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tranquil and delighted contemplation, exquisitely touched to beauty by the poet's art and the divine friendliness of distance. The happiness it confers need not be happiness less complete because it is the happiness of romantic vision, of the child's fairy tale. Since the infirmity of our natures makes more credible a greatness and a goodness far off than near, epic is the natural home of ideals—there lies open to it a region forbidden to tragedy, the shining region to which imagination guides, the underworld of Virgil, the Hell, or Heaven, or Paradise of Dante or of Milton.

In the centuries during which the ideal of heroic poetry was in debate Homer was without serious rival. He is without rival still, though learning has discovered flaws and cracks in the crystal, and made familiar

many a song


the names of whose heroes the Renaissance critics had never heard. Exclusive study of the classical type of epic may easily blind the judgment to the distinctive beauties of such poetry as Beowulf, Roland, or the Cuchullin saga--they emanated from races which never felt the compelling pressure of Greek ideals, and represent far other conditions of national life. Yet heroic poetry is one; whether of the East or West, the North or South, its blood and temper are the same, and the true epic, wherever created, will be a narrative poem, organic in structure, dealing with great actions and great characters, in a style commensurate with the lordliness of its theme, which tends to idealise these characters and actions, and to sustain and embellish its subject by means of episode and amplification.


How far, when one attempts such a definition, attempts an essay or a volume upon "epic poetry,” is one guilty of an intellectual error,

known as the theory of artistic and literary classes”? “Even the most refined of these distinctions,” argues Croce, “those that have the most philosophical appearance, do not resist criticism; as, for instance, when works of art are divided into the subjective and the objective styles, into lyric and epic, into works of feeling and works of design. It is impossible to separate in æsthetic analysis the subjective from


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the objective side, the lyric from the epic, the image of feeling from that of things. From the theory of the artistic and literary classes derive those erroneous modes of judgment and of criticism, thanks to which, instead of asking before a work of art if it be expressive, and what it expresses, whether it speak or stammer, or be silent altogether, it is asked if it be obedient to the laws of the epic poem or to those of tragedy, to those of historical portraiture or to those of landscape painting. Artists, however, while making a verbal pretence of agreeing, or yielding a feigned obedience to them, have really always disregarded these laws of styles. Every true work of art has violated some established class and upset the ideas of the critics, who have thus been obliged to enlarge the number of classes, until finally even this enlargement has proved too narrow, owing to the appearance of new works of art, which are naturally followed by new scandals, new upsettings, and new enlargements.” 1

Croce is, in the main, no doubt right, though it would be difficult to prove, for instance, that “ every true work of art has violated some established class; easy, indeed, to prove the contrary. But the world has long been aware that art has a history, that there is such a thing as development, that the literary and artistic classes, terms like tragedy or epic, whatever natural propriety they possess, continually require enlargement. It has, too, long been aware that art is expression, and that what we value in the artist is his power of expression. If he fails here he fails altogether. What other success, we may naturally ask, can he have?

“ Your music's power your music must disclose,

For what light is, 'tis only light that shows." In the scientific treatise, or the political discourse, or the philosophical system our eyes are fixed, so to say, in another direction, we are on the look-out for knowledge, or enlightenment, and for the sake of intellectual gains are prepared to overlook formal defects. Scientific or philosophical writers

Æsthetic, as Science of Expression and General Linguistic, translated from the Italian of Benedetto Croce by Douglas Ainslie, pp. 60 and 61.


