beautiful, or
as we should say, ecstatic; he did not see that the qualities which make
poetry to be what it is must also be present in prose if it is to be
something more than "reading-matter." Poetry of course is literature in
its purest state; it is, as I think I once said, _almost_ the soul
without the body; at its highest it is _almost_ pure art unmixed with
the alloy of artifice. And to carry on the analysis, the finest form of
poetry is necessarily the lyrical. Where you get the element of
narrative, you are apt also to get the element of prose; there have to
be passages linking the raptures together, and these will, probably or
indeed necessarily, run on lower levels.

Of course primitive man had moods in which rapture seemed to embrace
everything, to invest every detail of existence with its own singular
and inexplicable glory. A meal by the seashore, the dry wood flaming and
crackling on the sand, the roasting goat's flesh, the honey-sweet wine,
dark and almost as glorious as the sea itself--a mere dinner of
half-savages, one might think it, but it too seems to have its solemnity
and its inner meaning. I believe this element in the early poetry has
often been noticed; people have wondered at the _naïve_ delight with
which the writers describe the work of man's hands, and they are, I
think, inclined to account for it on the ground that then everything was
new. This might pass, perhaps, since as you, no doubt, perceive,
"everything new" means "everything unknown" (that which is known is no
longer new), but I hardly think that the explanation can stand in its
present form. I am not at all up in the theories which assign this or
that age to the appearance of man on the earth, but I presume that on
the gentlest and most antiquated computation man must have long known
the world before Homer wrote; so one scarcely sees that human skill and
art, the knack of making things and the gift of adorning them, could
have been novelties, or in any sense, "things unknown." I repeat I know
nothing or next to nothing about these dates in anthropology, but one
has heard something about the neolithic age, and the palæolithic age,
about the very early man who scratched the rude likeness of a reindeer
on the brute's own bone, and so there hardly seems room for this theory
of novelty. And besides, as we have seen, the rapture is universal or
all but universal; it colours the whole of life, including the meal by
the seashore; and there, we see, there was no possibility of invention
or sense of newness. No; the theory is tempting, and it would fall in
perfectly, as I daresay you see, with all that we have concluded about
literature, but I really think that it must be definitely abandoned. No;
it seems to me that primitive man, Homeric man, mediæval man, man,
indeed, almost to our own day when the School Board (and other things)
have got hold of him, had such an unconscious but all-pervading,
all-influencing conviction that he was a wonderful being, descended of a
wonderful ancestry, and surrounded by mysteries of all kinds, that even
the smallest details of his life partook of the ruling ecstasy; he was
so sure that he was miraculous that it seemed that no part of his life
could escape from the miracle, so that to him every meal became a

It is the attitude of the primitive man, of the real man, of the child,
always and everywhere; it may be briefly summed up in the phrase: things
are because they are wonderful. This, of course, is the atmosphere in
which poets ought to live, and in which poetry should be produced.
Formerly it was natural to all men or almost all; now, perhaps, it has
to be regained by a conscious effort; and the difficulty of the effort,
the impossibility of sustaining it for long, explain the supremacy of
lyrical poetry. If you lived in a world that could regard a common meal
as a sacrament, you could be supreme in narrative poetry; but, that
atmosphere wanting, we have to be content for the most part with the
lyric, with the simple incantation, without any description of the
circumstance or occasion.

Yet prose, though it yields in much to the world, must still keep the
same ideal before it as poetry. I say, distinctly, that the only
essential, defining difference between the two is to be sought in the
"numbering" of poetry, in the fact that art, in its intensest raptures,
in its most truly "natural" moment, desires and obtains the strictest
and most formal laws. It is, I suppose, immaterial what these laws are,
rhyme, assonance, accents, feet, alliteration, all testify to the
important and essential rule that freedom is chiefly free when it is
most bound and bounded by restrictions which _we_ should call
artificial, which are, in truth, in the highest sense, natural. And
this, I am sure, is the only possible distinction that can be
established between such a book as the "Odyssey" and such a book as the
"Morte d'Arthur." Neither is "prosaic" in the common sense of the word;
each is "poetical"; but the Greek book is poetry because it is numbered,
and the English is prose because it lacks number. Of course there are
difficult cases; hybrids, as there always are, whatever laws one may lay

