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to any existing forms of art and literature, that we find a denial of all merit to the Victorian masters. Against this caricature of criticism, this Bolshevism, it would be hopeless to contend. But there is a large and growing class of more moderate thinkers who hold, in the first place, that the merit of the leading Victorian writers has been persistently overestimated, and that since its culmination the Victorian spirit has not ceased to decay, arriving at length at the state of timidity and repetition which encourages what is ugly, narrow, and vulgar, and demands nothing better than a swift dismissal to the dust-bin.
Every stratum of society, particularly if it is at all sophisticated, contains a body of barbarians who are usually silent from lack of occasion to express themselves, but who are always ready to seize an opportunity to suppress a movement of idealism. We accustom ourselves to the idea that certain broad principles of taste are universally accepted, and our respectable newspapers foster this benevolent delusion by talking habitually' over the heads', as we say, of the majority of their readers. They make 'great music for a little clan,' and nothing can be more praiseworthy than their effort, but, as a matter of fact, with or without the aid of the newspapers, the people who really care for literature or art, or for strenuous mental exercise of any kind, are relatively few. If we could procure a completely confidential statement of the number of persons to whom the names of Charles Lamb and Gainsborough have a distinct meaning, and still more of those who can summon up an impression of the essays of the one and of the pictures of the other, we should in all probability be painfully startled. Yet since these names enjoy what we call a universal celebrity, what must be the popular relation to figures much less prominent?
The result of this tyranny of fame, for so it must appear to all those who are inconvenienced by the expression of it, is to rouse a sullen tendency to attack the figures of art and literature whenever there arrives a chance of doing that successfully. Popular audiences can always be depended upon to cheer the statement of 'a plain man' that he is not clever enough to understand Browning or Meredith. An assurance that life is too short to be troubled with Henry James wakes the lower middle class to ecstasy. An oppor
tunity for such protests is provided by our English lack of critical tradition, by our accepted habit of saying, 'I do 'hate' or 'I must say I rather like' this or that without reference to any species of authority. This seems to have grown with dangerous rapidity of late years. It was not tolerated among the Victorians, who carried admiration to the highest pitch. They marshalled it, they defined it, they turned it from a virtue into a religion, and called it Hero Worship. Even their abuse was a kind of admiration turned inside out, as in Swinburne's diatribes against Carlyle, who himself fought against the theory of Darwin, not philosophically, but as though it were a personal insult to himself. Such violence of taste is now gone out of fashion; every scribbler and dauber likes to believe himself on a level with the best, and the positive criterion of value which sincere admiration gave is lost to us. Hence the success of Mr. Lytton Strachey.
But the decline of ardour does not explain the whole position, which we have to face with firmness. Epochs come to an end, and before they have their place finally awarded to them in history they are bound to endure much vicissitude of fortune. No amount of sarcasm or of indignant protest will avail to conceal the fact that we stand to-day at the porch, that much more probably we have already penetrated far into the vestibule, of a new age. What its character will be, or what its principal products, it is absolutely impossible for us as yet to conjecture. conjecture. Meanwhile the Victorian Age recedes, and it loses size and lustre as we get further and further away from it. When what was called 'Symbolism' began to act in urgent and direct reaction to the aims of those still in authority, the old order received its notice to quit, but that was at least five and twenty years ago, and the change is not complete. Ages so multiform and redundant and full of blood as the Victorian take a long time to die; they have their surprising recoveries and their uncovenanted convalescences. But even they give up the ghost at length, and are buried hastily with scant reverence. The time has doubtless come when aged mourners must prepare themselves to attend the obsequies of the Victorian Age with as much decency as they can muster. EDMUND GOSSE.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF PESSIMISM
HE preposterous person who declares that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds probably does not know that he is quoting Leibnitz at a distance, or that a formal system of philosophy underlies his complacent creed. Yet it was the considered opinion of Leibnitz, by no means a contemptible person, that the universe is the perfect work of an infinitely benevolent God, Who from all conceivable possibilities has chosen the best; and thi hypothesis in some form or other must be the essence of every optimistic theory of life.
