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What! feel no real emotion over Little Nell, or Colonel Newcome? no emotion in that great scene of passion and despair, the parting of Richard Feverel and Lucy, a scene which none can read save with tight throat and burning eyes! Even so. It is not real emotion. You have the vivid ideas, so vivid that a fringe of emotional association accompanies them, as you might shudder remembering a bad dream. But the real emotion arises only from the real impulse, the real responsibility.
The sense of life that literature gives might be described as life in its aspect as idea. That this (1) fact is the cause of the peace and painlessness of literature - since it is by his actions, as Aristotle says, that man is happy or the reverse need not concern us here. For the beauty of literature, and our joy in it, lie not primarily in its lack of
power to hurt us. The point is that literature gives none the less truly a sense of life because it happens to be one extreme aspect of life. The literary way is only one of the ways in which life can be met.
To give the sense of life perfectly — to create the illusion of life is this, then, the beauty of literature? But we are seeking for the perfect moment of stimulation and repose. Why should the perfect illusion of life give this, any more than life itself does ? So the vision” of a picture might be intensely clear, and yet the picture itself unbeautiful. Such a complete a sense of life,” such
clear " vision,” would show the artist's mastery of technique, but not his power to create beauty. In the art of literature, as in the art of painting, the normal function is but the first condition, the state of perfection is the end at which to aim.
It is just this distinction that we can properly make between the characteristic or typical in the sense of differentiated, and the great or excellent in literature. In the theory of some writers, perfect fidelity to the type is the only originality. To paint the Russian peasant or the French bourgeois as he is, to catch the exact shade of exquisite soullessness in Oriental loves, to reproduce the Berserker rage or the dull horror of battle, is indeed to give the perfect sense of life. But the perfect, or the complete, sense of life is not the moment of perfect life.
Yet to this assertion two answers might be made. The authors of “ Bel-Ami,” or “Madame Chrysanthème,” or “ The Triumph of Death,” might claim to be saved by their form. The march of events, the rounding climax, the crystal clear unity of the finished work, they might say, gives the indispensable union, for the perfect moment of stimulation and repose. No syllable in the slow unfolding of exquisite cadences but is supremely placed from the first page to the last. As note calls to note,
ught calls to thought, and feeling to feeling, and the last word is an answer to the first of the inevitable procession. A writer's donnée, they
would say, is his own. The reader may only beg — Make me something fine after your own fashion !
And they would have to be acknowledged partly in the right. In that inevitable unity of form there is indeed a necessary element of the perfect moment; but it is not a perfect unity. For the matter of their art should be, in the last analysis, life itself; and the unity of life itself, the one basic unity of all, they have missed. It is a hollow sphere they present, and nothing solid. Henry James has spent the whole of a remarkable essay on D'Annunzio’s creations in determining the meaning of the fact that their total beauty somehow extraordinarily fails to march with their beauty of parts, and that something is all the while at work undermining that bulwark against ugliness which it is their obvious theory of their own office to throw up.” The secret is, he avers, that the themes, the “ anecdotes," could find their extension and consummation only in the rest of life. Shut out, as they are, from the rest of life, shut out from all fruition and assimilation, and so from all hope of dignity, they lose absolutely their power to sway us.
It might be simpler to say that these works lack the first beauty which literature as the dialect of life can have they lack the repose of centrality; they have no identity with the meaning of life as a whole. It could not be said of them, as Bagehot said of Shakespeare: “ He puts things together, he refers things to a principle; rather, they group
themselves in his intelligence insensibly around a principle; . . . a cool oneness, a poised personality, pervades him.” But in these men there is no cool oneness, no reasonable soul, and so they miss the central unity of life, which can give unity to literature. Even the apparent structural unity fails when looked at closely; the actions of the characters are seen to be mechanical their meaning is not inevitable.
The second answer to our assertion that the sense of life” is not the beauty of literature might call attention to the fact that sense of life may be taken as understanding of life. A complete sense of life must include the conditions of life, and the conditions of life involve this very “energetic identity" on which we have insisted. And this contention we must admit. So long as the sense of life is taken as the illusion of life, our words hold good. But if to that is added understanding of life, the door is open to the profoundest excellences of literature. Henry James has glimpsed this truth in saying that no good novel will ever proceed from a superficial mind. Stevenson has gone further. « But the truth is when books are conceived under a great stress, with a soul of ninefold power, nine times heated and electrified by effort, the conditions of our being are seized with such an ample grasp, that even should the main design be trivial or base, some truth and beauty cannot fail to be expressed."
V The conditions of our being! If we accept, affirm, profoundly rest in what is presented to us, we have the first condition of that repose which is the essence of the aesthetic experience. And from this highest demand can be viewed the hierarchy of the lesser perfections which go to make up the “perfect moment” of literature. Instead of reaching this point by successive eliminations, we might indeed have reached it in one stride. The perfect moment across the dialect of life, the moment of perfect life, must be in truth that in which we touch the confines of our being, look upon our world, all in all, as revealed in some great moment, and see that it is good
- that we grasp it, possess it, that it is akin to us, that it is identical with our deepest wills. The work that grasps the conditions of our being gives ourselves back to us completed.
In the conditions of our being in a less profound sense may be found the further means to the perfect moment. Thus the progress of events, the development of feelings, must be in harmony with our natural processes. The development, the rise, complication, expectation, gratification, the suspense, climax, and drop of the great novel, correspond to the natural functioning of our mental processes. It is an experience that we seek, multiplied, perfected, expanded — the life moment of a