       *       *       *       *       *

That word "natural" is another of the many traps that language sets us.
I think that its real meaning has become almost reversed. Take the
average man to church, and ask him his opinion of the "intoning," and in
nine cases out of ten he will say that it may be pretty, but that it is
very unnatural. He means, of course, that speaking is natural, and that
singing--"numerosity" of tone--is not natural, is, in a word,
artificial. He is utterly wrong. It is artificial to speak in the
ordinary manner, while the priests' chant, and every chant are purely
natural. For the proof of this you have only to read a little--a very
little--about primitive, or "natural" peoples, or, more simply, to
listen to children at play. You will always find that where convention
has not cast out nature, some kind of "sing-song," some sort of chant is
the entirely natural utterance of man in his most fervent, that is, his
most natural moments. Listen to half-a-dozen children (children, you
must remember, are all "primitives" and therefore natural) playing some
game, learning their lesson at school. Their voices are pretty sure to
fall into a very rude, but a distinctly measured, chant. The Greek drama
was intoned, the Koran is intoned, the Welsh preacher of to-day at the
impassioned height of eloquence begins to chant, the Persian
passion-plays are recited in a sing-song. Nay, but listen only to our
great tragic actor. Quite unconsciously, I am sure, he has elaborated
for himself a distinctly musical and measured utterance, so that a
skilful musician, provided with scored paper, could note Irving's
delivery of many passages, as if it were music. The Chinese language, I
am told, depends largely on the tonal variations which distinguish the
meaning of one word from that of another; you will find the same thing
in the Norwegian; and the Jewish "cantillation," which is "sing-song" in
a very simple form, bears witness to the truth--that "speaking" is
acquired, conventional, and artificial, while "singing" is natural. All
this would be perfectly clear in itself, would require no demonstration
of any kind, if it were not for the fact that we have, somehow or other,
got into the way of making the very impudent assumption that man is only
natural when he is doing business on the Stock-Exchange or reading
leading-articles. It seems almost too nonsensical an assumption to put
into words, but I really do believe that "at the back of our heads"
there is a sort of vague, floating idea that there never were any real
men at all till the period of the first Reform Bill, and I suppose that
before very long Lord John Russell will be pushed back into the region
of myth, and the foundation of the School Board will be the era of true
humanity. I say, this sounds too ridiculous, but examine yourself and
see whether you don't dimly believe that before the advent of trousers
the whole world was really "play-acting," that existence in the days of
laced coats was, in a way, a kind of phantasmagoria, and that a man who
wore chain-mail was hardly a man. I believe it really is so, and you
will find the same nonsense influencing religious opinion. Take your
average Protestant, and I am much mistaken if you do not discover that
he believes some grotesque preacher, in his greasy black suit, mouthing
platitudes at his conventicle to be somehow more "natural" than the
priest, clad in the mystical robes of his office, chanting Mass at the
altar. But in literature--why this perversion of the word influences the
whole of criticism. Jane Austen, we say, is natural, and Edgar Allan Poe
is unnatural, or as it is sometimes expressed, inhuman. Of course, if
you wish for the truth, the proposition must be reversed, unless you are
willing to believe that a Company Prospectus is, somehow, more natural
and more human than, say, Tennyson's "Fatima." If you think that the
real man is the stomach, there is, of course, an end of the discussion;
but then we should have to admit that all the greatest artists of the
world were maniacs. But you see clearly, don't you, that all these
questions as to what we shall get for dinner, and whom shall we meet at
dinner, and in what order shall we go into dinner, and how shall we
behave at dinner, are in no sense natural, since they are all so purely
temporary, since they will be answered by one age in a manner that will
seem wholly "unnatural" to the next. That, I think, is truly natural
which is unchanging, which belongs to men always, at all times, and in
all ages. In this sense, ecstasy is natural to man, and it finds
expression in the arts, in poetry, in romance, in singing, in melody, in
dancing, in painting, in architecture. Many animals have sufficient
artifice to shelter themselves from the weather, no animal has
architecture, or the art of beauty in building; many animals, or all
animals, have the faculty of communicating with one another by means of
signs, but man alone has the art of language.

