- Studies in Contemporary Criticism, I. A review of George Meredith: A Study of His Works and Personality, by J. H. E. Crees
- The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd
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760 ] Studies in Contemporary Criticism, I A review of George Meredith: A Study of His Works and Personality, by J. H. E. Crees Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1918. Pp. ix + 237. The Egoist, 5 (Oct 1918) -14 The work of the critic is almost wholly comprehended in the “complementary activities” of comparison and analysis. The one activity implies the other; and together they provide the only way of asserting standards and of isolating a writer’s peculiar merits. In the dogmatic, or lazy, mind, comparison is supplied by judgment, analysis replaced by appreciation. Judgment and appreciation are merely tolerable avocations, no part of the critic’s serious business. If the critic has performed his laboratory work well, his understanding will be evidence of appreciation; but his work is by the intelligence, not the emotions. The judgment also will take place in the reader’s mind, not in the critic’s explicit statement. When he judges or appreciates, he simply (perhaps from a legitimate compulsion to spare time or thought) is missing out a link in the exposition. Criticism, like creative art, is in various ways less developed than scientific research. For one thing, scientific progress, in Europe and America, would not have reached its present stage had it not been pretty thoroughly internationalized: if the results of any important experiment in one country were not immediately taken up, tested and proceeded upon in every other. A vast improvement in this respect had taken place, for instance, since Mendel’s time. Of course, science, as well as literature, is dependent upon the occasional appearance of a man of genius who discovers a new method. But there is much useful work done in science by men who are only clever enough and well enough educated to apply a method; and in literature there ought to be a place for persons of equivalent capacity. Yet what we find are discoverers of methods whose methods remain unstudied ; and an illimitable number of honest toilers still seeking the literary counterpart of perpetual motion or the lapis philosophicus; fuddling with [ 761 Contemporary Criticism, I putrefaction, Solution, ablution, sublimation, Cohobation, calcination, ceration, and Fixation.1 We are justified in reprobating such wasted energy. There ought to be honourable vacancies for men who like to write about literature without themselveshavinga “method”todeliver;without(incruderterms)being“creative” writers. There might be a recognized set of tools which the critic could be taught to use, and a variety of standard patterns which he could be trained to turn out. Mr. J. H. E. Crees is one of the belated astrologers. He has industry and considerable native competence; he knows his author well, and is interested in his subject.2 But he does not know positively what he wants to do–and is therefore somewhat uncertain in his attempt to do it. He does not know just what are the questions about a poet or novelist which are worth an answer; he has not halted to contemplate his task before he began it. This lack of training often is responsible for the issue of general observationswhichforacriticareutterlyawasteoftime .Ifindinachapterdevoted to Meredith’s “Art”: Style is the man. . . . Those who have any individuality at all, and who allow this individuality to develop, must . . . attain to something individual . [129-30] Mr. Crees is looking for Meredith’s style on a very dark night, and without knowing what “style” will be when he finds it. His misapprehension asserts itself as he proceeds to the question of originality. “[H]e who is endowed with a fine sense of style must often note the inadequacy of the hackneyed phrase, and feel for other methods, of expression” . In the first place, a fine sense of style is more truly an acquirement than an endowment, but let that pass. His interpretation of the “hackneyed phrase” is illuminated by his next sentence: Not to do so is rather spiritual indolence than love of the precise and unpretentious. (Why spiritual indolence? But let it pass.) Mr. Crees says, in effect, that the “hackneyed phrase” is not invariably precise and unpretentious. Our remark upon this is that the hackneyed phrase is precisely the pretentious and 1918: journalism 762 ] unprecise, that this is part of its nature. It is not hackneyed because it is old, but because it is dead; and it is dead because it has lost its meaning. Mr. Crees goes on to produce numerous unconscious illustrations of dead language . Thus: None ever thought more quickly or boasted a more...