The Project Gutenberg eBook of Portraits and Speculations, by Arthur Ransome
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at If you are not located in the United States, you will have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this eBook.

Title: Portraits and Speculations

Author: Arthur Ransome
Release Date: August 4, 2021 [eBook #65992]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Tim Lindell, Charlie Howard, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)

Transcriber’s Note

Cover created by Transcriber and placed into the Public Domain.



A HISTORY OF STORYTELLING: Studies in the development of Narrative. 1909

EDGAR ALLAN POE: A Critical Study. 1910


OSCAR WILDE: A Critical Study. 1912







Of the Essays in this book, “Art for Life’s Sake” appeared in The English Review; “The Poetry of Yone Noguchi,”1 “Remy de Gourmont,” and “Aloysius Bertrand” in The Fortnightly Review; “Kinetic and Potential Speech,” in The Oxford and Cambridge Review. The papers on Daudet and Coppée were prefixed to collections of stories by these writers: I thank the publishers, Messrs. T.  C. and E.  C. Jack, for permission to reproduce them here.





It is not yet fifty years since one or two men of genius, followed presently by a score of men of talent, noisier, shriller in voice than themselves, preached a theory of art new in this country, shocking to our prejudices at that time, and imported from some French artists and from a German philosopher. This was the doctrine of art for art’s sake. Baudelaire had written: “Poetry ... has no other end than itself; it can have no other, and no poem will be so great, so noble, so truly worthy of the name of a poem, as that which has been written solely for the pleasure of writing a poem.” Whistler, that butterfly of letters, who had borrowed his sting from the wasp, directed it with gay despair against the granite face of the British public. Rossetti and, with certain qualifications, Pater, illustrated the theory in their practice, as Whistler did also; and4 Wilde, a little later than they, remarked: “All art is quite useless,” and “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”

With this doctrine of art for art’s sake we are now dissatisfied. We object to it, not for the sake of “morality,” against which it was partly directed, nor yet for the sake of “nature,” but for the sake of art, whose function it limits rather than glorifies. We have seen the school of art, if we may speak of a school of art, that carried the banner on which those words were inscribed, tire and fall away as the nineteenth century drew to its close, until now the tattered banner, with words almost illegible, is carried only by a schoolboy who joined the procession late and marches on, unconscious that the parade is over, that he is marching alone, and that nobody is looking at him. Yet the demonstration was successful; its promoters, who stitched the banner with gaiety, hope, and defiance, themselves painted and wrote fine things, and men are working to-day whose work would have been impossible if, in the course of its march, that small, daring5 procession had not walked seven times round a city of Jericho and blown silver trumpets under its walls.

Some battle-cries are no more than an irrelevant but inspiriting noise. Most of them, however, are related to something fought for, (St. George and Merry England!), something that, it is hoped, will superintend the fight (God with us!), or something that is fought against (A bas Marat!). The knight who shouted, “Two red roses across the moon” on a sultry day when—

“... the battle was scattered from hill to hill
From the windmill to the watermill.”

may have been incomprehensible to his enemies, but was not incomprehensible to himself, and “Art for Art’s sake!” forty and fifty years ago, a surprising, rather ridiculous phrase in the ears of the early Victorians who then survived, was something very different for the men who were fighting to destroy a petrified mental attitude towards art in general. We must first understand what they fought against before we have the right to speak of the meaning of their battle-cry.


They fought, primarily, against a moral valuation of art. They fought, secondly, against “nature” ... against, that is to say, a crude conception of the relation between nature and art; against, to put that crude conception in its crudest form, the supposition that he who looked at a picture could find something in the external world, by its resemblance to which the picture should be judged. It would be a fascinating task to show that the too faithful imitation of external things is an impediment to the highest functions of art, and, on the other hand, that imitation in some kind, in some degree, is an essential part of that function. But I do not wish to be tempted into discussion of the true relation between art and nature, though a solution of that problem will, perhaps, suggest itself to those who read this paper to its end. I am here chiefly interested in art’s relation to ourselves. Nature for the moment is outside the discussion, though, in justice to the artists for art’s sake, I must point out that their revolt was not against “morality” alone. When we hear Wilde’s gay proclamation that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life,” we must7 take care to hear also, from Whistler, more serious, that “Nature contains the elements, in colour and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music,” and that the artist “in all that is dainty and lovable ... finds hints for his own combinations, and thus is Nature ever his resource and always at his service, and to him is nought refused.” We must not imagine that the revolt was merely playful.

Against “nature” and against “morality.” In an age when the painter of “Derby Day” assisted Ruskin by saying that he could not “see anything of the true representation of water and atmosphere in the painting of “Battersea Bridge,” they upheld the superiority of art to “nature.” In an age when Dickens was praised for his reforms of the workhouse and blamed for his love of low life, when novelists were judged by the deeds, no, by the manners of the persons of their fiction, when poets were judged by their private lives, they protested the irrelevance of all such things to the question at issue, which was the goodness or badness of the work of art to be judged. We must not blame their formula, but the ideas against which it was directed,8 for the bad manners, the morality that they hoped would be regarded as immorality, for the unpublishable private lives, that were the excesses after victory. We may, perhaps, smile as we observe how accurately they balance those other excesses against which they were a reaction.

The question, no longer how to conquer, became how to use the victory, and we had the common spectacle of veterans and retired camp-followers trying to live up to the battle-cry of their youth, and, unable to free themselves from the habit of their excesses, committing these excesses with less and less gusto and more and more skill. But skill, even so acquired, is not valueless. The battle-cry, after opening a primrose path to charlatans, after turning “morality” into “immorality” as a spectre ruling over art, remained the stimulus to an improved technique, a scrupulousness, an economy of effect, a delicacy in the handling of material, a care for melody and counterpoint, an intolerance of careless workmanship, for which for a long time it will be our privilege to be grateful.

Art, however, cannot live by perfection of technique alone, nor yet by the repetition9 of remembered excesses. A new generation of artists, working in a new environment, inspired by new aims, and threatened by new dangers, requires a new formula, or a restatement of the old. These artists of our own generation look at the faded banner with the remains of reverence, or, in their dislike of the mistakes it made possible, with a suspicion of contempt. In the turbulence of valuations in this century, in the different, sharply defined attitudes of men on such questions as property, labour, capital, the position of women in the State, marriage, education, or the Church, they see a herd of conflicting moralities. Involved in one or other of these conflicts, perhaps in many of them, they cannot but believe, suspect, or hope that art also must speak for or against, as tribune or as patrician, as Churchman or as secularist, and, if the conflict be important to them, the excellence of an artist must seem to be determined, at least in part, by the views that he expresses. How then can art “have nothing to do with morality”? They are, however, sufficiently critical to see that it is possible that a work of art may be good for a10 democrat, bad for an aristocrat, and yet, somehow, good in itself. Was there something in “Art for Art’s sake” after all?

Of the men whose names I mentioned in the first paragraph of this essay one had founded his views on those of a philosopher, and so, whatever may be his rank among those dogmatists, we are able to examine the background of reasoning on which he saw his own dogmatic statements. It is in that reasoning, and not in the cheerful taunts of the battlefield that we are likely to learn how it was that the formula of “Art for Art’s sake” seemed to be justified, and how it is that the formula is fundamentally inadequate. Baudelaire’s proclamation, Pater’s practice, Whistler’s blue-feathered, silver-tipped darts point us to no analysis. The analysis that made Wilde’s paradoxes possible is open to our view in the pages of Kant.

Now Kant said that what was called beautiful was the object of a delight apart from any interest, and showed that charm, or intimate reference to our own circumstances or possible circumstances, so far from being a criterion of beauty, was a disturbing influence11 upon our judgment. Upon our judgment of what? The beautiful. How many crimes has that word committed, how many discussions it has obscured, how many it has closed at the very moment of their fertility. Not the least of its knaveries has been this substitution of a condition of art for the function of art, which, as I hope to show, is life itself. A work of art suggests the achievement of the beautiful. That may be its immediate object. It is not its ultimate object. It may be an essential condition. It is not a function. Art for art’s sake means the substitution of condition for function, and, as the beautiful can never be a function of anything, the implicit denial that art has a function at all. “All art is quite useless.”

But that is not what we believe. And the reason why the theorists of art for art’s sake were both right and wrong was that they did not want art for the sake of anything irrelevant to the artistic phenomenon, but were a little ungenerous in their interpretation of that phenomenon. They saw that moralities, private lives, reforms, interests, had nothing to do with the attempted achievement of the condition of the beautiful,12 but, having seen that, forgot, in their hurry for battle, that the work of art persists beyond this achievement or attempted achievement; forgot that, will he nill he, the artist’s work cannot but bear the impress of his personality, and forgot that through that fact all the things they wished to rule out of the discussion had their rightful place in it.

The question is, what is their rightful place? And to answer it we must first satisfy ourselves as to the nature of the artistic phenomenon.

A work of art is a collaboration between two artists, whom, for purposes of reference, I shall call the speaker and the listener. But, before it is a collaboration, a re-creation, in which form we commonly know it, it is an independent act performed by the speaker alone. He, as first creator, isolates some from the flux of impressions in which he lives. It is as if he were to arrest that flux, and momentarily to stop its flow. He holds back the sun and the moon in their courses, and, for a moment, the world stands motionless before him, embodied in the dominating impressions given him by a single moment of its and his existence.13 This one moment he disentangles from all others; the world, the universe, at that moment, for him, he fashions into a memory, clearer than life, and owing its clarity to his refusal to allow it to have a before or an after, an above or a below, other than those which itself implies. He isolates that moment with its implications. The resulting clarity is as if he had suddenly stopped the cross-currents of a stream, and the stream, losing the opaqueness of its tangled motion, had become crystal. He isolates that moment by surrounding it with his own consciousness, while other moments fly past taking with them shreds of that tattered veil, no more.... There is a choice of moments, and because the choice is not reasonable, but determined by the moment itself, the speaker feels himself inspired. That which attracts him, seduces him, compels him to catch it as it passes and hold it fast, instead of letting it break free and join the myriad others with their worthless trophies of incomplete comprehension, is a moment whose impressions present themselves as melody, gesture, words, shape, or ordered colour, or the promise of such.14 Two bars are heard as it goes by, a significant arm swings out of the flood, a jumble of words, like those of a sleeper, startle his mind, the ghost of an unpainted picture wakes his eyes.... These things are pledges. He seizes them and, warily, lest he lose them, listens for the rest of the melody, watchfully draws out of the flood the figure whose gesture had seemed to be the moment itself, pieces the brittle words together, and shapes the picture in his brain. He allows the moment to redeem the pledge it has given, his care being not to impede it by forestalling its further appearance with something contradictory to the original fragment, something that the character of that fragment has not determined. He seeks only to be true to the original promise, and the good artist is known by the fact that it is impossible to tell with what he began, the bad artist by the fragment he has surrounded with baser metal that does not ring with its note, or the phantom whose vitality he has blurred by clothing it with flesh uninformed by its peculiar vitality.

The process of the speaker in the first creation of a work of art is a process of15 finding out. He is engaged in knowing the uttermost implications of the fragment of impression caught by him from the flux of unconscious or semi-conscious life. He is making the whole of that impression his own by his profound, his complete consciousness of it. That is why the artist can never understand those people, not artists, who ask him how he can prefer art to life; imitation to the real thing. He cannot believe that such people mean what they say. In his humility he assumes that they too have the modesty to admit to themselves that their life is unconscious, or semi-conscious, and he believes that this process of knowing, of becoming conscious, is the intensest form of living that there is.

Then, when the work of art is as we know it, we, the listener, collaborate with that other artist, the speaker, and from what he has said, in stone, music, paint or words, try to reconstruct the fragment of life that he has made his own and to share his consciousness of it. Accurately speaking, this is impossible. We become conscious of a moment of life different from his. We cannot give his words the precise atmosphere16 they had for him, we cannot see with exactly his eyes, or hear with his ears, we are without his private and individual memory. We can but be inaccurate translators. We can, however, perceive, uncertainly, that he has been successful himself in allowing a moment of life to redeem the pledge it had given him, that his work does not contradict itself, and so is true to the original inspiration bedded in it or clothed by it. And this perception suggests to us that, if it were possible, we should find, certainly, what we already believe, that his share in the collaboration is perfect. We then say that a work of art is beautiful; the wistfulness with which we sometimes say it, the tears that sometimes dim our eyes as we close a book or turn from a picture that we believe to be beautiful, and the sadness that has often been associated with the name of beauty, are due to the half-conscious knowledge that our share in the collaboration is imperfect, since we can never stand exactly where he stood.

Our judgment of the beautiful then depends on our belief that, were certain unalterable facts altered in the constitution of the universe and of ourselves, we should be17 sharing a perfect expression, an expression, that is to say, in perfect unity with itself. Art then for art’s sake, perfection of expression first. But what is this expression in perfect unity with itself, but a moment of conscious living, isolated from all else, lifted from the unconscious flux and given us—to live?

Let us rewrite the half-obliterated formula. Let us write it now: Art for Life’s sake, and raise a party cry from its momentary usefulness into a proud suggestion of the noble function of art. This function is not merely to teach us how to act, as was supposed by the old critics, who recommended Homer for the heroism of his heroes, though, as we shall see, they were not wholly wrong, nor yet merely to teach us how to order our lives, though it may do that by suggestion. Art is itself life. Its function is to increase our consciousness of life, to make us more than wise or sensitive, to transform us from beings overwhelmed by the powerful stream of unconscious living to beings dominating that stream, to change us from objects acted upon by life to joyful collaborators in that reaction. By its means we become conscious gainers18 by life’s procreative activity. No longer hiding our faces from that muddied storm that sweeps irresistibly from the future to the past, a medley of confused figures, a babel of cries of joy, of laughter, of sorrow, of pain, by its means we lift our heads, and, learning from the isolation of moments in eternity, to imagine the isolation of all such moments, we conquer that storm, and accept pain, joy, laughter or sorrow, with equal gratitude, in our continually realised desire to feel ourselves alive.

Let us examine from this point of view the fundamental quarrel between the theorists of “Art for Art’s sake” and the moralists. What are their respective beliefs?

The Moralist.—The noblest end of being is to be good. All human activities must serve this end or be pernicious. Art, the most eloquent, the most powerful of pleaders, cannot, without violating the trust that humanity puts in her, turn devil’s advocate. Let the artist be as skilful an artist as he can, but let him make a right use of his excellence. In peace we ask no more of a good shot than that he hit the bull’s eye of a target. But we live in times of war between19 the hosts of good and of evil. The fight is to the death, and we admire the good shot if he fire from among the ranks of angels, and fear him if we see that his skill is at the service of our opponents, who in age-long battle have shown themselves merciless and strong.

The Artist for Art’s sake.—Morality in art is an accident of no importance. We hear the battle of which you speak, but do not take part in it, though we listen sometimes to the music of its trumpets far away, and see the red glow it throws up to the sky. But morality concerns our circumstances or possible circumstances, and so has nothing to do with the beautiful, which is art’s sole concern. A work of art that declares its sympathy with one or other party to your battle is one whose creator has looked aside to ends other than beauty. It is therefore a failure as a work of art. Art must not be limited to edifying subjects. There is nothing that may not become beautiful in the hands of an artist. Church and lupanar, angel and courtesan, are of equal value in his eyes. They are material, no more, and he will not tolerate that morality should hamper him by20 dictating the choice or use of his material. A work of art is independent of morality.

To these two we reply, believing that art is for life’s sake.—When a man tells you that his work of art has nothing to do with morality, ask him, With whose morality has it nothing to do? He will be compelled to admit that the morality of which he is thinking is the morality he attributes to somebody else. Morality is a code of values, differing in each individual, and dictated to each individual by his character and his environment. No artist, no human being, escapes morality, and the code of values that is his will be one of the determining influences on an artist’s vision of life. If, perchance, he is so uncritical as to believe that he has nothing to do with morality, that belief will itself share in giving his work a moral value. There is no escape from morality in art. If, therefore, we choose to consider ourselves as one of a band of people whose moralities are more or less similar, and to regard their average morality, their average code of values as important, we shall be perfectly justified in judging art by what we suppose to be its effect on that average morality. But we21 must not forget that we are then regarding artists as a regiment from which we are engaged in picking out the traitors and the loyalists—and that it is a regiment whose immediate business is not war, a regiment which does not know that it is enlisted.

Let us now consider the nature of the moral influence which the speaker exerts upon the listener. It will not be surprising if we find that it has a direct bearing upon the point under discussion.

The artist whose act of conscious living is the work of art cannot alter his personality without disloyalty to the moment of life that under his hands is simultaneously becoming conscious and becoming expression. His personality, and with it his morality, is already involved; any dishonesty blurs his vision, and the crystal whose increasing clarity was his delight becomes for ever opaque. Here and nowhere else must we find the origin of the artist’s distrust of morality. He means by it not “morality,” but any morality other than his own at the time of artistic creation or knowing. A work of art is always the expression of a morality, the morality of its creator at the moment when22 he began its creation, a morality that has ceased to exist, since its creator has been changed to a greater or less degree by the very fact of its creation. Returning to our metaphor of speaker and listener, we may say that the listener, who tries as nearly as possible to share the moment of conscious life that was the speaker’s, to stand where he stood, and think what he thought, does, in contemplation of the work of art, share to some extent in the morality, that momentary morality we have described, of another man.

Besides this fundamental morality of a work of art, it may hold other moralities which are also not without their influence. Codes of values may themselves be the material of artistic creation. A code of values foreign to the speaker may enter into the moment of conscious life that is his work of art. Plato and Socrates were different men with different moralities. The Socrates of Plato’s Dialogues, however Platonized, is not Plato, and, as well as the fundamental morality of those dialogues, the morality of those speeches which are supposed to be Socratic has its separate influence upon us.23 Anatole France plays with the Abbé Jérôme Coignard, and with Jacques Tournebroche, and beside the morality of La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque we are offered these other moralities included in it and ruled by it.

There would seem to be little else but morality in art, and its influence would seem to be so largely as to be almost exclusively moral. But observe what actually happens. Have you not noticed, in reading a book, that you insensibly pick out and offer to your digestion those of the accidental moralities in it that seem to be cousins of your own. You linger over the sayings of Coignard, if you feel that in some mood or other you could have said them. You accept with gratitude the follies, the humours of M. Bergeret, if you recognise in him a kinship, however distant, with yourself. In listening to a play you side, at least in simpler moods, with the character whose code of values approximates to that by which you are in the habit of weighing your actions and those of others. These minor judgments are independent of your judgment of the work of art, though here too a similar24 instinct bids you prefer those artists in whom you recognise, let us say, the full development of some one possibility that your personality contains. And, since our temperament thus picks and chooses among the moralities that art offers, because it is like Paracelsus’ alchemist, situate in the stomach of man, digesting the food that is good for him and rejecting the poison, art does not so much alter our morality as increase our consciousness of it. It is an individualising influence on morality, essentially hostile to the averaging of codes of values. It seeks uniqueness, not uniformity, and so does not so much spread moralities abroad as cherish and grow to their full strength the moralities it finds among its listeners. In this sentence the moralists and the artists for art’s sake come to an understanding.

Leaving now the question of its moral influence, let me give an example, of the simplest nature, to show what I mean by the conscious living that is art. I find one in the following exquisite poem, “The Happy Child,” by William Davies:

“I saw this day sweet flowers grow thick,
But not one like the child did pick.


I heard the pack-hounds in green park,
But not one like the child heard bark.
I heard this day bird after bird,
But not one like the child has heard.
A hundred butterflies saw I,
But not one like the child saw fly.
I saw the horses roll in grass,
But no horse like the child saw pass.
My world this day has lovely been,
But not like what the child has seen.”

Rossetti believed that “Poetry should seem to the hearer to have been always present to his thought, but never before heard,” and the statement that this has been accomplished (so just, sometimes, is popular instinct) is the commonest praise accorded to individual works of art. Many of Mr. Davies’ readers must have said, rightly, but, critically speaking, with imperfect accuracy, “Now that expresses what I have always felt.” They should have said, “That enables me to feel what I always could have felt.” For they have never truly felt it. That wistful, regretful moment, now articulate, was carried unhappily past them in the general flux of incompletely conscious life. They suspected a possibility of feeling something,26 of knowing what they dimly felt, but it eluded them in the tangled currents of the stream, and they did not detain it, know it, and make it part of themselves. Mr. Davies has not so allowed it to escape; he warily netted it in his consciousness, learnt it accurately and fully, and wrote that poem, thus isolating it for ever from unconsciousness. And we, reading those words, collaborate with him in the re-creation of the work of art for whose notation they serve, and, with our memories behind us, not his, ourselves win out of the river of unconsciousness such a moment, different a little from his, our own, filled delicately with our vitality, and giving us, for the vitality we have given it, an increased consciousness of the life that is in ourselves. The conscious life of art does not imply what is known with contempt as self-consciousness, which means a hampering inability to forget not self but other people’s eyes. It implies a new reading of the Delphic command, γνῶθι σεαυτόν. It does not mean Know thy opinions only, nor yet, Know what are thy desires, but Know thy life, not thy biography but thy living, thine innumerable acts of life.


I took my example from a short poem of extreme simplicity, and, as I have again and again in this essay spoken of “moments” of conscious life, a scrupulous reader might well conclude that I concerned myself only with what is commonly known as lyrical art, or that I should presently offer a proof of Croce’s theory that all art is essentially lyrical. I agree with Croce, and perhaps go further than he in believing, for reasons with which I will not burden this discussion, that all lyricism in art is dramatic, in that it involves a dramatic conception of himself by the author. His care is, that his creation shall be wholly determined by one moment, not by a series, and for this reason, he is compelled as he works to refer continually to himself as he was at that moment. For if a work of art were to be representative of more than one moment, it would be representative of more than one man. It would not be homogeneous, and could not be beautiful. This applies not only to a song or a picture, but to those works of art which are in appearance the most elaborate, the least uniform, the least determined by a single moment. A play, whose reading or performance may occupy28 hours, during which a number of characters whom we accept provisionally as human, as separate entities, live imaginary lives before us, is, no less than a song, the result of becoming completely conscious of a single moment. The duration of the reading is in no way affected by the duration of the moment of life that set the author playing with his marionettes. A moment of life such as would, for a poet, become articulate in a song, may require from a playwright that he represent it to himself in persons talking, a clash of personalities, a breaking of personalities by destiny, a series of events explicable within itself, not resembling any one moment of his life, but in their totality representing his means of knowing a moment, and the means he offers us whereby, as nearly as we may, we shall share that knowing. When a play is not the artist’s learning a moment of his own life, it is mere scaffolding, resembling a building at dusk, or at a sudden first sight, but presently found out to be empty and fraudulent, when with contempt we leave it to oblivion. Passage of time, intricacy of construction, apparent multiplicity of imagined lives do not affect the question.


John Masefield did not by a sudden effort of genius conceive “Nan,” scenes, persons, and dialogue in a moment. One moment, however, determined its conception, and implied all that is in the play. Let me, with deference, suggest what may have happened. He heard a story that affected him with a mixture of emotions. If he had not been an artist, he would probably have done no more than repeat the story to others as it was told to him, and wonder idly if it produced the same mixture of emotions in them. Instead, he lingered with it, and let the unconscious flux flow on unobserved while he brooded over this one emotional moment, becoming more and more clearly conscious of the emotions it contained as they, in the formative processes of his mind, came to be represented by persons and actions and words. His mind was not making but discovering, following the implications of the original emotional moment, careful only to be true to that, and rejecting proffered representations solely on account of their inaccuracy. His skill was shown only in so dealing with the flood of representations that no one particle of it should contradict another,30 should hamper the full realisation of that moment. His greatness was shown in the profundity with which he realised that moment, and the depth to which he could follow its implications.