       *       *       *       *       *

Has it ever struck you while I have been talking of ecstasy in books,
that it is nearly always a question of degree, of more or less? I think
I indicated as much while I was talking about "Pickwick"; I showed how
the ecstatic conception had been alloyed with much baser matter, in
other words that there was much in "Pickwick" that was by no means
literature. And, I daresay, though I am not sure, that if you were to go
through your Meredith you might succeed in finding some passages and
sentences which are literature, and for all I know there may be hints
of rapture between the lines of "Pride and Prejudice." Still, we do not
call a man poet on the strength of a single line.

But sometimes one is confronted with books which are really very
difficult to judge, and this sometimes happens because the ecstasy, the
true literary feeling, supposing it to be present, is present not here
or there, not in a phrase or in a particular passage, but throughout, in
a very weak solution, if one may borrow the phraseology of physical
science. We read such books, and are puzzled, feeling that, somehow,
they are literature, only we can't say why, since on the face of it they
seem only to be entertaining reading. Do you know that I can conceive
many people who would find something of this difficulty in Mark Twain's
"Huckleberry Finn"? Here you have a tale of the rude America of forty or
fifty years ago, of a Mississippi village, full of the most ordinary
people, of a boy and a negro who "run away." I don't think anyone with
the slightest perception of literature could read it without
experiencing extraordinary delight, but I can imagine many people would
be a good deal puzzled to justify the pleasure they had received. The
"stuff" of the book is so very common and commonplace, isn't it, it
seems so frankly a rough bit of recollection drawn up from the author's
boyish days with jottings added from the time when he was a pilot on one
of the river-boats--it is all so apparently devoid of "literary" feeling
that I am sure many a reader must have felt greatly ashamed of his huge
enjoyment. To me "Huckleberry Finn" is not a very difficult case. That
flight by night down the great unknown, rolling river, between the dim
marshy lands and the high "bluffs" of the other shore comes in my mind
well under the great "Odyssey" class; it has, indeed, the old,
unquenchable joy of wandering into the unknown in a more acute degree
than "Pickwick," which, as we have seen, is to be reckoned under the
same heading. In a word it is pure romance, and you will note that the
story is told by a boy, and that by this method a larger element of
wonder is secured, for even in this absurd age children are allowed to
be amazed at the spectacle of the world. In the mouth of a man the tale
would necessarily have lost somewhat of its "strangeness," since partly
from affectation, partly from vicious training, partly from the
absorption of the "getting-on" process, grown-up people have largely
succeeded in quenching the sense of mystery which should be their
principal delight. You have only to read the average book of travels to
see how this affectation (or perversion of the soul) has deprived the
seeing being of his sight. Dip into a book--say a book on China--and you
will probably find that Pekin streets are dusty in summer and muddy in
winter, and that the author caught cold through imprudent bathing. So it
is well for us that Mark Twain put his story in the mouth of an
"infant," who is frankly at liberty to express his sense of the marvels
of the world. Later, there is an introduction of the "literary" feeling;
those chapters about Jim's "Evasion" are very Cervantic in their
artifice and method, but, to my thinking, they have lost the spirit,
though they preserve the body. They are most amusing reading, but they
are burlesque and nothing more than burlesque; and from them one can
almost imagine what "Don Quixote" would have been if it had been written
by a very clever man, by an artificer who was not an artist. But the
earlier chapters are wonderfully fine, and I think that it would be
difficult to find a more successful rendering of the old "wandering"
theme with modern language.

