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    The Critic As Artist

    by Oscar Wilde
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    THE CRITIC AS ARTIST: WITH SOME REMARKS UPON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING NOTHING

    A DIALOGUE. Part I. Persons: Gilbert and Ernest. Scene: the
    library of a house in Piccadilly, overlooking the Green Park.

    GILBERT (at the Piano). My dear Ernest, what are you laughing at?

    ERNEST (looking up). At a capital story that I have just come
    across in this volume of Reminiscences that I have found on your
    table.

    GILBERT. What is the book? Ah! I see. I have not read it yet.
    Is it good?

    ERNEST. Well, while you have been playing, I have been turning
    over the pages with some amusement, though, as a rule, I dislike
    modern memoirs. They are generally written by people who have
    either entirely lost their memories, or have never done anything
    worth remembering; which, however, is, no doubt, the true
    explanation of their popularity, as the English public always feels
    perfectly at its ease when a mediocrity is talking to it.

    GILBERT. Yes: the public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives
    everything except genius. But I must confess that I like all
    memoirs. I like them for their form, just as much as for their
    matter. In literature mere egotism is delightful. It is what
    fascinates us in the letters of personalities so different as
    Cicero and Balzac, Flaubert and Berlioz, Byron and Madame de
    Sevigne. Whenever we come across it, and, strangely enough, it is
    rather rare, we cannot but welcome it, and do not easily forget it.
    Humanity will always love Rousseau for having confessed his sins,
    not to a priest, but to the world, and the couchant nymphs that
    Cellini wrought in bronze for the castle of King Francis, the green
    and gold Perseus, even, that in the open Loggia at Florence shows
    the moon the dead terror that once turned life to stone, have not
    given it more pleasure than has that autobiography in which the
    supreme scoundrel of the Renaissance relates the story of his
    splendour and his shame. The opinions, the character, the
    achievements of the man, matter very little. He may be a sceptic
    like the gentle Sieur de Montaigne, or a saint like the bitter son
    of Monica, but when he tells us his own secrets he can always charm
    our ears to listening and our lips to silence. The mode of thought
    that Cardinal Newman represented--if that can be called a mode of
    thought which seeks to solve intellectual problems by a denial of
    the supremacy of the intellect--may not, cannot, I think, survive.
    But the world will never weary of watching that troubled soul in
    its progress from darkness to darkness. The lonely church at
    Littlemore, where 'the breath of the morning is damp, and
    worshippers are few,' will always be dear to it, and whenever men
    see the yellow snapdragon blossoming on the wall of Trinity they
    will think of that gracious undergraduate who saw in the flower's
    sure recurrence a prophecy that he would abide for ever with the
    Benign Mother of his days--a prophecy that Faith, in her wisdom or
    her folly, suffered not to be fulfilled. Yes; autobiography is
    irresistible. Poor, silly, conceited Mr. Secretary Pepys has
    chattered his way into the circle of the Immortals, and, conscious
    that indiscretion is the better part of valour, bustles about among
    them in that 'shaggy purple gown with gold buttons and looped lace'
    which he is so fond of describing to us, perfectly at his ease, and
    prattling, to his own and our infinite pleasure, of the Indian blue
    petticoat that he bought for his wife, of the 'good hog's hars-
    let,' and the 'pleasant French fricassee of veal' that he loved to
    eat, of his game of bowls with Will Joyce, and his 'gadding after
    beauties,' and his reciting of Hamlet on a Sunday, and his playing
    of the viol on week days, and other wicked or trivial things. Even
    in actual life egotism is not without its attractions. When people
    talk to us about others they are usually dull. When they talk to
    us about themselves they are nearly always interesting, and if one
    could shut them up, when they become wearisome, as easily as one
    can shut up a book of which one has grown wearied, they would be
    perfect absolutely.

    ERNEST. There is much virtue in that If, as Touchstone would say.
    But do you seriously propose that every man should become his own
    Boswell? What would become of our industrious compilers of Lives
    and Recollections in that case?

    GILBERT. What has become of them? They are the pest of the age,
    nothing more and nothing less. Every great man nowadays has his
    disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography.

    ERNEST. My dear fellow!

    GILBERT. I am afraid it is true. Formerly we used to canonise our
    heroes. The modern method is to vulgarise them. Cheap editions of
    great books may be delightful, but cheap editions of great men are
    absolutely detestable.

    ERNEST. May I ask, Gilbert, to whom you allude?

    GILBERT. Oh! to all our second-rate litterateurs. We are overrun
    by a set of people who, when poet or painter passes away, arrive at
    the house along with the undertaker, and forget that their one duty
    is to behave as mutes. But we won't talk about them. They are the
    mere body-snatchers of literature. The dust is given to one, and
    the ashes to another, and the soul is out of their reach. And now,
    let me play Chopin to you, or Dvorak? Shall I play you a fantasy
    by Dvorak? He writes passionate, curiously-coloured things.

    ERNEST. No; I don't want music just at present. It is far too
    indefinite. Besides, I took the Baroness Bernstein down to dinner
    last night, and, though absolutely charming in every other respect,
    she insisted on discussing music as if it were actually written in
    the German language. Now, whatever music sounds like I am glad to
    say that it does not sound in the smallest degree like German.
    There are forms of patriotism that are really quite degrading. No;
    Gilbert, don't play any more. Turn round and talk to me. Talk to
    me till the white-horned day comes into the room. There is
    something in your voice that is wonderful.

    GILBERT (rising from the piano). I am not in a mood for talking
    to-night. I really am not. How horrid of you to smile! Where are
    the cigarettes? Thanks. How exquisite these single daffodils are!
    They seem to be made of amber and cool ivory. They are like Greek
    things of the best period. What was the story in the confessions
    of the remorseful Academician that made you laugh? Tell it to me.
    After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins
    that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were
    not my own. Music always seems to me to produce that effect. It
    creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills
    one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden from one's tears.
    I can fancy a man who had led a perfectly commonplace life, hearing
    by chance some curious piece of music, and suddenly discovering
    that his soul, without his being conscious of it, had passed
    through terrible experiences, and known fearful joys, or wild
    romantic loves, or great renunciations. And so tell me this story,
    Ernest. I want to be amused.

    ERNEST. Oh! I don't know that it is of any importance. But I
    thought it a really admirable illustration of the true value of
    ordinary art-criticism. It seems that a lady once gravely asked
    the remorseful Academician, as you call him, if his celebrated
    picture of 'A Spring-Day at Whiteley's,' or, 'Waiting for the Last
    Omnibus,' or some subject of that kind, was all painted by hand?

    GILBERT. And was it?

    ERNEST. You are quite incorrigible. But, seriously speaking, what
    is the use of art-criticism? Why cannot the artist be left alone,
    to create a new world if he wishes it, or, if not, to shadow forth
    the world which we already know, and of which, I fancy, we would
    each one of us be wearied if Art, with her fine spirit of choice
    and delicate instinct of selection, did not, as it were, purify it
    for us, and give to it a momentary perfection. It seems to me that
    the imagination spreads, or should spread, a solitude around it,
    and works best in silence and in isolation. Why should the artist
    be troubled by the shrill clamour of criticism? Why should those
    who cannot create take upon themselves to estimate the value of
    creative work? What can they know about it? If a man's work is
    easy to understand, an explanation is unnecessary. . . .

    GILBERT. And if his work is incomprehensible, an explanation is
    wicked.

    ERNEST. I did not say that.

    GILBERT. Ah! but you should have. Nowadays, we have so few
    mysteries left to us that we cannot afford to part with one of
    them. The members of the Browning Society, like the theologians of
    the Broad Church Party, or the authors of Mr. Walter Scott's Great
    Writers Series, seem to me to spend their time in trying to explain
    their divinity away. Where one had hoped that Browning was a
    mystic they have sought to show that he was simply inarticulate.
    Where one had fancied that he had something to conceal, they have
    proved that he had but little to reveal. But I speak merely of his
    incoherent work. Taken as a whole the man was great. He did not
    belong to the Olympians, and had all the incompleteness of the
    Titan. He did not survey, and it was but rarely that he could
    sing. His work is marred by struggle, violence and effort, and he
    passed not from emotion to form, but from thought to chaos. Still,
    he was great. He has been called a thinker, and was certainly a
    man who was always thinking, and always thinking aloud; but it was
    not thought that fascinated him, but rather the processes by which
    thought moves. It was the machine he loved, not what the machine
    makes. The method by which the fool arrives at his folly was as
    dear to him as the ultimate wisdom of the wise. So much, indeed,
    did the subtle mechanism of mind fascinate him that he despised
    language, or looked upon it as an incomplete instrument of
    expression. Rhyme, that exquisite echo which in the Muse's hollow
    hill creates and answers its own voice; rhyme, which in the hands
    of the real artist becomes not merely a material element of
    metrical beauty, but a spiritual element of thought and passion
    also, waking a new mood, it may be, or stirring a fresh train of
    ideas, or opening by mere sweetness and suggestion of sound some
    golden door at which the Imagination itself had knocked in vain;
    rhyme, which can turn man's utterance to the speech of gods; rhyme,
    the one chord we have added to the Greek lyre, became in Robert
    Browning's hands a grotesque, misshapen thing, which at times made
    him masquerade in poetry as a low comedian, and ride Pegasus too
    often with his tongue in his cheek. There are moments when he
    wounds us by monstrous music. Nay, if he can only get his music by
    breaking the strings of his lute, he breaks them, and they snap in
    discord, and no Athenian tettix, making melody from tremulous
    wings, lights on the ivory horn to make the movement perfect, or
    the interval less harsh. Yet, he was great: and though he turned
    language into ignoble clay, he made from it men and women that
    live. He is the most Shakespearian creature since Shakespeare. If
    Shakespeare could sing with myriad lips, Browning could stammer
    through a thousand mouths. Even now, as I am speaking, and
    speaking not against him but for him, there glides through the room
    the pageant of his persons. There, creeps Fra Lippo Lippi with his
    cheeks still burning from some girl's hot kiss. There, stands
    dread Saul with the lordly male-sapphires gleaming in his turban.
    Mildred Tresham is there, and the Spanish monk, yellow with hatred,
    and Blougram, and Ben Ezra, and the Bishop of St. Praxed's. The
    spawn of Setebos gibbers in the corner, and Sebald, hearing Pippa
    pass by, looks on Ottima's haggard face, and loathes her and his
    own sin, and himself. Pale as the white satin of his doublet, the
    melancholy king watches with dreamy treacherous eyes too loyal
    Strafford pass forth to his doom, and Andrea shudders as he hears
    the cousins whistle in the garden, and bids his perfect wife go
    down. Yes, Browning was great. And as what will he be remembered?
    As a poet? Ah, not as a poet! He will be remembered as a writer
    of fiction, as the most supreme writer of fiction, it may be, that
    we have ever had. His sense of dramatic situation was unrivalled,
    and, if he could not answer his own problems, he could at least put
    problems forth, and what more should an artist do? Considered from
    the point of view of a creator of character he ranks next to him
    who made Hamlet. Had he been articulate, he might have sat beside
    him. The only man who can touch the hem of his garment is George
    Meredith. Meredith is a prose Browning, and so is Browning. He
    used poetry as a medium for writing in prose.

    ERNEST. There is something in what you say, but there is not
    everything in what you say. In many points you are unjust.

    GILBERT. It is difficult not to be unjust to what one loves. But
    let us return to the particular point at issue. What was it that
    you said?

    ERNEST. Simply this: that in the best days of art there were no
    art-critics.

    GILBERT. I seem to have heard that observation before, Ernest. It
    has all the vitality of error and all the tediousness of an old
    friend.

    ERNEST. It is true. Yes: there is no use your tossing your head
    in that petulant manner. It is quite true. In the best days of
    art there were no art-critics. The sculptor hewed from the marble
    block the great white-limbed Hermes that slept within it. The
    waxers and gilders of images gave tone and texture to the statue,
    and the world, when it saw it, worshipped and was dumb. He poured
    the glowing bronze into the mould of sand, and the river of red
    metal cooled into noble curves and took the impress of the body of
    a god. With enamel or polished jewels he gave sight to the
    sightless eyes. The hyacinth-like curls grew crisp beneath his
    graver. And when, in some dim frescoed fane, or pillared sunlit
    portico, the child of Leto stood upon his pedestal, those who
    passed by, [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], became
    conscious of a new influence that had come across their lives, and
    dreamily, or with a sense of strange and quickening joy, went to
    their homes or daily labour, or wandered, it may be, through the
    city gates to that nymph-haunted meadow where young Phaedrus bathed
    his feet, and, lying there on the soft grass, beneath the tall
    wind--whispering planes and flowering agnus castus, began to think
    of the wonder of beauty, and grew silent with unaccustomed awe. In
    those days the artist was free. From the river valley he took the
    fine clay in his fingers, and with a little tool of wood or bone,
    fashioned it into forms so exquisite that the people gave them to
    the dead as their playthings, and we find them still in the dusty
    tombs on the yellow hillside by Tanagra, with the faint gold and
    the fading crimson still lingering about hair and lips and raiment.
    On a wall of fresh plaster, stained with bright sandyx or mixed
    with milk and saffron, he pictured one who trod with tired feet the
    purple white-starred fields of asphodel, one 'in whose eyelids lay
    the whole of the Trojan War,' Polyxena, the daughter of Priam; or
    figured Odysseus, the wise and cunning, bound by tight cords to the
    mast-step, that he might listen without hurt to the singing of the
    Sirens, or wandering by the clear river of Acheron, where the
    ghosts of fishes flitted over the pebbly bed; or showed the Persian
    in trews and mitre flying before the Greek at Marathon, or the
    galleys clashing their beaks of brass in the little Salaminian bay.
    He drew with silver-point and charcoal upon parchment and prepared
    cedar. Upon ivory and rose-coloured terracotta he painted with
    wax, making the wax fluid with juice of olives, and with heated
    irons making it firm. Panel and marble and linen canvas became
    wonderful as his brush swept across them; and life seeing her own
    image, was still, and dared not speak. All life, indeed, was his,
    from the merchants seated in the market-place to the cloaked
    shepherd lying on the hill; from the nymph hidden in the laurels
    and the faun that pipes at noon, to the king whom, in long green-
    curtained litter, slaves bore upon oil-bright shoulders, and fanned
    with peacock fans. Men and women, with pleasure or sorrow in their
    faces, passed before him. He watched them, and their secret became
    his. Through form and colour he re-created a world.

    All subtle arts belonged to him also. He held the gem against the
    revolving disk, and the amethyst became the purple couch for
    Adonis, and across the veined sardonyx sped Artemis with her
    hounds. He beat out the gold into roses, and strung them together
    for necklace or armlet. He beat out the gold into wreaths for the
    conqueror's helmet, or into palmates for the Tyrian robe, or into
    masks for the royal dead. On the back of the silver mirror he
    graved Thetis borne by her Nereids, or love-sick Phaedra with her
    nurse, or Persephone, weary of memory, putting poppies in her hair.
    The potter sat in his shed, and, flower-like from the silent wheel,
    the vase rose up beneath his hands. He decorated the base and stem
    and ears with pattern of dainty olive-leaf, or foliated acanthus,
    or curved and crested wave. Then in black or red he painted lads
    wrestling, or in the race: knights in full armour, with strange
    heraldic shields and curious visors, leaning from shell-shaped
    chariot over rearing steeds: the gods seated at the feast or
    working their miracles: the heroes in their victory or in their
    pain. Sometimes he would etch in thin vermilion lines upon a
    ground of white the languid bridegroom and his bride, with Eros
    hovering round them--an Eros like one of Donatello's angels, a
    little laughing thing with gilded or with azure wings. On the
    curved side he would write the name of his friend. [Greek text
    which cannot be reproduced] or [Greek text which cannot be
    reproduced] tells us the story of his days. Again, on the rim of
    the wide flat cup he would draw the stag browsing, or the lion at
    rest, as his fancy willed it. From the tiny perfume-bottle laughed
    Aphrodite at her toilet, and, with bare-limbed Maenads in his
    train, Dionysus danced round the wine-jar on naked must-stained
    feet, while, satyr-like, the old Silenus sprawled upon the bloated
    skins, or shook that magic spear which was tipped with a fretted
    fir-cone, and wreathed with dark ivy. And no one came to trouble
    the artist at his work. No irresponsible chatter disturbed him.
    He was not worried by opinions. By the Ilyssus, says Arnold
    somewhere, there was no Higginbotham. By the Ilyssus, my dear
    Gilbert, there were no silly art congresses bringing provincialism
    to the provinces and teaching the mediocrity how to mouth. By the
    Ilyssus there were no tedious magazines about art, in which the
    industrious prattle of what they do not understand. On the reed-
    grown banks of that little stream strutted no ridiculous journalism
    monopolising the seat of judgment when it should be apologising in
    the dock. The Greeks had no art-critics.

