ON A DICTUM OF MATTHEW ARNOLD’S.

I HAVE never yet been quite able to make up my mind to accept Matthew Arnold’s dictum that literary criticism is an effort to see the object as in itself it really is, because our impression of the object is the only reality to us ; or that other version of the same idea, that “ the great art of criticism is to get one’s self out of the way, and to let humanity decide.” This dictum seems to undervalue the personal element which gives the flavor to all purely literary productions, and to imply that there may be something like a scientific method in literary criticism. Get one’s prejudices and prepossessions and special aversions of one kind and another out of the way, certainly, but not the real self, not that which stamps him as a particular person, differentiating him from all other men, and giving him a point of view of his own. In all subjective matters we see through a glass, if not darkly, then chromatically, as through the colored medium of one’s temperament and predisposition. It is this that gives the life to literature. In the objective world of science we see through the colorless medium of the understanding, and the personal element must be kept in abeyance. It is here that we make the effort to see the object as it really is in itself and in its relation to other objects. But when we survey a poem, or a story, or our neighbor’s creed, political or religious, we see it much more as it stands related to us, to our point of view, to our mental and spiritual wants and experiences. What does it signify to you and to me ? — that is the question.

The scientific method seeks to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is true, that which is verifiable. The critical method, so far as there is one, seeks to try all things, and to hold fast that which is good, —good when brought to the test of our personal wants, tastes, affinities, etc. In literary criticism, one readily flatters one’s self that he is making an effort to see the thing as in itself it really is ; he may not be conscious of any other effort, but what he actually does is to restate his subject in the terms of his own thinking and experience, to bring it to the test of his own character and knowledge or turn it into his own ideal values.

It is always profitable and interesting to see how any given thing strikes another mind, but that the impression it makes upon any mind is the real one, in the sense of being final and complete and the end of discussion in that direction, can be affirmed, I think, in but very few cases. When, for instance, we attempt a criticism of Goethe or of Arnold himself, the conscious effort is to get at the real Goethe or the real Arnold, to explore him, to find his real boundaries, etc.; but in effect we only develop the subject as it stands related to our point of view, as it is convertible into our knowledge. We see the real Goethe or the real Arnold only so far as we have that within us that answers to what there is in him. If there is a vein of mysticism in the subject, and none in the critic, the result will be unsatisfactory ; or if there is in the subject a keen sense of humor, or of the pathos or the solemnity of life, and none, or a much less measure of it, in the critic, the result will be unsatisfactory. Like responds to like. We find what we bring. Criticism is appreciation. It seems that Johnson did not appreciate the poet Gray. Arnold says that he was not naturally in sympathy with Gray, and therefore his judgment is inadequate. Sympathy is a great matter. Can there be any true or helpful criticism without it ? If an author’s thinking and experience be adequate, the reader will be edified by criticism of any given subject ; if they be inadequate, as is so often the case, he will be the reverse of edified. Hence no author can be satisfactorily criticised but by his equal ; we must bring equal values—moral, aesthetic, intellectual — into which those of our subject are to be converted. The pleasure and profit of criticism are in this convertibility or exchangeability of ideas and literary values. We are no nearer to seeing the thing as in itself it really is ; we see it as it is when viewed through another medium or when measured by other standards. Truth, in the subjective world, is not a definite something that may be surely run to cover and captured : it is relative and circumstantial ; it is a tone, a quality, a harmony, that hovers lightly, that comes and goes, that is obvious from this point of view, but disappears from that. The angle of vision is everything : what I see you may not see, what you see I may miss ; the drop of dew or of rain on the spray, which the sun turns to a jewel for me, may appear only a colorless drop of water to you. The poem that thrills one man leaves another cold and unmoved. Only such truth or beauty as the critic sees can he give the equivalent of in his criticism.