       *       *       *       *       *

But there is another writer who is much more difficult to account for--I
mean Miss Wilkins. I confess I find her tales delightful, and I often
read them, but as you know I am not content to rest on my own pleasure
in literary criticism. We are no longer talking of the great
masterpieces, of the gigantic achievements of such men as Homer,
Sophocles, Rabelais, Cervantes; we agreed that when we spoke of these
great, enduring miracles of art, it was best to lay aside all question
of liking or not liking, of reading often or reading seldom. But when
one comes to modern days, to books which have yet to prove their merit
by the test of their endurance, it is pardonable if one is sometimes a
little confused, if one fails to discriminate at once between the merely
interesting and the really artistic. I may be so delighted with a book
for reasons that have nothing to do with art, that, by an unconscious
trick of the mind, I persuade myself that I am reading literature while
there is only reading-matter. And at one time I was inclined to think
that I had "confused" Miss Wilkins in this manner. For, on the surface,
you have in her books merely village tales of New Englanders, tales
often sentimental, often trivial enough, and sometimes, it would seem,
of hardly more than local interest. Hardly can one conceive the
possibility of any ecstasy in these pleasant stories; for they deal,
ostentatiously, with the surface of things, with a breed of Englishmen
whose chief pride it was to hide away and smother all those passions and
emotions which are the peculiar mark of man as man.

Yet, I believe that I can justify my love of Miss Wilkins's work on a
higher ground than that of mere liking. In the first place I agree with
Mr T. P. O'Connor, who pointed out very well that the passion does come
through the reserve, and occasionally in the most volcanic manner. He
selects a scene from "Pembroke," in which the young people play at some
dancing game called "Copenhagen," and Mr O'Connor shows that though the
boys and girls of Pembroke knew nothing of it, they were really animated
by the spirit of the Bacchanals, that the fire and glow of passion, of
the youthful ecstasy, burst through all the hard crusts of Calvinism
and New England reserve. And we have agreed that if a writer can make
passion for us, if he can create the image of the eternal human ecstasy,
we have agreed that in such a case the writer is an artist.

But I think that there are other things, more subtle, more delicately
hinted things in Miss Wilkins's tales; or rather I should say that they
are all pervaded and filled with an emotion, which I can hardly think
that the writer has realised. Well, I find it difficult to express
exactly what I mean, but I think that the whole impression which one
receives from these tales is one of loneliness, of isolation. Compare
Miss Wilkins with Jane Austen, the New England stories with "Pride and
Prejudice." You might imagine, at first, that in one case as in the
other there is a sense of retirement, of separation from the world, that
Miss Austen's heroines are as remote from the great streams and
whirlpools of life as any "Jane Field" or Charlotte of Massachusetts.
But in reality this is not so. The people in the English novels are in
no sense remote; they are merely dull; they cannot be remote, indeed,
since they are not human beings at all but merely the representatives of
certain superficial manners and tricks of manner which were common in
the rural England of ninety years ago. "Remoteness" is an affection of
the soul, and wicker-figures, dressed up in the clothes of a period,
cannot have any such affections predicated of them; and consequently
though Emma or Elizabeth may appear very quaint to us from the contrast
between the manners of the 'tens and the 'nineties, they cannot be
remote. But that does seem to me the quality of those books of Miss
Wilkins's; the people appear to be very far off from the world, to live
in an isolated sphere, and each one lives his own life, and dwells apart
with his own soul, and in spite of all the trivial chatter and
circumstance of the village one feels that each is a human being moved
by eminently human affections.