Unfortunately the full hypothesis becomes difficult to defend as soon as it is tested by the superficial facts of existence. A slight acquaintance with medicine or history intrudes uncomfortable doubts of its universality. A London slum and a filthy Balkan village infested by hunger-typhus are hard to reconcile with any actual good, let alone any theoretical best, yet thousands of people live in London slums and die in Balkan villages. And the contrast between what might be and what is, which lies at the very root of all observation of life, has created the opposite school of pessimism, which holds that life on the whole is evil, that the bad predominates over the good, and that the vast majority of the human race is predestined to suffer misery in this world, and perhaps damnation in the next. Schopenhauer is the typical modern pessimist, but his ancestry is a long one; it reaches back through Calvin to Augustine, who was himself the principal and possibly the deciding factor in the vast conflict of moral opinion in the previous three centuries; it includes Buddha and other Indian thinkers; it is very largely represented in the religious philosophy of Babylon and Persia, and it can claim the unknown author of Ecclesiastes and lesser post-exilic writers among the Jews. The mighty names of Plato and St. Paul cannot, it is true, be urged by the pessimists, but neither will the optimist always be altogether happy in their company; for complete satisfaction he must fall back on the obscure
and long discredited Origen, who cherished hopes even of the conversion of Satan that seem unhappily destined not to be fulfilled.
For what it may be worth then the weight of authority, if not definitely with the pessimists, is certainly not on the side of the complete optimists; and if the mass of men have generally accepted the latter view, and obstinately incline to the belief that life is usually worth living, they have emphatically endorsed at least one of the main conclusions of the pessimists. The belief in the immortality of the soul owes much of its force to the profoundly pessimistic conviction that life as it stands is not worth the living, but is an experience to be borne as patiently as may be in the hope that something better may yet reward our present suffering. The very article of faith which has perhaps done more than anything else to convince men of a moral purpose in life springs largely from the conclusion that without that faith there is no evident moral purpose in the universe at all. Pessimism has in this case provided its own antidote, and called a new world into being to redress the balance of the old.
But there have been times when large masses of men have acquiesced in pessimism as the only rational outlook on life, when disastrous experience has seemed to show that the bulk of the human race was bound to suffer, and the sight of their evil fate led to a belief in the innate depravity of our species which left its mark for generations in the discipline of nurseries and prisons, and is still reflected in the demand for a servant's references,' for fidelity guarantees, and documented history. When floods, pestilence, or famine have overwhelmed a country, the whole community has sought the cause, not in its own ignorance of irrigation or hygiene or agriculture, but in the existence of malignant powers, supernatural because invisible; or has even credited nature itself with malignant properties that could only be controlled by the propitiation of those still higher powers which created the universe and for some mysterious purpose perImitted these evils to exist. Man has terrified himself with his own fancies, and he does so still. Our ancestors ascribed their physical evils to maleficent spirits; some of our scientific contemporaries, baffled in their psychical researches,
hastily attribute their failure to imps and demons of the same essential character.
In most cases, however, the effects of such calamitites are transient. The worst disaster England ever suffered was the Black Death, which swept away a third of the population in a year or two; but the next generation produced the gay insouciance of the 'Canterbury Tales.' The natural resilience of human beings and our God-given faculty of forgetfulness soon restore the normal way of life; only in the case of Russia perhaps have the misery, hunger, and oppression which have been the common lot from one generation to another produced a profound and permanent pessimism reflected throughout her literature, her music, and her art.
But such disasters, which were not infrequent when life was so continuously menaced that its very foundations were insecure, nevertheless left one deep impression in the mind of man—a persistent conviction of his insignificance and impotence. The belief in fate, the will of Allah, the mysterious chastenings of a divine providence, all testify to this feeling; and to comfort or reassure themselves against these buffetings men have created the pleasant myth of a Golden Age, a theory which does at least link our past with the immortal gods, in compensation for our present too evident exclusion from those august circles. From Hesiod to Pascal the weight of surrounding evil has been explained-if it has been explained-by the doctrine that man has fallen from primitive bliss and is expiating his ancestral crime, from which some day perhaps, purged and purified, he may hope to return to his original high estate, the deformed transformed, the remittance man become the heir of the demesne. But this ultimate restoration is seemingly a subsequent and not very convincing afterthought, a concession to that very human desire for a happy ending which the critics tell us spoils all the best stories. The theory of the Golden Age is indeed essentially a creation of the pessimists, since it implies the deterioration of the race; only the optimist rejects the belief that we are degenerate and holds fast to the creed of progressive development. In that sense modern evolutionary science is emphatically optimist; and, in fact, as we conquer the