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Authors: F. R. Leavis

The Common Pursuit

COPYRIGHT 1952 BY F- R. UBAVIS

FIRST PUBLISHED IN ENGLAND! 1952 BY CHATTO & WINDXJS, LTD PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN

For MY WIFE

Contents

PREFACE page v

MR ELIOT AND MILTON 9

IN DEFENCE OF MILTON 33

GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS 44 THE LETTERS OF GERARD MANLBY HOPKINS 59

THE IRONY OF SWIFT 73

'THE DUNCIAD' 88

JOHNSON AND AUGUSTANISM 97

JOHNSON AS POET 116

TRAGEDY AND THE 'MEDIUM' 121 DIABOLIC INTELLECT AND THE NOBLE HERO 136

'MEASURE FOR MEASURE' 160 THE CRITICISM OF SHAKESPEARE'S LATE PLAYS 173

LITERATURE AND SOCIETY 182

SOCIOLOGY AND LITERATURE 195

BUNYAN THROUGH MODERN EYES 204

LITERARY CRITICISM AND PHILOSOPHY 211

HENRY JAMES AND THE FUNCTION OF 223 CRITICISM

THE WILD, UNTUTORED PHOENIX page 233

MR ELIOT, MR WYNDHAM LEWIS AND 240 LAWRENCE

THE LOGIC OF CHRISTIAN DISCRIMINATION 248

KEYNES, LAWRENCE AND CAMBRIDGE 255

E. M. FORSTER 261

APPROACHES TO T. S. ELIOT 278

THE PROGRESS OF POESY 293

INDEX 299

Preface

T TAKE the title of this book from The Function of Criticism, JL one of those essays of Mr Eliot's which I most admire. The immediately relevant passage runs:

'Here, one would suppose, was a place for quiet co-operative labour. The critic, one would suppose, if he is to justify his existence, should endeavour to discipline his personal prejudices and cranks— tares to which we are all subject—and compose his differences with as many of his fellows as possible in die common pursuit of true judgment.'

—'The common pursuit of true judgment': chat is how the critic should see his business, and what it should be for him. His perceptions and judgments are his, or they are nothing; but, whether or not he has consciously addressed himself to cooperative labour, they are inevitably collaborative. Collaboration may take the form of disagreement, and one is grateful to the critic whom one has found worth disagreeing with.

Most of the matter in this volume originated in a consciously collaborative enterprise—a sustained effort to promote the 'co-operative labour* of criticism. It appeared in Scrutiny, a review that, when the literary history of the past two decades comes to be written, may perhaps be found to have done more to vindicate and maintain the critical function in the English-speaking world than the very small amount of publicly accorded recognition would suggest To the Editors of Scrutiny I am indebted for permission to reprint what first appeared there. 'Johnson and Augustanism' and 'Mr Eliot and Milton' appeared in The Kenyan Review and The Sewanee Review respectively, and I have to thank the Editors for permission to reprint those essays.

Five collaborators to whom I am especially grateful are Mr Quentin Anderson, Professor L. C. Knights, Mr George Santa-yana, Fr. A. A. Stephenson, S.J., and Professor Rene Wellek, critics to whom I am indebted for the peculiar advantage repre-

A*

sented by a set critical exchange. The reader will recognize that, in so far as they are present in the essays of mine referring to them, they are present for my convenience, and that what they themselves have said is not fairly to be deduced from my references—any more than it is to be concluded that, given the opportunity, they would have nothing to rejoin.

Criticism, the 'pursuit of true judgment*, is not, of course, a pursuit that one can count on finding very commonly practised or favoured. It was by way of countering the wrong meaning of 'common' that I picked my epigraphs from Henry James. The 'associational process' to which he refers (he is declining the offered chairmanship of the English Association) has become a much more formidable menace since his time; how formidable, I suggest in 'The Progress of Poesy', the last piece presented in the following collection. I have not included that piece and given it the salience of the final place out of wanton provocativeness. It seems to me that no one seriously interested can have failed to perceive that, where the critical function is concerned, what peculiarly characterizes our time in England is the almost complete triumph of the 'social' (or the 'associatioiial') values over those which are the business of the critic.