Therein, by the way, is suggested the criterion of greatness that is contained in the doctrine that art is for life’s sake. The theory of art for art’s sake left its holders at a loss before the question “Is no man greater than another, if his works are beautiful, if he is an equally skilful artist?” They knew that he was, but their theory could not tell them why, and they had to take refuge in cynicism. The theory of art for “morality’s” sake was no more satisfying. It suggested that the greatest artist was he who preached the most good, and so left its holders in speechless difficulty before a comparison of Rossetti and Dr. Watts. The theory of art for life’s sake has a clear answer, and offers a valid test. That man is the greatest artist who makes us the most profoundly conscious of life. Shakespeare is set above Herrick, who was a better technician, and Leonardo above Murillo, who painted more devotional subjects, on grounds with which31 men, neither as artists nor as moralists, need quarrel.

Art for Art’s sake was a battle-cry, and, to understand it, we had to understand what those who used it fought. Art for Life’s sake is also a battle-cry, though it includes in those four words a suggestion not only of the function of art but of its nature. Let us review the enemies we attack with those words upon our lips. What do we fight against? What are the misunderstandings which in our time encourage the production of false, of secondary art, and obscure the excellence of the finest?

We fight first against a political valuation of art, that imagines poetry, pictures and music as auxiliaries in the reconstruction or conservation of the state, and judges them by their efficiency as political pamphlets.

We fight secondly against an educational valuation of art, that judges works of art by the accuracy of the facts they happen to embody, the accuracy of the pictures they paint of this or that form of life, the clearness with which they illustrate generalisations.

We fight thirdly against the valuation of art by its technical skill, by the beauty that32 is a universal condition of its being. These things cannot afford a scale of comparison for works of art, but only a guarantee that they are worthy of judgment. We should not fight against this valuation if it showed itself in practice capable of so useful an office. It is, however, not sufficiently selective, but allows itself to be tricked by things built in imitation of perfect building, things whose form is not identical with their content, things which manifest more skill than vitality. This, our old ally, since it made our battle possible, is now our subtlest enemy.

Our battle is far from being easy, for we fight not to kill but to make captive, and it is easier and safer to fight to kill. We fight not to destroy those valuations, but to destroy their pre-eminence. Recognising (1) that a work of art has a political, comparable to its moral, influence, (2) that it always embodies knowledge, (3) that it is nothing if it does not wake in us the feeling that we are near the achievement of the beautiful, we wish to deny none of these facts, but to prevent any one of them from being taken as the foundation of a criterion of art. We wish to set over them a criterion of art that33 shall include them all. Above technique, above opinion, above information, we set life, of the special kind that is here described, whose conscious vitality is to unconscious vitality what living is to existence.

What, then, do we ask ourselves after experiencing a work of art.

We ask one thing only, though, perhaps, in many forms: Has it given us an increased consciousness of life, or has it merely had in view one or other of those valuations whose supreme authority we reject? Is its title to the name of art merely that it is an illustration of a doctrine that has elbowed out the doctrine it illustrates, merely that it gives us a clear idea how some people live, merely that it has a skin-deep appearance of unity? Or is it a piece of conscious life, separated watchfully from the flux of living, a piece of knowing carried out by the artist, which we are allowed to share? Does it give us a new possession by making us aware of something we possess. We do not ask an artist for opinions, for facts, for skill, alone. We have the right to ask for more. We ask him for ourselves; we ask him for life. “Poetry enriches the blood of the world” by the34 practice it affords of living consciously. Vain learning, opinion, skill, impoverish it. We ask from an artist opportunities of conscious living, which, taken as they come, multiply the possibilities of their recurrence, turn us into artists, and help us to contract the habit of being alive.





In the preface to Petits Poèmes en Prose, Baudelaire makes respectful reference to a little-known book: “J’ai une petite confession à vous faire. C’est en feuilletant pour la vingtième fois au moins, le fameux Gaspard de la Nuit, d’Aloysius Bertrand (un livre connu de vous, de moi et de quelques-uns de nos amis, n’a-t-il pas tous les droits à être appelé fameux?), que l’idée m’est venue de tenter quelque chose d’analogue, et d’appliquer à la description de la vie moderne, ou plutot d’une vie moderne et plus abstraite, le procédé qu’il avait appliqué à la peinture de la vie ancienne, si étrangement pittoresque.” He speaks of Bertrand as “mon mystérieux et brillant modèle,” though, remembering the teaching of Poe, he adds that he is ashamed to have made something so different from Gaspard de la Nuit, since38 he holds that the highest honour of a poet is to accomplish exactly what he set out to perform. A writer who wrote prose poems good enough to be read “twenty times at least” by Baudelaire, good enough to suggest an imitation, a writer but for whom the Petits Poèmes en Prose would not have been written, or would have been written differently, is more than a literary curiosity. I was led to examine his book, and, presently, to find an interest in the man himself as well as in his accomplishment. M. Anatole France was good enough to direct me in my search for information. My friend, M. Champion, of the Quai Malaquais, generously put his bibliographical knowledge at my disposal. The files of forgotten magazines and newspapers and essays by Sainte-Beuve, Charles Asselineau, and M. Leon Séché combined to build in my mind a portrait of this picturesque and luckless Romantic, a portrait blistered here and there, obliterated in patches, but not without vitality.

* * * * *

Louis-Jacques-Napoleon Bertrand, who took the name of Ludovic and later preferred that of Aloysius, was born on April 20, 1807, at39 Céva, in Piedmont. Hugo was born in 1802, and Gautier in 1811. He was a child of that old grey-haired army of which Musset speaks in the Confession d’un Enfant du Siècle. His mother was an Italian, his father a Frenchman of Lorraine, an old soldier described by his son, in a fiery letter to a newspaper which had insulted him, as “only a patriot of 1789, only an officer of fortune, who at eighteen rushed to pour out his blood on the banks of the Rhine, and, at fifty, counted thirty years of service, nine campaigns, and six wounds.” At the age of seven the young Bertrand was brought to France. He grew up at Dijon, learned in youth of the great things that were being done in Paris, and read Hugo, Nodier, Hoffmann, and Scott, all of whom helped him to turn the modern Dijon into a mediæval city of dreams.

Early in 1828, a few young men of Dijon founded a newspaper, Le Provincial, to be a mouthpiece for their enlightened generation. It endured for a few months, and Bertrand contributed prose and verse to it, including a first draft of a prose poem that, in a much altered form, was printed in Gaspard de la Nuit.40 The paper was not unnoticed in Paris, and when it died and Bertrand left Dijon for the capital, he found some doors already open to him. He was twenty-one, penniless, with rolls of manuscript in his pocket, and a shy eagerness to read aloud from them.

Two portraits of him remain, one by Sainte-Beuve and the other by Victor Pavie. Sainte-Beuve describes him as “... a tall, thin young man of twenty-one, with a yellow and brown complexion, very lively little black eyes, a face mocking and sharp without doubt, rather wretched perhaps, and a long, silent laugh. He seemed timid, or rather uncivilised....”

Victor Pavie says: “His awkward walk, his incorrect and unsophisticated costume, his lack of balance and of aplomb, betrayed that he had newly escaped from the provinces. One divined the poet in the ill-restrained fire of his timid and wandering eyes. As for the expression of his face, a lofty taste for beauty was combined in it with a somewhat uncivilised taciturnity....”

Beside these pictures let me print Bertrand’s portrait of the imaginary Gaspard de41 la Nuit: “A poor devil whose exterior announced nothing but poverty and suffering. I had already noticed in the garden his frayed overcoat, buttoned to the chin, his shapeless hat that never brush had brushed, his hair long as a weeping-willow, combed like a thicket, his fleshless hands like ossuaries, his mocking, wretched, and sickly face; and my conjectures had charitably placed him among those itinerant artists, violin-players and portrait-painters, whom an insatiable hunger and an unquenchable thirst condemn to travel the world in the footsteps of the Wandering Jew....” It is different from the portraits of himself, but not more different than would be such a Germanicised caricature as might have been made by Hoffmann.

Bertrand’s life in Paris was hidden from the celebrated men whom he met at Nodier’s evening receptions and in Sainte-Beuve’s study. He showed himself for a moment, recited some of his verses “d’une voix sautillante,” and disappeared. He had no money, and probably suffered from that lack of confidence which can only be removed by a banking account. Sainte-Beuve, who saw42 him two or three times and gave him a copy of the Consolations, with the inscription “Mon ami Bertrand,” speaks of him threading lonely streets with the air of Pierre Gringoire, the out-at-elbows poet of Notre Dame de Paris. He paints what must be an imaginary portrait of the young and penniless genius leaning on the window-sill of his garret, “talking for long hours with the pale gilliflowers of the roof.”

Unable to earn a living in Paris, he went back to Dijon in 1830, where he contributed to a Liberal newspaper, Le Patriote de la Côte-d’Or. In spite of his poverty, his blood was young and proud, and as he walked the streets of Dijon he must have felt himself a representative of that exuberant young Parisian manhood that was putting Hernani on the stage and sending Mademoiselle de Maupin to the press. A rival paper jeered at him, and he was able to reply: “Je préfère vos dédains à vos suffrages,” and to quote a letter from Victor Hugo to explain his independence. Hugo had written: “Je lis vos vers en cercle d’amis, comme je lis André Chenier, Lamartine et Alfred de Vigny: il est impossible de posséder à un plus haut point les secrets de la facture.” With such43 a testimonial in his pocket he need not care for the scorn or the approval of a provincial journalist.

At this time his Liberalism was as ardent as his youth. Asselineau quotes a fiery article praying for war, bloody war, against the Holy Alliance: “It is time to throw the dice on a drum; and, should we all perish, the honour of France and of liberty shall perish not.” But, as was not unnatural, he presently left France and liberty to take care of themselves, and, full of new plans for literary achievement, returned hopefully to Paris, where he was joined by his mother and sister. He was again unable to earn a living. The last lines of a piteous letter written to Antoine de Latour in September 1833, show how miserable was his condition:

“Si je te disais que je suis au point de n’avoir bientôt plus de chaussures, que ma redingote est usée, je t’apprendrais là le dernier de mes soucis: ma mère et ma sœur manquent de tout dans une mansarde de l’hôtel des Etats-Unis qui n’est pas payée. Qu’est ce pour toi qu’une soixantaine de francs (mon Dieu, à quelle humiliation le malheur me contraint!). Quelques pièces d’argent dans une bourse, pour nous c’est un mois de loger, c’est du pain!


“Et je te dois déjà cinquante francs! J’en pleure de rage.
Mon camarade de collège!!!
“Je cherche une place de correcteur d’épreuves dans une imprimerie.”

It is not known whether the money was sent him, nor whether he found employment as a proof-reader.

In such poverty, in such dejection, he put together the book that preserves his memory, dreaming, when he could forget his empty stomach and the holes in his shoes, of the prose that Baudelaire was to imagine after him, “une prose poétique, musicale sans rhythme et sans rime, assez souple et assez heurtée pour s’adapter aux mouvements lyriques de l’âme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience.” He would not, perhaps, have thought of sudden starts of conscience, for his was a simpler soul than Baudelaire’s, and he never felt that the portrait he was drawing might be only the portrait of a portrait. He was born in 1807 and not in 1821, and, with the Romantic joy in colour and local colour, he had more than the Romantic simplicity. His fantasies are prefaced by quotations, and45 these are taken from Scott, Hugo, Byron, folk-song, the Fathers of the Church, Scottish ballads, Charles Nodier, old chronicles, Lope de Vega, Fenimore Cooper, the cries of the night watchmen, Lamartine, Coleridge, Chateaubriand, a medley of the Romantics and the writers and things that they admired. They sometimes mistook the picturesque for the beautiful, and so did Bertrand. He was a man who thought with his eyes. He was not an analyst.

So far indeed did his visual conception of life carry him that he represents, better than any other French writer, the tendency, new at that time, to identify literature with painting. Hoffmann, in Germany, had written Fantasy-pieces after the manner of Callot. Leigh Hunt, in England, amused himself, in Imagination and Fancy, by cutting little bits out of Spenser and proposing them as subjects to the ghosts of Titian and Rubens. Bertrand used words like oil-colours, and in Gaspard de la Nuit: fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot, wrote what, if he had had a palette and brush, he might very well have painted. If he thought through his eyes, his eyes had been trained by the46 painters, and he was proud to offer his book as a series of engravings after imaginary pictures, or etchings from plates that had never been bitten.

“Art,” he says in his preface, “has always two antithetical faces; it is a medal, one side of which, for example, would suggest the image of Rembrandt, and the other that of Jacques Callot.... Rembrandt is the white-bearded philosopher who shuts himself up like a snail in his retreat, who absorbs his life in meditation and in prayer, who closes his eyes to gather himself together, who converses with spirits of beauty, of science, of wisdom, and of love, and consumes himself in penetrating the mysterious symbols of nature.... Callot, on the other hand, is the jolly, braggart soldier of foot, who peacocks in the square, makes a noise in the inn, swears only by his rapier and his carbine, and has no other care than the waxing of his moustache.... Now, the author of this book has envisaged art under this double personification, but he has not been too exclusive, and presents, besides fantasies in the manners of Rembrandt and of Callot, studies after Van Eyck, Lucas de Leyde,47 Albert Durer, Peeter Neef, Breughel de Velours, Breughel d’Enfer, Van Ostade, Gerard Dow, Salvator Rosa, Murillo, Fusely, and many other masters of different schools.”

Bertrand’s book is one of the documents that must be studied by any historian of the grotesque who would trace the re-awakening of a spirit in art that had dozed during the eighteenth century, a spirit quite different from that of Hogarth, with which it is sometimes confounded. Bertrand’s was not the noble, the sublime conception of the grotesque that ruled the finer drawings and much of the poetry of William Blake. It was akin to that whose love of a gargoyle brought it to life and sent Quasimodo to haunt the dark and winding stairs of the towers of Notre Dame. Bertrand contrasts Rembrandt and Callot, but does not see that in the mind of the man “who consumes himself in penetrating the mysterious symbols of nature” there is the essence of the feeling for the grotesque, which, in such men as Callot, having forgotten its origins, too often becomes mere sport, shadows flung on a wall by a will-o’-the-wisp instead of by a philosopher’s lamp. But in Gaspard de48 la Nuit this feeling is groping towards consciousness, recognising its food in the etchings alike of Rembrandt and of Callot, of Salvator and of Durer, noticing the more obvious differences between them, but as yet incapable of a more sensitive distinction. It is interesting to notice that he takes suggestions from the Breughel2 whose wild and energetic picture made Flaubert, ten years later, set to work on The Temptation of St. Anthony.

Bertrand’s book is made up of six series of fantasies, labelled “Flemish School,” “Old Paris,” “The Chronicles,” like the rooms in a picture-gallery. The usual form of the pieces is that of a small number of carefully balanced paragraphs, mostly single sentences, sometimes linked by refrains of movement or meaning. Some have minute prologues and epilogues. Some are like prose-ballades, finished by an envoi. Few cover more than two or three pages in a small book of large type. Each one is complete in itself, and built of a firm, noun-ful prose, richer in colour than in subtlety.


They were written by a man to whom sustained effort was impossible, a man elusive, fugace, who could not settle in one place or in one mood, and perhaps found in these little scraps of goldsmithery the nearest approach to permanence and solidity in his life. He was a hunter of the moment, and these fantasies are the only trophies of his chase. Their form seems made for him and he for it, and he needed no models for the gait of his soul.

Bertrand was not, any more than Leigh Hunt, a great and noble personality. Like Leigh Hunt, he could write something quite charming that owed at least part of its charm to its neglect of something else. His was a poetical temperament rather than the temperament of a poet. He felt things and saw things, but never dominated them, so that all he could save in his difficult existence was a wonderful handful of dreams. He dreamt by day and by night, and caught a few of his dreams with their bright colours in two or three skilful paragraphs. In a cottage on the edge of a forest he read chronicles of monks and knights while the snow froze on the ground, or else, in such a study50 as Faustus might have used, pored upon Raymond Lully. He was surrounded in his dreams by ancient books, and looking far beyond and through their phantom leather backs, saw a black gondola in the Venetian night, or a Messire Blasius with double chin and worldly-wise eye, like a portrait by Van Eyck. He saw the old Paris of Hugo’s reconstruction, and the old Dijon that he rebuilt himself. Before his eyes the witches departed to keep their Sabbath with Satan. An Undine of German fairy story offered him her love, but, rich with dreams, he preferred to watch the changes of the moon.

This is perhaps one of the most characteristic of his reveries:

Le Clair de Lune.
“‘Réveillez-vous gens qui dormez
Et priez pour les trépassés.’
Le cri du crieur de nuit.

“Oh! qu’il est doux, quand l’heure tremble au clocher, la nuit, de regarder la lune qui a le nez fait comme un carolus d’or!

“Deux ladres se lamentaient sous ma fenêtre, un chien hurlait dans le carrefour, et le grillon de mon foyer vaticinait tout bas.

“Mais bientôt mon oreille n’interrogea plus qu’un silence profond. Les lépreux étaient rentrés dans leurs chenils, aux coups de Jacquemart qui battait sa femme.


“Le chien avait enfilé une venelle, devant les pertuisanes du guet enrouillé par la pluie et morfondu par la bise.

“Et le grillon s’était endormi, dès que la dernière bluette avait éteint sa dernière lueur dans la cendre de la cheminée.

“Et moi, il me semblait,—tant la fièvre est incohérente,—que la lune, grimant sa face, me tirait la langue comme un pendu!”

“‘Wake, men who sleep,
And pray for the dead.’
Cry of the night-watchman.

“Oh! how pleasant it is, when the hour trembles in the belfry, at night, to look at the moon, whose nose is shaped like a golden carolus!3

“Two lepers were complaining under my window, a dog was howling at the cross-ways, and the cricket on my hearth was prophesying in a whisper.

“But soon my ear no longer questioned anything but a profound silence. The lepers had gone back into their kennels, at the sound of Jacquemart beating his wife.4

“The dog had fled away up an alley, before the halberds of the watch, rain-soaked, and wind-frozen.

“And the cricket had fallen asleep, as soon as the last spark had put out its last glimmer in the ashes of the fire-place.

“And, as for me, it seemed to me—fever is so incoherent—that the moon, wrinkling her face, put out her tongue at me like a man who has been hanged.”


The moon put out her tongue at her faithful admirer, and helped him neither to honey-dew nor to the milk of Paradise. His biographers do not agree as to the way he lived during his few remaining years. Sainte-Beuve says that he was a private secretary, and that he wrote in various inconspicuous newspapers. M. Séché, to whom we owe a great deal of new information, thinks that these employments are not likely to have held Bertrand for long. About 1835, he found in Eugène Renduel a publisher for Gaspard de la Nuit. He sold the right to print an edition of 800 copies, of which 300 were to be called “Keepsake Fantastique,” for the sum of 150 francs. The money was paid and the manuscript was put into the publisher’s desk, where, for some reason or other, it remained for a very long time. Its publication was promised from year to year. In a letter written to David d’Angers, in 1837, Bertrand says: Gaspard de la Nuit, ce livre de mes douces prédilections, où j’ai essayé de créer un nouveau genre de prose, attend le bon vouloir d’Eugène Renduel pour paraître enfin cet automne....” Bertrand did not make the gallant figure in poverty that was53 made, for example, by Richard Steele, who turned bailiffs into liveried footmen, as Whistler is said to have done more recently; but once, at least, he showed a smiling face to misfortune, even if the smile was a little awry. In 1840, the book being still unpublished, he called on his publisher and left a sonnet on him, as an ordinary person might leave a visiting-card. A more charming protest against procrastination was surely never written:

“Quand le raisin est mûr, par un ciel clair et doux,
Dès l’aube, à mi-coteau rit une foule étrange:
C’est qu’alors dans la vigne, et non plus dans la grange,
Maîtres et serviteurs, joyeux, s’assemblent tous.
A votre huis, clos encor, je heurte. Dormez vous?
Le matin vous éveille, éveillant sa voix d’ange,
Mon compère, chacun en ce temps-ci vendange;
Nous avons une vigne—eh bien, vendangeons nous!
Mon livre est cette vigne, où, présent de l’automne,
La grappe d’or attend pour couler dans la tonne,
Que le pressoir noueux crie enfin avec bruit.
J’invite mes voisins, convoqués sans trompettes,
A s’armer promptement de paniers, de serpettes.
Qu’ils tournent le feuillet; sous le pampre est le fruit.”

Six months later Bertrand was dead. At least once he had known for several months54 the inside of a public hospital. He was attacked by phthisis. David d’Angers obtained a grant of 300 francs for him and the promise of a post as librarian; but he was not to leave the hospital again. David, who was himself ill, did all that could be done for him, sent him oranges, and made portraits of him before and after death, and saw to it that his grave-clothes were not of the coarseness deemed fitting for the bodies of the poor. David alone followed his bier, and, no doubt, supplied Sainte-Beuve with the material for his picture (in the introduction to the first edition of Gaspard de la Nuit, published in 1842 by Victor Pavie, who bought the rights from Renduel for the sum originally paid):—“It was the eve of Ascension; a terrible storm was rumbling; the Mass for the dead had been spoken, and the funeral procession did not come. The priest had ended by leaving; the only friend present watched the abandoned remains. At the end of the chapel a sister of charity was decorating an altar with garlands for the next day’s feast.”

So ended a life that was like a thread blown in the wind, swung this way and that,55 without weight, and at last torn from its weak hold and whirled away over the edge of the world. Bertrand’s life was that of the real Bohemian, whose struggle is not the less difficult because his head is high and his eyes, instead of seeing where he is going, are full of magnificent things. Bertrand was like a man trying to speak high poetry when his enemy has him by the throat. He saw, and wrote, and wrestled, in a breath; his achievement was scarcely recognised till he was overthrown. And that achievement, such as it was, that little flame he contrived to light before going out himself, kindled a greater, and in its brighter luminosity almost became invisible. But when we look back from the Petits Poèmes en Prose to this little book that suggested their creation, we find that it is not without an independent interest, personal as well as historical. Bertrand himself was somebody, and no book so well as his lets us share the day-dreams of 1830.





Daudet’s was the scintillant, flamelike vitality that makes its possessor the youngest in whatever company he may find himself. Anatole France writes of him that he believes no human creature ever loved nature and art with a more ardent and more generous affection, or enjoyed the universe with more delight, more force, and more tenderness. Even in old age and suffering, he brought merriment with him when he limped into the big room that Edmond de Goncourt called his “grenier,” and kept for talk and friendship. If the room had been sad or silent, it woke to laughter when this invalid came in and began to speak. Men felt themselves more alive in his presence. This vitality is different from the physical and mental momentum of a Balzac. It is a lambent flame rather than a conflagration; light without heat. It scorched no one, not even Daudet himself, who made it into a public entertainer. He could use it at will; it did60 not impel him into a restless activity. I can imagine that indolent people felt ill at ease with Balzac in the room, as if from a fear that he might go off like a dynamite bomb. Daudet’s vitality was gentle, and insinuated itself into his listeners’ veins, so that when they left they had the pleasant sensation of having themselves been more than usually vivacious. “I have missed my vocation,” he said; “I should have been a merchant of happiness.” It was a vocation that he had not missed. A merchant of happiness was precisely what he was, since one kind of happiness is a childish enjoyment of everything that may occur. Children run about all day, without forethought, and play at being all sorts of things, and chatter and fall asleep, still chattering, in the middle of a sentence. They wake next morning to perform a variation ever so blithe on yesterday’s performance. Daudet lived just so, and was able to share his life with other people.