    GILBERT. Ernest, you are quite delightful, but your views are
    terribly unsound. I am afraid that you have been listening to the
    conversation of some one older than yourself. That is always a
    dangerous thing to do, and if you allow it to degenerate into a
    habit you will find it absolutely fatal to any intellectual
    development. As for modern journalism, it is not my business to
    defend it. It justifies its own existence by the great Darwinian
    principle of the survival of the vulgarest. I have merely to do
    with literature.

    ERNEST. But what is the difference between literature and
    journalism?

    GILBERT. Oh! journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read.
    That is all. But with regard to your statement that the Greeks had
    no art-critics, I assure you that is quite absurd. It would be
    more just to say that the Greeks were a nation of art-critics.

    ERNEST. Really?

    GILBERT. Yes, a nation of art-critics. But I don't wish to
    destroy the delightfully unreal picture that you have drawn of the
    relation of the Hellenic artist to the intellectual spirit of his
    age. To give an accurate description of what has never occurred is
    not merely the proper occupation of the historian, but the
    inalienable privilege of any man of parts and culture. Still less
    do I desire to talk learnedly. Learned conversation is either the
    affectation of the ignorant or the profession of the mentally
    unemployed. And, as for what is called improving conversation,
    that is merely the foolish method by which the still more foolish
    philanthropist feebly tries to disarm the just rancour of the
    criminal classes. No: let me play to you some mad scarlet thing
    by Dvorak. The pallid figures on the tapestry are smiling at us,
    and the heavy eyelids of my bronze Narcissus are folded in sleep.
    Don't let us discuss anything solemnly. I am but too conscious of
    the fact that we are born in an age when only the dull are treated
    seriously, and I live in terror of not being misunderstood. Don't
    degrade me into the position of giving you useful information.
    Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from
    time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
    Through the parted curtains of the window I see the moon like a
    clipped piece of silver. Like gilded bees the stars cluster round
    her. The sky is a hard hollow sapphire. Let us go out into the
    night. Thought is wonderful, but adventure is more wonderful
    still. Who knows but we may meet Prince Florizel of Bohemia, and
    hear the fair Cuban tell us that she is not what she seems?

    ERNEST. You are horribly wilful. I insist on your discussing this
    matter with me. You have said that the Greeks were a nation of
    art-critics. What art-criticism have they left us?

    GILBERT. My dear Ernest, even if not a single fragment of art-
    criticism had come down to us from Hellenic or Hellenistic days, it
    would be none the less true that the Greeks were a nation of art-
    critics, and that they invented the criticism of art just as they
    invented the criticism of everything else. For, after all, what is
    our primary debt to the Greeks? Simply the critical spirit. And,
    this spirit, which they exercised on questions of religion and
    science, of ethics and metaphysics, of politics and education, they
    exercised on questions of art also, and, indeed, of the two supreme
    and highest arts, they have left us the most flawless system of
    criticism that the world has ever seen.

    ERNEST. But what are the two supreme and highest arts?

    GILBERT. Life and Literature, life and the perfect expression of
    life. The principles of the former, as laid down by the Greeks, we
    may not realise in an age so marred by false ideals as our own.
    The principles of the latter, as they laid them down, are, in many
    cases, so subtle that we can hardly understand them. Recognising
    that the most perfect art is that which most fully mirrors man in
    all his infinite variety, they elaborated the criticism of
    language, considered in the light of the mere material of that art,
    to a point to which we, with our accentual system of reasonable or
    emotional emphasis, can barely if at all attain; studying, for
    instance, the metrical movements of a prose as scientifically as a
    modern musician studies harmony and counterpoint, and, I need
    hardly say, with much keener aesthetic instinct. In this they were
    right, as they were right in all things. Since the introduction of
    printing, and the fatal development of the habit of reading amongst
    the middle and lower classes of this country, there has been a
    tendency in literature to appeal more and more to the eye, and less
    and less to the ear which is really the sense which, from the
    standpoint of pure art, it should seek to please, and by whose
    canons of pleasure it should abide always. Even the work of Mr.
    Pater, who is, on the whole, the most perfect master of English
    prose now creating amongst us, is often far more like a piece of
    mosaic than a passage in music, and seems, here and there, to lack
    the true rhythmical life of words and the fine freedom and richness
    of effect that such rhythmical life produces. We, in fact, have
    made writing a definite mode of composition, and have treated it as
    a form of elaborate design. The Greeks, upon the other hand,
    regarded writing simply as a method of chronicling. Their test was
    always the spoken word in its musical and metrical relations. The
    voice was the medium, and the ear the critic. I have sometimes
    thought that the story of Homer's blindness might be really an
    artistic myth, created in critical days, and serving to remind us,
    not merely that the great poet is always a seer, seeing less with
    the eyes of the body than he does with the eyes of the soul, but
    that he is a true singer also, building his song out of music,
    repeating each line over and over again to himself till he has
    caught the secret of its melody, chaunting in darkness the words
    that are winged with light. Certainly, whether this be so or not,
    it was to his blindness, as an occasion, if not as a cause, that
    England's great poet owed much of the majestic movement and
    sonorous splendour of his later verse. When Milton could no longer
    write he began to sing. Who would match the measures of Comus with
    the measures of Samson Agonistes, or of Paradise Lost or Regained?
    When Milton became blind he composed, as every one should compose,
    with the voice purely, and so the pipe or reed of earlier days
    became that mighty many-stopped organ whose rich reverberant music
    has all the stateliness of Homeric verse, if it seeks not to have
    its swiftness, and is the one imperishable inheritance of English
    literature sweeping through all the ages, because above them, and
    abiding with us ever, being immortal in its form. Yes: writing
    has done much harm to writers. We must return to the voice. That
    must be our test, and perhaps then we shall be able to appreciate
    some of the subtleties of Greek art-criticism.

    As it now is, we cannot do so. Sometimes, when I have written a
    piece of prose that I have been modest enough to consider
    absolutely free from fault, a dreadful thought comes over me that I
    may have been guilty of the immoral effeminacy of using trochaic
    and tribrachic movements, a crime for which a learned critic of the
    Augustan age censures with most just severity the brilliant if
    somewhat paradoxical Hegesias. I grow cold when I think of it, and
    wonder to myself if the admirable ethical effect of the prose of
    that charming writer, who once in a spirit of reckless generosity
    towards the uncultivated portion of our community proclaimed the
    monstrous doctrine that conduct is three-fourths of life, will not
    some day be entirely annihilated by the discovery that the paeons
    have been wrongly placed.

    ERNEST. Ah! now you are flippant.

    GILBERT. Who would not be flippant when he is gravely told that
    the Greeks had no art-critics? I can understand it being said that
    the constructive genius of the Greeks lost itself in criticism, but
    not that the race to whom we owe the critical spirit did not
    criticise. You will not ask me to give you a survey of Greek art
    criticism from Plato to Plotinus. The night is too lovely for
    that, and the moon, if she heard us, would put more ashes on her
    face than are there already. But think merely of one perfect
    little work of aesthetic criticism, Aristotle's Treatise on Poetry.
    It is not perfect in form, for it is badly written, consisting
    perhaps of notes dotted down for an art lecture, or of isolated
    fragments destined for some larger book, but in temper and
    treatment it is perfect, absolutely. The ethical effect of art,
    its importance to culture, and its place in the formation of
    character, had been done once for all by Plato; but here we have
    art treated, not from the moral, but from the purely aesthetic
    point of view. Plato had, of course, dealt with many definitely
    artistic subjects, such as the importance of unity in a work of
    art, the necessity for tone and harmony, the aesthetic value of
    appearances, the relation of the visible arts to the external
    world, and the relation of fiction to fact. He first perhaps
    stirred in the soul of man that desire that we have not yet
    satisfied, the desire to know the connection between Beauty and
    Truth, and the place of Beauty in the moral and intellectual order
    of the Kosmos. The problems of idealism and realism, as he sets
    them forth, may seem to many to be somewhat barren of result in the
    metaphysical sphere of abstract being in which he places them, but
    transfer them to the sphere of art, and you will find that they are
    still vital and full of meaning. It may be that it is as a critic
    of Beauty that Plato is destined to live, and that by altering the
    name of the sphere of his speculation we shall find a new
    philosophy. But Aristotle, like Goethe, deals with art primarily
    in its concrete manifestations, taking Tragedy, for instance, and
    investigating the material it uses, which is language, its subject-
    matter, which is life, the method by which it works, which is
    action, the conditions under which it reveals itself, which are
    those of theatric presentation, its logical structure, which is
    plot, and its final aesthetic appeal, which is to the sense of
    beauty realised through the passions of pity and awe. That
    purification and spiritualising of the nature which he calls [Greek
    text which cannot be reproduced] is, as Goethe saw, essentially
    aesthetic, and is not moral, as Lessing fancied. Concerning
    himself primarily with the impression that the work of art
    produces, Aristotle sets himself to analyse that impression, to
    investigate its source, to see how it is engendered. As a
    physiologist and psychologist, he knows that the health of a
    function resides in energy. To have a capacity for a passion and
    not to realise it, is to make oneself incomplete and limited. The
    mimic spectacle of life that Tragedy affords cleanses the bosom of
    much 'perilous stuff,' and by presenting high and worthy objects
    for the exercise of the emotions purifies and spiritualises the
    man; nay, not merely does it spiritualise him, but it initiates him
    also into noble feelings of which he might else have known nothing,
    the word [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] having, it has
    sometimes seemed to me, a definite allusion to the rite of
    initiation, if indeed that be not, as I am occasionally tempted to
    fancy, its true and only meaning here. This is of course a mere
    outline of the book. But you see what a perfect piece of aesthetic
    criticism it is. Who indeed but a Greek could have analysed art so
    well? After reading it, one does not wonder any longer that
    Alexandria devoted itself so largely to art-criticism, and that we
    find the artistic temperaments of the day investigating every
    question of style and manner, discussing the great Academic schools
    of painting, for instance, such as the school of Sicyon, that
    sought to preserve the dignified traditions of the antique mode, or
    the realistic and impressionist schools, that aimed at reproducing
    actual life, or the elements of ideality in portraiture, or the
    artistic value of the epic form in an age so modern as theirs, or
    the proper subject-matter for the artist. Indeed, I fear that the
    inartistic temperaments of the day busied themselves also in
    matters of literature and art, for the accusations of plagiarism
    were endless, and such accusations proceed either from the thin
    colourless lips of impotence, or from the grotesque mouths of those
    who, possessing nothing of their own, fancy that they can gain a
    reputation for wealth by crying out that they have been robbed.
    And I assure you, my dear Ernest, that the Greeks chattered about
    painters quite as much as people do nowadays, and had their private
    views, and shilling exhibitions, and Arts and Crafts guilds, and
    Pre-Raphaelite movements, and movements towards realism, and
    lectured about art, and wrote essays on art, and produced their
    art-historians, and their archaeologists, and all the rest of it.
    Why, even the theatrical managers of travelling companies brought
    their dramatic critics with them when they went on tour, and paid
    them very handsome salaries for writing laudatory notices.
    Whatever, in fact, is modern in our life we owe to the Greeks.
    Whatever is an anachronism is due to mediaevalism. It is the
    Greeks who have given us the whole system of art-criticism, and how
    fine their critical instinct was, may be seen from the fact that
    the material they criticised with most care was, as I have already
    said, language. For the material that painter or sculptor uses is
    meagre in comparison with that of words. Words have not merely
    music as sweet as that of viol and lute, colour as rich and vivid
    as any that makes lovely for us the canvas of the Venetian or the
    Spaniard, and plastic form no less sure and certain than that which
    reveals itself in marble or in bronze, but thought and passion and
    spirituality are theirs also, are theirs indeed alone. If the
    Greeks had criticised nothing but language, they would still have
    been the great art-critics of the world. To know the principles of
    the highest art is to know the principles of all the arts.

    But I see that the moon is hiding behind a sulphur-coloured cloud.
    Out of a tawny mane of drift she gleams like a lion's eye. She is
    afraid that I will talk to you of Lucian and Longinus, of
    Quinctilian and Dionysius, of Pliny and Fronto and Pausanias, of
    all those who in the antique world wrote or lectured upon art
    matters. She need not be afraid. I am tired of my expedition into
    the dim, dull abyss of facts. There is nothing left for me now but
    the divine [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] of another
    cigarette. Cigarettes have at least the charm of leaving one
    unsatisfied.

    ERNEST. Try one of mine. They are rather good. I get them direct
    from Cairo. The only use of our attaches is that they supply their
    friends with excellent tobacco. And as the moon has hidden
    herself, let us talk a little longer. I am quite ready to admit
    that I was wrong in what I said about the Greeks. They were, as
    you have pointed out, a nation of art-critics. I acknowledge it,
    and I feel a little sorry for them. For the creative faculty is
    higher than the critical. There is really no comparison between
    them.

    GILBERT. The antithesis between them is entirely arbitrary.
    Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all,
    worthy of the name. You spoke a little while ago of that fine
    spirit of choice and delicate instinct of selection by which the
    artist realises life for us, and gives to it a momentary
    perfection. Well, that spirit of choice, that subtle tact of
    omission, is really the critical faculty in one of its most
    characteristic moods, and no one who does not possess this critical
    faculty can create anything at all in art. Arnold's definition of
    literature as a criticism of life was not very felicitous in form,
    but it showed how keenly he recognised the importance of the
    critical element in all creative work.

    ERNEST. I should have said that great artists work unconsciously,
    that they were 'wiser than they knew,' as, I think, Emerson remarks
    somewhere.

    GILBERT. It is really not so, Ernest. All fine imaginative work
    is self-conscious and deliberate. No poet sings because he must
    sing. At least, no great poet does. A great poet sings because he
    chooses to sing. It is so now, and it has always been so. We are
    sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of
    poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that
    the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they
    walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost
    without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now
    upon Olympus, and its steep scarped sides are bleak and barren, but
    once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from
    the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to
    the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to
    other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our
    historical sense is at fault. Every century that produces poetry
    is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to
    be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the
    result of the most self-conscious effort. Believe me, Ernest,
    there is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self-
    consciousness and the critical spirit are one.

    ERNEST. I see what you mean, and there is much in it. But surely
    you would admit that the great poems of the early world, the
    primitive, anonymous collective poems, were the result of the
    imagination of races, rather than of the imagination of
    individuals?

    GILBERT. Not when they became poetry. Not when they received a
    beautiful form. For there is no art where there is no style, and
    no style where there is no unity, and unity is of the individual.
    No doubt Homer had old ballads and stories to deal with, as
    Shakespeare had chronicles and plays and novels from which to work,
    but they were merely his rough material. He took them, and shaped
    them into song. They become his, because he made them lovely.
    They were built out of music,

    And so not built at all,
    And therefore built for ever.

    The longer one studies life and literature, the more strongly one
    feels that behind everything that is wonderful stands the
    individual, and that it is not the moment that makes the man, but
    the man who creates the age. Indeed, I am inclined to think that
    each myth and legend that seems to us to spring out of the wonder,
    or terror, or fancy of tribe and nation, was in its origin the
    invention of one single mind. The curiously limited number of the
    myths seems to me to point to this conclusion. But we must not go
    off into questions of comparative mythology. We must keep to
    criticism. And what I want to point out is this. An age that has
    no criticism is either an age in which art is immobile, hieratic,
    and confined to the reproduction of formal types, or an age that
    possesses no art at all. There have been critical ages that have
    not been creative, in the ordinary sense of the word, ages in which
    the spirit of man has sought to set in order the treasures of his
    treasure-house, to separate the gold from the silver, and the
    silver from the lead, to count over the jewels, and to give names
    to the pearls. But there has never been a creative age that has
    not been critical also. For it is the critical faculty that
    invents fresh forms. The tendency of creation is to repeat itself.
    It is to the critical instinct that we owe each new school that
    springs up, each new mould that art finds ready to its hand. There
    is really not a single form that art now uses that does not come to
    us from the critical spirit of Alexandria, where these forms were
    either stereotyped or invented or made perfect. I say Alexandria,
    not merely because it was there that the Greek spirit became most
    self-conscious, and indeed ultimately expired in scepticism and
    theology, but because it was to that city, and not to Athens, that
    Rome turned for her models, and it was through the survival, such
    as it was, of the Latin language that culture lived at all. When,
    at the Renaissance, Greek literature dawned upon Europe, the soil
    had been in some measure prepared for it. But, to get rid of the
    details of history, which are always wearisome and usually
    inaccurate, let us say generally, that the forms of art have been
    due to the Greek critical spirit. To it we owe the epic, the
    lyric, the entire drama in every one of its developments, including
    burlesque, the idyll, the romantic novel, the novel of adventure,
    the essay, the dialogue, the oration, the lecture, for which
    perhaps we should not forgive them, and the epigram, in all the
    wide meaning of that word. In fact, we owe it everything, except
    the sonnet, to which, however, some curious parallels of thought-
    movement may be traced in the Anthology, American journalism, to
    which no parallel can be found anywhere, and the ballad in sham
    Scotch dialect, which one of our most industrious writers has
    recently proposed should be made the basis for a final and
    unanimous effort on the part of our second-rate poets to make
    themselves really romantic. Each new school, as it appears, cries
    out against criticism, but it is to the critical faculty in man
    that it owes its origin. The mere creative instinct does not
    innovate, but reproduces.