Everyone can think of striking illustrations of what I am referring to. So striking are some of the most recent, and so obviously disastrous must this state of affairs be for literature, and consequently for so much else, that this discouraging moment is perhaps especially one when the explicit challenge may seem not altogether pointless. However that may be, a critic who has thought his pursuit worth his toil must feel that he is committed to taking the opportunity that offers, and to turning such attention as he can win—if he can win any—on the lamentable and unanswerable facts.

F. R. LEA vis

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to Messrs Edward Arnold & Co. for kind permission to quote the extract from Professor Raleigh's On Writing and Writers in my essay on * Sociology and Literature*; to the Oxford University Press for permission to quote the extract on page 190 from Cecil Sharp's Introduction to English Folk-Songs from the Southern Appalachians, and to The Society of Jesus and the Oxford University Press for permission to quote from Hopkins's letters and

poems.

F.R.L,

For me, frankly, my dear John, there is simply no question of these things: I am a mere stony, ugly monster of Dissociation and Detachment. I have never in all my life gone in for these things, but have dodged and shirked and successfully evaded them—to the best of my power at least, and so far as they have in fact assaulted me: all my instincts and the very essence of any poor thing that I might, or even still may, trump up for the occasion as my 'genius' have been against them, and are more

against them at this day than ever I can't go into it all much

—but the rough sense of it is that I believe only in absolutely independent, individual and lonely virtue, and in the serenely unsociable (or if need be at a pinch sulky and sullen) practice of the same; the observation of a lifetime having convinced me that no fruit ripens but under that temporarily graceless rigour, and that the associational process for bringing it on is but a bright and hollow artifice, all vain and delusive.

HENRY JAMES, Letter to John Bailley, ii Nov. 1912

They are, in general, a sort of plea for Criticism, for Discrimination, for Appreciation on other than infantile lines—as against the so almost universal Anglo-Saxon absence of these things; which tends so, in our general trade, it seems to me, to break the heart*

HENRY JAMES, Letter to W. D. Howells, 17 AUGUST 1908

The Norwegian Society of Authors gave him a loving cup, but he asked them to scratch off the inscription and give it to somebody else.

Obituary notice O/KNUT HAMSUN

At the end of my first term's work I attended the usual college board to give an account of myself. The spokesman coughed and said a little stiffly: 'I understand, Mr Graves, that the essays that you write for your English tutor arc, shall I say, a trifle temperamental. It appears, indeed, that you prefer some authors to others.'

ROBERT GRAVES, Goodbye to All That

MR ELIOT AND MILTON

MR ELIOT'S paper on Milton, delivered in England as a British Academy * Lecture on a Master Mind', and later broadcast in the Third Programme, was widely acclaimed as a classic of recantation—an authoritative and final piece of criticism, vindicating Milton against 'errors and prejudices' propounded by the same critic in his less discerning days, and slavishly taken up by his followers. On me, however, the paper has the effect of showing that Mr Eliot found himself unable to bring to Milton any but a perfunctory interest. And, as a matter of fact, I know of no evidence that his interest in Milton was at any time intense. In saying this I intend no score against Mr Eliot. In what I judge to have been his best days as a critic, the interest was adequate to his purposes, which were very effectually achieved, and it might perhaps be said that the recent paper shows him interested enough for the purposes of an address on Milton to the British Academy.

In it Mr Eliot recognizes two kinds of relevant critical competence : that of the practitioner of verse, and that of the scholar. He himself, of course, speaks as a practitioner. His own distinction as a critic no one to-day disputes; I cannot however acquiesce in his ascription of competence to the 'practitioner' as such without qualifying a great deal more than he does. But let me first say that the deference he exhibits towards the scholars seems to me wholly deplorable (they enjoy deference enough in any case). The questions discussed in his paper belong, in his own phrase, to 'the field of literary criticism'. For the purposes of criticism, scholarship, unless directed by an intelligent interest in poetry—without, that is, critical sensibility and die skill that enables the critic to develop its responses in sensitive and closely relevant thinking-is useless. That skill is not common among scholars. Of the 'champions of Milton in our time' who have rectified the' errors' with 'vigorous hands' and who have opposed the 'prejudices' with 'commanding voices', is there one whose vigour takes effect as a vigour of relevance, or whose arguments command attention

because they so unquestionably represent an intelligent interest in poetry ?

