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THE HUMANISM OF PAUL ELMER MORE M. D. c. TAIT JT is primarily, of course, a~ a critic of literatur~ that Paul Elmer More commands attention, for the Shelburne Essays reveal critical powers of remarkable range and· sensitiveness. Here, however~ there will be no attempt to examine his critical work .in detail; our concern is rather to trace the development of the philosophic and religious thought from which his wor~ of criticism in principle derives. More was convinced (and here he is in accord with other exponents of contemporary American humanism) of the prime ~mportance of relating the study of literature to _a central _·body of ideaS which might give it unity and direction. In the preface to his Platonism, the first volume of the series entitled crThe Greek Tradition/' he writes: (II can foresee no restoration of humane studies to their lo~t position of leadership until they are felt once more to radiate from some central spiritual truth. I do not believe that the aesthetic charms of literature can supply this want, nor is it clear to me that a purely sdentific analysis of the facts of moral experience can furnish the needed motive. The former is too apt to run into dilettantism, and the latter appeals too little to the imagination and the spr.ings of enthusiasm. Only through the . centralising force of religious faith or its equivalent in philosophy can the· intellectual life regain its meani_p.g and au.thority for earnest m~n." I More's-life was outwardly uneventful and the few facts of his career which have some bearing on his intellectual development are quickly told. He was born in St. Louis in 1864. After graduating from the local uni~ versity he studied the languages and literature of ancient India at Harvard, where he was a class-mate of Irving Babbitt's. From the first he was prOfoundly influenced by that dynamic personality, and there began a friendship which was to be life-long. On leaving Harvard he went to Bryn Mawr where he taught Sanskrit ·and Greek. From 1901 to 1914 he was engaged in journalism, when he -was successively Literary Editor of the New York Independent and Evening Post, and Editor-in-Chief of the Nation. From 1914 to his death in 1937 he was Professor of Greek and of Philosophy at Princeton. He was brought up in the provincial environment of"the Middle West an_d in a home of which the intellectuai and reiigious life was dominated by a narrow Calvinism. His emancipated critics have been quick to· asser-t that he never escaped these early influences, and that he remained provincial and puritanical to the end. Be that as it may, certainly as a young man he rebelled violently against the dogmatic religious teaching ofhis child~ood, and whole-heartedly embraced the Darwinism of the day. But this soon dissatisfied him. At an earlier period he had "by a fatal mischance," as he 109 .. 110 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY .says, "fallen under the sway of romanticism," and to this he now reverted. How completely may best be seen in an early work entitled The Great Refusal, which is of little intrinsic merit but _ of some interest, because in it there is much thinly disguised autobiqgraphy. . It has also the interest of contrast, in that it expresses a mood and point of view against which ·his whole later thought was a protest. For that reason we may stop over it just for amoment. It is a romance in the form of letters written by a young_ scholar to a woman called Esther with whom he imagined himself· to be in love. The writer of the letters· is an excessively sentimental young man, who after a shQrt bout with the hard bad world teaching. Latin to boys, :finds such a life worse than death, decides that an active career among men is for him impossible, and gives himself up to the dream-life of his soul, which finds typical romantic expression. He is intensely preoccupied with his own emotional states. He dwells at length and for their own sake on the beauties of nature, and feels deeply the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 109-122
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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