The Protestant criticises the religion of the Catholic, and vice versa ; each thinks he sees the creed of the other as in itself it really is, but he sees it only as it is related to him, as it is measured by his standards. In itself it is nothing ; it is what it awakens in another mind. Huxley impresses me in a way vastly different from that in which he impresses my orthodox neighbor. If we were each to write a criticism of his works, how wide apart would be our conclusions ! I should draw out and express in the terms of my thinking and experience the value of Huxley to me, or from my point of view ; my neighbor would treat of him as he stands related to his thinking and experience, or to his point of view : and probably our differences would be much more numerous than our agreements.

What I mean to insist upon is that Arnold’s dictum that “ the great art of criticism is to get one’s self out of the way, and to let humanity decide,” is an impossible one. The one’s self, the personal equation, colors all, and the value of the result is exactly measured by the value of this same one’s self, —the depth, width, and vitality of its relation to the mass of mankind.

When Arnold criticises Byron, Shelley, Burns, Wordsworth, or Emerson, does he get himself out of the way and let humanity speak ? What speaks is of course more or less our common humanity, but it speaks through a particular Oxford-bred, Greek-nursed, pedagogicalborn Englishman, — a man of marvelously quick and clear intelligence and judicious temper, but who, like the rest of us, turned everything into his own values, and pronounced of little worth what he did not find in himself the equivalents of. Arnold was a great critic because he was a great mind, but his criticism is no more final than that of a lesser man. He could no more escape the bias of his training, his inheritance, his environment, than he could change his form and stature.

I think one might infer from Arnold that poetic truth is some fixed and definite thing, like scientific truth, and that the old Greek poets had a monopoly of it. Arnold would bring, as a touchstone to modern poems, a few lines or phrases culled from the Greek classics : if the newcomers have not the accent and quality of these, they are spurious. How would Kipling fare under such a test ? Yet Kipling’s poetic truth is probably as genuine as that of Pindar. A fresh feeling for life and nature, a style that really lays hold of things and incorporates itself with them, — that is the source of poetic truth in all literatures. The stamp of a new personality is indispensable ; general humanity is not enough, — it must take on new and particular features.

A critical method can only be a search for the vital, the real, as the scientific method is a search for the true. But there must of necessity be this other difference : the true can be demonstrated, but the vital and the real are matters of taste and opinion. As Lowell says, “there are born Popists and born Wordsworthians,” and no method can lead both to the same results.

Arnold’s own criticism is very valuable, but are there not times when one tires of its air of scientific definition and classification in matters that do not admit of such treatment, but only of approximate or literary definition and classification ? He talks of what he calls the natural magic of certain poets as if it were something as fixed and definite as chemical affinity. He professes to judge the quality of a poet by a single line or half-line, as a mineralogist judges of a rock by a fragment broken off with his hammer. The chief value of any man’s criticism lies in this : How large an arc of human life and experience does it subtend ? with how large a portion of mankind’s thinking and feeling does it agree ? Then, to what extent does it have the freshness and piquancy that belong to a new, vigorous, unhackneyed personality ?

The search after the truth in these things is always a search after one’s self, after what is agreeable to one’s constitutional bias or innate partialities. One tries to divest his mind of all veils and hindrances, and to see the thing as it really is ; but the best he can do is to see it as it stands related to his individual fragment of existence, which indeed is seeing it as it is so far as he is concerned. There is no escaping from one’s own demon : and this demon is not merely one’s prejudices or crudenesses or narrownesses ; it is the particular pattern and complexion of one’s soul and mentality. We would fain view an author’s performance, not as it stands related to our own private likes and dislikes, but as it stands related to what is excellent and permanent in literature. Yet what is excellent and permanent in literature ? Is it what you and I dislike and cannot tolerate ? I am not arguing in favor of the personal estimate, against the fallacy of which Arnold warned us, except in the largest, freest sense. I only insist that the verdict is my verdict or your verdict, and not that of composite humanity, and may, or most likely will, be modified or even reversed by other competent observers ; in other words, that behind all literary judgments, even those of Mr. Arnold, the personal estimate plays an important part. Temperament, disposition, bent of mind, one’s outlook upon life, etc., are all involved. The elective affinities are at work in our reading as in our lives. One poet finds me, another finds you. There is generally either a natural antagonism between the critic and his author or a natural affinity. Mr. Saintsbury sees this inevitable antagonism between Scherer and Carlyle in the essay of the Frenchman upon the Scotchman. As a result of it, Scherer does not draw out and give his reader the best there is in Carlyle.