       *       *       *       *       *

It seems to me that one of the most important functions of literature is
to seize the really fine flavours of life and to preserve them, as it
were, in permanent form. When we were talking about "Huckleberry Finn,"
for example, I remember that I spoke of it as the story of a boy who "runs
away." But what a curious magic there is in these words "runs away."
Doesn't it, when you come to examine the phrase, exhale the very essence
and spirit of romance? Some time ago I reminded you that the essential
thing is concealed under all manner of grotesque and unseemly forms, that
one can detect a veritable human passion under the cry of the news-boy,
shouting, "All the winners!" So I think that phrase, "run away," carries
to us its meaning and significance. For, after all, what did all the
heroes of romance do but "run away"? They left the region of the known,
the familiar fields or the familiar shores, and adventured out in the
great waste of the unexplored, into the forest or upon the sea. Here,
perhaps, you have the true interpretation of the phrase "divine
discontent," for surely only that is divine which revolts from the
commonness of the common life, which is conscious of things beyond, of
better things, of a world which transcends all daily experience. I said
once, I think, that the English passion for trading goes very well with
the supremacy of English poetry, since poetry and shop-keeping are but
different expressions of the one idea; and here again you find
confirmation of the theory in that very marked English characteristic--the
desire of wandering, of "going on and on" in the manner of a knight
errant or a fairy tale hero. Of course, in practice, this really divine
impulse is corrupted by all kinds of earthly, secondary motions; and just
as the love of a venture which is at the root of trade often or always
ends in a very vulgar wish to make money and more money and to set up a
brougham and confound the Smiths, so the great joy of exploration, of
running away from the mapped and charted land has for its issues the
"development of markets," the "progress of civilisation," the profitable
sale of poison, and all manner of base and blackguardly manœuvres. But, of
course, one expects all this; it is the inevitable mixture of the lower
with the higher which characterises all our human ways. Still the higher
motive dwells within us--I suspect, indeed, that if it were not for the
higher the lower could hardly flourish--and so when you hear that a boy
has run away to sea or elsewhere I wish you to think kindly of him as a
survival of the most primitive and important human passions. Yes, I think
I am right in saying that the lower things of humanity only flourish in
consequence of the existence of the higher. Take the French nation, for
example. It is infinitely more bent on gain for the mere sake of gain
than the English; it is ready to work harder, to give more time, to live
more unpleasantly, to eat less and to drink less than the English; and all
in the pursuit of money. Rationally, in short, the French should be
infinitely better men of business than the English; and yet we know that
this is not so, that the English is, _par excellence_, the business
nation. Seriously, I believe, that this is so because the French are
money-grubbers and nothing more, because they hate a "risk" of any kind,
because they abhor any kind of mercantile venturing into the unknown. In
other words, they engage in money-making simply for the sake of making
money: they have no joy of the hazard, they will never deserve the title
of "merchant adventurers," and, _therefore_, they remain in truth a nation
of shopkeepers and of second-rate shopkeepers. Sir, a man of acute
intelligence would, in the seventeenth century, have deduced the future
state of French and English commerce, of French and English colonization
from a comparison between Shakespeare and Racine. I have no doubt that the
Phœnicians were shopkeepers of the French kind, and hence their
extinction, their shadowy survival merely in the history of their

       *       *       *       *       *

You think the Roman Empire a formidable objection to my theory, because
Roman literature and Roman art show, in general, so little of the
imaginative, adventurous faculty? I think the objection _is_ formidable,
but I believe that it can be redargued, as Dominie Sampson used to say.
The Roman Empire was such a purely military settlement, wasn't it? it
was, if one may say so, a garrisoning of the world, not in any way a
real colonizing in the Greek and the English sense. And in the second
place, do you know that I have grave doubts whether we know very much of
the Roman spirit from the Roman literature. How far into the English
character would the works of the excellent Dr. Johnson carry us? One
hardly finds Chaucer, the Elizabethans, the Cavalier poets, Keats or
Wordsworth in "Rasselas" and "The Rambler," and I have always suspected
that Latin literature was in a great measure "Johnsonized," periwigged,
hidden and perverted by the irresistible flood of Greek culture. It may
be a paradox, but I have a very strong conviction that the Missal and
the Breviary tell us more about the true Latin character than Cicero and
Horace. But we must be thankful that in the sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries England stood aloof from the continent of Europe,
and that when it did borrow it transformed and transmuted so that the
original entirely lost its foreign character. I always think that change
of Madame de Querouaille into Madam Carewell such a wonderful instance
of our nationalism--our transforming force! If it had been otherwise, if
we had grovelled before the literature of France or Spain or Italy, as
Rome grovelled before the literature of Greece--well, perhaps, English
literature would have meant "Chevy Chace" and a few old ballads, and the
eighteenth century! I hate the Reformation, but perhaps it saved our
literature, simply by isolating the nation.