Le Petit Chose is the story of his childhood. It is the tale of a little boy whose father is an unsuccessful man of business, a little boy with a parrot and a dream of Robinson Crusoe, who is transplanted from his south to a northern61 manufacturing town, a child who becomes an usher in a school where his youth and his poverty make him butt of boys and masters alike, where he writes love-letters for a gymnastic instructor, and suffers in his stead for their success, a child who goes to Paris at seventeen to join his brother in poverty and hope, and to write a poem about blue butterflies. The book is almost true to history, except that, unlike Daudet, le Petit Chose ends as partner in a china shop, regretfully resigning his blue butterflies to marry the daughter of the china shop’s proprietor. The real tale of his shyness and pathetic adventures, that Daudet was never tired of telling, since it was his own, goes on in other books. There is in them all a joie d’écrire as much as joie de vivre. He rejoices in every misfortune of his childhood, because, in describing it, he finds an opportunity for life as a young man. His life as a child had been told to himself as a fairy tale. He had told ingenious lies to excuse his truant days on the river, killing off a Pope to hide, in his family’s excitement, his lateness for a meal. He told lies to himself to excuse the sordid appearances of his existence, and now he had a chance of telling lies62 again, and so living another romance. Daudet’s writing was always a means of living for him. His own life could be multiplied indefinitely by the glosses he put upon it. He is not, like Coppée, a disillusioned man remembering dreams, paining himself with the memory of the boy he was. Daudet, far from envying that boy of whom he writes, seems to be still identical with him, and tells his escapades as if they were yesterday’s, as indeed they might be. Even when he tries to write disillusioned novels, he sits in a rosy cloud, and is irrepressibly happy in spite of them. He never knows whether pain or pleasure is the more enjoyable. Either is an aid to living, and perhaps the former gives life a keener taste.

Men of this kind do not spend their vitality altogether for nothing. More than others they need affection and applause. A face of disapproval in their audience is enough to wither their wings, and they ask for goodwill, if only to help them to continue the performance. Le Petit Chose, like most of Daudet’s work, like his life, and his other representations of his life, conversational or on paper, is an appeal to be loved. He asks to be seen as he sees63 himself, and asks very successfully. It is this, I think, that makes it easy to forgive him his sins against pure art; this that accounts for his friends’ love of him, and also for the popular success that made him feel a little uncomfortable among them. His greed of affection made him not very fastidious; he was glad to be loved by his baker as well as by Edmond de Goncourt.

Daudet acquired the habit of being lovable. He made his own life into a fairy tale, and, since it was the surest way to gratitude, soon found it difficult to see the lives of others in any different way. He copied his men and women from nature, as he said, but each one of them readily became le Petit Chose, and he his affectionate, rose-spectacled biographer. When his novels are laid aside, and we look at their backs, we forget their extraordinary observation, and see characters exaggerated by a man who is anxious to persuade; and when these characters have faded away into framed drawings like those taken from back numbers of Punch, we remember little of the books but a spirit that asks love and gives it, is ready to understand more than there is to be understood,64 and to make excuses for those who are without them. We think of Daudet as the tenderest possible biographer for ourselves, and at the same time feel a little shrinking from the idea of being exhibited with such emphasis. Some of the novels, with which we are not here particularly concerned, do their best to dispel the atmosphere of rose-leaves and sunshine, involving us in a swift and keen analysis of unkind and unpleasant motives. But when we close even these, little is left of them but their author’s charm, and the memory of those incidents or descriptions, in which, freed from the burden of an ambitious task, he loosens the bridle of his romancing vitality.

His books are not so consistent as his character. They are always most satisfactory when most directly concerned with it. This is partly because he wrote of himself in anecdotes, and his inspiration was facile and short-winded rather than persevering. The effects he secures in his writings are the same as those he won in conversation, snatches of colour and feeling, like the studies in an artist’s notebook, often better than when repainted into pictures. Ambition65 perhaps obstructed his talent in setting it to do other men’s work, however well he may have been able to do it. He was not a novelist, although he made himself one. His big books, in which he describes many lives and kinds of life, are already being sieved out by time, and the work by which his name will be remembered is reducing itself to his real and imaginary reminiscences and his short stories. In these he does not mingle contradictory ingredients; while his novels, even the best, are too much like battle-grounds between Queen Mab and Zola.

In his short stories he is perfectly at ease. His talent was no eagle for long flights, but one of his own blue butterflies. It flew far only with effort, and tired as it flew, drooping its wings or flapping them irregularly. But in the short tales no flight was so long as to tire it. It was happy and at ease, opened its wings with grace, and as it dropped, folded them with all imaginable delicacy. In the Contes du Lundi he reconciled his powers and his ambition. He was a romancer, a conteur, a causeur, and romantic anecdotes refuse to be fettered to a strict66 and steady veracity. He wished to be a painter after nature, to be accurate, to be real, to be mistaken for reality. There are moments, but only moments, when the two kinds of truth, that these powers and this ambition severally suggest, coalesce in a truth that is charming and, at the same time, almost photographic. In the novels the truth disintegrated into opposing masses. In short stories he was able to combine them. His brief, flashing sketches, with their curious air of stereoscopic perspective, are seldom in the least unreal. Yet, poignant little things, unforgettable, however slight, they are not the probabilities of life but its possibilities. They are the lies that ought to be true. The story of the Alsatian schoolmaster, or that of the siege of Berlin, with the old colonel, in his worn uniform, standing on the balcony to welcome the victorious French, and seeing instead the Uhlans of the advance guard, and hearing the triumphal march of Schubert, as the Prussians enter Paris; all these minute things are too dramatic, too pathetic, not to be allowed their moment of existence. Daudet writes them, and they bring tears to our eyes, tears67 that, unfortunately, we must submit to a rather cruel analysis.

Tears, and also laughter. Daudet with his firm belief in the ultimate victory of all good and pleasant people, and the corresponding punishment of the bad and unkind, enjoyed, like many happy-minded men, a highly developed faculty of pity. It was one of his means of being alive, and this man, who “died of having loved life too well,” neglected none of the exercises that made his nerves tingle and his heart beat. He lived in being sorry for people and things, and he lived in being glad. Another group of his short stories is made up of pure fairy tales that dance before the eyes, their words running and tripping after each other, like a band of elves on midsummer’s eve. They are southern tales of old Provence that he read in the grasshopper’s library under the blue sky, where the librarians sing all day, and there are gossamers for bookmarks. Their heartsome feeling is that of the old song:

“Sur le pont d’Avignon
Tout le monde danse en rond.”


Even when he brings the elves to town, as in Un Réveillon dans le Marais, when, into the old courtyard of the mansion that has been turned into a mineral water factory, he introduces cavaliers and ladies of the ancient time, fairies now, being dead so long, he brings with them half a memory of the farandole, and makes them drunk with seltzer.

Laughter and tears; it is by these that we remember Daudet. His art is that of wearing his heart on his sleeve. “Here,” he seems to say, “is a sad tale to make you cry (I cried myself in making it), and here is a merry one to make you laugh (my pen quivered with merriment as I wrote it down for you).” Laughter and tears tempted him perhaps too strongly. He was accustomed to tell his stories many times before he wrote them. They shaped themselves, like folktales, in successive recitations, until the inessentials fell away from them and they won economical and immediate effects. The danger of such a manner of composition is a confusion of ends. The only safe audience for a writer is that undiscoverable and absolute judge, who, from his niche in our consciousness,69 signs now and again his knowledge that such and such an expression is truly expressed, is really expression and not an incomplete and muffling mask. That other audience, whose lips open, whose eyes smile or weep as we read to them, is not a judge of art. Its values are not aesthetic. Its most obvious criticisms are those of laughter and tears, and these are written too clearly not to become more important to us than they should. How can the jocund tale be bad that made you laugh? How can that sad one fail that sent your kerchief to your eyes? There may be imperfections in them; yes, but by removing them, I must be careful not to lose that laughter or those tears. And so, almost inevitably, the tears and laughter come to seem the ends of art instead of its by-products. And they are not the wistful tears that dew the eyelashes before a perfect work, nor the impersonal laughter that rings out like a spring song because some man has made a new thing well for the eternal gods to see.

Most Frenchmen are performers; and the Frenchman from the south is he who wins the greatest joy from his performance. I70 remember a big bare studio in the Boulevard Vaugirard, where a crowd of students, poets, sculptors, painters, and their women, used to be merry together and drink coffee (if there was coke for the stove), and eat Olibet biscuits (if there was money to buy them). Among us were two curly-headed Provençals, whose voices had a more persuasive abandon than ours to whatever they wished to say. There was a balcony in the studio with a ladder fastened to it, so that the artist might climb to his bed. One of the Provençals used to stand up, leaning on the ladder, and sing us old songs of his country, while his friend sat on the lower steps and dropped the deeper notes of a silver flute into their proper places in the melody. The songs were sometimes joyful, sometimes sad. More than once, when some pathetic tune or words made his audience weep, I have seen the flute-player, unable to restrain his happiness, caper about the studio with his instrument. Something of Daudet was in the flute-player and something of the flute-player in Daudet.





Some writers seem to represent single moods of life. Most men grow from childhood to old age, passing from illusion to disillusion (in which illusion does no more than turn its coat), then to resignation (a kind of agnostic attitude towards their own sensations), and, finally, perhaps, end in the most obstinate illusion of all. But there are writers who seem to stop at this or that point in the road, to take up their stand there, and to date from that resting-place all the monologues that they allow humanity to overhear. The work of the greatest artists is sent off from every post-office on the journey, or, if their work is done in age, it holds proof that they have travelled all the way. Coppée hesitates on the brow of that hill from which can be seen for the last time the sunlit country of74 youth. Already disillusioned, he looks back, and spends his life in regretting the past. All his work has a retrospective glamour, and where he writes joyously of the present, it is easy to feel that the joy is a religious joy, and that his work is a memorial rite, re-enacting something that has long since faded away.

He took this attitude when very young. There are, indeed, men whose eyes have always been turned back, men whose earliest memory is a regret for the memory earlier still that they have lost. In the prologue to Le Reliquaire, published in 1866, he wrote:

“Et de même que, tous les soirs,
Ils font autour du reliquaire
Fumer les légers encensoirs.
Dédaignant le douleur vulgaire
Qui pousse des cris importuns,
Dans ces poèmes je veux faire
A tous mes beaux rêves défunts,
A toutes mes chères reliques,
Une chapelle de parfums
Et de cierges mélancoliques.”

In building for his fair dead dreams a chapel of sad perfumes and melancholy candles, he spent the better part of his life. His prose75 was written later than his verse, but years did not alter the object of his architecture.

He was sometimes assailed by other moods, but did not allow himself to yield to them. He had succeeded young; it is possible that having charmed already, he was half afraid of losing by any change the odour and the essence impossible to analyse, in which he knew that he could trust, and which, once at any rate, had been personal to himself. There remain, however, the indications of occasional faith in mutability. Sometimes he flung himself boldly in the direction whither life would have taken him. But the feeling of boldness, of experiment, that pervades, for example, Le Coupable, is enough to show that he was ill at ease. The story is that of a man who leaves his mistress, a Parisian grisette. She has a child, who, born in the gutter, grows up among the vicious and finds his way to a penitentiary, and, at last, committing a serious crime, is brought for judgment before his father. The father, learning his identity, tells the whole story, and asks whether he himself, rather than his son, is not the true coupable. Coppée finds in it an opportunity76 for a study of society from below, for much close and accurate description, and for a very searching account of the reformatory system. It is a clever book, but somehow Coppée has dropped out of it.

I do not mean that all Coppée’s best work is to be known by an atmosphere of sentimental yearning for the past. His mood is much more delicate. He writes as a man whose illusions are gone, but he does not often cry aloud,

“Hélas! les beaux jours sont finis.”

He only says that there have been fine days. By fine days he means days of enthusiasm and of a simple heart. He has once walked with the world far below his feet; but, now that its wisdom has risen over his head, he cannot recover that old enthusiasm by pretending to be ignorant. Knowing too much, his only care is to preserve as a touchstone the memory of his lost unwisdom. He does not often more directly express his regret. But it is a recognition of his regretfulness that makes his stories bitter to the very young, half-conscious of their youth, and77 pained by all that helps to waken them to simultaneous knowledge and loss of it.

In Toute une Jeunesse he confesses that his hero, “personnage imaginaire dans une action imaginaire, sent la vie comme je la sentais quand j’étais un enfant, et quand j’étais un jeune homme.” Much of the imaginary action follows very closely the course of his own life, and it is possible in reading it to watch the fine days and then the gradual realisation that they had been fine. Amédée Violette, born in a little flat in the rue Notre Dame des Champs, behind the gardens of the Luxembourg, the son of a government clerk, loses his mother very young, and grows up in loneliness, except for the little girls next door. He goes to school in the rue de la Grande Chaumière, turning out of the other. There is a plane-tree in the schoolyard, which allows the schoolmaster to offer a garden on his prospectus. The assistant masters are grotesque and wretched. The head of the principal is like the terrestrial globe that stands on the desk in his study to impress his pupils’ parents. Amédée grows up, spending fine evenings in long walks through Paris with78 his father, the widower, who takes gradually to absinthe for the sake of forgetfulness. He grows up in the quarter, studies at the university, solitary in the midst of its gregarious frivolity, partly from poverty, partly from love of the child with whom he used to play. He leaves the university with a degree, and is taken on in the same office as his father, as a supernumerary clerk. So many hours a day disappear from his life, and he wakens only in the evenings, which he spends in rhyming, and on Sundays when he writes all day without leaving his room. He has a few friends who count him almost a hermit. A young actor takes him to the Café de Séville in the Boulevard Montmartre, where he introduces him to Paul Sillery, a poet and editor of an unpopular review—Catulle Mendès, perhaps. The café is full of men with beards, politicians, and men with hair, poets. Sillery recognises a poet in him, and when the actor recites one of his poems with success at a charity performance in a theatre, sends him to a publisher—no doubt Lemerre, who published the Parnassians. His first volume is printed and successful. He has come so far when his youth is taken from79 him. His nearest friend betrays him, and he has to compel him to marry the girl he has so long loved himself. He passes through various more or less empty adventures. The Franco-Prussian war leaves the girl a widow with a boy, and his friend’s last wish is that they should marry. The wish is fulfilled: Amédée, married to a woman he has loved from childhood, has a wife whose heart is buried with his friend. It is all so different from its promises. The poet is left with the consolation of his art, and the book ends: “Hélas! ta jeunesse est finie, pauvre sentimental! Les feuilles tombent! Les feuilles tombent!”

The leaves fall on the paper as Coppée writes. It is always autumn in his books, because he is always thinking of spring. But Toute une Jeunesse lets us into more of his secrets than this. It is full of love for Paris, and obsessed by the contrast between rich and poor, or rather between appearances and the other appearances they hide. Life is very much like one of those Japanese nests of coloured boxes; you open the little round scarlet wooden cylinder, and there is a green one inside. You open that and find a blue.80 Within the blue is a scarlet one again. It is so with life. No state of disillusionment is final. There is always another behind it which will turn what seemed to be an unemotional acceptance of life as it is into a regretted and fantastic dream. Coppée is less conscious of the infinite endurance of mutability than of his regret for particular yesterdays. He must put all he writes of in the scarlet box. Paris for him is always the Paris of 1866. He felt, he said, like Madame de Staël, “la nostalgie de son cher ruisseau de la rue du Bac,” but the gutter he yearned for flowed in the days when he was young. It is this that gives some of his work an appeal that has nothing to do with its merit. For there are many to whom Paris represents the days when they were young, many to whom the names tune the pulses to a quick and joyous march, names like the rue Notre Dame des Champs, twisting grey street, whose pavements still beat with the airy tread of new generations of dreamers. It is the same throughout. When he talks of buying books at the Odéon, we do not watch an old man choosing what he wishes, and paying for it from a pocketful of money that he has not counted. We see the Coppée of81 1864, or ourselves of ten years ago; boys, with the price of the book, and perhaps ten sous for dinner, spending nevertheless an hour in looking at all the other books on the stalls, and then buying the one for which we had come with the swift manner of those who have walked straight to the bookshop, and, having got what they want as expeditiously as possible, are going straight off again. We see that dead Coppée, or ourselves, sitting among the nurse-maids in the gardens opposite, cutting the leaves with a clasp-knife from a fair. The Café de Seville, once a meeting-place for men of beards and men of hair, is made a tryst for Coppée and his dead youth. And when he says that for the Parisian the seasons come to town, and that, in a green and rose sunset, he can find the autumn’s morbid melancholy, and, in a sunny morning in the Luxembourg gardens, all the divine joyousness of spring, we know of what Parisian he is speaking.

His obsession by the contrast between rich and poor reduces to the same sentiment. He does not hate the rich because they are rich; he is only sorry for them if money has taken away from them something they might have had in poverty. He is not sorry for the poor82 because they are poor, but only if their poverty expresses the lack of something that, with money, they think they might have had. He has come to regard illusions as the only sterling coin. In the two contrasted tales of “The Italian Organ” he seems to weigh rich and poor in opposite scales, and to find a balance between them. One tune of the organ reminds a poor clerk’s wife of the days before she married, when she was the prettiest girl at the cheap dances, and Monsieur Fred, amusing himself, filled her head with dreams. Riches have carried him away from her, and she has grown paler, and married Jules with the stiff collar and the india-rubber-cleaned gloves. It is very sad. Another tune reminds the Countess of the days before she married, when as la Belle Adah of the American Circus, she reigned in her own place. The Count fell in love with her, pursued her, married her, and trained her to be a lady. She spends her mornings in visiting institutions, and there is a vicar waiting on her in the drawing-room. It is very sad. But the sorrow of both these women is not for their riches or their poverty. It is mourning for a life that can never be lived. Coppée’s love for the poor is unlike Daudet’s.83 Daudet loves the poor because they are brave and picturesque. Coppée sees in them the simpleness of heart and the power of dreaming that were his when he was poor himself, that is to say, when he was young. The poor invented Christianity.

Very little happens in Coppée’s short stories. In some of them nothing happens at all. Things are remembered and set down, and from those notes rises less a tale than the suggestion of a story that might have been told. Now it is old Mother Bernu, who saw Marie Antoinette carried to the guillotine in a white shirt, and is thrown up by a careless Time to take the little Coppée out for walks. Now it is a couple of old bachelors talking of might-have-beens. Now, “Mon Ami Meurtrier,” a swaggering athletic clerk, is discovered to be the mildest of men, attending to his mother’s lap-dog, and mixing good coffee. In most of the stories it is more than usually evident that the author is the real hero. “The White Frock” is the tale of a lame child whose only white dress is worn at her first communion. All her friends wear a second on their wedding days, and she will never be married. It is really the tale of a man who84 passes daily through a little street, and, in watching the street change, beards whiten, and children marry, sees his own youth passing from him, and, in the little lame girl, a melancholy piece of childhood’s jetsam whose dream will never be realised, never be destroyed. There was a little boy who lived near the gardens of the Luxembourg, and walked there in the spring, when the trees were caught in a net of fluttering green, and in the summer heat, when those long walks were patterned black and white with sun-thrown shadows, and in the autumn, when the leaves were rusty gold, and fell to the ground to make a pleasant trampling place for children’s feet, and in the winter, when, over the round steel pond, the grey stone Queens of France looked mournfully at the straight-fronted palace. He walked there, intimate with all the moods of the garden, his eyes awake with possibilities, rhyming verses that perhaps would never be published, and finding the world a fairy-tale with so many ends from which to choose that it was fortunate it would not finish soon. He was always alone there, in the midst of the students, girls and nurse-maids. He and the sparrows seemed to have85 the garden to themselves. The others did not seem to matter. And this boy never left the study of François Coppée. If Coppée looked up from his desk he was there, almost reproachful, a ghostly boy with clear and truthful eyes, walking under the trees, in ragged clothes, rhyming verses for himself. The wisdom of the world turned to dross beside his golden ignorance, and the man who had grown up felt, like the loiterer along the quays, a continuous pride and pain in thinking of the days when the sunset had shone for him alone.




To I.  C.  R.

Philosophy in the hands of philosophers tends always to hide the tremors of its exciting conception in the dried abstract statements of dialectic. A philosopher’s pride is in the impersonal nature of his thought. It must stand by itself, and work like a piece of machinery, on which the maker’s name is the only sign that it was once a daring, personal adventure of the intellect, the instincts and the senses of the body of a man. Its maker, when it is finished, would wish to wipe the filings and the oil from his hands with a piece of cotton waste, and, folding his arms, to watch it in independent activity. The reason of this ambition is to be found neither in modesty, nor yet in vanity, but in a ruling intellectual concept, the concept of absolute truth. If the true is universally true, if a thing either90 is, or is not, then the personality of the thinker either is grit in the wheels, or, by the necessity of its presence and assistance, betrays the weakness of the thought whose truth or untruth can in no way be affected by the existence or non-existence of its discoverer. This Nietzsche resolutely denied, and denied in two ways.

First, he denied the absolute nature of truth, asserting that the word “true” was merely a title given by men to opinions, and that the justice of its application was, in a broad sense, to be judged pragmatically. A pragmatist before William James, he said: “The falseness of an opinion is not for us any objection to it: it is here, perhaps, that our new language sounds most strangely. The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps species-rearing; and we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest opinions (to which the synthetic judgments a priori belong) are the most indispensable to us; that without a recognition of logical fictions, without a comparison of reality with the purely imagined world of the absolute and immutable, without a constant counterfeiting91 of the world by means of numbers, man could not live—that the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life.”5

Secondly, he denied that the personality of the thinker was a disturbing factor in his thought. It was, on the contrary, the guarantee that once at least that thought had been true. “Now philosophical systems are absolutely true only to their founders; to all later philosophers they are usually a single big mistake, and to feebler minds a sum of mistakes and truths.... Therefore many disapprove of every philosopher, because his aim is not theirs.... Whoever, on the contrary, finds any pleasure at all in great men finds pleasure also in all such systems, be they ever so erroneous, for they all have in them one point which is irrefutable, a personal touch and colour; one can use them in order to form a picture of the philosopher, just as from a plant growing in a certain92 place one can form conclusions as to the soil. That mode of life, of viewing human affairs at any rate, has existed once, and is therefore possible.” He wrote that quite early in his career in his little book on early Greek philosophy, a history like the dawn setting on fire the tips of the distant mountains, then the nearer, and at last throwing on the ground behind him the shadow of the observer. For Nietzsche, the mountain peaks are those fragments of the crumbled systems which are personal to their authors, and, even if refutable as philosophy are irrefutable as particular and individual revelations. It is a delightful little gathering of philosophers and, perhaps, more important than has yet been admitted, in its promise of Nietzsche’s habit of thought, his impatience of dialectic, his dislike of the Parmenidean mind, his trust in the poetic, the particular. “What verse is to the poet,” he says, “dialectic thinking is to the philosopher; he snatches at it in order to hold fast his enchantment, in order to petrify it.” From this view he never departed. In Beyond Good and Evil he repeats his belief in the personal character of thought: “In each93 cardinal problem there speaks an unchangeable ‘I am this’; a thinker cannot learn anew about man and woman, for instance, but can only learn fully—he can only follow to the end what is ‘fixed’ about them in himself.” And again in Zarathustra: “‘This is now my way—where is yours?’ Thus did I answer those who asked me ‘the way.’ For the way—it doth not exist.”

And so, for Nietzsche, truth is infinitely variable, minted afresh by each man and dependent upon his image and superscription for a guarantee of its particular validity. It was for this reason that he despised the elaborate stage-play of reasoning. He believed that to exhibit ideas in a white light and at a mean temperature, when they offered themselves in the glow of the morning or in the heat of noon, was to strip them of their credentials. He insisted that his own thoughts were true in relation to himself, and preserved their concreteness by way of preserving the conditions of their truth. He refused the step from the concrete to the abstract as a step into annihilation, and in this way identified himself with the poets.94 To misunderstand him here is to misread him everywhere.

