« PreviousContinue »
notices." These, be they genial or spite- the other forms of belles-lettres ; it is ful, if written by persons without literary hardly two hundred years old. Yet it training on books the subjects of which lie takes every day a greater prominence, and outside their knowledge, mean less than it becomes inore and more desirable to innothing. No leafage of the printing press sist on its importance and to ensure its can be so utterly deciduous. It is better welfare. to leave this mass of imitative opinion un The best criticism must, I conceive, be touched, and to consider only what is of intelligent, sympathetic, and personal. its kind sincere, original, and competent. The critic must first of all be intelligent. Of literary criticism which we can discuss His mind must act with rapidity. It must with gravity, criticism which may pre- be trained to receive a succession of delisumably be of some service to its readers, cate impressions promptly and precisely. there are two main species. The first of He must be agile in intellectual movement. these, and the least important, may be If he misunderstands his author for a mobriefly dismissed.
ment, he must be ready instantly to retrace The books of the day, copies of each his steps ; he must not pushon, obstiof which are poured forth into the editorial nately force the sense, and delight in his offices of half a hundred newspapers, meet own robustness.
own robustness. Misplaced vigor of this with a certain number of critics who are kind is a very English fault in criticism. trained to form an opinion of their quali- Half the honest fellows who come up from ties which is relatively just and precise. both Universities, ready equipped to be The nature of this kind of criticism it critics, prove mere bulls in the china shop should be easy to define. The critic has of imaginative literature. What is subtle to take the book on its own merits, to de- and evanescent escapes them, what is unscribe succinctly its contents or the line of familiar to their narrow experience they its argument, and to give a judgment on are able to prove has never, and could ts execution. This work is strictly im never have, existed, and when it is their personal. He must not air his own opin- business to be attentive they are merely ions, he should not, in this elementary waking the echoes with their own formulas. kind of criticism, compare the author's The best critic is quick of ear and eye, book with those of his contemporaries, or slow to believe that he has exhausted his even with his own earlier productions. theme, anxious to comprehend from all The critic is here merely employed to tell points of view the product presented to the newspaper-reader what is the nature of him. this or that particular volume which has The critic must be sympathetic. He just been published. This duty is to be must have some of the qualities of the truthful, to be unprejudiced, to guard purely creative writer-insight, imaginaagainst riding any of his own hobbies un tion, a sense of relative values. It is not fairly, in short, to give the book before enough to be clearly aware of the meaning him a fair field and no favor. This is the of the writer under discussion, nor of the inferior class of criticism, which, in my exact tendency of his work. With this, opinion, is always more effective when un. and with nothing more, some very insigned. It is not of a pretentious order ; teresting results have been obtained, parbut if honestly and competently performed, ticularly in France.
. But this is far from in the spirit of a gentleman, it may be of being enough. The critic, if he is to be extraordinary public utility. But it is un of the highest class, must know why his comparative, and it is of necessity a mere author wrote thus and tbus. Even when indication of fleeting opinion.
he detests what the author has written, he The other class of literary criticism, and must comprehend what led to such manithe only one which it is of serious interest festations. He must be capable of leavto discuss, is comparative and composite. ing his own plane and of moving in the very To this class belongs all the criticism that atmosphere of his subject. By an imagenjoys even a brief existence as in itself a inative process, he must see the mind of species of literature. At its best, this is the author at work, and appreciate not one of the most exquisite of intellectual merely the product but the process. products, and only a little below the Most thoughtful readers will admit that creative work of tbe novelist or poet. It criticism must be intelligent and even symhas come into existence much later than pathetic. I anticipate more opposition
when I insist that it must be personal, that an exaggerated laudation of minor points is to say, individual to the critic. It ap- where you agree with him. It is not a pears to me that there can be no valuable series of instances in which he has made criticism of the composite order, nothing grammatical errors or erred from the paths comparative or elaborate, that does not de- of punctuation. It is not any exclusive pend for its value on the personal authority inspection of lesser points, whether for or personal charm of the critic who profault-finding or the reverse. The considduces it. What we do not want, what eration of these minor matters has its gods and men abhor, is the absence of place in the course of minor criticism, but personality in criticism, a colorless state even there it should be kept in proportion ment of second-hand opinion, not due to with the general outlines of the theme. any individual impression, not the result An insistence upon these lesser details, to of personal judginent, but a kind of aver. the disregard of the larger matters of litage opinion, nebulous and unassailable, erary interest, must always be the indicaformed indolently and ignorantly on the tion of an ill-balanced judgment. unreasonable likes or dislikes of the public. Most of the faults of current critics
It is impossible within the space allotted would be avoided if they, and if we, their to us here to do more than touch on one or readers, would, as I have said, realize the two desultory points. I pass, therefore, dignity of the art they practise. Where without apology, to a general considera- would be the room for acrid recrimination, tion. Nothing seems to be more lacking to for slovenly obiter dicta, for exhibitions the ordinary literary criticism of this coun- of unabashed ignorance, for all the species try than the sense of proportion. It would of criticism falsely so-called from which we be a great benefit to this branch of litera- suffer, if writers regarded this department ture if those who practise it would realize of letters as gravely as they do the others ? more clearly the dignity of the art they We have to demand in those who disundertake to cultivate and the natural course to us on literature certain definite parts of which it should consist. A qualities. Without a lifelong knowledge perusal of the reviews of the day suggests of books, without absolute judicial rectia whole code of negatives which might be tude, without the mental habit of urbanity, useful to reviewers. Criticism
without a determined cultivation of supwould like to say to these young lions, if pleness and independence of mind, no one one had the temerity to do 80,-criticism ought to have the presumption to present is not praise nor blame; it is analysis. himself to us as a critic. It is not pretty writing about the subject
EDMUND Gosse. which the author has treated. It is not
- New Review.