       *       *       *       *       *

I claimed, I think, literary merit for Miss Wilkins because her books
give out an impression of loneliness. I think that is so, but I should
like to point out that "loneliness" is merely another synonym for that
one property which makes the difference between real literature and
reading-matter. If you look into the French literature of the last two
hundred years and complain of its elegant nothingness, of its wholly
secondary character, I would point out that it is second-rate because it
is the expression, not of the lonely human soul, like a star, dwelling
apart, but of society, of the _ruelles_, of the _salon_, of polite
company, of the _café_ and the _boulevard_. I am not making an
accusation, I am adopting the terms of the eminent M. de Brunetière, who
tells us, I think, that French literature is beautiful because it is
firstly sociable, and secondly because it is a kind of a long "talk to
ladies." I hardly think that I need go into the merits of the question;
you and I, I take it, are convinced of the vast immeasurable inferiority
of Racine to Shakespeare (with these two names one sums up the whole
debate), but I am quite sure that M. de Brunetière has given the true
reason of the French literature being on the distinctly low level. It is
always Thackeray, it is always Pope, it is always Jane Austen; it is, in
our sense of the word, not literature at all, though, to be sure, its
artifice is often of the most exquisite description. Of course I do not
speak of the ultimate reason--that is to be sought, I presume, in the
mental constitution of the nation--but when one reads M. de Brunetière's
account of the formation of modern French letters, and notes his
insistance on the social element as the chief factor, one may be pretty
sure that this social factor is responsible for the pleasant nullities
which we all know. You may feel pretty certain, I think, that real
literature has always been produced by men who have preserved a certain
loneliness of soul, if not of body; the masterpieces are not generated
by that pleasant and witty traffic of the drawing-rooms, but by the
silence of the eternal hills. Remember; we have settled that literature
is the expression of the "standing out," of the withdrawal of the soul,
it is the endeavour of every age to return to the first age, to an age,
if you like, of savages, when a man crept away to the rocks or to the
forests that he might utter, all alone, the secrets of his own soul.

So this is my plea for Miss Wilkins. I think that she has indicated this
condition of "ecstasis"; she has painted a society, indeed, but a
society in which each man stands apart, responsible only for himself and
to himself, conscious only of himself and his God. You will note this,
if you read her carefully, you will see how this doctrine of awful,
individual loneliness prevails so far that it is carried into the
necessary and ordinary transactions of social life, often with results
that are very absurd. Many of the people in her stories are so
absolutely convinced of their "loneliness," so certain that there are
only two persons in the whole universe--each man and his God--that they
do not shrink from transgressing and flouting all the social orders and
regulations, in spite of their very strong and social instinct drawing
them in the opposite direction. You remember the man who vowed that
under certain circumstances he would sit on the meeting-house steps
every Sunday? He kept his vow--for ten years I think--and he kept it in
spite of his profound horror of ridicule, of doing what other people
didn't do, in spite of his own happiness; but he kept it because he
realised his "loneliness," because he saw quite clearly that he must
stand or fall by his own word and his own promise, and that the opinions
of others could be of no possible importance to him. The instance is
ludicrous, even to the verge of farce, and yet I call it a witness to
the everlasting truth that, at last, each man must stand or fall alone,
and that if he would stand, he must, to a certain extent, live alone
with his own soul. It is from this mood of lonely reverie and ecstasy
that literature proceeds, and I think that the sense of all this is
diffused throughout Miss Wilkins's New England stories.