make us certain offers and we accept them, but the offer made by the artist is simply the offer of expression; he professes form, and by form he must be judged, we can accept from him nothing less. Yet the difficulty is that in the study of art or literature one moves constantly from one field to another, from the field of scientific to that of æsthetic values. Criticism itself may be, often is, both science and art. Classification, for example, of authors and of works, is frequently found convenient, even necessary. It is convenient to place together for purposes of comparison the Iliad and Beowulf, Virgil and Milton, to discuss under the same title poems which resemble each other, have points in common, follow the same models, aim at giving the same kind of pleasure. Such a method has its uses and cannot be abandoned. In this field we exercise the logical judgment. But in a moment we may leave it to appraise the work of Homer or of Tasso as poetry, as art, and in this field the æsthetic judgment guides and controls us. For this reason literary criticism, which partakes of a double character, scientific and æsthetic, passes continually in the same volume and on the same page from one form of mental activity to another. Recognise that they are different forms, that the classifications or descriptions given have nothing philosophical about them, that nothing in the constitution of nature dictates or justifies their use, and we escape all dangers; we may continue to employ the customary definitions, the current and convenient classifications, to speak of epic or lyrical or elegiac poetry, of odes and ballads, of tragedies and sonnets. Such phrases are perfectly well understood and one needs no apology for their use. Only if when we employ definitions, often helpful, we imagine ourselves in search of an eternal law, imagine the distinction, for example, between epic and romance as something rigid and final, is the warning necessary. Meanwhile they serve their turn. Not until the last stone is laid is it time to knock away the scaffolding.

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The matter of the authentic epic is usually traced to the earlier lays and ballads of the race from which it springs. In it the student discovers not the mind of one skilful artist only, but the minds of many previous makers. And not alone these minds, but the more general mind of a people, the diffused evidence of their creeds and customs, their traditions and experiences. The authentic epic, even in its finished and final form, is, in one sense, primitive poetry, the poetry of an age unlettered, and by contrast with our own uncivilised. But it suggests peoples still more primitive than those to whom it first gave pleasure, and periods more remote than that in which it was composed. It contains hints and references which open up vistas into epochs far withdrawn even from its own gaze, and we know it for a building whose walls were raised by men generations apart from those who laid its foundations. Stones cut from ancient and forgotten quarries, and smoothed with ruder instruments, half-effaced tracings that speak of earlier and superseded plans, fragments of primæval masonry-relate its history. Strictly true it is that

“ Learned commentators view

In Homer more than Homer knew."

The poets before Homer were in a measure the architects of his fame; artists, of whom the maker of Beowulf had never heard, laboured in his cause. But these again had their predecessors, and before the lays and sagas which the epic poet knew must have flourished a still earlier world of song. The epic -- a highly developed form of art-could not have come to birth save for the cruder


and transformed, and these were in their turn more finely wrought than the earliest narratives and lyrics of men in the infancy of society. The history of poetry

poems it took

is thus, like that of law and custom, a continuous and unbroken history, nor can it be supposed that when its curve dips out of sight, or we miss a connecting link, that the chain of development was severed. It is we who are at fault. The arts advance with the advance of civilisation, and they accompany it steadily back to the drawings by the cave-dwellers of elk or mammoth, and the choral dance of the savage tribe.

Yet one must acknowledge it too hard a task for criticism to trace, fully or exactly, the stages of the journey from choral dance to epic or drama in the story of any people. Criticism can but indicate at most the probable line of advance, piece imperfectly together records and observations of races often far separated in time and space-records and observations perhaps so widely sundered as excavations in Crete and the burial customs of the Hottentot. The scholar is involved, when he ponders the epic problem, in questions the most difficult and disputable of ethnology and philology. An equipment of learning, not rapidly nor easily acquired, is demanded even for their consideration, and they carry one far from the paths of pure literature. Take such a matter as the origins of our own English and Scottish ballad literature, by comparison simple, yet in sharp debate. Enter upon the far remoter field of the origins of Beowulf, one is instantly entangled in a forest of conjectures. No one will deny that ballad or epic-any selected ballad or epic—is part of a continuous whole, part of a national literature, yet to ascribe to it not merely its rank and dignity as a poem, but its true date and place in literary and social history, to determine its relations with the poetry that preceded and the poetry that followed, that is a task of real magnitude, more easily outlined than completed.

The earliest poetry of all races—it is not altogether a conjecture-appears to have been the ballad-dance. For in the earliest social gatherings the rude music and song were never dissevered, never practised apart. In rhythmical gesture, for a sense of rhythm appears to be as old as humanity, the village assembly gave expression to its pleasure or sorrow, and when words or cries were added to or accompanied the physical

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