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JULY, 1918

[No. 3

THE TREND OF RECENT CRITICAL THEORY Aristotle fired the first gun in the Battle of the Critics, and ever since his time the battle has been fiercely raging. Reverberations of past cannonading still mingle with the fusillade of modern musketry. It would be depressing, however, and false, to imagine, simply because the fighting was not over, that there have been no decisive gains, that no frontiers have been established, that humanity is as much confused as ever concerning the marks which distinguish good art from bad, that inherent excellence has no chance of recognition. The old theory which held that art to be commendable must be an imitation of nature, or an imitation of Greek and Latin classics, is no longer in good repute. Fine art, to-day, is recognized as an expression of some sort, not an imitation; a transcribing by the artist, as Pater puts it, "not of fact, but of his sense of fact"; and the excellence of such art is no longer gauged by its slavish adherence to rules laid down by ardent admirers of the past, but by the inherent laws of its own being. Agreement on these points does not signify that the critics have struck a truce, -as we have said, the battle still rages, but one need not despair of human intelligence when such essentials as these are fairly well agreed upon. Critical theorists, to be sure, are often obsessed by an idea which they push to extremes, but their extremist theories are usually balanced by their critical practice, where the task of estimating the merits of a specific work of art exercises a steadying influence not felt in the ungoverned activity of the speculative process. The turn which the Battle of the Critics has taken in our day resolves itself into a conflict between impressionists and aestheticians, and between both

these groups of critics on the one side, and the judicial critics on the other. Their conflict is over the qualities which produce æsthetic pleasure, and over the importance of these qualities in the total value of a work of art. The different points of view of most of the contemporary critics whose opinions bear weight are represented in the works of the authors discussed in this paper. Mr. W. C. Brownell and Professor G. E. Woodberry are most nearly in accord with the position taken by Pater in his essay on Style, while Mr. A. J. Balfour stands at the farthest remove from that position. Mr. Balfour and Mr. Spingarn, indeed, though in the spirit that animates them as divergent as tolerance and contempt, are both opposed to moral judgments and may be taken as representatives of the critics who would destroy all those distinctions gradually created by the slow process of critical thinking.

Mr. Brownell's recent book Standards is a companion volume to his earlier Criticism, published in 1914. The ideas in both these books are so sound, the analysis of existing conditions so acute, the occasional dash of satire so highly spiced, that one cannot but regret the presence of certain stylistic elements more calculated to repel than to attract readers. The central idea in the earlier work is that it is the concern of criticism to measure the artist's success "by the correspondence of his expression to the idea it suggests and by the value of the idea itself" (Criticism, p. 17). The first half of this definition embraces all that Spingarn and more than Balfour would include under the critic's function. The reason for Mr. Brownell's insistence upon the value of the idea itself becomes apparent in Standards. The idea is important because, as the author says, "art is an expression of life" (Standards, p. 117). Hence the value of the idea depends upon the artist's knowledge of life. The chief trouble with the modern artist is that he does not know enough, and that he is not likely to increase his knowledge so long as the public remains in its present state of satisfied ignorance. Brownell is caustic, almost bitter, in picturing our decadent world gone mad with a love of novelty, by its passion for selfassertion blinded to the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic, hostile not only to present standards but to all standards

as such, incapable of self-restraint, proud of its inferiority, and totally unconscious of an inner life. Such a state of affairs he considers full of dangers for literature, because literature not only creates a demand but is itself the product of a demand. As the demands of such a public as this will impose no restraints on the artist, but rather cause him to avoid all restraint, Brownell calls on the "saving remnant" to rear its standards and cling to them rigorously, lest the increasing appetite for the superficial render art itself worthless.

One may agree with Mr. Brownell in his idea of the function of criticism without agreeing with him in his notion of its importance. Mr. Balfour, however, would disagree with him most decidedly in both respects. His lecture entitled Criticism and Beauty was delivered several years ago (1909), but if it had been delivered yesterday it could not have been more pertinent. He seems almost to have had Mr. Brownell in mind when he wrote: "In their fear that if art is valued simply by the pleasure it gives and no objective standard be established, individualism will run rampant and art decay, many good people attach other functions to art, such as morality. The artist is a seer, a moralist, a prophet. He must intuitively penetrate the realities which lie behind this world of shows. At the lowest he must supply a criticism of life. Obiter dicta based on the view that good art is always something more than art, that it not only creates beauty, but symbolically teaches philosophy, religion, ethics, even science, are constantly to be found in the purple passages of enthusiastic commentators on poetry, music, and painting" (p. 37).