We are examining, then, in Friedrich Nietzsche a man whose view of truth demanded the personal presence of the thinker as guarantee of the thought. Consequently, though for reasons I have already given it is usual on the part of philosophers and their critics to rule the personality of a thinker out of a discussion of his thought, here, at least, we are justified in glancing at a man’s character before we examine the ideas that will help us to fill it out to approximate verisimilitude.

Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844, went mad in January 1889, and died on August 25, 1900. His father was a country parson, simple, upright, patriotic and monarchical. He found joy in the coincidence of his son’s birthday with that of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, and this circumstance gave Nietzsche his names. His mother was a young woman of high spirits and great physical energy, so exuberant and so lovable as to be described as “a gorgeous savage” by her mother-in-law. His father, “preordained to pay only a flying visit—a95 gracious reminder of life rather than life itself,” died in his six and thirtieth year, before Nietzsche was five. A grandmother, two aunts and his mother presided over a pious happy childhood, from which he emerged as a model schoolboy, laughably virtuous, walking slowly home in a rainstorm in spite of his mother’s frenzied urging, and rebuking this urging with pained austerity: “But, mamma, in the rules of the school it is written, ‘On leaving school boys are forbidden to jump and run about in the streets, but must walk quietly and decorously to their homes.’” This sedateness persisted with him, although he could so completely forget himself in playing with children, that when he was twenty-six and a professor, he was laughed at and told he was only fourteen. He always dressed with notable nicety. Though he said, with pride, that he would rather be a satyr than a saint, he had a dignity that belongs rather to holiness than to lust. Children and old women loved him. The fruit-sellers in the Turin market-place hurried to pick out for him their finest grapes. He had gentle manners, a beautiful voice, and a profound sense of the politeness96 that an aristocrat owes to himself. He clung to the legend that he was the descendant of Polish noblemen, and was proud of being mistaken by Poles for a Pole, that Frenchman among the Slavs. His favourite books were the courteous unruffled French moralists of the seventeenth century, and the works of Stendhal, who resembled them in wearing a sword and in his love of fine manners.

His precarious health gave him extreme sensitiveness to his physical condition. He believed that clear thinking was only possible in dry air and on hills. His highest praise for his work was that it was mountain thought. He composed in the open air and in motion, and advised other people to follow his example. “Remain seated as little as possible, put no trust in any thought that is not born in the open, to the accompaniment of free bodily motion—nor in one in which even the muscles do not celebrate a feast. All prejudices take their origin in the intestines.”

He seized on Flaubert’s “On ne peut penser et écrire qu’assis,” with a cry: “Here have I got you, you nihilist? A sedentary life is the real sin against the Holy Spirit.97 Only those thoughts that come by walking have any value.”

He defended himself against the charge of decadence, claiming that “apart from the fact that I am a decadent, I am also the reverse of such a creature.” A decadent, he said, was one attracted by what was detrimental to him, “as the cabbage attracts the vegetarian.” A healthy man, on the other hand, enjoys what is good for him, possesses “the will to health,” and “is strong enough to make everything turn to his own advantage.” He found in convalescence “a pale delicate light and a sunshine happiness,” “a feeling of bird-like freedom, prospect, and haughtiness.” From the combination of his ill-health and his healthiness (he was in youth at least physically robust), Nietzsche learnt, he says, “to look upon healthier concepts and values from the standpoint of the sick, and conversely to look down upon the secret work of the instincts of decadence from the standpoint of him who is laden and rich with the richness of life.” He mentions “the sweetness and spirituality which is almost inseparable from extreme poverty of blood and muscle,” and remembers98 the unusual dialectical clearness he enjoyed while suffering from headache and nausea. He was more conscious than most men that his body shared in the adventures of his brain. When the idea of Eternal Recurrence came into his mind by the lake of Silvaplana, high in the mountains, it was perhaps with some recognition of this that, after scribbling it down on a sheet of paper, he added the exultant postscript: “6000 feet beyond man and time!”

Such, sketched as briefly as possible, is the physiological background on which we must set his work.

The greater part of that work (which fills seventeen volumes in the English translation) is made up of short numbered paragraphs, arranged under general headings. The lectures and poems are, indeed, the only exceptions, for though The Birth of Tragedy, and the essays called Thoughts out of Season, are less disintegrated than later books, we can perceive, in their numbered sections, the promise of sections shorter and continually shortening to the brief “Maxims and Missiles” at the beginning of The Twilight of the Idols. Even Thus Spake Zarathustra99 was built in a similar manner, though disguised by the rush of prophecy and a more definite general scheme. Nietzsche allowed such constructive power as he had to atrophy. He was never a systematic thinker, but, because his paragraphs are not such separate and individual observations like those of Chamfort or Vauvenargues; because they were often written in swift succession, one after another, there is a dangerous possibility that in reading them we may feel we are reading notes for a book which the author has not troubled to piece together into the superficial form to which we are accustomed. We may resent this, but we are more likely to grow weary of the constant change of subject, of the staccato iteration of ideas without prologues or epilogues to awaken slowly and lull again to repose our sluggish brains. It is well to remember that we have learnt to read too fast, and that Nietzsche foresaw our discomfort. “He that writeth in blood doth not want to be read but learnt by heart.... It is no easy task to understand unfamiliar blood. I hate the reading idlers.” We cease to feel the superficial confusion and inconsistency of those100 ten thousand paragraphs when we become better aware of the half-dozen ideas that were the parents of that numerous family. We are then able to trace a paragraph’s pedigree, and to place it in a larger scheme than that of the volume in which it happens to be printed. No reader of Nietzsche can have failed to notice that his books, different in detail, different in application, yet often seem coincident with each other. Nor is this due to chance repetitions that would betray an uncritical improvisation. It is an accurate indication of Nietzsche’s habit of mind. His books were gleanings, and, after his mature work began, they were gleanings from fields almost uniformly sown. The seasons varied and the sower’s arm was irregular in its swing, but the harvest was always from a field that had been fertilised by a fairly uniform mixture of ideas. The ideas of the pragmatic nature of truth, of Eternal Recurrence, of the Will to Power, of the Superman, and of master and servant morality, yield in book after book a new crop of lesser ideas, applied, amplified, restricted or illustrated in psychological observation. For this reason I do not intend, in what can but101 be a short essay, any detailed criticism of Nietzsche’s books, but rather to note the results of such criticism. The reading of his books, unless it be impatient, careless, and unworthy, is a process of discovering what were those half-dozen ideas that separated Nietzsche from the thinkers of his time, stimulated his brain until at last it broke, and during many years kept him in the lonely joyful ecstasy of continual exploration.

“The first adherents of a creed do not prove anything against it,” but they often so obscure it as to postpone its eventual utility. Some of the half-dozen ideas I have mentioned have been so often caricatured that it is extremely difficult to recognise them without the exaggeration with which we have been made familiar. It is not easy to state another man’s ideas. To fail is to do him an injury. To succeed is not unlike taking the words out of his mouth, which is rude. But I am neither a translator of Nietzsche nor an opponent. I wish to understand, not to persuade. And, for understanding, such statement is desirable.


Nietzsche neither escapes nor attempts to escape the contradictions in the form of thought that make logic and life battledores to toss laughter at each other like a shuttlecock. He is a determinist and yet gives advice, the giving of which presupposes a belief in free will and a possible choice. He seeks to influence others, and, in his manner at least, forgets that the logical determinist should only allow himself to say: “Circumstances compel me to make certain statements, which, in the form of circumstances, may or may not share in the sum of circumstances that compel you to actions and thoughts which in their totality I cannot conceive.” That is not the view of his own activity which dictates the eager vivid combination of argument and incantation that makes Nietzsche’s books. He is free, in that he has the illusion of freedom. The illusion of freedom is one of the determining circumstances. Its effect is to make it unnecessary to remember in practice that circumstances determine.

We need not therefore hesitate over the inconsistency apparent between some of Nietzsche’s ideas. We do better to notice103 it as characteristic of his thought, and simply to state his ideas, remembering, if we will, that they belong to different circles of consciousness; some to that wider circle that includes the universe and with it determinism, and some to that smaller circle, concentric with the first, and including only the area of practical activity. Let us be determinists first and examine the Nietzschean universe.

The idea of Eternal Recurrence seems to have had for Nietzsche something of the hypnotic character of those ideas that made Poe write of his Eureka: “What I here propound is true: therefore it cannot die;—or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will ‘rise again to the Life Everlasting.’” Indeed the idea itself is not unlike that of Poe, who, untrained alike in philology and philosophy, expressed himself in a manner that would have given Nietzsche exquisite pain:

“Guiding our imagination by that omniprevalent law of laws, the law of periodicity, we are not, indeed, more than justified in entertaining a belief—let us say, rather, indulging a hope—that the processes we have ventured to contemplate will be renewed for ever, and for ever,104 and for ever; a novel Universe swelling into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the Heart Divine?” (Poe’s Eureka.)

Now Nietzsche would not have spoken of a “Heart Divine,” even explaining, as Poe did, that this heart was our own; but he did contemplate a perpetually self-renewing Universe. Only—and herein lay the importance of his idea to himself—he saw it renewing itself in every detail, in every minutest action of the minutest of its individual parts, at every moment of its cycle. Every moment of the future being dependent upon and involved in the present moment, sooner or later in the course of time there would come a moment similar in every detail to a moment that had already existed, thus guaranteeing a similar series of moments till it should recur, and so on. He said:

“If the Universe may be conceived as a definite quantity of energy, as a definite number of centres of energy—and every other concept remains indefinite and therefore useless—it follows therefrom that the Universe must go through a calculable number of combinations in the great game of chance which constitutes its existence. In infinity, at some moment or other, every possible combination must once have been realised; not only this,105 but it must have been realised an infinite number of times. And inasmuch as between every one of these combinations and its next recurrence, every other possible combination would necessarily have been undergone, and since every one of these combinations would determine the whole series in the same order, a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated; the Universe is thus shown to be a circular movement which has already repeated itself an infinite number of times, and which plays its game for all eternity.”

Nietzsche, hypnotised by this idea, believed it new, but there is a clear suggestion of it in the third book of Lucretius’ poem:

“Nam cum respicias immensi temporis omne
Praeteritum spatium, tum motus materiai
Multimodis quam sint, facile hoc adcredere possis,
Semina saepe in eodem, ut nunc sunt, ordine posta
Haec eadem, quibus e nunc nos sumus, ante fuisse:
Nec memori tamen id quimus reprehendere mente:
Inter enim jectast vitai pausa, vageque
Deerrarunt passim motus ab sensibus omnes.”

Lines which Mr. Cyril Bailey in his translation of Lucretius6 admirably renders as follows: “For when you look back over all the lapse of immeasurable time that now is gone, and think how manifold are the106 motions of matter, you could easily believe this too, that these same seeds, whereof we now are made, have often been placed in the same order as they are now; and yet we cannot recall that in our life’s memory; for in between lies a break in life, and all the motions have wandered everywhere far astray from sense.”

The character of Nietzsche’s thinking appears in his application of this idea. It is for him “the great disciplinary thought,” and he leaps the gulf between determinism and free will in the most careless manner, to remark: “The question which thou shalt have to answer before every deed that thou doest—Is this such a deed as I am prepared to perform an infinite number of times?—is the best ballast.” It does not matter to him at all that a determinist idea is to be used as a standard of choice by a being whose free will he assumes. His thoughts are all thoughts for himself to live with. He is conscious of them not as abstractions, but particularly, as concrete things, combinations of ideas with their effects. He is able to speak of Eternal Recurrence as “the most oppressive thought,” and to consider “the107 means of enduring it.” I cannot imagine Kant or Berkeley speaking so of their ideas.

Moving now in a smaller circle of consciousness, let us examine Nietzsche’s view of the world and man and man’s activity within this eternally recurring universe. “The world,” he says, “as we know it, is representation and erroneous representation: the world, if we could know it, might well give us a sensation of disillusion, ‘so full of meaning, so deep, so wonderful, bearing happiness and unhappiness in its bosom,’ is the world that we unconsciously create.” In Nietzsche’s world we come at once to the third of his ruling ideas (the first being his idea of truth, the second, Eternal Recurrence). A regiment of artillery, galloping to war, filled Nietzsche (who was at the time serving as assistant to the field surgeon) with disgust at the conception of a dull struggle for life that dictated most nineteenth century thought. Schopenhauer, at that time still his master, had supposed that the motive of man was the will to live. But, as the regiment of artillery thundered to battle, Nietzsche answered, No; the will to power, in which that other108 will may or may not be included. Men are willing to risk existence; they are not ready to risk power, unless in hope of increased intensity of power, or of an increased area over which to exercise it.

But the Will to Power is to be found in races as well as in individuals; it is the motive not of races only but of humanity. Humanity wills to power, wills to the continual re-creation of itself as a species ever more powerful; wills, as Nietzsche puts it, the creation of the Superman. This is the fourth of his ideas. Here, again, Nietzsche’s concrete habit of thought exposed him to misunderstanding, not only by his disciples, but also by himself. He did not at first imagine the Superman as a suddenly appearing demi-god whose path was to be made smooth by the human sacrifices of the “down-goers.” He saw him as the result of a long continued and conscious will to power, working through many generations, and gradually evolving a superior type. Much of his writing is devoted to making conscious this particular application of the will. But the idea of a superior type shone with such effulgence as to dazzle his eyes, and to blind him to the slow evolution which he109 would never have denied. He could say with Seannchan, the poet:

“The stars had come so near me that I caught
Their singing. It was praise of that great race
That would be haughty, mirthful and white-bodied,
With a high head, and open hand, and how,
Laughing, it would take the mastery of the world.”

Supermen were no longer men, but something different. The long series of gradually improving types vanished in the conception of their result, itself to be improved upon, and it became possible for him to speak of Man and Superman as two distinct beings, forgetting the series of beings no less distinct implied by the development of one into the other.

Here, too, it is profitable to notice how Nietzsche translated an idea from speculation into life. The hypothesis of the future Superman allowed him a noble view of friendship. He has often been compared to Whitman, partly, no doubt, because the rhythmical Zarathustra reminded his readers of the triumphant, unrhymed movement of the sooth-saying Leaves of Grass. But his friendship is very different from Whitman’s. Whitman’s the hand-grip, the smile at meeting, the110 large tolerance, the collaboration in simple things; Nietzsche’s a friendship more exacting. He would have thought Whitman’s friend a neighbour, and he said, “Not the neighbour do I teach you, but the friend. Let the friend be the festival of earth to you, and a foretaste of the Superman,” and “Let the future and the farthest be the motive of thy to-day; in thy friend shalt thou love the Superman as thy motive.” A friend for Nietzsche was one who fulfilled desires that he could not realise himself. Not the least profound of his observations was this: “Our faith in others betrayeth wherein we would fain have faith in ourselves.” His own friendship with Wagner provides a commentary of fact. Begun in the belief that Wagner was bringing to earth such an art as that of which Nietzsche dreamed, and ended in the disillusion confirmed by “the preponderance of ugliness, grotesqueness, and strong pepper” in the first performances at Bayreuth, it was at once the greatest inspiration and the greatest disappointment of his life. Nietzsche, who had published The Birth of Tragedy to serve Wagner, wrote The Case of Wagner to destroy him, or,111 perhaps, to cleanse himself of a mistaken admiration. But listen to his clear-sighted comment: “I gained an insight into the injustice of idealism, by noticing that I avenged myself on Wagner for the disappointed hopes I had cherished of him.”

Nietzsche’s fifth ruling idea is most clearly expressed in the book that he wrote for his friend. He summed it up in the words Amor Fati, the acceptance of life, be it what it might, a joyful “yea-saying” to all its pronouncements, written in the most cruel facts though they might be. Now this, as he pointed out, is the attitude of the tragic artist, whose work is the expression not of pity but of a proud acquiescence, an acquiescence that is an intellectual conquest. He wished men to be artists in their attitude towards life, and this desire brought his writings on art nearer to “the business and bosoms of men” than the discreet distance from these things usually preserved by aesthetic theory. His Birth of Tragedy was not merely an historical speculation, but offered for the criticism of life words that Nietzsche applied for the moment to the criticism of art. These words were “Apollonian”112 and “Dionysian.” The latter word has been persistently applied to Nietzsche himself, though he saw “in the fraternal union of Apollo and Dionysus the climax of the Apollonian as well as of the Dionysian artistic aims.” What does he mean by this antithetical conception? Let me answer by two quotations:

1. “It is in connection with Apollo and Dionysus, the two art-deities of the Greeks, that we learn that there existed in the Grecian world a wide antithesis, in origin and aims, between the art of the shaper, the Apollonian, and the non-plastic art of music, that of Dionysus: both these so heterogeneous tendencies were parallel to each other, for the most part openly at variance, and continually inciting each other to new and more powerful births, to perpetuate in them the strife of this antithesis, which is but seemingly bridged over by their mutual term ‘Art’; till at last, by a metaphysical miracle of the Hellenic will, they appear paired with each other, and through this pairing eventually generate the equally Dionysian and Apollonian art-work of Attic tragedy.”

2. “In contrast to all those who are intent on deriving the arts from one exclusive principle, as the necessary vital source of every work of art, I keep my eyes fixed on the two artistic deities of the Greeks, Apollo and Dionysus, and recognise in them the living and conspicuous representatives of two worlds of art which differ in their intrinsic essence and in their highest aims. Apollo stands before me as the transfiguring genius of113 the principium individuationis through which alone the redemption in appearance is to be truly attained, while by the mystical cheer of Dionysus the spell of individuation is broken, and the way lies open to the Mothers of Being, to the innermost heart of things.”

He conceives these as “the separate art-worlds of dreamland and drunkenness,” and makes for himself a parable about the Apollonian artist in dreams and the Dionysian artist in ecstasies, comparable to Blake’s poem of “The Mental Traveller,” in which there is just such an alternation of conquest and captivity:

“And if the babe is born a boy
He’s given to a woman old,
Who nails him down upon a rock,
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.
She binds iron thorns around his head,
She pierces both his hands and feet,
She cuts his heart out at his side,
To make it feel both cold and heat.
Her fingers number every nerve,
Just as a miser counts his gold;
She lives upon his shrieks and cries,
And she grows young as he grows old.
Till he becomes a bleeding youth,
And she becomes a virgin bright;
Then he rends up his manacles,
And binds her down for his delight.”


It is a fine pictorial expression of the formative processes of consciousness, the domination of the unconscious flux by the shaping of the knowing intellect, and the escape of that flux, the overbalancing of the intellect by the onrush of unrealised impressions. I do not think it has or can have any deeper significance in aesthetic criticism. It was, however, of considerable service to Nietzsche in the criticism of life. In life, he would be, for the moment, a worshipper of Dionysus, seeking less to control life than to live—because Dionysus, he felt, was being a little neglected. In a “Dionysian age” he would have left ecstasy below him and worshipped the placid Apollo, shaping dreams untroubled by the turmoil in the valleys. In such an age as that for which he hoped, such an age as that of Greek tragedy, he would have stormed Olympus at the head of the Dionysian revellers, and conquered the Dionysian ecstasy to bind it captive in the service of Apollo.

There remains Nietzsche’s distinction between good and evil and good and bad. His conception of morality resembles his conception115 of truth. Morality and truth, like the Sabbath, were made for man, not man for them. He goes further, believing that they were made and are continually being re-made by man. “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena,” which interpretation a free and healthy man should make in accordance with his own nature. The morality generally current in his time Nietzsche believed to be slave morality, as opposed to aristocratic or ruler morality, and he attributed its prevalence to the spreading of the Christian religion. He believed that good was invented by those who possessed it. “The judgment ‘good’ did not originate among those to whom goodness was shown. Much rather has it been the good themselves; that is, the aristocratic, the powerful, the high-stationed, the high-minded, who have felt that they themselves were good, and that their actions were good: that is to say of the first order, in contradistinction to all the low, the low-minded, the vulgar, and the plebeian.” The code of honour, the list of deeds that a gentleman forbids himself, would, I suppose, be considered by Nietzsche as a116 survival of this original morality. He weighs “moral interpretations” of phenomena in the same scale as he weighs “truths,” asking, “Have they up to the present hindered or advanced human well-being?” His hostility to Christianity may be traced to his answer to this question. The replacement of the aristocratic judgment of actions done, by the plebeian judgment on actions suffered, the substitution of the slave’s point of view for that of the ruler, and its half-hearted adoption by those who should rule were impediments to that ruling, and checks to the will to power in which he recognised the mainspring of human activity. He found then that the common morality was hostile to the highest development of humanity, a frustration of its highest hopes by hampering the will to power of “the highest men,” and proceeded to call those who had ears to listen “beyond good and evil,” begging them to make their own interpretation of phenomena, and not to accept that of men whose submission to themselves should be part of their natural ambition. The morality of “the small” is, he says, a handicap to greater men, because “virtue for them is what maketh modest and117 tame: therewith have they made the wolf a dog, and man himself man’s best domestic animal.” He delights accordingly in using as terms for praise the words that “the small” use in condemnation. He speaks, for example, of the “widespread heaven of clear wicked spirituality,” a spirituality beyond the good and evil of the tame. Yet he would not abolish the tame, nor lighten their shackles. “For must there not be that which is danced over, danced beyond? Must there not, for the sake of the nimble, the nimblest—be moles and clumsy dwarfs?” It is not Nietzsche’s fault that his books have stimulated “moles and clumsy dwarfs” to the grotesque exercise of trying to dance over themselves. He did not write for them, and told them so. He insisted at all times that he wrote “for higher ones, stronger ones, more triumphant and merrier, for such as are built squarely in body and soul.” And his writings are intended to teach such “laughing lions” to “become what they are,” unimpeded by the morality that a thousand hands offer them from below. He has not the vain, foolish hope of doing away with moralities, but asks each of his “higher118 men” to be true to his own. If he goes “beyond good and evil,” he is to carry with him his private scale of good and bad, with which he is to measure his deeds in accordance with the will to power that leads him and his descendants to a higher, a more laughing perfection.

After the brief statement of these ideas, we can examine with better hope of understanding the general character of Nietzsche’s thought. It was not “systematic” in the usual sense, but it seems to me foolish to describe as “unsystematic” a method of thinking whose formula was as simple as his. He used the ideas I have catalogued precisely as the alchemists hoped to use the philosopher’s stone for the transmutation of metals. Applying them severally or together to a very large number of statements he noted the resulting reactions, and found that they turned truisms into popular fallacies. His books accordingly became corrections of Pseudodoxia. He saw, for example, that if the Will to Power be substituted for the Will to Live, and Ruler for Slave Morality, the common judgments of men on everything in the world that is capable of moral interpretation119 are in some way changed. He was not content to leave others to find out in what way. He called this change a “transvaluation of values,” and wished thus to transvaluate all values, and so to offer to other men and to himself a new representation of the world in the light of his own ideas, a task so Sisyphean that it is in itself a sufficient explanation of the collapse of his brain. His madness was not promised by his work, any more than a broken neck is promised by riding to hounds. Nor did the vivid summer lightning of his mind destroy him or even threaten destruction. His madness was a catastrophe, not the culmination of a disease. His method of thought, the continual endless application of his ideas, allowed him to think too fast. No sedate erection of a system kept his brain to a normal speed. Its disaster was like that of an engine which “races,” as engineers say, breaks its crankshaft, or so whirls its flywheel as to allow it to satisfy its centrifugality. All men build worlds for themselves, but they borrow from each other, and are content to fill with hasty scene-painting the gaps in120 their construction. No man is capable of building in innumerable fragments a world complete and homogeneous. Nietzsche’s mind, working with frenzied, unchecked speed in this perilous attempt, ran suddenly amok, and snapped, and with its snapping his life ends. The automaton that fed and slept and was not sure if it had written books, was not Nietzsche, though it prolonged his physical existence. For us Nietzsche died in January 1889; the ten years through which he lived unconscious of himself were like the months of M. Valdemar. He was a dead man, who felt the cold and the heat, and drank tea with the living. It is usual for his enemies to explain his work by his madness; it is wiser to consider his madness as the result of too much working, to count his life as ended when he lost his sanity, and, remembering the clarity of his last writings, to refuse so easy an escape from the task of appreciation.