If so, I haven't come across him. And no intimation of Mr Eliot's alters my own finding, which is that there can be little profit in arguing with these champions, since, confident as they are in their status as authorities, their critical education has so patently not begun: where poetry is to be discussed, they show themselves unaware of the elementary conditions of talking to the point. No doubt their learning sometimes has relevance to the understanding and judgment of Milton's poems—relevance they are themselves unable to enforce. No doubt, too, there is relevant knowledge that a critic must have in order to understand and judge. It is possible to argue plausibly that in such a case as Milton's the enabling knowledge will be very extensive. But nothing is plainer to me than that the learning of the scholars to whom Mr Eliot defers has not, in fact, enabled.

I feel called on to make the point with a certain indelicate bluntness, because, though I cannot claim to be either a practitioner of verse or a scholar, I confess to being a 'teacher*—that is, my business is to promote, according to my powers, the intelligent study and discussion of literature. And everyone whose business is die same knows that the academic world in general takes more readily to promoting the deferential study of the scholars, and that the kind of student who has the best chance of academic distinction finds it easier to acquire skill in showing familiarity with the 'work on* (say) Milton than the skill I have referred to above: the skill to develop in relevant thinking the responses of a trained sensibility to the work of the poet. The application of such skill will involve a recourse to scholarship, and the acquisition of knowledge; but it will involve also something quite different from, a deferential attitude towards the scholars. Even intelligent students may waste much of their limited time and energy (literature is extensive and the critical lights rare) making a foil discovery of the latter truth for themselves, and the teacher accordingly has his responsibilities.

As for the special critical competence of the 'practitioner*, one can grant it, I think, only if one delimits one's practitioner very narrowly* Mr Eliot seems to me to be merely abetting confusion when he suggests that 'the criticism of the scholar wul be all the

better, if he has some experience of the difficulties of writing verse'. Had he said that the scholar would be a better critic if he were capable of becoming a poet of the kind of originality for which Mr Eliot is important in literary history, one would readily agree. But it would be more to the point to say that the scholar's criticism would be better worth attending to if he were critic enough to be able to acclaim an Eliot when he appears, instead of denouncing his verse as unscannable, and seeing the contemporary poetic achievement in a Testament of Beauty.

Mr Eliot's superiority as critic over the champions to whom he shows so misleading a courtesy has certainly the closest of relations to the creative genius manifested in his verse. As he himself has said, * sensibility alters from generation to generation in everybody, whether we will or no, but expression is only altered by a man of genius'. The man of genius in our time has been Mr Eliot; he had the * consciousness', and acquired the technical skill, to 'use words differently'. In such a creative achievement a distinguished critical intelligence has its inseparable part. (One may add, with immediate relevance, that Bridges' long experience of the difficulties of writing verse didn't make him an intelligent critic or, to all appearances, tend that way in the least.) More generally, the * practitioner' who may be assumed to have advantages as a critic is the real poet, creative and original.

To become a major poet in Mr Eliot's time, when current poetic conventions and idioms afforded no starting point, so unadaptable to the needs of'sensibility' were the inveterate habits of expression, required perception and understanding of a rare order. The author of Portrait of a Lady, Cerontion and The Waste Land was in the nature of the case qualified to write criticism as influential as any in literary history. Mr Eliot's best criticism, directed for the most part on the poetry of the past, is immediately related to his own problems as a poet—a poet confronted with the task of inventing the new ways of using words that were necessary if there was to be a contemporary poetry. The interest it shows Mr Eliot taking in his subjects is correspondingly restricted. But the restriction can be seen to be a condition of the extraordinary cogency of the criticism—the clean finality with which it does what was necessary for his essential purposes. Never was there a finer economy. About Milton directly he says very

little; there was no need to say more. But the two or three passing observations transmit the force of a whole close context, the ensemble of essays, in which Mr Eliot, discussing predominantly qualities and effects that seem to him to call for appreciative study, maintains so sharp and consistent a relevance to his focal interest, the interest of the practitioner. 'The important critic', we read in The Sacred Wood, 'is the person who is absorbed in the present problems of art, and who wishes to bring the forces of the past to bear on the solution of those problems'. The measure of his own importance is die efficacity with which he served the function defined here. Though he says, in his influential criticism, so little about Milton, the result of his work as critic and poet was Milton's 'dislodgment'.

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