       *       *       *       *       *

You ask me for a new test--or rather for a new expression of the one
test--that separates literature from the mass of stuff which is not
literature. I will give you a test that will startle you; literature is
the expression, through the æsthetic medium of words, of the dogmas of the
Catholic Church, and that which in any way is out of harmony with these
dogmas is not literature. Yes, it is really so; but not exactly in the
sense which you suppose. No literal compliance with Christianity is
needed, no, nor even an acquaintance with the doctrines of Christianity.
The Greeks, celebrating the festivals of Dionysus, Cervantes recounting
the fooleries of Don Quixote, Dickens measuring Mr Pickwick's glasses of
cold punch, Rabelais with his thirsty Pantagruel were all sufficiently
Catholic from our point of view, and the cultus of Aphrodite is merely a
symbol misunderstood and possibly corrupted, and if you can describe an
initiatory dance of savages in the proper manner, I shall call you a good
Catholic. You say that "Robert Elsmere" is not literature, and you are
perfectly right, but I hope you don't condemn it because it contains
arguments directed against the Catholic Faith? These, from our own
standpoint, are simply nothing at all, not reckoning either way. We pass
them over, just as we should pass over a passage on quadratic equations
pleasantly interpolated by an author into the body of his romance. The
conscious opinions of a writer are simply not worth twopence in the court
of literature; who cares to enquire into the theology of Keats? But when
we find not only the consciousness but also the subconsciousness permeated
by the impression that man is a logical, "rationalistic" creature and
nothing more, when the total impression of the human being gathered from
the book is of a simply demonstrating and demonstrable animal; then, we
may be perfectly assured that we have not to deal with literature. It is
the subconsciousness, remember, alone that matters; and (to put it again
theologically) you will find that books which are not literature proceed
from ignorance of the Sacramental System. Thackeray was an unconscious
heretic, while George Eliot was a conscious one, but each was ignorant of
the meaning of Sacramentalism, and so, making allowance for the fact that
the one was a clever man, while the other was a dull, industrious woman,
you have from each a view of life that is substantially the same, and
entirely false. Each was profoundly convinced that there _are_ milestones
on the Dover Road, and each, in his several way, was so intent on the
truth of this proposition (and it _is_ a perfectly true one) that the
secret of the scenery and the secret of Canterbury Cathedral are
altogether to seek in their books. Certainly the gentleman is a delightful
companion, and the milestones seem few indeed while we are on the way,
while with the other guide we feel like a girls' school, compelled to
listen to the "now, young ladies" and the "lessons" which every object on
the road suggests. Still, the total view is much the same, the same in
genus if not in species, and you may add Flaubert to your companions on
the road and you will be in the same case. But read a chapter of "Don
Quixote"; you will not be aware of the existence of the milestones, since
your gaze is fixed on the mystery of the woods, and you are a pilgrim to
the blissful shrine beyond. Don't imagine that you can improve your
literary chances by subscribing the Catechism or the Decrees of the
Council of Trent. No; I can give you no such short and easy plan for
excelling; but I tell you that unless you have assimilated the final
dogmas--the eternal truths--upon which those things rest, consciously if
you please, but subconsciously of necessity, you can never write
literature, however clever and amusing you may be. Think of it, and you
will see that from the literary standpoint, Catholic dogma is merely the
witness, under a special symbolism, of the enduring facts of human nature
and the universe; it is merely the voice which tells us distinctly that
man is _not_ the creature of the drawing-room and the Stock Exchange, but
a lonely awful soul confronted by the Source of all Souls, and you will
realise that to make literature it is necessary to be, at all events,
subconsciously Catholic.

