« AnteriorContinuar »
hundred and ten affect but little as yet wares, contre coeur, to suit the taste of the either the outer shape or the informing British public, and would far rather try spirit of English letters. Our literature is their hand at something airy, light, true, still of London, Londony. From “the sympathetic, artistic. Only they can't. great heart of the empire,” to quote for Supply and Demand govern the market in once our apostle of the English-speaking literature as they govern the market in race, most English thinking, most English Manchester piece goods.
The manyart as expressed in words, still proceeds, headed beast, says publisher or editor to as point of origin. New York, Chicago, his “bands," the authors, requires for Montreal, Melbourne, are at best receptive; the moment such and such mental pabufrom London springs the thought that lum. Very well, responds the obedient moves the English-speaking world, as far hack, with the cheerful alacrity born of as the English-speaking world is moved at long disregard of one's own tastes and a! by thought or by language.
feelings; then the many-headed beast And there comes the rub. C'est là le shall be humored to the top of his bent. diable! This purely English milieu, in We will tickle his thick ribs. We will suit which and for which our literature is him to his fancy. produced, is a milieu utterly alien and Hence it has come about that English inimical to the whole literary or artistic producers of popular literature are inostly spirit. When the English writer says ħack-workers. The Sons of the Prophets so, the gentleman in the street thinks inhabit a new and better-paid Grubb Street. the English writer means merely that he In so far as a larger and more clamorous isn't allowed to use ugly words and de- public demands their wares, to be sure, scribe risky situations of a peculiar charac. they are immensely better off than the ter. What a grotesque misunderstanding ! wretched immortals who toiled at starvaAs well might he suppose that Puritanism tion wages for Tonson and Lintott. Curmilitated against literature and art only in rent quotations of literary labor rule now so far as it insisted on cutting out the name almost a quarter as high as the earnings of of the deity and all profane oaths from doctors, lawyers, dentists, clergymen ; dramatic pieces, and on eschewing the they frequently reach to perhaps as much nnde in mythological painting. The effect as a twentieth part of the average stockof the Philistinism of the English public broker's. On the purely material side, upon the English artist, in words or in col- therefore, divine genius cannot reasonably ors, is something infinitely deeper, more complain : it is recompensed in some cases cramping, more pervasive, more soul- quite as highly as many commercial travdestroying in every way, than that. It is ellers. But the material side doesn't an effect due to a resolutely inartistic at- altogether close the question. Genius has titude of mind, an utter absence of sym- tastes—likes and dislikes of its own. pathy with or interest in whatever most Authors, in the lump, are men above the moves the true artist or the true literary average in intellect and ability. They worker. Art in France and in many other tend, as a rule, to have opinions and ideas. countries can count upon intelligent recep- They would usually prefer to consult those tion from an immense public. Art in Eng- opinions and ideas in writing their books land can expect little but chilly neglect, or or journalistic utterances. Most often, even open hostility, from the vast mass of indeed, in their callow apprenticeship, they the unreceptive or actively hostile crowd begin by doing so. But, schooled by exthat passes it by in contempt or throws perience, they soon learn better. Editors mud from the gutter at it.
return their immortal blank versc, unread : The British public is, in one word, publishers decline (with thanks) their stodgy. Stodginess is the salient charac- psychological novel. Then gradually they teristic of the bourgeois class that gives grow wise. They acquiesce in the inevitone to the whole, including society; and table. They bow down their heads meekly whatever is produced for its palate must before Demand and Supply, those ecobe stodgy also. But it doesn't follow that nomic Demogorgons of a commercial age, who drives fat oxen should himself be fat. and obediently produce what their public Nay, more, for the most part, I believe, requires of them. It is Samson and the the producers of stodgy literature and Philistines. Divine genius must needs stodgy art turn out their solidly insipid make sport for the daughters of the enemy.
See here, then, this paradox. The public round to them. But such exceptions public are stodgy and crave for stodginess.
