The Function Of Criticism
|The Function Of Criticism
At The Present Time
For the creation of a master-work of literature two powers must concur the power of the man and the power of the moment, and the man is not enough without the moment;
There should be literary genius as well as critical effort
the creative power has, for its happy exercise, appointed elements, and those elements are not in its own control.
It is the business of the critical power, as I said the words already quoted, "in all branches of knowledge, theology, philosophy, history, art, science, to see the object as in itself it really is." Thus, it tends, at last, to make an intellectual situation of which the creative power can profitably avail itself. It tends to establish an order of ideas, if not absolutely true, yet true by comparison with that which it displaces; to make the best ideas prevail.
The creation of a modern poet to be worth much, implies a great critical effort behind it; else it would be a comparatively poor, barren, and short-lived affair. Thus is why Byron's poetry had so little endurance in it. and Goethe's so much; both had a great productive power, but Goethe's was
Nourished by a great critical effort providing the true materials for it, and Byron's was not; Goethe knew life and the world, the poet's necessary subjects, much more comprehensively and thoroughly than Byron. He knew a great deal more of them, and he knew them much more as they really are.
It has long seemed to me that the burst of creative activity in our literature the first quarter of this century, had about it in fact something premature;
In other words, the English poetry of the first quarter of this century, with plenty of energy, plenty of creative force, did not know enough. This makes Byron so empty of matter, Shelley so incoherent, Wordsworth even, profound as he is, yet so wanting in completeness arid variety.
Wordsworth, as he is, so much that I cannot wish him different; and it is vain, no doubt, to imagine such a man different from what he is, to suppose that he could have been different; but surely the one thing wanting to make Wordsworth an even greater poet than he is, ـــ his thought richer, and his influence of wider application,ـــ was that he should have read more books, among them, no doubt, those of that Goethe whom he disparaged without reading him. But to speak of books and reading may easily lead to a misunderstanding here. It was not really books and reading that lacked to our poetry at this epoch; shelley had plenty of reading, Coleridge had immense reading. Pindar and Sophocles ــas we all say so glibly, and often with so little discernment of the real import of what we are saying ــ had not many books;
Shakespeare was no deep reader. True; but in the Greece of Pindar and Sophocles, in the England of Shakespeare, the poet lived in a current of ideas in the highest degree animating and nourishing to the creative power; society was, in the fullest measure, permeated by fresh thought, intelligent and alive; and this state of things is the true basis for the creative power's exercise, in this it finds its data, its materials, truly ready for its hand; all the books and reading in the world are only valuable as they are helps to this.