A review of Egoists, A Book of Supermen, by James Huneker
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24 ] A review of Egoists, A Book of Supermen, by James Huneker. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909. Pp. 372. The Harvard Advocate, 88 (5 Oct 1909) 16 Now that Arthur Symons is no longer active in English letters, Mr. James Huneker alone represents modernity in criticism.1 Few critics are possessed of so much erudition, yet there are few so determined to consider subjects onlyofthemostmoderninterest.Infact,heisfartooalerttobeanAmerican; in his style and in his temper he is French. Then, too, he is a musician; plays himself, and has written an interesting life of Chopin; has written also a volume on contemporary European drama, and can speak intelligently of art. All of this, in an American (or English) critic of literature, is quite unusual.2 Mr. Huneker’s style may impress us as unpardonably hasty, crammed, staccato; a notebook and journalistic style. But (among American writers, still further distinction) a style it decidedly is, and shares with that of Mr. Henry James (from which, we need not add, it differs in almost every other respect) what I should call a conversational quality; not conversational in admitting the slipshod and maladroit, or a meagre vocabulary, but by a certain informality, abandoning all the ordinary rhetorical hoaxes for securing attention. In the matter of English style, by the way, his criticism, in Overtones, of the later Henry James is illuminating.3 Except in a detailed review, analysis of any of the articles which make up this book would be impossible. Mr. Huneker’s book titles are a little noisy, andinthiscasevagueandunsatisfactory.ButtheEgoistsareallmen–French and German–of highly individual, some of perverse and lunary, genius. Particularly good is the critique of Huysmans, the genius of faith, also the note on Francis Poictevin, a forgotten literary specialist.4 T. S. E. Notes 1. James Huneker (1857-1921), arts critic for the New York Sun (1902-17), was the author of Chopin:TheManandhisMusic(1900),Overtones:ABookofTemperaments(1904),andIconoclasts: A Book of Dramatists (1905). The English critic Arthur Symons (1865-1945) wrote The Symbolist [ 25 Review: Egoists, A Book of Supermen Movement in Literature (1899), the American edition (1908) of which had a profound influence on TSE. Having suffered a breakdown in 1908, Symons was institutionalized for two years and wrote no further significant criticism until 1916. His Romantic Movement in English Poetry (1909) was written before his illness. 2. On 4 Jan 1952 TSE wrote to Huneker’s biographer, Arnold T. Schwab, that he had never met or had any correspondence with Huneker. “I remember reading some of his . . . essays in my undergraduatedays,whichIfound...highlystimulatingbecauseofthenumberofforeignauthors, artists, and composers whom he was able to mention, and whom I had then never heard of. Later . . . the parade of names came to seem rather tiresome. But I think his work may have performed a usefulserviceforothersaswellasmyself,inbringingtotheirattentionthenamesofdistinguished contemporaries . . . of the previous generation, in the various arts.” 3. Huneker illustrates the distinctive style of Henry James (1843-1916) by describing his portrayal of Turgenev in Partial Portraits (1888): “a picture of the great, gentle Russian writer is slowly built up by strokes like smoke. There is much of his troubled melancholy, some of his humor, and, rare for Mr. James, distinct allusions to Turgénieff ’s attitude in the presence of the American-born novelist’s work” (Overtones 142). 4. Huneker traces the spiritual fluctuations of the French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) from the decadence and Satanism of À rebours (1884) and Là-Bas (1891) to the struggleandconversionofEnroute(1895)andL’Oblat(1903).Healsodescribesthecontributions to poetics of Huysmans’s confidant, the French symbolist prose poet Francis Poictevin (18541904 ). This page intentionally left blank ...