Nietzsche’s applications of his ideas in book after book are not frigid illustrations, but sentences, maxims, aphorisms, and observations of great psychological subtlety, earning a place beside those of La Rochefoucauld,121 Vauvenargues, or Stendhal by the guarantee of a scale of values peculiar to their author. I think it not impossible that Nietzsche will one day be remembered chiefly as a psychologist and moralist, a late nineteenth century representative of a great tradition, and that the ideas which are now a noise in men’s ears, and, misunderstood, obscure our views of him, will then be remarked merely as explanatory of his psychology’s private and individual tone. The Superman will be mentioned in a note appended to his observations on friends and friendship, and his theory of the Will to Power tucked away in small print for those who wish more clearly to understand his remarks on self-development or war.

I have not spoken of Nietzsche as an artist. That prose, now hammer-welded, now silver filigree, dancing, walking, running in time with his ideas and moods, is not the least of his achievements. When he wrote: “One day it will be said of Heine and me that we were by far the greatest artists of the German language that have ever existed, and that we left all the efforts that mere Germans made in this122 language an incalculable distance behind us,” he was not far from the truth. Thus spake Zarathustra, that Ossianic poem of a hero of thought, Ecce Homo, in the self-assertion of which is not only pride, but pride a little hurt that it should have so to assert itself, those paragraphs of witty and profound psychology, the noble essays on Schopenhauer and History, the muddled processional triumph of The Birth of Tragedy; whatever be our view of his ideas, we cannot but admire the artist who made these things. His very thought has an aesthetic value, as he saw himself, due, no doubt, to its concreteness; in reading his books we are translated to the tops of mountains, where there is a dry wind, a warm sun, and snow not yet melted. Far below us are valley and vineyard and a sea with no haze. Our lungs are so full that we cannot commit “the sin against the Holy Spirit”; we cannot sit still. There is dancing, there is singing in the air, and, as we turn to more sedate philosophy, it is as if we were suddenly to leave sun, wind, and valley for the cloistered dust of a dark room.


In his own eyes, however, Nietzsche the artist, like Nietzsche the thinker, was the humble, reverent servant of Nietzsche the educator. In childhood he made respectful word-portraits of his schoolmasters. When he went to the universities, he said he was spending his time in discovering the best means of teaching instead of in learning what was usually taught in such places. His professorship was a symbol of his life, and he only resigned it to sit on mountain tops and teach. No man since Plato has had such a boundless dream of education. Milton desiring his pupils to be good for peace and for war, strong men behind their bows, skilful with the lute, learning to “repair the ruins of their first parents by regaining to know God aright,” until “they have confirmed and solidly united the whole body of their perfected knowledge, like the last embattling of a Roman legion”: Ascham with his longer list of exercises, “not only comely and decent, but also very necessary for a courtly gentleman to use,” and his more detailed scheme of learning: neither of these looked so far as he, neither of them hoped to educate more than men of a city124 or of a nation, and for the service of that limited community. Nietzsche dreamed of the education of mankind in its highest men, and, where Milton and Ascham feared for lack of teachers, he feared nothing so much as the scarcity of worthy pupils. “Companions did the creating one seek, and children of his hope, and lo, it turned out that he could not find them, except he himself should first create them.”

In his early dissatisfaction with the educational methods of the German universities, there was more than a mere pedagogic discontent. In his attack on the pseudo-culture of such men as Strauss, in his exposure of the abuse of history, in his farewell to “Schopenhauer as Educator,” he learnt more and more clearly what it was that he was seeking. He sought to educate “higher men” to be themselves, to free them from impediments to their growth, and failing that, to let them perceive the impediments and attack them, and so weaken the enemies long trained to devour them should they show themselves. For his “higher men,” and for no others, he found the125 ballast of the idea of Eternal Recurrence, to replace the misleading strings of the morality of the downtrodden. For their sakes he destroyed the divine right of the judgments of good and of evil; theirs was to be the Amor Fati, the cheerful acceptance of life, theirs the Dionysian ecstasy, and theirs the Apollonian calm. For them he invented his watchword: “Man is something that is to be surpassed.” He did not expect to find such pupils, but only to make their advent possible, to prevent them from being strangled at birth. In the meantime he spoke on to the empty benches, and, however extravagant, daring, impossible his dream may have been, it is yet a privilege for us to sit and listen in that school of phantom Titans.

I shall close this essay with a quotation that seems to me to sum up in its final sentences all that is best in Nietzsche’s teaching, the ultimate advice on which all his work is a commentary:

“Ah! I have known noble ones who lost their highest hope. And then they disparaged all high hopes.


Then lived they shamelessly in temporary pleasures, and beyond the day had hardly an aim.

‘Spirit is also voluptuousness,’ said they. Then broke the wings of their spirit; and now it creepeth about and defileth where it gnaweth.

Once they thought of becoming heroes; but sensualists are they now. A trouble and a terror is a hero to them.

But by my love and hope I conjure thee: cast not away the hero in thy soul! Maintain holy thy highest hope!”

The man who wrote this has been called irreverent, because his choice of things to revere was not identical with his accuser’s. But in these sentences there is proof of his reverence for something more profound, more important to mankind, than churches, than submissions to authority, a thing that men are not accustomed openly, if at all, to reverence, that quest of the Holy Grail on which all men set out, though most turn back, and very few pursue it till they die. It is a quest whose goal is in each moment of seeking. Of this he was indeed reverent, of the glowing cheek and kindled eye of intellectual youth, of unsoiled ambition, of127 the flame alight before the altar of the potential hero, who is alive for a little while in every man, and whose continuance of life is the measure of each man’s nobility.





Walter Pater was brought up at Enfield, where he was near London, and knew from his earliest years “those quaint suburban pastorals” that gather “a certain quality of grandeur from the background of the great city, with its weighty atmosphere, and portent of storm in the rapid light on dome and bleached stone steeples.” Something of that weighty atmosphere, and with it something of that rapid light, I find in his work, whether he is writing of the Italians of the Renaissance, of Montaigne, of the Greek philosophers, of the Dutch van Storck, or the German Carl of Rosenmold.

The external facts of his life may be shortly dismissed. He “was fond,” as a child, “of organising little processional pomps,” and a meeting with Keble strengthened for a time his boyish resolve to enter the Church. That part of his temperament which sought satisfaction in such a course found it, perhaps, in132 the hieratic character of his prose. He read Ruskin when he was nineteen, but his appreciations were too independent of Ruskin’s sanction to allow us to recognise the deep influence that is popularly attributed to the older man. Ruskin believed that he had “discovered” Botticelli, but he first spoke of him in the Oxford lectures of 1871, and Pater’s essay had been published in the Fortnightly Review the year before. Pater went from the King’s School at Canterbury to Queen’s College, Oxford, took a Second Class in the Final Classical Schools, and, in 1864, was elected to a fellowship at Brasenose. He lived at Oxford thenceforward, with only occasional periods of residence in London. In different long vacations he knew Heidelberg, Dresden, and various parts of France, and, in 1869, four years before the publication of The Renaissance, travelled in Italy. He died at Oxford after a life of unhurried labour on July 30, 1894.

There are some words that one would never use in speaking of him. “Joy” is one of them; “despair” is another. They would be represented by the less exuberant “pleasure,” and the less violent “regret.” His was a133 personality in half tones, lit by the pallid glow of a heavy sky, or by the “peculiar daylight” he noticed in the church at Canterbury, that daylight which “seemed to come from further than the light outside.” Yet his mind was not without intensity, though this was expressed more by its freedom of invasion than by any obvious hardness of line or brilliance of colour. When he said, “I should be afraid to read Kipling, lest he should come between me and my page next time I sat down to write,” he was confessing an unnecessary carefulness. But his very fear was not due to uncertainty of himself. It was that of the jealous acolyte who will not expose the sacred glimmer of a votive lamp to even momentary comparison with a flash of limelight, sure as he may be of the lamp’s superior persistence, dignity, and, for him, significance. Pater set a high value on his own personality, which in a world of relative truth, was perhaps the only thing that he could trust. He tended it, protected it from undue disturbance, even from the contagion of others, fed it from time to time with victories ... his essays are the carefully prepared conquests of other personalities by his own ... and134 strengthened it always in the habit of a private supremacy, a supremacy that neither sought nor needed external acknowledgment.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of his work, or, more exactly, of the mental attitude reflected in his work, on the literature of the end of the last century and of the beginning of our own. He was a landmark in the history of consciously rhythmical prose, the first English preacher (though very quietly) of the doctrine of art for art’s sake, the exponent of an unusually precise technique, the first example of a man whose life was consciously lived for art’s sake; a man who, though he disguised the fact by many professions of hedonism, found in art the finest means of living, and preferred, with something of his childish love for processional pomps, to meet life only when it came to him, decorous, arranged, unified to single purposes, instead of with the medley of motives from which the artist disentangles it.

His ideas have come to be more noticeable in other books than in his own. He seemed to deprecate too exuberant agreement. He did not like to stir his audience to an unbecoming enthusiasm. This is, perhaps, one reason135 why he has seldom been considered as a thinker. But another reason was more potent. “The sensible vehicle” of his expression almost annulled his abstract thought. Pater is the best illustration of the way in which ideas can be obliterated by the personality of which they were a part. He has never been compared to Nietzsche. Yet no student of Pater’s ideas could avoid such a comparison, fantastic as it may seem to those to whom it has not occurred to refuse, for critical purposes, to adopt his attitude towards thought; to refuse, that is, “to assign very little to the abstract thought and much to its sensible vehicle or occasion.” Even this attitude, if we examine it closely, is not unlike the Nietzschean demand for the personal touch in a theory before the theory itself. Elsewhere the resemblance is clearer. In Plato and Platonism he says: “Still in the discussion even of abstract truths it is not so much what he thinks as the person who is thinking, that after all really tells.” In smaller things he offers a parallel, strange from one who lived as he lived, to Nietzsche’s outburst against sedentary thinking: “It might seem that movement, after all, and any habit that promoted136 movement, promoted the power, the successes, the fortunate parturitions of the mind.” In more important things—things more important to Nietzsche—Pater offers a similar aloof parallel, as if from another planet. Before The Birth of Tragedy was written, Pater had distinguished Apollo and Dionysus, for his own purposes and in his own way, as the particular deities of opposed artistic tendencies. At one with Nietzsche in his conception of the relative nature of truth, though he shrank from carrying it to battle à l’outrance, he says almost what Nietzsche says of the evil influence of “the ideal,” “the absolute,” on European thought, though, more eclectic, incapable of partisanship, he does not let it disturb his admiration of Plato. Mildly, as if it did not matter, he murmurs what Nietzsche shouted: “The European mind will never be quite sane again....” And he traces its insanity, as Nietzsche might have traced it, through the Neo-Platonists, The Imitation, Spinoza, Descartes, Malebranche, Leibnitz, Berkeley. “By one and all it is assumed, in the words of Plato, that to be colourless, formless, impalpable, is the note of the superior grade of knowledge and137 existence, evanescing steadily, as one ascends towards that perfect (perhaps not quite unattainable) condition of either, which in truth can only be attained by the suppression of all the rule and outline of one’s own actual experience and thought.” And, in his criticism of the Sophists, he shows that he is aware, smilingly perhaps, of the theory of two moralities, one of the ruler and another of the ruled. He says of the Sophists: “And if old-fashioned principle or prejudice be found in the way, who better than they could instruct one, not how to minimise, or violate it—that was not needed, nor perhaps desirable, regarding what was so useful for the control of others—not that; but, to apply the intellectual solvent to it, in regard to one’s self? ‘It will break up—this or that ethical deposit in your mind, ah! very neatly, very prettily, and disappear, when exposed to the action of our perfected method. Of credit with the vulgar as such, in the solitary chamber of the aristocratic mind such presuppositions, prejudices or principles, may be made very soon to know their place.’” This may seem like ironic criticism of Nietzsche before the fact, but it has not been noticed as such, even138 by Nietzscheans, and that is a proof of the completeness with which Pater made negligible what he said, beside the manner, the personal quality, of himself saying it.

Yet these and many other neglected ideas were of real importance to the personality that obscures them now. Pater owed much of the slow rhythm of his mind to his careful observation of his own philosophic attitude. It is easy to talk of a battle in his mind between metaphysic and art; but no such battle was fought. Pater never lost his interest in philosophies, and that interest never interfered with his interest in art, but was rather its ally, an essential element in the mental temper of all his work. He shared Nietzsche’s dislike of dialectic, because in approaching the condition of mathematical speculation philosophy denudes itself of personality. He disliked, for example, Spinoza’s Euclidean demonstrations, “the dry bones of which rattle in one’s ears,” but was enabled to use finely, in Sebastian van Storck, that one of Spinoza’s sayings in which the man seems to be epitomised: “Whoso loveth God truly must not expect to be loved by him in return.” “Philosophic truth,” for him, “consists in139 the philosophic temper.” He finds that “perhaps the chief offence in Coleridge is an excess of seriousness, a seriousness arising not from any moral principle, but from a misconception of the perfect manner. There is a certain shade of unconcern, the perfect manner of the eighteenth century, which may be thought to mark complete culture in the handling of abstract questions.... Humanity cannot afford to be too serious about them.” That was said in the first of his printed papers. In the last book of his that was published in his lifetime, he says of the essay: “It provided him (Montaigne) with precisely the literary form necessary to a mind for which truth itself is but a possibility, realisable not as a general conclusion, but rather as the elusive effect of a particular personal experience; to a mind which, noting faithfully those random lights that meet it by the way, must needs content itself with suspension of judgment, at the end of the intellectual journey, to the very last asking: Que scais-je? Who knows?—in the very spirit of that old Socratic contention, that all true philosophy is but a refined sense of one’s ignorance.” The essay, we must not forget, was the form chosen by himself.


Nowhere does he better illustrate his conception of philosophic truth, of the philosophic temper, than in that harmony of essays, written for delivery as lectures, and printed as Plato and Platonism. Philosophy clothes herself with humanity, or rather retains the clothes of which dialectic would deprive her, and we watch her as a human being, are nervous for her in the difficult places, as she threads her way through the lives of men and the history of a nation. Pater is engaged in portraiture, not in exposition, so humane has his subject become. The three philosophers whose images are impressed upon the theories of “the flux,” of “the one,” and of “number,” Heraclitus, Parmenides, Pythagoras, are no longer outline drawings, like illustrations in a classical dictionary, but coloured and modelled with something of Blake’s enthusiastic vision, softened and quieted, till the enthusiasm is like summer lightning behind the hills, clear and bright but without menace for his general intention. Their portraits, inset in the “Plato” like the vignettes that encircle the central picture in those old engraved frontispieces, are curiously suggestive of paragraphs of Nietzsche’s Early Greek Philosophy. They141 are ruled by just such a conception of truth, but are without the spirit of proselytism, so inconsistent with it, and yet so characteristic of the man who preached rather than denounced his version of the Eternal Recurrence. It is hard to know which is most admirable—the delicate disentangling of Socrates from Plato, the clearly visualised picture of the Sophists (there never was a book on philosophy so full of concrete vision), the synthesis of Plato’s personality, lover, seer, observer, “who has lingered too long in the brazier’s workshops” to be able to speak of “dumb matter,” or the beautiful appreciation of the method of the dialogues and of the often travestied aims of Socratean talk, which represent both the “demand for absolute certainty, in any truth or knowledge worthy of the name,” and Plato’s method of learning and teaching, the essential quality of these conversations with himself being their endlessness. Then there is the dream, to the making of which has gone so much knowledge content to be hidden by the perfection of its service, of the city of Lacedaemon in Sparta, so necessary a prelude to the account of Plato’s dreamed republic. Finally, perhaps142 because dearest to himself, there is the chapter on Plato’s aesthetics, which, to Pater, were not what some have made them, but of immediate import to men living their lives, and suggested a purpose, a hope “to get something of that irrepressible conscience of art, that spirit of control, into the general course of life, above all into its energetic or impassioned acts.” It is, in a sense, a white heat of decorum for which he asks, a scrupulousness, a patience which is “quite as much as fire, of the mood of all true lovers.” He is really asking for self-conscious life, for the kind of life that is only given by art, whether by the contemplation of the work of artists or by the private acts of artistic creation, which we all perform, more or less often, and which are indeed processes of becoming conscious acts of scrupulous, observant and comprehensive living. I can think of no book better fitted to lead a student into philosophy, and I am not sure that it is not also the best book with which to begin the study of Walter Pater. It is certainly the book that made the most various demands upon his personality.

More than any other writer of his time he was justified in speaking of “the irrepressible143 conscience of art.” For many he is, I suppose, chiefly interesting as the man who brought into English literary workshops the craftsman’s creed of Flaubert. This importation of his was not a mere translation and expansion of the few sentences from Flaubert that appear in his essay on “Style.” Those sentences and his comments upon them, do but form, in the structure of that essay, a pendant to, an illustration of, Pater’s original remarks, which are themselves a complete, if resolutely non-technical, exposition of his own clearly comprehended methods. It is possible that Pater saw, a little more circumspicuously than he, what it was that Flaubert believed. At any rate that belief is here unified with the suggestions of earlier writers, and given corollaries whose implication in it Flaubert never troubled to see. The theory is, briefly stated, as follows: Literature will fulfil the condition of all good art “by finding its specific excellence in the absolute correspondence of the term to its import.” Its first, indeed, accurately speaking, its only object is truth, the exact fitting of words to meaning, which involves the watchfulness over the whole that will guard details from being made inexact by the reflected144 light of other details; and this involves also a loving scholarship in the precise meanings and implications of the words used.

He accepts De Quincey’s distinction between “the literature of power and the literature of knowledge,” with the comment, “in the former of which the composer gives us not fact, but his peculiar sense of fact, whether past or present.” In the fine art of literature, the identity sought between words and meaning is an identity between words and the thing they represent in its private atmosphere, with its particular meaning to the particular mind that thinks it. Throughout his works is scattered evidence of the importance that Pater attributed to this particularity of thought, dependent on the thinker and his circumstances, the personality of thought which is really the guarantee of its uniqueness, and in a sense, not only of its truth but of its artistic rightness. In The Child in the House, for example:

“In later years he came upon philosophies which occupied him much in the estimate of the proportion of the sensuous and the ideal elements in human knowledge, the relative parts they bear in it; and, in his intellectual scheme, was led to assign very little to the abstract thought, and much to its sensible vehicle or occasion.”


And, in the essay on “Style” we are considering:

“... just in proportion as the writer’s aim, consciously or unconsciously, comes to be the transcribing, not of the world, not of mere fact, but of his sense of it, he becomes an artist, his work fine art....”

“Literary art, that is, like all art which is in any way imitative or reproductive of fact—form, or colour, or incident—is the representation of such fact as connected with soul, of a specific personality, in its preferences, its volition and power.”

Let me attach to these another quotation from the same essay, to illustrate his use of the word “soul,” the keyword of his belief:

“Mind and soul;—hard to ascertain philosophically, the distinction is real enough practically, for they often interfere, are sometimes in conflict, with each other. Blake, in the last century, is an instance of preponderating soul embarrassed, at a loss, in an era of preponderating mind. As a quality of style, at all events, soul is a fact, in certain writers—the way they have of absorbing language, of attracting it into the peculiar spirit they are of, with a subtlety which makes the actual result seem like some inexplicable inspiration.”

When we talk of words it is, if possible, better to talk in terms of speech than thus indirectly in terms liable to debate, of the nature of man, which, in this case at least, have led a careful writer into inaccuracy.146 Blake was neither embarrassed nor at a loss. He thought all the rest of the world was. A sort of diffidence would not allow Pater to admit that he was thinking neither of soul nor of mind but of a quality in Blake’s language, a quality markedly less evident in the work of his contemporaries. Whenever Pater uses the word soul in this sense he is thinking of the magical power in contradistinction from the practical power of words. Blake’s words say more by what they carry with them in suggestive atmosphere, than by what they say. His speech is highly potential; and when Pater talks of soul in literature he is talking of the potential element in the language of literature, the element so noticeable in the language of his own works. His insistence on truth, not only in the merely kinetic speech, the thing said, but also in the potential speech that gives the thing said its atmospherical particularity, distinguished his own work, and deeply influenced the writers who followed him—Wilde, Dowson, perhaps Mr. Yeats, at least in his prose, certainly Mr. Arthur Symons. It was an indigenous spring of the tendency that, in France, has been called147 Symbolist, with which the last of the younger writers I have mentioned definitely allied himself. Pater’s expressed admirations for modern French books are only such as suggest his ignorance of the best writers in a later generation than that of Flaubert, who was, of course, not twenty years his senior. He does not seem to have read those younger men whose ideas so closely resembled his own, so closely that Frenchmen often claim Pater’s most obvious disciple7 for a pupil of the school of Mallarmé.

With his care in the use of words, he had also a care for structure, and for similar reasons. He says, as in a cruder way Poe had said long before, but not with such close significance:

“The term is right, and has its essential beauty, when it becomes, in a manner, what it signifies, as with the names of simple sensations. To give the phrase, the sentence, the structural member, the entire composition, song, or essay, a similar unity with its subject and with itself:—style is in the right way when it tends towards that.”

Those words embody in technical wisdom the profoundest understanding of the aims of art and of the nature of artistic creation.


His practice was not quite on the level of his theory. His details sometimes fail to preserve a unity of tone and rhythm with the whole of which they are a part. Sometimes too, the effort to preserve that unity compels the whole to a chafing monotone. An over-zealous pursuit of accuracy sometimes allowed those careful sentences to encumber themselves with adjectival burs, and a too visual method of composition sometimes cost them their harmony with the music it was their business to maintain, and even brought that music to an abrupt stop. “Pater,” Mr. Benson says, who knew him, “when he had arranged his notes, began to write on ruled paper, leaving the alternate lines blank; and in these spaces he would insert new clauses and descriptive epithets. Then the whole was re-copied, again on alternate lines, which would again be filled; moreover, he often had an essay at this stage set up at his own expense in print, that he might better be able to judge of the effect....” Such a method, however careful the writer might be to make continual appeal to his ear, could not but allow the eye to assume too great a share149 in that collaboration in which ear should be the sole dictator and eye the ear’s obedient servant. It would make it difficult to reject pleasant, exact phrases put in on those alternate lines, even if they made the sentences top-heavy with their own distinguished, highly specialised meaning. They would make this top-heaviness hard to perceive, and, if perceived, erroneously attributable to the visible crowding and elaboration of the written page. The setting up in print, while useful as a guide to the general outline, would only confirm these sentences in their condition. Nobody who has tried to read Pater aloud can be without instances when the reading became difficult, breathless, impossible, even while the words demanded admiration for their subtle accuracy and perfect choice. Let me give no more than two examples of the awkward constructions Pater allowed himself. I shall take them from the least decorative of his works, from a book actually written for oral delivery. On page 35 of Plato and Platonism8 there is this sentence:

“From Xenophanes, as a critic of the polytheism of the Greek religious poets, that most abstract and arid of150 formulæ, Pure Being, closed in indifferently on every side upon itself, and suspended in the midst of nothing, like a hard transparent crystal ball, as he says; ‘The Absolute’; ‘The One’; passed to his fellow-citizen Parmenides, seeking, doubtless in the true spirit of philosophy, for the centre of the universe, of his own experience of it, for some common measure of the experience of all men.”

