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The MODERN STUDY OF ENGLISH. By Richard Green Moulton. Chicago :
The University of Chicago Press.
Professor Moulton stresses, as essential to the study of literature, certain dominant ideas: First, the conception of literature, not as a mere aggregate of separate literatures, but as a unity, constituting a world literature, of which our own forms a very small part. Thus English literature is “not what English authors have composed in the English language, but what the Englishspeaking civilization has absorbed from the other civilizations of the world in addition to what it has itself produced.” Second, in our study we must apply the inductive method and verify theories by observation, and we must approach the subject "with the evolutionary mental attitude,” which "will bring solution for most of the controversies by which literature study has been distracted." Since the study of literature, as it actually exists, is found to be a chaos of miscellaneous interests, . . . the true way to meet such a situation is to insist upon the recognition, as a fundamental principle, of a distinction between an Inner Study of literature and an Outer Study of Literature.” To the outer study belong such disturbing factors as biography, exegesis, and questions of literary origins and of historic (or genetic) structure. As a further principle Professor Moulton emphatically declares that "the literary structure of a work [by which he means our analysis of any piece of literature] cannot possibly be affected by any theory as to its origin.” Thus, in his opinion, the historic criticism of the Bible, or the so-called “higher criticism,” has no bearing on the purely literary analysis of the Scriptures; so that any discussion as to the authorship of Deuteronomy, for example, cannot in any way affect our interpretation of the book as a whole. Again, we can readily analyze and properly interpret Hamlet without concerning ourselves in the least with any question as to the sources of the play or attempting to reconstruct the Elizabethan background.
Unquestionably, in the study of literature to-day the German labaratory methods of tabulating and counting, examining under the microscope, and dissecting the dry bones of a piece of literature have led to a neglect of literary analysis and ästhetic and philosophic criticism such as characterize the French method
of study; and Professor Moulton is right in his attempt to restore the balance.
But he goes too far in the opposite direction, for it will not do to divorce altogether historic criticism from literary analysis. In his reaction against formalism, he deals in vague, unsatisfying generalizations. For example, discarding altogether the differences in form or language between poetry and prose, he declares that “poetry is creative literature, however expressed, and is adding to the sum of existences; prose has the function of discussing what is already in existence.” Thus apparently the poet creates something out of nothing. Again, he declares: "Inductive interpretation is simply a plea that literary interpretation is a thing that rests on evidence." What evidence? we may ask. How shall we interpret Shakespeare's Sonnets, for example? His applications of his own theories of literary interpretation seem to violate his “common-sense fallacy” (p. 300) in their tendency to read his own fancies into the passages selected.
For example, would the expression “trembling ears,” Lycidas, l. 79, suggest to everyone the metaphor of a horse, whose ear "responds with the well-known quiver” to the playful flick of his driver's whip? Does the Miltonic line, “pain which makes remiss the hands of the mightiest,” suggest to every reader the “concrete image of the slackened bridlerein"? Does Faustus himself, in Marlowe's play of that name, and does every reader, get such an elaborate vision in the clouds as Professor Moulton's fancy draws for us (p. 427) in the last scene of the tragedy?.
He is at his best in condemning vicious literary practices, as for example the "habits of newspaper and similar reading, which lead to a mastery in the art of skimming and discursive halfattention.” The reading of newspapers and of the popular magazines, he declares, is undermining the student's power to read and "filching from him his power of recognizing literary vitality when he sees it.” The common vice of literary study to-day is that "reading about literature takes the place of the literature itself.” “Thoroughness apart from true perspective is as much a vice as a virtue.”
Throughout the volume there are frequent references to and quotations from other books by Professor Moulton, and in the
Appendix there is a list of "Works of the author referred to in the preceding pages,” with the price of each attached. In the Preface the author gravely assures us that, despite the questionable taste of quoting from himself, “it seems a pity to seek out a second best illustration when a better is available.”
As a constructive guide to the study of literature the book is of little practical value. Diffuse, vague in its definitions, and wearisome in its repetitions, it would gain immensely by being reduced to one half of its five hundred pages. It is furnished with numerous charts designed to illustrate graphically various evolutionary processes, all reminiscent of the lecture-room.
