Page images

one," said Charles in

explanation. cal sketch of the position they proposed to occupy, which Charles faithfully committed to memory. "Two miles is no distance," commented Charles. "You'll always know where to find us. It'll be just far enough to make you thirsty." Charles spoke from his head rather than his heart; he himself had no objection to running or swimming one mile, but he hated walking two.

He hesitated for a moment as to whether he should take Mr. Lauriston more fully into his confidence. But after all, perhaps, he hardly knew him sufficiently well. The victim of a conspiracy may be interesting but he is hardly heroic, and Charles wished to be heroic in his relations with the other camp. He decided not to be too expansive, though there was no harm in enlisting Mr. Lauriston's unconscious aid; in a case of this sort every pair of eyes is of value. "If you should see a Gladstone bag anywhere round here," he said nonchalantly, "you'll know it belongs to me."

Mr. Lauriston promised hurriedly; he was not sure whether Charles was intoxicated or mad, but in either case it seemed wise to humor him. "Are you going anywhere in particular?" asked the object of suspicion. "If not, come back and have a drink."

Mr. Lauriston did not refuse. When one is doubtful of the sobriety or sanity of a man whose physical strength is at least twice as great as one's own, one does not refuse to oblige him in trifles. Mr. Lauriston, moreover, was thirsty. They soon reached the encampment and seated themselves comfortably each with a cooling beverage in a long glass. Mr. Lauriston accepted a cigarette, and soon forgot his suspicions of Charles's mental equilibrium. His host showed himself eminently sane, and told him one or two things connected with the City that were new to him; he did not of course know that they were also new to Charles.

Finally Mr. Lauriston reached a point at which he could say that which he came to say. "We are moving our camp to another spot to-morrow," he announced casually.

"Really?" said Charles. "Are you going far away?"

Mr. Lauriston gave a brief geographi

Mr. Lauriston was pleased. This was exactly the spirit in which he had hoped to be met. "Thanks very much," he said; "you may be sure I shall turn up again some fine day." Then in the generosity of his heart inspired perhaps by a sip of the cooling beverage he added: "If you should ever be in our neighborhood, of course, -you know,—” Mr. Lauriston realized almost at once what he was saying and swallowed the rest of the sentence hurriedly.

Charles, however, faithfully committed the semi-invitation to memory, though he had no immediate intention of availing himself of it; but the time, he fondly reflected, would come and when it did-a thought struck him. "By the way, if we should happen to move too, you'll always be able to find us. A houseboat can't be hidden very well."

"Have you thought of moving?" Mr. Lauriston asked.

"Oh, only some vague talk." Charles dismissed the notion with a shrug. "It isn't probable, but one never knows."

"Well, I must be going back," said Mr. Lauriston getting up slowly.

Charles accompanied him as far as the stile. "There's always a chair, a glass, and a cigarette here," he said; "don't forget. Oh and, I say, if you should happen upon a Gladstone bag let me know, will you? I should be awfully obliged."

Mr. Lauriston promised again and returned to his camp slowly, wonder

ing what on earth he meant. Was the young man a little touched? And yet he had talked sensibly enough and even told him one or two new things about the City. Then it occurred to him that the words Gladstone bag might

(To be continued.)


Readers of foreign books upon Eng. lish literature must surely have been struck by the conspicuous place which, in most of them, is assigned to Byron. In the volume by Professor Brandes1 which deals with Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Scott, Landor, Moore, as well as the lesser stars of the early nineteenth century, one hundred and fifty pages out of three hundred and fifty are occupied with Byron. To this foreign critic, Byron is the true "passionate personality" of the English movement, the man who was in the main stream of the world's thought, and who is the final expression of the British poetic spirit of this period. In his closing summary he tells us that, while Wordsworth, Scott, Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge were all in their different degrees limited and provincial, Byron broke all bounds and flooded the world with his song.

be some new slang that he had not heard, might mean cigarette-case or something. And yet, a cigarette-case in an oak-tree! Mr. Lauriston was decidedly puzzled.

What language! What tones breaking the death-like silence of oppressed Europe! The political air rang with the shrill notes; for no word uttered by Lord Byron fell unheard to the ground. The legions of the fugitives, the banished, the oppressed, the conspirators of every nation, kept their eyes fixed on the one man who, amidst the universal debasement of intelligences and characters to a low standard, stood upright, beautiful as Apollo, brave as an Achilles, prouder than all the kings of Europe together."

1 "Naturalism in England." English translation (Heinemann). 2 Ibid. p. 356.