Now there are 37 words in 8 clauses, needing 5 commas and 3 semi-colons to make up the subject of that sentence. The underlining of the words Pure Being seems to me a manifest concession to the eye.

On page 32 of the same book there is a characteristic construction partly due to a wish to preserve in his writing, tapestried as it might be, a flavour of conversational speech, and, for all that, dependent on the visibility of print, demanding a swift review of the beginning of the sentence as the reader arrives at its end:

“That which is, so purely, or absolutely, that it is nothing at all to our mixed powers of apprehension:—Parmenides and the Eleatic School were much preoccupied with the determination of the thoughts, or of the mere phrases and words, that belong to that.”

Such sentences are blemishes, not because of inaccuracy, for their accuracy is their151 excuse, but because they trouble our reception of the whole, as a whole, by drawing too much attention to themselves.

With all his care for shapely building, for unity of impression, he could not avoid occasional over-insistence on details, rather pleasant than otherwise, unlike the troubling halts of his failures in sentence-making. Indeed, I am not sure that we can describe as a fault what was characteristic of a whole manner of vision, and due not to carelessness but to the peculiar gift of a rare intimacy of imagination. In his imaginary portraits (which include not only the book of that name, but “Emerald Uthwart,” “The Child in the House,” “Apollo in Picardy,” “Gaston de Latour,” “Marius the Epicurean,” and, less obviously, most of his critical work) we can observe his way of laying hold of small, separate facts, and expanding them, as Gaston expanded the poems of Ronsard, “to the full measure of their intention.” His was never a sweeping, large-rhythmed, narrative imagination; I fancy, even, that Pater felt a danger of losing himself when he had to say that something happened, and more than once, when his characters were compelled to significant,152 visible action, he did indeed lose himself ... for a sentence or two it is as if not Pater spoke but another. There was a danger of things happening in Gaston de Latour, the most lovable of his books. For seven chapters Pater put them off, and then, as they crowded up on the horizon, and became imminent, he laid the story aside before they could overwhelm him and carry him off his feet.9

Pater’s imagination loved not action but intellectual circumstance, and the significance not of deeds but of the promise of deeds yet unperformed. The story of Marius, the story of Gaston, as far as it had been carried, was the story of exceptional character in particular intellectual environment; and for us, perhaps, the interest lies as much in the one as in the other. When I think of the second of those two books, I think less of that scrupulous, finely strung youth than of Montaigne, whose portrait, in the old tower above his open house, seems to me at least equally153 important. Now to offer the reader a choice between the part and the whole is not the way of the perfect artist. Again, it is idle to say that the narrative of “Marius the Epicurean” is broken by the inclusion of that lovely rendering of the tale of Cupid and Psyche. It is idle to point to that tale as an interruption, when there is nothing for it to interrupt, nothing that is not already in repose. In Pater’s books it is the reader who moves from one contemplation to another, and, in “Marius,” quite naturally, from Pisa and the boy’s education there, and his friendship with Flavian, to the tale they read together on hot Italian afternoons.

In a way the inclusion of that tale is an illustration on a large scale of Pater’s invariable manner of using detail. It was the work of another man, and, before placing it in his book, Pater made it his own by translating it into a prose which, if purposely and also necessarily a little different from that of the rest of the book, was yet his. Just so smaller details, fragments of observation of external nature, for example, are not directly set upon the page, with no more than the imprint of the hands that plucked them to give them a154 spurious unity with the rest. They are all translated, idiomatically, until they are so wholly his that it seems he has looked within for them and not without. The light through the arched windows of the old church, the spires of London, the burial vault of the Dukes of Rosenmold: these things are so intimately imagined, so completely veiled in Pater’s mood that when we recognise them in life we accuse ourselves of plagiarism because we cannot see them other than as he saw them, and they come to us, almost, as remembered sentences.

“The Golden Book” takes its place in “Marius” as a single touch in the portrait of a time: a fragment, carefully chosen, of the local colour of ideas. Just so Pater uses details more minute. Irrelevant as they may seem, to a careless observer, irrelevant as perhaps they were before he had translated them, they help in the painting of the mood of a man, as that story in the painting of a mood of the ancient world, in each case a mood of Pater’s own, half borrowed from, half lent to, man or world. This mutual creation is like that which happens in the contemplation of a work of art. It is criticism, and, even when155 Pater is not criticising what are known as works of art, he is criticising not the world, or a period or a man, but works of art he has already made, privately, for himself. He used “the finer sort of memory, bringing its object to mind with a quiet clearness, yet, as sometimes happens in dreams, raised a little above itself, and above ordinary retrospect.” He believed that criticism was a form of creation: for him it was often a second stage of creation, for he had given artistic form to his material before, in contemplation of it, he began the criticism that he offers us in its place. I do not know that this is, accurately speaking, possible, but it is at least a fable that very fairly represents the process whereby, in Pater’s books, life comes to seem at once so ordered, so tapestried, so aloof and yet so intimately known.

I speak there of life in general, of the flux without, a turmoil until it has been arrested by one of those personal acts of artistic creation which it is the function of art to make more frequent, more habitual. The turbulent nature of the flux itself is disguised alike in his critical and his more obviously imaginative work. For his critical essays tend always to156 become imaginary portraits, no less than his studies in Greek mythology. They are not portraits of men as Pater believed them to be, but reproductions of their aspect in sudden side-lights that change them, specialise them, and for those readers who are vainly looking for a general view, simplify them a little too far. But what sometimes seems to be the reduction of a complex personality to a simple formula—Michelangelo, for example, to the repeated ex forti dulcedo—is not so intended. It is rather the reduction of a personality to the expression of a single mood. There is warp and woof in Pater’s essays, and the shuttle must thread parallel lines and not a maze as it weaves what is meant less as the portrait of a man than as the pattern of a mood. Pater never sacrificed his own personality to his nominal subject. He sacrificed his sitter, not himself. Nothing is more remarkable in Marius the Epicurean (where it would have been easier to disclaim the writer’s own time, to waive the centuries that separated him from his supposed material) than Pater’s resolute modernity. He will not allow us to forget the distinction in circumstances that makes so subtle the relation157 between subject and object. He will strip off nothing that has been brought him by the years between Marius and himself. Deliberately, he sees Marius with eyes enriched by those centuries, and, with the later knowledge that can compare Apuleius to Swift or to Théophile Gautier, takes pleasure in a reference to Wilhelm Meister and remarks that Marius thinks in the vein of St. Augustine. And so, caring more for the point of view from which he sees them than for the actual objects, that can be seen a thousand ways, he has no wish to “say the last word” on Lamb, on Pico, on Sir Thomas Browne. He does say it, however, on those men in those moods, or, more truly, on the moods in which he saw them. We often leave an essay of Pater’s with a new appreciation of someone else; but that is not because Pater has told us anything, but because, in reproducing the mood of his essay we have given ourselves a mood in which that other, Botticelli, Ronsard, Giorgione, can be more than usually significant.

Thus, though it is as a critic that Pater lives and will live, it is as a critic of a158 kind that he may almost be said to have invented. His criticism is aesthetic and personal. Though compelled to offer a profusion of theories, he is impatient of them, submits himself to a work of art, and criticises that work not by showing what he feels, but by a reproduction of the mood which that work induces in him. His criticism, always indirect, is always creative, since the reproduction of a mood, unlike the recording of opinions, is itself a work of art. It has the validity of his own temperament and circumstances, lyrical as opposed to abstract truth. We can never say of him that he was wrong, unless in the theories that he could not avoid but considered unimportant. We can only say that he was different—from ourselves, from someone else. We read this critic as we read a poet, collaborating with him in the reproduction of a mood, in the searching knowledge of the fragment of life that was coloured for him by this or that book or picture. The book or picture becomes a secondary matter, and the first is the rapid light, the weighty atmosphere that he had made his own. After reading him I remember his words on Montaigne:159 “A mind for which truth itself is but a possibility, realisable not as a general conclusion, but rather as the elusive effect of a particular personal experience.”






M. de Gourmont lives on the fourth floor of an old house in the Rue des Saints-Pères. A copper chain hangs as bell-rope to his door. The rare visitor, for it is well known that for many years he has been a solitary and seldom receives even his friends, pulls the chain and waits. The door opens a few inches, ready to be closed immediately, by a man of middle size, in a monk’s brown robe, with a small, round, grey felt cap. The robe is fastened with silver buckles, in which are set large blue stones. The admitted visitor walks through a passage into a room whose walls are covered with books. In the shadow at the back of the room is a loaded table. Another table, with a sloping desk upon it, juts out from the window. M. de Gourmont sits in a big chair before the desk, placing his visitor on the opposite side of the table,164 with the light falling on his face so that he can observe his slightest expression. In conversation he often disguises his face with his hand, but now and again looks openly and directly at his visitor. His eyes are always questioning, and almost always kindly. His face was beautiful in the youth of the flesh, and is now beautiful in the age of the mind, for there is no dead line in it, no wrinkle, no minute feature not vitalised by intellectual activity. The nose is full and sensitive, with markedly curved nostrils. There is a little satiric beard. The eyebrows lift towards the temples, as in most men of imagination. The eyes are weighted below, as in most men of critical thought. The two characteristics are, in M. de Gourmont, as in his work, most noticeable together. The lower lip, very full, does not pout, but falls curtain-like towards the chin. It is the lip of a sensualist, and yet of one whose sensuality has not clogged but stimulated the digestive processes of his brain. Omar might have had such a lip, if he had been capable not only of his garlands of roses, but also of the essays of Montaigne.

He was born in a château in Normandy on165 4th April 1858. Among his ancestors was Gilles de Gourmont, a learned printer and engraver of the fifteenth century. He has himself collected old woodcuts, and in L’Ymagier amused himself by setting the most ancient specimens of the craft, among which he is proud to show some examples of the work of his family, side by side with drawings by Whistler and Gauguin. He came to Paris in 1883, when he obtained a post in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Huysmans was “sous-chef de bureau à la direction de la Sûreté générale,” and M. de Gourmont, who made his acquaintance through the dedication of a book, used to call for him between four and five of the afternoon, and walk with him across the river to a café, that has since disappeared, where he listened to the older man’s rather savage characterisations of men, women, movements and books. A few years later he was held to be lacking in patriotism, and relieved of his post on account of an article urging the necessity of Franco-German agreement. He wrote incessantly. Merlette, a rather naïve and awkward little novel, published in 1886, did not promise the work he was to do.166 It was no more than an exercise, well done, but no more, the work of a good brain as yet uncertain of its personal impulse. But about this time he was caught in the stream of a movement for which he had been waiting, for which, indeed, the art of his time had been waiting, the movement that was introduced to English readers by Mr. Arthur Symons’s admirable series of critical portraits.10 In 1890 he published Sixtine, dedicated to Villiers de l’Isle Adam, who had died the year before. In 1892 appeared Le Latin Mystique, a book on the Latin poets of the Middle Ages. He has always been “a delicate amateur of the curiosities of beauty,” though the character that Mr. Symons gave him has since become very inadequate. He edited Gérard de Nerval, Aucassin et Nicolette, and Rutebeuf’s La Miracle de Théophile, and wrote Lilith, 1892, and Théodat, a dramatic poem in prose that was produced by my friend M. Paul Fort at the Théâtre d’Art on December 11th of the same year. Several other curious works of this period were united later in Le Pèlerin du Silence. I extract from the bibliography167 by M. van Bever, printed in Poètes d’aujourd’hui, a list of the more important books that have followed these very various beginnings: Le Livre des Masques, 1896; Les Chevaux de Diomède, 1897; Le IIme Livre des Masques, 1898; Esthétique de la langue française, 1899; La Culture des Idées, 1900; Le Chemin de Velours, 1902; Le Problème du Style, 1902; Physique de l’Amour, 1903; Une Nuit au Luxembourg, 1906; besides four volumes of literary and philosophical criticism, and four volumes of comment on contemporary events.

All this mass of work is vitalised by a single motive. Even the divisions of criticism and creation (whose border line is very dim) are made actually one by a desire common to both of them, a desire not expressed in them, but satisfied, a desire for intellectual freedom. The motto for the whole is written in Une Nuit au Luxembourg: “L’exercice de la pensée est un jeu, mais il faut que ce jeu soit libre et harmonieux.” I am reminded of this sentence again and again in thinking of M. de Gourmont and his books. There must be no loss of self-command, none of the grimaces and the168 awkward movements of the fanatic, the man with whom thought plays. The thinker must be superior to his thought. He must make it his plaything instead of being sport for it. His eyes must be clear, not hallucinated; his arms his own, not swung with the exaggerated gestures of the preacher moved beyond himself by his own words. M. de Gourmont seems less an artist than a man determined to conquer his obsessions, working them out one by one as they assail him, in order to regain his freedom. It is a fortunate accident that he works them out by expressing them, twisting into garlands the brambles that impede his way.


M. de Gourmont almost immediately left the half-hearted realism of Merlette, and, just as in his scientific writings he is more profoundly scientific than the men of science, so in his works of this period he carried to their uttermost limits the doctrines of the symbolists. In his critical work the historian must look for the manifestoes and polemics of the group that gathered in Mallarmé’s rooms in the Rue de Rome. The theories169 are in Idéalisme, published in 1893, and in such essays as his defence of Mallarmé, written in 1898, and included in the Promenades Littéraires. Of their practice he supplies plenty of examples. “Nommer un objet, c’est supprimer les trois quarts de la jouissance du poème qui est faite du bonheur de deviner peu à peu; le suggérer voilà le rêve.” Mallarmé wrote that in 1891, and during the ’nineties Remy de Gourmont was publishing mysterious little books of poetry and prose, of which small limited editions were issued on rare paper, in curious covers, with lithographed decorations as reticent as the writing. There is the Histoire tragique de la Princesse Phénissa expliquée en quatre épisodes, a play whose action might be seen through seven veils, a play whose motive, never stated directly, is, perhaps, the destruction of the future for the sake of the present. There is Le Fantôme, the story of a liaison between a man and a woman if you will, between the intellect and the flesh if you will, that begins with such an anthem as might have been sung by some of those strange beings whom Poe took “into the starry meadows beyond Orion,170 where, for pansies and violets and heartsease, are the beds of the triplicate and triple-tinted suns.” The man—is it a man?—who tells the story, ends with a regret for something too real to be visible, something that is seen because it is not visible: “Je me sentais froid, j’avais peur—car je la voyais, sans pouvoir m’opposer à cette transformation doloureuse—je la voyais s’en aller rejoindre le groupe des femmes indécises d’où mon amour l’avait tirée—je la voyais redevenir le fantôme qu’elles sont toutes.” There is Le Livre des Litanies, with its elaborate incantation, from which I take the beginning and end:

“Fleur hypocrite,

“Fleur du silence.

“Rose couleur de cuivre, plus frauduleuse que nos joies, rose couleur de cuivre, embaume-nous dans tes mensonges, fleur hypocrite, fleur du silence.

* * * * *

“Rose améthyste, étoile matinale, tendresse épiscopale, rose améthyste, tu dors sur des poitrines dévotes et douillettes, gemme offerte à Marie, ô gemme sacristine, fleur hypocrite, fleur du silence.

“Rose cardinale, rose couleur du sang de l’Eglise romaine, rose cardinale, tu fais rêver les grands yeux des mignons et plus d’un t’épingla au nœud de sa jarretière, fleur hypocrite, fleur du silence.


“Rose papale, rose arrosée des mains qui bénissent le monde, rose papale, ton cœur d’or est en cuivre, et les larmes qui perlent sur ta vaine corolle, ce sont les pleurs du Christ, fleur hypocrite, fleur du silence.

“Fleur hypocrite,

“Fleur du silence.”


These, and other things like them, made it possible for M. de Gourmont to proceed in the discovery of himself. He drank his mood to the dregs, leaving no untried experiment to clog his mind with a regret as he moved on. “I have always been excessive,” he says; “I do not like to stop half-way.” He follows each impulse as far as it will take him, lest, by chance, he should leave some flower untasted in a bypath he has seen but not explored. Unlike most authors, he never has to copy himself, and does not feel bound, because he has written one book whose prose is malachite green, to produce another of the same colour. “Un artiste,” said Wilde, “ne recommence jamais deux fois la même chose ... ou bien c’est qu’il n’avait pas réussi.” The surest way to fail in an experiment is to make it with a faint heart. M. de Gourmont always burns his boats.


Some preoccupations, however boldly attacked, are not to be conquered at a blow. The preoccupation of sex is unlike that of a theory of art. Conquered again and again by expression, it returns with a new face, a new mystery, a new power of building the intellect, a new Gorgon to be seen in the mirror of art and decapitated. As the man changes so does Medusa vary her attack, and so must he vary the manner of her death. Now he will write a Physique de l’Amour, and, like Schopenhauer, relieve himself of the problem of sex by reducing it to its lowest terms. Now he will conquer it by the lyrical and concrete expression of a novel or a poem. Sex continually disturbs him, but the disturbance of the flesh is always, sooner or later, pacified by the mind. All his later novels are, like Sixtine, “romans de la vie cérébrale.” Sixtine is the story of a writer’s courtship of a woman no more subtle than himself, but far more ready with her subtlety. It displays the workings of a man’s mind and the states of emotion through which he passes, by including in the text, as they were written, the stories and poems composed under the173 influence of the events. The man is intensely analytic, afterwards. Emotion blurs the windows of his brain, and cleans hers to a greater lucidity. He always knows what he ought to have done. “Nul n’avait à un plus haut degré la présence d’esprit du bas de l’escalier.” More than once the woman was his, if he had known it before he left her. Finally, she is carried off by a rival whose method he has himself suggested. The book is a tragedy of self-consciousness, whose self-conscious heroine is a prize for the only man who is ignorant of himself, and, in the blindness of that ignorance, is able to act. But there is no need to analyse the frameworks of M. de Gourmont’s novels. Frameworks matter very little. They are all vitalised by an almost impatient knowledge of the subtlety of a woman’s mind in moments of pursuit or flight, and the impotence of a man whose brain seeks to be an honest mediator between itself and his flesh. His men do not love like the heroes of ordinary books, and are not in the least likely to suggest impossible ideals to maidens. They are unfaithful in the flesh nearly always. They174 use one experience as an anaesthetic for the pain they are undergoing in another. They seek to be masters of themselves by knowledge, and are unhappy without thinking of suicide on that account. Unhappiness no less than joy is a thing to be known. They fail, not getting what they want, and are victorious in understanding, with smiling lips, their non-success.


One afternoon, in the Rue des Saints-Pères, M. de Gourmont confirmed the impression already given me by his books and his eyebrows. “I have always been both romanesque and critique.” Side by side he has built separate piles of books. While writing the curiosities of symbolism that are collected in Le Pèlerin du Silence, he was preparing the Livres des Masques, two series of short critical portraits of the writers of his time, which, in the case of those who survive, are as true to-day as when they were written. It has been so throughout. In the one pile are little volumes of poetry like Les Saintes du Paradis, and such romances as those we have been discussing;175 in the other are works of science like the Physique de l’Amour, books benevolently polemical like Le Problème du Style, and collections of criticism in which an agile intelligence collaborates with a wakeful sense of beauty.

In this critical work, as in what is more easily recognised as creative, M. de Gourmont builds for freedom. He will be bound neither by his own preoccupations nor by other men’s thoughts. It is characteristic of him that his most personal essays in criticism are “Dissociations of Ideas.” The dissociation of ideas is a method of thought that separates the ideas put into double harness by tradition, just as the chemist turns water into hydrogen and oxygen, with which, severally, he can make other compounds. This, like most questions of thought, is a question of words. Words are the liberators of ideas, since without them ideas cannot escape from the flux of feeling into independent life. They are also their gaolers, since they are terribly cohesive, and married words cling together, binding in a lover’s knot the ideas they represent. All men using words in combination abet these marriages,176 though in doing so they are making bars of iron for the prisons in which they speculate on the torn fragment of sky that their window lets them perceive. Nothing is easier than, by taking words and their associations as they are commonly used, to strengthen the adherence of ideas to each other. Nothing needs a more awakened intelligence than to weaken the bonds of such ideas by separating the words that bind them. That is the method of M. de Gourmont. He separates, for example, the idea of Stéphane Mallarmé and that of “decadence,” the idea of glory and that of immortality, the idea of success and that of beauty. It is, too, a dissociation of ideas when he inquires into the value of education, these two ideas of worth and knowledge being commonly allied. The method, or rather the consciousness of the method, is fruitful in material for discussion, though this advantage cannot weigh much with M. de Gourmont, whose brain lacks neither motive power nor grist to grind. It is, for him, no more than a recurrent cleaning of the glasses through which he looks at the subjects of his speculation.

He speculates continually, and, if questions177 are insoluble, is not content until he has so posed them as to show the reason of their insolubility. He prefers a calm question mark to the more emotional mark of exclamation, and is always happy when he can turn the second into the first. He is extraordinarily thorough, moving always in mass and taking everything with him, so that he has no footsteps to retrace in order to pick up baggage left behind. Unlike Theseus, he unrolls no clue of thread when he enters the cavern of Minotaur. He will come out by a different way or not at all. The most powerful Minotaur of our day does not dismay him. Confident in his own probity, he will walk calmly among the men of science and bring an Esthétique de la langue française, or a Physique de l’Amour, meat of unaccustomed richness, to lay before their husk-fed deity.

In criticism, as in creation, he does not like things half-done. The story of the origin of one of these books is the story of them all. There is a foolish little work by M. Albalat, which professes to teach style in twenty-seven lessons. M. de Gourmont read it and smiled; he wrote an article,178 and still found something to smile at; he wrote a book, Le Problème du Style, in which, mocking M. Albalat through a hundred and fifty-two courteous pages, he showed, besides many other things, that style is not to be taught in twenty-seven lessons, and, indeed, is not to be taught at all. Then he felt free to smile at something else.

M. de Gourmont is careful to say that he brought to the Esthétique de la langue française, “ni lois, ni règles, ni principes peut-être; je n’apporte rien qu’un sentiment esthétique assez violent et quelques notions historiques: voilà ce que je jette au hasard dans la grande cuve où fermente la langue de demain.” An aesthetic feeling and some historical notions were sufficiently needed in the fermenting vat where the old French language, in which there is hardly any Greek, is being horribly adulterated with brainless translations of good French made by Hellenists of the dictionary. M. de Gourmont is in love with his language, but knows that she is rather vain and ready to wear all kinds of borrowed plumes, whether or not they suit her. He would take from her her imitation ostrich feathers, and would179 hide also all ribbons from the London market, unless she first dye them until they fall without discord into the scheme of colour that centuries have made her own. Why write “high life,” for example, or “five o’clock,” or “sleeping”? Why shock French and English alike by writing “Le Club de Rugby” on a gate in Tours? A kingfisher in England flies very happily as martin-pêcheur in France, and the language is not so sterile as to be unable to breed words from its own stock for whatever needs a name.

Physique de l’Amour; Essai sur l’instinct sexuel, “qui n’est qu’un essai, parce que la matière de son idée est immense, représente pourtant une ambition: on voudrait agrandir la psychologie générale de l’amour, la faire commencer au commencement même de l’activité mâle et femelle, situer la vie sexuelle de l’homme dans le plan unique de la sexualité universelle.” It is a book full of illustration, a vast collection of facts, and throws into another fermenting vat than that of language some sufficiently valuable ideas. It lessens the pride of man, and, at the same time, gives him a desperate courage,180 as it shows him that even in the eccentricities of his love-making he is not alone, that the modesty of his women is a faint hesitation beside the terrified flight of the she-mole, that his own superiority is but an accident, and that he must hold himself fortunate in that nature does not treat him like the male bee, and toss his mangled body disdainfully to earth as soon as he has done her work. M. de Gourmont’s books do not flatter humanity. They clear the eyes of the strong, and anger the weak who cannot bear to listen to unpalatable truths.


