Page images



of Crabbe; J. Churton Collins (1848-1908), a finished scholar, editor, and stimulating critic, than whom no man did more to uphold the highest standards in literature ; Sir Sidney Colvin (1845- ), editor of the letters of Beats and Stevenson, and an accomplished art critic; Andrew Lang (1844-1912), a voluminous and versatile writer who has distinguished himself as translator of Homer, as historian of Scotland, as an editor of fairy-tales, as an authority on totems and on other anthropological matters, as a biographer and as a critic; and among recent writers of distinction, Arthur Symons, Stephen Gwynn, and Clement Shorter may be added to their older contemporaries as lovers of literature who have a pleasant faculty of criticism, while the drama claims the acute minds of Arthur B. Walkley (1855- ) and William Archer (1856- ), the latter being better known, perhaps, by his vigorous translations of Ibsen than by his trenchant and riddling dramatic critiques.

Of all these critics it is only just to say that they deal with books or plays in the right spirit, seeking to discover their true value in the light of the permanent principles of literature, as they see them. Their opinions are as varied as the books they criticise ; some are guided overmuch by romantic principles, just as others pin their motto to the classical traditions ; some boast their ultra-modernity, while others have naught but anathema for the workings of the modern spirit. One critic finds literature the essence of life and takes it thus seriously ; to another, literature is but a delightful meadow to browse and bask in. Thus the critics have not been strong enough or united enough to do again what Matthew Arnold did ; there is too much criticism, and no worthy literary ideal guides its working or makes it serve as a trustworthy finger-post to the national treasures. Especially in the treatment of current literature do we find it unsatisfactory and unreliable.

37. The one critic who has made his criticism creative, and converted the occasional study into a piece of real literature, is Walter H. Pater (1839-94), an Oxford tutor whose works are a practical sermon on the dogma of “Art for Art's sake.” Pater looked at life through college windows, which means that he never came into sharp contact with it at all. He was a recluse, and a man of books; yet he is the prophet of the æsthetic school of criticism. Literary art was his life's aim ; and in a series of books, quietly and carefully wrought out, he has shown us what art can do when it turns in upon itself. The result is what we should expect. Pater's brilliantly-coloured and exquisitely modulated prose is redolent of the hothouse : it cannot endure the rough east winds of everyday use. Pater's world is artificial, and its products begin to decay as soon as they are brought into the open. He wooed his mistress Art with sacred self-abnegation; he gave up all for the quest of beauty ; he attained—and only shows us in spite of himself that epicurism is not able to stand alone as a philosophy of life. His first important work was Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), and some of his most characteristic writing is in that volume. His study of Leonardo da Vinci is one of his finest pieces, and admirably illustrates his general point of view. Marius the Epicurean (1885) is his most ambitious work; it is a monument of pure literary art, noble in tone deeply religious in spirit, learned, and the revelation of a personality which is, in all its essentials, Pater's own. Imaginary Portraits (1887), Appreciations (1889), and Greek Studies (1895) are as full of insight as of fine writing; while Plato and Platonism (1893) is an admirable introduction to the spirit of Greek philosophy. Nothing that Pater wrote ought to fall into oblivion ; and if it can arouse enthusiasm only in certain exclusive coteries, it must be placed along with Matthew Arnold's Essays in Criticism as the finest critical work of the latter part of the Victorian era.

The study of the Renaissance is the staple commodity in the literary fame of John Addington Symonds (184093), who was full of knowledge concerning the art and literature of the Italian Renaissance, and has left us the authoritative volume on this theme. Like Pater, he was essentially a literary artist ; but, while always writing well, he lacked Pater's greater creative power. His pleasant little essay on Shelley in the “English Men of Letters” series deserves to be remembered.

The seed of decadence that lies inherent in the theories of the æsthetic critics produced its natural flower in the wayward affectations of the gifted Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). The brilliant wit and consummate art which went to the creation of such a trifle as Lady Windermere's Fan (1893) cannot be matched elsewhere in literature. But art without sincerity, and divorced from morals, is not the mistress whom Ruskin and Pater served. And until his imprisonment in Reading gaol,



Wilde's art was merely that of an immoral trifler with life. But The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) and De Profundis (1905) are human documents profound in their pathos ; Wilde's nature passed from the careless airy sunshine of brilliant artificiality into unutterable deeps of spiritual agony; and his death alone prevented us from seeing him emerge into a higher life. The cult of sensuous beauty would have passed through the valley of sorrows into the service of humanity; and what so gifted a man might have accomplished is to-day matter only for speculation.