Taine is no less enthusiastic. Byron is to him "the greatest and most English" of the men of his time-"so great and so English that from him alone we shall learn more truths of his country and his age than from all the rest together." "Into what mediocrity and platitude," he cries, "sinks the Faust of Goethe compared with Byron's Manfred!" Here are judgments which in certain striking respects run counter to modern criticism in this country. If one must not say that Byron is under a cloud, he is at all events counted to be one of the faultiest of great poets, and many modern writers speak of his vehement and ill-balanced opinions as fatal or, at least, a serious drawback to the true spirit of poetry. These foreign critics, however, sweep aside mere literary criticism and apply a test of character and energy which not only puts Byron at the head of the English movement, but makes him a supreme leader of European thought.

Which of these judgments is more likely to stand the test of time need not be discussed at this moment. But the fact that foreign writers of eminence take this exalted view of Byron's place in literature, and take it by appealing to the substance of his poetry, surely suggests certain reflections on the literature and criticism of our own day. For it is precisely these qualities that Taine and Brandes find so admirable in Byron which have for some years past been in disrepute

in their appreciation of literature, and that the common people must demand common things while the men of letters cultivate subtleties and delicacies which the great majority cannot appreciate, is an assumption SO frequently made that it has come to be regarded as an axiom of criticism; and the writings of the elect are full of lamentation and woe at the alleged narrowing of the circle in which their refined wares find acceptance.

And yet, if one looks back on the history of literature, it is an assumption for which there is very little warrant; so little, indeed, that to insist on it seems, if one may judge from the past, to be the note of an inferior school, and not, as so many writers appear to take for granted, of the great schools-a note of Euphuism rather than of Elizabethanism. Judged by its power of surviving, Euphuism has no advantage over the most popular method in authorship. The stylists of the year before last are in the same grave with the popular novelists whom they despised, and the critic of to-day scarcely troubles even to drop a tear over them. For though style is, as Stevenson truly said, a great antiseptic, it can only do its work if there is a body worth preserving, and then it acts silently and imperceptibly. Of course, it is true that the mass of people look first to the thing said rather than to the manner in which it is said; but it is a mistake to suppose that the manner does not make its appeal to the reader because he is unable to analyze its virtues. Style in its perfection is like the sword in the Arabian Nights, which decapitated its victim, and left him unaware of what had happened, till he shook his head, and it rolled on to the floor.

among English writers. No one in these days "breaks the silence with shrill notes which make the air ring.” The modern man of letters, on the contrary, is at special pains to disclaim the idea that he has a mission in life or anything momentous to say which is not already familiar to the man in the street. Moralizing, we are perpetually told, is fatal to literature, as of course it is, if by moralizing we mean the dull and unskillful hammering of the commonplace. The axiom, however, takes on a meaning which actually shuts off the literary artist from the greater matters of life and conduct. Books on style proceed from beginning to end on the assumption that the literary art consists wholly in the light choice of words and their scholarly arrangement in graceful patterns. And being thus preoccupied with word-craft, a great many modern writers find it easier to write good sentences than good chapters or good books. They lack what Frenchmen call the esprit de suite, that grasp of the whole and sense of orderly development which belong to the great theme in the hands of the master. The critic, meanwhile, judges not of what is said, but of how it is said, and is even apt to take the narrowest view of this accomplishment.

It follows almost inevitably from this conception of the writer's art that the great mass of the public become estranged from literature. In these days we have writers with immense circulations whom the literary people declare to be of no account, and literary people of high accomplishment whom the great public refuses to consider. A small minority speak habitually of the literary art as if it were a secret process which is hidden from their neighbors, and their neighbors retaliate by showing complete indifference to what this minority calls literature. That this gulf must necessarily be fixed between the few and the many

So far then, as it depends upon style, the virtue of being above the heads of the people belongs not to the best. but only to the second-best literature.

With that reservation we may concede it. If a writer cannot ascend to the heights, it is well for him not to descend to the depths, but to work on the middle plane where he may make a cultivated appeal to the people of culture. Here he may legitimately rely on accomplishments which will be "caviare to the general" who have been educated in the various kinds of public schools; here, too, he may give himself reasonable airs of superiority over lower mortals who frankly bid for the largest circulation with wares that are wholly commercial. Genius, however, is not limited by these conditions. The appeal which genius makes to the heart and imagination may carry it to vast masses of people who have no opinion at all about the literary form that it uses. And for this reason, an exaggerated concern with the mechanism of literature is almost invariably a sign of the absence of genius, though it may also very well be the sign of a high degree of accomplishment.

