A Prediction in Regard to Three English Authors: Writers Who, Though Masters of Thought, are Likewise Masters of Art
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[ 513 A Prediction in Regard to Three English Authors:1 Writers Who, Though Masters of Thought, are Likewise Masters of Art Vanity Fair, 21 (Feb 1924) 29, 98 There are three English writers of whom I wish briefly to speak.2 Two of them – Henry James and Sir James Frazer – are known in America and are beginning to be known in Europe, in translations; the third, Francis Herbert Bradley, is hardly likely to be known outside of England at all.3† He is, indeed, a rare writer; from 1883 to within a few months ago, his Principles of Logic was out of print. The republication of this work, in two volumes, with fresh supplementary essays; the appearance of a condensed edition of Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and the continuation of a new and cheaper edition of Henry James’s complete works, may give my remarks on these three writers the chronicle character which they might otherwise seem to lack.4 Henry James is an author who is difficult for English readers, because he isanAmerican;andwhoisdifficultforAmericans,becauseheisaEuropean; and I do not know whether he is possible to other readers at all. On the other hand, the exceptionally sensitive reader, who is neither English nor American, may have a position of detachment which is an advantage. One thing is certain, that the books of Henry James form a complete whole. One must read all of them, for one must grasp, if anything, both the unity and the progression. The gradual development, and the fundamental identity of spirit, are both important, and their lesson is one lesson. The Case of Henry James James has suffered the usual fate of those who, in England, have outspokenly insisted on the importance of technique. His technique has received the kind of praise usually accorded to some useless, ugly, and ingenious piece of carving which has taken a very long time to make; and he is widely reproached for not succeeding in doing the things that he did not attempt to do. With “character,” in the sense in which the portrayal of character is usually expected in the English novel, he had no concern; but his critics do 1924 514 ] not understand that “character” is only one of the ways in which it is possible to grasp at reality: had James been a better hand at character, he would have been a coarser hand altogether, and would have missed the sensibility to the peculiar class of data which were his province. And the fact that, an American, his view of England – a view which very gradually dissolves in his development – was a romantic view, is a small matter. His romanticism implied no defect in observation of the things that he wanted to observe; it was not the romanticism of those who dream because they are too lazy or too fearful to face the fact; it issues, rather, from the imperative insistence of an ideal which tormented him. He was possessed by the vision of an ideal society, he saw (not fancied) the relations between the members of such a society. And no one in the end, has ever been more aware – or with more benignity, or less bitterness – of the disparity between possibility and fact. If his completed work failed to prove that, his last unfinished novels (The Sense of the Past and The Ivory Tower) could hardly fail to do so.5 The example which Henry James offered us was not that of a style to imitate, but of an integrity so great, a vision so exacting, that it was forced to the extreme of care and punctiliousness for exact expression. James did not provide us with “ideas,” but with another world of thought and feeling. For such a world some have gone to Dostoievsky, some to James; and I am inclined to think that the spirit of James, so much less violent, with so much morereasonablenessandsomuchmoreresignationthanthatoftheRussian, is no less profound, and is more useful, more applicable, for our future. The Author of “The Golden Bough” The work of Sir James George Frazer has nothing in common with that of James, except the modest and steady and silent influence which it exerts. At first sight, Frazer is only the most eminent among many students of a science which is peculiarly English: folklore. I say peculiarly English, because, with the exception of Mannhardt, in Germany, I can think of no foreign namestosetbesideawholeseriesofEnglishnames:SirE.B.Tylor,Robertson Smith,MissHarrison,MissWeston,A.B.Cook,F.M.Cornford, Dr...