    ERNEST. You have been talking of criticism as an essential part of
    the creative spirit, and I now fully accept your theory. But what
    of criticism outside creation? I have a foolish habit of reading
    periodicals, and it seems to me that most modern criticism is
    perfectly valueless.

    GILBERT. So is most modern creative work also. Mediocrity
    weighing mediocrity in the balance, and incompetence applauding its
    brother--that is the spectacle which the artistic activity of
    England affords us from time to time. And yet, I feel I am a
    little unfair in this matter. As a rule, the critics--I speak, of
    course, of the higher class, of those in fact who write for the
    sixpenny papers--are far more cultured than the people whose work
    they are called upon to review. This is, indeed, only what one
    would expect, for criticism demands infinitely more cultivation
    than creation does.

    ERNEST. Really?

    GILBERT. Certainly. Anybody can write a three-volumed novel. It
    merely requires a complete ignorance of both life and literature.
    The difficulty that I should fancy the reviewer feels is the
    difficulty of sustaining any standard. Where there is no style a
    standard must be impossible. The poor reviewers are apparently
    reduced to be the reporters of the police-court of literature, the
    chroniclers of the doings of the habitual criminals of art. It is
    sometimes said of them that they do not read all through the works
    they are called upon to criticise. They do not. Or at least they
    should not. If they did so, they would become confirmed
    misanthropes, or if I may borrow a phrase from one of the pretty
    Newnham graduates, confirmed womanthropes for the rest of their
    lives. Nor is it necessary. To know the vintage and quality of a
    wine one need not drink the whole cask. It must be perfectly easy
    in half an hour to say whether a book is worth anything or worth
    nothing. Ten minutes are really sufficient, if one has the
    instinct for form. Who wants to wade through a dull volume? One
    tastes it, and that is quite enough--more than enough, I should
    imagine. I am aware that there are many honest workers in painting
    as well as in literature who object to criticism entirely. They
    are quite right. Their work stands in no intellectual relation to
    their age. It brings us no new element of pleasure. It suggests
    no fresh departure of thought, or passion, or beauty. It should
    not be spoken of. It should be left to the oblivion that it
    deserves.

    ERNEST. But, my dear fellow--excuse me for interrupting you--you
    seem to me to be allowing your passion for criticism to lead you a
    great deal too far. For, after all, even you must admit that it is
    much more difficult to do a thing than to talk about it.

    GILBERT. More difficult to do a thing than to talk about it? Not
    at all. That is a gross popular error. It is very much more
    difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. In the sphere of
    actual life that is of course obvious. Anybody can make history.
    Only a great man can write it. There is no mode of action, no form
    of emotion, that we do not share with the lower animals. It is
    only by language that we rise above them, or above each other--by
    language, which is the parent, and not the child, of thought.
    Action, indeed, is always easy, and when presented to us in its
    most aggravated, because most continuous form, which I take to be
    that of real industry, becomes simply the refuge of people who have
    nothing whatsoever to do. No, Ernest, don't talk about action. It
    is a blind thing dependent on external influences, and moved by an
    impulse of whose nature it is unconscious. It is a thing
    incomplete in its essence, because limited by accident, and
    ignorant of its direction, being always at variance with its aim.
    Its basis is the lack of imagination. It is the last resource of
    those who know not how to dream.

    ERNEST. Gilbert, you treat the world as if it were a crystal ball.
    You hold it in your hand, and reverse it to please a wilful fancy.
    You do nothing but re-write history.

    GILBERT. The one duty we owe to history is to re-write it. That
    is not the least of the tasks in store for the critical spirit.
    When we have fully discovered the scientific laws that govern life,
    we shall realise that the one person who has more illusions than
    the dreamer is the man of action. He, indeed, knows neither the
    origin of his deeds nor their results. From the field in which he
    thought that he had sown thorns, we have gathered our vintage, and
    the fig-tree that he planted for our pleasure is as barren as the
    thistle, and more bitter. It is because Humanity has never known
    where it was going that it has been able to find its way.

    ERNEST. You think, then, that in the sphere of action a conscious
    aim is a delusion?

    GILBERT. It is worse than a delusion. If we lived long enough to
    see the results of our actions it may be that those who call
    themselves good would be sickened with a dull remorse, and those
    whom the world calls evil stirred by a noble joy. Each little
    thing that we do passes into the great machine of life which may
    grind our virtues to powder and make them worthless, or transform
    our sins into elements of a new civilisation, more marvellous and
    more splendid than any that has gone before. But men are the
    slaves of words. They rage against Materialism, as they call it,
    forgetting that there has been no material improvement that has not
    spiritualised the world, and that there have been few, if any,
    spiritual awakenings that have not wasted the world's faculties in
    barren hopes, and fruitless aspirations, and empty or trammelling
    creeds. What is termed Sin is an essential element of progress.
    Without it the world would stagnate, or grow old, or become
    colourless. By its curiosity Sin increases the experience of the
    race. Through its intensified assertion of individualism, it saves
    us from monotony of type. In its rejection of the current notions
    about morality, it is one with the higher ethics. And as for the
    virtues! What are the virtues? Nature, M. Renan tells us, cares
    little about chastity, and it may be that it is to the shame of the
    Magdalen, and not to their own purity, that the Lucretias of modern
    life owe their freedom from stain. Charity, as even those of whose
    religion it makes a formal part have been compelled to acknowledge,
    creates a multitude of evils. The mere existence of conscience,
    that faculty of which people prate so much nowadays, and are so
    ignorantly proud, is a sign of our imperfect development. It must
    be merged in instinct before we become fine. Self-denial is simply
    a method by which man arrests his progress, and self-sacrifice a
    survival of the mutilation of the savage, part of that old worship
    of pain which is so terrible a factor in the history of the world,
    and which even now makes its victims day by day, and has its altars
    in the land. Virtues! Who knows what the virtues are? Not you.
    Not I. Not any one. It is well for our vanity that we slay the
    criminal, for if we suffered him to live he might show us what we
    had gained by his crime. It is well for his peace that the saint
    goes to his martyrdom. He is spared the sight of the horror of his
    harvest.

    ERNEST. Gilbert, you sound too harsh a note. Let us go back to
    the more gracious fields of literature. What was it you said?
    That it was more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it?

    GILBERT (after a pause). Yes: I believe I ventured upon that
    simple truth. Surely you see now that I am right? When man acts
    he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet. The whole secret
    lies in that. It was easy enough on the sandy plains by windy
    Ilion to send the notched arrow from the painted bow, or to hurl
    against the shield of hide and flamelike brass the long ash-handled
    spear. It was easy for the adulterous queen to spread the Tyrian
    carpets for her lord, and then, as he lay couched in the marble
    bath, to throw over his head the purple net, and call to her
    smooth-faced lover to stab through the meshes at the heart that
    should have broken at Aulis. For Antigone even, with Death waiting
    for her as her bridegroom, it was easy to pass through the tainted
    air at noon, and climb the hill, and strew with kindly earth the
    wretched naked corse that had no tomb. But what of those who wrote
    about these things? What of those who gave them reality, and made
    them live for ever? Are they not greater than the men and women
    they sing of? 'Hector that sweet knight is dead,' and Lucian tells
    us how in the dim under-world Menippus saw the bleaching skull of
    Helen, and marvelled that it was for so grim a favour that all
    those horned ships were launched, those beautiful mailed men laid
    low, those towered cities brought to dust. Yet, every day the
    swanlike daughter of Leda comes out on the battlements, and looks
    down at the tide of war. The greybeards wonder at her loveliness,
    and she stands by the side of the king. In his chamber of stained
    ivory lies her leman. He is polishing his dainty armour, and
    combing the scarlet plume. With squire and page, her husband
    passes from tent to tent. She can see his bright hair, and hears,
    or fancies that she hears, that clear cold voice. In the courtyard
    below, the son of Priam is buckling on his brazen cuirass. The
    white arms of Andromache are around his neck. He sets his helmet
    on the ground, lest their babe should be frightened. Behind the
    embroidered curtains of his pavilion sits Achilles, in perfumed
    raiment, while in harness of gilt and silver the friend of his soul
    arrays himself to go forth to the fight. From a curiously carven
    chest that his mother Thetis had brought to his ship-side, the Lord
    of the Myrmidons takes out that mystic chalice that the lip of man
    had never touched, and cleanses it with brimstone, and with fresh
    water cools it, and, having washed his hands, fills with black wine
    its burnished hollow, and spills the thick grape-blood upon the
    ground in honour of Him whom at Dodona barefooted prophets
    worshipped, and prays to Him, and knows not that he prays in vain,
    and that by the hands of two knights from Troy, Panthous' son,
    Euphorbus, whose love-locks were looped with gold, and the Priamid,
    the lion-hearted, Patroklus, the comrade of comrades, must meet his
    doom. Phantoms, are they? Heroes of mist and mountain? Shadows
    in a song? No: they are real. Action! What is action? It dies
    at the moment of its energy. It is a base concession to fact. The
    world is made by the singer for the dreamer.

    ERNEST. While you talk it seems to me to be so.

    GILBERT. It is so in truth. On the mouldering citadel of Troy
    lies the lizard like a thing of green bronze. The owl has built
    her nest in the palace of Priam. Over the empty plain wander
    shepherd and goatherd with their flocks, and where, on the wine-
    surfaced, oily sea, [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], as
    Homer calls it, copper-prowed and streaked with vermilion, the
    great galleys of the Danaoi came in their gleaming crescent, the
    lonely tunny-fisher sits in his little boat and watches the bobbing
    corks of his net. Yet, every morning the doors of the city are
    thrown open, and on foot, or in horse-drawn chariot, the warriors
    go forth to battle, and mock their enemies from behind their iron
    masks. All day long the fight rages, and when night comes the
    torches gleam by the tents, and the cresset burns in the hall.
    Those who live in marble or on painted panel, know of life but a
    single exquisite instant, eternal indeed in its beauty, but limited
    to one note of passion or one mood of calm. Those whom the poet
    makes live have their myriad emotions of joy and terror, of courage
    and despair, of pleasure and of suffering. The seasons come and go
    in glad or saddening pageant, and with winged or leaden feet the
    years pass by before them. They have their youth and their
    manhood, they are children, and they grow old. It is always dawn
    for St. Helena, as Veronese saw her at the window. Through the
    still morning air the angels bring her the symbol of God's pain.
    The cool breezes of the morning lift the gilt threads from her
    brow. On that little hill by the city of Florence, where the
    lovers of Giorgione are lying, it is always the solstice of noon,
    of noon made so languorous by summer suns that hardly can the slim
    naked girl dip into the marble tank the round bubble of clear
    glass, and the long fingers of the lute-player rest idly upon the
    chords. It is twilight always for the dancing nymphs whom Corot
    set free among the silver poplars of France. In eternal twilight
    they move, those frail diaphanous figures, whose tremulous white
    feet seem not to touch the dew-drenched grass they tread on. But
    those who walk in epos, drama, or romance, see through the
    labouring months the young moons wax and wane, and watch the night
    from evening unto morning star, and from sunrise unto sunsetting
    can note the shifting day with all its gold and shadow. For them,
    as for us, the flowers bloom and wither, and the Earth, that Green-
    tressed Goddess as Coleridge calls her, alters her raiment for
    their pleasure. The statue is concentrated to one moment of
    perfection. The image stained upon the canvas possesses no
    spiritual element of growth or change. If they know nothing of
    death, it is because they know little of life, for the secrets of
    life and death belong to those, and those only, whom the sequence
    of time affects, and who possess not merely the present but the
    future, and can rise or fall from a past of glory or of shame.
    Movement, that problem of the visible arts, can be truly realised
    by Literature alone. It is Literature that shows us the body in
    its swiftness and the soul in its unrest.

    ERNEST. Yes; I see now what you mean. But, surely, the higher you
    place the creative artist, the lower must the critic rank.

    GILBERT. Why so?

    ERNEST. Because the best that he can give us will be but an echo
    of rich music, a dim shadow of clear-outlined form. It may,
    indeed, be that life is chaos, as you tell me that it is; that its
    martyrdoms are mean and its heroisms ignoble; and that it is the
    function of Literature to create, from the rough material of actual
    existence, a new world that will be more marvellous, more enduring,
    and more true than the world that common eyes look upon, and
    through which common natures seek to realise their perfection. But
    surely, if this new world has been made by the spirit and touch of
    a great artist, it will be a thing so complete and perfect that
    there will be nothing left for the critic to do. I quite
    understand now, and indeed admit most readily, that it is far more
    difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. But it seems to me
    that this sound and sensible maxim, which is really extremely
    soothing to one's feelings, and should be adopted as its motto by
    every Academy of Literature all over the world, applies only to the
    relations that exist between Art and Life, and not to any relations
    that there may be between Art and Criticism.

    GILBERT. But, surely, Criticism is itself an art. And just as
    artistic creation implies the working of the critical faculty, and,
    indeed, without it cannot be said to exist at all, so Criticism is
    really creative in the highest sense of the word. Criticism is, in
    fact, both creative and independent.

    ERNEST. Independent?

    GILBERT. Yes; independent. Criticism is no more to be judged by
    any low standard of imitation or resemblance than is the work of
    poet or sculptor. The critic occupies the same relation to the
    work of art that he criticises as the artist does to the visible
    world of form and colour, or the unseen world of passion and of
    thought. He does not even require for the perfection of his art
    the finest materials. Anything will serve his purpose. And just
    as out of the sordid and sentimental amours of the silly wife of a
    small country doctor in the squalid village of Yonville-l'Abbaye,
    near Rouen, Gustave Flaubert was able to create a classic, and make
    a masterpiece of style, so, from subjects of little or of no
    importance, such as the pictures in this year's Royal Academy, or
    in any year's Royal Academy for that matter, Mr. Lewis Morris's
    poems, M. Ohnet's novels, or the plays of Mr. Henry Arthur Jones,
    the true critic can, if it be his pleasure so to direct or waste
    his faculty of contemplation, produce work that will be flawless in
    beauty and instinct with intellectual subtlety. Why not? Dulness
    is always an irresistible temptation for brilliancy, and stupidity
    is the permanent Bestia Trionfans that calls wisdom from its cave.
    To an artist so creative as the critic, what does subject-matter
    signify? No more and no less than it does to the novelist and the
    painter. Like them, he can find his motives everywhere. Treatment
    is the test. There is nothing that has not in it suggestion or
    challenge.

    ERNEST. But is Criticism really a creative art?

    GILBERT. Why should it not be? It works with materials, and puts
    them into a form that is at once new and delightful. What more can
    one say of poetry? Indeed, I would call criticism a creation
    within a creation. For just as the great artists, from Homer and
    AEschylus, down to Shakespeare and Keats, did not go directly to
    life for their subject-matter, but sought for it in myth, and
    legend, and ancient tale, so the critic deals with materials that
    others have, as it were, purified for him, and to which imaginative
    form and colour have been already added. Nay, more, I would say
    that the highest Criticism, being the purest form of personal
    impression, is in its way more creative than creation, as it has
    least reference to any standard external to itself, and is, in
    fact, its own reason for existing, and, as the Greeks would put it,
    in itself, and to itself, an end. Certainly, it is never
    trammelled by any shackles of verisimilitude. No ignoble
    considerations of probability, that cowardly concession to the
    tedious repetitions of domestic or public life, affect it ever.
    One may appeal from fiction unto fact. But from the soul there is
    no appeal.

    ERNEST. From the soul?

