A review of The Prospects of Humanism, by Lawrence Hyde
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300 ] A review of The Prospects of Humanism, by Lawrence Hyde London: Gerald Howe, 1931. Pp. 250. The English Review, 53 (June 1931) 118, 120 This is the second of a series of three volumes, the first of which was The Learned Knife; for the third we are promised a discussion of “modern religious tendencies.”1 In this book, which is clearly thought out and well written , Mr. Hyde establishes himself as a brilliant and thoroughgoing critic of critics; he might be described as a potential leader of the second, or perhaps the third, generation of humanists; and in these days of dog-eat-dog in the criticism of literature and life, that is no small promise. He is concerned with such writers as Benda and Fernandez in France; E. R. Curtius in Germany; Babbitt and More in America; and Wyndham Lewis, Fausset, Murry, Read, McEachren and myself in England; but chiefly, and quite rightly, with the ideas of Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Middleton Murry.2 The book falls into three parts. In the first, Mr. Hyde analyses the positive doctrine of Mr. Irving Babbitt. He is quite right to ignore, for his purpose , both Mr. More, who cannot be classified as a “pure” humanist, and the young disciples of Mr. Babbitt, most of whom have succeeded only in ossifying the more vital and flexible ideas of their master.3 The first and third parts of the book are closely parallel; and to my mind the author makes a very good job of demonstrating the inconsistency and inadequacy of both doctrines, the purely human, and the more ambitious “naturalism” of Mr. Murry: their inconsistency with themselves, and their inadequacy to the religious instincts of humanity.4 Mr. Hyde’s double success is all the more remarkable for his genuine sympathy with both of two writers so opposite in sensibility, and for his admirable temperateness and indifference to mere debating points. He is the first critic, so far as I know, to point out the affinity of Mr. Murry with Mr. Santayana.5 It is, however, the second part of the book which seems to me the most original. The author is partly occupied with Mr. Clive Bell, as a typical “high-brow” and aesthete; but the section is more important for the author’s general observations than for his critique of the aesthetics of [ 301 A review of The Prospects of Humanism Mr. Bell.6 It is really Mr. Aldous Huxley who should be the most conspicuous figure in this part of the book, for, as Mr. Hyde is quite well aware, it is Mr. Huxley who has made the clearest and most conscious statements of the disease of intellectualism which Mr. Huxley himself exhibits.7 What Mr. Hyde gives is really a diagnosis of the meaning of culture in modern life, of its limitations and of its spiritual dangers; it is accordingly an account which every cultivated or “civilized” person ought to read and ponder. the man of today, although highly cultured – in the sense that he has a very full knowledge of what happens – is at the same time conspicuously untutored in the art of conducting his life. People today are aware to a remarkable degree of what it is that has to be dealt with, of what facts must be faced, but they are no less distinguished by their restlessness and impotence. Never, surely, has a generation been so incredibly well informed and yet so fatally lacking in wisdom. [159] [But] the effect which great beauty has upon us today is in a large measure that of exasperating our nerves, of making us restless and ultimately miserable. [165] We must await the third volume with alert curiosity if with some scepticism .8 For Mr. Hyde, who so convincingly shows the religious inadequacy of modern winds of doctrine, can yet say “The religion of the Churches is a dead religion; on that point one must remain firm” [168]. Many people have had that thought; what is Mr. Hyde’s “life”? I have yet to hear of anything more living than the word of Christ in His Church. T. S. Eliot Notes 1. The Learned Knife: An Essay on Science and Human Values (1928). On 21 Nov 1927, TSE wrote to decline this book, provisionally titled “Institution and the Social Order,” on behalf of Faber & Faber. Lawrence Hyde (1894-1957) was the author of ten books examining the interrelation of science, religion, humanism, and the arts. On 17 Mar 1931...