Whitman says truly, I think, “ No man can understand any greatness or goodness but his own, or the indications of his own.” Our serious reading of the poets is a search for our own. He is the greatest poet in whom most eminent minds, age after age, find their own. Emerson cared little for Shelley, but much more for Herbert and Donne. Scherer, as quoted by Mr. Saintsbury, finds Lamartine more sublime, more grand, more poetic, than Wordsworth, and Taine expresses his preference for Alfred de Musset over Tennyson, — both of which verdicts, I fancy, will puzzle English readers. Every reader is likely to feel, first, that the poets of his own country touch him more closely than do those of another; and second, that the poets of his own temperament, of his own personal equation, his own turn of mind, poets who are going his own way, are apt to be more to him than those of other types and temperaments.

I conclude, therefore, that one need not be much afraid, in criticism, of what is called the personal estimate. Either the poet is of your class, or he is not ; and conceal the fact as dexterously as you may, your criticism of him is at bottom an expression of your liking or disliking for the particular quality of mind and soul which he brings.

There is and can be no science of criticism. Criticism is the critic, as Mr. James happily says. We cannot say that science is the scientist, because science is accumulated knowledge ; each man may begin where his predecessor left off, but the critic, like any artist, has always to begin at the beginning. He cannot stand on the shoulders of his predecessors, but must stand upon the ground, as they did.

Eminent critics often arrive at directly opposite results. Two such judges and lovers of poetry as Emerson and Lowell, for instance, held directly opposite views about Whitman. A little search would no doubt reveal the grounds of this difference. Whitman approximated to the Emersonian type more than to the Lowellian, — the type of the skald, the prophet. Lowell was a professional critic and scholar ; he was of the order of the true men of letters ; while Emerson suggests the sacer vates of a nation. Lowell’s sense of literature as a craft, as the work of scholars, his academic pride and esprit, were offended by Whitman’s rude open - air spirit and his scorn of the stock poetic. Shall we prefer poetry in its shirt-sleeves to poetry in a dresssuit? All the collegian in him revolted. Lowell would read Whitman through Chaucer, Shakespeare. Dante, and Harvard College, and would find that he did not square with any of these poets, or with a taste founded upon them. Emerson would read Whitman with much more individual eyes, through his appreciation of the great mystics, prophets, and seers, and his enormous appetite for the audacious, the independent, the heroic in life and character. Whitman appealed to his hunger for individuality and the absolutely self-reliant man. Here was egoism that was like heat, or cold, or gravitation, and could not be brushed aside.

Emerson’s point of view was more fixed and limited than Lowell’s. A writer in a late number of The Atlantic has well said that as a critic Emerson was like a search-light on a tower ; he threw his beam far and near, but it was only to find his own. There was something searching in all his appreciation ; he was looking for some particular thing. This fixed, concentrated, and darting quality of Emerson’s mind makes him more warming and stimulating as a writer and poet than illuminating as a critic. With certain well-recognized orders of minds he has little affinity, and such orders — Shelley, Poe, Swinburne — will not fare well at his hands. He was a born eclectic in literature as in philosophy.

Lowell was a strict belle-lettrist : his ruling passion was for letters pure and simple. Emerson was a belle-lettrist plus the mystic and philosopher, a poet with a strong dash of the seer and prophet. It is easy to see that such a mind will find more in a writer like Whitman, who shocked the good dame Belles-Lettres beyond measure, than did or could Lowell.

