A Commentary (Apr 1924)
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[ 521 A Commentary1 The Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 2 (Apr 1924) 231-35 The Works of T. E. Hulme The posthumous volume of Speculations of T. E. Hulme (Kegan Paul) appears to have fallen like a stone to the bottom of the sea of print.2 With its peculiar merits, this book is most unlikely to meet with the slightest comprehension from the usual reviewer: with all its defects – it is an outline of work to be done, and not an accomplished philosophy – it is a book of very great significance. When Hulme was killed in Flanders in 1917, he was known to a few people as a brilliant talker, a brilliant amateur of metaphysics , and the author of two or three of the most beautiful short poems in the language. In this volume he appears as the forerunner of a new attitude of mind, which should be the twentieth-century mind, if the twentieth century is to have a mind of its own. Hulme is classical, reactionary, and revolutionary; he is the antipodes of the eclectic, tolerant, and democratic mind of the end of the last century.3 And his writing, his fragmentary notes and his outlines, is the writing of an individual who wished to satisfy himself before he cared to enchant a cultivated public. Hulme and Classicism Hulme is a solitary figure in this country: his closest affinities are in France, with Charles Maurras, Albert Sorel, and Pierre Lasserre.4 Compared with these men, Hulme is immature and unsubstantial; but he had the great advantage of a creative gift. The weakness from which the classical movement in France has suffered is that it has been a critique rather than a creation ; the movement may claim Paul Valéry, but that elusive genius will hardly allow itself to be placed. It would be as tenable, and as dubious, to claim James Joyce in England. Of both of these writers it may as cogently be said that they belong to a new age chiefly by representing, and perhaps precipitating, consummately in their different ways the close of the previous epoch. Classicism is in a sense reactionary, but it must be in a profounder sense revolutionary. A new classical age will be reached when the dogma, or ideology, of the critics is so modified by contact with creative 1924 522 ] writing, and when the creative writers are so permeated by the new dogma, that a state of equilibrium is reached. For what is meant by a classical moment in literature is surely a moment of stasis, when the creative impulse finds a form which satisfies the best intellect of the time, a moment when a type is produced. The University Presses The University presses have done a great deal of useful work, besides printing a number of books which might well have been left to the hazards of commercial publishing; and they have also left a great deal of useful work undone, in the way of cheap reprints in correct texts. It is true that one collection of cheap reprints exists, not so extensive as the Everyman Library, and containing many volumes which are accessible in cheap editions elsewhere . To the public spirit, or the sagacity of such publishers as John Lane andRoutledge,hasbeenleftthepublicationoftworecentexcellentseries.5 * These are volumes which are hardly likely to be lucrative to the publishers, but which should be kept in print to perpetuity. It ought to be possible for a person of small means to possess himself of the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes, the History of Clarendon, the works of Bolingbroke, the poems of Denham or Oldham, or the complete works of any Elizabethan dramatist , without several years’ search through the secondhand bookstalls.6 And only a subsidised press, such as the University Presses, can perform this function. The Honourable Bertrand Russell and Culture Mr. Bertrand Russell, writing in the March Dial, expresses some interesting opinions on the nineteenth century and on men of culture: When one views the nineteenth century in perspective, it is clear that science is its only claim to distinction. Its literary men were mostly second -rate, its philosophers sentimental, its artists inferior to those of earlier times. Science ruthlessly forced novelties upon it, while men of “culture” tried to preserve the old picturesque follies by wrapping them in a mist of muddled romanticism. Until “culture” has made its peace with science, it will remain outside the main current of events, feeble and querulous, sighing for the past. The world that science...