M. de Gourmont’s most obvious quality is versatility, and though, as I have tried to point out, it is not difficult to find a unity of cause or intention in his most various expressions, his lofty and careless pursuit of his inclinations, his life of thought for its own sake, has probably cost him a wide and immediate recognition. That loss is not his, but is borne by those who depend for their reading on the names that float upward from the crowd. Even his admirers181 complain: some that he has not given them more poems; others that his Physique de l’Amour stands alone on its shelf; others that a critic such as he should have spent time on romances; others, again, that a writer of such romances should have used any of his magnificent power in what they cannot see to be creative work. M. de Gourmont is indifferent to all alike, and sits aloft in the Rue des Saints-Pères, indulging his mind with free and harmonious play.

In one of his books, far more than in the others, two at least of his apparently opposite activities have come to work in unison. All his romances, after and including Sixtine, are vitalised by a never-sleeping intellect; but one in particular is a book whose essence is both critical and romantic, a book of thought coloured like a poem and moving with a delicate grace of narrative. Une Nuit au Luxembourg11 was published in 1906, and is the book that opens most vistas in M. de Gourmont’s work. A god walks in the gardens behind the Odéon, and a winter’s night is a summer’s morning, on which the182 young journalist who has dared to say “My friend” to the luminous unknown in the church of Saint-Sulpice, hears him proclaim the forgotten truth that in one age his mother has been Mary, and in another Latona, and the new truth that the gods are not immortal though their lives are long. Flowers are in bloom where they walk, and three beautiful girls greet them with divine amity. Most of the book is written in dialogue, and in this ancient form, never filled with subtler essences, doubts are born and become beliefs, beliefs become doubts and die, while the sun shines, flowers are sweet, and girls’ lips soft to kiss. Where there is God he will not have Love absent, and where Love is he finds the most stimulating exercise for his brain. Ideas not new but gathered from all the philosophers are given an aesthetic rather than a scientific value, and are used like the tints on a palette. Indeed, the book is a balanced composition in which each colour has its complement. Epicurus, Lucretius, St. Paul, Christianity, the replenishment of the earth by the Jews; it is impossible to close the book at any page without finding the mind as it were upon183 a springboard and ready to launch itself in delightful flight. There are many books that give a specious sensation of intellectual business while we read them. There are very few that leave, long after they are laid aside, stimuli to independent activity.


“Il ne faut pas chercher la vérité; mais devant un homme comprendre quelle est sa vérité.” We must not seek in a man’s work for the truth, since there are as many truths as brains; but it is worth while to define an answer here and an answer there out of the many. What is the answer of Remy de Gourmont? Quelle est sa vérité? Of what kind is his truth? Does he bring rosemary for remembrance or poppy for oblivion? Not in what he says, but in the point from which he says it, we must look for our indications. His life, like Sixtine, is a “roman de la vie cérébrale.” It is the spectacle of a man whose conquests are won by understanding. For him the escape of mysticism was inadequate, and an invitation to cowardice. He would not abdicate, but, since those184 empires are unstable whose boundaries are fixed, conquer continually. The conquests of the mind are not won by neglect. It is not sufficient to refuse to see. The conqueror must see so clearly that life blushes before his sober eyes, and, understood, no longer dominates. Remy de Gourmont has suffered and conquered his suffering in understanding it. He would extend this dominion. He would realise all that happens to him, books, a chance visitor, a meeting in the street, the liquid bars of light across the muddy Seine. He would transmute all into the mercurial matter of thought, until, at last impregnable, he should see life from above, having trained his digestive powers to the same perfection as his powers of reception. Although one of the Symbolists, he has moved far from the starting-point assigned to that school by Mr. Symons. His books are not “escapes from the thought of death.” The thought of death is to him like any other thought, a rude playfellow to be mastered and trained to fitness for that free and harmonious game. The life of the brain, the noblest of all battles, that of a mind against the universe which it creates, has come to seem more185 important to him than the curiosities of beauty of which he was once enamoured. It has, perhaps, made him more of a thinker than an artist. In his desire to conquer his obsessions he has sometimes lost sight of the unity that is essential to art, a happy accident in thought. His later books have been the by-products of a more intimate labour. He has left them by the road whose end he has not hoped to reach, whose pursuit suffices him. They wake in the reader a desire which has nothing to do with art. This desire—a desire for intellectual honesty—and with that, perhaps, for intellectual gaiety, is the characteristic gift of his work. It is never offered alone. He accompanies it with criticism, with witty epilogues, serious dissertations, and licentious little stories; but it is not so much for the sake of these things as for the stimulus of that desire that we turn, and seldom in vain, to M. de Gourmont’s books.





So-shi, a Chinese philosopher, dreamed that he was a butterfly, and, in the moment of waking, asked himself: “Are you So-shi who has dreamed that he was a butterfly, or are you a butterfly who is dreaming that he is So-shi?” That question is continually repeated in the works of Yone Noguchi, who seems, indeed, to have the freedom of two worlds, and to find reality as often in one as in the other. Noguchi is for ever in doubt of his own existence, suspicious of appearances, and searching for the reality in things beyond touch or description. “My soul,” he writes:

“My soul, like a chilly winged fly, roams about the sadness-walled body, hunting for a casement to fly out.
Lo, suddenly, an inspired bird flies upright into the atom-eyed sky!
Alas, his reflection sinks far down into the mileless bottom of the mirrory rivulet!
Is this world the solid being?—or a shadowy nothing?
Is the form that flies up the real bird? or the figure that sinks down?”

And again:

“The world is not my residence to the end!
Alas, the moon has lost her way, harassed among the leaf-fellows on the darkling hill-top!
Isn’t there chance for my flying out?”

The world is not too much with this poet of Japan who writes in our language, and it is interesting to compare this symbolist of a nation of conscious symbolists with the few men who in France and England have turned an unconscious but almost universal practice into a theory of poetry.12

But I must not, in my care for his work, pretend that the poet is the immaterial floating fairy that he almost seems to be.191 “I have cast the world,” he says, “and think me as nothing,

“Yet I feel cold on snow-falling day,
And happy on flower day.”

Let me, before saying more, set down such facts as I know about his physical existence.

Yone Noguchi was born in Japan about 1876. He was in America before he was twenty, and, in company with a few other Japanese students, suffered extreme poverty, and the starvation which those who have not tried it consider so efficacious a stimulant to the soul. He made some friends among American writers, and stayed for a time with Joaquin Miller. In 1897 he published Seen and Unseen: or Monologues of a Homeless Snail, and in the next year The Voice of the Valley, a little book inspired by a stay in the Yosemite. In 1902 he came to England, and lived with Mr. Yoshio Markino (who had not then realised himself and London in his water-colours) in poor lodgings in the Brixton Road. From these lodgings he issued a sixteen-page pamphlet of verse printed on brown paper, which drew such notice that the Unicorn Press (an unfortunate little firm192 that published some very good books, some bad ones, and died) produced a volume, called, like the pamphlet, From the Eastern Sea, and containing, besides those sixteen pages of poetry, other verses from the American books and a number of new pieces. The cover of this edition was designed by Mr. Yoshio Markino. I knew Noguchi at this time, and often walked with him along the Embankment in the evenings, or under those “lamp-lights of web-like streets bathed in the opiate mists,” that he and Yoshio Markino have used so delicately in their several arts. I remember him as a small man, though perhaps not noticeably small by Japanese standards, with black hair less orderly and geometrical in growth than most Japanese hair, and a face of extraordinary sensitiveness, high-browed but with broadly set eyes, and a mouth like a woman’s, like that of a woman controlling some almost tearful emotion. Even in the handling of a cigarette, whose end he stripped of its paper so that the tobacco might serve in the making of another (we were almost penniless in those days), there was a delicacy that made it impossible not to recognise that193 he was a man who lived more finely than most. His conversations were of poetry, of the principles of the particular poetry he held that it was his to write, and of the works of those English poets he had read. “I hate your Longfellow,” he said, “and I love your Keats,” and in contrasting the two he was, perhaps, defining to himself an important tendency of his own.

He left London in 1903, and went to New York and then to Japan. He had some difficulties there, difficulties, I believe, of misunderstanding on the part of his own countrymen. He crossed to the mainland and travelled in China for a year, and perhaps longer. In 1906 he published The Summer Cloud in Tokio, and, in June last year, he sent me a two-volume book in a blue case with small ivory fastenings, printed by the Valley Press in Kamakura. This book, The Pilgrimage, has been issued in England by Mr. Elkin Mathews.

These five books do not contain a large body of verse, but they contain verse whose interest for us is not concentrated in the nationality of the writer. The title of the brown-paper pamphlet published in the194 Brixton Road is From the Eastern Sea, “by Yone Noguchi (Japanese),” but though that word aroused a careless curiosity, the curiosity was turned into something more valuable by qualities less incidental. The imagery of Noguchi’s verse is Japanese in feeling, just as the imagery in Synge’s plays is Irish, and that of Verlaine’s poetry French, but the imagery in any one of these three cases would have been worthless if the man who used it had been merely Japanese, Irish, or French, and not a man of genius with the gift of setting words free with living breath. Our concern is not with the nationality of this writer, but with his conception of the poet, and with his poetry.

Noguchi wrote his first book in 1896, and so had not read Mr. Arthur Symons’ The Symbolist Movement in Literature, which was issued three years later. He would have found there an account of poets not unlike himself, and of a poetry nearer than Keats’ to his own, and further removed than Keats’ from that of the hated Longfellow.

Symons, writing of Verlaine, says: “Is not his whole art a delicate waiting upon moods, with that perfect confidence in them195 as they are, which is a large part of ordinary education to discourage in us, and a large part of experience to repress? But to Verlaine, happily, experience taught nothing; or rather it taught him only to cling the more closely to those moods in whose succession lies the more intimate part of our spiritual life.” Noguchi lives almost continuously in those moods; experience with him is momentary rather than cumulative; and his aim, expressed more than once in his verse, is only to keep himself a vessel as clear as possible for the unsullied transference of those moments from the bowl of life to that of art. It will not be difficult to make from his verses a portrait of his ideal poet, and, in writing of a man not yet very widely known, I believe I shall best be doing my duty by him in quoting his own words as often as I can. In The Poet he says:

“The roses live by the eating of their own beauty and then die.
His song is the funeral chant for his own death of every moment.”

And again, of himself:

“I sing the song of my heart-strings, alone in the eternal muteness, in the face of God.”


And again:

“The God-beloved man welcomes, respects as an honoured guest, his own soul and body in his solitude.
Lo! the roses under the night dress themselves in silence, and expect no mortal applaud—content with that of their voiceless God.”

And again:

“O, wash me and wash me again with thy light,
And burn my body to a flame of soul!
It is this moment that I conquer the intervention of flesh,
And its rebellions that worked in me at unexpected time.
It’s not too much to say I am a revelation or a wonder,
Winging as a falcon into the breast of loveliness and air.”

And again:

“... What a bird
Dreams in the moonlight is my dream,
What a rose sings is my song.”

“O, to lose the world and gain a song,” he cries, and then, “I am glad to be no-man to-day, with the laughter and dance of the sea soul.” His thoughts fall like leaves in autumn “on the snowy cheeks of his paper.” His is the poetry of self-abnegation, of identification197 of himself with the world. His soul dances “on the silver strings” of the rain. “We,” he sings, are “happy to be biographers of each other, I and a bird.” He flies himself as a kite, to be lifted or let fall by the winds that do not move at all those whose pride is in their sage and measured footsteps on the ground.

In the last of his volumes there are a few specimens of Japanese seventeen-syllabled verse, hokku, and in a note Noguchi writes that such a poem “in Japanese mind, might be compared with a tiny star, I dare say, carrying the whole sky at its back. It is like a slightly open door, where you may steal into the realm of poesy. Its value depends on how much it suggests. The Hokku poet’s chief aim is to impress the reader with the high atmosphere in which he is living.” The Hokku poet, like Noguchi, never writes of the thing about which he is writing. The emotions he wishes to express are too subtle for description in words, and can only be written of in the spaces between the lines, just as between the petals of a flower we may find dreams that the flower has never known, and the suggestions of198 something less ponderable than the earth in which it had its roots. An example of Hokku poetry will illustrate the method of all Noguchi’s:

“Where the flowers sleep,
Thank God! I shall sleep to-night.
Oh, come, butterfly.”

That is valuable as a talisman rather than as a picture. It is a pearl to be dissolved in the wine of a mood. Pearls are not wine, nor in themselves to be thought of as drink, but there is a kind of magic in the wine in which they are dissolved.

In Noguchi’s poems there is the co-operation between silence and speech of which Carlyle was thinking when he wrote: “In a Symbol there is concealment and yet revelation: here therefore by Silence and Speech acting together, comes a double significance. And if both the Speech be itself high, and the Silence fit and noble, how expressive will their union be!” In many poems of the French symbolists the Speech is almost meaningless, except in the Silence that is covered by its melody. In Noguchi both Speech and Silence are full199 of a charm that we can scarcely find in life but in fortunate rare moods. He writes:

“I am stirring the waves of Reverie with my meaningless but wisdom-wreathed syllables.”

But he is incapable of denying his own charm to the carefully-worded accompaniment of the Silence with which he is really concerned. He sees the world with eyes too guileless not to make it alive, even when using it as an invocation. He sees ideas too clearly not to make them, even in a spell, independently vivid for his listeners. For an example of the one take this picture:

“Alas, the mother cow, with matron eyes, utters her bitter heart, kidnapped of her children by the curling gossamer mist!”

For an example of the other, this idea:

“The Universe, too, has somewhere its shadow; but what about my songs?
An there be no shadow, no echoing to the end—my broken-throated lute will never again be made whole.”

He is a poet whose flame has been so scrupulously tended as to flicker with the slightest breath. He is as many-mooded as200 the combinations between sunshine and shadow. His poetry actually is the thing that has induced a mood in him, trimmed of all that he has had to remove for himself, and so made into something between nature and that pure elevation of mind from which Noguchi feels. This quality of pale flame-like emotion is common to all his poems, extraordinarily various as they are.

Sometimes he speaks with grandeur, as in these lines:

“When I am lost in the deep body of the mist on a hill,
The universe seems built with me as its pillar!
Am I the God upon the face of the deep, nay deepless deepness in the beginning?”

Sometimes wistfully:

“Alas! my soul is like a paper lantern, its paste wetted off under the rain.
My love, wilt thou not come back to-night?
Lo, the snail at my door stealthily hides his horns.
Oh, put forth thy honourable horns for my sake!
Where is Truth? Where is Light?

Sometimes questioning:

“My poetry begins with the tireless songs of the cricket, on the lean grey-haired hill, in sober-faced evening.
And the next page is Stillness——
And what then, about the next to that?


Alas, the God puts his universe-covering hand over its sheets!
Master, take off your hand for the humble servant!
Asked in vain:——
How long for my meditation?”

But it is impossible with the quotations permissible in an article to give an adequate presentment of a poet whose poems are so separate that a hundred of them do not suffice for his expression. Noguchi has, like Verlaine, escaped the wisdom of experience; his latest moods are as sky-clear as his first, different though they are in technique and in feeling. Each one of them is a glint of light from a diamond; it is impossible, but in seeing innumerable glints together, satisfactorily to perceive the diamond itself.

Noguchi’s technique is his own, though it would be possible to find in reminiscent phrases suggestions of influence. A man using English words with something of the surprising daring of the Irish peasants on whose talk Mr. Synge modelled his prose, using them, too, like a foreigner who has fallen in love with them, he is able to give them a morning freshness newer and stranger202 than is given them (though the words of all fine writers are newly discovered) by men whose ancestors have bandied them about. He uses them in short and long lines that, in his later books, learn more and more of rhythm. Rhyme he has not attempted, and it would, I think, have hampered the butterfly-flash of his verse from thought to thought. In The Summer Cloud many of the poems of his early books are altered to prose simply by the plan of their printing. The type is differently set on the page and they are called prose poems. I do not know what led Noguchi to make this experiment, but it proved that the irregular, broken lines in which his poems were originally published had a real power over the effect the words produced. The spaces between the lines were a kind of thought punctuation, and the mind needed these moments between the little, breathless, scarcely-worded sighs that make his poems. In reading them aloud it becomes clear that the ritual of the line-spacing was more important than that of commas or full-stops. Noguchi’s songs are like bird flights, timing themselves with the pulse of the mind that follows203 them. His ideal is a poetry of pure suggestion whose melody shall be of thought, capricious and uncertain as the mind, but only with the mind’s caprice, the mind’s uncertainty. The following poem was printed as prose in The Summer Cloud, and as it stands here in The Pilgrimage.

“Little Fairy,
Little Fairy by a hearth,
Flight in thine eyes,
Hush on thy feet,
Shall I go with thee up to Heaven
By the road of the fire-flame?
Little Fairy,
Little Fairy by a river,
Dance in thy heart,
Longing at thy lips,
Shall I go down with thee to “Far-Away,”
Rolling over the singing bubbles?
Little Fairy,
Little Fairy by a poppy,
Dream in thy hair,
Solitude under thy wings,
Shall I sleep with thee to-night in the golden cup
Under the stars?”

It is easy, in reading it aloud, to recognise that its form is not accidental, but follows,204 breath for breath, the movements of the mind.

But who shall analyse charm, or separate the tints of the opal? In writing of Noguchi, I am writing of something that can only be defined by itself. I can only take shred after shred from the cloak of gossamer he has woven for himself, and only hope in doing so to persuade other readers to buy his books and find for themselves a hundred shreds as beautiful as these. The frontispiece to The Pilgrimage is a reproduction of a drawing by Utamaru, a thing of four pale colours and a splash of black, and made as light as wind by curves as subtle and as indefinable as those traced by worshipping stars round the object of their adoration. I had forgotten that it is the picture of a girl, and that fact is, indeed, as immaterial as the titles of Noguchi’s poems. In looking at it, I forget not only its subject, but the book in which it is, for this art, of poet or painter, Verlaine, Noguchi, Utamaru, Whistler, frees us, infecting us with its own freedom, from the world which is too much with us, for the exploration of that other world of dream which, unless we, too, are205 children, is with us so fitfully, and so seldom.

“Beckoned by an appointed hand, unseen yet sure, in holy air
We wander as a wind, silver and free,
With one song in heart, we, the children of prayer.
Our song is not of a city’s fall;
No laughter of a kingdom bids our feet wait;
Our heart is away, with sun, wind, and rain:
We, the shadowy roamers on the holy highway.”





Definitions, like mythologies, wear out. It is then important to replace them. Aladdin’s wife had a choice, but we have none. We must change our old lamps for new, or sit in the dark. A natural philosopher who retained the mythological definition of thunder could not speak of lightning to young men who had learnt of electricity without an air of irrelevance of which he might be quite unconscious. Not so his listeners, who would brush his explanations impatiently aside as soon as they knew the beliefs on which he based them. Whenever historians or critics seem irrelevant, we are safe in assuming a difference between their definitions and our own. When they seem irrelevant to many people beside ourselves, we can go further and assume that their definitions are either worn out or not yet accepted.210 Sometimes, of course, they are without definitions either old or new, but then they need not trouble us, for they disappear like cuttle-fishes in the darkness of their own ink. There is at the present day a widespread dissatisfaction with historians of literature. It is impossible not to feel that their dicta do not matter, that their sense of perspective is wrong or uncertain, that their books are of no use to us except as bibliographies. A new definition of literature is needed, that shall give them some scale, some standard to which they can refer. For without such standard or scale, they can do no more than gossip, or judge poetry by its passion, by its sense, by its smoothness, or by any other half-remembered scrap from a definition that is no longer adequate.

If we would get rid of these irrelevancies, and write histories of literature that shall deal with the matter of which they propose to treat, we must find a new standard of values, and to find that we must make a new definition. We must have a statement of the nature of literature applicable not to the books of one nation of one time only, but to those of all nations and of all times.211 It must supply us with terms in which we can state the aims of widely different schools and writers, with regard to their medium and not to any accidental quality. If it is to do that we must escape from the prejudices of our own time (which may be invisible to us) by seeking our formula in a definition of the medium common to all writers, a statement of the function of words in combination.

To make such a statement I have borrowed two epithets from the terminology of physical science. Energy is described by physicists as kinetic and potential. Kinetic energy is force actually exerted. Potential energy is force that a body is in a position to exert. Applying these terms to language, without attempting too strict an analogy, I wish to define literature, or rather the medium of literature, as a combination of kinetic with potential speech. In this combination the two are coincident. There is no such thing in literature as speech purely kinetic or purely potential. Purely kinetic speech is prose, not good prose, not literature, but colourless prose, prose without atmosphere, the sort of prose that M. Jourdain discovered212 he had been speaking all his life. It says things. An example of purely potential speech may be found in music. I do not think it can be made with words, though we can give our minds a taste of it in listening to a meaningless but narcotic incantation, or a poem in a language that we do not understand. The proportion between kinetic and potential speech and the energy of the combination varies with different works and the literature of different ages. There is no literature to which it is impossible to apply the formula. Let us try to clarify it by example and particularisation.

It may be asked, what of ballad poetry in which there is much so stated as to approach purely kinetic speech? Does not the admitted power of a sea-song, a song whose words are utterly trivial, disprove our assertion? It does not; for to such songs or chanties the music to which they are sung has given a quality of potential speech, without which they would be worthless and speedily forgotten. In that case the words and the melody respectively represent kinetic and potential speech. It has been very truly said that a prima-donna can turn the213 alphabet to poetry by the emotional power of her voice.

It may further be asked by any one who has not clearly apprehended my meaning (and this would be more than excusable), Do I mean to suggest that literature is not literature unless it contains a double meaning? and, if so, do I not find in allegory the most perfect example of the simultaneous existence of kinetic and potential speech? This would indeed be a reductio ad absurdum. I must answer, that allegory (though it may represent the result of an early guess at the nature of art) is not necessarily poetry. There is, indeed, a gross and obvious duality of meaning in such a work as The Faërie Queene. The tale written on the paper enables us to reconstruct another. But that other might have been written with no greater difficulty. It does not aid, and may clog with external preoccupations, the tale that we sit down to read. It is an impertinent shadow, a dog that keeps too closely at our heels. Hazlitt rebukes those who think that the allegory of The Faërie Queene will bite them. We are more afraid that it will lick our hands, and all we ask is, that214 it will allow itself to be forgotten. An acrostic sonnet may be a good sonnet, but we are not likely to perceive its excellence if we are intent upon the initial letters of the lines. No; allegory may be a rude attempt to copy in things said the duality of poetic speech. The old delight in conscious allegory may be comparable to the modern delight in conscious symbolism. But we must not forget for a moment that the resemblance is only one of analogy. When Spenser writes of Mammon’s cave:

“Both roof, and floor, and walls were all of gold
But overgrown with rust and old decay,
And hid in darkness that none could behold
The hue thereof; for view of cheerful day
Did never in that house itself display,
But a faint shadow of uncertain light;
Such as a lamp whose life doth fade away;
Or as the moon clothéd with cloudy night,
Does show to him that walks in fear and sad affright.”

When he writes thus, we do not, in our search for potential speech, have to remember that he is writing of the love of money. Away with such tedious recollections. The stanza is like a picture by Rembrandt of an alchemist’s laboratory, where dusty alembic215 and smouldering fire mean far more than themselves. The lines say something, but we hear much for which they have not words. “The moon clothéd with cloudy night,” is not richer in suggestion than that same description. Not in the allegory but in the words themselves, their order and their melody, must we find, if they are to be literature, that combination of kinetic and potential speech.