But Mr. Balfour can find "no justification in experience for associating good art with penetrating insight, or good art with good morals. Optimism and pessimism; theism, pantheism, atheism; morality and immorality; religion and irreligion; lofty resignation and passionate revolt-each and all have inspired or helped to inspire the creators of artistic beauty. . . . . while it is certain that cheap cynicism and petty spite have supplied the substance of literary achievements which we could ill afford to lose" (pp. 37-38).

The points of view of Balfour and Brownell are as removed

from each other as the poles. From Brownell's point of view it is "less the pleasure that a work of art produces than the worth of the work itself" that is to guide the critic, and its worth is measured not only by beauty but by the elements present of truth and goodness, by the largeness and saneness of the artist's view of life. Balfour, on the contrary, believes that the artist's function is to create beauty and nothing more, and that the critic has done his duty when he has pointed out what to him are the sources of æsthetic pleasure in the work of art. But the critic engages in an activity irrelevant to his profession and irrational when in addition to pointing out beauties he theorizes about them and sets himself up as a judge of what is æsthetically beautiful and what is not. For the degree of excellence of a work of art is measured by the æsthetic pleasure which it gives, and, as this pleasure varies with the individual, there can be no objective standards for measuring artistic excellence. He would admit that if there were "a general agreement about things that are beautiful, only philosophers would disquiet themselves in order to discern in what precisely that beauty consisted." But he finds that "notoriously there is no such agreement," and bids us consider "Wordsworth on the eighteenth century, Boileau on the sixteenth, Voltaire on Shakespeare, the French Romantics on the French Classics, the Renaissance on the Middle Ages." The agreement among experts, manifested in their lists of great books, he considers of little importance, because the number of those professing a common taste is much exaggerated, and because this agreement "even where in some measure it may be truly said to exist," does not go deep enough to amount to anything. The critics who would agree in their lists of great artists would not agree as to the order of their excellence, nor would they feel alike in the presence of a masterpiece. Their appreciation of techniqueby which he does not mean that style which Pater identifies with good art-is their only common bond; where they feel intensely, their evaluations become personal and dissentient.

I have dwelt thus long upon Balfour's treatment of criticism, because it constitutes the most forceful attack upon objective standards that I have read, and because, if we must do away

with objective standards as well as with intellect and morality in art, the talk about good and bad taste is absurd. Yet this we are loath to admit. It seems like a reflection on our common sense to say that the Iliad or King Lear is no better art than the tale of adventure which enthralls a boy, or the "best-seller" which fascinates thousands of mature men and women. And remembering that the most skilfully woven arguments have often proved specious, we are inclined to believe that Mr. Balfour's reasoning, rather than the common sense of generations of critics, is defective. Our first impulse is to deny, as Mr. Brownell does, the premise itself that art is to be valued only by the pleasure it gives. But ignoring this premise for the moment, may we not discriminate between kinds of pleasure and demonstrate that one kind, at least, is measurable objectively? Quite aside from the question of the value of beauty, is there such a thing as beauty per se, or is beauty only a name for mixed feelings of a pleasurable sort?

Although Balfour, according to Spingarn, is indebted to Benedetto Croce for most of his ideas, he has ignored a distinction made by Croce on the subject of æsthetic pleasure, which is at least worthy of consideration. Croce distinguishes between pure æsthetics, hedonistic æsthetics, and the aesthetic of the sympathetic. Pure æsthetics is the science of the pleasurable of expression alone, that delight which comes from recognizing the adequacy of the expression to the thing expressed. The pleasure derived from finding exactly the right word to express an idea is an example of pure æsthetic pleasure. The pleasure which an artist feels "during the moment in which he sees (or has the intuition of) his work for the first time" is purely æsthetic. But "Esthetic hedonism," writes Croce, "looks upon the æsthetic as a simple fact of feeling, and confounds the pleasurable of expression, which is the beautiful, with the pleasurable of all sorts. . Another less vulgar current of thought considers æsthetic to be the science of the sympathetic, of that with which we sympathize, which attracts, rejoices, gives us pleasure and excites admiration. But the sympathetic is nothing but the image or representation of what pleases. And as such it is a complex fact, resulting from a constant element,

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