Mr. P. E. More’s Essays. An unsigned review of The Demon of the Absolute, by Paul Elmer More
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[ 585 Mr. P. E. More’s Essays An unsigned review of The Demon of the Absolute, by Paul Elmer More. New Shelburne Essays, Volume I Milford: for the Princeton UP, 1928. Pp. xiii + 183. The Times Literary Supplement, 1412 (21 Feb 1929) 136 ThosewhoknowMr.Moreastheauthorofthemanyvolumesof“Shelburne Essays,” and of the five volumes entitled “The Greek Tradition,” will find that this first volume of “New” Shelburne Essays is not merely a continuation of the old.1 In the former series, Mr. More appears as a critic of the type of Sainte-Beuve, differing from Sainte-Beuve by his wider range of literatures and his preoccupation with major, to the exclusion of minor, figures, and by a positive moral bent of Puritan origin.2 What connected these pieces of literary criticism was this moral interest, and the implications of his philosophic dualism. Since the last of the old series, Mr. More has been followingouttheconsequencesofthePlatonismwhichhadalwaysinspired his work, and in the latest of his “Greek Tradition” volumes, that on Christ the Word, has appeared as a champion of Athanasius and an interpreter of Greek to Anglican theology.3 In this new volume he is not occupied with theology. The essay which gives the title to the book is much the longest and the most interesting; the second, called “Modern Currents in American Literature,” is an able criticism of some contemporary authors from the point of view of the older generation. The next four essays on Poe, Borrow, Trollope and Vaughan are studies in literary criticism; the last is the translation of an episode from the Mahâbhârata.4 The new reader should be warned that the character of this book is miscellaneous, though the several items are excellent. For this reason we concentrate attention on the preface and the first essay, which together make up nearly a third of the volume. The essay is a protest against certain modern tendencies in art and in philosophy , and it is to these tendencies that the author opposes his dualism. ThedemonoftheabsoluteisforMr.Morethespiritofheresyinallthings:the human craving for unification which will push any theory to the extreme. There are, for the author of this book, certain absolute differences or gaps in 1929 586 ] the universe such as the gap between living and inanimate, or between mind and matter. In philosophy, we find that Mr. More objects both to absolute idealism and to any form of materialism. In the theory of art, he devotes one chapter of this essay to attacking the doctrine of impressionism in criticism on the one hand, and that of absolute objective classification of works of art on the other hand. He points out, quite reasonably, that Anatole France’s theory of critical caprice has very little relation to his practice, which was the exercise of a delicate sensibility trained by standards and traditions.5 Mr. More’s comments on the absolute in literature and art are full of good sense, although somewhat distracted for English readers by his retorts to American critics of his own work. The section of this essay which has the most pertinence and the liveliest expression is that on “The Phantom of Pure Science.” Mr. More is naturally opposed to those modern developments of psychology of which Behaviourism is the extreme example and which would reduce ethics to biology. But he is also opposed to those scientists of whom Professor Whitehead is the most conspicuous, who would span the gulf between religion and science. This essay is one of the best pieces of criticism of the Whitehead philosophy that has been written. The author points out some of the most remarkable ambiguities in Professor Whitehead’s theories, and asserts the uselessness of Professor Whitehead’s God in religion: Formerly it was held that the human soul obeys the same laws as a stone; now we are to believe that a stone is of the same nature as the soul. In either case we avoid the discomfort of a paradoxical dualism and reduce the world to a monism which may plausibly call itself science, though as a matter of fact Mr. Whitehead’s theory, if carried out, would simply abolish science. . . . Mr. Whitehead therefore discards the “traditional scientific materialism” for an “alternative doctrine of organism,” that is, for a “theory of organic mechanism.” Well and good. But is it unkind to ask the use of talking about an organical explanation when you do not know what you mean by “organism,” or to hint that no very clear idea will be evoked...