    GILBERT. Yes, from the soul. That is what the highest criticism
    really is, the record of one's own soul. It is more fascinating
    than history, as it is concerned simply with oneself. It is more
    delightful than philosophy, as its subject is concrete and not
    abstract, real and not vague. It is the only civilised form of
    autobiography, as it deals not with the events, but with the
    thoughts of one's life; not with life's physical accidents of deed
    or circumstance, but with the spiritual moods and imaginative
    passions of the mind. I am always amused by the silly vanity of
    those writers and artists of our day who seem to imagine that the
    primary function of the critic is to chatter about their second-
    rate work. The best that one can say of most modern creative art
    is that it is just a little less vulgar than reality, and so the
    critic, with his fine sense of distinction and sure instinct of
    delicate refinement, will prefer to look into the silver mirror or
    through the woven veil, and will turn his eyes away from the chaos
    and clamour of actual existence, though the mirror be tarnished and
    the veil be torn. His sole aim is to chronicle his own
    impressions. It is for him that pictures are painted, books
    written, and marble hewn into form.

    ERNEST. I seem to have heard another theory of Criticism.

    GILBERT. Yes: it has been said by one whose gracious memory we
    all revere, and the music of whose pipe once lured Proserpina from
    her Sicilian fields, and made those white feet stir, and not in
    vain, the Cumnor cowslips, that the proper aim of Criticism is to
    see the object as in itself it really is. But this is a very
    serious error, and takes no cognisance of Criticism's most perfect
    form, which is in its essence purely subjective, and seeks to
    reveal its own secret and not the secret of another. For the
    highest Criticism deals with art not as expressive but as
    impressive purely.

    ERNEST. But is that really so?

    GILBERT. Of course it is. Who cares whether Mr. Ruskin's views on
    Turner are sound or not? What does it matter? That mighty and
    majestic prose of his, so fervid and so fiery-coloured in its noble
    eloquence, so rich in its elaborate symphonic music, so sure and
    certain, at its best, in subtle choice of word and epithet, is at
    least as great a work of art as any of those wonderful sunsets that
    bleach or rot on their corrupted canvases in England's Gallery;
    greater indeed, one is apt to think at times, not merely because
    its equal beauty is more enduring, but on account of the fuller
    variety of its appeal, soul speaking to soul in those long-cadenced
    lines, not through form and colour alone, though through these,
    indeed, completely and without loss, but with intellectual and
    emotional utterance, with lofty passion and with loftier thought,
    with imaginative insight, and with poetic aim; greater, I always
    think, even as Literature is the greater art. Who, again, cares
    whether Mr. Pater has put into the portrait of Monna Lisa something
    that Lionardo never dreamed of? The painter may have been merely
    the slave of an archaic smile, as some have fancied, but whenever I
    pass into the cool galleries of the Palace of the Louvre, and stand
    before that strange figure 'set in its marble chair in that cirque
    of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea,' I murmur to
    myself, 'She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the
    vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of
    the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their
    fallen day about her: and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern
    merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as
    St. Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as
    the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with
    which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the
    eyelids and the hands.' And I say to my friend, 'The presence that
    thus so strangely rose beside the waters is expressive of what in
    the ways of a thousand years man had come to desire'; and he
    answers me, 'Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world
    are come," and the eyelids are a little weary.'

    And so the picture becomes more wonderful to us than it really is,
    and reveals to us a secret of which, in truth, it knows nothing,
    and the music of the mystical prose is as sweet in our ears as was
    that flute-player's music that lent to the lips of La Gioconda
    those subtle and poisonous curves. Do you ask me what Lionardo
    would have said had any one told him of this picture that 'all the
    thoughts and experience of the world had etched and moulded therein
    that which they had of power to refine and make expressive the
    outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the
    reverie of the Middle Age with its spiritual ambition and
    imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the
    Borgias?' He would probably have answered that he had contemplated
    none of these things, but had concerned himself simply with certain
    arrangements of lines and masses, and with new and curious colour-
    harmonies of blue and green. And it is for this very reason that
    the criticism which I have quoted is criticism of the highest kind.
    It treats the work of art simply as a starting-point for a new
    creation. It does not confine itself--let us at least suppose so
    for the moment--to discovering the real intention of the artist and
    accepting that as final. And in this it is right, for the meaning
    of any beautiful created thing is, at least, as much in the soul of
    him who looks at it, as it was in his soul who wrought it. Nay, it
    is rather the beholder who lends to the beautiful thing its myriad
    meanings, and makes it marvellous for us, and sets it in some new
    relation to the age, so that it becomes a vital portion of our
    lives, and a symbol of what we pray for, or perhaps of what, having
    prayed for, we fear that we may receive. The longer I study,
    Ernest, the more clearly I see that the beauty of the visible arts
    is, as the beauty of music, impressive primarily, and that it may
    be marred, and indeed often is so, by any excess of intellectual
    intention on the part of the artist. For when the work is finished
    it has, as it were, an independent life of its own, and may deliver
    a message far other than that which was put into its lips to say.
    Sometimes, when I listen to the overture to Tannhauser, I seem
    indeed to see that comely knight treading delicately on the flower-
    strewn grass, and to hear the voice of Venus calling to him from
    the caverned hill. But at other times it speaks to me of a
    thousand different things, of myself, it may be, and my own life,
    or of the lives of others whom one has loved and grown weary of
    loving, or of the passions that man has known, or of the passions
    that man has not known, and so has sought for. To-night it may
    fill one with that ??OS ?O? ??????O?, that Amour de l'Impossible,
    which falls like a madness on many who think they live securely and
    out of reach of harm, so that they sicken suddenly with the poison
    of unlimited desire, and, in the infinite pursuit of what they may
    not obtain, grow faint and swoon or stumble. To-morrow, like the
    music of which Aristotle and Plato tell us, the noble Dorian music
    of the Greek, it may perform the office of a physician, and give us
    an anodyne against pain, and heal the spirit that is wounded, and
    'bring the soul into harmony with all right things.' And what is
    true about music is true about all the arts. Beauty has as many
    meanings as man has moods. Beauty is the symbol of symbols.
    Beauty reveals everything, because it expresses nothing. When it
    shows us itself, it shows us the whole fiery-coloured world.

    ERNEST. But is such work as you have talked about really
    criticism?

    GILBERT. It is the highest Criticism, for it criticises not merely
    the individual work of art, but Beauty itself, and fills with
    wonder a form which the artist may have left void, or not
    understood, or understood incompletely.

    ERNEST. The highest Criticism, then, is more creative than
    creation, and the primary aim of the critic is to see the object as
    in itself it really is not; that is your theory, I believe?

    GILBERT. Yes, that is my theory. To the critic the work of art is
    simply a suggestion for a new work of his own, that need not
    necessarily bear any obvious resemblance to the thing it
    criticises. The one characteristic of a beautiful form is that one
    can put into it whatever one wishes, and see in it whatever one
    chooses to see; and the Beauty, that gives to creation its
    universal and aesthetic element, makes the critic a creator in his
    turn, and whispers of a thousand different things which were not
    present in the mind of him who carved the statue or painted the
    panel or graved the gem.

    It is sometimes said by those who understand neither the nature of
    the highest Criticism nor the charm of the highest Art, that the
    pictures that the critic loves most to write about are those that
    belong to the anecdotage of painting, and that deal with scenes
    taken out of literature or history. But this is not so. Indeed,
    pictures of this kind are far too intelligible. As a class, they
    rank with illustrations, and, even considered from this point of
    view are failures, as they do not stir the imagination, but set
    definite bounds to it. For the domain of the painter is, as I
    suggested before, widely different from that of the poet. To the
    latter belongs life in its full and absolute entirety; not merely
    the beauty that men look at, but the beauty that men listen to
    also; not merely the momentary grace of form or the transient
    gladness of colour, but the whole sphere of feeling, the perfect
    cycle of thought. The painter is so far limited that it is only
    through the mask of the body that he can show us the mystery of the
    soul; only through conventional images that he can handle ideas;
    only through its physical equivalents that he can deal with
    psychology. And how inadequately does he do it then, asking us to
    accept the torn turban of the Moor for the noble rage of Othello,
    or a dotard in a storm for the wild madness of Lear! Yet it seems
    as if nothing could stop him. Most of our elderly English painters
    spend their wicked and wasted lives in poaching upon the domain of
    the poets, marring their motives by clumsy treatment, and striving
    to render, by visible form or colour, the marvel of what is
    invisible, the splendour of what is not seen. Their pictures are,
    as a natural consequence, insufferably tedious. They have degraded
    the invisible arts into the obvious arts, and the one thing not
    worth looking at is the obvious. I do not say that poet and
    painter may not treat of the same subject. They have always done
    so and will always do so. But while the poet can be pictorial or
    not, as he chooses, the painter must be pictorial always. For a
    painter is limited, not to what he sees in nature, but to what upon
    canvas may be seen.

    And so, my dear Ernest, pictures of this kind will not really
    fascinate the critic. He will turn from them to such works as make
    him brood and dream and fancy, to works that possess the subtle
    quality of suggestion, and seem to tell one that even from them
    there is an escape into a wider world. It is sometimes said that
    the tragedy of an artist's life is that he cannot realise his
    ideal. But the true tragedy that dogs the steps of most artists is
    that they realise their ideal too absolutely. For, when the ideal
    is realised, it is robbed of its wonder and its mystery, and
    becomes simply a new starting-point for an ideal that is other than
    itself. This is the reason why music is the perfect type of art.
    Music can never reveal its ultimate secret. This, also, is the
    explanation of the value of limitations in art. The sculptor
    gladly surrenders imitative colour, and the painter the actual
    dimensions of form, because by such renunciations they are able to
    avoid too definite a presentation of the Real, which would be mere
    imitation, and too definite a realisation of the Ideal, which would
    be too purely intellectual. It is through its very incompleteness
    that art becomes complete in beauty, and so addresses itself, not
    to the faculty of recognition nor to the faculty of reason, but to
    the aesthetic sense alone, which, while accepting both reason and
    recognition as stages of apprehension, subordinates them both to a
    pure synthetic impression of the work of art as a whole, and,
    taking whatever alien emotional elements the work may possess, uses
    their very complexity as a means by which a richer unity may be
    added to the ultimate impression itself. You see, then, how it is
    that the aesthetic critic rejects these obvious modes of art that
    have but one message to deliver, and having delivered it become
    dumb and sterile, and seeks rather for such modes as suggest
    reverie and mood, and by their imaginative beauty make all
    interpretations true, and no interpretation final. Some
    resemblance, no doubt, the creative work of the critic will have to
    the work that has stirred him to creation, but it will be such
    resemblance as exists, not between Nature and the mirror that the
    painter of landscape or figure may be supposed to hold up to her,
    but between Nature and the work of the decorative artist. Just as
    on the flowerless carpets of Persia, tulip and rose blossom indeed
    and are lovely to look on, though they are not reproduced in
    visible shape or line; just as the pearl and purple of the sea-
    shell is echoed in the church of St. Mark at Venice; just as the
    vaulted ceiling of the wondrous chapel at Ravenna is made gorgeous
    by the gold and green and sapphire of the peacock's tail, though
    the birds of Juno fly not across it; so the critic reproduces the
    work that he criticises in a mode that is never imitative, and part
    of whose charm may really consist in the rejection of resemblance,
    and shows us in this way not merely the meaning but also the
    mystery of Beauty, and, by transforming each art into literature,
    solves once for all the problem of Art's unity.

    But I see it is time for supper. After we have discussed some
    Chambertin and a few ortolans, we will pass on to the question of
    the critic considered in the light of the interpreter.

    ERNEST. Ah! you admit, then, that the critic may occasionally be
    allowed to see the object as in itself it really is.

    GILBERT. I am not quite sure. Perhaps I may admit it after
    supper. There is a subtle influence in supper.

    THE CRITIC AS ARTIST--WITH SOME REMARKS UPON THE IMPORTANCE OF
    DISCUSSING EVERYTHING

    A DIALOGUE: Part II. Persons: the same. Scene: the same.

    ERNEST. The ortolans were delightful, and the Chambertin perfect,
    and now let us return to the point at issue.

    GILBERT. Ah! don't let us do that. Conversation should touch
    everything, but should concentrate itself on nothing. Let us talk
    about Moral Indignation, its Cause and Cure, a subject on which I
    think of writing: or about The Survival of Thersites, as shown by
    the English comic papers; or about any topic that may turn up.

    ERNEST. No; I want to discuss the critic and criticism. You have
    told me that the highest criticism deals with art, not as
    expressive, but as impressive purely, and is consequently both
    creative and independent, is in fact an art by itself, occupying
    the same relation to creative work that creative work does to the
    visible world of form and colour, or the unseen world of passion
    and of thought. Well, now, tell me, will not the critic be
    sometimes a real interpreter?

    GILBERT. Yes; the critic will be an interpreter, if he chooses.
    He can pass from his synthetic impression of the work of art as a
    whole, to an analysis or exposition of the work itself, and in this
    lower sphere, as I hold it to be, there are many delightful things
    to be said and done. Yet his object will not always be to explain
    the work of art. He may seek rather to deepen its mystery, to
    raise round it, and round its maker, that mist of wonder which is
    dear to both gods and worshippers alike. Ordinary people are
    'terribly at ease in Zion.' They propose to walk arm in arm with
    the poets, and have a glib ignorant way of saying, 'Why should we
    read what is written about Shakespeare and Milton? We can read the
    plays and the poems. That is enough.' But an appreciation of
    Milton is, as the late Rector of Lincoln remarked once, the reward
    of consummate scholarship. And he who desires to understand
    Shakespeare truly must understand the relations in which
    Shakespeare stood to the Renaissance and the Reformation, to the
    age of Elizabeth and the age of James; he must be familiar with the
    history of the struggle for supremacy between the old classical
    forms and the new spirit of romance, between the school of Sidney,
    and Daniel, and Johnson, and the school of Marlowe and Marlowe's
    greater son; he must know the materials that were at Shakespeare's
    disposal, and the method in which he used them, and the conditions
    of theatric presentation in the sixteenth and seventeenth century,
    their limitations and their opportunities for freedom, and the
    literary criticism of Shakespeare's day, its aims and modes and
    canons; he must study the English language in its progress, and
    blank or rhymed verse in its various developments; he must study
    the Greek drama, and the connection between the art of the creator
    of the Agamemnon and the art of the creator of Macbeth; in a word,
    he must be able to bind Elizabethan London to the Athens of
    Pericles, and to learn Shakespeare's true position in the history
    of European drama and the drama of the world. The critic will
    certainly be an interpreter, but he will not treat Art as a
    riddling Sphinx, whose shallow secret may be guessed and revealed
    by one whose feet are wounded and who knows not his name. Rather,
    he will look upon Art as a goddess whose mystery it is his province
    to intensify, and whose majesty his privilege to make more
    marvellous in the eyes of men.

    And here, Ernest, this strange thing happens. The critic will
    indeed be an interpreter, but he will not be an interpreter in the
    sense of one who simply repeats in another form a message that has
    been put into his lips to say. For, just as it is only by contact
    with the art of foreign nations that the art of a country gains
    that individual and separate life that we call nationality, so, by
    curious inversion, it is only by intensifying his own personality
    that the critic can interpret the personality and work of others,
    and the more strongly this personality enters into the
    interpretation the more real the interpretation becomes, the more
    satisfying, the more convincing, and the more true.

    ERNEST. I would have said that personality would have been a
    disturbing element.

    GILBERT. No; it is an element of revelation. If you wish to
    understand others you must intensify your own individualism.

    ERNEST. What, then, is the result?

    GILBERT. I will tell you, and perhaps I can tell you best by
    definite example. It seems to me that, while the literary critic
    stands of course first, as having the wider range, and larger
    vision, and nobler material, each of the arts has a critic, as it
    were, assigned to it. The actor is a critic of the drama. He
    shows the poet's work under new conditions, and by a method special
    to himself. He takes the written word, and action, gesture and
    voice become the media of revelation. The singer or the player on
    lute and viol is the critic of music. The etcher of a picture robs
    the painting of its fair colours, but shows us by the use of a new
    material its true colour-quality, its tones and values, and the
    relations of its masses, and so is, in his way, a critic of it, for
    the critic is he who exhibits to us a work of art in a form
    different from that of the work itself, and the employment of a new
    material is a critical as well as a creative element. Sculpture,
    too, has its critic, who may be either the carver of a gem, as he
    was in Greek days, or some painter like Mantegna, who sought to
    reproduce on canvas the beauty of plastic line and the symphonic
    dignity of processional bas-relief. And in the case of all these
    creative critics of art it is evident that personality is an
    absolute essential for any real interpretation. When Rubinstein
    plays to us the Sonata Appassionata of Beethoven, he gives us not
    merely Beethoven, but also himself, and so gives us Beethoven
    absolutely--Beethoven re-interpreted through a rich artistic
    nature, and made vivid and wonderful to us by a new and intense
    personality. When a great actor plays Shakespeare we have the same
    experience. His own individuality becomes a vital part of the
    interpretation. People sometimes say that actors give us their own
    Hamlets, and not Shakespeare's; and this fallacy--for it is a
    fallacy--is, I regret to say, repeated by that charming and
    graceful writer who has lately deserted the turmoil of literature
    for the peace of the House of Commons, I mean the author of Obiter
    Dicta. In point of fact, there is no such thing as Shakespeare's
    Hamlet. If Hamlet has something of the definiteness of a work of
    art, he has also all the obscurity that belongs to life. There are
    as many Hamlets as there are melancholies.

