Page images

bull, in his novels rather than in his essays, for in critical theory he is the most ardent of impressionists. Whatever the cause, we cannot but allow the dearth of knowledge of, and interest in, the peculiar subject-matter of criticism, - the elements of beauty in a work of literature.

But although the present body of criticism consists rather of preliminaries and supplements to what should be its real accomplishment, these should not therefore receive the less regard. The impressionist has set himself a definite task, and he has succeeded. If not the true critic, he is an artist in his own right, and he has something to say to the world. The scientific critic has taken all knowledge for his province; and although we hold that it has rushed in upon and swamped his distinctly critical function, so long as we may call him by his other name of natural historian of literature, we can only acknowledge his great achievements. For the appreciative critic we have less sympathy as yet, but the “ development of the luxurious intricacy and the manifold implications of our enjoyment may fully crown the edifice of æsthetic explanation and appraisal of the art of every age. But all these, we feel, do not fulfill the essential function; the Idea of Criticism is not here. What the idea of criticism is we have tried to work out: a judgment of a work of art on the basis of the laws of beauty. That such laws there are, that they exist directly in the relation between the material form and the suggested physical reactions, and that they are practically changeless, even as the human instincts are changeless, we have sought to show. And if there can be a science of the beautiful, then an objective judgment on the basis of the laws of the beautiful can be rendered. The true end of criticism, therefore, is to tell us whence and why the charm of a work of art: to disengage, to explain, to measure, and to certify it. And this explanation of charm, and this stamping it with the seal of approval, is possible by the help, and only by the help, of the science of æsthetics, — a science now only in its beginning, but greatly to be desired in its full development.


How greatly to be desired we realize in divining that the present dearth of constructive and destructive criticism, of all, indeed, except interpretations and reports, is responsible for the modern mountains of machine-made literature. Will not the æsthetic critic be for us a new Hercules, to clear away the ever growing heap of formless things in book covers ? If he will teach us only what great art means in literature; if he will give us never so little discussion of the first principles of beauty, and point the moral with some "selling books,” he will at least have turned the flood. There are stories nowadays, but few novels, and plenty of spectacles, but no plays; and how should we know the difference, never having heard what a novel ought to be? But let the æsthetic critic give us a firm foundation for criticism, a real understanding of the conditions of literary art; let him teach us to know a novel or a play when we see it, and we shall not always mingle the wheat and the chaff.



« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »