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'T would be easy, if need were, to devise a
theory of coherence for the Essays here lected for re-publication, but the truth is that ey are fortuitous. The only claim that I can nsistently make, is that I have always chosen, r biographical and critical study, figures whose rsonality or writings have seemed to me to ssess some subtle, evasive charm, or delicate iginality of purpose or view. Mystery, inexcable reticence, haughty austerity, have a cination in life and literature, that is someles denied to sanguine strength and easy lubility. I am well aware that vitality and jesty are the primary qualities to demand both life and literature. I have nothing but relious horror for the view that languor, if only se subtle and serpentine, is in itself admirable.
But there are two kinds of languor. Just as the poverty of a man born needy, and incapable of acquiring wealth, is different in kind from the poverty of one who has sacrificed wealth in some noble cause, so the deliberate, the self-conscious languor "about three degrees on this side of faintness,"of which Keats wrote in his most voluptuous mood, is a very different thing from the languor of Hamlet, the fastidious despair of ever realising some lofty conception, the prostrate indifference of one who has found the world too strong. I do not say that the note of failure is a characteristic of all the figures in my narrow gallery of portraits. But I will say that they were most of them persons about whom hung an undefined promise of greater strength than ever issued in performance. The causes of their comparative failure are difficult to disentangle. With one perhaps it was the want of a sympathetic entourage; with another a dreamy or mystical habit of thought; with this one, the immersion in uncongenial pursuits ; with that a certain failure in physical vitality; with another, the work, accomplished in dignified
serenity, has fallen too swiftly into neglect, and we must endeavour to divine the cause : and yet in no case can we trace any inherent weakness, any moral obliquity, any degrading or enervating concession.
Perhaps one of the greatest mistakes we make in literature and art is the passionate individualism into which we are betrayed. We cannot bring ourselves to speak or think very highly of the level of a man's work, unless the positive and tangible results of that work are in themselves very weighty and pure. We forget all about the inspirers and teachers of poets and artists. How often does the poet, and the artist too, in autobiographical allusion, speak with absorbing gratitude and devotion of some humble name of which we take no note, as the “fons et origo” to himself of enthusiasm and proficiency.
It is with no affectation of fastidious superiority, but with a frank confession of conscious pettiness, that I say that this book will only appeal to a few. The critic is no hero : he is at best but a skipping peltast, engaged as often as not in
inglorious flight. To flounder in images, criticism is nothing but a species of mistletoe, sprouting in a sleek bunch in the chink of a lofty forest tree. I had rather have been Lovelace than Sainte-Beuve, and write one immortal lyric than thirty-five volumes of the acutest discrimination. But a minority has a right to its opinions, and may claim to be amused: a man who thinks the Rhine vulgar, and the Jungfrau exaggerated, may be foolishly delighted with a backwater on the Thames, and a view of the Berkshire downs. In fact, the only kind of criticism of which one may be impatient is the criticism which abuses an author for not writing something else. What critics can do, what I have attempted to do, is to strengthen and define the impression that a casual reader may derive from a book, a reader who wishes to see what is good, but has not the knack described by the poet, who says "what is best he firmly lights upon, as birds on sprays."
On the other hand we may reasonably doubt what is the exact worth of the cultivation, of
the point of view which we meekly accept at the hands of a convincing critic. Does it not require a special insight to understand even criticism ? After all, we agree with, we do not accept criticism: we select from it some preference, strongly and convincingly stated, which jumps with our own preconceived ideas. merely swallow it down, like the camel, to be reproduced in fetid stagnation, whenever a necessity for it arises, are we so much higher after all ? The delicate psychologist who has accepted my dedication, speaks in one of his latest stories of the expression on the face of a Royal Princess, who had been told everything in the world, and had never perceived anything. Culture, criticism, in certain sterile natures, are like Sheridan's famous apophthegm : they lie " like lumps of marl on a barren moor, encumbering what it is not in their power to fertilise."
In art, in literature, it is the periods of republicanism that have left their mark on the world : the periods that have been very conscious of, and very deferential to authority, have been