    ERNEST. As many Hamlets as there are melancholies?

    GILBERT. Yes: and as art springs from personality, so it is only
    to personality that it can be revealed, and from the meeting of the
    two comes right interpretative criticism.

    ERNEST. The critic, then, considered as the interpreter, will give
    no less than he receives, and lend as much as he borrows?

    GILBERT. He will be always showing us the work of art in some new
    relation to our age. He will always be reminding us that great
    works of art are living things--are, in fact, the only things that
    live. So much, indeed, will he feel this, that I am certain that,
    as civilisation progresses and we become more highly organised, the
    elect spirits of each age, the critical and cultured spirits, will
    grow less and less interested in actual life, and WILL SEEK TO GAIN
    THEIR IMPRESSIONS ALMOST ENTIRELY FROM WHAT ART HAS TOUCHED. For
    life is terribly deficient in form. Its catastrophes happen in the
    wrong way and to the wrong people. There is a grotesque horror
    about its comedies, and its tragedies seem to culminate in farce.
    One is always wounded when one approaches it. Things last either
    too long, or not long enough.

    ERNEST. Poor life! Poor human life! Are you not even touched by
    the tears that the Roman poet tells us are part of its essence.

    GILBERT. Too quickly touched by them, I fear. For when one looks
    back upon the life that was so vivid in its emotional intensity,
    and filled with such fervent moments of ecstasy or of joy, it all
    seems to be a dream and an illusion. What are the unreal things,
    but the passions that once burned one like fire? What are the
    incredible things, but the things that one has faithfully believed?
    What are the improbable things? The things that one has done
    oneself. No, Ernest; life cheats us with shadows, like a puppet-
    master. We ask it for pleasure. It gives it to us, with
    bitterness and disappointment in its train. We come across some
    noble grief that we think will lend the purple dignity of tragedy
    to our days, but it passes away from us, and things less noble take
    its place, and on some grey windy dawn, or odorous eve of silence
    and of silver, we find ourselves looking with callous wonder, or
    dull heart of stone, at the tress of gold-flecked hair that we had
    once so wildly worshipped and so madly kissed.

    ERNEST. Life then is a failure?

    GILBERT. From the artistic point of view, certainly. And the
    chief thing that makes life a failure from this artistic point of
    view is the thing that lends to life its sordid security, the fact
    that one can never repeat exactly the same emotion. How different
    it is in the world of Art! On a shelf of the bookcase behind you
    stands the Divine Comedy, and I know that, if I open it at a
    certain place, I shall be filled with a fierce hatred of some one
    who has never wronged me, or stirred by a great love for some one
    whom I shall never see. There is no mood or passion that Art
    cannot give us, and those of us who have discovered her secret can
    settle beforehand what our experiences are going to be. We can
    choose our day and select our hour. We can say to ourselves, 'To-
    morrow, at dawn, we shall walk with grave Virgil through the valley
    of the shadow of death,' and lo! the dawn finds us in the obscure
    wood, and the Mantuan stands by our side. We pass through the gate
    of the legend fatal to hope, and with pity or with joy behold the
    horror of another world. The hypocrites go by, with their painted
    faces and their cowls of gilded lead. Out of the ceaseless winds
    that drive them, the carnal look at us, and we watch the heretic
    rending his flesh, and the glutton lashed by the rain. We break
    the withered branches from the tree in the grove of the Harpies,
    and each dull-hued poisonous twig bleeds with red blood before us,
    and cries aloud with bitter cries. Out of a horn of fire Odysseus
    speaks to us, and when from his sepulchre of flame the great
    Ghibelline rises, the pride that triumphs over the torture of that
    bed becomes ours for a moment. Through the dim purple air fly
    those who have stained the world with the beauty of their sin, and
    in the pit of loathsome disease, dropsy-stricken and swollen of
    body into the semblance of a monstrous lute, lies Adamo di Brescia,
    the coiner of false coin. He bids us listen to his misery; we
    stop, and with dry and gaping lips he tells us how he dreams day
    and night of the brooks of clear water that in cool dewy channels
    gush down the green Casentine hills. Sinon, the false Greek of
    Troy, mocks at him. He smites him in the face, and they wrangle.
    We are fascinated by their shame, and loiter, till Virgil chides us
    and leads us away to that city turreted by giants where great
    Nimrod blows his horn. Terrible things are in store for us, and we
    go to meet them in Dante's raiment and with Dante's heart. We
    traverse the marshes of the Styx, and Argenti swims to the boat
    through the slimy waves. He calls to us, and we reject him. When
    we hear the voice of his agony we are glad, and Virgil praises us
    for the bitterness of our scorn. We tread upon the cold crystal of
    Cocytus, in which traitors stick like straws in glass. Our foot
    strikes against the head of Bocca. He will not tell us his name,
    and we tear the hair in handfuls from the screaming skull.
    Alberigo prays us to break the ice upon his face that he may weep a
    little. We pledge our word to him, and when he has uttered his
    dolorous tale we deny the word that we have spoken, and pass from
    him; such cruelty being courtesy indeed, for who more base than he
    who has mercy for the condemned of God? In the jaws of Lucifer we
    see the man who sold Christ, and in the jaws of Lucifer the men who
    slew Caesar. We tremble, and come forth to re-behold the stars.

    In the land of Purgation the air is freer, and the holy mountain
    rises into the pure light of day. There is peace for us, and for
    those who for a season abide in it there is some peace also,
    though, pale from the poison of the Maremma, Madonna Pia passes
    before us, and Ismene, with the sorrow of earth still lingering
    about her, is there. Soul after soul makes us share in some
    repentance or some joy. He whom the mourning of his widow taught
    to drink the sweet wormwood of pain, tells us of Nella praying in
    her lonely bed, and we learn from the mouth of Buonconte how a
    single tear may save a dying sinner from the fiend. Sordello, that
    noble and disdainful Lombard, eyes us from afar like a couchant
    lion. When he learns that Virgil is one of Mantua's citizens, he
    falls upon his neck, and when he learns that he is the singer of
    Rome he falls before his feet. In that valley whose grass and
    flowers are fairer than cleft emerald and Indian wood, and brighter
    than scarlet and silver, they are singing who in the world were
    kings; but the lips of Rudolph of Hapsburg do not move to the music
    of the others, and Philip of France beats his breast and Henry of
    England sits alone. On and on we go, climbing the marvellous
    stair, and the stars become larger than their wont, and the song of
    the kings grows faint, and at length we reach the seven trees of
    gold and the garden of the Earthly Paradise. In a griffin-drawn
    chariot appears one whose brows are bound with olive, who is veiled
    in white, and mantled in green, and robed in a vesture that is
    coloured like live fire. The ancient flame wakes within us. Our
    blood quickens through terrible pulses. We recognise her. It is
    Beatrice, the woman we have worshipped. The ice congealed about
    our heart melts. Wild tears of anguish break from us, and we bow
    our forehead to the ground, for we know that we have sinned. When
    we have done penance, and are purified, and have drunk of the
    fountain of Lethe and bathed in the fountain of Eunoe, the mistress
    of our soul raises us to the Paradise of Heaven. Out of that
    eternal pearl, the moon, the face of Piccarda Donati leans to us.
    Her beauty troubles us for a moment, and when, like a thing that
    falls through water, she passes away, we gaze after her with
    wistful eyes. The sweet planet of Venus is full of lovers.
    Cunizza, the sister of Ezzelin, the lady of Sordello's heart, is
    there, and Folco, the passionate singer of Provence, who in sorrow
    for Azalais forsook the world, and the Canaanitish harlot whose
    soul was the first that Christ redeemed. Joachim of Flora stands
    in the sun, and, in the sun, Aquinas recounts the story of St.
    Francis and Bonaventure the story of St. Dominic. Through the
    burning rubies of Mars, Cacciaguida approaches. He tells us of the
    arrow that is shot from the bow of exile, and how salt tastes the
    bread of another, and how steep are the stairs in the house of a
    stranger. In Saturn the soul sings not, and even she who guides us
    dare not smile. On a ladder of gold the flames rise and fall. At
    last, we see the pageant of the Mystical Rose. Beatrice fixes her
    eyes upon the face of God to turn them not again. The beatific
    vision is granted to us; we know the Love that moves the sun and
    all the stars.

    Yes, we can put the earth back six hundred courses and make
    ourselves one with the great Florentine, kneel at the same altar
    with him, and share his rapture and his scorn. And if we grow
    tired of an antique time, and desire to realise our own age in all
    its weariness and sin, are there not books that can make us live
    more in one single hour than life can make us live in a score of
    shameful years? Close to your hand lies a little volume, bound in
    some Nile-green skin that has been powdered with gilded nenuphars
    and smoothed with hard ivory. It is the book that Gautier loved,
    it is Baudelaire's masterpiece. Open it at that sad madrigal that
    begins

    Que m'importe que tu sois sage?
    Sois belle! et sois triste!

    and you will find yourself worshipping sorrow as you have never
    worshipped joy. Pass on to the poem on the man who tortures
    himself, let its subtle music steal into your brain and colour your
    thoughts, and you will become for a moment what he was who wrote
    it; nay, not for a moment only, but for many barren moonlit nights
    and sunless sterile days will a despair that is not your own make
    its dwelling within you, and the misery of another gnaw your heart
    away. Read the whole book, suffer it to tell even one of its
    secrets to your soul, and your soul will grow eager to know more,
    and will feed upon poisonous honey, and seek to repent of strange
    crimes of which it is guiltless, and to make atonement for terrible
    pleasures that it has never known. And then, when you are tired of
    these flowers of evil, turn to the flowers that grow in the garden
    of Perdita, and in their dew-drenched chalices cool your fevered
    brow, and let their loveliness heal and restore your soul; or wake
    from his forgotten tomb the sweet Syrian, Meleager, and bid the
    lover of Heliodore make you music, for he too has flowers in his
    song, red pomegranate blossoms, and irises that smell of myrrh,
    ringed daffodils and dark blue hyacinths, and marjoram and crinkled
    ox-eyes. Dear to him was the perfume of the bean-field at evening,
    and dear to him the odorous eared-spikenard that grew on the Syrian
    hills, and the fresh green thyme, the wine-cup's charm. The feet
    of his love as she walked in the garden were like lilies set upon
    lilies. Softer than sleep-laden poppy petals were her lips, softer
    than violets and as scented. The flame-like crocus sprang from the
    grass to look at her. For her the slim narcissus stored the cool
    rain; and for her the anemones forgot the Sicilian winds that wooed
    them. And neither crocus, nor anemone, nor narcissus was as fair
    as she was.

    It is a strange thing, this transference of emotion. We sicken
    with the same maladies as the poets, and the singer lends us his
    pain. Dead lips have their message for us, and hearts that have
    fallen to dust can communicate their joy. We run to kiss the
    bleeding mouth of Fantine, and we follow Manon Lescaut over the
    whole world. Ours is the love-madness of the Tyrian, and the
    terror of Orestes is ours also. There is no passion that we cannot
    feel, no pleasure that we may not gratify, and we can choose the
    time of our initiation and the time of our freedom also. Life!
    Life! Don't let us go to life for our fulfilment or our
    experience. It is a thing narrowed by circumstances, incoherent in
    its utterance, and without that fine correspondence of form and
    spirit which is the only thing that can satisfy the artistic and
    critical temperament. It makes us pay too high a price for its
    wares, and we purchase the meanest of its secrets at a cost that is
    monstrous and infinite.

    ERNEST. Must we go, then, to Art for everything?

    GILBERT. For everything. Because Art does not hurt us. The tears
    that we shed at a play are a type of the exquisite sterile emotions
    that it is the function of Art to awaken. We weep, but we are not
    wounded. We grieve, but our grief is not bitter. In the actual
    life of man, sorrow, as Spinoza says somewhere, is a passage to a
    lesser perfection. But the sorrow with which Art fills us both
    purifies and initiates, if I may quote once more from the great art
    critic of the Greeks. It is through Art, and through Art only,
    that we can realise our perfection; through Art, and through Art
    only, that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual
    existence. This results not merely from the fact that nothing that
    one can imagine is worth doing, and that one can imagine
    everything, but from the subtle law that emotional forces, like the
    forces of the physical sphere, are limited in extent and energy.
    One can feel so much, and no more. And how can it matter with what
    pleasure life tries to tempt one, or with what pain it seeks to
    maim and mar one's soul, if in the spectacle of the lives of those
    who have never existed one has found the true secret of joy, and
    wept away one's tears over their deaths who, like Cordelia and the
    daughter of Brabantio, can never die?

    ERNEST. Stop a moment. It seems to me that in everything that you
    have said there is something radically immoral.

    GILBERT. All art is immoral.

    ERNEST. All art?

    GILBERT. Yes. For emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of
    art, and emotion for the sake of action is the aim of life, and of
    that practical organisation of life that we call society. Society,
    which is the beginning and basis of morals, exists simply for the
    concentration of human energy, and in order to ensure its own
    continuance and healthy stability it demands, and no doubt rightly
    demands, of each of its citizens that he should contribute some
    form of productive labour to the common weal, and toil and travail
    that the day's work may be done. Society often forgives the
    criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. The beautiful sterile
    emotions that art excites in us are hateful in its eyes, and so
    completely are people dominated by the tyranny of this dreadful
    social ideal that they are always coming shamelessly up to one at
    Private Views and other places that are open to the general public,
    and saying in a loud stentorian voice, 'What are you doing?'
    whereas 'What are you thinking?' is the only question that any
    single civilised being should ever be allowed to whisper to
    another. They mean well, no doubt, these honest beaming folk.
    Perhaps that is the reason why they are so excessively tedious.
    But some one should teach them that while, in the opinion of
    society, Contemplation is the gravest sin of which any citizen can
    be guilty, in the opinion of the highest culture it is the proper
    occupation of man.

    ERNEST. Contemplation?

    GILBERT. Contemplation. I said to you some time ago that it was
    far more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. Let me say
    to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in
    the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato,
    with his passion for wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy.
    To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest
    form of energy also. It was to this that the passion for holiness
    led the saint and the mystic of mediaeval days.

    ERNEST. We exist, then, to do nothing?

    GILBERT. It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is
    limited and relative. Unlimited and absolute is the vision of him
    who sits at ease and watches, who walks in loneliness and dreams.
    But we who are born at the close of this wonderful age are at once
    too cultured and too critical, too intellectually subtle and too
    curious of exquisite pleasures, to accept any speculations about
    life in exchange for life itself. To us the citta divina is
    colourless, and the fruitio Dei without meaning. Metaphysics do
    not satisfy our temperaments, and religious ecstasy is out of date.
    The world through which the Academic philosopher becomes 'the
    spectator of all time and of all existence' is not really an ideal
    world, but simply a world of abstract ideas. When we enter it, we
    starve amidst the chill mathematics of thought. The courts of the
    city of God are not open to us now. Its gates are guarded by
    Ignorance, and to pass them we have to surrender all that in our
    nature is most divine. It is enough that our fathers believed.
    They have exhausted the faith-faculty of the species. Their legacy
    to us is the scepticism of which they were afraid. Had they put it
    into words, it might not live within us as thought. No, Ernest,
    no. We cannot go back to the saint. There is far more to be
    learned from the sinner. We cannot go back to the philosopher, and
    the mystic leads us astray. Who, as Mr. Pater suggests somewhere,
    would exchange the curve of a single rose-leaf for that formless
    intangible Being which Plato rates so high? What to us is the
    Illumination of Philo, the Abyss of Eckhart, the Vision of Bohme,
    the monstrous Heaven itself that was revealed to Swedenborg's
    blinded eyes? Such things are less than the yellow trumpet of one
    daffodil of the field, far less than the meanest of the visible
    arts, for, just as Nature is matter struggling into mind, so Art is
    mind expressing itself under the conditions of matter, and thus,
    even in the lowliest of her manifestations, she speaks to both
    sense and soul alike. To the aesthetic temperament the vague is
    always repellent. The Greeks were a nation of artists, because
    they were spared the sense of the infinite. Like Aristotle, like
    Goethe after he had read Kant, we desire the concrete, and nothing
    but the concrete can satisfy us.