       *       *       *       *       *

Have you noticed how many of the greatest writers, so far from desiring
that compliment of "fidelity to life" do their best to get away from
life, to make their books, in ordinary phraseology, "unreal?" I do not
know whether anybody has compared the facts before or made the only
possible inference from them; but you remember how Rabelais professes to
derive his book from a little mouldy manuscript, found in a tomb, how
Cervantes, beginning in _propria persona authoris_, breaks off and
discovers the true history of "Don Quixote" in the Arabic Manuscript of
Cid Hamet Benengeli, how Hawthorne prologises with the custom-house at
Salem, and lights, in an old lumber-room, on the documents telling him
the history of the "Scarlet Letter." "Pickwick" was a transcript of the
"Transactions" or "Papers" of the Pickwick Club, and Tennyson's "Morte
D'Arthur" shelters itself, in the same way, behind the personality of an
imaginary writer. There is a very profound significance in all this, and
you find a trace of the same instinct in the Greek Tragedies where the
final scene, the peripeteia, is not shown on the stage, but described by
a "messenger." The fact is that the true artist, so far from being the
imitator of life, endures some of his severest struggles in endeavouring
to get away from life, and until he can do this he knows that his labour
is all in vain. It would be amusing to trace all the various devices
which have been used to secure this effect of separation, of withdrawal
from the common track of common things. I have just pointed out one, the
hiding of the author, as it were, behind a mask, and in the Greek Play
the analogous talking of what has happened in place of visibly showing
it, but there must be many more. From this instinct I imagine arises the
historical novel in all its forms, you make your story remote by placing
it far back in time, by the exhibition of strange dresses and unfamiliar
manners. Or again you may get virtually the same effect by using the
remoteness of space, by playing on the theme "far, far away" which
really calls up a very similar emotion to that produced by the other
theme of "long, long ago," or "once on a time," as the fairy tale has
it. Briefly we may say that all "strangeness" of incident, or plot, or
style makes for this one end; and of course you see that all this is
only the repetition of our old text in another form. It is, perhaps,
hardly necessary to give the caution that, on the principle of
_corruptio optimi_, there is nothing more melancholy than the book which
has the body of fine literature without the soul, which uses literary
methods without understanding. You needn't ask for proofs of that
proposition; our memories are aghast with recollections of futile
"historical novels," of the terrific school of the "two horsemen," and
every Christmas brings its huge budget of those dreadful "boys' books,"
which carry commonplace to the very ends of the earth, and occasionally
penetrate to the stars. And in style, too, what can be more depressing
than the style which is meant to be "strange" and is only flatulent? In
many cases of course such books as I have alluded to are mere survivals
of tradition, conventions of bookmaking which bear witness to the fact
that pirates and treasure-hoards were once symbols of wonder, and the
extravagancies of style are probably to be accounted for in the same
way. At some remote period it may, possibly, have been effective to call
the sun, "the glorious orb," and even now some minds may be made to
realise the strangeness of great flights of birds by the phrase "the
feathered Zingari of the air"; but if one is a little sophisticated one
feels the pathos and the futility of such efforts. The writer has felt
and experienced the wonder of things--the beauty of the sun and the
hieroglyphic mystery of the figures that the birds make in the air--and
he feels, quite rightly, that to describe wonders one must suggest
wonder by words. Unfortunately, he breaks down at this point, and falls
back on unhappy phrases that give the very opposite impression to that
which he wishes to excite. Here you have the whole history of "poetic
diction." The instinct is in itself an entirely right one, and I need
hardly say that the masters--those who have the secret--can use archaic
forms, obsolete constructions, conventional phrases even, with
miraculous effect. But the beginner would do well to be wary of these
things, and to turn his face resolutely away from "flowery meads" and
all the family of inversions. How is one to know when such phrases may
be used? If I could give you the answer to that question I should be
also giving you the secret of making literature, and from all our talks
I expect you have gathered this much at all events--that the art of
literature, with all the arts, is quite incommunicable. Many kinds of
artifice, even, are unteachable--I could not write or be taught to write
one of those George Eliot novels that I have been abusing with such
hearty good will--but art is by its very definition quite without the
jurisdiction of the schools, and the realm of the reasoning process,
since art is a miracle, superior to the laws.


       *       *       *       *       *


The variant spellings "bookcase" and "book-case", "bookmaking" and
"book-making", "milk punch" and "milk-punch", "subconsciousness" and
"sub-consciousness", "Morte D'Arthur" and "Morte d'Arthur" are all used in
this text.

There is no consistency in the use of italics, single quotes or double
quotes. For example _Vanity Fair_, "Vanity Fair" and 'Vanity Fair' all

The spellings "gurgoyles" (p. 132), "insistance" (p. 196), "ecstasis"
(p. 196) and "extravagancies" (p. 204) have been left unchanged.

The following amendments have been made:

1)Full stop (period) added after "Sophocles" on p. 53, after "runs away"
on p. 189 and after "Dr" in "Dr Johnson" on p. 193.

2) Full stop replaced by question mark after "unreal" on p. 214.

3) The accents on two Greek words on p. 56 have been amended: accent on
ἀπαγγειλαι (where there was a circumflex over the ε in defiance of all
laws) amended to ἀπαγγεῖλαι and πὰλιν amended to πάλιν.

4) The breathing on ἀιθέρος on p. 105 has been corrected to αἰθέρος.

A Table of Contents has been added.

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