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  • Observations. A review of Others, An Anthology of the New Verse, ed. Alfred Kreymborg; French Literary Studies, by T. B. Rudmose- Brown, and Appreciations and Depreciations: Irish Literary Studies, by Ernest A. Boyd

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The Egoist, 5 (May 1918), 69-70

Mr. Ford Madox Hueffer, in his Henry James, remarks upon “journalese,”

that flail of the Anglo-Saxon race, that infinite corruptor of the Anglo-Saxon mind, that destined and ultimate cause of the downfall of Anglo-Saxon empires, since the race that cannot either in allegories or in direct speech think clearly is doomed to fall before nations who can; and Japan is ever on the threshold with the tendrils twining round its well-ropes. . . . 1

I am not sure of the imminent ascendancy of Japan, a busy commercial country, and the degeneracy of one civilization does not seem to be inevitably accompanied by the rise of another; but Mr. Hueffer’s warning is certainly just, and could perhaps be stated in more general terms. What we want is to disturb and alarm the public: 2 to upset its reliance upon Shakespeare, Nelson, Wellington, and Sir Isaac Newton; 3 to point out that at any moment the relation of a modern Englishman to Shakespeare may be discovered to be that of a modern Greek to Aeschylus. To point out that every generation, every turn of time when the work of four or five men who count has reached middle age, is a crisis. Also that the intelligence of a nation must go on developing, or it will deteriorate; and that every writer who does not help to develop the language is, to the extent to which he is read, a positive agent of deterioration. That the forces of deterioration are a large crawling mass, and the forces of development half a dozen men. And (here as well as anywhere else) that the Intelligence of modern Europe is considerably due to Montaigne, and that through most of the nineteenth century, the mind of France has always been a little ahead of the mind of England, if the English mind has not actually degenerated. The Englishman, completely untrained in critical judgment, looks complacently back over the nineteenth century as an accumulation of Great Writers. England puts her Great Writers away securely in a Safe Deposit Vault, and curls to sleep like Fafner. 4 There they go rotten; for if our predecessors cannot teach us to write better than themselves, they will surely teach us to write worse; because we have never learned to criticize Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth (poets of assured though modest merit), Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth punish us from their graves with the annual scourge of the Georgian Antholog y. 5

We must insist upon the importance of intelligent criticism. I do not mean Sainte-Beuve, for the work of that great curious restless brain is rather a part of history than of literature, the history of manners, memoirs, boudoir whispers; or the political-ethical-religious writing of Brunetière or the highly superior Extension Lectures of M. Faguet; 6 I mean the ceaseless employment of criticism by men who are engaged in creative work. It is essential that each generation should reappraise everything for itself. Who, for instance, has a first-hand opinion of Shakespeare? Yet I have no doubt that much could be learned by a serious study of that semi-mythical figure.

* * * * * *

I have seen the forces of death with Mr. Chesterton at their head upon a white horse. 7 Mr. Pound, Mr. Joyce, and Mr. Lewis write living English; one does not realize the awfulness of death until one meets with the living language. M. de Bosschère writes a living French; and we can now probably also count as a living writer Miss Marianne Moore.

There is some rubbish and a quite reasonable amount of good stuff...

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