38. We have now but to recall to the student's mind the wide area of book production in which literary distinction is not the first thing aimed at, in which, indeed, creative literature has no place properly so called. Yet the writings of great scholars, divines, philosophers and men of science occasionally become literature in spite of themselves; and much more frequently exert very great influence on the literature of later times. Who can doubt, for example, the value of the work of such a pioneer as Frederick J. Furnivall (1825-1911), who has done so much to bring Early and Middle English literature to the notice of scholars or students ? To him must be added the editors of the New English Dictionary, even if we can omit the Rev. Walter W. Skeat (1835- ) and other students of the philology of our language. Such editors as Edward Arber (1836- ), who has brought so many rare books into our ken through his cheap English Reprints; as James Spedding (1808-81), the editor of Bacon ; as Sir Edward T. Cook (1857- ), the final editor of Ruskin's works ; and many others, have surely rendered to literature invaluable service. Sir John Rhys (1840- ) has in such volumes as Celtic Heathendom (1886) done no less than did Lady Charlotte Guest in her Mabinogion (1849) to bring the Welsh Celts before us. And in the realm of classical scholarship we have, by the side of such masterly editorial work as the Lucretius of H. A. J. Munro (1819-85) and the Sophocles of Sir Richard Jebb (1841-1905), a sheaf of valuable translations, of which we can only mention the Virgil of John Conington (1825-69), the prose version of the Æneid by Prof. J. W. Mackail, the Odyssey of Butcher and Lang, and the very interesting renderings of Greek plays by Gilbert Murray (1866- ). Professor Mackail (1859- ) has also written a splendid little study of Latin Literature (1895) and a sympathetic Life of William Morris (1899); and Murray's book on Ancient Greek Literature (1897) is not less attractive to a large number of readers who have little first-hand knowledge of classical literature. John Pentland Mahaffy (1839- ), late Professor of Greek Literature in Dublin, has indeed crossed the borderline and given us some fascinating volumes on the social lise of ancient Greece ; and no one has done more than he to make that great people interesting to us.

39. The realm of theology has a similar record to that of scholarship. We pass

from brilliant students like Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-89) and Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901), both Bishops of Durham, whose work is the admiration of specialists, to more modern critics like Canon S. R. Driver (1846- ) and Canon T. K. Cheyne (1841- ), who have carried forward our English reputation for biblical scholarship; we have from the Nonconformist side such scholarly and lucid works as The Atonement of Dr. Robert William Dale (1829-95), and The Place of Christ in Modern Theology (1893) and The Philosophy of the Christian Religion (1902), the eloquent and learned works of Andrew M. Fairbairn (1838. 1911), the head of Mansfield College, Oxford; and, representing the attempt to incorporate the results of modern criticism into the High Church ideal, we have the numerous writings of Charles Gore (1853- ), Bishop of Oxford, and editor of Lux Mundi (1890). The learned and liberal-minded works on the religion of the Jews and kindred races, written by William Robertson Smith (1846-94), cannot be overlooked ; and the great popularity of the Life of Christ (1874), by Frederic W. Farrar (1831-1903), late Dean of Canterbury, was as much due to its literary merit as to its general tone. Sermons have been numerous from the pulpits of many denominations, but few have reached so high a literary level as some of the books above mentioned : the fervid eloquence of the sermons of Canon H. P. Liddon (1829-90) does not wear well on the printed page, and the same remark applies to the less profound appeals of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92). Reconcilers of religion with science have been numerous ; the most striking of them was Henry Drum. mond (1851-97), who tried to reconcile the principles of biology with those of revelation in Natural Law in the Spiritual World (1883) and The Ascent of Man (1894), both books written in an elevated and eloquent style which often made



the admiring reader mistake an analogy for an argument. William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98) entered the lists against Professor Huxley in The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture (1890) and many articles besides ; but his writing, strangely enough, lacked force and fire, and his speeches will best preserve for him a literary reputation. From within the fold of science, defenders of revealed religion have been found : for example, Sir George G. Stokes (1819-1903), a great mathematical physicist and the author of some famous Burnett lectures on Light, as well as a volume on Natural Theology (1891) ; and more recently Sir Oliver Lodge (1851- ) has brought his great knowledge and sympathetic spirit to the work of reconciliation in such thoughtful volumes as Life and Matter (1905), Man and the Universe (1908), and others.

40. The philosophical writings of such a man as Edward Caird (1835-1908), Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow, and afterwards Master of Balliol, were religious in tone ; but they tended towards a broader conception of religion, founded on the idealism of Kant and Hegel : the Evolution of Religion (1893) is his best book, and is a most lucid and readable account of the fundamentals of religion. John Caird (182098), his brother, was only a little less distinguished as exponent of Spinoza and Hegel, and did very much from his chair of divinity at Glasgow to idealize faith anew in the minds of his countrymen. A more powerful philosopher, whose teaching had the same drift, was Thomas Hill Green (183682), Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford. His Prolegomena to Ethics appeared posthumously in 1883; and, in spite of difficulties of style and diction, it is one of the great contributions which the nineteenth century made to philosophy. It is the great antidote to utilitarianism. Less influential as a personality was Henry Sidgwick (1838 - 1900), whose work on ethics and on political economy continues the line of thought reached by Mill, but with less definiteness and no conclusive result that it was easy to grasp. This very uncertainty, the fruit of a fair and judicially balanced intellect, may render the work of Sidgwick more valuable to future generations. The adaptation of philosophy to practical politics was a cherished aim of Sidgwick no less than of Mill. Walter Bagehot (1826-77), the author of Physics and Politics (1873), was another writer whose main preoccupation was with the


« PreviousContinue »