When people speak of the East, of draw the attention of the public at large Oriental languages, Oriental literature, toward Oriental studies, and to arouse an Oriental art, or Oriental religion, their idea interest in the languages, the literatures, generally seems to be that all that belongs the art, and the religion of the East, pot to the East is extremely old and very mys- only among scholars, but among the everterious. There is a charm which it is widening circles of intelligent men and difficult to account for, but there certainly cultivated women, it may not seem very is a charm that attracts us to everything wise to say anything that might break that that is supposed to be very old, and to charm, that might reduce the enormous everything that seems wrapt in mystery. antiquity so often claimed for Oriental litIf, then, these lectures which I have the erature to more modest limits, and dispel honor to inaugurate to-night are meant to those golden clouds of mystery which are
* Inaugural Address, delivered before the supposed to surround the sanctuary of the Royal Asiatic Society, on Wednesday, March primeval wisdom of the East. 4, 1891.
And yet, if I were asked to say what in NEW SERIES,--VOL, LIV., No, 1.
our own time is the distinguishing feature cophagi of nature ! And again, how mod. of Oriental research, I should say that it ern are those stratificd cemeteries on the was the endeavor to bring the remote East surface of our globe, nay, even the uncloser and closer to our own time, and to stratified foundations of this earth, in the dispel as much as possible that mystery eyes of the astronomer, to whom onr globe which used to shroud its language, its dwindles away into a mere infinitesimal literature, and its religion. Oriental globule that has not yet been touched by scholarship is no longer a mere matter of the rays of light proceeding from more curiosity. It appeals to higher sympa- distant suns ! Mere antiquity, it has thies, and teaches us that we can study in always seemed to me, can lend no real the East as well as in the West the great charm to Oriental studies. questions of humanity—those questions First of all, what we call ancient in litthat furnish the first impulse and the high- erary productions is not so very ancient est purpose to all human inquiries. So after all. Our libraries and museums conlong as the Egyptian is a mere mummy to tain little that is more than four thousand us, the Babylonian a mere image in stone, years old. If one century is easily spanned the Jew a prophet, the Hindu a dreamer, by three generations, a little more than one the Chinaman a joke, we are not yet Ori- hundred generations would span the whole ental scholars. The Wise Men of the history of the literature of the world. East are still mere strangers to us, coming What the Egyptians said to the Greeks we we know not whence, going we know not must learn to say to ourselves—“ We are whither, and leaving bebind then noth- as yet but children.” . Man's life on earth ing but gold, frankincense, and myrrh. is only in its beginnings. The future be
It is only when these strangers cease to fore him is immense ; the past that lies be strangers, when they become friends, behind us is but the short preface to a people exactly like ourselves in their work that will require many volumes bestrength and in their weakness, in their fore it is finished, before man has become ideals and their failures, in their hopes and what he was meant to be. their despairs—it is then only that we can Secondly, we must not forget that when claim to be Oriental scholars, real students we speak of literary works of two, or of the East, true lovers of humanity which three, or four thousand years before our is always the same, whatever its age, era, we are not really on what is properly whatever its language, whatever the many called historical ground. I am by no disguises which it has assumed in the means a sceptic as to the remote antiquity different acts of the great drama of history. assigned to Chinese, Egyptian, Baby
What charm is there in mere antiquity! lonian, and Indian literature ; but I think Antiquity seems difficult to define. Very we are too easily tempted to forget the often what is old is despised, however important difference between authentic good it may be ; at other times, what is and constructive history. Authentic hisold is valued, though its merit seems to tory, as Niebuhr often pointed out, begins consist in nothing but its age. A book when we have the testimony of a contemprinted in the fifteenth century is competed porary, or an eye-witness, testifying to for by all collectors, while many a manu- the events which he relates. Constructive script of the same date will hardly tempt history and constructive chronology rest a buyer. A Greek work of art, say, of on deduction. Constructive history may 500 B.C.,