    ERNEST. What then do you propose?

    GILBERT. It seems to me that with the development of the critical
    spirit we shall be able to realise, not merely our own lives, but
    the collective life of the race, and so to make ourselves
    absolutely modern, in the true meaning of the word modernity. For
    he to whom the present is the only thing that is present, knows
    nothing of the age in which he lives. To realise the nineteenth
    century, one must realise every century that has preceded it and
    that has contributed to its making. To know anything about oneself
    one must know all about others. There must be no mood with which
    one cannot sympathise, no dead mode of life that one cannot make
    alive. Is this impossible? I think not. By revealing to us the
    absolute mechanism of all action, and so freeing us from the self-
    imposed and trammelling burden of moral responsibility, the
    scientific principle of Heredity has become, as it were, the
    warrant for the contemplative life. It has shown us that we are
    never less free than when we try to act. It has hemmed us round
    with the nets of the hunter, and written upon the wall the prophecy
    of our doom. We may not watch it, for it is within us. We may not
    see it, save in a mirror that mirrors the soul. It is Nemesis
    without her mask. It is the last of the Fates, and the most
    terrible. It is the only one of the Gods whose real name we know.

    And yet, while in the sphere of practical and external life it has
    robbed energy of its freedom and activity of its choice, in the
    subjective sphere, where the soul is at work, it comes to us, this
    terrible shadow, with many gifts in its hands, gifts of strange
    temperaments and subtle susceptibilities, gifts of wild ardours and
    chill moods of indifference, complex multiform gifts of thoughts
    that are at variance with each other, and passions that war against
    themselves. And so, it is not our own life that we live, but the
    lives of the dead, and the soul that dwells within us is no single
    spiritual entity, making us personal and individual, created for
    our service, and entering into us for our joy. It is something
    that has dwelt in fearful places, and in ancient sepulchres has
    made its abode. It is sick with many maladies, and has memories of
    curious sins. It is wiser than we are, and its wisdom is bitter.
    It fills us with impossible desires, and makes us follow what we
    know we cannot gain. One thing, however, Ernest, it can do for us.
    It can lead us away from surroundings whose beauty is dimmed to us
    by the mist of familiarity, or whose ignoble ugliness and sordid
    claims are marring the perfection of our development. It can help
    us to leave the age in which we were born, and to pass into other
    ages, and find ourselves not exiled from their air. It can teach
    us how to escape from our experience, and to realise the
    experiences of those who are greater than we are. The pain of
    Leopardi crying out against life becomes our pain. Theocritus
    blows on his pipe, and we laugh with the lips of nymph and
    shepherd. In the wolfskin of Pierre Vidal we flee before the
    hounds, and in the armour of Lancelot we ride from the bower of the
    Queen. We have whispered the secret of our love beneath the cowl
    of Abelard, and in the stained raiment of Villon have put our shame
    into song. We can see the dawn through Shelley's eyes, and when we
    wander with Endymion the Moon grows amorous of our youth. Ours is
    the anguish of Atys, and ours the weak rage and noble sorrows of
    the Dane. Do you think that it is the imagination that enables us
    to live these countless lives? Yes: it is the imagination; and
    the imagination is the result of heredity. It is simply
    concentrated race-experience.

    ERNEST. But where in this is the function of the critical spirit?

    GILBERT. The culture that this transmission of racial experiences
    makes possible can be made perfect by the critical spirit alone,
    and indeed may be said to be one with it. For who is the true
    critic but he who bears within himself the dreams, and ideas, and
    feelings of myriad generations, and to whom no form of thought is
    alien, no emotional impulse obscure? And who the true man of
    culture, if not he who by fine scholarship and fastidious rejection
    has made instinct self-conscious and intelligent, and can separate
    the work that has distinction from the work that has it not, and so
    by contact and comparison makes himself master of the secrets of
    style and school, and understands their meanings, and listens to
    their voices, and develops that spirit of disinterested curiosity
    which is the real root, as it is the real flower, of the
    intellectual life, and thus attains to intellectual clarity, and,
    having learned 'the best that is known and thought in the world,'
    lives--it is not fanciful to say so--with those who are the
    Immortals.

    Yes, Ernest: the contemplative life, the life that has for its aim
    not DOING but BEING, and not BEING merely, but BECOMING--that is
    what the critical spirit can give us. The gods live thus: either
    brooding over their own perfection, as Aristotle tells us, or, as
    Epicurus fancied, watching with the calm eyes of the spectator the
    tragicomedy of the world that they have made. We, too, might live
    like them, and set ourselves to witness with appropriate emotions
    the varied scenes that man and nature afford. We might make
    ourselves spiritual by detaching ourselves from action, and become
    perfect by the rejection of energy. It has often seemed to me that
    Browning felt something of this. Shakespeare hurls Hamlet into
    active life, and makes him realise his mission by effort. Browning
    might have given us a Hamlet who would have realised his mission by
    thought. Incident and event were to him unreal or unmeaning. He
    made the soul the protagonist of life's tragedy, and looked on
    action as the one undramatic element of a play. To us, at any
    rate, the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] is the true
    ideal. From the high tower of Thought we can look out at the
    world. Calm, and self-centred, and complete, the aesthetic critic
    contemplates life, and no arrow drawn at a venture can pierce
    between the joints of his harness. He at least is safe. He has
    discovered how to live.

    Is such a mode of life immoral? Yes: all the arts are immoral,
    except those baser forms of sensual or didactic art that seek to
    excite to action of evil or of good. For action of every kind
    belongs to the sphere of ethics. The aim of art is simply to
    create a mood. Is such a mode of life unpractical? Ah! it is not
    so easy to be unpractical as the ignorant Philistine imagines. It
    were well for England if it were so. There is no country in the
    world so much in need of unpractical people as this country of
    ours. With us, Thought is degraded by its constant association
    with practice. Who that moves in the stress and turmoil of actual
    existence, noisy politician, or brawling social reformer, or poor
    narrow-minded priest blinded by the sufferings of that unimportant
    section of the community among whom he has cast his lot, can
    seriously claim to be able to form a disinterested intellectual
    judgment about any one thing? Each of the professions means a
    prejudice. The necessity for a career forces every one to take
    sides. We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-
    educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they
    become absolutely stupid. And, harsh though it may sound, I cannot
    help saying that such people deserve their doom. The sure way of
    knowing nothing about life is to try to make oneself useful.

    ERNEST. A charming doctrine, Gilbert.

    GILBERT. I am not sure about that, but it has at least the minor
    merit of being true. That the desire to do good to others produces
    a plentiful crop of prigs is the least of the evils of which it is
    the cause. The prig is a very interesting psychological study, and
    though of all poses a moral pose is the most offensive, still to
    have a pose at all is something. It is a formal recognition of the
    importance of treating life from a definite and reasoned
    standpoint. That Humanitarian Sympathy wars against Nature, by
    securing the survival of the failure, may make the man of science
    loathe its facile virtues. The political economist may cry out
    against it for putting the improvident on the same level as the
    provident, and so robbing life of the strongest, because most
    sordid, incentive to industry. But, in the eyes of the thinker,
    the real harm that emotional sympathy does is that it limits
    knowledge, and so prevents us from solving any single social
    problem. We are trying at present to stave off the coming crisis,
    the coming revolution as my friends the Fabianists call it, by
    means of doles and alms. Well, when the revolution or crisis
    arrives, we shall be powerless, because we shall know nothing. And
    so, Ernest, let us not be deceived. England will never be
    civilised till she has added Utopia to her dominions. There is
    more than one of her colonies that she might with advantage
    surrender for so fair a land. What we want are unpractical people
    who see beyond the moment, and think beyond the day. Those who try
    to lead the people can only do so by following the mob. It is
    through the voice of one crying in the wilderness that the ways of
    the gods must be prepared.

    But perhaps you think that in beholding for the mere joy of
    beholding, and contemplating for the sake of contemplation, there
    is something that is egotistic. If you think so, do not say so.
    It takes a thoroughly selfish age, like our own, to deify self-
    sacrifice. It takes a thoroughly grasping age, such as that in
    which we live, to set above the fine intellectual virtues, those
    shallow and emotional virtues that are an immediate practical
    benefit to itself. They miss their aim, too, these philanthropists
    and sentimentalists of our day, who are always chattering to one
    about one's duty to one's neighbour. For the development of the
    race depends on the development of the individual, and where self-
    culture has ceased to be the ideal, the intellectual standard is
    instantly lowered, and, often, ultimately lost. If you meet at
    dinner a man who has spent his life in educating himself--a rare
    type in our time, I admit, but still one occasionally to be met
    with--you rise from table richer, and conscious that a high ideal
    has for a moment touched and sanctified your days. But oh! my dear
    Ernest, to sit next to a man who has spent his life in trying to
    educate others! What a dreadful experience that is! How appalling
    is that ignorance which is the inevitable result of the fatal habit
    of imparting opinions! How limited in range the creature's mind
    proves to be! How it wearies us, and must weary himself, with its
    endless repetitions and sickly reiteration! How lacking it is in
    any element of intellectual growth! In what a vicious circle it
    always moves!

    ERNEST. You speak with strange feeling, Gilbert. Have you had
    this dreadful experience, as you call it, lately?

    GILBERT. Few of us escape it. People say that the schoolmaster is
    abroad. I wish to goodness he were. But the type of which, after
    all, he is only one, and certainly the least important, of the
    representatives, seems to me to be really dominating our lives; and
    just as the philanthropist is the nuisance of the ethical sphere,
    so the nuisance of the intellectual sphere is the man who is so
    occupied in trying to educate others, that he has never had any
    time to educate himself. No, Ernest, self-culture is the true
    ideal of man. Goethe saw it, and the immediate debt that we owe to
    Goethe is greater than the debt we owe to any man since Greek days.
    The Greeks saw it, and have left us, as their legacy to modern
    thought, the conception of the contemplative life as well as the
    critical method by which alone can that life be truly realised. It
    was the one thing that made the Renaissance great, and gave us
    Humanism. It is the one thing that could make our own age great
    also; for the real weakness of England lies, not in incomplete
    armaments or unfortified coasts, not in the poverty that creeps
    through sunless lanes, or the drunkenness that brawls in loathsome
    courts, but simply in the fact that her ideals are emotional and
    not intellectual.

    I do not deny that the intellectual ideal is difficult of
    attainment, still less that it is, and perhaps will be for years to
    come, unpopular with the crowd. It is so easy for people to have
    sympathy with suffering. It is so difficult for them to have
    sympathy with thought. Indeed, so little do ordinary people
    understand what thought really is, that they seem to imagine that,
    when they have said that a theory is dangerous, they have
    pronounced its condemnation, whereas it is only such theories that
    have any true intellectual value. An idea that is not dangerous is
    unworthy of being called an idea at all.

    ERNEST. Gilbert, you bewilder me. You have told me that all art
    is, in its essence, immoral. Are you going to tell me now that all
    thought is, in its essence, dangerous?

    GILBERT. Yes, in the practical sphere it is so. The security of
    society lies in custom and unconscious instinct, and the basis of
    the stability of society, as a healthy organism, is the complete
    absence of any intelligence amongst its members. The great
    majority of people being fully aware of this, rank themselves
    naturally on the side of that splendid system that elevates them to
    the dignity of machines, and rage so wildly against the intrusion
    of the intellectual faculty into any question that concerns life,
    that one is tempted to define man as a rational animal who always
    loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with
    the dictates of reason. But let us turn from the practical sphere,
    and say no more about the wicked philanthropists, who, indeed, may
    well be left to the mercy of the almond-eyed sage of the Yellow
    River Chuang Tsu the wise, who has proved that such well-meaning
    and offensive busybodies have destroyed the simple and spontaneous
    virtue that there is in man. They are a wearisome topic, and I am
    anxious to get back to the sphere in which criticism is free.

    ERNEST. The sphere of the intellect?

    GILBERT. Yes. You remember that I spoke of the critic as being in
    his own way as creative as the artist, whose work, indeed, may be
    merely of value in so far as it gives to the critic a suggestion
    for some new mood of thought and feeling which he can realise with
    equal, or perhaps greater, distinction of form, and, through the
    use of a fresh medium of expression, make differently beautiful and
    more perfect. Well, you seemed to be a little sceptical about the
    theory. But perhaps I wronged you?

    ERNEST. I am not really sceptical about it, but I must admit that
    I feel very strongly that such work as you describe the critic
    producing--and creative such work must undoubtedly be admitted to
    be--is, of necessity, purely subjective, whereas the greatest work
    is objective always, objective and impersonal.

    GILBERT. The difference between objective and subjective work is
    one of external form merely. It is accidental, not essential. All
    artistic creation is absolutely subjective. The very landscape
    that Corot looked at was, as he said himself, but a mood of his own
    mind; and those great figures of Greek or English drama that seem
    to us to possess an actual existence of their own, apart from the
    poets who shaped and fashioned them, are, in their ultimate
    analysis, simply the poets themselves, not as they thought they
    were, but as they thought they were not; and by such thinking came
    in strange manner, though but for a moment, really so to be. For
    out of ourselves we can never pass, nor can there be in creation
    what in the creator was not. Nay, I would say that the more
    objective a creation appears to be, the more subjective it really
    is. Shakespeare might have met Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the
    white streets of London, or seen the serving-men of rival houses
    bite their thumbs at each other in the open square; but Hamlet came
    out of his soul, and Romeo out of his passion. They were elements
    of his nature to which he gave visible form, impulses that stirred
    so strongly within him that he had, as it were perforce, to suffer
    them to realise their energy, not on the lower plane of actual
    life, where they would have been trammelled and constrained and so
    made imperfect, but on that imaginative plane of art where Love can
    indeed find in Death its rich fulfilment, where one can stab the
    eavesdropper behind the arras, and wrestle in a new-made grave, and
    make a guilty king drink his own hurt, and see one's father's
    spirit, beneath the glimpses of the moon, stalking in complete
    steel from misty wall to wall. Action being limited would have
    left Shakespeare unsatisfied and unexpressed; and, just as it is
    because he did nothing that he has been able to achieve everything,
    so it is because he never speaks to us of himself in his plays that
    his plays reveal him to us absolutely, and show us his true nature
    and temperament far more completely than do those strange and
    exquisite sonnets, even, in which he bares to crystal eyes the
    secret closet of his heart. Yes, the objective form is the most
    subjective in matter. Man is least himself when he talks in his
    own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

    ERNEST. The critic, then, being limited to the subjective form,
    will necessarily be less able fully to express himself than the
    artist, who has always at his disposal the forms that are
    impersonal and objective.

    GILBERT. Not necessarily, and certainly not at all if he
    recognises that each mode of criticism is, in its highest
    development, simply a mood, and that we are never more true to
    ourselves than when we are inconsistent. The aesthetic critic,
    constant only to the principle of beauty in all things, will ever
    be looking for fresh impressions, winning from the various schools
    the secret of their charm, bowing, it may be, before foreign
    altars, or smiling, if it be his fancy, at strange new gods. What
    other people call one's past has, no doubt, everything to do with
    them, but has absolutely nothing to do with oneself. The man who
    regards his past is a man who deserves to have no future to look
    forward to. When one has found expression for a mood, one has done
    with it. You laugh; but believe me it is so. Yesterday it was
    Realism that charmed one. One gained from it that nouveau frisson
    which it was its aim to produce. One analysed it, explained it,
    and wearied of it. At sunset came the Luministe in painting, and
    the Symboliste in poetry, and the spirit of mediaevalism, that
    spirit which belongs not to time but to temperament, woke suddenly
    in wounded Russia, and stirred us for a moment by the terrible
    fascination of pain. To-day the cry is for Romance, and already
    the leaves are tremulous in the valley, and on the purple hill-tops
    walks Beauty with slim gilded feet. The old modes of creation
    linger, of course. The artists reproduce either themselves or each
    other, with wearisome iteration. But Criticism is always moving
    on, and the critic is always developing.

