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The Egoist, 5 (Nov / Dec 1918) 131-33

There are different purposes, motives, and methods possible in criticism. For the reading public, some classification of these varieties would be useful: a classification which would enable the reader to determine immediately whether a critic fulfils any of the legitimate critical functions or fulfils more than one without confusion. I propose at some future date a convenient enchiridion, A Guide to Useless Books, prepared in such an order that it will be possible at once to refer any new book to its category. Not only are there many books which need not have been written, and many which might have been written very differently if writers and readers had clearly in mind the several proper and improper kinds of criticism, but a great deal of waste by overlapping might be spared. It is desirable that men of letters should be more scholarly, and that scholars should acquire more lively literary perceptions; but it is also desirable that the workof scholarship and literature should be distinct. I shall return to this classification presently, after examining two more specimens of contemporary criticism.

It has been a commonplace since, I suppose, the time of Arnold’s Essaysthat the French surpass us in every kind of critical writing. 1 They are assumed to have developed standards and the skill in dissociation to a degree quite unknown in this country. Here, in the book of M. Mockel,* is an essay which can reasonably be compared with that of Mr. Crees. 2 M. Mockel admired the work of Verhaeren and wanted to write a book about him; 3 his impulse has so much in common with that of Mr. Crees. Verhaeren, like Meredith, is sufficiently well known, and is also dead; in neither case is there question of introducing a new or unaccepted author. As for Verhaeren, he is certainly a considerable enough poet to deserve a study; his origins, influences, the ideas of his society and epoch, his relation as a Fleming to French verse, to the Parnassians, to the symbolists–to the group of which M. Mockel was a distinguished member. M. Mockel is also a poet of reputation. He is thus well equipped. The sequence of his essay is biographical; both in form and in style, it is superior to Mr. Crees’s; his dedication (addressed, it must be admitted, to Mr. Gosse) declares an attempt to “study the man through the work, and the work through the man,” and to this declaration he has consistently adhered. 4 He has tried with considerable success to present the temperament and its environment; and some of the generalizations which he extracts in the course of the essay are more just and precise than what we usually find in English criticism. Pages 22- 25dissolve the myth of Flemish mysticism (“Émile Verhaeren . . . est peu fait pour le mysticisme” [25]); 5 and the distinction of “art de sérénité” and “art égoïste” on pages 60- 63is interesting. The book contains many pieces of excellent criticism and interpretation. The question is, however, whether the central structure of the essay (“studying the man through the work and the work through the man”) is right; whether the result is not that the book is either too biographical or not biographical enough; whether there are not too few facts, documents, pictures for a biography and too many impressions of Verhaeren’s scenery, external and internal, for a sober study of his art. For example, the young Émile:

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Published By:   Faber & Faber logo    Johns Hopkins University Press