For the most part, our men of But no stodgy person is fitted by nature to letters have to bend themselves from the supply what they want to them. For why? first to the public will. Bohemians by the public likes its stodgy material served birth, unsuited to crook the supple knee up to it piping hot, with delicate sauce before vile conventions, and endowed with which may titillate its dull nerves, and wide and comprehensive views of men and make the old food seem new to its jaded nature, they have to narrow their scope palate. It
says, in effect, to the would- and confine their ideas, for hire, till they be author-"You're a clever fellow. suit the limited purview of their Philistine Come now, then, dress me up a nice tale
paymasters. to my fancy. Let it be stodgy, of course; Come out and be a leader !” says the let it be flat as I am ; let it tell of my own seer to the man who thinks. But what is commonplace uninteresting loves and the good of being a leader where no man hates ; let it flatter my base prejudices ; follows ? Obey the finest intuitions of let it carefully avoid treading on my favor- your own genius," says the critic to the ite corns : but let it also be amusing, cun- neophyte. But what is the good of the ningly wrought, deftly worded. Make it intuitions of genius if the publisher returns bloody, if you like ; inake it sensational, genius its manuscript by parcel post, with exciting ; but don't for a moment intrude a polite intimation that Mr. Mudie would upon ine your own singular tastes and refuse to circulate such stuff, and that the ideas. They're not the same as mine, and Right Honorable Goliath of the railway therefore I don't like them. I don't un- bookstalls would exercise his moral cenderstand them. They either shock me, sorship to suppress it sternly ? or hurt me, or annoy me, or bore me ; or It is on the modern novel, above all else they strike me (who am confessedly things, that this Philistine supervision less clever than you) as simply ridiculous. weighs hardest and worst. We have no So absurd that any fellow should think Maupassants over here, no Tolstois, no otherwise than as I do ! He can have no Lotis. And why? Do you really supcommon-sense ; he must be a wild sort of pose all the intelligent and experienced harum-scarum idiot! At the same time, men who dish up serial stories, hot and I must get you and your likes to write for hot, for our periodical press—able statesme, perforce—not others like myself, be- men, some of them ; brilliant poets ; deep cause you only, you other phrasemongers, thinkers-do you really suppose those tried know how to dress up these meagre and hands of the craft like to write the concommonplace and threadbare ideas of mine ventional little variations upon familiar in such a way as tickles my mirth and ex- themes, the criss-cross love of two worthy cites my sluggish liver. Go to, therefore ; young men and two amiable young women, you have brains ; exercise them to please on which they ring the
changes, sans cesse, ine. Trim you my tale as the tailor trims in magazine and newspaper? Do you my coat, to satisfy the customer.” really suppose none of them is capable of
And most men of letters have to submit originating anything profounder or wiser, to this hateful drudgery. They have to of revealing the abysmal depths of comwrite things which perpetually offend their plex personality, of dissecting into its own philosophic creed, their own artistic prime elements some genuine tragedy of sensibilities, They have to please the the human heart? I for one will never hundred-handed bourgeois Briareus, on believe it. There are as good fish in the pain of starvation. Some few of them, sea as ever came out of it.
There are as to be sure—some very, very few, are men many great souls in England as ever. It's of means, and can afford to write as they only the latter-day dominance of the will, regardless of their public. Ruskin stodgy bourgeois spirit which warps them did that, from the first, very much to his from their true bent, and sends them off advantage. So, in another way, more on the bias to produce, against their will, heroic, did Herbert Spencer. So too did insipid cakes and mild ale for the British George Meredith ; so also did Swinburne. Philistine. And they each in the end, by dint of studi- Mr. W. E. Henley, that acute and clever ous interpretation at the hands of admiring critic, once did a minor writer (in point disciples, succeeded at last in bringing the of fact, the present humble scribe) the honor to describe bim, in blushing print, never dreamt of, our posterity may sway as “ the man who isn't allowed." With with pen and pencil. But at the present sharp prods of his keen pen, Mr. Ilenley moment, English literature, the Cinderella made much fun of his temporary victim, of Europe, is the least cosmopolitan, the for complaining of these artificial limits most provincial literature on the face of imposed on modern English literature by the earth. It stops at home, and cowers the respectable classes. But he missed over the fire of the family circle. And that insignificant unit's point. It isn't why? Because it appeals to an exclusive that I am not allowed : it is that we are and narrow-minded English Philistine not allowed. Letters as a whole in Britain audience. That is not the fault of the bave a great injustice done them by their authors, but the fault of the Philistines. inartistic environment. Men can't write These narrow creatures, whether