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the popular novelists, in spite of the fact that he had all the faults of those verse-poet contemporaries. The fact is, the public no longer reads verse poetry, and it is not easy to conceive that any poet could by any possibility arise who could repeat the great popular successes of Scott's, Byron's, or Moore's long poems.
Let us leave argument and turn to the practical side of the question.
We are confronted with the fact that everybody writes prose, and it is hard to see any sharp line of demarcation between the prose we find in newspapers, let us say, and that which we might find in a prose poem. Everybody writes prose, and if everybody were allowed to wander into the fields in which Mr. Ruskin has operated, we should probably find ourselves in Bedlam. Even to recommend the study and cultivation of this extreme sort of prose might seem opening the door to morbidity, to all that lack of sanity to which Mr. Brownell so justly objects. There is no question that Ruskin's imitators have made most wretched work of it. Nothing could be more nauseating than their so-called
prose poetry, whereas the minor poet is eminently harmless.
The fact is, while any one can write prose, the complete mastery of it is so difficult that it is wholly beyond the powers of any one man, unless he were to have the mental capacity of a Shakespeare. The range of language as an art is infinitely beyond that of any other art medium. It is
the only art that can be said to be strictly universal. For example, painting as an art ranges from house painting to the painting of an “ Angelus.” Even house painting belongs to the art, for in the choice of colors, the laying on of the paint, etc., there is ample room for kill and taste. So in the art of using words, we range from common conversation and letter-writing to the prose poetry of the Bible. The difference is, that whereas not one man in a thousand is even a house painter, only a small per cent of the entire population do not have occasion to engage in entertaining conversation or effective letter-writing. Even though the number of those that sing and play the piano is large, it is trifling beside the number of wordartists. And as the number of word-artists is relatively so vast at the bottom, at the top it is correspondingly small. No painter, no musician, stands pre-eminently alone in his art as Shakespeare does in his: and great as Shakespeare was, we can see how even he might have done better.
Now what shall be the criterion of success that can be stated universally for all the possible practitioners of the art of language? Why, simply this: he who conveys his meaning in words is successful. If our word-artist has but a single idea, and can express it in a single word, he may not be great, but he is successful. So far as he goes he is perfect. Shakespeare himself could do no better. The ideal of literary art, then, is :
simply, wholly, to convey meaning, and the more simply it can be done the better. If three thousand words will convey one's meaning, three thousand words completely mastered and effectively used will be sufficient for entire success. In this sense complete success as a literary artist is quite within the range of every one, and it would be hard to find an excuse for lack of such success.
But now we come to those who have, or think they have, something special to say, and to those ambitious aspirants who wish to make writing a passport to fame or money. Let us dispose of the latter first. There is undoubtedly a field for the professional writer in journalism and the compilation of books. But there is a potentially large class of persons who think : “ Now I have n't anything in particular to say, and I see no special use that my writings will have after I produce them. But my friends Mary Jones and John Jenks have made fortunes out of books, and I can't see that they have any more ideas than I have. Why should n't I enter the lists and do as well as any of them?” It was this class which De Quincey had in mind when he wrote: “ Authors have always been a dangerous class for any language. Amongst the myriads who are prompted to authorship by the coarse love of reputation, or by the nobler craving for sympathy, there will always be thousands seeking distinction through novelties of diction. Hopeless of any audience
through any weight of matter, they will turn for their last resource to such tricks of innovation as they can bring to bear upon language. What care they for purity or simplicity of diction, if at any cost of either they can win special attention to themselves?” To argue with writers of this class or about them is useless. All we can do is to try to raise the popular standard and instruct the popular taste so that their false efforts will find no encouragement at all, and they will be forced by sheer starvation to turn to the more useful duties of housekeeping or road-making or boot-blacking — all eminently useful employments, for which possibly they may be fitted.
Now let us consider for a moment that other class, which is no doubt relatively very large; the class of those who have ideas which they would express, which it is essential to their health and happiness that they should express, whether in conversation, letters, or the printed page — in short, the “mute inglorious Miltons” of Gray's Elegy. To these, expression is a sort of necessity, and we cannot but believe that all honest, sincere expression will also prove useful somewhere, to somebody beside the expresser.
To these the inherited stock of common words and everyday methods of using them are insufficient. The ideas do not get through the words which would convey them.
This is the point at which prose begins to be a fine art. The power of words as mechanical symbols for ideas is exhausted. We must consider new ways of using these words. The most 1 obvious first step is comparison, and we have figures of speech. We find the field we have entered a very large one, and proceed from simple direct comparison in the simile, through the metaphor or implied comparison, to antithetic comparison and contrast. We discover that words are suggestive, and proceed to make large use of what Mr. Barrett Wendell would call “connotation."
But shortly we stumble upon a new difficulty. If we are going to use expression for anything more than self-relief, we must have an interested audience or a body of readers. The average man
a quickly tires of listening. We must work a charm upon him and hold him, or all our expression goes for naught, and proves practically to be no expression at all. We are face to face with the problem of “
economy of attention," so well discussed by Herbert Spencer in his “Essay on Style.
We may hold the attention of our hearer or reader in two ways, - one negatively, by not giving him any more of one thing than his mind will absorb without weariness; the other by the positive charm of harmonious vibration, that universal principle of life showing itself in the soothing effect of the monotonous breaking of waves on the seashore and also in the positive charm of music. If we are to make progress, we must see