The same thing is seen again in the attitude of two such critics as Mr. Gosse and Mr. Symonds toward the poet of Democracy ; they arrive at like opposite conclusions, and for similar reasons.

I think one can demand of the critic only that he come to his subject with open mind ; that his special aversions and prepossessions of one kind or another be kept as far in the background as possible ; and that what candor and clear vision there be in him have free play, — a “ free play of mind ” upon the subject. Arnold was right here, — my mind, your mind ; only be sure that it is our real mind, and not some whim or prejudice or half-ripe opinion. The personal estimate is what we want, so that it be the genuine person, and not some made-up or make-believe person. This is the explanation of the keener interest we feel in signed articles and criticisms than in the unsigned : we associate them with a definite personality ; a real man speaks, and not some impersonal method.

In the region of taste and opinion we demand sincerity and strength : these alone give validity. What a man really feels and expresses with clearness and vigor, — that, in the subjective world, is the truth, no matter how it diverges from my view or your view of the matter in hand. In the main, mankind will in time doubtless come to agree upon all essential matters in morals and æsthetics, but it will be because we are all made of one stuff, and not because we bring ourselves consciously to accept one another’s conclusions.

John Burroughs.

MR. KENNAN’S APPRENTICESHIP IN COURAGE.

MR. GEORGE KENNAN’S great work in Russian exploration and in the investigation of Russian institutions has been due to certain qualities of character which impress every one who knows him well. Of these qualities, bravery and strength of will are not the least conspicuous. In his conversations with me, he has often spoken of certain things in connection with his own development and training, which are of much interest. Once when I spoke to him of his bravery and coolness under danger, he said : —

“Many things which have been significant and controlling in what I may call my psychological life are wholly unknown to my friends, and yet they might be made public, if you wish. For instance, as I look back to my boyhood, the cause of the only unhappiness that boyhood had for me was a secret but deeply rooted suspicion that I was physically a coward. This gave me intense suffering. I do not know precisely at what time I first became conscious of it, but when I peered, one day, through the window of a surgeon’s office to see an amputation I had proof of my fear. One of my playmates had caught his hand between two cog-wheels in a mill, and his arm had been badly crushed. When he was taken to the surgeon’s office, I followed to see what was going to be done with him. While I was watching the amputation, with my face pressed to the glass of the window, the surgeon accidentally let slip from his forceps the end of one of the severed arteries, and a jet of blood spurted against the inside of the windowpane. The result upon me was a sensation that I had never had before in all my life, — a sensation of nausea, faintness, and overwhelming fear. I was twenty-four hours in recovering from the shock, and from that time I began to think about the nature of my emotions and the unsuspected weakness of my character.

“ I had a nervous, imaginative temperament, and not long after this incident I began to be tortured by a vague suspicion that I was lacking in what we now call ‘ nerve,’ that I was afraid of things that involved suffering or peril. I brooded over this suggestion of physical cowardice until I became almost convinced of its reality, and at last I came to be afraid of things that I had never before thought about. In less than a year I had lost much of my self-respect, and was as miserable as a boy could be. It all seems now very absurd and childish, but at that time, with my boyish visions of travel and exploration, it was a spiritual tragedy. 'Of what use is it to think of exploration and wild life in wild countries,’ I used to ask myself, ‘ if the first time my courage or fortitude is put to the test I become faint and sick ? ’

“ I began at last to experiment upon myself, — to do things that were dangerous merely to see whether I dared do them ; but the results were only partially reassuring. I could not get into much danger in a sleepy little village like Norwalk, Ohio, and although I found that I could force myself to walk around the six-inch stone coping of a bell-tower five stories from the ground (a most perilous and foolhardy exploit), and go and sit alone in a graveyard in the middle of dark, still nights, I failed to recover my own respect. My self-reproach continued for a year or two, during which I was as wretched as a boy can be who admires courage above all things and has a high ideal of intrepid manhood, but who secretly fears that he himself is hopelessly weak and nerveless. There was hardly a day that I did not say to myself, ‘You 'll never be able to do the things that you dream about ; you have n’t any self-reliance or nerve. Even as a little child you were afraid of the dark ; you shrink now from fights and rows, and you turn faint at the mere sight of blood. You ’re nothing but a coward.’