they sit as they would (unless they are rich and under Benson or Spurgeon, will hear no can afford to publish, like “ Orion” gospel preached but the precise stodgy Horne, at a farthing a copy), because the gospel that meets their own views and mirpublic and its distributing agents dictate to rors their own vacuity. They have been them so absolutely how and what they are the dispensers of patronage so long, that to produce that they can't escape from it. all works of literature in Britain have been The definiteness of the demand, indeed, written to suit them. Of course, the exhas become almost ludicrous. Rigid con- act opposite ought to be the case. The tracts are nowadays signed beforehand for more a man's ideas and beliefs and feelthe production of such and such a piece ings and sentiments differ from other of work, consisting, let us say, of three heople's—the more unusual, and singular, volumes, divided into twenty-six weekly and personal, and revolutionary they are parts ; each part comprising two chapters, the more nnique and disturbing—the to average two thousand five hundred more ought he to be encouraged to pro. words apiece. Often enough, a clause is claim them openly, and to work them out
even inserted in the agreement that the in full to their legitimate conclusions. work shall contain nothing that may not Original ideas, novel ideas, startling ideas, be read aloud in any family circle. Con- odd ideas—these are the good seed the sider what, in the existing condition of intelligent fraction is always looking out English bourgeois opinion, that restriction for. But the Philistine cares for none of means ! It means that you are to follow these things. In the simply touching in every particular the dissenting grocer's words of Mr. Peter Magnus, he hates view of life : that you are carefully to originality: What he wants is just the avoid introducing anything which might, same old hash as ever, dished up in fresh remotely or indirectly, lead man or woman sauce under a new-found name ; nothing to reflect about any problem whatsoever of to shock his stodgy middle-class morals; earth or heaven, of morals, religion, cos- nothing to stimulate thought in his torpid mology, politics, philosophy, human life, mercantile brain. Ten thousand Mr. Bulor social relations. “You are an agile titudes, with wives and daughters to match, man,” says in effect the middleman who have given laws up till now to the disconducts the bargain ; come, dance for tracted producer of British fiction. us in fetters! You have wings that can A paradox is always a precious leaven fly over sea or land ; come, bind them in the world. Every good cause that round with this stout hemp rope, and ever flourished on earth always began as proceed to frisk like a sucking lainb on somebody's fad and somebody's paradox. some convenient hillock.
You are a man ; No new and true thing you could possibly come, write like a bread-and-butter miss. say can fail, at first hearing, to sound parOur people object very much to flight ; adoxical to nine-tenths of your audience. but it amuses my clients to see you dance Therefore the wise man is very tender to in clogs like a mountebank.”
fads, to eccentricities, to novel ideas, English literature started fair on its path even when he is least disposed bimself at with a noble chance. The cosmopolitaniza- the outset to accept them. They have tion of the world, which is going on germinal energy. Ile knows how dangerapace before our very eyes, has increased ous it is to crush new thoughts ; he knows its possible field of action a thousand-fold how, by befriending them in their evil in every direction. Regions Shakespeare days, many have entertained angels un.
• Here's a
awares. But the Philistine goes upon the England to go on to all time suppressing exact opposite tack. He says,
what they really think and feel and bestranger in the world of ideas. Heave lieve, in order to accommodate the jejune half a brick at it."
social and political views of collective And why should Mr. Bultitude so over. Podsnapdom? Or is there some loophole awe our pens? Do we want obscenity ? of escape, some chance of release in the Do we want adultery? Do we want days to come ? I believe there is; and Zolaism in its ugliest developments ? Not things will work it out in this way. at all ; but we want liberty to paint the Podsnap, and Bultitude, and Mrs. Grunpicture we know we can paint best—to dy, and the rest, arc moribund relics of depict human life as it really is, not as the the state of things which came in some half giggling schoolgirl of seventeen conceives century since, with the reign of capital. it ought to be. We want to see English In the Elizabethan age they didn't exist ; literature so written in our midst that it plays and poems were flung straight at the may spread over the earth, as smaller and big heart of the people. Nobody could newer Continental literatures are spreading accuse Shakespeare and Spenser of mawkat tbis moment. Can anybody pretend ishness. In the eighteenth century they that any English work of imagination of still didn't exist ; novels and essays were the last thirty years has ever produced directed point-blank at the ears of a cultianything like the immediate sensation vated and appreciative aristocracy. That produced over Europe by the Kreuzer aristocracy had many
faults-heaven Sonata, by Thermidor, by Les Rois en knows, nobody wishes to condone them Eril, by Hedda Gabler | More people on , ?