finds a place of honor in any be quite as true as authentic history. Still museum. An Egyptian monument of the we should never forget the difference besame age is referred to the decadence of tween the two. old Egyptian art. When we come to one If we bear this difference in mind, I thousand years, two thousand years, or, should say that the authentic history of as some will have it, to three or four thou- India does not begin before the third censand years B.C., everything that can claim tury B.c. We have at that time the indescent from those distant ages is valued, scriptions of the famous King Asoka, the and almost worshipped. And yet, what grandson of Chandragupta, the Sandroare four thousand, what are six thousand kyptos of Greek historians. Everything years, when we become geologists? What in the history of India before that time is are the oldest Egyptian mummies compared purely constructive. But is it therefore to the megatheria embalmed in the sar. sess certain ! I believe not. The language
of these inscriptions, in its various dialects, this chronology we must not forget that, stands to Sanskrit as Italian stands to Lat- whatever the age of the Mosaic traditions in. Such changes require centuries. The may be, the Hebrew text, as we now posreligion of Asoka is Buddhism, and sess it, cannot be referred to an earlier Buddhism stands to Brahmanism as Prot- date than about 500 B.C. If, then, we estantism stands to Roman Catholicism. admit with Petermann that the Samaritan Such changes require centuries. Lastly, text was settled in the fourth century, we the literature of Vedic Brahmanism shows find that the interval between Adam and three successive layers of language, cere- Abraham, which is reckoned as 1948 years monial, and thought. Such changes, in the Hebrew text, has in the Samaritan again, require centuries. Constructive text been raised to 2249 years. Lastly, if history places the earliest Vedic hymns we admit that the Septuagint translation about 1500 B.C. But even at that time was made in Egypt between the third and the language of these Vedic hymns is full second centuries B.C., we find that there of faded, decayed, and quite unintelligible the same interval has been raised to 3314 words and forms, and yet in some points years. It is clear, therefore, that in the more near to Greek than to ordinary history of the Jews also, the ancient dates, Sanskrit. It possesses, for instance, a though more moderate than those of Egypsubjunctive, like Greek, of which there is tian antiquity, are of a purely constructive hardly a trace left in the Epic poems or in character. the Laws of Manu. Such changes require And what applies to Egypt and Judæa centuries. In fact, if we ask ourselves applies even more strongly to China. how long it must have taken before a China claims a history of at least four language like that of the Vedic hymns thousand years. Chinese scholars assure could have become what we find it to be, us that the date of the Emperor Yao is ordinary chronology seems altogether to historical. Yet it varies between 2357 collapse, and we should feel grateful if B.C. and 2145 B.C., the latter being the geological chronology would allow us to date of the Bamboo Annals. Beyond extend the limits assigned to man's pres- Yao it is generally adınitted that Chinese ence on earth beyond the end of the history is fabulous, though we are told by Glacial Period.
some authorities that the Emperor AwangEgyptian chronology carries us, no ti was an historical character, and began doubt, much further than the chronology his reign in 2697 B.C. All this may be of India. Menes is supposed to have true. The historical traditions of China reigned 4000 B.C., and, if we do not ad- may reach back very
far. But we must mit a division of the empire among differ- never forget the fact, which Chinese hisent royal dynasties, the date of Menes torians are very apt to forget, namely, the might be pushed back even further, to destruction of all ancient books by the 5600 B.c. Lepsius, however, is satisfied Emperor Khin in 213 B.C. The edict, we with 3892, Lieblein with 3893 B.C. But,
But, are told, was ruthlessly enforced, and hunwhatever date we accept, we must bear in dreds of scholars who refused obedience to mind that, like all ancient Egyptian dates, the imperial command were buried alive. they depend on the construction which we The edict was not repealed till 191. It put on Manetho's dynasties, and on the lasted, therefore, twenty-two
twenty-two years. fragments of papyri, like the Royal There are, no doubt, traditions that some Papyrus of Turin. We are dealing again of the books were recovered from hidwith constructive, not with authentic his ing places or from memory ; yet autory.
