Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." 1 If this be true it will follow that there is nothing for it but that the genius should boldly discover himself and stand on his own feet. If the genius does not know that he is a genius, how on earth are the dunces to know it!

""

42. Ruskin on the Critic's perplexities.-Ruskin makes the following remarks on the critic's perplexities." They who would maintain the cause of contemporary excellence against that of elder times must have almost every class of men arrayed against them : the generous [?], because they would not find matter of accusation against established dignities; the anxious, because they do not like the sound of a living man's praise; the wise [?], because they prefer the opinion of centuries to that of days; and the foolish, because they are incapable of forming an opinion of their own.' And at the same place he quotes a fine passage from Hooker to the same effect: "To the best and wisest while they live the world is continually a froward opposite; and a curious observer of their defects and imperfections, these virtues afterwards, it as much admireth. And for this cause many times that which deserveth admiration would hardly be able to find favour if they which propose it were not content to profess themselves therein scholars and followers of the ancients. For the world will not endure to hear that we are wiser than any have been which went before." 2

43. The true object of Criticism.-But to conclude these preliminary remarks: Great and confusing as the difficulties in the way of sound criticism seem to be, there must surely be some

1 'Works,' Vol. iii. p. 395. See also Appendix, Note A.
2 'Modern Painters, Vol. i., Preface, pp. xiv, xv.

palpable qualities in great literary works which should at once appeal to, and make themselves felt by, any critic of competency. Conversely, when Homer nods, when Shakespeare writes tumidly, when Milton's Pegasus treads the Opaque Terrene very lamely, when Burns writes commonplace, or Scott is prosy, the competent critic, if there be any science of criticism at all, should be able to discover the fact; and, to some extent at least, should be able to say explicitly where and in what manner the Homeric nutation or the Pegasean lameness manifests itself. In order to justify itself, criticism must be able to do this in a more or less satisfactory manner where established reputations are concerned, just as, on the other hand, it must be able to give, and will find its chief glory in giving, articulate expression and rational warranty to the excellencies of merit without a name.

Q

34

CHAPTER II.

FACT AND FICTION.

1. Truth is more interesting than Fiction.-By way of further introduction to our study of critical principles, I invite the reader to consider and balance the interest of Fact against the interest of Fiction. Without hesitation I should say that, cæteris paribus, Truth is more interesting than Fiction.

2. The first requisite of any History is, of course, that it shall contain, as nearly as possible, a true statement of facts. The pure historic excellence of any professed account of events is, cæteris paribus, in proportion to its conformity with truth of fact. The pure historic worth of any account of events declines in proportion to the degree in which it deviates from the truth of fact. If the alleged facts are groundless or distorted, the story recounting them, whatever its other merits may be, is bad History-its badness being in proportion to the distortion or to the groundlessness of the alleged facts. All this will be readily admitted by everybody; but I ask everybody to admit something more-namely, that whilst historic truth is necessary to historic excellence, there is at the same time no reason why it should not be more interesting than historic fiction.

3. Some Greek and Roman stories: the story of

Arion.-Take a story from Herodotus-e.g., that of Arion. This Arion was a Greek bard, and a famous player on the cithara. He is also said to have been the "inventor" of dithyrambic poetry. He lived in the seventh century B.C., and spent a great part of his life at the Court of Periander, tyrant of Corinth. Having visited Italy and Sicily, he there acquired great wealth, with which he determined to return to Corinth, choosing to voyage in a Corinthian ship, because he put more confidence in the men of Corinth than in those of any other nation. His confidence turned out, unhappily, to have been misplaced; for those Corinthians, when they were out at sea, conspired to throw him overboard, in order, of course, to seize his property. Becoming aware of the conspiracy, Arion offered them money, and entreated them to spare his life. His offers and entreaties were in vain. The sailors ordered him either to kill himself or to throw himself into the sea. In these straits he entreated them to permit him, as a preliminary, to stand on the poop in his full dress and sing, promising that he would then make away with himself. To this proposal the sailors agreed. Thereupon Arion took up his cithara, and, standing on the rowing benches, went through the Orthian strain, which being ended he leaped into the sea, when lo! a dolphin appeared, received Arion on his back, and carried him safely to Tænarus.1 Obviously the story is without historic credibility-that is to say, in its main features,-just as in its main features the story of the jettison of Jonah and its sequel are without historic credibility. But the principal point to which I would ask attention is that this Arion story, decorated with all its dolphinian fiction, is probably not half as interesting as the 1 'Herodotus,' i. 23, 24.

true biography of Arion would be if it could be brought to light. Who would not rather learn the actual truth about this ancient sweet player on the cithara,-what man of sense and feeling would not rather become acquainted with his real character and circumstances and struggles and achievements than listen to the poor fish story with which his name is associated?

4. Of Xerxes and the invasion of Greece."Xerxes, son of Darius," says Herodotus, "led 5,283,220 men to Sepias and Thermopyla." 1 So entirely childish in the question of numbers was the "father-of-History." After all those thousands and millions, notice the amusing balance of 220! The father-of-History would have been much more valuable and interesting not only as a historian but in other important respects if he had shown even some little recognition of the claims of veracity. He declares that their "beasts of burden alone," on being watered at a lake of about thirty stadia in circumference, "dried this up." 2 Inventive and amusing, no doubt, but in point of real interest how inferior to what even a dry, historic, arithmetical account of the simple facts of the case would have been! Or take the ridiculous story of Xerxes scourging and branding the Hellespont.3 Twenty times rather would we have a real glimpse of the real Xerxes in his authentic tragical fury than whole volumes of fictitious stories about him.

5. Of the slaughter of Lacedæmonians and Argians. -In the same author we read that 300 Lacedæmonians encountered 300 Argians in battle, and that only three of the combatants survived to tell the tale. Clearly, this is a very large draft even upon credulity. At all events, it takes a strong

1 'Herodotus,' vii. 186.

3 Ib., vii. 35.

2 Ib., vii. 109.

4 Ib., i. 82.

« PredošláPokračovať »