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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
invariably retrograde. What a dreary period in English literature was the reign of Dr. Johnson. The chief legacies of that era to literature are the letters of Gray and Horace Walpole, and the life of the Dictator himself. But these are not creative literature at all. Gray, as a poet, was comparatively sterile. Imagination, the jewel of the soul, had fallen from its elaborate setting. But the more that literature declined, the more sententious grew the critics. Nowadays, when literature is very active, and not very profound—impressionist, journalistic, supremely content if it can produce lively and superficial sensations—the bludgeoning of the early part of the century has gone out : no longer does the critic feel it a duty, as the oracle said to Oenomaus, to “ draw the bow and slaughter the innumerable geese that graze upon the green." Indeed would not some have us believe that criticism of contemporaries is all a matter of private interest, apart from any just or earnest conviction ?
But there is still a class of readers, not very
large or important perhaps, haunted by a native instinct for literature, a relish for fine phrases, a hankering for style—to whom the manner of saying a thing is as important, or more important than the matter, readers, who are not satisfied with fiction, unless it be combined, as by Robert Louis Stevenson, with a wealth, a curiousness, a preciosity of phrase, to which in criticism only Walter Pater can lay claim, and which may secure for these two a station in literature to which the majority of our busy, voluble, graphic writers must aspire in vain.
A. C. B.
ETON, Fuly, 1895.