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London: Faber and Faber, 1934. Pp. 68. 1

The Page-Barbour Lectures at the University of Virginia, 1933 2


Le monde moderne avilit. 3 It also provincialises, and it can also corrupt.

The three lectures which follow were not undertaken as exercises in literary criticism. If the reader insists upon considering them as such, I should like to guard against misunderstanding as far as possible. The lectures are not designed to set forth, even in the most summary form, my opinions of the work of contemporary writers: they are concerned with certain ideas in illustration of which I have drawn upon the work of some of the few modern writers whose work I know. I am not primarily concerned either with their absolute importance or their importance relatively to each other; and other writers, who in any literary survey of our time ought to be included, are unmentioned or barely mentioned, because they do not provide such felicitous illustration of my thesis, or because they are rare exceptions to it, or because I am unacquainted with their work. I am sure that those whom I have discussed are among the best; and for my purpose the second-rate were useless. The extent to which I have criticised the authors whose names find place, is accordingly some measure of my respect for them. I dare say that a detached critic could find an equally rich vein of error in my own writings. If such error is there, I am probably the last person to be able to detect it; but its presence and discovery would not condemn what I say here, any more than its absence would confirm it.

There is no doubt some curiosity to know what any writer thinks of his contemporaries: a curiosity which has less to do with literary criticism than with literary gossip. I hope that a reader who takes up this essay in that expectation will be disappointed. I am uncertain of my ability to criticise my contemporaries as artists; I ascended the platform of these lectures only in the role of moralist.

I have not attempted to disguise, but rather have been pleased to remind the reader, that these are lectures; that they were composed for vocal communication to a particular audience. What the Foundation requires is that the lectures shall be published, not that a book shall subsequently be written on the same subject; and a lecture composed for the platform cannot be transformed into something else. I should be glad if the reader could keep this in mind when he finds that some ideas are put forward without a full account of their history or of their activities, and that others are set down in an absolute way without qualifications. I am aware that my assertion of the obsolescence of Blasphemy might thus be subject to stricture: but if I had developed the refinements and limitations which present themselves to the mind of the Christian enquirer, I should have needed at least the space of one whole lecture; and what I was concerned to do was merely to explain that the charge of blasphemy was not one of those that I wished to prefer against modern literature. It may be said that no blasphemy can be purely verbal; and it may also be said that there is a profounder meaning of the term “blasphemy,” in which some modern authors (including, possibly, myself) may possibly have been gravely guilty.

In such matters, as perhaps in everything, I must depend upon some good-will on the part of the reader. I do not wish to preach only to the converted, but primarily to those who, never having applied moral principles to literature quite explicitly – perhaps even having conscientiously believed that they ought not to apply them in this way to “works of art” – are possibly convertible. I am not arguing or reasoning, or engaging in controversy with those whose views are radically opposed to such as mine. In...

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