- Creative Criticism. An unsigned review of Creative Criticism: Essays on the Unity of Genius and Taste, by J. E. Spingarn
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[ 805 Creative Criticism An unsigned review of Creative Criticism: Essays on the Unity of Genius and Taste, by J. E. Spingarn London: Humphrey Milford, . Pp. 138. Times Literary Supplement, 1280 (12 Aug 1926) 535 Mr. J. E. Spingarn is the author of an excellent informative book on the literary criticism of the Italian Renaissance;1 he is a scholarly critic who is entitled to be listened to with respect. In this book, however, it would seem thatMr.Spingarn,whoatonetimewasprofessorofliteratureinanAmerican university, was determined to assert, even a little boisterously, his emancipation from the scholastic and academic point of view. Dedication to Croce, “the most original of all modern thinkers on Art,” and the motto from Barbey d’Aurevilly, “Who can doubt that Criticism, as well as Poetry, can have wings?” are both significant.2 Mr. Spingarn, after Croce, is also an original “thinker on art”; but “freedom” is not, as Mr. Spingarn seems to think, the one thing needful for criticism. Mr. Spingarn’s criticism has certainly realized the possibility suggested by Barbey d’Aurevilly: it has wings; unfortunately, like the fabulous bird of paradise, it has wings but no feet, and can never settle. Dr. Spingarn’s first essay, on “The New Criticism,” is a recitation of all the distinctions and classifications which art and criticism are now to repudiate.3 For Mr. Spingarn the phrase “self-expression” appears to be completely adequate. What has the poet tried to do, and how has he fulfilled his intention? Whatishestrivingtoexpressandhowhasheexpressedit?Whatimpression does his work make on me, and how can I best express this impression ? [21-22] The dogmas of “The New Criticism” (for dogmas they are) run somewhat as follows, in extracts from Mr. Spingarn’s essay: We have done with all the old Rules . . .We have done with the genres, or literary kinds . . . there are as many kinds as there are individual poets . . . All art is lyrical . . . We have done with the theory of style, with 1926 806 ] metaphor, simile, and all the paraphernalia of Graeco-Roman rhetoric . . . We have done with all moral judgment of literature . . .4 Mr. Spingarn has what is called “infectious high spirits.” The test, of course, of any critical programme or platform, such as his, is the sort of criticism which it produces. Unfortunately, all of the essays in this small book are of the same general order, and with some variety of gesture hail the dawn of “creative criticism” without providing any specimens of it. Mr. Spingarn has scholarship and some taste, and this book is by no means a fair representative of his work; it is to be hoped that he will support his theories, or his faiths, by a work of concrete criticism. We must take exception, however, to his term “The New Criticism,” which seems a misnomer. It implies that this is the creed of the youngest critics of importance, which is far from being the case. The younger critics, or some of them – witness Mr. Ramon Fernandez in France and Mr. Herbert Read in this country – have by no means done with “all moral judgment of literature”; on the contrary, they seem to be resuscitating it to a new and different life.5 Notes 1. Finished by 6 July, when TSE wrote to Bruce Richmond upon returning from Paris, “I was relieved to see that my review of Spingarn was not printed in my absence, as it gave me the opportunity to correct in proof what seemed to me an error of taste” (L3 210). J. E. Spingarn (1875-1939) was professor of comparative literature at Columbia University from 1899 to 1911. The American edition of his Creative Criticism had appeared in 1917. TSE also owned and marked a copy of Spingarn’s A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance (New York: Columbia UP, 1908), inscribed “Thomas Eliot, 1909” (Houghton). 2. “Qui se doutait . . . que la Critique pût, comme la Poésie, avoir des ailes?” from Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Littérature étrangère [Foreign Literature], vol 12 of Les Œuvres et les hommes [Works and Men], (Paris: Lemerre, 1891), 279. 3. “The New Criticism,” which argues that the critic must bring both aesthetic judgment and the creative instinct to the work of art, was delivered as a lecture at Columbia in 1910. 4. Respectively, pages 24, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31. 5. See TSE’s review of Read’s Reason and Romanticism: Essays in Literary Criticism and Fernandez’s Messages in “Mr. Read and M. Fernandez...