thentic history in China cannot be said The chronology of the Old Testament to date from before the burning of the is likewise constructive. Those who have books and the beginning of the Han dymost carefully summed up the dates in the nasty. Books of Moses fix the day of the Cre As to the ancient history of Babylon, it ation in 4160 B.C. -not very long, you is well to learn to be patient and to wait. see, before the reign of Menes in Egypt- The progress of discovery and decipherpossibly even later. The universal Deluge 'ment is so rapid, that what is true this is fixed by the same scholars in 2504, year is shown to be wrong next year. Our which is about the time of the twelfth old friend Gisdubar has now, thanks to the Egyptian dynasty. But in constructing ingenious combinations of Mr. Pinches,
become Gilgames.* This is no discredit nological speculations may be-whether to the valiant pioneers in this glorious Oriental history begins six, or five, or campaign. On the contrary, it speaks four, or three, or two, or one thousand well for their perseverance and for their before our era-I ask again, what is the sense of truth. I shall only give you cne charm of mere antiquity, if antiquity instance to show what I mean by calling means no more than what is remote, what the ancient periods of Babylonian history is separated from us by wide gaps of also constructive 'rather than authentic. millenniums ! My friend Professor Sayce claims 4000 I am quite willing to grant that there is B.c, as the beginning of Babylonian litera a charm in what is old, whether its age ture. Nabonidus, he tells us (Hibbert counts by years, or centuries, or millenniLectures, p. 21), in 550 B.c. explored the ums, only that charın must come from great temple of the Sun god at Sippara. ourselves, from the students of antiquity, This temple was believed to have been whether in the East or in the West. We founded by Naram Sin, the son of Sargon. should remeinber that antiquity means not Nabonidus, however, lighted upon the only what is old. It is derived from ante. actual foundation-stone-a stone, we are It means what is before us, what is antetold, which had not been seen by any of rior, what is antecedent to the present. his predecessors for 3200 years. On the It means, and it should mean, the firm strength of this the date of 3200 + 550 historical foundation on which we stand. years, that is, 3750 B.C., is assigned to If we can discover in the past the key Naram Sin, the son of Sargon. These two to some of the riddles of the present ; if kings, however, are said to be quite mod we can link the past to the present by the ern, and to have been preceded by a num strong chains of cause and effect ; if we ber of so-called Proto-Chaldæan kings, can unite the broken and scattered links who spoke a Proto-Chaldæan language, of tradition into one continuous wire, long before the Semitic population had then the electric spark of human sympathy entered the land. It is concluded, further, will flash from one end to the other. The from some old inscriptions on diorite, most remote antiquity will cease to be rebrought from the Peninsula of Sinai to mote. It will be brought near to us, Chaldæa, that the quarries of Sinai, which home to us, close to our very heart. We were worked by the Egyptians at the time shall be the ancients of the world, and the of their third dynasty, say six thousand distant childhood of the human race will years ago, may have been visited about be to us like our own childhood. the same time by these Proto-Chaldæans. And mark the change, the almost mirac4000 B.C., we are told, would therefore ulous change, which Oriental scholarship be a very moderate initial epoch for Baby- has wought among the ruins of the past. lonian and Egyptian literature.
What was old has become young ; what I am the very last person to deny the
has become old. ingeniousness of these arguments, or to Take our languages.
We call English, donbt the real antiquity of the early civil. French, and German modern, very modization of Babylon or Egypt. All'I wish But when we have traced back Engto point out is, that we should always keep lish to Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Saxon to before our eyes the constructive character Gothic, and Gotbic to that " Home of the of this ancient history and chronology. Aryas” in which the language spoken in To use a foundation-stone, on its own India, Sanskrit, had as much right as Perauthority, as a stepping-stone over a gap sian, as Greek and Latin, and Celtic and of 3200 years, is purely constructive Slavonic, nay, as Gothic, Anglo-Saxon, chronology, and as such is to be carefully and English-when the student of language distinguished from what historians mean
bas gathered the broken links of that by authentic history, as when Herodotus Aryan chain and fitted them together once or Thucydides tells us what happened dur more into one organic whole
what haping their own lives or before their own pens ! Does not the young become old eyes.
and the old become young
g? Our modern But, whatever the result of these chro- languages stand now before us as the most
ancient languages of the world-gray, * Academy, Jan. 17, 1891 ; see Gilgamos,"
bald, shrivelled, and wizened ; while the in Aelian, Hist. Anim. xii. 21.
more ancient a language, the fresher its