W. B. YEATS: A CRITICAL Study. By Forrest Reid. New York: Dodd,
Mead & Company. $2.00
Since 1899 Mr. Yeats has been the most conspicuous figure in the Irish Literary Movement. He not only stands eminent as a poet and man of letters, but he has been associated with Lady Gregory in that dramatic enterprise which has given such publicity in two continents to the cause of Irish Literature. Accounts of his work have appeared frequently in magazines and even in book form. But we are acquainted with no publication which for exactitude and thoroughness as well as critical appreciation rivals this essay by Mr. Forrest Reid.
The purpose of the book is literary and critical The author makes no attempt to decide Mr. Yeats's place in the development of Irish literature. He confines his attention to the examination of Mr. Yeats's own work.
This task he accomplishes with remarkable and one might almost say—unique success, because he combines sympathy and judgment with a very full knowledge of his subject. Perhaps he praises Mr. Yeats at times too much; perhaps he shows more acumen in dealing with questions of Beauty than questions of Philosophy, but this must remain largely a matter of opinion. And there can be no doubt as to the excellent merit of the book and the scholarly judgment and knowledge which have gone to its making
BROWNING: How to Know Him. By William Lyon Phelps. Indianapolis:
The Bobs-Merrill Co.
Professor Phelps appears here rather as a worshipper than as a critic. He would teach us how to know Browning by showing us how to praise him. But he is so enthusiastic in his worship, so delightful and so clever in his praise, that this book has a very real usefulness. The author discusses the work and personality of Browning under seven different heads, such as Dramatic Lyrics, Poems of Paradox, Browning's Optimism. He quotes several illustrative poems at length in each chapter. The volume is thus in a degree complete in itself. The tone is so pleasant and sympathetic, the style so vivacious and sparkling, that the book will take its place as one of the most attractive introductions to the study of Browning's poetry. G. T.
THE DIPLOMACY OF THE WAR OF 1914. THE BEGINNINGS OF THE WAR.
By Ellery C. Stowell, Assistant Professor of International Law, Columbia University. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915.
The European war, which is the most striking single phenomenon in the past hundred years, is naturally the subject of a large and ever increasing literature, particularly in all that relates to diplomacy and the causes of the struggle. In the earlier stages of the conflict appeared numerous books and pamphlets, partisan and apologetic, based on inadequate knowledge and marred by prejudice and passion. The publication of a great body of source material by the contending powers, however, made it possible later on for those who were minded to study the subject dispassionately and with care to base their conclusions on firmer foundation. Accordingly there have appeared in English at least four works of merit and importance. Beck's Evidence in the Case is trenchant and powerful, but brief; Price's Diplomatic History of the War is largely a collection of documents, but contains also contributions of first-rate importance by the author; Headlam's History of Twelve Days has exceedingly able presentation of the documents accompanied by admirable analysis and decisive criticism: finally there is the present work, which is in many respects the completest and most useful of all. This volume deals with the causes of the war and the
diplomacy of the fortnight preceding it. It is part of a more ambitious undertaking, for the author plans to write a second volume relating to diplomacy during the war, and a third with respect to its conclusion.
It must be said that the outstanding character of this book is the fullness with which it presents the documentary material. Not only is the last part, perhaps a third of the whole, given up exclusively to the reprinting of sources and extracts from other works, and the body of the text accompanied by very voluminous footnotes of like aspect, but the text itself is composed very largely of similar material, until at last the reader wonders whether there remains any part of the various “books'' and "papers” which the author has not incorporated in extenso. It must be said at once that this is skilfully done, merely with repetition in various places for the sake of clearness; but on several occasions in reading the book I have thought that to a great extent the result rather a digest of the sources than a work of individuality and character. Headlam also makes extensive use of the government publications, which he quotes in long extracts inset and printed in different type, yet so strongly marked and so predominating is the accompanying text with the author's own comment, criticism, and judgment, that one feels always that the quotations are subordinate to the text. In Stowell, however, the method is rather to make a complete presentation of all that the sources have to say about any matter, arraying all that has to do with either side, together with variants and contradictory statements, so that the reader must in many instances rather rely upon his own decision than depend upon that of the author.
There is no doubt that disadvantages arise from this method in that the author must perforce remain in the background, giving less of his guidance and experience than the reader sometimes desires; but on the other hand it results that the author has provided the largest and best arranged collection of material from the primary sources so far printed, and in a subject obscure and highly controversial this is much to be grateful for. If he does not throughout present a book of his own, he does undoubtedly furnish a veritable library of literature on the causes