“ At last, when I was seventeen or eighteen years of age, I went to Cincinnati as a telegraph operator. I had become so morbid and miserable by that time that I said one day, ‘ I ’m going to put an end to this state of affairs here and now. If I ’m afraid of anything, I ’ll conquer my fear of it or die. If I’m a coward I might as well be dead, because I can never feel any self-respect or have any happiness in life ; and I ’d rather get killed trying to do something that I ’m afraid to do than to live in this way.’ I was at that time working at night, and had to go home from the office between midnight and four o’clock A. M. It was during the Civil War, and Cincinnati was a more lawless city than it has ever been since. Street robberies and murders were of daily occurrence, and all of the ‘ night men ’ in our office carried weapons as a matter of course. I bought a revolver, and commenced a course of experiments upon myself. When I finished my night work at the office, instead of going directly home through well-lighted and police-patrolled streets, I directed my steps to the slums and explored the worst haunts of vice and crime in the city. If there was a dark, narrow, cut-throat alley down by the river that I felt afraid to go through at that hour of the night, I clenched my teeth, cocked my revolver, and went through it, — sometimes twice in succession. If I read in the morning papers that a man had been robbed or murdered on a certain street, I went to that street the next night. I explored the dark river-banks, hung around low drinkingdives and the resorts of thieves and other criminals, and made it an invariable rule to do at all hazards the thing that I thought I might be afraid to do. Of course I had all sorts of experiences and adventures. One night I saw a man attacked by highwaymen and knocked down with a slung-shot, just across the street. I ran to his assistance, frightened away the robbers, and picked him up from the gutter in a state of unconsciousness. Another night, after two o’clock, I saw a man’s throat cut, down by the river, — and a ghastly sight it was ; but although somewhat shaken, I did not become faint or sick. Every time I went through a street that I believed to be dangerous, or had any startling experience, I felt an accession of self-respect.

“ In less than three months I had satisfied myself that while I did feel fear, I was not so much daunted by any undertaking but I could do it if I willed to do it, and then I began to feel better.

“Not long after this I went on my first expedition to Siberia, and there, in almost daily struggles with difficulties, dangers, and sufferings of all sorts, I finally lost the fear of being afraid which had poisoned the happiness of my boyhood. It has never troubled me, I think, since the fall of 1867, when I was blown out to sea one cold and pitch-dark night in a dismasted and sinking sailboat, in a heavy offshore gale, without a swallow of water or a mouthful of food. I faced then for about four hours what seemed to be certain death, but I was steady, calm, and under perfect self-control.”

Kenyon West.

MILLET AND WALT WHITMAN.

THE notion that this country should have a distinctive literature is both widely held and often condemned. I have scoffed at it in my time, as others have done and yet, when one stops to think of it, it seems plain enough that democracy, being practically a new thing in the history of the world, should find a new expression in art and in literature. The mistake has been made of confusing form and substance. There is but one kind of form, of technique ; it is the same in Europe as in America, and, what is more, we of the new country must go to Europe to learn it. Walt Whitman was unable or unwilling to master the art of writing, and consequently his works, though abounding in lines and phrases of the highest excellence in form as well as in substance, are so uneven and unfinished that he cannot be called a great writer, and can hardly be expected to endure. But he was a man of great democratic ideas. He is the only author yet produced, in this country or in any other, who has perceived what democracy really means, and who has appreciated the beauty and the heroism which are found in the daily lives of the common people.

Millet troubled himself not at all about political theories or forms of government, but his whole life was devoted to the representation upon canvas of those same qualities of every-day beauty and heroism which were the delight and the study of Walt Whitman. An appropriate line from Whitman’s prose or verse could easily be found to put beneath every one of Millet’s pictures. Of Millet’s peasants it might be said as Whitman wrote of his American farmers : —

“ They are tanned in the face by shining suns and blowing winds.”

