Artists and Men of Genius. To the Editor of The Athenaeum
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260 ] Artists and Men of Genius To the Editor of The Athenaeum The Athenaeum, 4704 (25 June 1920) 842 Sir, – Mr. William H. Polack’s perplexity (Athenaeum, June 18, p. 810) is a spectacle before which it is impossible for me to remain passive.1 He encourages me by saying that he is anxious to learn; and if the knowledge of what I do not believe is a possession which he would dignify with the name of learning, he is welcome to it. First, then, I am not in the least “indifferent as to what is expressed.” If I were,I might have a higher opinion of Massinger; for if Mr. Polack has done me the honour of reading that review, he must see that my judgment at that point was simply that Massinger had very little personality – very little to express.2 This misunderstanding is related to the other. I do not believe that a workofartisany“completeandpreciseexpressionofpersonality.”Thereare all sorts of expressions of personality, complete or precise or both, which have nothing to do with art; so that the phrase seems to me of very little use for literary criticism. Mr. Polack will notice furthermore that I said in my article “transformation,” not “expression.”3 Transformation is what I meant: the creation of a work of art is like some other forms of creation, a painful and unpleasantbusiness;itisasacrificeofthemantothework,itisakindofdeath. I should be glad if Mr. Polack would study my quotations from Gourmont in their context in the Problème du Style, and also Dujardin’s Stéphane Mallarmé (Mercure de France).4 Mr. Polack “feels that T. S. E. deplores the fact that Dickens was not an artist.” I feel that Mr. Polack’s feelings have run away with him. (So look’d he once, when in an angry parle He smote . . .)5 But if Mr. Polack is again mistaken, what then? I am, Sir, Your obliged obedient servant, T. S. E. [ 261 Artists and Men of Genius Notes 1. In his letter of 18 June 1920, Polack pointed out a discrepancy between TSE’s “The Old Comedy” (now a part of “Philip Massinger” [244]) and John Middleton Murry’s “Charles Dickens (1812-1870),” both in the previous issue. He recapitulated TSE’s position: “Apparently T. S. E. considers a work of art that into which the artist ‘decants himself drop by drop,’ in Remy de Gourmont’s phrase. I take it that this may be paraphrased as ‘a complete and precise expression of personality.’” And he offered a statement of the contrast: “I think that the underlying opposition could be fairly stated in these terms. T. S. E. is indifferent as to what is expressed, provided the expression be complete and precise, whereas M. hints that the point to which criticism should apply itself is the nature of that which is expressed. . . . To put it in a nutshell. I feel that T. S. E. deplores the fact that Dickens was not an artist, but (perhaps) a man of genius; while M. thanks God for it. . . . What would they say to each other or to us about Shakespeare?” (810). Grover Smith suggests that TSE himself may have pseudonymously written the letter to which he responds here. The Waste Land (London: Allen & Unwin, 1983), 24. 2. “Massinger is not simply a smaller personality: his personality hardly exists” (254). 3. “Marlowe’s and Jonson’s comedies were a view of life; they were, as great literature is, the transformation of a personality into a personal work of art” (254). 4. TSE would have seen Richard Aldington’s review of De Stéphane Mallarmé au prophète Ezéchiel, et Essai d’une théorie du réalisme symbolique (Paris: Mercure de France, 1919) by Édouard Dujardin (1861-1949) in Poetry (June 1920), which also featured a review of his own Poems (1920). Aldington writes, “Perhaps America will read and profit by M. Dujardin’s wisdom,” and he translates at length from Dujardin: “Practically, there is only one way to write well – that is to think personally. . . . Form and matter are vain words; there is only style.” 5. Hamlet I.i.65-67: “So frown’d he once, when in an angry parle / He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice. / ’Tis strange.” ...