Abbildungen der Seite

(the more hateful, sometimes, because just) was no product of my gall, nor even of a chosen enemy's, but came from some gentle friend of the author, who loved him not the less but truth the more. I remember once suffering a savage attack from an unflattered historian in the parlour of a common friend for a review supposedly by my pen but really the handiwork of our host. The honest reviewer would have diverted the storm to himself, had I not restrained him by a gesture. In another case the wife of a brother editor has pursued me relentlessly these ten years for the review of her husband's book which was written by one of his own favoured contributors and the review was fair.

Nevertheless, I left the Nation convinced that anonymous reviewing is the best. Scholarship and letters are more in danger of suffering from the false praise of log-rolling friends and climbing subordinates when reviews are signed, than from dishonest backbiting when reviews are anonymous. The only irritating source of injustice against which I had to be much on my guard was a kind of professional jealousy. I soon learned that it was virtually impossible to get fair consideration for a book written by a scholar not connected with a university from a reviewer SO connected. Invariably the review, if it did not damn outright and outrageously, would begin by saying that for an amateur the work was commendable, but — Envy, my friend Plato assures me, has no place in the chorus of celestial beings; I shall tell him, if ever I have the joy of saluting him humbly where he walks in company with Socrates and all the wise, that envy seems to have abundant place in the present halls of Academé.

Such, then, were the conditions under which these essays were written. What appears to be new matter is for the most part only salvage from the blue pencil. Some alterations have been made to meet such criticism as the articles called forth at the time, and in particular I have to thank Professor C. A. Moore for his excellent and courteous correction (printed in the South Atlantic Quarterly for July, 1915) of one of the theses maintained in my paper on Berkeley; I hope he will be better content with the essay in its amended form. A few other changes have been made for the sake of consistency, but in the main the essays stand as they were first conceived. If any single theme predominates sufficiently to lend a kind of unity of purpose to the book, it is that expressed in an anecdote related by Boswell:

Mr. Beauclerk one day repeated to Doctor Johnson, Pope's lines,

“Let modest Foster, if he will, excel

Ten metropolitans in preaching well." Then asked the Doctor, “Why did Pope say this?' JOHNSON: "Sir, he hoped it would vex somebody."

[ocr errors]

It is a simple truth that the writers from whom this volume derives its name were much concerned with vexing somebody; malice is an essential ingredient of what we mean by "wit," and this, the cynical may say, will explain why my mind was so much engaged with this subject while I was editing the Nation in its unreformed days. If so, I am still unrepentant; I even think that nothing would be a more wholesome tonic for our modern surfeit of sentimentalism than a little of the saving grace of malice, and that amidst the welter of humanitarian optimism a proper counter-irritant might be found in Swift's "great foundation of misanthropy." I do not mean to uphold the method of Pope and Swift as in itself the highest form of criticism. Boileau, for example, has the keenest satire, and at the same time shows very little malice, such as we find it among the wits of Queen Anne. The satire of Horace is genial rather than malicious. Dr. Johnson, though he lacks the epigrammatic point of other writers, can do fairly well on occasion and is free also of personal spite. This indeed is one reason why the age of Johnson rather than that of Pope is the true Augustan age of England, so far as she had


But our own day has its peculiar weakness, and would take no harm from the application of special remedies. We suffer from a murky surfeit of self-flattery and sham philanthropy, and a little of the opposite excess might help to clear the air. Some balance of sanity might be struck out from these clashing extremes of flattery and detraction applied to human nature; or, at least, if balance is not to be attained in that way, the result would be mightily amusing. There are several people in the world who need to be vexed.

Certainly the literary atmosphere would be wonderfully cleared by the reappearance of a Pope. Imagine what a Dunciad the wicked little man might compose to-day; what havoc he would work among those novelists and dramatists who divulge their prurience under the guise of reform and champion licence as the liberty of prophesying. What a flutter he would stir up in the dovecote of our mutually admiring poets, whether imagist, symbolist, anthologist, vers-libriste, or however else ticketed. He knew them when he wrote his Imitation of Horace:

In vain, bad rhymers all mankind reject,
They treat themselves with most profound respect;
'Tis to small
purpose that


your tongue, Each, praised within, is happy all day long.

Malice is an excellent medicine for self-complaisance in the artist; it is a good purgation also for cant and humbug in high places. Fancy, if you dare, what a flow of satire would emanate from our new Twickenham when some solemn college president had been advocating lower standards of education under the plea that we must train men for service that blessed word. “Service!” he cries; “we train the budding mind

Itself to lose and serve all human kind;
A little learning is a dangerous thing,

Come not to college, or no Latin bring.” But there is higher game than the silk-robed tyrant of academic senates, and education was not, and is not, the only field in which the charlatan makes capital of the seductive phrases of idealism. Suppose a convocation in Pope's day was met to settle the affairs of the world and to establish peace and good will among men; suppose then that Pope should read in a most respectable magazine such comment as this on the secret proceedings of the guiding committee: "The task of the three men is made easier for them by the fact that the world gives them a blank check for

expenses. No errors they can make, so far as we can imagine, can conceivably compare with the tragic errors of statesmanship before the war.” I suspect that the “paper-saving" poet would have used the back of this blank check for other purposes than endorsement. He might have found it a convenient place for asking, not in blank verse, whether this was a particularly happy time for abjuring reason and common sense and critical control, because some one else had blundered. I seem to remember that the “wits” had bad words for the type of egotist and saviour of

« ZurückWeiter »