Millet thought as Whitman said : —

“ Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.”

“ I had rather,” wrote Millet to a friend in Paris, “ see the peasants — men and women — at work on the plain, watching their sheep or cows, or the wood-cutters in the forest, than all the pomaded heads of your clerks and city folk.”

Millet’s interest was confined to the peasants, and Whitman’s extended to inhabitants of the city as well as of the country ; but it was always the people who toiled, — the ferry-boat hand or the ’bus driver, — not the gentlemen of leisure, not the commercial or the academic class. “ Millet,” writes one of his biographers, “ was never tired of watching the peasants at work: the women pulling potatoes and carrying them home in sacks, the men ploughing and carting manure, or hoeing and digging the ground. The rise and fall of the hoe, the regular movement of the spade, had for him a curious fascination. He loved to watch the unconscious grace of the digger’s action.” Whitman had the same taste and habit.

“ I could come every afternoon of my life to look at the farmer’s girl boiling her iron teakettle and baking shortcake.”

The two men were of similar origin. Millet was descended from stout yeomen who tilled the soil on the coast of Normandy, Whitman from stout yeomen who tilled the soil on the coast of Long Island. Both were of strong physique and large frame, and both grew up with an intense love of nature and of solitude, of the sea, of country life, of all rural sights and sounds. There were, of course, great differences between them. Millet was by far the more chastened and complete character. He had none of the egotism and conceit of Whitman ; he was more religious by nature, and he had an exquisite sense of form and proportion. But Whitman, although too uproarious and too ungoverned in his youth to submit to the technique of his trade, had a true eye for artistic effect; he had indeed the eye of a painter. A hundred passages from his books might be cited to illustrate this faculty ; I will quote but one :

“ Probably the reader has seen physiognomies (often old farmers, sea-captains, and such) that, behind their homeliness, or even ugliness, held superior points so subtle, yet so palpable, making the real life of their faces almost as impossible to depict as a wild perfume or fruit-taste, or a passionate tone of the living voice : and such was Lincoln’s face, the peculiar color, the lines of it, the eyes, mouth, expression. Of technical beauty it had nothing, but to the eye of a great artist it furnished a rare study, a feast and fascination.”

“ The expression,” said Millet, “the character of the face and action, are everything.”

Only one person, so far as I know, was intimate with both men, and that was Mr. Wyatt Eaton, the artist ; and Millet, he said, reminded him of Walt Whitman, especially in his “ large and easy manner.” The only artist, I believe, whose pictures are mentioned by

Whitman is Millet. He once saw a small collection of his paintings in the possession of Mr. Quincy Shaw ; and of these he wrote in his diary : “ Two rapt hours. Never before have I been so penetrated by this kind of expression. I stood long and long before the sower. . . . There is something in this that could hardly be caught again, — a sublime murkiness and original pent fury. . . . All his pictures are perfect as pictures, works of mere art, and then, it seemed to me, with that last impalpable ethic purpose from the artist (most likely unconscious to himself) which I am always looking for. . . . Will America ever have such an artist out of her own gestation, body, soul ? ”

Millet suffered much in his lifetime. One winter in Paris, he and his wife were for two days without food or fuel. These privations permanently affected his health, and he was naturally of a grave disposition. Whitman, on the other hand, never lacked food, though it was sometimes plain and scanty, and his health was perfect until he broke down with paralysis. Moreover, he was born under the optimistic sky of America. And yet even in Walt Whitman’s writings there is an undertone of sadness, — the same tone that has been remarked in Greek literature, and which in Millet’s painting is predominant. It is that pensive, unrebellious sadness which comes to those who live much with Nature and watch her operations, — so beautiful and yet so cruel ; it is the sadness of those who love solitude and the wide, open spaces of land or sea.

Henry Childs Merwin.