    Nor, again, is the critic really limited to the subjective form of
    expression. The method of the drama is his, as well as the method
    of the epos. He may use dialogue, as he did who set Milton talking
    to Marvel on the nature of comedy and tragedy, and made Sidney and
    Lord Brooke discourse on letters beneath the Penshurst oaks; or
    adopt narration, as Mr. Pater is fond of doing, each of whose
    Imaginary Portraits--is not that the title of the book?--presents
    to us, under the fanciful guise of fiction, some fine and exquisite
    piece of criticism, one on the painter Watteau, another on the
    philosophy of Spinoza, a third on the Pagan elements of the early
    Renaissance, and the last, and in some respects the most
    suggestive, on the source of that Aufklarung, that enlightening
    which dawned on Germany in the last century, and to which our own
    culture owes so great a debt. Dialogue, certainly, that wonderful
    literary form which, from Plato to Lucian, and from Lucian to
    Giordano Bruno, and from Bruno to that grand old Pagan in whom
    Carlyle took such delight, the creative critics of the world have
    always employed, can never lose for the thinker its attraction as a
    mode of expression. By its means he can both reveal and conceal
    himself, and give form to every fancy, and reality to every mood.
    By its means he can exhibit the object from each point of view, and
    show it to us in the round, as a sculptor shows us things, gaining
    in this manner all the richness and reality of effect that comes
    from those side issues that are suddenly suggested by the central
    idea in its progress, and really illumine the idea more completely,
    or from those felicitous after-thoughts that give a fuller
    completeness to the central scheme, and yet convey something of the
    delicate charm of chance.

    ERNEST. By its means, too, he can invent an imaginary antagonist,
    and convert him when he chooses by some absurdly sophistical
    argument.

    GILBERT. Ah! it is so easy to convert others. It is so difficult
    to convert oneself. To arrive at what one really believes, one
    must speak through lips different from one's own. To know the
    truth one must imagine myriads of falsehoods. For what is Truth?
    In matters of religion, it is simply the opinion that has survived.
    In matters of science, it is the ultimate sensation. In matters of
    art, it is one's last mood. And you see now, Ernest, that the
    critic has at his disposal as many objective forms of expression as
    the artist has. Ruskin put his criticism into imaginative prose,
    and is superb in his changes and contradictions; and Browning put
    his into blank verse and made painter and poet yield us their
    secret; and M. Renan uses dialogue, and Mr. Pater fiction, and
    Rossetti translated into sonnet-music the colour of Giorgione and
    the design of Ingres, and his own design and colour also, feeling,
    with the instinct of one who had many modes of utterance; that the
    ultimate art is literature, and the finest and fullest medium that
    of words.

    ERNEST. Well, now that you have settled that the critic has at his
    disposal all objective forms, I wish you would tell me what are the
    qualities that should characterise the true critic.

    GILBERT. What would you say they were?

    ERNEST. Well, I should say that a critic should above all things
    be fair.

    GILBERT. Ah! not fair. A critic cannot be fair in the ordinary
    sense of the word. It is only about things that do not interest
    one that one can give a really unbiassed opinion, which is no doubt
    the reason why an unbiassed opinion is always absolutely valueless.
    The man who sees both sides of a question, is a man who sees
    absolutely nothing at all. Art is a passion, and, in matters of
    art, Thought is inevitably coloured by emotion, and so is fluid
    rather than fixed, and, depending upon fine moods and exquisite
    moments, cannot be narrowed into the rigidity of a scientific
    formula or a theological dogma. It is to the soul that Art speaks,
    and the soul may be made the prisoner of the mind as well as of the
    body. One should, of course, have no prejudices; but, as a great
    Frenchman remarked a hundred years ago, it is one's business in
    such matters to have preferences, and when one has preferences one
    ceases to be fair. It is only an auctioneer who can equally and
    impartially admire all schools of Art. No; fairness is not one of
    the qualities of the true critic. It is not even a condition of
    criticism. Each form of Art with which we come in contact
    dominates us for the moment to the exclusion of every other form.
    We must surrender ourselves absolutely to the work in question,
    whatever it may be, if we wish to gain its secret. For the time,
    we must think of nothing else, can think of nothing else, indeed.

    ERNEST. The true critic will be rational, at any rate, will he
    not?

    GILBERT. Rational? There are two ways of disliking art, Ernest.
    One is to dislike it. The other, to like it rationally. For Art,
    as Plato saw, and not without regret, creates in listener and
    spectator a form of divine madness. It does not spring from
    inspiration, but it makes others inspired. Reason is not the
    faculty to which it appeals. If one loves Art at all, one must
    love it beyond all other things in the world, and against such
    love, the reason, if one listened to it, would cry out. There is
    nothing sane about the worship of beauty. It is too splendid to be
    sane. Those of whose lives it forms the dominant note will always
    seem to the world to be pure visionaries.

    ERNEST. Well, at least, the critic will be sincere.

    GILBERT. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal
    of it is absolutely fatal. The true critic will, indeed, always be
    sincere in his devotion to the principle of beauty, but he will
    seek for beauty in every age and in each school, and will never
    suffer himself to be limited to any settled custom of thought or
    stereotyped mode of looking at things. He will realise himself in
    many forms, and by a thousand different ways, and will ever be
    curious of new sensations and fresh points of view. Through
    constant change, and through constant change alone, he will find
    his true unity. He will not consent to be the slave of his own
    opinions. For what is mind but motion in the intellectual sphere?
    The essence of thought, as the essence of life, is growth. You
    must not be frightened by word, Ernest. What people call
    insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our
    personalities.

    ERNEST. I am afraid I have not been fortunate in my suggestions.

    GILBERT. Of the three qualifications you mentioned, two, sincerity
    and fairness, were, if not actually moral, at least on the
    borderland of morals, and the first condition of criticism is that
    the critic should be able to recognise that the sphere of Art and
    the sphere of Ethics are absolutely distinct and separate. When
    they are confused, Chaos has come again. They are too often
    confused in England now, and though our modern Puritans cannot
    destroy a beautiful thing, yet, by means of their extraordinary
    prurience, they can almost taint beauty for a moment. It is
    chiefly, I regret to say, through journalism that such people find
    expression. I regret it because there is much to be said in favour
    of modern journalism. By giving us the opinions of the uneducated,
    it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community. By
    carefully chronicling the current events of contemporary life, it
    shows us of what very little importance such events really are. By
    invariably discussing the unnecessary it makes us understand what
    things are requisite for culture, and what are not. But it should
    not allow poor Tartuffe to write articles upon modern art. When it
    does this it stultifies itself. And yet Tartuffe's articles and
    Chadband's notes do this good, at least. They serve to show how
    extremely limited is the area over which ethics, and ethical
    considerations, can claim to exercise influence. Science is out of
    the reach of morals, for her eyes are fixed upon eternal truths.
    Art is out of the reach of morals, for her eyes are fixed upon
    things beautiful and immortal and ever-changing. To morals belong
    the lower and less intellectual spheres. However, let these
    mouthing Puritans pass; they have their comic side. Who can help
    laughing when an ordinary journalist seriously proposes to limit
    the subject-matter at the disposal of the artist? Some limitation
    might well, and will soon, I hope, be placed upon some of our
    newspapers and newspaper writers. For they give us the bald,
    sordid, disgusting facts of life. They chronicle, with degrading
    avidity, the sins of the second-rate, and with the
    conscientiousness of the illiterate give us accurate and prosaic
    details of the doings of people of absolutely no interest
    whatsoever. But the artist, who accepts the facts of life, and yet
    transforms them into shapes of beauty, and makes them vehicles of
    pity or of awe, and shows their colour-element, and their wonder,
    and their true ethical import also, and builds out of them a world
    more real than reality itself, and of loftier and more noble
    import--who shall set limits to him? Not the apostles of that new
    Journalism which is but the old vulgarity 'writ large.' Not the
    apostles of that new Puritanism, which is but the whine of the
    hypocrite, and is both writ and spoken badly. The mere suggestion
    is ridiculous. Let us leave these wicked people, and proceed to
    the discussion of the artistic qualifications necessary for the
    true critic.

    ERNEST. And what are they? Tell me yourself.

    GILBERT. Temperament is the primary requisite for the critic--a
    temperament exquisitely susceptible to beauty, and to the various
    impressions that beauty gives us. Under what conditions, and by
    what means, this temperament is engendered in race or individual,
    we will not discuss at present. It is sufficient to note that it
    exists, and that there is in us a beauty-sense, separate from the
    other senses and above them, separate from the reason and of nobler
    import, separate from the soul and of equal value--a sense that
    leads some to create, and others, the finer spirits as I think, to
    contemplate merely. But to be purified and made perfect, this
    sense requires some form of exquisite environment. Without this it
    starves, or is dulled. You remember that lovely passage in which
    Plato describes how a young Greek should be educated, and with what
    insistence he dwells upon the importance of surroundings, telling
    us how the lad is to be brought up in the midst of fair sights and
    sounds, so that the beauty of material things may prepare his soul
    for the reception of the beauty that is spiritual. Insensibly, and
    without knowing the reason why, he is to develop that real love of
    beauty which, as Plato is never weary of reminding us, is the true
    aim of education. By slow degrees there is to be engendered in him
    such a temperament as will lead him naturally and simply to choose
    the good in preference to the bad, and, rejecting what is vulgar
    and discordant, to follow by fine instinctive taste all that
    possesses grace and charm and loveliness. Ultimately, in its due
    course, this taste is to become critical and self-conscious, but at
    first it is to exist purely as a cultivated instinct, and 'he who
    has received this true culture of the inner man will with clear and
    certain vision perceive the omissions and faults in art or nature,
    and with a taste that cannot err, while he praises, and finds his
    pleasure in what is good, and receives it into his soul, and so
    becomes good and noble, he will rightly blame and hate the bad, now
    in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason
    why': and so, when, later on, the critical and self-conscious
    spirit develops in him, he 'will recognise and salute it as a
    friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.' I need
    hardly say, Ernest, how far we in England have fallen short of this
    ideal, and I can imagine the smile that would illuminate the glossy
    face of the Philistine if one ventured to suggest to him that the
    true aim of education was the love of beauty, and that the methods
    by which education should work were the development of temperament,
    the cultivation of taste, and the creation of the critical spirit.

    Yet, even for us, there is left some loveliness of environment, and
    the dulness of tutors and professors matters very little when one
    can loiter in the grey cloisters at Magdalen, and listen to some
    flute-like voice singing in Waynfleete's chapel, or lie in the
    green meadow, among the strange snake-spotted fritillaries, and
    watch the sunburnt noon smite to a finer gold the tower's gilded
    vanes, or wander up the Christ Church staircase beneath the vaulted
    ceiling's shadowy fans, or pass through the sculptured gateway of
    Laud's building in the College of St. John. Nor is it merely at
    Oxford, or Cambridge, that the sense of beauty can be formed and
    trained and perfected. All over England there is a Renaissance of
    the decorative Arts. Ugliness has had its day. Even in the houses
    of the rich there is taste, and the houses of those who are not
    rich have been made gracious and comely and sweet to live in.
    Caliban, poor noisy Caliban, thinks that when he has ceased to make
    mows at a thing, the thing ceases to exist. But if he mocks no
    longer, it is because he has been met with mockery, swifter and
    keener than his own, and for a moment has been bitterly schooled
    into that silence which should seal for ever his uncouth distorted
    lips. What has been done up to now, has been chiefly in the
    clearing of the way. It is always more difficult to destroy than
    it is to create, and when what one has to destroy is vulgarity and
    stupidity, the task of destruction needs not merely courage but
    also contempt. Yet it seems to me to have been, in a measure,
    done. We have got rid of what was bad. We have now to make what
    is beautiful. And though the mission of the aesthetic movement is
    to lure people to contemplate, not to lead them to create, yet, as
    the creative instinct is strong in the Celt, and it is the Celt who
    leads in art, there is no reason why in future years this strange
    Renaissance should not become almost as mighty in its way as was
    that new birth of Art that woke many centuries ago in the cities of
    Italy.

    Certainly, for the cultivation of temperament, we must turn to the
    decorative arts: to the arts that touch us, not to the arts that
    teach us. Modern pictures are, no doubt, delightful to look at.
    At least, some of them are. But they are quite impossible to live
    with; they are too clever, too assertive, too intellectual. Their
    meaning is too obvious, and their method too clearly defined. One
    exhausts what they have to say in a very short time, and then they
    become as tedious as one's relations. I am very fond of the work
    of many of the Impressionist painters of Paris and London.
    Subtlety and distinction have not yet left the school. Some of
    their arrangements and harmonies serve to remind one of the
    unapproachable beauty of Gautier's immortal Symphonie en Blanc
    Majeur, that flawless masterpiece of colour and music which may
    have suggested the type as well as the titles of many of their best
    pictures. For a class that welcomes the incompetent with
    sympathetic eagerness, and that confuses the bizarre with the
    beautiful, and vulgarity with truth, they are extremely
    accomplished. They can do etchings that have the brilliancy of
    epigrams, pastels that are as fascinating as paradoxes, and as for
    their portraits, whatever the commonplace may say against them, no
    one can deny that they possess that unique and wonderful charm
    which belongs to works of pure fiction. But even the
    Impressionists, earnest and industrious as they are, will not do.
    I like them. Their white keynote, with its variations in lilac,
    was an era in colour. Though the moment does not make the man, the
    moment certainly makes the Impressionist, and for the moment in
    art, and the 'moment's monument,' as Rossetti phrased it, what may
    not be said? They are suggestive also. If they have not opened
    the eyes of the blind, they have at least given great encouragement
    to the short-sighted, and while their leaders may have all the
    inexperience of old age, their young men are far too wise to be
    ever sensible. Yet they will insist on treating painting as if it
    were a mode of autobiography invented for the use of the
    illiterate, and are always prating to us on their coarse gritty
    canvases of their unnecessary selves and their unnecessary
    opinions, and spoiling by a vulgar over-emphasis that fine contempt
    of nature which is the best and only modest thing about them. One
    tires, at the end, of the work of individuals whose individuality
    is always noisy, and generally uninteresting. There is far more to
    be said in favour of that newer school at Paris, the Archaicistes,
    as they call themselves, who, refusing to leave the artist entirely
    at the mercy of the weather, do not find the ideal of art in mere
    atmospheric effect, but seek rather for the imaginative beauty of
    design and the loveliness of fair colour, and rejecting the tedious
    realism of those who merely paint what they see, try to see
    something worth seeing, and to see it not merely with actual and
    physical vision, but with that nobler vision of the soul which is
    as far wider in spiritual scope as it is far more splendid in
    artistic purpose. They, at any rate, work under those decorative
    conditions that each art requires for its perfection, and have
    sufficient aesthetic instinct to regret those sordid and stupid
    limitations of absolute modernity of form which have proved the
    ruin of so many of the Impressionists. Still, the art that is
    frankly decorative is the art to live with. It is, of all our
    visible arts, the one art that creates in us both mood and
    temperament. Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with
    definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.
    The harmony that resides in the delicate proportions of lines and
    masses becomes mirrored in the mind. The repetitions of pattern
    give us rest. The marvels of design stir the imagination. In the
    mere loveliness of the materials employed there are latent elements
    of culture. Nor is this all. By its deliberate rejection of
    Nature as the ideal of beauty, as well as of the imitative method
    of the ordinary painter, decorative art not merely prepares the
    soul for the reception of true imaginative work, but develops in it
    that sense of form which is the basis of creative no less than of
    critical achievement. For the real artist is he who proceeds, not
    from feeling to form, but from form to thought and passion. He
    does not first conceive an idea, and then say to himself, 'I will
    put my idea into a complex metre of fourteen lines,' but, realising
    the beauty of the sonnet-scheme, he conceives certain modes of
    music and methods of rhyme, and the mere form suggests what is to
    fill it and make it intellectually and emotionally complete. From
    time to time the world cries out against some charming artistic
    poet, because, to use its hackneyed and silly phrase, he has
    'nothing to say.' But if he had something to say, he would
    probably say it, and the result would be tedious. It is just
    because he has no new message, that he can do beautiful work. He
    gains his inspiration from form, and from form purely, as an artist
    should. A real passion would ruin him. Whatever actually occurs
    is spoiled for art. All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.
    To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be
    inartistic.

    ERNEST. I wonder do you really believe what you say?

    GILBERT. Why should you wonder? It is not merely in art that the
    body is the soul. In every sphere of life Form is the beginning of
    things. The rhythmic harmonious gestures of dancing convey, Plato
    tells us, both rhythm and harmony into the mind. Forms are the
    food of faith, cried Newman in one of those great moments of
    sincerity that make us admire and know the man. He was right,
    though he may not have known how terribly right he was. The Creeds
    are believed, not because they are rational, but because they are
    repeated. Yes: Form is everything. It is the secret of life.
    Find expression for a sorrow, and it will become dear to you. Find
    expression for a joy, and you intensify its ecstasy. Do you wish
    to love? Use Love's Litany, and the words will create the yearning
    from which the world fancies that they spring. Have you a grief
    that corrodes your heart? Steep yourself in the Language of grief,
    learn its utterance from Prince Hamlet and Queen Constance, and you
    will find that mere expression is a mode of consolation, and that
    Form, which is the birth of passion, is also the death of pain.
    And so, to return to the sphere of Art, it is Form that creates not
    merely the critical temperament, but also the aesthetic instinct,
    that unerring instinct that reveals to one all things under their
    conditions of beauty. Start with the worship of form, and there is
    no secret in art that will not be revealed to you, and remember
    that in criticism, as in creation, temperament is everything, and
    that it is, not by the time of their production, but by the
    temperaments to which they appeal, that the schools of art should
    be historically grouped.