less than myself ; but at any rate it wasn't the Continent reading Frédéric narrow-minded, stolid, hypocritical, Mistral's Mireio in Provençal at the pres- squint-eyed. The gay world one gets ent moment than are reading any book in glimpses of in Walpole's letters the English language, spoken by a larger neither Puritanical nor stupid, neither number of human beings than any other prejudiced nor dull. Indeed, a certain civilized tongue. What a national dis- reckless, devil-may-care dariny, as of Tom
What a painful confession ! Jones in one direction or Dick Turpin in And English literature doesn't so spread, another, rather took that pre-revolutionary just because the people who produce it are world by storm than otherwise. So long compelled against their own will, and in as it was amused, pricked, titillated, disspite of their own taste, artistic impulse, tracted, it asked little of the opinions or and judgment, to grovel before the dicta- ethics of its entertainer. It concerned tion of the cheesemonger's wife-some- itself no more with Roderick Random's times the glorified cheesemonger in Bel- morals than with Polly Peacham's private grave Square, but a cheesemonger still in life or Lucy Locket's lovers. As Fox said heart beneath his ducal coronet. Respect- truly, the French Revolution spoiled conability is a peculiarly British vice. It versation, for it checked this free spirit ; means an utter lack of moral and intellect- it made men afraid to push their most ual courage. Nowhere else in the world, pregnant ideas to legitimate conclusions. save in this Britain of ours, has that odious With the rise of the British mercantile forin of low ethical sense and pig-headed middle class, the Philistine in our midst stupidity succeeded in imposing itself as began to assert his personality blatantly. pure law upon the terrorized community. John Bull thought himself identical with In Britain it has. A gentleman who wrote England. For I take it, the Philistine is the hymns was long the arbiter of the circu- most purely Teutonic element in our mixed lating libraries; and the First Lord of the nationality ; and he gets his stodginess in Treasury, that decorous embodiment of the main from his Saxon ancestry. Our the bourgeois soul, still exercises through aristocracy is largely Norman, even to the puny subordinates a disciplinary super present day; and mixing freely as it has vision over the ethics of the bookstall. done with the noble Irish, Welsh, Cornish,
Is there any hope that in the near future and Highland Scotch families, it has inthis odious tyranny of the stupid over the fused at last a considerable mixture of clever, of the dense over the enlightened, good Celtic blood into its own blue veins of the thick-headed over the wise, will -much to its spiritual advantage. Our ever be broken down ? Are authors in laboring classes, I believe, have every
where a notable proportion of the ancient its power the other day, when it managed
art of a very high order. They have none Still, the reign of the bourgeoisie, thank of the shallowness or the narrowness of the God ! is nearly over. Their epoch was bourgeoisie. They love bold treatment ; short-lived ; and Macaulay was their audacity, one of the most valuable and esprophet. They came in about 1820 ; sential components of genius, always dethey obtained supreme political power in lights and takes them. That is the secret of 1832 ; they reached their apotheosis in their liking for men like Mr. Labouchere 1851, in a suitable Walhalla of glass and and Lord Randolph Churchill ; that is why iron. Then the decline began. Reform they swear by John Burns, by Stewart bills despoiled the trading classes bit by Headlain, by Bernard Shaw, by Cuningbit of their oligarchical importance ; the hame Graham. And in literature the same Education Act sapped or is sapping by tastes are making themselves slowly felt. degrees their social position. New Periodicals like the New Review, Short Pharaohs are rising from below who know Cuts, Great Thoughts, Treasure Trove, not that Joseph. New social strata are all suggest how the people are beginning surging up in yeasty waves into unexpected to wake up to a desire for real thinking importance. And here again I am wholly and plain speaking in science, politics, with Mr. Stead, the apostle of the English. social life, religion. In some of these new speaking race, the apostle, though he penny journals, bold fresh thought is know it not, of Celticism in England. allowed to air itself far more freely than Till very lately, the only thing that in any old-established sixpenny weekly, counted, were it in politics, in social and readers are not disgusted ; on the conaffairs, in art, in literature, was the bour- trary, they admire the larger and more geois or his betters, the thick-headed, pot- open utterance. Few people who read bellied, self-satisfied, smirking, respectable The Fortnightly, no doubt, ever take up Teuton. Nowadays all that is changing these cheap sheets that lie broadcast on fast. The School Board has educated our the bookstalls; but if they did, they would masses apace ; and the masses are every- probably be astonished to find how high a where beginning to think for themselves, level of thinking and of artistic workinanand are craving visibly for knowledge, for ship is often attained in them. It is a culture, for letters and art of a very high real sign of the times that Tit Bits should order. London and England no longer have carried Mr. Newnes into Parliament ; compose our whole British world. Conne. that Short Cuts should be now in a fair mara and Donegal, Caithness and the way to waft Mr. Archibald Grove into the Lewis, Glamorgan and Merioneth, have
same august assembly ; that the Strand taken heart of grace to assert their right to Magazine should be sold for sixpence ; a hearing in the counsels of our complex that even Mr. Frederick Greenwood, in nation. The bourgeoisie is falling, and his hopeless crusade against the rising falling fast. I don't say it isn't still very ocean of socialism with a Partington powerful, very formidable. It can kick a broom, should choose a twopenny Antifellow even now, when he's down, most Jacobin as the best implement for his pureffectively. It gave sinister evidence of pose.