Let me take another example of fine poetry, and show that it does perform in itself this dual function of language. Let us examine the first stanza of Blake’s “The Tiger”:

“Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

It is impossible to deny the power of suggestion wielded by those four lines, a power utterly disproportionate to what is actually said. The kinetic base of that stanza is only the proposition to a supposed tiger of a difficult problem in metaphysics. But above, below, and on either side of that question, completely enveloping it, is the phosphorescence216 of another speech, that we cannot so easily overhear. And who shall speak in fit terms of its potentiality? That glowing image, that surprised address; not in the enumeration of such things shall we come upon its secret.

The test of a formula is, that it shall fit. It must enable us to co-ordinate scattered knowledge, and throw into a clear perspective the jumble of loose statements and scraps of information whose value we cannot but recognise, although they have remained outside previous schemes and done little more than disturb the equilibrium of once-established theories. It is a comfort and a joy to a thinker when he can say that a formula of his has almost been proposed by minds that have approached his problem along roads other than his own. When he can find statements, true in themselves but inadequate, pegging out, as it were, the ground from which his formula has been dug, he can feel that it is no mere chance that has given it a momentary appearance of usefulness. He can speak of it with the solid confidence that it has behind it the collaboration of his predecessors.


We can bring such confidence to the use of this formula of kinetic and potential speech, for to whatever problem of literary theory or phenomenon of the history of literature we apply it, we find that it has been almost stated by those who have separately considered that problem or phenomenon. It smelts the ore that they have dug, and forges a weapon for the attack not of one problem, but of all.

For example; though kinetic speech may be translated without loss from one language to another, potential speech would not be potential but kinetic if we were able to express it otherwise than by itself. This is what Shelley means when he denies the possibility of the translation of poetry, though he does not perceive the full reason, but only that the poetic quality of a poem is partly dependent on a succession of inimitable sounds. His statement, incomplete though it is, is a recognition of the duality of poetic speech. He does not for a moment contend that we cannot render the meaning; he sees that the meaning is not all. The body is one thing and the soul is another. If we leave the soul behind we have nothing218 but dead matter, fit for manure or food. Life, or poetry, delicate-footed, mysterious, gracious with knowledge of her mystery, is passed away and we cannot recapture her.

Sometimes, indeed, she goes without our interference, and disappears only because of our neglect. There are poems that many men cannot perceive to be poetry. There are others, once poetry, now no longer so. Let us apply our formula to these phenomena, and first to the varying popularity of poetry, since our solution of this question will help us in solving the other. We shall find that the nearer poetry approaches to kinetic speech, the more easily is it apprehended by the multitude. Kinetic speech secures its effects by the presentation of facts, situations and stories, which are stuff not so fine as to slip through the coarse meshes of the general understanding. This explains the immediate and wide popularity of such poets as Longfellow, Scott, and Macaulay. Because prose, as a rule, depends more nearly on its kinetic than on its potential utterance, it is, as a rule, the more widely read. When, as in the hands of some nineteenth century writers, it emphasizes the potential element of speech it219 correspondingly narrows its public. Whenever poetry of high potentiality is read by a large public it will be found that its potential speech is condoned for them or hidden from them by more than usually vigorous kinetic speech. For potential speech secures its effects by suggestion. There is a bloom on its wings that a callous retina does not perceive. It is like a butterfly that has visited flowers and scatters their scent in its flight. The scent and the fluttering of its bloom-laden wings are more important than the direction or speed of its flying. It is always easier for the public to say, how fast, or where it is going than to notice these delicate things. The kinetic speech of a poem is understood by all; the potential depends for its apprehension upon the taste and knowledge of the reader. Words must have for us the associations that they had for the poet. We must be able to see them with his eyes, hear them with his ears, and taste their scents with nostrils not dissimilar to his. In time these things change. Unpopular poetry becomes quite popular, and indeed, no longer poetry, as it loses, through usage or forgetfulness, its proximity to the condition220 of potential speech. Accents are shifted from one to another syllable, and we should be deaf to the melody if we were unable to replace them. New meanings gather round the words, and they come back from later travels disguised in strange perfumes. The kinetic speech may be disturbed, but the potential has disappeared in a jargon of new sounds, a quarrel of new memories, and a chaos of new odours. Sometimes indeed, it is as if it had never existed.

In this light it is easy to understand the curious business of criticism, and to formulate an account of what occurs when poetry dies, or falls asleep like the princess in the wood, to be awakened after two centuries by a critic’s kiss. The Elizabethan dramatists lost their potential and were judged only by their kinetic speech during the eighteenth century. They were considered coarse and bloody-minded, because there is rapine and murder in their plays. Lamb restored to them the potentiality they had lost and turned bleak rock to flowering country. Spenser had become a mere monger of allegory, until Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt reconstituted him poet by discovering for themselves and others221 the attitude that restores to his kinetic its lost potential speech. Writers of Wordsworth’s generation realised, at least subconsciously, that a poem is not independent of knowledge. They tried to help us by printing at the head of a poem information about the circumstances of its conception. When a poet tells us that a sonnet was composed “on Westminster Bridge” or “suggested by Mr. Westell’s views of the caves, &c. in Yorkshire,” he is trying to ease for us the task of aesthetic reproduction to which his poem is a stimulus. He is trying to ensure that we shall approach it as he did, and hear as well as the kinetic the potential speech that he values. There is a crudity about such obvious assistance, and it would be quite insufficient without the wider knowledge on which we draw unconsciously as we read. But the crudity of those pitiable scraps of proffered information is not so remarkable as the dulness of perception that can allow a man to demand of a poem that it shall itself compel him accurately to enjoy it. It is possible that much of the old poetry that now seems to us no more than direct speech was once wrapped in a veil of suggestion. It222 is the critic’s business to rediscover those forgotten veils and to restore to the kinetic the magic of potential speech.

The formula of kinetic and potential speech illumines not only the critic’s business but also that of the historian. It enables him to link together in a single scheme the prose of Goldsmith with that of Pater and the poetry of the eighteenth century with poetry, like that of the Symbolists of the nineteenth, so different as to seem completely unrelated. It enables him to explain a phenomenon that he has usually alluded to as a mere curious accident, the fact that there have been ages when poetry has been popular and others in which it has been the possession of a few. It will, I think, be found that this periodicity coincides with a general variation between kinetic and potential speech. In the eighteenth century, when poetry was often rhymed prose, when the common standard of poetry was good sense, when she gave advice and said things, and did not seem to realise that there were things she could not say, when, in short, the kinetic almost overwhelmed the potential, then poetry was a popular form of literature. In other ages, when poetry223 has approached the condition of potential speech and so has needed for its appreciation such knowledge as that lately discussed, it has not swelled the publisher’s purse so swiftly as forms of literature that happened to be more nearly kinetic and so more easily enjoyed.

The eighteenth century poets and the Symbolists alike come under our definition and can be classed by the formula that depends upon it. I have suggested that the eighteenth century poets cared mostly for kinetic speech, and, indeed, carried their appreciation of it so high as sometimes to forget that poetry could do anything but speak wisely and well. Few schools have suffered a greater variety of imperfect and bungling definitions than that of Symbolism. The Symbolist aims have been described as “an escape from the thought of death,” and “intimacy with spiritual things.” Nowhere has there been a definition that has shown their relation to the aims of poetry in general. But, when Mallarmé says: “Nommer un objet, c’est supprimer les trois quarts de la jouissance du poème qui est faite du bonheur de deviner peu à peu; le suggérer, voilà le rêve,” he is224 saying, in other words, that poetry depends on potential speech. The Symbolists sought to write poetry that should be purely potential, and in the revision of certain of his poems Mallarmé tried to eliminate bit by bit the whole structure of kinetic speech that had been in them. The eighteenth century aims carried to their extreme would have meant bad prose; the Symbolist aims carried to their extreme would have meant (as they sometimes did) unintelligibility. Poetry is made by a combination of kinetic with potential speech. Eliminate either and the result is no longer poetry.

I do not propose the words kinetic and potential as terms of abuse or praise, though in different ages there have been artists who would have used them so. The eighteenth century poets would have used kinetic as a term of praise; the Symbolists would have used it as a term of abuse. The fact that different schools would have set different values on the words is itself a proof that they may be serviceable to historians and critics. Literature does indeed vary between these extremes, its kinetic quality preserving it from nonsense, its potential quality separating225 it from bad prose. Some sort of relevancy would be discoverable in any history that set itself to trace these variations. Some sort of relevancy is obvious in all criticism that attempts (as all good criticism does) the enhancement of the potential and the clarification of the kinetic element in such literature as happens to be its subject. In any case, an adoption of the definition of literature that this essay upholds would make ridiculous the classification of books by their subjects and of writers by their opinions, on which so many intellects have wasted time and vitality worthy of a more profitable employment.


Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co.
Edinburgh & London


1 After passing this note for press, I learn that this essay has been reprinted at Tokyo in a new edition of Mr. Noguchi’s The Pilgrimage.

2 For the reputation of Breughel d’Enfer is based on his imitations of his father, Breughel le Vieux, to whom is attributed the Temptation of St. Anthony at Genoa.

3 A piece of money coined by Charles VIII.

4 Figures that strike the hour on the clock-tower at Dijon.

5 The quotations in this essay are taken from Dr. Oscar Levy’s admirable English edition of Nietzsche, translated by Drs. W. A. Haussmann and M.  A. Mügge, Messrs. Paul V. Cohn, Thomas Common, J.  M. Kennedy, A.  M. Ludovici and H.  B. Samuel, and Miss Helen Zimmern: eighteen volumes published by Mr. T.  N. Foulis.

6 Clarendon Press. 1910.

7 Oscar Wilde.

8 These references are to the page-numbers in Messrs. Macmillan’s library edition.

9 His inability to tell a story was perhaps the reason of, or, at least supplies a commentary upon, his readiness to admire the narratives of M. Filon, Octave Feuillet, Mrs. Humphry Ward, and to admire them, quite ingenuously, for the story’s sake, like the ordinary reader of novels.

10 The Symbolist Movement in Literature, 1899.

11 An English translation was published in 1912 by Messrs. Stephen Swift.

12 When I wrote this article I was still hypnotised, like the symbolists themselves, with the idea that symbolism was a method. My later article on kinetic and potential speech contains what I believe to be a more accurate account of the significance of what is called the “symbolist movement.” It did not turn a practice into a theory, but merely emphasized one of the two inseparable functions of words when combined in poetic speech, and emphasized it at the expense of the other.

Japanese poets have always insisted on the potential element in poetic speech. Its intensity has always been for them the test of a poem. Noguchi, except in that he is a Japanese poet who happens to write in English, is not an innovator but the heir to a long Japanese tradition.

Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they were not changed.

Inconsistent use of accent marks has not been remedied.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; unbalanced quotation marks were remedied when the change was obvious, and otherwise left unbalanced.

Updated editions will replace the previous one—the old editions will be renamed.
Creating the works from print editions not protected by U.S. copyright law means that no one owns a United States copyright in these works, so the Foundation (and you!) can copy and distribute it in the United States without permission and without paying copyright royalties. Special rules, set forth in the General Terms of Use part of this license, apply to copying and distributing Project Gutenberg™ electronic works to protect the PROJECT GUTENBERG™ concept and trademark. Project Gutenberg is a registered trademark, and may not be used if you charge for an eBook, except by following the terms of the trademark license, including paying royalties for use of the Project Gutenberg trademark. If you do not charge anything for copies of this eBook, complying with the trademark license is very easy. You may use this eBook for nearly any purpose such as creation of derivative works, reports, performances and research. Project Gutenberg eBooks may be modified and printed and given away--you may do practically ANYTHING in the United States with eBooks not protected by U.S. copyright law. Redistribution is subject to the trademark license, especially commercial redistribution.
To protect the Project Gutenberg™ mission of promoting the free distribution of electronic works, by using or distributing this work (or any other work associated in any way with the phrase “Project Gutenberg”), you agree to comply with all the terms of the Full Project Gutenberg™ License available with this file or online at
Section 1. General Terms of Use and Redistributing Project Gutenberg™ electronic works
1.A. By reading or using any part of this Project Gutenberg™ electronic work, you indicate that you have read, understand, agree to and accept all the terms of this license and intellectual property (trademark/copyright) agreement. If you do not agree to abide by all the terms of this agreement, you must cease using and return or destroy all copies of Project Gutenberg™ electronic works in your possession. If you paid a fee for obtaining a copy of or access to a Project Gutenberg™ electronic work and you do not agree to be bound by the terms of this agreement, you may obtain a refund from the person or entity to whom you paid the fee as set forth in paragraph 1.E.8.
1.B. “Project Gutenberg” is a registered trademark. It may only be used on or associated in any way with an electronic work by people who agree to be bound by the terms of this agreement. There are a few things that you can do with most Project Gutenberg™ electronic works even without complying with the full terms of this agreement. See paragraph 1.C below. There are a lot of things you can do with Project Gutenberg™ electronic works if you follow the terms of this agreement and help preserve free future access to Project Gutenberg™ electronic works. See paragraph 1.E below.
1.C. The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation (“the Foundation” or PGLAF), owns a compilation copyright in the collection of Project Gutenberg™ electronic works. Nearly all the individual works in the collection are in the public domain in the United States. If an individual work is unprotected by copyright law in the United States and you are located in the United States, we do not claim a right to prevent you from copying, distributing, performing, displaying or creating derivative works based on the work as long as all references to Project Gutenberg are removed. Of course, we hope that you will support the Project Gutenberg™ mission of promoting free access to electronic works by freely sharing Project Gutenberg™ works in compliance with the terms of this agreement for keeping the Project Gutenberg™ name associated with the work. You can easily comply with the terms of this agreement by keeping this work in the same format with its attached full Project Gutenberg™ License when you share it without charge with others.
1.D. The copyright laws of the place where you are located also govern what you can do with this work. Copyright laws in most countries are in a constant state of change. If you are outside the United States, check the laws of your country in addition to the terms of this agreement before downloading, copying, displaying, performing, distributing or creating derivative works based on this work or any other Project Gutenberg™ work. The Foundation makes no representations concerning the copyright status of any work in any country other than the United States.
1.E. Unless you have removed all references to Project Gutenberg:
1.E.1. The following sentence, with active links to, or other immediate access to, the full Project Gutenberg™ License must appear prominently whenever any copy of a Project Gutenberg™ work (any work on which the phrase “Project Gutenberg” appears, or with which the phrase “Project Gutenberg” is associated) is accessed, displayed, performed, viewed, copied or distributed:
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at If you are not located in the United States, you will have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this eBook.
1.E.2. If an individual Project Gutenberg™ electronic work is derived from texts not protected by U.S. copyright law (does not contain a notice indicating that it is posted with permission of the copyright holder), the work can be copied and distributed to anyone in the United States without paying any fees or charges. If you are redistributing or providing access to a work with the phrase “Project Gutenberg” associated with or appearing on the work, you must comply either with the requirements of paragraphs 1.E.1 through 1.E.7 or obtain permission for the use of the work and the Project Gutenberg™ trademark as set forth in paragraphs 1.E.8 or 1.E.9.
1.E.3. If an individual Project Gutenberg™ electronic work is posted with the permission of the copyright holder, your use and distribution must comply with both paragraphs 1.E.1 through 1.E.7 and any additional terms imposed by the copyright holder. Additional terms will be linked to the Project Gutenberg™ License for all works posted with the permission of the copyright holder found at the beginning of this work.
1.E.4. Do not unlink or detach or remove the full Project Gutenberg™ License terms from this work, or any files containing a part of this work or any other work associated with Project Gutenberg™.
1.E.5. Do not copy, display, perform, distribute or redistribute this electronic work, or any part of this electronic work, without prominently displaying the sentence set forth in paragraph 1.E.1 with active links or immediate access to the full terms of the Project Gutenberg™ License.
1.E.6. You may convert to and distribute this work in any binary, compressed, marked up, nonproprietary or proprietary form, including any word processing or hypertext form. However, if you provide access to or distribute copies of a Project Gutenberg™ work in a format other than “Plain Vanilla ASCII” or other format used in the official version posted on the official Project Gutenberg™ website (, you must, at no additional cost, fee or expense to the user, provide a copy, a means of exporting a copy, or a means of obtaining a copy upon request, of the work in its original “Plain Vanilla ASCII” or other form. Any alternate format must include the full Project Gutenberg™ License as specified in paragraph 1.E.1.
1.E.7. Do not charge a fee for access to, viewing, displaying, performing, copying or distributing any Project Gutenberg™ works unless you comply with paragraph 1.E.8 or 1.E.9.
1.E.8. You may charge a reasonable fee for copies of or providing access to or distributing Project Gutenberg™ electronic works provided that:
• You pay a royalty fee of 20% of the gross profits you derive from the use of Project Gutenberg™ works calculated using the method you already use to calculate your applicable taxes. The fee is owed to the owner of the Project Gutenberg™ trademark, but he has agreed to donate royalties under this paragraph to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation. Royalty payments must be paid within 60 days following each date on which you prepare (or are legally required to prepare) your periodic tax returns. Royalty payments should be clearly marked as such and sent to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation at the address specified in Section 4, “Information about donations to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.”
• You provide a full refund of any money paid by a user who notifies you in writing (or by e-mail) within 30 days of receipt that s/he does not agree to the terms of the full Project Gutenberg™ License. You must require such a user to return or destroy all copies of the works possessed in a physical medium and discontinue all use of and all access to other copies of Project Gutenberg™ works.
• You provide, in accordance with paragraph 1.F.3, a full refund of any money paid for a work or a replacement copy, if a defect in the electronic work is discovered and reported to you within 90 days of receipt of the work.
• You comply with all other terms of this agreement for free distribution of Project Gutenberg™ works.
1.E.9. If you wish to charge a fee or distribute a Project Gutenberg™ electronic work or group of works on different terms than are set forth in this agreement, you must obtain permission in writing from the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, the manager of the Project Gutenberg™ trademark. Contact the Foundation as set forth in Section 3 below.
1.F.1. Project Gutenberg volunteers and employees expend considerable effort to identify, do copyright research on, transcribe and proofread works not protected by U.S. copyright law in creating the Project Gutenberg™ collection. Despite these efforts, Project Gutenberg™ electronic works, and the medium on which they may be stored, may contain “Defects,” such as, but not limited to, incomplete, inaccurate or corrupt data, transcription errors, a copyright or other intellectual property infringement, a defective or damaged disk or other medium, a computer virus, or computer codes that damage or cannot be read by your equipment.
1.F.2. LIMITED WARRANTY, DISCLAIMER OF DAMAGES - Except for the “Right of Replacement or Refund” described in paragraph 1.F.3, the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, the owner of the Project Gutenberg™ trademark, and any other party distributing a Project Gutenberg™ electronic work under this agreement, disclaim all liability to you for damages, costs and expenses, including legal fees. YOU AGREE THAT YOU HAVE NO REMEDIES FOR NEGLIGENCE, STRICT LIABILITY, BREACH OF WARRANTY OR BREACH OF CONTRACT EXCEPT THOSE PROVIDED IN PARAGRAPH 1.F.3. YOU AGREE THAT THE FOUNDATION, THE TRADEMARK OWNER, AND ANY DISTRIBUTOR UNDER THIS AGREEMENT WILL NOT BE LIABLE TO YOU FOR ACTUAL, DIRECT, INDIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL, PUNITIVE OR INCIDENTAL DAMAGES EVEN IF YOU GIVE NOTICE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.
1.F.3. LIMITED RIGHT OF REPLACEMENT OR REFUND - If you discover a defect in this electronic work within 90 days of receiving it, you can receive a refund of the money (if any) you paid for it by sending a written explanation to the person you received the work from. If you received the work on a physical medium, you must return the medium with your written explanation. The person or entity that provided you with the defective work may elect to provide a replacement copy in lieu of a refund. If you received the work electronically, the person or entity providing it to you may choose to give you a second opportunity to receive the work electronically in lieu of a refund. If the second copy is also defective, you may demand a refund in writing without further opportunities to fix the problem.
1.F.4. Except for the limited right of replacement or refund set forth in paragraph 1.F.3, this work is provided to you ‘AS-IS’, WITH NO OTHER WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR ANY PURPOSE.
1.F.5. Some states do not allow disclaimers of certain implied warranties or the exclusion or limitation of certain types of damages. If any disclaimer or limitation set forth in this agreement violates the law of the state applicable to this agreement, the agreement shall be interpreted to make the maximum disclaimer or limitation permitted by the applicable state law. The invalidity or unenforceability of any provision of this agreement shall not void the remaining provisions.
1.F.6. INDEMNITY - You agree to indemnify and hold the Foundation, the trademark owner, any agent or employee of the Foundation, anyone providing copies of Project Gutenberg™ electronic works in accordance with this agreement, and any volunteers associated with the production, promotion and distribution of Project Gutenberg™ electronic works, harmless from all liability, costs and expenses, including legal fees, that arise directly or indirectly from any of the following which you do or cause to occur: (a) distribution of this or any Project Gutenberg™ work, (b) alteration, modification, or additions or deletions to any Project Gutenberg™ work, and (c) any Defect you cause.
Section 2. Information about the Mission of Project Gutenberg™
Project Gutenberg™ is synonymous with the free distribution of electronic works in formats readable by the widest variety of computers including obsolete, old, middle-aged and new computers. It exists because of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and donations from people in all walks of life.
Volunteers and financial support to provide volunteers with the assistance they need are critical to reaching Project Gutenberg™’s goals and ensuring that the Project Gutenberg™ collection will remain freely available for generations to come. In 2001, the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation was created to provide a secure and permanent future for Project Gutenberg™ and future generations. To learn more about the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation and how your efforts and donations can help, see Sections 3 and 4 and the Foundation information page at
Section 3. Information about the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational corporation organized under the laws of the state of Mississippi and granted tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. The Foundation’s EIN or federal tax identification number is 64-6221541. Contributions to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation are tax deductible to the full extent permitted by U.S. federal laws and your state’s laws.
The Foundation’s business office is located at 809 North 1500 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84116, (801) 596-1887. Email contact links and up to date contact information can be found at the Foundation’s website and official page at
Section 4. Information about Donations to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
Project Gutenberg™ depends upon and cannot survive without widespread public support and donations to carry out its mission of increasing the number of public domain and licensed works that can be freely distributed in machine-readable form accessible by the widest array of equipment including outdated equipment. Many small donations ($1 to $5,000) are particularly important to maintaining tax exempt status with the IRS.
The Foundation is committed to complying with the laws regulating charities and charitable donations in all 50 states of the United States. Compliance requirements are not uniform and it takes a considerable effort, much paperwork and many fees to meet and keep up with these requirements. We do not solicit donations in locations where we have not received written confirmation of compliance. To SEND DONATIONS or determine the status of compliance for any particular state visit
While we cannot and do not solicit contributions from states where we have not met the solicitation requirements, we know of no prohibition against accepting unsolicited donations from donors in such states who approach us with offers to donate.
International donations are gratefully accepted, but we cannot make any statements concerning tax treatment of donations received from outside the United States. U.S. laws alone swamp our small staff.
Please check the Project Gutenberg web pages for current donation methods and addresses. Donations are accepted in a number of other ways including checks, online payments and credit card donations. To donate, please visit:
Section 5. General Information About Project Gutenberg™ electronic works
Professor Michael S. Hart was the originator of the Project Gutenberg™ concept of a library of electronic works that could be freely shared with anyone. For forty years, he produced and distributed Project Gutenberg™ eBooks with only a loose network of volunteer support.
Project Gutenberg™ eBooks are often created from several printed editions, all of which are confirmed as not protected by copyright in the U.S. unless a copyright notice is included. Thus, we do not necessarily keep eBooks in compliance with any particular paper edition.
Most people start at our website which has the main PG search facility:
This website includes information about Project Gutenberg™, including how to make donations to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, how to help produce our new eBooks, and how to subscribe to our email newsletter to hear about new eBooks.