    ERNEST. Your theory of education is delightful. But what
    influence will your critic, brought up in these exquisite
    surroundings, possess? Do you really think that any artist is ever
    affected by criticism?

    GILBERT. The influence of the critic will be the mere fact of his
    own existence. He will represent the flawless type. In him the
    culture of the century will see itself realised. You must not ask
    of him to have any aim other than the perfecting of himself. The
    demand of the intellect, as has been well said, is simply to feel
    itself alive. The critic may, indeed, desire to exercise
    influence; but, if so, he will concern himself not with the
    individual, but with the age, which he will seek to wake into
    consciousness, and to make responsive, creating in it new desires
    and appetites, and lending it his larger vision and his nobler
    moods. The actual art of to-day will occupy him less than the art
    of to-morrow, far less than the art of yesterday, and as for this
    or that person at present toiling away, what do the industrious
    matter? They do their best, no doubt, and consequently we get the
    worst from them. It is always with the best intentions that the
    worst work is done. And besides, my dear Ernest, when a man
    reaches the age of forty, or becomes a Royal Academician, or is
    elected a member of the Athenaeum Club, or is recognised as a
    popular novelist, whose books are in great demand at suburban
    railway stations, one may have the amusement of exposing him, but
    one cannot have the pleasure of reforming him. And this is, I dare
    say, very fortunate for him; for I have no doubt that reformation
    is a much more painful process than punishment, is indeed
    punishment in its most aggravated and moral form--a fact which
    accounts for our entire failure as a community to reclaim that
    interesting phenomenon who is called the confirmed criminal.

    ERNEST. But may it not be that the poet is the best judge of
    poetry, and the painter of painting? Each art must appeal
    primarily to the artist who works in it. His judgment will surely
    be the most valuable?

    GILBERT. The appeal of all art is simply to the artistic
    temperament. Art does not address herself to the specialist. Her
    claim is that she is universal, and that in all her manifestations
    she is one. Indeed, so far from its being true that the artist is
    the best judge of art, a really great artist can never judge of
    other people's work at all, and can hardly, in fact, judge of his
    own. That very concentration of vision that makes a man an artist,
    limits by its sheer intensity his faculty of fine appreciation.
    The energy of creation hurries him blindly on to his own goal. The
    wheels of his chariot raise the dust as a cloud around him. The
    gods are hidden from each other. They can recognise their
    worshippers. That is all.

    ERNEST. You say that a great artist cannot recognise the beauty of
    work different from his own.

    GILBERT. It is impossible for him to do so. Wordsworth saw in
    Endymion merely a pretty piece of Paganism, and Shelley, with his
    dislike of actuality, was deaf to Wordsworth's message, being
    repelled by its form, and Byron, that great passionate human
    incomplete creature, could appreciate neither the poet of the cloud
    nor the poet of the lake, and the wonder of Keats was hidden from
    him. The realism of Euripides was hateful to Sophokles. Those
    droppings of warm tears had no music for him. Milton, with his
    sense of the grand style, could not understand the method of
    Shakespeare, any more than could Sir Joshua the method of
    Gainsborough. Bad artists always admire each other's work. They
    call it being large-minded and free from prejudice. But a truly
    great artist cannot conceive of life being shown, or beauty
    fashioned, under any conditions other than those that he has
    selected. Creation employs all its critical faculty within its own
    sphere. It may not use it in the sphere that belongs to others.
    It is exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper
    judge of it.

    ERNEST. Do you really mean that?

    GILBERT. Yes, for creation limits, while contemplation widens, the
    vision.

    ERNEST. But what about technique? Surely each art has its
    separate technique?

    GILBERT. Certainly: each art has its grammar and its materials.
    There is no mystery about either, and the incompetent can always be
    correct. But, while the laws upon which Art rests may be fixed and
    certain, to find their true realisation they must be touched by the
    imagination into such beauty that they will seem an exception, each
    one of them. Technique is really personality. That is the reason
    why the artist cannot teach it, why the pupil cannot learn it, and
    why the aesthetic critic can understand it. To the great poet,
    there is only one method of music--his own. To the great painter,
    there is only one manner of painting--that which he himself
    employs. The aesthetic critic, and the aesthetic critic alone, can
    appreciate all forms and modes. It is to him that Art makes her
    appeal.

    ERNEST. Well, I think I have put all my questions to you. And now
    I must admit -

    GILBERT. Ah! don't say that you agree with me. When people agree
    with me I always feel that I must be wrong.

    ERNEST. In that case I certainly won't tell you whether I agree
    with you or not. But I will put another question. You have
    explained to me that criticism is a creative art. What future has
    it?

    GILBERT. It is to criticism that the future belongs. The subject-
    matter at the disposal of creation becomes every day more limited
    in extent and variety. Providence and Mr. Walter Besant have
    exhausted the obvious. If creation is to last at all, it can only
    do so on the condition of becoming far more critical than it is at
    present. The old roads and dusty highways have been traversed too
    often. Their charm has been worn away by plodding feet, and they
    have lost that element of novelty or surprise which is so essential
    for romance. He who would stir us now by fiction must either give
    us an entirely new background, or reveal to us the soul of man in
    its innermost workings. The first is for the moment being done for
    us by Mr. Rudyard Kipling. As one turns over the pages of his
    Plain Tales from the Hills, one feels as if one were seated under a
    palm-tree reading life by superb flashes of vulgarity. The bright
    colours of the bazaars dazzle one's eyes. The jaded, second-rate
    Anglo-Indians are in exquisite incongruity with their surroundings.
    The mere lack of style in the story-teller gives an odd
    journalistic realism to what he tells us. From the point of view
    of literature Mr. Kipling is a genius who drops his aspirates.
    From the point of view of life, he is a reporter who knows
    vulgarity better than any one has ever known it. Dickens knew its
    clothes and its comedy. Mr. Kipling knows its essence and its
    seriousness. He is our first authority on the second-rate, and has
    seen marvellous things through keyholes, and his backgrounds are
    real works of art. As for the second condition, we have had
    Browning, and Meredith is with us. But there is still much to be
    done in the sphere of introspection. People sometimes say that
    fiction is getting too morbid. As far as psychology is concerned,
    it has never been morbid enough. We have merely touched the
    surface of the soul, that is all. In one single ivory cell of the
    brain there are stored away things more marvellous and more
    terrible than even they have dreamed of, who, like the author of Le
    Rouge et le Noir, have sought to track the soul into its most
    secret places, and to make life confess its dearest sins. Still,
    there is a limit even to the number of untried backgrounds, and it
    is possible that a further development of the habit of
    introspection may prove fatal to that creative faculty to which it
    seeks to supply fresh material. I myself am inclined to think that
    creation is doomed. It springs from too primitive, too natural an
    impulse. However this may be, it is certain that the subject-
    matter at the disposal of creation is always diminishing, while the
    subject-matter of criticism increases daily. There are always new
    attitudes for the mind, and new points of view. The duty of
    imposing form upon chaos does not grow less as the world advances.
    There was never a time when Criticism was more needed than it is
    now. It is only by its means that Humanity can become conscious of
    the point at which it has arrived.

    Hours ago, Ernest, you asked me the use of Criticism. You might
    just as well have asked me the use of thought. It is Criticism, as
    Arnold points out, that creates the intellectual atmosphere of the
    age. It is Criticism, as I hope to point out myself some day, that
    makes the mind a fine instrument. We, in our educational system,
    have burdened the memory with a load of unconnected facts, and
    laboriously striven to impart our laboriously-acquired knowledge.
    We teach people how to remember, we never teach them how to grow.
    It has never occurred to us to try and develop in the mind a more
    subtle quality of apprehension and discernment. The Greeks did
    this, and when we come in contact with the Greek critical
    intellect, we cannot but be conscious that, while our subject-
    matter is in every respect larger and more varied than theirs,
    theirs is the only method by which this subject-matter can be
    interpreted. England has done one thing; it has invented and
    established Public Opinion, which is an attempt to organise the
    ignorance of the community, and to elevate it to the dignity of
    physical force. But Wisdom has always been hidden from it.
    Considered as an instrument of thought, the English mind is coarse
    and undeveloped. The only thing that can purify it is the growth
    of the critical instinct.

    It is Criticism, again, that, by concentration, makes culture
    possible. It takes the cumbersome mass of creative work, and
    distils it into a finer essence. Who that desires to retain any
    sense of form could struggle through the monstrous multitudinous
    books that the world has produced, books in which thought stammers
    or ignorance brawls? The thread that is to guide us across the
    wearisome labyrinth is in the hands of Criticism. Nay more, where
    there is no record, and history is either lost, or was never
    written, Criticism can re-create the past for us from the very
    smallest fragment of language or art, just as surely as the man of
    science can from some tiny bone, or the mere impress of a foot upon
    a rock, re-create for us the winged dragon or Titan lizard that
    once made the earth shake beneath its tread, can call Behemoth out
    of his cave, and make Leviathan swim once more across the startled
    sea. Prehistoric history belongs to the philological and
    archaeological critic. It is to him that the origins of things are
    revealed. The self-conscious deposits of an age are nearly always
    misleading. Through philological criticism alone we know more of
    the centuries of which no actual record has been preserved, than we
    do of the centuries that have left us their scrolls. It can do for
    us what can be done neither by physics nor metaphysics. It can
    give us the exact science of mind in the process of becoming. It
    can do for us what History cannot do. It can tell us what man
    thought before he learned how to write. You have asked me about
    the influence of Criticism. I think I have answered that question
    already; but there is this also to be said. It is Criticism that
    makes us cosmopolitan. The Manchester school tried to make men
    realise the brotherhood of humanity, by pointing out the commercial
    advantages of peace. It sought to degrade the wonderful world into
    a common market-place for the buyer and the seller. It addressed
    itself to the lowest instincts, and it failed. War followed upon
    war, and the tradesman's creed did not prevent France and Germany
    from clashing together in blood-stained battle. There are others
    of our own day who seek to appeal to mere emotional sympathies, or
    to the shallow dogmas of some vague system of abstract ethics.
    They have their Peace Societies, so dear to the sentimentalists,
    and their proposals for unarmed International Arbitration, so
    popular among those who have never read history. But mere
    emotional sympathy will not do. It is too variable, and too
    closely connected with the passions; and a board of arbitrators
    who, for the general welfare of the race, are to be deprived of the
    power of putting their decisions into execution, will not be of
    much avail. There is only one thing worse than Injustice, and that
    is Justice without her sword in her hand. When Right is not Might,
    it is Evil.

    No: the emotions will not make us cosmopolitan, any more than the
    greed for gain could do so. It is only by the cultivation of the
    habit of intellectual criticism that we shall be able to rise
    superior to race-prejudices. Goethe--you will not misunderstand
    what I say--was a German of the Germans. He loved his country--no
    man more so. Its people were dear to him; and he led them. Yet,
    when the iron hoof of Napoleon trampled upon vineyard and
    cornfield, his lips were silent. 'How can one write songs of
    hatred without hating?' he said to Eckermann, 'and how could I, to
    whom culture and barbarism are alone of importance, hate a nation
    which is among the most cultivated of the earth and to which I owe
    so great a part of my own cultivation?' This note, sounded in the
    modern world by Goethe first, will become, I think, the starting
    point for the cosmopolitanism of the future. Criticism will
    annihilate race-prejudices, by insisting upon the unity of the
    human mind in the variety of its forms. If we are tempted to make
    war upon another nation, we shall remember that we are seeking to
    destroy an element of our own culture, and possibly its most
    important element. As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will
    always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it
    will cease to be popular. The change will of course be slow, and
    people will not be conscious of it. They will not say 'We will not
    war against France because her prose is perfect,' but because the
    prose of France is perfect, they will not hate the land.
    Intellectual criticism will bind Europe together in bonds far
    closer than those that can be forged by shopman or sentimentalist.
    It will give us the peace that springs from understanding.

    Nor is this all. It is Criticism that, recognising no position as
    final, and refusing to bind itself by the shallow shibboleths of
    any sect or school, creates that serene philosophic temper which
    loves truth for its own sake, and loves it not the less because it
    knows it to be unattainable. How little we have of this temper in
    England, and how much we need it! The English mind is always in a
    rage. The intellect of the race is wasted in the sordid and stupid
    quarrels of second-rate politicians or third-rate theologians. It
    was reserved for a man of science to show us the supreme example of
    that 'sweet reasonableness' of which Arnold spoke so wisely, and,
    alas! to so little effect. The author of the Origin of Species
    had, at any rate, the philosophic temper. If one contemplates the
    ordinary pulpits and platforms of England, one can but feel the
    contempt of Julian, or the indifference of Montaigne. We are
    dominated by the fanatic, whose worst vice is his sincerity.
    Anything approaching to the free play of the mind is practically
    unknown amongst us. People cry out against the sinner, yet it is
    not the sinful, but the stupid, who are our shame. There is no sin
    except stupidity.

    ERNEST. Ah! what an antinomian you are!

    GILBERT. The artistic critic, like the mystic, is an antinomian
    always. To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness,
    is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of
    sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain
    low passion for middle-class respectability. Aesthetics are higher
    than ethics. They belong to a more spiritual sphere. To discern
    the beauty of a thing is the finest point to which we can arrive.
    Even a colour-sense is more important, in the development of the
    individual, than a sense of right and wrong. Aesthetics, in fact,
    are to Ethics in the sphere of conscious civilisation, what, in the
    sphere of the external world, sexual is to natural selection.
    Ethics, like natural selection, make existence possible.
    Aesthetics, like sexual selection, make life lovely and wonderful,
    fill it with new forms, and give it progress, and variety and
    change. And when we reach the true culture that is our aim, we
    attain to that perfection of which the saints have dreamed, the
    perfection of those to whom sin is impossible, not because they
    make the renunciations of the ascetic, but because they can do
    everything they wish without hurt to the soul, and can wish for
    nothing that can do the soul harm, the soul being an entity so
    divine that it is able to transform into elements of a richer
    experience, or a finer susceptibility, or a newer mode of thought,
    acts or passions that with the common would be commonplace, or with
    the uneducated ignoble, or with the shameful vile. Is this
    dangerous? Yes; it is dangerous--all ideas, as I told you, are so.
    But the night wearies, and the light flickers in the lamp. One
    more thing I cannot help saying to you. You have spoken against
    Criticism as being a sterile thing. The nineteenth century is a
    turning point in history, simply on account of the work of two men,
    Darwin and Renan, the one the critic of the Book of Nature, the
    other the critic of the books of God. Not to recognise this is to
    miss the meaning of one of the most important eras in the progress
    of the world. Creation is always behind the age. It is Criticism
    that leads us. The Critical Spirit and the World-Spirit are one.

    ERNEST. And he who is in possession of this spirit, or whom this
    spirit possesses, will, I suppose, do nothing?

    GILBERT. Like the Persephone of whom Landor tells us, the sweet
    pensive Persephone around whose white feet the asphodel and
    amaranth are blooming, he will sit contented 'in that deep,
    motionless quiet which mortals pity, and which the gods enjoy.' He
    will look out upon the world and know its secret. By contact with
    divine things he will become divine. His will be the perfect life,
    and his only.

    ERNEST. You have told me many strange things to-night, Gilbert.
    You have told me that it is more difficult to talk about a thing
    than to do it, and that to do nothing at all is the most difficult
    thing in the world; you have told me that all Art is immoral, and
    all thought dangerous; that criticism is more creative than
    creation, and that the highest criticism is that which reveals in
    the work of Art what the artist had not put there; that it is
    exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper judge
    of it; and that the true critic is unfair, insincere, and not
    rational. My friend, you are a dreamer.

    GILBERT. Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only
    find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the
    dawn before the rest of the world.

    ERNEST. His punishment?

    GILBERT. And his reward. But, see, it is dawn already. Draw back
    the curtains and open the windows wide. How cool the morning air
    is! Piccadilly lies at our feet like a long riband of silver. A
    faint purple mist hangs over the Park, and the shadows of the white
    houses are purple. It is too late to sleep. Let us go down to
    Covent Garden and look at the roses. Come! I am tired of thought.
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