The rise and fall of English literature in the nineteenth century brings this home to us. Glancing back over those years we find at the beginning of them a whole school of writers in revolt against the stylistic conception of writing-Wordsworth, in particular, asserting that there is no such thing as a literary language as distinguished from ordinary speech, and carrying his theory to excess in a studied, and occasionally somewhat ridiculous homeliness of speech. The mark of this school is what Professor Brandes calls its "naturalism," that is, its contact with nature and human nature as opposed to the formalism of its predecessors. Yet this school, without any labored pursuit of style, did, as a matter of fact, achieve the highest form of expression, as in Keats and Shelley, and Wordsworth himself. Descending to the next generation, we find a powerful band of prose-writers, the chief

of whom are Carlyle and Ruskin in one field, and Dickens and Thackeray in another field, whose main purpose is to say what they feel about life, and who are so filled with their subject that they have no time to consider themselves as literary craftsmen, superb as they very often are in that respect. With all his professed contempt for the thirty millions, mostly fools, Carlyle's ambition was to reach them and to influence them, and not to tickle the palates of the literary hundred, whom he probably considered the greatest fools of all. Ruskin, too, resented nothing so much as the imputation that he was a mere literary artist or artistic critic, and year by year addressed his vehement exhortations on life and conduct to a larger and larger audience of simple people. These two men between them reached hundreds of thousands of working-class and middle-class folk in the days before school boards, without ever forfeiting the respect of the literary élite. An even more remarkable instance is Tennyson, who was at once the conscious literary artist and the most popular of poets. Browning and Meredith are in a different category; but, though their appeal was to a smaller class, both of them are entirely removed from the esoteric and æsthetic. Here we are in presence of men with imagination so vivid and ideas so rich that they break the bounds of speech in the effort to overtake their own thoughts. Hence a certain obscurity for less nimble minds, but it is, if one may express it, a natural obscurity arising out of the breathlessness of this pursuit, not the artificial obscurity by which smaller men conceal the poverty of their thoughts. Both these men are in the main stream of human nature. rejoicing in life and all its manifestations, sane. robust, and optimistic, without a touch of that intellectual vanity which makes the work of some

others who depict human nature seem a kind of condescension. Browning's men and women, like the men and women of Thackeray, Dickens, and Meredith, are not the stuff that books are made of, but humanity interpreted by genius, which means by sympathy. These great writers have their weaknesses and limitations, no doubt, but they never look down on their subject; they are filled with the sense of its mystery and complexity, and of the immense difficulty of measuring its heights and its depths. Hence the midVictorian school of fiction has handed on to us an infinitely varied portrait gallery of humanity, in mean circumstances and heroic, in poverty and wealth, ridiculous and pathetic; but, on the whole, making a brave show against the buffets of fortune and the powers of darkness.

moral thinker. This does some injustice to Addison, whose moral was not the less profound because it was conveyed indirectly; but it may be quoted to show that, whenever he came finally to appraise a writer, Arnold thought of his substance and not of his form. His hard saying that poetry is a criticism of life, the weight which he attached to Hebraism as against Hellenism, to conduct as against mere manners, his unfailing interest in moral tendencies and the drift of public affairs, were even more vitally characteristic of his life and writings than his advocacy of culture. Nevertheless. his influence over men who had not his genius-who could imitate his manner but not enter into his thoughtwas, I am afraid it must be said, in the contrary direction. To them he seemed always to be preaching the comfortable doctrine that culture. which they understood as meaning a knowledge of dead languages and a University education, placed them in a class apart from their fellow men who were without these advantages. They read with delight the passage in which he spoke of a barbarian upper class, a Philistine middle class, and a brutalized lower class, and with immense self-complacency conceived themselves as the select minority which stood outside those ignominious categories. Arnold himself would have made short work of their claim, but his teaching had in effect encouraged the belief that literature, in the true sense of the word, was the possession of the few.

Then there comes upon the scene a powerful man of letters who draws a dividing line between the Philistines and the elect, the cultured few and the uncultured many. It would be the basest ingratitude to question the debt which English letters owe to Matthew Arnold. His poetry was exquisite and original; he sharpened criticism and improved taste at a time when both were on the down-grade. For all that, the stress which he laid upon the aesthetic element in literary culture drew attention from the ethical side of his teaching and encouraged the vanity which in the next twenty years led men of letters to pride themselves on appealing to a limited public. Yet Arnold himself, while appealing to this audience, fit but few, insisted with all the force of his nature that the main thing was the substance of literature and its ethical character, and in this respect he remains a true mid-Victorian. There is even a passage in one of his essays in which he denies to Addison the title of a great writer on the ground that he is not a profound

And then, improving upon this example, we had a school of stylists who sought still further to narrow the circle and finally to make of literature something exquisite and gemlike, appealing to connoisseurs who were a minority of the minority. The one considerable man of this group was Walter Pater, who was indeed a delightful crafts

« PreviousContinue »